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Will boxing’s underdogs bite harder behind closed doors?

‘Magic’ Mike has set the bar. Will quarantined bouts lead to more upsets in the coming months? 

Joshua Greer Jr v Mike Plania Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank via Getty Images
Lewis Watson is a sports writer from London, UK, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has been a contributor at Bad Left Hook since 2018.

Priced up as a -4500 favourite against Josec Ruiz on Thursday night, Gabriel Flores Jr’s implied probability of landing the 18th victory of his pro career stands at around 97.8%.

The bookmakers haven’t given Ruiz a sniff in Las Vegas (where have we heard that before?), and even less so by one punter who has decided there is real value in the market. Elisa Richardson, head of communications and public relations at BetMGM, claims a bet for $187,847.35 was placed on the 20-year-old American this week – potential returns standing at $4,173.95.

With fights staged behind closed doors until further notice, the long-established narrative of the no-hoper underdog may require closer inspection.

Previously, “home fighters” would struggle to view their opponent with clarity from behind the height of chips stacked in their favour. Now, with the absence of partisan support, opinion-swaying, propaganda-fueled, adrenaline-inducing reactions to punches from their fighters, a purer form of mano a mano inside the ring may act – in some circumstances – as the great equaliser.

The first notable upset following boxing’s return came on Tuesday evening, as ‘Magic’ Mike Plania edged out Joshua Greer Jr via a 10-round majority decision. In our Staff Picks, Scott and I flirted with the idea of putting forward the argument for a Plania victory – Scott more strongly than myself – but we couldn’t quite carry it through with any conviction.

The needle moved considerably on this fight with many punters, rightly, seeing the considerable value in Plania’s original price of 12/1 (+1200) to secure the upset. His price eventually settled around 3/1 (+300) with many believing this will be the first of many upsets in our crowd-less adaption of boxing.

That’s not to reduce Plania’s victory to one of mere circumstance. The Filipino’s lead left hook was a fearsome weapon throughout, and despite gassing late in the fight, rarely seemed troubled by Greer’s work.

“Some fighters, they have a huge fan base and anything they do in the ring, it doesn’t matter what it is, if it’s flashy, everybody is screaming,” Timothy Bradley told ESPN when asked about the impact of empty arenas. “That has a big influence and impact on judges. I think not having the fans, judges should be able to have basically their own opinion and not be persuaded in any way by the fans.”

Bradley’s argument focused more on the perception of the judges at ringside – Dave Moretti’s 94-94 card on Tuesday proof that he’s not signing up to this school of thought – but for an underdog “gym fighter” who hasn’t experienced the hubbub of a live audience event, stepping into this quarantined environment could be perceived as a comfort.

Underdogs are less likely to experience that ‘rabbit in the headlights’ moment; there is now less altruism shown by the away fighter as the opportunity to steal a scalp presents itself without contradiction. There are also crippling fears that the future in boxing may not burn so bright for guys that are considered “away fighters”. A necessity for tune-ups and record-padding victories early in a prospect’s career may prove a thing of the past, as cards feature fewer bouts and money from the gate becomes non-existent.

These opportunities handed out to “gym fighters” may be their last for some time – the desperation to impress may translate to a spike in upsets.

Boxing Mania 6 Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images

It’s a banana-skin that Jason Moloney is all too eager to avoid. The Australian bantamweight contender takes on Leonardo Baez, 18-2, next Thursday after a last-minute opponent change for his MGM Grand debut. It’s a moment the 29-year-old has been waiting a lifetime for, but he’s under no illusions that the relatively unknown Mexican will test him.

“I’m feeling great, mate,” Jason told me this week from his private house in Vegas, awaiting a transfer to the Top Rank ‘Bubble’ on Saturday. “Baez is a good, strong fighter and he’s 5” 9. I’m expecting a tough fight, but I’m more than ready.”

It’s a sentiment that his manager shares. “We have put in the hard yards. We have given ourselves the best prep possible,” Tony Tolj answered in response to any fears their team has ahead of next week.

As boxing continues to find it’s feet in a post-pandemic world, this sub-plot of inspired and unfazed underdogs may provide us with more discussion topics than expected. Saying that, stay tuned for the inevitable streaks of 4-0 shutouts in upcoming Staff Picks.

With $187,847.35 on the line this evening, Josec Ruiz will have gained a few unlikely fans come the opening bell, as he looks for the most costly dog bite of them all!

Follow Lewis Watson on Twitter @lewroyscribbles

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