This weekend has a busy schedule of fairly notable fights, so we'll take a look at four of them right now. Later on, we'll preview Klitschko-Peter II.
Featherweights - 12 Rounds
Yuriorkis Gamboa v. Orlando Salido
(HBO, Saturday, 10pm)
Gamboa (18-0, 15 KO) will be taking the toughest test of his pro career against Salido (34-10-2, 22 KO), though on paper you'd be forgiven for dismissing Salido if you aren't familiar with his career. Like many before him and some still to come, Salido was raised in the Mexican rings, with his pro debut coming in 1996 at the age of 15. He started his career going 14-8-2 through his 21st birthday, often taking crazy short notice fights. He once fought twice in a four-day span in 2002, beating previously-undefeated Lamont Pearson in Phoenix on March 22 and then knocking out a can in Mexico four days later. Prior to that in 2001, he fought veterans Regilio Tuur and Alejandro Gonzalez just 10 days apart. He won one and he lost one.
At 16-8-2 in September '02, Salido battled hardened vet Carlos Gerena and won a majority decision, starting his real rise in the sport. Two years later, he fought and lost to Juan Manuel Marquez, but bounced back well. He beat Cesar Soto in his next fight, and then stopped Rogers Mtagwa in five. A pretty dominant 2006 upset of Robert Guerrero was erased from the books when Salido failed his post-fight drug test. Most recently, he's split a pair of tough fights with wild brawling Cristobal Cruz, beating Cruz in his last bout.
Salido is no patsy. Given the available competition out there, Gamboa and Top Rank really did take just about the toughest guy. They tried other avenues, including Elio Rojas. Celestino Caballero you almost have to wash away as "unavailable" because Top Rank isn't going to put either of their big stars -- Gamboa or JuanMa Lopez -- in with him, which has become readily apparent. HBO is going to have to try to force either of those fights, and right now they're not pushing it. Lopez is busy with Rafael Marquez, and Chris John is apparently injured.
That injury means Gamboa is now "super champion" of the WBA, a distinction you have to just find embarrassingly funny, no matter that Gamboa is a great talent. How on earth does one become a super champion with Gamboa's resume? He lifted the interim belt against journeyman Jose Rojas and was then promoted to "full" titlist, defended that against journeymen Whyber Garcia and Mtagwa, and in his last bout fought Jonathan Victor Barros, whose own resume was hardly befitting a title challenger, but well, Gamboa had to fight in Germany and nobody wanted it to be too tough.
Salido holds the IBF belt right now, so this is a unification. The winner will claim to be "unified champion" until the IBF sees fit to strip that person of their title belt for not wanting to fight God knows who when there is definitely going to be more money to be made against someone better.
As much as I like Salido as a fighter, he's got limits that we've seen already. He's been through the wars and at age 29, is a 14-year veteran of the ring. He's not particularly fast, strong, or good defensively. He's a good fighter who can make for good fights a lot of the time.
But Gamboa has phenom talent. Of all the current Cuban pros that are about to start going to the next level (or not), he's still the most likely to be a major star or become a truly great pro fighter. Gamboa's flashiness isn't as slavishly tied to "amateur style," which you see a bit from guys like Yordanis Despaigne and Guillermo Rigondeaux, or even Erislandy Lara. All of those men -- plus guys like Odlanier Solis, Mike Perez, Yudel Jhonson -- are good to great prospects who could probably compete at or near the world class level already.
Gamboa is just different. His combination punching is astounding when he really lets it fly. He's improved the balance issues that got him knocked down plenty early in his pro travels, which was often poorly attributed to a bad chin. He does not have concussive power, but his speed and angles are so tremendous that he makes up for it and has the overwhelming-type style and ability to stop just about anyone. And when he's locked in and going for the kill, his accuracy is something to behold.
I can't see Salido being able to keep pace with Gamboa. I also do expect Gamboa to take it fairly easy early on -- if there's one possible knock on him, it could be that he sometimes doesn't really show his talent and his teeth unless he has to. If Salido manages to pressure or put any sort of scare into him at all early, Gamboa will turn on the light and take him out. If Gamboa can stop Salido, it'll be the first time in 10 years that Salido has lost inside the distance. Gamboa TKO-10
In the words of Hank Hill, "Boy, I tell ya hwhat..."
This is the real fight to watch on Saturday's HBO show, even though I like the main event. Peterson, 25, and Rios, 24, are both legitimate prospects at 135 pounds, talented young fighters ready to take the next step. When the two prospect roads meet right when both guys are at sink or swim time, I always enjoy that. We saw it with Jacobs-Pirog in July. There was no more for either of those two to gain in non-challenging fights. That's what this one is.
And though I picked Jacobs to win that fight, he didn't. I see the "underdog" looking good this time, too.
Anthony Peterson (30-0, 20 KO) simply hasn't been active enough for my liking when it comes to this matchup. The D.C. native, now living in Memphis, fought just once in 2009, and his last bout came in March of this year. Neither were challenging affairs. Peterson is considered the puncher between he and his brother Lamont, but only once in his last four has he closed the show, and that was in his last fight against Juan Ramon Cruz, who had been stopped three times by then, and was stopped again in May by Ronald Cruz. Against journeymen Fernando Trejo, Javier Jauregui and Luis Antonio Arceo, Peterson went the distance. He's a decent puncher, with enough power to keep opponents honest, but he's not a puncher. He's only "a puncher" as compared to Lamont.
