Ready For A Month-Long Big Fight Feast? First, The Appetizers

Feb. 16. That’s when Kelly Pavlik and Jermain Taylor square off for a second time, kicking off a hearty stretch of big, big, big fights, much as they did when they met for the first time last fall and set up the historically great finish to 2007. If you’re like me, you can’t wait to dig in. If you weren’t aware of how full of meaningful and/or potentially thrilling fights are the coming weeks, allow me to hand you this menu; I’ll hit the specials first, then direct your attention to this weekend’s not-bad-at-all appetizers, with some commentary:

  • After that 166-pound Pavlik-Taylor battle — a rematch of one of the five best fights of 2007 — up next on Feb. 23 is a rare heavyweight belt-unifying event in Madison Square Garden, pitting division king Vladimir Klitschko against underdog and Evander Holyfield-conqueror Sultan Ibragimov.
  • Next up is the March 1 rubber match between top-10 pound-for-pound boxers and action heroes Rafael Marquez and Israel Vasquez. If it delivers anything like their first two, it will cement their names in history as being part of one of boxing’s greatest trilogies.
  • The following weekend, on March 8, comes a fight that is being dubbed in Britain the U.K.’s most important in 15 years — a cruiserweight (200 lbs.) slugfest-to-be between the division’s consensus champ, David Haye, and one of the division’s top contenders, Enzo Maccarinelli.
  • The final fight in this scalding-hot streak is a long-overdue rematch on March 23 of Juan Manuel Marquez’ 2004 draw with Manny Pacquiao (junior lightweight, 130 lbs). Not only should that one be eminently watchable, but on some subjective pound-for-pound lists of the best active fighters regardless of weight, that’s #3 vs. #2, respectively, in the world, vs. each other. It’s the second-best fight that can be made in boxing. (Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Miguel Cotto at welterweight [147 lbs.] being the best possible, although Mayweather looks to be ducking Cotto on that one. Aargh.)

That’s five straight weekends stuffed full. So you could forgive me for looking slightly past some nice appetizers ahead this weekend.
The first is on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights, in one of the better main events of the year for the channel. TV-friendly cruiserweight Darnell Wilson, a top-10 fighter in the division and the owner of many commentator’s best knockout of 2007, will tackle BJ Flores, whom Maxboxing in 2007 called the division’s most exciting prospect. Flores is taking a huge step up from his previous lackluster opposition, but Haye proved vs. Jean-Marc Mormeck that lackluster opposition plus talent can trump experience. Both Wilson and Flores are big punchers. It’s hard to imagine this fight lasting long, but it should be entertaining for as long as both men are standing; I favor Wilson, but my exposure to Flores is more limited. On the undercard is a mighty talented prospect at junior lightweight, Yuriorkis Gamboa, against whomever the network powers that be can find to get outclassed and probably knocked out. Gamboa is a must-see propect. Must-see.
Saturday, over on HBO, we get a welterweight double-header, with the main attractions being Paul Williams, he of the pterodactyl frame and bottomless well of punching energy, and Andre Berto, he of the all-offense style and questionable defense. Williams is taking on a borderline top-10 welterweight in Carlos Quintana, and Berto, a borderine top-10 welterweight himself, is fighting Michel Trabant, viewed as a tough fight for him by some.
It’s been written in several places recently that the welterweight division isn’t living up to its promise. It’s true. Just take a look at what the division’s best are doing so far this year. Mayweather is headed for a redundant September victory over Oscar De La Hoya in a repeat of last summer’s mega-fight. De La Hoya himself is expecting to spend May 3 beating up a 140-pounder to be named later. Miguel Cotto is taking a stay-busy fight with borderline top-10 welterweight Alfonso Gomez. Shane Mosley is talking about comebacking against Ricardo Mayorga, who hasn’t been a significant factor at 147 in years, and they may not even fight at the welterweight limit anyway. Zab Judah’s got nothing on his plate. Among the top welterweights, only Kermit Cintron and Antonio Margarito are fighting each other, in a rematch of their 2005 fight.
That brings us to Paul Williams. Williams, too his credit, tried to make a big match for this weekend, with Cintron. Cintron, after his tough test against Jesse Feliciano and hand injury, pulled out of his agreement to fight Williams. There have been a ton of claims from the Williams camp that Cintron got scared. I’m not one to infer motives in why fighters don’t take fights, but in this case, the Williams camp has consistently expressed its ongoing interest in facing Cintron, while Cintron has notably excluded Williams from his list of priorities. That has left Williams without an opponent, and money prevented him from getting together with Judah. It almost prevented him from getting together with Quintana, who wanted more scratch to take on “The Punisher.”
This kind of thing is giving Williams a rep for being the division’s most avoided fighter, a title he started to steal from Margarito when he beat him. Or maybe Williams is the most feared, depending on what one’s definition is, as discussed in this Maxboxing piece. Either way, it’s making a win over Quintana a must. It may very well be making an exciting win over Quintana a must. Williams can’t look bad, which he very well might, matched against a fellow southpaw and coming off a long layoff. When Margarito looked sub-par against Joshua Clottey and Williams last year, he gave fuel to skeptics. Williams, if he hopes to be in the mix for a big welterweight fight later this year, needs to be captivating.
The welterweights can dig themselves out of this early half of 2008 hole. Cotto, if he defeats Gomez as expected, is slated to meet up with the winner of Cintron-Margarito. One hopes Mayweather won’t keep avoiding any real welterweight contenders, and that he squeezes in one more 2008 fight after the De La Hoya rematch. De La Hoya, pledging to retire for good after a December farewell fight, could send the year out on a bang for the welterweights if he picks his final opponent wisely; a rematch with Felix Trinidad is one such option. Williams’ bid to be a part of that late 2008 picture begins Saturday night.
That makes this an important fight. Quintana is credible enough to make matters competitive. So it could be a good fight, too. There are questions about whether Berto can live up to his world-class hype, questions that emerged after he got hit plenty in 2007 by David Estrada and Cosme Rivera, so much that any objective observer would have to wonder how he’d stand up against harder-hitting welterweight. That said, he’s never a bad show. He’s great fun to watch because of his incredible offensive arsenal. What he needs is to look formidable, though, in addition to being exciting, if he has any ambitions of his own to climb the welterweight ranks.
Ultimately, I favor Williams over Quintana by technical knockout around the ninth, but I’ve no prediction for Berto-Trabant, given that footage on Trabant is difficult to scrounge up. Either way, Williams-Quintana, Berto-Trabant, Wilson-Flores and Gamboa-somebody are some tantalizing hors d’oeuvres for the main course from Feb. 16 to March  23.

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.