by Cliff Rold
Unification and the unified king of all boxing (in a literal sense) are on tap this week, and that puts boxing in a good place.
It also gives the sport a long Saturday.
There was a time where fight fans could watch a good scrap in the afternoon and catch another on HBO. Now it’s almost all Friday and Saturday, well into the night. With the advent of Epix, and their focus on overseas action, earlier and significant action is coming while the sun is still out in most of the U.S. (all of it at daylight savings time).
God forbid a fight fan have to choose between a night out and a fight in.
There is reason to celebrate day and night in the week ahead, so the choice is easy.
These are the picks of the week.
Pick B.A.D.: #3 Nonito Donaire vs. #4 Jeffrey Mathebula (Saturday, HBO, 10 PM EST/PST)
Chalk this up as a good fight most might not see coming. Donaire (28-1, 18 KO) is well positioned on pound-for-pound lists but that never won anyone a fight. Winning gets done in the ring and Donaire has had two straight since his crushing knockout of Fernando Montiel that looked like foregone conclusions. This looks better. Mathebula (26-3-2, 14 KO) is his first real threat at 122 lbs. and, while Donaire should win, it’s too early to say he will. Bells need ringing. Mathebula is gutsy and nearly pulled off an upset of Celestino Caballero a couple years ago. He’s been unlucky in a pair of split decisions, hasn’t been stopped since 2003, and has been around Jr. Featherweight his whole career. He puts his IBF belt against Donaire’s WBO in the division’s first unification bout since Erik Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera I. Former Middleweight king Kelly Pavlik continues his comeback underneath. This is very good B.A.D. (Boxing After dark for the newbies).
Pick Heavy: World Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko vs. #10 Tony Thompson (Saturday, EPIX & EPIXHD.com, 4:30 PM EST/1:30 PM PST)
It’s the rematch no one (but Thompson) knew they wanted…probably because they didn’t. Klitschko (57-3, 50 KO) is in that weird place few Heavyweights get to, the place where they begin to recycle foes already defeated as old names wash out and new ones come of age. At 36, Klitschko’s time may grow closed sooner than most will see coming. To his credit, Thompson (36-2, 24 KO) gave Klitschko one of his better fights in recent years before being stopped in 11 in 2008. At 40, Thompson improving on that performance is a slim chance. That leaves the fight to be celebrated for what it is: a routine title defense for a dominant champion. There’s nothing wrong with that and if it goes the way the first did, it won’t be boring.
Pick Prospect: Javier Fortuna vs. Cristobal Cruz (Friday, ESPN2, 10 PM EST/7 PM PST)
Before the big Saturday double, check out one of the most promising young Featherweights out there is a step-up challenge. Fortuna (19-0, 14 KO) is already rated in three sanctioning body top tens and draws his first former titlist in Cruz (39-13-3, 23 KO). For all the talk about Gary Russell Jr., Fortuna is neck and neck in terms of development. At 22, to Russell’s 21, is a rivalry being born?
Back in seven.
For BoxingScene’s latest full divisional ratings, log on to: http://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
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]