Tonight's meeting of Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez, for Bradey's WBO welterweight title, is arguably as evenly-matched and fascinating a contest as we've seen all year. It's perhaps as unsurprising as it is reassuring, then, that the layers are, too, struggling to split the two men.
There's been plenty of movement in the market, too, and while we're not quite into pick ‘em territory with most, it's rare we see a real big-time match-up as this so finely poised in the betting markets.
It's Marquez (55-6-1, 40 KOs), who's been installed as slight favorite, as likely any man coming off destructive six-round knockout of Manny Pacquiao would be, but in there's been some considerable wavering in the prices on offer.
Marquez opened as a general 4/7 (-175) favorite in the summer, but over the past seven days he's been pushed out marginally as the competition between the firms has heated up. It's Coral, the UK bookmaker, who have been happiest to lay Marquez more than any, coming out with -150 on the Mexican at the beginning of the week, before we saw -125 elsewhere a few days later. That's since been countered again, with Marquez now a best-priced 5/6 (-120) with the same book, and almost certainly as close to even money as we'll see him get
Bradley (30-0-0, 12 KOs), is back in the largely unfamiliar role of underdog - however slight - here, although the aforementioned Coral make him as short as a coin toss, offering just evens on the Palm Springs, California, man. That's a bold stance, though, and is rather more than exception than the norm: Bradley is widely available at 5/4 (+125), and is as big as +137 with Sportingbet.
The general assumption that Bradley fought nowhere near to his maximum capacity while a -600 favorite last time out gives, really, no credit at all to his opponent that night, Ruslan Provodnikov (+550), who does at least deserve some. At the same time, it's hard to imagine Bradley approaches this fight with such a disregard for what it's otherwise an excellent defensive skillset, and much of the appeal of this fight lies in whether he can tempt Marquez, counterpuncher-extraordinaire, out of his usual mindset.
It's also worth noting that we may well see a different Marquez here from last time out, too. Approaching that fourth Pacquiao fight, the Mexican made his intentions very clear: he was looking for the knockout that night, feeling that it was his only protection from being dealt a rough hand by the judges after three much-debated sets of scorecards in the three contests prior. And, while 40 KO/TKOs in 55 victories tells its own story as to what type of finisher Marquez can be, generally his notable stoppages have come as a result of cumulative damage over gruelling encounters (Katsidis, Diaz, Casamayor), rather than big one-punch closers (Pacquiao IV, and, er, Likar Ramos).
There's a best-priced 3/1 on Marquez scoring a second successive knockout, which will appeal to many after what we saw last November, but a key, albeit relatively obvious, difference here is that Katsidis et al were far easier to hit than Bradley - simply a craftier technician than the lot of those already mentioned - will be tonight.
As is usually the case, Bradley isn't fancied to end things early on his own terms - as already noted, it's Coral who like his chances more than most, going just 5/1 for only a 13th Bradley stoppage in 31 contests, but he's much bigger elsewhere, and is widely available at 8/1, although 10s is available.
From this viewpoint, however, we're likely to see a far cagier affair than either man's last pairings - a contest that simmers along nicely and plays out over twelve rounds, but without the mindless violence of Bradley-Provodnikov or the dramatic, picture-book finish of Pacquiao-Marquez IV. It's -250 that we hear the final bell. A Bradley win by way of decision - surely the most likely route, should he emerge the victor - is available at anything up to +187, while it's as big as +200 that Marquez picks up the win on the cards.
If you don't fancy a clean win on the cards, there's +800 the pair that either wins by split-decision, with +1600 available on each man claiming a majority decision. Both are, of course, hostage to the whims of the judges - but the same could be said of boxing as a whole, and yet another contentious call would no doubt surprise nobody. In the same vein, at as big a price as +3100, there's little doubt that the draw is overpriced, but that price (with bookie YouWin) is really an anomaly - the same outcome is widely available at a more sensible +2400, and as short as +1800 elsewhere, with the right price likely somewhere between the two.
Vasyl Lomachenko (-2000) vs. Jose Ramirez (+1600)
Orlando Salido (-500) vs. Orlando Cruz (+350)
Juan Carlos Reveco (-600) vs. Ricardo Nunez (+350)