-- On Saturday night in Las Vegas' T-Mobile Arena, Floyd Mayweather will finally take on Conor McGregor in a boxing match. The big fight is almost here, and it will be the most-bet bout of all time in Nevada.
Which fighter should you bet on? Are there any prop bets worth taking a flier on? Does McGregor actually have a chance at knocking Mayweather out?
Here is our all-encompassing betting guide, which includes a graphic on how the odds have changed, along with best bets on the fight from both our boxing and MMA experts (Johnny Wilds and Reed Kuhn), and several boxing sharps.
Opening and current odds
Jeff Sherman, sportsbook manager at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, opened the fight on Feb. 16 (before the fight was even official) with Mayweather -2500 and McGregor +1100.
"The line was split more between true odds and betting odds. Rarely does the public wager much on anything that is not officially announced," Sherman told ESPN.
When the fight was officially announced on June 14, the price "opened" with Mayweather -1100/McGregor +700. Since then, consistent support has driven the price down to its current line of Mayweather -550/McGregor +400. Sherman posted the fight with a total of 9.5 rounds over +135 and under -155 and currently is at under -170/over +145. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Westgate is facing a six-figure loss if McGregor somehow pulls off the win.
At William Hill US, senior trader Adam Pullen opened the fight Mayweather -1100/McGregor +700. "It's almost a 16-1 ticket ratio on McGregor, and we have lowered the price to -500/+400," said Pullen. He opened the total on the fight at 8.5 rounds under -140 and over +120 and now sits at under -130/over +110.
"This the biggest liability on a single event as of now and it's just a question of when and at what price will we get favorite money in and whether we get it. It will be a big sweat for us on Saturday," Pullen told ESPN.
Over at the Wynn Las Vegas, executive director of race and sports Johnny Avello opened the fight Mayweather -800/ McGregor +600. He was bet down to the current line of -500/+400 and posted the total on the fight at 9.5 under -150 and over +130.
"I have been fortunate to take some large six-figure wagers on Mayweather and that has offset the many smaller bets we have on McGregor," Avello said. "I expect that to change as we will take even more action on McGregor come Saturday with his fans coming into town and will need Mayweather come fight time."
Breaking down the fighters
Boxing's traditional "Tale of the Tape" might have been adopted without adjustment by the more modern sport of Mixed Martial Arts, but it remains woefully lacking in terms of explaining the performance tendencies of fighters. Beyond records and the basic anthropometric measurements of age, height and reach (wingspan), adding performance statistics from prior competition summarizes not just who the fighter is, but how he/she tends to fight. Furthermore, performance metrics can reveal insights into how the fight might play out and therefore provide gamblers with an additional tool in assessing betting lines.
Using striking data from Mayweather's past 15 bouts, and McGregor's distance striking data (only) throughout his 10-fight UFC career, we can investigate the tendencies of the two fighters in as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as is possible given the otherwise disparate sports.
The caveats of comparing MMA distance striking to boxing must be conceded, but isolating very particular metrics in offensive and defensive striking will reveal each man's style, and perhaps which characteristics are truly their greatest strengths -- and therefore best weapons.
The smaller gloves of MMA lead to more speed and accuracy, but fighters also utilize low-success kicks that depresses their accuracy. Then there's the threat of takedowns in MMA, which can derail striking game plans, lower defensive options or even negate the efficacy of standup striking altogether as anything more than a setup.
These tradeoffs between MMA striking and boxing will certainly be a backdrop during this Saturday's fight between Mayweather and McGregor, but each fighter's tendencies and relative strengths against their division averages should remain approximately true.
Here is how they stack up on paper.
Precision: In the game of "hit and don't be hit," Mayweather is the best around. Per CompuBox rankings, the difference between his own accuracy and that of the opponents who face him is the highest in the sport. His offensive accuracy is the best in class, while his defense is behind only three others who are the most evasive in the sport. That combination makes him the best statistical striker in a boxing ring when boiling performance down to the simplest levels.
Meanwhile, McGregor is certainly above average in his offensive accuracy but actually a little below average in terms of evasiveness. The net effect is that during even exchanges, he edges most opponents in strikes landed, but it's his other strengths that have driven his success.
Pace: McGregor is just behind Mayweather in raw striking pace (attempts per minute) but well ahead in relative striking pace (ratio of attempts vs. opponents). McGregor is accustomed to dictating pace and forcing opponents to retreat and has even maintained good accuracy while chasing. But an important part of his style is a rangy striking stance, which enables frequent head kicks that require opponents to be hesitant in opening up their attacks. Without that weapon in the boxing ring, it will be interesting to see the stance McGregor uses and whether he can control the range and dictate the pace of the fight with only his fists to threaten.
