Jessie Vargas is looking to go to 2-0 in his second Mayweather PPV fight. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Saturday night on HBO pay-per-view, Floyd Mayweather faces Miguel Cotto in the main event, and Canelo Alvarez takes on Shane Mosley in the main undercard bout, but there are two more fights on the televised bill, so we'll take a look at those first, before moving on to the big name bouts.
The opening two bouts are more or less intended to be showcase fights for a couple of Mayweather Promotions fighters, 22-year-old welterweight prospect Jessie Vargas and 26-year-old junior middleweight fringe contender Deandre Latimore.
Both are facing veteran former titleholders whose best years are well behind them, so this card has an odd structure, as it's shaped like a middling Friday Night Fights, leading into a decent HBO headliner (Canelo vs Mosley), leading into the mega-event PPV headliner, which is legit a big fight, in Mayweather vs Cotto.
Welterweights, 10 Rounds
Jessie Vargas (18-0, 9 KO) vs Steve Forbes (35-10, 11 KO)
Vargas was featured on the last Mayweather PPV, beating Josesito Lopez last September in the first televised fight of the night, hours before Victor Ortiz headbutted his supposed boss and then was hilariously knocked out for his damnfool over-apologizing. It wound up being fight of the night, which was not a surprise at all -- Vargas is a solid, B-grade prospect, who may wind up becoming a "world champion" because he's got good connections, some talent, and, well, a lot of guys wind up being "world champion" these days, and many of them are far from special. The standard for a world champion in boxing is not Mayweather, Pacquiao, Klitschko, and Hopkins. It's a lot closer to Senchenko, Jaro, Bundrage, and (Yuri) Foreman, and Vargas has at least the upside of a second-rate titleholder.
He's made his move to 147 official after flirting around 140 for a while, not an unpredictable move given that his four fights in 2011 all saw him at catchweights, weighing between 142 and 143½ on the scales. He's definitely got the body and frame for welterweight.
His limitations center first on a spotty defense, and second on a lack of big punching power. Vargas has a 50% stoppage rate, and it might not even hold there over time. Both Lopez and Lanardo Tyner went the distance with him in his last two fights, with Lopez coming pretty close to beating him, losing a very close split decision (no robbery by any means, just a competitive fight), and Tyner hanging in well in a chippy, foul-filled brawl. Vargas doesn't have the speed or slickster skill it takes to become elite without really good power.
That said, he's a fine young fighter and doesn't often deal in boring fights, and there's plenty of time for him to improve and become more than it appears he's headed for at the moment. He was originally slated to face former "Contender" fan favorite Alfonso Gomez, who would have given him a decent test at 147, similar to what Lopez gave him last year before the move up, and the fight likely would have gone Vargas' way after some solid action.
But when Gomez pulled out with a back injury, 35-year-old Steve Forbes got the call. Forbes is friendly with the Mayweather camp, and has often been used by Mayweather opponents as a sparring partner. Back in 2000, he won the IBF super featherweight title, making one successful defense in a rematch against John Brown, before having to give up the title.
He badly missed weight for a fight against David Santos in 2002, weighing in almost five pounds over the limit, and never did get the belt back, though he got another shot in 2003 against Carlos Hernandez. Before he joined the "Contender" cast in 2006, Forbes was sort of floating along aimlessly, facing middling opponents after losing to Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai, who held the WBA 130-pound belt, in 2004. He made it to the season two finals, losing to Grady Brewer, and his career was given new life.
Following that, Forbes got the short end of the stick against Demetrius Hopkins on the Barrera-Marquez show in 2007, and was then called upon in 2008 to face Oscar De La Hoya in a physical mismatch that was Oscar's "gift" to his fans, a fight on "free" HBO instead of his customary PPV.
It was a 150-pound catchweight, and though Forbes had been fighting at 140-150, nobody thought he could really. The one-sided, boring 12-round fight was meant to prepare Oscar for a return to welterweight and a rematch with Floyd Mayweather, which never happened. Instead, it prepared Oscar to overtrain for a fight with Manny Pacquiao and get his ass kicked.
