(Juanma punches Rafa; credit: Tom Casino, Showtime)
Saturday’s four-fight slate gave it to you every which way. Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Rafael Marquez lived up to its hype as a terrific brawl before a fading Marquez retired, citing a shoulder injury. Glen Johnson turned his fortunes around in a fight he was somehow losing on the scorecards to knock out Allan Green. Zab Judah escaped with a close decision win over Lucas Matthysse. And Robert Guerrero dominated a gutty Vicente Escobedo for a wide decision victory.
The two Showtime fights first, then the HBO fights:
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ-RAFAEL MARQUEZ
The young Lopez is destined to be an action fighter in this sport for a good long while. And the young Marquez showed he lives still, even though late in the fight he began to take a fearsome beating. In the end, Lopez came away with another exciting win against the biggest name of his career and scored a victory for Puerto Rico in the Puerto Rico-Mexico rivalry.
The featherweight bout started slowly, with each respecting the power of the other. Lopez got the better of it through three, but then in the 4th, Marquez wobbled Marquez with a left hook to the head when Lopez’ attention lapsed for a moment. Maybe on purpose, Lopez held down Marquez head and hit him to the body then the back of the noggin, costing him a point but giving him time to recover.
Marquez kept the momentum in the 5th, but Lopez began to pump up the volume late in the round. So it would continue. The 6th, 7th and 8th were all Lopez except for the periodic big counter shot from Marquez, and by the end of the 8th, Marquez was absorbing so many flush shots you had to wonder why he wasn’t flat on his back with Xs for eyes.
As he walked back to his corner, Marquez held his right shoulder, and after some debate in the corner where he said he could continue, changed his mind and said he couldn’t. It couldn’t have been the most satisfactory way to lose or win, but Lopez was thrilled with the outcome, falling to his knees in celebration.
The fight itself might not make the list of Fight of the Year finalists, but it was crackling good in many stretches. Marquez wasn’t his old self — the older man couldn’t keep pace with the younger, bigger stud — but he showed signs that he remained a quality fighter, most especially in the warrior categories of determination, resistance to pain and fearlessness. He could still contend with top 10 feathers if he wanted to continue fighting.
Lopez simply was better, stronger and busier. Now, it’s time — actually, long overdue — for Lopez to fight Celestino Caballero or Yuriorkis Gamboa. Don’t count on it, though. Never mind that a loss to either man wouldn’t do much at all to damage Lopez’ stardom; he’s an exciting fighter no matter his opponent, no matter whether he has zero losses or one. That doesn’t seem to be the direction Top Rank is going with Lopez, and it’s enraging that they’re determined to keep him away from the two opponents who truly matter for the Puerto Rican.
GLEN JOHNSON-ALLAN GREEN
Those people who thought Green was winning, including two of the judges who were scoring the bout: Please explain. Johnson wobbled Green in no fewer than three of the rounds. In almost all of them, if you had to pick one or even a few punches that were the obvious best punches of the round, they would have been Johnson’s. Johnson was landing more in every round, too. And he was always the aggressor. This isn’t one of those more/better debates. Johnson landed more, and better. It’s not that some of the rounds weren’t a little close, but when one guy is landing more and better and is the aggressor, I’m not sure how much more you have to do to win close rounds.
Johnson, of course, made it all academic with a combo in the 8th. The punch that began Green on his downward fall was close to a rabbit punch, but it was close enough to the side of Green’s head, and Green was ducking as Johnson was already throwing the shot, so Johnson can’t be penalized for that. The next shot was clean, and while Green rose before the count of 10, he was on unsteady legs and the referee wisely halted the contest.
Green performed a good deal better than he had in his last fight, a lethargic showing against Andre Ward, using his speed, jab and combinations to do some good work. He never wilted like he did against Ward. I gave him the 2nd. But he couldn’t keep up with the pressure and volume of Johnson, he couldn’t penetrate Johnson’s high guard often enough and he couldn’t handle Johnson’s return fire all that well. It might be too soon to write him off forever as a top 10 contender, but then, it might be too soon not to write him off. He’s already 31 and has lost to the only three top-10 level opponents he has fought. He still has some talent, but it has proven to be a notch below the contender level.
