(This is what the banner of this card has come to.)
Saturday night was to pit Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. and Saul Alvarez against one another in a contest to decide which young, debatably talented, widely loved Mexican junior middleweight would prove more popular when their matches went head-to-head. Then Chavez got sick, or had a contract dispute, or wanted to be a super middleweight because he likes food and dislikes work, and in the process might have proven himself so unreliable to his promoter Top Rank as to not get that Miguel Cotto fight for another year or more.
So this is what we have now. On HBO Latino, Alvarez inches his career ever-so-slightly forward with a bout against Lovemore N’dou, a sturdy veteran with a habit of coming up short. Ridiculously talented but ridiculously shortchanged bantamweight Nonito Donaire takes the lead slot in the Top Rank pay-per-view once held by Chavez, and fights his best opponent in years and years, Volodymyr Sydorenko formerly known as Wladimir Sidorenko, until recently a highly-ranked man in the division, not to be confused with Voldemort who fights Harry Potter. And two top-10 lightweights in Humberto Soto and Urbano Antillon meet on the Top Rank undercard in what might be the best-matched bout of the evening.
So we’ll briefly preview those three fights, then quickly hit the rest of the week’s schedule, such as it is.
[TQBR Prediction Game 5.0 is in effect for Alvarez-N’dou, Donaire-Sydorenko and Soto-Antillon. Remember the rules.]
SAUL ALVAREZ-LOVEMORE N’DOU
When I say “debatably talented,” I mean, you can debate how talented Alvarez and Chavez are. Chavez has never impressed me, but he was improved by the addition of Freddie Roach and some think there’s talent lurking inside. Remember, he never had an amateur career. Alvarez’ lack of speed is what makes me think his ceiling is limited, but the rest is there — solid technique, poise and power. Ultimately, both have produced good TV fights, so that’s good enough for me for now.
Alvarez is a “go” this weekend. The choice of opponent — N’dou — has been criticized in some quarters, but I think it makes sense. The kid is 20 years old and like Chavez has no amateur career to speak of, but he’s on a far faster track than Chavez, with 34 fights on his official professional record in five years and supposedly many more unofficially. Ndou is tougher on paper than Alvarez’ last opponent Carlos Baldomir, who was tougher on paper than Luciano Cuello, who was tougher on paper than Jose Cotto. Building a fighter, bit by bit — isn’t this the thing Top Rank has a rep for doing well and Golden Boy has a rep for doing poorly?
N’dou is still the kind of opponent against whom a blue-chipper is measured more not by whether he wins but how. He’s not the most gifted technician. He gets by on determination and an impressive ability to take a punch. Sometimes, he almost pulls it off. In his last meaningful fight, he held Matthew Hatton to a draw. Since Hatton has become a legit fringe contender, that’s not a bad outcome. Before that, he survived the blows of big-hitting Kermit Cintron and lost a decision. And before that, he nearly avenged a loss to Paulie Malignaggi by fighting him to a split decision in a rematch. His biggest win is for a vacant junior welterweight belt against Naoufel Ben Rabah in 2007. All of those fights were at 140 or 147. This one is at 154.
N’dou either gives Alvarez solid, hard-nosed professional rounds in a decision loss or Alvarez makes a statement by knocking him out, albeit with an asterisk because of the career-high weight for N’dou. There’s still an outstanding doubt about how well Alvarez takes a punch given that he was hurt by a blown-up lightweight in Cotto, but that increasingly looks like a fluke than any real vulnerability, and N’dou probably can’t hurt Alvarez. I do believe in Alvarez’ power, though, so I’m picking him to win by knockout in the 11th.
NONITO DONAIRE-VOLODYMYR SYDORENKO
Donaire has, for me, the single most frustrating career in boxing: Coming off what was a revelatory, breakthrough win over Vic Darchinyan three years ago, his talent has largely been kept on ice since, some of it his own fault but most of it not. We won’t revisit the whole series of missed opportunities. The important thing is, as opponents go, Sydorenko is a step in the right direction.
Sydorenko was Ring’s #3 bantamweight until he was ejected from the magazine’s rankings for inactivity. It was a justifiable decision, but on talent and achievement, he is a top-10 caliber bantam. He lost two close fights to the current #2 man, Anselmo Moreno. He has wins over Joseph Agbeko and Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, and somehow mustered two draws — not one, but two — against Ricardo Cordoba. Stylewise, he’s very Eastern European, coming forward with a high guard, catching, waiting, occasionally countering. He’s fairly quick but not elite-quick, has never been stopped and has virtually no power, and he’s 34.
Donaire is moving up in weight for this one, which is one of the two things he has going against him. The other is that he has fought so many atrocious mismatches lately that he’s gotten bored, actually practicing his southpaw stance against Hernan Marquez in his last outing. He says he’s trained well for this fight, and expects to be at his best. He knows that Fernando Montiel is supposed to be waiting on the other side of Sydorenko, if he wins.
