Canelo-Kovalev Sports Betting Preview: The Bigger Man Is A Big Underdog

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When a smaller boxer moves up in weight to challenge a top fighter a couple of divisions above him, traditionally sportsbooks skew toward the bigger man. Even though there’s a storied history in the sport of great smaller fighters more than compensating for the opponent’s size “advantage,” public money is attracted to the big guy.

Why? Big equals strong in people’s minds. And strong, in turn, equals effective in the boxing ring. Never mind that skill and speed have repeatedly proven more important than brute force in the sport long called “The Sweet Science”; a primal instinct, the same one that keeps boxing a viable sport at the box office, leads people to assume the 300-pound bouncer will crush anyone who crosses his path, regardless of whether he actually knows how to use his hands.

Public money is how you get Anthony Joshua as a -400 favorite over Andy Ruiz in their rematch, even though Ruiz knocked him out the first time. It’s how you get people believing Manny Pacquiao has no chance against Oscar De La Hoya or Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. has a chance against Canelo Alvarez. Public money — some of it steered by size — was how no-hope novice Conor McGregor was barely a 3/1 underdog against Floyd Mayweather in a boxing ring.

But a strange thing is happening at the sportsbooks this Saturday night: The middleweight champion moving up two weight classes to challenge a feared, respected, proven light heavyweight beltholder is favored. By a lot. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is jumping from 160 pounds to 175 to take on Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev, and from the outset, the shorter, smaller pugilist has been the prohibitive favorite.

Inside the odds

Is the public getting smarter, finally wising up to the fact that size, while nice to have working for you, is overrated in boxing? Or is there something specific to this matchup that is making it harder for the sharps to profit on Canelo?

The sense here is that it’s the latter. Kovalev is 36 years old and has looked shaky the past two years, whereas Alvarez is in his physical prime and seems to get better with every outing. Kovalev’s chin can be dented and he’s even more exploitable to the body, and Canelo happens to be one of the sport’s elite bodypunchers. Alvarez has magnificent defense and has never been knocked down as a pro, and history has shown that if you can’t knock him out, he’s nearly impossible to beat on the scorecards.

In short, Canelo has every advantage other than size tilted his way. And the odds at four of the legal New Jersey online sports betting sites reflect that:

 AlvarezKovalev
DraftKings-435+295
FanDuel-420+310
PointsBet-417+310
Caesars-450+360

The value of odds shopping is clearly demonstrated. You get a better price on both Canelo and Kovalev at FanDuel or PointsBet than you do at DraftKings. But Caesars is clearly the best place to bet on the upset — while also being the worst place to ride the favorite.

Wherever you bet, though, you have to risk a lot to win a little on Canelo straight-up. Fortunately, there are other betting options.

How will the winner win?

One fun way to back a heavy favorite is pick a method of victory. In boxing betting, KO, TKO, and DQ are all lumped into one category, while decision and technical decision fall into another. There are five method-of-victory options (including the nobody-is-victorious outcome), and here are the best odds we found in New Jersey on each:

  • Canelo by decision: +100 (FanDuel, PointsBet)
  • Canelo by knockout: +240 (Caesars)
  • Kovalev by decision: +900 (Caesars)
  • Kovalev by knockout: +600 (DraftKings)
  • Draw: +2600 (FanDuel)

It’s interesting that bettors can get so much better of a price on Alvarez by knockout rather than decision, when there’s a strong school of thought that Kovalev, who has had stamina issues at times and has been stopped twice, will wilt from the Canelo body attack. And that massive Kovalev-by-decision payout is appealing, since many experts feel his best path to victory is to jab and box from distance.

Boxing bettors can get more granular, betting on a specific round or range of rounds for the fight to end. Here, the most intriguing option is +330 odds at FanDuel Sportsbook on Canelo to win between rounds 7-12. The odds were +290 earlier in the week, and they keep getting better. Logic says that if Canelo is going to force the stoppage, it won’t be quick and easy, but will rather be earned through attrition in the second half of the bout.

Other options

Another way to approach this fight is just to bet on how long it will last, regardless of which boxer prevails.

Over 10.5 rounds has a -176 price at PointsBet; under 10.5 rounds pays out at +150 at DraftKings.

If you think it will go the full 12-round distance, you can pay -152 at FanDuel. If you think it will end earlier than that, DraftKings has +125 odds.

And FOX Bet offers fun props on whether there will be a knockdown. You can get even money if you think Alvarez will score a knockdown, or pay -133 odds if believe he won’t. If you predict Kovalev will become the first to drop Canelo, that pays +300, and if you think he won’t, the price is -500.

Is bigger better? In boxing, not necessarily. In betting … well, it depends whether your bets are winners.

Photo by Joe Camporeale / USA Today Sports

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Eric Raskin

Eric is a veteran writer, editor, and podcaster in the sports and gaming industries. He was the editor-in-chief of the poker magazine All In for nearly a decade, is the author of the book The Moneymaker Effect, and has contributed to such outlets as ESPN.com, Grantland.com, and Playboy.

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