A hyped return, a title fight, and a rematch. The undercard for Saturday night's HBO pay-per-view card headlined by Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Ricky Hatton has got a little something for everyone. The weights span from 122 pounds to 168, with the main event right in between at 147.
The least notable contest in the three-fight televised series of preliminaries is between 135-pounders Edner Cherry and Wes Ferguson, who first met on June 13th of this year, in a fairly exciting bout that Cherry won via unanimous decision (98-92, 96-94, 96-94).
Cherry (22-5-2, 10 KO, Nassau, Bahamas) said that he would not have taken the rematch if it weren't slotted on an HBO pay-per-view card, as he feels he clearly beat Ferguson (17-2-1, 5 KO, Flint, MI) the first time around.
The fight is included on the pay-per-view, really, because Ferguson is a protégé of Mayweather's, a slick boxer that, at 22, has plenty of time to fight for world titles. Ferguson now lives in Las Vegas, like Floyd, having relocated from Michigan, like Floyd.
The 25-year old Cherry does have five losses on his record, but three were to quality foes, and two came so early in his career that they don't even matter anymore. Actually, for a guy that started his professional boxing career 3-2-2, Cherry has done amazingly well for himself. The other three losses were at the hands of current 140-pound titleholder Paulie Malignaggi (in February 2007), rightful lightweight champion Jose Armando Santa Cruz, and veteran contender Ricky Quiles. Nothing to get too worked up over with those losses -- all are good fighters.
The Malignaggi fight compares strangely to the first encounter with Ferguson. I think it demonstrated how good of a boxer and how strong of a defensive fighter Malignaggi is, because Ferguson is a very talented guy, and I agree that Cherry clearly won the bout. Meanwhile, I gave Malignaggi nine of ten rounds against Cherry, and the official judges had that one 100-90, 98-92 and 98-92.
Ferguson, though, really should still be getting better, and likely hasn't reached his peak. Neither guy is a huge puncher, so expect another full ten rounds. I like Ferguson this time around, as I think he's the more naturally talented fighter. He'll never be Floyd Mayweather, but he should be a contender, at least, for a long time.
WBO super bantamweight titleholder Daniel Ponce de Leon will make his fourth and final appearance of 2007 in Las Vegas when he takes on challenger Eduardo Escobedo.
Ponce de Leon has had an excellent year, beating Gerry Penalosa on the Barrera-Marquez undercard in March (a fight that almost everyone had closer than the official scorecards), and then absolutely obliterating Filipino super prospect Rey "Boom-Boom" Bautista in August, in one of the year's most impressive finishing performances.
Ponce de Leon (33-1, 30 KO) has scored a first round knockout 10 times in his career, and 23 times within the first four rounds. He's a brutal puncher with great finishing skills. His only career loss came against the exceedingly awkward 5'11" Celestino Caballero in 2005, but Ponce de Leon rebounded from that to win nine straight in the last two-plus years. He got busy, and I think he's a far better fighter now than he was then.
Escobedo (20-2, 14 KO) is a pretty large underdog. But the 23-year old Mexican can punch, and he's also stepping down in weight from 126 pounds. I expect this one to be a slugfest, won by the champion, and I doubt it's going to go past the midway point. This is a fight I look foward to, because Ponce de Leon has become a fighter I always look forward to watching.
And then, the return.
Tampa's Jeff Lacy, once the most heralded American super middleweight in the world, returns after a one-year layoff due to injury for his first fight under the Golden Boy banner. It seems as though, thanks to missed time and his destruction at the hands of Joe Calzaghe in 2006, that Lacy, now 30, has become a forgotten man in the 168-pound ranks.
And I can see why. Calzaghe exposed a lack of all-around skill in Lacy's game, and he exposed it as badly as anyone ever could. Yes, Lacy's powerful. Yes, "Left Hook" has a fine left hook. And, yes, he looks like a star. His chiseled physique certainly would have been enough for an average fan on the street to have picked him over the lankier-looking Calzaghe, but he never even got started in that fight.
Lucky for Lacy, he's not fighting Joe Calzaghe again, or any of the other top super middleweights. He returns against "Contender" season one alum Peter Manfredo, Jr., a tough-minded 27-year old whose skills, like Lacy's, are somewhat limited. Unlike Lacy, Manfredo doesn't have one-punch power. Or much power at all, to be frank.
Manfredo's career is hard to get a firm grasp on, honestly. Three of his four losses came in short bouts -- a seven-rounder to Sergio Mora, an eight-round rematch against Mora, and a five-rounder against Alfonso Gomez. His other loss was to Calzaghe in March, a joke of a title defense that shouldn't have been stopped when it was, but wasn't likely to get any better for "The Pride of Providence."
There are parts of me that really want to like both of these fighters as fighters, but I have to see Lacy be more than a one-dimensional fighter against a good opponent first, and I have to see Manfredo beat anyone of real substance. Both guys have wins over Scott Pemberton, who isn't a bad fighter, but he's a fringe contender. Manfredo has also beaten Joe Spina, Lacy has wins over a long-faded Robin Reid and Syd Vanderpool, among others.
I don't know what I expect in this fight. It's a big night for both guys, obviously, as they're going to be center stage prior to the main event of one of the biggest fights of the year. Lacy needs a big win. He really needs it. And if Manfredo plans on being more than a career fringe contender himself, he badly needs to outbox Lacy.
And what I have found interesting after thinking about this fight is that I do think Manfredo can outbox Lacy, and do it fairly easily. I also think Lacy could fairly easily knock Manfredo out. So it's a fight that will be won by which style dictates. This is true of many fights, of course, but I think this is an extreme case. Manfredo isn't going to knock Lacy out, and Lacy will have a tough time going a full ten against Manfredo and hoping to win enough rounds to get the decision.
The best thing about this undercard is I think there really is a solid chance we get three good fights, which is quite helpful with that $54.95 pricetag for what could be a main event that doesn't quite entertain for the money. Cherry-Ferguson should be a fine opener, Ponce de Leon-Escobedo could be a slugfest, and Lacy-Manfredo is sort of a toss-up, in my view.
I also think they're nuts if they risk Lacy-Manfredo right before Mayweather-Hatton. Put Ponce de Leon out there as the set-up fight, as he stands a really good chance of getting the crowd good and riled up for the big show.
We'll be here Saturday night, with live, round-by-round coverage, analysis and scoring of "Undefeated," HBO's final card of 2007, and the last truly big one on the slate until the calendar turns. We look forward to having you join us on fight night. It'll be one of boxing's biggest nights.