Weekend betting angle: Canelo vs Yildirim

IBHOF inductee and boxing gambling expert Graham Houston looks for the betting value in Saturday night’s Canelo Alvarez vs Avni Yildirim clash at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

It’s difficult to get enthusiastic about Canelo Alvarez’s 168-pound title defence against Avni Yildirim in Miami on Saturday. Canelo is a 50-1 favourite for a reason. There is a huge gulf in class here. In its way, this bout reminds me of the exhibition-type wins Roy Jones Jr used to enjoy on HBO.

This mismatch is purely a showcase for Canelo as he looks ahead to his unification title bout with Billy Joe Saunders later this year. The only question is whether or not Canelo blows right through Yildirim or whether the fight goes some rounds. 

Canelo is expected to win inside the distance. But to back the Mexican superstar to win by KO TKO DQ you have to pay a premium: 1/14 (-1400) at Betfred, for instance. The decision proposition is 8/1 (+800). So, if you feel that Canelo might use this fight to get some rounds in, that price could be tempting.

It isn’t unknown for Canelo to be involved in long fights with opponents who were nowhere near his skill level. Alfredo Angulo hung in there for 10 rounds, for instance. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr took his lumps for 12 full rounds.

In fights such as these, Canelo opened up in bursts but didn’t really push for the stoppage. He seemed content to cruise through the rounds.

Yildirim was brought in as Canelo’s sparring partner in 2018, when Canelo was preparing for his rematch with Gennadiy Golovkin. They trained alongside each other when they weren’t sparring. The two men know each other, then, and it’s possible that Canelo quite likes Avni. This leads me to think that Canelo won’t be coming out in seek and destroy mode.

While Canelo holds all the cards — speed, reflexes, talent, punching power, defence — the Turkish challenger is a big, strong man. Yildirim was a walk-forward pressure fighter early in his career when he went forward and sought to impose his will. It was as if he felt he could walk through whatever was thrown at him.

A change came over Yildirim, however, after Chris Eubank Jr. stopped him in the third round in October 2017. That was a very bad night indeed for Yildirim. Eubank buckled him with a huge right uppercut in the first round and Yildirim never really got over that early bombshell of a blow. He tried to take the fight to Eubank but got caught and dropped by a left hook in the third round and that was it, fight over.

That was more than three years ago. Yildirim uses more of a “boxing” style now. He’s been the full 12 rounds in three of his last six bouts. In his last fight, the technical decision defeat against Anthony Dirrell, I thought Yildirim boxed better than at any time in his career. The fight was evenly poised after nine rounds but a cut over Dirrell’s eye was too severe for the bout to continue. As a clash of heads caused the cut, the bout went to the scorecards in the 10th round, with Dirrell winning by split decision. 

Yildirim has been inactive for two years, largely due to Covid-19 lockdowns, but this fight is the biggest by far of his life and I am sure he will have given everything in training. He has brought the California trainer and ex-fighter Joel Diaz on board to get him ready for the occasion. Diaz has been talking up his man’s chances, but that’s what trainers are supposed to do. In reality, the fight is a glorified exhibition. But that doesn’t mean that Yildirim won’t give it a good go. It’s just that it’s difficult to see him going too many rounds.

For those who like round-grouping bets, Canelo to win in rounds 1-6 might be appealing. Trouble is, it’s a high-priced ticket at 4/11 (-275). Canelo in rounds 4-6 at 7/4 (+175) offers a reasonable admission price with a decent possibility of a winning ticket.

The “total rounds” proposition has been set at 4.5 rounds. Odds are basically even whether you like the fight to go under or over the 4.5 mark.

There might be some value in the “over”. Canelo usually likes to take his time. In his last 15 bouts, going back to 2013, Canelo has won only twice inside 4.5 rounds. He stopped James Kirkland in three rounds in 2015 and he cut down long and lanky Rocky Fielding in three rounds in 2018. Kirkland came out banging and this fight was always likely to end early. Fielding wilted quickly from body punches and had a “get me out of here” look almost as soon as Canelo started to open up on him.

Yildirim is likely to try to box his way into the bout and not take too many chances, too soon. If Canelo is content to make moves,  maybe practice some combinations and work on sharpening his defence, and if he doesn’t come out looking to hurt Yildirim from the get-go, then this fight can go some rounds.

Really, however, this fight goes as long as Canelo wants it to go. 

These over/under propositions are often devilishly difficult to get right. So much depends on the mindset of the boxers. Betting on a fight to go over or under a certain number of rounds can come down to a guessing game. But I think there is a place for this type of wager in a long-term strategy. Like, say, making a small investment in a volatile stock in a financial planning portfolio.

To me, it’s 50-50 whether Canelo vs Yildirim goes over or under 4.5 rounds. My guess is that Canelo will be content to box his way through the first few rounds and not really start to ratchet up his punch-output until about the fourth or fifth round. That’s just a guess. It’s a coin flip, but I lean slightly to the “over 4.5 rounds”. 

If playing one of the propositions on this fight, I’d view it as a “for interest” bet, just to have some action on the weekend’s biggest fight. There will be better spots for bigger bets in the weeks and months ahead.

Main image: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA.