(Photo: Casino/Showtime) US promotional giants Golden Boy provide an innovative incentive to the principals featuring on their triple world championship ‘Knockout Kings’ bash at the MGM Grand Garden Arena this evening.
A $100,000 bonus is up for grabs for the fighter who executes what Showtime TV viewers deem to be the best kayo of the card. BoxNation viewers’ can catch the action live and exclusive in the UK on Sky Ch.437/Virgin Ch. 546. Join at www.boxnation.com
A quick finish is certainly probable in the bill-topper, where Mexican sensation Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez defends his WBC light-middle strap for a fifth time against 12-1 underdog Josesito Lopez.
British fans will already be familiar with the flame haired 22 year old from Jalisco who won and defended his title in back-to-back bashings of Manchester’s Matthew Hatton (PTS 12)and Sheffield’s Ryan Rhodes (TKO12) last year.
Ridiculously strong at 154lbs and already a combination puncher of the highest order, ‘Canelo’ (cinnamon in Spanish) subsequently expanded his fan base by mowing over Alfonso Gomez (TKO6), Kermit Cintron (TKO5) and an admittedly shop soiled Shane Mosley (PTS12).
A pro at just 15, Alvarez has raced to 40-0-1, with 29 tumbling early. His looks, talent and charismatic personality have established him as a huge box-office draw in both the US and his homeland but several of the more learned judges reserve judgement on his full potential because, thus far, he has profited from some rather congenial matchmaking against opposition weaker, smaller or faded.
Unfortunately, the trend continues this evening when he is fed Riverside’s Lopez who began his career as a superfeather and, who just two fights back, dropped one of four decisions on his 30-4-1 slate to Jesse Vargas, a light-welterweight! And he’s going to topple Alvarez?!
Sure, he is coming off a career high retirement win, when one time WBC welter king Victor Ortiz retired after nine with a broken jaw. But Lopez was behind by scores of five, three and one rounds on the official cards at the time of the termination.
This is his debut at world title level. In 35 starts, at a class and weight beneath, he is yet to be stopped. That will change this evening, possibly before half time, in what amounts to a ritual slaughter.
The fight most likely to deliver a spectacular finish is the WBC featherweight dust-up between combustible Mexicans Jhonny Gonzalez and Daniel Ponce De Leon who share over 80 stoppage wins between them! But who will execute it? The bookies are undecided and have it at ‘pick ‘em’.
In a colourful career that dates back to 1999, champion Gonzalez, from Mexico City, has compiled a 52-7 slate with 45 victims failing to finish. A three time national amateur champion and 1997 Pan Am bronze medallist, he actually lost his first two paid scraps.
Tough, busy and exceptionally heavy handed, Jhonny first cracked the world scene when slaughtering Thailand’s WBO bantam boss Ratchachai Sor Vorapin in seven, back in 2005. Impressive victories over top graders Marc Johnson (KO8), Fernando Montiel (PTS12) and Irene Pacheco (TKO7) followed, confirming him a fighter of outstanding pedigree.
Tonight’s civil war with Ponce De Leon shall be his 12th world championship for one of the four major sanctioning bodies. However, though he has consistently conducted his business in elite company, he initially struggled to find the consistency that would edge him into the ‘pound for pound’ listings. Gerry Penalosa relieved him of that WBO bantam strap (KO7), while Israel Vasquez and Toshiaki Nishioka both halted him in WBC superbantam affairs.
Following the latter in May 2009, Gonzalez parted with his father-trainer to hook up with Hall of Famer Nacho Beristain and has proved invincible in 12 since.
Uganda’s ex Commonwealth king Jackson Asiku was wrecked in six of a September 2010 IBO title fight and, in April 2011, Gonzalez collected his current crown by travelling to Japan and destroying Hozumi Hasegawa inside four rounds. Three of his subsequent four challengers have also crumbled inside four. Today is his 31st birthday and, right now, Gonzalez is white hot!
However, history shows that he can be stopped when tagged clean and few strike harder than Ponce De Leon. Born in Chihuahua but now based in Huntington Park, California, the 32 year old southpaw shall also be buoyed that four of the champion’s seven defeats have come against left handers.
A 2000 Sydney Olympian, Ponce has lost just four of 47 as a pro, and 35 have been put to rest before the final bell. He has been operating in premier class since scalping a Thai for the vacant WBO super bantam belt in October 2005.
Occasionally crude but phenomenally strong, he made six successful defences before being wiped out himself in the opening session by Puerto Rico’s Juanma Lopez in June 2008. That remains his sole stoppage defeat.
His route back to a world title has been thwarted by Adrien Broner and Yuriorkis Gamboa who scored him in non title jobs last year. Though both are absolute top drawer, the emphatic nature of those defeats suggest De Leon is no longer quite the force he once was.
Recent form points to Gonzalez triumphing (and bagging the added bounty), probably by stoppage in the final third, of what should be a free swinging thriller while it lasts.
