This is the Humberto Soto we all used to know and love. The lightweight has increasingly set aside boxing for brawling, but Urbana Antillon gave him little choice Saturday, crowding him and forcing him to trade. The end result was a seesaw battle that produced a close win for Soto and yet another Fight of the Year finalist for 2010. For the first half of 2010, there were none of them. Now there are a lot. Soto-Antillon was as exciting a fight as you could want out of two of the top 10 lightweights in the world.
On the same highly entertaining Top Rank pay-per-view card, Nonito Donaire stepped up to bantamweight and against a quality opponent in Volodymyr Sydorenko, reminded us of the incredible talent we all know and love. Against terrible opponents, Donaire has been expectedly excellent, but it meant very little. The number he did on Sydorenko, stopping him in the 4th round and turning Sydorenko’s nose into a Kill Bill-style blood fountain, was all the more impressive for the fact that it finally meant something this time.
Over on HBO Latino, junior middleweight Saul Alvarez got some good, tough rounds from veteran hard ass Lovemore N’dou, turning in an aggressive offensive performance that nonetheless generated mild fireworks and got Alvarez a clean decision win. Fight by fight, Alvarez makes me a little bit more of a believer and a little bit less of a skeptic.
HUMBERTO SOTO-URBANO ANTILLON
Soto has more pissed me off than anything in recent years, avoiding top competition and dulling down his style. But Soto couldn’t dance and box much against Antillon. Antillon is an extremely aggressive pressure fighter who is more than happy to sell out to get his work done.
Antillon’s style begs for return fire, particularly the uppercut, and Soto obliged. There is a really good chance that if I saw Antillon on the street, I would walk over to him and uppercut him on the chin. When the police asked me why I did it — probably from my hospital bed — I’d answer incredulously, “Did you get a look at the guy? He was asking for it.”
Soto had the faster hands and feet, and often was the more precise man. The God of Uppercuts — let’s call him Uppercutus — was pleased with the sacrifice Soto gave him in the ring Saturday night. He couldn’t miss with one of them. Another big difference was that Soto would close out rounds better. I counted at least three that he won on my scorecard in the last 30 seconds, including a couple times where Soto staggered Antillon.
But Antillon was hell on wheels, never stopping his pursuit for a moment, no matter how much he got hit back. Almost every round was close, to the point that I stopped marking which ones were or weren’t. There was a moment in the 11th that he appeared to double Soto over with body shots, but it wasn’t enough. He was also hurt by a (fair) point deduction in the 5th. If not for that point deduction, two judges would have had it a draw. Antillon wouldn’t have gotten the title belt, but he wouldn’t have a loss on the record, no matter how honorable a loss this was. I had it 115-112 for Soto.
Antillon wants a rematch, but Top Rank’s Bob Arum has other plans. He wants to match Soto with Brandon Rios in February, although Soto protested that after such a grueling battle, he might need a little more time, and Arum said he would oblige. Antillon instead would fight Miguel Vazquez. Both of those bouts are extremely desirable. Arum said he could have these guys square off against each other repeatedly over the next two years. If it’s anything like Soto-Antillon — and, really, the chances are good — then sign me up.
NONITO DONAIRE-VOLODYMYR SYDORENKO
Fights like this are why Donaire’s career has been one of the most frustrating single things in the sport for me. This man is so unbelievably talented that he shouldn’t have spent three full years fighting mediocre-to-awful competition. And when he got the chance against perhaps the best opponent of that three year stretch Saturday night — and at a new weight, no less — he showed how special he can be.
Sydorenko would be a top-5 bantamweight according to Ring magazine if not for taking a year off. Yet Donaire was like the Death Star and Sydorenko was like Alderaan. He wobbled Sydorenko early in the 1st then dropped him near the end of the round with a left hook/right hand combination that actually made me shout out loud, and effectively ended Sydorenko’s night.
Sydorenko held on somehow until the 4th, surviving another knockdown in the 3rd on Donaire’s signature patented counter left, but the straight right Donaire landed in the next round busted Sydorenko’s nose something awful. Sydorenko took a step back and put his gloves to his stomach like the shot had reoriented his insides, too. The referee looked at the faucet hole in Sydorenko’s face and wisely waived it off. Donaire said in his post-fight interview that he knew Sydorenko was finished in the 1st round, so respect to Sydorenko for somehow lasting under the assault of speed and power that exists in just a couple fighters today.
