140-pound titlist Khan is slated to return on April 16 at the MEN Arena in Manchester, his first fight in the UK since December 2009, if you're willing to call his 76-second slaughter of Dmitriy Salita a fight. Khan still has no set titlist, but things appear to be shaking out.
While most felt that Golden Boy was looking to set up a fight with Khan and Victor Ortiz by pairing their fights together last month, Ortiz disappointed and came out with a draw against Lamont Peterson, while Khan overcame Marcos Maidana in a great main event. Peterson is said to still be an option for Khan, as that fight was discussed pretty heavily.
All signs, however, are pointing to Khan facing Paul McCloskey of Northern Ireland. McCloskey (22-0, 12 KO) is the current European champion at 140 pounds, but the guys he's been fighting are not just a step below the likes of Khan, but a huge step below them. I have no problem with McCloskey other than he's a patsy challenger in this scenario, and the fight would be similar in matchmaking to something like Kelly Pavlik-Gary Lockett. For the time being, McCloskey is tentatively slated to fight Michele di Rocco in Belfast on March 5, but obviously that would be canceled and the European belt given up for a shot at Khan, which is a lot more money and potential glory. At 31 and without special talent, McCloskey may only get one world title shot in his life. He would have to take it.
The only thing holding Khan-McCloskey back might be both HBO and Sky Sports agreeing that McCloskey is a fit opponent and worth their TV money. I'm sure Sky can buy into it. After all, they put Khan-Salita on PPV when anyone who had even the slightest clue about Salita knew that was a horrible mismatch. At least McCloskey actually has fans. But HBO will say a lot about themselves with this one. If they pass Khan-McCloskey for air time, I have to say I think it shows blatant favoritism. How is that better than Sergio Martinez-Andy Lee, a fight they recently declined for Martinez? How is it better than Lucian Bute-Jesse Brinkley, which they passed on last year? It's the same sort of fight. The difference, of course, would be that Khan is promoted by Golden Boy and is one of their hopeful golden goose fighters for the foreseeable future. The HBO-Golden Boy relationship is no secret to be uncovered, as everyone is aware of their sweetheart deal (which is coming to an end, hopefully), but it's not like Khan is going to want to fight someone without HBO money, so part of me hopes they put their foot down and make a better fight happen. Again, it's nothing personal against McCloskey, and if he does land the fight I'll be happy for him getting the big payday and the chance. It's just not a fight that has any intrigue.
Cotto-Mayorga Card Shaping Up
The March 12 Top Rank PPV card featuring Miguel Cotto and Ricardo Mayorga has a TV undercard in place, and it's a mixed bag.
The best fight here is a lightweight title bout between Miguel Vazquez and Australia's Leonardo Zappavigna. "Lenny Zappa" made his US TV debut last March on ShoBox against Fernando Angulo, and I'd be lying if I said that fight didn't tell me a lot more about his potential than his December first round knockout of Ji Hoon Kim. Kim is a crude brawler to the extreme, there to be hit flush at all times, with only his rocket right as potential payback. Zappavigna's aggressiveness is also pretty high, and he has drawn comparisons to Arturo Gatti. But the 23-year-old will be in against a different breed of fighter in Vazquez, who has come into his own. I think this is a clear Vazquez win on paper, but Lenny has his very ardent supporters out there, and he's got the guts to take a big step up, too.
Yuri Foreman will be returning from his bad knee injury last June to take on Pawel Wolak in a 154-pound fight, which the end result will likely be an essential elimination of the loser from serious consideration as a contender at 154. Foreman's a good boxer, but we're talking about a guy for whom boxing is not priority number one. That's not a knock on him, but guys who have other things to do with their lives don't tend to have the same passion as guys who don't. Wolak struggled a bit with a raw, short notice opponent in December, before turning up the heat and overwhelming his foe. Wolak's a tough, rugged guy and a good test for Foreman's return. Probably won't be exciting, but not a bad fight.
Also featured will be the in-ring return of Christy Martin, the female boxing pioneer who at 42 hasn't fought in 18 months, and is coming back to boxing after the horrific story late last year where she was shot and stabbed by her husband, Jim. She says her injuries are healed up and that she's excited to get back in the ring. She'll face Dakota Stone (9-8-5, 1 KO), the same fighter she beat in her last bout via majority decision. Stone, who turns 42 next month, also hasn't fought since that September 2009 bout. Martin turns 43 in June. The less I say about my feelings on this fight being on a PPV undercard, the better, I figure.
A fight that was rumored a few times last year looks like it just might finally come to fruition. Richard Schaefer told FanHouse that Golden Boy is "very close to locked in" on a fight between Saul Alvarez and Matthew Hatton for March 5.
Alvarez (35-0-1, 26 KO) will be fighting on March 5 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, which might become a more regular venue for fights after the relative success of Top Rank's December card there. Alvarez had a US TV breakout year in 2010, as he made splashes on the Mayweather-Mosley card (beating Jose Miguel Cotto), the Mosley-Mora card (knockout of Carlos Baldomir), and HBO Latino in December (grinding one out against tough Lovemore N'dou). 2011 will probably be more baby steps, as you have to remember that Alvarez doesn't turn 21 until July, and a fight with Hatton would be a logical next step, as frankly Hatton is no better than N'dou (the two drew in 2009), but has more name value.
Hatton (41-4-2, 16 KO) has been protected incredibly well by Hatton Promotions in the UK of late, getting a chance to shine as European welterweight champion. Big brother Ricky has been great about getting his fighters title shots that they probably didn't really deserve, but also title shots they can win. After a tune-up fight following N'dou, Hatton went 3-0 against Gianluca Branco (winning the vacant Euro belt at 147), Yuriy Nuzhnenko (which was a good, close fight) and the heinously overmatched Roberto Belge. Alvarez, unlike those guys, can really crack and is a dynamic, explosive fighter. Hatton isn't much of a puncher and does absolutely nothing exceptionally well. The fight, on paper, is a predator v. prey situation, but from a standpoint of keeping Alvarez busy and looking impressive, it's a smart fight. Again not a fight with much intrigue, but Alvarez's phenom status lends itself to intrigue alone, so that will help.
Odds and Ends
Marco Antonio Barrera says this is his final year in the ring, and he's looking for a title shot. After "retiring" following a spiritless loss to Manny Pacquiao in 2007, Barrera came back a year later and has gone 3-1 since his return, losing to Amir Khan in a physical mismatch and beating three mediocre opponents that have done nothing for his legacy or reputation. Honestly, Barrera's final stage has just sort of been "there." The good news is he hasn't taken much unnecessary punishment, save for that nasty laceration he got against Freudis Rojas, which re-opened against Khan. Barrera mentioned Humberto Soto as a possible opponent, and both are promoted by Top Rank now.
Shockingly, the WBO has ordered negotiations for a Juergen Braehmer-Nathan Cleverly fight. Who'da thunk it? This is almost as surprising as when Braehmer pulled out of his scheduled bout with Beibut Shumenov. I can't believe it!
Vicente Escobedo will fight Walter Estrada on March 4 at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California. Telefutura will televise on Solo Boxeo Tecate.
This was brought up in the comments recently, I believe, but Carl Froch and Glen Johnson are fighting on May 21. Froch wants the fight in the UK, but Vegas and Montreal are also being considered.
It still looks like Juan Manuel Marquez-Erik Morales is going to happen, as the two are constantly talking about one another. Money is, it is said, an issue.