IBHOF inductee and boxing gambling expert Graham Houston looks for the betting value on a busy fight weekend featuring the welterweight unification bout between Errol Spence and Yordenis Ugas as well as Conor Benn’s return to action against Chris van Heerden.
Exciting welterweight attraction Conor Benn has been bet up to such a huge favourite for today’s fight with Chris van Heerden in Manchester (16/1 at Betfred) that the only value rests with the various proposition markets. And we’ll get to that. But first, a look at how the fighters stack up.
South Africa’s van Heerden is an interesting test for Benn. The 32-year-old southpaw has a respectable record (28-2-1, 12 KOs, 1 ND). His only stoppage defeat came against Errol Spence Jr, who was a rising star at the time, and van Heerden lasted into the eighth round.
On paper, then, van Heerden should be able to take Benn into the later rounds. One problem with this idea is that van Heerden has become increasingly subject to getting cut and swollen around the eyes. He’s been busted up in his last three fights.
In his last bout, in December 2020, van Heerden was severely gashed on the forehead in the opening round against Jaron “Boots” Ennis. A head clash caused the cut and the fight was ruled a no decision, but Ennis looked on his way to getting van Heerden out of there.
Ennis’ fast pressure and hand speed were way too much for van Heerden to handle. And while we are not comparing Benn with Ennis — at least, not quite yet — nonetheless, he doesn’t as a rule waste much time going after his opponents. And Benn throws punches fast and hard once he’s closed the distance.
So, the question is, will van Heerden be able to keep Benn off of him for 12 rounds? I don’t think he can.
The South African has sound boxing skills but he doesn’t pack a lot of power.
Back in 2016, van Heerden had his hands full with the tough and aggressive Steve Claggett. Although van Heerden won a majority decision, it was a highly competitive contest. Claggett was always in it. But van Heerden suffered a cut under the eye and I made the note at the time that he “seems to mark up easily”. And that was six years ago.
Yet van Heerden is gutsy, he’s experienced and he’ll never quit. But I see this fight as two trains going in different directions. Benn, 25, is on his way up, van Heerden on the downward slope.
In his last fight, Benn gave his most impressive showing to date when he knocked out the seasoned Chris Algieri in the fourth round.
Meanwhile, van Heerden has boxed just once in the past 28 months, which was the one-round no-decision with Boots Ennis. We have, in Benn, a young aggressor who will be looking to hurt his opponent as early in the fight as he can. In this regard, he’s like his famous father, the “Dark Destroyer” Nigel Benn.
It’s possible that van Heerden will be able to box, move and possibly frustrate Benn for four, five, six rounds. But I just don’t see him doing it for all 12 rounds.
The Benn KO/TKO proposition is available at a general price of 2/5 (-250). The “distance — No” proposition is offered at 1/3 (-300). These aren’t very attractive odds.
However, in the rounds-grouping market, Benn to win in rounds 7-12 at odds of 9/4 (+225) might be worth a stab. Van Heerden looked in tremendous condition at Friday’s weigh-in, he has the height and reach advantages, and just he might have the grit and veteran’s savvy to make it a long fight.
The big action across the pond sees Errol Spence Jr meeting Yordenis Ugas in a clash of welterweight champions. But Spence has been bet up to a 1/6 (-600) favourite. I think Spence should come through. Spence is talking about going for the KO. Unlikely, but possible, and the odds aren’t bad at 9/4 (+225) if you feel “The Truth” can get it done inside 12 rounds.
But, for me, the fight of the weekend is on the Spence vs Ugas undercard. I’m referring to the absolute pick ’em welterweight match-up between Radzhab Butaev and Eimantas Stanionis.
I’ve gone back and forth but I finally decided to go with Russia’s Butaev. He looks the bigger man and he holds two wins over Stanionis in the amateurs, although these were in youth tournaments more than a decade ago.
Butaev impressed me when he overwhelmed the long and lanky Jamal James in nine rounds to win the WBA title. James outboxed Butaev early, sweeping the first two rounds on the judges’ cards, but he couldn’t keep the stronger Russian fighter off him as the bout went deeper.
Stanionis was an elite-level amateur. He boxed for Lithuania in the Olympics and world championships. As a pro, he’s 13-0 (9 KOs) but it should be 14-0 because he was breaking down the veteran Luis Collazo before a head clash resulted in a no-decision verdict. He’s 27, eight months younger than Butaev.
This is a meeting of fighters who like to move forward and impose themselves physically on their opponents.
In his only loss, Butaev was outsmarted by the southpaw Alexander Besputin in a 12-round bout. (The verdict was changed to a no decision because Besputin tested positive for banned substances.)
Besputin used angles and movement. Stanionis isn’t that sort of fighter. He brings steady pressure from behind a high guard, opening up with bursts of punches to head and body. Butaev doesn’t like backing up. He’s rugged and relentless. So, we could see the sort of fight that resembles two trucks meeting in an alley with room for only one to pass. Someone will have to give way eventually. Which one will it be?
I lean towards Butaev. Although his pro record is 14-0 (11 KOs), with the no decision in the Besputin fight, he had extensive experience in the pro-style World Series of Boxing. Stanionis is a strong, fundamentally sound boxer and I like him a lot, but Butaev showed a ferocious will to win in the fight with Jamal James, as if he was going to let nothing stop him. In a fight that is as closely matched as it gets, I just see Butaev digging that little deeper and pulling out that little extra.
Main image: Benn (left) takes on the experienced van Heerden (right) on Saturday night. Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.