Doubt you could find two more different boxers, in the ring or out of it, than Cristian Mijares and Vic Darchinyan. Darchinyan is wild, unconventional, always swinging for the knockout and an arrogant braggart to boot. Mijares is technically brilliant, slick, content to surgically pick his opponent apart and quietly, coolly, confident. Saturday evening on Showtime, the two will put their style clash on display in a meeting of two of the three best fighters in one of boxing’s best division, the tiny but jam-packed junior bantamweight (115 lbs.) class.
Sounds good, right? Not so fast. Usually, “two of the three best fighters in one of boxing’s best divisions” fighting one another would make for a pretty awesome contest, but there is a fairly broad consensus that the very style clash that gives the bout its dynamic is exactly what makes it a mismatch. Mijares has sent two sluggers to defeat in the last couple years with his advanced skills and pinpoint punching, along the way establishing himself as one of the consensus 10 best boxers in the sport, regardless of division. The slickest-boxing opponent Darchinyan has ever fought, Nonito Donaire, savagely knocked him out during one of his crazed lunges. It’s my view that we’d be better off seeing Mijares in against the man I consider the #2 boxer in the division behind him, the skilled and powerful Fernardo Montiel, and seeing Darchinyan in against fellow hard-punching showman Jorge Arce.
So, for the second time in three weeks — the first time being Bernard Hopkins-Kelly Pavlik (170 lbs.) — there’s a truly important fight on that, for one reason or the other, isn’t necessarily expected to deliver in the entertainment department. Hopkins-Pavlik ended up delivering, which means there’s hope for Mijares-Darchinyan.
If there is hope for Darchinyan, is is as follows: He hits hard enough that if he connects cleanly on Mijares somehow, Mijares might hit the deck for the 10 count. He terrorized the 112 pound division and became a Showtime staple with his bizarre brand of knockout artistry. Nobody could stand up to his power, especially his straight left. He broke one opponent’s jaw and put another in the hospital. His straight left is the only thing that looks like what anyone else in boxing does. Many have compared his boxing stance to that of a crab, and he wings punches from unpredictable angles; you wonder if he even knows what he’s going to do, or when. The only person at 112 who seemed to know what to do with him was Nonito Donaire, who ruthlessly avenged the broken jaw Darchinyan gave to his brother Glenn. Donaire may or may not have been able to predict Darchinyan, but he certainly had the uncanny reflexes and speed he needed to beat him to the punch and, when Darchinyan went first, counter him at will. Donaire was completely dominating Darchinyan at the moment Darchinyan came at him hard in the 5th round and Donaire landed a peach of a left hook that ended in Donaire taking home most of the year-end Knockout of the Year awards for 2007.
Darchinyan has rebounded in full from that loss, but not without some rocky moments upon moving up to 115. An unheralded “get well”-style opponent surprisingly hurt and nearly knocked down Darchinyan in a fight that Vic ended up winning by knockout. Darchinyan then fought to a draw with Z Gorres in a fight where Darchinyan and Z Gorres each hit the deck, albeit disputedly. Gorres is a good fighter, to be sure, but in combination with the Catubay fight, Darchinyan’s quest to retake his invincibility was looking like a bumpy one indeed. Even though the Gorres fight was a title eliminator, Darchinyan got the call to fight IBF titlist Dmitri Kirilov. Kirilov was seen by some as a good boxer, and thus the fight was perceived as dangerous for Darchinyan. (I didn’t think it was, by the way. Kirilov can box a little, but he can’t punch, and he had a tendency to brawl that I thought would make him a sucker for Darchinyan.) Darchinyan steamrolled him, getting himself back into the knockout colum in the 5th round.
Mijares has two title belts, the first of which he earned in 2007 but for which he received no attention until his eye-opening domination of Arce a few months later. Arce was being groomed as a superstar in the making, and while anyone who enjoys a good scrap still ought to be a fan of Arce, Mijares took the shine off him by beating him in nearly every round of the fight. The revelation was that although Mijares started off his career 11-3-1, it was clear that the real Mijares was the one who made Arce part of what is now a 25-fight winning streak. He countered Arce at will, cut him up and made it look easy. Since then, Mijares has solidified his reputation as one of the best boxers alive with his wins over fellow top junior bantamweights Jose Navarro and Alexander Munoz. Navarro was competitive in individual ronds, but Mijares was just that much more effective. Munoz was even more competitive, which makes sense, because of the three, he was probably the best.
If there is a reason that “hope” is all Darchinyan has against Mijares, it is as follows: Donaire is slick and skilled, but Mijares is even more so. Mijares probably isn’t as fast or as hard-hitting as Donaire, but he makes up for it with an abundance of intelligence. He’s hard to hit cleanly because of his deft feet and head movement, so that reduces the percentage chance that Darchinyan scores enough to steer Mijares toward a knockout. Darchinyan does have one-punch power, but typically his knockouts come after round upon round of punishment. And if Mijares was going to show he couldn’t take a punch, it would have appeared against Munoz, who did land flush blows at times.
This fight, whatever the result, preceeds what could be a mass evacuation of a division that is as hot as they come, with Mijares, Montiel and Arce all talking about moving up in weight very soon. If Mijares wins, he enhances his case for moving up the list of pound-for-pound best fighters, and if Darchinyan wins, he proves he deserves a spot in the top 20 and maybe helps people forget about that loss to Donaire. It’s too bad everyone’s talking about leaving, especially since Donaire would like to join in on the fun, because there are a lot of good fights that could be made. But as far as the potential end times of the glory days of the division goes, Mijares-Darchinyan ain’t half bad.
My prediction: Mijares by late knockout. Or, at worst, Mijares by lopsided decision. Mijares had Arce stumbling around, and Darchinyan may have settled into the weight a little, but I think he’s going to get hit too much, and too cleanly, to last until the end.
Confidence: 90%. That 10% of uncertainty has to do with Darchinyan’s puncher’s chance.
My allegiance: None. I like both fighters. Darchinyan is a long-time favorite, as much for his mouth as the strange phenomenon of watching him do battle. “I’m going to break him in half,” Darchinyan said, no doubt with his mobster-lookin’ sneer. He’s scared of no one; his promoter Gary Saw didn’t want this fight because he knew it was a bad style match-up, but Darchinyan insisted. Mijares, meanwhile, scratches the itch I have to watch superb technical prowess on display. I’ve argued he might be a little overrated — his two biggest wins were against guys who were more or less made for him, as is Darchinyan — and I wish he’d show a little more interest in fighting Montiel, but for now I’m cool with him.