The undercard for Saturday night's HBO pay-per-view bout between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley is lacking in fights that are, on paper, the kind of compelling wars we were treated to on the Margarito vs. Cotto card or the big names (like Canelo Alvarez and Shane Mosley) of the Mayweather vs. Cotto card. Instead, boxing fans will be treated to a parade of Top Rank promoted fighters getting what should be safe work in front of a big audience.
Vacant IBF Welterweight Title: Mike Jones (26-0, 19 KO) vs. Randall Bailey (42-8, 36 KO)
Mike Jones has been fighting for fringe titles for four years now, with this being his chance to finally put a "world title" around his waist. Of course, acknowledging this as a "world title" requires a little pretending that Welterweight isn't the same weight class that Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather call home (though Floyd did go up to 154 for the Cotto fight).
Jones had kept a busy schedule through 2010-2011, fighting seven times over the two years. In his bout with Jesus Soto Karas in November of 2010 he fought like a guy who hadn't encountered much resistance, fighting recklessly and getting stung repeatedly before being somewhat gifted a majority decision win. He'd bounce back from that by facing Karas again, this time fighting a safe and smart fight that let him move past the mess of the first fight.
Top Rank allowed him to go in and beat up on poor little Raul Munoz last June in a "stay busy" fight that should have been illegal before he was back on a major pay-per-view in November, facing Sebastian Lujan in a fight I felt would be a trap for him. Instead, Jones dominated an unusually listless Lujan to take a near-clean sweep decision.
While Jones represents the dream of trainers around the world in that he's an extremely tall fighter for his weight with actual boxing skills and some good pop on his punches, he isn't built "right" for someone of his height and hasn't proven overly special, as Scott Christ of Bad Left Hook explains:
Jones is a solid fighter, but I suspect "solid" is where it's going to stop. He's not a special fighter -- his height is special for a welterweight, but he's not Tommy Hearns or even Paul Williams. He's just a tall guy, and his reach (72") isn't even that exceptional. He's sort of an odd duck, really. But he is quality, and he is a likeable fighter.
Similar to Jones' height, Randall Bailey possesses one of those boxing skills that "can't be taken away." That being his huge power.
Bailey has had his own run with titles in the past, having won the WBO title at 140 pounds by knocking out Carlos Gonzalez just 41 seconds into their 1999 bout. He'd defend that title twice before losing it in a split decision. He's been in the ring for title bouts since, losing every chance he's had against men like DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley (a loss Bailey would later avenge) and Miguel Cotto. Despite his inability to once again strike gold, Bailey has hung around the top 10 with pretty incredible consistency for the past 13 years.
In March of 2010 he trounced Jackson Bonsu in one round in a bout that was an eliminator for an IBF title shot, the title that will be on the line against Jones. In true boxing fashion, despite winning the title eliminator bout against Bonsu, he was forced into another title eliminator against Said Ouali when his own promoter asked him to step aside so that a bigger name (Andre Berto) could get the title shot. Ouali would spill from the ring in an odd moment in that fight, hurting his neck when falling onto a table and having the bout end in a no decision after two rounds.
Bailey picked up one more win, and now gets his shot at the IBF title that he earned almost 27 months ago.
Randall's right hand remains a weapon that makes him a threat to any man he faces at or near his weight. He throws it hard and with ill intentions:
Of course, Bailey is now 37 years old and landing the bomb right hands becomes harder as you have more trouble setting it up and pulling the trigger.
If Bailey lands flush he can hurt Jones. We've seen Jones prove vulnerable in his sloppiest moments and maybe he gets excited on PPV going after his first ever world title and leaves an opening.
But the much more likely outcome is that Jones beats Bailey up over twelve rounds. I think as Mike works him over, the opportunity will be there for a stoppage, but I think Mike Jones will play it safe and win by wide decision.
WBA World Super Bantamweight Title: Guillermo Rigondeaux (c) (9-0, 7 KO) vs. Teon Kennedy (17-1-2, 7 KO)
Rigondeaux being a world champion already despite only 9 fights as a professional can be a bit deceiving. He is one of the greatest amateur boxers in history with two Olympic gold medals (2000, 2004) for Cuba and a record of almost 400 wins to 12 losses. Despite 9 fights, he's a proven, world class boxer.
Rico Ramos was supposed to represent a stiff test for Rigondeaux in January, instead it was Guillermo scoring a decisive sixth round stoppage over a guy who only landed a few more than a dozen punches over the six frames of action.
Teon Kennedy isn't a bad fighter, but he's not a world class fighter and he's in this fight to "play opponent" while getting Rigondeaux more exposure and ring time. Kennedy has only lost once in his career, that being two fights ago when outpointed by Alejandro Lopez. His last fight was a draw with Christopher Martin to put him at 0-1-1 in his last 2, but here he is...challenging for a world title.
Kennedy was also a part of one of boxing's great recent tragedies when Francisco Rodriguez died following their 2009 bout. Being a part of such an incident can make it hard for a boxer to continue fighting but Kennedy has been able to continue on respectably since.
This shouldn't be too much of a challenge, it's more about seeing if Rigondeaux can get the stoppage. Given what I've seen from both men I think he can so I'll take Guillermo Rigondeaux by TKO in four.
Jorge Arce (60-6-2, 46 KO) vs. Jesus Rojas (18-1-1, 13 KO)
32 might not seem old, but when you're Jorge Arce and have been in as many wars in a boxing ring as he has...it's pretty damn old.
There was a time just over a year ago that most boxing fans and media felt that Arce's days as a top quality fighter had passed. He'd been one of the sports most entertaining fighters over the past 15 years, good enough to beat anyone but flawed enough that it was always going to be a good fight.
When he fought Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao vs. Shane Mosley, it was Arce being brought in to be a name or the young Vazquez to get under his belt. As a 6-1 underdog, Arce was supposed to be too old and too small to compete. Despite being down in the fourth round, Arce got up and fought like hell. By the championship rounds, it was clear that Vazquez was starting to fade, but it was old news to Arce and in the twelfth round a relentless Arce was able to force the stoppage to get the huge victory.
It's been all good for Arce since, avenging a loss to Simphiwe Nongqayi with a 4th round TKO, and rolling through Angky Angkota and Lorenzo Parra.
I have the feeling that Top Rank is trying to figure out one last big fight to cash in on Arce with (think Nonito Donaire) given his status with Mexican fans and they're going to keep him safe against guys like Jesus Rojas.
The career step-ups for Rojas have not gone well with a loss to Jose Angel Beranza and a draw against Jose Luis Araiza. Rojas is a guy who still beats up on club level fighters and Arce is not that.
Arce is better at this age than Rojas will ever be, but Arce is also a fighter who can't seem to get away from wars, especially on bigger stages. There will be moments where Rojas has success because getting hit far too often is a thing that Jorge does, but in the end Arce will have his hand raised after a mid-round TKO.
We'll have much more on this card in the coming days including a full preview and prediction of the main event between Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley.