The Under-hyped Bound-To-Be-Great: Harris-Witter, Holt-Torres, Calderon-Cezares, Soto-Guzman, and More!

vivian harris21.08.07 - By Gabriel DeCrease: Vivian Harris v. Junior Witter: This fight represents an absolute make-or-break moment for both fighters. Both are natural-talents whose paths to superstardom--for one reason, or another--were always partially obstructed. These were guys who priced or arbitrated themselves out of the wrong fights, lost at crucial moments, or were in the wrong place at the wrong time to work the boxing rankings into shots at the big time. But neither one is shot, or ancient, or suffering any career-damaging detriment.

The road is clear leading each man into the ring to meet the other for what might well be a fight of the year candidate. The ingredients are all There. Both guys are sensing this late opportunity to lay claim to the keys to the kingdom at 140-pounds and use the WBC strap, which Witter holds, to bait the big-fight hook.

Witter is a young 33. An early loss to a near-peak Zab Judah had him fighting off-his-game for the next few years--it appeared to be a confidence deficit or a problem of self-determination in the ring. However, he rebounded, and has, for seven-years gone undefeated. The switch-hitting Bradford, England native seems to have a real knack at this late-peak of his powers for knowing how, when, where, and in conjunction with what punches to switch his stance--a rare ability to say the least (watch Wayne Braithwaite for clear illustrations of all the vulnerabilities that can afflict a switch-hitter who lacks such awareness). Witter appears remarkably quick for his age, and his body has yet to lose its steely sinew or begin to fail the will and mind of the fighter. His stance and his poise allows Witter to set confounding geometric traps in the ring that give him good, low-risk angles to impose his stinging hooks. Witter’s last two fights against Arturo Murua and DeMarcus Corley showcased this now-finely-tuned talent.

Harris, 29, was ferocious and unrelenting early in his career, overtaking his opponents with swarms of punches. His style left his defense running to catch up with his raging offense--subsequently Harris posted losses to the technically-poised Ray Oleivera in 2000, and to the awkward-but-curiously-accurate-and-elusive Carlos Maussa. It was the second loss, perhaps because he was outgunned instead of out hustled, that finally convinced Harris to settle down and use aggression and bear-like ferocity in tactical, deliberate spurts. A mature fighter benefits from the such a stylistic adjustment as it allows for conservation of energy for concentrated attacks against top-tier opponents and permits ring-generalship to dictate the moments of explosion (instead of the inverse, which is always messy--and usually ineffectual). Harris has, because of the application of this new level of control and ring-generalship, looked the complete fighter against solid opposition--Juan Lazcano and Stevie Johnston--in his last two bouts.

This one is hard to call. Witter is the sounder technician and the quicker of the two. Harris is stronger, and the bigger guy, and not slow by any-stretch. But both have earned their veteran status and will come into this one cool, collected, and ready to adapt, adjust, endure, and stay focused if their last fights are any indication. Their strengths are opposite, but neither has so big an edge in any category as to carry the fight away. If Witter can keep Harris turning toward him trying to close the distance against switching stances, he might be able to build up a points lead. However, if Witter gets caught, even once, off-balance and switching stances, Harris will have a clear lane to bull down with all the considerable knockout power of his newly compressed and magnified offense. But, then again, if Harris gets carried away pushing and gets wild, Witter has the chin and power to drop him flat with a counter-flurry that makes use of the venom that remains potent in his uppercut with either hand.

My mouth waters just thinking of all the magnificent mayhem that might run amok. This one will probably be decided by a measure of wills. Who will want it more? Who will make a mistake first? Who will have the wits and the courage to capitalize? Neither guy will probably see another meaningful title shot after a loss to the other. They are both fully and actively aware of that fact, and, accordingly, both have, by all accounts been conducting long, grueling, focused camps. So conditioning should not be an issue. It is rare that a fight goes off with even odds that remain un-touched by outside or random circumstances. Let us hope, for the sake of our fistic indulgence, this one goes off in just that fashion.

