Scrape away the layer of grotesquery atop Saturday’s HBO pay-per-view — the headlining junior welterweight fight between Erik Morales and Marcos Maidana — and one coating lower is a genuinely compelling, evenly-matched bout between two of the best lightweights in the world. The main supporting bout pits Michael Katsidis, ranked #3 in the division by Ring Magazine, against Robert Guerrero, ranked #9. These are two fighters in their prime, not one old man and a younger one, like Morales-Maidana. This is, for me, the main attraction. The name “Morales” may sell still with the Mexican fan base, but if you talk to the average hardcore fan, what they really want to see is Guerrero-Katsidis.
Something of an aside: It’s always a good thing when boxing promoters decide to put quality bouts on the undercard of a pay-per-view, even if the motives here, as Golden Boy rival and Top Rank boss Bob Arum pointed out, are probably aimed at shoring up a main event that is sorely in need of being shored up. But how nice was it to see Arum saying that, even if you’re looking to prop up a bad headliner, it’s a “customer satisfaction” thing to have good undercards? I can’t recall any promoter previously acknowledging that very central concept. And both Top Rank and Golden Boy have been consistently putting on better pay-per-view undercards in the last year or so. This card Saturday, called “Action Heroes,” isn’t an A+ top to bottom or anything near it, but there are more compelling bouts on the undercard than the average one from, say, two years ago, and maybe boxing is finally fixing this age-old problem.
The linchpin of this particular card, then, is Guerrero-Katsidis, and undercard bout so good it’s better than the main event. It’s good enough to headline a regular HBO Boxing After Dark. Guerrero is the slight favorite. I’m not sure he should be.
Guerrero is the better all around fighter. But with Guerrero, you never know what you’re going to get. With Katsidis, you know exactly what you’re going to get.
The illness of Guerrero’s wife has no doubt had an impact on him in the ring, and he’s saying that now that she appears to be past her cancer, he’s fully focused on boxing and ready for this fight. But Guerrero’s inconsistency has marked his entire career, including before she ever got sick and during periods of health. He lost to Gamaliel Diaz before she got sick; he shouldn’t have. He lost to Orlando Salido before she got sick; he shouldn’t have.
Just look at his record against significant opponents since 2005: Diaz loss (clearly caught off guard by him); Diaz rematch win (did exactly what he should have); Erik Aiken win (a good stoppage victory); Salido no contest (just not as talented as Guerrero, even with the result changed to a no contest due to Salido’s failed drug test); Martin Honorio win (devastatingly good work); Jason Litzau win (probably his best performance); Daud Yordan no contest (was getting roughed up and later faced questions about whether he used the cut as an excuse to get out of the fight); Efren Hinojosa win (boxed well against a bigger man and overcame a cut but wasn’t scintillating); Malcolm Klassen win (good performance against his career-best opponent, but shaky in spots); Joel Casamayor win (completely uninspired showing, with a baffling knockdown rendered by a smaller, lighter-punching old man); Vicente Escobedo win (good for most of the fight, then mysteriously started sucking).
When Guerrero is good, he takes on the air of an elite talent. He’s a boxer-puncher with versatility, capable of boxing going backward or gunning for the knockout, depending on need. He uses his speed and length to great effect. When he’s bad, it makes no sense. It’s like he’s not paying attention from fight to fight, sometimes from round to round. Again, some of the distractions make sense. Others suggest a deeper problem.
Katsidis has at times over the years added subtlety to his repertoire, but then it goes away. He is what he is: A brawler who comes forward relentlessly, regardless of how hard he gets hit back, who wants to swarm and demolish his opponent. It’s almost comical sometimes how determined he is. Against an opponent trying to evade him, he will literally run after him, often getting smacked square in the mouth for his reckless ways. His left hook has done the most damage in recent fights, hurting Kevin Mitchell with it twice before stopping him and dropping Juan Manuel Marquez with it in a loss. But he isn’t as powerful as his approach might imply. Often he piles up damage, or so discourages his opponent with pressure that he gets the stoppage win or overtakes him later in the fight for a decision victory.
Again, there is some subtlety at times. He was patient with Mitchell, even playing the counterpuncher, before hurting him in the 3rd round and reverting to seek and destroy. His defense has, every now and then, upgraded from “none at all” to “just a smidge.” For this fight, he’s said his strategy will include a double jab, right hands, left hooks and jabs to the body. But the subtelty was gone against Marquez; hell, he might have been less technical than ever, throwing that right hand like a floppy chicken wing. The Marquez loss was emblematic of his career in one way (the main emblem for his career is, well, “action hero”): He’s proven good enough to beat sub-elite opponents, but only good enough to trouble people at the top of his division. Such are his limitations. He beat Graham Earl, Czar Amonsot, Jesus Chavez, Vicente Escobedo and Mitchell; he didn’t have enough for the guys one notch or more higher, like Marquez, Juan Diaz and Casamayor.
Guerrero is probably closer to the guys Katsidis hasn’t been able to beat than the guys he has, but I think he might be due, and I think Guerrero might present him with the best opportunity anyway. Guerrero sometimes handles pressure well, but sometimes he doesn’t — and Katsidis is some serious pressure. You can’t stop Katisidis in his tracks like Guerrero has some others unless you ACTUALLY stop him, and I’m not sure Guerrero hits hard enough at lightweight to do that. That means he’s going to have trouble outboxing him from range, too. What’s more, Katsidis hits harder than the other guys who have pressured Guerrero, and that means Guerrero is going to feel that pressure very literally. I think he’s going to shake him. I do. I don’t know it; I just think it.
These are two men whose careers outside the ring have seen recent tragedy. Guerrero’s story is a good one for right now, but his wife’s illness and the grace with which the two of them handled it have made him a likable figure. In Katsidis’ case, his bravery in fighting on against Marquez despite his brother’s death likewise made him a likable figure. If I could make it so, neither of these men would lose. But since I’m not one to predict a fight will end in a draw, give me Katsidis by a close decision, with Guerrero outboxing him early only to get hurt in the middle rounds and have to survive down the stretch.