So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fight of 2009, Floyd Mayweather against Juan Manuel Marquez, culminating in a live blog of the bout Saturday. Previously — the importance of Mayweather-Marquez; a look at Mayweather’s weaknesses, such as they are; and the keys to the fight. Tomorrow — the final preview and prediction for the main event.
If you think the match-up between Floyd Mayweather and Juan Manuel Marquez Saturday night is a farce because of Mayweather’s size advantage, the undercard ought to buttress your interest in the pay-per-view. It is the rarest of species in boxing: an actual undercard that very well could upstage the main event with two evenly-matched and likely very exciting bouts. Both bouts feature top-10-caliber talent in their divisions, and are good enough that they would make a nice pairing for any given weekend night on regular HBO. It’s a good business decision given some of the apathy toward Mayweather-Marquez, but just as importantly, and relatedly, it’s the right thing to do by the fans.
Featherweights Chris John and Rocky Juarez have already waged one of the best battles of 2009, which ended in a draw. It had rematch written all over it. Lightweights Michael Katsidis (at right, via abc.net.au) and Vicente Escobedo offer a classic brawler/counterpuncher match-up, and each have produced their most thrilling results when matched up against their rival’s style. Katsidis is a regular Fight of the Year finalist, and Escobedo, separately, was in his own Fight of the Year-worthy bout in 2009. (There’s a third televised bout, but it’s a more insignificant one, between featherweights Cornelius Lock and Orlando Cruz.)
CHRIS JOHN – ROCKY JUAREZ II
When John-Juarez I was made, I thought it was an interesting fight, a competitive fight, but by no means did I look at those two men and think they would produce such a fun scrap. John is a stick-and-move artist, and Juarez is a power puncher who doesn’t throw enough power punches. But John decided to trade — maybe he had no choice, as he was under the weather — and Juarez fought in a far more active style than is his wont. In the end, the draw wasn’t an unreasonable result, although I thought John won and Juarez may have benefited from the fight being in his backyard of Houston. Interestingly, many writers who covered it ringside gave Juarez the edge.
Both men had been in against ultra-elite opponents before they met. John owned a decision win over the headliner, Marquez, whom he fought in John’s native Indonesia. Other than that, he’d been in against one or two highly-ranked featherweights, and with the Marquez win being disputed by some observers, it was enough to make people wonder if he was for real. He looked for real to me against Juarez. Juarez had been in against Marquez, too, but he practically got shut out on the scorecards. He was much more competitive against Marco Antonio Barrera in their first fight, but got outclassed by a safety-first Barrera in the second bout and also lost to Humberto Soto. Of the four losses, that’s three fights for alphabet title belts, and the draw against John meant he missed out on yet another title, but he fought so well against John he revived his career.
Going in to their rematch, John wanted to make sure the bout was fought on neutral turf, so Vegas made as much sense as anything. But after some complex maneuvering the pay-per-view that John-Juarez II ends up being on falls on Mexican Independence Day weekend, and Juarez is Mexican-American. Now John and his team are convinced he needs the knockout, or he’ll get robbed on the cards again. It strikes me as the wrong approach. John has authentic power, but it’s somewhat mild. In the first bout he never seemed to hurt Juarez, who has a hell of a chin and has taken shots from much more powerful opponents. John by decision, plausible; John by knockout, I don’t see it. But it ought to make the rematch exciting again, this tack. It was surprising to watch John stand in the pocket so much and try to drown Juarez with punches, something that worked in part because John throws technically sound shots from all angles, plus he had a speed advantage. If he’s going to try to put some mustard on those punches this time, he’ll similarly be in the line of fire.
Juarez fought John just about as well as he’d ever fought anyone. He’s well-schooled and has major power, enough to literally punch Jorge Barrios’ lip off once. The problem, and it’s a big one, is that he goes through these intensely lethargic spells. He waits and waits and waits, and you wish someone would slap him around and go, “What the hell is wrong with you? You have a bazooka in your left hand and you just stalk around doing nothing with it?” He connected well early against John, but characteristically disappeared for very little reason in the middle of the fight. Late, he rallied, finally deciding he didn’t care if John hit him or not, and he connected with some shots that backed up the fearless Indonesian.
