Quick Note: I won't be here for this card on Saturday night, as I have a friend's birthday to attend, and this was, frankly, not the sort of fight I could sacrifice a Saturday event to watch. My plan is to DVR it and watch it on Sunday, if you're interested, but there WILL be a fight night thread here just the same, and hopefully a post-fight recap if any of our staffers are around and able to take care of it. I'll also be out on March 12 for my birthday, as my wife has insisted I do something for the last birthday of my 20s, and she's put up with enough boxing foolishness that I couldn't really argue. (Although I might still try to catch the Cotto-Mayorga fight in the back room during the celebration.)
Junior Middleweights, 12 Rounds
Saul Alvarez v. Matthew Hatton
TV: HBO, 10:30pm ET
20-year-old Mexican prospect/superstar Saul Alvarez gets his first real headlining HBO fight on Saturday night when he faces European welterweight champ Matthew Hatton at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
It's a sideways step for Alvarez (35-0-1, 26 KO). The charismatic, redheaded youngster has already beaten fighters as good or better than Hatton (41-4-2, 16 KO), whose career in the UK has been helped in a big way by his famous brother Ricky becoming his promoter and protecting him en route to the European title at 147 pounds.
This fight will take place at 154, with the WBC's vacant vanity bauble on the line. At a listed 5'9" with a 71" reach, Alvarez doesn't appear on the surface to be too big to make the welterweight limit, but his broad shoulders tell the tale of a man who may have to fight small for most of his career. He's yet to take on a genuine 154-pounder, and after Saturday, win or lose, that will still be the case.
Alvarez broke out into stardom last year on the Mayweather-Mosley undercard. Fighting Hatton will be sort of familiar territory for Alvarez, as he's already beaten the lesser brother of a well-known superstar in the past. That night in Las Vegas, Alvarez overcame some early difficulties and to beat down the determined Jose Miguel Cotto (TKO-9). Prior to that, Alvarez had taken out Brian Camechis (KO-3) in Mexico, and followed the Cotto win with a demolition of Luciano Cuello (TKO-6), also in Mexico. The Cuello fight was an eye-opener. Just 16 months earlier, Cuello had given Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. all he could handle over 10 rounds, but Alvarez walked through him with ease.
After Cuello, Alvarez savaged the little that was left of former welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir (KO-6), and took a grind-it-out decision over Lovemore N'dou on December 4, finishing 5-0 for 2010.
Hatton, 29, has not been so exciting. "Magic" Matthew hasn't lost in his last nine fights (8-0-1), but the level of competition has been Euro-level or worse, so fairly mediocre. After dropping a 12-round decision to Craig Watson in 2008, Hatton applied new focus to his career and tried to escape the shadow of being Ricky's brother. He never will, of course, but on the whole he's done a fair job of establishing his own name.
Wins over veterans Ben Tackie, Ted Bami and Ernesto Zepeda led Hatton into a fight with the aforementioned N'dou. Hatton and N'dou went to a 12-round draw in November 2009, with neither looking particularly good. (N'dou was limited in training due to illness.) After that draw and a win over a scrub, Hatton was the lucky recipient of a squeaky wheel European title chance against Gianluca Branco, an undersized, 39-year-old Italian. Hatton banged out an unanimous decision victory in Dagenham, then managed to get the duke against Yuriy Nuzhnenko in a close and spirited July bout. He finished his 2010 with a win over the ridiculously overmatched Roberto Belge (KO-3).
In all honesty, it's almost impossible for me to see Hatton winning this fight. It would be an early frontrunner for Upset of the Year. You can take your pick for the leading reason that's the case. Is it because Alvarez is so good? Is it because Hatton is so thoroughly mediocre? Both?
Let me put it this way. If they rematched tomorrow, on neutral ground, I'd pick N'dou over Hatton. If they fought tomorrow, on neutral ground, I'd consider Baldomir-Hatton a pretty even fight. Alvarez has flaws, but Hatton isn't the guy to exploit them. That's why Golden Boy made this fight. Hatton's last name has some value and he's no real threat. He doesn't have the power to really hurt Alvarez, doesn't have the defense to slow him down, and just doesn't seem the type to hold up under Alvarez's attack. If this drags out for all 12 rounds, I suspect it will be more about Alvarez easing off the gas pedal than anything Hatton did well.
You can expect a game Matthew Hatton, at least early. He's not a quitter and he's not a chump. He's a capable, solid professional, without anything special about his talent or ability. Without the power or counter-punching ability to deter Alvarez, Hatton's best chance for survival is to play a lot of defense, like N'dou did. His best chance of winning is Alvarez getting injured or stopped on a cut. Alvarez TKO-7
Junior Middleweights, 12 Rounds
Daniel Ponce de Leon v. Adrien Broner
TV: HBO, 10:30pm ET
Now this is an interesting fight. Ponce de Leon (41-2, 34 KO) has been plying his trade at 126 pounds, where he became the mandatory challenger for Juan Manuel Lopez's WBO doodad with his crushing defeat of Antonio Escalante in September. Trouble is, Ponce de Leon met Lopez back in 2008 at 122 pounds, and did not fare well. Broner (19-0, 16 KO) has been campaigning at 135 pounds. The Cincinnati prospect has received somewhat mixed reviews as he's beaten a veritable "who's that" of stepping stones along the way. At 21, he's nine years Ponce de Leon's junior, and will have a listed two-inch height advantage. The plodding Ponce de Leon has in recent fights mixed up his attack better than he used to, and has recovered nicely from the loss to Lopez with a seven-fight win streak. If he beats Broner, it's a big win for him. The younger man will have a big edge in speed come fight night, and I like his chances to overwhelm Ponce de Leon, and to be big enough to withstand Ponce de Leon's attacks, if he can get them home. Broner UD-12
Related Video: Adrien Broner TKO-1 Ilido Julio and Adrien Broner KO-6 William Kickett
On the Undercard
James Kirkland (25-0, 22 KO) is out of prison and finally back in the ring, as he faces Ahsandi Gibbs (10-2, 4 KO) in a tune-up bout. Daniel Jacobs (21-1, 18 KO) takes a step back to face Robert Kliewer (11-12-2, 5 KO). Kliewer has been stopped eight times and has lost eight of his last ten fights, much of it coming against legitimate prospects. He did win his last, over Anthony Bonsante, but Jacobs shouldn't have a hard night at the office. And heavyweight prospect and former Michigan State Spartan football player Seth "Mayhem" Mitchell (20-0-1, 14 KO) stays busy against Charles Davis (19-21-3, 4 KO).