Handicapping Theory for Boxing
By Law Gardner
Pregame Pro Handicapper
To those ignorant of the sport of boxing, logic would dictate that one generally has a 50/50 chance of selecting the winner of a boxing match. In a world where everyone is absolutely equal, the previous statement is quite logical. In the real world, especially as it pertains to the sport of boxing, the previous statement is foolish.
How does one accurately predict the victor of a boxing match? The answer: careful analysis.
Whether or not you’re an individual who enjoys the thrill of occasionally betting on a big fight, or someone who takes wagering on boxing quite seriously, the key to betting success is found in the following:
- The ability to properly evaluate a boxer’s skill level, natural athleticism and psyche.
- Researching the boxer’s statistics (i.e. number of overall fights, wins, losses, quality of opposition, amateur background, etc.), and then doing a head-to-head comparison with his opponent’s statistics.
The latter can be accomplished by simple online investigation (i.e. a boxer’s record, age, height, reach, opponents, etc. are all accessible on the internet), and with insight on how to properly interpret the information (which will be discussed later). However, the evaluation of a boxer’s skill level, athleticism and psyche is a bit more complex.
There are 9 major categories I rate on a scale from 1 to 100 when I’m analyzing a fighter’s abilities and psyche: reflex speed, technical ability, natural athleticism, punching power, boxing style, durability, overall condition, level of confidence & the “will to win” factor. It’s safe to say that professional boxers who rate high in all of these categories are either world champions, or will be soon. I’ll define the specifics of each category below:
This category is arguably the single most important weapon in a boxer’s arsenal. It goes hand-in-hand with natural athleticism – it’s a quality that in it’s purest form cannot be taught or gained through repetition, but something an individual is either born with or not. The simplest explanation of reflex speed is the amount of time it takes your body to react to a signal from the brain. Reflex speed manifests itself offensively in the ability to beat an opponent to the punch, as well as defensively in the ability to react to an opponent’s punch before it lands.
It can be said that technical ability is a window to the soul of “the sweet science.” It is a set of offensive and defensive skills that can be learned and perfected through repetition and proper instruction. Those who do not possess a high degree of technical ability will not last long in the sport, but those who do have a far higher probability of a successful career. It is difficult to find a current or former champion who did not have an extensive amateur career. Boxing in the amateurs builds a strong foundation for the “must-haves” of a professional boxer – straight right, quick jab, solid hook, good balance, combination punching & a sound defense – all traits to look for when evaluating boxing talent.
I’m one who sincerely believes in the ideal that “all men are created equal,” with the exceptions of intelligence and natural athleticism. Much like reflex speed, natural athleticism is genetic, as opposed to a trait that can be gained through practice and repetition. When evaluating a boxer’s natural athleticism, look for fluidity of movement, explosive delivery of a punch, and a high degree of reflex speed.
Boxing without knockouts would be like baseball without home runs. Some of the most famous names in boxing lore – Dempsey, Marciano, Foreman, Tyson, Hearns, Hagler - all possessed great punching power. Punching power is a highly coveted trait in boxing. It is a combination of proper technique, balance, reflex speed, natural athleticism and raw strength. In a matchup of boxers that appear to be similar across the board, yet one has a much higher percentage of knockouts, always go with the heavier puncher.
Just as professional football teams can be identified by their style of play – a running team, a defensive team, a dynamic passing team, etc. – boxers can be identified by their boxing style. When evaluating an upcoming fight, identifying a boxer’s particular style will give you an advantage. For example, if both fighters have a defensive, counter-punching oriented style, betting the “over” would be wise due to the overwhelming likelihood that the fight will go the distance. When 2 highly offensive knockout artists are facing each other in the ring, it’s logical to bet the “under”, because the odds are in your favor that a knockout will occur in the early to middle rounds.
As a fighter progresses in his career and faces a higher level of competition, durability becomes a major factor. The higher the level of competition, the more likely it is that you will have to absorb more punches. Conditioning plays a huge roll in a fighter’s durability. When a fighter is in excellent condition, he is able to withstand more punches than a lesser-conditioned fighter. When evaluating a boxer’s durability, look for such things as the number of times he’s been knocked out, how many fights he’s gone the distance, as well as how he has responded to knock downs in previous fights (i.e. does he recover quickly, once knocked down does he stay down, etc.)
Boxing is arguably the most physically demanding sport out there. It can be compared to running a marathon in which you are punched in the face every 20 yards. Far more fights are ultimately determined by which boxer is in better shape, rather than who has more talent. When evaluating a boxer’s level of conditioning, look to previous fights in which he may have been KO’d in the middle to late rounds, as well as an obvious drop in total punch output.
This aspect of a boxer’s psyche can have a tremendous effect on the outcome of a fight. I will point to the Mike Tyson versus Michael Spinks heavyweight championship fight in 1988 as an example. This fight was over before it began. The moment Spinks climbed through ropes for the pre-fight introductions, you could see in his eyes that he believed he was a dead man walking. As a result of his extreme lack of confidence, what could have been a great matchup turned into an ambush – a vicious knockout in the 1 st round. If you are able to ascertain that a boxer’s level of confidence is low going into a fight, betting on his opponent would be wise.
Will To Win:
It’s safe to assume that in the majority of boxing matches that take place, both fighters have a similar “will-to-win” level. However, in a situation where one boxer clearly has more at stake than his opponent – such as a scenario that a victory will put him in line for a title shot – it’s wise to consider this “X-factor” into your overall evaluation.
Now that you are equipped with the proper tools to evaluate a boxer’s skill level, natural athleticism and psyche, let’s turn our attention back to the importance of researching statistics.
This part of the evaluation process is far more straightforward than the evaluation of the previous 9 categories, in that it consists of a simple comparison between each fighter’s statistics. Research the statistics listed below, whether it be online or through the numerous boxing publications available, and then simply do a head-to-head comparison between the 2 fighters.
- Wins & losses.
- Knockout percentage (divide the total number of fights into the number of knockouts).
- Total number of times a boxer has been KO’d
- Quality of opposition (i.e. number of ranked opponents fought)
- Amateur background (i.e. number of amateur fights)
- Quality of Trainer/Management (a boxer’s trainer and management team plays a large role in the overall success of a boxer’s career).
Now that you are armed with the proper tools of research and analysis, the next big fight could not only be wildly entertaining, but profitable as well. Bet smart my friend.
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