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Weekend betting angle: Canelo vs Bivol

IBHOF inductee and boxing gambling expert Graham Houston seeks the betting value in Saturday’s big light-heavyweight clash between WBA champion Dmitry Bivol and Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez.

While Canelo Alvarez is favoured to beat Dmitry Bivol in Las Vegas tonight the odds (1/4 at Betfred) are the closest they’ve been for a Canelo fight since his first foray into the light-heavy division, against Sergey Kovalev in 2019.

Bivol is a real test for Canelo. He’s undefeated, he moves well and he has excellent boxing skills, and of course he’s got the height and reach advantages — and he’s a 175-pounder meeting the 168lbs champion.

Canelo didn’t have it all his own way for the first 10 rounds against Kovalev. It was a close contest going into the 11th round, when Canelo found the punches to close the show. And Bivol is younger and faster than Kovalev.

Big hitters might feel confident laying the price on Canelo but most bettors will be looking for a less-expensive option.

It’s tempting to take a stab at the 4/1 (+400) odds offered for a Bivol upset. But Canelo is Canelo. He finds a way to win. And it doesn’t bother him if the other man is taller and has a longer reach. Canelo is excellent at cutting down the distance and going to work with his fast, hard shots to head and body. Also, Canelo knows how to get off first with the jab; the taller fighter doesn’t always have the advantage when it comes to jabbing.

Bivol has been able to outbox and outsmart everyone he’s faced. The comfortable wins over Jean Pascal and Joe Smith Jr. look very good in hindsight seeing that both Pascal and Smith won world title fights after losing to Bivol.

However, Bivol didn’t look as impressive as usual when he outpointed Craig Richards in the UK last May. Two of the judges had the contest extremely close. The determined Richards was able to get to Bivol with considerable success. 

Perhaps Bivol was simply unmotivated for a fight he was expected to win easily. But, still, the Richards bout does raise the possibility that Bivol might have peaked even though at 31 he is the same age as Canelo.

The large Mexican and Mexican-American contingent in the crowd will be right behind Canelo in this Cinco de Mayo event, greeting every blow he lands with roars of approval. Bivol has never been in a fight of this magnitude. Will he feel the pressure of the occasion? 

Bivol is the champion but he isn’t a particularly big, strong light-heavy. Canelo is the puncher in the fight and he is the more seasoned fighter. I’m expecting Bivol to score points with the jab and quick, in-and-out movement, but will he be able to keep doing it for 12 rounds? Canelo is very accurate when he lets his hands go and he is likely to find the range with hurtful shots as the contest goes deeper.

For Canelo backers who don’t feel like laying 1/4 it’s a matter of deciding the most likely method of victory. Canelo to win on points is offered at 11/8 (-138) at Betfred while Canelo to win inside the distance is priced at 5/2 (+250). If Bivol wins it will surely be on a 12-round decision. Bivol on points is priced at 17/2 (+850), which might appeal to underdog bettors.

If you feel that the bout will go the distance but don’t have a solid lean on either boxer, “Distance — Yes” is offered at 8/15 (-188), which might be a good look. After all, Callum Smith stuck it out for the full 12 rounds against Canelo and Caleb Plant lasted into the 11th. 

Many will say that the judges will give it to Canelo unless Bivol dominates the fight. You hear this a lot. I don’t buy into this notion. 

We’ve seen close scorecards in Canelo fights. One judge had Caleb Plant just two rounds behind after 10 rounds. Canelo was up by only 77-75 on one card after eight rounds against Billy Joe Saunders. The Daniel Jacobs fight was tight on two scorecards and the Erislandy Lara win was by split decision. 

The only Canelo decision that I absolutely disagreed with was the draw in the first fight with Gennadiy Golovkin; I thought GGG won that close but clear. I believe the fight will be judged fairly and that if Bivol wins he will get the decision. 

As a straight pick, I’ll say Canelo by decision. He has the big-occasion experience and he knows how to pick up the pace and win rounds in the nip-and-tuck bouts. I thought Canelo looked great at 174.4lbs at Friday’s weigh-in; thick-sinewed, very strong and healthy. Simply put, Canelo has the look of a winner.

A bet I quite like this weekend is slight underdog Alexis Espino to beat Aaron Silva in a meeting of undefeated 168-pounders on the Canelo vs Bivol undercard. Silva, from Monterrey, Mexico, is likely to be the Cinco de Mayo crowd favourite but Espino is on home ground in Las Vegas. 

I think Espino might be a bit underestimated after his eight-round draw with Rodolfo Gomez Jr. Yes, it was tough going for Espino that night but he showed good fighting instincts to close the bout strongly in the final round. That was a good learning fight for Espino. He will have one of boxing’s elite trainers, Robert Garcia, in his corner. 

Silva is a good, solid fighter but Espino might have more dimensions. I believe Espino had the deeper amateur background. And Espino is the house fighter on the Matchroom promotion. Espino is priced at around 21/20 (+105) across the industry. I think those are reasonable odds. A little on the draw at 14/1 (+1400) wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Main image: Canelo (left) and Bivol (right) clash in Las Vegas tonight. Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA.