05/31/2006 12:00AM

Expect a quick, brutal fight


Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo will meet for the third time on Saturday night at the Thomas and Mack Center with Corrales's WBC lightweight title belt on the line.

Their first meeting, at Mandalay Bay on May 7, 2005, was considered by many to be the fight of the year and one of the best boxing matches of all-time. It included an epic 10th round in which Corrales was knocked down twice before rallying to knock out Castillo. Corrales bought time by spitting out his mouthpiece, drawing a warning and a one-point penalty from referee Tony Weeks, but the tactic allowed him to recover, and with his left eye swelling up, he fought back for the victory.

In their second fight, at the Thomas and Mack on Oct. 8, Castillo didn't make the 135-pound weight limit and therefore wasn't eligible to take Corrales's belts. He went ahead and got his revenge, opening a cut over Corrales's right eyelid in the second round and finishing him off with a vicious left hook to the head in the fourth round to record the knockout.

The third fight was originally scheduled for Feb. 4, but it was postponed because of a rib injury that Corrales suffered in training. But now we're ready for, as the promoters have dubbed it, "The War to Settle the Score."

For Saturday's rubber match, Castillo is listed around a -250 favorite (risk $2.50 for every $1 you want to profit, or the equivalent of 2-5 odds), with Corrales at +200 (win $2 for every $1 wagered, or 2-1) at sports books around Las Vegas.

Usually when a fight is priced so competitively with two highly respected fighters, the over/under is set at 12 full rounds or at least 11. However, with the all-out style these two have used in their two previous encounters, the "will go/won't go" is set at either 8 or 8 1/2 rounds, depending on where you shop.

The KO/decision/draw proposition wagers are also skewed toward an early stoppage. Castillo is 3-5 to win by knockout and 5-2 by decision, and Corrales is 3-1 by knockout and 7-2 by decision. The draw is 12-1. These odds might normally look attractive with two evenly matched fighters, but the true odds of this fight going to the scorecards might be 12-1.

* Castillo-Corrales III starts a stellar month for boxing, though the rest of the major fights won't take place in Nevada.

On June 10 at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Antonio Tarver is a -270 favorite over Bernard Hopkins in a light heavyweight title bout. Unlike the over/under in the Castillo-Corrales match, this one is set at 12 full rounds, with the "will go" at -200.

Also on June 10, at Madison Square Garden in New York, Miguel Cotto is a -400 favorite over undefeated Paul Malignnaggi for the WBC light welterweight title.

On June 17 at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Jermain Taylor is a -120 favorite over Winky Wright for the WBC middleweight title.

Sports book notes

Just like in the NFL playoffs, where teams with first-round byes tend to show their dominance in the second round, three of four Arena Football League favorites rolled to victory last weekend after home favorites went 1-3 the previous week. So, through the first two rounds, home/road and favorite/underdog trends are all knotted at 4-4, both straight up and against the spread.

The under has gone 5-2-1 so far this postseason.

This weekend's conference finals have the San Jose SaberCats as a 3 1/2-point favorite over the Chicago Rush (with an over/under of 108) and the Dallas Desperados as an 8-point favorite over the Orlando Predators (with an over/under of 97).

The winners of those games will meet on June 11, in ArenaBowl XX at the Thomas and Mack.

* As of this writing, the NBA conference finals were still undecided, with the Heat leading the Pistons, 3-1, in the East heading into Wednesday night's fifth game, and the Suns and Mavericks at 2-2 in the West before their fifth game on Thursday night. I'll be looking to play the Suns at home in Game 6 on Saturday night.

* In the NHL, the Edmonton Oilers are in the Stanley Cup Finals after going through the Western Conference as the No. 8 seed. The finals start Monday in the home of the Eastern Conference champ, which was to be determined Thursday night in game seven between the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres.

* The Nextel Cup drivers move to Dover International Speedway for Sunday's Neighborhood Excellence 400. Greg Biffle won this race last year and is the 6-1 favorite at Station Casinos to repeat. Oddsmakers have done a good job of handicapping the circuit. Every Nextel Cup winner so far this year has been 10-1 or less, according to Station auto racing oddsmaker Micah Roberts.