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Cuellar vs Mares, Charlo vs Williams: Fight previews and matchups

Two world title fights (or one and a half, if you will) close out Showtime’s boxing calendar for 2016.

Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Jesus Cuellar vs Abner Mares

Jesus Cuellar

Jesus Cuellar v Jonathan Oquendo Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Record: 28-1 (21 KO) ... Streak: W11 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Southpaw ... Height/Reach: 5'6" / 68" ... Age: 29

Notes: Argentina’s Cuellar has emerged as one of the most notable and highly ranked featherweights in the world, but there are still a lot of questions about his ability, at least from where I sit. I don’t say that to be negative, it’s just a result of his opposition. Look at this run in interim and "world" WBA title fights: Claudo Marrero, Rico Ramos, Juan Manuel Lopez, Ruben Tamayo, Vic Darchinyan, Jonathan Oquendo.

That’s not exactly an all-star list of foes. Oquendo, an aged Darchinyan, and a shot Lopez are his most significant wins, and none of them are serious contenders at 126. This fight with Mares is a step up, or at least appears so on paper.

Cuellar has good power, is a solid technician, but seems to lack a special gear. He doesn’t have great hand speed and there’s really nothing he does exceptionally well. He’s just a good fighter. And as "just" a good fighter, he’s definitely beatable. He was stopped in seven by Oscar Escandon in 2011 at home in Argentina, and while he’s probably improved since then, he’s by no means an elite talent. But he is good, and good is nothing to shake a stick at.

Abner Mares

PBC on ESPN: Leo Santa Cruz v Abner Mares Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Record: 29-2-1 (15 KO) ... Streak: L1 ... Last 5: 3-2 ... Last 10: 8-2 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'4½" / 66" ... Age: 31

Notes: A lot of how this fight goes depends entirely on Mares. Not only how he matches up with Cuellar, which could be problematic itself, but just where he’s really at, how much he has left in the tank, and if his mind is right.

Mares has changed trainers a bunch recently, which to me is always a big red flag. It indicates an instability that inevitably catches up to fighters. Too many cooks and all that jazz. Not to mention, he hasn’t fought in almost 16 months, since he was beaten by Leo Santa Cruz.

Mares’ 2013 loss to Jhonny Gonzalez -- a fluky but definitive first round knockout -- may have changed him. Not in the sense that he was badly physically damaged, but some fighters just fight better undefeated, before they "know how to lose." A lot of boxing clichés are mystical gym culture stuff, and while it’s easy to look at it that way, there’s been a shift in Mares’ confidence level since then. Changing trainers all the time speaks to that, I think. He’s just not as sure of himself as he was before Gonzalez cracked him in 2:55.

He beat the aforementioned Jonathan Oquendo 11 months later, then Jose Ramirez and Arturo Santos. None of those wins were particularly impressive, in part because the opposition wasn’t great, and in part because Mares just never looked like his old self. And while he looked capable and hungry against Santa Cruz, he did clearly lose, even if judge Max DeLuca found a way to score it even.

There’s also the fact that at 126, Mares is just not the fighter he was at 118 and 122. Plus, you have to go back years now, but he took on a hell of a schedule in 2010-13. Over that time, he fought Yonnhy Perez, Vic Darchinyan, Joseph Agbeko twice, Eric Morel (his lone semi-soft touch), Anselmo Moreno, Daniel Ponce de Leon, and Gonzalez. That was as tough a run as anyone during that time, consistent hard fights, all of which went the 12 round distance save for Ponce de Leon.

Matchup Grade: B. I have no problem at all with this fight, but I save higher grades for, you know, better fights. By matchup I’ll grade on a curve to some degree, but when you’re the main event, you get graded as the main event, since that’s the reason most people will or will not tune in for a show. This is solid, no question about it, and could turn out to be a very good fight, too. Hopefully it does, and we see a motivated Mares against a Cuellar who proves he can handle that.

Jermall Charlo vs Julian Williams

Jermall Charlo

Charlo v Trout Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Record: 24-0 (18 KO) ... Streak: W24 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’0" / 73½" ... Age: 26

Notes: This is the Charlo twin with the bigger power. Jermell is generally known more as the technician of the brothers. Both hold world titles. Both can fight.

