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The BLH Guide to Boxing's Fall

I could've done this earlier in the month, but turns out it didn't matter, since every fight went off the board. I did one for summer, so I figured, why not one for fall?

It's a hell of a good lineup, even after having lost the last three weeks of fights. Two have already been rescheduled anyway.

We've already talked about the September 29th middleweight title fight between Jermain Taylor and Kelly Pavlik, but we can do it a little more. Many rank them as the two best 160-pounders in the sport, and while I think you can make a case for Arthur Abraham instead of Pavlik, they don't have terribly dissimilar records, and both of them hold their biggest win over Edison Miranda. And Pavlik was much more impressive.

Taylor will be moving up to 168 after the fight, win or lose, and I would expect we'll see Pavlik join him within the next two years, at the most. But should he win, Pavlik could lead what is potentially a very strong pack of young middleweights.

On the undercard, rising welterweight star Andre Berto will take on the dangerous David Estrada, in what should be the biggest test of Berto's young career. Berto earned a unanimous decision win over savvy veteran Cosme Rivera in July, even though he was knocked down in the sixth round. Estrada is sort of like Rivera, but younger at 28 years of age. He's a guy that Berto should beat, but he could give him some trouble. Estrada's only career losses have been to Shane Mosley, Kermit Cintron and Ishe Smith.

Picks: Taylor, Berto

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The same night on Showtime, light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson will put his piece of the title on the line against substitute opponent Epifanio Mendoza. Dawson was slated to face credible mandatory challenger Adrian Diaconu before the injury bug put that fight on hold. Mendoza, 31, is a Colombian with good KO numbers (28-4-1, 24 KO) but not a single notable win on his eight-year pro record. Subs are what they are, but this guy does not deserve the title shot he's getting in any way.

Dawson, though, is one of the fighters I'm really enjoying this year, which has been his breakout. He dominated Tomasz Adamek, who is a tough customer, and had no trouble knocking out Jesus Ruiz in his first defense. Hopefully, we'll see Dawson-Diaconu sometime in the first quarter of '08, because Mendoza does not present any challenge, at least on paper.

Pick: Dawson

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There's another light heavyweight title bout on the 29th, too, as IBF champ Clinton Woods defends against Julio Gonzalez in his hometown of Sheffield. The two fought once before, in 2005, and Woods took an unanimous decision victory. The rematch has been moved from date to date for a few months, but now is set. Woods hasn't lost a fight in three years. Remember when people thought he was a joke opponent for Roy Jones, Jr.? Turns out Roy was just that good at the time, because Clinton has proven himself over the five years that have passed.

Pick: Woods

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October 6th will see the Top Rank-Golden Boy agreement officially kick off, as Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera square off for the second time. In 2003, as we all know, Pacquiao dusted Barrera in what was probably the Mexican legend's worst career loss. Pacman had some good wins prior to that, but it was a superstar-making performance -- it let us all know that this fearless, bomb-throwing banger from the Philippines was the real deal.

Since that win, Pacquiao has become almost an executioner of Mexican fighters, with his only loss coming to Erik Morales, which he twice furiously avenged. Tough guys Hector Velazquez and Oscar Larios were hammered by Manny, as was Jorge Solis. Juan Manuel Marquez took Pacquiao to a miraculous, heroic draw after being put down three times in the opening round.

Barrera, too, has suffered just one loss since the first Pacquiao fight, which was in March against Marquez, an excellent bout that was far closer than the scorecards reflected. Nearing the end of a storied, Hall of Fame-bound career, the 33-year old Barrera is far more a boxer than fighter when he controls a fight nowadays, but as proven against Marquez, he still has the warrior spirit when pressed. And Pacquiao -- unfortunately for Barrera -- will press him. I see no way for Marco to win this fight, which very well may be his last.

The undercard is solid, with WBO featherweight champ Steven Luevano defending against Antonio Davis, veteran Steve Forbes looking for his first win since he was on "The Contender" against Francisco Bojado, and super middleweight Librado Andrade in his second bout following his loss to Mikkel Kessler to face Yusaf Mack.

Picks: Pacquiao, Luevano, Bojado, Andrade

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With the scheduled Maskaev-Peter main event off, it's up in the air whether or not Showtime's October 6 card will still take place at Madison Square Garden. I kind of hope it does, because it's a fairly good card even without the main event. As a tripleheader, you can do worse than the intrigue of Andrew Golota squaring off with Kevin McBride in what could be a trainwreck or a lot of fun, veterans Daniel Santos and Jose Antonio Rivera going toe-to-toe in a make-or-break fight for both, and big heavies Jameel McCline and DaVarryl Williamson getting one more crack. More likely than not, none of the fights mean much of anything -- I could only see Santos doing much more afterward, were he to win. But it could be an entertaining lot of fights, and I can never get enough entertaining fights on TV.

