IBHOF inductee and boxing gambling expert Graham Houston seeks the betting value in the weekend’s significant world title action featuring Shakur Stevenson vs Oscar Valdez and Katie Taylor vs Amanda Serrano.
Shakur Stevenson’s price has been steadily rising and he’s now 1/7 (-700) at Betfred to defeat Oscar Valdez in a clash of unbeaten junior lightweight champions on Saturday in Las Vegas.
But while the odds have climbed into the stratosphere I think Stevenson is the rightful favourite. His slick southpaw style looks wrong for the tough, tenacious but more straightforward Valdez.
Yet while I find it difficult to see a path to victory for Valdez I don’t see Shakur totally dominating him. Valdez is a competent fighter and good puncher, and I think he’s being somewhat sold short after his struggle with Robson Conceicao.
Yet putting up a good fight and actually winning are, of course, two different things.
Stevenson, 24, seems to hold all the aces. He’s looking big and strong at 130 pounds. Shakur is skilled and fast, with excellent punch-anticipation. And while Stevenson has been disappointingly tentative in some fights he seemed to reach a new level when he stopped Jamel Herring in the 10th round in his last fight.
Valdez, meanwhile, showed tremendous grit when battling through the pain of a broken jaw to defeat the bigger, heavier Scott Quigg. He boxed beautifully to win the title from Miguel Berchelt, capping a career-best performance with a spectacular 10th-round knockout. But Quigg and Berchelt were right in front of Valdez. Against Stevenson, Valdez will be meeting someone who is hard to hit and who is an adept counter puncher.
If Valdez is going to pull off the upset he will surely have to apply educated pressure, taking the fight to Stevenson and trying to take him out of his strike and wear him down.
The problem here is that Stevenson will be looking to time Valdez for sharp counter punches. Valdez will likely be able to get in right hands from time to time and he’ll no doubt be looking to position himself to land the left hook, but he might find the always-alert Stevenson one step ahead.
Stevenson says he believes he can discourage and even stop Valdez simply by constantly hitting him and making him miss. And for those looking for a value bet, Stevenson to win inside the distance at a general price of 13/5 (+260) might make some sense. After all, Valdez is 31 and he has had some tough fights. He also had a long amateur career, boxing for Mexico in two Olympics. But the decision prop at 5/8 (-160) obviously has to be considered more likely than the stoppage.
Valdez is so tough and game, it will take a heck of a lot to get him out of the fight. Even if Valdez is being outboxed he will never give in. It’s not the sexiest bet out there, but Stevenson by decision looks the way to go.
There’s another huge fight across the pond tonight, this one a true women’s superfight at Madison Square Garden, with Ireland’s darling Katie Taylor defending her lightweight titles against featherweight champion Amanda Serrano in a tough-to-call contest.
The odds opened at pick ’em, but money has shown for Serrano and the New York-Puerto Rican challenger is now a slight 8/11 (-138) favourite at Betfred. However, a strong case can be made for both women.
Taylor will surely be the bigger fighter in the ring on Saturday night. Serrano, however, has fought as a lightweight and even junior welter in a remarkable career that has seen her move up and down the weight classes.
I see Taylor, 35, as the superior boxer from the textbook perspective. She has a solid technique, with excellent judgement of timing and distance. Serrano, 33, has the greater punch-output. It could come down to Serrano’s volume against Taylor’s precision.
While Serrano has had more than twice as many pro fights than the champion, Taylor might have more ring miles on the clock, bearing in mind her long amateur career. Taylor boxed in all the big amateur tournaments and, of course, won Olympic gold at the London Games. And she’s been in a few wars as a pro — the two with Delfine Persoon especially but also a torrid 10-rounder against Natasha Jonas. Those fights can be draining.
However, the thing about Taylor is that she knows how to win in nip-and-tuck fights. She’s very good at getting off with rapid-fire bursts of punches to steal rounds. But Serrano is the puncher in the fight. Natasha Jonas was able to steady Taylor with the right hook from her southpaw stance. Perhaps the southpaw Serrano can do the same.
Each woman will be well supported, with the New York and Hispanic fans cheering for Serrano while a huge Irish contingent will be raising the roof every time Taylor lands a scoring blow.
I believe that for Serrano to win she will have to put pressure on Taylor and make her uncomfortable from the start. These are only two-minute rounds. Serrano must make every minute count. She must let her hands go and attack the body. If Serrano stands back and lets Taylor pick her off she could find herself falling hopelessly behind. But if Serrano can get off to a strong start, perhaps catching and hurting Taylor early, she can build on her success.
I’m probably not alone in struggling to pick a side in this one. But as great as Taylor is, I think Serrano can win rounds with volume, intensity and what I believe is an advantage in firing power. The price hasn’t got too far out of control to take a chance on Serrano to win. I don’t mind Serrano by decision at 8/5 (+160) while a small stab at the draw (offered at a general price of 10/1) isn’t a bad idea.
Main image: Valdez (left) and Stevenson (right) meet at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, on Saturday night. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.