Tonight's HBO Boxing After Dark tripleheader may not have that one blowaway, must-see main event, but two of Top Rank's biggest cornerstones are in action in Mikey Garcia and Nonito Donaire, one looking to gain a second world title, and the other looking to finally quiet the biggest personal rival he's had over his career. There will also be a second world title fight in the opener, as a pair of promising junior middleweights look to make their mark.
Here are our staff predictions for tonight's show.
Rocky Martinez vs Mikey Garcia - 12 Rounds, WBO Super Featherweight Title
Ryan Bivins: Ricky Burns gave Rocky Martinez a boxing lesson. What do you think Mikey Garcia is going to do? But Martinez is a tough guy so he'll go 12 rounds, bar Garcia quitting because he was "critically injured" by something illegal (accidentally or otherwise). Either way, Garcia by decision.
Scott Christ: Something about the very skilled Mikey Garcia still doesn't pass the taste test (kinda concerning?) with me, whether it's the whispers about his lack of toughness that came out years ago before he was any kind of HBO main event fighter, the fact that he so eagerly called off the January fight with Orlando Salido because of a broken nose, as if broken noses aren't part of boxing, or the level of opposition he's faced not exactly inspiring visions of true greatness in my mind's eye. But on that last part, the good news is that Rocky Martinez should be "easy money" for Garcia, as he's all wrong for Mikey. Martinez is slow, plodding, not overly powerful, and has been outboxed thoroughly by Ricky Burns, who is a high-end gamer in the ring, but not exactly a Garcia-type in terms of natural ability. Mikey shouldn't have to work too hard to outclass the Puerto Rican in this one, but I'll be impressed if he turns it up a notch and stops this guy. Garcia by decision.
Fraser Coffeen, BloodyElbow.com I'm not quite as sold as many on Garcia just yet, but that's mainly due to some intangibles. His odd opting out of the Salido fight left a bad taste in my mouth, and I'm never a fan of fighters who fail to make weight. The two together make me questions his mental grit. But those questions don't impact the reality of who he is in the ring - and that is indeed impressive. He's a patient killer, waiting to figure out the opening, all while steadily turning up the heat to drown his opponent. Martinez is a tough fight, no doubt about it. But he seems like a good opponent for Garcia to do his thing against. I see Garcia staying composed, dealing with a fast start from Martinez, then coming on strong after a few rounds. Martinez is tough enough that I see him going the distance, though a later stoppage from Garcia wouldn't surprise me one bit either. Garcia by decision.
Steve Janoski: It's not often that the champ appears to be less division belt-holder and more "opponent," but that's the feeling coming from this fight. Martinez is a talented fighter and a tough dude, but this time, he's fighting a guy who's been groomed to climb to the highest of boxing's precipices.
We all know Mikey Garcia is on his way up. He's got solid power, excellent boxing skills, and one of the finest 1-2's in the game. Now that he's not puking into garbage cans to make weight, I expect him to come in energized and ready to go, and although Martinez might just have a good enough chin to go the distance, I don't see him winning more than three or four rounds. Expect Garcia to hurt him badly, and maybe knock him down, en route to a wide victory on the scorecards. Garcia UD-12.
Dave Oakes: It could be argued that Martinez is fortunate to still be champion after a debatable SD draw against Juan Carlos Burgos and a debatable SD win over Diego Magdaleno in his last two bouts. I don't think Martinez has looked the same fighter since losing to Ricky Burns three years ago, which is still the only defeat on his thirty fight ledger. He's still a good fighter, and a pugnacious one, but recently his offensive game has become more predictable and his defence, which was never the best, is virtually non-existent.
Garcia looks like an exceptional boxer, his timing and accuracy is beautiful to watch at times, whilst his defence is tight. Martinez's face first approach seems tailor-made for Garcia to shine against. The Puerto Rican's solid chin will tested numerous times, Garcia hits hard with both hands and will be landing often and cleanly. Although I can see Garcia winning without any trouble, I'd be surprised if Garcia walks through Martinez. The most likely outcome is for Garcia to win via points or a late stoppage. I'm going with the latter. Garcia TKO-10.
Nonito Donaire vs Vic Darchinyan - 10 Rounds, Featherweights, Rematch
Ryan Bivins: You saw the first fight. Who has gone more downhill since then? Mystery solved. I think there is a small chance that Donaire and Darchinyan just stink the joint out, if they don't feel inclined to prove anything, but Vic says he's going to retire Nonito. Thus Vic will try and get knocked out by counter shots in the process. Donaire by stoppage.
Scott Christ: All it depends on is if Donaire tries to change too much or if Darchinyan doesn't just walk into Donaire's punches, which is when Donaire looks like an elite fighter. If opponents don't do Nonito's work for him, he's a good but hardly spectacular sort. I'd even stop short of calling him "very good" if we're on a harsh judging scale, but "very good" is where most would have him. And I said all of this before the Rigondeaux fight, too, and that debacle (for Nonito) played out exactly as I expected, because it was basically the world's easiest fight to predict. Look, I make some real boners when I pick fights, sometimes as a way to stir it up, sometimes on idiotic gut feelings, but there are fights like that one that people see as being pick'ems that I only see going one way, and that one could have only gone the way it did. If opponents don't lunge at Donaire and recklessly fling their face at his fists, he's one of the most boring fighters out there, a pure counter-puncher who waits and waits and waits to unleash his powerful left hook. Often he's left waiting an entire fight. When little Omar Narvaez managed to stink out New York for 12 rounds against Mr. Excitement, Narvaez was blamed for a bad fight. What was he supposed to do? Fight entirely unlike he ever had in his career so that the Filipino could flash? Darchinyan can actually box when he wants to, but he's a hothead and this is a personal thing for him. This goes one of two ways: Donaire repeats the 2007 fight and everyone says he's "BACK!" and yeah, he'll be back to the exact same fighter he was pre-Rigondeaux, still totally unprepared to beat someone like Rigondeaux, or Darchinyan won't just hand it over to him, and then he'll probably lose a decision and have a boring fight blamed on him, because he's 37 years old and HBO hasn't invested in him being a superstar. Donaire by decision.