Picks (if the card goes): Santos, McCline, McBride

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HBO's October 13th lightweight title unification bout is one of the more interesting on the schedule, as undefeated WBO/WBA champion "Baby Bull" Juan Diaz takes on IBF titleholder Julio Diaz in a fight that both have wanted, reportedly, for quite a while.

Coming off of a punishing win over Brazilian hero Popo Freitas, Juan Diaz is looking to establish himself as the 135-pound division's top dog, a claim that only Julio Diaz or Joel Casamayor can really argue, as far as I'm concerned. Down the road, we may possibly see the winner of this bout take on Casamayor, now that Joel's career is being properly handled under contract with Golden Boy.

Julio Diaz has won four straight, somewhat quietly, since a 2005 loss to Jose Luis Castillo. He dominated Ricky Quiles to win the interim IBF belt last year, then beat Jesus Chavez for the real thing in February, when Chavez's knee gave out on him. Since that shouldn't be considered much of a contest, it's not far off to suggest that this is Julio Diaz's first fight since May of 2006. That could be a factor. Juan, on the other hand, has fought and won three times since then, staying very active.

The wind has spoken of a Nate Campbell-Humberto Toledo fight on the undercard, but HBO is unlikely to televise it either way, since this is a Boxing After Dark presentation. Campbell does deserve a title shot in the division, but I never count out his inconsistency. Toledo was bombed in February by Humberto Soto, and lost again in his last fight against Stevie Johnston, so I think we've established who he is -- a guy who loses to guys like Nate Campbell before guys like Nate Campbell get a title shot.

The Diaz-Diaz matchup is a hot one, though. Juan is like a shrunken Miguel Cotto, and Julio has the experience and power to pull what would be at least a mild upset. I could see the fight going either way.

Picks: Juan Diaz, Campbell (if it happens)

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They talked about doing it on ESPN Classic so that people could see the old man try again for free, but of course, they decided we needed to pay to see the old man try again when Evander Holyfield steps into the ring against WBO heavyweight champion Sultan Ibragimov in Moscow. Unless you've been under a rock or simply don't care about 44-year old former champions on insane quests for regained glory, you've no doubt heard that "The Real Deal" has won four straight and has looked better and better each time out. "The killer instinct is back," they say. "Maybe he could win one more title."

If I was gonna gamble, I'd bet the farm on Ibragimov. It's not that Sultan Ibragimov is a great fighter. He's pretty good. But he's a young 32 years old, having only been a pro for five yeras. He's a southpaw with knockout power. Physically, he should just be too much for Holyfield.

I hope Evander makes a show of it. Hell, I kind of hope he wins. It'd be a great story. But I can't see it. And I don't think he'll take it the distance. This ain't Rocky Balboa.

Pick: Ibragimov

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The super middleweight showdown we all wanted to see is coming on November 3rd. The fight's implications are bigger than just the fact that they are the clear top two guys in the division. We're going to find out how good both guys really are. And that should be what boxing is all about: Matching the best against the best, so we know, without a doubt, who's the best.

We've had a fair amount of discussion about this fight, and we'll have even more as it draws closer. I'm genuinely excited for the bout. It's a couple of very good, very different fighters, and I don't think past fights mean a whole lot anymore. It's been a while since Calzaghe massacred Jeff Lacy, and Kessler's wins over Mundine, Beyer and Andrade won't prepare him for the unorthodox, fascinating style in which Calzaghe boxes.

To beat Calzaghe, which no one has done or even come all that close to doing, someone's going to have to find a hole in his game. It's tough to get a good, clean punch in on him. He moves around and comes from so many different angles, he stays so busy, that hitting him can be an accomplishment in itself. Kessler is a very traditional fighter, pretty straightforward and by-the-books. He has good power, and he's a well-rounded guy. But no one that fights Calzaghe has ever fought anyone like him. In some ways, he's like Winky Wright. He's such a master of his own style that it can be a task and a half just to figure him out, and by the time you do, you're often down six rounds already.

I liked Kessler at first, but more and more I analyze the fight in my head, I have to favor Joe Calzaghe. Either Kessler becomes the top dog, or Joe hangs on to his spot and moves on to a big fight with Bernard Hopkins or Jermain Taylor.

Pick: Calzaghe

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The cancelled September 15th bout between Juan Manuel Marquez and Rocky Juarez has been rescheduled for November 3rd, and instead of HBO pay-per-view, it will be free on Showtime. I like the matchup because I really do like Juarez and think he's a very entertaining fighter. I think we'll get some really good action. But Marquez is on a different level as far as skill goes, and if he's 100% healthy and on top of his game, it should be a relatively simple first defense for him. Juarez is tough and could give him a little bit of trouble, but he really has no business beating someone as good as Marquez.

The next order of business? Pacquiao-Marquez II, if both win as expected. That fight has got to happen.

Robert Guerrero will defend his IBF featherweight title against Martin Honorio in the televised opener. Guerrero should be considered a heavy favorite.

