Commentary

Marquez bounces back; Smith shines

Originally Published: May 25, 2009
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com


A roundup of the past week's notable boxing results from around the world:

Saturday at Monterrey, Mexico
Junior featherweight
Toshiaki Nishioka TKO3 Jhonny Gonzalez
Retains a junior featherweight title
Records: Nishioka, 34-4-3, 21 KOs; Gonzalez, 40-7, 34 KOs

Rafael's remark: Early on, it didn't look good for Japan's Nishioka, a southpaw who was making a mandatory defense of his 122-pound belt. Mexico's Gonzalez, 27, had the raucous crowd of about 12,000 on his side and was stalking Nishioka before dropping him with an accurate combination with about 30 seconds left in the opening round. Nishioka, 32, scrambled to his feet but was on the run for the rest of the round, and it looked as though Gonzalez, a former bantamweight titleholder, was on his way to winning another belt. But in the third round, Nishioka, who was making the second defense of the paper belt he was given when injured legitimate champion Israel Vazquez was stripped by the reprehensible WBC, scored an out-of-nowhere knockout. He landed a picture-perfect straight left hand on Gonzalez's chin, dropping him flat on his back as his upper body came to rest under the ring ropes and on the apron. Gonzalez barely beat the count and was teetering badly to one side, giving referee Kenny Bayless no choice but to stop the fight at 1:20. It was a sensational knockout.

Nishioka, who had left Japan to fight only three previous times in his career (two appearances in the United States and one in France), was in Mexico only because Gonzalez's handlers won a purse bid for the bout. But Nishioka showed traveling was no problem in the impressive victory. Gonzalez, who lost his bantamweight belt when he was stopped by a single body punch from Gerry Penalosa in August 2007, won six fights in a row after the loss, albeit against less-than-impressive competition, to set up the shot at Nishioka. But with three knockout losses in his three most recent defeats (he was also stopped by Vazquez in the 10th round of a 2006 title bout) against top opponents, where does he go now?

Featherweight
Rafael Marquez TKO3 Jose Francisco Mendoza
Records: Marquez, 38-5, 34 KOs; Mendoza, 21-3-2, 17 KOs

Rafael's remark: After three consecutive epic junior featherweight championship fights with fellow Mexican Israel Vazquez between March 2007 and March 2008, both fighters needed long rests. While Vazquez remains out of action while eye injuries heal, Marquez, 34, finally returned to the ring looking to shake off losses in the second and third fights, the 2007 and 2008 fights of the year. The former two-division champ made it a successful comeback, notching his first win since the first Vazquez fight more than two years ago. Marquez's timing was a little off, and his jab looked a little slow. He also ate a couple of right hands from Colombia's Mendoza, 37, but he seemed to take it well. In the third round, Marquez suddenly landed a flush overhand right hand on Mendoza's chin and dropped him to his backside. Mendoza struggled to his feet, and there was a bit of confusion because referee Carlos Garcia did a poor job. He made no indication of what was going on. Ultimately, though, the fight had been called off because Garcia was walking a dazed Mendoza back to his corner. It's nice to see Marquez, the younger brother of lightweight champ Juan Manuel Marquez, back in action. When Vazquez is ready to go, there's a good chance we may see a fourth installment of their rivalry in the fall.

Saturday at Cincinnati
Heavyweight
Deontay Wilder KO1 Charles Brown
Records: Wilder, 5-0, 5 KOs; Brown, 6-16-1, 3 KOs

Rafael's remark: The early part of Wilder's professional career is being done with a relatively low profile. Handlers Golden Boy Promotions and manager Shelly Finkel are moving the raw 23-year-old prospect very carefully and allowing him time to develop slowly but surely since he turned pro in November. As the only U.S. Olympic boxing medalist in Beijing, where he took a bronze, Wilder is one of the more interesting prospects in boxing. He owns a tremendous right hand, and trainer Mark Breland is working with him to develop his jab. He didn't need it against Brown. According to Finkel, Wilder dropped Brown with a right hand and then dropped him again right away with another right hand, and the referee called it off without a count just 55 seconds into the scheduled six-rounder. Brown lost his seventh in a row but had gone the four-round distance in his previous three bouts. Wilder will continue fighting on a roughly monthly basis. He's scheduled to return June 26 on the undercard of Golden Boy's June 26 ESPN2 "Friday Night Fights" card in Tucson, Ariz. Beyond that, Wilder may land on the July 18 Floyd Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez undercard in Las Vegas, followed by another fight Aug. 14 on another "Friday Night Fights" card in Tucson.