The third world championship on the bill pitches youth against experience. Rising IBF bantamweight king Leo Santa Cruz embarks on his maiden defence against Puerto Rico veteran Eric Morel as a marginal betting underdog.
The 24 year old champion, born in Huetamo, Mexico but now residing in Lincoln Heights, California had racked up nine consecutive stoppage wins prior to his vacant title win over seasoned South African southpaw Vusi Malinga in Carson City last June.
Nicknamed ‘Teremoto’, the 5ft 7in Santa Cruz, 20-0, is a dedicated body puncher who relies on a frightening work rate – 1300 punches delivered during his 12 round decision over Malinga – rather than crippling one shot ‘take out’ power. Trained by his father Jose and managed by Cameron Dunkin, he is backed by the promotional clout of Golden Boy and that could be decisive if it’s close.
In a pro innings dating back to October 1996, 36 year old challenger Morel has been bettered on just three occasions in 49 start – all 12 round decisions in world title fights – and the bookies are listing him at 15-8 on to relieve Santa Cruz of his crown.
Born in Puerto Rico but now based in Madison, Wisconsin, ‘Little Hands of Steel’ first boxed at the age of just eight! He was a 1992 World Junior silver medallist in the singlet of his homeland, then a 1996 Atlanta Olympian in a USA vest.
A savvy, skilful if overtly cautious counter puncher, Morel won the WBA flyweight crown by decisioning Thailand’s Sornpichai Kratingdaengym over 12, way back in 2000. He successfully defended five times but eventually weight-making got the better of him and he conceded to Venezuela’s Lorenzo Parra.
A March 2005 tilt at the World Boxing Association (WBA) super fly title was aborted by Mexico’s Martin Castillo. However, his focus might have been distracted by a court case that led to his conviction of sexual assault with a minor and a two and a half year incarceration.
Upon his release, he worked his way back up to the World Boxing Organization (WBO) interim bantam title (outscoring decent Filipino Gerry Penalosa over 12 in February 2010) but, in his last gig, he was comprehensively schooled by the excellent Abner Mares for the vacant World Boxing Council (WBC) super bantam strap in April.
Now back down at his preferred 118lbs, the oddsmakers believe he’ll know too much for young Santa Cruz. I disagree. Expect the champion to prove too industrious and retain by decision.
The Vegas card shall be preceded by an all southpaw clash for the IBF cruiserweight championship between Halle-based Cuban Yoan Pablo Hernandez and Toronto’s Troy Ross from the Stechert Arena, Bamberg, Germany. (Again BoxNation televise live).
The 27 year old champion is widely regarded as the world’s premier 200lb fighter after twice seeing off Philadelphia’s Steve Cunningham last season. He collected the title with a controversial six round technical decision last October – after scoring an early knockdown, the Cuban baled out after a butt induced cut – but cemented his supremacy by twice dropping the American en route to an emphatic points win in their mandated rematch four months later. A broken metacarpal in his left hand has rendered him inactive since.
Born in Pinar del Rio, Hernandez is a product of the feted Cuban amateur system, winning silver medals at the 2001 World Cadets and 2003 Pan American Games plus gold at the 2002 World Juniors. However, shortly after his elimination to Russia’s double world amateur champion Evgeny Makarenko in the second series at the 2004 Athens Olympics, the teenage Hernandez defected to Germany.
There, trained by the 70 year old Ulli Wegner and promoted by the Sauerlands, he has been beaten just once in 27 starts. In March 2008, Guyana’s Wayne ‘Big Truck’ Braithwaite got up off the deck to drop Hernandez three times before finally stopping him in round three. The Cuban has won a dozen since, most notably a seven round kayo of France’s Steve Herelius for the WBA interim belt, plus that brace against Cunningham.
He enters this, his second defence, as a 4-1 on favourite. At 6ft 4in tall, he shall enjoy a five inch edge in height and is a highly skilled and silver quick portsider with decent power (13 stoppages).
But this is no foregone conclusion. Challenger Ross, born in Guyana but now domiciled in Ontario, is himself a man of pedigree. A two- time former Olympian, he also medalled at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and 1999 Pan Ams whilst compiling an 81-10 amateur ledger.
He was already 26 when he vaulted to the pros in April 2001 but quickly clubbed his way to Canadian and then Commonwealth cruiser titles (smashing Sheffield’s Jon ‘Buster’ Keeton in two rounds for the later). He also triumphed in the fourth series of the US reality fight show ‘The Contender’.
Apart from an eight round split decision loss to one Willie Herring in his 13th start, the Canadian’s only other reverse came in a June 2010 IBF title crack, when the aforementioned Cunningham rose from the canvas to halt him controversially, on a cut in round five.
Now 25-2, Ross is solid and skilful with plenty of pop in his punches (16 early wins) and, at 37, knows this is his final chance. He won’t lack motivation
He should certainly provide a lively challenge and it promises to be tense and gripping throughout. Nevertheless, youth and home court should swing it in Hernandez’s favour and I expect him to prevail with a hard earned but clear decision.