Charlo won the IBF title in September 2015, thrashing Cornelius "K9" Bundrage in three rounds, before an easy title defense two and a half months later against fringe contender Wilky Campfort. In May of this year, he took on former titleholder Austin Trout, and got a much tougher test.

That fight doesn’t speak ill of Charlo, though. Trout is a tricky, smart fighter who was always going to be a big step up from Bundrage, Campfort, or the likes of Lenny Bottai. Even if Charlo had won and then defended a world title, Trout was his first opponent truly on the world level, and it was a close one, worthy of some debate. But I didn’t have a big problem with Charlo getting the win, either. He fought well against a crafty opponent.

Somewhat worrisome for Charlo in this matchup is the fact that Williams, like Trout, is a very intelligent fighter, and one who maybe makes less mistakes. Trout is a southpaw, and Williams an orthodox fighter, so that could be a plus for Charlo in the matchup, but he’s in for a battle here, and if Williams can lull him and frustrate him, things could go south quickly.

Julian Williams

Julian Williams v Freddy Hernandez Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Record: 22-0-1 (14 KO) ... Streak: W9 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 9-0 (1 NC) ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'11" / 72½" ... Age: 26

Notes: Williams is a Philly fighter who has a very "Philly" aura about him. He’s calm, cool, and collected in the ring, maybe sometimes even dispassionate. I don’t think there’s a real standout skill in his game, but he does a lot of things well. It’s not bad to be a jack of all trades.

But in terms of pure talent and ability, Williams has yet to face anyone like Jermall Charlo. The likes of Luciano Cuello, Arman Ovsepyan, and Marcello Matano just can’t match up to what Charlo is physically capable of producing. He’s a bigger puncher, a better athlete, and a really big guy once the bell rings. He makes 154 without trouble, or so it seems, but in the ring he’s looked huge compared to his recent opponents.

"J-Rock" is a still-untested fighter, with a lot of solid wins for his level, but he’s remained at about the same level for three years now. At 26, that’s not a big sin or anything, but you have to wonder about his true potential, just how good he can be. We know he’s smart and skilled. Having spoken to him before, he’s a laid back personality outside of the ring, just as he is inside of it. There’s no bluster to him. He’s a boxer. With a guy like that, you only know when you know. Anything before then is speculation. Against Charlo, he proves how good he is, either way it goes.

Matchup Grade: B. Another fine matchup for Showtime as they close out an up-and-down 2016. Like Cuellar-Mares, this could be even better than the grade, but there are a lot of variables. I suspect if Williams has his way, this won’t really be an entertaining fight in an action sense, because he’ll likely look to fluster Charlo, though that may lead the explosive Charlo to get desperate. We’ll see, but it’s a good matchup on paper


  • Junior welterweight prospect Sergey Lipinets (10-0, 8 KO) will face Aussie veteran Lenny Zappavigna (35-2, 25 KO) in a 12-round bout. Lipinets, 27, has looked terrific so far, with recent wins over Kendal Mena, Lydell Rhodes, Levan Ghvamichava, and Walter Castillo, solid wins for a prospect, but it’s time for him to take a tougher test. And Zappavigna, 29, fits that bill. He’s not a top fighter, but he’s solid and tough, and has won 10 straight, most recently stopping Ik Yang in July. Grade: B-.
  • Erickson Lubin (16-0, 11 KO), the top junior middleweight prospect in the sport, returns to take on Juan Ubaldo Cabrera (23-1, 15 KO). Lubin, 21, has been taking small steps forward, and this is another one. Cabrera, 37, hasn’t fought since an August 2015 loss to Decarlo Perez. More likely than not.
  • Super middleweight Hugo Centeno Jr (24-1, 12 KO) will look to bounce back from his first career loss to Maciej Sulecki, taking on Ronald Montes (17-4, 15 KO). Montes, 30, has lost four of his last five, and has the very Colombian record of 17-0 at home, 0-4 abroad. Centeno should win easily.
  • Super featherweight Mario Barrios (16-0, 8 KO) will stay busy against Claudio Rosendo Tapia (28-17-4, 13 KO). Barrios, 21, is in line for a title shot in 2017. Rosendo has lost two straight.

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