Junior welterweight Paulie Malignaggi looked enough like his old self to produce a rousing, competitive bout with Juan Diaz Saturday, but didn’t do enough to win in Diaz’ backyard of Houston. It was a close fight that I thought Diaz won by one round, but the judge who had it 118-110 can’t really have meant it, right? Anyway, it was a far more exciting, dramatic 12 rounds of combat than I expected, and after Malignaggi calms down — “boxing is full of sh*t,” he said bluntly in the post-fight interview — he should know he reestablished himself as a quality contender, and probably bought himself another nice payday, by being in a fun, close brawl against an elite opponent.
Meanwhile, Robert Guerrero rose to the occasion to decision his best opponent in his best performance and take the junior lightweight alphabet title belt of Malcolm Klassen, while first-rate middleweight prospect Daniel Jacobs got the kind of heat-check from Ishe Smith he needed in a bout he nonetheless won by decision.
JUAN DIAZ – PAULIE MALIGNAGGI
If you’d told me two feather-fisted boxers, including one who hasn’t looked very good or been very exciting since 2007, would generate such sizzle, I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I kind of mocked anyone who expected much out of this bout. I stand corrected. It’s the kind of corrected that feels oh-so-right.
The difference was that Malignaggi, after kind of sucking for a couple years, came out super-intense and active. He actually threw more punches over the course of the fight than Diaz, who has a rep as a volume fighter. They traded the first four rounds back and forth and swapped three cuts, with Malignaggi getting one over his left eye and Diaz getting one over his brow and on his eyelid. This was a moment of truth for Diaz. In his two losses, he basically fell apart when he got cut. He wouldn’t this time. He won the 5th, then Malignaggi and Diaz split the next two rounds. When Malignaggi won rounds, he controlled distance with his movement and jab, landed meaningful if not harmful combinations and dropped the occasional heavy (or as heavy as a Malignaggi blow gets) straight right hand. When Diaz won rounds, he would score with power punch combos to the head and body that delighted the home town crowd.
Almost all of the rounds each man won, he won pretty definitively. Where the fight was decided, perhaps, was in the 8th and 9th rounds. Malignaggi landed more punches, but they were mainly jabs. Diaz landed fewer, but they were more powerful. I gave both rounds to Diaz. HBO’s Harold Lederman gave both of them to Malignaggi. I can’t argue too much with going either way. The 10th and 11th were pretty clearly Malignaggi’s, and Diaz came out hard to steal the 12th, where he was simply not going to let Malignaggi dance away.
In any state but Texas, I might have expected a split decision for either man or a draw. Instead, Diaz came up 116-112, 115-113 and 118-110. Oh you stupid Texas you. Look, Malignaggi is right — he wasn’t going to get a fair shake. But I only have so much tolerance for his rants. He knew what he was getting in to but he signed the contract. He couldn’t have made that kind of money elsewhere because he wasn’t going to get on HBO with recent showings and he wasn’t going to get much of a live gate on his own. Malignaggi’s in the situation he’s in because he’s not usually a fan favorite and he’s looked like crap in all of his recent fights. The good news is that he rectified both problems with this performance.
Diaz answered a big question, as I mentioned before, by fighting through that cut. Now it won’t be an automatic loss every time he gets gashed, which will serve him well, as his lack of composure in his two losses in large measure because of cuts could have turned into a real career handicap. I don’t get the impression he should be fighting at 140, as he’s talked about doing, although I suppose as long as he didn’t take on a huge puncher, he’d be OK. He’d talked previously about going after Timothy Bradley or Amir Khan, and neither guy is a huge puncher. Khan would probably give him trouble with movement the way Malignaggi did, but Diaz-Bradley sounds like a really nice scrap. He said after Saturday’s fight he’d like a rematch with lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez, even if Marquez loses in September to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. I’d like that, too. The first was the 2009 Fight of the Year so far in my book. Whatever he does next, Diaz just makes good fights. Good for HBO for giving him another chance to prove it, after so many people left him for dead following the Marquez loss.
