Monday, August 1, 2011

Which Dog Will Bite--Marquez or Ortiz?

Let me start off by saying that I don't bet on boxing.  With that disclaimer out of the way, I must say that I do periodically check boxing odds on various websites.   Sometimes the betting lines provide useful information about how professional bookmakers view particular fights, and how the gambling community reacts to the odds, reflected by movement in the betting lines.  In other cases, the odds are garbage, artificially propped up to minimize or mitigate a betting entity's potential loss on a popular fighter.  However, on a number of occasions, I have found that the betting lines are more prescient regarding the eventual outcome of a fight than those opinions of professional prognosticators.

For the two biggest fights of the fall, Juan Manuel Marquez and Victor Ortiz are massive underdogs in their respective matchups against Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr.  Marquez has been a consistent 8-1 underdog since the lines were posted.  The Mayweather-Ortiz line has shifted some over the last month.  Initially, Ortiz was an 8-1 underdog; he is now a 6.5 or 7-1 dog.  Even though both Marquez and Ortiz are quality opponents, these lines show enormous respect and confidence in the skills and accomplishments of Pacquiao and Mayweather.

At first glance, the Pacquiao-Marquez line is shocking.  Marquez fought two closely contested battles with Pacquiao.  He earned a draw in 2004 and lost a split decision in 2008.  Neither of those decisions was unjust; they reflected the tight nature of the two fights.  

Nevertheless, professional bookmakers are not idiots.  Over the last few years, Marquez has displayed signs of slippage, which give odds makers pause when considering his ability to beat Pacquiao at welterweight.  For one, the only time that Marquez ever fought at the 147-pound limit, he was destroyed by Mayweather.  Mayweather was able to knock him down and Marquez didn't respond well to his opponent's power, even though Mayweather is only an average puncher at welterweight.  Along those lines, Marquez was unable to hurt Mayweather at any point during their fight.

(For the record, Mayweather came into the fight overweight and paid a significant penalty to Marquez.  However, the strategy worked in that Mayweather's weight and power advantage affected Marquez significantly throughout their fight.) 

Meanwhile, Pacquiao's power has moved up with him to the 147-lb division.  Pacquiao has caused significant physical and/or career damage to almost all he has faced at welterweight.  In addition, Pacquiao has already knocked Marquez down four times during their two fights.  If Marquez couldn't take Mayweather's power at 147, how will he respond to Pacquiao's?  If Pacquiao could drop Marquez with relative ease at featherweight and junior lightweight, how will Marquez be able to withstand the welterweight version of Pacquiao, who, in this meeting, will have at least 15 additional pounds behind his shots?

It is true that Marquez countered Pacquiao wonderfully in their two fights.  However, Marquez had to eat a lot of shots to get his opportunities, and that was when he was much more mobile and used the ring better.  As he has aged, his reflexes have slowed down and he is easier to hit.  Aggressive brawlers – but not elite talents – like  Juan Diaz and Michael Katsidis have been able to hurt Marquez in recent fights.  Yes, Marquez eventually would prevail in those matchups, but he took real punishment.  Neither Diaz nor Katsidis had the same kind of power that Pacquiao possesses.

Marquez will be able to hit Pacquiao and, psychologically, he won't be afraid getting into the ring.  But what else does Marquez have going for him?  Pacquiao is a better fighter now than he was in 2008.  His defense has improved.  He also features a more varied offensive attack, with his right hook as the most prominent example. 

So adding it all up, Marquez should be a sizable underdog.  How is he going to win seven rounds against Pacquiao?  He can't put Pacquiao on the canvas, he is easier to hit than he used to be and his chin and legs aren't getting any better?  Should he be a 4-1 dog?  A 6-1 dog?  An 8-1?  I don't know what that exact number should be, but I don't see a clear path for him to win the fight.  

The Mayweather-Ortiz fight seems to be more dynamic.  This battle has all sorts of potential outcomes.  Ortiz's power is frightening; so is his chin.  Here's a fact that you may not know: with the exception of a first-round technical draw which was stopped because of a head butt, Ortiz has knocked down every one of his opponents – even  in his losses.  Additionally, Mayweather has had trouble with some southpaws, most notably Demarcus Corley and Zab Judah.  

With Ortiz's power, he cannot be counted out of any fight.  Also, if Ortiz can hurt Mayweather, he has good finishing instincts (with the exception of the Lamont Peterson fight).

However, Ortiz's chin can be cracked.  Maidana and Berto both dropped him twice.  With Mayweather's pinpoint accuracy and Ortiz's propensity for charging in at his opponents, Ortiz may be a sitting duck for Mayweather's perfectly placed left hook.  In addition, Ortiz really only knows one way to fight.  He wouldn't be able to pick Mayweather off from the outside.  If Mayweather-Ortiz turns into a boxing match, Ortiz will lose handedly. 

The combination of Ortiz's power and his questionable chin creates a wide range of possible outcomes for this matchup.  Nevertheless, Ortiz's power will give him a shot at unseating one of the top-two fighters in the world. 

Pacquiao-Marquez features all sorts of juicy storylines and riveting history, but the odds makers have this fight nailed.  Although Marquez has the Hall of Fame credentials and the close fights with Pacquiao in the past, he doesn't have the speed, the power and, most likely, the chin to secure the victory.   

The live dog in the fall mega-fights is Ortiz.  There are many scenarios in which Mayweather could cruise to a victory or even knock him out, but Ortiz has knocked down 32 opponents in 33 fights; his power gives him a real chance to win against any welterweight.  The bookmakers have undersold Ortiz in this fight, or are hedging themselves against sizable bets in favor of Mayweather.  There's no question that Mayweather should be a favorite, and a sizable one.  But 7-1 gives slight odds to a man who can't help but put his opponents on the canvas 

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