Donaire is — once more, hopefully for real this time — booked to fight Fernando Montiel. It’s one of the best fights that can be made in boxing, and Arum insists it will happen in February on HBO. I sure hope it does. I wouldn’t count Montiel out, because he can be spectacular and can change a fight with one punch, as when he broke Hozumi Hasegawa’s jaw earlier this year for the knockout win. Donaire does still have some defensive holes, and while he’s always shown a good chin, the light-punching Sydorenko wasn’t going to test whether Donaire has a bantam-worthy beard. But after performances like tonight’s, Donaire already has the air of the man to beat in the deep, exciting 118-pound division.
SAUL ALVAREZ-LOVEMORE N’DOU
Alvarez is a smart, poised fighter with good punch variety, good power and a nice mixture of aggression and patience. It’s the lack of speed I had worried about. N’dou was a touch faster, as you might expect of a career-long junior welter, but Alvarez closed the speed gap with excellent timing and a precise attack, and, maybe, he was faster than I remember in the past. It convinced me that maybe Alvarez could rumble with the best at junior middleweight, speed be damned.
I didn’t give N’dou a single round in Alvarez’ unanimous decision win, but for the first seven rounds or so, N’dou was competitive. N’dou’s awkwardness and decent defense gave him some openings. Alvarez outworked him and was more accurate, mainly. In the 8th, though, Alvarez might have hurt N’dou. Thereafter, N’dou offered much less resistance.
Maybe it would have been a more impressive win had Alvarez stopped N’dou, a smaller man, but N’dou has been in against some pretty nasty punchers and survived. That’s what he did here. The fight wasn’t exciting, per se, but it wasn’t boring, either. And coming from a leading Alvarez skeptic, I’m sure he’ll read this in the morning and think, “Hey, maybe I didn’t knock out N’dou, but I won over Tim Starks, and that’s really all I ever wanted.”
Golden Boy is wisely taking its time moving Alvarez, who still is only 20 years old. His next opponent will probably be millimeters better than N’dou. One thing I’d like to see from him next: When he traps his man on the ropes, as he did N’dou many times, he’s too quick to step back. Other than that, few complaints today about Alvarez.
Other results from the weekend (except the first three items, all results via BoxingScene):
- Junior middleweight Pawel Wolak survived an unexpected scare on the Top Rank pay-per-view against Jose Pinzon, returning from a bad knockdown in the 2nd to take over and stop his unproven foe in the 7th. The stoppage was one of those borderline calls, and as usual I’m not going to criticize a ref in a call that’s marginal like that. Play-by-play man Nick Charles got all fired up about how Wolak’s career was on the line in the 2nd round, and I suppose it kind of was. He walks away from this fight with some good, some bad. Bad: He got badly hurt by someone like Pinzon. Good: He showed heart coming back, and he showed once more that he’s a fun TV fighter.
- Also on the Top Rank pay-per-view, Miguel Angel “Mikey” Garcia knocked down Olivier Lontchi twice, and the second time, in the 5th, Lontchi didn’t want any more. Garcia is a talented, fun young fighter — he has boxing skill but real power. Afterward, Arum talked about matching Garcia with Juan Manuel Lopez, who had more trouble Lontchi than did Garcia. It’d be wonderful if we could get to Lopez-Yuriorkis Gamboa already, but Lopez-Garcia is a very nice featherweight fight.
- HBO Latino showed highlights of Daniel Ponce De Leon’s 7th round stoppage of Sergio Manuel Medina. No word from Medina yet if shadowy forces threatened him with death if he didn’t get KO’d, like he alleged after the Lopez lost. Maybe De Leon should have stopped him sooner, but after a long vacancy, his power finally has traveled with him from junior feather to feather.
- Speaking of Gamboa, Chris John dominated Fernando Saucedo Sunday in a decision win that set up a Gamboa-John bout, at least as far as the alphabet gang is concerned. We’ll see if the Golden Boy/Top Rank feud prevents that from happening. It would be a shame.
- I’ve heard of a lot of things, but I’ve never heard of a fighter being knocked out BEFORE a bout. Heavyweight Alexander Dimitrenko inexplicably fainted in his dressing room Saturday prior to his meeting with Albert Sosnowski. The other fringe contender heavyweight match-up this week featured Jean Marc Mormeck once more squeaking by in a decision, this time over Timur Ibragimov. It’s fantastic to have a French heavyweight and all, but very soon, Mormeck is going to need to cash out or lose one of these.
- Cruiserweight prospect Lateef Kayode got the expected knockout win Friday over Ed Perry on Showtime’s ShoBox. Junior lightweight Luis Franco won by disqualification over Eric Hunter, the second straight foul-filled Franco affair. (As my friend Zippy would now say: “Foul-filled Franco affair. Foul-filled Franco affair. Foul-filled Franco affair!”)