Now that we've gotten past Mayweather/Baldomir, Liakhovich/Briggs and Klitschko/Brock, it's time to hit the real home stretch of the 2006 boxing schedule, and on paper, the fight game is going out with a bang this year.
Kicking off the five weeks of big time boxing will be next Saturday's rubber match between WBC international super featherweight champion Manny Pacquiao and challenger Erik Morales, without question a marquee matchup. With some fighters, you know that you're going to get a fight. Pacquiao is one of those fighters. Morales is another. The combination of the two is a powder keg. The fight could be a twelve-round war, or it could end rather early from a flurry by either man.
Pacquiao comes in having won his last three fight -- including a 10th round TKO of Morales in January of this year -- since losing to Morales in March of 2005. The Pacman has just recently signed a deal with Golden Boy, which has pissed off his current promoters at Top Rank. If that's a distraction for Pacquiao, that could be trouble. Honestly, though, I think those are things that get overhyped. I highly doubt Manny Pacquiao is going to enter the ring worried about the squabbling between Top Rank and Golden Boy. Pacquiao will enter the ring looking to solidify his status as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters on the planet, and also his superiority against Morales.
Morales, on the other hand, has a lot more to lose. He's 30 years old and has lost his last two fights, to Pacquiao and Raheem. He also lost to his bitter rival, Marco Antonio Barrera, the fight before he beat Pacquiao, so that's three of his last four. None of those losses are anything to be ashamed of, obviously, and no one will ever look back and say that Erik Morales didn't fight top-flight competition.
Both guys are warriors. It's sort of like Gatti/Ward but on a much higher level. You know you're going to get action next Saturday, and from my view, it's one of the few no-brainer PPV orders you get every year. Barring something totally unexpected, Pacquiao/Morales III will be a fight you won't be pissed off you paid to see.
But what about the rest? HBO brings you that big fight on PPV next Saturday, but they don't stop there.
The following weekend on Boxing After Dark from Hidalgo, Texas, the WBO featherweight title is up for grabs as Juan Manuel Marquez (45-3-1) takes on another Filipino fighter, Jimrex Jaca (27-2-1). Jaca last fought on the undercard of July's Pacquiao/Larios event at Araneta Coliseum, dominating unheralded Mexican journeyman Hector Javier Marquez. "Dinamita" will undoubtedly be a tougher challenge for Jaca, who has never fought a top fighter. Marquez is going to be a heavy favorite, but we've seen heavy favorites fall many times.
On December 2, Winky Wright returns to action against Ike Quartey. Both men are coming in off of fights where many will argue that they were the rightful victor, Wright drawing with Jermain Taylor in June and Quartey being absolutely robbed (I refuse to be anything but negative about that decision still) against Vernon Forrest in August. Wright and Taylor should almost certainly be fighting again this month, but it's not happening, as the sides couldn't come to an agreement. Quartey looked good against Forrest, though understandably rusty. If Winky -- who has gotten cockier as he's been more successful -- takes Quartey lightly, we could see what would definitely be considered a big upset in this fight. Quartey isn't the same guy that arguably beat Oscar De La Hoya in 1999, but he's no slouch either. Of course, I'm one of those that say there is no tougher fighter in boxing to truly beat than Winky Wright. On the undercard, Jeff Lacy looks to rebound against Vitali Tsypko.
December 9 will see undefeated Jermain Taylor go head-to-head with Kassim Ouma for the WBC and WBO middleweight championships. Ouma has won his last four fights, including three this year, but he's never fought at 160. He made mincemeat of formerly unbeaten Sechew Powell on the Forrest/Quartey card in August, and if he can maintain at 160, could present a matchup problem for Taylor. Taylor will have the hometown advantage, as the fight takes place from the Alltel Arena in Little Rock, Arkansas, and he's got the natural size advantage.
Showtime isn't without their drawing card, either, as they'll be showcasing Margarito/Clottey and Quintana/Cotto on December 2, up against HBO's Wright/Quartey card. Like my fellow BLH contributors, it seriously confuses me what good matching up fights does for either network, for the sport, and obviously for the fans. Wright/Quartey, Lacy/Tsypko, Margarito/Clottey and Quintana/Cotto are four fights I would like to see. When someone figures out who it helps to split the audiences like this, I'd love to hear about it.
Margarito has been one of the most brilliantly handled fighters in the sport for the last year or so. Bob Arum has made Margarito seem like the second coming, which is masterful for a 33-4 fighter, WBO welterweight champion or not. Margarito can fight, and he's dangerous, there's no doubt about that. And he's becoming a name thanks to constant hype, plus an impressive win over Kermit Cintron, but when you get down to it, there is no arguing for him that he's someone Floyd Mayweather should be looking to fight.
Now he'll take on the Ghana-born, Bronx-resident Joshua Clottey, and Clottey might be flying under the radar here. He's 29-1, with his only loss coming in 1999 against Carlos Baldomir in London, when Clottey was disqualified. Clottey has yet to notch a mark-setting victory, and now he has his chance.
The Carlos Quintana/Miguel Cotto bout matches up two undefeated fighters for the WBA welterweight title. Quintana simply outclassed the highly-regarded Joel Julio in June, 14 days after Cotto had scored a unanimous decision victory over Paul Malignaggi. Of the two fights, Quintana/Cotto could end up being the more interesting despite all the hype around Margarito, and honestly it could easily be the best fight that night, including HBO's matches.
Right now, it feels good to be a boxing fan on a lot of levels. With Pacquiao/Morales III and no less than six other interesting televised fights coming up, the immediate future looks bright. Pretty Boy Floyd and the big-time heavyweights are done for the year, but boxing isn't.