The Inside Fights Super Big & Epic Fall Boxing Preview … with Mike Gallagher

We boxing fans are supposed to be in duldroms of the summer season… a season where promoters recognize that no one stays in to watch television, where no one except those seeking bargain rates dare to face the oppressive heat of Las Vegas in August, where media coverage is focused on Major League Baseball’s trade deadline and the National Football League’s training camps and, thus, do not plan many boxing cards. Well, don’t tell that John Molina, Jr. who just scored an exciting come from behind knock out victory. Don’t tell that to Hank Lundy who scored perhaps a career reviving upset victory in a tremendous performance. Don’t tell that to Curtis Stevens who scored a knockout of the year candidate which could set him up for bigger business in the fall. Don’t tell that to HBO which airs an intriguing tripleheader on this Saturday featuring Daniel Geale defening the IBF middleweight belt against Daniel Barker, Johan Romero defending the IBF junior featherweight belt against Kiko Martinez and Nathan Cleverly defending the WBO light heavyweight title against the exciting Sergey Kovalev. Don’t tell that to Golden Boy Promotions and Showtime which put forth an incredible triple header that started with Keith Thurman’s coming out party (an exciting knock out victory over Diego Chaves) and ended with Jesus Soto Karass coming off the floor and pulling the upset in stopping a brave Andre Berto in the twelfth round of a scorcher. And whatever you do, for damn sure, don’t tell that to Omar Figureroa, Jr. and Nihito Arakawa who faced each other in an awe-insipiring and hellacious fight of the year candidate (in other years, it is a no-doubter, but this year’s competition, Mike Alvarado-Brandon Rios II, Tim Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov and Carl Froch-Mikkel Kessler, is insanely tough).

That said, with all that has happened in boxing so far, we are set up for a spectacular finish to the year in the fall and winter months. The superstars are, for the most part, all competing and in big events. So, with one eye on the past, we look forward to what are the top ten things to look forward to in the last four months (or so) of the year:

10. Omar Figueroa, Jr.’s Next Bout

Two weeks ago, this doesn’t even register. Now, I seriously considered putting it number one. Seriously. Figueroa proved last week that he is an action fighter who will take numerous puches to land his offense. He has tweeted about caring about putting on a great show for the fans. Caring about defense… not so much. By the way, don’t forget that he proved in fights prior to the war with Arakawa that he has major league punching power. He also has major fan support that is growing with each fight. This whole package has led some to declare Figueroa is to Texas and Showtime as Arturo Gatti was to Atlantic City and HBO. Yes, Arturo Gatti. Just typing this out has me anticipating Figueroa’s next fight even more.

Who could he face that could make as great a fight as Figueroa had with Arakawa? That may be an unfair question. There certainly are opponents who could bring a fantastic fight out of Figueroa. Number one on that list could be Molina. The comeback kid with TNT in his fists against the Texas warrior… um, HELL YES! Neither guy cares about defense and will go right at each other. Plus, there is drama in that if Figueroa gets hit as much by Molina as he was by Arakawa, he will not last the distance. Other potential exciting opponents are WBA lightweight titleist Ricky Burns (should he get by Raymundo Beltran [don’t even get started with Beltran or Juan Diaz who recently signed with Bob Arum– that is a Top Rank Golden Boy non-starter]); action fighter and former titlist Antonio DeMarco; uber-talent but glass chined Jorge Linares, who is never in a bad fight; Andrey Klimov, who owns a controversial victory over Molina; and the winner of the August 23, 2013 ESPN2 televised 130 pound title bout featuring action fighter Argenis Mendez (who the rumor mill says wants to move to lightweight) and Arash Usmanee. All of those fights promise action. The only fighters who Figueroa’s promoter, Golden Boy, should keep him away from are techincal boxers such as the unexciting Shareef Bogere and the uber-boring WBA lightweight titlist Richar Abril. That said, Figueroa could make those snooze-inducing fighters exciting. Whoever Figueroa fights… we are watching.

One more thing – Figueroa’s undercard should feature Arakawa should be on the undercard if he doesn’t get more money for a fight in his native Japan. His bravery, skill and offense was awesome and should be rewarded. Plus, a fight with him and Linares, who is well known in Japan, could occur in Texas and be sold to Japanese television. That is a win-win. Golden Boy should send me match-making fees!