ricardo torres(Ricardo Torres, seen here battling Miguel Cotto on September 24, 2005) Ricardo Torres v. Kendall Holt: This is the second junior-welterweight fight that promises to burn in the last stretch of the Indian Summer. This one will be a pure and beautifully unpredictable showdown between a fierce boxer/puncher (with all menacing emphasis placed on puncher) and a slick, smart boxer/puncher (with all sighs of astonishment surrounding boxer). The pairing is as classic as bloody red wine and sweet cocoa. Their records are roughly equivalent, and so is there pedigree. These are not fighters who were brought gently into the game and handed every chance and advantage on the way to title shots. These are not the Floyd Mayweather’s, Andre Berto’s, and Rocky Juarez’s of the world. These guys earned it, old school, the hard way. And, accordingly, each is proud owner of the scar of a knockout loss. Also, it is worth mentioning, that both have posted impressive recent wins over once highly-touted prospect Mike Arnoutis.

Torres will not try to outbox Holt. Ricardo is surprisingly quick for a guy so heavy-handed, but he does not have the footwork, gauge of distance, or rhythm of upper-body movement to get into a technical duel with Holt--who, in his last half-dozen fights has been in constant, butter-smooth motion from the swiveling balls of his feet to the rise and fall of his eyebrows. Torres is going to be content to try to cover up and weather Holt’s offense at close-range so that he can unleash the demon in his straight right if Holt jitterbugs his way into range.

Do not expect Holt to be un-deliberate. He may move and shake a lot, but he will be tight and maintain body awareness as he tries to score fast at range and cover his retreats (and repeat that over-and-again). Holt will know that Torres can change a fight with one punch, and is among the best at following up a flush shot that puts a tough technician on his heels. And you had better believe Torres respects Holt’’s chin--which has looked solid and durable in every fight since his first-round knockout loss to unheralded Thomas Davis in 2004--enough to follow up with serious immediacy when he scores.

What more needs to be said? This has “barn-burner” written all-over it. Torres can score a knockout at any point in any round whether leading, trailing, bleeding, or controlling the fight. He can find a chink in the armor of a sound defensive fighter, and he can exploit it--even late in a fight. Holt can control a powerful puncher and work him over confidently over the distance. Holt can also recover well from a flush shot. This one will not be over for either guy until somebody goes out on their back or the final bell sounds, at which point I expect both men will get a well-deserved standing ovation.

Ivan Calderon v. Hugo Cezares: It is too bad no one bothers to follow the fighters in the lowest weight-classes--no one in the United States or Europe, anyhow. The straw weight (minimum weight) and junior flyweight divisions are full of great fighters, who often, despite the lack of serious matchmakers’ attention and priority, stage magnificent tactical ballets and bloody wars. Too bad fight fans in the Pacific Rim, and other spotted locales worldwide are the only ones paying much attention. The last time anyone turned their attention that far down the divisional ladder was momentarily to take a look at Michael Carabajal, who punched like a young Ike “Bazooka” Quartey. The world-class fighters at 105 and 108-pounds are many: Eagle Kyowa, Yatuka Niida, Ulises Solis, Edgar Sosa, Florente Condes, and, naturally, Ivan Calderon and Hugo Cezares. Each one posses extraordinary ability in some way, or, often, in many ways. Yet, often when conversations with knowledgeable fight fans turn to these weight-classes I am greeted with furrowed brows, blank stares, and shrugged shoulders. The popularity of fighters like Vic Darchinyan and Jorge Arce demonstrate a little movement near the weight basement, but it never quite gets below 110-pounds, no matter what. Tragedy. Alright, enough lamentation.

Floyd Mayweather says that Joan Guzman is the best pure-boxer in the fight game--aside from himself, of course. And Guzman is surely nearly that. But, I wonder if Floyd has taken the time to watch Ivan Calderon operate. Calderon is at least a as focused, precise, and perhaps, even more laser accurate, if not less busy and super-active than Guzman. Plus, Ivan feints with both hands (and scores off his feints) more beautifully than any boxer in recent memory). Calderon is incredibly slick. Every time you think he is going to have to hunker-down and take some punches he finds a way to snake around punches in close-quarters, land his own, and regain his poise at mid-ring. Calderon also possesses the wonderful and rare ability to adjust a jab or hook to land as the other half-way through the punch by using body movement to reposition his stance and shift momentum. This so often serves him as he creates distance and gives himself holes in his opponents defense. A little known fact about the WBO minimumweight champ is that he boasts an amateur win over fellow Puerto Rican world champion Miguel Angel Cotto.

