Rising and Falling: May 2008

With all that's happened in the first quarter of boxing in 2008, let's talk about whose stock is going up and whose is going down. Simple intro, right?

 It's hard to count him since he hasn't really done anything past WrestleMania XXIV, but the stock of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., has taken a hit for just that inactivity. He's not fighting, has no plans to take on any of the true top welterweight contenders, and is working on the finalization of a deal for a rematch with Oscar de la Hoya, who is coming off of a rather dull tune-up win over Steve Forbes. Is there anyone out there that truly thinks Oscar has a better chance against Mayweather this time around? It won't be for Mayweather's welterweight crown, since Oscar doesn't want to go under 150 pounds to fight. And it won't have the intrigue of boxing's pound-for-pound king against the dollar-for-dollar king that the first one did. Even throwing in the tiring Mayweather family saga isn't helping the early buzz for this September rematch. And should Mayweather win and past rival Ricky Hatton wins a couple of fights at 140 this year, there's talk of Mayweather-Hatton II, which no one besides Hatton and Mayweather have any interest in. Hatton because he delusionally seems to actually think that Joe Cortez was the reason that Floyd cleaned his clock, and Mayweather because it's an easy few million dollars.

  At the other end of the spectrum is the world's second-best welterweight (at least the general acceptance says so), Miguel Cotto. Let's just talk last five opponents. Mayweather fought Sharmba Mitchell, Zab Judah, then-welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir, Oscar and 140-pound champion Hatton. Cotto has taken on current welterweight titlist Carlos Quintana, Oktay Urkal, Judah, Shane Mosley and Alfonso Gomez. There isn't any real difference in the competition there, but what is different is that Cotto is fighting consistently, beating good fighters, and when he should dominate (Gomez), he does. And lined up next is Antonio Margarito in one of the year's most hotly-anticipated fights on July 26. What more can you ask? The more Cotto fights and the more Mayweather bides his time and counts his money, the closer the gap becomes. Cotto is steadily climbing pound-for-pound lists, and if he beats Margarito, all bets are off. And if people start deciding he's better right now than Mayweather, they'll have an argument.

 We've already talked about it some, but Junior Witter's loss to Timothy Bradley hurts his stock so immensely that it's not funny -- although why it WOULD be funny is beyond me. With a good win over a quality prospect, Witter could have established himself a little bit to American audiences and continued calling out Ricky Hatton at will. And we all would've thought, "Ricky, fight the guy already, come on." Instead, he lost and looked very bad in doing so. That fight wasn't so much about what Timothy Bradley did right as it was about Witter looking overly cautious and old. Tim Bradley fought a good fight and deserves credit, but would that Bradley performance have beaten the Junior Witter that so many considered the real threat to Hatton and a borderline pound-for-pound guy? Surely not -- this was not the Witter that waxed Vivian Harris last year. He is too old, probably, to break through now as more than a regional star. It's too bad his best years were spent at that level.

 I don't know if everyone was as impressed by the Friday Night Fights opening bout this past week as I was, but I think we can all agree that it was a hell of a good six-round scrap between amateur veteran and good prospect Ruslan Provodnikov and rather unknown ex-U.S. Army and Iraqi War veteran Brian Gordon. It was very clear who the more polished fighter was (Provodnikov, who reminded in appearance and somewhat in style of Kostya Tszyu) and also very clear that both guys are tough as Georgia clay in mid-August. Gordon wore himself out fighting, and I can't recall a single clinch in the bout. But though he was on tired legs and getting hit pretty hard and pretty consistently, he never went down. It stole the show on Friday night, and I look forward to seeing more of both guys in the future.

 It's pretty unfair and admittedly hyper-critical, but Yuriorkis Gamboa's stock did tumble a bit on Saturday night. Darling Jimenez is a solid fighter, a former New York Golden Gloves kid, and there's nothing wrong with getting knocked down. It's about getting up and shaking it off, which Gamboa did with ease. But we're talking about the most hyped young fighter to come down the pipe in a while. In his tenth pro fight, he was main eventing an HBO card. Oscar and Floyd didn't do that in ten pro fights, and most guys don't come anywhere close to that mark. I still love Gamboa as a fighter. He's exciting and can be a whirlwind of offense. But he's got bad habits from a long amateur career, as most are now very quick to point out, and I'm no different. Cliff Rold suggests that Gamboa take the Andre Ward route -- take a step back, don't rush it, and learn how to fight more efficiently as a professional. I think that's very sound advice for Gamboa and his team, who clearly all have great confidence. And it's deserved confidence. But there is no rush. Gamboa isn't super young at 26, but he's entering his prime, and he can do that slowly. The big fights at 130 and 135 will be there. We got to see what would happen when a fighter would stand up and take Gamboa's best shots without going down; and for the most part, he was still pretty sensational and he won the fight handily. The next test is seeing what happens when someone hits back, and hits back hard. Save it for another day.

