The mega-events of the first half of 2012 are behind us, as Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao hit the rings of Las Vegas on May 5 and June 9, creating tons of interest and buzz, which as usual sort of cooled off as soon as the controversy and the talk after the fights died down. But boxing has had a strong 2012 overall, and there's a big month of notable fights coming up in July. As the summer warms up, so will the boxing schedule. Here's a brief overview of what to watch, when, and why to watch it -- or why can you skip it, unless you're a boxing junkie.
Klitschko (57-3, 50 KO) fought Thompson (36-2, 24 KO) back in July 2008, and four years later, they're doing it again. This is happening mostly because Thompson, 40, hasn't lost since then, and he was basically given the IBF mandatory challenger spot when Eddie Chambers pulled out of a fight with him last fall, which was meant to be an eliminator.
While Thompson hasn't lost since getting knocked out in the eleventh by Wladimir, he also hasn't exactly been setting the world ablaze with his destructive exploits. He's gone 5-0 and hasn't fought since May 2011, and his wins over Adnan Serin, Chazz Witherspoon, Owen Beck, Paul Marinaccio, and Maurice Harris don't exactly figure to boost his chances against Klitschko this time. Thompson has crossed over into his fifth decade on this earth, which isn't in itself a reason to count him out, so let's just offer the big reason to count him out: He wasn't good enough then and he's not good enough now.
Klitschko, 36, hasn't lost since 2004 and seems in no danger of doing so any time soon. Since beat Thompson in '08, he's mowed over the old (Hasim Rahman), the competent (Ruslan Chagaev), the undersized (Eddie Chambers), the overrated (Samuel Peter), the all-talk all-star (David Haye), and the old/undersized superhybrid (Jean-Marc Mormeck). When you get right down to it, it's not that impressive, all things considered, but he's also barely lost a second, let alone a round, in any of those fights.
Thompson, who was down 98-92 twice and 99-91 on the cards when he was stopped by Big Wlad in '08, was perceived as "competitive" that first time around because, basically, he wasn't totally embarrassed. He gave his best effort, but despite being tall (6'5") and a southpaw with good reach, he still wasn't a particularly tough challenge. This fight is important mostly because Wladimir Klitschko fights are important.
Pre-Fight Grade: 5/10. This is unlikely to be competitive or compelling to watch, but Wladimir matters.
Eddie Hearn has promised to get big fights for Brook (27-0, 18 KO), who is clearly the best welterweight in Britain (or Europe for that matter), but hasn't been able to find the right opportunity just yet. That said, they're keeping him busy, keeping him sharp, and getting him about the best fights they can. In March, that was against Matthew Hatton, and they drew 10,000 fans to Sheffield. They'll hope for a similar turnout here.
That could be tough since Jones (34-8-2, 24 KO) isn't British, doesn't have the last name Hatton, and doesn't, on paper, have a great record. He doesn't appear, on paper, to be a tough opponent here. But given the lack of options right now, I think he's about as good as could be signed up. Jones is a tough scraper who is going to come to win this fight, and if Brook overlooks him, well, let's put it this way: Crazier shit happens in boxing all the time than Carson Jones beating Kell Brook. Just go back a few days to Josesito Lopez beating Victor Ortiz. That's kind of the fight we have here. Not totally perfect comparison, but in terms of odds, pretty close.
Brook is a good fighter, and has skills. We've yet to see him do his thing against anyone truly world class, and most likely that's not what we have here, either. But I think this is a good fight. The bonus is that there are two good undercard bouts, too, rematches between Gavin Rees and Derry Mathews, and Kerry Hope and Grzegorz Proksa.
Pre-Fight Score: 7/10. A solid main event and a good pair of featured undercard bouts. This is a better overall card than most.