Donaire gets sloppy sometimes, but he should be too fast for Sydorenko. I have no idea how powerful Donaire will be at the new weight, but Carl Froch and Andre Dirrell against Arthur Abraham and Amir Khan against Andriy Kotelnik demonstrated the best way to expose the high-guard/wait-for-it style is with speed and movement, which Donaire is built for. I anticipate some moments when things are going well for him and he slacks off, but Sydorenko should be able to remind him that’s a bad idea. Devon Alexander’s close call against Kotelnik is the example of how that style can be effective even against slick, fast guys. Give me Donaire by unanimous decision, maybe in the 116-112 range.
HUMBERTO SOTO-URBANO ANTILLON
Soto is ranked #2 at lightweight by Ring, and Antillon is at #8. But Soto hasn’t done all that well in recent fights despite winning, getting unexpected trouble from two consecutive journeymen, Fidel Monterrosa Munoz and Ricardo Dominguez. Antillon is two fights removed from the first loss of his career, a knockout at the hands of Miguel Acosta, and won both “get-well” fights, the second a late replacement for Brandon Rios.
When I say this bout is the night’s “best-matched,” I mean, most evenly competed. It could turn out to be exciting, too, but Soto has really converted himself from a pressure-fighting brawler into some kind of slapdash boxer. Antillon is still the come-forward pressure fighter of the two, but after the loss to Acosta, recognized he needed to sharpen up his defense. I haven’t seen him since to verify whether he has. This could be a good fight, but I doubt it will be a great one.
In recent years, Soto beat two pressure fighters in David Diaz and Jesus Chavez, but they were old and more old, at least in ring years. Antillon is 28, although sparring with Edwin Valero and Manny Pacquiao has probably rendered him a touch older than his life-age. Antillon clearly struggled with Acosta’s speed and movement, something Soto’s improved upon. And they’re close to the same size — at 5’7 1/2″ with a 72″ reach, Soto only has a half inch height and an inch’s reach advantage. They both figure to give each other trouble, stylistically.
Soto very well could be in a tailspin, unless he was goofing off against people he expected to beat easily. Antillon’s never beaten anyone all that impressive, but I like him here, or at least I like him more than I trust Soto is tip-top. Here’s guessing that Antillon pulls off the narrow upset unanimous decision.
(Maybe you’re wondering why these fights warrant previewing or predicting. Numbers, my good man or lady. Numbers. For TQBR Prediction Game 5.0 to run its course by year’s end, a certain number of fights had to be considered to get us to 11, 12 or 13. It was either these, or Andre Berto-Freddy Hernandez/Jason Litzau-Celestino Caballero last weekend plus Wladimir Klitschko-Derek Chisora. When Chavez-Alfonso Gomez fell through, then when Chavez-Pawel Wolak fell through, Alvarez-N’dou got the replacement call. Maybe we’ll still throw in Klitschko-Chisora, if there’s popular demand.)
Now, other schedule highlights:
- Broadway Boxing, Wednesday, New York City. Our pal Gautham Nagesh informs that he will have a dispatch for us on this card soon.
- Jean-Marc Mormeck-Timur Ibragimov, Thursday, Paris France. Mormeck is trying to remain in the Klitschko sweepstakes at heavyweight. Ibragimov hasn’t done much since back-to-back losses to Calvin Brock and Tony Thompson in 2006 and 2007, although he did beat Oliver McCall this summer. This bout is an upgrade over the originally-scheduled Mormeck bout against Hasim Rahman, and adds up to a decent match-up between fringe heavyweight contenders.
- Lateef Kayode-Ed Perry, Friday, Showtime, Santa Ynez Calif. Kayode is the much-hyped Freddie Roach-trained cruiserweight who appeared very, very raw in his last outing on ShoBox, so he’s getting another go at it against an opponent who’s most impressive resume bullet point is that he fought Shawn Hawk to a draw a few years ago. Also back is Luis Franco, the Cuban junior lightweight who himself failed to make a big impression in hist last ShoBox appearance.
- Miguel Angel “Mikey” Garcia-Olivier Lontchi, Saturday, Top Rank Pay-Per-View, Anaheim Calif. Garcia is a very hot featherweight prospect; Lontchi is best-known for putting up more of a struggle against Juan Manuel Lopez than anyone expected, albeit with some spoiling techniques. Also rounding out the card is an appearance from Wolak. Top Rank Live Stream has plans to webcast some undercard fights from this card, too.
- Alexander Dimitrenko-Albert Sosnowski, Saturday, Schwerin Germany. This is yet another match-up of heavyweight fringe contenders. Dimitrenko is huge but doesn’t appear to have much power or knowledge about how to use his height, and Sosnowski has a huge heart, as he showed by never quitting against Vitali Klitschko.
- Chris John-Fernando Saucedo, Sunday, Jakarta Indonesia. This is the multi-rescheduled fight between one of the top featherweights in the world in John and the non-descript Saucedo, and hopefully after it’s out of the way we can see John against Juan Manuel Lopez or Yuriorkis Gamboa, unless of course Top Rank were to fast forward to the part everyone wants, which is Lopez-Gamboa.
- The Rest. GoFightLive, Ryan Rhodes, Ricky Burns, a featherweight title belt of some sort… I leave the rest to you to suss out.