A lot is being made of the idea that Saturday night's Boxing After Dark presentation of Joan Guzman versus Humberto Soto is a fight between the two 130-pounders that nobody wants to fight. I can't see it that way. Because it's not.
Top Rank's Bob Arum was supremely excited, if you'll recall, about making a fight between Manny Pacquiao and Soto in the open market of Vancouver, before the Top Rank and Golden Boy settlement allowed for the more financially lucrative Pacquiao-Barrera II in Las Vegas. I said repeatedly -- and it was echoed by many of us -- that Pacquiao-Soto was the far more intriguing matchup. After the Barrera matchup had passed, how many could disagree that they would rather have seen Pacquiao against a fighter that came to fight? And Humberto Soto always comes to fight.
Plus, you would have had the "revenge" factor, with Pacquiao looking to pay Soto back for knocking out his brother, Bobby, on the Cotto-Judah undercard in June, in what was an action-packed fight that the always game Bobby Pacquiao made interesting before getting blown up by a lethal right hand in the seventh round.
As for Joan Guzman, he hasn't fought in a year, since a unanimous decision win over Antonio Davis, an inconsistent fringe contender with no power who was recently outclassed by featherweight titleholder Steven Luevano.
Guzman is a good fighter, but I wouldn't go so far as to classify him as great, not until he truly earns it. He has a style that could greatly trouble anyone, very slick, but little in the way of truly impressive wins, and, despite his status as WBO super featherweight champion, almost no name recognition past diehard fight fans.
I'm not trying to knock Guzman or Soto. Both are good fighters, and I think their fight on Saturday night is a should-watch, if not a must-see. They are near the top of the class for their division. But there is no arguing that the top two guys at 130 are Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. Guzman and Soto may be Nos. 3 and 4, but 1-2 is clear cut and inarguable.
This is the B-squad main event at 130. The winner should be in line to face either Pacquiao or Marquez at some point next year, should Marquez beat Pacquiao, or should Pacquiao decide to stay at 130 longer than most are expecting.
For the B-squad main event, you can't ask for much more. If we're making picks, and I don't see why we're not, I'll take Soto. Soto (43-5-2, 27 KO) hasn't lost a fight since 2002, when he dropped a majority decision to Kevin Kelley. Like Carlos Baldomir, many of his win streak victims aren't impressive vicotries.
People took notice, though, when he beat a young, rising contender in Rocky Juarez in 2005, a fight that was set up as a Juarez stepping stone and didn't go off as planned. He won the WBC featherweight title in 2006, dropping Oscar Leon in the ninth round, and immediately moved to 130, where he had already fought much of his career. Since the move up, he's been a demolition man: TKO-4 against Ivan Valle, TKO-3 against Humberto Toledo, KO-7 against Bobby Pacquiao, TKO-3 against Ismael Gonzalez. Four fights, four knockouts. And now, a long overdue title shot.
At 27, he is also four years Guzman's junior. Guzman is a perfect 27-0 with 17 knockouts, and a dangerous fighter in all respects. But since knocking out Agapito Sanchez in 2004, he has gone the distance in six straight, even against Javier Jauregui and Joe Morales. And, being off for 11 months never helps any fighter. Ask Joel Casamayor.
All notable fighters have records padded by early successes against tomato cans, journeymen, other novices, and the like. But Guzman has faced so few quality opponents at 31 years old that it's hard for me to really class him alongside Pacquiao, Marquez or even Soto.
So, I like Soto on Saturday night. He's a good puncher with tenacity who can take a solid shot and maintain his composure. Guzman may well prove me very wrong, but I've seen it from Soto. I've only mostly imagined it from Guzman.