On HBO Saturday night, junior featherweight Juan Manuel Lopez won the most remarkable one-sided fight I’ve ever seen. Lopez was truly awesome. And yet somehow he was overshadowed by Gerry Penalosa, who withstood ungodly amounts of punishment and never quit before his corner wisely threw in the towel. I was emotional when it was stopped. This sport, at its finest, is inspirational.
On Showtime Saturday night, super middleweight Carl Froch mounted a rally for the ages, recovering from an early knockdown by Jermain Taylor and erasing scorecards that were going to go against him if the fight went to the judges. He finished matters in the 12th, when he threw three rights that ruined Taylor, knocked him down and then put together a finishing flurry that erased Taylor’s consciousness and forced the ref to stop the fight with 14 seconds left. This sport, at its finest, is inspirational.
What a night.
First, the two undercard fights.
LAMONT PETERSON – WILLY BLAIN
I’m not sure why this was on TV, or was for any kind of belt. Lamont Peterson is a good junior welterweight; Willy Blain, I don’t know what he did to deserve this fight. I’ve said many times before that it is not primarily the violence of boxing that appeals to me, but yo, I need at least the chance that someone will get hit with a punch that hurts. Peterson is no puncher. Blain is even worse — three knockouts in 20 fights coming in.
Peterson won the pillow fight. He dominated every round by landing more and cleaner, and maybe, maybe, at moments Blain — as underqualified as they come — felt the body punches Peterson put on him. But for five rounds, already tired, I felt like falling asleep. It wasn’t Peterson’s fault, primarily. He was trying, clearly. But Blain was fighting not to get hit, more than he was fighting to hit.
When the most interesting thing that happens in your fight is a thumb injury, though, it doesn’t reflect all that well on anyone. In the 6th, Blain turned away and shook his hand, and for some reason the ref halted the fight for a moment as Blain walked to his corner. Struggling through some language difficulties, the ref waved off the fight when Blain apparently didn’t want him to, even though he was behaving as he did. The ref changed his mind and let it continue. Between rounds, Blain said, “something is wrong with my thumb.” In the 7th, for no reason related to him using the injured hand, Blain did the same again, turning away, and this time the ref stopped it for good.
I’m not opposed to watching Lamont Peterson fights. He is what he is; he’s never going to be a puncher. But he does offer the potential for action fights against the right opponent. As the interim titlist for an alphabet belt, he’s due a shot at some point with Timothy Bradley. I wouldn’t count Peterson out, but with Bradley holding a couple belts, I doubt Bradley is dying to fight a slick boxer who doesn’t bring much money to the table, so who knows if he’ll get it.
ALLAN GREEN – CARLOS DE LEON JR.
Heavy underdog Carlos De Leon had his moments in the 1st, landing hard shots against Allan Green, even though Green won the round in my opinion. Then, when he jabbed to Green’s body in the 2nd, Green caught him with a massive left hook that put him flat on his back. Green then knocked De Leon down three more times, none particularly clean, but De Leon was still feeling that big, big left from the first time. The ref let De Leon have a fourth go at it when another ref might have stopped it, and I thought it was an OK call. De Leon had, after all, had his moments, and if he could get his head about him, maybe he could make it out of the round. No such luck.
Green has proven destructive against this caliber of opposition. He punches extremely hard, he’s very quick, and he’s got a good skill set. His problem has been wavering focus, uneven performances and curious management decisions, plus maybe the periodic defensive lapse. His personality rubs me the wrong way to say the least, but I can’t deny that he’s a nice fighter with a way with words. His quip about how De Leon couldn’t stand up to the “Hammer of Thor” even made the unflappable Showtime interviewer Jim Gray laugh. I say give him a shot at another top super middleweight. He failed his last test against a big name, Edison Miranda, but I think he could be in interesting and competitive fights with any number of top super middleweights. Beating De Leon didn’t change that for me, but it may have amped up his marketability a tad because he scored another big, explosive knockout. Green said he wanted the winner of Froch-Taylor, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ – GERRY PENALOSA
In the 6th round, Juan Manuel Lopez landed 71 of 133 punches on Gerry Penalosa, almost all power punches. Those are absurd, record-breaking numbers. In the 8th, he landed 87 of 136 punches, according to Compubox. Those are coma numbers. Considering that Lopez is one of the hardest punchers in the entire sport, those are death numbers.
But HBO’s commentating team said that in pre-fight interviews, Penalosa said he “loved boxing more than my life and wife.” And even getting stomped in those rounds, to say the least, he was still showing signs of being in the fight. In the 6th, he only landed 9 of 37, but a number of them were beautiful right hooks. Penalosa enduring Lopez’ assault, and even scoring nicely at times, is a feat of willpower that’s hard for me to comprehend. At the end of the 6th, Lopez asked his corner, “Am I winning?” He most certainly was — every round, really. And Lopez said after he usually asks that merely for “guidance,” but I thought he looked like he had the air of doubt about him.