Donaire (28-1, 18 KO) faces off against Mathebula (26-3-2, 14 KO) in an interesting super bantamweight title unification in California. This is perhaps a riskier fight than many realize. Mathebula is about 5'10", and will tower over Donaire, who in his best performances has in fact towered over his foes. He's taken some criticism for basically always being the bigger man in the ring, and his last two fights against Omar Narvaez and Wilfredo Vazquez Jr have been disappointing to some, for different reasons. Narvaez avoided contact, which was to be expected if you'd seen Narvaez before, and Donaire hurt his hand in February against Vazquez, who boxed well defensively and dragged the fight out even though he was outclassed in terms of talent.
Mathebula, 33, has been in with good fighters before (Celestino Caballero, Takalani Ndlovu), and isn't coming into this as some totally untested titleholder lucky to have a strap. He's a good fighter, and if Donaire can really impress here, then he's said something at 122 pounds. He'll be favored, but I'm highly interested to see how he does against a bigger guy, and what his approach will be. Nonito is best when exploding on counter opportunities. Will Mathebula give those to him?
Kelly Pavlik will face Will Rosinsky in the co-feature, which was originally meant to be Brandon Rios vs Mauricio Herrera.
Pre-Fight Grade: 6/10. I'm intrigued by the main event, but Donaire's last couple of fights have just left me flat, and I've lost some of my enthusiasm for his fights.
I know I should hate this fight and give it the business and be a stand-up blogalist and all that, and decry the morals and the nonsense, and I can totally understand the argument, best laid-out by our friend Carlos Acevedo at The Cruelest Sport, that the real problem with this fight is all the sanctioning messes this could create in the future. It's a dangerous precedent to set and on that point, I agree with the people who think that this fight happening at all is a travesty, and leads to God knows what, probably none of it good.
But mostly I want to watch a couple of goons slug each other in the head. That probably makes me a bad person or a bad "Boxing Head" or something, but I just don't care. I am excited for this fight because I love true grudge matches.
Chisora is just about as classless as they come in a sport not known for its dignity. Haye is a motormouth and a relentless self-promoter whose last fight was one of the great disappointments in recent memory. These two deserve each other if they deserve anything at all. I can't even give this a score because I really don't look at this the way I do other fights. This is pro wrestling at its best.
Khan (26-2, 18 KO) was supposed to rematch Lamont Peterson in May, but Peterson failed his VADA drug test and that went to hell, so now he'll face WBC junior welterweight titlist Danny Garcia (23-0, 14 KO) instead. The co-feature was supposed to be Seth Mitchell vs Johnathon Banks, but Mitchell suffered an injury and now that's off.
Khan should be considered a favorite here, in my view. I've personally just never been impressed with Garcia, 24, and he didn't change my mind by beating an old, slow, powerless, out of shape Erik Morales in March. I still just don't see that X factor in him that can make a guy with pretty good skills (which Garcia has) into more than just a pretty good fighter. But to his credit, he hasn't lost yet, and he hasn't faced true bums all the way either. The Morales fight was for a chance to call himself "world champion," no matter how bogus that might be. The Khan fight is his chance to solidify himself as a true top fighter at 140 pounds.
I do pretty heavily favor Khan and I don't think this will be all that close. I just think Khan is a superior fighter, and the matchup suits Amir, too. Everything Garcia can do, Khan can do better, is my belief. Maybe I'm wrong.
Pre-Fight Grade: 6/10. Lack of undercard fight is a drag, plus I don't expect this to end up being a particularly good fight. But it's about as good as one could hope for a replacement fight for the Peterson scandal, too, and GBP deserves some credit for risking the fighters here. The WBC gets no credit for allowing the title fight while Ajose Olusegun sits around twiddling his thumbs. And Olusegun and his team get no credit for continuing to sit around and twiddle their thumbs. I know why they're doing it, I just don't think it's helping him at all.
Broner (23-0, 19 KO) is your HBO Star of the Future for 2012, as he made his move to the network last year and is now entrenched as a prospect to watch. He holds a world title, but so do a lot of guys. He has unbelievable physical gifts, and he's worth watching no matter what.
