With Timothy Bradley now a title holder at 147 pounds, Amir Khan (26-2, 18 KO’s) is arguably the top guy in the junior welterweight division. Yet this Saturday night inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center, it will be Danny Garcia (23-0, 14 KO’s) who enters the ring with the WBC strap.
Originally, Khan was set to face WBA (Super) and IBF champion Lamont Peterson in a rematch of their highly controversial first fight, which took place back in December. Khan, who held the titles going into that bout agreed to face the challenger in his own back yard, Washington, D.C., and though he received plenty of praise for his courage and confidence, the decision proved to have been a mistake.
Not only did Khan have to overcome an extremely motivated Peterson and a raucous home town crowd, but the home grown referee did him no favors either as he deducted two points for “pushing”…which was the first time I’ve ever witnessed that happening.
So when the scorecards were announced and a new champion was crowned by the judges, Khan and his team believed an injustice had been committed and a rematch was unavoidable by Peterson’s handlers.
Both sides agreed Las Vegas would play host for the rematch, but when Peterson tested positive for PED’s, the fight was called off and Khan was in search of a replacement.
Enter Philadelphia native Danny Garcia who at 24 had captured WBC gold after besting former multi-division champion Erik Morales via unanimous decision.
Currently bookmakers installed the challenger Khan as the overwhelming betting favorite, offering the pride of Bolton as high as -600. The title holder Garcia is being made available as an attractive +450 underdog.
I’ve stressed the betting market phenomenon that takes place for the majority of main events in boxing many times in the past, and rest assured it’ll be revisited plenty more in the future. What we usually see is the price on big favorites drop some as the fight approaches, and then drop significantly on fight night.
The reason for this is the majority of casual fight fans prefer to back the underdog, with the assumption they can make big money by wagering a small amount. More importantly, the realization that for the privilege of supporting the favorite, one has to bet a lot to win a little ultimately results in a lot of fans rallying around the dark horse.
So bettors should usually bet the favorites early or the underdogs late to extract the most value and get the best of it at the betting window. This bout may be one of the rare exceptions when the dog is relatively unknown and the favorite is so highly renowned, forcing most to pass on placing a wager or simply lay the chalk.
The challenger needs to employ his vastly superior speed whenever possible and not allow Garcia to be the aggressor. Khan is a big 140-pound fighter who does possess some decent power in both hands. He likes to work behind a stiff jab and then follow up with laser quick combinations whose targets are both the body and head.
Khan is the prototypical Freddie Roach and Wild Card Gym boxers that are trained to get in and throw punches in bunches, then retreat just as fast, attempting to get out of harms way. His defense is notably tight and high, sometimes exposing his body but Khan’s always in great shape and difficult to slow down.
The one knock against Khan is his willingness to mix it up and bang with opponents rather than utilize his superior boxing skills and speed. His Achilles heel continues to be pressure fighters with the ability to maintain controlled aggression throughout a bout.
A look at the champion’s style of fighting reflects he can be an opponent who will continue to come forward against Khan. Garcia may not have “Khan speed” but he is very agile, with fast hands. He’s shown the ability to throw all of the punches and counter well against competent opposition, but this will undoubtedly be a step up in class.
Garcia also throws good combinations and hooks, while going to the body as often as possible. The problem there is his tendency to land those shots low, many times to the hip and thighs of his opponent. This can lead to referee warnings and even point deductions so he’ll have to be cautious against Khan.
Defensively Garcia has been working on obtaining a more efficient shoulder roll and likes to maintain a high guard. But he’s shown in the past that as the fight wears on, his hands begin to drop a bit lower, which may be a sign of possible stamina issues.
Although there’s been a change of opponent for Khan, he’s had more than enough time to prepare so I do not expect that to play a role. Instead, I expect to see a focused and somewhat angry challenger who is hungry for a win and a title coming in off a controversial loss.
The problem I have with Garcia, besides believing it’s too early in his career to face an opponent like Khan even though they’re very similar in age, is his inactivity throughout a fight. The title holder may throw his punches with aggression and try to be a come forward type of fighter. Too many times he’ll simply stop applying pressure within the round.
Garcia at times seems to be studying his opponent so much inside the ring that he ends up leaving himself wide open and susceptible to feints and being timed. Against Khan, opponents just can’t give up any rounds and that’s what happens when you all of a sudden stop applying pressure and fall victim to the challenger’s stick and move.
Finally, we know that trainer Freddie Roach is one who urges his boxers to end fights when the opportunity is there rather than coast to a decision when comfortably ahead. After what just happened to their stable leader Manny Pacquiao just a few weeks back, we should see Roach pushing for the finish even more as opposed to leaving it up to the judges.
Wanting a knockout and being able to score one are very different and like the majority of Philly fighters, Garcia is a very tough kid and will not be taken out easy. Khan was quoted as saying that he would make Garcia look silly since he’s not in his league, but I don’t expect it to be a walk in the park.
Khan will prove to be too much too soon for the champion and when the final bell rings, whether by decision or knockout, we’ll have a “new” WBC junior welterweight champion.
Pick: Khan by decision
Across the pond, David Haye and Dereck Chisora will finally meet after their brawl that took place during Chisora’s after fight press conference. These two have a genuine dislike for one and other so we can expect both fighters will enter the ring highly motivated and well prepared.
Oddsmakers made Haye the favorite and the price has since risen some, currently -280, with the take-back on Chicora +220. Due to his relationship with fans, the line on Haye should drop leading up to when they enter the ring and that’s when I plan on stepping up to the betting window.
Even with Haye being a small heavyweight, I do not expect he’ll have much trouble in getting past Chisora who is a very emotional fighter and should show it come Saturday. In fact, it’ll be Haye’s composure that eventually becomes his biggest asset and his finer boxing skills will be enough to secure him the win.
Pick: Haye by decision or DQ
VR Record: 59-36 (62%)
Vegas-Runner, a pro sports bettor in Las Vegas, has been featured on CNBC/ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @vegasrunner and at Pregame.com.