Scheduled just a week after Vasyl Lomachenko's outpointing of Gary Russell Jr, Terence Crawford vs Yuriorkis Gamboa has always resembled one of those bouts that you'd be forgiven for only believing will actually happen once the ringwalks are underway.
It is, on paper at the very least, an intriguing contest, a marked contrast in both style and temperament. Nebraska's Crawford is in many ways the antithesis of his opponent tomorrow night; he is in many ways everything the mercurial Cuban is not.
Picking holes in Crawford's recent performances is an arduous task in itself, with his showing last time out a fairly useful summation. Traveling to Scotland to take on then-WBO titleholder Ricky Burns in front of a partisan Glasgow was no easy ask, despite the fact that Burns looked vulnerable going into that fight. Crawford, roughly a two-to-one betting favorite then, made it a cakewalk, and the measured, rounded, composed twelve rounds looked considerably more lopsided than the two 116-112 cards and a 117-111 would indicate.
Measured, rounded, composed: these are not words that one reaches for first when attempting to describe Yuriorkis Gamboa, who, by some quirk, holds the exact record that Crawford does: 23 unbroken wins, 16 by way of stoppage. Gamboa's career has thus far stalled and infuriated almost in equal measure: the Miami, Florida resident is inarguably skilled, but a combination of mismanagement, resultant inactivity, and a frustrating in-ring inconsistency, means that this has the feel of a relatively modest cashout.
From an oddsmaker's point of view, this is exactly the kind of contest you approach with caution, one that it's easy to be tempted to not take too much of a stance on either way. Putting a percentage on whether it's a world-beating type of performance we see from Gamboa, or whether it's the type in which he's bounced around the ring by the likes of Michael Farenas, isn't the easiest task.
Perhaps, though, it's easy to be too harsh on Gamboa - erratic though he may be, he is, of course, still unbeaten, a multi-alphabet titlist, and the contractual and promotional wrangles that have held him up aren't largely, you'd imagine, of his own doing. But when he's up against a guy who just keeps getting it done, who, as a bookie, are you going to be more wary of?
All of the above is why Crawford (-166), for the second fight in a row, is the close - but clear - favorite here. It's a bigger price than that we saw against Burns, though, and there's some minor disagreement between some of the books. That -166 is the best available, but there's a market-worst quote of -200, with some -175 (Ladbrokes) and some -187 (Coral) in between. Conversely, then, Gamboa at slight odds-against could in hindsight look a remarkable price should he look as good as he really can. The quote of +162 is the most competitive out there, but the clutch of firms going in around the +137 mark for the (marginal) underdog tells you that, really, there's a good degree of uncertainty here.
But can the challenger avoid having the game taken away from him by Crawford, such an efficient, technically-sound operator? Gamboa holds a reasonable edge in speed, but it's difficult to see fleetness of foot troubling someone like Crawford, who seems to have already garnered an uncanny knack for looking perpetually untroubled.
With neither man a particularly concussive puncher - though their equal knockout ratios may belie the fact that Gamboa is, arguably, more of a one-punch threat - this looks set for the cards, and with the Cuban's last three fights ending by decision (albeit one by technical), and Crawford's last two going the distance, it's an outcome that would extend the sequence. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, it's a firm -250 that we see all twelve rounds, with +200 on offer for a stoppage somewhere along the line. There's +700 available for Gamboa to win inside (+400 Crawford), and given that he's on the road here, in Omaha, Crawford's hometown, the cynic inside us all might suggest it's his best chance of leaving with the belt here.
In a fight where a watching brief may be more advisable, it's a sway towards home turf - that great boxing intangible - that might hold the most appeal for anyone searching for a bet. It's hardly much of an indicator, really - Omaha's last big title was in 1972, so there's no trend or glaring examples to call upon. It's interesting to note, though, that one bookmaker (UK firm Betfred) makes Crawford an odds-on shot to win by decision (-110), whereas elsewhere across the market even money or +100 are more readily available. There's an argument that the former is closer to the correct price, or thereabouts. Gamboa, meanwhile, is +333 to win on his travels, and +2500 for the draw.