The Premier Boxing Champions series begins this weekend with a bang, featuring two attractive matchups and a lot of star power. The main event pits rising welterweight Keith Thurman (24-0, 21 KOs) against former multi-divisional titlist Robert Guerrero (32-2-1, 18 KOs). The chief supporting bout matches the flamboyant Adrien Broner (29-1, 22 KOs) with the heavy-handed John Molina (27-5, 22 KOs). Both fights feature intriguing style differences and all four boxers are looking to make a definitive statement in front of a national audience on NBC.
Below, I'll go over the keys to both fights and also provide my predictions, starting with the main event.
1. Who blinks first?
Thurman is the one-punch knockout artist in this bout; Guerrero is the face-first brawler – at least he has been since moving up to welterweight. Guerrero will look to apply constant pressure and wear down Thurman with his infighting skills whereas Thurman is best in the pocket. Thurman's three knockout weapons (straight right hand, left hook and right uppercut) are all maximum-effort punches and he needs space for them to land.
However, both fighters have displayed different dimensions throughout their careers. In his last fight against unheralded Leonard Bundu, Thurman boxed and used his legs to earn a wide decision victory. He also has demonstrated more patient approaches against Diego Chaves and Jan Zaveck. His performances against Bundu and Zaveck weren't particularly pleasing to boxing audiences but they were effective.
Guerrero started his career as a high-volume boxer-puncher, using a large arsenal of punches and combinations to best opponents. Only in the last few fights has he morphed into a hyper-aggressive brawler. It remains to be seen whether Guerrero still has the desire to box but he certainly has that skill set should he choose to go in that direction.
Both fighters will have their preferred "Plan A" but which one will say "uncle" and resort to a more technical style in order to win or, perhaps, protect himself? Which boxer's "Plan B" could lead to a better chance of victory? Does Guerrero still have the legs to chase Thurman around the ring? Can Thurman defend himself properly if Guerrero throws 70-80 punches a round? Or, will someone's "Plan A" – an early Thurman KO, for example – might just be good enough?
2. Guerrero's (lack of) defense.
As Guerrero has transitioned to a brawler, he has practically forsaken any semblance of defense. Although he has displayed impressive infighting skills against Andre Berto and, at times, Yoshihiro Kamegai, he has been easy to find in return. Never a defensively gifted fighter to begin with, Guerrero at least used to bring his hands back to a proper defensive position and go through the motions of occasionally picking off or eluding shots. Lately, he's become target practice.
Thurman will be the hardest hitter that Guerrero has faced at welterweight. Guerrero can't absorb 150 of Thurman's power shots and expect to win; Thurman's blows are eye-catching and damaging. Although Guerrero's chin has been fairly good throughout his career, he's never had to withstand power on a scale of Thurman's. If Guerrero continues to ignore defense, as he has in his last few fights, he will be in a lot of trouble come Saturday.
3. Thurman's patience.
One of Thurman's virtues is his desire to be a superstar. He's looking to end things viciously. This often leads to highlight-reel knockouts, which is certainly pleasing for fight fans. However, in gunning for KOs, Thurman's technique can get very sloppy. He wings ultra-wide shots and often finds himself off balance and out-of-position. For a high-volume boxer like Guerrero, Thurman will provide a lot of openings to slip in punches. In addition, if Thurman sticks with a diet of long power shots, he will give Guerrero opportunities to get into close range and do damage on the inside.
Thurman's mindset will be a key question for this fight. If he's looking to end things early with huge shots, Guerrero could capitalize with his shorter punches. However, if Thurman keeps his shots more compact, he could make it a lot tougher for Guerrero to get inside. How Thurman approaches Guerrero will tell us a lot about his maturity in the ring. In this fight, patience, for Thurman, could very well be a virtue.
4. Guerrero and cuts.
Guerrero has a lengthy history of cuts. From having a fight stopped against Daud Yordan to his face turning different colors in the Berto and Kamegai bouts, Guerrero's skin will be a real issue in the bout. As mentioned earlier, Guerrero and defensive responsibility haven't gone hand-in-hand recently. In addition to protecting his chin, he's going to have to ensure that his skin doesn't open up. It's regarding this last point where I don't feel confident about Guerrero's chances on Saturday.
He might have the chin to absorb Thurman's bombs but I remain skeptical that his face holds up. I think that Guerrero's propensity to cut will be the ultimate determinant in the fight.
Thurman TKO 9 Guerrero (fight stopped on cuts)
1. Can Molina land his best right hand?
Let's face it: Broner is far more skilled than Molina is. He has faster hands, better athleticism, a more diverse repertoire of punches and better footwork. Molina has one advantage – power. However, Molina is essentially a one-trick pony. He's pretty much right hand or bust. Yes, Molina will occasionally throw his jab and miss with his left hook but his right hand has taken him to this point in his career.
Molina will be Broner's first power puncher since facing Marcos Maidana. In that fight, he hit the canvas twice. Now, pound-for-pound, Molina may be a harder puncher at 140 than Maidana is at 147 but some caveats do apply. What essentially did Broner in during the Maidana fight was not the power per se, but Maidana's new-found deception. Maidana was successful in jabbing to the body early. This brought Broner's hands down. Maidana then feinted the jab to the body and came upstairs with the left hook, finding Broner's face completely exposed. This bit of craftiness was unexpected and led to Maidana's success.
Molina is an even more limited fighter than Maidana is. However, he is back working with trainer Joe Goossen, who could certainly add a wrinkle or two to his game. If Goossen can help Molina incorporate some feints or find a way to better deliver the right hand, then Molina might have more success than anticipated. Make no mistake: Broner will be prepared for Molina's right and it will be up to Molina to figure out how to land his Sunday best.
2. Broner's focus.
This fight has the potential to be a fairly easy one for Broner. Using his boxing skills and movement, he could make it very difficult for Molina to be in range to land his power punches. And quite frankly, it's not particularly challenging to look good against Molina, who lumbers more than moves and has a very basic offensive style. In addition, Molina's defense is more of a concept than a reality. He'll be there to be hit all night.
But if you examine Molina's record, you'll see two late-round KOs in fights where he was well behind. Both Hank Lundy and Mickey Bey got complacent and/or overconfident in the ring against Molina. They were winning big and stopped respecting his power; both paid a heavy price.
Broner needs to remain focused throughout the duration of the fight. If he gets lazy with his defense, Molina could hurt him at any time. Yes, Broner wants to look good and make a splash on network TV but unnecessary risk may not be the best course of action in this fight. By sticking to his game plan, he'll hit Molina at will and start to bust him up. However, if he gets too cocky or recklessly goes for the knockout, he could come to regret that decision.
My gut tells me that Broner and his team will be well aware of the risks in the fight. With Broner's skill set, he'll dazzle and dominate in the ring. Molina will be swinging for home runs but he'll be doing a lot of striking out.
Broner defeats Molina by a wide unanimous decision.
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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