Rios (24-0-1, 18 KO) has been out of the ring since a February TKO-3 over Jorge Luis Teron in a fight that had some poor refereeing on both sides in the third round. But Rios showed a shark-like attitude in that fight. Always moving, always throwing, and able to overcome what was a sizable height disadvantage over the six-foot Teron, who is also still a decent prospect. He won't be giving up that height against Peterson, who checks in at about 5'8" to Rios' listed 5'9", but Rios will be giving up four inches of reach.
What I like about this fight for Rios is I think he's just more ready to be truly aggressive, and he'll eat shots to get to Peterson. Peterson is quicker, probably a better pure boxer, and could use his jab to dominate from the outside, backing the jab's play enough power that maybe Rios won't want to rush in on him. But I think Rios is going to rush in on him anyway. I do think this is, in all reality, a pick'em that might on paper slightly favor Peterson. But I like Rios in this one because I'm not convinced that Peterson is ready to keep his cool under Rios' pressure ... if Rios can get that pressure going, anyway. Rios SD-12
It's too bad that the last impression of Steve Molitor is that he's some overrated, protected chump that got dismantled and blown out by Celestino Caballero when he dared take a proper challenge, because Molitor (32-1, 12 KO) can fight.
I'm not saying he's a great fighter, because I don't think he is. But he remains among the best and most proven in the world at 122 pounds. He has several quality wins on his sheet, including his previous trip to the UK, when he knocked out Michael Hunter in five to win the vacant IBF super bantamweight title.
Along with Hunter, he's beaten Ricardo Castillo, Fahsan 3K Battery, Fernando Beltran Jr., Heriberto Ruiz, and Takalani Ndlovu (twice). All of those wins outside of Ruiz were dominant.
So he got smashed by Caballero. So what? Caballero can be a force in the ring, and that was one of his best performances to date. Molitor wasn't himself that night, for whatever reason, and that exacerbated things. But would I pick Molitor, at his best, to beat Caballero? No. He's just not quite that good.
Still, there is some cause for concern. Molitor is 30 years old and has been moody even by his standards in the lead-up to this fight. His opponent is older at 32, but has become re-focused on boxing in recent years, and hasn't lost a fight since 2007. His wins since then aren't anything amazing, but he's gotten himself in line for a title shot that nobody would have expected a couple of years ago.
Physically, I think Jason Booth (35-5, 15 KO) is simply overmatched here. Molitor is taller, longer, stronger, and has faced better competition. Booth started off as a flyweight back in 1996, and Molitor has been at 122 his entire career, with a couple experimental dips down to 118 earlier on. Booth is a good story, but Molitor is a proven good fighter at this weight. If Molitor is a tier two super bantamweight, then Booth is a tier three guy, and really, that might be overestimating him just a hair, with all due respect.
Five days ago, Scotland's Ricky Burns managed to overcome what was thought to be a better, stronger fighter in Roman Martinez, winning a decision in Glasgow. Booth has a slightly similar situation on Saturday, but while most thought Burns was a superior pure boxer to Martinez, I don't think Booth has any advantages on paper against Molitor. If Molitor loses to Booth, it will most likely be because Molitor isn't there mentally. Molitor UD-12
Junior Welterweights - 12 Rounds
Erik Morales v. Willie Limond
(Integrated Sports PPV, Saturday, 9pm)
Here we go again. Erik Morales is taking what might be a final tune-up bout as he resurrects what was thought to be a finished, Hall of Fame-bound career that probably should have ended with the gritty, tight loss to David Diaz in 2007. Last time out, a bloated Morales fought at welterweight against Jose Alfaro and won. This time, a slightly less bloated Morales tries his hand at junior welterweight, where the incredibly biased WBC has installed him as No. 1 contender despite having never fought a single fight at the weight in his life, taking on Scottish lightweight Willie Limond for a minor WBC trinket. It's too bad they didn't just go ahead and strip Devon Alexander for having the gall to unify titles, and put their full 140-pound title on the line in this fight. Maybe then Morales could retire, having claimed a "fourth world championship" in a "fourth weight class."
Limond is famous for one thing. In the middle of an ass-kicking from Amir Khan back in 2007, the feather-fisted Scot managed to knock Amir Khan down. It said more about Khan's chin than about Limond's ability, because other than that, Limond has done nothing worthy of much examination or note, besides getting stopped by Alex Arthur in eight rounds back in 2003, when challenging for Arthur's British super featherweight title.
Limond (33-2, 8 KO) is just not very good. I'd like to say he's a good boxer, as guys with a record like his sometimes are, but he's really just an OK boxer with a built-up record of creampuffs and cans. Morales (49-6, 34 KO) is no more a junior welterweight than he is a heavyweight, but Limond isn't really a junior welter either, and even a shot Morales ought to be able to out-hustle and beat up on Limond eventually. "Terrible" managed to get through Alfaro OK enough despite being clearly unconditioned, and Alfaro's a better puncher than Limond, too.
There's not much to this fight except that once Morales has won, it seems fairly likely that his next opponent is going to be Juan Manuel Marquez, no matter what happens with Marquez and Michael Katsidis in November. Even if Marquez were to lose to Katsidis, they could move tickets for Marquez-Morales in Mexico. It's the one fight among the great crop of featherweights last decade -- Marquez, Morales, Barrera, Pacquiao -- that never happened. Morales TKO-11