At one time, Boxing After Dark was indisputably the premier showcase showdown for boxing's elite young stars. The up-and-comers flocked to the series, and HBO proudly gave them the stage to build an audience and hopefully keep it as they continued to develop.
With ESPN2's boxing coverage so spotty and not exactly well-promoted (I'm trying to be nice here), and Showtime's outstanding Shobox series trucking along, it's good to see HBO get back in the game in regard to young fighters getting a chance to show what they can do.
On Saturday night, there are going to be some good ones. B.A.D. will present a triple-header featuring a handful of very promising young fighters who might be on the cusp of breaking out in 2008. Let's take a brief look at all three fights.
JUNIOR MIDDLEWEIGHT: JAMES KIRKLAND (21-0, 18 KO) v. EROMOSELE ALBERT (21-1, 10 KO)
If you missed Kirkland's Shobox outing on November 30th, you missed some fun. But since it didn't last very long, let's just watch it here.
Inexperienced 32-year old Allen Conyers will always have "James Kirkland, L, TKO-1" on his record, but that one round was all action. He showed massive guts standing up to the powerful Kirkland, and even though he didn't last a round, he showed us that the previously untested Kirkland is very vulnerable. The two right hands that put Kirkland on the mat were pinpoint stuff -- Kirkland's one flaw was always supposed to be his lack of defense. Power he's got for days -- but does he have the technical skills (or desire to use them) that makes a truly great fighter?
I don't know if he does or not. How's that for analysis? What I do know is that many of the most memorable fighters ever were always very vulnerable. Arturo Gatti, of course, springs to mind immediately. Kirkland has great power, throws a dagger of a left hand, and has a very powerful, very compact sort of build. He doesn't waste motion on his punches all that often. As aggressive as he can be, he doesn't get terribly sloppy.
Defensively, Eromosele Albert will test him. While Kirkland is the favorite, Albert is no chump. He routed Yori Boy Campas in a 10-round decision last year, and followed that up with a win over Daniel Edouard, whose only previous loss was to a hungry Jermain Taylor in Taylor's last fight before he faced off with Bernard Hopkins.
Should Albert upset Kirkland, it will be because he outboxed and out-thought his opponent over 10 rounds. And I'll tell you, that is not too hard to imagine. Kirkland has a great killer instinct, he's a fighter that feeds off of the energy and is exceptionally dependent, it would seem to me, upon momentum. All fighters need momentum to box their best, but Kirkland is that type of fighter for whom momentum is imperative, I believe. We haven't seen it come to that for him just yet, but his style lends itself to that thinking, at least to me. If Albert can frustrate him and pick away, the rounds might start piling up. And we know Kirkland can be hurt. Albert isn't the puncher that Conyers is, but over the course of a fight, a lot of little shots make way for one big one, even for a middling puncher.
This is a fight I'm really looking forward to, because it's going to tell us a LOT about both of these men. Eromosele Albert is 33 years old and isn't going to get a lot of chances to make it much bigger than he already has. Kirkland, 24, has the world waiting for him. He might just look past the wrong guy.
SUPER FEATHERWEIGHTS: YURIORKIS GAMBOA (9-0, 8 KO) v. DARLING JIMENEZ (23-2-2, 14 KO)
Olympic Gold Medalist and Cuban defector Yuriorkis Gamboa is a beast. He is an absolute monster, and this guy could be the future of boxing. That is not hyperbole -- he is 26 years old, but fights like a guy that's been a pro for a lot longer than a year. He has dominated everyone in his path. He's already talking about fighting Manny Pacquiao. And you know what's scary? I don't think he'd get embarrassed.
He has lightning hand speed. He has a nasty left hook. He's got the kind of power and aggressive nature that makes you drool, but he's also just overwhelming at all times. He not only brings the fight to his opponent, he neutralizes any thought of offense they might have.
Darling Jimenez has a couple of OK wins on his sheet, beating Mike Anchondo and Jose Soto, and he's had competitive losses to tough customers Fernando Trejo and Miguel Huerta. But he's just not on Gamboa's level. There are a select few fighters that just plain HAVE IT. Gamboa is one of those fighters. It would be positively stunning if he lost this fight, and I think it'd be stunning if he didn't clean house on Jimenez in short order. It might not last long, but the bottom line is if you want to see a dynamite young fighter on the rise, watch Yuriorkis Gamboa tomorrow night.
JUNIOR MIDDLEWEIGHTS: ALFREDO ANGULO (12-0, 9 KO) v. RICHARD GUTIERREZ (24-1, 14 KO)
This is the one where I think we're most likely to see an upset. Gutierrez is a fighter that I really like for some reason I can't quite put my finger on. His February ESPN2 win over Jose Varela was entertaining if a bit dirty and rough house-y, but there's nothing wrong with that if you ask me. And Angulo, as they note in the video above (win over Ricardo Cortes, February 1), has some fatal flaws that someone like Gutierrez might see on tape and entirely build a plan around. He doesn't have good head movement. He relies on his offense very heavily. He's not good at moving around the ring.
Moving the ring is not a problem for Gutierrez. Like Albert against Kirkland, his best shot is to jab, wear Angulo down, and win rounds. Look, Gutierrez's only loss came via majority decision to Joshua Clottey. He can fight.
To me, this is a bit of a can't-miss show for diehard boxing fans and those that are trying to learn more about the sport while it's in a hot period. It's too bad that the Munoz-Mijares PPV is up against this, because otherwise I'd take that Mosley-Judah money and buy the Top Rank show. Sadly, even for the budget price of 30 clams, the PPV has just one fight I really want to see. Boxing After Dark has three fights worth watching -- Gamboa could fight anyone and I'd tune in, and I think the other two fights are both bouts with live dogs.
We'll be here tonight to cover Chris Byrd's move to light heavyweight, and back tomorrow night for B.A.D. -- good to be going strong again. I hate those lulls.