Hozumi Hasegawa returns to the ring on Friday against Jhonny Gonzalez. (Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)
Featherweights, 12 Rounds
Hozumi Hasegawa v. Jhonny Gonzalez
TV: Nippon TV (Japan), Friday, 6am EDT
Big-time boxing is back in Japan with the first really big fight card since the devastating natural disasters of March. World Memorial Hall in Kobe hosts this triple-header, with a tremendous main event in the featherweight division.
Hasegawa (29-3, 12 KO) was knocked out of the bantamweight division last April by the thudding power of Fernando Montiel, ending a 25-fight win streak. Instead of looking for an easy return bout, Hasegawa returned in November and jumped up two weight classes to face promising prospect Juan Carlos Burgos in Nagoya. Hasegawa took Burgos' undefeated record and a vacant alphabet trinket, and now he faces a visiting Mexican for the third straight outing.
Gonzalez (47-7, 41 KO) is a wonderful boxer. The only thing that has kept him from becoming a major star is the fact that he has a weak chin. As far as pure skills go, there aren't too many fighters in the game today who can match Gonzalez, and he's done pretty damn well for a guy whose pro career started 0-2.
As a bantamweight, Gonzalez came into his own in 2004, knocking off then-unbeatens Roger Gonzalez and Gabriel Elizondo. In 2005, he topped William Gonzalez, and in 2006 scored wins over a well-faded Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson and Fernando Montiel. Those wins led him to a September 2006 fight with super bantamweight champ Israel Vazquez, a great battle which stole the show on the Barrera-Juarez II undercard. Vazquez rallied to stop Gonzalez in 10th round of a fight that Gonzalez was leading at the time.
Since failing to survive Vazquez, Gonzalez has been knocked out by Gerry Penalosa at bantamweight and by Toshiaki Nishioka at super bantamweight. Neither loss is anything to be ashamed of, but were fights Gonzalez could have won had his whiskers held up their end. After losing to Nishioka, Gonzalez jumped to featherweight, and last year stopped Jackson Asiku in his biggest fight at the new weight.
This fight likely comes down to the power of Hasegawa. While he was able to outbox Burgos, that will not be as easily done against Gonzalez. Hasegawa needs his punch to translate up in weight, because if you can't stop Gonzalez, then you have to actually be better than him, and while Hasegawa is a good fighter, I would say Gonzalez is definitely more skilled.
Gonzalez has plenty of good wins on his record, but this would be the best. It would also be among the best wins of Hasegawa's career. This is probably more a pick from my heart than my head, but I like Gonzalez here, even on the road, even without the best punch resistance. But I see this as close to a 50-50 fight. Gonzalez UD-12
Super Featherweights, 12 Rounds
Takahiro Ao v. Humberto Gutierrez
TV: Nippon TV (Japan), Friday, 6am EDT
In his last seven fights, Takahiro Ao (20-2-1, 9 KO) is just 4-2-1, but it's been quite a little ride for 4-2-1. His draw came against Hiroyuki Enoki, his losses to Oscar Larios and Elio Rojas. But he also avenged the loss to Larios, and in his last fight in November, toppled Vitali Tajbert. On Friday, he faces Gutierrez (28-2-1, 20 KO), another quality fighter.
Gutierrez lost to Tajbert in Germany in November '09, a disappointing performance in what was a disappointing fight. But the 22-year-old from Los Mochis can definitely fight. At 5'9", he's tall for the division and will have a healthy height advantage on Ao. In this one, I'm going to go with the "hometown" fighter to get the nod, but I expect Ao to have plenty of difficulty with Gutierrez. Ao SD-12
In the third fight on the card, Toshiaki Nishioka should establish why he's the best super bantamweight in the world against Argentina's Mauricio Javier Munoz. While I'd say this could be a trap fight for Nishioka against an unheralded, unknown opponent, Munoz's record just does not support the idea that he's any kind of threat whatsoever.
Middleweights, 12 Rounds
David Lemieux v. Marco Antonio Rubio
TV: ESPN2, Friday, 11pm EDT
The skinny on Lemieux (25-0, 24 KO), in my opinion, is not that he's a very powerful puncher with good accuracy. It's that even in his one-round demolitions, he displays poise and mental maturity beyond his 22 years. The Montreal product looks slated to become a major star, and Rubio (49-5-1, 42 KO) will be his toughest opponent to date. We said the same thing about quality veteran Elvin Ayala last June, and the Canadian wiped him out in 2:44. Since then, Lemieux has stopped Hector Camacho Jr. (3:00) and Purnell Gates (5:50). Rubio might last longer than the average Lemieux foe, but then again, he might not. Rubio is most widely-known for a terrible performance against Kelly Pavlik in February 2009, when the Mexican looked on the verge of a mental breakdown in the corner against the then-middleweight champion. Since then he's gone 5-0, but the last time he was on the road against a puncher was Pavlik. We'll see how he holds up against Lemieux. I think there's a chance that Rubio tries to play crafty veteran and survive while looking for his own big punch to present itself, but more likely I think Lemieux takes care of business simply because he's a better fighter. Lemieux TKO-5