As 8-1 dog, Gatti has no bite

Mar 27, 2001 6:35 AM

By Keith Freeman

Many Las Vegas bettors made the serious mistake Saturday of taking the underdog to beat four-time world champion Oscar De La Hoya.

They were dead wrong.

De La Hoya scored a TKO in the fifth round.

For several weeks before the MGM Grand fight, De La Hoya was at –2600 at most books while his much-battered opponent, Arturo Gatti, was listed at +1800. And, according to most sports books, there were few takers on either side.

Saturday, however, the ticket writers were turned on by the number of bets that were coming their way. And, strangely enough, the majority were on Gatti, cutting his price to +800.

Speaking from the home court, Robert Walker, MGM Grand’s bet baron, said, "There were a plethora of bets Saturday, all on Gatti. I started to get a little nervous about 6:30 to 7 p.m. (fight time was listed as 8:30 p.m.) because (bets on De La Hoya were) not showing up. We could have lost a lot because we had some exposure on Gatti. It was one of those fights where you can’t win anything. Our average receipt was 17-1 on Gatti and we had 10 times as many tickets on him.

"We won a little on the fight but we could have lost a lot," he disclosed.

Some insiders suggested that non-sophisticated bettors might have been influenced by the recent successes of underdogs in Las Vegas fights. They pointed to John Ruiz, who recently defeated Evander Holyfield at a handsome 2-1 odds, and Fres Oquendo, who was more than twice that high when he wiped out Clifford Etienne in eight rounds at Texas Station Friday night.

"It was unbelievable. No De La Hoya money showed up," Walker said. "It was a little eerie and reminiscent of the first Tyson vs. Holyfield fight. It couldn’t drop fast enough. Even at that number (+800), it was a little heavy on Gatti. If you do not know who to bet, you take 8-1 on Gatti.

"I was very reluctant to put these lines up. But we wanted to accommodate our casino players and boxing fans, even though we were a little hesitant. We really had no choice," he added.

The only other bet offered on the fight by MGM MIRAGE was whether or not the bout would go under or over 5½ rounds. The under was a +105 underdog. The over was favored at –125 early Saturday, but both sides were –110 when the fight went off. In the end, the under prevailed, as De La Hoya impressed the sell-out crowd of 12,692 (4,000 comped, according to one casino host) by landing 24 of 26 power shots in almost 4½ rounds.

"Most of the bets were on Gatti and the over, which makes sense," Walker said. "If you’re going to bet Gatti, you’re going to take the over. But I think the professional players were on the under."

There was no other wagering offered on the fight.

"It’s hard to put up any lines when one fighter is such a prohibitive favorite," Walker said. "When a fight opens with one fighter (Gatti, in February) at 28-1, it’s difficult for props."

AT TEXAS STATION: Fres Oquendo, proving the oddsmakers wrong, put himself in a historic situation.

With his TKO victory at 1:37 into the eighth round of his heavyweight bout against favored Clifford ("The Black Rhino") Etienne, Oquendo overcame the odds at the Texas Station’s Dallas Ballroom Friday night, and rewarded his backers with a respectable +450.

Fighting in the co-main event on the same night, heavyweight David Tua knocked out Danell Nicholson at 34 seconds into the sixth round of their International Boxing Federation (IBF) elimination bout.

Tua (38-2, 33 KOs) knocked down Nicholson (39-4, 30 KOs) once in the fifth round to set up his knockout in the following round. He entered the bout as a somewhat prohibitive –1100 after starting the week –900 and dropping to –800 Wednesday. Nicholson came in as a +700 underdog after beginning as a +600 dog and moving up to +550 on Wednesday.

Oquendo entered +450. He had started the week in Station Casinos’ sports books as a +325 dog and was +400 Wednesday.

Etienne began –450 favorite, improved to –600 Wednesday, and was –650 at fight time. There were no proposition bets available on this fight.

Despite the odds in Etienne’s favor, both boxers entered the bout undefeated. Oquendo (20-0, 11 KOs), however, quickly gained an advantage over Etienne (19-1, 13 KOs), knocking him down three times in the first round. Oquendo then knocked down Etienne once in both the second and third rounds before knocking him down in the eighth round, when he gained his TKO victory.

After his victory in front of an enthusiastic capacity crowd of 1,838 fans (which included boxers Hector Camacho Jr., Wayne McCullough and Joel Casamayor and actor Tony Curtis), Oquendo spoke about a possible historic match-up.

Oquendo, who lives in Chicago, would like to fight fellow Puerto Rican John Ruiz, who gained the World Boxing Association heavyweight title with his recent upset win over Evander Holyfield at Mandalay Bay. There has never been a heavyweight championship fight between Puerto Rican boxers.

"It would be great to fight Johnny Ruiz," Oquendo said. "He is a great champion, but Puerto Rico deserves an all-Puerto Rican heavyweight championship fight."

Another heavyweight who may soon be in a championship match is Tua, who became the IBF’s No. 1 contender by scoring his knockout over Nicholson. Lennox Lewis, who recently dominated Tua in an IBF title match, is the reigning IBF and World Boxing Council champ.