Time didn’t permit an extended take on the Top Rank pay-per-view Saturday night, so here’s where I (and hopefully you) will revisit what went down in more detail.
MATT KOROBOV – CORY JONES
Korobov, a middleweight (160 lbs.) who’s been hailed as the finest pro prospect to emerge from the 2008 Olympics, did not have an easy time with Jones, who mainly came to avoid getting beat up. I say that without disdain. If I was an “opponent” for a rising prospect, I’m not sure I wouldn’t do the same, but I doubt he’ll get many similar opportunities for playing dodgeball instead of boxing. On the other hand, he offered some target practice for Korobov, because someday, the youngster’s going to run into another mover. So maybe that’s Jones’ future.
Korobov is a boxer-puncher, with the puncher part obvious from the clip of the 4th round knockout above. He does need to work on his jab, as the commentating crew noticed. It’s just too early to say much more about him. I thought he looked nearly as good as he could against an opponent who came to survive.
JOHN DUDDY – MATT VANDA
I want to be very clear here: Just because Duddy looked better than ever in the skills department, doesn’t mean he looked particularly good. Duddy established his jab from the 1st round and hardly ever went into wild free-swinging mode like he usually does, although there were a couple times when Vanda landed cleanly and Duddy was like a dog at the end of his chain dying to cut loose. He didn’t. That discipline was surprising. I bet Duddy could have been a little more free with his shots than he was. I thought the promises of a refined Duddy sounded impossible, even with the highly capable
Dan Birmingham Pat Burns now in his corner.
It was hard to tell whether Duddy’s control of distance and pace kept Vanda from getting off or if Vanda simply didn’t bring it Saturday night, but I didn’t give him a round until the 7th and it was the only one I awarded him other than the 10th. Duddy clearly tired over the second half of the fight, so maybe that gave Vanda his opening. Once Duddy’s jab lost some steam, Captain Stationary Head was significantly more hittable. Vanda found some kind of energy or drive in the final round and teed off on him and had him hurt. The excitement of the crowd in that round illustrated something of a dilemma for Duddy. His fans don’t just like him because he’s Irish. They like him because he fights like an Irishman — in the words of Billy Conn, “What’s the point of being Irish if you can’t be thick?” Yet if he keeps fighting like he’s thick, he’s never going to advance beyond his current level. I’d like to see him find the balance Arturo Gatti did toward the end of his career, where he boxed a little to make his life easier but ultimately remained a brawler.
What was so telling, and hilarious, was the way Duddy had a good laugh toward the end of the 10th with Vanda after Vanda smacked him around a little bit. This was what he knew. It was like meeting up with an old neighborhood friend. I’m all for Duddy changing a little, but I’d rather watch him induldge fits of unstructured violence than anything, because I don’t think the best Duddy ever does much more than maybe — maybe — win an alphabet title belt and promptly lose it.
Next for the loser: Has Vanda officially changed his nickname to “Skeletor” instead of “The Predator?” It was on his trunks, and he came out in a Skeletor-like mask. I think he should. Skeletor tops The Predator any day. After he settles this very important question, he can go back to his career of being a tough and fun but limited fighter who has the ability to throw the fear of God into marginally talented or up-and-coming boxers’ lives.
Next for the winner: Kelly Pavlik, perhaps, but that’s not a done deal, all a sudden. Top Rank is looking at other options for Pavlik. I think Pavlik-Duddy’s as saleable as it will ever get, because there’s nobody that thinks Duddy beats Pavlik. I happen to think that a more technical Duddy doesn’t get squashed as fast as I once thought he would in that bout, so from a competitiveness standpoint, Pavlik-Duddy is at its peak. Failing that, there’s been some rumor of Duddy tackling Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., which would be a fun battle of popular boxers who aren’t probably ever going to crack the elite. It also would be at junior middleweight (154 lbs.), where I think Duddy’s vulnerabilities are further minimized. There are other junior middleweights with whom Duddy could make interesting fights in which I wouldn’t automatically pick against him, like Ron Hearns, with whom he’d once been scheduled for a meeting before Duddy’s promotional situation got so muddy. Obviously, he’s going to have to settle that sooner rather than later, or it’s all academic.
MIGUEL COTTO – MICHAEL JENNINGS
Jennings may have been woefully unequipped to deal with a top-notch welterweight (147 lbs.) like Cotto, but mission accomplished for him, because it took a little while for Cotto to steamroll the Brit and mid-steamroll, he insisted on continuing. OK, maybe he kinda quit in the 5th after being knocked down for the third time of the night, but it took some guts to last that long. He also was abetted significantly by the massive ring. He can depart with his head held moderately high.
Cotto started very slowly, perhaps because Jennings was moving around so much. Cotto said he was studying Jennings. I wonder if there wasn’t just an iota of self-doubt to his deliberate pace, though. The major storyline of the fight was whether the loss to Antonio Margarito crushed his confidence as well as his chin. All that disappeared when Cotto, after winning the first three rounds, landed a clean hook in the 4th, staggering Jennings. Extremely quickly, Cotto turned from contemplative to feral, and the old Cotto was back. A follow-up trademark left hook to the body put Jennings down, then another body shot put him down again. When Cotto came back to the corner, in another telling moment, he and his uncle-trainer exchanged a celebratory embrace. It was official. Cotto’s confidence in being the old Cotto was no longer a question. The 5th was unnecessary, other than showing Cotto was going to stay in destroyer mode.
