This Saturday night's pay-per-view undercard for the rematch between Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz is a good one. If you're going to spend money on one boxing pay-per-view for the rest of 2010, make it this card. I understand criticisms that perhaps Marquez-Diaz II shouldn't be a headlining bout on pay-per-view, but the fact of the matter is, it's a rematch of the 2009 Fight of the Year, and Golden Boy Promotions has stacked the undercard with meaningful, interesting fights across the board -- even fights that won't air on television (which can be viewed on The Ring's web site).
Junior Welterweights: Robert Guerrero v. Joel Casamayor
In trying to sell this fight in a media call, promoter Oscar de la Hoya telephoned in his flashiest smile and offered, "Yes, (Casamayor) is 38 years of age, but 38 years young."
If anyone saw Joel Casamayor fight last November, it could be tough to tell them that Casamayor is 38 years young. That night, the former lightweight champ (and one of the best and most overlooked fighters of his generation) took on a club fighter named Jason Davis and had some struggles. He was fighting at 140, which is over his best weight, and yes, he looked old. He looked flat-out old.
But Casamayor might well have been on auto-pilot that night, too. This will be the fight where we find out what he has left. Former 126- and 130-pound titlist Robert Guerrero continues to move up in weight, and now he gets a crack at a big name on a big show. Guerrero (26-1-1, 18 KO) and Casamayor (37-4-1, 22 KO) are meeting at a crossroads. Casamayor hasn't had a good win in over two years, when he stopped Michael Katsidis in a scorching fight. Later in 2008, he lost the lightweight crown in another terrific bout, against Juan Manuel Marquez. It was the first time Casamayor himself had ever been beaten inside the distance, but he was very competitive in that fight.
Guerrero, who is 27 years old, hasn't had a big fight in about a year. Last August, he battled Malcolm Klassen in a good bout, and came out victorious. But that was at 130 pounds. He returned in April against journeyman Roberto David Arrieta at 135 pounds, winning easily. It was thought that Guerrero would stay at 135 for a while, but a fight with Katsidis fell through, and this was the best fight Guerrero was going to get any time soon.
I like this fight because of the crossroads aspect, because you never know what to expect with Casamayor, who has a history of fighting up and down to his competition, and because Guerrero himself is a bit of a wild card. We've seen him look sensational (stopping Martin Honorio in one round, a KO-8 over Jason Litzau), and we've seen him look a little bit like he wasn't there (a two-round no-contest with Daud Yordan). Both are southpaws, and both are talented. Casamayor has been in the ring with some greats, and Guerrero has youth on his side.
Pick: I like Guerrero here...I think. This is not one I would advise you lay any money on, let's put it that way. If Guerrero is focused and sharp, and the weight doesn't bother him (he's still unproven over 130), I think his youth carries the day. But if he's off, and Casamayor really does have something left, this could be yet another notch in the veteran's belt. I'll go with Guerrero UD-10, but do so very cautiously.
Middleweights: Danny Jacobs v. Dmitry Pirog
Now this is what I'm talking about. This is a double prospect bout between two of the best young fighters in the 160-pound division, which is reeling at the current moment, but has a cavalry of good young fighters coming in the near future. One of these two is about to join the upper echelon of the class, and the other will go back to the drawing board a bit.
CompuBox compared Pirog to Antonio Margarito (calling him a "poor man's Margarito"), while our own Brickhaus commented that a comparison to 154-pound European champ Ryan Rhodes is more in order. Rhodes and Margarito are incredibly different, so Brick and CompuBox are going to meet in a parking lot with tire irons to settle this. Or everyone will just watch the fight. I side more with the Rhodes comparison -- Pirog is, as Brick said, better than Margarito's ever been on the defensive side of things.
Jacobs (20-0, 17 KO) has been very good but rarely thrilling on his climb up the ranks. The 23-year-old "Golden Child" out of Brooklyn hasn't had much by way of major steps up in class -- basically, outside of Ishe Smith, I think he'd have beaten everyone he's beaten so far if he'd fought them in his fifth pro fight, if that makes sense. Ishe, though, gave him some lessons in the ring. Smith was able to get into Jacobs' head and turn the fight a bit dirty and fiery, which benefited the veteran, because Jacobs' physical advantages were obvious.
Pirog (16-0, 13 KO) will be giving up a little bit of height against Jacobs. The Russian isn't as young as Jacobs is, as Pirog is already 30 years old, so this is kind of a now-or-never sort of matchup for him. Pirog had been in talks to face Matthew Macklin at one point recently, but that didn't come about, and he's now showing a desire to get himself in the race at 160 by taking on Jacobs.
One thing I found interesting was how elated that Jacobs was to get this fight for a vacant alphabet strap at 160, but also his realism about the situation when he discussed the bout at first:
"I know they'll call me a paper champion when I win," Jacobs said. "But look at it from the other standpoint -- anyone in my position, they wouldn't decline it if offered. Believe me, if I had the opportunity to fight Sergio Martinez and win the title from him, I would want to do it that way. I would want to take the belt from him, but the opportunity hasn't been presented to me. This one was. I took it."
