Chris Farina/Top Rank
Timothy Bradley takes on Ruslan Provodnikov tonight on HBO. Tom Craze breaks down the fight and the betting odds.
It's no surprise that Timothy Bradley is a fairly heavy betting favourite this Saturday night. What was more notable, however, was the price he opened up at, given not only the depth of his record to date but, perhaps more pertinently, the most recent name on his ledger.
Although since backed in, at an initial -500 the early price on Bradley (29-0,12 KOs) was one of those fairly lesser-spotted beasts: a long odds-on shot looking like a value play. A win over a youthful Miguel Vazquez can perhaps be passed over to an extent, but the sequence of nine (official) uninterrupted wins underlines the pedigree Bradley has.
What's more, it's a streak that looks better by the day. Bradley cruised past an Edner Cherry who's since gone over three years without a loss, and was last seen upsetting the odds as a 3/1 underdog against Vicente Escobedo. Another comfortable decision win followed, this time against a Kendall Holt who went on to push Danny Garcia close a couple of years later. Bradley cruised past Lamont Peterson, who would go on to become one of the names to beat at 140; a disappointing but decisive nod over Devon Alexander promptly nipped in the bud any emerging rivalry between the two, while a tentative first showing at welterweight against Luis Carlos Abregu didn't mean much at the time, but it was a waltz of a UD that looks considerably more impressive on the back of Abregu's beatdown of Thomas Dulorme, Lou DiBella's much-touted 147lb prospect.
Then there's Manny Pacquiao, a fight that Bradley went into as a betting outsider for the first time since upsetting Junior Witter, a 1/7 favourite, in the UK in 2008. What that means is that Bradley, a 3/1 dog against Pacquiao, was priced shorter than he was to overturn the Sheffield man on the road. Hindsight can be a wonderful thing.
The opening price on Bradley has seen plenty of support, and for good reason. Now trading at around -600, Bradley could - and perhaps should - go shorter, based on the man in the opposite corner.
Ruslan Provodnikov (22-1, 15 KOs) has been a lot of fun to watch in his role of ESPN staple, and we've seen others much less deserving of an alphabet shot than him - which, considering this is his first real stab at 147, is saying a lot. To more casual observers tonight, he's going to represent somewhat of an unknown quantity, a relatively obscure eastern European fighter with a fairly knockout-heavy record. More to the point, the ill-feeling generated by Bradley as a result of his win over Pacquiao (from this viewpoint, for the record, it was a clear Pacquiao 116-112/115-113 type decision, but you'd need two sets of fingers to count the number of worse decisions in 2012) means that, hey, many may well side with Provodnikov (+550) tonight, willing on another eye-catching stoppage victory as some kind of judicial revenge over The Nasty Man who (Didn't) Beat Manny.
Boxing, however, is all about levels, and the fact is that Bradley should prove here that he's several above Provodnikov, who's consistently an entertaining watch, albeit one that's fairly crude and defensively suspect. It's hard to see how he troubles Bradley here, but all logic suggests he needs to do the usual Provodnikov thing: go out hard on the front foot and see if any complacency has crept into Bradley. The Russian is best-priced +1000 to win by stoppage, and +1400 to win anywhere in the first half of the fight. When you consider that shorter prices are available with several books on him getting a decision, against the far better-rounded, technically-superior Bradley, it should be a simple decision to take from those backing Provodnikov as to which route to go down. Bradley's been talking up his own power - while always a respectable puncher, his 12/29 KOs suggests he probably needn't bother - but it's certainly possible that Bradley will find enough holes in Provodnikov's work to force a stoppage of his own. That's a market-best +300 and a reasonable play for those looking for something at odds-against.
There's been much said about how important it is for Bradley to get into the ring here, how he needs to keep active, how he needs to be wary of rust against an opponent who could catch him cold early. Worth remembering, however, is that Provodnikov has had a near-9-month layoff too, last fighting just three weeks after Bradley's big upset win at the MGM Grand. It's difficult to envisage the upset here - Bradley appears to be just plain better, and made his way, largely untroubled, through the best 140 had to offer - Alexander, Peterson, et al - during his stint in the division. The fact is that Provodnikov's not among the best 140 has to offer even now, only ever really flirting with fringe top-ten status but never really establishing a solid case of his own.
The shorter prices around in the Method of Victory markets suggest that this is only going one way, and that's a clinic for the beltholder against his over-matched challenger. It's unlikely to be too pretty, but a near-whitewash decision is the most probable outcome, as the -175 indicates. Those odds factor in all possible Bradley wins on the cards, including the technical decision, which could be worth bearing in mind for those looking for a more cautious play, given the likelihood of yet more clashes of heads in a Bradley fight. That's insurance if nothing else, but it's the -137 for the clean sweep on the cards, and a Bradley unanimous decision, that's hard to argue too strongly against.
Also this weekend:
Denis Shafikov (-500) vs Alisher Rahimov (+350)
Jessie Vargas (-216) vs. Wale Omotoso (+200)