Saturday night's Pacquiao vs Marquez IV pay-per-view is an historic event for the ever-evolving world of professional boxing, and it's not because two of the sport's best fighters will be meeting for a fourth time in the night's main event.
No, it's because Saturday's card is the first time ever that Bob Arum, 50 Cent, and Snooki have all played a role in putting together a single boxing card.
50 Cent makes his promotional debut, as he's bringing Yuriorkis Gamboa back to the ring for the night's main undercard bout, facing Michael Farenas for the interim WBA super featherweight title. Gamboa, a former featherweight champion and one of the sport's most gifted fighters, was with Arum's Top Rank until earlier this year, when he no-showed press conferences for an April HBO fight against Brandon Rios, ultimately dragging the whole thing into court, after which the case was settled, with Gamboa's deal bought out.
Now, somewhat hilariously, he won't be fighting alongside Floyd Mayweather as was expected. Instead, he's right back where he was before: With Top Rank, more or less, flanked by a rapper-actor whose venture into boxing hasn't gone nearly as smoothly as he probably thought it would.
Snooki's boxing promotional company -- creatively named Team Snooki Boxing -- brought the Hyland boys (Patrick, Paul, and Eddie) from Ireland to the United States earlier this year, and most made fun of the whole idea. Now, they've got the most promising of the trio (the only promising fighter of the trio, really) an interim world title fight (WBA) on a Manny Pacquiao pay-per-view. What more could anyone have expected in their first year of existence?
Let's take a look at these three fights.
Super Featherweights - 12 Rounds (Vacant interim WBA title)
Yuriorkis Gamboa (21-0, 16 KO) vs Michael Farenas (34-3-4, 26 KO)
Gamboa turns 31 on December 23, and his 15 months out of the ring were really about the last thing he needed. Despite his talent and hardcore boxing fan appeal, Gamboa is not a major star -- at least, he's not enough of an in-demand fighter to be losing over a year of his career as he enters his 30s. And the way he got from where he was to where he is, is frankly kind of funny. Slice it however you want, but Top Rank gets Yuriorkis Gamboa on an undercard without any of the headaches that came with promoting a Cuban fighter without a big fan base.
Gamboa last fought in September 2011, easily defeating Daniel Ponce De Leon. Even then, Top Rank was basically out of ideas for him. That was proven by the fact that the company co-promoted with Golden Boy for the Ponce De Leon fight on HBO; the only time those companies come together anymore is when they've got no idea what to do with a pair of fighters. That same sort of thing is what resulted in Golden Boy allowing Erislandy Lara to face Top Rank's Vanes Martirosyan in November. They didn't have anything better.
Whatever you might think of Gamboa's decision to balk on a date with Brandon Rios in April, that's all water under the bridge now. He's back, and he needs to make a statement. Moving up to 130 -- where he has fought as a pro, but not particularly seriously yet -- he's taking aim at a weight class that just lost its best fighter, Adrien Broner. The major titlists at 130 pounds are Japan's Takashi Uchiyama (WBA), Mexico's Juan Carlos Salgado (IBF), Puerto Rico's Rocky Martinez (WBO), and Mexico's Gamaliel Diaz (WBC).
In short, the pickings could be easy for Gamboa, whose big-time talent sets him apart from that lot on paper. Those are solid fighters, no doubt, but few would say they're truly in Gamboa's class. There was some talk of matching him with Salgado, but that fell through, as did a fight with Miguel Beltran Jr.
So we're going to see Gamboa face 28-year-old Filipino Michael Farenas, whose last fight was a three-round technical draw in July against Uchiyama. Gamboa and Farenas have a common opponent in Walter Estrada. In February 2009, Gamboa knocked Estrada out in 35 seconds. In May 2009, Farenas knocked Estrada out in 2:59.
Gamboa is an overwhelming favorite in this fight, on name power alone. Simply put, he is known to U.S. boxing fans because of numerous dates on HBO, Showtime, and ESPN2 (it seems like his entire career has been televised since his much-hyped defection from Cuba), and Farenas is not.