Freddie Roach, Penalosa’s sage trainer, said at the end of the 8th that Penalosa needed to knock out Lopez in the 9th or he would stop it. It was the right call. Penalosa showed enough to keep going, but he also showed the kind of determination that gets undersized 36-year-olds hurt badly. Penalosa didn’t stop Lopez and didn’t come close. Roach lived up to his word and saved his fighter from worse punishment by stopping the fight. Penalosa’s game effort cannot be understated. It was herculean.
He just was in against a younger, stronger, bigger, faster opponent, one who showed new dimensions — a stellar work rate, body punching, defense against a savvy opponent. He outpunched Penalosa, which should be no surprise, but he also outboxed him. He is probably a top-20 pound-for-pound fighter now, and he far exceeded my expectations for what he could do with an experienced foe like Penalosa. He deserves a shot at either Israel Vazquez or Rafael Marquez, the division’s top men, when both of them recover from their wars against each other. And as good as both are, I think Lopez beats either of them. He’s that good. He’s a superstar in every way, and if you don’t love him, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
CARL FROCH – JERMAIN TAYLOR
I thought Jermain Taylor won the 1st through 5th rounds, then the 7th and 8th. None of them were exactly the same. In the first, his jab and left hook controlled Froch and kept him on guard. In the 2nd, Taylor throw some wild overhand rights, and Froch began to counter them a little. Off the 1-2, Taylor caught Froch with a giant right hand in the 3rd, sending him crumbling to the canvas. Froch got up and shook off the first knockdown of his career, then adjusted to the jab-right combo, finally, but Taylor now was landing his uppercut. And in the 5th, Taylor started scoring to the body.
But I sensed danger for Taylor. Even at his best, he always looks so damn beatable. Once again, he had an opponent hurt and didn’t know what to do with him. After Froch got back up, Taylor did nothing. I mean, nothing. It’s almost as if he gets off on letting people off the hook. Like he’s scared of winning. And with all the wild shots he was throwing, despite the Showtime team’s praise of Taylor’s defense, he looked wide open at times. Furthermore, Taylor faded late in a fight again. In the 6th, Froch began to dial in his own 1-2, and Taylor felt them, because he started backing up. Taylor took the 7th and 8th in my eyes, both close rounds, with flurries of hard punching that overcame Froch’s more numerous shots. But in the 9th, 10th and 11th, Froch was outworking and outlanding the slowing Taylor. All Taylor need to do was not get knocked out in the 12th; two scorecards had it 106-102 going into the final round.
Sure enough, Taylor found a way to lose. I like Taylor’s personality, but I’ve given up on him as an elite boxer. He’s got physical abili
ty and some heart, but his head isn’t right for the sport anymore, if it ever was. He should have stayed on Froch in the 3rd but didn’t. His stamina problems suggest he doesn’t train hard enough, no matter whether he said he did this time or not. Maybe he was too buzzed from the big Froch shots in the 12th to hold, but he should have held a lot more. Taylor makes mistake after mistake after mistake, and he’s done it ever since he really arrived on the scene. He’s just not going to get it together, I don’t expect.
But also Froch forced Taylor’s mistakes. Say what you will about Froch, but he has the heart and head of a champion. He can take a punch, he can punch back, but most importantly, he believes in himself, and you have to in order to charge back into a fight like that. He’s far from perfect — he was slightly slower than Taylor, but his hands-down crap is still crap, and it’s always going to get him in trouble, and he is just begging to get hit sometimes with his chin dangling in the air like that. He can overcome those imperfections, unlike Taylor’s inability to overcome his. Froch put together a finish to remember. And there should be no controversy about the ref’s stoppage. Taylor was done times 10 with 14 seconds left, and the ref deserves applause for making the call he did. I don’t question it in the slightest.
Taylor can be a threat to anyone with his athleticism in the super middleweight division, but he’s too exasperating for me to care anymore. If he got a rematch, I’d pick him to lose, as dangerous as he was to Froch for most of the fight. Froch says he wants Joe Calzaghe to come out of retirement, which I don’t see happening. But Froch deserves a shot at another moneymaker in the division, be it Lucian Bute or Mikkel Kessler or who have you. He did have a point in the post-fight interview. Calzaghe said he didn’t care to fight Froch because he was an unknown in America. Froch said he wouldn’t be unknown here anymore. Yup. Sound about right to me.