I very much fear the Antonio Escalante ride is over, as of this past weekend. The featherweight has been in good fight after good fight and had elevated himself to real contender, but taking a punch never was one of his strongest points and defense absolutely was his weakest point, so you put two and two together. One can recover from getting knocked out by a big-punching fellow featherweight contender, the way Escalante did in his previous fight. I don’t know how he recovers from getting stopped by a get-well opponent in the 1st round and waving to indicate he wasn’t going to (or going to be able to) get up from the knockdown.
Escalante isn’t the only boxer who had a bad weekend. But one guy had a pretty fantastic weekend: Yuriorkis Gamboa.
- Gamboa’s arrival. I’m inclined to see it the way HBO’s Max Kellerman and Ring’s Michael Rosenthal did: This was Gamboa putting it all together, mixing his unbelievable physical tools, intelligent aggression and good defense into what would be difficult to deny was an elite package. It was the kind of performance that made me proud to be an earlier adopter. There were no commas or other punctuation marks, per friend of the site WF; this was a full on YURI! ORKIS! GAM! BOA!!!!!! performance. Let me strike this one note of caution, though. I felt, beforehand, that Jorge Solis was exactly the kind of boxer who could make Gamboa shine, due to his modest speed, power and chin. Gamboa said after the fight that he hadn’t been so hot in his last couple fights due to short notice, but both opponents in 2010 were very sturdy, and those are the kinds that I think can pose a risk down the line to Gamboa so long as they’re actually good, too. Also, he’s gotta stop punching opponents behind the head — it could be costly in a close fight one of these days.
- Gamboa vs. Manny Pacquiao. One of the best moments of the whole night was when Kellerman asked Solis what it was like to fight Gamboa, and he answered, “It’s terrible.” I’m sure it is. Kudos to Solis for getting back up over and over again despite his clear exasperation, in addition to the quotable post-fight interview. It really does say a lot that Solis fought Gamboa at 126 pounds and pound-for-pound king Pacquiao at 130, and said he thought Gamboa hit harder. Despite the favorable comparison, I probably still can’t bring myself to put Gamboa on any pound-for-pound lists until he beats an elite fighter or several more contenders — but on talent alone, he’s breathtaking.
- Gamboa-Juan Manuel Lopez. Earlier today, before I’d rewatched the Gamboa fight through to the end for the interviews, I’d assumed that Top Rank was trying to avoid Gamboa-Juanma not because they were of the mind the fight needed to “marinate” and get bigger — it hasn’t, isn’t and probably won’t get bigger — but because Top Rank was trying to protect Lopez from Gamboa, whom most everyone now seems to think would blow the popular Puerto Rican away. As it happens, Gamboa thinks the same thing. But here’s what I don’t totally understand about that theory or any other. Top Rank talks about wanting to do right by the two fighters by making it as big as possible. Yet, both Gamboa and Lopez want the fight, and said so on national television, and said they wanted to do it after Lopez fights Orlando Salido. Didn’t Top Rank just lose a fighter (Nonito Donaire) over not getting them the fights he wanted? Why risk that again here? If Lopez wants the fight, then it seems like maybe what Top Rank is hoping to do is not to look out for his interests, but theirs. Still: The theory about protecting a big Puerto Rican ticketseller in Juanma doesn’t make as much sense as I thought, either, or, at least not to me. Surely a fighter like Juanma could retain a great deal of his marketability if not all of it even if he lost to Gamboa. I sure as hell know I look forward to Juanma fights, and I can’t imagine my feelings changing if Juanma lost. So what’s the play? Does Top Rank think a Juanma loss would do him in or something? If so, I disagree.
- Next for Gamboa, if not Juanma. I got no idea. Chris John makes sense, but according to Top Rank, he is shying away, apparently on the reasoning that he can keep making more money in Indonesia; I guess if that’s the case, the John-conquers-America plan is done. Mikey Garcia, who was good if not overwhelmingly so on the HBO undercard in stopping Matt Remillard, would be in line from a sanctioning body standpoint, and he has established himself as a potentially credible opponent. He also fits into the Top Rank plan of keeping fights in-house. But his handlers don’t think he’s ready for Gamboa, per Kellerman’s remarks during the broadcast. Hozumi Hasegawa’s name got thrown out there earlier this week, and that would be a good one; maybe Elio Rojas still makes some sense.
- Nick Charles. I do my best to avoid getting sentimental about every one of boxing’s tragedies around these parts, because it could be a full-time job. And pretty much everyone who is confronting some major illness in the public sphere has the following sentence uttered about them: “He/she is so brave in the face of this.” That said, I was genuinely moved by Charles appearing behind the mic on the HBO broadcast. I was moved not by his bravery, but by his passion: Nearing death, he simply wanted to call one last boxing match. And he called it well. Likewise, it was pure class of HBO to invite on the longtime Showtime commentator.
- Erislandy Lara, Yudel Jhonson and the Cubans. Lara, as we all know by now, was tentative and lucky to escape with his unbeaten record intact in his junior middleweight bout against Carlos Molina on Friday Night Fights, and credit due to Molina for working so hard to get the draw. Yudel Jhonson was better in the same weight class in his stoppage of Richard Gutierrez, although he benefited from ref Russell Mora pulling the plug too early. Even better was cruiserweight Yunier Dorticos knocking out Jose Luis Herrera, although for some reason both Dorticos and Jhonson were unsportsmanlike after their stoppages — Dorticos trash talked a stunned Herrera, and Jhonson kept punching well after Mora stepped in to halt the contest. It’s become clear that this crop of Cubans is going to be inconsistent, both in their entertainment value and actual quality of performance. Lara, whom many thought was the best of all of them, has alternated between gunning for the knockout and fighting cautiously, and somehow he managed to do both against Molina. It’s some of the same old problems for these guys: They’re gifted technicians because of their amateur days and rigid system, but they come to America and have trouble breaking their amateur habits and are said to enjoy U.S. freedom a bit too much for their own good. SC has a good take over at BLH on each of the most recent defectors.
- Dmitry Pirog. From what I’d read, the middleweight killed some of his buzz with his performance this weekend with his win over Javier Maciel. It’s true that the fight wasn’t a thriller, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I blame Maciel to some extent for fighting so defensively, which might have been his best chance to win; at one point in the fight, he appeared to hurt Pirog, but not very badly and couldn’t finish up. (I didn’t score any of the FNF fights or the Pirog bout, since I watched replays on ESPN3 and I kept getting the spinning rainbow of death, missing long stretches of some of the fights.) I thought Pirog fought fairly aggressively, although maybe he’d have been even more aggressive if he hadn’t accumulated some ring rust sitting on the shelf so long. Still, here, perception is reality: If many people think he didn’t look great, he hurts his chances of getting back on a big network. I hope that’s not the case, however.
- Steve Molitor. This junior featherweight might also be donesville, just like Escalante. How do you lose to a guy you beat twice before? Molitor has barely been skating by since that Celestino Caballero loss. I think the ice just cracked underneath him, maybe for good.