Floyd Mayweather came to the ring at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami on Sunday wearing a face mask promoting an offshore sportsbook.
Other than the fact that nobody in Florida wears facial coverings anymore, it felt about right. It very much captured the spirit of the all-time great professional boxer’s exhibition bout against social media star Logan Paul.
Regulated U.S. sportsbooks were not taking bets on this fight, and for good reason: The rules were unknown at first, and then it was revealed that there would be no ringside judges and thus a high likelihood the fight would have no winner.
But offshore sportsbooks, operating outside the reach of any regulatory body, did take action on Mayweather vs. Paul.
One person on Twitter passed along a glimpse at those odds:
@EricRaskin you like any of these bets tomorrow night:
Mayweather to Win -700
Over 0.5 -265
Under 0.5 +205
Will Fight Go the Distance?
— Auburn Tweep (@AUTweep) June 6, 2021
As it turned out, with the fight going all eight scheduled rounds and no knockdowns scored, there was a bit of plus-money to be made if you picked the correct side of the props. But the more pertinent market surrounded betting on a winner. Mayweather as a -700 favorite? That’s an automatic bet, if you get a refund in the case of no winner being declared. It’s an atrocious price if you lose your money in the case of it going the distance.
So how does a sportsbook deal with a situation like that? By not having to make any difficult decisions. By not allowing betting on an exhibition of this sort.
Fight or farce?
It was reasonable to enter Sunday night’s Showtime Pay-Per-View main event concerned that Mayweather vs. Paul would turn out to be completely farcical. Paul had advantages of six inches in height and some 35 pounds in weight, while being 18 years the junior of the 44-year-old “Money” Mayweather. And Mayweather had the advantage of being one of the best ever to lace on gloves, taking on a YouTube-famous novice.
If you follow boxing, if you followed Mayweather’s illustrious in-ring career, if you watched his final official professional fight against MMA icon Conor McGregor, you knew roughly how this would go. As long as the 2021 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee’s body didn’t break down on him, he couldn’t lose.
But only Floyd himself could know how hard he’d be trying to win.
Once the opening bell rang, the bout was not farcical. It was a mismatch, yes, but Paul was pugilistically competent and well-conditioned. Mayweather came to win but just didn’t have the physical tools as a middle-aged man to knock out someone competent, conditioned, and sized like Thunderlips to his Rocky.
Mayweather didn’t carry Paul. The outcome was not scripted. This wasn’t WWE.
If there had been judges, it would have been an easy 78-74 decision for Mayweather. But there weren’t judges. So nobody won.
Betting on an event like that, which can have a deserving winner but still end with nobody getting their hand raised, isn’t just opening up a can of worms. It’s opening up hundreds of cases of those canned worms, dumping all the squishy nightcrawlers into a swimming pool, and diving in.
Betting odds ‘for entertainment purposes only’
Interestingly, even though Mayweather was promoting an offshore book, DraftKings was a sponsor of the event. And the regulated sportsbook and daily fantasy giant posted odds “for entertainment purposes only,” which were cited on the broadcast.
You couldn’t bet any of these, but Mayweather was a -1000 favorite and Paul a +650 underdog. And those numbers clearly included either fighter winning by decision, since DK also listed odds of Mayweather by KO, TKO, or disqualification at -160 and Paul by the same methods of victory at +1000. So, to be clear: There would be no decision rendered by ringside judges, and we’re posting odds as if there would be a decision, but you can’t bet on these lines anyway.
It’s counterintuitive. But, hey, “for entertainment purposes only.” In other words, for use as a point of discussion on the broadcast.
DraftKings did the same thing with the opening bout on the four-fight card, a four-round exhibition (with shortened two-minute rounds) pitting former NFL wide receiver Chad Ochocinco against winless combat sports athlete Brian Maxwell.
This is really about to happen 😅 pic.twitter.com/0FWRNmK1DA
— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) June 7, 2021
The other two fights on the card were real fights, pitting pro boxer against pro boxer, and one of them, Luis Arias’ upset decision win over former 154-pound titleholder Jarrett Hurd, was a tremendous action showcase. Those fights were available for legal wagering, with boxing sharps — or just lucky longshot chasers — collecting up to 7/1 on the underdog Arias.
DraftKings also offered one of its free-to-play pools for Sunday’s fight card — entirely legal in any state because participants risk nothing while trying to answer 10 questions correctly and win a share of the promotional prizes. DraftKings runs these pools constantly, including during election season, in lieu of legal political betting.
What markets are safe for betting?
There are commonalities to these various types of competition that exist in a gray area for wagering. Exhibition boxing matches, elections, WWE matches, the Academy Awards, celebrity golf matches, preseason baseball games — they all bring to the table varying degrees of uncertainty surrounding either whether the result is predetermined, how hard the competitors will be trying to win, or, in the case of political betting, whether something so important should in any way intersect with the gambling world.
For the most part, betting markets like these come with modest dollar limits. For example, New Jersey allows Oscars betting, with a maximum win of $1,000. The amount of money available to win or lose shouldn’t inflict major damage on bettors or books nor should it threaten the so-called integrity of the competition.
There’s an implied caveat emptor with any bet on a game that doesn’t impact the standings — but the industry should know better than to trust gamblers to be entirely responsible with their money.
You could make a case that allowing modest bets on Mayweather-Paul — maybe capped at $100 — would be fun and harmless and good for bringing customers to sportsbooks and helping sell pay-per-views. But are you doing more harm than good if any bet on either fighter to win just gets refunded because it’s a no-decision situation?
And perhaps even worse than that is betting on an exhibition fight such as November’s meeting between fifty-somethings Mike Tyson and Roy Jones. That fight did have judges, but they weren’t trained professionals — ex-boxer Vinny Paz turned in a particularly unfathomable score — and the bout was deemed a draw. Bad judging is always a risk when betting on combat sports, but this was an outrage even by boxing’s subterranean standards.
It’s a fair bit safer to allow betting on a golf exhibition like Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning vs. Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady, as there’s a legit scoreboard to track. But when nobody’s tapping in their putts, because apparently getting it within three feet of the hole is good enough, gambling on such an event can get the blood pressure rising higher than a typical, legitimate sporting contest.
So did the U.S. sportsbooks lose out on some business that the offshores were able to capitalize on Sunday night? Probably. But better to sacrifice a small pile of dollars than to compromise a larger pile of trust.
Regulated sports betting is still in its infancy in every state but Nevada, and the last thing sportsbooks need is to take bets on Mayweather to prevail, for bettors to watch him control the fight, and for those bettors to not see their bankrolls grow. Mayweather-Paul was, in many ways, the ultimate example of a no-win situation.
Photo by Jasen Vinlove / USA Today Sports