Friday at Miami Beach, Fla.
Welterweight
Antwone Smith W10 Richard Gutierrez
Scores: 100-88, 97-93, 96-94
Records: Smith, 16-1-1, 8 KOs; Gutierrez, 24-3-1, 14 KOs

Rafael's remark: For a while Gutierrez looked as though he might become a solid contender, but those days appear gone as Smith pulled the upset in near-dominant fashion. Gutierrez, 30, of Colombia, had given future titleholder Joshua Clottey a rough fight in a majority decision loss in 2006 and then won four fights in a row. However, it's been downhill since. He was knocked out in five rounds by rising contender Alfredo Angulo on HBO in last May, held to an eight-round draw by unheralded Jerome Ellis and then suffered this clear points loss to Smith, who outhustled and outmuscled Gutierrez in the "Friday Night Fights" main event despite a cut over his left eye from the fourth round on. Smith, 22, was fighting in his hometown and continued his excellent run as he went past eight rounds for the first time in his career. He hasn't lost since dropping a six-round decision to Ed Paredes in July 2007, a stretch in which he is 11-0-1, including 4-0 on ESPN2, while facing some decent opposition.

Junior featherweight
Guillermo Rigondeaux TKO3 Juan Noriega
Records: Rigondeaux, 1-0, 1 KO; Noriega, 3-3, 3 KOs

Rafael's remark: The outcome of the fight was as preordained as it could be. That's what happens when you have one of the most decorated amateurs in history making his professional debut against a hand-picked opponent from Arkansas. Turning pro on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights," Cuban defector Rigondeaux, 28, obviously dominated Noriega, 24, who looked petrified to be in the ring from the opening bell. Rigondeaux, a southpaw, dropped him with a left hand 19 seconds into the fight and basically took target practice on him until the bout was stopped in the third round. It was more of a mercy stoppage than one because Noriega was badly hurt.

For Rigondeaux it was the start of what could be a championship career, and it's been a long time coming. As an amateur on the vaunted Cuban national team, Rigondeaux was one of the greatest of all time. He won Olympic bantamweight gold medals in 2000 and 2004. He was also a two-time world amateur champion, a Pan American Games gold medalist and the dominant fighter in his weight class. When he and teammate Erislandy Lara attempted to defect at the 2007 Pan American Games, they were caught, kicked off the national team and sent back to Cuba. That cost Rigondeaux a shot at 2008 Olympic gold, which he surely would have been favored to win. Finally, he defected in February with teammates Yudel Johnson and Yordanis Despaigne, who also turned pro on the undercard. Rigondeaux is a little old to be turning pro, but he has such vast experience that he will be moved quickly. He and his handlers have designs on fighting for a world title inside 10 pro fights. It could happen. Rigondeaux needs to learn to be a little more aggressive in the pros and not rely only on counter punching, but he's certainly a prospect to watch very closely.

Junior middleweight
Erislandy Lara TKO4 Edwin Vazquez
Records: Lara, 6-0, 4 KOs; Vazquez, 22-14-2, 8 KOs

Rafael's remark: Lara, a 2005 world amateur champion, likely would have made the 2008 Cuban Olympic team and been a medal favorite, but he was kicked off the national team in 2007 when he tried to defect with teammate Guillermo Rigondeaux at the Pan American Games in Brazil. However, on a second try, he successfully defected in March 2008 and turned professional in July. After two pro fights in Europe, Lara, 26, is now based in Miami and looks like a serious prospect. Earlier this month, the southpaw was given a high-profile spot by promoter Golden Boy on the televised portion of the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton pay-per-view card and easily won a decision against Chris Gray, although he didn't show the sort of spark he had shown in some of his earlier performances. Returning just three weeks later, the spark was there this time. He dropped the 37-year-old Vazquez, a very experienced fighter from Puerto Rico, with a left hand about a minute into the second round. Lara dominated the entire fight and after a flurry of more than a dozen unanswered shots that sent Vazquez reeling all over the ring, the fight was called off at 1:13 of the round. Solid win for Lara, who is most certainly a prospect to keep an eye on.

