This weekend is bursting at the seams with notable fights, some of which are truly important (and a couple of those are among the lesser-hyped of the weekend), and some of which are boosted more by curiosity or even dread than anything else.
So we're going to preview the big slate of fights this weekend, starting with this first batch of the smaller bouts. Tomorrow, we'll look at the big cards in Japan and Venezuela.
Welterweights, 12 Rounds: Erik Morales v. Jose Alfaro (Integrated Sports PPV, 9pm, Saturday)
Morales (48-6, 34 KO) has not fought since August 2007, when he was narrowly outpointed by David Diaz. At the time, many took that to mean that Morales, who was fighting over his best weight that night as a lightweight, might not quite be totally shot.
I think we've learned since then that David Diaz, while an affable sort and a guy worth rooting for, is not much to get excited about as a pro fighter. He's competent, but given the fact that he's just physically much stronger than Morales, he should have beaten Morales. And he did, close as it was.
And yes, Jose Alfaro (23-5, 20 KO) has lost in all of his steps up in class. But here's my question: is a welterweight version of Erik Morales, who looks fat and old, really a step up in competition for Alfaro? Morales is saying he's faster than ever. I'll guarantee you he isn't. He says his body is "free," which probably just means he isn't having to cut much weight. Alfaro is no welterweight himself, but he's a lot younger and a lot fresher than "El Terrible."
Erik Morales is 33 years old now. He has not won a fight since 2005, when he put on arguably the gutsiest and best performance of his Hall of Fame-bound career, beating Manny Pacquiao in their first bout. Since then, he's gone 0-4, losing to Zahir Raheem and Diaz along with the two ugly losses to Pacquiao. Dating back to 2004, he's lost five of his last six fights.
I do not doubt Erik Morales' heart. Really, the man is maybe my favorite fighter, one of the guys most responsible for making me a boxing fanatic in the first place. I wish I felt like saying, "Welcome back, Erik." But I don't. Few comebacks have seemed as ill-advised to me as this one does.
If he wins, so what? Alfaro is a lightweight gatekeeper at best. Even an old, blown-up Morales beating Alfaro wouldn't be anything to go crazy over. And then what does Morales do? He's talking about fighting Pacquiao again at welterweight, which would be completely insane and if anyone allowed that to happen (which they won't, of course), someone should be locked up. There's a chance he could fight Juan Manuel Marquez, which would be coming a few years too late to be the epic it once could have been.
If he beats Alfaro and makes a bigger fight, he's just going to lose, and probably badly. Unless Morales desperately needs the money, which by all accounts he does not, there's nothing about this that as a Morales fan I find necessary or even wise. No real good comes from this return to the ring. What's the upside? He's not going to win a title at any weight he can make, which is his real goal supposedly. So what is there?
I'm also not trying to be Erik Morales' mom and tell him what to do. A lot of people get way into all this "Spartan heart warrior" stuff, which I really do not. If he's capable of passing the medicals, he's able to fight, and apparently he's at least competent enough for the Mexican rings. But just trying to analyze this stuff and looking at it from where I sit, I don't see any of this going well. I can't even really pick a winner for this fight, because it just doesn't matter who wins. Morales might well win, and then he can go on and lose badly to someone better than Alfaro. Or Alfaro really might win and end this comeback before it can even get started.
WBA Light Heavyweight Eliminator: Hugo Garay v. Chris Henry (Integrated Sports PPV, 9pm, Saturday)
Hugo Garay is a weird guy, but a decent fighter. He probably deserves two wins over Zsolt Erdei that both went to Erdei on the cards. Garay (32-4, 17 KO) held the WBA title in 2008 before losing it to Gabriel Campillo in '09. His fourth loss was a DQ a few years ago.
As for Henry, the 28-year-old Houston native is tough to get a real grip on. He can fight. I've seen it. We've all seen it. Henry (24-2, 19 KO) gave Adrian Diaconu a heck of a fight in 2008, fighting on the road in Bucharest. That was his step up into the legit ranks of the division, and though he lost, he acquitted himself nicely. After the loss, he knocked out gatekeeper Rubian Williams and shut out Cory Cummings, which set him up for a fight with Yusaf Mack.
Against Mack, Henry looked pretty bad, but then so did Mack, honestly. It was a fight where neither guy looked like he was at his best. After the loss to Mack, Henry was matched with Shaun George, and he beat George down pretty fierce.
So which Chris Henry shows up Saturday? Henry and Garay are about the same size, both have faced decent competition. On that score, I'd favor Garay slightly, as he's been in with Erdei (who is annoying but good), Campillo, Juergen Braehmer, and Yuri Barashian. It's not Murderer's Row, but then neither is Diaconu, George and Mack. They're also about the same age (Garay is 29), both right handed, and neither with a home field advantage in Monterrey, though likely there will be a few more Chris Henry fans than Hugo Garay fans.
