There's not much to dislike about Saturday's PBC card, specifically the rather fine-looking main event. Andre Dirrell vs. James DeGale is good matchmaking in every sense of the word: not just an intriguing style clash, but a well timed, well balanced one.
It's always a sign of a good fight when you have to keep checking who the A-side is, and though, in this case, that dubious honor falls to Dirrell (24-1, 16 KOs), there's a case to say he's still trading off the goodwill he built up five years ago when part of Showtime's Super Six draft.
In truth, Dirrell's record is flimsy - it's worth remembering that his best win is still a disqualification over Arthur Abraham (a bout Dirrell looked likely to win on the cards, had it gone the distance, but against a man whose Super Six record ended up reading 1-3). Since that fight, Dirrell, of Flint, Michigan, has racked up five straight wins - preceded by a curious 20-month layoff - and against only marginal opposition, to be kind.
By contrast, DeGale (20-1, 14 KOs) - here bidding to become the first Brit to win both Olympic gold and a version of a world title - is somewhat of a form horse coming into this contest. After a disjointed start to his professional career, two showreel early stoppages against legitimate tests in Brandon Gonzales and Marco Antonio Periban suggests the Londoner has slipped into gear since signing with Matchroom last year.
Momentum aside, Dirrell is a talented, elusive, technically-sound boxer, and so it's no surprise that that bookmakers have been struggling to split them since the fight was announced. There's been some differing of views across a variety of firms in the build-up, but the consensus is that this is a pick ‘em fight, with a quote of -110 the pair most easily found across the industry. The strongest opinions make DeGale a -137 favorite (William Hill, Paddy Power) - which, in boxing terms, is negligible - with other layers going -120 DeGale and even money on Dirrell. At time of writing, Dirrell is only slight favourite (-120) with one of 23 European offerings listed on Oddschecker.com.
That's a slight surprise, and from this viewpoint the initial hunch was that when the early -150 Degale/+120 Dirrell was released, it was the wrong way around. That is, however, not to say Dirrell is necessarily the superior man, but he is the house fighter - the Haymon fighter - an American fighting on home soil. If this fight was taking place in London, those odds look far more logical.
It's reasonable to expect this fight goes at least into the championship rounds - neither has ever been stopped in defeat, and neither is particularly renowned for their knockout artistry. There's -187 available for either man to win on points, and you have to search right up to over 10.5 round line before you hit -200 (1/2). The oddsmakers have DeGale by decision as the most likely outcome, with anything from +162 (13/8) to +187 (15/8) that he gets the nod with the judges. Dirrell on the cards is just a touch behind that, with a best price of +200 (2/1) on offer.
Those fancying a cagey, nip-and-tuck affair - the type of fight that you'd imagine suits the Michigan man more - may find some appeal in the precise method of victory markets. It's +800 (8/1) for your pick of either man to win by a split decision, with +1200 (DeGale) and (+1400) for the contest to be settled on a majority verdict. The draw, too, is worth a mention here, and +2500 (25/1) isn't the worst bet around this weekend.
There is an argument that DeGale's best chance here would be to disrupt Dirrell early. What we've seen of the American against his highest-calibre opponents suggests he might struggle to close the gap if a lead is established against him, and it's quite possible his head could drop. DeGale, too, is hitting with real conviction of late and developing into a fine combination puncher, a more refined, noticeably more destructive fighter than we saw in his earlier outings.
It's a general +400 (4/1) on each man to win by stoppage, but it's difficult to see why Dirrell commands an equal price to DeGale here. Those looking for a more lavishly-priced winner would be excused for falling back on DeGale's recent trend of ending matters early, with a price on +1000 (10/1) on a third successive statement win in the first half of the fight.
On the undercard:
Edwin Rodriguez (-1000) vs. Craig Baker (+600)