The good news is that Escobedo (26-3, 15 KO) isn't a total patsy opponent. I do expect Broner's ability to still rather easily carry this one, but Escobedo has a better shot than Eloy Perez ever did (honestly, I truly believe that boxing writers who personally like Eloy grossly overrated his talent going into that fight), and better than Martin Rodriguez ever did, and better than Jason Litzau ever did.
If you've been here a while, you probably know that I'm not on the Broner bandwagon just yet. But I do enjoy watching him fight, and if he's tougher mentally than I've been suspecting, he's going to go as high as some people believe he will. He's really, really, really talented. I just question the toughness, and I don't like the way they've gone about making him a name fighter. I didn't like it with Berto, don't like it with Broner or Gary Russell Jr, either.
The co-feature will pit Marcos Maidana against Haymon-managed prospect Keith Thurman in a welterweight bout. Some people think it's OH GOD SO TERRIBLE, but I don't think it's all that bad. And if Haymon is putting Thurman in there, then it means one of two things: They think he will win, or they think he's going to be a bust sooner than later anyway, so they're getting some TV money before he loses to someone worse.
Pre-Fight Grade: 6/10. Broner may be a true blue weirdo (his Twitter is beyond bizarre), but he's a talent. My hope is we see him tested here, but that would require Escobedo to be better than he is, I believe.
In Robert Guerrero's fantasy land, he's taking on Selcuk Aydin, the great undefeated warrior from Turkey who was ducked by Floyd Mayweather and Andre Berto. They wanted no part of him! Guerrero is a superstar and he is ready to prove it.
Guerrero (29-1-1, 18 KO) is taking some risk here. I don't think much of Aydin (23-0, 17 KO) when it comes to being part of the best of the best at 147, because he's not. His two questionable (that's a nice word for at least one of them) wins over Jo Jo Dan showed his limitations. But Guerrero also hasn't fought since April 2011, has never fought over lightweight (save for a 138 catchweight against the ghost of Joel Casamayor), and you just never know. Guerrero is jumping two weight classes against a legit if not great opponent. Yeah, I'd say there's risk here, and I also expect it will be a good fight. Aydin lacks elite talent, but not balls. He comes to fight, and Guerrero's had trouble with guys who can pressure and put the heat on him before (Orlando Salido, Daud Yordan).
I know I bust on RG's PR push sometimes, but I mean it to be taken humorously, not maliciously or anything. I can't blame him for trying to get his name out there. And bottom line, he does want to face the best guys, no matter if that's "for money" or "for pride" or whatever it is. I thought the Mayweather-Guerrero idea was absurd, as did most everyone, but I didn't blame Guerrero for daring to soar with the eagles and shit, you know? I can't "hate on" a dude for having the desire to prove himself, no matter how wacky I might find his ideas.
Pre-Fight Grade: 7/10. I got myself a bit of a funny feelin' with this one. I had it last year for Berto-Zaveck, too. I think we could see a fight similar to that one, where the "right" guy wins, but it doesn't come easy at all. And I think it's going to be a good fight.
Other 'Notable' Fights
Juan Manuel Marquez might be in action on July 21. Or he might not be. The last idea was that he'd be facing Al Sabaupan. The world yawned.
WBA "regular" heavyweight titlist Alexander Povetkin will face Hasim Rahman on July 14. This fight was originally set for the Haye-Chisora card in London, but has been moved to Germany for whatever reason you choose to believe. It's an awful fight, as Rahman is 39 but has been fighting like he's 50 in recent outings. His last time out (June 2011), he weighed 284 pounds, or about 50 pounds more than he weighed when he was fighting Lennox Lewis a decade ago. After that fight, a lackluster win over Galen Brown, Rahman said, "I let this man go six rounds with me, that's like a loss, man. I can't be taken seriously as a legitimate title threat coming off of this fight. I need a fight as soon as possible." Well, he said it, not me. Still, the WBA put him in there as a mandatory challenger, in one of the absolute worst decisions for a mandatory challenger I can think of off hand.
If I had to bet on a Fight of the Month, it would be Hank Lundy vs Raymundo Beltran on July 27 (ESPN Friday Night Fights). I smell war in that matchup.