Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring Fever

The Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley fight is the featured boxing event of the spring.  I'm sure there are a number of other venues to get a full rundown of that fight.  I would like to highlight some other intriguing fights that will take place over the next few months.  Five fights in particular look like great matchups.

Fight:                    Bernard Hopkins vs. Jean Pascal
When:                   May 21
What's at Stake:   Light Heavyweight Supremacy: The Rematch

This rematch will settle the disputed outcome of their first fight.  Pascal knocked down Hopkins twice (one of the shots was behind Hopkins' head and shouldn't have counted) but Hopkins won almost all of the later rounds and the fight was ruled a majority draw.  Most ringside observers thought the old man won.  Hopkins rejuvenated his career (yet again!) with his performance, fighting more aggressively than he had in recent years and pummeling the younger Pascal as the fight progressed.  It was the best Hopkins has looked since the Kelly Pavlik fight.  After the Pascal fight, Hopkins negotiated a sporty three-fight deal with HBO, provided that he keeps winning -- not bad for a 46-year old.   

For Pascal, the questions remain.  He didn't fight three-minutes a round, which provided opportunities for Hopkins.  Pascal also didn't throw enough punches to win many of the later rounds.  His endurance faded substantially down the stretch.  For Pascal to beat Hopkins (and he certainly can), he's going to have to take the fight to his older opponent and win it in the trenches.  The Roy Jones flurries may have worked for Roy Jones against Hopkins, but Pascal, to his chagrin, is not Roy Jones.  Pascal's going to have to be the busier fighter and throw power shots instead of flashy combinations.  He must make Hopkins respect his power, which will reduce the veteran's work rate.  Does Hopkins have another great fight in him?  If Pascal insists on his 30-second, mid-round breaks, Hopkins can pull off the victory and become the oldest champion in the history of boxing.

Fight:                     Sebastian Zbik vs. Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.
When:                    June 4
What's at Stake:    Big Money Fights at Middleweight

Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., the scion of perhaps the most revered fighter in the history of Mexico, doesn't have his father's work ethic.  Throughout his career, Junior's refused to keep himself in-shape between fights, he's been suspended for banned substances, he's skipped training and he's fought very mediocre opposition.  This isn't the traditional route to a championship fight.  Luckily, the WBC has a soft spot for anything Mexican (see Alvarez, Saul for another example), and he will be fighting for Sergio Martinez's belt, which the sanctioning body stripped from him for no particular reason.  Junior does have a good left hook and wisely enlisted Freddie Roach, so he has at least two things going for him.  Oh yeah, the fight is also in Southern California, where Chavez will draw a huge crowd, and Junior will be the house fighter for the promotion.

Essentially, Zbik has to win 10 rounds of this fight to get the decision.  Zbik is not a joke opponent; he is an interim titleholder.  The German has won some nice fights on the European circuit.  He has solid technique, good conditioning and excellent ring generalship.  For Zbik, a win can lead to a big fight with Sergio Martinez.  I don't think he has enough power to hurt Martinez, but Zbik would make a credible opponent.  For Junior, a win leads to big-money fights where he can continue his career fighting B-level fighters for oodles of money, now bankrolled by U.S. premium cable.  I don't see a scenario where Top Rank would risk their cash cow by facing Martinez.  Expect a solid, technical fight.  The battle may come down to Chavez's power versus Zbik's conditioning.  

Fight:                     Carl Froch vs. Glen Johnson
When:                    June 4
What's at Stake:    The Super-Six Tournament Finals

When two brawlers with great chins face each other, expect sparks to fly.  Old Glen Johnson is still in the thick of things at super middleweight.  We know for certain that he'll be in shape, fire the 1-2 and give a professional effort.  With Johnson, Froch has an opponent who will be there to hit.  It's up to Froch to remain disciplined.  I'm sure he'd love to go toe-to-toe with Johnson, but Froch should instead pick his spots and prepare to win this fight on points.  

Johnson needs Froch to provide some cooperation.  Froch sometimes can get reckless and drop his hands.  Also, Froch's footwork is unconventional to say the least.  If Johnson keeps firing away, he can score a knockdown with an off-balance Froch.  Both fighters start slowly and come on late in fights.  Froch needs to keep his work rate high in the early rounds and pile up the points.  The winner will most certainly face Andre Ward, who should defeat Arthur Abraham, unless he gets caught with something unforeseen. 

Fight:                     Saul Alvarez vs. Ryan Rhodes
When:                    June 18
What's at Stake:    Alvarez's Ceiling

Make no mistake, with Ryan Rhodes, Alvarez will be in a real fight.  After facing a series of blown-up welterweights and junior welterweights (Jose Cotto, Carlos Baldomir, Lovemore N'Dou and Matthew Hatton), Alvarez will tangle with his first, top-ten junior middleweight.  Rhodes is the definition of a journeyman.  He actually fought for his first title over 13-years ago!  For Rhodes, his career has been revived after dropping down to 154.  Fighting as high as light heavyweight, the additional focus on conditioning has prolonged his career and he now has perhaps his biggest fight.  Rhodes, an English southpaw, doesn't have real power but he can be a brawler.  He should provide Alvarez with some challenging moments.

If Alvarez is as good as the hype, he should dispatch Rhodes in a competitive fight.  If this is a case of "too much too soon," then Rhodes has a real chance to win.  Alvarez must establish his power and keep his work rate high.  Mixing in various punches will go a long way because Rhodes can be one-dimensional.  A good victory sets up Alvarez for even bigger things.

Fight:                     Devon Alexander vs. Lucas Matthysse
When:                    June 25
What's at stake:    Premium-Television Love

Forgive me for stealing a few days into the start of summer for the fifth fight of this series.  HBO was kind enough to award a return date to Devon Alexander as part of the negotiations for the Tim Bradley fight.  HBO guaranteed Alexander a  second chance.  If Alexander puts forth another lackluster performance, there won't be a third chance.  Matthysse, the Argentine banger, acquitted himself well against Zab Judah in a fight where many observers thought he pulled off the victory.  Matthysse had the right strategy against Judah; he just didn't execute it early enough in the fight.  A real puncher, Matthysse must close the distance to Alexander in the early rounds and test his chin.  Keeping the fight in close quarters will give him the best shot at victory.  For Alexander, he must remember to bring his uppercut to the fight, establish it and make Matthysse think twice about coming in too often.  Alexander must be willing to fight 12, tough rounds and ignore the distractions of fighting at home.  Alexander has to win, and look good. 

The winner of this fight will land a big name, although perhaps not immediately.  Let's assume that the winner of the proposed Khan-Bradley fight will face Zab Judah to unify all the titles.  The loser of Khan-Bradley makes an ideal opponent for Matthysse.  If Khan loses, an Alexander-Khan fight would be a solid matchup.  Even if these fights don't happen immediately, eventually the unified champion will have to give up some of his titles.  These title opportunities will be available for the winner of Matthysse-Alexander.   

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