(Most of the gang, from left to right: Jorge Linares, Robert Guerrero, Daniel Jacobs, Juan Manuel Marquez, Golden Boy’s Oscar De La Hoya, Juan Diaz, Dmitry Pirog, Joel Casamayor. Rocky Juarez probably didn’t show up until later.)
For me, it’s not even a matter of debate: The Golden Boy Promotions/HBO pay-per-view card airing Saturday night is, top to bottom, the most loaded boxing show I can recall in years and years and years — so loaded, in fact, that some pretty good fights on the card actually have spilled off the broadcast. There will be people who will tell you that the lightweight main event lacks luster because the two combatants, lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz, are coming off losses, and that some of the supporting bouts will end up being one-sided. I can’t say they’re wrong. But find me a card that has four bouts this good on paper in the last two, three years at least and I’ll slap my pappy and call him “Georgia.”
The motives of this loaded card, those you can question. Is there reason to doubt that Marquez-Diaz II — a rematch, by the way, of the bout most consider the 2009 Fight of the Year — would sell very well without a loaded undercard? Are the exhortations of GBP boss Richard Schaefer that fans buy this card or else they might never get a good pay-per-view undercard again a bit blackmail-y? Yes (Marquez hasn’t proven he can sell pay-per-view cards without a bigger star opposite him, and Diaz ain’t that) and yes (Schaefer needs to realize that good undercards engender brand loyalty over time a la the UFC and that the dividend may not materialize immediately).
The why, though, matters less than me here than that it simply is. It’s a really good card and I want it. You should too. I can explain why, if you need such a thing.
[TQBR Prediction Game 3.0 is in effect for all four fights below. Don’t forget the rules.]
JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ-JUAN DIAZ II
It’s a Fight of the Year rematch. Done. Next song. Nah, there’s more to it than that — like the lineal, Ring, lightweight crown being on the line, or the roughly 90 percent success rate these two have had over the last couple years being in damn good fights with anyone, let alone each other.
Some of the wear and tear they’ve accumulated along the way has fostered legitimate doubt about how much they have left. Marquez’ grueling knockout defeat of Diaz in the first fight looked to me even then like a last hurrah for an aging Mexican warrior, and he was bloated, slow and sluggish in a move up to welterweight for a pasting at the hands of Floyd Mayweather. Diaz is 2-3 in his last five fights and arguably didn’t deserve one of those wins, and despite being 10 years younger than Marquez, Diaz has the air of an old 26-year-old. Marquez could counter that he was well past his best weight (he was) and if he wanted to could counter that Mayweather’s speed makes everyone look slow (it does), while Diaz has countered that he fought stupidly against Marquez (kind of) and his last loss against Paulie Malignaggi came at too high a weight at 140 and was a bad match-up besides (true and true).
My view is that Marquez has more in the tank than Diaz, because even at a higher weight Diaz should never have been wobbled by light-punching Malignaggi the way he was. Diaz’ combination of traits — super-aggressive but without much power — is a recipe for him to take beatings even in wins. And even if Diaz fights smarter, it’s not clear how well he can do it; he was more conservative than his usual all-out attack in his last fight and it didn’t go great for him. Marquez can’t help but fight smart. He’ll win a technical boxing match because he’s more versatile and has always adapted beautifully — except against Mayweather, who ended up having every conceivable advantage, including intelligence, so no amount of adaptation was going to get it done. And we know he can hurt Diaz in a brawl, because he knocked him out the first time.
Marquez is the big betting favorite and should be. I don’t expect this fight to be as good as the first, if Diaz is going to use his brain a bit more, since what made the first fight exciting was Diaz putting so much unrelenting pressure on Marquez that he made it competitive before Marquez caught up to him. But I bet it’ll last longer. Give me Marquez by clear unanimous decision, as the guy with the more current pound-for-pound credentials outboxes a cautious Diaz. The winner goes from bottoming out in his last loss to the unquestionable man at 135 pounds.
DANIEL JACOBS-DMITRY PIROG
For many, this fight is the main attraction, a match-up of two promising young middleweights, a kind of anthesis of the headlining bout where both men are past their best days. Jacobs-Pirog is a toss-up to some observers.
Jacobs is the consensus 2009 Prospect of the Year. He’s fast, can box and has 17 knockouts in his 20 wins, most prominently beating professional prospect-scarer Ishe Smith in a bout where I had Jacobs winning six of 10 rounds; in other words, it that wasn’t as close as the scare Smith recently gave prospect Fernando Guerrero, but it was close enough to raise a few questions about Jacobs. He showed he was a bit rough around the edges. The crafty Smith will do that to a prospect.
