Lewis KO’s bettors

November 20, 2001 9:13 AM
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Some of the sharpest betting boxing minds in Las Vegas like Lem Banker and Dave Cokin couldn’t believe it. Here was Lennox Lewis being bet down from an opening favorite of 4-1 to barely 2-1 this past Saturday night.

It was obvious to them there was a tremendous class difference between Lewis and Hasim Rahman. Yet, the masses continued to wager on the unheralded Rahman like he was Evander Holyfield getting 15-1 against Mike Tyson.

But just like the short-lived champ, the masses took it on the chin, big time!

“It’s like the Super Bowl,” said Herb Lambeck, recognized as the top boxing oddsmaker in North America. “The money price always goes down because the public never bets a minus. They just take the plus.”

Rahman had elevated himself to heavyweight champion status by virtue of a lucky punch back in April, when he caught Lewis semi unprepared during their bout in South Africa.

It was bogus. Lewis may not rank with the great heavyweights of all time, but he’s still a worthy champion due far more respect than he has received.

Rahman, on the other hand, proved a better salesman than fighter at Mandalay Bay after being knocked out in the fourth round. The public seemed to actually believe that Rahman’s taunts and teasing were getting to Lewis.

Maybe it also was because the media kept bringing up Rahman’s stunning knockout of Lewis that some sports books were writing a ratio of eight-to-one tickets on Rahman. Or maybe it was because the public got to like the personable Rahman. For months he was a fresh bit of air in a stale heavyweight division.

But when it came to fight time, this big dog didn’t hunt. He didn’t even look ready.

“The public remembers the last thing they saw,” Cokin said about Rahman knocking out Lewis. “That’s the problem with suckers. The least important thing is the last thing you saw.”

Bookmakers will tell you they were just getting back money from the April fight in South Africa when bettors feasted on Rahman at odds ranging from 16-1 to 23-1. But only a few Las Vegas hotels even booked that bout.

Because this fight was in town, just about all the hotels had this one up, and they raked in the bucks. People not only wagered on Rahman, but also that the fight would go “over” seven rounds.

Maybe if they realized that prior to upsetting Lewis in South Africa, Rahman had last fought in a small room at the Hard Rock against a journeyman named Frankie Swindell. The bookmakers at the Hard Rock thought so little of the fight, they didn’t even bother taking bets on it.

The public also may have been less tempted to take the price, too, if they realized Rahman had lost to David Tua, a boxer Lewis won a lopsided unanimous decision against last November.

The heavyweight fight everyone wants to see now is Lewis against Mike Tyson. It could happen in the spring if Tyson disposes of Ray Mercer, who he’s expected to fight in January.

“Lewis would be the favorite,” Lambeck said. “Not a big favorite because of Tyson’s pull with the public.”

Cokin, though, would make Tyson the favorite against Lewis. He bases his opinion more on balancing the action, rather than Tyson’s eroding skills.

“If you make Lennox Lewis the favorite,” he said, “you would get a ton of money on Tyson. That would put the house in jeopardy.”

I’m not so sure of that. Neither is Lambeck.

“That wouldn’t happen,” Lambeck said. “Not after this fight. Lewis has the size advantage, and Tyson hasn’t fought anybody.”

Cokin admits, “Tyson is so hyped he hasn’t beaten anybody in a dozen years.”

People, however, remain fascinated by the cannibalistic Tyson. Tyson is capable of knocking Lewis out in the first round, or getting himself disqualified in any number of disgusting ways.

That makes him hard to wager on, though. Some bettors vowed never to bet Tyson again after he bit Evander Holyfield’s ear in their rematch fight.

But make Tyson a big enough underdog, and he’ll draw money. Just like any other boxing underdog. Hasim Rahman proved that.