 Has everyone decided to just forget about Edison Miranda's two losses to Kelly Pavlik and Arthur Abraham and move on, accepting him for what he is? If so, then I say good. "Pantera" is never going to confuse us and make us think he's some great technical fighter. But he's guaranteed excitement and has the right hand to knock out anyone, and his KO of the Year leader over David Banks showed us some good things. Instead of pressing too much, he simply waited for his opening. He let David Banks outbox him in the early going, looked for his spot, and when he saw it, lights out, baby. And all kudos to Abraham for taking a rematch with Miranda at a catchweight. He absolutely did not have to take that fight, and for most guys, it would be too risky. Miranda broke Abraham's jaw the first time they fought, even in defeat. To make himself a name in the States and gear toward big international fights, Abraham decided to take on Miranda again. It's a guaranteed good fight. Win-win for the fans.

 What on earth does Don King think he'll do with Cory Spinks at this point? He's 30 years old, can't punch, doesn't fight in anything approaching an exciting style, isn't an engaging personality, and now he can't even draw flies to dung in his hometown. I'll say it again: Spinks was robbed against Verno Phillips, but who in the world would want to see a rematch? King reportedly lost a bundle on the fight thanks to no TV and a terrible draw at the Scottrade Center. Plus, he's got the boxing skills to be a spoiler at either junior middleweight or middleweight. And you know, he could probably comfortably get back down and fight at 147 again if he wanted to. King will have to try to come up with something pretty special to get Spinks' name back. Deserved loss or not, Spinks is in the same boat as Junior Witter right now, which is no man's land. He's too good to get top opponents without a belt as a bargaining chip, because there's just not much money in fighting him. You can't look good against Spinks, and he's tough to beat.

 It was just a passing remark, but on Saturday night, HBO's Max Kellerman referred to welterweight contender Joshua Clottey as an "elite-level fighter." I'm not entirely sure how true that is, but the avoided Clottey will get a chance on August 2, it appears, to fight for the vacant IBF welterweight title, which was given up by Margarito in order to fight Cotto in July. Talks right now look like they're centering on Zab Judah, who pulled out of his May 31 fight with Shane Mosley, which now doesn't appear to have any chance of actually happening. Frankly, Judah's probably better off fighting Clottey, a tough guy with no exceptional skill whatsoever. He's not great at anything, but he's pretty good all-around. I think Clottey having less wear and tear and being a rugged guy could give him a solid win over Judah, and I could see Zab's pure skill overwhelming Clottey enough to win rounds and pile up a unanimous decision. It's a fairly intriguing fight, and far more competitive on paper than Zab-Sugar Shane was.

 I'm not disputing the man's skill, but at this point, Chris John is one of the worst alphabet champions in boxing. The WBA featherweight champ is taking "soft defense" to a whole new level. Since his disputed win over Juan Manuel Marquez in 2006, John has beaten Renan Acosta, Jose Rojas, Zaiki Takemoto and the worst of them all, Roinet Caballero. His next fight is reportedly coming on July 5, in Mexico, against Michael Lozada. Lozada carries a respectable record of 29-4-1 with 22 knockouts. He does not have a single good win in his six-year pro career. Not one. Not a single solitary one of his 29 wins has come against anything approaching a good opponent. It's a sham of a record. Nice KO rate, but against who? TEN of his wins have come against guys with 0-0-0 records. So take those off, and he's 19-4-1. Of the 19 remaining victims, 12 (13, really, since he fought one guy twice) of them had records that were .500 or worse, including his last FIVE opponents (combined records: 30-58-7). Take those wins off. Now he's 6-4-1.

The six wins against opponents with winning records? This is pretty astounding, really.

  1. Carlos Martinez: 3-1 at the time, his career ended in 2004 at 5-6
  2. Antonio Cervantes: 7-3-1 at the time, hasn't fought since 2006, record stands at 7-5-2
  3. Pedro Rabago: 22-20-1 at the time, took two years off and came back to lose recently, making him 22-22-1
  4. Ismael Aviles: 12-7-1 at the time, hadn't fought in EIGHT YEARS, and hasn't fought since his 2006 loss to Lozada
  5. Fernando Ayala: 12-6 at the time, hadn't fought in NINE YEARS, and hasn't fought since his 2007 loss to Lozada; did this guy go around issuing open challenges like in pro wrestling?
  6. Jose Montes: 15-10-2 at the time, lost to Lozada last April, lost another fight in July, and hasn't been in the ring since
The losses have come to Rodrigo Aranda (UD-6, early in Lozada's career), Gerardo Zayas (MD-10), Jose Armando Santa Cruz (TKO-4) and Edwin Valero (TKO-1).

This is a world title contender? Fights like these and "champions" like this are still a major problem with the sport. Great for Chris John leaving Indonesia for the first time in years, I applaud that. But another opponent like this? Lozada's record is so farcical that it's almost appalling. Two of his "best wins" are against guys who hadn't fought in almost a decade. It would sort of be like if someone found Sammy Ventura in seven years and beat him up in a prize fight. There's a reason I didn't rank John on the P4P top 20 this last time around, and there'll be a reason he stays off. Maybe he's the best featherweight in the world. I wouldn't really know -- he doesn't compete against any of them, and has only once in 42 pro fights dared to fight someone truly elite. Robert Guerrero and Steven Luevano are both legitimately fighting better competition at this point. That deserves credit. A few people took some shots at The Ring for jumping Guerrero over John in their featherweight rankings. Personally, I see their point.

