Guerrero-Litzau Starts Slow, Heats Up

When featherweights (126 lbs.) Robert Guerrero and Jason Litzau stood face to face before the opening bell, I glanced at Guerrero, who looked ticked off, and then at Litzau. “Wow. Litzau looks freaked out or something,” I thought. The Showtime’s commentators noted much the same. And for several rounds, Litzau fought like someone who was afraid, or nervous, but definitely uncomfortable — circling, but not doing anything, while Guerrero roughed him up, bloodying his nose and just generally outclassing, outworking and squashing Litzau and any hopes of making this the terrific match-up everyone expected it to be.
But Litzau’s proven time and again his heart shouldn’t be underestimated. He started landing his big power shots and trading punches, sometimes getting the worst of the exchanges but occasionally rocking Guerrero and then bruising up his left eye to make it look like he, too, was in a fight. Along the way it went into the pattern more widely anticipated — a good old-fashioned donnybrook, but with Guerrero just being more talented, like my highly-capable colleague Sean predicted. In the eighth round, the end came for Litzau.

Guerrero’s a strange fighter. He combines a lot of divergent traits. He can box intelligently and got the nickname “The Ghost” from his defensive skills, but gets hit with really obvious shots sometimes. Despite his boxing ability, he appears to love to mix it up. He’s clearly a good human being, someone people can cheer for because of the way he handled himself when he found out his wife had leukemia (now in remission) but in the ring, he’s a head-butting, low-blowing foul machine sometimes, too. He’s got good power, the kind that messes up his man’s face and saps his will to fight, and, often, the kind of power that delivers crushing knockouts.
Guerrero showed it all Friday night. In one round, he ducked four or five consecutive power shots from Litzau, looking practically Pernell Whitaker-esque. The next round, he was getting slammed with lead right hands, one of the most difficult punches to land. He went down what seemed like a checklist of rules to break. Holding and hitting, check. Hitting behind the head, check. It looked like he was on his way to a win where Litzau’s corner threw in the towel, but then Litzau found his inner brawler and made Guerrero think less about wearing Litzau down and either out-boxing him or catching him with fight-finishing blows.
He eventually settled on the latter. He knocked down Litzau the first time with a rarely-seen counter left uppercut-left hook combo. Litzau looked OK, if not great, and began to put the pressure back on Guerrero, bless his heart. (I mean that half in the Southern way — “what an idiot” — and half in the actual way — you gotta admire Litzau for doing that.) Guerrero took a half-step back to dodge a Litzau power shot, then another to do the same, then came up with another uppercut-left hook combo, and as Litzau fell back, Guerrero gave him a goodbye right hook. It was impressive both for its strategy and its wow-effect, which ended in Litzau being KO’d.
Next for the winner: I like Guerrero’s game. He’s fun to watch and he’s usually in good scraps. His career’s been a little erratic in places, with losses that appeared beneath him. But he’s clobbered two straight credible foes, and with his personality and story, he might be on the verge of breaking through into something like a minor stardom. As much as I like both Saturday night combatants — Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez — I think if either of them came up from 122 lbs. to fight Guerrero, Guerrero’d have the better of them. He’s probably strong enough to go up to 130 lbs., but I’m not sure how he convinces the division’s best, Manny Pacquiao or Juan Manuel Marquez, to fight him, since Pacquiao is intent on moving up on weight and Marquez’ future is heavily dependent upon beating Pacquiao March 15. If I were him, I’d wait for the lighter guys to move up; he would be an attractive opponent for both, and those are winnable fights that, owing to the acclaim both Vazquez and Rafael Marquez have built up, might pay pretty well, too.
Next for the loser: I know Litzau has a little boxing skill, but he just doesn’t seem happy or at ease using it. He’s got a vulnerable chin, too, which isn’t ideal for a brawler. He’s shown before he can get up to win, but in his two losses, he’s gotten knocked out conclusively. That means he probably can’t turn into an Arturo Gatti-type who comes from behind to win regularly. He’s got to pick one of two courses against top-level boxers: 1. Really, really, learn to box, and not take any meaningful matches until he does; or 2. Become a very exciting “opponent” for people in his weight division. As much as I enjoy the brawling version of Litzau, as he’s stepped up his competition, his chances of coming out on top are not much better than a roll of the dice. I think he should pick option #1, and become like late-career Gatti — a guy who boxes well and pulls out the action hero hat every now and then. He may not have the ability to do that, who knows. But the other option is far less promising as a career choice.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.