By Cliff Rold
Twice in 2011, fights have been hyped and fans hyped right along with them.
The first, Timothy Bradley-Devon Alexander, didn’t meet expectations even of purists who are fine with more cerebral action.
The next, Nonito Donaire-Fernando Montiel, was a marvel of performance, a singular highlight worth every replay it’s had. Alas, a fight? No, fans were still waiting for the first piece of real blood letting, of sustained leather and endurance through pain.
Brandon Rios-Miguel Acosta was the full plate of red meat fights fans were looking for. It wasn’t that it snuck up on anyone. It had ‘good fight’ written all over it. It was just that it so exceeded what had come before it, with more fanfare, in recent weeks that it felt a revelatory.
No year really starts until its first Fight of the Year candidate is in the books.
2011 is under way. What’s on tap now?
These are the picks of the week.
Pick 140 (And When Don’t We These Days): #6 Kaizer Mabuza vs. Zab Judah (Saturday, Integrated Sports PPV, 9:00 PM EST/6:00 PM PST)
HBO has the card the most people are likely to watch this week. They don’t have the best fight. Give that nod to this quiet little card. Is it worth ordering? That’s up to the given fan and probably reflects how they feel about former undisputed Welterweight champion Zab Judah (40-6, 27 KO). With four straight wins and a return to the Jr. Welterweight class where he won his first title, Judah comes full circle. Literally. He’ll face Mabuza (23-6-3, 14 KO) for the vacant IBF belt, the very same belt Judah won to first cross from contender to titlist in 2000. Don’t let Mabuza’s greater anonymity, and lesser ledger, distract from his qualities. He’s won eight in a row, six by stoppage that includes a six-round thrashing of ex-titlist Kendall Holt his last time out. If Judah is nine, the veteran may be at the end of the line. The winner of this fight, particularly if it is Judah, is going to be a factor in the hot Jr. Welterweight race immediately. Love or hate the mercurial Judah, this should be a hot scrap.
Pick Deuce: Ismayl Sillakh vs. Yordanis Despaigne (Friday, ESPN2, 9:00 PM EST/6:00 PM PST)
Somebody’s “0” will go in this rare match of promising, unbeaten prospects. It’s safe to say the winner enters contention at Light Heavyweight sooner than later. Despaigne (8-0, 4 KO) is part of the wave of Cuban talent that has flooded boxing in the last few years. Less heralded than countrymen like Erislandy Lara and Guillermo Rigondeuax, Despaigne has a chance here to pick up the sort of win that begins to catch him up to them. On the other side, Sillakh (14-0, 12 KO) brings what looks like more athleticism and promising power. How hungry are the combatants? The answer to that likely will tell us just how good a fight this will be.
Pick Mexico: #9 Saul Alvarez vs. Matthew Hatton (Saturday, HBO, 10:30 PM EST/PST)
“Canelo” Alvarez (35-0-1, 26 KO) is a serious star in Mexico. His combination of lethal left hook and Opie Cunningham-does-boxing looks explain that easily. He might one day be a serious champion. This weekend, he’ll get to win a vacant WBC belt because…well, no one can come up with any meritorious reason for why this is for a belt. Matthew Hatton (41-4-2, 16 KO)? He’s an honest fighter with the right last name. But there’s only one Ricky Hatton and his bro ain’t it. This is worth a look for action purposes and because Alvarez is going to be a part of the landscape for the foreseeable future.
Just don’t expect much in the way of surprises.
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Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]