All it takes is one fight. One fight can change a boxer’s reputation like that. It doesn’t make it fair or right. It’s just the way it is. The line on Carlos Quintana’s career, over three consecutive fights, swung from “underrated upset artist” to “overrated roadkill for the stars” to “underrated upset artist” again. Paul Williams’ career, in only two fights, swayed from “most avoided fighter alive” to “empty hype job.” The two welterweights (147 lbs.) earned their latest reps against each other four months ago in a pretty entertaining scrap. As a title-holder, Williams, a freakish, gangly 6’1″ condor, had a rematch clause with Quintana, a solid, crafty Puerto Rican who wanted to move on to bigger and better things after his win. Williams exercised the clause. Saturday, he wants to rid himself of the label Quintana tattooed on him with slick boxing and subtle power, and instead reassert himself as a force to be reckoned with and feared. Quintana wants to put to rest any notion he caught Williams on an off night, and do it in dramatic enough fashion to force “bigger and better things” to take notice.
That fight between two of the top pugilists in boxing’s glamor division is the real fight of Showtime’s weekend card, even though it doesn’t take the headlining role. That honor goes to the match between the world’s top junior middleweight (154 lbs.), Vernon Forrest and Sergio Mora, the last major graduate of “The Contender” television show to get his shot at a world-class fighter. Most everyone thinks its a mismatch of the variety that Showtime has peculiarly become infatuated with feeding Forrest, although one smart boxing writer believes Mora will pull off the upset. But if you’re wise, you won’t stick around to find out, because you’ll change the channel to HBO upon the conclusion of Quintana-Williams II, where they’re airing a similarly lopsided card (one real fight on the undercard, one mismatch as the headliner) that we will preview another day.
For now, let’s stick to the Showtime event.
QUINTANA – WILLIAMS
Excellent timing is such a great weapon to have in the ring. In February, Quintana used it to carve up Williams en route to his upset title bid, repeatedly waiting for Williams’ sloppy-looking punches, moving out of the way and coming back over with his own crisper blows. For long stretches, that excellent timing neutralized one of Williams’ primary assets: volume, volume, volume. Williams was getting tagged, and when he won rounds, it was largely because Quintana was too tired to keep tagging him with counters. Quintana was an 8-1 underdog coming in, so the fight could yet win everyone’s Upset of the Year award for 2008.
It was an excellent performance by Quintana, who earned his initial rep by toppling one-time Prospect of the Year Joel Julio in much the same fashion. That rep took a dip when Miguel Cotto absolutely slaughtered him in Quintana’s next fight. At the time, Cotto was new to welterweight, and it was not yet clear how much better Cotto would be seven pounds north of junior welter, where he had struggled because he had outgrown the division, physically. When Cotto spent the rest of his 2007 conquering Zab Judah and Shane Mosley, and when Quintana rained on the Williams parade — at the time, Williams was considered the third or fourth best in the crowded welterweight class — that Cotto loss suddenly looked extremely understandable. Quintana was good. Real good. He only suffered his sole loss to a guy in Cotto who turned out to be an absolute monster, a win that now looks even better in a reciprocal way for Cotto, considering how much Quintana showed against Williams.
One caveat: Williams looked as bad that night as Quintana looked good. Williams looks plain weird in the ring anyway, with arms as long as Muhammad Ali’s but with a body more than 50 lbs. lighter. A lengthy layoff between fights clearly served Williams poorly; typically, boxers who fight at a weight class that is at odds with their body are playing with fire already, but when they don’t stay sharp at the weight by staying busy, they’re begging for deep trouble. The tragedy of it is that Williams, before fighting Quintana, stole the title of “most avoided fighter” from Antonio Margarito by beating him in 2007 in what was a smart, gutty and exciting performance. Combined with his bizarre height, reach and fighting style — nobody likes scuffling with the kind of boxer who never stops punching no matter what, and oh, he’s left-handed too — Williams was getting marketed as the most dangerous welterweight of all, a formula his promoters hoped to use to goad the division’s other stars into big money bouts. Unfortunately for him, no one was interested, and the best welter he could convince to fight him, Kermit Cintron, just plain ducked Williams, in my estimation. It enhanced Williams’ “most avoided fighter” label, but it left him with Quintana, who had to beat Williams to be taken seriously again. And the night he fought Quintana, Williams looked like he was lagging because of the weight. He gained a whopping 17 pounds on fight night the day after the weigh-in, a classic sign of a fighter who was struggling to make the limit.
