After a somewhat depressing lull - comprised mostly of horribly one-sided squash matches and a string of main events that turned out to be not far off that - this weekend's busy schedule offers at least a couple of bouts that are worth a much closer look from a betting perspective. And, well, boxing being boxing, a few that aren't.
Andre Ward vs Paul Smith
Somewhat fittingly, then, the best fighter in action this Saturday night takes part in one of the most grotesque mismatches of the year, at least on paper, and in terms of televised headline events on an American network.
Somewhat fittingly, then, this contest - Roc Nation Sports' unveiling of Ward as one of their two flagship signings - follows two such other farce-based comedies on the day's BET schedule, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Big Momma's House 2.
Ward (27-0, 14 KOs), at worst the third or fourth best boxer in the world, pound-for-pound, when he's actually competing, is a best-priced -2500 (1/25) to see off Paul Smith (+1500, or 15/1). There's an argument he should be slimmer still.
Smith (35-5, 20 KOs), 32, of Liverpool, England, is a dogged, experienced professional from a famous fighting family, and a reasonable test for anyone at domestic or European level. He should, of course, be well praised for actually jumping at the chance to take on this kind of challenge when he received the call. The sport needs fighters with such ambition. That he got the call in the first place is another conversation.
Put simply, four of Smith's five defeats have been inflicted when he's taken any kind of step up in class (DeGale, Groves, and back-to-back decision losses - including a particularly comprehensive one last time out - to Arthur Abraham), and one when he hasn't. You have to go back as far as 2010 for a win that's in the debate as his best ever, and that was against perennial British fringe contender Tony Dodson. In the four-fight win streak Smith put together between the Groves defeat and the Abraham series, his opponents' combined defeats totalled 74.
If Ward had any real kind of killer instinct, the -175 (-200 more readily available) that he finishes Smith inside the distance would look a remarkable price. It's still not bad. If Ward decides he wants to make a statement and win in style here, he will. By contrast, Smith is +2000 (20/1) to win by stoppage, in what would surely be one of most shocking outcomes since some guy somewhere decided that he was going to commission Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son.
Adrien Broner vs. Shawn Porter
And so to one of the weekend's real coin tosses. Headlining the PBC on NBC card, Broner vs Porter is one of those rare triumphs of matchmaking that we all hoped we'd see a lot more of when the PBC concept launched in the first place. Sadly, those have so far been few and far between, but this one should be a genuine slobberknocker.
The bookies have been struggling to split the two since the fight was announced, but it's Porter (25-1-1, 16 KOs) who they're marginally more wary of going into the ‘Battle for Ohio (at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas)'. He's a general -110 (10/11), but priced elsewhere as a very slight -125 and -137 favourite. Broner, meanwhile, where not priced as the other side of the -110 conundrum, can be backed at even money or +110 (11/10). Porter, however, is odds-on across the board, however negligible.
There's an argument that if anyone should have been given scant favouritism, it's Broner (30-1, 22 KOs), surely the more naturally gifted of the two, and the man given the freedom to impose a dubious 144lb catchweight in an attempt to disadvantage his opponent.
Porter, however, represents the kind of relentless, high-energy, hard-charging physical test that we all saw Broner struggle so much against when paired with Marcos Maidana. All logic dictates that this won't be anything other than a difficult night all round, and it's a truly intriguing combination.
While both men have some pop, neither are renowned knockout artists, or at least not any more. Granted, Porter's last two wins have come by stoppage, in the fourth and fifth rounds respectively, but one was against an overmatched late replacement in Erick Bone. The other, a bulldozing of a Paulie Malignaggi who just never got started, was a fine Porter performance, and similar aggression could well pay off tomorrow night. By comparison, Broner - who had no problem blitzing all-comers at lightweight - hasn't forced an early night since outgrowing 135lb, with all four wins (and that Maidana defeat) decided by the judges.
It's -225 that the contest goes the distance, then, with over 10.5 rounds priced up at -187. It's not inconceivable that the draw becomes a big runner here as it goes into the final stages, and in-play bettors could do worse than take on the +2000 or so with a view to trading their position late on.
In the Method of Victory markets, it's as close as it could possibly be in terms of the oddsmakers jostling for which man claims a decision. You can back either man to win on the scorecards at prices of +187, +162, +175, and +150 with various firms. As the bigger man, Porter has a slight edge with the layers in terms of a stoppage win - he's best priced at +450 (+333 more generally), with Broner at +550.
David Lemieux vs Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam
Until partway through this week, you could back either man at even money if you decided to shop around, making this the weekend's second pick ‘em.
There's been movement across a handful of different books here, though, and it's the Canadian who's now consensus favourite. The Montreal native can be backed at a market-leading -137, but is -175 at worst. The old adage goes that boxer beats brawler, but whether N'Dam (+130) can get the job done - and get the decision if needed - on the road here in Quebec remains to be seen.
Rances Barthelemy (-300) vs. Antonio DeMarco (+275)
Sammy Vasquez (-350) vs. Wale Omotoso (+300)