Sergio Martinez is the favorite over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr on Saturday, but the odds aren't wide. (Photo by Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE)
Tom Craze returns to BLH this afternoon with his weekly look at the boxing game from a bettor's perspective. This week, of course, he's focused on Chavez Jr vs Martinez, as well as Canelo vs Lopez and the undercard action on both shows.
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On Saturday night, the WBC middleweight titlist will step into the ring weighing around 30lbs more than his counterpart. He'll be around a decade younger than the guy in the other corner, with what's expected to be the majority of a sell-out Vegas crowd cheering him on. With 48 fights to his name, he's still unbeaten and will be taking home the bulk of a sizeable main-event purse. So, why the hell is Julio Cesar Chavez Jr a betting underdog?
[ Full Coverage: Chavez Jr vs Martinez ]
After initially opening in the region of +200 shortly after the fight was announced, the simple answer is that he might not be for much longer. Sergio Martinez, officially the challenger here after a Jose Sulaiman-orchestrated heist so far-fetched it'd make Vince McMahon wince, started off as a firm 2/1-on favourite. What's happened gradually throughout fight week - and is now gathering steam - is that a considerable gamble on Chavez Jr appears to be underway. Much like in a horse race where a reputable source has word of a good thing in a stable, what was once the outsider could, remarkably, go off in places on Saturday night as the marginal favourite.
This is, of course, most likely to happen in Mexican-run, or indeed -frequented books, where the sheer weight of patriotic money gives the layers little choice but to shift the price in response to the groundswell. It's a phenomenon often seen in this kind of match-up, where a fight becomes, in the eyes of the general fan, more nation vs. nation than anything as simple as two fighters against each other for twelve rounds or less. A good example would be that of Kevin Mitchell, who fought very much as the home fighter in a stadium fight in front of around 20,000 against Michael Katsidis. Katsidis not only had the better pedigree and a solid reputation, but there were whispers that Mitchell's preparations were far from ideal. Nonetheless, the money kept coming, and Mitchell - who went off as a -170 favourite or shorter - got demolished inside three rounds. The list goes on.
The movement in the market may not continue, of course. Martinez, now up to -175 in places, is still as short as -225 elsewhere. The +150 on Chavez may yet stabilise, at least more generally, with global bookmakers as opposed to Mexican independents running for cover. It may not, and his price could plummet further. It's worth remembering, though, that weight of money isn't always analogous to a change in a fighter's actual chances of winning. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr isn't getting any better as a result.
The common conception is that Chavez Jr's rise to the top of the boxing world - and, given the magnitude of Saturday's fight, that's exactly what it is - has been carefully stage-managed - a string of cherry-picked opponents that, while steadily increasing in calibre have, by and large, been selected because they've been no huge threat. As you'd expect, then, at least while the odds hold up, this is the first time that Chavez Jr has found himself anything other than a strong odds-on favourite. Going back as far as the Duddy fight (-500), Junior has been as short as -4000 (Billy Lyell), with -260 against Zbik the closest he's come to even money. In general, though, he's obliged fairly comfortably every time, and looked (again, in general), increasingly good in doing so. His beatdown of Manfredo opened a few more eyes, although as an -800 favourite he was expected to steamroll his way through him, while last time out Chavez Jr looked genuinely impressive against Andy Lee, a guy he was widely perceived to have avoided previously. Again, Chavez was a considerable favourite for the fight and, as a -500 shot it was certainly a fight he was expected to win well, but with the step up in quality of his opposition, there's a fair case to say he's answered the questions asked of him.
Given his upbringing - we've all heard the story by now - it would be trite to say that Martinez has upset the odds to get here, but that's exactly what he's done. In neither of the Williams fights was he the betting favourite, despite the fact that, from this viewpoint anyway, he won the first contest despite losing out on the cards. He made a mockery of the +125 price to end matters in the second round. In the fight that preceded it, he was again overlooked, a +160 chance against a Kelly Pavlik who he then went on to comprehensively outbox for the most part of the second half of that bout. With that knockout in the Williams rematch, though, came both recognition and a certain notoriety. Suddenly Martinez, seemingly struggling for opponents, was a different proposition for the layers: -650 (Dzinziruk), -2000 (Barker), -1100 (Macklin). All fights he won by stoppage, and all could be argued to be as good, if not better, than anything Chavez Jr has ever faced.
In terms of pure ability and résumé alone, there is absolutely no way that Sergio Martinez should be anything like even money in a fight against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. There are, however, intangibles - as there always are. While he hasn't forced home the point - instead stating that his intention to knock out Chavez is because, well, he doesn't like him very much - there is logic to suggest Martinez won't want this to go to the cards. A Vegas backdrop would perhaps be easier to overcome than, say, Texas, but even so, if there's anyone who can vouch that he's boxing under the banner of an organisation that doesn't always play it straight, it's Sergio Martinez. Aside from that - even in a legitimate context - a crowd favouring Chavez Jr, assuming that's what it'll be, will be vociferous in their support to any shots thrown, whether they land cleanly or otherwise. Martinez is +300 to back up his words and stop Chavez Jr, with the beltholder at a best-price +500 to win inside the distance. If it's the case that we don't hear the final bell, it's the former that would appear to be the more likely of the two: Chavez isn't renowned for one-punch power and any damage he inflicts will likely be done gradually to the body, in the event that he closes the gap between himself and the much quicker Martinez often enough. Martinez, however, will throw from angles and, iron chin or not, it's those kinds of shots that end fights. Again, though, those prices are certainly liable to alter over the next 24 hours, especially if Chavez Jr sees continuing support.
Should the fight go the distance - and you'd have to expect it'd be a memorable one if it does - then Martinez is a market-best of +162 to claim a decision win. It's this that is the most likely outcome, according to the layers. For a Chavez Jr points nod, it's +333 - fair or otherwise - and there's +2500 available for the draw.
Hey! Apparently there are some other fights going on this weekend too.
After landing one of the upsets of the year - bookmakers' friend Josesito Lopez attempts to pull the same trick against Canelo Alvarez. Unsurprisingly, he's not fancied to do so and, with another leap in weight factored in, he's a rank +1200 outsider to ruin the Mexican celebrations at the MGM Grand. Canelo, a prohibitive -1400 favourite is shorter than even Vitali Klitschko ended up going off at last week but, even so, you'd imagine his will be the price seeing the most interest in that particular part of the city.
Gonzalez-Ponce de Leon looks fascinating on paper and it's not a shock to see the bookies struggling to split them. The champion is a marginal -137 favourite, with Ponce de Leon a +150 shot. Also fairly closely matched is Martinez (-250)-Beltran Jr (-250), while there's certainly an argument that says Eric Morel's days as a mere +240 underdog against a talent like Leo Santa Cruz - a guy twelve years his junior at that - are long gone. Santa Cruz is -333 to extend his unbeaten streak, but could well be shorter still.
In what's representative of a pretty large fall from grace, Marcos Maidana (-300) finds himself slap-bang in the middle of an undercard against the forever-unfashionable Jesus Soto Karass (+275). It'd probably be considered the boxing equivalent of no man's land if only Mike Jones hadn't laid claim to the territory first.
This week's entrée for the money-buyers out there (rest assured, these people do exist) comes in the form of hugely-talented Guillermo Rigondeaux, whose on-off fight with Robert Marroquin is officially back on. Rigondeaux will go off at -1800, with the prospect-turned-sacrificial lamb a +1400 shot to pull off the unlikeliest of upsets.