Saturday Middleweight-centric Undercard Offers Prospects, Plus Prospect Of An Upset Apple Cart

NEW YORK CITY — It won’t air on HBO, but Saturday night’s heavyweight unification fight has an undercard worth noting. It’s been the focus of the media events here today. It is, as you might guess from the lengthy title of this blog entry, pretty middleweight-centric. There aren’t any world-class match-ups, but there are highly-touted prospects — one in a bit of a step up — and one fight that, were there to be an upset, would shake up some big-money plans afoot.

We’ll start at “afoot.” News today is that negotiations between Kelly Pavlik, one of the biggest stars in boxing today, and John Duddy, a big ticket-seller in New York with a slavish Irish fan base, have become hot and heavy for a summer middleweight (160 lbs.) clash. Duddy’s fighting Saturday night on the Vladimir Klitschko-Sultan Ibragimov against an opponent named Walid Smichet, which probably won’t ring any bells for anyone who doesn’t live in Tunisia (his homeland) or Canada (where he’s fought his entire pro career). ESPN has it that if Duddy wins, they’ll announce that fight right after the completion of Saturday evening’s clashes.
Pavlik-Duddy is not, so far as I can tell, anything but a mismatch. Duddy just isn’t in Pavlik’s class. Pavlik is the consensus middleweight champ, and Duddy’s scratching at top-10 status. But given the way both men slug it out, it could be exciting while it lasts, and it’s a stepping stone for Top Rank, Pavlik’s promoter, to continue turning Pavlik into the kind of attraction that could break through the barrier and get boxing back on network television. Arum has ambitions of stealing back young white males that have fled for mixed martial arts, so white Pavlik versus white Duddy — both of whom, despite the difference in class, are pretty good fighters — could get him partway to that goal. Because it would be in New York during the Puerto Rican Day Parade, and because Arum intends to load up the undercard with Puerto Rican fighters, this could make for quite a profitable little ethnic soup.
So Duddy, if he wants a part of that cash, needs to win against Smichet. Since I’m not sourced up like ESPN, I asked Duddy after today’s weigh-in if, indeed, the deal was finalized, since talks were supposed to be happening during Friday. I’m told by a fellow boxing scribe I had the right to ask, etiquette-wise, but boxers who have just made weight tend to be a grumpy, hungry lot, so most reporters don’t bother to interview them then. “I’ve got a fight tomorrow night. I don’t give a f*ck” about any Pavlik deal, Duddy answered. I should’ve remembered this fact about fighters, and the lack of many reporters at the weigh-in should’ve been my clue.That’s my first rookie mistake in what is bound to be many over the next couple days here in New York.
So what are Smichet’s chances of upsetting the apple cart? Low, I’d say, from my research on him. Duddy’s a hard-hitting dude, but he’s nothing fancy. Nor is Smichet. Everything out there about him says that he’s a pressure fighter who comes right at his man. He’s also shown chinks in his chin, getting knocked out in the first round once in 2006 against an inexperienced boxer. That makes Smichet tailor-made for a flashy Duddy knockout. But there is evidence to suggest that he could give Duddy some problems. For one, he’s tough, and at the weigh-in — not to read too much into such matters — he looked to me like one of the most calm and collected fighters of the lot. He scored a draw in 2006 against Donny McCrary, of “The Contender” TV show fame. McCrary’s limited, sure, but he’ll measure his opponent’s guts. Down against Matt O’Brien last March, Smichet came back and scored a last-minute — literally, in the last minute of the fight — knockout against his toughest opponent. “Clean out,” according to one description. That means Smichet can crack a little, too. I say “a little,” because Smichet lost his last fight, against Sebastien Demers in September, who was coming off a 2007 knockout loss to Arthur Abraham. That would be the opportune window for someone to test Demers’ whiskers, but for whatever reason, Smichet couldn’t give them a failing grade.
The other middleweights of note on the undercard are prospects Pete “Kid Chocolate” Quillin and “Mean” Joe Greene. (Aside: The undercard is loaded up with great nicknames. Smichet’s translates to “The Sand Storm.”) Of the two, Quillin is viewed by many as the better prospect, since he’s long and has power in both hands. He’s something of a showman, too — he throws chocolates out to the audience after his wins, and at the weigh-in, he was the only one really looking to ham it up for the cameras, shaking his fist at his opponent. Strangely, Quillin’s in against weaker opposition than Greene. Greene’s a smallish middleweight, but he, too, is said to be powerful. He’s stepping up, per this Maxboxing piece, against a very experienced if not always successful opponent. I look forward to checking both Quillin and Greene in action.

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.