We've talked in-depth about Saturday's two undercard bouts (Quintana-Williams II and Ponce de Leon-Lopez), and now we might as well go ahead and make some picks for the weekend's four big fights on Showtime and HBO.
WBC Junior Middleweight Title: Vernon Forrest (40-2, 29 KO) v. Sergio Mora (20-0-1, 5 KO)
The much-maligned main event for the Showtime card pits the WBC's 154 pound champion, Forrest, against "Contender" season one winner Sergio Mora.
Most of the talk about this fight has centered on Forrest's strangely out-of-character, vicious trash talk, but there are some elements that make this an interesting fight.
First of all, Forrest is 37 years old, and all fighters hit the real wall eventually, most often due to age and body deterioration. We all know that "The Viper" has struggled mightily with injury over his career; a career which I recently sort of chided Yahoo! Sports analyst Kevin Iole for deeming a "cinch" to get him into the Hall of Fame.
Look, if Vernon Forrest had never been so overrun by nagging injuries and several pretty major injuries, we really might be talking about a potential Hall of Fame candidate. Let's not forget that this man beat Shane Mosley twice when Sugar Shane was atop many pound-for-pound lists. Vernon was a hell of a fighter, and dominated in two bouts last year, against Carlos Baldomir and Michele Piccirillo. The rugged, durable Baldomir took Forrest the distance, but Piccirillo was slaughtered by Vernon.
I do not think Vernon is fighting as well as ever. That'd be really hard, because his peak -- though short -- was very impressive. But he is certainly fighting much better than I think any of us thought he would since his 2006 comeback, which culminated in a gift decision going his way against Ike Quartey.
As for Mora, it seems there are few fighters more disliked than "The Latin Snake," known to many hardcore fans as "The Latin Fake." But let's not ignore what he does do well, which is take a punch and box with a fair amount of slickness. He's not untalented, but is he world class? Fellow season one "Contender" alums Alfonso Gomez and Peter Manfredo, Jr., surely did not fare well in their world title shots. Gomez was mercilessly pounded by Miguel Cotto until it was thankfully stopped, and Manfredo absorbed a lot of punches without fighting back against Joe Calzaghe. He's also lost to Jeff Lacy since then.
There's a reason these guys were on "The Contender," is my point. They are not world-class fighters. If they were, going that route wouldn't have been necessary. Even if you got a higher opinion of the program thanks to last year's much-improved lot of fighters, we're still talking about the likes of Sakio Bika and Sam Soliman, veterans who have had chances and fallen short, and guys like Jaidon Codrington and Brian Vera, entertaining TV fighters that just don't seem destined for the upper echelon of the sport.
Forrest would have to get really old, really fast to lose to Mora. Sergio is absolutely not going to knock him out, and I don't think Forrest will knock out Mora, either, despite his promises and guarantees. I look for Forrest to win a wide decision.
WBO Welterweight Title: Carlos Quintana (25-1, 19 KO) v. Paul Williams (33-1, 24 KO)
Williams is the odds-on favorite again, despite being outboxed and beaten over 12 rounds by Quintana the first time they fought. I'm sure Quintana and his team like their chances at repeating.
Williams claims that he "wasn't Paul Williams" in the first fight, that he was just "off" -- that's great. He might be right. Those betting on Williams are betting on just that philosoph, that "The Punisher" had an off-night, which all fighters will endure at some point, and that he will be THE Paul Williams again, and this time use his reach to befuddle Quintana and win the fight.
The other big school of thought right now is that Quintana is simply a horrible matchup for Williams. Guys like Antonio Margarito can fall victim to Williams' preferred method of fighting, which is to pepper the jab heavily and work in the rest of his arsenal to keep the other guy guessing just enough. Using his astounding range, it was effective for 33 fights.
In the 34th, he met the crafty Quintana, a fellow southpaw who likes to move, counter punch, and pull out sneaky overhand lefts as a lead punch. Make no mistake about it, he tagged Williams a LOT in their first encounter. He was the clear victor.
