While Manny Pacquiao prepares to face off with Shane Mosley on May 7, which I believe to be a one-sided mismatch, several other worthy fights loom on the horizon. These match-ups are filled with more intrigue and the potential for greater drama than the heavily hyped Pacquiao-Mosley.
Pacquiao-Mosley is easily the most promoted fight of the year to date, with countdown shows on CBS beginning this weekend and heavy print, radio and television advertising blitzes launched, all proclaiming the event as “the fight of the year." In my estimation, the only way that happens is if Pacquiao has significantly lost a step since November or Mosley discovered a time machine. I'll watch the fight, of course, but there are at least five other bouts that quickly come to mind I am much more eager to witness.
April 2, Giovanni Segura and Ivan Calderon do battle in a rematch of last fall’s junior-flyweight championship. Very rarely has a fight at this low of a weight class (108 lbs) caught my interest, but their first battle was a classic confrontation of styles (Segura the come-forward aggressor and Calderon the quick-footed technician), with plenty of action and drama to rival any fight from last year. In the end, Calderon lost his undefeated record and Segura proved himself as one of the toughest fighters in the game at any weight.
Calderon had defended his belt six times before running into a more determined opponent in Segura, who battered the champion into helpless submission by the eighth round. At 36 years old, avenging the loss to Segura would be a crowning achievement in the twilight of a great career. But you have to favor Segura, coming into his prime and recently earning the tenth spot on Ring Magazine’s coveted pound-for-pound list. Segura made a huge statement with his knockout of Calderon last year. If he can better the result the second time around, he will certainly maintain or improve his pound-for-pound standing, and possibly position himself for a big fight at 112 with one of the Asian masters. Wonjongkam-Segura, a top 10 pound-for-pound match-up, is the kind of fight that would spark interest in weight classes that are generally overlooked, though geographical and financial barriers would have to be overcome for that fight to realistically happen.
April 9, a potentially epic clash is brewing on the undercard of Maidana-Morales, the lightweight battle between Robert Guerrero and Michael Katsidis. Guerrero has been solidly working his way up the division, demonstrating patience and power in a string of victories over quality contenders. In Katsidis he faces his sternest test; a guy who’s been in the ring with the class of the division and held his own. Katsidis is a gritty warrior with an in-your-face style.
This is a great measuring-stick fight for Guerrero that should be entertaining and brimming with action. In Katsidis, we know what we’re getting. He has a heart the size of Australia. No one will ever accuse him of being a world-class champion, but no one will ever walk away from his fights feeling gypped of their dough. Katsidis is not a one-dimensional, free-swinging brawler. He knows how to box and creates offensive opportunities in the flow; he doesn’t force them. But eventually, he looks to get inside and turn the fight into a war. Katsidis will always get fights, win or lose, because of the excitement and heart he brings into the ring. He has become a fan favorite in the division. For Guerrero, this is a chance to get his name up, to chase the fight he wants most with Juan Manuel Marquez, and beating Marquez’ last opponent, especially in a more dominating fashion, would have to put the Lightweight champ on notice.
April 16 brings Andre Berto-Victor Ortiz for Berto’s welterweight championship belt. The more I think about this fight, I see things turning into an action-packed slug fest. Berto still has work to do to put his name on the map. He wants to win over the mainstream fans and skeptics who doubt his status as an elite fighter in the division where the two biggest names in the sport reside. He has every motivation to destroy Victor Ortiz, considered his biggest challenge yet, in definitive, crushing fashion. Berto would certainly love to join the ranks of Nonito Donaire, Brandon Rios, Sergio Martinez, and Yuriorkis Gamboa in opening up 2011 with a scintillating knock-out victory.
For Ortiz, this is an incredible opportunity for redemption and ascension back up the boxing ranks. He has to seize this moment. If he loses, this will most likely turn out to have been the biggest fight of his life. Ortiz has power, speed, and a history of violently finishing off lesser opponents in the early rounds. When he finally met a man who could rise up from the canvas and deliver a devastating offensive assault himself (Marcos Maidana), he seemed to wither under the pressure. Now the roles are reversed: Berto is the star looking to pad his resume and Victor the contender desperate for another shot. Ortiz has to know that a win in this fight puts him right back in the mix for big fights at 140 and 147, two of the most talent-loaded divisions in the sport.
May 7, on the undercard of Pacquiao-Mosley (so yes, you might as well tune in and watch the main event), another 2010 fight-of-the-year rematch takes place in the Lightweight bout between Humberto Soto and Urbano Antillon. Soto is a very talented boxer-puncher who has been flawless in his last dozen fights, and Antillon is a bloodthirsty brawler who pressured and stalked Soto for twelve solid rounds in perhaps the noblest losing effort of last year. Soto displayed tremendous footwork and counter-punching, routinely making Antillon pay for his offensive-minded strategy. Heavy exchanges punctuated every round, and Soto proved to be a worthy belt holder in dispelling the zealous Antillon with crisp counters and timely offensive aggression of his own.
Segura-Calderon may have been a better story with an undefeated champ going down, and the eleventh round of Maidana-Khan was boxing drama at its’ finest, particularly when punctuated with Jim Lampley’s electric play-calling, but round-for-round, this was the fight of the year; thrilling and explosive throughout. Expect more of the same when these two return to battle, and though I see Soto prevailing with superior technique and skill, expect Antillon to once again bring him the fight of his life. If Guerrero and Soto win, how about Katsidis-Antillon in the losers’ bracket? That would be an absolute war, another incredible fight that would require a detente in the GB-Top Rank feud.
Finally, May 21, a match I expect will not be the fight of the year, but nonetheless one that I am really looking forward to. Bernard Hopkins, at age 46, once again has a shot to become the oldest world champion in the history of the sport. If anyone deserves this honor, it is Bernard. Since turning 40, he has fought at the highest possible level against the highest class of opposition. His style hasn’t always been the most crowd-pleasing, but he is truly a master at his craft, frustrating world-class opponents time and time again. He is also one of the most compelling personalities in boxing, outspoken and insightful (though his Pacquiao comments were not well-regarded and rightfully so) and hilariously self-deprecating for a man whose accomplishments in the sport are legendary.
Somewhat surprisingly, Hopkins-Pascal turned out to be an entertaining fight. Bernard was more willing to engage and it was Pascal who looked worn out in the late rounds and got on the defensive. Pascal is clearly capable. He’s not flashy, but he moves well and throws precise, effective combinations. He will have to be more aggressive this time around against Hopkins and he knows that. Bernard will again need to do what he does best: play superb defense, counter-punch, and look to frustrate Pascal with his movement and timing. He knows he must clearly demonstrate superiority, and leave no room for error by the often dubious scorekeepers. This fight has major divisional implications as well, with the winner likely to face Chad Dawson in the fall. As I said, don’t expect a fight-of-the-year, just an entertaining, very interesting match between the top two guys in their weight class, an unfortunate rarity in today’s boxing landscape.
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