Heavyweight division should become clearer
On Saturday night from the famed Madison Square Garden in New York, the cavalcade of Don King heavyweights will be prominently on display.
John Ruiz and Andrew Golota will grapple for the WBA title, Chris Byrd and Jameel McCline will duke it out for the IBF belt, Evander Holyfield faces Larry Donald, and Hasim Rahman takes on Kali Meehan.
They're billing this card as "The Battle for Supremacy" and five of these heavyweight are listed in Ring Magazine's top 10 -- and I just want to say, I'm using their rankings as a guide, not as the Bible or end-all -- and two major belts are on the line.
A murky heavyweight picture should become much clearer after this night. And no matter what HBO wants to shove down our throats, Vitali Klitschko is the WBC champion, but not the undisputed one.
But should this really be a pay-per-view show?
It has the makings of a more expensive, higher-profile "Heavyweight Explosion":
John Ruiz vs. Andrew Golota
OK, call me crazy -- I've been called much worse -- but in a sick and twisted way I'm actually looking forward to this fight. Say what you will about "The Quiet Man," but he does have wins over Evander Holyfield, Kirk Johnson and Fres Oquendo. And through it all, he's been a survivor who somehow, someway, finds ways to win the majority of his fights.
As for Golota, he's been just the opposite -- he finds ways to give away fights he has seemingly sewn up. While many scoffed at his return this April, many observers felt as though he did more than enough to beat Chris Byrd. But the question is, just how will he react to the mauling tactics of Ruiz?
THE PICK: Ruiz by decision. Hey, I'm gonna go with the guy who usually looks bad in winning over the guy who sometimes looks pretty good in losing efforts.
Chris Byrd vs. Jameel McCline
I'll say it right now, Chris Byrd is the best heavyweight on the planet -- currently on a two-fight losing streak. Sorry, I just had to say it, but the truth is, as much as I like Chris, most fans and media who saw his last two bouts against Fres Oquendo and Golota had him losing one -- if not both -- of those fights.
Perhaps Byrd, whose style is predicated on quickness, elusiveness and reflexes, is slowing. Or maybe, just maybe he had two bad nights against two guys with awkward styles. Oquendo is about as unorthodox as they come and Golota has never been accused of not having a good set of skills.
McCline, who was scheduled to face James Toney last February, could be just what the doctor ordered for Byrd. He's a big and plodding heavyweight with a limited amateur background. Which is exactly the type of guy that Byrd flies around.
THE PICK: Byrd by decision. I'll take the more seasoned and smoother boxer over the bigger and ponderous one.
Evander Holyfield vs. Larry Donald
I guess the best way to describe this fight would be as a "Has-been" against a "Never really was." Holyfield is one of the past generation's most noble warriors and elite fighters, but he's struggled to be a .500 fighter since his two wins over Mike Tyson in 1996 and 1997.
What's interesting about this fight is that it's clear that King still has plans of using Holyfield for higher-profile fights in the future. But Donald -- if he has anything left -- has the type of style that could trouble Holyfield. Donald has always had solid boxing skills and he's never been afraid to employ movement.
THE PICK: Donald by decision. Now, can you even call this an upset? At this point in time, I'm not sure anyone beating Holyfield should surprise anybody.
Hasim Rahman vs. Kali Meehan
Now, believe it or not, based on these two guys' past histories, this could be a very entertaining fight. Rahman, win or lose, always seems to be involved in eventful fights, from his two-fight series against Lennox Lewis and David Tua, to his bout against Evander Holyfield, his shootout against Corrie Sanders and his knockout loss to Oleg Maskaev.
Now, after fighting in the hinterlands of boxing, he is back on the big stage against Meehan, who for all intents and purposes should be sporting the WBO belt around his waist after outfighting Lamon Brewster in September.
Meehan came into that bout as an unknown, but did establish himself as a pretty credible fighter coming out of it.
Neither guy is afraid of getting into a fight and both have been stopped. It's a recipe for a good fight.
THE PICK: Rahman by KO. Meehan is a game fighter who could be riding a crest of confidence after his bout with Brewster. But I'm tabbing the big fight experience and power of "The Rock" to carry the day.
A couple of years ago I tabbed Zab Judah to beat Kostya Tszyu. "The Thunder from Down Under" promptly blew out Judah in two rounds. Coming into his rematch against Sharmba Mitchell this past weekend, I felt that with his 22-month layoff and the recent resurgence of Mitchell -- who came into the bout with an eight-fight winning streak -- that he had bitten off more than he could chew.
Will I ever learn?
Probably not, but that's what makes this job so fun. You just gotta hand it to Tszyu, who devastated Mitchell in three rounds with a series of explosive right hands that had Mitchell reeling early on. Considering who he was facing and the circumstances he was coming into, this may have been the most impressive feat of his Hall of Fame career.
He didn't just beat Mitchell; he bludgeoned him.
And let it be said right here and now that anyone who wants to make a claim of being the world's best junior welterweight has to go through Tszyu. While guys like Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Arturo Gatti may have higher profiles and the hype machine of HBO, and Ricky Hatton may be a bigger box office draw, but this guy is the ruler of this division.
Do they dare step into the ring with him?
And if and when they do, will I have enough sense to just do the right thing and pick Tszyu to win?
It's great having him back. Let's hope he sticks around a while longer.
I thought it was a pretty solid debut for Main Events and their new partnership with ESPN. Juan Diaz showed us once again why he is one of the sport's best "television fighters" and perhaps one of its brightest young stars.
What caught my eye were some of the new touches they added production-wise to the broadcast. Having the always smooth Brian Kenny on-site gave the event a "big fight" feel. A nice feature was done on Diaz and his exploits out of the ring. Jeremy Schapp had a pre-fight interview with Diaz and other tidbits from behind the scenes, and Kenny conducted an interview with IBF lightweight champion Julio Diaz, who was in attendance.
All in all, a very good telecast and it was good to see that highlights of Diaz's successful defense of his WBA lightweight belt against Julien Lorcy were shown on ESPN's "SportsCenter" and ESPNEWS.
Even with the departure of Floyd Mayweather, the lightweight division is still among the most intriguing in the sport. Its belt holders from top to bottom are as good as any.
Here's my personal top five:
1. Jose Luis Castillo: The most seasoned of all the lightweight champions and he hung tough with "Pretty Boy" Floyd. Pound for pound, among the strongest and toughest boxers around.
2. Diego Corrales: "Chico" is on a roll with wins over Joel Casamayor and Acelino Freitas in 2004. Has carried his punching prowess up to 135 and the extra weight seems to have made his legs steadier.
3. Julio Diaz: "The Kidd" is a slick boxer/puncher who has rebounded well after some tough losses. Diaz is beginning to live up to the promise and hope so many had for him a few years back. I think his versatility gives him a slight edge over his namesake.
4. Juan Diaz: As active and as busy a fighter as you'll see. Tough as nails and he just keeps coming. If he could only punch just a smidge harder.
5. Juan Lazcano: Couldn't get past Castillo in June, but then, how many lightweights can? Still, even with that loss, he's still a very tough out for any other 135-pounder.