The argument over which sport is better, boxing or mixed martial arts (MMA), is an ongoing one which
doesn’t really have a logical conclusion since it’s all in the eye of the beholder. However, if you want to compare popularity, attendances, and television viewers, that’s a different story. And while we’re at it, let’s also throw in wagering.
When MMA first got off the ground and fans were wondering what these funny-looking caged octagons
were, they didn’t really know what to make of the sport. But over the years, and especially since the UFC
was launched, it’s undoubtedly become one of the world’s fastest-growing and popular sports.
Even though MMA was spreading like wildfire though, there wasn’t a lot of action on it at the nation’s
bookmakers, but that has all changed now. When the UFC now holds events on Saturday nights there’s
certainly a lot of money being wagered on the results and that’s basically been the case for the past few
According to some experts such as Mike Colbert, who used be the sports book director at Cantor
Gaming, the average UFC cards attract about four times as many bets as the average boxing event.
However, what Colbert really failed to do was define an average card in either sport. It would probably
be a better idea to compare the betting trends when the top names of the respective sports are fighting.
This would likely be Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre in the UFC and Floyd Mayweather and Manny
Pacquiao in boxing.
Rob Akers, who used to be an assistant sports book director for the Venetian in Las Vegas, pointed
out nearly two years ago that UFC betting had grown steadily ever since 1999. He mentioned that
the increase in wagering for the UFC could have been caused by the dominance of such boxers as
Mayweather and Pacquiao as well as some of the highly-controversial judging decisions that have
plagued the sport. And let’s not forget boxing will probably never shake its allegations of fixed fights.
The argument about domination in boxing may have been true to some extent in the past, but
things have changed slightly with Pacquiao losing his last two bouts, albeit one of them was a very
controversial call. As far as boxers dominating the sport goes, that doesn’t really hold much water
because guys like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Mike Tyson were all dominant fighters who
weren’t only just beaten; they were also stopped in bouts.
When Buster Douglas beat the hell out of Tyson back in 1990 the odds were supposedly anywhere
between 40-1 and 80-1 at various locations across the globe. At those odds, there’s certainly going to be
a lot of casual bettors laying money down on the underdog and the same thing could happen with the
unbeaten Mayweather’s upcoming bouts. As for Pacquiao, he could even end up being the underdog
himself in his next matchup, depending on who he meets. Tyson certainly drew a lot of action back in
the 1990s because there was the possibility of anything happening in the ring, including biting chunks
out of Evander Holyfield’s ears.
Another reason for the increased betting on the UFC is the stacked undercards. When there’s a UFC
event, the arenas are packed from start to finish and bets are usually made on several fights. At most
big boxing matches these days the stands are empty until the main event. This wasn’t always the case
though as there were some excellent multi-title fight cards held back in the day when Don King was the
sport’s top promoter. You can usually bet on every fight on a UFC card, but that’s not always the case
This isn’t to say that people don’t wager on boxing anymore. They certainly do, but NFL football is now
the king of the castle and the UFC has surpassed it in betting popularity. Most casual bettors and fans
prefer to bet on sports they watch and like, but this isn’t the case with professionals. They don’t really
need to be in love with the sport they’re betting on and to them, it doesn’t really matter which one is
the most popular.
By Ian Palmer