There will have been easier weeks for both boxing bettors and odds compilers than this. Saturday's scheduled action, on either side of the Atlantic, is packed with talent and a host of intriguing pairings, but it's a set of fights where, undoubtedly, there are more questions to be answered than there are probable outcomes.
The first case in point: a 34-year old Ricky Hatton (45-2, 32 KOs), modern-day ring legend-turned-promoter, the high-profile subject of health scares and tabloid drug scandals, returns from a three-and-a-half-year hiatus from the sport, in a bid to both exorcise some demons and kick-start a fresh world-title bid in a weight division he's not best known for competing in.
In the opposite corner, former world beltholder Vyacheslav Senchenko (32-1, 21 KOs) looks to bounce back from a devastating first career loss that looked more like a clear exposure of a protected champion, fighting out of his native Ukraine for only the fourth time in what will be a 34-fight run, and doing so in what will be a lion's den of an atmosphere against both Hatton and the tens of thousands of vocal fans who've made him the best-supported guy in the sport in recent years.
To illustrate further, to California, for what's a fascinating match-up of two top-level candidates at welterweight, there's yet another backstory. Off the back of a failed drug test in May - and the subsequent cancellation of the biggest fight of his career - Andre Berto (28-1, 22 KOs) looks to pick up where he left off, last seen picking up the IBF strap over a year ago. His opponent will be no easy out. Through what's been an almost hasty-looking rise through the divisions in search of a big fight, Robert Guerrero (30-1-1, 18 KOs) has looked, at times, like an elite talent. It says much about his self-belief and ambition that Berto still isn't the type of opponent he was targeting, but a win here would be a definitive underlining of his credentials.
At -333, it's no surprise Hatton opened as a strong betting favourite, but equally, it would be no shock to see an already short price go even shorter prior to the opening bell. This is, after all, a man who, through sheer weight of money, pushed out Floyd Mayweather's price closer to evens than anyone since De La Hoya, to a point where, at -150 from an initial -275, backing Mayweather outright actually became that unlikely proposition: the value play.
With the Manchester Arena sold out before an opponent was even announced, in Senchenko (+333), the Hitman clearly has a much better name signed up than perhaps he needed to. He wouldn't, of course, have it any other way. On further inspection, though, this looks like shrewd matchmaking. There's almost certainly never been a better time to fight the Ukrainian, and fighting a man coming off a first defeat is preferable to coming up against a guy who doesn't know how to lose. What could be more telling, though, is not the loss itself, but manner of the defeat. Senchenko was routed that night, as the much slicker, much faster Malignaggi ran circles around him, dicing the limited titlist up from angles he, quite literally, couldn't see coming. Though hampered by a cut around the eye, Senchenko just had no answers against arguably the best version of Malignaggi there's been - one missing from the subsequent defence against Cano - and, really, was embarrassed in front of an undersold and probably distinctly unimpressed hometown audience.
While it's fair to say that Hatton won't be waltzing around Senchenko like Malignaggi did anytime soon, it is nonetheless a favourable style match-up for the Manchester man. What we know of Hatton, at his best, was that he attacked best in straight lines to the body, and here it's likely that the ponderous European will be a largely stationary target. That's not to say that Senchenko does a lot wrong technically, but should Hatton negate his jab early on - making his opponent hesitant to follow up, possibly with much of anything at all - this could be easier than expected.
A key word here is pressure, and both men will feel it. For Hatton, it'll be the mental aspect - the drive not to disappoint, the will to prove himself to himself. Senchenko, meanwhile, will be fighting in a cauldron with tens of thousands of people shouting for him to be beaten. As road tests go, this as tough it gets. Physically, too, Senchenko may feel the strain. He's the bigger man, but with the assumption that Hatton finds some success on the inside, will be under sustained attack to the midsection. On both counts, the question is one of if, or when, he wilts. Hatton's price for the stoppage varies significantly, from -140 up to +100, and the latter could be a fair bet should the home fighter look impressive. The fear, though, is that he may not, and questions about his punch resistance - a legacy of previous wars and that crushing Pacquiao stoppage defeat - remain. Senchenko's output is sure to be closer to measured than it is relentless, but until the night is done there will remain a ‘what if?' in the back of the mind of every Ricky Hatton fan. Hatton will be there to hit and, Senchenko, the more cautious of the two, will look for openings from behind a high guard. The +500 about Senchenko to spoil the party early isn't a huge price, but it does reflect the uncertainty going into the fight.
It does seem probable, though, that we'll see rounds here - Senchenko can be worn down but, as shown last time out, he's durable enough, and that should be the case against the naturally smaller man. Hatton to take a decision is a best-priced +275, and it's a price that holds plenty of appeal, especially over the abridged ten-round format. Senchenko was stopped in nine by Malignaggi and only two of Hatton's last ten fights (Pacquiao, 2, and Castillo, 4) have seen less than that number. For Hatton to earn the KO in the second half of the fight, there's +250 available, but also worthy of consideration is the over/under line at 7.5, set at -137. A Senchenko decision win is available at anything from +800 to +1200, but really either of those prices could have another zero on the end.
Andre Berto opened as a -175 favourite over Robert Guerrero, but if that was his true price then this writer is a VADA employee. Things have levelled out a little since then, unsurprisingly, and Berto is now listed at -120, with Guerrero a market-best +150, which are both much closer to the mark.
It's not a surprise to see Berto the slight favourite, having been at welterweight for over six years and having picked up two world titles in that time. He's also, of course, the naturally bigger man, and seemed on the verge of moving up to 154 - a move that, you'd imagine, will still come soon enough. The arguments out there for Berto seem to have been geared toward the prospect of Guerrero simply being overpowered and outgunned, but is it too simplistic a view?
There's also, however, a question of whether is this just too much, too soon for Guerrero, who was campaigning at super-feather only three years ago and skipped 140 altogether. The counter to that is that he looks to have put on the weight the right way, and handled well a physical natural welterweight in Aydin last time out. That said, it's difficult to see him really hurting Berto too much here, and so the +650 for the Guerrero KO is the rightful outsider, with the Berto stoppage viewed as the most likely outcome by the layers at +162. Guerrero, though, has some momentum and looks a little like the more refined, intelligent fighter of the two overall. There's +300 for Berto to claim a win on the cards, but it's the +250 about Guerrero - technically the home fighter here - getting the nod that looks more attractive.
Lower down the bill, there's a classic prospect-meets-crafty-veteran offering as Keith Thurman (-225) takes on Carlos Quintana (+175), while, back in Manchester, Scott Quigg (-200) and Rendall Munroe (+240) try again to settle the score after their first fight ended in a technical draw on cuts after less than three rounds back in June.