The biggest star of Saturday night, Kelly Pavlik, took care of business like he was supposed to in a brilliant knockout performance over a serious underdog, but there were three shocking results Saturday night in the HBO and Showtime double-headers. Sergio Mora pulled the upset and became the first graduate of “The Contender” TV show to beat a world-class fighter. Paul Williams scored a 1st round knockout to avenge his only defeat and reestablish himself in the upper echelon of boxing’s glamor division. And young Juan Manuel Lopez scored his own 1st round knockout over a belt-holder who’d never even been knocked down as a pro in a performance that screams, “this kid has the makings of a real star in boxing.”
Reviews of all four fights in what was a pretty excellent night for pugilism — you could basically even see every part of both cards because they overlapped only slightly, the dueling cards being the one potential downfall of the evening — await after the jump.
KELLY PAVLIK – GARY LOCKETT
The result when the consensus middleweight (160 lbs.) champ Pavlik stepped into the ring against as high as a 20-1 underdog named Gary Lockett was as predictable as they come — early knockout. But in the past month or two, we’ve seen two performances, Pavlik over Lockett and welterweight (147 lbs.) star Miguel Cotto over Alfonso Gomez, where the heavy favorites looked so amazing they enhanced their status even in mismatches.
The risk in this fight was that Pavlik could diminish his stardom, featured this week in the New York Times, if Lockett was competitive. Lockett was not. To his credit, the Wales product Lockett did use his better hand speed to land a few cracking good blows, as they say over in the U.K., but Pavlik wasn’t too interested in them and unloaded artillery of every kind to land something like 66 of 80 power punches — keep them graphics up longer next time, HBO boys. Pavlik couldn’t miss Lockett at all. Lockett, to his credit, kept getting the hell back up, after the two times he took a knee in the 2nd and then in the 3rd when he suffered a more proper knockdown, as they say over the U.K. But by the third knockdown, Lockett was bleeding out of every part of his face and lumped up like an uglyfruit. Trainer Enzo Calzaghe threw in the towel, saving Lockett from his own bravery, something I might have done between rounds anyhow.
Besides all that impressive artillery, Pavlik also showed off exceptional defense. I think he’s a much-improved fighter from when I first started digging him a few years back. Back in the day, I saw no-hopers tee off on Pavlik, who just didn’t care if he got hit; he was like Australian-not-Welshman Crocodile Dundee saying, “That’s not a knife. This is a knife.” These days, Pavlik, at no loss to his own considerable offense, is protecting himself a little. Watch out, world.
Next for the winner: Promoter Top Rank has already etched out Pavlik’s course — fight Marco Antonio Rubio, then it’s on to either Arthur Abraham or Joe Calzaghe, Lockett’s trainer’s daddy. I could do without the Rubio fight. Two mismatches in a row strikes me as one too many. Pavlik-Abraham or Pavlik-Cazlaghe are both extremely good fights. Germany’s Abraham, the second-best middleweight out there, first has to get by Edison Miranda in his U.S. debut this month, a rematch of a fight that Abraham was very lucky to win. Calzaghe has appeared to be moving in the direction of a late 2008 fight against Pavlik, and that’s great news. It would be two of the ten best fighters active today in any weight class; two of the top worldwide superstars in boxing; a Hall-of-Famer vs. a youngster with serious potential; a classic boxer-puncher match-up; a swan song that would move Calzaghe up the ranks of the all-time best British fighters; and because Calzaghe has both the Ring light heavyweight (175 lbs.) and super middleweight (168 lbs.) belts, a chance for Pavlik to match one of history’s greatest achievements, Henry Armstrong’s simultaneous three-division reign. HBO’s Max Kellerman was giving Pavlik hell about “not waiting around” for Calzaghe and urging him to out the division in response to Pavlik’s claim that doesn’t expect to get much credit here for beating the European-centric class of the shallow middleweight division. I’d rather see Pavlik take on, say, fellow belt-holder Felix Sturm of Germany until he gets a hold of Abraham or Calzaghe instead of Rubio. But as long as Pavlik ends up with either Abraham or Calzaghe soon, I won’t get too disgruntled. He should also give some thought to Winky Wright one day. Wright is annoying and sometimes boring, but he’s still one of the best fighters alive.
