While there may not be a "mega-fight" for American fans this weekend, there are three intriguing matchups in the boxing world that will share the spotlight on Saturday, plus some interesting undercard bouts in Argentina, the United Kingdom, Brooklyn, and California.
World titles are on the line and notable names are in action as HBO and Showtime will televise from three continents, with nice and reasonable start times for their broadcasts. Before we get into the fights, let's get the TV schedule clear first.
HBO will go live at 8:30 pm EDT, with a split site tripleheader. Opening their broadcast from Ontario, California, will be heavyweights Chris "The Nightmare" Arreola and Bermane Stiverne, doing battle in a WBC heavyweight title eliminator. If you're new to the sport or just don't pay attention to the confusing title and political mumbo jumbo in boxing, that means that, in theory at least, the winner is in line to receive a shot at the WBC title, currently held by Vitali Klitschko, who still has not made up his mind if he plans to continue his boxing career as he closes in on his 42nd birthday.
After that fight, HBO coverage will switch to Buenos Aires, the first trip HBO has ever made to Argentina for a fight. In undercard action there, welterweights Luis Carlos Abregu and Antonin Decarie will do battle, followed by the main event, pitting world middleweight champion Sergio Martinez against England's Martin Murray.
Showtime will be live starting at 9:00 pm EDT from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. In that show's main event, WBC and WBA junior welterweight titlist Danny Garcia will face off with veteran star Zab Judah. We'll get more into this one in a moment, of course, but this fight has stolen the attention of the boxing world over the last 24 hours, and may now be the fight of the weekend.
In the co-feature slot, Peter "Kid Chocolate" Quillin will defend his WBO middleweight title against Fernando Guerrero, in what should be a good action fight. Quillin is a rising star, positioned as a (near) future Barclays headliner.
Showtime will also have a tape delayed showing of Amir Khan's return to the United Kingdom, as the former titleholder headlines in Sheffield, England, against Julio Diaz. That fight does air live in the UK on BoxNation, which will start coverage at 2:30 pm EDT, 7:30 pm UK time. Also on that card, American heavyweight prospect Deontay Wilder will face 2000 Olympic gold medalist and professional disappointment Audley Harrison, and a couple of pro debuts will also take place. 2012 middleweight bronze medalist Anthony Ogogo and Amir's younger brother Haroon Khan will enter the pro rings for the first time.
So now that we've gotten all that settled, let's take a look at these fights.
Sergio Martinez vs Martin Murray (Middleweights, HBO)
|50-2-2 (28 KO)||Record||25-0-1 (11 KO)|
|Buenos Aires, Argentina||Hometown||St Helens, Merseyside, UK|
World middleweight champ Martinez has a lot going for him right now, as he returns to fight in Argentina for the first time in 11 years, after leaving his native country for stints in Spain, the UK, and then finally, the US, where he finally get an HBO break in 2008 at age 33, and won the middleweight crown in 2010 from Kelly Pavlik.
"Maravilla" has been pretty dominant since beating Pavlik, going 5-0 (4 KO), including a two-round blasting of Paul Williams, and last year, his biggest (in terms of attention) win to date over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, where he thoroughly dominated 11 rounds before surviving a chaotic and exasperating final frame.
Since the Chavez fight, Martinez has had knee surgery, and was looking for an opportunity to go back home. He found a willing dance partner in Murray, a decent, unbeaten fighter who gave Felix Sturm, then the WBA titlist, all he could handle on the road in Germany in 2011. Since the Sturm fight, Murray is 2-0, though neither win was against a credible opponent.
Murray is promoted by Ricky Hatton, the biggest British boxing star in recent memory, and Hatton is stating serious confidence in his fighter's ability to pull this off. Saying he's seen a new, nasty side of Murray, Hatton believes they're catching an aging champion on the way down, noting that every great fighter's reign has to come to an end.
But Sergio is without question the heavy favorite, and deserves to be. On paper, there isn't much separating Murray from the likes of Sergiy Dzinziruk, Darren Barker, and Matthew Macklin, all decent fighters who came up well short against Martinez, with the aggressive and strong Macklin giving Sergio the most trouble of that bunch. Murray would be wise to try and replicate some of what Macklin did in that fight, and his team has made clear that he plans to be aggressive and go right at Martinez, who remains on the small side for a middleweight, and can, at least in theory, be physically bullied.
There is no doubt that the southpaw Martinez has the edge in class here. He's faster, he's flashier, he's better on his feet, and his awkward style is hard to prepare for in sparring, no matter who you bring in. Martinez employs a hands-down defensive posture most of the time, which is something you need great reflexes and great confidence to be able to do successfully. That style also doesn't lend itself well to aging, as the reflexes and speed of both hand and foot begin to wane. Roy Jones Jr was an unbelievable talent in his prime with his unorthodox, daring approach to boxing, but when the natural gifts started to erode, Jones became incredibly vulnerable. That could happen to Martinez sooner than later, too.