Pick: I like Pirog and Jacobs both. Pirog has fought more or less the same level of competition that Jacobs has, in my estimation, but I don't know if Pirog has fought someone as talented or as good as Jacobs already is. In fact, I'm almost totally certain he hasn't. Both guys are looking to make their names with this fight, and I hope that means both come to fight, instead of it winding up with two tentative guys who start getting trigger-shy on the biggest stage of their careers. I like the American to grab the strap. Jacobs UD-12
Lightweights: Jorge Linares v. Rocky Juarez
This is it for Rocky Juarez. Neither Juarez (28-6-1, 20 KO) nor Linares (28-1, 18 KO) has ever fought at 135 pounds before, but this bout will be at lightweight as Juarez continues to search for a division in which he might be able to win a belt, and Linares moves up in weight, looking to get back his status as one of the most promising young fighters out there.
Linares' lone loss came, of course, in October of last year, when he was shockingly stopped in the very first round against Juan Carlos Salgado in Japan. Without meaning to take anything away from Salgado, I firmly believe that was a first-rate fluke. Linares was caught cold, didn't handle getting hurt well, and left himself open to be stopped after being knocked down. It's one of those things that happens.
The good news for Linares is that Juarez doesn't start fighting until about the 10th round, so the first shouldn't worry him much on Saturday. Juarez, now 30, has been an incredibly frustrating fighter to follow throughout his pro career. Since he was upset by Humberto Soto in 2005, he's gone just 5-5-1, with his draw against Chris John in their first of two bouts being seen by most as a hometown gift in Houston. His best moment as a pro came when he nearly shocked the world against Marco Antonio Barrera in their first bout back in 2006, a fight where Juarez came in as a late substitute. Barrera soundly defeated him in the rematch, as did John in their second encounter.
In his last fight, Juarez, as usual, promised he was going to start faster, that he knew he couldn't wait around any longer as he has often been criticized for doing in his career. But he just stood and waited with Jason Litzau, a fighter with a subpar chin/defense combination who himself wasn't exactly out there lighting it up. Juarez wound up losing a technical decision after seven rounds.
That night, I wrote Juarez off as a possible serious contender. He's a talented fighter, and he's very powerful as a featherweight. But his bad habits have never been broken, and there's no good reason to think that's going to change now.
Pick: This will be the best win of Linares' career to date should he get it, and I think he will. I'd love to pick Rocky Juarez, who I've long been a fan of, but he just doesn't bring it, and after his last fight, I lean toward questioning how fully his heart is into boxing anymore. It could end earlier on cuts. Linares UD-10
A look at the off-TV fights after the jump.
Super Middleweights: Sakio Bika v. Jean Paul Mendy
Bika (28-3-2, 19 KO) is universally ranked in the top ten at super middleweight, but this is no easy fight for him. Mendy (28-0-1, 16 KO) has one blemish on his pro record, a 2007 draw with Anthony Hanshaw in the finals of what was sort of a precursor to Showtime's current Super Six, a 168-pound tournament with second-rate stars put together by Don King and Showtime. It flopped, to say the least.
Mendy is a Frenchman, but has spent some time fighting in the Carolinas, too, of all the places. He hasn't had a tough fight since Hanshaw, and at 36, it's probably just too late. Bika, 31, has been incredibly aggressive in recent wins over the likes of Peter Manfredo Jr. (where he totally Hulked out after what he felt was unfair officiating in Manfredo's backyard), Jaidon Codrington and others. Both guys have had tough times making good fights in recent years, and they're meeting for the right to take a crack at Lucian Bute. Bika lost to Bute back in 2007, and it was the last time he lost.
Pick: I like Bika big in this one. Bika TKO-5
Super Middleweights: George Groves v. Alfredo Contreras
Groves (9-0, 7 KO) is arguably -- I said "arguably" -- the best UK prospect going right now. Promoted by David Haye, the 22-year-old from Hammersmith fights hard and comes to knock guys out. Contreras (11-7-1, 5 KO) has no shot at winning this fight. It's a gimme to get Groves some U.S. exposure. With Golden Boy starving for a contender at 168, Groves could be a man on their list to get into the mix after the Super Six is over.
Heavyweights: Seth Mitchell v. Derek Bryant
"Mayhem" Mitchell (17-0-1, 11 KO) was a college football linebacker at Michigan State who turned to boxing in 2008. In addition to being a Spartan, which is bad enough, he credits former Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski for inspiring him to get into boxing. Mitchell wants me to like him as little as possible, I think.
At 6'2" and usually weighing around 240-245 pounds, Mitchell has some size, but nothing exceptional. He's also trucked through guys who, frankly, cannot fight. That's fine, too -- he's 28, but there's no big rush, and he's still learning boxing. He stopped Johnnie White in two rounds in his last bout, but White's 22-1 record coming in was a mirage. White's other loss was a TKO-1 to Dominick Guinn in 2009.
Bryant (20-5-1, 17 KO) is no superstar himself, but he can hit and he's a southpaw. At 39, Bryant made his pro debut back in 1998 and never really became a full-time boxer, but he's been through the battles. If Mitchell has any real promise, he'll win this fight. But don't be surprised if the powerful lefty ends his run.
Super Featherweights: David Rodela v. Juan Montiel
This is a nothing showcase fight for Rodela (15-3-2, 6 KO), an ex-sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao. Montiel (3-3-1, 1 KO) presents no danger or challenge to the 28-year-old Filipino, whose top pro accomplishment is an SD-8 over an incredibly faded Kevin Kelley in 2008.
Junior Welterweights: Frankie Gomez v. Ricardo Calazada
This will be a destruction, but if you don't know Frankie Gomez yet, it's time you got to know him. At 4-0 (4 KO), Gomez is probably Golden Boy's best current prospect overall, when you combine talent, future and potential impact. Gomez is one of those guys that promoters, managers and trainers can dream on.