NO SURPRISES IN CONNECTICUT AS NAME FIGHTERS SCORE KNOCKOUTS
Two established fighters on the rebound and one potential superstar continued their recent streaks of wins as Antonio Tarver, Vernon Forrest, and Nonito Donaire scored rather one-sided knockout victories against overmatched opposition on Saturday night. More than anything, the event served as an opportunity to get several name fighters, both old and new, back into the ring to build toward bigger, more meaningful bouts in the coming months. Tarver, Forrest, and Donaire brought the goods and displayed their talents against foes that could offer little resistance and even less chance of winning.
TARVER TAKES CARE OF SANTIAGO
Just as Antonio Tarver chased Roy Jones Jr. throughout his early boxing career, Danny Santiago claimed to have had “The Magic Man” on his mind since he was a teenager. Unlike Tarver, who made the most of his big opportunity by roughing up, knocking out, and outboxing Jones over three fights, Santiago was unable to defeat the man he spent his career pursuing. Tarver crushed his fellow Floridian in a one-sided fight that included two knockdowns before Referee Steve Smoger finally waved things off.
Originally scheduled to meet Danny Green, Tarver had to settle for fighting Santiago after Green decided to pursue a title fight. Santiago’s confidence in his ability to beat Tarver resided on the fact that he was able to stop Elvir Muriqi, who some, including the judges, felt gave Tarver a tough fight back in June. Santiago needed only four rounds to ruin Muriqi in 2004, but fortunately for Tarver, boxing isn’t built on transitive relationships. The sport does, however, include its share of irony, for Tarver needed only four rounds to ruin Santiago.
Santiago survived for a while by doing anything he could to rough Tarver up and drew a warning from Smoger for holding and hitting before a minute had passed in the fight. Before long, though, Tarver was popping Santiago with crisp jabs and straight left hands to the head and body. The action apparently wasn’t enough for the crowd. A chorus of boos after the second round urged Tarver to pick up the pace and try to close the show. Tarver knew he needed a convincing win with the embarrassing defeat to Bernard Hopkins still in the back of fans’ minds as well as the bad taste left from the vehemence he displayed after the absurd scorecards that led to the closer-than-expected majority decision against Muriqi. Dominating Muriqi on points had not brought Tarver back into boxing conversations, but a knockout always does the trick.
After raining stiff jabs and hard left hands on Santiago’s cranium throughout round three, one of which buckled Santiago’s knees, Tarver targeted the body in the fourth, doubling Santiago over against the ropes. A follow up assault sent Santiago collapsing between the strands, half of his body outside the ring, the other half inside, but Santiago beat the count. Two more body shots, followed by a barrage of punches, including an uppercut and a straight right-left combination sent Santiago collapsing forward, sliding onto his hands and knees, his dream fight having become an utter nightmare. Smoger had seen enough and immediately awarded Tarver the victory in what was undoubtedly his best performance since dominating Glen Johnson in 2005.
As long as Hopkins is still fighting, Tarver is going to have a hard time reclaiming the light heavyweight throne he insists belongs to him, but a bout against WBC Champion Chad Dawson could go a long way in establishing Hopkins’ successor when his imminent retirement comes. Before that fight comes to fruition, Tarver may find himself taking on Jeff Lacy should he defeat Peter Manfredo this Saturday. Either opponent would make for a good fight, and ideally Tarver would fight both, provided the money is there. For now, Tarver keeps his career alive with a solid display, stating that the best is yet to come. With boxing’s current trend of big fights coming together, one can only hope he means it.
FORREST PUNISHES PICCIRILLO
Like Antonio Tarver, WBC Junior Middleweight Champion Vernon Forrest has been working to put together a string of victories on the comeback trail and prove that he is a legitimate threat to anyone in his division. Like the light heavyweight division, the junior middleweight division in which Forrest competes is desolate and awaiting the emergence of serious competitors. Titles rest in the hands of obscure or unlikable champions with dull personalities with the exception of Forrest, who made the first defense of his WBC Championship Saturday night. The way he pummeled a game veteran in Michele Piccirillo for eleven tactical rounds suggests that, should he want it, the crown of the division is his for the taking.
Forrest sent a message that he wasn’t going to spend his night dancing around with Piccirillo when he clobbered the Italian with a big straight right hand across the jaw late in the first round. A subsequent three-punch volley caught the elusive challenger against the ropes, but Piccirillo managed to get out of harm’s way to avoid the rest of what was coming at him, at least for a round. Forrest landed a vicious combination in the second round, highlighted by a straight right that about separated Piccirillo’s head from his fleeing body. A similar blow connected against the ropes, followed by another that sent Piccirillo staggering backwards. Only a headbutt briefly stunted the assault as Forrest took a moment to wince from one of the more significant blows he would receive all night.
Throughout his career, Piccirillo’s forte has been his jab, a weapon he attempted to use to control Forrest, but the champion proved an equally good jabber as he held his own on that front as well over the next three rounds. Forrest caught Piccirillo with some exceptional punches as the bell was sounding to end round five and even caught a piece of Arthur Mercante Jr. with a left hook when the referee was separating the fighters. Mercante wisely instructed the timekeeper to be louder with his cues.
Forrest had a big round six, knocking Piccirillo into the ropes with a double left hook and later putting the challenger awkwardly on the canvas by again doubling up with the left and following with a right hand over the back of the head. The knockdown was clearly the work of a rabbit punch and only put Piccirillo in a worse situation than he was already facing, having lost practically every round. Mercante’s miscall appeared to briefly light a fire under Piccirillo, who sprang to life, landing good counter punches on Forrest in the seventh. Forrest responded with fire of his own, snapping Piccirillo’s head up with a big right hand and still managing to land the more effective blows no matter what the challenger tried.
