In a sense, this weekend illustrates just how much the boxing landscape has changed in the past twelve months. On HBO pay-per-view, Manny Pacquiao – an all-time great, and likely still the world’s best welterweight, in his comeback from the highest-grossing fight of all time last May – rounds off a trilogy against an elite, top-five-ranked P4P opponent in Timothy Bradley.
It’s curious, then, that in their respective primary markets, Pacquiao-Bradley may not even be this weekend’s biggest PPV draw. On the bank of the River Thames, London, England, around 20,000 will pile into the cavernous O2 Arena to watch Anthony Joshua (15-0, 15 KOs) attempt to win a version of the heavyweight title at his very first attempt.
In the UK, through an expertly-cultivated combination of crossover media attention, unrivalled television and promoter backing, an unblemished knockout streak and a hometown gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games, Joshua’s profile has gone stratospheric.
No matter, for most in attendance, then, that the IBF belt Joshua vies only became available after it was stripped from, and disposed of in a toilet bowl by, Tyson Fury, the man who beat the man. No matter, either, that the incumbent, Charles Martin (23-0-1, 21 KOs), a relative unknown of regional belt calibre until January this year, picked up the vacant strap by way of a wretched technicality.
Martin, really through no fault of his own, is the epitome of a paper titleholder, a man in the right place at the right time, whose new-found fortune is the indirect result of a contracted rematch clause agreed between representatives of Tyson Fury and Wladimir Klitschko and an inflexible sanctioning body. No matter to most. Make no mistake, this is the best chance to win a heavyweight title that Anthony Joshua will ever have.
The sheer weight of the juggernaut of hype can be found, too, in the bookmakers’ odds. Let this sink in: with the possible exception of Luis Ortiz – he of the ‘Who Needs Him?’ Club – there’s not a boxer alive that Anthony Joshua wouldn’t be betting favourite against. Sound far-fetched?
Against Tyson Fury, the legitimate, lineal champion, Joshua is priced up as the general -125/-137 favourite. One firm, European giant Betway, go -110 the pair – a coin toss. It would be close, too, with Wladimir Klitschko. With no odds available for potential Joshua-Klitschko bout, the yardstick of Fury’s razor-thin favouritism against Klitschko in their
It continues. For those completely and utterly sold, Sky Bet went +550 that Joshua would reach 30-0 in his career, in spite of the fact that he’s just halfway there. The same firm goes +600 that he holds all four major titles (WBA Super, WBC, WBO, IBF) before 2020. Don’t all rush at once.
None of this, though, is Joshua’s doing, and while plenty have pointed out some flaws in his fundamentals, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the Londoner is better positioned to fulfil the long-vacant role of Global Heavyweight Superstar (if such a fanciful concept even exists, given Boxing, 2016) than most have been in a very long time. Fail to beat Martin, however, and all of that goes up in smoke, or at least does so temporarily.
As the fight was first announced, it was Joshua, inevitably, who was the heavy betting favourite, opening at a lopsided -800 (Irish firm Paddy Power), with Martin at +450. That was quickly countered by other firms, and soon the Joshua price was -600. In the past week, though, there’s been plenty of movement – and perhaps not in the direction you might imagine.
Instead of being clipped in further, it’s been the Joshua price on the drift, and that -600 turned into a general -500, before touching -450. For those happy to shop around, there’s now better than -400 on a Joshua win, and indeed, one of the fight’s sponsors – bookmaker William Hill – reported this week that 72% of all bets placed on the Method of Victory market were for a Charles Martin KO (+500). Take that how you will, of course – and 72% of all bets placed is very different from 72% of the total staked - but it’s interesting nonetheless.
Martin, then, who started just shy of even money last time out against Vyacheslav Glazkov, can be backed at what is now a best price of just +375, which means that those looking at the underdog may have missed the boat.
With a combined 36 stoppage wins from a combined 39 fights, a shared 92% KO percentage – albeit against patchy opposition, at best - means that few will be parting with their money to side with the fight going the championship distance. It’s +550 that we hear the final bell, with Joshua +750 to prevail on the scorecards on home turf, and Martin +2200 to pull off the unlikeliest of decisions. The fact that this is only Joshua’s third bout scheduled for twelve rounds – and Martin’s second – speaks much of just how green each man really is here.
Instead, it feels like the winning selection will likely come from the opposite end of the fight outcome prop market. For Joshua backers, it’s hard to argue that the -300 to win by stoppage is a worse option than the outright -400, at least if that’s based on statistics alone. Only Dillian Whyte, in their stirring British title fight in December, has taken Joshua past the third round (TKO7), and so the +180 available on under 3.5 rounds may hold some appeal (-275 for the over). An extra round of insurance can be had at +110 (-150 for the over 4.5), and that too seems a reasonable proposition.
In terms of the eye test, there’s no reason to think that Martin, shiny title belt and all, is any more advanced a fighter than Joshua, if at all, and those rushing to claim that this is any kind of step up for the Brit - who looks comfortably the better of the two - should be wary.
In truth, though, this is an intriguing fight in terms of how much we don’t know about each man, and their respective ceilings remain to be seen. In a battle of two unknown quantities though, the evidence suggests that they’ve got the right favourite. For shorter price backers, the -137 on Joshua anywhere in the first half looks fair (Martin +900), while a Joshua win in the first three rounds (+200) and, individually, the first (+800) and second (+750) rounds will no doubt see plenty of support.
- Manny Pacquiao (-200) vs. Timothy Bradley (+187)
- Arthur Abraham (+162) vs. Gilberto Ramirez (-162)
- Oscar Valdez (-500) vs. Evgeny Gradovich (+550)
- George Groves (-1600) vs. David Brophy (+1000)
- Lee Selby (-600) vs. Eric Hunter (+550)
- Jamie McDonnell (-3300) vs. Fernando Vargas (+1400)
- Brian Rose (-137) vs. Matthew Macklin (+135)