If this were a sport in which common sense prevailed, where some semblance of logic dictated arrangements and outcomes, Saturday's much-anticipated rematch between Manny Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 KOs) and Timothy Bradley (31-0, 12 KOs) would - at least on paper - be an open-and-shut case. Bradley, victorious over Pacquiao in June 2012, then went on to clearly outbox Juan Manuel Marquez - the most recent, and more emphatic, Pacquiao conqueror - in October. A return in April 2014, a revisit of Pacquiao's credentials, one half-interested bystander might assume, would surely be a formality, an occasion that would only serve to underline Bradley's superiority over the pair.
Boxing, of course, might tell us it had other ideas. Such was the controversy surrounding Bradley's decision over Pacquiao, the Filipino essentially emerged as the de facto winner of that fight regardless, and was rewarded with that ill-fated fourth meeting with Marquez. Bradley, meanwhile - replete with death threats from disturbingly-outraged Pacquiao fans - scrabbled around without much success for a big-name fight in the aftermath, eventually settling on then-unheralded ESPN2 staple Ruslan Provodnikov and walking into the best fight of 2013. Later, at the back end of the year, Pacquiao cruised through a fight with Brandon Rios that he was always likely to win with consummate ease, securing the shutout in the process.
Boxing being boxing, then, it's perhaps no surprise that it's Pacquiao who's the betting favourite - but, unlike their first instalment, for which the ‘Pac-Man' was close to a 1/5 (-500) or thereabouts, this is an altogether closer affair. Having opened at around a general -180 (1.56 in decimal terms) favourite, there's really so far been very little movement in Pacquiao's price, which - as the graph below illustrates, with each line representing one of the major European books - has remained relatively static since the fight was officially announced at the beginning of the year.
To put that in context, last time out against Rios, Pacquiao also went off at around 1/5, meaning that he was no more favoured by the oddsmakers to beat Rios in November than he was to beat Bradley first time around. There are, of course, reasons for that - the question mark over how Pacquiao would respond after such a crushing knockout defeat for one - but even so, looking at what we know now, that's a fairly remarkable statement.
Bradley - perhaps now forever bound for a career in which he's underrated by so many - is again the underdog here, however slight. Interestingly, the line here bears a similarity to that of the Marquez fight, a contest in which he performed anything like a betting outsider. There, the Palm Springs man hovered around a +125 general price, with Marquez around -175. The most pro-Bradley price available at time of writing is +140 (or 7/5, Sportingbet), with anything up to a high point of +175.
Perhaps the main question here then is this: why? And is it possible that Bradley is being underestimated once again? The first fight between the pair was, from this steadfast viewpoint, far closer than the raft of near-shutout scores totted up. There was no doubt, though, that Pacquiao was a clear enough winner, but when weighing up what's followed - that Marquez defeat, and Bradley's subsequent clinic (albeit one scored closer than it should have been), it feels like less a question of whether the undefeated man could extend his run, but more one that asks how. Triangle theory would dictate that Pacquiao wins here and closes the loop, perhaps, but surely few are predicting that outcome with as much conviction as they were nearly two years ago, and the +175 (7/4) on Bradley looks very reasonable indeed.
Looking at the prop markets, there's perhaps further value still. Freddie Roach has pencilled in a Pacquiao knockout, as Freddie Roach does, specifically ‘in the later rounds', and there's a best-priced +700 that he gets the job done anywhere between rounds 7 and 12 should you agree, with +800 available if you favour the first half of the contest. It's +350 that Pacquiao forces a stoppage at any point, and it's likely to be a fairly popular bet. Such is Bradley's meagre KO ratio (12 in 31, and only one stoppage in nearly seven years, over merely the fighting memory of Joel Casamayor) that it's no surprise the Bradley knockout is the rank outsider in the Method of Victory market. There's anything up to +750 on offer that Pacquiao doesn't make it to the cards, with the bout firmly odds-on (-250) to go the distance.
It feels unlikely that either man will be able to catch up with the other often enough to inflict the sufficient damage required for any kind of referee intervention. Bradley, as he demonstrated last time out, is more than happy to fight on the outside and from range, and the likely strategy he'll employ this weekend is to attempt, well, much more of the same. There's just over even money available (+110 general, +125 in places) that Pacquiao gets the decision that the vast majority felt he deserved in the first meeting, while Bradley backers would surely be better advised to take the +275 that their man manages to befuddle and largely neutralize Pacquiao over twelve rounds than hedge against the off-chance he'll earn himself an early night.
For those who fancy taking a punt at a bigger price, the Pacquiao split-decision can be found at +700, with the majority at +1600. Those who want to do the same but oppose the favourite can do so at +900 and +2200 respectively, or the draw at the latter too, with the added bonus of being able to sit back and relax while the boxing world implodes in on itself should either come to fruition.
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