The smart money is on Sergio to retain his titles here and likely set up a big-money rematch with Chavez this fall, but Murray is no joke, and he's not coming to this fight just to be the opponent. He's proven that going into a hostile environment doesn't phase him, though there likely won't be much to compare atmospherically between what's expected to be a rowdy football stadium in Buenos Aires and the SAP-Arena in Mannheim back in 2011.
A win by Murray would be an instant contender for Upset of the Year, without question. If he's going to pull it off, he'll have to fight flawlessly, and Martinez will have to have lost a step since September. That's not impossible, but it's unlikely to all come together in such a way that Murray will overcome the champ on his home turf.
Danny Garcia vs Zab Judah (Junior Welterweights, Showtime)
|25-0 (16 KO)||Record||42-7 (29 KO)|
|Philadelphia, PA||Hometown||Brooklyn, NY|
This East Coast grudge match has become the attention-stealer during fight week. Originally scheduled for February, Garcia pulled out with a rib injury, leading to speculation (and some Twitter talk) that he wasn't really injured, but simply wasn't in shape. That's the Judah camp's belief, though the Garcia camp totally denies any of that.
For those who aren't familiar, both sides have some serious characters here. Zab is a hot-headed, streaky veteran, who has often fallen short due to what I can only call overemotional reactions to adversity; he's not mentally weak, he's just prone to letting his fiery temper get the best of him. He's made some real efforts to settle down as he's aged, and he's been on his best behavior the last couple of years ... until now.
Late last year, when they were originally promoting this fight, Judah and Danny's outspoken, controversial, and arguably crazy father/trainer Angel nearly came to blows at a press conference, in one of those things where Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, Garcia's promoter, thought he was seeing the usual boxing trash talk he could easily break up, and then had the sudden realization that things were close to getting a bit too "real."
After that December presser, Judah was interviewed, expressing a flood of big emotions, most clearly hostility and disbelief. The day before, he said, the Garcia camp was gentlemanly. Then, when the cameras came on, everything got too personal. "Come watch me torture Danny Garcia," he said.
At yesterday's final press conference, things got crazy again. Golden Boy, said President Oscar De La Hoya, had made the decision to not have the two camps on the stage together, wanting to make sure that nothing happened that would ruin Saturday's event. So while the undercard fighters and the Garcias made their statements, Judah and his team were not there.
Zab tweeted during that time, saying that Golden Boy had kept him in the basement for hours, without food or water. He obviously felt disrespected, and then it was announced that he and his team had left.
After the other fighters cleared the stage, Zab came back, and when De La Hoya went to shake his hand, Judah got rolling on a tirade, taking particular issue with Oscar saying he was "unprofessional" before he got out there. Everything got downright uncomfortable as Judah railed against Oscar, Golden Boy, and the Garcia team. Bernard Hopkins, pragmatist that he's become in his old age, served as the de factor mediator.
There is some legitimate bad blood here, mostly between Judah and Angel Garcia, who has gotten under the skin of past opponents, and has done so again this time, though Zab denies that's the case. It's easy and predictable to say, "Well, Angel doesn't have to fight Zab," but the real trick is, Zab isn't going to get to fight Angel. He has to deal with Danny, a 25-year-old fighter who has consecutive wins over former titlists Kendall Holt, Erik Morales (twice), and Amir Khan.
Judah is older and has, as said before, often failed when faced with top-tier opponents. But there has never been any question about Zab's talent level. On a card that top-to-bottom has a lot of talent, be they young prospects like Zachary Ochoa or Eddie Gomez, young champions like Danny Garcia, or formidable, in-prime fighters like Peter Quillin, Judah may still be the most purely talented fighter on the entire show.
Zab will have the advantage in speed, without question. He moves better, he hits at least as hard as Garcia does, and he's got tons of experience. While Judah has failed at times, he's also been in the ring with enough really good fighters, including the great Floyd Mayweather and Kostya Tszyu (losing to both), that I highly doubt that Garcia fills him with any anxiety.
It will come down to whether or not Judah can keep his emotions in check, and even that could go two ways. If he's really aggressive, he may be able to overwhelm Garcia with speed and power in short order. Danny objects to being called slow, but he's pretty slow for a top guy. Thus far, it has not hurt him. Conversely, he could be so aggressive that he makes a bunch of mistakes, and Garcia has pop. Ask Morales and Khan, both of whom he stopped last year.
Based on his history, it's easy to bet against Judah. Based on his talent, it is not. That's been the story of Zab Judah for years now.
