Boxing still beats MMA for bookies

by Evan Korn | source: The Underground

Boxing gets more big-action bets than Mixed Martial Arts events.
Bookies: Boxing still the champion of combat sports

Mixed Martial Arts was a mere twinkle in the sporting public’s eye. It was November 12, 1993 and UFC rolled out its first event (UFC 1: The Beginning), an eight-man round-robin event, that invaded McNichols Sports Arena in Denver. Two thousand and eight hundred patrons showed up, while the event notched 86,000 pay-per-views buys.

In the humble beginnings of an emerging conglomerate, boxing/MMA oddsmaker Joey Oddessa held court at an upstate New York strip club, making odds off the cuff and taking bets. Ken Shamrock, one of MMA’s early superstars, was going off at 3-to-1. The eventual winner, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master Royce Gracie, paid off at 10-to-1.

Even in its nascent stages, Oddessa saw MMA’s crossover appeal. The scantily clad women gyrating on poles were afterthoughts.

“There was nobody watching the dancers,” Oddessa recalls.

Since The Beginning, MMA has graduated from strip club bookmaking. The UFC, run by Zuffa, LLC and Dana White, has been at the forefront of the MMA explosion. Its “Ultimate Fighter” reality television program, which debuted in 2005, has introduced future MMA stars to the masses while becoming a feeder system for their pay-per-view cards.

Headliners like Brock Lesnar, Chuck Liddell and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson became known personalities with drawing power at the box office and sportsbooks.

This past Saturday’s UFC 116, headlined by the Lesnar-Shane Carwin heavyweight title match, sold out the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and grabbed more than one million North American pay-per-view buys. Some experts proclaimed it was the most anticipated bout in MMA history.

The sport’s growing popularity, especially among the younger male demographic, has made it a more accepted betting entity. However, in the combat sports realm, boxing remains the golden goose.

“It will take some years for the actual betting of the UFC/MMA to eclipse boxing, although more individual wagers come in on the UFC,” Oddessa said. “There are a lot more smaller, less lucrative bets on the UFC.”

Those smaller wagers drive MMA betting. Once the persona non grata in the Vegas gaming community, the interest in the sport has forced old-school casinos to take notice of the new kid in class.

According to Jeff Stoneback, Race and Sportsbook Manager at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, MMA’s appeal is its ability to capture an ever broadening demographic.

“Boxing, on the big bouts, we’ll take some larger wagers,” Stoneback said. “On the UFC, we’ll write smaller tickets, but there will be a greater number of bettors.”

Those bettors, mostly young men with less disposable income than high rollers, tend to risk smaller sums. Those $20 bets are pale in comparison to the thousands wagered by the big fish on a boxing mega-fight. Stoneback said a boxing superfight, like the May 1 clash between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley, will outdraw Lesnar-Carwin at the windows 10-to-1.

Much of that disparity boils down to the economics of the respective sports and its fans.

“A boxing main event like Mayweather-Mosley will tend to have higher wager limits, which would increase the volume simply because you have one guy making $20 million,” Oddessa said. “In the UFC, a main event guy could make $1 million, making the books less comfortable to take higher wagers on the individual fighters.”

Added Stoneback: “At this point, being that {MMA fans} are younger, they are not fully versed on gambling as the older boxer fans. They are more into betting on the fight and picking the winner.”

Economics aside, boxing is the more book-friendly sport. Twelve-round championship bouts create 24 round prop bets alone. Result props like decision, KO/disqualification, draw and over/under foster greater intrigue in betting circles. MMA props, which do include over/under among other props at the online books, have not exploded.

“You tend to find smaller action on MMA because there are more ways to finish a fight than boxing,” Oddessa said. “In boxing, you get more steady two-way action, whereas the MMA props are not as profitable.”

Stoneback said the Mirage did not offer props on the Lesnar-Carwin main event. The winner/loser wagers on that bout and several of its undercard contests spurred enough interest at the windows. That tells part of the story.

While online sportsbooks offer props for major MMA events (, for instance, offered 24 possible outcomes), MMA props tend to be riskier plays for the books.

Case in point is Mirko Cro Cop, the striking specialist who won UFC 115’s “Submission of the Night” when he defeated Pat Barry with a third-round rear naked choke. Cro Cop only had three submissions in 36 professional contests heading into the Barry bout, thus the odds on Cro Cop to win that honor were astronomical leaving sportsbooks paying out big on submission prop.

