Late last month, Olivier Busquet put out an open challenge on Twitter, saying that in order to motivate himself to train harder in mixed-martial arts (MMA), he’d be willing to make a 6-figure bet with anyone in the poker community who’d step forward to fight him. This came about a month after Doug Polk and Doc Sands had briefly but unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a half-million dollar fight, and for a while, it looked like Busquet’s challenge was likewise going nowhere.
Although Busquet’s tweet caught my eye at the time, after a few weeks with no updates, I assumed that he hadn’t found any takers. I was surprised, then, to see Juan Carlos (“JC”) Alvarado tweet this Saturday that he and Busquet had finalized terms for a fight. An exact date hasn’t been set, but Alvarado says that the plan is to do it “some time in late April.”
Looking for MMA training motivation – trying to gauge interest in 6 figure fight from anyone in poker community…..
— Olivier Busquet (@olivierbusquet) September 23, 2015
— JC Alvarado (@JCAlvarado1) October 17, 2015
Size vs. skill
It’s an interesting bet, because while Busquet is considerably larger and stronger than Alvarado, he’s also fairly new to MMA, while Alvarado has a huge experience advantage. Alvarado is therefore laying Busquet odds both in the weight department an in terms of dollars; Alvarado will have to weigh in at 165 lbs. and is putting up $150,000, while Busquet gets to weigh in at 187.5 lbs. and only risks $120,000.
For this bet to be fair to both, that would mean Busquet would need to stand a 44.5% chance of beating Alvarado with a 22.5 lb. weight advantage. Handicapping fights is difficult even in ordinary circumstances, but this is a particularly unusual and hard-to-calculate proposition, as professional fights are almost always between fighters in the same weight class; figuring out the extent to which a weight advantage offsets a skill edge therefore requires a lot of guesswork.
Many fights are agreed to, fewer actually happen
This isn’t the first time Alvarado has agreed to fight a fellow poker player. Back in 2013, he’d agreed to fight Andrew Robl, with Robl putting up $34,000 to Alvarado’s $20,000. Unfortunately, Robl got injured in training before the fight could happen, and bought out of the bet for around $12,000. Robl, in turn, had earlier been scheduled to fight Sorel Mizzi, but that time it had been Mizzi who backed out.
Overall, it seems that these fight bets between poker players end up falling through more often than not, but that’s not to say that they never happen. For instance, there was the Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier vs. Lex Veldhuis kickboxing match in 2011, which the latter won in decisive fashion.
A question of money
What’s different this time around is the amount of money involved. Terrence Chan – another guy who has a foot in both the poker and fighting worlds – pointed out on Twitter that the stakes are such that the winner will be receiving more money than all but the most elite competitors in the UFC receive for a fight. Whether the nosebleed stakes (no pun intended) make the fight more or less likely to take place, I’m not sure. Certainly, committing to that much money means that we can be sure that both men are very serious about it at the moment, but it may also make it more tempting for one or the other to buy his way out closer to the fight date, if his appraisal of the odds changes.
Winner will make more money from this fight than all but a small handful of UFC champions. https://t.co/QSIvBL3ksZ
— Terrence Chan (@tchanpoker) October 17, 2015
We know JC loves MMA & is motivated. Not sure that Liv has been in a fight or knows how hard the grind is, but obv he's a physical beast.
— Terrence Chan (@tchanpoker) October 18, 2015
One thing’s for sure; if the fight does go down, Alvarado and Busquet won’t be the only ones with money riding on it. No sooner had the announcement gone out than Twitter exploded in a frenzy of poker players attempting to book action, including Jason Mo and Huckleberry Seed among other familiar names. Personally, I think Alvarado’s the better bet, because a real fight is very different from a sparring session, and we can’t know how well Busquet will be able to handle that level of punishment. More interesting, to me, is what the line would look like on whether or not the fight actually takes place; on that front, I think I’d have to call it close to even money.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.