It was going to be a mega-romantic Valentine’s Day for you and your sweetheart: candy, dinner, flowers, rose petals on the bed and six men attempting to bludgeon each other into submission on HBO. The fundamentals of that evening are largely the same — seriously, buy the woman some flowers — but what was once to be the main event was downgraded twice when Ricardo Mayorga pulled out of his prospective junior middleweight (154 lbs.) Fight of the Year candidate with Alfredo Angulo and a replacement opponent bailed, too. So Angulo ends up with Cosme Rivera, a veteran with a few tricks up his sleeve but a lot of losses on his record.
Fortunately, the evening will remain no worse than ultra-romantic, because the other two bouts in the triple-header already promised the likelihood of quality bludgeoning. Power-punching Kermit Cintron moves up to junior middleweight to take on skilled and athletic southpaw Sergio Martinez, a very hot property in the sport right now, with both men’s only losses, to Antonio Margarito, looking a lot better after Margarito had his license revoked in California this week for sporting loaded gloves. And in the main event, the pugnacious but charismatic lightweight (135 lbs.) tri-beltholder Nate Campbell takes on a bit of a mystery man in freakishly tall knockout artist Ali Funeka.
Angulo-Rivera gets no preview, nor a prediction, beyond me thinking Rivera gives Angulo a little trouble early before getting beaten up for 12 rounds or getting stopped. But Campbell-Funeka gets a preview, and Martinez-Cintron gets the works. You know what else is romantic to get a lady, continuing with the “cliched concept of Valentine’s Day” joke that I can’t stop lashing? The works from a masseuse, or the works at a spa.
SERGIO MARTINEZ – KERMIT CINTRON
Two knockout losses to Margarito, the only two losses of Cintron’s career, shouldn’t have done him in with fans the way it appeared to, but it’s got to be less of a problem now that Cintron may have been the victim of an assault with hardened pads, right? It’s not as if I think all skepticism of Cintron is foolish. He doesn’t have a marquee win on his resume, which beating Margarito would have given him; instead, it’s marked by a list of decent to good contenders. He has shown a tendency at times to lack confidence and wilt under pressure, even against boxers whose last names don’t rhyme with “cheat-o,” and you have to wonder why he keeps having breakups (<— Valentine’s Day joke!) with promoters and trainers.
On the other hand, he’s a phenomenally gifted athlete with ungodly punching power. Ask yourself this question: Is there anyone other than Margarito at or near the welterweight (147 lbs.) limit Cintron has been campaigning in that you wouldn’t give Kermit at least a significant chance of knocking out with one flush punch? Exactly. (Only possible answer I can think of is Joshua Clottey, and then the only issue is the significance of his chance.) And with his late start at the sport, Cintron’s not probably anywhere near as good as he could be. He remains raw, but he’s really shown improvement across the board. He wilted against Margarito the second time, but he showed a lot more fight than the first time. And when Lovemore N’Dou bothered him in his last fight, he still found a way to pull out the win.
On the other other hand — that’s right, we’re working with three hands here — Martinez has the recipe to REALLY bother anyone, let alone Cintron. Back in 2000, when he got knocked out by Margarito, he was already very good: quick, excellent defensively, left-handed. He bothered Margarito early, but then, so does everyone. Margarito eventually caught up to him, as he did just about everyone. Even setting aside whether Margarito was cheating that far back, though, if you saw Martinez destroy Alex Bunema last year, it was transparent that he’d done his share of improving. Only three of his fights since he moved up to junior middleweight have gone the distance; the other 12 were knockouts. He says he is more powerful at the weight, and I believe him.
On the other other other hand — we’re up to four hands, I know — Martinez doesn’t have a really amazing marquee win, either. No offense to Bunema, who’d really made something of his career coming into that fight, but I’m not sure he wasn’t a little overrated. And I don’t say that to take away from what Bunema accomplished, nor how badly Martinez beat him, which was equal parts Martinez awesomeness. And, again, it’s not a major knock on Martinez or Cintron that they haven’t beat someone in the pound-for-pound top-10. I’m not criticizing them. They’re both fighters I really like, and who have the ability to step up beyond what they’ve accomplished so far. But I’m analyzing them as fighters, and what it means for them in this fight.
