HBO's card isn't the only game in town this weekend. I took a look at those two big fights earlier today, and Dave Oakes previewed the Gary Sykes-Carl Johanneson fight even earlier today, but there's still more boxing to discuss, so let's discuss it. You and me, dear reader. We're in this together. Our souls are one.
Junior Welterweights, 12 Rounds
Zab Judah v. Kaizer Mabuza
TV: Integrated Sports PPV ($29.95), 9pm ET Saturday
Judah (40-6, 27 KO) is aiming to win the first major belt of his career since his 2006 loss to Carlos Baldomir, which took from him both his "sanctioning body" gimmicks and the legit welterweight championship of the world. Having moved back down to 140 pounds, the 33-year-old enigma is kind of at a fork in the road. If he loses this fight, he becomes little more than a name veteran with diminished skills. If he wins, he's back in the game and looking at a money fight later this year.
2010 saw Judah's career get back on track, if not return to former glory. In July, he sparked an out of shape Jose Armando Santa Cruz in just three rounds on ESPN2, and in November, he made his return to HBO airwaves, facing Argentine bomber Lucas Matthysse at the Prudential Center in Newark. Judah escaped that fight with a highly debated split decision win, nearly getting himself knocked out in the process and looking old and tentative in the latter stages.
This is not an attack on Judah's character, really. He's no spring chicken and has taken some beatings over the years, and dished out plenty, too. Matthysse had a lot of grit in that fight, but more important, he had more gas in the tank over the long haul. Can Judah effectively fight 12 hard rounds anymore?
Mabuza (23-6-3, 14 KO) may give us some more answers. My gut feeling is that it's a mistake to get too terribly excited over Mabuza's last fight, a February 2010 shellacking of Kendall Holt in Atlantic City. Holt was out of shape and out of sorts in that fight, and it showed. Holt, not a bad fighter, looked really lost in the ring that night, and Mabuza took full advantage. His record is nothing special, but it's deceiving. Now 30 (which appears to be a guesstimate as much as anything), Mabuza has won his last eight fights. Beyond just Holt, he also has majority decision wins over Sergey Fedchenko and Samuel Malinga. Not world beaters, but neither is Judah these days.
Fundamentally, I feel Judah is a much better fighter than Mabuza, but I feel he's a much better fighter than Matthysse, too. Judah's skills are faded, but he's still a good fighter and if he fights smart and doesn't take unnecessary risks, I expect he'll cruise to a decision here. Mabuza would be wise to pressure the Brooklyn native and try to wear him out. He might lose rounds, but if he can make Judah work really hard to win them, he'll have a chance in the middle to late rounds to capitalize on a potentially tired Zab. I think conditioning and pace are the biggest keys for Judah from here on out. He's got to accept his own limitations and fight accordingly. If he does that, he'll win on Saturday, and after that he'll be looking like a very attractive name option for the top dogs at 140. Judah UD-12
Undercard: The Integrated Sports PPV will also feature Main Events prospect Sadam "World Kid" Ali (11-0, 6 KO). Ali is a fun fighter to watch, both because he fights in an exciting, attention-grabbing style, and because analytically, I find it hard to really get a gauge on how much I like his future. He's talented, there's no question about that. But he's got a legitimate-seeming arrogance. It's fine to play up arrogance to get attention, because that's business. But is he that guy, or is he a guy whose first reality check could be the beginning of a crumble? Ali faces Brazilian Juliano Ramos (16-4, 13 KO), and without trying to sound mean, I'm just going to be honest about Ramos: he sucks. There's just no other way to put it. Tarvis Simms (26-1-1, 11 KO) is also in action on the undercard, facing John Mackey (13-5-2, 6 KO). I don't really get why Main Events is bothering with Simms. Both he and brother Travis had and still have legitimate talent. They're good, smart boxers. But they're 39 and have wasted their careers. Neither of them has star quality, either. If Main Events were one of the bigger promoters who could use a guy like Simms to feed to other guys o their payroll, I could see the reasoning, but in this case I just don't see the point, really.
Lightweights, 12 Rounds (Rematch)
Humberto Soto v. Fidel Monterossa
TV: Fox Deportes, Saturday
Soto (54-7-2, 32 KO) and Monterossa (25-2, 19 KO) had a surprisingly competitive fight back in September, which led Soto into his Fight of the Year contender with Urbano Antillon in December. Soto-Antillon II is on the docket for the Pacquiao-Mosley undercard, which is great, but first things first and all that. Soto won the first fight on scores of 115-112 (twice) and a homeriffic 118-109 the first time around, and sort of looked like he hadn't taken Monterossa seriously. It's doubtful that will be the case this time around, and Soto is a much better fighter than Monterossa. But doesn't it seem a bit risky to rematch a guy who gave you a tough go of it right before a big money rematch with Antillon? It's three months after a very hard fight, and just two months before a rematch of that very hard fight, where Soto will need all his strength. Seems dumb to me, but then I'm not a promoter or manager or whatever. Soto UD-12
On the Undercard: Juan Alberto "Topo" Rosas (32-6, 26 KO) looks to get back on the winning track against Everardo Morales (34-15-2, 18 KO). This is also a rematch, as these two fought back in 2005, with Rosas winning a 12-round decision.