Two other Cuban defectors and 2004 Olympians also made their pro debuts on the undercard.

Junior middleweight Yudel Johnson (1-0, 1 KO), 27, the light welterweight silver medalist in the Athens Games, scored two knockdowns and needed just 52 seconds to notch a first-round TKO against Greg Weathers (3-1, 3 KOs). Light heavyweight Yordanis Despaigne (1-0, 0 KOs), 29, who owns amateur wins against such notable opponents as Andre Dirrell (as well as a loss to him in the Olympics), Jean Pascal, super middleweight titlist Karoly Balzsay and cruiserweight champion Tomasz Adamek, took a four-round unanimous decision against Robert Campbell (3-2-1, 3 KOs).

Friday at Las Vegas
Heavyweight
Oliver McCall TKO2 John Hopoate
Records: McCall, 52-9, 37 KOs; Hopoate, 11-3, 11 KOs

Rafael's remark: Yes, McCall, a former heavyweight champion, is still fighting at age 44. Fighting for the first time since dropping a unanimous decision to Juan Carlos Gomez in an October 2007 rematch in Germany, "The Atomic Bull" took out hard-punching Hopoate, a former rugby player who came a long way from Australia to get drilled. McCall dropped Hopoate with an uppercut a minute into the second round and, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, dropped him for a second time with a chopping right hand to the head, causing referee Joe Cortez to call off the fight without a count. McCall, of course, is best known for knocking out Lennox Lewis to win a title in 1994. He successfully defended it once against a faded Larry Holmes before losing the belt in his second defense to Frank Bruno. Lewis avenged the loss in a 1997 rematch, a fifth-round TKO during which McCall had an emotional breakdown mid-fight and began crying in the ring, forcing the stoppage.

Heavyweight
Elijah McCall KO1 Chad Davis
Records: McCall, 3-0-1, 3 KOs; Davis, 1-3, 0 KOs

Rafael's remark: Fighting on his father's undercard, Elijah McCall, 21, made even quicker work of his opponent than his old man made of his. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, McCall, a former college football player, knocked Davis, 30, down with a body shot and again with a combination to the body before the fight was called off.

Thursday at Sacramento
Lightweight
Vicente Escobedo KO2 Kevin Kelley
Records: Escobedo, 21-1, 13 KOs; Kelley, 60-10-2, 39 KOs

Rafael's remark: Escobedo, a 2004 U.S. Olympian, is coming into his own. In April, he gutted out a unanimous decision against former titleholder Carlos Hernandez in a tremendous fight. This time out, the 27-year-old emerging contender from California put the name of another former champion on his résumé as he knocked out former featherweight titlist Kelley, who is long past his prime. Escobedo dropped Kelley to the seat of his pants in the center of the ring with a strong right hand in the second round. Kelley, a 41-year-old southpaw, survived, but not for long. Escobedo went right at him in a follow-up attack and knocked him down for a second time. This time, Kelley was a tick late in trying to beat referee John Schorle's count. The victory could propel Escobedo into an Aug. 22 appearance on HBO's "Boxing After Dark." One of the fights the network is interested in for the undercard of Juan Diaz's ring return is Escobedo against brawler Michael Katsidis, who also won an exciting fight on the same card on which Escobedo beat Hernandez. As for Kelley, he has no future in the ring at this point. He's been a credit to boxing and been in several exciting fights, but enough is enough for a fighter whose title reign was from 1993 to 1995. Kelley lost his second fight in a row and dropped to 2-4 in his past six bouts, including two early knockout losses. He's more or less been done since 2003, when he was blown out in four rounds by Marco Antonio Barrera.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.