I find there to be an unusual number of attractive fights on tap over the next three months. It's always interesting handicapping a challenge when good fighters attempt to move up in weight, especially when their edge in skill might be offset by the opponent's advantage in size. Other fighters are hoping they can have a “coming-out party” of sorts against established stars. All of that is coming up over the next ten weeks – a virtual smorgasbord of fistic intrigue – and as I take a look at some of the matchups below, I'm just scratching the surface.
Most fight fans – especially those who are the more “sporting types” – will have an instant reaction when a line is initially posted. But the beautiful part is: we don't have to “play” until just before the opening bell.
Certainly you'll detect an “opinion” from me when scanning these upcoming main events, but I must, I must, I must reserve the right to deliver something more comprehensive as the big day approaches, which might mean I'll take a stronger position, do a reversal, or “stay away” entirely, although I'll admit – to use betting parlance – a “reversal” would have to be about an 8/1 underdog.
Here we go:
Kostya Tszyu and Ricky Hatton square off on June 5 in England. Oddsmakers are giving Hatton a heck of a shot here. Tszyu is just a -245/+225 favorite at Pinnacle, Olympic Sports has Tszyu at -260/+220, and at Sportsbook.com he's at -325/+250, offering the tiniest of middles. I look at Tszyu as the proven commodity here, someone who has demonstrated the kind of ability that justifies ranking him among the top ten fighters pound-for-pound in the world. Meanwhile, Hatton's list of opponents include fighters who are fringe contenders or somewhat shot. He just hasn't – to this point at least – shown me he is of championship timber. Tszyu returned from a layoff of 22 months and put Sharmba Mitchell down four times en route to a third-round TKO. Mitchell is probably better than any foe Ricky Hatton has faced. I'm not going to say it's outright stealing to get Tszyu for this low a price, but I have to believe there are a lot of faithful Brits who have put their money on a favorite son, or at least there is the expectation of that happening.
Felix Trinidad is a -189/+169 favorite at Pinnacle to beat Winky Wright in their May 14 encounter. I think this is about where the line should be. And it's moved toward Wright, who has a legitimate shot. He's a solid enough boxer that he'll exploit Trinidad if he leaves himself open. Of course, Wright can't stand in front of Tito, or he'll truly have that chin tested. Trinidad gets a lot more respect at Intertops, where you have to lay -278, with a takeback of +185 on Winky.
Shane Mosley is a rather sizable favorite over David Estrada on the big ESPN pay-per-view scheduled for April 23. At Sportsbook.com he's laying -825 (with Estrada at +525), Intertops has Mosley at -1000, with Estrada getting just +450 on the takeback. Pinnacle lists Mosley as a -614/+554 choice. I know Mosley should probably outclass Estrada, but I see this as a rather risky proposition for the former champion. Estrada is a rough, tough type who should be able to make Shane work overtime. Mosley strikes me as the type of fighter who got where he is on speed and energy. When you move up into higher weight divisions, you can lose some of the speed. When you suffer disappointing losses, as Mosley did twice against Wright, you can lose some of the energy. Mosley, who has scored just one win in his last six fights (albeit over De la Hoya) needs to be careful, because even though Estrada doesn't have a roster of opponents to match his, he has gone into the trenches and has the ability to be strong in the later rounds.
Sportsbooks are being cautious with Floyd Mayweather as he goes after Arturo Gatti's WBC 140 lb. title on June 25 in Atlantic City. At Pinnacle, Mayweather is laying slightly less than 4/1 (-398), with Gatti getting +368. World Sports Exchange has it a little closer to what it perhaps should be, with Mayweather at -450 (to +300 for Gatti). There's no question I'll be exploring this one in great detail, and soon, but one cannot ignore the fact that as a talent, Gatti is really not in Mayweather's class. What Gatti backers might be banking on is that he'll be able to engineer his weight so that he'll come in close to 160 pounds, while Mayweather, who has gained weight to move up to this division, will come in at much closer to 140. I know that's what a lot of boxing people I talked to are concerned about. Fair enough. If Mayweather decides he wants to stand there and show some bravado, Gatti has the punching ability to do some damage. But if we see all that Mayweather is capable of being, I don't see it as a contest. Gatti just can't match the speed. When this fight became a hotter topic of speculation – which is to say after Gatti fought last – I thought anyone who posted Mayweather below -550 stood a chance of getting hurt by the sharper players. I still believe that to be the case.
I see at least a couple of online sportsbooks with a line on the James Toney–John Ruiz fight, which will be for the WBA heavyweight title on April 30. Pinnacle has Toney at -183, with a +173 takeback on Ruiz, while Sportsbook.com posts Toney as a -170/+140 favorite. I've talked to people who were surprised that Toney is the favorite. I'm not. While there is no question Ruiz is a rough customer, a difficult person to fight, and would certainly pose difficulty in imposing his weight advantage upon Toney in clinches, I consider Toney to be too well-schooled a fighter to let that edge go too far. He's slicker, trickier, and not about to let Ruiz get him into a game of clutch-and-grab. Ruiz would have an interesting legacy if he were to be defeated here – loser of just one of three fights with Evander Holyfield, but at the same time having lost a heavyweight title to two different fighters who began their careers as middleweights.
Now let's talk about a couple of fighters who might be future opponents for one of these guys. At Sportsbook.com, Fres Oquendo is a -180 favorite over Michael Moorer, who fetches +150, in a May 21 heavyweight fight. I respect Moorer's “comeback” win over Vassily Jirov, which brought him back into the heavyweight picture, at least for now. But if you recall, Moorer had fallen behind in that one and needed the knockout to win. Jirov is obviously a different fighter than Oquendo, and gave Moorer the opportunity to get back into the fight. I'm told Moorer is whipping himself into better shape for this critical bout, but Oquendo is going to be a tough guy for him to fight from the perspective of styles, because he is one of those heavyweights who can continue to move, frustrate and score points here and there and may not necessarily ever give Moorer a stationary target.
That's what I'm thinking now. But don't take it to the bank just yet.
Don't worry, we've still got time.