Tom Craze takes a look at the odds and the best bets for this weekend's boxing action.
Less than a month has gone by since Nonito Donaire's nine-round changing of the guard at 122lbs, and yet it's already time for another contest between two of the truly elite fighters in the lower weight classes. You could get used to matchmaking like this.
Abner Mares (-125) versus Anselmo Moreno (+145) almost feels like a Golden Boy riposte to the offering that's gone before it, and it would be a surprise if it doesn't end up the better contest of the two. Unlike Donaire-Nishioka, which largely played out in the ring as it looked on paper, with one fighter holding most of the physical and attitudinal aces, Mares-Moreno isn't just evenly-matched - the timing, too, is excellent. Unlike Donaire-Nishioka, neither man is in the twilight of their career - indeed, with both still only in their mid-twenties, it's quite possible they've got their peak years ahead. And, unlike Donaire-Nishioka, there's no heavy betting favourite here, with Mares assigned only marginal favoritism against a fighter considered a legitimate threat by consensus.
Making the first defense of the WBC super-bantam title he picked up with an entirely one-sided 10/1- on win over Eric Morel in April, Mares (24-0-1, 13 KOs) extends what's otherwise been a tough, high-calibre sequence, one that began with a majority draw against Yohnny Perez (Mares was a -130 shot) and moved through Darchinyan (Mares -200) and Agbeko (Mares -295) in the enjoyable Showtime bantamweight tournament that he went on to win, followed by a rematch against the latter (Mares -155), in which he silenced some critics of the initial win, which was marred by a string of unpunished and blatant-looking low blows from the California man. Mares, then, was made favourite for each of those fights by the layers - looking at his record pre-Perez, it's safe to say that Abner Mares has never been in a fight where he wasn't the bookie's favourite - and it's testament to the performances he's been putting together that his odds have been shortening even throughout his negotiation of the top names at 118.
Though a WBA titlist for over four years, it could be argued that Anselmo Moreno (33-1-1, 12 KOs) doesn't have quite the same depth to his resumé, but, with the move up for what could be a series of big money fights in his new division, it's not like he's running from any specific challenges at 118, either. What's more, he's also beaten some of the men that those around him have also already dispatched of. With a style that's never been about knocking guys out, Moreno, really, has established himself as one of the best by winning fights without too much fanfare or headlines. His American TV debut came late, but in his two fights since he hasn't put a foot wrong. Mutual opponent Darchinyan was beaten far more comprehensively than he was by Mares - Darchinyan just had no answer to Moreno whatsoever that night, despite starting off as a moderate -250 favourite (Moreno was a +190 underdog) - and two wins apiece over the tricky Nehomar Cermeno (Moreno was a slight +115 outsider for the first of those, but went off as a -180 favourite in the rematch) and the capable Wladimir Sidorenko, including one win on the road against each, tell the story. His record holds up, and there's no doubt that Moreno is as good, if not better, than anything Mares has ever been faced with up until this point.
It's interesting to note what is a clear contrast between the two in betting terms. Mares has been a reliable proposition; he's been better than his odds have sometimes suggested and the calibre of his opposition has meant that loyal backers will have reaped the rewards. Moreno, however, is used to playing underdog. He's won when he hasn't been fancied to, in his opponents' backyards, and has had to do so on the scorecards. He'll have to do the same at the Staples Center on Saturday where, again, he'll assume the role of road dog and bookies' outsider.
Stylistically, this is an interesting fight, but it could well be a bit of a slow burner. Mares generally makes for good fights, but Moreno will be an altogether different conundrum for him to solve than the likes of Darchinyan and Agbeko, who he was able to find - and outhustle - with a good degree of success. The problem for him could be that, while he did so, he beat them largely at their own game. Moreno, meanwhile, uses his toolkit to its fullest, counterpunching from range, from awkward angles, with excellent footwork - and all from a southpaw stance. Closing down the distance is key for Mares, but it would appear to be easier said than done against someone as elusive as Moreno, who'll likely utilise his height and considerable reach advantage to dictate the rounds at arm's length. It's not impossible to imagine Moreno being drawn into an inside battle - very much Mares territory - but we've seen Mares' defence look far from perfect and it's difficult to see him fighting the kind of fight that won't give Moreno plenty of openings.
It seems highly likely that this goes the distance - it's just -450 for the fight to go to the cards - and with neither man renowned for their power (+500 and +1200 is available for KOs by champion and challenger respectively), this could be a cagey, difficult to score contest with a contrasting set of styles, settled by no more than two or three rounds either way.
Mares will almost certainly be the busier, more active fighter in his attempts to close the gap, but the question is how much of his work will get through. It may not matter a great deal: roared on by the crowd, history tells us that judges can be as easily swayed in favour of a home fighter by constant output, successful or not, as they can by effective counterpunching. It's +125 that Mares gets the nod.
Moreno, though, won't be too concerned by his surroundings, and wins over Cermeno in Venezuela and Sidorenko in Germany (where the Ukrainian has fought all bar five of his 27 contests) demonstrate that his style can still get the job done on the cards away from home. The +162 that he does so, in comparison to his market-best outright win price of +145, shows us that he's only expected to win one way. Should he win, and he well might, it's unlikely to see him getting the UD - a counterpuncher on the road, against a hometown volume fighter aren't usually ingredients for one - and while Moreno looks the more attractive play of the two on the outright market, it's a fight that looks set for a close split or majority verdict either way - an incredible four of Moreno's last six decisions have had the judges divided. Fans of longer odds will also be encouraged by the pointers for a draw - and at +2200, in a fight seemingly bound for the cards and a clutch of 115-113s, there are probably worse ways to spend your Saturday night.
On the undercard, perhaps the most likely candidate to eventually fill the spot left by Moreno at the top of the 118 tree gets another outing, and Leo Santa Cruz gets a chance to impress yet again, this time against +1200 underdog Victor Zaleta. At -4000, though, this can only be a watching brief for most.
Nathan Cleverly (-2000) is another that's been scheduled for a showcase, and late replacement Shawn Hawk (+1200) is the man drafted in to make him look good. Whether Cleverly does or not is another matter, of course.
There should be at least one semi-competitive fight on Saturday night though, as Erislandy Lara (-450) takes on the much-touted, but rarely seen, Vanes Martirosyan (+500). Vanes looks set to be this weekend's most popular underdog for those looking for a medium-sized upset, but Lara's a long way from his usual diet of forty-something club fighters.
Finally, Wladimir Klitschko takes on +1100 outsider Mariusz Wach and, while his prices range from very short to exceptionally short, he's the name who's thrown up the biggest discrepancy across the board this weekend. It's just -3300 that he wins in places, through to -2500, -1800, -1600, -1200, and finally -850. Hey, it's come to something when, instead of pricing up, odds compilers pick random numbers from a hat in order to make heavyweight boxing more exciting.