IBHOF inductee and boxing gambling expert Graham Houston looks at why boxing odds have been inflated over the years to the current era of 1/50 favourites.

You look at the betting lines for the week’s fights and you shake your head. Feel pretty confident that a certain fighter will win? You’re likely to see that fighter priced in the stratosphere. This is an era where 1/50 (-50000) odds on favourites have become the norm.

It never used to be like this. Back in the 1930s, the great Joe Louis was only a 1/12 favourite against Jack Roper (who had lost 39 times), 1/6 against pudgy Tony Galento and 1/10 for the mismatch with Johnny Paychek. Those odds would be laughable today. Louis would be 1/100, even 1/200, for such unequal affairs.

Oddsmakers have become sharper over the years. In the digital age, one-sided match-ups are easier to spot. Video can reveal a lot. 

Also, an oddsmaker has to shape his line with an eye on the likely betting pattern.

For instance, sporting types will always be looking to bet on an undefeated fighting machine such as welterweight contender Jaron “Boots” Ennis. That’s why we’re seeing Ennis as anywhere from a 1/33 to 1/50 favourite to beat Thomas Dulorme this weekend. Dulorme is a seasoned fighter with respectable skills. But Ennis has the look of an extra-special fighter and this is reflected in the sky-high odds. 

Ennis was “only” a 1/8 favourite against Sergey Lipinets earlier this year but he blew away the tough Russian fighter in six rounds. So an oddsmaker would bear this in mind when setting a number for Ennis’ next bout (the one against Dulorme).

Also, an oddsmaker tends to price a favourite at a high number to make accumulators (parlays) that much trickier for bettors. It’s what the American betting community calls “adding juice”.

With clear favourites offered at around 1/16 or 1/25, a bettor has to fill several slots in an accumulator to get a worthwhile return. And, obviously, the more selections that are added to an accumulator, the greater the chance that something will go wrong. 

And it’s actually not that unusual for an overpriced favourite to lose. This year, for instance, we saw Mauricio Lara defeat 1/25 favourite Josh Warrington, Andrey Fedosov bang out 1/20 choice Mahammadrasul Majidov in the first round and James Martin pull off one of the year’s big surprises by edging out rising star Vito Mielnicki Jr, who was a whopping 1/50 favourite. 

In hindsight, those three favourites were all in high-risk fights against opponents who could win: Lara a tough Mexican battler who can punch, Fedosov a seasoned fighter who was a big step up for former amateur world-beater Majidov, and Martin a well-schooled Philadelphia boxer. But Warrington, Majidov and Mielnicki were all undefeated and all, on paper, looked like winners. (But as old-school fight guy Al Braverman would remark, usually with expletive added: “Fights are fought in the ring, not on paper.”)

So, a bettor who stacks an accumulator with huge favourites is flirting with disaster. Parlay-busters are just around the corner. And that’s how the oddsmaker likes it; he’s not in business to give players an easy ride.

Another thing to consider is that often times a fight is made specifically for a certain boxer to get the win. (That is, a bout designed to pad a prospect’s record.) The oddsmaker is hip to this. So, you’ll see 1/50 odds on an up-and-comer matched against an opponent who, as old-time fight guys would say, “knows what he’s there for”.

These, then, are some of the reasons you see such such inflated prices on the betting boards. It’s not that every fight with juiced odds is a mismatch. It’s just that betting odds aren’t structured solely on “Fighter A beats Fighter B”. It’s a bit more subtle than that.

And with all this in mind, an article by syndicated columnist Jack Cuddy (published way back on November 20, 1943) has a certain relevance. Cuddy reported that the premier promoter of the day, Mike Jacobs, wasn’t too happy with the odds quoted by bookmakers. “These lop-sided odds are the bane of Promoter Mike Jacobs’ existence,” Cuddy wrote. “Often they ruin his gates, unfortunately the fans regard the price as a true indicator of the comparative abilities of the opponents. The published report that Joe Zilch is favored at 4 to 1 over Canvasback Kelly does not promise torrid competition.”

Odds of 1/4 back then were considered borderline prohibitive. Now, 1/4 odds would indicate a competitive contest. How times change.

Main image: Amanda Westcott/Showtime.