Which show to watch?
Showtime comes live from Tacoma, Wash., starting at 9pm ET with the IBF junior bantamweight title match (115 lbs.) between Russia's Dimitri Kirilov (29-3-1, 9 KO) and Armenian-born Aussie slugger Vic Darchinyan (29-1-1, 23 KO).
But the night's first fight will showcase super middleweight up-and-comer Andre Dirrell (15-0, 10 KO) as he does battle with 28-year old Mike Paschall (17-0-1, 4 KO), so if you think you might do the Showtime thing for half an hour and skip over to HBO, nuh-uh -- you'll get the opener and begs from Steve and Al to stick around for the main event.
Dirrell-Paschall holds no intrigue whatsoever. We saw what "The Matrix" looks like when he puts his skills to use, as he blitzkrieged credible veteran Anthony Hanshaw and in early May, scoring a fifth round TKO. Paschall is a non-puncher with no real opposition thus far; he's faced vets like Bruce Rumbolz and Larry Marks, guys that have been around the block a little bit, but the block is as much as they've really been around.
Dirrell won me over with that May performance, and I think that holds true for a lot of folks. But he'll have to take Paschall out just as impressively, because no one is going to flat-out forget that stinkbomb against Curtis Stevens from '07.
The main event might be a solid fight. Showtime loves the action-minded Darchinyan, one of boxing's most interesting guys, a fighter that is both likeable because he comes to fight and very, very unlikeable because he just comes off like a jerk most of the time. I don't mind admitting that I took great joy in watching Nonito Donaire knock his block off last year and make him look like a total chump even before that.
But I also don't mind admitting that I like to watch Vic fight. This will be a recurring theme for men with three-letter first names, so hold tight.
Kirilov is tough, having never been knocked out, but my gut feeling is he's in over his head against Vic. Darchinyan can be outboxed; is Kirilov truly slick enough to do it? And even if he is, does he have enough gunpowder in his gloves to keep Darchinyan honest for 12 rounds?
Kirilov won the IBF belt against Jose Navarro last year, when it was vacant. In his previous fight, he had lost a split decision to titleholder Luis Perez. In 2004, he was unsuccessful when attempting to dethrone Masamori Tokuyama. And his last fight was a draw with Cecilio Santos in February. Santos was a poor challenger to begin with.
Kirilov is a fine fighter, but there's nothing special about him. I think Darchinyan chews him up. Let's not forget just because of one loss and a joke draw against Z Gorres that Darchinyan was at one point -- as recently as last year, in fact -- one of the most intimidating fighters in the world pound-for-pound.
And then there's HBO's show, a one-fight affair from Vegas scheduled to go live at 9:30pm ET. New Yorkers Joshua Clottey and Zab Judah (seriously, why isn't this fight at the Hammerstein Ballroom or something?) will go at it for the vacant IBF welterweight strap, a title that was given up by Antonio Margarito so that his big fight with Cotto could come off.
Good decision, huh?
The strongest talk for Margarito's next fight already is centering on the outcome of this one. I have to think that Top Rank is rooting for the bigger name, Judah, to come out on top and give Margarito a nice payday. HBO has shown a willingness to continue to promote Judah fights on pay-per-view, even if he's well past his peak days. Not only did he face Miguel Cotto on pay-per-view last year, but he was set to take on Shane Mosley in May before that fight was cancelled.
So we arrive at this. Everyone is talking about legit bad blood between this two, which apparently goes back years when Judah challenged Clottey to a streetfight at Gleason's Gym, but I'm sure that's dramatized if not entirely false.
What we do know is this, though: it's a major crossroads fight for both of these men. If Judah (36-5, 25 KO) loses this one, who knows where he goes next? Losing to Carlos Baldomir in 2006 was a massive blow, but he was able to hang on to his already-scheduled showdown with Floyd Mayweather, Jr., anyway. After losing to Mayweather and embarrassing himself (everyone embarrassed themselves that night) by getting into it with Roger Mayweather following repeated low blows, he still managed to come back in 2007 and land that big fight with Cotto.
Listen, I've never liked Zab. I've always respected his skill, but I questioned his heart and his grit, like many did. I also have never turned down a chance to see him fight. When he's on, he's fantastic fun in the ring.
After the Cotto loss last year, I think my respect for Zab jumped to its highest point. He battled the younger man with all that he had left and went 11 hard rounds. Yeah, Cotto wore him out and beat him down, but there were points early where his speed was too much for Miguel.
Clottey (34-2, 20 KO) is most famous for his December 2006 loss to Antonio Margarito, which has become the stuff of myth at this point. Clottey fought better than expected against a Margarito that was not at 100%, then hurt his hands (did not break them) and disappeared down the stretch. Margarito beat him, and I think Margarito beats him 9.7 times out of 10.
But Clottey's a tough dude. Both of these fighters have shown stamina issues on several occasions, and Clottey's record gets talked up for only losing controversially to Baldomir and then later to Margarito, but who has he really beaten? Shamone Alvarez looked flat outclassed when they met and it wasn't so much what Clottey did as what Alvarez didn't do. The Richar Gutierrez fight was no easy task. And Diego Corrales was a very old 29 and two divisions past his peak weight when they met.
Has Clottey ever beaten anyone as good as Judah, even this faded Judah? No, he absolutely has not. So many are quick to call for a Clottey decision win that I'm finding Zab's skills to be quite overlooked for this matchup. He's got more hand speed, he's got power that at least matches up to Clottey's, and Clottey doesn't pressure a whole lot, which is how Cotto wore Zab out, and how Baldomir was able to rack up a points upset.
I find this fight very intriguing, and as such, I have to recommend this card over Showtime's offering. Judah-Clottey has real sleeper potential to be a damn good fight; both men should be very hungry, as this is a chance to springboard into a money fight with Margarito. For Judah, that means more time in the sun and a return to titleholder status. For Clottey, it's a chance at revenge and what would definitely be his biggest payday ever.
We'll be here Saturday night with live round-by-round gabbing and scoring for the Judah-Clottey fight, and we hope you'll join us.