Too often, these preview posts start with what’s screwed up about whatever fight is happening this weekend. We’ll get to that. But first, let’s consider what’s good about this weekend of boxing: Two of the best, bravest and most exciting fighters in the world, Sergio Martinez and Miguel Cotto, are in action Saturday night, and it’s always a positive when we get a look at them plying their brutal craft. They are role models, not only for how they conduct themselves inside the ring, but outside it — both are pictures of civility, total professionals from A-Z. That’s not to say they’re perfect, only that if more fighters were like them, boxing would be a better place than it is.
About that dysfunction. Where to start? Martinez, the middleweight champion of the world, is fighting a legitimately dangerous opponent in Serhiy Dzinziruk, whose style gives everyone fits — but the fact that his style gives everyone fits is why he was a poor choice of opponent for a bout meant to showcase the awe-inspiring Martinez. Dzinziruk is a junior middleweight version of the Klitschko brothers who rule the heavyweight division, but without their power — jab, jab, defend, defend, occasional other punch. It’ll take every bit of scintillating Martinez has to keep this fight from being a snoozer. What’s more, HBO, which is airing the bout, dramatically overpaid Gary Shaw-promoted Dzinziruk, reportedly as part of the deal to air a bout between the Shaw-promoted Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander, a fight I like but that the cost of to date (including the Dzinziruk purse) really exceeds what it was worth and is a classic example of HBO bidding against itself for no reason.
HBO said “no” to Cotto-Vanes Martirosyan, for some reason, so Top Rank put Cotto in against Ricardo Mayorga, which, for whatever quality ratings Cotto does, isn’t a bout HBO should be wasting its time on — Mayorga is aggressive in the ring and his colorful/off-color smack talk help sell fights, but he’s a professional punching bag for elite fighters at this point in his career. So Top Rank — whose independence is often a valor, but not this time — got all ticked off and decided to air Cotto-Mayorga as an independent pay-per-view head-to-head with Martinez-Dzinziruk, even though the plan was to build up both men toward a Martinez-Cotto fight. This kind of divides that audience, doesn’t it? Isn’t that cutting off your nose to spite your face?
We’d all prefer Martinez vs. Cotto in the ring rather than Martinez vs. Cotto in dueling cards, especially the ladies, who love the Martinez and Cotto beefcake. To each their own when deciding which fight to watch. I myself have made my choice pretty clearly: I’ll be heading up to Foxwoods for Martinez-Dzinziruk to cover it ringside, as I think it’s the more meaningful, competitive fight. But with Martinez and Cotto two of my current favorites, I’ll be sad about missing even the expected mismatch of Cotto-Mayorga. Although some don’t think it’s a mismatch — kinda depends on how worn down you think Cotto is, respective to Mayorga.
SERGIO MARTINEZ-SERHIY DZINZIRUK
I don’t intend to demean this fight’s entertainment value entirely. I can dig a good technician like Dzinziruk, at times. And Martinez has been in three straight gangbuster fights — Fight of the Year against Paul Williams, heavily kinetic and dramatic bout with Kelly Pavlik, Knockout of the Year with Williams again. Maybe Martinez will force Dzinziruk into more exchanges than he likes. Maybe Dzinziruk will give Martinez some trouble, which would be dramatic for a man who has seemed like a deity fighting mere mortals in his last half-dozen rounds of combat.
Martinez has gotten to the middleweight championship of the world with preternatural speed, slick, unpredictable movement and counter punching, great coaching from Gabriel Sarmiento and power that he’s grown into at 160 pounds. He’s gotten to the point where you kind of have to go back in time to remember any flaws. He does have a tendency to take rounds off, either because he doesn’t have the stamina for it — which would be strange, given his background in cycling — or he’s got something up his sleeve, or that one time in the first fight where Williams had him hurt (he has a great chin, but can be wobbled). I suppose his tendency to keep his hands low is a vulnerability, but these days he only does it after he gets into a rhythm where he’s ultraconfident that his opponent can’t touch him, which happens a lot.