Amir Khan vs Julio Diaz (Welterweights, Showtime)
|27-3 (19 KO)||Record||40-7-1 (29 KO)|
|Bolton, Lancashire. UK||Hometown||Jiquilpan, Mexico|
|6 (140)||BLH Ranking||NR|
The catchweight for this fight is 143 pounds, three pounds over the junior welterweight limit, and four south of the welterweight cap. Khan is on a career rehab assignment right now, following his TKO loss to Garcia last year, after which he fired trainer Freddie Roach and replaced him with the defensive-minded Virgil Hunter, arguably the hottest trainer in the sport right now after leading Andre Ward to the top of the super middleweight division.
Khan last fought in December, when he was matched safely against Carlos Molina, a small lightweight prospect with little power. The knock on Amir, if you're unfamiliar, is that he has a weak chin, which may be overstated at times. Yes, Garcia clubbed him down, and Breidis Prescott once knocked him out in 52 seconds, but both of those guys can punch. Furthermore, Khan was so bad defensively at the time of the Prescott fight that in retrospect, it was just inevitable that he'd get sparked out eventually, and Prescott was the guy who did it, crushing him twice in the first minute.
On the other hand, he once survived 12 nasty rounds with big-hitting Marcos Maidana, where he seemed to want to prove his chin isn't terrible.
Amir is very talented. He's got a pair of the fastest hands in boxing, and offensively, the sky has always been the limit. He does tend to give up on his jab too soon, or just ignore it altogether, which has also been part of his leaky defense issues. Hunter had Khan looking tight and confident in December, but there was really nothing to fear against Molina, who came to fight but was totally overmatched and outgunned.
Diaz, a veteran and former lightweight titlist on two occasions, has had a fine career, but if you had told Amir Khan even a year ago that this is who he'd be fighting in 2013, he'd have been flabbergasted. Khan has been constantly "one or two fights away" from something like a bout with Floyd Mayweather, and then something has gone wrong. His 2011 loss to Lamont Peterson was incredibly competitive and controversial (during and long after, as Peterson failed a drug test and the officiating was very hands-on during the bout), but the Garcia loss really knocked him backwards.
A former Olympic silver medalist, Khan came into the sport with a ton of hype behind him, but the chin worries have always been there. One source of inspiration for Khan may be current world heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko, who was also once written off as a talented but chinny fighter who would never fulfill his potential. Once Klitschko paired up with the late, great Emanuel Steward, he learned to protect his fatal flaw, pumping a piston-like jab and imposing his impressive strength and size on opponents.
Khan will never have six-to-eight inch height advantages over opponents, nor will he outweight them by 30 pounds. It's harder to take that Wladimir-like approach in the smaller weight classes, because those physical mismatches rarely exist to that degree. Khan, though, is firmly aware of his shortcomings, and has a strong desire to change for the better and have the career he was expected to have.
Diaz fought on Khan's undercard in December, going to a draw with welterweight prospect Shawn Porter, in a performance that surprised most observers. He's still the underdog here, but Diaz has some power, and if Khan makes his old mistakes -- which Diaz plans to drag out of him -- he could be a live dog.
If you got this far, thank you for not being a "tl;dr" type. And to reward your commitment, here are brief thoughts on some other fights.
The HBO opener between Arreola and Stiverne features two heavyweights with good KO rates. Stiverne has fought once on HBO before, laboring through a dreadful fight before finally stopping Ray Austin in 2011. Arreola is the favorite, but if these two let their hands go (Arreola always does), there could be some big boy fireworks.
Peter Quillin is the featured up-and-comer in his Showtime bout against Fernando Guerrero. Guerrero, who once drew good crowds in Salisbury, Maryland, has since signed with mega adviser Al Haymon. This is a rare matchup of two Haymon fighters, and the thought is that Guerrero's future might not be that bright, if they've decided to put him in with Quillin right now.
Deontay Wilder is 27-0 (27 KO) as a pro, and won a bronze medal in Beijing. He's tall (6'7") and has a huge reach, and he can flat-out punch. He's got Mack truck one-punch power. On the other hand, he has faced a long line of scrubs in his pro career, but there may be a method to it. When Wilder went pro, he was still incredibly raw, needed to put some weight on his frame, and had tons of work to do technically. He's made some notable improvements while fighting frequently. His opponent in Sheffield, on the Khan-Diaz card, is 41-year-old Audley Harrison, who won gold in 2000 in Sydney, and then embarked on arguably the most disappointing pro career of the decade. Audley's last two fights against highly-regarded foes have resulted in him freezing up against both David Haye and David Price. That's what most expect to happen again.
For more on this weekend's fights, and next weekend's Mayweather-Guerrero mega-fight, visit Bad Left Hook.