 Since I dissed his joke of a defense against Jamie Pittman, I'll be totally fair and give Felix Sturm at least a little bit of props for signing a rematch with Randy Griffin. Their draw last year was very competitive and entertaining, and Griffin richly deserves the rematch he was promised. Combining that bout with Chagaev-Valuev II in Germany should do a really nice house.

 Don't look now, but the cruiserweight division, which was getting lots of praise the last couple of years, is starting to look more and more like the dull dreck that is the heavyweight division. With David Haye departing to rumble with the big boys and Darnell Wilson's bubble being burst in consecutive convincing defeats at the hands of B.J. Flores and Firat Arslan, the big-punchin' activity at cruiser is going by the wayside. An eventual fight between Steve Cunningham and Tomasz Adamek is the best the division can offer, probably. Jean-Marc Mormeck is MIA, O'Neil Bell looked terrible against Adamek, Enzo Maccarinelli's reputation took a drubbing in his loss to Haye, and a lot of these guys (including Cunningham, Adamek and Arslan) are somewhat quietly in their 30s, and Arslan is 37. Even Flores -- a skilled but dull sort -- is 29. There are some good young fighters, but it'll be a while for most of them before they land anything substantial. The shine has come off.

 Don't you get the impression that Nate Campbell is one of those guys who really means it when he says he'd fight anybody? Like all fighters -- especially those in their mid-30s that have strived forever to get to this type of level -- he wants the most money. But he hasn't said once, that I can think of, that he wouldn't fight any particular guy whose name has come up. Casamayor? Sure. Pacquiao? You bet. Marquez? Why not? Khan? He's a mandatory, bring him on. Diaz again? I think Campbell would love to beat Diaz again (not that it's any guarantee at all that he would). In a world of big talkers that usually wind up "pricing themselves out" of fights away from the public eye, Campbell is a nice change of pace. For instance, Antonio Tarver has supposedly priced himself out of a Chad Dawson bout. Big shock.

 Since all is equal and deserves the same eye, let's be honest about another division that's taking a hit this year, one of the glory divisions for diehards. The 130-pound ranks are thinning quickly. Divisional champ Manny Pacquiao is headed to 135, and so is Joan Guzman. Juan Manuel Marquez looks ready to follow Pacquiao up to try and work for a third fight against his rival. Who does that leave at 130? There's Valero, who can fight in Texas now but will surely head to 135 himself to try and land big fights, and then you're talking about Humberto Soto and Alex Arthur-type guys; good fighters, but not exactly Pacquiao, Marquez, Barrera and Morales. While the 130 pound landscape will suffer for a bit (especially if Gamboa bulks up before he can make any serious mark on the division past winning a title to have done so), the lightweight division looks like it's about to be absolutely loaded and maybe take over as the sport's best. Imagine a division with Campbell, Pacquiao, Diaz, Marquez, Casamayor, Guzman, Katsidis, etc. Lots of intriguing fights to be made.

 36-year old American Tony Thompson probably has the best shot at beating Wladimir Klitschko that any Wlad opponent has had since Samuel Peter in 2005. Chris Byrd was physically no match for Wlad, Calvin Brock lacked the second gear, Ray Austin was a massive blunder, and Lamon Brewster was already toast, both physically and mentally. And we won't even talk about the Sultan Ibragimov fight anymore, OK? Thompson is still a little rough consider how late his career got started, but at 6'5" he won't be so easily pushed around by Klitschko, and he's a lefty, which has given Wlad trouble in the past. Now, I know, this is not the same Wladimir Klitschko that lost to Corrie Sanders, and yes, Wlad will still be a massive favorite and it would be a shocker for him to lose to Thompson, but at least you don't have to create an entire fairy tale scenario for him to lose this time. Thompson is a big lefty with power that's better than his KO rate and generally boxes pretty smart, plus he's improved really steadily for a guy at his age, again because he started in the sport so late. What does worry me is that by the time his July 12 fight with Wlad rolls around, he'll have been out of the ring for nine and a half months.

 When he lost to Nonito Donaire, I really didn't think Vic Darchinyan would so quickly go from one of the sport's most dominating and vicious fighters to just another guy, but that's in danger of happening. Since the stunning KO at Donaire's hands, Vic has beaten Federico Catubay and gone to an unruly draw against Z Gorres, moving up to 115 pounds in the process. A fight with IBF champ Dmitri Kirilov is being bandied about for August 2 on Showtime. Kirilov can't punch, but he has some skill. If the old killing machine version of Vic shows up, he'll win. He's not my favorite fighter, but I do like watching him fight when he's on his game. Very unique guy.
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