Johnson, despite coming down from light heavyweight to participate in Showtime’s super middleweight tournament, appeared no worse for the wear, unlike other older fighters have when moving down in weight. He was almost tiny; as a light heavyweight, he has a tendency to gain a hefty amount of bulk between the weigh-in and fight night. He might have been 20 to 30 pounds lighter than we’re used to seeing him. But his punches clearly had some zip, his speed was acceptable and he stood up to Green’s power. Can he beat Ward in the semi-finals or finals? Probably not — Ward should be able to outquick him just like Chad Dawson did. But can he beat Carl Froch or Arthur Abraham? I’m less bearish on his chances than I was before this outing. And he’ll always bring grade-A aggressiveness, which will make either of those fights good. We’ll find out later this month who he faces next.
ZAB JUDAH-LUCAS MATTHYSSE
This was no rip-off, but I bet most people scored it for Matthysse. Judah was trying to make a statement in a return to junior welterweight, but even if you were like one of the two judges who thought Judah won 114-113, you can’t be too high on Judah’s chances against the elite of the division like Timothy Bradley or Devon Alexander. Unless you’re high high. Or an eternal optimist that Judah will one day match his talent to his in-ring performance.
Judah started well enough. He was disciplined and patient, working his jab and moving well, with Matthysse aiming at Judah’s body but catching only elbows. Judah’s reflexes and speed were a notch above, but it wasn’t as wide a gap as I expected. And by the 3rd and 4th, Matthysse was outworking him and getting some of the body shots through. Judah slowly began to respond with telling power shots, but it was even through six on my card before Judah won the 7th and 8th.
Mattysse took the 9th, then really took the 10th. That’s when a cocked-back straight right pushed through Matthysse’s gloves and sent him down. Judah shook off the cobwebs for the next round and a half, but in the meantime Matthysse strafed him along the ropes. It’s not clear if the body shots Mattysse landed early led to Judah’s late-rounds fade or if it was just Judah’s usual late-rounds fade — remember, he’s a reborn fighter! or whatever — or both. But Judah summoned a little extra in the 12th compared to the 10th and 11th, albeit not enough to win the final stanza.
Despite the loss, Mattysse keeps his name in the mix with a strong showing where many will rightly argue he didn’t deserve to lose. For Judah, it’s the most signficant win he’s had since 2005. But that’s not saying much. I suspect those who have bought into the Judah revival, if they aren’t disappointed with their purchase yet, will be looking for their receipt the moment Judah fights someone who, unlike Matthysse, has fought anyone within miles of Judah’s mettle.
ROBERT GUERRERO-VICENTE ESCOBEDO
It wasn’t passionless, as I feared it might be, but Guerrero was at his most passionate early and Escobedo late. The two lightweights did produce a good, if one-sided, fight. Guerrero twice decked Escobedo, then took his foot off the gas in the final rounds as Escobedo charged forward to win the 9th and 10th. Guerrero afterward reported a broken hand, but whatever the reason, Guerrero’s Jeckyll and Hyde act, usually spread out over multiple fights, emerged within the span of this one.
Escobedo’s problem was that he couldn’t hurt Guerrero, a large featherweight who has grown into a large lightweight. Escobedo hasn’t demonstrated much more than passable punching power in his career, and HBO’s commentators were of the mind he needed to go back down to junior lightweight. That may be. Escobedo is going to give maximum effort and be in some good fights, but my feeling is that, like Green, he just doesn’t have top-10 level talent.
Guerrero has shown it, at least occasionally. Early on, he simply wouldn’t let Escobedo establish a foothold, and his aggression and superior power were the difference. If he eased up because of a broken hand, so be it. But he keeps needing to make a definitive impression inside the ring the way he has outside it with his touching backstory of a wife who keeps battling and conquering leukemia, and he keeps not doing it with me. Maybe the backstory, and Golden Boy connections, will keep him on HBO regardless. He wants to face the winner of Juan Manuel Marquez-Michael Katsidis, but I can think of several people I’d rather see take on the winner of that bout than Guerrero.