This weekend, as with two or three weekends of the calendar year, boxing will be king. Floyd Mayweather Jr. is back in the ring, on the cover of ESPN the Magazine, and in against a fighter familiar with the big stage in Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto, who will be defending his alphabet title at junior middleweight against Floyd, catchweights checked at the door.
The only time the sport seems to be good enough for watercooler talk at the office in the States is when Floyd or Manny Pacquiao find themselves in the news or in the ring. With Floyd, his life outside the ropes has kept the sport afloat with the casual fan thanks to his impending jail sentence, as well as his sucker punch victory over Victor Ortiz last September and the follow-up post-fight interview low blow to the venerable Larry Merchant, who threatened Floyd that if Frank Sinatra were still crooning, he’d have his foot planted up the Las Vegas based star’s ass.
You’ll find this fight as well as the entire undercard covered elsewhere here at TQBR. The purpose of this piece is to clue you in on some of the action taking place on the more obscure side featuring some promising fighters who hope to make some sort of splash of their own. In today’s saturated world of titleholders, there are a heavy number of trinkets at stake this weekend that will go largely disregarded. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t some quality fights taking place that may be worth a stream or a YouTube find following Saturday night’s main festivities.
While most of us are still trying to wrap our head around the reason ESPN would counter-program the sport’s biggest event of the year thus far with a fight card of their own (featuring the tranquil Demetrius Andrade, no less), the weekend will deliver some sort of action even if it takes place thousands of miles from the confines of the Mandalay Bay. Could be France, could be Germany, could be Belfast, or even somewhere not listed in this guide to the obscure.
First, a quick recap of some early week action. Two alphabelt fights took place early in the week to little fanfare.
Tuesday, WBO 160-pound strapholder Dmitry Pirog (20-0, 15 KOs) remained unbeaten by earning a lopsided but tough unanimous decision victory over battle-tested Nobuhiro Ishida (24-8-2, 9 KOs), who by all accounts, came for more than just a paycheck. Ishida has managed to earn a ton of mileage on his one-round stoppage of James Kirkland last April in an Upset of the Year candidate, then getting shutout by Paul Williams in February on Showtime, which was good enough to somehow earn him a title shot against Pirog. To Pirog’s credit, Ishida was the toughest opponent he’s seen since winning the vacant crown in an upset of Golden Boy Promotions prodigal son Danny Jacobs on a pay-per-view undercard in Las Vegas in July 2010. Pirog has made a lot of noise calling out a bevy of beltholders in recent months but hasn’t left his native Russia in any of his three defenses. Ishida pressed the fight and took a beating, and he earned every dollar of whatever they paid him to travel. The good news is that, with the stay-busy fight, he is on schedule to fight a very meaningful fight with another top fighter in the division that will be discussed a few paragraphs down. Pirog looked solid, but has shown since lifting the title unexpectedly that his power isn’t what it was made to be, only earning one stoppage in those three wins, and that came off a cut.
Thursday morning, Thai based WBC junior flyweight titlist Kompayak Porpramook (45-3, 30 KOs) made his first successful defense with a less than desired technical decision of unheralded Jonathan Taconing (13-2-1, 10 KOs) of the Philippines after an accidental clash of heads halted things early, ending the fight in the 5th. Porpramook was in a late fringe Fight of the Year candidate last December in winning the belt from Adrian Hernandez via 10th round stoppage and could factor into some fun fights down the line. One score had the fight even 47-47, which was overruled by 50-45 and 48-46 scores in favor of the defending beltholder. Reports say the fight was controversial and that the inexperienced Filipino southpaw was finding success with his faster hands before a clash of heads in the 4th ended things early in an exciting battle. My spidey-senses tell me this will be worth a look when it gets uploaded on YouTube later on.
Now, onto the remaining fights on tap this weekend and what I figure to be the most likely to deliver excitement and/or intrigue.
Friday, in France: Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam (26-0, 17 KOs) vs. Maxim Bursak (24-0-1, 10 KOs)
French Cameroonian N’Jikam has been a favorite of mine ever since I saw the footage of his exciting Grand Tournoi semi-final victory over Woulid Guarras in September 2008. N’Jikam would go on to win the tournament and has seen a slow rise up the middleweight ranks, eventually earning one of the THREE 160 pound WBA trinkets with a close win over tough Avtandil Khurtsidze in October 2010. N’Jikam only was able to make one defense last year, against former title challenger Giovanni Lorenzo, who was able to put N’Jikam down once aside from losing every other round.
In mid-March, the esteemed Thomas Hauser wrote an interesting piece for The Sweet Science, a Boxing Industry Poll on the middleweight division and how they would fare in a round robin. It was a fantastic idea that came off very well, but the one letdown to me was N’Jikam being left out of the mix. With his quirky style that features a great set of skills, N’Jikam would present a difficult matchup to any of the top guys at 160 pounds, including kingpin Sergio Martinez. Earlier this year, N’Jikam nearly came to terms to fight one of the other dangerous but still obscure middleweights Gennady Golovkin, but unfortunately for fight fans, it was unable to come to fruition. Instead, N’Jikam will take a notable step-up against an unbeaten but largely untested Maxim Bursak, who at the time of this writing was a five-to-one underdog to topple the favored N’Jikam. Bursak, will be fighting outside his native Ukraine for the first time, but has shown good ability in beating some solid middleweight trial horses like Brian Vera and Siarhei Khomitski.