Fraser Coffeen, BloodyElbow.com: The response to Nonito Donaire this year has been very odd to say the least. Whether it's due to some people feeling he has been overhyped, or anger over his Fighter of the Year honors, or a real dislike for the Rigondeaux fight, Donaire has been way too written off recently, which is a serious mistake. Are there some flaws in Donaire's game lately? For sure. He's not as focused on his fundamentals, and has been a little too flashy in some recent fights. That cost him dearly against Rigondeaux, a master of fundamentals, who simply outboxed Donaire. Nonito had no answers in that fight, and failed to make the needed adjustments. But Darchinyan is a completely different animal who does not possess that technical finesse of Rigondeaux. I am hoping we see a more back to basics Nonito Donaire here, though I suspect he'll try to come out and win back some of the fans he lost last time out. But either way - focused or flashy - he's too much for Darchinyan at this point. I'll say he plays it a bit conservative and gets the slightly later stoppage. Donaire TKO-8.
Steve Janoski: Only in boxing could a man's star fall as fast as Nonito Donaire's has - from "Fighter of the Year" in 2012 to pariah in the space of a just a few months. Sure, he might have been completely outclassed by that Cuban punching prodigy Guillermo Rigondeaux, but he's still a top-level fighter with above average power, and he's only 30 years-old. So to say, as many have, that he's washed up, finished, or exposed is absolutely premature.
I expect him to make this clear during his rematch with Darchinyan, who was once a fine fighter but is now past his prime. Donaire knocked him stupid in 2007 with a highlight-reel left hook, and I imagine that, given Darchinyan's seven-year age disadvantage, this could end in even more vicious fashion as the Filipino looks to bring out the heavy artillery and let everyone know he is not done just yet. Donaire must know that if he loses this fight, it's the end of the line. And he should probably know - hopefully someone told him - that if he wins, but in boring fashion, it means about the same as losing. His road back to the top travels directly between Darchinyan's gloves. Expect him to open the throttle. Donaire KO-7.
Dave Oakes: I've no idea why there's a rematch between these two fighters, it's not like their first fight was a close or controversial fight. Darchinyan's a faded fighter who has struggled to replicate his flyweight form at the higher weights, he's also 37 years old and has hardly set the world alight since losing to Abner Mares three years ago. One senses he's there to make Donaire look good and perhaps help him regain any confidence he may have lost when losing to Guillermo Rigondeaux earlier this year.
Unless that defeat to Rigondeaux has had a massively negative effect on Donaire, he should be a clear winner here. He holds all the advantages over Darchinyan, and whilst the end might not be as quick as the first time they fought, I'd still be surprised to see Darchinyan make it to the final bell. Donaire TKO-8.
Vanes Martirosyan vs Demetrius Andrade - 12 Rounds, WBO Junior Middleweight Title
Ryan Bivins: This is the only truly competitive bout on the card, on paper anyways, but it might also be the least fun to watch. Andrade is more athletic but is less experienced and kind of skittish. And Martirosyan is uh, well, good at getting the judges to believe he's doing well in a fight. Somehow his fight with Erislandy Lara got called a draw and Lara is basically Andrade 2.0. So I figure Martirosyan won't be seeing anything new from Andrade while Andrade will be fighting on a whole new level for the first time in his career. Andrade's height advantage is a bit of a worry though. It's not that he's much taller than Martirosyan, but Martirosyan is just used to fighting shorter guys. It's a pick 'em fight. And I'm picking Martirosyan by decision.
Scott Christ: Finally, both of these guys are getting a step-up fight. It's interesting when that happens at the same time, and it's rare that both guys prove out as being what they were hailed as being during their formative stage. Martirosyan, 27, has taken guff from the likes of me (oh no!) for his soft schedule, but once he signed with Cameron Dunkin, a real manager, here he is with this fight, so that tells me that Vanes wasn't avoiding anything before. I mean, he did fight Erislandy Lara. And he's been in this double step-up role before, facing Joe Greene. In that one, Greene busted and basically fell off the planet after. Andrade is better than Greene, but not better than Lara, and Vanes gave Lara plenty to think about last year. Both of those fights stunk, though, and this one could, too. I've never been sold on Andrade, and I was also never sold on Andre Dirrell, a guy Andrade reminds me of a bit. I was once sold on James DeGale, and now am not, another guy Andrade reminds me of a bit. I gotta go with Vanes here -- I think he's hungrier and that when the chips are down, he'll prove the better fighter between the two, and more mentally ready for a tough night's work, because he's had a couple of those already. Martirosyan by decision.
Dave Oakes: This is a 50-50 fight. Andrade is taking a step-up in competition, whilst Martirosyan is looking to erase the memory of his snore-fest with Erislandy Lara. I doubt Andrade is the right opponent for that to happen though. I've not seen a huge amount of Andrade but from what I have seen, he looks like a mover who is slightly awkward and hard to pin down, just the kind of fighter Martirosyan will have problems against.
It may be hard viewing for the fans; it's not inconceivable that their styles don't mesh well and the fight becomes a mess. It could also be a hard bout to score, I certainly wouldn't rule out a split decision verdict. Both men carry decent power but neither man is what you could call a murderous puncher, so unless someone walks onto a big punch, it looks likely to go to the cards. It's a toss up but I'm leaning towards the Andrade by the narrowest of margins. Andrade by split decision.
Photos by Chris Farina/Top Rank