Fight Forecast: The unsung will sizzle, the hype will fizzle in the fall (Part One)

shane mosley21.08.07 - By Gabriel DeCrease: This will be the first of two installments. The second will include forecasts for the fights that should prove to be unsung wonders and a series of closing observations.

Riding the momentum of the biggest boxing bonanza in recent memory (“Golden Boy”” v. “Pretty Boy”) and pulling out all the stops to out-hustle the octagon, the fight game has lined up a number of high-profile match-ups for the fall and is putting its muscled shoulder to the wheel to generate some big-time hype. I fear, in advance of these top-dollar duels, that the lineup is bound to deliver a lot of damning disappointment on the main stage. Good thing the undercard matches are shown before the main events.

You have read countless features eagerly-touting the fistic glories to come, Miguel Angel Cotto v. Shane Mosley, Sam Peter v. Oleg Maskaev, Ricardo Mayorga v. Fernando Vargas, and, of course Ricky Hatton v. Floyd Mayweather, pundits are salivating over these fights with untold fervor.

I think this enthusiasm is misplaced. These fights appear, from my seat in the hall, to be the product of false-hopes and shoddy matchmaking. And the scraps that ought to be getting the press seem to be suffering from a certain paucity of attention and anticipation because of the various media frenzies surrounding those showcase showdowns. All eyelids should be taped-open as to not miss a beat looking toward fights like Vivian Harris v. Junior Witter, Ricardo Torres v. Kendall Holt, Ivan Calderon v. Hugo Cezares, and, the one I have been clamoring for, Humberto Soto v. Joan Guzman.

To get through these complaints, protests, detractions, endorsements, and heated heralds cleanly, or without too much of a bottleneck occurring, each one will be identified and accompanied by a brief justification of its belonging to one group or the other--the bound to falter and fall flat, and the destined for laud and honor.

To be fair, or closer to it, I should admit that I conveniently omitted one high-profile title bout that I am, in fact, certain will live up to, and, perhaps exceed, all expectations. In the same format as the other appraisals, that fights will be dealt with below in a separate category.

The Well Deserved Marquee Matchup

Jermain Taylor v. Kelly Pavlik: Taylor fought a string of egregiously under-sized non-middleweights in his early title-defenses after wrestling the titles from the clenched fists of the inexplicably-game old-man Bernard Hopkins. What’s worse is Taylor did not look particularly-good (or particularly dominant) fighting any of them--he scored nary a knockout despite predicting stoppages in-advance of all three. Taylor’s matchmakers did him a real disservice picking little-guys who were all, in their own way, awkward, tricky, difficult, and troublingly-unwilling to break. The matches were tougher than they appeared, and each had waves of criticisms built in.

Winky Wright may be a perpetual hanger-on in the pound-for-pound debates, but he is a natural welter who was weighted-down, slowed-down, and limited by the bulk that he packed-on to attempt to cement his legacy in the middleweight division. The point is, Wright should have been able to squash Taylor’s straight-line offense, he should have been able to duck-and -feint his way to landing punches when Taylor inevitably lags in the last minute of most rounds as he did in their fight, but Winky should not have been able to move Taylor back as he did whenever the fight went to the ropes. Taylor is a big, big middle, and Winky is no card-carrying knockout artists, at any weight

Kassim Ouma, by sheer force-of-will took two to land one, and he took those two, in many cases better than Taylor took the one that got through. Why, oh Why “Bad Intentions?”

And then Cory Spinks, looking a bit flatter (and fatter on his feet than usual) was given the time and space to run and pick his spots on his way to winning one third of the score cards on his way to a split-decision loss--the score that was marked in Spinks’ favor, by the way, was an egregious 117-111.

After that latest farce of a middleweight title defense, Taylor’s approval ratings hit an all-time low and even his most ardent supporters began to call for their man to fight a legitimate 160-pounder who could give him trouble. Well, facing that kind of pressure and amongst more lukewarm reviews and more confident detractors, Taylor did something that surprised a lot of people (myself included) he turned around and inked a deal to fight Kelly Pavlik, the very middleweight who stole the broadcast glory from Taylor by bullying, trading bombs with, and ultimately knocking out Edison Miranda on the same card--who, himself, was one of the fighters (along with Euros like Felix Sturm, who he fought as an amateur, and Arthur Abraham) that Taylor had been called by the boxing public and pundits to fight. Pavlik has recently proved he has a good chin, great power in both hands, and sense of ring-generaliship that is both rangy and assertive. Taylor will likely have his hands full with Pavlik since he appears to fight up or down to the level of his opposition, and has, throughout his professional career. I would have accepted Mariano Carrera or Sebastian Sylvester.