9. Can Alvarado-Provodnikov top everything else this year?

Did someone mention “Fight of the Year?” Top Rank and HBO finalized a bout between Alvarado and Provodnikov for October 19, 2013 in Alvarado’s hometown of Denver, Colorado. Besides both guys being involved in two of the three leading candidates for Fight of the Year (as if that is something to push aside given that their fights this year were completely awesome), both fighters have been involved in numerous action fights. They have also been going back and forth on social media. Alvarado showed boxing skills in addition to brawling in his victory over Rios in the rematch but Provodnikov is just as relentless as Rios and he is a larger fighter. Basically, this is a can’t miss fight. Oh, and HBO is pairing it with the premire of “Legendary Nights” about the tale of the Arturo Gatti – Mickey Ward trilogy (which included only two of the greatest action fights of all time and the legendary ninth round of the first fight which may be the second best round ever next to the tenth round of Diego Corrales – Jose Luis Castillo I). Sign me up!

8. Are Abner Mares and Leo Santa Cruz on a Collision Course?

More action fighters? Absolutely! On August 24, 2013, Golden Boy and Showtime kick off the fall boxing season with a good-looking doubleheader from the StubHubCenter (formerly the HomeDepotCenter) which has become a venue known for showcasing action fights. In the main event, Abner Mares defends his WBC featherweight title against the hard punching former bantamweight and featherweight titlist, Johnny Gonzalez. The undercard features the exciting Leo Santa Cruz moving up to 122 pounds to challenge Victor Terrazas for his WBC junior featherweight title. While both fights could be competitive (Gonzalez is coming off a loss to the lesser- skilled Daniel Ponce de Leon and Terrazas won the title via split decision over the smaller Christian Mijares), it is expected (especially by the promoters) that Mares and Santa Cruz will win. Mares is a 27 year old boxer-puncher with an aggressive style and an undefeated 3 division titlist who is growing in popularity in Southern California. Santa Cruz, 24, is a pressure fighting and body punching machine with good boxing skills seeking a title in a second weight division. How could they not make for a great fight? The CEO of their mutual promoter, Richard Schaefer, has knocked his rival Bob Arum for trying to “marinate” (a term for waiting until public demand is so high that the fight will make the most money) fights… so the question is will he pull the trigger and finalize Mares-Santa Cruz for their next fights? It is not only Schaefer’s decision – Mares said he would only move back to 122 pounds for a big money fight with Nonito Donaire and the August bout is Santa Cruz’ first fight at 122 pounds so it remains to be seen if the weight issue can be worked out. If it does work out, it could be fireworks in front of a wild crowd at the StubHubCenter or the StaplesCenter.

7.  What in the world is going on with Andre Ward and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr?

Andre Ward and Julio Cesar Chavez are two fighters who HBO was counting on to be superstars and to bring big ratings for the network. Now, neither fighter has a fight scheduled this year. Chavez was supposed to fight Bryan Vera on September 7, 2013 but he sustained a cut in training and the fight has been postponed without a date. While photographs show the cut is legitimate, many are speculating that it was a blessing in disguise because Chavez was likely nowhere near the contract weight of 168 pounds. Additionally, Chavez has jettisoned trainer Freddie Roach to work with his father, the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez, Sr. The move is questionable given that Roach is a noted trainer who has gotten Chavez, Jr. to improve under his tutelage while Chavez, Sr. has never trained a notable fighter and the father and son have a rocky relationship that is well-documented. Whether Chavez, Jr. faces Vera or anyone else before the end of the year is certainly anyone’s guess.

That said, Chavez, Jr. is ahead of Ward in that at least he had a fight scheduled for the fall. Ward, on the other hand, has a date, September 28, 2013, but little else. It was 20 months ago that Ward defeated Froch to win the Super Six tournament which was supposed to make him a star. With that win, Ward signed an exclusive contract with HBO which sought to make him a star. Since that time, Ward has had only one fight, a knock out victory over Chad Dawson. He followed that by agreeing to fight Kelly Pavlik and then pulling out three times with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Ward then attempted to bounce long time promoter Dan Goosen but lost his arbitration case. In the meantime, HBO cleared September 28, 2013 for Ward’s return. Unfortunately, Ward has told the network that he wants a rather large paycheck to face Dimitri Sartison, an unknown European former titleholder who has been stopped by Mikkel Kessler and the ordinary Karoly Balzsay, or Caleb Truax, a smaller club fighter who lost to the shot Jermain Taylor. HBO is rejecting those opponents and wants a name opponent but there do not seem to be any out there. The standoff continues and at the present, Ward has nothing scheduled.