The fight did give us what I think is one of the best video packages HBO ever put together, for the "Countdown" show before the fight:
Forbes is a likeable, hard-working fighter who really has been an underdog his whole life. Born weighing just two pounds, he carried that through life and his career via the nickname "2 Pound," he has been a titlist in pro boxing and a guy whose career really has been bigger and more successful than one might have figured from him. He's not headed for the Hall of Fame, but he's definitely made something of himself in boxing.
He parlayed the loss to De La Hoya into an undeserved shot at WBC titlist Andre Berto in September 2008, as Berto was at the time an HBO darling being protected by the network as if he was their precious cub. Berto won, and that was really the curtain call for Forbes as a relevant fighter.
Since then, he's fought five times, going 2-3 overall, with his wins coming over club fighters, and his losses coming to Harrison Cuello (himself a club fighter), Jo Jo Dan (a fringe contender at 147), and Karim Mayfield (a prospect too old to really be a prospect, trying to quickly put together a career).
Against Mayfield last year on Friday Night Fights, Forbes didn't look anything like the fighter he used to be, in an ugly clinch-fest against a guy who talked more than he fought in the ring. Forbes was stopped in the tenth round, and the stoppage itself was debatable, but those watching in our live thread had no real problem -- as we put it then, it was a mercy stoppage for the pummeled audience.
It's hard to imagine Vargas losing to Forbes here. The last time Forbes was in the ring, he had nothing to offer a lesser fighter in Mayfield. He's not really a welterweight anyway, and he's gone 5-5 in his career fighting 147 and over. My gut instinct is to expect a listless, passionless performance from Forbes, who I expect to be picking up a paycheck and little more. Best case scenario is probably that he comes out hard trying to do something early before giving up the ghost by the middle rounds. Vargas should be able to win this one easy, and frankly if he does not, then that's more to consider about his ultimate potential. Vargas via TKO-7.
Junior Middleweights, 10 Rounds
Deandre Latimore (23-3, 17 KO) vs Carlos Quintana (28-3, 22 KO)
Deandre Latimore reminds me of Kendrick Perkins in that a lot of the time when he's photographed, he looks morose, or maybe just plain sad. He's signed now with Mayweather, which was a curious pickup if ever I've seen one, and is now trained by Jeff Mayweather. I guess it shouldn't be that shocking, considering there have always been fighters around the Mayweathers, even before the "Mayweather Promotions" days, guys they thought they could school in the Mayweather Way who just didn't have it, were never going to have it, and wound up clearly not having it. Wes Ferguson springs to mind.
Latimore was briefly thought to be a contender at 154 pounds in 2008, when he scored an upset TKO of Sechew Powell on Friday Night Fights in a bout that was even at 57-57 on each judge's card at the time of stoppage. Powell, who also wound up an overall flop after being a highly-touted prospect, tested positive for marijuana after the fight, which ultimately wound up the most memorable thing about the bout.
After beating Powell, Latimore found himself in the ring with fellow St. Louis native Cory Spinks, vying for the vacant IBF junior middleweight belt. The crowd that night rooted heavily for Latimore, the upstart, younger fighter who appeared to suddenly have a bright future, and actually booed Spinks early. Spinks, of course, is part of a fine STL boxing legacy, but by 2009 when he met Latimore, he was considered old news, and his often dull fights had apparently turned off the hometown faithful enough that they were willing to back the kid.
By the end of the fight, with Spinks fighting hard and winning, the audience's tone had shifted. Cory had won them back, and wound up winning the fight by split decision. It was an entertaining bout that didn't seem so much to make Latimore worse as it did rise the opinion of Spinks for what was likely the final time.
