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Inoue vs Donaire: Another Fight of the Year contender proves there’s life in the underdogs yet

In Saitama, Donaire defied Father Time to embarrass the odds compilers once again.


Sports betting is a huge business.

With a lack of restriction in the UK, the gambling market has continued to grow over the past decades, becoming ingrained in the nation’s sporting experience. It’s become the perfect supplement to many’s enjoyments of their favourite sport. Whether it’s a Saturday accumulator on the Premier League 3 pm kick-offs, a flutter on the “gee-gees” or a speculative pick on an Icelandic women’s basketball match — everything has a market; everything has a price.

Through working inside the betting industry for the last seven years, I’ve become numb to the coverage — and level of competition — that bookmakers can provide. Filling their “books” with 24/7 content allows punters to hand over their money on any second of any given day; whether it’s the World Cup final or an Iranian Division 4 U18s match, a bet is a bet.

It takes an expert eye to catch out the compilers and source value in events that have been overlooked by particular bookmakers. Most errors will be quickly stamped out as a discrepancy against rival firms is discovered; however, in boxing, there seems to be an ever-growing case for backing the underdog.

We know the saying, “it takes one punch to change the outcome of a fight,” but throughout this past summer, it’s been the heart and determination of the underdog that has made compilers look way off the mark as they try and lure punters into making a bet.

Anthony Joshua’s loss to Andy Ruiz Jr in June set the trend for a run of fights where the underdog was priced significantly longer than reality proved. Some firms offered 20/1 (+2000) on the Ruiz Jr. upset, with bookmaker’s smiles as broad as the “Destroyer’s” following the end of the fight in the seventh round.

An Anthony Joshua fight is enormous business for the big UK betting companies, with millions lost by the punters in assuming “AJ” was on course to retain his belts in style. Some huge stakes would have been placed on Joshua at a heavily odds-on price, with a majority of social bets picking the round he was expected to decapitate the underdog.

The stretch of Fight of the Year contenders we have had in the second half of 2019 underlines the size of the perceived gulf between the favourite and the underdog in these huge events. At 1/5 (-500) Errol Spence Jr and Gennadiy Golovkin were considered huge favourites for their respective fights against Shawn Porter and Sergey Derevyanchenko – two bouts that were so far from this foregone conclusion before the first bell struck.

Close decisions on the judges’ scorecards made a mockery of these pre-fight odds in two fantastic scraps, with easy money to be made on cashing out – or laying off – the underdog during the fight to recoup winnings before the final bell.

Canelo was similarly favoured at 1/4 (-400) to beat Sergey Kovalev last week, with the late stoppage potentially sparing a tight, contested decision on the scorecards.

Last Thursday in Saitama saw another perfect example of an underdog being priced out of the fight before the first bell had rung. Nonito Donaire could be found at 10/1 (+1000) on Thursday morning to upset hometown hero Naoya Inoue in the final of the World Boxing Super Series. Despite losing the fight on the scorecards, the “Filipino Flash” defied Father Time to make a mockery of the pre-fight lines once again in a competitive thriller worthy of its grandeur.

I can’t say I blame them. As much as I adore Nonito and his glittering career, there wasn’t a way I could really see him winning this fight against the “Monster.”

The bookies’ job is to walk the tightrope at the optimum height. To set odds wide enough to protect them against losses, but short enough to lure you into backing the underdog. Currently, there tends to be a trend of “safety-first” by a majority of odds compilers, providing an unprecedented value in the underdog.

The lack of form in boxing is a big reason why bookmakers opt for this safety-first approach in many fights. In more traditional, season-upon-season sports, you have the head-to-head records of both teams as well as previous results from the last month to gain a real perspective and indication on their form and, therefore, likeliness to win their next fixture.

With some fighters jumping up weight classes, fighting for the first time after a long lay-off or even masking injuries in the lead up to a fight that would be seldom seen in less machismo-driven sports, it’s harder to gauge a true perspective on the likelihood of either fighter winning the contest.

It’s why we love the sport. Foregone conclusions are less common the higher up the boxing pyramid we climb, with the underdogs continuing to bite harder than their prices suggest.

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