It's a busy weekend for British boxing, with big cards in London and Belfast vying for attention. On paper, the two headline house fighters are heavy betting favorites with the bookmakers - but are there any value bets to be found?
The pugnacious Tyson Fury (23-0, 17 KOs) has, with much ado, jostled his way to number one in the WBO rankings, and now has the rather conspicuous figure of titleholder Wladimir Klitschko firmly in his sights. Between now and a likely shot at the Ukrainian, though, stand two obstacles: Bryant Jennings's attempt to wrest three of the four major heavyweight belts in April, and Fury's opponent tomorrow night, Romanan-born German Christian Hammer (17-3, 10 KOs).
Clearly, the stakes for Fury on Saturday are the highest they've ever been - hence the ‘Risky Business' title of this Frank Warren-promoted BoxNation card - and a defeat makes a mockery of his claims as Klitschko's heir apparent. The oddsmakers, however, don't view things quite the same way. Across the market, Fury is, on average, a prohibitive 1/20 (-2000) favorite, with the most wary layers offering just 1/25 (-2500) that he notches win #24. There is, however, some discrepancy - a clutch of firms are going 1/14 (-1400), but (a) at prices so lopsided it'll barely matter to most, and (b) it's fairly likely those prices will fall in line with the rest come the opening bell.
The role of heavy betting favorite is nothing new to Fury, and through a combination of stalled momentum and cautious matchmaking, the quality of opponent he's been pitched against since his breakthrough British title win over Dereck Chisora in 2011 has fluctuated, rather than perhaps steadily improved. It's not all his own doing: the fights that never were against David Haye meant that Fury lost out on a considerable stretch of development time, for one. Haye withdrew from both citing injury, leaving the Manchester-born man on the sidelines in an enforced spell of inactivity.
It is, though, only when Fury was matched with Haye that he's been priced anywhere near an underdog since that first Chisora fight (Fury was just north of even money, somewhere between +105 and +115, in what was essentially a pick ‘em). While, at 11/4 (+275), Fury was largely unfancied against Haye, the bookies have correctly predicted that he'd have things his own way in every bout up until now.
In the eight bouts from the initial Chisora bout to the rematch in November, Fury's swatted away Nicolai Firtha (-3300 jolly), Neven Pajkic and Martin Rogan (-1000 for both), Vinny Maddalone (-2000), Kevin Johnson (-450), Steve Cunningham (-700), the hapless Joey Abell (-2000), and an anemic imitation of what perhaps once was Dereck Chisora again at -300. It's hardly been murderer's row, though there have been errors, with Fury dropped in flash knockdowns against both Pajkic and Cunningham. Hammer (+1000), no doubt, will look to those for inspiration and weaknesses, but unless he succeeds in drawing his man into a brawl, it's far more likely that we'll see the composed, risk-averse - and, it should be said - accomplished version of Tyson Fury that we saw last time out.
With the same enormous size advantage here (Fury, of course, stands a lofty 6'9, in comparison to Hammer's 6'2) as he's used to, Fury's already beaten better competition than Hammer, and he's done so generally comfortably. The German has the usual familiar heavyweight scraps on his resume - Konstantin Airich, Danny Williams, Kevin Johnson too - but it's hard to see him posing much threat a sensible Fury, who appears to be a more rounded fighter than before. Lets' be clear: this is not the same muddled fighter made infamous in .gif circles by punching himself in the face, and - perhaps bar Deontay Wilder, perhaps even bar Anthony Joshua aside - Fury is arguably the most legitimate contender to the heavyweight alphabet belts that there is. Make of that what you will.
At 17-3, Hammer's is far from the prettiest of records, particularly given that two from those three defeats have ended inside the distance. However, a closer look reveals that this is made up of an injury withdrawal - not a phrase Fury will be overly fond of - in his pro debut, and a knockout at the hands of Mariusz Wach five years ago.
The layers, then, make it firmly odds-on that this doesn't go the twelve rounds - it's anything from -400 down to -600 that we go the judges - which, unsurprisingly, correlates with the prices on the Fury stoppage. For Hammer to end matters early, there's anything up to +1800 available, and at a partisan O2 Arena it seems likely that's his best chance of victory, if an 18/1 shot can be considered a realistic chance of anything at all.
For what it's worth, Hammer's on run of three straight decision wins. It's 25/1 (+2500) that he makes it a fourth, but there may be a crumb of value in the +450 (+400 more widely on offer) that Fury settles for a points nod of his own. He won't be in a rush to take any unnecessary chances, and you just get the sense that he's more a fan of the idea of being a switch-hitting, polished boxer-puncher than a bulldozing knockout artist. Ladbrokes go 11/2 (+550) on the Fury unanimous decision and that's not the worst bet around this weekend.
Watch The 13th Round
Watch The 13th Round
That said, there's not much to suggest that Fury won't be able to end this when he wants to, with Chisora crumbling after ten rounds even when Fury seemed really to be primarily working on refining his jab. Four of Fury's last five wins have come by way of stoppage, but with the straight -400 for the early night holding little appeal, those leaning that way should take note of the round counts in each of his KOs since the first Chisora fight: 5, 3, 5, 5, 7, 4, 10, or an average of 5.5.
Fury will be reluctant to come quickly out of the blocks and walk onto anything of note, and he's adept enough at making adjustments until able to wear down, or simply overpower his man in the middle rounds. That the fight enters the sixth round is 4/6 (-150), which may be enough to interest shorter-priced punters, as might the 15/8 that Fury halts proceedings anywhere between the fifth and eighth.
Carl Frampton (-900) vs. Chris Avalos (+600)
Chris Eubank (-285) vs. Dmitry Chudinov (+275)
Liam Walsh (-450) vs. Joe Murray (+370)