Earlier this week, boxing fans on Twitter went into momentary meltdown – very much their modus operandi – upon reading one of the scattering of reminders that Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao took place exactly a year ago.
Fast forward twelve months, then, and to complement the Cinco de Mayo celebrations for 2016, boxing’s marquee PPV is a conspicuously mealy-mouthed promotion selling a battle for the husk that was once the lineal middleweight title.
Beneath the bluster, though, and a layer of hyperbole that’s been slathered thickly and shamelessly, there’s a main event that flatters to deceive. In possession of the belts, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) once again fighting at a cynical 155lb catchweight, takes on Amir Khan (31-3, 19 KOs), a man whose struggles with his opponents’ physicality throughout his ascent through the weights are well documented.
Those comfortable with ingesting all that’s served before them – whether press-release-happy journalist or wide-eyed enthusiast – have lapped up the soundbites. Khan, perceptibly overawed by the occasion, has described this bout as his ‘legacy fight’, has drawn parallels between himself and Sugar Ray Leonard’s move to fight Marvin Hagler, and courted the retired Mayweather. Khan’s friend, David Haye, has asserted that a victory for the Brit puts him among the all-time greats. The talk of a David-versus-Goliath encounter has been difficult to escape. Surely, then, the bookmakers consider this as wretched a mismatch as so many others?
In short, no. That is, of course, unless David was priced as a mere 3/1 underdog. For all the noise about the potential for an earth-shattering upset, in betting terms a win for Khan (+350, 7/2 general) registers no more than a mild tremor. As Khan has rightly pointed out, this is the first time in his professional career that he’s been considered the outsider with the layers. Canelo (-333, or 3/10, industry best with William Hill), too, has been the underdog just once. That, a limp showing against Mayweather in September 2013 (Canelo +240, 12/5), hardly saw the Mexican rise to the task, and whether Khan responds to the pressure any better may dictate the outcome of this fight.
There’s been a gradual shortening of the odds on Alvarez since the wonderfully surprising fight announcement at the beginning of February. After opening as large as -187 (Sky Bet), the prices on the Mexican have been clipped in to as short as -650 (NetBet), with quotes between -350 (2/7) and -450 (2/9) most widely available.
There’s no real consensus here, and it’s not all that often that there’s such a discrepancy across the major firms just one day out from a fight of this magnitude. Canelo is a firm favourite, of that there’s no question, but not prohibitively so.
Those prices on Alvarez are in the same ballpark as his odds against Miguel Cotto back in November, a fight for which Canelo was considered between a -333 (3/10) and -450 (2/9) favourite, with the Puerto Rican at +250 (5/2). It’s an interesting enough yardstick, and begs the question: did a well-past-his-best Miguel Cotto have a better chance of victory against the same foe than a welterweight jumping up in size and class to test a punch resistance that most have already written off?
Putting Canelo’s price into context further, he – or, at least, a less proven Canelo - was listed at circa -250 (2/5) against both Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout. Canelo was -550 (2/11) to see off the dubious threat of Alfredo Angulo and James Kirkland (-800, 1/8). Khan’s ring intelligence is a long way from the parallel of Lara and, given the brutality with which Alvarez dispatched the latter two, the criticism of this bout being as dangerous as it is unnecessary is perhaps understandable.
Whether it will be accurate, of course, is a different story, but the way this bout has been marketed – the aforementioned tussle between power and speed – borders on lazy and ill-conceived. Khan was lightning fast between 135lb and 140lb, and still boasts outstanding hand speed at welterweight but, stepping into the ring
Conversely, painting Alvarez as some kind of middleweight wrecking ball is, to some degree, a swindle that is at least keeping with the swindle of the concept as a whole. Canelo’s won by stoppage three times in his last six victories – once against a grossly undersized (ahem) Josesito Lopez, another against a game but outgunned Kirkland – a man who already had a huge question mark hanging over his chin – and another against an Angulo who himself had been stopped by Kirkland and fellow shared opponent Lara.
It goes without saying, however, that the power of Canelo – who’s still a moderate puncher, if not a straightforward KO artist - is likely to be magnified against an opponent whose durability has repeatedly proven his Achilles heel. Inevitably, a Canelo stoppage win is the most favoured of the major fight outcomes in the Method of Victory side market. That can be backed between -175 and -200 (1/2), which neatly frames the price Alvarez opened at to win by any means. There’s a sizeable +1800 (18/1) available for those who fancy Khan to not only win, but to do so inside the distance. Khan’s admitted in the build-up that he’s unlikely to be able to hurt Canelo – and instead will have to rely on boxing to a game plan and, yes, his speed – and a clean sweep of decision wins at 147lb, with no early night of his own since retiring an overmatched Carlos Molina at light-welterweight in December 2012, would seem to validate his claim.
Going as far as predicting a Khan win feels a stretch – let alone because he’s fighting a Mexican in Las Vegas on Cinco de May weekend – but there’s a chance he gives Alvarez more to think about that many anticipate. Clearly, all bets are off – figuratively speaking, that is – if Khan’s lost a step of pace as a result of his preparations, but we’ve seen Canelo troubled in the past by speed and boxers content to stay on the outside.
Khan, clearly, is not the equal of Mayweather, nor does he possess the ring generalship of Lara, but a quick start with an emphasis on darting attacks and elusiveness could see the underdog bank a few early rounds. Backers of Khan may be best advised to take the +425 for their man to claim an unlikely decision, with +900 (9/1, unanimous), +1400 (14/1, split), and +2500 (25/1, majority) on offer for those feeling fanciful enough to call exactly how he’ll bamboozle the A-side.
Those who wish to side with Canelo to rack up another points win can do so at a reasonable +550 (11/2), a figure that looks more appealing when you consider that both of his wins against something approaching top-level opposition (Lara and, at the time, Trout) have come the same way. The question, of course, is whether the Amir Khan of May 2016 - at an inflated weight totally unfamiliar to him - is closer to that top level or to Lopez, Kirkland, and Angulo before him.