Three years is a long time in boxing, and much has changed since Mikkel Kessler outpointed Carl Froch over twelve back-and-forth rounds in their 2010 classic, which was without doubt the finest fight of the entire Super Six tournament.
Going in the rematch tonight - this time with Kessler (46-2, 35 KOs) the man on the road - the roles have been reversed with the layers. Whereas last time the old adage that it was a pick 'em fight was reflected in the betting odds, with Kessler a marginal -170 favourite (Froch just +140), for the sequel it's Froch (30-2, 22 KOs) who's fancied by the books, and then some.
Initially opening as a 4/6 (-150) favourite when the fight was first announced, all the money - and with this being such a huge fight in the UK, certainly one of the biggest on British soil since Hatton-Tszyu eight years ago, there's been a lot of it - has been for the Nottingham man. Froch is now as short as -275 with one UK bookmaker, with the line more generally at -225, with only a handful of layers continuing to offer the 1-to-2.
While that -275, in particular, looks short, it's difficult to argue the case that the money shouldn't have been anything other than one-way traffic, and indeed a Kessler win tonight (+225) will be a fantastic result for the bookies.
More difficult, though, is working out how he forces a repeat of that April 2010 win in Herning, Denmark. From this viewpoint, it was a fight Kessler won clearly: though an enthralling, all-action contest, judge Daniel van de Wiele's 116-112 felt about right. Home advantage, though, is a massive factor in determining the outcome of the majority of fights, specifically those that go to the cards, and it's one that's often overlooked or just plain underestimated in the compiling of betting odds. As good a fight as it was - one that involved a below-par version of Froch, if his post-fight talk then, and pre-fight talk now, is to be believed - it's impossible to imagine Kessler walking away with a scorecard that read 117-111 if the exact same fight was staged, punch-for-punch, in front of 30,000 raucous British fans in what will be a soccer-stadium-style atmosphere at the O2 Arena tonight.
That's not to say Froch need rely on any dubious scoring in order to exact his revenge on the man who gave him his first career defeat. Froch's self-belief is famous, and if Kessler saw 95% of the fighter that's undoubtedly going to be, as Froch says, 'sparking', tonight, the Dane could be in for a far tougher night.
The consensus appears to be that Froch is the form fighter going into this fight - a label largely brought about by that memorable demolition of Lucian Bute almost a year to the day. The formline says differently, of course, with Froch's win streak halted in comprehensive fashion by Andre Ward toward the back of 2011. No shame there, of course, but when you discount a fairly meaningless rout of Yusaf Mack, there's an argument to say that's it's Kessler who has the momentum. Having also been beaten by Ward, Kessler's won four straight, holding the aces over Froch with that first victory, and winning the next three inside the distance, including that very creditable three-round outclassing of Brian Magee last time out.
It's the lack of a real signature win since Froch that's done Kessler few favours with the pundits going into the rematch, though. That spectacular Bute win not only underlined Froch's standing in the division, but in facing him, he also cast aside the best name not involved in the Super Six. Kessler's had the opportunities to take on bigger names than the likes of Mehdi Bouadla - low-key European title on the line though it was - but failing to do so has brought about some question marks. Suffering a knockdown to Allan Green did him little good with those same skeptics either, but it's worth remembering how quickly he recovered, blasting Super Six stand-in Green out inside four rounds.
The feeling is that Kessler will have to extend that run of KOs to four straight if he's to win tonight, but in the Method of Victory there's little disparity in the odds, suggesting that the layers are either unconcerned by hometown weighting on the cards, or that they're not unconvinced Kessler can't outbox Froch to win comfortably over the twelve. Kessler by decision is a best-priced +500 (although a more general +400), and there's an argument to say that's a bit lean. For the Dane to win inside the distance - surely his best chance here, although how you stop a man with the grit of Froch is another debate altogether - is slightly larger at +550.
The Bute stoppage snapped a run of five Froch fights that had all gone the distance since the opening night of the Super Six but, like Kessler, Froch has looked more aggressive in his last couple of fights, racking up just eight rounds in as many months. The Cobra is a market-best +250 to make another huge statement here (as short as +187 for the stoppage elsewhere), and is available at +650 for those who fancy he'll keep up the recent trend of ending matters anywhere in the first half of the fight.
With Kessler never yet stopped, it's been surprising to see so many commentators - at least from the UK - picking the Froch KO. That said, given the likely intensity of tonight's bout, while a stoppage for either man would be a mild surprise, it would be no shock. Froch is available at +150 (+137 more generally) to win another war over the distance, and it's the selection that would at least appear to look the most logical. The draw's as large as +2800, and while a runner at the price, it would likely be an unsatisfactory ending to a pairing that may well wind up in Fight of the Year contention once more.
Also on the card:
Tony Bellew (-162) vs. Isaac Chilemba (+162)
George Groves (-2500) vs. Noe Gonzalez Alcoba (+1500)