Tom Craze is back this week with another look at the weekend's big fights, breaking down the betting odds for Ward vs Dawson, DeMarco vs Molina, Klitschko vs Charr, Matthysse vs Ajose, Bellew vs Miranda, and even Rubio vs Baldomir.
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From the outset, Saturday's HBO main event has been characterised by its many quirks.
It is, after all, a fight to be contested by two outstanding American talents, both firmly in their prime. A fight that, irrespective of the nationality and undoubted calibre of its principals, has never really threatened to spill over into mainstream consciousness. A fight for which a three-time titleholder has taken the unusual step of exiting the division in which he represents the summit, simply in order to find himself the best available challenge.
Here's another: Chad Dawson, a highly-regarded lineal world champion with 31 wins and only a solitary, less-than-decisive, defeat to his name, goes into the weekend as a 3/1 underdog.
Yet if the groundswell of fan opinion and fight picks - seemingly near-unanimous in favour of his opponent - were to be taken as a barometer, you'd be forgiven for assuming the odds would, by this point, look even more lopsided than they already are.
All of this, of course, speaks volumes about the ability of the betting favourite. Andre Ward (25-0, 13 KOs), best priced at -275 although now more generally available at an abbreviated -400, not only fights like a guy unbeaten in either the professional or unpaid ranks since 1996, but has the air of one, too.
Ward's largely untroubled path through the Super Six has been well documented but, from a betting standpoint, what's interesting to note is that his transformation from an outsider in a market headed by Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch into a consistent long odds-on shot took place entirely over the eleven rounds of the Mikkel Kessler fight that opened his tournament. A +180 underdog against Kessler, Ward subsequently went off at a prohibitive -1100 (twice, for both Green and Bika), -525 (Abraham) and -340 for Froch - roughly around the same bracket he is against Dawson - in the four bouts that followed. In each, Ward won by at least eight points with one or more of the judges, and recorded twelve-round shutouts on at least one card in three of those four. Frankly, as a bookies' favourite he's scarcely put a foot wrong.
Dawson's been a less reliable proposition - upset by Jean Pascal while a firm -340 shot, he rebounded with a comprehensive decision over Adrian Diaconu, a fight for which he was a heavy -675 favourite. The first Hopkins fight saw the layers struggling to split the pair - Dawson went off slight odds-on, but showed enough in the five minutes it lasted to establish himself as a stronger -370 shot second time around, and went on to win convincingly, or at least as convincingly as you can when a judge throws in a 114-114 curveball to throw up a majority decision.
In much the same way as both of the Hopkins fights were, the clash with Ward is another Dawson fight widely favoured to go the distance. Dawson hasn't ended a contest by stoppage in over five years which, though significant, is easily accounted for by the sheer durability of those he's beaten. Tarver, Johnson, Diaconu, Hopkins: 198 bouts, one sole stoppage defeat between them. Both Dawson and Ward have respectable power, but neither rely on it to win fights. It's -450 that we'll see twelve full rounds on Saturday, and a sizeable +750 (Ward) and +800 (Dawson) that either man will end things early. Unless the unexpected happens and the anticipated chess match breaks out into an action fight, it's unlikely either price will see much interest.
The view of the layers is a clear-cut one: Andre Ward not only wins this, but he wins it over the distance. A mere -250 (generally available, -200 market-best) is offered for Ward to claim a sixth successive decision, with selected oddsmakers offering -150 that he makes it a fifth UD in sequence. Dawson is listed as a +450 shot to get the nod - again, note the slim discrepancy between the Method of Victory market and the outright win prices here. He's +900 to win on all three cards, which is a considerable jump from the decision of any kind. To win here, southpaw Dawson is likely to have to make the most of a longer reach and work from range, but even optimistic backers may struggle to assert that Ward will be outboxed.
What's more probable is that Ward finds success with doing what he does best: closing the distance and grinding out rounds. With clean shots likely at a premium and little daylight between them, it could be a difficult fight to score from ringside, particularly if Dawson reacts well to a challenge that's as much about countering Ward's physicality as it is being the equal to what appears an unerring self-belief. A better route, then, for anyone prepared to side with the Connecticut man may be to take on the split (+2000) and majority (+2500) calls at fancy prices, and look for him to edge a scrappy, possibly contentious decision, or from a similar perspective, take on the draw at a best-priced +3300, more sensibly reined-in at +2200 with other books.
Ward, though - and a Ward at home in Oakland at that - poses Dawson a set of questions he hasn't yet faced. For the most part, the mind games of Hopkins failed to ruffle Dawson, and in the ring, particularly last time out, he was the fresher, hungrier fighter - as he was against Tarver, as he was against Johnson. He didn't hold the same cards against Pascal - the exception to the trend - and Dawson's quieter, cagier style was undone. Ward, a vastly more intelligent fighter to Pascal, should present a sterner gut check still.
[ Fight Preview: Klitschko vs Charr ]
If this weekend is really the last time we'll see Vitali Klitschko in a boxing ring, it's a crying shame he wasn't able to bow out with a victory over a more deserving counterpart. It's no fault of his own, of course. In a sense, perhaps it is fitting that Manuel Charr, a +1600 outsider here, is his final hurrah. There's nobody left. Up until a year ago, Charr was facing guys with losing records, and he hasn't beaten anyone of any note since. It's a fight that a couple of the oddsmakers have made a mess of, though. Klitschko's price varies from an almost brilliantly-short -6600, right up to a remarkable -1200. It may seem a strange thing to say about a price so small, but that looks like value for those not put off by tiny percentages. To put that latter figure in context, those are same odds as Marco Antonio Rubio has to see off Carlos Baldomir (+650) on Saturday, and is a more backable price than Canelo (-1400) against Lopez next week. Go figure.
Rather than backing a winner, one interesting angle might be to look at the over/under lines here. Vitali's no fan of early stoppages and his thudding power has generally worn down his motley crew of opponents, rather than take them out cleanly and quickly. What's more, for what may be his last fight, would he really want the show to be over before it had really ever begun? An interesting statistic here is that in the nine fights he's had since returning against Peter in 2008, the average number of rounds in a Vitali fight has been 9.33. Remove the freak Solis stoppage from the reckoning and that rises to 10.37. There's a backable -154 available for the fight to go over 6.5 rounds, and for over 8.5, we're into odds-against, +125, and so on. It's asking a lot of Charr to withstand that many rounds of punishment, but hey, this is what he asked for.
[ Fight Preview: DeMarco vs Molina ]
Antonio DeMarco (-350) meets John Molina (+250) in what looks like a solid action fight, and there could be another in London as light-heavyweight Tony Bellew (-400) takes on the unpredictable Edison Miranda (+400) in an intriguing match-up. The best of the lot, though, could be Lucas Matthysse (-250) against Olusegun Ajose (+260) and, following the Argentinian's beatdown of Soto in June, the odds-against for the Matthysse stoppage is likely to be a popular bet, and rightly so. That said, Ajose looked tremendous last time out (albeit against Ali Chebah) and - swimming against the tide somewhat here - a similarly slick performance could cause Matthysse some problems. A decision win for the underdog is priced up at +450, which might appeal to those who enjoy putting money on fighters and then urging them to stay the hell out of the way of his opponent's right hand for the next 36 minutes.