Austin "No Doubt" Trout is an American fighter. He holds a major title, bogus or not. He's become one of the best fighters in today's competitive but scattered 154-pound division.
But at 26, ready to enter what should be his prime years in the ring, the 5'10" southpaw has a few problems.
He's a southpaw, obviously. He's from Las Cruces, New Mexico, which isn't a big fight hub, and doesn't make it easy for a young pugilist to attract promoter and manager attention. And then there's the last thing, which is the biggest: No offense to his promoter Greg Cohen, but Trout isn't exactly backed by a member of boxing's money machine, or the fraternity of promoters who get their fighters almost every single American TV main event.
As much as a promoter like Lou DiBella or Gary Shaw or Don King or Dan Goossen may complain about the monopoly on HBO main events held by favored mega-firms Golden Boy and Top Rank, compared to Cohen they're living the high life, easily slotting their top talents into notable televised fights.
DiBella -- generally the most vocal of the second tier -- and the other promoters like him may get muscled by the two big bullies, but they still have it easy compared to Cohen, who took some fighters to his new company, Greg Cohen Promotions, after the predictable and utter failure of "The Empire," a New York-based firm that tried its hand at boxing with Shelly Finkel heading their operation.
Currently, Cohen keeps a small roster, with Trout his current prized fighter, alongside prospects Mikey Faragon, Maurice Byarm, and Sting Bwalya, water-treading "Mean" Joe Greene, and recognizable but washed-up veterans James Toney and Hasim Rahman.
Trout, though, truly stands out among that pack, and stands out at 154 pounds.
To put together this preview, I decided to re-watch Trout's last two fights, a pair of wins on the road over Rigoberto Alvarez and David "The Destroyer" Lopez. Traveling to Mexico for each fight, facing credible fighters, Lopez cruised to victory.
None of this really improved his buzz in his home country, and a fight in Australia with Anthony Mundine was targeted. Predictably, that fell through, and though Mundine and his supporters will insist that it was Trout who pulled out of the negotiations, Mundine's history of talking and then bailing points to a different scenario. Mundine would then fight Rigoberto Alvarez for a ridiculous interim WBA title, adding a third belt to the organization's picture at 154 pounds.
It's never easy to win on the road, particularly without a knockout. But Trout was so dominant against Alvarez and Lopez that there was no question. Against Alvarez, he won on scores of 119-108 across the board. Against Lopez, a fighter who had long since earned a title shot and a chance at a bigger fight, he cruised to scores of 119-109, 118-109, and 117-110, flooring "The Destroyer" in the 11th round.
Still, Cohen was unable to find a big fight.
It's a number of things. Trout, a sturdily-built fighter, is a crafty southpaw who can make guys miss. This means he's also not the world's most thrilling fighter, but fact is he has the style to make good fighters look bad. When he feels he has an opening, he puts his punches together very nicely. His power is not big, but is respectable.
With no major natural fan base, no big regional ties, no power broker promoter, and a difficult stance and style, no big fights were coming. And they may not come any time soon, either.
On Friday night in El Paso, Trout (23-0, 13 KO) makes the second defense of his WBA "regular" junior middleweight title against Australia's Frank LoPorto (15-4-2, 7 KO). Whether or not this is an attempt to lure Mundine into that fight by facing a countryman is not clear, but there could be few other good reasons (if that's a good reason) for LoPorto to receive what is quite frankly a completely undeserved shot at Trout's strap.
LoPorto, 33, has fought just two 12-rounders in his career. The biggest was his upset win over Daniel Dawson in October 2010, which netted him the PABA junior middleweight belt. He defended that title once, defeating a New Zealand-based club fighter named Venkatesan Harikrishnan. In his last outing, LoPorto stopped knockaround guy Aswin Cabuy (12-26-2, 5 KO) in four rounds.
Trout will likely have absolutely no trouble with LoPorto on Friday. The fight really shouldn't be happening, in many ways, as Trout is truly beyond this sort of fight. But there's the rub: Most people, who have no idea who Austin Trout is, don't know that he's so far beyond this sort of fight. Hopefully, some of them tune in to see him likely shine against an inferior opponent. Think of it as a necessary showcase that hopefully will lead to something better.
Also featuring on the ShoBox card is "The Brazilian Rocky," Michael Oliveira. Oliveira has a lot of press releases that float around, trains under Glen Johnson's guy Orlando Cuellar these days, and has become popular in his native country.
At 21, Oliveira has racked up a record of 15-0 (12 KO) against very light competition. He's young and has flaws, as all fighters do at 21.
Part of Oliveria's career has been spent in the very light club scenes of South Carolina, Indiana, Arkansas, and Michigan, where as has been noted several times, you can build up a record with ease. Trips to Connecticut, Florida, Haiti and the Dominican Republic also saw him trounce easy foes, and his three fights in Brazil haven't been a lot more difficult for him.
He'll be facing Xavier Toliver (23-7, 15 KO), a 31-year-old minor circuit veteran who was last seen losing to Mundine in New Zealand on June 5. He's also lost to Walter Matthysse and Said Ouali, among other, lesser fighters.
Like Trout, this is more showcase than your usual ShoBox matchup. Oliveira is, for now, perhaps a better marketing prospect than he is a boxing prospect, but time will tell if his skills match his charisma and good looks. Like Trout, he shouldn't have a lot of trouble in Texas, unless he's really not close to as good as the hype behind him.
One thing to note about Oliveira is that he's become so popular in Brazil that there is a planned sacrifice for him in 2012. Keep in mind that Oliveira is a middleweight, and has fought as heavy as 170 pounds. Next year, the plan is for him to face Acelino "Popo" Freitas, the Brazilian superstar who has been retired for five years, ever since a one-sided beating at the hands of Juan Diaz.
Most of you will know who Freitas is, and you might be thinking, "Isn't he a little too small for that?" If you don't know Freitas, note that "Popo" was a hell of a good fighter in his prime. He was never really the same after a TKO-10 beatdown from Diego Corrales in 2004.
But more important is that he's never fought over 135 pounds. He held super featherweight and lightweight titles as a pro.
Matching Oliveira and Freitas next year is one of two things: A ridiculous carny risk, or a ridiculous carny set-up.