Chris Oliver looks ahead to a fascinating and potentially explosive night of boxing as Kell Brook faces a serious test against Terrence Crawford.
Whether you love the romance of a veteran aiming to roll back the years and pull off an upset against the odds on foreign soil, or fresh ground being broken by new talent, there is something for everyone on a big night for British and Irish boxing on both sides of the Atlantic.
Kell Brook has an almighty task on his hands when he takes on pound-for-pound king TERRENCE CRAWFORD in Las Vegas, but first there is a landmark moment on these shores as the Sky Sports-televised show in London is topped by three women's world title fights.
Such a female-led card seemed very unlikely before the global pandemic, but the ascendency of women's boxing has really gathered pace in the Covid-19 era and that is largely thanks to a series of barnburners during the Matchroom Fight Camp series in August. Rachel Ball's all-action victory over Shannon Courtenay set the tone in week one, before Terri Harper narrowly held on to her WBC belt when drawing with Tasha Jonas in a domestic classic, and then KATE TAYLOR's successful rematch with Delfine Persoon lived up to all the expectations on the final weekend.
Ball and Harper are back for more, but it is flagbearer Taylor who tops the bill in defence of all four lightweight titles. Ireland's Golden Girl had a lot of questions to answer following the controversial points win over Persoon in New York last summer, but provided the answers with a hard-fought, yet pretty conclusive, unanimous decision victory over the Belgian in a high-octane rematch. With much bigger fights on the horizon, Taylor keeps busy against Miriam Gutierrez and best odds of 1/25 tell you the champion is expected to have it all her own way.
The challenger has climbed her way into the mandatory position thanks to a perfect 13-fight record, but has never fought outside of her native Spain and is now 37 years old. It is also a year since her last outing, whereas Taylor has the benefit of that August bout, as well as a clear class advantage.
Gutierrez will come to fight and her aggressive approach should ensure this is fun to watch, but she doesn't look the quickest and Taylor should be able to get her flurries off at will once she settles down. Five out of Taylor's last six have gone the distance and another points win is 4/5, but Gutierrez was dropped in the last round against a much lesser opponent last time and the sheer gulf in class could mean there's value in the 4/1 about the champion overwhelming the underdog in rounds 6-10.
Another unbeaten contender travelling to the Wembley Arena in search of a world glory is Katharina Thanderz, whose battle with Terri Harper has fight of the night written all over it.
Like Gutierrez, the Norwegian hasn't boxed since last November but decision wins over the aforementioned Ball and Danila Ramos mean she must be afforded plenty of respect and she may have a bigger chance than her odds of 4/1 suggest. Harper, though, is improving all the time and has crucial world-level experience on her side, which can enable her to justify a top price of 2/7 in edging an entertaining WBC super featherweight title scrap.
Harper has a big engine and good feet, allowing her to get her combinations off before bouncing out of range and is able to keep that up all night. She played into Jonas' hands last time by neglecting her excellent jab and getting dragged into a fight too often, something she can't afford to repeat against Thanderz, who is aggressive and likes to come forward.
Harper could be in trouble if she holds her feet too much, as Thanderz throws everything with bad intentions, but she will surely have learned plenty from the Jonas fight and will look to maintain the distance behind her lead left hand. Utilising her superior speed, the darling of Denaby is fancied to box her way to a hard-fought points success.
Ball's reward for defeating the house fighter in August is a shot at the vacant WBA bantamweight belt against Jorgelina Guanini in what is the closest of the world title fights according to the betting.
The Argentinian (9/4) is a former IBF super flyweight champion and can have success if getting inside, but that may be a struggle as she steps up in weight and concedes considerable height and reach advantages to Ball. A former three-time world kickboxing champion, the rangy 4/9 favourite won't have it all her own way, but can keep the visitor on the end of her jab for long periods, if staying disciplined, and get the nod on the cards.
While points wins for the two English ladies look most likely, Harper is priced accordingly at 2/5 and there are worries about Ball boiling her big frame down to 118lb for the first time, so watching briefs are advised here.
Special K set for reality check
While finding a strong betting angle on the UK action is tricky, there is a standout bet in America where Crawford is expected to end Brook's career at world level in convincing fashion in a bout screened live on Premier Sports.
Brook's career highlight came when he last fought in the States, as he claimed the IBF Welterweight belt from Shawn Porter in California, but that was over six years ago and this trip has a very different feel to it for the Sheffield man, whose odds of 8/1 reflect that this would be regarded as one of the all-time great victories from a Brit on foreign soil if he pulls off the upset.
This would have been a real superfight if Brook was at his peak of 2015, but a couple of heavy defeats and large periods of inactivity mean that 'Special K' now looks well past his sell by date at 34.
After his brave step up to take on middleweight wrecking ball Gennady Golovkin ended in a predictably brutal stoppage loss, in which he broke his right orbital bone, he then had the left one smashed when losing his welterweight title in 11 gruelling rounds to the excellent Errol Spence next time out. Three wins at light middleweight have followed, but against limited opposition and he was hit far too often when labouring to a points success against Michael Zarafa in December 2018.
Along with having an awful lot to find on recent form, there are also serious concerns about him getting down to 147lb for the first time in three and half years and if he struggles to make the weight, the last person he wants to be facing is Crawford.
The Ohama native hasn't looked back since travelling to Scotland to pick up his first world title from Ricky Burns in 2014 and is now a three-weight champion with a perfect record of 36-0. He is only one year younger than Brook but has considerably fewer miles on the clock, having never looked like losing and being involved in very few draining fights. Arguably the most versatile man in the game right now, the switch-hitter is equally as brilliant from either stance, and is happy mixing up close or bossing proceedings from range with his long levers. His footwork is world class, his accuracy second to none and his chin is rock solid.
Brook will be the bigger man and is likely to try and impose his size from the off by walking down the champion, who isn't a fast starter, and this could be very competitive early doors. However, there is a common theme in Crawford's fights in that he begins to take over from the middle rounds once he has worked out what is in front of him and he looks unstoppable once he gets into a rhythm.
Despite the talk of Brook's size advantage, the favourite actually boasts a five-inch reach advantage and he has stopped all four opponents since stepping to 147lbs, making it 10 of his last 11 foes who have failed to hear the final bell. Three of those welterweight victims were halted in the second half of the fight, with Brook's domestic rival Amir Khan being the other - and that looked to be going the same way when he refused carry on after a low blow in the sixth.
With Crawford capable of keeping out of harm's way behind his long jab before turning up the heat once the sting has gone out of Brook's attack, the champion to win in rounds 7-12 makes plenty of appeal at 8/5 (Paddy Power/Betfair).
While there is no doubting Brook's heart and chin, there are several reasons to believe he might not hear the final bell when he's getting caught too often by the pinpoint and varied attack of his opponent. The effects of any struggles making weight will show themselves as the fight goes on. Each side of his face was broken in his two defeats so could crack under heavy pressure again, or his corner or Brook himself may realise there is no point fighting a lost cause at 34 if things, as expected, become very one-sided later on.
Like most great champions, Crawford has a real nasty streak and a desire to get his man out of there when they're hurt, so Brook can't expect any sympathy when the distress signals go out.
Posted at 1120 GMT on 13/11/20
We are committed in our support of responsible gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.
If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133, or visit begambleaware.org.