Saturday's on-off welterweight clash between Brandon Rios and Diego Chaves is now officially on, after the Argentinian was given clearance at the eleventh hour to enter the country. How do the bookmakers see HBO's main event?
While the oft-quoted line about how Brandon Rios (31-2-1, 23 KOs) simply doesn't make for dull fights isn't quite as accurate as it used to be - as those who watched the whitewash at the hands of Manny Pacquiao and/or the robbery from Richard Abril will attest - it is, nevertheless, still the brutal wars with which Rios remains more fondly aligned. The instant classic that was the first contest with Mike Alvarado, the more refined violence of the rematch, the rousing late finish against Miguel Acosta, the breathless three-round blitz of Urbano Antillon. Take your pick.
Rios, though, made his name as one of the most exciting young fighters in the sport by primarily taking on opponents who were either happy to - or knew no other way than to - stand in front of him and trade. Despite the fact that Rios inexplicably got the nod on the cards, Abril was precisely the type of tactician that an overweight, under-conditioned Rios would struggle against. Alvarado slugged his way to defeat in their first instalment, but adapted for the return, and largely boxed from behind the jab to befuddle Rios to level the series. Pacquiao, meanwhile, represented not only a different level of technical ability altogether (Rios went off as a hefty 3/1 underdog), but the type of blinding speed that Rios - never the most graceful on his feet - had ever seen before.
Realistically, then, Rios has lost three of his last four and will be more aware than anyone that he needs to arrest the slump. Chaves (23-1, 19 KOs) is, mercifully, more than just a get-well type of opponent - and that's very much reflected in the prices on each man for this contest - but in theory is far closer to the type of style that Rios can look so good against. Chaves, Buenos Aires native, has only fought outside Argentina twice before, but he was all action in his eventual stoppage at the considerably heavy hands of Keith Thurman. It's no stretch to say that he emerged with some credit from that, the first bout in which he received, really, anything other than a cursory viewing on YouTube by non-Argentines.
The layers make Rios a slim favourite here, but there's not much in it. Available to back at a market-best -150, Rios is around -162 more generally, with -200 the leanest available quote on offer. That's very close to the line on Rios for the first Alvarado fight - they were, of course, considerably more lopsided for the rematch (c.-500). He was around -800 for Abril, -1400 for Murray, and -300 against Antillon, which means that the bookies consider this to be one of Rios's toughest outings as the betting favorite in recent years. Other than Alvarado and, inevitably, the Pacquiao fight, you have to go back to Acosta in February 2011 to find Rios as close to the even money marker.
Chaves was, unsurprisingly, a big underdog against Keith Thurman - somewhere in the region of +450 (Thurman was a 2/9 shot, or thereabouts), but that might say more about the hugely-impressive Thurman than anything else, and an unheralded, relatively obscure Argentinian was unlikely to ever come in anything much shorter. Using the Thurman fight as a guideline, this line doesn't look too far off what could be easily argued to be it's ‘true' price - match Thurman and Rios together and you'd be hard pushed to come away with anything much other than a clean sweep from the pundits opposing the Oxnard man.
Whether the last-minute visa debacle that threatened Chaves's very involvement in the fight has any real bearing on the conditioning - either mental or physical - on La Joya (The Jewel) remains to be seen. Then again, with an intangible such as that, it's going to be hard to pinpoint it as an explanation for any kind of Chaves underperformance tomorrow night, or whether it's an underperformance at all, or whether he doesn't underperform and kicks all hell out of Rios. Or maybe he underperforms and still does. It's fun to blame the authorities though, right?
Such a factor of uncertainty didn't get, er, factored into the odds, though, and as far as the oddsmakers are concerned, the whole saga may well have never even happened. It's possible that it's had some detrimental effect on Chaves - in which case Rios's price could well be a mite bigger than it should be. For sure, it's hard to imagine that the drama could have had any kind of positive outcome on the psyche on Chaves, but quantifying that in terms of forming a solid rationale for a bet is probably best avoided.
The jump Rios made up to 147 wasn't, it's fair to say, altogether convincing, but given the calibre of the opponent he had in front of him last November, it's perhaps worth approaching with caution in terms of saying he won't have carried his power up to welterweight. Previous campaigns at both lightweight and light-welter have seen Rios overcome opponents with volume and a relentless come-forward aggression, rather than pure one-punch power, and speed was never an asset he really held in the first place. The -150 on offer for the fight to go the distance should hold some appeal for odds-on backers - Rios has never been stopped, and Chavez, stocky and powerful himself, may stand up considerably better than he did to the heavier arsenal of Thurman. There is a chance that Thurman, Rios et al are just simply a bit of a step too far for Chaves - we're still looking at largely an unknown quantity at this kind of level. Rios by decision at +140 looks to be rightly the more favoured outcome on offer in the method of victory market, but there's little give in the price.
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