BIG STORY OF THE MONTH #1: Pacquiao and Canelo get opponents.
Manny Pacquiao will look to avenge his
laughable controversial loss to Tim Bradley on April 12th in Las Vegas. Since their first fight,
Pacquiao was flattened by Juan Manuel Marquez and returned to the winner
circle in a tentative performance against Brandon Rios. Bradley won a Fight of the Year against hard charging Ruslan Provodnikov and defeated Marquez
on points. In theory, the rematch promises to be closer than their first fight in
that Bradley has continued to improve in the ring. Bradley also sustained severe foot injuries in the first fight. It's also not clear if Pacquiao has the same killer instinct that he possessed earlier in his
career. Also, although Pacquiao’s hand speed is still there, I'm not sure if his foot
speed is what it once was. This fight could be very close.
Meanwhile, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez looks to rebound from his loss to Floyd Mayweather, this time as a pay per view headliner. Mexican banger Alfredo Angulo was chosen as Canelo's opponent for two reasons: he makes good fights and he isn't hard to find. Although I'm not thrilled about the rest of the card on March 8th, the main event should promise fireworks. Angulo did some very nice things against the tricky Erislandy Lara in his last fight and Canelo should benefit nicely from facing a fighter who lacks the foot speed, ring intelligence and creativity that Mayweather offered.
BIG STORY OF THE MONTH #2 ESPN Tourneys at 135 and 160.
In a welcome, bold step for ESPN, the network will use its various boxing platforms to stage two, eight-men, single-elimination tournaments at lightweight and middleweight. The rosters for the tournaments feature a variety of prospects and veterans. Although these fights won't be title-level matches, the winners of the tournaments will certainly become bigger players in their respective divisions. For Brian Kweder, the new head of boxing for ESPN, this is a strong initiative to bring buzz to the network's boxing programming. Credit must also be given to Artie Pelullo of Banner Promotions for putting together such an enterprising endeavor. I hope it works out well.
TO THE FIGHTS:
A Damn Good Month:
Jermell Charlo: Charlo earned the best win of his career by easily defeating former middleweight title challenger Gabriel Rosado, who moved backed down to 154 for this fight. Featuring excellent movement a sharp jab and a surgical left hook, Charlo barely seemed to break a sweat. This was a big step forward for Charlo who struggled last year in a close win against Demetrius Hopkins. If Charlo continues to fight like he did against Rosado, he will be a challenge for any of the top junior middleweights.
Luis Collazo: On paper, Collazo's impressive second-round knockout of Victor Ortiz may not have been the biggest of his career, but it certainly was his most fulfilling. In front of his hometown Brooklyn fans, he landed a crushing right hook at the end of the second that catapulted him back on the world boxing stage. It was Collazo's first high-profile fight in five years and he seized his moment. With his performance, the former welterweight titlist put himself in the mix for much bigger opportunities later in the year.
Mikey Garcia: After taking a big shot in the first round, Mikey cruised to an easy decision over Juan Carlos Burgos. Burgos, a capable contender at 130, failed to present much of a problem throughout the match. Garcia featured his footwork, accuracy, punch variety and intelligence in a fight that lacked drama. Garcia's camp has talked about moving up to lightweight and HBO is keen on a fight against Yuriorkis Gamboa. Whatever Garcia's next move may be, it's time for him to get a higher-caliber opponent.
Gennady Golovkin: GGG continued his impressive knockout streak by stopping Osumanu Adama in seven rounds in Monte Carlo. Even though Golovkin scored three knockdowns (including one with a jab!), it was not his sharpest performance. Although Adama may not have won a round, he certainly frustrated Golovkin at points and was able to take away his jab and left hook throughout long stretches. Golovkin most likely will be back stateside on HBO in April against a higher-profile opponent. His performance against Adama will give trainer Abel Sanchez a few things to work on in the gym.
Marco Huck: After escaping with a controversial unanimous decision in 2012 against Firat Arslan, Huck left no doubt in the rematch, scoring a stoppage in the sixth round and dropping Arslan twice in an all-German cruiserweight title fight. Although it was a close fight through the first five frames, Huck started faster than usual and had significant success with his right hook and body work. After the fight, Huck stated that he wanted to return to the heavyweight division. Huck was very competitive in his one foray at heavyweight (against Alexander Povetkin) and he could very well establish himself as a player with the big boys later in the year.