This fight promises to be a turning point for the middleweight title that has been somewhat locked-up and stagnant, weighted-down with doubt and unanswerable questions since the then-underdog Taylor overtook B-Hop. Taylor is either going to step up to the plate, impose his size, find his fight, and accurate punching and stand down Pavlik in the center of the ring with his own powerful one-two combos, or Pavlik is going to use diagonals to work around Taylor’s straight-ahead rapid-fire and bore in with his own body work, uppercuts, and short, inside combos. Each scenario might well play out in a different part of the fight. The beautiful safety here is that if one man starts to lag or refuses to push the fight, he will be effectively emboldening the other to score by turning-up the volume. In either case, at the end of this one, there will likely be a recognized middleweight champion who earned his belt. It’s been a while since that could be said with any confidence.

The Over-hyped, Bound to Flop

Miguel Angel Cotto v. Shane Mosley: “Sugar” Shane was a top-fighter, and a pound-for-pound contender as a lightweight, and, perhaps, just outside that status in the early part of his welterweight campaign. As a young fighter he was one of the very best. But his sugar has gotten markedly less sweet as he moved-up through the weight divisions. His back-to-back victories over Oscar De La Hoya created the false-hope that Mosley was back at full-speed at 154-pounds. This was simply a case of one fighter having another fighter’s number in one way or another. The same was true, in a quite different way, of Ricardo Mayorga when he posted back-to-back wins over Vernon Forrest.

In any case, the pair of losses to Winky Wright marked the end of Shane Mosley as an elite fighter, and nothing he has done since provides real proof that he is improbably rejuvenated. His two wins over Fernando Vargas said nothing about Mosley other than that he was less shot, at the time of the meetings than Vargas, who was, by that time, all-the-way-gone. Vargas, a hard-living contact fighter with a leaky defense and a heart too-big, burned-out very early. Mosley was, for all intents and purposes, beating a corpse deeper into the ground.

Against Collazo Mosley faced a young fighter on shaky footing who allowed the veteran to dictate the pace and intensity of the fight. Collazo appeared to think he was in the ring with the Mosley of eight-years-ago. Mosley, noting that ability, set the bar low and outclassed an opponent of lesser-talent. Lots of waiting, lots of stutter-stepping, and a surplus of light contact sparring…doesn’t sound like the return of the king to me. Mosley looked great because he remains a well-conditioned fighter with a great boxing intelligence and tremendous form, but the fire was not there, the intensity showed up only in displays that looked good on television, but did little work in the fight itself. Nothing that has happened in the world of “Sugar” Shane over the last seven years indicates that he ought to be cruising toward a showdown with a fresh, young, bomb-dropping, natural welterweight who is improving greatly with every fight.

I smell a mismatch. I can hear it now. Once Mosley is worn down and obliterated over the distance, or inside it, the consensus will be that he got old overnight. I think he’s been moving in that direction for some time.

Miguel Cotto’s defensive problems of yesteryear seem to be fading quickly. The move up to welterweight (and thus the abandonment of those draining camps) and the focus on cleaner, tighter punching has Cotto looking confident, poised, and full of vicious verve. Yes, Judah beat himself before Cotto had the chance. Yes, the low blows were a factor. But in the absence of all that, I still think Cotto would have worn Zab down and cruised to a comfortable decision--even if he did eat a lot of left uppercuts coming in with his own heavy artillery. Cotto is learning to adapt to a fight, to work effectively while tailoring a game-plan on the fly He will, I am very sure, give away a few early rounds to Mosley, who will come out energetic, working the jab, and then, around the third the tide will begin to shift and Cotto’s crushing body-attach and quick, short uppercuts will begin to take over the fight as Mosley will not have the juice in his step in from the middle rounds on to speed to safer-range. Issues of freshness, stamina under fire, and ring-wear will probably put the nails in Mosley’s coffin. I expect a late-round stoppage or lopsided-decision in Cotto’s favor.

Ricardo Mayorga v. Fernando Vargas: Vargas has not looked good, let alone great or dangerous, since he bravely fought Trinidad and De La Hoya to heartbreaking--and apparently career-breaking--losses. Vargas was always a fighter that succeeded on guts and intensity. He was never a good pure boxer--the massiveness of his heart and the two-fisted fury that accompanied it made it seem that way , never more convincingly than in his decision victory over Winky Wright. But he was a brawler he burned out early, and once that fire was smothered he became simply a guy who cannot fight. His fights with Shane Mosley gave Mosley the perfect chance to falsely appear rejuvenated. Vargas was a slow-motion punching bag in those fights. A guy like Roman Karmazin would have given Mosley a more to think about and a lot less of a chance to look like pound-for-pound material again--and, in doing so, saved us all from watching a fine-sportsman and great fighter like Shane Mosley accrue permanent damage in deep water with Cotto.

