When Conor McGregor fought Floyd Mayweather in his August 2017 pro boxing debut, the betting public backed the brash UFC star in overwhelming fashion.
More than 90 percent of the tickets were on McGregor, who closed as a 4-1 underdog. But the vast majority of the money — including six $1 million wagers — was on Mayweather, who closed at the bargain price of minus 500 before winning by 10th-round TKO.
“Mayweather was the best bet I’ve seen in my 11 years out here,” Westgate sports book director John Murray said.
A similar scenario is shaping up at Las Vegas sports books for Saturday night’s UFC lightweight title fight between McGregor and reigning champion Khabib Nurmagomedov at T-Mobile Arena.
Nurmagomedov (26-0-0), a Russian grappler, is a minus 160 favorite over McGregor, the popular plus 140 underdog from Ireland.
While the wagering handle is nowhere near Mayweather-McGregor — or Saul Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin, for that matter — the vast majority of tickets are on McGregor and most of the money is on Nurmagomedov.
“The books around town are definitely going to need Khabib to win. Conor’s so popular, I think the public is going to be all over him again,” Murray said. “But Conor’s capable of winning this fight. It’s not like it’s a slam dunk.”
Sharps on Nurmagomedov
That said, sharp bettors are on the favorite, just like they were on Mayweather.
“I’ve been a little surprised how much public money is coming in on Khabib, too. It hasn’t been just wiseguys betting Khabib,” Murray said. “But I still think when we get to Friday and Saturday the public will come in heavily on McGregor.”
A Westgate bettor placed a $20,000 wager on McGregor at plus 140 last weekend that moved the price to minus 155. But another bettor quickly wagered $10,000 on Nurmagomedov to move the odds back to minus 160.
The highest price was minus 170 but Murray said the true odds on Nurmagomedov are closer to 2-1.
“This isn’t McGregor-Mayweather where he has no chance of winning. Conor’s definitely live here and can knock him out with one punch,” he said. “But I do think Khabib should be a bigger favorite. He’s never lost a round in an MMA fight.
“He’s an incredible grappler. If the fight goes long, it will really be an advantage for Khabib. Conor’s going to try to end this thing early. That’s his only chance.”
Murray expects Nurmagomedov to prevail.
“I think Khabib will win,” he said. “He will drag him down and start unloading on him with the elbow.”
Handicapper backs bigger man
Handicapper Lou Finocchiaro (@GambLou) is usually an underdog bettor but is backing a rare favorite in this one in Nurmagomedov, who he sees winning a contrast in styles.
“Nurmagomedov’s striking will be more competitive than McGregor’s wrestling,” said Finocchiaro (GambLou.com). “Nurmagomedov will be able to eventually outclass McGregor and take him down to the mat. But he’s going to have to be very patient. He can’t just rush in because that’s what McGregor wants him to do.”
Even if McGregor (21-3) is able to find some early striking angles, Finocchiaro said the bigger Nurmagomedov should be able to absorb the blows.
“McGregor’s dynamic power was displayed in fights when he weighed 145 pounds. This fight is at 155 pounds,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult to have the same effect on a bigger man like Nurmagomedov that he’s had on previous fights.”
Finocchiaro noted that Nurmagomedov trains at a gym with bigger fighters, including former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and former UFC middleweight champ Luke Rockhold.
“And they’ve all commented on what a beast he is,” he said. “If he’s able to take them down and if he can absorb striking from those bigger, heavier men, I have an easier time thinking the only way Conor’s going to knock him out is through an accumulation of strikes and not just one punch.”
The total on the five-round fight is 2½ rounds and Finocchiaro leans to the over (plus 105).
“Conor’s trash talking, rather than getting to the Russian’s head, has put further fire to the gasoline that is motivation for this kid,” he said. “He’s said in a couple interviews that he’s going to make it slow and painful for McGregor, a guy he doesn’t really like.”
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OHIO STATE (-26) over Indiana
Missouri (+2) over S. CAROLINA
STANFORD (-4½) over Utah
Northwestern (+11) over MICHIGAN ST.
Texas (+7½) over Oklahoma
Last week: 3-2 against the spread