6.  Britain’s Buring… Twice (Haye-Fury; Froch-Groves)

Following Lennox Lewis’ retirement and Naseem Hamed’s defeat to Marco Antonio Barrera, many experts were saying Great Britain was done with big time boxing. Shortly thereafter, Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe blew that notion out of the water. Now, every time you look, a Briton is in a major fight. Usually, they are facing Americans, Mexicans, Germans or Ukrainians. This fall, two sets of Britons will face each other in major clashes that will be huge news in Great Britain and be aired all around the world and in the US. First, former heavyweight titlist and cruiserweight champion David Haye will face brash unbeaten prospect Tyson Fury on September 28, 2013 in Manchester. Both fighters will inevitably talk a big game. Haye usually shows up against anyone not named Klitschko and he has advantages in speed, power and boxing skills. However, he is chinny and has not been active. Fury meanwhile has a size advantage and not much else. Then again, he is coming off wins against Kevin Johnson and Steve Cunningham. For as long as it lasts, it should be a good one and produce a popular challenger for one of the Klitschkos.

A few pounds down on the scale, Carl Froch has established himself as the number one super middleweight not named Ward. While Ward is in limbo and Kessler is deciding whether he is retired, Froch was left looking for another high profile fight. He found it in unbeaten prospect, George Groves, who is a popular fighter in the UK based on his high profile victory over former amateur rival and Olympic medalist James DeGale. Groves is also Froch’s mandatory challenger and has shown himself to be an aggressive offensive fighter. Together, Froch and Groves should make beautiful violence together in an exciting fight. Like Alvarado, Froch is already in one fight of the year candidate and gunning for a second one.

5. Is Danny Garcia-Lucas Matthysse the greatest preliminary ever?

Golden Boy Promotions has been on quite the victory lap since announcing that the fight between junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia and number one contender Lucas Matthysse will take place on the undercard of the Floyd Mayweather – Canelo Alvarez mega fight. No one should blame them. Quite frankly, Garcia-Matthysse is a fight that could headline its own Showtime Championshp telecast and draw a sizable crowd at an east coast venue. For Golden Boy to put this fight on a Mayweather card is just awesome. Both guys have tremendous skills and knock out power. They have also consistently put forth excellent performances and gotten past adversity. It could be a tremendous fight. Sure one guy could win via quick knock out and Mayweather-Canelo could be a snoozer but exciting fights are just as likely. Get your $75 ready!

4.  How does Bradley-Marquez Play Out?

The October 12, 2013 WBO welterweight title fight between titlist Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez is a fascinating match for many reasons. Bradley is an undefeated highly skilled fighter who normally outboxes his foes but is coming off an absolute war against Provodnikov in his last fight. Marquez is the Mexican legend with superb technique, precise counter-punching ability and a willingness to mix it up when necessary. Both guys have shown the ability to overcome adversity and have gotten off the floor to comeback and win fights. Most interesting, both fighters hold victories over Manny Pacquiao but turned down much more money for rematches with him to fight each other. It makes for a very intriguing match up. The undercard isn’t much to write home about but this main event may make the pay per view worth it alone. Can the younger Bradley outbox the master or will he try to overwhelm Marquez with aggression? Will Marquez land another knock out of the year to get the victory or will he be able to win a war of attrition against the bigger foe?

3.  Can Golvkin become a Superstar?

No discussion of the last portion of the last part of the year would be complete without a discussion of the fighter who dominated the first portion of the year. Indeed, Gennady Golovkin has already scored three wins. All were stoppages and two of them are in the conversation for knock out of the year. What does he do to cap off the year? His people and he say he wants to fight two more times. HBO and the Theater at MadisonSquareGarden already have him penciled in for November 2, 2013. The question then becomes, who does he face? The winner of this weekend’s Geale-Barker match-up will be mandated to face Felix Sturm in a fight that could be more lucrative than facing GGG. Stevens’ promoter has turned down a $300,000 offer for the fight and is claiming they will continue to showcase Stevens on the NBC Sports Network until the offer to fight Golovkin is acceptable.  UK based contender Martin Murray is not available to fight in the US because of a visa issue.  Golovkin’s people are not left with many options which would be acceptable to HBO.  The guess here is that the issues get worked out Stevens and he faces GGG in his hometown and then Golovkin faces a tomato can on a December card in Europe to cap the year off.  Is that enough to break GGG through to more fans and make the demand for a fight with Sergio Martinez large enough that HBO and the promoters make the fight for next year?  That is a tough question but if Golovkin’s potential 5-0 run through 2013 merits him “Fighter of the Year,” it could be.