Hiccups asides, MMA is becoming a more viable betting option. The sport does not have a star on the Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao level, but personalities like Lesnar and a devoted fan base have forced sportsbooks to embrace MMA.

“MMA is the fastest growing spectator and wagering sport today, without a shadow of a doubt,” Oddessa said.


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Recent Comments »

bsrizpac site profile image  

7/9/10 8:15 AM by bsrizpac

Grappling is is still easier to fix

JCNovak site profile image  

7/9/10 12:22 AM by JCNovak

everytime eh? I don't think I've ever hear a "pro gambler" say that anything is money everytime, nor do I think I've ever heard a professional refer to themselves as a gambler before either....I'm guessing you get a limo sent for you to bet that prop every time too. MMA bettors may fill the sportsbooks but as Oddessa was implying it's with $25-$100 wagers and parlays. But I'm sure you know better than he does just like I'm sure those Offshore books that Oddessa works with are nothing but a minor nuisance to the books in Vegas.

GC111 site profile image  

7/8/10 4:53 PM by GC111

FRATEdit: I got it now. Someone can throw a fight.

Oddessa site profile image  

7/8/10 4:41 PM by Oddessa

did u read the thread? u really cant be that naive gunsmoke...?    

GC111 site profile image  

7/8/10 6:20 AM by GC111

This. What does fighter's salary have to do with betting limits??

HOLLYWOOD-MO site profile image  

7/8/10 1:25 AM by HOLLYWOOD-MO

It should definitely be talked about imo. Thanks for clearing that up.

bsrizpac site profile image  

7/7/10 10:12 PM by bsrizpac


Oddessa site profile image  

7/7/10 6:39 PM by Oddessa

 Same with small boxing bouts. Low limits. Props are just a pain in ass. From my experience you usually only get bet a prop if the odds are really long or  really wrong  and when they hit it turns a winning night on an undercard fight into a loser. I'm not  a fan of props unless you absolutely rob the player with a ridiculously high house hold % on them by offfering less favorable odds that only a sucker would bet into.  Thats why they are low limit. I dont like offering something ever with the intention of getting new players in the door  if I dont think its a beatable proposition for the house.  I think its marketings job to get people in the door not someone who creates numbers. Biggest misconception about Vegas is that Las Vegas wants big sports betting money outside of NFL and NBA. Betting SPORTS in LAS VEGAS is so overrated its beyond comprehension. VEGAS wants SUCKERS.  ... we all do..but thats not the point...I am getting at here... Vegas wants players on the table games.  BUT...if they dont offer sportsbetting..say UFC....and say a guy wins 20k on craps table at Casino A ..then goes down the strip to bet an MMA bout or Boxing bout at CASINO B  beacuse Casino A  doesnt offer odds on the UFC and they keepem at CASINO B, he blows back CASINO A's  money at CASINO B 's tables.   

eljamaiquino site profile image  

7/7/10 6:16 PM by eljamaiquino

It's very easy for a skilled striker to throw matches too. There are many journeymen boxers who know that they are paid to let the other guy win, and are skilled enough to not take much damage along the way.

Oddessa site profile image  

7/7/10 6:13 PM by Oddessa

Lower limits are largely due to some things mentioned above. You have to keep the integrity of the sport in mind when setting limits on 1 on 1 matchups especially untill a sport grows to level where guys make much larger paydays.  Arena Football for instance may top out at like 1k-2k limits and thats an entire  team sport. Where as you can bet 100k on an NFL  game.  For example: It's completely irresponsible IMHO for a sportsbook to offer 5k type wagering limits on a guy with a 12-7 record that may be a 4-1 wagering favorite against a guy that has a 6-2 record when they might be making as much as 5k  to show and 5k to win.  At end of day the 12-7 or 12-8 doesnt make a huge difference in a guys career ..especially if a guy loses by DQ or something. I dont even like addressing the topic because its brutal  to think about it happening, puts ideas in peoples heads, brings out all the conspiracy people...and believe me the people that try and get cute rarely get outed...I mean it is a huge crime..especially in Vegas...but dont think most  people on the sportsbook side of the counter are dumb.  It doesnt take much to identify suspicious wagering patterns if your paying attention to whats going on. Google:   Richie Melito, Bobby Mitchell, Boxing Scandal and read about the career ending consequences and the jail time that resulted there from simply talking about fixes in effort to build up a fighter.  Its bad news and not worth it. I stay away from smaller shows to avoid any nonsense like this taking place.