Nonito Donaire (31-1, 20 KOs), Bad Left Hook's 2012 Fighter of the Year, goes into tonight's big HBO main event as big a price with the oddsmakers as we've seen him for over two years, but nonetheless remains a firm odds-on shot.
The line on Donaire varies significantly depending on where you look. He's as short as a -300 favourite with some books, but the quotes go all the way up to a market-best -187. Not since that bantamweight unification with Fernando Montiel - punctuated within two rounds by that picture-perfect Donaire left hook - has the Filipino-American been anything approaching a backable price. Since then, the layers have taken on Donaire with extreme caution: circa -1000 against Narvaez, -1100 versus Vazquez Jr, -1400 Mathebula, -450 Nishioka, -1400 Arce. In other words, were it possible to do so, you could have - remarkably- put those five Donaire wins into a parlay and still not recouped even money on your win.
The reason for tonight's price isn't because the compilers aren't quite sure how good Donaire is. They know - as do we - that we're dealing with - without sounding too Max Kellerman - a really elite-level talent here. Any of those prices above were, really, hard to ever dispute as looking a little short, and the ease with which each was dispatched merely underlined the fact.
Donaire then, isn't better than a two-to-one favourite because of any doubt over his credentials. It's that the man in the other corner is, effectively, an unknown quantity at this level. All of which leaves us in the peculiar situation where an 11-fight professional is being quoted in places at less than +200 to see off a pound-for-pound-rated opponent who's been almost entirely untroubled in his spectacular ascent through to super-bantam after starting out as a flyweight.
Guillermo Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KOs) hasn't entirely convinced everybody, even when mixing at a level considerably below what he'll face tonight, but even the biggest skeptic may struggle to argue that, in terms of natural ability, the Cuban may well be the equal of Donaire. That scruffy decision over Ricardo Cordoba just seven fights into his pro career did little to justify the type, but when Rigondeaux has shrugged off those lingering amateur tendencies and fought more aggressively, as witnessed in the blowouts of Rico Ramos and, more recently, Teon Kennedy, he's looked fantastic.There's probably little doubt over what Rigondeaux feels most comfortable doing, but on the evidence we've seen to date, there's also little question of whether he's capable of effectively adapting his style. He's also seen plenty of support in the market since the early prices went up, and 'El Chacal' is now a best-priced +225 - and as short as +162 elsewhere - to keep his 100% record intact.
2013 has already given us a pair - at least - of top-level action fights, but it's questionable that this - the first big marker in a packed spring schedule - will continue the hot streak. Both have considerable power, but as a meeting of two counter-punchers, it's perhaps more probable that we'll see a far cagier affair here. It's -150 that the fight goes the distance, with the same general price (although the +180 in places should hold up) on Donaire getting the decision. It's hard to remember a time when we've Donaire shaken, or troubled by anyone's power. Rigondeaux might be the man to do it, but it feels more likely that his best chances lay in attempting to outbox Donaire - no mean feat. It's +350 for a Rigondeaux nod on the cards. What seems unlikely is that, should it go twelve, either is capable of winning by a landslide, and so, on that basis, there's some appeal in the split- and majority-decision markets at bigger prices, with both men available at +1200 (split) and +2500 (majority) to divide opinion, with the draw also available at the latter.
Much has been said about Rigondeaux getting caught last time out by Robert Marroquin - from this viewpoint, perhaps too much has been read into that, but nonetheless it has to be taken into consideration against someone with the one-punch power that Donaire has. The layers are struggling to split between a Donaire decision and a stoppage as the most likely outcome - the former's as short as +137 in places, the latter as short as +150 in others.