Pirog may be more powerful than Jacobs despite a slightly worse knockout ratio, 13 in 16 wins. He is most definitely slower. If you watch him early in his career, he had a ton of bad habits, but he’s sanded down some of his rough edges over time; now he, in the words of Jacobs, looks a bit crafty (he gets off that left uppercut more than he ought to, for example). That improvement helped him blank tough Kofi Jantuah on the scorecards, something the highly-regarded Arthur Abraham couldn’t do four years previous, although Abraham wasn’t as developed then as he is now and Jantuah hasn’t accomplished anything in the interim.
The wild cards for Jacobs are that he took a step back in competition due to a hand injury and is jumping right back in with a dangerous opponent, plus he’s in mourning from the recent death of his grandmother. But I see a faster, better boxer who’s probably going to give Pirog fits with movement and trickery that should freeze him from firing that much. I don’t see Pirog catching Jacobs with enough to really hurt him, as Jacobs hasn’t shown much of a tendency to get hurt. Jacobs by unanimous decision, maybe with a hairy moment or two. If he wins, he’ll pick up an alphabet middleweight belt that was stripped from Sergio Martinez.
JOEL CASAMAYOR-ROBERT GUERRERO
In my estimation, Guerrero hasn’t beaten but one boxer better than even this aged version of Casamayor, that being Malcolm Klassen. Maybe you add in Jason Litzau, maybe Martin Honorio, but don’t forget as well that Guerrero lost to Orlando Salido (result overturned because Salido failed a drug test), who otherwise might qualify. Also don’t forget that Guerrero hasn’t looked as good in one appearance at 135 as he did at 130 or 126, while Casamayor was until a couple fights ago the legit lightweight champion and this fight is at 139 pounds.
At times, Guerrero gives off the impression that he’ll be really good, but then at other times he merely is a notch or two above average. I loved him against Klassen, even if it was far from an easy night for Guerrero, because he was busy, crafty with his footwork and punched with authority en route to a decision win. I can’t figure out why it took eight rounds for Guerrero to stop Efren Hinojosa, and even then it was more about an arm injury than anything. Admittedly, he’s had some distractions with his wife so sporadically sick, so it’s not as if he doesn’t have a good explanation.
Casamayor has had less of an uneven arc, and lately it’s been straight down. He lost his lightweight crown to Marquez in 2008 in a competitive affair where he nonetheless had some age on him — he’s up to 38 years now — and suffered his first knockout defeat. His only fight since was a decision win at welterweight against a stay-busy opponent that didn’t convince much of anybody there was much left there. Watching some clips, I can say I don’t think he was particularly bad. I suspect even a bad Casamayor has enough devious intelligence and ring experience that he could still beat borderline contenders and make life hell on better fighters.
But that’s the extent of it. Casamayor’s movement and countering will give Guerrero a spot of hell, but Guerrero is far fresher and should be able to outwork Casamayor without getting hurt badly in return. It will probably be the worst fight on the card and the most competitive. I’ll take Guerrero by unanimous decision, but I bet it’ll be close enough that he might not get all the judges to see a victory for him.
ROCKY JUAREZ-JORGE LINARES
It wasn’t so long ago that many, myself included, had great hopes that Linares would take America by storm and establish himself as one of the best fighters in the world, pound-for-pound. I thought he had that kind of all-around talent. That all came crashing down with a 1st round knockout loss to Juan Carlos Salgado last year. It’s the kind of thing you could assume was a fluke, but somehow Linares was held to a majority decision in his next fight against Francisco Lorenzo, of all people.
So now he’s matched with Juarez, who flashes big power when he can be bothered to punch. That condition has kept him competitive with pound-for-pound types like Marco Antonio Barrera and Chris John but it’s never been enough to win that elusive title. He’s at his best at featherweight, but he’ll be fighting Linares at lightweight, since the thinking for Linares is that he’s had trouble getting down to 130 by way of explaining his recent poor stretch.
I’d give Juarez a chance in this one if he didn’t remind us all the time that he’s a giant tease who keeps vowing to start faster but never can find a way to outwork his opponent. He’s 3-5-1 in his last nine fights for a reason, (even if he deserved to win in one or two of those losses, like the missed referee call in his last fight against Jason Litzau [and he deserved to lose in the draw, by the way]). There’s no proof he will carry his power up to 135, and at 5’5″ he’ll be suffering a 3″ height differential, too. That Linares has gone from can’t-miss to total mystery gives Juarez a shot, too, but my skepticism of Juarez outweighs my hopes, however dwindling, for Linares. One more unanimous decision here, this one going to Linares.