BROOKLYN — Keith “One-Time” Thurman is not the most popular boxer in America, and nor will he ever be until Floyd Mayweather retires or heavyweight Deontay Wilder loses.
But the undefeated welterweight, who makes a long-awaited comeback fight Saturday night at Barclays Center, knows that the growing popularity of legalized gambling can be the shot in the arm that the sport needs to become larger than life in America — the way it was when Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Mike Tyson had people schedule their weekends around their bouts.
“It’s all about the apps, and not everybody is a gambling person. You said the word “everybody,” and there are people that don’t feel comfortable buying scratch-offs and playing their state lottery tickets, even though the money is going back into the school systems. At the end of the day, it’s up to the person,” Thurman told GetMoreSports.com.
Sports gambling is now legal or is about to be legal in Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, the District of Columbia and Arkansas.
Also, sports betting bills have been introduced before state legislatures in California, Oregon, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Louisiana, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, South Carolina, New York, Maryland, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“At the end of the day it’s just personal. I bet on very few Floyd fights — I took Floyd, of course — I bet the 7th, 8th and 9th for the knockout against Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero. I never cheered so hard in a fight as a spectator when I was like: “C’mon Floyd, baby. Action! Action! No defense! Bring It!,” Thurman said.
“So for that moment I felt what it was like to be a true fan who put some stakes into the match, and you know what? It really does put you more deeper into the fight. You’re in the fight with the fighter. I think technology is what is going to be taking it forward.
“These phone apps are going to determine — here you are, you can bet $5 — and I think when things like that are happening, it can entice people to play around with it, and obviously if you hit beginner’s luck, you might get hooked, you know?”
It is now more common than ever to watch a sporting event with friends at a restaurant or pub and drop a few dollars on any particular game. In New Jersey, people can even play blackjack, roulette and poker on their phones, which has led to the further demise of of brick-and-mortar casinos in Atlantic City — once one of the top boxing cities in America.
Brooklyn is now becoming a beacon for the sport, and Thurman will be taking on welterweight Josesito Lopez on a card that also features Polish-American heavyweight Adam Kownacki facing Gerald Washington — a monster of a man who only took up boxing at age 30 after a career in the military.
The fights will be televised live on Fox, which is taking a bigger gamble on the boxing business after HBO pulled out after being the dominant boxing outlet for decades.
Whether the public takes notice remains to be seen.
Welterweights are not heavyweights, and it is hard to imagine an America where social events built around boxing matches become as commonplace as they were as recently as a few years ago when Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao set Pay Per View records.
Then again, Oscar de la Hoya has already filed paperwork to run for President of the United States, so the sport may make a comeback in a way no one expected.
MMA fights have taken up a large chunk of the fight market dollar, too, and eSports and 2K tournaments have gone mainstream.
But legalized sports gambling is going to the same place. It is not a matter of whether the public will accept it; it’s a matter of how quickly it will become a mainstream activity in America the same way it is in other parts of the world.
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