Thanks to social media, us fans of boxing can now interact and debate with each other no matter where in the world we live. Through this communication friendships are formed. This is how me and the subject of this piece, Johnny Wilds, got to know one another.
Since those early days bantering about the poor quality of David Haye's comeback opponents on Twitter we have stayed in touch and met in person earlier this year.
There is not too much more needed by way of an introduction as this interview is fairly detailed. What I will say is that Johnny has been a boxing fan since childhood and can bring a different approach to looking at a fight having worked in the betting industry in Vegas, specifically for boxing. He is a great host (I stayed in his house when I was in California for SuperFly) and the man could easily make it as a professional chef if he wanted to.
I am proud to call Johnny a friend and I was delighted when he agreed to partake in this interview. Always genuine and open to discuss all matters boxing, you can contact him @JohnnyWBoxing on Twitter if you have any follow up questions to this piece. For now though, as Johnny would say, grab a “freshie” and enjoy the read.
CM: Hi Johnny, can you quickly introduce yourself to the readers and give them an idea of how long you have followed boxing for, as well as your favourite fighters and fights?
JW: Thank you Colin for this opportunity. Yes, my real name is Johnny Wilds – I get questioned on that all the time. I live in Oak Park, California and I am married to Lisa. As you know we have a small petting zoo with two Shar Peis, three Himalayan cats and most recently one very angry Persian.
I have followed boxing since I was maybe five or six years old. My father gave me two great passions; Notre Dame football and boxing. My first memory of boxing would be Leon Spinks vs. Ali.
I watched that fight in my Aunt's bedroom and remember going crazy for Leon and couldn't wait for my Dad to get home with my Mom to pick me up so I could share the news.
My favourite fighters in no order are: Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, Evander Holyfield, Diego Corrales, Juan Manuel Marquez, Kostya Tszyu, Erik Morales, Greg Haugen, Tommy Hearns, DaVarryl “Touch Of Sleep” Williamson, Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis.
My favourite fights:
Holyfield vs. Tyson 1 – so many people counted The Real Deal out and his whole career was based on beating Tyson versus his accomplishments.
Kostya vs. Zab – I felt Zab did a ton of talking and Kostya was not given his proper due coming into the fight.
Corrales vs. Castillo 1 – I was close friends with Diego and to see him achieve what he did that night will always remain close to my heart. I certainly miss him more often than not.
JMM vs. Pacquiao 4 – I have always been a huge Marquez fan and to see him finally get a win over Pac and not be subjected to questionable scorecards was a night I will never forget. My wife and my Mom, who was alive at the time, will also never forget it. They witnessed me nearly hitting my head on the ceiling as I jumped so high in excitement.
There are many more to list but some are frustrating decision fights – especially with Pernell. The outcomes of his fights with Chavez and De La Hoya still make me bitter to this day. For me Sweet Pea was never appreciated and was subjected to highly questionable scorecards in those fights! As you know, there will only be one Sweet Pea and I do hope he's appreciated someday more than he was while he was fighting.
CM: You used to work in Las Vegas, taking bets on boxing. Whether people gamble on the fights or not I'm sure they are interested in what goes into drawing up a line for a boxing match – is it really as simple as creating an opening price for both fighters then just responding to where the money is going?
JW: When I worked in Vegas much more work went into making a line than now. Vegas has become very ‘vanilla' where pretty much everyone copies other casinos odds, less the Westgate where Jay Kornegay, Jeff Sherman and Ed Salmons, who are truly old school, don't mirror the aforementioned practice of being vanilla and copying other casino's lines. The objective of making a line for any sporting event is to attract two-way action so the exposure for the house is minimal and in a perfect world, evenly bet. This rarely happens and you have to adjust the line based on respected action – players who are sharps or wiseguys versus the public. It's sometimes more of a feel than an exact science.
CM: So are there actual “respected players”, heavy hitters with so called smart money who will only place their large bets when the line moves to the most profitable position for them?
JW: Yes. Sharps or wiseguys are always looking to maximise their winning potential. They have a set number in mind – they call it value – and will bet it at any time if it has the value in their opinion. Sometimes they will bet as soon as a line is listed or they will let the public bet it in the direction that maximises their return. The public doesn't always lose otherwise the lavish hotels wouldn't be in business but wiseguys win more often than not and you need to be cognizant of their action to lessen exposure while adjusting on public action when you get too much exposure.
CM: You must have plenty of stories from your sports book days – can you think of one to share here?
