LAS VEGAS — Legendary bookmakers such as Jimmy Vaccaro were just having some fun early this year. That was when they put out a line for a fantasy fight between undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and UFC superstar Conor McGregor.
Now the fantasy that so many thought was just a pipe dream is about to become a huge reality – and one of the biggest sporting spectacles of 2017 right here in Las Vegas next weekend. No city handles a big event quite like ours, and next Saturday will be remembered as one of its biggest ever.
Out of thin air, Mayweather and McGregor have created a worldwide build-up that has even non-sports fans eager to see what transpires inside T-Mobile Arena. That also has translated to a bonanza for the sports books, even though there has been a tidal wave of ticket sales on the underdog.
For betting purposes Mayweather is much less of a favorite than he was when Vaccaro made that early line at the South Point. Five months before the fight was made formal, Mayweather was minus-2,700 and McGregor plus-1,200.
By Friday, Mayweather was a minus-550 favorite, with McGregor at plus-425 at the South Point. Mayweather is a minus-500 favorite at the Westgate. More than 90 percent of the bets so far have come in on the pride of Dublin. During the next week expect thousands of Irish tourists to flood into Las Vegas. They will come to cheer and enjoy themselves – and bet on their favorite son.
But it is no surprise that Mayweather is getting the professional money – and a lot of it. The Maloof brothers, who know Mayweather well, stepped to the window at the South Point to make the biggest bet we know of so far. They put down $880,000 to make $160,000 on Mayweather at minus-550.
“We’re Floyd all the way,” Gavin told me this week on “My Guys in the Desert” on VSiN. “I was watching Floyd work out. He’s my neighbor. He’s my friend. I was so impressed watching him work out. He’s 40 looking like he’s 20. I called Joe and said, ‘We’ve got to make a bet on this guy.’ We cobbled up $880,000. I ran down here to the South Point with the check in my hand.”
“And I said if we win, why don’t we do something nice?” Joe said. “Let’s take the money that we win and donate it all to charity.”
Not only does Mayweather live in Las Vegas, he has also brought his biggest fights to this city and has been very loyal. And he has a side to his personality that you might not expect. I attended the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame induction in early June at the Orleans Arena. Mayweather was surprisingly humble and very impressive when he accepted his honor that night. He praised his family and community – and did not at all resemble the brash promoter who has staged an international exchange of trash talking with McGregor for the sake of selling pay-per-view sign-ups.
A lot of big bettors hoping to get Mayweather at a better price than minus-500 may be in luck. You can bet that they will wait right up until the final hours before the fight. As Vaccaro has seen in all his years here in Las Vegas, plenty of big money in fights tends to come late. Obviously the tourists are going to roll in and look for a price when they bet on McGregor. They just cannot be sure that it is going to get back above 5-1.
As for my opinion on the fight? Full disclosure: I had given up on following boxing closely years ago, and I had never become a UFC fan. I understood its appeal even though I only know it from a distance. But while the UFC has been fueled by a younger generation, this cross-sport extravaganza has captured the imagination of us old-timers.
All the experts who I listen to have said that McGregor has no chance inside the squared ring, where it is illegal to use elbows and feet and whatever else they use in the UFC. The lighter, eight-ounce boxing gloves just approved for the fight are closer to McGregor’s four-ounce MMA comfort zone, but Mayweather also wanted them, because he has used them for a lot of his fights. And Mayweather has said that at 40 he is a bit slower than he was at 30, and that makes him a little bit easier of a target.
To me the one chance I give McGregor to hurt Mayweather is with that left hand. McGregor is going to push the action early. He is coming after Mayweather, who is one of the best defensive boxers of all time. Mayweather obviously hopes to dance and duck and deliver counterpunches that may or may not open wounds around the eyes and nose of McGregor. But McGregor’s left can come without notice. The only question now is whether he will actually connect.
It should be a great week in Las Vegas, and I cannot wait. And neither can the bookmakers, who could only dream of this fight really happening a year ago.
The most underrated aspect of sports wagering is luck. That is spelled L-U-C-K.
Let me walk you through a piece of good fortune that I enjoyed Thursday night. Earlier in the day when I was getting a bagel and a cuppa joe at the Suncoast, I discovered a daily teaser card that featured baseball and preseason football. Ties lose, which is a distinct disadvantage to anybody who thinks they can beat parlays and teasers. However, I took a shot.
The Ravens were getting eight points in their game. Coach John Harbaugh pays attention to preseason games. That was an easy win. He was a good bet.
The St. Louis Cardinals were getting two runs in their game at Pittsburgh. That two became an easy victory when the Cardinals won outright.
The Giants were teased down to a pick ’em with Jeff Samardzija on the mound, and that too was a winner.
Which takes me to the Yankees and the Mets. I had three runs and the Mets on the card, and that was a loser from the first inning on – until the bottom of the ninth. Trailing 7-1, the Mets loaded the bases, and ex-Yankee Curtis Granderson came to the plate. I had one lucky chance in a million, and you’ve got it. Granderson hit a grand slam. The Mets lost 7-5, but I cashed with the three runs. It was the opposite of a bad beat.
Like I said, luck is the most unsung factor in gambling. Hope you have plenty of it this weekend.