Mike Oliver vs. Antonio Escalante: Crossroads Bout In The Super Bantamweight Division

Mike OliverBy Pavel Yakovlev: On Friday, super bantamweights Mike Oliver and Antonio Escalante will meet in a scheduled ten round bout at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, Cabazon, California. The outcome of the match will likely establish the winner as a bonafide contender in the 122 lbs. division, as each fighter is currently rated on the fringe of the world rankings.

For Oliver, the fight will be a crossroads match. In Mike’s last bout, Columbian veteran Reynaldo Lopez surprisingly knocked him out in three rounds. Going into the Lopez fight, Oliver was undefeated and ranked second in the world by the IBF. The loss cost Oliver his world rating and a possible big-money match against IBF world champion Steve Molitor. Currently 21-1 (7 knockouts), the Hartford, Connecticut native needs a big win to reestablish his upward mobility in the ratings and to regain credibility with promoters and fans.

Escalante is currently rated tenth in the world by the WBO. He is presently on a winning streak since his last loss, a kayo defeat by Mauricio Pastrana in 2007. Escalante’s most impressive recent performances are a decision over tough Jose Angel Beranza, and a knockout over Feider Viloria. He needs one more impressive victory over a name opponent to boost his profile with the public and improve his world rating. The Mexican born Escalante currently lives in El Paso, Texas, and he has a professional record of 18-2 (11 knockouts).


Physically, there is little to choose between Escalante and Oliver; Escalante stands 5’6” with a 69” reach, to Oliver’s height of 5’5” and reach of 68”. Escalante is clearly the harder puncher of the two, and Oliver has the faster, more agile hands. Antonio is the physically stronger fighter, but not necessarily by a wide margin. Oliver seems to be the faster and more mobile fighter on his feet. There is no real difference between them in age: Escalante is 23 and Oliver is 28, with both being young, fresh, and presumably in or near their physical primes.

Stylistically, the fight presents as a classic pairing of slugger vs. boxer: Escalante will play Joe Frazier to Oliver’s Muhammad Ali.

Escalante is known for his smoking hot, intensely aggressive pressure tactics. He throws hard punches in bundles with both hands – with special emphasis on the left hook to the body – and he exhibits impressive bobbing and weaving tactics as he forces his way inside his opponents. But Antonio is hardly a one-dimensional fighter: he is known to shift quickly from slugging to agile boxing tactics, during which he suddenly utilizes effective foot movement and a quick snapping jab. Watching Escalante shift back and forth between these styles is a bit like imagining Ruben Olivares transform himself into Hector Camacho Sr.

Oliver is generally a slick ring technician, and he tends to control his opponents from long range by making the most out of his southpaw advantage, scoring consistently with his quick jabs and right hooks to the head. In spite of his recent kayo loss to Lopez, Oliver usually exhibits sound defensive skills. His ring generalship is superb at times, prompting some observers to compare him to his great Hartford forebear, Willy Pep. Despite being a natural boxer, Mike has been known to slug with opponents. Relying on his lightning-quick hand speed and combination punching ability, he sometimes steps inside and rips his opponents with sweeping hooks from both sides. Although not known as a big puncher, Oliver is more powerful than his record (only 7 knockouts) would indicate. In recent fights he has been observed rocking his foes with hard blows, so his power cannot be overlooked.

An open question in this bout is each fighter’s durability. In his last bout, Oliver was knocked cold by a single left hook from Reynaldo Lopez. Is this solid evidence that Oliver has a weak chin, or was he just unlucky enough to have been caught by a hard punch that might have starched any good fighter? For now it is too soon to know the answer to this question. As for Escalante, he, too, has shown vulnerability in the past. Mauricio Pastrana knocked him cold in 2007. Before that, Jose Hernandez floored Escalante. Jose Angle Beranza wobbled Escalante at times in their 2008 match. In Antonio’s defense, it must be pointed out that Pastrana, Hernandez and Beranza are all above average punchers. Still, some question his durability based on these performances.

A major intangible in this bout is Oliver’s discipline, and whether he will follow cornerman John Scully’s instructions. Although he is usually an intelligent ring technician, Oliver is also known for his hot-bloodedness in the ring, and when he surrenders to the impulse to trade wildly with foes, anything can happen. Mike’s impulsiveness led to disaster in his last bout, as he was easily beating Reynaldo Lopez for two rounds before allowing himself to be lured into trading with the Columbian. In that match Scully warned Oliver between rounds – to no avail – about the need to remain cool. Against the hard left-hooking Escalante, failure to stick to his game plan could again bode disaster for Oliver.


The outcome of this bout depends on whichever boxer succeeds in imposing his fight plan on the other. Escalante is the superior infighter, the stronger fighter, and the harder puncher. If can consistently force his way inside and score with multiple, hurtful left hooks to the head and body, he will break Oliver down and win, probably by knockout. On the other hand, Oliver is the superior ring technician, he moves better on his feet, and he has the slicker, faster hands. If Oliver uses his gifts intelligently, he can keep the fight on the outside all night and tag Escalante with fast, jolting punches from both hands. Under this scenario, Oliver wins a clear-cut decision.

This writer is going to make a leap of faith and predict that Oliver wins by decision. This match should be very closely contested, and Escalante will probably put Oliver through some scary moments when the two scrap on the inside. Possibly the fight will turn into a gut-check for Oliver, and he may need to arise from a knockdown to win. Overall, however, Oliver is likely to keep the fight on the outside, and to score effectively with his jab, slashing right hook, and occasional jolting left cross to Escalante’s head. Oliver’s disaster against Lopez was a learning experience, and against Escalante, the tough-minded New Englander will probably know better than to repeat the same impulsive mistake that cost him that bout.

Article posted on 22.10.2008

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