IBHOF inductee and boxing gambling expert Graham Houston seeks the betting value in tonight’s 168lbs unification clash between Mexican star Canelo Alvarez and Britain’s Billy Joe Saunders in Arlington, Texas.

The big 168-pound unification title fight in Texas is almost upon us, and it’s the most anticipated fight of the year as Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez meets Britain’s Billy Joe Saunders, with an anticipated 70,000 crowd in attendance at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

It’s going to be a pro-Canelo crowd, obviously, with its Mexican-American flavour. Saunders says he will feed off the crowd’s energy, but he’s up against it and no question.

Saunders seems genuinely confident, and I think he has the southpaw smarts, the speed and the angles to give Canelo problems. But can he win? The bookmakers don’t think so. Canelo is an overwhelming 1/7 (-700) favourite at some shops.

So, if you fancy betting on Canelo, that price won’t suit you at all. A bet on Saunders at Betfred, meanwhile, would get you a nice return at 4/1 (+400) should the upset occur.

To win, however, Saunders will have to reach a new level. He’s undefeated, and he outclassed David Lemieux in Quebec, so we know he can win a big fight a way from home. But Lemieux swung for the fences and threw wild misses whereas Canelo is an educated aggressor who looks to close the distance and make his punches count.

Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing.

And while Billy Joe took the Quebec crowd out of the fight very early, it won’t be so easy to do the same thing in Texas. The Arlington crowd will be providing passionate support for Canelo. There will likely be roars of approval every time Canelo throws a punch, even if it only half-lands.

Those who feel Saunders can upset the odds point out that Canelo has struggled with skilled boxers. However, Canelo is  much improved from the fighter who was flummoxed by Floyd Mayweather and barely got past Erislandy Lara. And even though Lara’s slick skills and fancy footwork gave Canelo a difficult night, that was seven years ago and Canelo still found a way to win. And is Billy Joe all that superior to Lara?

Saunders has an excellent boxing brain, but Canelo is an intelligent fighter, too. And Canelo is obviously the puncher in the fight.

Yes, Saunders is capable of scoring points and winning rounds. It’s not impossible for Saunders to win a decision. But just looking to edge out Canelo in tight rounds probably won’t get the job done. Billy Joe needs to win rounds clearly. That means gambling a bit and letting his hands go. And if Saunders stays in front of Canelo too long he’s likely to get caught and hurt. He needs to box a flawless fight and it’s a big ask.

Canelo could win rounds simply by bringing pressure and landing the more authoritative punches, perhaps looking to dig the left hook to the body to slow Saunders down. Obviously Saunders will be slippery, but Canelo might have the old Joe Louis saying in mind: “He can run but he can’t hide.” And fighters less polished and precise than Canelo have been able to land punches on Billy Joe. 

All in all, then, Canelo looks the winner. For those who wish to back Canelo but don’t like the admission price, there are the usual proposition wagers to consider.

Canelo to win by KO TKO DQ is around even money but a boxer with Billy Joe’s talent, pride and fighting instincts is hard to stop — think of outgunned Hector “Macho” Camacho sticking it out for 12 rounds against Julio Cesar Chavez’s relentless advance. So a better bet might be on the fight to go the distance at 10/11 (-110), which is my favourite out of all the proposition bets. This covers you for either man to win by decision or a 12-round draw.

Tucked away on the undercard is a six-round bout between red-hot lightweight prospect Keyshawn Davis and  Jose Antonio Meza, of Durango, Mexico. Each man scaled 138 pounds at Friday’s weigh-in.

Davis was US champion and national Golden Gloves champion in the amateurs and he’s 2-0 (2 KOs) as a pro. Meza looks out of his depth talent-wise. However, Meza has never been stopped in 10 pro bouts, he’s the taller fighter and he looks a willing, gutsy type. 

The over/under is 3.5 rounds is offered at roughly even money. Meza walked to the scale draped in the Mexican flag. He gave me the impression of a fighter who relishes the job at hand and will be giving all he’s got. It could be a close call but I like the idea of Meza hanging in there for at least the required three and a half rounds. Davis vs Meza to go over 3.5 rounds, at around -115 depending on which sportsbook you use, is my favourite undercard play.