This one is sort of a toss-up. It's also an eliminator for the WBA title currently held by Beibut Shumenov. I'm going with my gut on this one. Henry SD-12
The Integrated Sports PPV also features Denver Cuello (19-2-5, 10 KO) and Juan Hernandez (16-1, 13 KO) in a minimumweight eliminator, plus 32-year-old heavyweight David Rodriguez (32-0, 30 KO), who's sort of the Tye Fields of Mexico.
(Photo by John Gichigi / Getty Images)
European Welterweight Title: Matthew Hatton v. Gianluca Branco (Sky Sports, 6pm, Friday)
Some guys are tough to be honest about. Matthew Hatton, like the aforementioned David Diaz (and for the same reasons), is one of them. To be perfectly frank, Matthew Hatton is really not good. The younger brother of Ricky, Matthew (38-4-2, 15 KO) has never had anything close to the spark that made big brother the superstar he was, but it's also never seemed to be for lack of desire, heart or effort. He works very hard and fights to the best of his ability. It's just his ability isn't much past domestic level in the UK.
That makes Branco (43-2-1, 22 KO) a tough prospect for "Magic" Matthew, even though the Italian is 39 and well past his best days. All but four of his career fights have been in Italy, with one in France and another in Turkey, plus his two losses. He took on Arturo Gatti back in 2004 at Boardwalk Hall, and Gatti outpointed him despite some minor trouble. Two years later in Puerto Rico, he was beaten badly by Miguel Cotto (TKO-8).
Since Cotto, Branco has fought a cautious schedule, his best opponent being Colin Lynes, and that was in May 2008.
This will mostly come down to what, if anything, Branco has left in the tank. I don't think Hatton beats Branco a few years ago, but this isn't a few years ago. I'm guessing Hatton is just barely good enough to pull this one out. Hatton MD-12
British Junior Middleweight Title: Anthony Small v. Sam Webb (Sky Sports, 6pm, Friday)
Small (23-1, 16 KO) will mouth off a lot this week, promise to entertain since he's such a great entertainer, and then he and Webb (15-1, 4 KO) will put on an awful show. Small will win, because he's more talented than Webb, and in the moments he actually turns on the switch, he'll dominate, as he did against McDonagh last time out in that hideous affair. Small TKO-7
Also on the card will be 30-year-old Moroccan Yassine El Maachi (11-4, 5 KO), who's sort of like Anthony Small but without all that pesky ability.
Solis (29-2-2, 20 KO) is still on the rebound from last April's knockout loss to Brian Viloria in a great fight. He's fought just once since then, a stay-busy bout at 115 pounds against Dirceu Cabarca last September.
Batawang (45-14-3, 37 KO) is a 38-year-old Filipino with a fluffed-up record and no really notable wins since...well, since his pro debut 20 years ago. He's had some OK wins, but nothing special.
In fact, Solis has already fought Batawang, stopping him in nine rounds back in 2007. For a guy who started his career 1-3-3, Batawang has gotten plenty of mileage out of this boxing thing, but he's got about as much shot on Saturday as he did in '07. Solis TKO-6
IBF Junior Featherweight Title: Steve Molitor v. Takalani Ndlovu II (TSN, 10:30pm, Saturday)
Molitor stopped Ndlovu in nine back in 2007. Sound familiar? Ndlovu was actually the first title defense Molitor made of the IBF belt after beating Michael Hunter for it in 2006, the first of five successful defenses before he was dismantled by Celestino Caballero in 2008. Last year, Molitor went 3-0, but he didn't look particularly good against either Heriberto Ruiz or Jose Saez. He's also dropping down to 122 for the first time since the Ruiz fight, which was last June. His last two bouts have been at featherweight.
Since their first fight, Ndlovu hasn't gotten better or anything, but he hasn't gotten worse either. He's gone 3-1, with a split decision loss to Fernando Beltran Jr. his only defeat since Molitor stopped him. Statistically speaking with rematches, the guy who won the first time almost always wins the second time, too. That's a good enough reason. That and Molitor is, at his best, a lot better than Ndlovu. Molitor UD-12
WBA Featherweight Title: Yuriorkis Gamboa v. Jonathan Victor Barros (Sat.1, 5:20pm, Saturday)
Gamboa (17-0, 15 KO) fights Germany for the first time since 2007, and it'll probably be one of the final times he's over there. Barros (28-0-1, 16 KO) is an Argentine fighter who -- guess what? -- has a padded record and has never really fought anybody worth a damn. Gamboa is not only worth a damn, he's lethal, and he'll polish this guy off fast. Gamboa TKO-3 (But don't be shocked if it's over in one.)
IBF Minimumweight Title: Raul Garcia v. Nkosinathi Joyi (Friday)
Garcia (27-0-1, 16 KO) and Joyi (20-0, 15 KO) are two of the best 105-pound fighters in the world, and as Brick said the other day, this is the most relevant fight in the division in years. Despite being the challenger to Garcia's IBF belt, Joyi will have home field, and I think that'll make the difference. He's also been dominant lately, while Garcia has had a couple of close calls over guys (Sammy Gutierrez and Florante Condes) who were dealt with easily by Joyi. Joyi UD-12