ROBERT GUERRERO – MALCOLM KLASSEN
Good Guerrero showed up, as he is prone to doing, leaving behind the Bad Guerrero who had occupied Robert’s flesh for his last couple fights. As good as Guerrero was, though, I thought Klassen missed some opportunities to make the fight closer.
Guerrero started ultra-aggressive, throwing tons of power shots to the head and body by using his height to stay at distance, then stepping to the side. It was a wonderful strategy, one that would constitute the bulk of the reason he won. It often froze Klassen, who’s not bad defensively but would keep waiting until Guerrero stopped punching to launch his own assault, and by then Guerrero wasn’t usually there. Guerrero, who had his issues like Diaz with cuts and questions about his toughness, suffered a pretty bad cut in 7th and marched through it.
Klassen had two terrific rounds — the 5th and 9th — where he had stretches like he couldn’t miss. It was hard to determine why. Guerrero maybe was tired, as his strategy required massive does of energy that would be hard to sustain for 12 rounds. Guerrero may have made Klassen look how he looked. But for too many rounds, he wasn’t doing enough. He also gave Guerrero openings he didn’t take. With the way Klassen was leaning over, I was dying for Guerrero to throw an uppercut, and when he finally did in the 6th, he knocked out Klassen’s mouthpiece.
But these are quibbles. Klassen is a good fighter who deserves another shot at American television, which was his goal with this bout. But good Guerrero is sooooo impressive. If he could find some consistency, we’d maybe be talking about Guerrero as a potential pound-for-pound top-20 guy. Think of the map for that — wins in his division over the likes of Humberto Soto, Jorge Linares, Roman Martinez… man, I’d be sold. Instead, I am left wondering whether I’ll have the pleasure of seeing Good Guerrero next time out, or the frustration of Bad Guerrero’s return.
DANIEL JACOBS – ISHE SMITH
Sometimes it takes a fight like this for us to see what’s wrong with a young prospect. A veteran, quality boxer has a way of bringing that out — he’ll exploit flaws and openings that a bunch of journeyman or tomato cans never can come close to discovering. After Saturday, thanks to Smith, we know a few more things about the gaps in Jacobs’ game. He drops his hands after punching. He has balance issues. He can be backed up unnecessarily with pressure. And so on.
It’s not a bad thing, always. It can even be good. One can say, “Oh, Jacobs isn’t as good as we thought,” and ask questions about his ceiling. On the plus side, though, Jacobs now knows what he needs to work on.
One of the flaws he demonstrated in this fight, not really throwing his punches with conviction, seemed by design. Smith loses decisions when he’s outworked, and it’s easier to outwork someone if you don’t put much mustard on your shots. All the things Jacobs has shown before, little things like speed and power, still remain. Adversity gave us a glimpse of traits he hadn’t much had to display before. He showed heart and fighting spirit when Smith would tag him cleanly, fighting back instantaneously. He also had to keep his composure a few times, like at the end of the 5th when Jacobs landed a punch after the bell and Smith responded with three consecutive punches of his own and tried to decapitate Jacobs with his elbow.
All in all, I thought Smith won four rounds (although one was a 9-9 round because Smith was deducted a point for another late shot in the 9th) with cleaner shots, but didn’t really have an argument for winning the bout, the way he does sometimes in closer fights. As for Jacobs, I don’t think he should at all be deducted points in the 2009 Prospect of the Year sweepstakes where he seems to be the clubhouse leader, but after passing each step-up test with flying colors, it might be the right time to slow the matchmaking escalation to a crawl, because he does need to hit the gym and learn some more before going after anyone much better than Smith.
(And that does it for me for a while. I’ve got three scheduled posts to run in my a
bsence, and on top of that, I’ve got three volunteer guest bloggers who say they’re going to post in my absence, so stay tuned.)