Mayorga, the welterweight, was a fistic monsoon, a marketable, wild-punching freak show with a cigarette in one mitt and a slice of pizza in the other (see the De La Hoya v. Mayorga press conference and weigh-in debacles). He blasted out Andrew ““SIx Heads” Lewis and Vernon Forrest and the world saw visions of a pint-sized Mike Tyson. Trouble is, the undisciplined, unhinged “El Matador” may have talked like his fists were a force-of-nature (so did his handlers), but in fights against meaningful opposition, he really only managed to KO a few guys by using the element of surprise more effectively than any punch tactics--certainly not enough to justify his reputation. And on the strength of that smokescreen an entire mythology was built around him that allowed Mayorga to play well-paid fall guy for Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya. Why did beating a blown-up, showy-but-shot Mayorga bring on announcement that they were each back in the pound-for-pound mix? Two fading first-raters beat-up on a smaller guy who, in truth, is little more than a stiff Toughman competitor who happened to find himself in the right situations to momentarily occupy the office of alphabet champion. There is, and always has been, more distance between guys like Ricardo Mayorga and guys like Arturo Gattti anyone admits.

So, what happens when two fighters now-drained of their one-trick intensity meet each other way over the proverbial hill? If my calculations are correct, a tentative bore-fest with no opportunities seized, lots of posing, preening, and very disappointing punch-stats happens. Think of a PPV replay of Mayorga’s shameful tussle with Michele Piccirillo. That’s the best case scenario here.

Sam Peter v. Oleg Maskaev: I will make this one short. The heavyweight division is in the toilet. The division’s best chance was Calvin Brock, sad, really, and look at him now. What’s hope is there now, that rusty, war-torn David Tua will ramp-up his comeback? And I don’t even want to hear about the light-training and heavily-egomaniacal David Haye. Whatever. “Peter and Maskaev are really, really slow, and can both punch fairly well if their opponent stands still, chin-dangling, or is grossly under-sized. For these guys to live up to their reputations as bomb-droppers, they need an angle, or an advantage so blatant that a title fight ought not to offer, if the pairing is sound and viable. That’’s a shame. And both seem equipped just well-enough to avoid getting knocked out, and just poorly-enough to fail to create opportunities to land telling blows on the other. I expect a high-profile replay of Sam Peter’s 2004 stinker with Jovo Pudar, which, by the way, ranks easily as one of the worst heavyweight fights of the last decade, which, by the way is a real accomplishment. Unless lethargic, asthmatic, excuse-crazed Shannon Briggs gets in the ring again by year’s end, I suspect this one will prove to be a low-point for the division in the second-half of 2007.

Both Peter and Maskaev are sitting inside the divisional top-five, and look at what was required to get there. For Peter all he had to do was box like a run-of-the-mill heavyweight twice against James Toney who boxed in their first fight like a middleweight or light-heavy saddled with 50-75 extra-pounds of buttery baggage weighing down his arms and midsection, and in the second fight like one who was concussed and drunk by the pre-fight introductions. Toney, using all the ring-savvy and craftiness he has accrued over the course of his long pro-career to hang tough, but the massive difference in natural size, combined with Toney’s apparently advanced decrepitude, did him in. But such victories do not mean much in terms of championship credentials as long as Peter, whose punch is his only big advantage, could still drop a decision to Vladimir Klitschko, despite numerously dropping the quite-questionably-chinned Ukrainian him on along the way. Maskaev knocked out Hasim Rahman twice--back when Rahman was considered a so-so journeyman challenger in 1999, and again, in 2006 when Rahman was years-removed from his short-lived, one-punch fluke-flirtation with championship status. Beyond that one has to reach all the way down to guys like Sinan Samil Sam and Corey Sanders to come up with reasons to like Maskaev’’s ascent. This one is bound to be a farce. The division is bad, everyone knows it, but this will be worse, I will take Ruslan Chagaev, any Imbragimov, or even punch-drunk Grandaddy Holyfield over this mess. Not eve die-hards with great and perceptive eyes for nuance and technique in apparent-snoozers will be able to find anything worth salvaging here.

