Tom Craze is back today with another look at the weekend's biggest fights from a betting perspective. Keep in mind that Tom wrote this up before the news of Broner missing weight.
* * * * *
It's been a rough few weeks for young, talented, network-backed and - most pertinently - heavily odds-on main eventers.
This Saturday it's the turn of HBO's latest investment to attempt to steer clear of the shocks that Victor Ortiz and Amir Khan were, spectacularly, unable to avoid. With the help of a considerable Al Haymon underwrite and an ego the size of his hometown Cincinnati, Adrien Broner (23-0, 19 KOs) appears to be rapidly transforming into a caricature of a bona fide headline fighter, but has, by and large, backed up the braggadocio with a string of eye-catching wins.
In the opposite corner, Vicente Escobedo (26-3, 15 KOs) brings with him greater experience and an amateur pedigree that the most recent victims of ‘The Problem' were lacking. Priced up as huge -900 shot (-1400 at worse), Broner enjoys a favouritism with the lines that suggests the gulf in class between the two is significantly larger than we saw going into the two upsets already mentioned. But is it justified?
There's little doubt that, at just 22, Broner is a precocious talent. Tomorrow's fight marks the second defence of, for what it's worth, his WBO super featherweight title and, using the assumption he's handled and matched well - which is one you'd make, considering whose hands he's in - it seems highly probable we're looking at multiple-time, multiple-weight world champion. In contrast, the 30-year-old Escobedo - best-priced as a +800 underdog here - for all his one-time promise, looks very much like a guy who reached his ceiling some time ago.
With two defeats over the distance in little over a year - dropping split and wide unanimous decisions to Michael Katsidis and Robert Guerrero respectively - Escobedo has fallen short against guys that provided a step up for him. There wasn't much to split him and Katsidis - an 118-110 against him looked off-kilter - and he was perhaps only eventually undone by the Australian's higher work rate. Guerrero was all wrong for Escobedo, who went into that fight as a +145 outsider, which was, really, far shorter than it should have been. This has been the stumbling block for Escobedo: he doesn't do a great deal wrong - he's technically sound, his jab is good, and his chin has held up in each of his three losses, all of which have come on the cards - but he's been matched against guys who generally are just a little better than him in the areas where it's mattered.
Against Broner, however, he figures to lose out across each department more markedly - the titlist has excellent speed, something Escobedo is lacking in, and from all those with belts at 130, looks to be the most heavy-handed. Indeed, Broner's power looks explosive, almost surprisingly so for a guy so quick. He fights in bursts and attacks in flurries, evidenced in the four-round stoppage of highly-touted but overmatched Eloy Perez, and the three-minute demolition of Jason Litzau. Broner came into those fights as a -500 and -300 favourite, and so it's interesting to see his price having contracted so dramatically when, in Escobedo, many will tell you he's up against his toughest test since Daniel Ponce De Leon. This suggests two things: either the market has overreacted to Broner's string of three quick KOs (spanning just eight rounds in total) against middling opposition and his odds are now too short, or that the layers are running scared of someone who's living up to the hype in terms of his in-ring performances and the price has corrected itself accordingly, putting it closer to where it always should have been.
It is, of course, the Ponce De Leon fight which the doubters, and tomorrow night's Escobedo backers, will hold up as the smoking gun which proves Broner's vulnerability when faced with someone with the required combination of ability and intelligence. Many feel it was a fight Broner lost - at -137.5, it was certainly the last time his price wasn't short enough to be prohibitive - and, certainly, Escobedo can take enough from that to at least make tomorrow night awkward for the favourite. Others will tell you that Broner fought smart enough on the back foot to simply get the job done, and realistically a lot of the criticism of his performance stems from the fact that it was, well, boring and negative, and not necessarily because he was in real danger of losing the fight after ten rounds.
Given the limitations of what he achieved before the Katsidis fight, it'd be a stretch too far to say he's resurgent at the weight, but Escobedo will have built some much-needed confidence since dropping back down to 130, and has put together a few wins on the bounce. Really it's how he copes with Broner's speed which is the key here. It's likely he'll put in a fairly dogged showing and, despite the power he's up against, it's seems unlikely he'll be blasted out early. Those willing to bet the chin again holds up can get +137 that the fight goes the distance.
When you're looking at ways to side with a -900 favourite, the KO/TKO is usually the shortest-priced method of victory, and there's a general -150 available that Broner will continue his hot stoppage streak with another impressive short-lived display. For those who think the form will be maintained, there's plenty of appeal that Broner wins in rounds 1-6 - that's best-priced +225, but +162 is more widely available, and it's a bet that would have paid off in each of his last three and, more interestingly, in each and every one of his stoppages. At odds-against it's certainly not the worst bet you'll ever place and is worthy of consideration, but does perhaps underestimate Escobedo's proven durability.
It's +1600 the pair that Escobedo wins either by a stoppage of his own or via decision. The big disparity in these prices to that of the straight Escobedo win means that the oddsmakers are scratching their heads about just how he pulls the upset here. They're not the only ones. Broner's Philly shell isn't yet up to the Mayweather level he aspires to, but defensively he has enough about him to ensure Escobedo doesn't make the most of his puncher's chance - especially given his opponent's relative lack of power - and it's incredibly hard to see Broner being outpointed, with hometown advantage factored in and the high probability that he'll produce by far the flashier, higher quality work. With that in mind, and given that the anytime KO is a little short, the +175 for Broner to claim the decision starts to look like the most sensible play of the lot, with Escobedo turning up to be competititve and crafty, forcing the Ohio man to work hard and fight on the inside and out, but getting some rounds under his belt and cruising to a decision that showcases the fact that he can put in a shift over the distance and not get booed at the end of it. Well, in his hometown, at least.
Argenis Mendez is -250 over Martin Honorio (+186) and, while too short to back, is a deserving favourite. The dubious distinction for the week's shortest price goes to Keith Thurman, a -1600 favourite over Orlando Lora (+800), but as long as he maintains an 88% KO ratio it'd take a brave man to oppose him against this calibre of opposition.