By Lewis Calvert @BigWriteHook
For as long as there has been boxing, there has been betting. So what effect is gambling having on our sport today?
The latest live odds are coming up on your screen now”… booms Ray Winstone’s big floating melon head, looking like Zordon from the Power Rangers, as he entices you to give him money. It is a phrase we have become accustomed to over the past few years. A phrase that we had never heard in our lives. That was before a change in legislation caused gambling adverts in the UK to sky-rocket by more than 600% on our televisions, computers and mobile phones. Figures show the industry has spent £1.4 billion on advertising since 2012 and in 2016 they made a cold hard profit of £12.6bn. Yes. Billion. Of our losses. And wherever there is money, there is corruption.
Every four years boxing is plagued by the “controversial” decisions of Olympic boxing judges. “Controversial” a handy word for journalists to avoid being sued for slander or libel, at what are blatant acts of cheating. A young Roy Jones Jr. the most famous and Michael Conlan the most recent cases of a robbery at elite amateur level. These incidents cause almost irreparable damage to the sport; with the eyes of the world fixed on free to air TV, only for the outcome of a fight to be scuppered, it can turn potential new fans off the sport for a lifetime.
Many put these judging decisions come down to bribery because someone in the murky underworld has got a lot of money on an outcome they can not afford risk. Whilst the earnings of these mystery gangsters is guaranteed, the potential future earnings of a fighter who doesn’t get a deserved nod are slashed – losing out on the lucrative title of Olympic Gold Medallist. Though it may be more about location than gambling money that makes a dubious result go one way or the other. The double edged sword that saw home fighter Anthony Joshua take a questionable win in London 2012 also saw Joe Joyce miss out in Rio, after a fight he dominated.
In the pro’ ranks some fights do not even make it to the judges. For the sake of legality and to avoid the word “controversial”; allegedly Sonny Liston dived after an alleged “Phantom Punch” allegedly thrown by the alleged Muhammad Ali in their alleged rematch because he was allegedly in deep trouble with the Mafia… allegedly. (For any mafiosos reading this, please don’t allegedly kill me).
The lesser known Paul Briggs was dropped by an innocuous punch from Danny Green within 29 seconds of their farcical fight, before he was booed out of the arena. A late betting plunge on the outcome resulted in the fight being labelled as “highly, highly, dubious” by one bookmaker. Though dives are rare, they do happen and gambling is usually the reason why.
In even rarer cases, a boxer doesn’t even have to get in the ring before the bookies pay out. Punters were able to cash in on a Floyd Mayweather win, before TBE had even stepped through the ropes to face Conor McGregor in “The Home of Gambling”, Las Vegas.
Betting is everywhere: from the huge corporations like Sky Sports, who will hype up a fight that they are showing on the weekend, with the conveniently placed Sky Bet on hand to take your money, to our very own beloved IFL TV, with gorilla advertising booming out at the start of every one of their Youtube videos.
And who could blame them for succumbing to the money men? A couple of hard working blokes who have put in the time and effort to build up a following that is now seen as a product. They can now put food on the table and clothes on their back, doing the thing they love and they deserve every penny they get for the insight they give fans and stories they provide for lazy journalists. If I had the opportunity to partner with a betting company, I would probably take it too. In fact, I would snap their bloody hand off just to pay the people who contribute so well to this website. But having worked in a bookmakers in one of Liverpool’s roughest areas (also known as Liverpool), I have seen first hand just how detrimental gambling is.
The anecdotal feedback received on the Big Write Hook Twitter feed as to why boxing fans fancy a flutter is that they feel the bookies can sometimes act casual and give good odds on lesser known fights. So whilst they make a tidy profit on the vulnerabilities of people with addictive personalities, the more knowledgeable and daring of us can make a quick buck.
Such is the current landscape of boxing though, fight cards on the whole are not giving up all that much in the way of competition. A simple acid test can be done by by placing a £1 accumulator on the A-side of a bill and more often than not, the pound will only return a few meagre pence. For too long, fans have been force fed warm up fights, eliminators and last minute reserves that have been passed off by promoters as “50/50 fights”. The very essence of a 50/50 fight comes from gambling. That is why every fight is hyped up to be so evenly matched because that is what the public want to see. Or a plucky underdog. Anything in-between will not get interest, unfortunately for the NXT Gen fighters.
Interestingly… to those who find polls interesting, a whopping 76% of the fans polled by Big Write Hook said that Frank Warren had more competitive fight cards than Eddie Hearn. So the latter will have a lot more work to do to win over UK fans, while he gambles on his new venture in the USA.
You will find, whatever boxing event you watch, the show itself will be littered with betting adverts too. From Bellew’s piece to camera talking about his latest betting sponsor on Facebook, to the advertisement logo ON THE CANVAS (a little plug there for one of our writers). The worst part of all is the intriguing one minute respite between rounds, where the cornermen make their money, that glimpse into a fight is all too often rudely interrupted with live fight odds. Which is particularly annoying when you have already paid PPV money for the content and this break only adds to dilutes the fight itself.
Boxing, much like gambling, is about making the most out of the least amount of risk. That applies to a boxer’s legacy, their pay packet and ultimately, their life. It has become somewhat of a cliché to mention the risk a fighter takes when they enter the ring, but their risk is so quickly forgotten. So much so, this is the part where I am supposed to reel off the names who have been slain by the hand of another man this year… but for my shame, I too have forgotten. But their partners haven’t forgotten. Their children haven’t forgotten either.
The spoils of boxing are great: money, fame and financial security for your family’s lifetime. That is if you make it to the top. The risks though, are all too serious. It is not a gamble the rest of us mere mortals are prepared to take. It is the men and women cut from a different cloth, who, as Kipling put it, “risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss”, that show true courage. So berating a fighter because you have lost a couple of quid what round they were supposed to get knocked out in, pales in comparison to what they risk.
So the next time you place a bet, ask yourself, would you bet your life on it? Because that is what they do. May luck be on all our sides.
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