In theory, Dzinziruk’s world class jab — and, really, it’s way up there with the great jabs in boxing right now — could tame Martinez’ speed and disrupt his funkadelic rhythm. His defense could fluster Martinez and his timing could, too. Dzinziruk doesn’t have the resume of Martinez, but he did beat Joel Julio and Daniel Santos when they were pretty well-regarded. One thing that strikes me as curious, having not seen very much of Dzinziruk, is how it is he has so many close scorecards. In one bout, he struggled against an opponent who was said to outwork him, Lukas Konecny. Martinez said he has a track record of beating fighters like Dzinziruk, who feed off mistakes, but hasn’t said exactly what it is. Knowing Martinez and Sarmiento, he’s not just foolin’ when he says that. I doubt the size issue comes into question — Dzinziruk is moving up to middleweight, but he’s not a small-framed guy. This is perhaps the best junior middleweight in the world right now fighting the inarguable best middleweight in the world right now.
That makes it the more competitive, meaningful bout of the evening, but that doesn’t mean it is PARTICULARLY competitive. Dzinziruk is about the best opponent, for competitive purposes, that could be mustered for Martinez. But it’s hard to fathom who really could give Martinez a competitive fight these days. Dzinziruk might be skilled, he might have some tools that could bother Martinez, but Martinez has superior speed and power over Dzinziruk and he’s plenty skilled himself. I can’t summon a good picture of how I think this fight will go, not at all, but I also can’t imagine anyone beating Martinez right now. I’ll take him by decision.
MIGUEL COTTO-RICARDO MAYORGA
Let’s assume the most competitive scenario for Cotto-Mayorga. Let’s say Cotto’s as worn down as the most pessimistic folk think, that he can no longer take a punch at all. And let’s predict that Mayorga is fresh and rested from being out of the ring from a long time and hasn’t been gorging himself on pizza or smoking cigarettes during training. And let’s take note of the natural size difference between the two, with Mayorga having fought as high as 170 pounds and Cotto only recently moving up to junior middleweight, a division for which he is a bit on the stumpy side. If all that is true, then it’s not unrealistic to believe that Mayorga could drill Cotto early. I think it still overlooks a major problem or two for Mayorga, like a vast gulf in technique and class between Cotto and Mayorga, and Mayorga’s own tendency to get KTFO against guys like that — Shane Mosley, Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad.
Cotto has had a hard boxing life, having engaged in some nasty brawls before coming out on the losing end of a couple against the best opponents of his career, Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao. If the brutal wins — Zab Judah, Joshua Clottey, Ricardo Torres — were not damaging enough, there was enough damage in the Margarito and Pacquiao losses for a fighter’s lifetime. It’s made Cotto one of the sport’s premier action fighters, but that give and take probably has diminished him at least a little. The addition of Emmanuel Steward sharpened up Cotto’s technique — which had been on the decline after years of essentially training himself — as he showed in his tactical defeat of Yuri Foreman in his junior middleweight debut last summer. He still has that left hook to the body, but his jab has become more of a weapon and his defense isn’t so non-existent.
Mayorga is the prototypical boxing wild man, winging punches from all over the place with the idea of maximum detonation. He has basically no other thing. But his power is natural born and if he lands, he can hurt you. It’s a thing that will get you pretty far against people who aren’t ready for it (Vernon Forrest), and sometimes only kind of far (Mosley, Trinidad) and sometimes nowhere at all (Cory Spinks, De La Hoya). Despite the KO losses to Mosley, Trinidad and De La Hoya, he has shown he can take a fair amount of punishment before succumbing to it, which makes him dangerous as long as he lasts. He basically hasn’t fought since 2008, a warm-up bout against Michael Walker late last year excepted, because he’d been trying to make a run at mixed martial arts before he lost a fight with his promoter Don King to return to boxing.
But no. I don’t see Mayorga being very competitive here. I think Cotto knocks him out in relatively short order. I don’t think Cotto is as diminished as some people do, and he’s the kind of sharp offensive fighter who carves up Mayorga. I see this only as a test of whether Cotto can take what power Mayorga gives him, if he gives him very much at all by connecting via some of those suicidal lunges. It will assuredly sell more tickets than Martinez-Dzinziruk, because neither of those two are a proven draw in the United States and Cotto is one of the best, plus Mayorga always helps hype fights by saying outrageous things. But most nights, I’ll take the fight that offers the prospect of competition over one that could feature a bit more contact but that is likely a squash match.