The May 7 edition of Prizefighter is the first to feature fighters from outside of the United Kingdom and Ireland, with the heavyweights back in action in the 18th edition of the tournament. The drawing was done today by Joe Calzaghe, and here are the first-round matchups, in bracket form.
Mike Perez (13-0, 10 KO, 25 y/o, Cuba) v. Fres Oquendo (32-7, 21 KO, 38 y/o, Puerto Rico)
Oquendo is past his prime, and his prime was never that good, but he's still a large step up in class for Perez, who has so far faced light competition in Ireland. The best news for Perez is that a three-round format would definitely seem to favor him; Oquendo likes to take his time, and that won't be to his benefit in a short fight. Oquendo was last seen in December losing a split decision to Oliver McCall in Florida, though both myself (116-112) and Brickhaus (116-113) scored the fight for Oquendo. I like Perez here.
Kevin Johnson (24-1-1, 10 KO, 31 y/o, United States) v. Gregory Tony (14-1, 12 KO, 32 y/o, France)
If Oquendo doesn't like to start fast, you might say Johnson just doesn't like to start. Tony's only loss is a TKO-6 to Robert Helenius last August, and Helenius would definitely wipe out this field, so it's hard to say what he is. His KO% is nice and he's 6'5", but largely untested. Johnson has the better experience and has taken out third-rate heavyweights before. I'm cautiously picking Johnson here -- he "fought" like garbage against Vitali Klitschko, but there's no Vitali Klitschko in this lot.
Michael Sprott (36-15, 17 KO, 36 y/o, United Kingdom) v. Tye Fields (45-3, 41 KO, 36 y/o, United States)
Just when you thought you were out of the Tye Fields game when Top Rank's terrible series on Versus ended years back and Monte Barrett knock the crud out of him in 57 seconds back in 2008, here he is again. Fields is supposedly just about the nicest guy ever and I certainly don't blame him for his sham record. I blame Bob Arum. Look, keep this in mind -- Fields was knocked out in three by Michael Grant last time out in March, which by the way is probably the worst PPV main event I can think of off-hand. Sprott is the only UK fighter flying the flag this time around, so he should have the crowd very solidly behind him for as long as he lasts. He's also about two classes better than Fields. If "Big Sky" can land one of his mammoth slow-motion right hands, yes he could win this fight. Hell, he could manage to win this tournament with three big punches. But he also doesn't take punches very well. As for Sprott's age and declining skills, whatever. Barrett and Grant weren't exactly peaking either. Sprott by KO.
Juan Carlos Gomez (49-2, 37 KO, 37 y/o, Cuba) v. Konstantin Airich (16-3-2, 13 KO, 32 y/o, Kazakhstan)
Airich fights out of Germany and was involved in one of the damnedest things I've ever seen with his fight against Danny Williams in 2008, which was refereed by the worst referee ever (Alfredo Garcia Perez) and also was highlighted by promoter Ahmet Oner ringing the bell early during a round to save Airich. Airich was eventually stopped in seven, and in his last fight was beaten in four by Gbenga Oloukun. He has some pop, but Gomez is just a much better fighter, and skills-wise is probably still the best of this pack. I've got Gomez here.
Here are my picks for the full tournament:
Mike Perez def. Fres Oquendo
Kevin Johnson def. Gregory Tony
Michael Sprott def. Tye Fields
Juan Carlos Gomez def. Konstantin Airich
Perez def. Johnson
Gomez def. Sprott
Perez def. Gomez
I'm going with the youngest, strongest guy in the tournament, and an all-Cuba final. But as much as it pains me to say so, "Kingpin" Johnson having a breakout, redeeming night and winning really wouldn't totally shock me the more I think about it. He's a lot better than he looked against Vitali, but he looked absolutely useless against Vitali so I'm not saying he's headed for glory. And anything can and usually does happen in Prizefighter, so we won't know until it gets underway. I'm looking forward to it as always.