Cezares (25-3-1) has held the WBO light-flyweight title for more than two-years. All his losses, and the draw with which he began his career, have been since abolished from consideration of his quality as a fighter in the years of unblemished victory that have followed. Cezares has a big punch, but does not necessarily look for knockouts by headhunting or attacking wildly. Cezares has the unique and extraordinary ability to commit fully to punches while boxing mindfully and craftily. The knockouts (19 in 25 wins), come organically. He is a pressure fighter, I suppose, but not one-dimensional in the way such a label implies. This is not a 108-pound Ricky Hatton. Cezares holds a pair of impressive victories over former world champion and rugged-veteran Nelson Dieppa in which he showed considerable tact in being simultaneously mindful of the points game and the goal of a stoppage. He is quick fisted, but not utterly quick on his feet. By virtue of that, Calderon’s gamelan will surely actively evolve in the fight.

Calderon will be moving up three-pounds to attempt to take a title in a new division. Calderon is five-feet-tall exactly and will be giving away a six-inch height advantage to Cezares--who is actually quite tall for his division. The height advantage represents a significant size advantage. However, the difference in reach is negligible, and thus, Calderon will likely be able to keep his distance without eating too much leather dancing away from unnecessarily rough exchanges. It seems clear that Calderon has every chance not to get tagged, but if he does, it might be an early night for the supreme-technician. Cezares, by many experts’ predictions is set-up by the numbers to upset Calderon as he wanders, perhaps perilously, out of his native division. That is a fair assessment, but the fact that Calderon has the intangible quality of a great-fighter and Cezares fights beautifully, but does not seem in possession of that ethereal edge. This should be a great fight, and hard to call, like all great fights. My money is on Calderon pouring on the clutch-maneuvers to cheat common sense with boxing genius on his way to a clean unanimous decision victory. When he does not want to take shots, Calderon is like a ghost.

Whatever the result, these are two guys that never take rounds off. Expect the man in full to come off the stool to answer every bell. If Cezares is out-boxed he will bring an answer to everything Calderon can produce all the way, and, if Calderon is to be dropped it will have to be until he is carried out on a stretcher. My kind of fight.

joan guzmanHumberto Soto v. Joan Guzman: This one is scheduled for November 17th, so it’’s a stretch to group it in with the lineup of unheralded fall fights, but this one might be the best of the bunch. It features two guys that are relatively under-appreciated for the peaks of professional aptitude they represent in the sport. The super-featherweight division will again produce an event that promises to be a Marco Barrera v. Erik Morales-type affair--that is, minus the hateful inter-state blood-feud.

Humberto “La Zorrita” Soto had a typical tooth-and-nail hard luck early career in Mexico. He turned pro at 17, and was repeatedly thrown headlong into the mouths of seasoned lions. Often fighting on short-notice, without any knowledge of his opponent or a proper training camp or facility in which to prepare, Soto racked-up five early losses with two fights drawn. Those marks against served as a significant detriment to the public’s ability to perceive Soto as a real threat in any division, or anything more than a rugged club fighter out of Mexico. For many young, hungry, Mexican fighters early losses do, in fact, represent proof of fundamental stylistic flaws or athletic shortcomings. The fervor of the scene in many parts of Mexico creates a system that relies on natural selection to sort out the real prospects from the grinders and journeymen. Julio Cesar Chavez came to be the nation’s hero in this way--and, in the process, managed the impossible-sounding feat of winning nearly 100-fights before losing or drawing as a professional. Many of the guys he left on the canvas in Mexico gripping their busted-ribs stayed within a stone’s throw of that ring and fought on for long-years. However, for Soto these losses served as a kind of violent acid test. By surviving these setbacks--and racking up some sadly-overlooked, but impressive and telling victories in between--Soto gathered the momentum to embark on his current five-year winning streak.

