Money talks

Written by Ben Blaschke

The incredible hype surrounding boxing great Floyd Mayweather’s title fight against UFC champion Conor McGregor was matched by wild, weird and wonderful betting plunges.

It was touted as the biggest boxing match of all time and while the result proved utterly predictable, the betting frenzy that preceded Floyd Mayweather’s historic bout against UFC star Conor McGregor was anything but.

From two separate punters each placing US$1 million bets on the outcome to Mayweather trying – and failing – to place US$400,000 on himself at the last minute, the circus surrounding this historic Las Vegas event gave new meaning to the term “Sin City.”

For sheer volume, no fight has ever come close to Mayweather-McGregor. While Nevada Gaming Control doesn’t track betting on individual fights, it has been estimated that at least US$80 million was wagered in Nevada alone – comfortably beating the US$60 million estimated to have been bet on Mayweather’s headline bout against Manny Pacquiao in 2015. UK betting agencies estimate that around £250 million was wagered on the fight across the country, with billions spent globally.

And that’s no great surprise when you consider some of the phenomenal action that surrounded this fight. Even the markets on offer were about as crazy as they come.

Pre-fight markets included options such as whether or not the fight would be cancelled, whether either fighter would test positive to performance enhancing drugs, whether the two would touch gloves before the starting bell and even whether Justin Bieber would carry Mayweather’s title belt to the ring for him!

In-fight bets included whether both fighters would wear a mouth guard, whether either would be knocked onto the ropes and the commonly discussed possibility of McGregor resorting to MMA tactics and earning disqualification.

As Nick Bogdanovich from bookmaker William Hill said pre-fight, “The handle is insane … the props are all drawing fantastic action with the most popular being ‘Will McGregor get disqualified?’ A lot of people believe that McGregor will get frustrated and eventually snap and do something Tyson like.”

Clearly Mayweather was worried about that scenario eventuating too, because as it turns out there was a clause in McGregor’s contract prohibiting him from elbowing or kicking the boxing great during the bout or risk losing his US$100 million payday.

However, the real surprise was the flow of money. When the fight was first announced, Mayweather was listed as a 1/12 or $1.08 favorite, with McGregor at 7/1 or $8 to win. But a huge number of bets were subsequently taken on McGregor springing the upset, dramatically changing the odds at one point to $1.22 for Mayweather and $4.60 for McGregor. Those odds essentially mean that for every five times they fight, punters expect McGregor to win once.

Incredibly, despite Mayweather – one of the greatest boxers of all time – being a huge favorite to win the fight, bookmakers worldwide reported a similar scenario with around 92% of all bets placed being on McGregor. Clearly the Irishman was the popular pick amongst the general public.

That wasn’t so much the case with serious bettors. Although the majority of individual bets were for McGregor, the actual volume of cash being bet was mostly on Mayweather to the tune of around 81%, according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. That’s because the average bet size on Mayweather was 40 times bigger than the average bet size on McGregor, including those two bets of US$1 million on the American to prevail (which netted each around US$180,000 profit).

Westgate reported the average bet on McGregor as US$212, while the average bet on Mayweather was US$8,036!

In the end, the sheer number of bets placed on McGregor at such juicy odds – with bettors set to receive around US$460 back for every US$100 they wagered should the Irishman win – saw many sportsbooks state that such a result would be one of the greatest disasters in the history of bookmaking. They needn’t have worried.

For all the hype that surrounded the fight – which saw ringside seats selling for well over US$100,000 – the result was entirely predictable with Mayweather stopping his opponent in the 10th round. A good result for Floyd, a financial windfall for McGregor, a relief for the bookmakers and a decent return for the broadcasters too with pay-per-view revenue in the US alone bringing in around US$700 million.