Daniel Geale has the odds stacked against him in Germany this Saturday, where he'll face Felix Sturm in a middleweight title unification bout. (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Tom Craze is back this week with a look at Sturm vs Geale, Golovkin vs Proksa, and Dzinziruk vs Gonzalez from a betting perspective. Are upsets on the horizon?
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Until fairly recently, middleweight was a division largely dominated by a clutch of German beltholders working their way through a rota of challengers with dubious credentials. Should Daniel Geale (best-priced +160) upset the odds this Saturday, he would not only end a title reign spanning some five years, but also bulldoze the last vestiges of a less-than-classic era in one of boxing's most significant weight classes.
To do so, IBF champion Geale (27-1, 15 KOs) has to leave Germany with something that nobody else has managed to attain in over six years - a win over Felix Sturm. That is, at least, what the record books say. Sturm (37-2-2, 16 KOs), now onto his twelfth WBA defense overall, has, as you'd expect, been installed as the betting favourite here, as he has been for every one of the fights in that title fight sequence. On paper, however, Geale represents Sturm's toughest assignment for many years and he is priced up accordingly.
At -150, the WBA man maintains the odds-on status we've become accustomed to seeing him marked up at. Should that line hold firm, it's the biggest price about him since the Sylvester fight back in 2008. An interesting side note here is that, against Zbik last time out, Sturm's price wavered considerably right up to the opening bell. With plenty of money coming for the challenger, following his creditable effort against Chavez Jr, and in light of the vulnerability the beltholder displayed in both the Macklin and Murray fights prior - Sturm again touched the same -150 in places, although was eventually cut and went off at a widely-quoted -250 before dismantling Zbik in nine. That -150 looked too big before the fight, and wasn't around long as a result - but with the consensus being that Geale is far more of a threat, it would be surprising if the same price on Sturm this weekend saw as much interest.
After the controversy of the Macklin fight (Sturm was the -500 favourite), in which he claimed a razor-thin decision, and the hard-fought Murray draw (Sturm -675), which was more generally accepted as a fair outcome, Sturm looked a different fighter in the Zbik fight, working his excellent jab - one of the best around - and pressing the issue offensively, something we only saw in patches throughout his two previous bouts. Geale won't pressure him in the same manner as, say, Macklin in particular did, but he's a busy, active fighter and certainly won't be the comparatively predictable target we saw Zbik assume the role of back in April. That -150/+160 split on both fighters suggests just how cautious the layers are being here - Geale is as short as +120 in places, which means the books are seeing this as being close to classic pick ‘em territory.
As good a shot as he has at winning this, there's a feeling here that Geale is perhaps even too short. +120 (even the +160 market-best) looks a little on the tight side when you factor in some of the key considerations. Let's get this straight: Geale is a fine fighter, one capable of winning on Saturday night. There would, at this point, appear to be little danger that he's overmatched and he's not a name plucked from relative obscurity for this challenge, like the Koji Satos and Giovanni Lorenzos that have come before him. He deserves to be here. His best win, however, is against a Sebastian Sylvester who subsequently was put into a ring with a Grzegorz Proksa he didn't have the faintest idea what to do with and was blown away inside three. That raises all sorts of questions, of course - namely about how much the Geale defeat took out of Sylvester, how good Grzegorz Proksa actually is and, of course, whether Sylvester was ever really any good in the first place. Geale did enough and won well, as any overseas fighter in Germany has to do in order to actually emerge the victor - but the difference here is that Felix Sturm is, and has always been, markedly superior to Sylvester.
Taking the judges out of the equation is usually the go-to strategy for a fighter fearing a robbery on the cards, but it feels like ending things inside the distance is too much to ask of Geale - a guy not renowned for his power - against an opponent as durable as Sturm. As you'd expect, it's a huge +1600 that he ends it early but, against Sturm, someone more than happy to stand and trade, it would seem an unlikely tactic. The layers go +750 for the Sturm stoppage, which better represents a fighter who can do the more damaging work once the distance between the two is closed down. What seems more likely is that Geale, buoyed by the knowledge he can win in Germany, attempts to outbox Sturm, utilizing an advantage in speed to throw from angles and upset his opponent's rhythm. The gap between the Geale prices on the outright and to win by decision isn't big - as short as +150 in places, but +225 is still available - but it's a reflection of Geale's ability that a road fighter's odds for winning on points are in the strangely unfamiliar position of being quite so lean. In this market, though, the hunch is to side with the guy with the experience and hometown advantage. Geale can make things awkward for Sturm, but he'll be able to be found, and Sturm should be able to put in enough effective work to get the nod.
It's difficult to see this being anything other than a very close-run thing, and the reality is that if this fight was booked for Australia, it'd be Geale that the layers would be looking to keep on side. As it is, there doesn't appear to be any huge value in the outright prices - were Sturm a few points bigger, he'd start looking too big, but push Geale closer to 2/1 (+200) and he'd look like a bet too. Instead, for a tight contest likely to be settled by one or two rounds either way, there may be more appeal in some of the speculative prices. Both men are quoted as +800 shots to claim a split decision, and dutching those two picks would ensure a decent return for those unwilling to pick a winner. The same applies to each fighter's price for a majority decision - +1600 and +1800 for Sturm and Geale respectively - but both are plays where you're very much at the mercy of the judges, and whichever sport they decide they're actually experts in on the night. The draw has a real shot here too, albeit that's reflected in the odds - as short as +1600 in places, it's up to around half of what it might usually be. At a best price of +2500 however, it can be taken and will be a live runner to follow in the recent footsteps of Huck-Afolabi and Sturm-Murray, legitimate call or otherwise.
Gennady Golovkin (23-0,20 KOs), he of the -1500 price bracket and worse, takes on the aforementioned Grzegorz Proksa (28-1, 21 KOs) in what could be a superbly entertaining HBO main event. It's an interesting style clash, but there does appear to be a clear difference in pedigree. It could take a while for Golovkin to work out the movement of Proksa, but at -300 he's for once a more viable price for the very short-priced backers, with Proksa best-priced a +375 underdog. At odds-against in places, the +100 for the Golovkin stoppage looks excellent value. Although most of that available earlier in the week has since been clipped into around -110, it's still a price that can be taken and backed down further still.
On the undercard, it's -115 the pair for Dzinziruk-Gonzalez but, assuming the Martinez defeat hasn't taken too much of a toll, it's difficult to see why the southpaw from Ukraine hasn't been given favouritism here. It is, however, a fairly sizeable assumption.