The most important night of Soto’s career came in 2005 when he dove at the chance to fill-in for an injured (as always) In-Jin Chi and square off against the then undefeated puncher-destroyer Rocky Juarez. After watching Soto bait-and-switch, roughhousing on the inside and then throwing rangy punches from all angles when Juarez tried to trade one-for-one. Soto took Juarez best-punches throughout and was not rattled, did not run, and did not try to return knockout bombs. He simply kept to his drilling repetitions of swarming, short hooks, and one-twos coming in to stifle Juarez increasingly desperate contributions. It was man against boy in there that night (a perfectly-scripted execution of what I imagined would happen a year before in 2004 when Lakva Sim lost, curiously, to an adolescent-seeming Juan Diaz). It was clear to me that on that night Soto crossed a threshold that could not be backtracked past. He learned he could stand-up hard and impose his will on a world-class fighter with two-weeks notice. From that point on he has fought excellent opposition posting wins over Oscar Leon and Bobby Pacquiao, but now he is headed for his stiffest test yet with Guzman.

There is really no need to go on about Joan Guzman. You know the rap. He is a durable, razor-sharp precision-puncher with the speed to land six and slip away as his opponent throws an off-balance haymaker to try to hold of the cloud of wasps Guzman’’s fists are impersonating around their guts and temples. He fights somewhat like Joe Calzaghe shooting in and out to throw bunches of punches at weird angles and smothering his opponents escape in the process. However, while Joe often loses his balance or drops his defense in the heat of the one-sided exchanges, Guzman maintains nearly-picture-perfect form as he wings crisp shots. Guzman also has a very mobile torso and acutely avoids stiffening his back and delivering from a straight-up stance the way Joe C. often does with a cornered foe. In this way, Guzman gets added momentum behind his punches without widening their arc. Guzman is, no doubt, one of the best pure boxers in the sport.

This fight will give Soto another opportunity to rise to the occasion and overtake a world-beater. If he is to succeed in that pursuit, “La Zorrita” will have to cut off the ring. Soto is efficient and moves judiciously, but his speed is no match for Guzman’s. Soto, because of his rough-and-tumble pedigree, has proven he is always able to shut his ego down, accept the advantages he gives away and adapt. Look for him to place himself diagonally against the flow of Guzman’s beelines in order to try to impose hooks as a counterargument against Guzman’s impeccable balance. Soto has the power and timing to hurt Guzman. He needs to find a way to get through early, and do good body work in order to set himself up against a slowed-down Guzman in the late-stanzas.

Conversely, Guzman gives away a reach advantage big enough that if he leads with his jab (which is not often fully extended, increasing this deficit) he will catch Soto’’s long, committed jab coming in and face Soto’s double left-hook off the jab as he tries to flurry off-balance. Instead, if Guzman can assert the left-uppercut lead (Soto is vulnerable, like almost no other punch, to the uppercut) and flurry in a phone-booth he could score with very little risk as Soto would be hard pressed to catch up with Guzman’s snappy retreats. If Guzman can adjust his entry, the fight will follow.

There are a lot of possible outcomes for this fight. But look for a grueling match in which both guys will have their moments. Soto is too rugged, too determined, and too unshakable (he has not been down as a pro) not to find spots to remind Guzman that, even if he is cruising to a decision victory, he is going to have to earn every inch of it. If Guzman gets roughed-up, expect his world class talent to ramp up the firepower if his speed is sapped. Guzman will bang-it-out, even if it means losing, if that is the only way to give Soto a run. Both of these guys are as good in the championship rounds as they are in the first stanza. Look for high punch-stats late in the fight. These boys will go all the way--regardless of what the cards read. The rounds will be close as both tend to come on strong in the fading seconds of rounds they have dropped. And the judges should keep us in suspense. Since neither of these guys is a household name, there will be no pressure on the scorekeepers to play favorites. It will come down to pure analysis of the action--which is a rare opportunity for the fans to feel as though they won, regardless of the fight’s.

Honorable Mentions From Each Category

Joe Calzaghe v. Mikkel Kessler: The hype, especially in Europe, is spreading fast. Expect a record gate, and, I can only think that everyone in attendance will leave wishing every live card ended with a main event like the one they just witnessed. It will be a unification belt that will sew up all doubt as to who reigns supreme in the super-middleweight division. This fight has the makings of an epic war. Joe Calzaghe is, for the first time in his career, facing a truly dangerous opponent who has the right combination of strengths to give him real trouble. I know everyone was high on the fumes of Lacy’s rock ‘em, sock ‘em victories over a series of fall guys when Joe C. swooped in from his perch in Cardiff and silenced most of his detractors by giving Lacy a painful, precise, and articulate boxing lesson--and flooring the previously unbeaten American in the process. Lacy was wide open defensively, slow, uncoordinated, and inaccurate. His firepower only found its mark when it could be thrown imprecisely at a retreating opponent. Calzaghe, the seasoned veteran, disarmed and dispatched him easily because he was not scared, and he was not rattled by the threat of full-contact with Lacy. Simply put, he stayed long enough to realize there was no boogeyman, after all.