Near the end of round eight, Forrest smacked Piccirillo with a low blow, to which the Italian responded by taking about a minute’s respite while Mercante lectured the apologetic Forrest. The calamity wasn’t over yet, however, as Mercante had to again intervene after the bell when both fighters continued throwing punches. Back to form, Forrest timed Piccirillo with a monster of a right hand in round nine that dropped the challenger, legitimately this time, onto his hands and knees. Piccirillo was slow to get up and responded to Mercante’s questioning while on wobbly legs but was nevertheless allowed to continue, surprisingly surviving the round but returning to his corner with blood streaming from a cut over his left eye.
Piccirillo withstood more punishment in the tenth, enabling him to survive late in the fight as is his custom, but Forrest unleashed some brutal combinations midway through round eleven that Piccirillo couldn’t shake off. A stiff left-right combination bobbled Piccirillo’s increasingly exposed head. Then, a straight right hand dropped Piccirillo in a flash, his right leg folding up under him as he crashed into the ropes. A twisted ankle suffered in the fall brought an end to the contest as Forrest became the first man to stop Piccirillo. Piccirillo tried to stand after Mercante ended the fight but was unable to do so without assistance.
Looking spectacular from start to finish demonstrated that the now healthy Forrest is a threat to any man in his division and probably any champion in the divisions immediately north and south. The fact that he was competing against a 37-year-old opponent who was soundly beaten by Forrest’s twice-conqueror Ricardo Mayorga two years ago suggests Forrest still needs a solid test to prove himself one of the best in the sport. While his expectations of fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr., Oscar De La Hoya, and other big names are a bit too high right now, Forrest could definitely find himself in a position to get such fights if he takes care of business first. There is still the matter to solve with Mayorga, who recently bullied Fernando Vargas to a majority decision. While a third fight doesn’t make a great deal of sense for Mayorga, the bout would be exciting and, of course, for a title. Then, Forrest should consider unifying his WBC title with those of the other champions, WBA Champion Joachim Alcine, WBO Champion Sergiy Dzinziruk, and IBF Champion Cory Spinks. Although none of those bouts seem particularly appealing, they may be necessary steps towards regaining the recognition he had after twice upending Shane Mosley five years ago.
DONAIRE MOPS UP MALDONADO
Coming off his scintillating summer knockout of Vic Darchinyan, IBF Flyweight Champion Nonito Donaire continued to build momentum in his suddenly hot career when he systematically broke down, dropped, and stopped the sturdy Luis Maldonado in eight rounds.
After picking his spots in the first round, Donaire caught the hesitant Maldonado with a big right hand in round two that snapped his head straight up and hurt the challenger. Donaire unloaded a volley of shots as Maldonado staggered into the ropes, but he was unable to put his disoriented opponent away. Donaire had struck first blood, though, as red began to ooze down the left side of Maldonado’s face from a cut over his left eye. The right eye would suffer the same fate even before round’s end, leaving Maldonado to face an uphill battle before he ever had a chance to really get going.
Donaire smashed Maldonado with good shots throughout round three, but Maldonado proved his chin a good one as he hung in with the IBF Champion. Willing to try anything to be effective, Maldonado switched between conventional and southpaw stances but failed to find a successful approach to Donaire, who also strangely switched to southpaw in round four, perhaps to try and negate whatever the challenger was thinking. Donaire eventually grew a little reckless and paid for it by absorbing a mean right hook from Maldonado. A heated exchange ensued and produced the best two-way action of the fight. From that point on, Maldonado stuck with the southpaw stance while Donaire returned to what was working for him up until the odd decision.
Back to zeroing in on Maldonado with straight right hands and stinging left hooks, Donaire added a body shot into the mix in the fifth that doubled the challenger over. Donaire followed up on a left-right combination in round six with a beautiful straight right that nearly decapitated Maldonado and sent him stumbling backwards on shaky legs. Maldonado shockingly came back throwing and landing more than before immediately thereafter. In the waning seconds of the round, however, Donaire landed a pair of crisp uppercuts that buckled Maldonado’s knees. A sweeping left hook sent the stunned challenger collapsing onto his side on the canvas, but the now blood-covered Maldonado quickly got back to his feet to survive the round.
The ringside doctor briefly checked the severity of Maldonado’s cuts prior to round eight, forcing Donaire to do the honors himself. Like a shark swelling blood, Donaire slid in and out, catching Maldonado with sharp, sweeping left hooks. Maldonado wilted after a straight right to the chin, and Donaire stepped in with combinations to the hurting challenger against the ropes. Referee Charlie Dwyer stopped the punishment shortly after Donaire caught Maldonado with a vicious through the guard uppercut that snapped the challenger’s exposed head up.
One could argue that by fighting Maldonado, who had already been stopped by Darchinyan in seven rounds in 2006, Donaire took a step back, but the fashion in which he won was more than impressive and enough to keep him on fans’ minds for a while. Also, Maldonado is no slouch, having only been dropped and stopped twice in his career. He can claim on his resume a draw with Christian Mijares, who is more or less the king of the division just three pounds north after defeating Jorge Arce. With the win, Donaire has expressed an interest in unifying the titles in his weight class, after which a move to the super flyweight division may be in order.