Quintana has made no bones about how irritated he is to be fighting Williams again. I wonder this: Does Quintana, at 31, have another “fight of his life” kind of performance in him, under the circumstances? His back isn’t against the wall like it was the first time. To get where he wants to be, he needs to not only win again, but look good doing it, thus his promise of a knockout. Is that enough motivation? I also wonder this, and I think it’s fair to say it’s the primary thing everyone thinks could make a difference in the rematch: Has Williams permanently crossed the threshold where, a young 26 though he may be, he’s gotten too old to force his body below the welterweight limit and still be effective? It might not be such an important question if Williams had some kind of incredible power or evasive ability or some other style than the one he has. But at the crux of his style is pure energy. Weight-drained fighters don’t have energy. And lastly, I wonder this: Even if Williams’ weight issue is all good, can he solve Quintana’s riddles — movement, timing, smarts?
My prediction: Quintana, by a slightly closer decision than last time. Skill-wise, I think Quintana’s the better fighter, and that almost always wins the day unless there’s some other major factor at play. I suspect Quintana’s less-inspiring motive, plus Williams’ own do-or-die situation, will narrow the gap somewhat from last time. A split decision is not out of the question.
Confidence: 55%. I’m in the camp that thinks Williams can make welterweight just a little bit longer. Really, he has no choice. He doesn’t hit hard enough to make his style effective in higher climes. And how many times have we seen a young fighter make it to the top, find out he’s missing some wrinkles when confronted with a hungry would-be titlist and rebound to show unexpected depth? It certainly could happen.
My allegiance: Williams is just too funky a spectacle in there for me to root against.
FORREST – MORA
This one’s a step up in competition for Forrest, given his December beat down of Michele Piccirillo, a no-hoper. Which is not to say that Mora isn’t a no-hoper. He just has, um, less-no-hope?
Forrest is the cream of the awful junior middleweight division, which has plenty of nice young prospects filtering up from the bottom to eventually offset a crew of misfits or aging vets at the top. Forrest is a legitimately good fighter, having beaten Shane Mosley twice in 2002 before getting clocked by Ricardo Mayorga then going into an extensive career hibernation forced upon him by injuries. In his last two fights — Piccirillo and one-time Cinderella Man Carlos Baldomir — Forrest has looked healthy, if not diminished from his prime, at the ripe old age of 37.
Mora has been on an opposite arc, sabotaging his career and the built-in hype that came with winning the first season of “The Contender” back when it was on NBC. He turned down a shot at middleweight (160 lbs.) champ Jermain Taylor because it was going to be on Taylor’s home turf, a decision he tried to justify for a while by saying (correctly) that he was unlikely to win by knockout and concluding (perhaps correctly) that a close decision wouldn’t go his way. It doesn’t matter, either way; five knockouts in 20 fights or not, Mora should have taken that fight. Looking terrible against the sturdy but not-so-talented Elvin Ayala in a draw didn’t do wonders for Mora’s cred, either.
Scouting report-wise, Mora has fleet feet, trickiness and grit going for him. Forrest has far superior power, a diverse offense and a great jab going for him. I’ve never seen a Mora fight I enjoyed, what with the way he runs around and tries to keep much of anything interesting from happening. And for as pleasing as Forrest’s individual performance was against Piccirillo, it was severely limited in the enjoyment department because Forrest had no choice but to chase Piccirillo around the way Mora surely will force him to replicate. About the only thing interesting going for this fight is that Forrest, one of the sport’s good guys, has turned heel and sputtered trash talk about how Mora’s going to get taken out on a “stretcher.” It would be mildly interesting, too, I guess, if Mora finally planted “The Contender” flag on its highest peak by beating Forrest and reversing the trend of “Contender” fighters getting steamrolled by boxing’s best.
My prediction: Forrest, by clear decision. Mora’s used to taking middleweight punches, and I’ve seen him take the best that the powerful Margarito has to offer in sparring sessions with not much flinching. It’s hard to imagine Forrest knocking him out, but then, it’s hard to imagine Forrest doing anything but winning, either; it’s just a matter of the margin on the scorecards.
Confidence: 95%. Almost everyone thinks that Forrest is, quite simply, the better fighter, and Mora is a massive underdog. Everyone, that is, except Maxboxing’s Doug Fischer, who has closely followed the career of Mora and believes he is in tip-top form, and ESPN’s Eric Raskin, who considers Mora “a very live underdog.” Those are two opinions to respect, and if I’m wrong, I will regret not listening to the wisdom of Fischer and Raskin. Proud and undefeated, two words that describe Mora, count for something, but when “undefeated” comes against people who aren’t even close to Forrest’s caliber, the latter counts for less than it would otherwise.
My allegiance: I don’t like a single thing about Mora’s boxing style or personality, although I respect that he’s a tough sumbitch. I’m not crazy about Forrest, especially the new “I will kill you” Forrest — at least “I love charity” Forrest had something going in the character department, which is not to say he’s stopped his charity work; it’s more a matter of emphasis — but I don’t dislike him either. He’s where I throw my allegiance in a fight I probably won’t watch until it’s replayed.