Rocky vs. Drago: What would the betting odds have been in 'Rocky IV'?

Rocky vs. Drago: What would the betting odds have been in 'Rocky IV'?

Updated Jul. 9, 2024 12:45 p.m. ET

Rocky Balboa’s victory over Ivan Drago in Russia on Christmas Day 1985 is one of the greatest upsets in the history of American (cinematic) sports.

Even though Balboa was boxing’s reigning world heavyweight champion, he was certainly the betting underdog against the bigger, stronger, younger and chemically-enhanced Drago. The undefeated "Siberian Bull" had at least six inches and more than 70 pounds on "The Italian Stallion."

That’s like pitting LeBron James against Steph Curry in the squared circle.

And let’s also not forget that Drago killed former heavyweight champ Apollo Creed in the ring earlier that year. 


The perception was crystal clear: Drago was boxing’s next big superstar, and he would destroy anything in his path. 

But how would that perception have played out at the books?

Since we’ve never seen publicized betting odds on Rocky vs. Drago, and since we just wrapped up Fourth of July weekend — the most patriotic of all holidays — I decided to round up a slew of bookmakers, bettors and industry experts to properly price the opening line for the incident that truly ended the Cold War: the main event of "Rocky IV."

Here are their stories.

"It was an unsanctioned, 15-round fight, so Nevada Gaming wouldn’t let us accept wagers," Westgate SuperBook executive director John Murray cracked.

Seriously, though … what’s the line?

"You don’t want to go too high on a heavyweight bout," he resumed. "I would’ve opened Drago about -1000 (bet $1,000 to win $100) given his size, age and home advantage. The public would’ve hammered the plus-money on Rocky, and wise guy support would've shown for the favorite.

"We probably would’ve closed around Drago -400 and gotten buried. I would’ve gotten yelled at the next morning."

Bookmakers have explained to me for years how the betting public loves to bet underdogs in boxing matches and UFC fights. That’s because most people don’t want to bet $100 to win $10; they want to bet $100 to win $750.

But when creating a real-life boxing market, a bookmaker has to be careful about being too cheap on the favorite. There’s always big money ready to pounce on a perceived bargain.

"Sharps would’ve buried me at -450 on Drago," WynnBET senior trading manager Alan Berg explained. If a sportsbook had tried to set the line lower on the Russian to balance out the action on both sides, then smart, influential bettors with enough cash to make an impact would have been all over Drago.

"I would’ve opened it Drago -1000," Berg said. "I would definitely want to write my first bet on him. And you keep trying to shade under the Balboa price. Remember, the market would’ve been overrating Drago’s exhibition over a washed Creed."

As you'd expect, there was no doubt that Drago would've been favored against Rocky. The only question was, how big could the price be? 

That -1000 price on Drago was a fairly common starting point for many of the experts, with some coming in even a tad higher.

"Does somebody actually think Rocky should be favored?" former Las Vegas oddsmaker Aaron Kessler responded to my question. "Drago -1100. He killed a guy! And it’s not like Rocky was a dominant fighter." 

"Drago is a monster favorite," US Bookmaking director of operations Robert Walker declared. "He would be at least -1500. And we would’ve got crushed."

"Drago has to be a massive favorite," professional bettor Rob Pizzola opined. "Say around -1000. Rocky is at the twilight of his career, and Drago is much younger. Huge home advantage in Mother Russia, too. And Drago literally murdered the man who went the distance with Rocky twice.

"It would’ve been like Mike Tyson in his prime against a gas can."

Now, a -1000 bet on which you risk $100 to win $10 sounds like a lot, especially if you're not a regular sports bettor. But we see even bigger favorites — and underdogs — all the time in non-scripted sports.

A common mistake would be to compare Rocky’s upset over Drago to Buster Douglas' shocking the world and beating the aforementioned Tyson, for example. 

Not so fast. 

Douglas opened as high as 42-to-1 (or +4200) to knock off Iron Mike. Rocky would’ve never, ever been priced that high; even at books where he would have been the biggest possible underdog, Balboa was just shy of 10-to-1 (+1000) in this discussion.

"It honestly reminds me more of the first Tyson-Holyfield fight, when Evander knocked Tyson out," Caesars senior risk manager Rich Zanco said. "Tyson was invincible, and Holyfield had heart problems, but money kept pouring in on the underdog. I believe Holyfield opened at +1800 and was bet down to +700.

"So I think it’s very fair to start at Drago -1400 and Balboa +800. The fight being in Russia was massive. And Balboa was clearly past his prime after getting lit up by Clubber Lang years before."

From Drago -1000 to -1500, all of these fine folks were in roughly the same neighborhood with their lines. At this point, you’re probably thinking to yourself, "Wow, these guys are bad at their jobs. Don’t they all know Rocky won the fight?!"

Well, yeah, but hindsight is 20/20. We've all seen the movie (sorry for the spoiler if you haven’t). 

When you’re making and maneuvering a real-life boxing market, though, you obviously don’t know the end result.

Still, there were a handful of bookmakers who believed, even without that knowledge, that Drago would not have been such a massive favorite in the battle that changed the world.

"Drago is a small favorite," Westgate SuperBook senior risk manager Rex Beyers projected. "He killed an out-of-shape Apollo Creed. Rocky still had the belt and got into tremendous, tip-top shape. I would have been cheaper than everyone else.

"You also have to remember that no one bet on sports in Russia in the 1980s," Beyers continued. "And most square Americans would have never been able to bring themselves to bet on Drago. He beat nothing but ham sandwiches and other amateurs in Europe before finishing Creed."

"Drago had to be -160," South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews said. "I only saw the first two Rockys, though, so I’m in the dark. But never underestimate the heart of a champion."

"Drago -180," Rampart Casino sportsbook director Duane Colucci said. "It’s Rocky, brother. Enough said."

"I’m guessing Drago -400," Golden Nugget executive sportsbook director Tony Miller. "You have to start at that number because if you open any lower, you’ll just write it all the way up anyway."

And, of course, some … weren’t so helpful.

"I don’t think you realize the level of my hatred for theoreticals," Circa Sports assistant sportsbook manager Jeff Davis said.

"You’re asking the wrong guy," Circa Sports sportsbook manager Chris Bennett said. "I don’t watch many movies. That was ‘Rocky IV,’ right?"


It’s OK, though. We definitely have enough input to crunch this price. 

Drago -180 is way too low, and Drago -1500 is way too high. I’m more than willing to meet in the middle between the two factions. Yet reflecting on what Berg said about sharps burying him at -450, you certainly would have to start higher than that.

"Drago -700 and Rocky +450 is the perfect opening line," legendary Las Vegas oddsmaker Kenny White said. "That split gets you good two-way action, and then you move the money from there.

"But Drago is bigger, faster and stronger. And he has 35-plus years of Russian revenge on the mind. After the first limit bet on Drago, I’ll gladly move my market to -1000 and +650."

So there you have it. That’s the price. Ivan Drago (-700) vs. Rocky Balboa (+450). A $10 bet on Rocky would have won you $45, plus your $10 back. Bump that up to a $100 wager, and you're profiting $450.

No matter which way you shake it, Ivan Drago would’ve been a sizable betting favorite against Rocky Balboa heading into the Christmas Day extravaganza. 

As much as I love my country and enjoyed Rocky training like a maniac in frozen Siberia, it’s no secret that Rocky’s biggest edge was Sylvester Stallone writing the flick.

Yo, Adrian … we did it.

Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He'll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot.

* Editors note: This story was originally published in 2021 and has since been updated


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