In the lead-up to the much-hyped showdown between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, fans around the world eagerly awaited the fight that was going to make or break their boxing fandom. Sponsored by Budweiser and InBev, the fight was set to take place on August 26, with the betting odds favoring McGregor as the -610 favorite. The fight broke many records — including the most watched sports event in history — but neither man delivered the knockout blow that many expected they would.
What were the odds of this fight happening? Let’s dive into the numbers.
Odds Before the Bout
The chances of these two combatants — who are both 5’8″ — meeting in the middle of the ring and fighting for 12 rounds were actually quite slim. The — 610 betting odds made the fight seem more like a lottery than a sporting event, with Las Vegas bookmakers giving McGregor a 2.8% chance of winning. But this was before the fight was even scheduled.
The numbers don’t lie. When you add up all the ticket sales from around the world, it is estimated that 15.2 million people watched the fight live. The bout drew an audience of unprecedented size for a boxing match.
The fight drew huge audiences in many countries, with particularly large audiences in the U.K. (4.9 million viewers), Germany (3.8 million), and Indonesia (2.7 million). Even in the U.S., the fight was seen by nearly 14 million people (11.9 million on ESPN), setting a record as the most-watched boxing match on U.S. network TV. The previous record holder, Floyd Mayweather’s fight against Manny Pacquiao in May 2015, drew an audience of 12.8 million people.
The numbers don’t lie. The fight was a worldwide blockbuster, with record-breaking numbers for an MMA fight.
The fight was simulcast by various TV channels around the world, with pay-per-view (PPV) buys of 7.6 million in the United Kingdom, 6.5 million in Germany, 6 million in Indonesia, and 5.2 million in the United States. This is largely attributed to the novelty of mixed martial arts (MMA) combined with the large number of digital viewers who sought out replays of the fight in the days following it. This helped drive nearly 70 million hours of content views, the equivalent of watching 13 seasons of “Game of Thrones” in HD. It also helped establish UFC as a major player in the sports world, with a 24% share of U.S. sports television viewers.
Odds After the Bout
After the fight, oddsmaker Joel Beck analyzed the fight and its immediate aftermath, looking at how the betting odds changed following the bout. His findings were quite interesting, shedding some light on the state of sports betting in the wake of this historic bout.
The betting odds on McGregor jumped up dramatically after the fight, with Sportsbooks adjusting their lines to favor the Irishman. In fact, when you compare the betting odds before and after the fight, it’s clear to see that many betting websites, operating in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, made hefty profit on the fight. For example, after the fight, Sportsbook.com showed McGregor as the -670 favorite, up from the -610 betting odds given before the bout. Similarly, Coral saw a 132% rise in the odds of McGregor winning after the fight.
Before the fight, online sportsbooks adjusted their betting lines to reflect the increased strength of McGregor’s opponent. But it wasn’t just the bookmakers who were expecting a competitive fight and adjusted their lines accordingly. Many individual gamblers were also aware that Mayweather hadn’t fought in a long time and adjusted their wagers accordingly, increasing the amount of money wagered on McGregor.
This created a positive internal rate of return for betting sites, as the more money they received in bets, the more money they paid out on winnings. Although the fight was closely contested, resulting in a draw, this money-making scheme left a bittersweet taste in some fans’ mouths. The bout was undoubtedly a marketing dream come true for both men and their camps, but it also shed some light on the darker side of sports betting, at least in terms of match fixing. Some have suggested that, in order to keep the books balanced, the two camps may have negotiated a deal where McGregor would throw the fight. The evidence, however, wasn’t strong enough for formal charges to be filed.
Ultimately, we may never know what really happened and, for many, the dream of seeing McGregor stand toe-to-toe with Mayweather still seems too good to be true.