Take your shot!

Oct 30, 2007 2:54 AM

Coming up this weekend, we have dueling winning underlays. It’s perhaps not as bad as ring around the collar, but a winning underlay stains my very soul. I mean, how can you bet on something you don’t think is worth the price but suspect is going to win anyway?

Super Middleweight Title

Joe Calzaghe  —150
Mikkel Kessler  +130

Thus there are major caveats to my selections for the two big shows, ocean and mountains apart, one in Wales where Joe Calzaghe, the hometown favorite, will be challenged by Mikkel Kessler of Denmark in the most import super-middleweight match-up in years. More on the HBO feature later.

In Tucson, on Showtime, Juan Manuel Marquez is a 9-2 or 5-1 favorite over hard-hitting Rocky Juarez. Marquez is one of the best craftsmen in the game and though it would take only one well-placed left hook or right hand to change this opinion, should be too much for the Houston fighter to handle.

Marquez, a masterful counter-puncher, will discourage the usually reticent Juarez from firing when he realizes every miss will be punished. The match could disintegrate into a chess match and you have to go with the grandmaster against the kid. But, and it’s a big one, although the tempo and tactics seem to favor Marquez, there is always the danger of the big punch and Juarez packs one in each hand. His knockouts tend to be of the highlight reel variety.

WBC Featherweight
Title Fight
Juan Manuel Marquez   —400
Rocky Juarez   +300

Plus, he showed world class in his first bout, a disputed decision loss, with Marco Antonio Barrera. The Mexican, who subsequently was clearly outpointed by Marquez, turned from Baby Faced Assassin to boxer in the rematch and easily handled Juarez the second time around. Though Marquez could be leaving the 130-pound division for lightweight and Juarez did not graduate from featherweight that long ago, any size advantage for the Nacho Beristain-trained favorite will be height and reach, not strength.

I do not believe that Marquez will be looking forward to his long-awaited rematch with Manny Pacquiao. First, with Bob Arum directing the Pac Man’s career, it is no sure thing to occur any time soon. Arum would prefer his Filipino icon to face much softer opposition, like lightweight David Diaz. More importantly, Marquez is a pro’s pro, one of the Beristain family of boxers who shattered the Mexican stereotype of left-hooking brawlers. Marquez has seen Juarez’s power; he’ll be taking this match very seriously.

In Cardiff, Calzaghe is the 8-5 favorite, but I believe Kessler is the underlay at either 6-5 or 13-10. In fact, the line — unless it moves dramatically in the final hours — has been surprisingly low all along. This is why I believe Kessler might be a winning underlay.

For a lot of reasons, he just doesn’t figure to be this close in the wagering to a universally rated top ten pound-for-pounder like Calzaghe. Kessler has had only two of his 39 fights away from his native land; he’ll be fighting in Calzaghe’s frontyard with about 50,000 wildly xenophobic Welshmen who will get even madder when the Dane sports the flag of St. George on his trunks in honor of his English-born mother.

Kessler is not as undefeated as is Calzaghe. Both have no losses or even draws to mar their records, but the Welshman has the more impressive victories, starting from ten years ago when he first won a 168-pound belt against the talented Chris Eubank in what he says remains his toughest fight. Kessler’s biggest victory was against a 35-year-old version of Markus Beyer last year.

Calzaghe is also 35, but still has an obvious advantage in hand speed against the rather predictable and stodgy Dane. The favorite is a southpaw with good foot movement to enable him to attack from all sorts of unexpected angles. Kessler plods straight ahead behind a stiff jab and threatening right hand.

Yes, Kessler is bigger — 6-foot-1 to 5-foot-11½, but they have the same 73-inch reaches. Yes, Calzaghe has long been troubled by hand injuries, especially to his left, or power, hand. He has been accused of being a "slapper," not a puncher. Tell that to Byron Mitchell, who knocked him down in the second round, only to have the Welshman get up and score a knockout in that same round.

All these things seem to weigh in favor of Calzaghe in this much ballyhooed fight. I see them and then I see the odds, and I have to think — one, these guys are not as good as the hype (no wonder they’ve been kept safely at home by their connections and thus really under the radar) and Kessler, at 28, must have some "smart" money on him to account for the closeness in the betting. What do I know? Calzaghe looks too good to be real. The bet has to be Kessler.