Bryant Jennings: Jennings shined in his debut performance on HBO by stopping Artur Szpilka in the tenth round. Jennings took a few rounds to establish his rhythm and flow, but as the fight progressed, his endurance, punch variety and movement proved to be too much for Szpilka. Jennings' performance certainly warrants a return engagement on HBO, which has recently recommitted itself to the heavyweight division.
Rey Loreto: Loreto (from the Philippines) entered his match against former strawweight champion Nkosinathi Joyi (of South Africa) with an unheralded 17-13 record. But he landed an absolutely pulverizing straight left hand in the third round to score the biggest win of his career. It was certainly a Knockout-of-the-Year type of shot. Loreto now finds himself on somewhat of a role. He beat former strawweight champion Pornsawan Porpramook in his previous outing.
Jean Pascal: Pascal cruised to a fairly easy decision victory over Montreal rival Lucian Bute. For this fight, Pascal was assisted in the corner by his idol Roy Jones, whose influence is all over Pascal's style. Pascal's movement and irregular attack proved to be too much for Bute, who spent most of the fight moving his head and not his hands. Still, Pascal did fade in the last two rounds and old concerns about his conditioning still apply. Nevertheless, he puts himself back in the mix for a big opportunity at light heavyweight later on in the year.
Lamont Peterson: In his first fight since a crushing loss to Lucas Matthysse, Peterson put together a strong 12-round performance against mandatory challenger Dierry Jean in front of his hometown fans in Washington D.C. (this was still a title fight because Peterson met Matthysse above the junior welterweight limit). Unlike most of his world-title outings, Peterson started very fast. He was the busier and more aggressive fighter throughout the match. While Jean did have some moments, Peterson's work rate and consistency led to a unanimous decision win.
Rees-Buckland: This was a wonderful British lightweight fight between former world titlist Gavin Rees (at junior welterweight) and tough trial horse Gary Buckland, who was moving up in weight from junior lightweight. The fight featured vicious body punching, an astonishing work rate and a wonderful display of guts by both combatants. Buckland wound up winning a split decision by a point (most writers had Rees as the victor) but there were no real losers in this contest. At 33, Rees (who fought Adrien Broner last year) has been in a lot of wars, but he can still make very entertaining fights if matched correctly. For Buckland, who was destroyed by Stephen Smith in a knockout loss last year, this was the most impressive victory of his career.
Lee Selby: Welsh featherweight Selby notched his biggest win as a professional by stopping former title contender Rendall Munroe in the sixth round. Selby relied on his boxing skills to win the early rounds, showing a good jab, fine punch variety and impressive lateral movement. Once he had Munroe hurt in the sixth, he did an excellent job of trapping Munroe in the corner and firing off power shots. The stoppage may have been a little early, but Selby had clearly established his superiority throughout the fight.
Carlos Takam: Takam, a fairly unknown French-based Cameroonian fighter, put forth an excellent effort on HBO against hot prospect Mike Perez and earned a draw. Takam swept much of the second half of the fight with his higher work rate and inside fighting skills. Although there are no plans for him to return to HBO in the immediate future, he certainly acquitted himself well and most likely will find himself in the mix for attractive heavyweight fights in the coming months.
Williams-White: Thomas Williams Jr., a promising light heavyweight prospect, stepped up his competition level by facing fringe contender Cornelius White. What followed was an early candidate for Round of the Year. Williams, a southpaw, started the festivities by dropping White with a well-disguised left hook. Williams had White hurt throughout the first two minutes, but White caught Williams coming in too aggressively with a counter left hook and Williams fell to the canvas. Upon getting up, Williams returned the favor by landing a blistering right hook that sent White down a second time. White survived the count, but his legs were mush. The fight was called soon after. What a thrilling fight!
Not The Best Month, Not the Worst Month:
Rances Barthelemy: In his first title shot, Barthelemy, a Cuban junior lightweight based in Miami, immediately imposed his strength and power on Argenis Mendez. Barthelemy scored a knockdown in the second round and Mendez was hurt badly. Barthelemy went for the knockout and landed a finishing blow at the end of the round, but it was well after the bell sounded. Although Barthelemy was awarded a KO win initially, the Minnesota governing authority correctly ruled the fight a "no-contest." The IBF subsequently decreed an immediate rematch.
Dierry Jean: Jean lost his bid to become world champion by dropping a unanimous decision to Lamont Peterson. However, Jean displayed the punching power and ring comportment to be a factor at 140 pound on the world level. He'll have to learn how to let his hands go more and incorporate his left hand better, but he has the raw tools to beat some good fighters as his career progresses.