What I think it means is that whoever wins Saturday night will have the biggest win of his career. I think Cintron would have knocked out Bunema, too. And I think Martinez would have toyed with N’Dou. Quality of wins being about the same, the edge in experience, and comfort at 154 pounds, has to go to Martinez. Martinez brings an edge in boxing technique, by far, and being a lefty is almost always an edge. Cintron, even at the new weight, has to have the edge in power. He was already a big welter, and I think there’s a chance that, like Martinez, he actually gets more powerful by moving up, which is a scary prospect. The big question in this fight is whether Cintron gets a chance to land that big flush punch. Martinez is unbelievably elusive — block, dodge, slip, roll, all of it — and while he couldn’t keep Margarito off him, his shots didn’t sting so much back then, either. Cintron isn’t even that kind of pressure fighter, and while his jab has improved — which can help set up shots against the slippery types — he’s also not shown the kind of skill he would need to have very many chances to catch Martinez. But it’s like the scene in the first Star Wars where one good shot meant the end of the Death Star. Will Cintron be able to withstand what’s coming back at him long enough to land that shot?
My prediction: Nope. I don’t think so. I suspect Cintron’s going to get stopped, probably late, after a spirited effort at finding the mark and catching a lot of return fire for his trouble.
Confidence: 65%. Just think about it for a second: a more powerful Cintron. That would give him a chance to win just about any fight he’s in.
My allegiance: None of the above. I lean toward slick boxers with power, which would suggest Martinez is my man here, but Cintron’s power is so fearsome I can’t help but marvel at it. Also, his name is Kermit. That’s the real equalizer.
NATE CAMPBELL – ALI FUNEKA
Poor Nate. He works his way back from the embarassment of that Robbie Peden knockout and years on inconsistent performances and unlucky decisions to deliver one of the most eye-popping performances of 2008, his decision victory over heavily-hyped Juan Diaz. Then he makes another pretty big fight, with Joan Guzman, hoping that will be his ticket to a huge fight, and Guzman bails out with weight woes. He files for bankruptcy, then his next fight is a very risky bout against one of his mandatory title challengers, a relatively-unknown but dangerously-dimensioned 6’1″ lightweight.
But look at it this way: Alfredo’s misfortune is his gain, because now he’s in the main event. He’s got a lot of hardcore fans in his corner, the kind who like his hilarious trash talk, his outspokeness and passion about the sport and his all-around ability. Campbell can brawl — just ask Diaz — or he can box, and he’s got good speed and power. Maybe beating Funeka in an HBO main event would give him the chance at the marquee opponent (yes, there’s a theme here) he’s been wanting and deserves to fight.
Funeka’s a mystery to just about everyone. He has never fought outside of South Africa, not once. In 2002, he lost to one of his only semi-name opponents, Mzonke Fana, who wasn’t bad but wasn’t great either. He hasn’t lost since, but the one fight he won that really mattered, the one that got him this mandatory title shot, was revelatory. He not only knocked out the tricky and experienced Zahir Raheem, but he did so with virtually no trouble whatsoever. It’s the only fight of Funeka’s I’ve seen, and it was an impressive showing.
Against Raheem, Funeka threw a left hook off his jab exceptionally well. His straight right has serious power, enough to give him 25 knockouts in 30 wins. It gave him a highlight reel knockout over Raheem. He was patient and accurate. Also, he’s tall. It’s at least part of his defense, being tall, but he seems not to be terrible defensively in other ways. Raheem tagged him some, but I don’t think we know what kind of chin he has because Raheem isn’t a big puncher. At least, not as big as Campbell.
I’m not comfortable making predictions in fights where I’m not very familiar with one of the boxers. It really just becomes a wild stab, and I don’t see any value in that for anyone. I can tell you I’m absolutely rooting for Campbell. I can tell you I see Funeka’s jab as a little slow and think that Campbell should have some success countering it and getting on the inside, but I don’t know how much. I can tell you it’s unclear what kind of punch resistance Funeka might have against elite opposition. I can tell you I think Funeka’s at least a little “for real,” or else he wouldn’t have destroyed Raheem when so many others had so much trouble with him, and that the pre
cedent for Campbell against significantly bigger opponents, like another South African named Isaac Hlatswayo who didn’t hit nearly as hard as Funeka, isn’t good for Campbell. I can tell you there’s also a chance that Campbell, who’s been erratic in the past but appears to have found his focus, could slip up here, and slipping up here could be particularly dangerous.
I’d really like Campbell, who got a late start in the sport and is getting up there in the years, to put himself in a position to make that money and build that legacy. Alternately, Funeka could turn himself into a real force by beating Campbell. I can tell you: I want to see it when one or the other happens.