Latimore, though, never really got going again. His career has stalled since the loss to Spinks, as he's gone 4-1 with four unimpressive wins and a loss to Powell in their March 2010 rematch. His first fight under the Mayweather banner came in February of this year, when by hook or crook or Haymon, Showtime decided to feature Vargas and Latimore in a ShoBox doubleheader of forgettable proportions. It was true showcase material, nothing more.
But instead of looking sharp, Latimore kind of dogged it on cruise control against Colombia's Milton Nunez, a fighter who came in with three losses, all of them by first round knockout, and a very Colombian slate of wins (if you're unfamiliar with the famed Colombian records, it means you beat a bunch of true nobodies, because apparently that's what the Colombian people love in their boxing, horrendous mismatches).
Latimore, though, nearly coughed up the fight in the late rounds. He was badly buzzed in the ninth and nearly knocked out, and then he ran around the ring in the 10th, refusing to engage in a fight and trying to secure his victory by fleeing confrontation. Needless to say, the macho and bloodthirsty diehard boxing audience didn't respond particularly well to the tactics, and he took a lot of heat from the fans who watched. He wound up knocked down again in the tenth, but that was clearly the result of a headbutt and not a punch. In the end, he managed to sneak out of the Vegas Hard Rock with a majority decision win (96-92, 95-94, 94-94).
If this is what the Mayweather influence has done to Latimore, made him think he's some kind of slick, hyper-talented boxer who can cruise to fancy-looking decisions, I get the feeling it's not going to hold him over in the win column for very long. That's not who he is, and I don't think you can just make someone that guy.
Quintana, 35, hasn't fought in 15 months, and hasn't fought anyone good in just over two years. The last time most anyone saw him, he lost to Andre Berto on HBO, stopped in the eighth round of a solid fight in which Berto pretty seriously injured his bicep in the second round. It was a game challenge from the Puerto Rican veteran, but like his other bouts with top opponents, he wound up beaten by talent.
But let's not forget that Quintana has, quite frankly, proven to be a good bit better than Latimore thus far in their respective careers, and if the DiBella-promoted southpaw isn't out of shape, terribly rusty, or just plain disinterested or shot, this might be a big ass trap fight for the Mayweather soldier.
Quintana isn't known as a puncher, but he's far from pillow-fisted. He also owns a win over Paul Williams, upsetting the then-unbeaten "Punisher" over 12 rounds in February 2008, a fight notable not just for the upset and the fact that it was a pretty good fight that first exposed a lot of what's wrong with Paul Williams as a fighter, but for one of HBO judge Harold Lederman's all-time worst scorecards, as he went with Williams on the strength of a jab that basically didn't exist. Williams won their rematch via first round TKO, as he came out smelling blood with revenge on his mind.
Quintana's other big, notable win was an upset of hot prospect Joel Julio back in June 2006. That's the fight that led him to facing Miguel Cotto, where he was beaten down by his fellow Puerto Rican.
Latimore looked vulnerable and unsure of himself last time out. Quintana might very well just show up and stink out the joint and look like a guy who isn't ready to be in the ring at all -- it happens when fighters are in their mid-30s and inactive. For what it's worth, he sounds confident:
"I have worked hard to get ready for this fight. I know I don't have a lot of time left in the sport so I need to win now and I will come out with a win. Mosley is a legend in the sport. Canelo is also a great fighter. I respect both of them and after I win my fight I want to fight the winner of their fight."
This might have been a bad choice by the folks backing Latimore. Unless Latimore has buckled down and really made some improvements in the last two months, Quintana is a very live dog. Latimore is simply not good enough that he should be considered a prohibitive favorite over someone with the results Quintana has in his past, who hasn't proven he's totally washed-up or anything like that.
The only guys to beat Quintana thus far have been Berto, Williams, and Miguel Cotto. If Latimore beats a version of Quintana who has a pulse, it will probably mean he's legitimately gotten something together since that last fight. But partly for the sake of fun, I'm going to call the "upset." This is far, far closer to 50-50 than I think the promoters were looking to book. Quintana via TKO-9.