Fight Previews: Molitor in South Africa, Lara on Friday Night Fights, Vassell on Sky, and More

Slow news day, both today and yesterday, so let's kick the tires and light the fires with some fight previews. We'll have more on the HBO card for Saturday night featuring Yuriorkis Gamboa and a really good co-feature later in the week, and of course by later in the week I could mean later today, or I could mean on Thursday. You never know. I'm a wildcard, baby.

Junior Middleweights, 10 Rounds
Erislandy Lara v. Carlos Molina

Friday (ESPN2/ESPN3.com) - Las Vegas, Nevada

I'm still waiting on the word that Molina (17-4-1, 5 KO) has pulled out of the fight and left Lara with an even less attractive opponent, but so far it's still on. Molina hasn't fought in about two years, and this is quite a task for a comeback. Lara is legitimately skilled but seems a bit less than ambitious, or else his handlers see flaws they don't want exploited without a real payday, or else nobody at 154 wants to fight him. It's one of those three things, or it's something else. That's the kind of analysis people come to read. I should work for Epix. Whatever it is, his last four fights have been crap, and this one isn't much better. If it happens, I think he blows out Molina, who had been on a good run before his inactive spell. If it's some late replacement opponent, it'll be a similar result. Lara TKO-5

Junior Middleweights, 10 Rounds
Yudel Jhonson v. Richard Gutierrez

Friday (ESPN2/ESPN3.com) - Las Vegas, Nevada

This will be the first serious chance to see what Jhonson (9-0, 6 KO) has under the hood. The 29-year-old Cuban southpaw was a good amateur, but not a great one, winning silver in Athens, and once he defected to turn pro he didn't project the way a lot of his countrymen of the same "class" did. He's fought marginal opposition at best so far, but Gutierrez (26-5-1, 16 KO) is a good step up. The 32-year-old Colombian, now based in Miami, gave Joshua Clottey a decent test in 2006, but his career has stalled out. He had a really rough stretch from 2008 to 2010, losing to Alfredo Angulo (TKO-5) on HBO, drawing with a would-be rebound opponent (Jerome Ellis), losing to Antwone Smith (UD-10) and then finishing the four-fight run with a decision loss to Luis Carlos Abregu. In his last fight he lost to Zaurbek Baysangurov (TKO-12) and between Abregu and that fight, he picked up a couple of wins in Colombia against fighters who combined for incoming 0-9 records. To say all of that another, quicker, less laborious way, Gutierrez is here to test Jhonson but not to win, and not even really to be competitive -- just to gauge what Jhonson's next step should be. I figure it will be a fairly "easy" night for the Cuban, but I don't expect to be wowed. Jhonson UD-10

Super Bantamweights, 12 Rounds
Steve Molitor v. Takalani Ndlovu III

Saturday - Johannesburg, South Africa

Molitor (33-1, 12 KO) goes on the road to defend his alphabet belt against Ndlovu (31-6, 18 KO). If you're wondering why the Top Rank guy, who holds the belt, is going to Johannesburg to face a fringe contender, Lem Satterfield of BoxingScene.com has some answers in an interview with Molitor's manager Cameron Dunkin.

In January, the IBF's purse bid for the fight was won by Ndlovu's South African promoter, Branco Sports Productions, whose namesake, Branco Milenkovic, put in a bid of $320,000, while Molitor's promoter, Top Rank Promotions, bid $227,500.

The previous bid was held in November, being won by Top Rank with $215,000 against Branco Sports Productions' losing bid of $154,240.

This was going to be a co-feature on the Bute-Magee card, then the plan changed. Life's funny that way. I'd also recommend checking out this South African article, which bemoans the head-to-head fight cards on Saturday in Johannesburg, calling the situation "bizarre." We're used to our TV cards going head-to-head on Showtime and HBO pretty often, or at least overlapping so that you miss something, but this isn't the norm in a lot of places around the world. It's just interesting to see this development viewed in a different light, one not used to this happening.

Molitor is 2-0 against Ndlovu already, scoring TKO-9 and UD-12 wins in 2007 and 2010. Both of those wins were at Molitor's home court at Casino Rama in Ontario, and there's probably almost no interest in seeing another rerun fight between these two. So why is Ndlovu even getting a third fight? Well, because he squeaked by Jeffrey Mathebula in September in an eliminator. Why was he in the eliminator fight? I don't know, because his fight before that was the second loss to Molitor.

Molitor has proven twice he's too good for Ndlovu, but putting the fight on the road is a bit of an advantage for the home fighter. I'd also argue that Molitor, now 30, is really not all that great, but he proved a year ago he's still better than Ndlovu, so that's probably not a big factor. For the challenger, the hope is that Johannesburg will make the third time a charm. One thing is for certain: the IBF just loves Steve Molitor and Takalani Ndlovu. Molitor UD-12

Flyweights, 12 Rounds
Moruti Mthalane v. Johnriel Casimero

Saturday - Johannesburg, South Africa

Mthalane (26-2, 17 KO) is best-known to U.S. fans, if he's known at all, from a TKO-6 loss to Nonito Donaire in 2008. But Mthalane is a legitimately good fighter, one of the better flyweights in the world today. Casimero (14-1, 8 KO) is a 21-year-old Filipino who had both a rise and fall in 2009-2010, upsetting Cesar Canchila in December '09 before losing a tight one to Ramon Garcia Hirales in July '10. Now he moves from 108 to 112, taking another very tough test, on the road, in his first fight at the new weight. You certainly can't knock his ambition or balls, but given his youth, the jump up in weight, the opponent, and the on-the-road factor, I don't like his chances here. Mthalane TKO-10

Welterweights, 12 Rounds
Denton Vassell v. Bethuel Ushona

Saturday (Sky Sports 2) - Wigan, England

Vassell (16-0, 9 KO) is a Hatton fighter making the first defense of his Commonwealth welterweight title against Namibia's Ushona (23-0, 8 KO). In the TV schedule thread for this week, some Vassell discussion came up, with Brickhaus saying that (1) he's probably a domestic-level fighter and nothing more, and (2) an "upset" of Ushona outclassing him being very possible. I will address these concerns in bullet points:

  • Vassell could definitely be more than a domestic-level welterweight. I really think he has potential European level ability. Maybe.
  • Yes.

To me, this is a pick-'em. It sort of reminds me of the Matthew Hatton-Yuriy Nuzhnenko fight from last year, with the featured British fighter taking on a real challenge for his level. Ushona doesn't really strike me as a world stage hopeful, but neither does Vassell, and while Ushona hasn't exactly faced a murderer's row to date, Vassell's competition has been lighter. I'm going to jump on this train and call for the "upset" -- specifically, a clear win for Ushona, with two cards barely favoring him and one somehow going to Vassell. Ushona SD-12

Quick Picks

Dmitry Pirog will have no trouble with Javier Maciel in Russia on Saturday. I don't expect to see more than five rounds. ... I look for Antonio Escalante to have more trouble than expected against Alejandro Perez. With all due respect to Escalante, he just strikes me as a guy who's almost always going to make fights harder than they have to be, which will make him an exciting TV regular, but is going to keep him from becoming a legit contender. He'll get a stoppage win, but he'll "earn" it, too. ... Give me Stephane Jamoye to knock off Leo Santa Cruz in Mexico. That's a weird fight for Santa Cruz's handlers to make right now.

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