UFC 248: NZ punters drawn to Israel Adesanya - TAB

Israel Adesanya's rise to the UFC middleweight crown has Kiwi punters flocking to bet on mixed martial arts. 

'The Last Stylebender' retained his title with a unanimous decision win over Cuban wrestler Yoel Romero at UFC 248 in Las Vegas on Sunday (NZ time). 

The New Zealand TAB has revealed UFC 248 garnered the most customers and bets, and biggest turnover for any MMA fight in its history.

More than 10,000 customers placed 37,200 bets, generating a total turnover of NZ$889,000, $250k more than Adesanya's title win over Robert Whittaker last year..

Spokesperson Mark Stafford told Newshub the interest and resulting turnover from the fight far exceeded TAB projections.

"I didn't expect it to do the numbers it did, but I think it's a genuine measure on the rapid rise of Israel Adesanya," Satfford said.

"It's almost like people have been force-fed UFC - they've had a taste and they enjoy the flavour. 

"We are getting to see, through events like the Halbergs, who Israel the person is - not just the fighter.

"I've done a lot of work with Dan Hooker and you couldn't meet a nicer, more grounded individual. 

"He's a gentleman and, together, they are advertising their sport as not legalised thuggery, but a highly technical, artful sport. 

"People are jumping on board."

UFC 248 topped the total turnover charts on a busy week of sports betting in New Zealand, trumping the Hurricanes v Blues Super Rugby clash ($428k) and the Indians v Blackcaps second test match ($432k).

Stafford believes the trend reflects where the sport is heading in the mindset of New Zealand's sporting public. 

Over the last 12 months alone, UFC punting has produced NZ$6.4 million in turnover.

"We use betting turnover and the number of punters taking part in a particular sport or event as a pretty accurate perimeter of the sport, and how many people are actually putting their eyeballs on it. 

"It's now our 10th-most popular sport. That doesn't sound particularly big, but MMA has just passed ice hockey. When you think that there are six or seven games a day in the NHL, and only six or seven fights a week, that's significant.

"In 12 months time, it will be knocking on the door of the top five most-watched and bet-on sports in New Zealand."

More than 300 new customers were enticed to punt on Sunday's fight, while Stafford also believes long-time betters are becoming far more fight educated. 

"Once you start watching and following the fighters, you start to pick up on their strengths and weaknesses.  

"We are starting to see some punters trending on the right side of upsets and making good returns. 

"Commercially, we want new customers - the average bet size was $10, so it's not like we are getting rich off it - but it's clearly appealing to the man or woman in the street.

"City Kickboxing has done a great job in putting the sport front of mind of average Kiwi sports punters. 

"Two years ago, not a ton of Kiwis would know who Israel Adesanya was - that has changed now. It's such a watchable product." 

The UFC 248 event removed Conor McGregor from his perch. 

Until late last year, the notorious Irishman held four of the top five fights - by turnover - since the NZ TAB started taking bets on UFC fights in 2016. 

But three of the four biggest events have occured in the last four months, two of which featured Adesanya in the main event.