On Saturday night, around 50,000 paid spectators will pack into Düsseldorf's Esprit Stadium to watch the most dominant heavyweight champion of the century take on a British challenger who's as outspoken and controversial as anyone he's fought since, well, the last British challenger he fought. It's a busy Saturday, though, on both sides of the Atlantic. Where do the best bets lie this weekend?
Wladimir Klitschko vs Tyson Fury
It's rare that we see Klitschko (64-3, 53 KOs) hovering around a backable price so near to fight night. Yet here we are - he's still a firm favourite, of course, but not the prohibitive four-figure shot we've become so accustomed to seeing.
Fury (24-0, 18 KOs), of course, represents an unorthodox challenge. Taller, younger, rangier, the self-proclaimed ‘Gypsy King' is a comfortable, unbeaten and ever-improving switch-hitter who Klitschko won't be able to bully. In theory, then, Fury could be the man to draw the Ukrainian into a firefight. In reality, what we've seen is that the Klitschko of 2015 is an accomplished fighter capable of adjusting. Those who come to fight end up being pummelled. Those happy to backpedal as part of a damage limitation exercise get comprehensively outboxed over the distance.
Many point to the calibre of opposition as a criticism, but even around half of Joe Louis's ‘Bum of the Month' club were top-ten-ranked heavyweights too (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Louis#cite_note-52). The type of authority with which Klitschko has held over the division puts him in the discussion for a place on the pantheon. Tyson Fury was 12 years old when Klitschko first won a world title. Just let that sink in for a moment.
It's difficult, then, to think that the general -400 (1/4) on offer for Klitschko is cutting his backers a raw deal, but in terms of odds, the gap between his and Fury's has actually tightened since the fight was first announced. Klitschko opened at -550 and -650 back in the spring with Sky Bet and Betway, the first two firms to take a stand. Both are now going bigger, at -450 and -500 respectively, and while there's been plenty of movement, that's the broad pattern across the industry. Paddy Power, who opened at -600, are now -400 on Klitschko. Ladbrokes are -450 from an early -600. Wlad even touched -350 with British firm Betfred last month. In terms of a perceived threat, that price positions Fury as the same level of test as Alexander Povetkin was (Klitschko -400), rates Fury better than Kubrat Pulev (WK-550), and levels above opponents the calibre of Tony Thompson (WK -1400), Mariusz Wach (WK -1100), Francesco Pianeta (-3000) and Bryant Jennings (-1000). So what's happening?
One reason could be simply the weight of British betting support, and that could well increase the closer to Saturday night we get, particularly given the fight's status and a well-oiled Sky Sports press machine behind it. Make no mistake, this fight has garnered a reasonable level of buzz. Anthony Joshua may be the future of British boxing to the eye of the casual boxing fan, and they may well be right, but another British heavyweight champion has been a long time coming and a win for Fury - the antithesis of the well-spoken, highly-educated, tactful Klitschko - could eventually set up the biggest all-British heavyweight clash for decades. That is, as they say, a stadium fight.
Another is that, simply, this is the first time Fury has ever been a betting underdog, and the public is taking advantage. Now no bigger than +400 (4/1) to pull the upset, the 6'9 Fury has been backed into just +333 (10/3) with numerous bookmakers. Perhaps it's the size factor that's convincing many to part with their money, but Wach and Pianeta were big men too. Perhaps it's patriotic money. Fury is a talent, and getting better - his footwork is surprisingly good for such a big man, and there's a school of thought that says he'll try to confound Klitschko from southpaw in spurts, but he's still fairly green. A routine outing last time out against Christian Hammer (Fury -1700 for that fight) was as one-sided as you'd expect and, standing at 6'2, it's probably fair to say that that the Romanian wasn't an ideal test for what lies ahead in Düsseldorf.
Prior to that, wins over Dereck Chisora in a rematch (Fury -300), an overmatched Joey Abell (Fury -2400), and Kevin Johnson (Fury -600) do little to inspire much confidence in whether the challenger is truly prepared for Klitschko, while the lingering doubts over Fury's chin remain after he was dropped by long-time light-fisted cruiserweight Steve Cunningham (Fury -550). With that in mind, it's inevitable that a knockout win for Klitschko - possibly the hardest-punching man in all of the sport - is odds-on here. Betfred go even money that we see a remarkable 54th KO for the favourite, and in terms of percentages you'd have to think a Klitschko stoppage is more than 50% likely. Other layers are less generous, and it looks like -120 to -150 is what we'll see come the opening bell. It's a best-priced +700 that Fury cracks the chin of Klitschko, and though that appears to be the most obvious route to victory, whether Fury can get behind the famous Wlad jab remains to be seen.
Fury doesn't have the same vicious power that his opponent does here, but he can punch. Whereas Klitschko throws a ferocious sledgehammer right hand - not to mention the hooks that put away Pulev - the Brit has more of a thudding, dulling power from which damage accumulates and eventually overwhelms. Five of Fury's last six fights (83%) have ended by stoppage, with the only blip a decision win over a then never-stopped Kevin Johnson. The round average of Fury's KO wins in those six is 6.8 - a fair increase on Klitschko's versus far superior opposition. You have to go to 9.5 on the total rounds market here to find even money, and it's +160 that we go to the judges after twelve. A Klitschko decision is +240, with a Fury points nod in Germany can be found at a sizeable +1200.
