Whether your allegiances lie with the more complete fight card headlined by Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. Josesito Lopez, or the tantalizing pay-per-view showdown between Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., one thing is clear. Saturday’s IBF cruiserweight title showdown between Yoan Pablo Hernandez and Troy Ross is the perfect way to wet your appetite.
Luckily, because Hernandez and Ross will tangle in Bamberg, Germany, the fight will be live in the afternoon for North American audiences. The cruiserweight division is consistently overlooked and seen as an awkward stopgap, but boxing’s 200-pound class is littered with skilled and diverse fighters.
Diversity, in a sense, might be the problem, as most of the elite cruiserweights are not American. German promoters are the major players in the division, and Steve Cunningham—the most recognizable American cruiserweight—has recently made the jump to heavyweight.
Treating the division as a springboard to heavyweight success is another problem, but as it stands, the cruiserweights currently have viable champions who seem intent on defending their titles.
Despite a recent foray into the heavyweight division, reigning WBO champion Marco Huck has returned south of 200 pounds, and he was last seen retaining his belt in a wildly entertaining majority draw against the skilled and savvy Ola Afolabi.
Placing one’s stamp on the cruiserweight division brings us to Hernandez (26-1, 13 KO), a 27-year-old Cuban and current IBF champion. In his last fight, the 6’4" Hernandez—who is blessed with classy boxing skills—won a competitive, but decisive, decision over the aforementioned Cunningham to retain the IBF title, which Hernandez had wrested in controversial fashion during their first fight.
Entering his prime, Hernandez seems poised for a dominant run, though his height and frame suggest that a potential move to heavyweight might be in his future. That said, Hernandez is first scheduled to make a mandatory defense against Ross (25-2, 16 KO), a two-time Canadian Olympian and former winner of The Contender.
Ross is actually a worthy mandatory challenger, which is an increasing rarity in boxing given the corruption of sanctioning bodies and how they rank fighters. At 37, this could be Ross’ last crack at a world title, but according to ESPN's Dan Rafael, Ross is oozing confidence:
I am fully concentrated on myself and don't pay attention to anything else. I am in really good shape and, therefore, I don't fear anyone. I have matured since my last title bout and gained more experience. That will show on [Saturday].
I just know that I will have to box smart. His strengths are his speed and power. I will have to be careful with that. His weaknesses will show once he is inside the ring with me. As a person, I am always very positive. I know that I will beat Hernandez. I will rip his title from him, which rightfully belongs to me anyways.
Despite a major size disadvantage—Ross is 5’11" to Hernandez’s 6’4"—there is reason for the former Canadian and Commonwealth champion to be confident. In 2010, Ross had Steve Cunningham on the deck and was boxing well until a thumb to the eye opened up a nasty cut that forced the referee and ringside doctor to stop the fight.
In order for Ross to win, he will have to use his strong frame, short stature and sledgehammer hooks to get inside Hernandez’s reach and force him against the ropes. If Ross allows Hernandez to box him from the outside, Ross—whose face is prone to swelling—could get peppered all night.
Ross’ motivation and need to get in close range ensure that this fight will have tremendous action, and both men have shown flashes of power, especially Ross. While Hernandez is the safe pick to win via decision, don’t discount the rugged, yet skilled, Canadian in what should be a genuine world-class fight.