Mike Perez: Back in the ring after his emphatic performance against Magomed Abdusalamov (which tragically led to permanent injury for Abdusalamov), Perez turned in a listless performance against Carlos Takam, squeaking out a draw. There might be a variety of factors that explain Perez's lackluster outing. Perhaps Perez was still affected by Abdusalamov's condition or the back-to-back training camps took too much out of him. Perez's trainer, Abel Sanchez, thinks that an early cut hindered his ability and aggressiveness in the fight. But this wasn't Perez's first passionless performances in the pro ranks. Perez possesses elite-level skills in the heavyweight division but his temperament in the ring is still very much a question.
Gary Russell Jr.: Russell has been a pro for five years. He has blistering hand speed and an incredible right hook, yet he continues to fight tomato cans. This month he stopped Miguel Tamayo (15-7-2) in four rounds and although he has ascended the world rankings of the sanctioning bodies, the poor quality of his opposition has dimmed the buzz surrounding his career.
Is This Month Over Yet:
Juan Carlos Burgos: Burgos received a questionable draw in a title fight against Roman Martinez on HBO last year (most thought Burgos clearly won). Later on in the summer, he had another draw in a lightweight contest against Yakubu Amidu. Dropping back down to junior lightweight, Burgos was supposed to give Mikey Garcia a competitive fight; however, he won no more than two rounds. Burgos lacked the creativity or desire to challenge Garcia. Don't expect to see him back on HBO any time soon.
Lucian Bute: Returning to the ring for the first time in 14 months, Bute dropped a wide decision to his fellow countryman Jean Pascal. A roaring, sold-out crowd couldn't motivate Bute to let his hands go until the championship rounds. Watching Bute fight now, his confidence is a fraction of what it once was and it's amazing that this is the same person who was a long-reigning world champion. Retirement may be his best option.
Argenis Mendez: Mendez (from the Dominican Republic) won a junior lightweight belt last year by knocking out Juan Carlos Salgado in a rematch. Later on in the year, he earned a draw against Arash Usmanee in a fight that most thought he had won. Making his second title defense against Rances Barthelemy, Mendez was in trouble early. He got dropped in the second round and knocked out by a flurry of shots after the bell. Originally, the fight was ruled a knockout loss. Mendez's team (he is promoted by Mike Tyson) protested the decision and it was changed to a no-contest. Mendez is due to fight a rematch with Barthelemy but expect another difficult proposition for him; Barthelemy has massive size and power advantages.
Victor Ortiz: Ortiz returned to the ring this month after a lengthy sabbatical from boxing. During his previous fight with Josesito Lopez, he was winning until he couldn't continue on with a broken jaw. Back on the big stage, Ortiz headlined a Brooklyn card against hometown fighter and former welterweight champion Luis Collazo. After Ortiz had a good first round, Collazo started to have a lot of success in the second with sharp counterpunches. A huge right hook sent Ortiz to the canvas at the end of the second. On his knees and against the ropes, Ortiz didn't try to beat the count. He suffered his third-consecutive knockout loss. After the fight, his promoter, Oscar de la Hoya, suggested that it might be best for Ortiz to retire.
Gabriel Rosado: When last in the ring, Rosado lost a spirited fight to middleweight beltholder Peter Quillin. Rosado was coming on in the fight but a bad cut caused the ringside physician to stop it, giving Rosado a knockout loss. Instead of continuing to look for big fights at 160, Rosado decided to drop back to junior middleweight to face hot prospect Jermell Charlo. Rosado was unable to overcome Charlo's speed or boxing skills. Rosado spent much of the fight stalking Charlo but he couldn't let his hands go; it was the definition of ineffective aggression.
Teddy Atlas: To everyone who watched the Mendez-Barthelemy fight, it was obvious that Barthelemy's knockout shot of Mendez in the second round occurred well after the bell had sounded. When an accidental foul leads to the end of a fight, the official decision by dictate must be a no-contest. Yet Atlas insisted that "things happen in boxing" and was convinced that Barthelemy's knockout should stand. Even weeks later, once the decision was reversed, Atlas dug in and insisted that the knockout was legitimate, a sad demonstration of wrongheadedness and an ignorance of the professional rules of boxing.
Pete Podgorski: The Chicago-based referee was completely out of position at the end of the second round of Mendez-Barthelemy, allowing Barthelemy to continue to slug Mendez with power shots well after the bell had rung. Barthelemy put Mendez on the canvas with one of the illegal blows and Podgorski administered the count, giving Barthelemy the knockout win. Podgorski's determination was overruled and it was a very poor performance from the ref, who has often been featured in world championship matches.
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Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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