Since all of these fights are juuuust interesting enough but none are exactly dream matchups, I figured we could take a look at all of them together. If we get a little lucky, all three fights will have live coverage this weekend, as will the Klitschko-Solis fight that we'll preview either later this evening or early tomorrow. If you missed this week's TV schedule, go here.
Super Bantamweights, 12 Rounds
Guillermo Rigondeaux (7-0, 5 KO) v. Willie Casey (11-0, 7 KO)
TV: RTE (Ireland) and RTE.ie (Worldwide), 6 pm EDT Saturday
Rigondeaux has stated clearly that he doesn't feel Ireland's Casey is in his class, and he's not doing it in a trash talk sort of way, where you call a guy a "bitch" or whatever the hell else people do these days with their spare time, he's just being sort of honest. He really doesn't think Casey can hang with him.
Truthfully, he's probably right, and has every reason to feel that way. Rigondeaux, 30, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist (2000/2004) and also took home gold medals in the amateurs at the World Amateur Championships (2001/2005), the Pan American Games (2003), Central American and Caribbean Games (2006), and the World Cup (2002/2005). He was the Cuban national champion at bantamweight from 2000 through 2006.
Many got their first look at the man considered one of the best amateur boxers of all-time last November, when he took a big step up in competition to face Ricardo Cordoba on the Pacquiao-Margarito undercard. The result was a lot of people feeling less than impressed. Unlike countryman Yuriorkis Gamboa, who has become a fan favorite with his electric style (or at least his perceived electric style), Rigondeaux is a pure amateur stylist, a counter-puncher who doesn't look to make anything more exciting than it has to be, and doesn't care if he's boring. Cordoba was the aggressor in the fight and gave Rigondeaux a decent test, but I thought it was clear that Guillermo won the fight, and I feel judge Raul Caiz Sr.'s 114-112 Cordoba card was a bit much.
But I think Top Rank may have learned a lesson that night. Signed by the promotional company last year, Rigondeaux was immediately talked up for his credentials and potential to be a dominant professional fighter. He may well be a dominant fighter, but he's not going to be a star. That's just not in him. He's not charismatic, his fights aren't much fun to watch, and most important of all, he doesn't care if he's a star. He cares about winning.
Casey, 29, hails from Limerick and will have home field advantage in Dublin. Compared to Rigondeaux, his credentials are very slight. He won a Prizefighter tournament last year in London, then came back home to Ireland to knock off countryman Paul Hyland (TKO-4) to claim the European super bantamweight title. It's very easy to root for Casey, as he's a textbook underdog from a country that really appreciates its rare boxing stars these days, and hopefully he'll have good crowd support, because he's been fighting an uphill battle against Rigondeaux since the moment the fight was signed.
Realistically, the only chance that Casey has to win this fight is catching Rigondeaux disinterested, out of shape, or just not all there on fight night. In terms of skills, there is an ocean between these two. Casey is not nearly as good as Cordoba, and a win from the southpaw Irishman would be a contender for Upset of the Year no matter what else happens in 2011. Rigondeaux TKO-7
After the Jump: Previews for Bute-Magee and Solomon-Hopkins
Super Middleweights, 12 Rounds
Lucian Bute (27-0, 22 KO) v. Brian Magee (34-3-1, 24 KO)
TV: Showtime, 10 pm EDT Saturday
The 35-year-old Magee, based in Belfast, stopped the ultra padded record of Mads Larsen in January 2010 to win the vacant European title at 168 pounds, and then defended it once against Roman Aramyan in September, dominating eight rounds and forcing Aramyan to give up the ghost before the ninth began.
He's a tough fighter. He can punch. And let me warn you now: I'm going to put just a little bit of stock into this win if and when Bute gets it. Magee is better than Jesse Brinkley or Fulgencio Zuniga, and is probably right about the same level as Librado Andrade. Magee's only stoppage loss was in 2006 to Carl Froch, and Froch didn't have any easy go against him. Magee's other two losses were a 2005 split decision against Vitali Tsypko, and a 2004 decision against Robin Reid. Magee was down four times in that fight and still was close on the cards.
Bute should win, and I would say he should win without much trouble, because that's his talent level. He's either the #1 or #2 man in the division, or #3 if you're one of the recent batch of Froch mega-supporters, but no matter how you slice it he's a top of the line guy and everything he does for now is his fight to lose.
He'd have to have a serious off night or get caught with something massive to lose this fight, though. In terms of all-around ability, Bute is two levels higher than the gritty Magee. To be honest, I'm glad Magee is getting the fight instead of someone who would only be doing it for the money involved with fighting Bute in Montreal on Showtime. Magee could have passed on the opportunity and been happy to reign as king of the European super middleweights a while longer, against opponents he would be sure he could beat, but he's taking the risk and saying to hell with the relatively small potatoes. At 35, this is almost surely the last time he's going to get a chance like this. I hope he comes out hard and fast and makes Bute fight. But no matter what he does, I expect Bute to have way too much in his arsenal. Watch for the body shots, as always, because they can end a fight at any time when Bute throws them. Bute TKO-8
Welterweights, 10 Rounds
Brad Solomon (16-0, 7 KO) v. Demetrius Hopkins (30-1-1, 11 KO)
TV: ESPN2 and ESPN3.com, 9 pm EDT Friday
Here are nice things I can say about Brad Solomon, as I've probably made clear enough that he's not my cup of tea as a prospect. He stays in tremendous physical condition. I think he could be faster than he actually allows himself to be, but he'd have to sacrifice some flashiness.
I'm not saying Solomon isn't a decent prospect, but I don't see him as a future star. It's just me -- in any sport, as a spectator of many, I have types of prospects I like and types that don't excite me. Solomon is the type of fighter that just doesn't do it for me as a prospect. I'm not saying those guys can't turn out to be very good fighters. I also don't like athlete projects who rely on speed in baseball, or basketball prospects like Hasheem Thabeet or young Kwame Brown, whose main asset on the court was being taller than the people they'd played against to that point. Thabeet and Brown suck, but I'm not saying Solomon sucks, they were just the first two that came to mind.
Hopkins is about as interesting to talk about as paint drying is to watch, but I guess if you get a lawn chair and a nice fifth of bourbon you can make a good time out of either. Maybe a mixtape with some Skynyrd and Louis Armstrong. Oh that doesn't work for you? Tough, get off my lawn.
Anyway, I actually expect Hopkins to give Solomon some trouble in this one, but for Solomon to come out the deserving victor. It's a good fight for both of them. Hopkins needs this sort of win, and Solomon needs this sort of credible if not great opponent to test his true progress. Solomon SD-10
Roman Gonzalez will get "Chango" Vargas out pretty quickly, but as always Vargas will make it entertaining. Brick's right about David Tua-Demetrice King: this could be a real trap if Tua's truly shot and just has nothing left. Hopefully the two big boys will trade bombs and at least it'll be fun to YouTube after the fact. I'll take Tua so that Chaos doesn't have a heart attack. Best wishes to Jhon Berrio on his upcoming first round knockout loss to James Kirkland.