Meanwhile, Mayweather is no stranger to counter-striking, typically using fewer attempts than his opponents throw. Accuracy tends to be higher with counter-strikers, who choose their shots wisely and waste fewer punches thrown simply for effect. Should McGregor be baited in the pursuit, Mayweather could pick him apart on the approach with his masterful footwork and best-in-class precision. The X factor here is the difference of boxing gloves and punching pace. Mayweather conserves energy as a veteran of fighting 12 three-minute rounds, while McGregor will be relying entirely on his hands for the first time, and for a longer time period. Plus his mix of power could lead to fatigue.
Power: Here's where McGregor fans are hoping to see a shocking difference. While age doesn't adversely affect maximal strength the way it does reaction time or durability, Mayweather hasn't been defined by his power. His knockdown rate is far lower, as is his cumulative knockdown total over more fights and far more rounds. The use of smaller gloves than is typical for this division adds a curious wild card to the entire situation, as smaller gloves generally means more speed and more potential for a knockdown. But it's McGregor who stands out when it comes to power.
Having already recorded 12 knockdowns in the UFC, at a per strike landed rate higher than even the UFC heavyweight average, McGregor appears to have a gift for finding the knockout. He also uses an abnormally high mix of power strikes instead of jabs, unlike Mayweather's penchant for jabs. Assuming we don't see a totally uncharacteristic style from both men, we can expect McGregor to be pressing forward and swinging for the fences, while Mayweather chips away with counters, one winning exchange at a time.
-- Reed Kuhn
Mayweather: The undefeated 40-year-old is coming out of retirement for the second time in his career. The first time was after Ricky Hatton (TKO, Round 10) in 2007. Mayweather rolled off 10 straight victories and retired once again after beating Andre Berto (12 UD) in 2015. The icon sports a perfect record of 49 wins and has beaten the likes of Genaro Hernandez, Diego Corrales, Jose Luis Castillo (twice), Arturo Gatti, Zab Judah, Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez and Manny Pacquiao over an illustrious career.
Mayweather has rarely been tested, and the only near loss on his resume was the first fight against Castillo; many observers, including myself, saw him losing. He has officially been on the canvas one time (against Carlos Hernandez in 2001, but that was from injuring his hand in the sixth round). His chin has shown to be very strong, as he has been caught flush by punchers such as Judah, De La Hoya, Mosley and others, but never more than once consecutively; his shoulder roll defense has allowed him to be one of the most elusive boxers of all time.
Mayweather possesses wicked hand speed, exemplary footwork and a very high ring IQ. In most of his fights, he figures out his opponent in a matter of a few rounds and dictates thereafter in dominant fashion. Some observers have called his fights boring, but this is based on his sheer dominance and perfection in the ring. He is two years removed from the sport he has dominated since turning pro in 1996. The question for Mayweather is, has Father Time finally caught up to him? And is McGregor the opponent to put the first loss on Mayweather's unblemished record?
McGregor: The 28-year-old fighting out of Dublin is MMA's biggest star and is making his pro debut in boxing against one of the all-time greats. You must applaud McGregor for getting this fight, as he has been pushing for it every chance he has received over the past year and is being rewarded with the biggest payday of his career -- and the opportunity to do what no one else has done in 49 boxing matches against Mayweather.
McGregor is full of confidence and is truly a rags-to-riches story. It has been documented that he picked up his last welfare check of 180 euros in 2013 before making his UFC debut in Sweden and secured $60,000 with his knockout-of-the-night bonus and purse over Marcus Brimage in a little over one minute. McGregor is revered by his Irish countrymen, MMA fans and the working class
Much is unknown about McGregor's boxing ability, as footage from his training camp and sparring is selectively shared with the media and fans. According to his most recent sparring partner, Paulie Malignaggi, who left camp after a short time, McGregor has pop in his punches but is not the hardest puncher the veteran has faced. While the true boxing ability of McGregor is unknown, his confidence and his story are awe-inspiring. Is that enough to dethrone Mayweather? Or will this be the mismatch that most knowledgeable observers think it will be?
