By Lyle Fitzsimmons
As betting men go, I’m pretty much at the back of the line.
While I’m happy to drop a few bucks on triple-crown horse races each year and I’ve been known to immerse myself in a college basketball bracket or two come every mid-March, I’d never claim to be an expert when it comes to matters of the sports book.
And when it comes to boxing, I consider myself fortunate if I can forecast a winner, let alone try to contemplate a level by which he ought to be considered a favorite or underdog.
But somehow, when I happened upon betting lines for the June 22 welterweight fight between Paulie Malignaggi and Adrien Broner, I was still a little surprised.
For full disclosure, the two are among my most favorite pro boxers.
I’m not necessarily enamored with the style of the former or the antics of the latter, but I do think they bring two elements that are important in today’s sporting age.
They’re both talented on a world-class level, and they both move the fan-interest needle.
Malignaggi is probably (unless there’s someone I’m unaware of) the sport’s undisputed champion of social media engagement, while Broner’s faux wedding proposal after an HBO rout a few months back got smooth operator Max Kellerman as flustered as he’s been since conception.
Whether you liked it or not, you probably talked about it the next day.
And in Broner’s world, that’s a mission accomplished.
At any rate, in case you haven’t been paying attention, the two of them are scheduled to meet for Malignaggi’s WBA title belt at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn – a trinket that’ll keep them in the running for any number of big fights in a hot division, including, potentially, Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Paulie won round one of the pre-fight machinations on Showtime’s broadcast of the Mayweather-Robert Guerrero fight, when he lambasted Broner’s lame “Hey Paulette” T-shirt and correctly pointed out that Adrien looked as if he’d been training in a Krispy Kreme drive-thru.
Most people, when asked to pick a fight winner, would pick Broner.
I am among them.
Not because of any specific Malignaggi shortcoming, but simply because I think “The Problem” will be universally included among “The Best” fighters in the world by the time he’s done.
That said, when I checked odds Monday evening and saw that a win wager on Broner would require anywhere from a $1,000 (betfair.com) to $2,000 (stanjames.com) outlay to bring back only $100 in cold hard cash, I was flabbergasted.
And when I looked at the flipside and saw that a mere $100 on Malignaggi would return from $470 (32redbet.com) to $900 (betfair.com) depending on where it was invested, I instantly thought about changing my pick to maximize my returns.
Because Paulie doesn’t come close to passing the gigantic underdog litmus test.
Not with my C note anyway.
Again, I concede that I think he loses the fight—which makes the odds moot, practically speaking—but I’d not at all be stunned to see him box rings around a frustrated Broner while jumping, jiving and wailing his way to a victory in front of a home crowd.
To me, an underdog on the 8-1, 10-1 or 20-1 levels is someone for whom you can concoct almost no recipe for victory. Lest we forget, in fact, Cassius Clay was just a 7-1 ’dog for his 1964 match with Sonny Liston, and you’d have been hard-pressed to find a soul outside of Miami Beach who liked his chances.
These days, less hopeful challengers Matthew Macklin (11-2), Karo Murat (5-1) and Brandon Rios (9-2) are considered better choices against lesser favorites Gennady Golovkin, Bernard Hopkins and Manny Pacquiao, respectively.
Whether you’re a Malignaggi fan or not, there are enough questions about Broner at 147 and enough proof of the incumbent’s prowess to warrant more reasonable doubt than any of that trio.
Maybe Adrien comes in heavy. Maybe he drifts mentally because he thinks Paulie’s a soft touch. Or maybe Malignaggi simply displays the same skills he’s shown while winning each of the dozen pro fights he’s had at more than 140 pounds, including two with a title at stake.
He wears frilly trunks. He looks awful in phony braids. And he’s generally played a decisive second fiddle against the best fighters – Khan (TKO 11), Cotto (UD 12) and Hatton (TKO 11) – he’s been in with. But he’s also beaten the other 31 guys he’s ever faced, including three former champions and the last unbeaten foe he stood across from in a title fight.
Make no mistake, there’s always a chance the fast, powerful and defensively adept Broner is plenty good enough in his welterweight debut to produce the one-sided humbling he’s favored to deliver.
But I wouldn’t bet on it.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF junior bantamweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr. vs. Roberto Sosa (No. 1 contender)
Sanchez (15-1-1, 8 KO): Third title defense; First fight outside Mexico
Sosa (24-0, 14 KO): First title fight; First fight outside Argentina
Fitzbitz says: “There’s not much to distinguish between the records and the travel histories of the two, so we’ll go with the champion getting better with the belt as the tiebreaker.” Sanchez in 10
WBC light heavyweight title – Montreal, Quebec
Chad Dawson (champion) vs. Adonis Stevenson (No. 4 contender)
Dawson (31-2, 17 KO): First title defense; Held IBF, IBO and WBC belts at 175
Stevenson (20-1, 17 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten in Montreal (19-0, 16 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “The challenger is a puncher and he’s fighting at home, but the result here centers more around how Dawson responds to his biggest pro adversity. It says here he’ll be OK.” Dawson by decision
WBO junior heavyweight title – Berlin, Germany
Marco Huck (champion) vs. Ola Afolabi (interim champion)
Huck (35-2-1, 25 KO): Eleventh title defense; Unbeaten at cruiserweight since 2007 (16-0-1, 11 KO)
Afolabi (19-2-4, 9 KO): Third title fight (0-1-1); Lost (UD 12) and drew (MD 12) in two fights with Huck
Fitzbitz says: “Afolabi failed to win a single scorecard in two previous visits to meet Huck in Germany, so there’s little reason to believe that another 13 months will change his fortunes.” Huck by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: 0-0
2013 picks record: 30-19 (61.2 percent)
Overall picks record: 493-171 (74.2 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.