But Farenas' team believes that they have two things going for them: Their fighter's power, and Gamboa's supposedly suspect chin. Farenas' manager is Gerry Penalosa, who himself was a hell of a pro fighter, and stood in there with some of the best over his career:
"Gamboa’s chin is questionable. I expect in a 12-round fight, Gamboa will get hit by Michael, sooner or later. When he gets hit, Gamboa’s going down. I don’t think he can take a punch. Even if he’s undefeated, Gamboa has been knocked down in at least five fights. Michael is hungry for recognition. This is his chance."
What greatly works against Farenas' underdog chances on paper is the fact that he hasn't faced much top-flight opposition. While Gamboa has been dropped before, he has also recovered each time, and the toughest test he's faced in his career came against pesky Orlando Salido, currently considered by many the world's best featherweight. Apart from Salido, he has more or less dominated everyone he has faced in the pro ranks, and the Salido fight wasn't that close, either.
Will the rust be enough to give Farenas a chance here? Probably not, but then that's why they fight the fights. If that combines with overconfidence and some kind of cosmic conspiracy to ruin 50 Cent's attempts in boxing, perhaps Farenas has a shot. It would have to be big on the cosmic thing, I suspect.
Lightweights - 12 Rounds (IBF Title)
Miguel Vazquez (32-3, 13 KO) vs Mercito Gesta (26-0-1, 14 KO)
25-year-old Vazquez of Mexico was making a name for himself in the sport before October 27. For starters, he'd won the IBF lightweight title, and dominated cruder foes such as Ji-Hoon Kim, Ammeth Diaz, and Lenny Zappavigna. He first made a couple waves, really, in a July 2009 win over Breidis Prescott on ESPN Friday Night Fights.
Prescott was 21-0 at the time, and his reputation was still riding very high due to his September 2008 knockout of Amir Khan in England. Considered a dangerous puncher, Prescott was easily favored to beat Vazquez, who already had three losses, and was a virtual unknown.
But Sergio Mora was on commentary that night, and said he had sparred with Vazquez in the past and not to count him out. Vazquez proved tricky and crafty, indeed, scoring a split decision win.
His next fight out, Vazquez beat Kim for the vacant IBF lightweight title. When one examined Vazquez's record closer after the win over Prescott, it was easy to see what made him appear a routine night's work for Prescott. He had three losses. Then you saw where he got those three losses. Each one of them was over his preferred weight limit of 135 pounds. Oh, and the losses came to Timothy Bradley and Canelo Alvarez (twice, in Vazquez's pro debut, and another fight later around the welterweight limit).
Miguel Vazquez is a legit top lightweight. What he is not, though, is someone that many fans are going to be crying out to see fight. Not after his stinker October win on HBO Boxing After Dark over Marvin Quintero, where his performance was roundly criticized. It was effective enough to get him a split decision win, but nobody was clamoring for a return engagement from Vazquez.
So since this is professional boxing and not a sport that makes any sense whatsoever, Vazquez returns on a show you have to pay more money to see.
The real problem with Vazquez -- from a fan's perspective, anyway -- is he's good and smart enough a fighter to do what he does and get away with it. His performance against Quintero wasn't grossly out of the ordinary, but even considering he's not exactly the new Gatti, Vazquez fought negatively that night to the point that it was a bit much even for his normal style. In some ways, he was lucky he didn't have different judges; one of them scored it for Quintero, and the argument was good enough. They were close in punch numbers and all that stuff, but Quintero was definitely the guy trying to make the fight happen. If Vazquez had met a trio of aggression-loving judges, he might have lost the fight.
On Saturday he faces Mercito Gesta, a Filipino southpaw with big legs and a jumpy style. Sound familiar?
Gesta, 25, has been so frequently compared to Manny Pacquiao that at this point it's almost done as a rib. There are similarities between the fighters, but Gesta also occasionally evokes thoughts of another oft-imitated star of modern boxing: Roy Jones Jr.
Like Jones, Gesta seems to have an incredibly large bit of confidence in himself. To put it more bluntly, he has a habit of fighting arrogantly, with his hands down, seemingly thinking way too much of his own speed, power, and reflexes. To put it simply, Gesta is not Manny Pacquiao, and he's sure as hell not Jones.
But to this point, he has won his fights, usually with no real trouble. He's fought twice this year, beating Oscar Cuero in April and Ty Barnett in August. Both fights, I have left thinking that Gesta was going to have his eyes opened big time when he fought a legitimate opponent.