Next for the loser: Lockett ought not try to get considered the mandatory challenger by the WBO anymore, so long as Pavlik has the belt. Honestly, I admire Lockett’s guts, but that he was the guy Pavlik was forced to fight to keep his belt shows precisely how silly the sanctioning organizations can be. Lockett got his career best payday. He admitted to the BBC that he doesn’t like boxing that much. He could maybe build himself up again as a local favorite, or maybe he just calls it a day. Either way, the sky is not the limit. It’s much lower.
SERGIO MORA – VERNON FORREST
At long last, someone from “The Contender” has snagged himself a win over one of the best fighters around. Coming in to this fight, Vernon Forrest looked like the best of all the junior middleweights (154 lbs.), and Mora looked like fish food. Instead, Mora made Forrest look like a 37-year-old who took his opponent lightly. Mora fought a smart, gutty fight, taking control over the second half of the bout to win a close decision that two judges scored for Mora and another scored it a draw.
I, too, scored it a draw, but if I had to give it to anyone, I’d have given it to Mora. The 9th was close — I gave it to Forrest very reluctantly, because while Mora got the better of some heavy exchanges toward the end of the round, Forrest had controlled most of the rest. Forrest, early on, kept Mora at the end of his long, powerful right hand. Mora played run-away for a long time, not doing much. Then, he found a way to get inside, where he worked Forrest to the body. Forrest was a little flabby, I thought, and he admitted in one of the early rounds to trainer Buddy McGirt that he was winded, which, considering the long stretches in the fight where nothing was happening, suggests to me that Forrest didn’t train right. He was pretty dismissive of Mora beforehand. Anyhow, going to the body slowed down Forrest, who whether by age or training wasn’t in the right condition to start.
Mora knew he won it, celebrating and trading blows like a madman in the 12th. In the end, after all “The Contender” fighters who stepped up against tip-top competition and got thrashed — Gomez against Cotto and Steve Forbes against Oscar De La Hoya, most notably — it was Mora, the first victor of the reality-elimination show, who got to the top and took a title belt. Fitting.
Next for the winner: Mora graciously offered his services to De La Hoya, who’s without an opponent because of this week’s retirement of Floyd Mayweather, the rematch De La Hoya was planning on for September. I doubt it rises to the level of a challenge De La Hoya wants, but then, I thought Forrest would beat Mora pretty easily. The other thing going against it is that it’s not a mega-fight, either. Mora will have to decide whether to stay at junior middleweight after fighting at middleweight for his entire career, and short of Pavlik or De La Hoya, there’s nobody in either weight class who would get Mora lot of dough. I was impressed with Mora’s win and passion, although I can’t say there’s anyone I really want to see him fight. I do think he should hang around 154. With only five knockouts, his power looked like it benefited at the lighter weight. He could establish himself as the division boss, something I don’t see happening at middleweight.
Next for the loser: If Forrest was a dark horse to get De La Hoya, he can forget about it now. He said he planned to continue on, and I don’t doubt that a properly-conditioned Forrest could win another belt in a weak division, assuming my theory about his conditioning was on point. But I don’t think Forrest can get any better at his age. He had a nice resurgence there for a year or two. I think he should consider retirement, because I don’t know who’s out there for him to make a bunch more cash against, especially coming off a loss. It would have been a good career, albeit one that comes up short of a Hall of Fame career.
PAUL WILLIAMS – CARLOS QUINTANA II
Is it possible to lose a fight, have people question whether you’re a fraud, then come back from the loss and look even scarier than before? If so, Williams did it Saturday night. Yowsa.
Of all the outcomes in this one, a knockout by Williams or his opponent, welterweight title-holder Carlos Quintana, struck me as the least likely. Both have decent power, but neither really hurt the other much in their first fight. Well, I was wrong to question friend-of-the-site Bob on that front, even though he called it for Quintana. A 1st round knockout? By Williams? Really? I still don’t quite believe it. It looked like it was going to be pretty even at first. Then Williams caught Quintana with an off-balance but full-extension straight left that had Quintana in all kinds of trouble. And then Williams bludgeoned Quintana all over the ring, knocking him down twice and bouncing his eyes around in the back of his head. He finished like Pavlik usually does.
