By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Perhaps Manny Pacquiao set a tone.
After a week in which preview stories, radio interviews and water cooler talk about the returning Filipino ex-champion were the norm, this week already seems to be a redux of nostalgia.
Within hours of the Friday weigh-in for Pacquiao’s Saturday fight with Brandon Rios, my other-side-of-the-world cell phone was blowing up with contact from another former holder of a welterweight title belt - one-time IBF champion Kermit Cintron.
The Puerto Rican-born slugger, who discovered boxing long after he’d been a successful high school wrestler in suburban Philadelphia, has flown significantly under the radar since a fifth-round TKO loss to Canelo Alvarez in a 154-pound title shot in 2011.
He was out of the ring for all of 2012 and has returned for a pair of off-the-beaten-path appearances this year, managing a split-decision draw Adrian Granados on March 22 in Chicago before outpointing once-beaten Jonathan Batista five months later in Oklahoma.
Both of those fights occurred back at 147 pounds and helped Cintron establish a beachhead for what he insists will be a rapid return to prominence in his old weight class stomping grounds.
Step one in that process, he says, was returning to the strength and conditioning coach - Joe Pastore - whom he’d worked with in the early stages of his career, which began with 22 KOs in 24 victories from 2000 through 2004.
He’s 10-5-2 in 17 fights since, with six knockouts.
“I’m looking forward to getting back in the ring early next year, January or February,” Cintron said. “Looking to start the new year with a statement. I’m looking to come out knocking opponents out like I did in the early stages of my career.”
Among the foes on his immediate agenda is fellow Puerto Rican-turned-Pennsylvanian Ronald Cruz, who specifically called Cintron’s name after improving to 20-2 with a mid-November defeat of Hector Muniz in Bethlehem, Pa. - about an hour’s drive from Cintron’s home in Reading.
Cintron said he’d never heard of Cruz before the mention, but would like to make his acquaintance now if promoters Russell Peltz (Cruz) and Leon Margules (Cintron) can strike a deal.
“I’m willing to accept his challenge. Looks like I’m on his Christmas wish list,” Cintron said. “I want to give him his early Christmas present.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Contestant No. 2 on the old-school hit parade is former IBF lightweight titleholder Paul Spadafora, whose four-year belted run was quickly forgotten amid a torrent of out-of-ring issues that included multiple incarcerations in the century’s first decade.
Though his last fight with genuine championship implications occurred more than 10 years ago, the tattooed Pittsburgh native has managed to win 12 straight fights in the interim and will be aiming for 49-0-1 when he meets Venezuelan Johan Perez on Saturday night in West Virginia.
Spadafora last fought in April when he decisioned 12-loss trial horse Robert Frankel, but he reappeared in Miami in late June during a press tour stop hyping the Mayweather-Alvarez title fight and called for meetings with both Mayweather and protege Adrien Broner.
“We’re here to make a little noise,” Spadafora said. “We want the little brother (Broner), and then we’re coming for the big brother (Mayweather).”
Now 38 years old, Spadafora is ranked fourth at 140 pounds by the WBA, whose dubious interim belt will be on the line against Perez.
“The road to redemption will be paved with Johan Perez,” said Joseph Horn, Spadafora’s manager. “Perez can't even begin to contemplate what this fight means to Paul and all it represents for him. To that end, Paul has prepared at the highest level possible, recognizing that Perez is a talented opponent and that Paul needs to silence his critics and the doubters who said Spadafora was history.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC light heavyweight title - Quebec City, Quebec
Adonis Stevenson (champion) vs. Tony Bellew (No. 1 contender)
Stevenson (22-1, 19 KO): Second title defense; Three stoppage wins in 2013 (14 rounds)
Bellew (20-1-1, 12 KO): Second title fight (0-1); First fight outside United Kingdom
Fitzbitz says: “Haitian-turned-Canadian puts another log onto his Fighter of the Year fire with another inside-the-distance win, but not without some difficulty.” Stevenson in 9
WBC strawweight title - Maguan, China
Xiong Zhao Zhong (champion) vs. Omari Kimweri (No. 7 contender)
Zhong (21-4-1, 11 KO): Second title defense; Twenty-third fight in China (20-1-1)
Kimweri (13-3, 5 KO): First title fight; Third fight outside Australia (0-2)
Fitzbitz says: “Perhaps the first title shot for a challenger who lost to a winless fighter in his previous bout. Not sure how that warrants a No. 7 ranking, but it won’t matter here.” Zhong in 10
WBO light heavyweight title - Quebec City, Quebec
Sergey Kovalev (champion) vs. Ismayl Sillakh (No. 15 contender)
Kovalev (22-0-1, 20 KO): First title defense; Stoppages in last 10 victories (31 rounds)
Sillakh (21-1, 17 KO): First title fight; First fight in Canada
Fitzbitz says: “Sillakh had some big talk a few years back on the Hopkins-Jones II undercard, but he’s spun his wheels since. He’ll have reason to yap again if the upset happens.” Sillakh in 6
WBO mini-flyweight title - Quezon City, Philippines
Merlito Sabillo (champion) vs. Carlos Buitrago (No. 1 contender)
Sabillo (23-0, 12 KO): Second title defense; Stoppages in last five victories (26 rounds)
Buitrago (27-0, 16 KO): First title fight; First fight in Philippines
Fitzbitz says: “Champion hasn’t lost a fight, which is important, but he’s in with another guy who’s never lost and who somehow appears ready to succeed on a road trip.” Buitrago in 7
WBO junior flyweight title - Quezon City, Philippines
Donnie Nietes (champion) vs. Sammy Gutierrez (No. 14 contender)
Nietes (31-1-4, 17 KO): Third title defense; Held WBO belt at 105 (2007-10, four defenses)
Gutierrez (33-9-2, 23 KO): Third title fight (0-2); No wins in last 13 months (0-1)
Fitzbitz says: “Dual-division champion has carried a belt for much of the last several years and shows no signs of losing it here to less active and less successful foil.” Nietes by decision
Last week's picks: 2-1
2013 picks record: 71-34 (67.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 534-186 (74.2 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.