Vazquez is a legitimate opponent, but not the sort who's going to intimidate Gesta or "open his eyes," really. I don't think there's much that Vazquez can do that will really surprise Gesta. I could see him beating Gesta in this fight and grinding out a wide decision win that deflates the Filipino along the way, but I don't think we're in for any shock-and-awe stuff.
Gesta will have some advantages here. He is, I believe, the physically stronger man, and the better puncher. If he can cut the ring off and keep Vazquez from doing what Vazquez really prefers to do -- pick, peck, and stay out of the other man's range -- he should be able to find some success. That said, it's not that Vazquez can't fight. When matched against pure inferiors, he will impose his will at times, and he had to fight some against Prescott, too. He can take a shot, and he can hold his own if it has to be in the trenches.
The question, then, isn't much about Vazquez, but about how good Gesta really is. Cuero and Barnett don't tell us much. But I constantly think of Danny Garcia now; that's a fighter I never thought was all that great, but when he stepped up against Kendall Holt, Erik Morales, and Amir Khan, he just kept winning. Miguel Vazquez is good, but not so good that he should be considered an easy favorite against Gesta, even if Gesta hasn't fought on this level yet. There is talent in Gesta. It's up to him to make this his kind of fight. If he can't, it could be a long contest for him, and boring for viewers.
Featherweights - 12 Rounds (interim WBA title)
Javier Fortuna (20-0, 15 KO) vs Patrick Hyland (27-0, 12 KO)
Sampson Lewkowicz discovered Manny Pacquiao many years ago. More recently, he found Sergio Martinez. Javier Fortuna of the Dominican Republic is his newest hyped prospect, and so far, the returns have been good.
Fortuna, a 23-year-old southpaw, has put together three straight solid wins for his level. Last December, he outpointed rugged Mickey Roman over 10 rounds, and this year, he's barely broken a sweat in two blowout TV wins. On April 27, he faced Yuandale Evans, another unbeaten prospect, and destroyed him in just two minutes, scoring a pair of knockdowns and looking at least a full class above his opponent. He followed that with a second round TKO of gritty Cristobal Cruz on July 6.
Fortuna is quick on his feet and quick with his hands. The guy can just plain move, and of the noted prospects out there, he's one of the smoothest in the ring to my eye. This is a fighter who could really go a long way and become a legitimate top featherweight before too long. He's got the power to go with the speed, and the southpaw stance doesn't hurt either.
In other words, this kid can just plain fight, and it looks like Lewkowicz has found another diamond in the rough to bring to the major leagues of boxing. There's work to be done, but he's on the way.
Hyland, 29, is an Irish-born fighter who turned pro in 2004 and was able to fight consistently and win there through 2011, but he just never stepped up his competition much. Perhaps the most recognizable name on his record at home was Peter Buckley, the lovable loser who finished his career with an astonishing record of 32-256-12.
Signed with his brothers Paul and Eddie by the boxing operation funded by "Jersey Shore" star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, he moved to New York this year and started a new career. The trio fought together at Snooki's debut event on January 28 in Atlantic City, and what was clear in Ireland was also clear in the States: Patrick was, by far, the best of the brothers.
That night, Patrick beat Emmanuel Lucero, a veteran probably most famous for losing to Manny Pacquiao in 2003, while Paul won a six-round decision over a club fighter, and Eddie dropped a four-round decision to Franklin Gonzalez.
Since then, Paul and Eddie haven't fought. Patrick, however, has beaten Frankie Archuleta (a veteran who never looks like he wants to be there anymore) and Carlos Fulgencio. The Snooki camp might have thought they were signing what would be a minor gold mine on the east coast, a family of Irish fighters, but what they've got is one who might have some actual future in the sport.
That said, Hyland is up against it here. Fortuna seems for all the world to be on another level from the Irishman, and it's difficult, having seem them both fight, to imagine Hyland offering any serious challenge. This could be over about as soon as it starts, frankly; if Fortuna can blast through Cristobal Cruz in two rounds, a fighter who lives to get into a nasty tear-up, then what will he do with a likely overmatched Hyland?
The pessimistic view is that Saturday could be the end of this Team Snooki experiment, but the upside is this: They got a fighter on a Manny Pacquiao pay-per-view, and they took their most talented guy and put him into a fight where he can prove himself. If Hyland wanted to come to the States and get in the mix, well, he's there now.