-- Johnny Wilds
Betting the fight
• Evan Young (boxing sharp): "My eyes tell me McGregor can't box with Mayweather. Mayweather is no fool. He always is in shape and, as usual, is the A side in this promotion. If the gulf in class is as vast as I think it might be, he's going to hit McGregor cleanly -- and a lot. Coupled with seeing McGregor getting tired and hurt against middling MMA fighter Nate Diaz, I lean toward a stoppage win for Mayweather, perhaps between Round 6 and Round 10."
• Eric Bradley (boxing trainer): "The Mayweather legacy rises once again, as he takes the stage with a one-sided pounding. Mayweather wins by TKO."
• Abraham Gonzalez (boxing sharp): "I can see McGregor taking chances early and getting a point deducted out of frustration later in the fight. Mayweather will dominate the fight with shoulder rolls and that laser right hand down the pipe. Mayweather by unanimous decision."
• Stephen "Breadman" Edwards (boxing trainer): "Mayweather starts a little slow, and after two or three rounds, he takes over. He stops Conor between Round 6 and Round 8 in a high-contact fight."
• Christopher Santiago (MMA sharp): "I think if McGregor is aggressive, he may be able to turn this boxing match into a brawl. He would have to find a way to disrupt Mayweather's rhythm. Pressure him up against the ropes and lay some hands on him. Unfortunately for McGregor, that's not what I think will happen. Mayweather will pepper the body, draining the stamina out of McGregor, for about five or six rounds, until he drops McGregor from body shots in the sixth or seventh round. Mayweather by stoppage in the seventh."
• John "Iceman" Scully (boxing trainer): "I can't see Mayweather losing even a half of a round, unless he just plays with McGregor for a little while. On the inside or on the outside, I see Floyd just being miles ahead of this guy. Anything less than a definitive stoppage would be [shocking] to me."
• Marcus Figueroa (boxing/MMA sharp): "Conor's fans would like you to believe that he has insane one-punch KO power. While he did catch Jose Aldo (who rushed him and got clipped by one punch), that has been the exception. Also, in [their] first fight, Nate Diaz made Conor dance before Conor decided he was a wrestler. If you are betting and want to throw some money on Conor, I can't argue. With that said, I expect Floyd to catch Conor with a body shot and knock him out inside of eight rounds."
• Michael Mohan (boxing sharp): "Possibly the greatest boxer of all time will face a man making his professional boxing debut this Saturday. For me, it's a no-brainer -- Mayweather will win by KO in Rounds 8 or 9. Best value is Mayweather money line and Mayweather by KO."
Wilds: The panel above didn't waver, and all eight are picking Mayweather. I'm going to make it a perfect 9-for-9, as I just can't see McGregor beating even an aged, slower or worse version of the Mayweather we have seen for so many years. Boxers with far better pedigree have all failed, and I can't think of a reason to pick McGregor here, especially with the odds so low now. I see Mayweather breaking McGregor down with a vicious body attack and getting the stoppage in the middle-to-later rounds.
Pick: Mayweather -450 or better and by KO -125 or better.
Kuhn: Most boxing insiders don't give McGregor a chance, and perhaps that bias creates a potential blind spot. The betting market has showered small bets in favor of McGregor, while the heavier action has been for Mayweather. Clearly, the squares and sharps have completely diverged, but we should point out that this was this same pattern that preceded the recent massive betting upsets of the British exit from the EU and the U.S. presidential election.
Ultimately, there's no arguing that McGregor is new to competing as a pure boxer, and the fact that the market is giving him better odds to win than several prior Mayweather title fight opponents is extreme. At current odds, most smaller gamblers will be getting a relative bargain on Mayweather to win, while the heaviest hitters will likely see prices rise closer to fight night. It's even possible the influx of Irish fans in Vegas later in the week could cause one last dip in price for Mayweather. Patience has been rewarded already for those playing Mayweather, but that time is dwindling. For the value hunters among Mayweather's supporters, counting on McGregor's durability but lack of expertise suggests Mayweather by decision at around +200 is a bargain.
That said, any fighter has a puncher's chance. And arguably McGregor's puncher's chance is elevated by several key factors: his aggression and demonstrated power, Mayweather's age and the smaller-than-usual gloves. With those realities, McGregor's best -- and possibly only -- path to victory is via TKO. Doing what no other puncher has been able to do is a tall order -- and still unlikely. It just means that anyone seriously putting money on McGregor for the upset should play only the TKO prop, boosting their return by roughly 20 percent from +400 to +500. If McGregor is going to shock the world, it will be sudden. Specifically aiming for a midround (5-8) finish, giving him time to find a punch to be heard around the world, will offer +2000 at some books.