A couple of standout amateurs, now advanced pro prospects, go head-to-head in a very intriguing Friday Night Fights main event this week, and pound-for-pound, this might be the most interesting fight of the weekend. Sillakh (14-0, 12 KO) is a favorite of The Ring's Doug Fischer, notably, and when you watch him fight, you can see why. Born in Ukraine, the 26-year-old doesn't at all fit the stereotypical mold of a European fighter, or an accomplished amateur, really. He's flashy, he's arrogant, and he goes for the kill. Last year, Sillakh fought Daniel Judah, suffering a bad cut in the first round. He responded by tearing into Judah in the second round and getting him out with ease.
Despaigne (8-0, 4 KO) is a Cuban defector who doesn't turn heads the way some of the other Cubans in today's landscape do. He's robotic and sort of stiff, and at 31, it's way too late in the game to change the way he fights. He has amateur habits that aren't going to go away. Last August in a Friday Night Fights main event, Despaigne showed some of his best and worst traits over the course of a 10-round decision against Frank Paines, a far lesser-skilled technician who gave Despaigne some trouble purely on guts. Does he have the skills to beat Sillakh over 10 rounds? Sure, he does. But will he be able to adjust to Sillakh's aggression? I have my doubts. Sillakh fights hungrier. I don't think he'll stop the Cuban, but I do think he'll notch the best win of his young career. Sillakh UD-10
Undercard: 5'10" junior welterweight Ray Narh (24-1, 20 KO) takes on what's left of Freddie Norwood (43-3-1, 23 KO). If Norwood had his skills remaining, he could be a bother for the crude Narh, but he doesn't. Last I saw of Norwood, 40, he was run over by Johnnie Edwards in 2008, and he's fought just once since, in July 2009. Cleveland lightweight Yaundale Evans (8-0, 5 KO) is also fighting on the undercard. I like him.
Lightweights, 10 Rounds
Vicente Escobedo v. Walter Estrada
TV: Telefutura, Friday
Escobedo (22-3, 14 KO) is coming off of a fairly thorough loss to Robert Guerrero in November, but he fought hard for all 10 rounds and refused to give up. That's encouraging for a guy like Escobedo, who at this point doesn't have any prospect shine left, and is clearly a step below the top 135 pounders in the world. He could still have a long career, as he's talented and comes to fight. In his losses, he's become a quiet personal favorite of mine, though some of that is owed to his still-puzzling inclusion in Fight Night Round 3. He gets a bounce-back opportunity here against Estrada (38-13-1, 25 KO), whose record I find it very hard to describe. It's not really deceptive, because he's not better than his record, and if anything he might actually be a bit worse than his record, especially since his last win (and biggest) came over Nate Campbell, who was beyond shot. But however the wins came, his last three fights have been victories over Campbell, Jose Reyes and Verquan Kimbrough, and he took Logan McGuinness to a draw before that. He's a familiar face to people who watch too much boxing, as he's faced a lot of notable names over the years, including Yuriorkis Gamboa, Kevin Mitchell, Mikey Garcia, and Roman Martinez. He's a world-traveling professional opponent. He goes where there's a fight. I like Walter Estrada. But he probably doesn't have much hope of winning this fight. Escobedo TKO-5
Undercard: Golden Boy prospects Sharif Bogere, Randy Caballero and Michael Finney are all in action.
Also Fighting This Weekend
Atlantic City, New Jersey: Philadelphia's Derek Ennis (22-2-1, 13 KO) faces Giorbis Bathelemy (24-8-2, 9 KO) in the main event at New Resort. ... Doncaster, England: Ireland-based Cuban heavyweight Mike Perez (12-0, 10 KO) faces veteran Ismail Abdoul (38-19-2, 15 KO). Abdoul is a step above the guys Perez has been thrashing, but should still be on the receiving end in a big way. ... Deurne, Belgium: Sugar Jackson Bonsu (33-4, 25 KO) keeps trying to erase the memory of his first round loss to Randall Bailey, as he takes on Jose del Rio (11-1, 4 KO). Bonsu has tentative dates on April 1, June 24 and November 11 right now, too. ... Helsinki, Finland: The vacant European super middleweight title left behind by Brian Magee is up for grabs between Amin Asikainen (28-3, 19 KO) and Piotr Wilczewski (28-1, 9 KO). Asikainen is 35 and well into the back end of his career. ... Woodland Hills, California: Veteran light heavyweights Otis Griffin (23-6-2, 9 KO) and Yusaf Mack (28-3-2, 17 KO) square off in an IBF eliminator. The IBF belt is currently held by Tavoris Cloud. It's interesting (well, not really) to note that Mack's last fight was also an IBF eliminator, and he got thumped by Glen Johnson in a big way. Lightweight Raymundo Beltran (23-4, 15 KO) is also in action on the card. ... Krynica-Zdrój, Poland: Pawel Kolodziej (27-0, 16 KO) meets Felix Cora Jr. (22-4-2, 12 KO) for some tenth-rate belt. It's interesting (well, not really) to note that Kolodziej's last fight netted him the interim WBC Baltic cruiserweight title. Yes, that's a real thing. Yes, Kolodziej paid "sanctioning" fees for the right to fight for that "championship." Rafal Jackiewicz (37-9-1, 18 KO) faces a scrub on the same show.