Kessler is, despite not being nearly as feared a puncher, massively more physically-imposing than Lacy, stronger, more poised, polished, and eminently more capable as a technical boxer. In my opinion, Kessler is the best super-middleweight to come along since the prime days of Nigel Benn (that is, ignoring Roy Jones swoop through the division on his way to 175). But he has remained just outside fulfillment of his potential for some time. Kessler’s gifts are not quite unified into an effortless mechanism. I expected Kessler to have that smooth-operator flow by now, and he does not. Calzaghe has a surplus of that cool, calm in a fight and everything he does comes off a totally determined-yet-adaptable ring disposition. He knows how to breathe in a ring, and never responds, even in his more furious attacks, to the pressures that leads fighters to falter and make false moves. However Calzaghe’s quick in-and-out, his typical flurries of short, sharp punches will not get past Kessler’s stiff, long jab often enough to wear the Dane down or score with any frequency. Joe is a magnificently talented--and he is going to have to ratchet up his focus and apply his skills differently to get over on Kessler. Calzaghe needs to get under Kesler’s punches and work the body early, he needs to land uppercuts when Kessler presses. Joe will not be able to smother Kessler’s punches on the inside, the kid is too strong, so Joe will need to be keeping his jabs coming and never lull in between flurries. Even if he does all that, the young champion’s strength cannot be overestimated because it comes hurdling out of a solid cover-up defense at irregular and unpredictable intervals. You never know when Kessler will be throwing the high-heat.

On the other side, Kessler cannot chase Calzaghe, no matter how much the Welshman looks vulnerable skipping away from oncoming traffic. Calzaghe is about as vulnerable retreating as a coiled viper, his most precise, beeline punching comes off the back foot while being driven back. Calzaghe is quick enough and has the stamina to mystify Kessler from start to finish if he goads him into wearing himself out and coming straight forward in the hope of dropping a straight right hand like the one that flattened Markus Beyer.

This fight will, no doubt, be what Calzaghe v. Lacy ought to have been: a pitched battle between a cagey and unshakable old lion who knows every inch of the ring and the terrain of a fight as though it were a part of his physical being and a ferocious young hellcat who is poised to bring the old lion down if, even once, he gets a clean shot. Whoever makes the first mistake that is not answered by instant recovery will be the one who goes home with a notch in the loss column and no championship belts.

I expect big hype to yield big results in this case. No matter who wins, the fans will have some cleared up some long-standing debates. Would a match with a true world-beater bring out the unifying strand in Kessler’s fighting DNA? Can Joe Calzaghe beat another young, unbeaten champion during this last, late-peak to solidify his legacy--and remove the words “unproven” and “protected” from discussions of his credentials? Is the presence of a world class unified champion enough to make the super-middleweight division more than a proving ground for middleweights who are eyeing-up campaigns as light-heavyweights?

Marco Antonio Barrera v. Manny Pacquiao: Any time Many steps into the ring it is a worldwide phenomenon and produces countless internet highlight clips set to classic rock songs and classical pieces scored in a major key. These days, the guy makes every fight, no matter the opponent or the circumstances a great fight. So just imagine the possibilities when the opponent is Marco Antonio Barrera, one of the most dangerous and rugged veterans in the game who continues to come back spewing lava and fighting through hailstorms from the best in the game every time he has been written-off after a loss or lackluster performance. Imagine the circumstances are that this is Barrera’s last and only chance to avenge the most demoralizing, humiliating defeat of his career. Both guys will come in and give us a show for the ages. I do not even care who wins. There will be cuts, point deductions, crisp combos, and wild flurries. Chins will be bared and opponents dared. I expect blood on the canvas and fighters crawling off-it with bad intentions and grit teeth. And it will be so much a war of wills, I dare not hazard a prediction. The hype will be big, the hits will be bigger.

Questions, comments, love letters, hate mail…

Article posted on 22.08.2007

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