Cotto’s defense, which has been improving for a long time, looked even better, as Jennings might have had a speed advantage but still couldn’t connect on much. Even that, though, may have been an illusion. One shouldn’t read too much into Cotto beating Jennings, who had never fought anyone even close to Cotto’s level. But if Cotto were a physical or mental wreck, Jennings would have exposed it. Cotto looked good, and at 28, I’m inclined to suspect he is suffering little to no ill effect of the Margarito fight physically. We won’t know HOW good Cotto still is until he steps into the ring with a quality contender.
Next for the loser: Back to his punk rock band, The Shoks, which he gave a nod to by coming out to The Sex Pistols, and hanging out with the lead singer of The Stone Roses. And if he wants to fight on over in the U.K., fine. He just doesn’t deserve an alphabet title shot again, not that he deserved this one. If you find anything compelling about alphabet title belts, just remember that Michael Jennings fought for a vacant one Saturday night.
Next for the winner: A rematch with Shane Mosley is quite clearly the most compelling fight in the welterweight division — it would be for the real championship, the lineal version — and one of the handful of best and most important fights that can be made in the sport. If that’s not next, it still should be on the ledger for sometime soon, but it may never happen because of money. In the meantime, the two fights Top Rank is reportedly looking at for Cotto are against either Josh Clottey or Kermit Cintron in June. Those are both very good fights with excellent style match-ups and good storylines — Cot
to-Clottey because Clottey deserves a shot at a big name, and Cotto-Cintron because both are Puerto Rican and it could enhance a Puerto Rican Day Parade battle in the Apple. If Cotto wins that one, a bout with the winner of Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton would be massive.
KELLY PAVLIK – MARCO ANTONIO RUBIO
I’m not sure what Rubio was thinking here. The top-10 ranked middleweight was getting the chance of his life, and he never did much of anything other than run away. Kind of a trend in three of the four fights, but given Rubio’s straight-ahead approach in the past, this was the one where I least expected it.
Some of that, perhaps, had something to do with Pavlik’s own seemingly improved D, coming off his own possibly damaging loss to body and mind, via Bernard Hopkins. When he kept his gloves high and backed away, Rubio couldn’t do anything about it. Pavlik also made sure Rubio stayed busy on defense, landing a nice assortment of body shots and left hooks to go along with his lethal 1-2; he also countered some. It was only in the 6th, when Rubio decided to show a little fire and Pavlik got a little cute by trying to show off his head movement, that Rubio won a round. Ain’t nothing wrong with head movement, Kelly, but you ain’t fast enough to ain’t get hit with head movement alone. The gloves up/step back thing should be your bread and butter defensively.
Anyway, if Pavlik didn’t look as destructive as he does sometimes, I don’t think psychological or physical wear and tear was the reason. It was Rubio doing his hide and go seek routine. In the 8th, Pavlik began to connect on those full extension right hands, and nobody lasts long after getting hit with those. Pavlik was on the borderline of a 10-8 round in the 8th. In the 9th, Rubio was grimacing with every shot, no matter how flush it did or didn’t land. That’s often the beginning of the end. And in his corner, as he professed he’d had enough, his corner tried to force him into going out for the next round. This is just never going to not irritate me. What advantage did Rubio’s corner see in sending its man out for three more rounds of slaughter? Is it, like, a mark of pride amongst trainers to be able to have drinks and laugh, “Yeah, my boy was getting his brain pounded in and didn’t want any more, but I shoved him out there and he got that brain pounded for a few more, HAHAHAHAHA!”
Whatever the casse, Rubio didn’t provide the even token resistance to Pavlik I expected from him, so in the more potentially enlightening of the two co-main events, we still didn’t learn an awful lot about where Pavlik is following his first loss. We know, though, that at 26 he’s back on the way up. He didn’t fight timidly for one moment, although maybe he fought a little smarter, and he never looked like any punches from a big puncher in Rubio had a distorted effect, which you might have seen if the Hopkins beating had a lasting impact.
Next for the loser: Wondering ’til his dying day why he didn’t seem to show up on the biggest day of his career. Or hiring a better mad scientist to come up with his next “secret plan” to defeat Pavlik, since the first one didn’t work at all. It hasn’t worked all that well for Rubio when he’s stepped up, so if he decides to stick to a career of good TV fights of moderate significance like the one he had with Enrique Ornelas, I’ll give him another chance.
Next for the winner: Duddy’s a maybe, according to Top Rank and news reports. Before last night, I would have given Duddy less of a chance of beating Pavlik than Rubio, but that’s reversed, not that I give Duddy much of a chance at all. The two most significant opponents, Arthur Abraham and Felix Sturm, are a “no” for now because of their risk/pay ratio. The winner of Paul Williams-Winky Wright would be excellent, too, but there’s a similar issue there. Failing those fights, Vernon Forrest and Anthony Mundine are the two next most attractive options under consideration, with Sergio Mora in the mix for some reason. Maybe because Mora has a name from The Contender show, but not for any boxing reasons.