10/11/2006 12:00AM

Fast action helps UFC outpace boxing


Fast action helps UFC outpace boxingP

Ultimate Fighting Championship, more commonly known as UFC, is according to its organizers a sport that uses "mixed martial arts." At times, it's also been called "no-holds-barred fighting," a "bloodsport," and "human cock fighting," which is what Sen. John McCain called it in 2000 as he proposed to ban the sport.

After receiving heat from McCain, the UFC did remove some of its barbaric aspects and sideshow atmosphere in 2001, and now, no matter what it's called, it's a huge success. Crowds and pay-per-view buys for UFC often outdraw traditional boxing cards.

"I have to admit I was completely wrong when the UFC started, as I didn't think it would grow as it has," said Robert Walker, director of race and sports for MGM Mirage. "All the fights were on pay-per-view, and it looked like it would just grow a niche audience. But now, the fighters are true superstars, and I can really see it overtaking boxing, especially with the younger generation."

Walker said the reasons for the UFC's growth are varied, but chief among them is that boxing has lost a lot of its luster, especially with the heavyweight division in disarray and the sport's many controversial decisions. The UFC also has shorter fights, usually five rounds at most, which appeals to shorter attention spans.

"With the UFC, there's more action in less time, and that appeals to the Playstation/Nintendo/Xbox crowd," said Walker. "Also, most of the fights don't go to the judge's scorecards. There are more definitive outcomes, and the fans prefer that over boxing, where so many fights don't have a cut-and-dried finish and there's a lot more scoring controversies."

Walker said the appeal has extended to the betting windows. The fans not only love their favorite fighters but are willing to back them with cash before going to the fights. He said the UFC still doesn't draw the six-figure bets that were common with big boxing matches, but he said five-figure bets are not out of the ordinary and that the volume of $50 and $100 bets continues to amaze him.

This weekend's big card has been dubbed "UFC 64: Unstoppable" and takes place in the Mandalay Bay Events Center. By noon Wednesday, in the featured matches, Sean Sherk was a -230 favorite (risk $2.30 for every $1 you want to profit) over Kenny Florian at +180 (win $1.80 for every $1 wagered) in a lightweight bout, and Rich Franklin is -220 vs. Anderson Silva at +160 in a middleweight bout.

Walker credits his staff with setting and managing the UFC lines, particularly Hugh Citron and Rick Reinhart.

"Hugh has been instrumental in our UFC odds, as he's been doing it at Mandalay, where most of the biggest fights have been, since before the merger [with MGM Mirage]," Walker said.

Walker said odds on the undercard would be up later this week.

Events around town

The UFC card is just one of the major events taking place this weekend and into next week. As far as buzz and celebrity sightings go, it might be hard to match last weekend, when the Playboy Club opened at the Palms and former tennis star Andre Agassi held his annual fund-raiser at the MGM Grand. (How's this for an A-list: Hugh Hefner, Paris Hilton, Elton John, Robin Leach, Anna Kournikova, Ben Stiller, Jenna Jameson, James Woods, and Jamie Foxx.) These upcoming events should be star-studded, as well:

* The PGA Tour is in town this weekend for the Frys.com Open (formerly the Las Vegas Invitational, among other names) at the TPC Summerlin and TPC at the Canyons courses. No, Tiger Woods isn't here, but John Daly will probably draw a crowd, as will Jim Furyk, who has won this tournament three times and is the 5-1 favorite at the Las Vegas Hilton.

* The Los Angeles Lakers will be in town for two exhibitions at the Thomas and Mack Center. They will play the Suns at 6:20 p.m. Sunday and the Kings at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Lakers will be headquartered at the Mirage, so their fans will probably flock there. No word yet on whether Kobe Bryant, returning from knee surgery, or coach Phil Jackson, recovering from hip-replacement surgery, will be in town. The Kings will stay at the Palms, which is owned by team owners the Maloof brothers. The Kings have built a local following through that connection.

* Next Monday through Friday, the Bellagio will host the championship Texas no-limit hold'em event of the Festa al Lago poker tournament. It's a World Poker Tour event and will attract many top professionals and others who put up the $10,300 entry fee in an attempt to knock them off. The event will be taped by The Travel Channel and air later this year.

Correction on promotion

Last Friday, I mentioned a promotion at the Texas Station race book, which is going by the name "Texas Stamp-ede." Through Oct. 31, customers can earn a Station Casinos 30th anniversary fleece pullover by filling in a 50-space card with stamps, which are earned for each race-book window visit of $10 or more, not for each $10 that is wagered, as I had written last Friday.

Nextel Chase heats up

Last week, Station auto racing oddsmaker Micah Roberts, writing in the pages of GamingToday, had Brian Vickers at 16-1 on top of his predictions for last Sunday's UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega. It didn't look promising on the final lap, with Vickers trailing Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, but then Vickers nudged Johnson and caused a crash between the two leaders and Vickers took the checkered flag.

There is no such longshot pick this week. Roberts has Johnson on top at 5-1, with Matt Kenseth is the co-favorite at 5-1, Kasey Kahne at 8-1, and the trio of Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch at 10-1.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants has Johnson as the 5-1 favorite to win the Chase for the Cup, with Jeff Gordon at 7-1, Earnhardt Jr. at 10-1, and Kenseth at 12-1.