Nevada Commission Approves Return Of UFC And Boxing, Providing Sports Betting Bump

On Wednesday morning the NSAC rubber-stamped the UFC and Top Rank's May and June fight cards, to the delight of fans and sportsbooks.

At a digital hearing Wednesday morning to approve COVID-19 protocols and plans for two upcoming UFC fight cards and two Top Rank boxing cards, the Nevada State Athletic Commission signed off on all motions quickly and without drama. And with that, MMA will return to Las Vegas this Saturday, May 30, and boxing will be back in just under two weeks, on June 9.

The fights will not be open to the public, but casinos will, at least in time for the Top Rank show at the MGM Grand; they’re slated, per Gov. Steve Sisolak, to reopen next Thursday, June 4.

So this is welcome news for both brick-and-mortar and mobile sportsbooks — in Nevada and in other states with legal sports betting — as a few more events suitable for wagering are officially on the calendar.

NSAC fires off a quick five-punch combination

Five motions passed unanimously within a span of less than 10 minutes:

  • One to approve the NSAC’s COVID-19 protocols for events held without a live audience
  • One to allow UFC to promote an event on May 30 at UFC Apex, to be televised on ESPN and ESPN+
  • One to allow UFC to promote an event on June 6 at UFC Apex, to be televised on ESPN and ESPN+
  • One to allow Top Rank to promote an event on June 9 at MGM Grand, to be televised on ESPN and ESPN+
  • One to allow Top Rank to promote an event on June 11 at MGM Grand, to be televised on ESPN and ESPN+

“I would just ask all of my fellow commissioners to be ready,” NSAC Chairman Anthony A. Marnell III said after the motions passed and nobody else on the call spoke up during the public comment period. “This is a fluid situation, and we should be ready to move and change.”

Bob Bennett, the executive director of the commission, made a couple of brief statements about the cooperation between the NSAC and the promoters.

“Throughout this process, we’ve been working hand in glove with the UFC,” Bennett said.

“I’ve been working with the executives from Top Rank,” he added. “I’ve reviewed their operations plan. They’re still in the process of completing it, it’s very comprehensive, it’s moving in the right direction. … I expect it to be very successful.”

The only question proposed during the brief hearing came from commission member Staci Alonso, who asked, “Do we have any process or formal procedure that would require, whether it is on MMA or boxing side, that if someone should be confirmed [COVID-19] positive post-event, that we are notified of the outcome?”

Marnell replied that a positive test for the coronavirus is required to be reported to the local health department but not to the commission.

Boxing back after three months

There has not been a televised boxing card in the U.S. since a March 13 ShoBox event in Minnesota, which will bring added attention to Top Rank’s first show — the beginning of what CEO Bob Arum has said is a plan to stage events every Tuesday and Thursday throughout June and July.

The promotional company recently reopened its Las Vegas gym to allow boxers to train in advance of the approval Top Rank was confident was coming.

There are no odds available yet at any major sportsbook on any of the boxing matches because none of the bouts have been announced. The first card, June 9, will feature 2016 Olympic silver medalist Shakur Stevenson in a 10-round non-title fight, and other possible matchups have been floated for other June and July dates, but nothing is locked in. What is apparent is that, given the relatively short notice, these will not be championship-level fights.

Showtime Sports President Stephen Espinoza told Al Bernstein last week that his network plans to begin televising fights again in July, believing that’s a more realistic time frame for staging major boxing bouts.

May 30 UFC odds posted

The UFC, meanwhile, has already announced its full May 30 card, headlined by former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley vs. Gilbert Burns, who has won five straight fights. Most major sportsbooks have all 11 bouts on the card available for wagering.

For the main event, DraftKings Sportsbook has listed Woodley as a -182 favorite, with Burns at +150.

At FanDuel Sportsbook, you can get a slightly better return on Burns at +156, while FOX Bet offers a mild discount on Woodley at -175.

This is not the first UFC card in the U.S. since the pandemic began. Dana White’s company staged three events in Florida in the span of a week earlier this month, beginning with Justin Gaethje’s heavily bet upset of Tony Ferguson on May 9.

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