This week's edition of ESPN Friday Night Fights is a nice double-header featuring notable names, and while the main event may hold a fight with Amir Khan in December for the winner, the light heavyweight co-feature is a make or break fight for both men.
Edison Miranda (34-5, 29 KO) has been around the block at middleweight and super middleweight, and even in an era of diluted titles where a lot of guys get to call themselves "world champion," the Colombian banger has never been in that crowd. He's had his shots, and made himself a name. In 2006, he challenged middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham on the road in Germany, and lost a controversial decision despite breaking Abraham's jaw. A year later, he was matched with Kelly Pavlik in an eliminator to face world champion Jermain Taylor, but Pavlik beat him down.
It was that Pavlik fight that saw Miranda turn a corner, and not in a good way. Since then, he's shown his highlight reel power, but only against inferior competition. In steps up, better fighters have simply disposed of him without much trouble. He rematched Abraham in 2008 and was stopped in four. In 2009, he took on a pre-Super Six Andre Ward and was routed over 12. And in 2010, he got a title shot, this time against super middleweight beltholder Lucian Bute. Bute memorably knocked Miranda out in the third round, right after Miranda had showboated to tell Bute that his punches weren't hurting him.
On June 4, a heavy Miranda weighed in at 182½ pounds for a fight with journeman Rayco Saunders. Miranda won an eight round decision, but was far from impressive, and it looked like his power was a bit sapped. But he's taking the chance at light heavyweight, and faces former Cuban amateur standout Yordanis Despaigne (8-1, 4 KO) on Friday.
The 31-year-old Despaigne was last seen on Friday Night Fights in March, when he faced fellow unbeaten prospect Ismayl Sillakh. Sillakh outclassed the Cuban and showed his great potential with a wide ten-round decision victory, but Despaigne kept himself in the fight until the end, and looked for ways to win instead of folding. He never quite got there, but Sillakh may well be the future of the 175-pound division, too.
There is no doubt that Despaigne is a more skilled boxer than Miranda, who at 30 with a decade of pro experience is still a bit crude and relies almost exclusively on his knockout power. While Miranda's power may be gone at 175, or at least greatly reduced, you have to assume he's innocent until proven guilty in that regard, and consider it his greatest weapon against Despaigne. And you have to figure that the Cuban will attempt to outbox Miranda, looking perhaps more to emulate Andre Ward's victory over Miranda than what Pavlik, Bute or Abraham have done to him.
At this point, neither man can afford the loss if they intend to contend. Both are now in their 30s and time is a factor, not to mention the fact that neither has a big fanbase, neither has a power promoter, and neither has to date shown what you might call true world class skills. Both are finished products, and the biggest question is whether or not Miranda can physically hang at 175 (he's only 5'10"). I think we pretty much know what they are in terms of style and all of that, but if Miranda doesn't have his power, he could be in for a very long night indeed, and I think that would tip the scales definitively to Despaigne on paper, making for a career best win for him, and getting him back in the conversation as a potential title challenger in the near future.
I don't think Miranda's going to be the slugger he used to be, and honestly I'm not sure he's been the slugger his reputation suggests since he moved to 168. At 160, he had ferocious knockout power, but even then he was pretty easily bullied by those strong and brave enough to do so. Pavlik had his way with Miranda and really beat the snot out of him, one of the more one-sided fights of the lats decade that featured two guys who figured to be about even going in. It was a nasty beatdown.
But Despaigne probably can't do that. He's not a big puncher and doesn't look for knockouts. His best bet is to box, box, and box some more. If he can put Miranda in a hole on the cards early, expect Edison to start winging for the home run shots. He may not be all that good of a fighter, or all that polished, but he's ballsy and isn't afraid to go for the gusto. If Despaigne isn't ready for that, and isn't ready to make adjustments even when it appears he's well ahead, Miranda's power -- even if reduced -- could make the difference.
But I expect Despaigne will be able to make minor adjustments and more or less roll in this fight. He'll have to be on his toes the whole time, and if he is, I think he's too good for Miranda. Despaigne by unanimous decision.