Three of Klitschko's last five fights have ended in a knockout victory for the champion, and six of the last ten. Clearly no overwhelming trend to be found at a glance there, but if you sift out the decisions - soul-crushing spectacles though some may have been - there's a glimmer of something more interesting. Since 2010's Samuel Peter rematch (Klitschko KO10), the KO record of ‘Dr Steelhammer' reads as follows: Mormeck (round 4), Thompson (6), Pianeta (6), Leapai (5), Pulev (5) - an average duration of 5.2 rounds. Including Peter - the only man to have made it into the second half of the fight - the average round total moves to 6 rounds exactly. Excluding Pulev, who admirably went hell for leather and got thoroughly trounced as a result, the pattern is clear: Wlad takes his time in the first couple of rounds to size up his foe, before beginning to play with his food in the approach to the midway point. It's classic predator-toying-with-prey stuff, but most crumble as a result. Those encouraged by such statistics can back under 6.5 rounds at +200, which gives the advantage of getting both men on side. A Klitschko win anywhere in rounds 1-6 is available at +300, or, if you're one of those willing to put blind faith in the chances of a quirky number sequence extending, Wlad is +550 to win in rounds 4, 5, or 6, sending Fury to the same fate as the hopefuls, or hopeless, who came before him.
James DeGale vs Lucian Bute
The feeling among many is that Bute (32-2, 25 KOs) has never quite been the same since his five-round shellacking at the hands of Carl Froch three-and-a-half years ago. Recent form - a somewhat meek decision dropped against Jean Pascal and a brief run-out against fellow Premier Boxing Champion Andrea Di Luisa - hasn't exactly dispelled those doubts. With divisional kingpin Andre Ward now departed for light-heavyweight, London's DeGale (21-1, 14 KOs), the IBF beltholder, has declared himself the new man to beat at 168lb, and he's probably right. This, a trip into Bute's Quebec backyard, doesn't appear to be the easiest of first title defences.
It's the Brit, though, who's the firm favourite here. DeGale opened at -800 with Paddy Power back in September, and while questions around Bute remain, that felt wide. He's obviously a worthy favourite, and had the fight been made for, say London's O2 Arena, it'd be difficult to find fault with that sort of quote - particularly given Bute's disastrous last trip to the UK - but with home advantage so often a factor on the scorecards, it's probably a little lopsided.
With the fight now priced up across the industry, it seems most layers agree, although there's still a fairly sizeable differing of opinion. At the stingier end of the scale, it's now -700 (1/7) that's the shortest price available on the titlist, with a range of quotes between that and the -450 with Sportingbet at the oddsmakers' most generous. From this viewpoint, DeGale's a 1/5 shot. For Bute, then, it's a general price of +400 that he's going to have to belie in order to claim back the belt he lost against Froch, with +450 available with a few firms for those willing or able to shop around.
DeGale, of course, has been talking about ending this early, with predictions of a stoppage inside six, possibly three rounds (http://www.boxingscene.com/video-degale-tells-bute-you-go-out-3-rounds--98587). There's every chance, of course, that this is nothing more than bluster - perhaps more so considering how abruptly DeGale switched off partway through the Dirrell bout after establishing an early lead - but it's one of many things worth bearing in mind when weighing up a bet.
After flattering to deceive for much of his early career, DeGale's seemed to slip into gear since his statement-making stoppage of Brandon Gonzales In Front of 80,000 People at Wembley and his signing with Eddie Hearn's Matchroom. Since then, the Londoner's looked more aggressive, more dialled-in, and frankly just a lot better than he ever really did during his time under Mick Hennessy. It's perhaps problematic to blame a promoter for a lack of fire, but the switch, and all it's entailed, has worked.
DeGale notching a third stoppage in his last four fights is considered the most likely outcome here, with prices of just odds-on (-110) to just above (+110) on offer. His pre-fight talk suggests he's learned from the complacency that saw his attempt to coast home against Dirrell result in a closer call that it should have been, but for those who backed him to stop the American that night (ahem), it's hard to muster the enthusiasm to do so again. A DeGale win on the cards is +150 and it's here that the waters begin to look muddied.
Considering Bute's power and body attack, there's an argument that the +1000 on him stopping DeGale is a touch long, but that's not the price we're looking at. Instead, it's the Bute decision price that perhaps warrants closer inspection. At a market best price of +900 (9/1), that has to look too big should the fight go all twelve rounds in a competitive fight. If either man emerges with 115-113, 116-112-type scorecards, win or lose it's the 9/1 you want on the naturalised Canadian in Canada, and not the 6/4 on the road fighter. For those who fancy taking DeGale for his word, a knockout win for him anywhere in the first three rounds can be backed at +1200 (12/1) and +350 (7/2) anywhere in the first half. If you fancy playing contrarian, Bute's +4000 and +1600 respectively, with the draw at +2500.
Jermall Charlo (-3300) vs. Wilky Campfort (+2000)
Errol Spence Jr (-4100) vs. Alejandro Barrera (+1800)
Eleider Alvarez (-150) vs. Isaac Chilemba (+155)