Picks: Marquez, Guerrero

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Now here's a pay-per-view. It's not that the undercard has "great fights," necessarily. But it does have top fighters. Antonio Margarito (opponent: Golden Johnson), Joel Casamayor (Jose Armando Santa Cruz) and Victor Ortiz (Carlos Maussa) should all win, there's no question about that. But it's nice to see fighters the level of Margarito and Casamayor willing to be on an undercard. Boxing needs a lot more of that.

But it's all about the main event, when WBA welterweight champion Miguel Cotto makes his third title defense against the best opponent he's ever faced, one Shane Mosley. For Cotto, this is a chance to possibly get a fight with Floyd Mayweather, Jr., or Oscar de la Hoya, which would be a huge payday for him. And for Mosley, this is a chance to cement himself as truly back among boxing's elite. His five-fight win streak has been impressive, but it does lack a win over a truly top-level fighter, and people do seem to forget that he was having plenty of trouble with Fernando Vargas the first time those two fought.

Cotto will, as always, bring the pressure to Mosley's body, hoping to slow down the older but much faster challenger. Mosley, though, is not Zab Judah. For one, he doesn't suck yet. And for two, he's just a better fighter than Judah, always has been. A guy with Mosley's speed and power is dangerous for anyone, but especially dangerous for a guy like Cotto. Miguel Cotto is a hell of a fighter, no one will dispute that. But he's pretty basic. He doesn't have one-punch power, relying on a great, relentless attack to wear down his opponents. Mosley should be able to stay away from that better than anyone Cotto's ever faced. As for Shane, he better be at his best. And if he is, I don't think Cotto can beat him. I just don't think the matchup is good for him.

Like most of these fights, we will have a lot more as the time grows near.

Picks: Mosley, Margarito, Casamayor, Ortiz

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It's like people forgot all about Joan Guzman. We're talking about the WBO super featherweight champion, a guy who has never lost a fight. In a division boasting Pacquiao, Marquez and Barrera, it's understandable that he doesn't get a LOT of press. But he gets almost none.

Meanwhile, challenger Humberto Soto has gotten plenty this year. Jim Lampley has compared him to Margarito: A tremendous fighter with losses early in his career, which made him unattractive to matchmakers and television executives. Like Margarito, Soto has just kept plugging away and winning his fights. He hasn't lost in five years.

It's a terrific matchup. Soto, who was ready to face Pacquiao in Vancouver before Top Rank and Golden Boy made amends and allowed for Pacquiao-Barrera II, is damn good. But Guzman in the role of forgotten champion has a ton of credibility. He's the guy that a lot of people think would give Manny Pacquiao a lot of problems because of his style. And I can't say that I disagree.

Really, these are two fighters that none of the other big names are exactly rushing to get into the ring with. Pacquiao's an exception, he'd fight a lion. But did Marquez knock down the door of either of these guys? Even before the fight was changed to Marquez-Juarez, Juan was scheduled to face Jorge Barrios, a guy that Guzman beat last year (Barrios gave him plenty to contend with, to be fair).

So, if I can't get Marquez-Guzman or Pacquiao-Soto or something like that, sure, I'll gladly take Guzman-Soto. In a packed season, this fight is still kind of flying under the radar. It should be a good one.

Pick: Soto

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I've been over my love of Ricardo Mayorga enough, as well as my feelings on his fight with Fernando Vargas. It will not be a pretty fight, but the November 23rd pay-per-view could be well worth the money. There are sure to be some fireworks, and more machismo flying around the ring than anyone can handle.

Pick: Vargas

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And to cap the season, we have the biggest fight of them all. It'll make the most money. It won't be the best.

Floyd Mayweather, Jr., should, by all reasonable logic, make an example of Ricky Hatton on his way to another huge money fight. After beating Oscar in May, Floyd is now a legitimate superstar, probably the biggest star in the sport as de la Hoya heads toward the sunset. And not only is he the name, he's truly the best fighter out there.

Ricky Hatton's never been in the ring with anyone close to Mayweather's level. And Floyd is the type of guy who wants to embarrass fighters like this. Ask Arturo Gatti.

I'm rooting for Hatton to make a show of it, but it shouldn't be pretty.

Pick: Mayweather

And after all that, we head into Christmas and the winter season, generally the slowest for boxing, although January already has Tito Trinidad's return against Roy Jones, Jr., on tap, and we'll likely get another Wlad Klitschko title defense, plus we'll see when Maskaev-Peter actually takes place. We should also see Bernard Hopkins fight again, and I'm waiting to find out what, exactly, Winky Wright plans to do. And Oscar wants to fight two times next year, so we should at least hear a plan of attack by January. And, not to mention, Vazquez-Marquez III is coming in the first quarter of 2008.

But the attention still belongs in the present, as this is the best lineup we've seen for boxing in years. If only all sports were this dead.