What tips this fight for me is that Juarez probably can’t fight any better than he did in their first fight, and John, who was ill, almost surely can. Judges respond to crowds, so there’s a chance John is right and that he’ll have a harder time winning a decision. But going for the knockout just won’t make it happen, although all-out aggression could help him tip the judges. I expect to see an improved John, and a worse Juarez, who’s career is marked by inconsistency from fight to fight, round to round. And that should give John a clearer decision win in the end than the close one I thought he deserved the first go-round.
MICHAEL KATSIDIS – VICENTE ESCOBEDO
When last we saw Katsidis and Escobedo, they were on separate bouts on the “Lightweight Lightning” undercard. Looking at how both men sized up, I thought, “Of all the lightweight fights that could happen between the people on this card, Katsidis-Escobedo is the most mouthwatering.” Voila. Now we have it.
Think about Katsidis’ best fight. There’s the Graham Earl fight, which was a crazy slugfest. There was the Czar Amonsot fight, which was likewise. But for me the best Katsidis fight was the Joel Casamayor bout, which involved Katsidis giving chase and really making life uncomfortable for Casamayor, whom he decked once, and which involved Casamayor counterpunching the rushes and sporadically knocking down Katsidis before knocking him out. It had dramatic tension, strategic tension, and inevitably, because Katsidis forced it, serious leather traded. Katsidis tried to get cute and box a little more against Juan Diaz, but it didn’t work and he lost. He tried to keep the cuteness going on “Lightweight Lightning” against Jesus Chavez, but that didn’t work too well, either. It was only when Katsidis tossed the sweet science to the wind that he began to beat up Chavez and forced the fight to be stopped. It’s not that Katsidis can’t box a little, or that he has no speed, or any such thing. It’s just that his primary assets are determination and power, and he’s probably not ever going to have enough of the rest — especially any defense, which is non-existent in the Australian — to turn into a boxer-puncher. He’s a brawler, and he’s good at it. And counterpunchers, if the pattern from Casamayor holds, give him the best chance of producing both action and intrigue.
Just as Katsidis bounced back from career troubles on “Lightweight Lightning,” so too did Escobedo, a counterpuncher with a solid amateur pedigree and a new trainer, Marquez’ Nacho Beristain. His 2006 loss to unheralded Daniel Jiminez cast serious doubt in the minds of many on whether he possessed the greatness some expected of him, although some saw the loss as the result only of Escobedo stepping up in class relatively early in his career. His fight with Carlos Hernandez pitted him against a very tough veteran, the best opponent of his career, even if Hernandez was faded. Early on, it looked like Escobedo would have his way, scoring two knockdowns, but Hernandez bucked up and from there until nearly the end of the fight, they took turns staggering each other. Escobedo would counter the charging Hernandez, and when Hernandez’ chin held up, he’d ignore the counters and get on the inside of his taller man to land combos, where the firefights were just as interesting because Escobedo was pretty good in close, too. In the end, Escobedo winning competitive rounds in the middle of the fight proved the difference on the scorecards. His next fight involved beating up an extremely old Kevin Kelly, which brings him to now.
Katsidis is yet another step up for Escobedo, although, as a Mexican-American, if Juarez has a home-crowd advantage then so, too, it seems, would Escobedo. Escobedo is undoubtedly the faster and more skilled man, and he’ll have a whopping eight-inch reach advantage. He may still be maturing at age 27 under Beristain’s tutelage, which means it’s possible we’ll see an even better Escobedo Saturday than before. But Katsidis, like Hernandez, won’t take no for an answer, and he’s younger (29), fresher, busier and harder-hitting than Hernandez, to boot. The difference is that Katsidis doesn’t take a punch as well as Hernandez. So when Escobedo says — as he did in a recent conference call with reporters — that he thinks the fight will be decided on power, I believe him. If Hernandez can hurt Escobedo, Katsidis can hurt him worse. If Escobedo can hurt Hernandez, he can hurt Katsidis worse. The winner gets a mandatory shot at one of Marquez’ lightweight alphabet title belts. This one’s a tough call, a toss-up on the power ques
tion, but I’m going to go with Katsidis by knockout. He’s the more experienced one, and while his ring wars are going to catch up with him some day, he’s shown no sign of it yet, so that gives him the slight edge.