Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Strange Matchmaking: Hatton-Alvarez and Broner-Ponce de Leon

Two intriguing fights take place on Saturday in Anaheim.  Fast-rising star Saul Alvarez meets Matthew Hatton for the WBC junior middleweight title and heralded prospect, Adrien Broner faces knockout artist Daniel Ponce de Leon perhaps a pound or two above the junior lightweight limit.  Both fights will tell us more about the young charges than the veterans.  Can Alvarez outmaneuver a polished professional like Hatton?  Can Broner's chin withstand Ponce de Leon's bombs?

In both fights, the decks are stacked in favor of the young guns.  The Alvarez fight will be in front of a large Mexican and Mexican-American crowd (with California judges) at a weight which favors him.  Hatton almost always fights right at the welterweight limit of 147.  This fight will be seven pounds north.  Broner, who often fights at lightweight will be facing former featherweight Ponce de Leon, who will be fighting at least one weight division higher than his optimal weight.

Golden Boy, the promoter of the card, is taking no chances with Alvarez.  Their promotional outfit is lacking young stars.  Alvarez already draws tens of thousands for his fights in Mexico and has built upon that following with the Mexican American community in the southwestern United States. 

Hatton will not knock Alvarez out, or really hurt him.  Hatton is a boxer and sometime brawler who has both limited power and athleticism.  After some bad losses early in his career, Hatton has been on a nice run and can clearly beat B-level boxers.  If Alvarez is the goods, then he should beat Hatton with his punching power, weight advantage and superior technique.

Broner's match is far more intriguing.  Broner built his shiny 19-0 record on the backs of mediocre fighters.  His 16 knockouts belie his punching power and speak more to his weak opposition.  Broner is a slick boxer who still has some amateur habits, primarily not sitting down on his punches.  He also needlessly moves too much; he could and should stay in the pocket more.  

Ponce de Leon will test Broner's chin with his bombs.  Furthermore, Ponce de Leon can box a little too.  Essentially, his career has been defined by scintillating knockouts and fights where he seems disengaged.  He has lost only one fight in his last five years, when Juan Manuel Lopez blitzed him in the first round.  Ponce de Leon is disadvantaged by the weight class for this fight but his power should still carry.  At 126, he can knock anyone out.  At 132, his power could still cause serious problems for Broner.

Interestingly, Broner just signed a management/advisor contract with influential powerbroker Al Haymon, who has favored-nation status with HBO.  Haymon's fighters (Jermain Taylor, Andre Berto) have historically had a disproportionate number of HBO bankrolled soft touches before facing significant opposition.  However, in this case, Broner may even be overmatched.  Ponce de Leon was not the first boxer offered the fight with Broner.  Supposedly, Jason Litzau was offered the fight but turned it down.  Even moving two divisions below Broner to find a suitable opponent, Broner will still be at real risk.  

Golden Boy matchmaker Eric Gomez better hope that Ponce de Leon has one of his off nights, otherwise they may have needlessly sacrificed another young fighter (Daniel Jacobs being a recent example) on account of overaggressive matchmaking.  Young fighters should be matched tough, but why throw Broner in with one of the best knockout artists in the sport given his limited professional opposition?

With the Broner-Ponce de Leon fight, boxing fans should see drama.  The Hatton-Alvarez fight might be more technical in nature and perhaps less aesthetically pleasing. 

To this point, Golden Boy has protected Alvarez by not putting him in with punchers; Alvarez is their meal ticket.  If he goes down, Golden Boy is in some serious trouble.  They did not afford Broner the same luxury.  He has to learn how to swim in deep water, and fast.

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