IBHOF inductee and gambling expert Graham Houston looks at how cut eye endings can affect a boxing bet.

Once it was simple when a fighter got cut. If the referee or doctor ruled that the cut was too bad for a fighter to continue, he lost. That was that. Bettors might have lucky wins or unlucky losses where cuts were involved.

Technical decisions changed all that.

Nowadays, a cut ruled to have been suffered in a clash of heads will send the fight to the scorecards if the contest is stopped.

There were three fights this past weekend where cuts caused a stoppage. Two of them had a wagering implication.

First, let’s take a look at the European featherweight title fight between Gavin McDonnell and Andoni Gago in Barcelona. McDonnell was in trouble in the very first round when he was cut over the right eye. It was never made clear in the DAZN broadcast whether McDonnell had been cut by a punch or a collision. But the way Gago bored forward,  a clash of heads looked likely.

After four rounds, the doctor ruled that McDonnell was cut too severely for the bout to be allowed to continue. A head clash was ruled. The Doncaster fighter got out of Dodge with a technical draw. 

For those who bet on McDonnell, a 5/17 (-340) favourite, it was an escape from an unpleasant situation. McDonnell was wiping blood from his eye in the fourth round. If the fight had continued, he might not have been able to hold his boxing technique together against the rushing, swarming Spanish fighter.

Yet while the official verdict was a technical draw, that could easily have been a technical decision win for McDonnell. British judge Mark Lyson gave McDonnell each of the four completed rounds. The judges from Spain and Bulgaria each had it 2-2 in rounds. But in consensus scoring — where two or all three judges agree on the scoring of a round — McDonnell actually got three of the first four rounds,

Then, last Thursday, Canadian veteran Jelena Mrdjenovich lost her women’s featherweight title on a technical decision after seven rounds against Mexico’s Erika Cruz. Mrdjenovich was severely cut over the right eye. The southpaw Cruz won every round on all three judges’ cards. 

There were no odds offered on this fight, which I found surprising seeing that this was a title bout that was televised in the US (and worldwide on the internet).

But the Cruz vs Mrdjenovich fight shows how a cut-eye stoppage could confound a bettor. Logically, this was a fight that looked certain to go the full 10 rounds. So anyone betting on the bout to go the distance would have had a rough break. 

Personally, I loved Cruz’s chances against the 38-year-old Mrdjenovich. But betting lines are often offered on the most obscure bouts while the more meaningful fights sometimes get ignored. It really is a hit-or-miss business when it comes to which fights have odds offered and which do not.

One fight that got a betting line was a scheduled six-rounder in Australia between welterweights Abe Archibald and Michael Hall. This ended after three rounds with both men cut over the left eye from a head clash, but Archibald’s slice was the more severe. Under Australian rules, it goes into the records as a technical draw, as four rounds hadn’t been completed. So, anyone betting on the draw in this bout would have had a good result.

Stoppages due to a boxer being cut are actually quite rare. Boxing agent Rick Glaser once remarked to me that “no one ever died from getting cut”. I believe Carl Froch once described cuts as “cosmetic”. There is truth in that. A boxer might be bloodied, but a cut usually looks worse than it actually is. 

For instance, Arturo Gatti was allowed to box the last eight rounds with a horrific-looking cut over the left eye in his fight with Indianapolis southpaw Joe Hutchinson in Montreal in September 2000. Gatti was cut over the eye in the second round of that contest from what referee Mike Griffin ruled was a punch (Arturo protested that Hutchinson’s head did the damage).

If the bout had been halted, it would have been a loss and not a technical-decision win (or technical draw) for the hugely popular, Montreal-raised Gatti, who was taking part in a Quebec homecoming bout after having based himself in New Jersey. 

The ESPN TV broadcast speculated that if a head clash and not a punch had been ruled, the fight likely would have been stopped. “If they stopped it from a punch, Gatti loses — and nobody here wants Gatti to lose,” ringside analyst Teddy Atlas noted in the third round, while commentator Bob Papa observed: “I can guarantee you, if that was a clash of heads we’d have a technical draw right now.”

My notes of the bout remind me that Gatti was “blinking through the blood” in the last two rounds. But, as ever, Gatti just kept on throwing punches. That was big-hearted Arturo, who won the fight on a unanimous decision.

Another instance of a local fighter being allowed to continue when suffering a severe slice came when Sean O’Grady, later to win the WBA lightweight title, was allowed to fight on with a frightful-looking cut over the eye against Japan’s Shig Fukuyama at the Oklahoma State Fair in June 1978.

The cut occurred in the opening round and it looked as if a clash of heads did the damage. It was touch and go whether the California referee, Rudy Jordan, would stop the fight. Twice Jordan called the commission doctor to inspect O’Grady’s cut, and twice the Oklahoma crowd-pleaser was allowed to continue.  

The technical-decision rule wasn’t in effect and the referee and doctor had a dilemma because O’Grady was clearly the better fighter and he was wearing Fukuyama down.

I remember O’Grady’s sisters, Colleen and Rosie, looking appalled at the spectacle of their brother battling through blood. As I recall, Colleen couldn’t bear to look and covered her face with her hands. 

O’Grady’s white trunks were stained crimson by the fourth round as blood flowed from the cut but he kept driving forward, kept banging away, and he finally overpowered Fukuyama in the fifth round.

Two years later O’Grady won the lightweight championship with a 15-round decision win over Detroit’s Hilmer Kenty.

Gatti and O’Grady were allowed to fight on with really bad cuts against Hutchinson and Fukuyama but both were superior fighters. If a boxer is cut badly and is losing the fight, however, there is more chance of the referee or doctor pulling the plug.

This happened in the Cruz vs Mrdjenovich fight and also in the all-Japan bantamweight bout between Takuma Inoue and Keita Kurihara in Tokyo in January, where Kurihara was cut in the first round and basically losing every round thereafter. In cases such as this, the officials might decide: “What’s the point letting it continue?”

Bettors who wagered on the Inoue vs Kurihara fight not going the distance did well, getting odds of something like 9/5 (+180) on the “Distance — No” proposition. Meanwhile, players who bet on the fight going the full 12 rounds — on paper the most likely outcome — would have been unlucky.

And that’s the thing. From a purely wagering perspective, what for some bettors is the unkindest cut isn’t unkind at all for those on the other side of the wager.

Main image: Matchroom Boxing.