JW: Holyfield vs. Tyson 1 comes to mind. I was working at Harrah's and attending UNLV at the time for my undergraduate degree. While walking to class I bumped into one of the sharper players who bet at Harrah's, he was also a student. He asked me my price for the fight. I said Tyson 7-1. He laughed and said “you got a bad line, Tyson is -2500 and Holyfield +1800 at MGM.” I didn't think he was serious but when I went to work that day I noticed someone at work posted the exact same odds as MGM. I wasn't pleased and immediately lowered it to -1200/+800. I took a ton of wiseguy action on Tyson and my boss was not pleased but I explained the public would hammer Holyfield and while we would most likely take a hit on the fight it wouldn't mirror the losses suffered by the other hotels.
We lost just under six figures and I was called by casino management right after the fight. I told them to wait until the final numbers came out as I knew our losses would be far smaller than the other casinos. That proved to be the case. I will never forget that night as not only did my guy win but I was way ahead of the curve in lessening the exposure for Harrah's.
CM: You now write for ESPN, doing a fine job running the boxing arm of their Insiders/Chalk section. How did that get started for you?
JW: I moved back to California from Las Vegas in 2001. I remained in contact with Jay and Jeff (Westgate) who were at the Imperial Palace at the time and were not only colleagues but close friends. I consulted with them on their boxing lines through the years and ESPN reached out to them about four and a half years ago and asked if they knew anyone who was very sharp when it came to boxing as well as understanding the gambling side of things. They didn't hesitate and advised them to call me. I have since had the luxury of being on the Scott Van Pelt show, ESPN's Making The Rounds with Brian Campbell, ESPN Radio and I write my Chalk Insider previews.
I relish this opportunity and hope someday it leads to an even larger role as in all veracity, I feel my knowledge of the boxing game is superior and coupled with my background in the betting industry as an oddsmaker I think I bring an intriguing value added proposition to readers and audiences alike.
CM: As I mentioned in the intro, we are friends brought together through our boxing fandom on Twitter. We are a good example of boxing bringing people together. How has the boxing/social media combo been working for you overall?
JW: Our friendship is based on interaction on Twitter for a sport we both love. I not only became friends with you but I was also introduced to Abe Gonzalez through you and now we are very close friends and speak daily on the phone. Because of the banter, and solid conversations we had, you were able to stay in our home and meet up with Abe as well as Luke from Australia and a few others during the SuperFly weekend.
Also through a shared passion for boxing I was able to meet up with Evan Young and Marcus Figueroa in NY for GGG vs. Jacobs. Listen, boxing is a frustrating sport and we deal with a ton of BS and horrible decisions. But, I have new friends for life because of this sport. That in itself is more powerful than words can describe.
Just to think it wasn't long ago I was going back and forth with you in our typical banter and diatribes on Twitter, then in September I was picking you up at LAX all the way from Scotland for SuperFly. Just let that sink in with the readers – call boxing what you want but it's our love for the sport that facilitated a friendship for life.
CM: Finally, I'd like to hear your take on boxing in 2017 and what are your hopes for the sport in 2018?
JW: 2017 has been an amazing year for boxing. A few fights to mention – DeGale vs. Jack, Thurman vs. Garcia, Crawford vs. Indongo, the whole SuperFly card, Joshua vs. Klitschko, Brook vs. Spence, GGG vs. Jacobs, GGG vs. Alvarez (HORRIBLE decision) and we started the year with Frampton vs. Santa Cruz 2. This is a very small list and there are many more that could have been mentioned but I feel these were some of the better fights that really gave the fans a taste of what is possibly to come in 2018.
In the upcoming year boxing has its work cut out to replicate '17. There are some fights to hope for: Joshua vs. Wilder, Thurman vs. Spence, GGG vs. Alvarez 2 (with competent judging), Linares vs. Mikey Garcia as well as Mikey vs. Lomachenko….. the list could go on and on. We have the return of Tyson Fury, Terence Crawford going to 147, SuperFly 2 and Lomachenko vs. someone to actually fight back and not quit.
Boxing has a chance to make '18 a memorable year. My one hope is we mitigate the shenanigans with the scoring and find a way to have accountability. We, as fans, deserve more. It's our hard earned money and hours putting together articles and support that truly deserves more. It goes without saying the fighters who put their lives on the line for our enjoyment also deserve more.
Cheers and thank you for reaching out Colin. I wish you and Team Morrie a grand 2018 and hope our paths cross again. Perhaps for SuperFly 2!!