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These are tough times to be a welterweight contender

2/21/2008 - Boxing

Timing is everything.

If your career goal is to be the welterweight champion of the world, this isn't the time. That's especially true if you aren't a future Hall of Famer.

An etched plaque of Richard Gutierrez isn't likely to show up at the Exit 34 toll booth of the New York State Thruway any time soon. Excuse the esoteric nature of that last description.
For those of you who actually have been to the Boxing Hall of Fame, the laugh is on the house.

Gutierrez, 23-1, 14 KOs, is a very good, capable contender. Unfortunately, with Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto, Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, Oscar De La Hoya and Antonio Margarito doing their thing at 147, guys like Gutierrez, Joshua Clottey and Isaac Hlatswayo need to be better than simply very good and capable.

These guys have become the lost boys of the golden era.

Gutierrez, 29, of Colombia, will face Jose Varela (22-2, 15 KOs) this week on "Friday Night Fights" (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Varela, of Nicaragua but based in Los Angeles, is trained by Evangelista Cotto, undefeated champion Miguel Cotto's uncle and trainer. Varela should be a good test for Gutierrez.

Gutierrez is three years into his move to make a name for himself in the United States. In that time, he has impressed, even while suffering his only loss.

That loss was by a razor-thin majority decision to current contender Clottey, and the California ringside crowd booed the scores. They felt Gutierrez's hard-fought finish, all while dealing with a cut over his left eye, should have earned the win.

Clottey has gone on to bigger and better things. He gave Margarito a tough battle, TKO'd Diego Corrales and just topped Shamone Alverez to become a mandatory challenger to Kermit Cintron's title. Using law of syllogism math, Gutierrez easily could be in line for a shot at a title.

The first scouting report I heard on Gutierrez was from his former manager, Arturo Sanchez. "He has a great work ethic. He trains every day, and he runs on the weekends," Sanchez said. "He goes to church every day, every single day. He's very religious."

That faith surely will be challenged by both the business of boxing and the critics. You can count me among the critics after his last fight.

In January 2007, Gutierrez blew away veteran Teddy Reid so decisively I couldn't wait to see him again. His return visit to "Friday Night Fights" came in June against the presumably overmatched Luciano Perez.

But Gutierrez seemed uninterested. His overall boxing skills were superior enough that he simply coasted to the win.
Up to that point, everything about Gutierrez had impressed and inspired, but that wasn't the type of fight that makes a fan want to see more.

His manager, Luis DeCubas Jr., said a change of scenery leading up to Friday's fight might change all that.

"Richard is training in Scottsdale, Arizona, for this fight. This is where Joel Casamayor trains, and Richard came out here with him," DeCubas said. "Richard had been training off and on in Miami. This is the first time I've been able to get him out of Miami; he loses a little focus over there."

OK, so we have it on the record. This is supposed to be a more focused Gutierrez. I'll give him a pass on the lackluster Perez fight, but now it's time to prove us right. Now it's time to show that Richard Gutierrez belongs.

Said Gutierrez: "In Colombia, they used to call me 'La Lamina.' It's a name for anybody who's hard-nosed, hard-headed, hard-hitting and just a hard person."

This is the fighter Roberto Duran handpicked for his new promotional stable. This is the fighter who picked up his craft in street brawls in Colombia. This is the fighter who attacks the body as if the opponent's organs have red targets circled on them.

Go for it, La Lamina. Show us how hard a person you really are. Show us you can add to an already-loaded division rather than adding your name to the could've been/should've been list.

Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."