So that settles things, right? Williams did have an off night last time. He can still make the weight comfortably. It’s fair to say that Quintana “got caught,” which at a certain level means he lost by fluke himself. Everyone gets caught. It’s embarrassing, and the way Quintana was shaking his head afterwards suggests that’s the way he felt afterwards. I still say Quintana’s a pretty good fighter and clearly a top-10 welterweight, but now he and Williams will be trading places in the quest for a big fight in the division.
Next for the winner: Williams, like Mora, offered his services to De La Hoya. This, too, seems implausible. Nonetheless, I thought Williams’ road back to his status amid the top welterweights would be a longer one, and he’s too be praised for jet-packing himself back up there. I would love to see Williams against any other top welterweight — Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto once he finishes his business with Antonio Margarito, Margarito in a rematch, Zab Judah, Andre Berto, anyone. He makes for exciting fights. Here’s hoping he doesn’t get avoided this time. He’s earned whatever good thing he gets next. My choice would be Mosley, who’s without an opponent right now and could make an argument for a Cotto rematch by beating Williams.
Next for the loser: Quintana lost in the worst way you can, but all I think it does is back him up into the second tier of a loaded division again. It’s not a bad place to be, although it’s a let down considering that Quintana was in talks for a Mosley fight at one point. He’s already proven by rebounding from the Cotto slaughter that he can recover from a tough loss. Quintana versus any of the guys I just mentioned for Williams, after Williams gets the pick of the litter, is a fight I would watch.
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ – DANIEL PONCE DE LEON
I knew someone was going to get knocked out in this one, even though Daniel Ponce De Leon, a 122-pound belt-holder, has never been put on the canvass. De Leon had 30 knockouts in 34 wins. Prospect Lopez had 19 in 20. Still, as far as shocking results go, Lopez destroying De Leon in the 1st frame is not what I anticipated, and made this the more shocking of the two opening stanza blowouts of the night. I was high on Lopez before, and predicted a win for him. I’m super, super, super high on him now.
The first round was like a microcosm of what I predicted over the course of the entire fight: De Leon would storm out, but if Lopez could weather it, he would take control and knock him out. He only had to weather it for a minute or two before he landed a long range straight left followed by a short right hook,* leveling De Leon. De Leon was shaky when he stood up, his legs betraying him. With his firepower, he still was mildly dangerous, but Lopez jumped on him and attacked with smart aggression, landing a sequence of left and right hooks that were unbelievably flush and crushing.
The difference turned out to be superior technique, again, as I predicted. (On a night where I was off about several things, I’m going to brag about the ones I got right.) Lopez’ punches were cleaner, not those wild catapult-like blows De Leon threw. When smart power meets crazy power, it’s game over unless crazy power gets lucky. Luck was not on De Leon’s side, so De Leon went over the course of a few fights from defeating prospect Rey Bautista in one round to getting defeated by a prospect in one round. I’m putting De Leon down a little, but make no mistake, he was a top-five junior featherweight, a very top-heavy division. Now, Lopez isn’t a prospect anymore. He’s a titlist who could become one of the sport’s best. And with a little love from his friends in Puerto Rico — which lost a titlist in Quintana and won another in Lopez — he could be a big thing popularity-wise, too.
Next for the winner: Lopez would make great fights against any other top junior feather — Steve Molitor, Celestino Caballero, Rafael Marquez, and yeah, Israel Vazquez. With his power and skill, I don’t think he’d be a major underdog against any of them, and I might call him to pull some rather big upsets. I won’t even speak the names of those on that list I think he would probably beat because it feels like blasphemy. I mean, Vazquez and Marquez are two of the top-10 pound-for-pound fighters today. I’m not insane, right? Lopez may have out-skilled a one-dimensional opponent Saturday, but for real, he did it way more dramatically than I could have dreamed in his first fight against anyone who was even very good at all. This was the arrival.
Next for the loser: De Leon slips out of the division’s top five to make room for Lopez. I still like to watch him go. I’d be happy to see him against anyone in the division, especially a rematch with Caballero now that Caballero-Molitor is in trouble because of some legal wrangling.
*CORRECTED: In the original draft, I left out several words and inadvertently melded the actual two-punch combo that first decked De Leon into one. The correct sequence is as written.