Boxing Betting Makes a Comeback

Teofimo Lopez

Mikey Williams

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic affected sports throughout the world. Some sports took a long time to get past the pandemic. The National Basketball Association and National Hockey League had elongated shutdowns while Major League Baseball played a 60-game season.

As one might expect, for a while in 2020, sports bettors suffered to find events on which to wager. Gambling business owners struggled to offers sports betting options that could entice action. Horse racing and UFC were the only sports on which players could bet. 

UFC had its first event during the pandemic, UFC 249, on May 9. Boxing returned a month later, on June 9, when WBO super featherweight titleholder Shakur Stevenson beat Felix Caraballo. 

Two organizations helped boxing get out of the sports shutdown dungeon. Matchroom Boxing, Barry and Eddie Hearn’s pugilist promotion company, started marketing fights in the United Kingdom. In the United States, Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) had fight cards in Texas, Nevada, and Florida.

Before Major League Baseball threw out its first pitch in late July, Matchroom and PBC had already promoted multiple fight cards. Because there was only UFC to contend with, boxing matches on broadcast networks like ESPN and FOX proved incredibly popular.

The coronavirus pandemic helps handicappers rediscover boxing betting

If anything, COVID-19 helped recharge one of the U.S.’s most popular sports. Not only were ratings up, but the action in the ring was intense and gratifying. The pandemic’s effect on other sports helped boxing create new and younger fans. It also introduced basketball, baseball, and football fans to boxing betting. 

Most people are too young to remember when boxing was the most televised sport in the United States. Until 1960 when NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle signed a television contract with CBS, all three networks broadcast horse races, wrestling, and boxing matches.

With eyeballs comes betting dollars, which is why so many people wagered on boxing matches. The pugilist sport continued its sportsbook dominance well into the early 1980s when Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Tommy Hearns fought on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

But boxing handicappers turned their back on the sport once big dollar, pay-per-view fights became the norm. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, mega-events destroyed the public’s taste for the sport.

Promoters set up their star boxers with an unknown, overmatched opponent. The trend continued until 2015 when boxing fans realized Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao had robbed them. That year, Mayweather Jr. beat Pacquiao, who had hurt his shoulder a week before, in one of the most boring mega fights of all time.

Noticing this, PBC began to set more boxing cards. They made an effort to showcase talented fighters at networks like ESPN and FOX Sports 1, which are available to most Americans with a basic cable subscription. DAZN had its first boxing event, Anthony Joshua versus Alexander Povetkin, on September 22, 2018.

PBC, Matchroom, and DAZN, which charged $9 per month for all their boxing and MMA fights, reminded bettors that they could wager on boxing. But although we must credit all three for helping boxing become a betting sport again, 2020 is the year boxing betting made its comeback.

Fight betting resurgence culminates in Lopez vs. Lomachenko

Sports handicappers are fickle. They want decent odds. Too many times during the pay-per-view, super event years, boxing handicappers had to decide between laying money on an underdog who had no chance versus a fighter like Mayweather Jr. who entered the ring only to pad his undefeated record.

In most of his fights, Floyd Mayweather Jr. went off at around -2000 to -2500. The underdog in those fights offered from+750 to +900. The odds didn’t justify a bet. That all changed in 2020. 

Boxing betting returned due to the coronavirus pandemic. Sports handicappers will continue because of what happened on September 17.

The pound-for-pound greatest fighter on the planet at the time, Vasiliy Lomachenko, entered the ring a -400 favorite to beat Teofimo Lopez. Loma had dominated opponents during his career. He was a walking, talking legend. 

But Lopez beat him. When underdogs beat favorites, bettors take notice. All sports betting players look for overlay odds. In this case, Lopez had produced the ultimate overlay, a +350 payday in a two-horse race.

Sports betting software agents take notice

Sportsbooks like William-Hill have always offered boxing bets, but up until recently, most gambling website white label or pay per head sportsbook operators had offered few, if any, boxing options. Lack of interest was the main culprit.

Two million people tuned in to ESPN to watch Lomachenko versus Lopez, though. What makes the ratings more impressive is that the most important college football games of the year up to that point, Alabama versus Georgia, was on at the same time.

More competitive, big-time matches are in boxing’s future. Along with larger sportsbooks, bookmakers that offer free betting software will offer those options, helping to push the boxing betting resurgence forward.