Ricky Hatton v. Floyd Mayweather: For the first time, disliking Floyd Mayweather, his disposition, his style, his choices, his refusal to really fight, and his incessant whining is the least of my concerns looking toward a fight in which he is set to appear. This time, Floyd being Floyd, is what it is, as they say, and it is not to blame. A few years back there was a mile long list of fighters from lightweight to middleweight that some subsection of the boxing public and/or press said was ready and willing to outbox, out-hustle, out-punch, or out-fox “Pretty Boy” Floyd. That variable list often included, depending on who was making it: Anotonio Margarito, Miguel Angel Cotto, Kostya Tszyu, Oscar De La Hoya, Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, and Ricky Hatton. By way of retirement, Mayweather’s own punches, or being beaten soundly or exposed by another guy on the same track to Mayweather, most kind-of fell out of contention, and, ultimately, became irrelevant in the debate. Ricky Hatton remains, and now finds himself signed-up to tangle with Mayweather, trouble is, just like Gatti, Judah, and De La Hoya before him, despite the hopeful hope, he does not have a prayer of defeating today’s preeminent pound-for-pound pontiff. Yes, they could all knock him out if they had half-a-chance, but they did not even get one-millionth-of-a-chance.

Earlier in Hatton’s career, sometime just before or just after he had ground and grit and growled his way past an aging Kostya Tszyu, the word was that Hatton, the pressure-fighting force-of-nature, was a little green to bring his full-frontal assault against Mayweather’s bewitching boxing black magic. And now that the 28-year-old Hatton might have accrued enough experience at the top-tier to know what to do against a tricky, patient, lightning-quick and efficient fighter, he appears to be in the twilight of his freshness. Hatton never went through a period where he boxed, conserved himself with future glories in mind, he is an all-out type of warrior, and while that is admirable, it appears he is also the type of warrior who is not built to last. Hatton’s notoriously crunching battles between fights with pint glasses and greasy buffet plates are, no doubt, partly to blame. But, whatever the case, he is slowing down. Set aside his last outing against Jose Luis Castillo because Castillo showed up so shot and crumbled after his own arduous ring-life of full-contact deathmatches, that he fell under the accumulated weight of a grueling career, not under the punishment of Ricky Hattons heavy hands. That fight revealed little, other than that it is time for Castillo to hang up his gloves and go on to being lauded and honored in retirement. So look back past that fight to Hatton’s surprisingly tough scrap with Juan Urango, who, if Hatton is to be any match for Mayweather, should not have been able to use speed and flurries at angles so to such great avail.

The other troubling question is one of weight. Hatton’s first (and only) time out at welterweight he did not impress in scraping out an awkward and tentative decision win over Luis Collazo. Collazo, a natural 147-pounder, it seemed was simply too big and durable by nature of his size to have the same vulnerabilities to Hatton’s body-work-oriented, close-quarters mauling-style. After the fight, it was revealed that Hatton trainer had protested the decision to move “The Hitman” up in weight to campaign as a welterweight. Hatton and his team agreed that he was, and should remain a junior welter, but then a chance at Mayweather appeared in the wake of Hatton’s zealous, call-out-everybody-after-a-win comments after he floored and stopped Jose Luis Castillo. Too bad that when put in put-up or shut-up situations Ricky always puts-up.

As of now, the Mayweather fight is planned to go off between a pair of welterweights, and if Hatton is one of them, he will no doubt prove again that his frame and his abilities do not hang-tough at 147. At 147-pounds Hatton’s normally limited flexibility seemed utterly inhibited, and thus his range was limited to such a degree that it took some of his range away, and he continued fighting as if it remained unchanged to much ill-effect.

It would be a blow-out if Mayweather had to meet Hatton in the junior-welterweight division. Even if at 140-pounds, the fight would go off with a blisteringly quick, if not a bit drained, Mayweather painting the plodding Hatton with flurries from odd angles until the proud Hatton began to break down, open-up, slow, stall, and drop against to Mayweather’s steady, precise, if not killing blows. At 147-pounds, I expect that process will be expedited. Mayweather proved against De La Hoya that his speed was still a distinct advantage at 150 pounds (Mayweather weighed-in well-below the 154-pound limit. So back at 147, against a naturally smaller fighter who has, truly, never gone up against a slick-boxing speedster who uses his hand-speed to such great avail, Mayweather will be utterly dominant. Hatton, outside of a one-in-a-million punch landing, has not a prayer of getting over on Mayweather. All his advantages will be his undoing because his pressure attack, his chin, his ability to find openings in close-quarters will never have the chance to serve him because he will be drubbed at a distance and worked from angles until he falls. Ricky Hatton was bound to wear-out early, but the whipping he is headed for might just make his 28th year the last one where he is a relevant factor in any division’s title-mix.

Article posted on 21.08.2007

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