The legitimacy of Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor as a truly competitive sporting event will continue to be argued in every bar, office, gym – and on every forum, blog and Twitter feed – the world over until the early hours of Sunday morning. Something no longer up for debate, though, is that Mayweather-McGregor is the biggest boxing (see also: combat sports) betting event of all time.
It’s bigger, say Dublin-based bookmaker Paddy Power, than the last World Cup final. It’s a similar story at Betfair, where – at time of writing – over £23m had been matched across main and side markets, dwarfing the previous record of £8.9m on Mayweather-Pacquiao. There has rarely been a more fitting tagline for an event than this, ‘The Money Fight’.
You’ll have read countless technical breakdowns of Mayweather-McGregor (never ‘MayGregor’) by now, each discussing at length the likely tactics to be employed by each man and their possible keys to victory. There’ll be none of that in this column.
Barring those involved with the McGregor camp, whether training or sparring – Owen Roddy, John Kavanagh, Joe Cortez, Louis Adolphe, and yes, Paulie Malignaggi, plus a select few others – everyone is, frankly, guessing as to what Saturday night will look like without any first-hand experience of seeing Conor McGregor in a boxing ring.
So, instead, let me put it to you like this (as succinctly as I possibly can: thinking entirely from a boxing betting perspective and implied value, and based on current odds):
Floyd Mayweather to beat Conor McGregor is one of the best prices of all time.*
(*at time of writing, Mayweather was a best-priced -350 (2/7) favourite with Sky Bet, -400 (1/4) more generally across the industry.)
Let me put to you another way: Conor McGregor (+350, 7/2) might win on Saturday. He might. It’s unlikely, but he could win. Mayweather could break down with injury and be walked down by McGregor. McGregor could win a freakish technical decision. He could even catch Mayweather with that fabled left hand. Bear with me. He could. He most likely won’t, but he could.
Yet, even if McGregor knocked Mayweather out cold within 30 seconds, or ragdolled the smaller, older man around the ring and brutally stopped him inside six, or clearly outpointed him over the distance - even if every single bet on Mayweather lost – it would remain the case that anyone soberly tearing up their betslip could take solace in the fact that they had put their money on one of the best boxing prices in history.
For context: at that best price of -350 (2/7) – a price that varies wildly across the industry, but more on that later – Floyd Mayweather (49-0, 26 KOs) is the very same price to beat Conor McGregor (0-0, 0 KOs) as Badou Jack is to beat Nathan Cleverly, an accomplished, experienced 175lb titleholder, in his first fight at the new weight. Let that sink in.
Not enough for you? Mayweather was roughly the same quote (priced between -400 and -250, depending on where you shopped) to beat Canelo Alvarez, a supremely talented, elite-level boxer. He was a landslide favourite against Andre Berto (between -10000 and -2000) at odds that are a world away from those currently available on McGregor. We could continue, of course.
Full disclosure: I admire Conor McGregor greatly and I love – love – watching him fight. I’m a big MMA fan. His odds this weekend, however, do not represent his chances of winning. His chances of beating Floyd Mayweather, the finest pure boxer in (at least) a decade. His odds (and Mayweather’s with it) have been grossly distorted by the sheer weight of public money placed on him.
On the layers’ outlook, a spokesman from Betway hinted at the same concern being felt by oddsmakers everywhere. “Bookmakers usually support an outsider,” he said, “but given the number of punters backing McGregor at sizeable odds, Saturday’s fight [is] a different prospect.” Anecdotally, a trader at a large, publicly-listed European sportsbook, echoed the sentiment: “There are [board] meetings about this fight… [it’s] share price level risk.”
At the turn of the year, McGregor was listed as an 11-to-1 (+1100) outsider by bookmaker BetStars. Mayweather was available with other firms at anything between -2000 and -2500 across UK and Europe, with even more lopsided quotes elsewhere. He’s now less than a 3-to-1 underdog. The driving force has been throwaway punts from casual fans, but it’s been relentless throughout the build-up, with up to 95% of all wagers on The Notorious.
A reminder: many people do not like Floyd Mayweather. He’s played the role of boxing bad guy better than anyone in the 21st century. He became the richest sportsman on the planet because many people do not like him and have repeatedly paid good money to tune in to see him lose in a boxing match. Many people love Conor McGregor. Conor McGregor is a national hero. Conor McGregor exudes charisma and a straight-talking, man-of-the-people persona. Conor McGregor has a fantastic rags-to-riches backstory that will inspire countless young athletes to try to do the same.
The once-distinct, and fairly basic concepts of (i) wanting someone to win and (ii) actually, actually believing it'll happen might never be as muddied as they'll be this week. At that early price of -2500 (1/25), the implied probability of a Mayweather victory was over 96%. At the current odds of -350 (2/7), the same outcome is considered less than 78% likely. Floyd Mayweather – still arguably the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, when active – is forcibly priced at odds that suggest he’s got just a 78% chance of beating a debutant.
The world of boxing betting, often so marginalised – to the point where you can find prices on an outright win, but no prop markets, on undercard bouts for most weeks each year – explodes into life whenever an enormous event rolls into town.
The sheer depth of side markets, request-a-bet specials, quirky novelty punts and competition between firms for Mayweather-McGregor, though, has been like nothing seen before. And hey, if nothing else, we’ve got a PPV cost to cover, so here are some of the most unusual wagers you could place this weekend, though quite how you’d assign them a true price is another matter altogether.
This fight is, of course, part-event, part-fight, and Bovada opened earlier in the week with side markets that bordered on the ridiculous. If you fancied putting your hard-earned on Mayweather to walk to the ring wearing a TMT baseball cap, you could, and at odds of -400. The same firm also fancied Mayweather to bring a larger entourage to the ring with him, quoting that at -155 (4/7) to have the longest ring walk, with McGregor at +125 (5/4) to be accompanied by fewer hangers-on.
It doesn’t stop there, of course. Sky Bet’s neatly-titled 49-1 specials market has a Mayweather-McGregor inside the Octagon at any time in the next 12 months at, well, 49-1 (+4900). For McGregor to win and immediately announce his retirement from all combat sports – and not, indeed, ‘rule both MMA and boxing with an iron fist’, as he’s claimed – it’s +3300 (33/1). With the same firm, it’s +800 (8/1) that McGregor’s team throws in the towel to end the fight, a fairly plausible, albeit highly-specific, scenario. It’s +4000 (40/1) that Mayweather gets knocked down in the first round but goes on to win the contest by any means.
Over at William Hill, there’s a similar theme. It’s +1200 (12/1) that McGregor lands under 25 punches and Mayweather to have won every round on all judges’ scorecards whenever the fight ends, and a far more modest -150 (4/6) that McGregor lands under 45 all night, settled by Compubox numbers. To put that into context, Berto landed 83 on the most recent version of Mayweather that we’ve seen. It’s +600 (6/1) that the Irishman breaks the 100 mark. Should he fail with that more conventional approach, it’s +2500 that he lands a head kick at any point or, rather more fancifully, +20000 (200/1) that he’s disqualified for applying a choke hold during the first round.