If you are unfamiliar with N’Jikam and his style, I find it difficult to properly put into words what he is capable of. He has great defensive foresight in his Floyd-esque upper body movement, but he enjoys mixing it up and is susceptible to being hit, delivering fan friendly fights more often than not. Rather than take up more space with a further explanation, above a clip of the previously mentioned Guarras fight.
I look forward to this fight more than any other listed in this piece.
Saturday, in Singapore: Daud Yordan (28-2, 22 KOs) vs. Lorenzo Villanueva (22-0, 21 KOs)
Thanks to the oft-inept referee Telis Assimenios, I thought for sure we were watching the ruining of a fighter when Indonesia based Daud Yordan was slaughtered by Celestino Caballero in April 2010 on HBO over 12 hard to watch rounds. It was one of those fights where you begged for there to be some sort of mercy, whether from the referee or from the corner, hoping that it wouldn’t be the end of a young and promising career.
Yordan proved capable of a bounce back, warring with WBA 126-pound titleholder and fellow Indonesian Chris John over twelve close and competitive rounds last April in a fringe Fight of the Year candidate. Yordan gave John all he could handle in his toughest defense since the two Rocky Juarez fights in the States.
Yordan got back in the win column last November with a win over the well traveled Frankie Archuleta in Australia. His reward is a fight with an undefeated Filipino southpaw named Lorenzo Villanueva, who has earned the praise of Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, who hoped to bring him to the States on the Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez III card, but visa problems denied him the opportunity. Villanueva has a style weighted towards action, as seen in this clip where he trades bombs with an overmatched opponent, who is still able to land often.
This fight will take place underneath Chris John’s likely walkthrough of undeserving opponent Shoji Kimura and will be televised in Australia on their Main Event channel. Both John and Yordan appeared underneath Danny Green’s last loss to Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, forcing one to wonder if either guy would be considered for Aussie based 126-pound beltholder Billy Dib if they come away with a win Friday. I’d favor either to mercifully rid the championship ranks of Dib, a “champion” who leaves a lot to be desired.
Saturday, in Germany: Marco Huck (34-2, 25 KOs) vs. Ola Afolabi (19-2-3, 9 KOs) rematch
Fresh off his unsuccessful but highly entertaining campaign for a heavyweight title against Alexander Povetkin, Marco Huck drops back down to his domain at cruiserweight in an attempt to beat Ola Afolabi without a shadow of a doubt, which he couldn’t be charged with doing when the two met in December 2009. Huck won a unanimous decision by razor-thin scores, though many felt he should have left without his belt. Afolabi hasn’t lost since, crushing Valery Brudov on the undercard of the Povetkin-Huck Fight of the Year candidate in March for the interim version of the title held by Huck. Due to the controversial nature of Huck’s title bid against Povetkin, many wondered if we’d see him try and set things straight with Afoloabi or attempt to earn another crack at Povetkin. Huck was forced by the WBO to decide quickly, and he came to decide he wanted to go where he was comfortable.
Both fighters have shown remarkable improvement since their first meeting. The first fight forced many to question Huck’s credentials for being considered the game’s best cruiserweight. Afolabi showed the Enzo Maccarinelli stoppage wasn’t an anomaly, though his recent run hasn’t come against the best opposition, including an ancient Terry Dunstan last July in a one round squash.
Huck ran off seven wins at cruiserweight since the Afolabi defense, and many expect this fight to be contested at a higher level than the first given both fighters’ improvement in their skills in the interim. Huck has very often delivered fun fights, and this shouldn’t be an exception.
This fight takes place on the same card as a defense from super middleweight beltholder Robert Stieglitz, who will be fighting another overmatched opponent when Mikkel Kessler pulled out, this time against unknown Nader Hamdan of Australia.
Saturday, in Belfast: Paul McCloskey (23-1, 12 KOs) vs. DeMarcus Corley (38-19-1, 22 KOs)
As he proved in handing a then-unbeaten Gabriel Bracero his first pro defeat in his last outing, rumors of DeMarcus Corley’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
The ageless Corley, who turns 38 next month, will travel outside his home country for the sixth time since 2010 as he fights the Ireland based McCloskey on his home turf atop the Prizefighter bill. In that time, Corley has given problems to Marcos Maidana in August 2010, and was widely disregarded on the scorecards of a close fight against Ruslan Provodnikov this past December. Corley is a treat to watch and has provided lots of exciting tension as he is always a threat to visit the canvas or put his opponent there when fighting at 140 pounds.
McCloskey’s prior struggle with a faded Breidis Prescott in his last outing makes this bout all the more intriguing, and it could be a good place to go out on a limb and predict an upset if Corley shows up in similar shape to what he showed against Bracero. Corley is like boxing’s version of baseball’s Bartolo Colon: even in his advanced age, he goes out there and throws strikes, daring you to beat him in a fair battle. Only in boxing, leaving something too far over the plate doesn’t result in a ball skyrocketing over a fence, but likely a highlight reel knockout loss like the one he suffered against Freddy Hernandez on ESPN a few years back.
If you’re looking for excitement outside of Saturday’s main course, there is plenty on the schedule that should satisfy your appetite as you’ve just been shown. Just do yourself a favor and make sure you come with an empty stomach.
Mark Ortega can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed via Twitter at www.twitter.com/MarkEOrtega. Mark also contributes to renowned boxing publications RING Magazine and Boxing Monthly, and is a member of the Boxing Writer’s Association of America. Check the May issue of Boxing Monthly for his piece on veteran trial horse Darnell Boone.