I just don't see it changing. If it does, I won't be stunned or anything. But Williams' supporters are working off of a hope. Those of us picking Quintana are working off of something that happened. Quintana via hard-fought decision.
World Middleweight Championship: Kelly Pavlik (33-0, 30 KO) v. Gary Lockett (30-1, 21 KO)
If Gary Lockett, who is undersized, underskilled, underpowered, underqualified, and overranked as a mandatory, were to beat Kelly Pavlik on HBO this Saturday, it would be pretty damn hard for any upset this year to top it.
Lockett would be a lock for Upset of the Year. The fight would go down in the history books. It would be, arguably, the sport's biggest upset since Carlos Baldomir shocked Zab Judah and the boxing world in 2006.
It won't happen. Lockett seems like a nice guy that undoubtedly is working his ass off to get prepared for the biggest fight of his career. But I get the sensation that this will forever be the biggest fight of Gary Lockett's career, too. Watching him fight, it's clear that he doesn't have the right tools to knock off the aggressive, skilled, and very powerful Pavlik.
If flush power punches from Edison Miranda couldn't back Pavlik down, what will Lockett do? If a focused, re-energized Jermain Taylor couldn't ultimately outbox Pavlik in their rematch, how is Lockett going to do that?
Lockett's only hope is that Pavlik is looking past him, but that would be a real surprise. Pavlik is working toward being one of the biggest draws in boxing. He knows that this is a tune-up fight, I'm sure, but he also knows it's a fight he cannot in any way afford to lose. He's going to come at Lockett hard from the opening bell.
The 6'2 1/2" Pavlik has a big size advantage on the 5'10" Lockett, who really looks more like a junior middleweight by trade, whereas Kelly seems to have the sort of broad-shouldered frame that will make it easy for him to move up to 175 someday, maybe even cruiserweight. Hell, he's talked about going up to heavyweight, and some don't think it's that crazy of an idea.
And if nothing else, look at the last fight fights for each guy -- all wins on both sides. Pavlik took down Lenord Pierre, Jose Luis Zertuche, Edison Miranda, and Taylor twice. Lockett has been fighting the likes of Gilbert Eastman, Ryan Rhodes, Ayitey Powers, Lee Blundell and Kai Kauramaki. Pavlik via highly one-sided TKO in the fifth.
WBO Super Bantamweight Title: Daniel Ponce de Leon (34-1, 30 KO) v. Juan Manuel Lopez (21-0, 19 KO)
Sometimes Ponce de Leon's awkward fighting style can be a blessing for him. He comes at unconventional angles, allowing his wild, unorthodox punches to find their home.
Other times, Ponce de Leon is made to look foolish and slow.
I think this is going to be one of those nights where the latter occurs.
I like Ponce de Leon, and will always sit down to watch him fight. But Lopez is a really good-looking young fighter who has the sort of natural ability that Ponce de Leon lacks, and that can really thwart the attack of a fighter like Ponce de Leon.
The two southpaws will slug it out, of that I have no doubt. We will not see this one go the distance, and if it does, we could have a real hell of a fight on our hands. I don't think this one will be especially pretty, and I could see both guys going down. No matter who he fights, Ponce de Leon will always have a puncher's chance. But the same looks like it can be said for Lopez, too.
Every fight is supposed to be the one where Ponce de Leon "puts it all together." Frankly, I think he's put it all about as together as it's going to get. The guy is never going to be good with footwork, is always going to be vulnerable to fighting wild and crazy, no matter how hard they try to make him stop, and will never show up and work off the jab and box. It's just not his style. It's not in his mental makeup.
It's the toughest pick of the weekend, if you ask me, and has a high chance of also being the best fight. It's a top-heavy division loaded with Vazquez, Marquez, Caballero, Ponce de Leon and Molitor. I think they better get ready to welcome Lopez via eighth round TKO.