2.  Is Manny Pacquiao Finished?

The last we saw of the Filipino superstar, he was face down after getting smashed by his great rival Marquez.  He returns a year later to face Rios, a younger action fighter who uses a relentless attacking style to wear opponents down.  Conventional wisdom says Pacquiao’s speed and boxing skills are too much for the Robert Garcia trained slugger but there is more to this story.  Has the knock out loss effected Pacquiao?  Have the congressman’s outside interests finally taken over the main focus of his attentions?  Does Manny even want to do this anymore or is he just picking up a paycheck?  If the answer to any of these questions is that Pacquiao is not fully prepared for Rios, he may get run over by the hard hitting youngster.  Perhaps the best person to answer the question of this item is Pacquiao’s psychologist (assuming he has one).  Otherwise, we will have to tune in on pay per view on November 23, 2013 (or go to Macau, China).

1.  The Hype, The Drama, The Boredom… Floyd Mayweather vs. Saul Alvarez

This is unquestionably the biggest fight of the year.  It will have the requisite behind the scenes reality television show, all the promotion the fight’s backers can muster and even mainstream sports fans talking.  The theme will be the same… Canelo is the young strong fighter who may be “The One” who finally defeats the great Mayweather.  That is the hook to sell the fight.  Just remember that this has been said before… many times before.  Since dropping some rounds to Miguel Cotto in 2011, Mayweather has gone back to training with his father, the defensive-minded Floyd Mayweather, Sr.  He is not going to engage in a war.  If Canelo cannot drag him into one, the Mexican superstar will have to out-box the master.  Good luck with that.  The fight may not be as enjoyable as the hype if that is the landscape that is created. 

By the way, not included in this list includes (I guess you could call it the honorable mentions or the items which were bumped by my new infatuation with Figueroa) … Klitschko-Povetkin (what is the over-under on rounds Povetkin lasts); does the HBO budget allow for the Canadian superfight, Bute-Pascal, to happen this year or next; will Vitali Klitschko and Victor Ortiz ever fight again; what happens if Delvin Rodriguez lands a couple of his monster right-hands on Miguel Cotto who is coming off two losses (and can Freddie Roach improve the veteran Puerto Rican Superstar); although not “big names,” can Mexican heavy-handed technician Miguel “Mikey” Garcia and Puerto Rican pressure fighting WBO junior lightweight titlist Roman “Rocky” Martinez etch their names in the legendary Mexico-Puerto Rico boxing rivalry: will purported Superstar and WBA welterweight titlist Adrien Broner take on a dangerous challenge, such as Marcos Maidana, at welterweight and on pay per view, or will he find the “path of easiest resistance;” can lower level shows on NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports 1 produce “diamonds in the rough” type of fights; which double Olympic Gold Medalist, Zou Shiming or Vasyl Lomanchenko will challenge for a world title quicker (my money is on that incredibly skilled and more “pro-ready” Lomanchenko); and will Nonito Donaire use his rumored grudge-rematch/comeback fight with Vic Darchinyan to actually have a real training camp with Robert Garcia and put forth the total effort and exciting performance we have been waiting for since the Montiel fight? All of these are very interesting stories to follow.

The stories not to follow but will get some play in the media involve the continuing progress/regression of Yuriorkis Gamboa who is a super-talent but seems disinterested; the rumored bout between Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara (if it happens, it will most likely be due to the influence of Al Haymon and a cure to insomnia), where the snooze-fest between IBF welterweight titlist Devon Alexander and Amir Khan will end up; and whether Guillermo Rigondeaux will be able to continue his un-exciting career on HBO. The biggest (non)story that will be perpetrated through the boxing media, however, will be the continuing feud between Golden Boy and Showtime versus Top Rank and HBO. It is a non story because the entities simply will not do business together. That is all there is to it. As such, people should stop hoping for fights between Golden Boy/Showtime and Top Rank/HBO fighters. It is not going to happen this year so get over it. Maybe peace is made sometime in the future but it is a long way off. For the present, boxing fans should focus on how the competition is forcing the sides to put on exciting fights rather than showcase bouts (something Maxboxing’s Steve Kim and his friends the Swider brothers pointed out months ago). If we focus on that, than we can realize we have a great fall/winter ahead!