Andre Ward returning from a hiatus is one of those things that boxing fans have just had to get used to over the past few years, much like a Floyd Mayweather fight every September, or an Adrien Broner felony charge.
Another is the notion of Ward (28-0, 15 KOs) - the world's de facto number one super-middleweight, here making his second outing in what looks to be a permanent switch to 175lb - as a hefty betting favourite. That, of course, remains the case when looking at the odds for this weekend's meeting with Sullivan Barrera (17-0, 12 KOs), but is a trend that would finally grind to a halt should Ward prevail on Saturday night.
The suggestion of a PPV showdown with Sergey Kovalev this November was enough to get the layers scratching up their provisional prices, and Barrera is intended merely as an hors d'oeuvres here. While the line is much tighter than the lopsided quotes we've seen on the Californian post-Super Six (vs. Chad Dawson, -425; vs. Edwin Rodriguez, -1500; vs. a hapless Paul Smith, -5000), Ward is still considered the favourite against the Russian (-120 with bookmaker BetVictor, Kovalev even money), albeit a very slim one.
Barrera, though, is a fine fighter in his own right, and there's just a feeling that he might yet have another gear or two to find. Bigger than Ward, rangier, far more of a puncher, he's essentially the exact type of opponent that we should be seeing an elite talent coming back from a nine-month absence paired against. Given that there's a big-money date on the horizon - and the state of the sport as a whole - it came, then, as a moderate surprise that a risk of this kind was chosen at all.
Nonetheless, anything other than a Ward victory in his occasional home of the Oracle Arena, would be a seismic upset. At a market-best price of -600 (as fancied as -1100 elsewhere, -800 readily available), the oddsmakers haven't been spooked by Ward's latest stretch of inactivity. Barrera, who can be backed here as high as +550, is really still an unknown quantity at this kind of level, and though he looked sharp in his Friday Night Fights win over Jeff Lacy, and again versus Karo Murat, they were, well, still only wins against Jeff Lacy and Karo Murat. It goes without saying that Ward, who may well (still) be the best all-round boxer on the planet, represents an entirely different challenge.
Never renowned for his power, Ward - the ‘Son of God' to his close friends - has, however, racked up two stoppage wins in his last three. That would be more worthy of consideration had that trio not spanned a wretched 33 months of wasted talent, not to mention Dawson's weight-draining issues and a dubious, overweight foe in Smith last time out.
Ward is +240 to win by stoppage once more here, but the layers make the decision win the odds-on outcome. The Oakland man has fought at the Oracle six times prior to the Barrera bout - four of those have come by way of wins on the cards (three UDs, one technical decision), or 60% of those contests. On that outline basis, the quote of -162 (-175 at worst) for another Ward points nod feels about right, though doesn't necessarily represent any value.
It's no surprise to see a Barrera decision on the road at a sizeable +1600 - if he's going to win, the bookies reckon it'll be by KO, but at +800 it's hardly a prop bet they're running scared of at the moment. Far shorter will be the price on an HBO camera spotting Kovalev at ringside, wearing a baseball cap, grinning maniacally.
Joseph Diaz (-400) vs. Jayson Velez (+405)
Kell Brook (-2500) vs. Kevin Bizier (+1600)
Nick Blackwell (+550) vs. Chris Eubank Jr (-600)