by Cliff Rold
Good fights are always the tonic.
Boxing has some terrible moments; judging, officiating, and governing issues leaving it with a look of potential ruin almost always.
Then it happens.
Two guys put on gloves, beat the hell out of each other, the better man wins, and the fans go home happy.
It’s really that simple. It’s why the addicts, the real fans, can never truly turn away.
Pernell Whitaker-Julio Cesar Chavez infuriated; Michael Carbajal-Chiquita Gonzalez I and Evander Holyfield Riddick Bowe II sizzled. Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield I sparked cries of investigations in 1999; Erik Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera I, Shane Mosley-Oscar De La Hoya I, Fernando Vargas-Ike Quartey, and Felix Trinidad-Vargas played stain fighter in 2000.
So, sure, a couple of weeks ago Manny Pacquiao looked like he got the business against Timothy Bradley. Julio Cesar Chavez-Andy Lee got an impressive eight-day run underway to mitigate the damage. Followed by, for hardcore fans outside Asia anyways, the first Strawweight unification bout since the 1990’s, and a scorching Showtime doubleheader on Saturday, there are a range of new things to talk about.
Will we ever see Ioka-Nkosinathi-Joyi? Who will “Canelo” Cunningham face now that Victor Ortiz is off the table? Can Josesito Lopez follow up on a career making moment? And isn’t there a soccer stadium somewhere in Argentina just perfect for Lucas Matthysse-Marcos Maidana?
In the last eight days, boxing fans got good fights and a reminder that, when this sport does it right, it does it better than any other.
Let’s go to the report cards.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Kazuto Ioka A; Akira Yaegashi B+/Post: Ioka A; Yaegashi A
Pre-Fight: Power – Ioka A; Yaegashi B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Defense – Ioka B+; Yaegashi B-/Post: Ioka B+; Yaegashi B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Ioka A; Yaegashi A/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Speed – Victor Ortiz B+; Josesito Lopez B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Ortiz B+; Lopez B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Defense – Ortiz B-; Lopez B-/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Ortiz B; Lopez B+/Post: B; A
Pre-Fight: Speed – Lucas Matthysse B; Humberto Soto B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Matthysse B+; Soto B/Post: A; B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Matthysse B; Soto B-/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Matthysse A; Soto A/Post: Same
Beginning with the first big fight of the week, Ioka managed in only his tenth fight to become a unified titlist at 105 lbs. and the fight lived up to the anticipation it merited on paper. It wasn’t easy. The rugged Yaegashi proved Ioka’s equal in speed and put on a display of blind guts.
From early on, Yaegashi dealt with a badly swollen left eye. By fight’s end, the right wasn’t looking too good either. Once the referee decided to let the fight run for good (his constant eye checks in mid-fight became distracting), the bout built to a nice crescendo. He had the younger man backing up in spots and never fell out of the fight even as the more accurate talent went to work. The final three rounds featured excellent action after sustained battling for most of the first nine. Yaegashi, seemingly behind, pitched powerful rallies in the final two rounds to make the contest worthy of a sequel.
In the end, the card here favored the victor 116-112. Ioka won another title and furthered the incredible promise he has shown thus far. Yaegashi won even more respect after the sensational war he had with Pornsawan Porpramook last year.
The question now is what becomes of Ioka? While Yaegashi is healing up, Ioka will have to decide which belt (WBC or WBA) he will keep going forward, a stipulation of the initial fight contract. He will, or more aptly his handlers will, have to decide whether they truly want to prove beyond doubt that they have the best horse in the race at 105.
Joyi, the IBF titlist, is a marvel of precision, fluidity, and volume. While the IBF is not recognized in Japan, Hozumi Hasegawa-Fernando Montiel showed the path to a unification that doesn’t involve the WBC and WBA exclusively. There might not be a market for the fight. On merit, Ioka-Joyi is one the best fights that can be made in all of boxing.
That story will play out overseas. Stateside, there was plenty to talk about on Saturday. Matthysse, ahead on this card 4-1 at the time of the stoppage, did something unexpected. Many thought we’d see a war, and Matthysse was favored, but Soto’s chin has been an asset. A stoppage wasn’t the most likely outcome. We got it anyways. Matthysse proved he could get a top-level guy out of there just the same as the local circuit down south.
For Soto, it was one more brave effort in a career that has had its share. 140 is just a class too high for him and move back to Lightweight might be a good idea. Matthysse, who could well still be undefeated, has earned a title shot. Timothy Bradley is likely soon to officially relinquish his belts at 140 and there could be vacancies to compete for. A crack at the winner of Amir Khan-Danny Garcia would be stellar.
And, whenever they can get to it, a surefire brawl with fellow Argentine Marcos Maidana is a must. This has been a phenomenal few years at Jr. Welterweight, its best run since the heyday of Julio Cesar Chavez and Meldrick Taylor. Matthysse-Maidana would only enhance future recollection.
And then there was the upset…
Leading on this card 5-4 at the time of the stoppage, Lopez forced a retirement from former Welterweight titlist Victor Ortiz in an outcome more should have seen coming. Ortiz is physical talent, but his track record said that he has a break point. Even leading through the first scheduled half there were signs of give.
Early on, both men taking turns buzzing the other, their reactions were telling. Lopez always fired back or tied up, keeping Ortiz close to him. Ortiz sometimes fired back but often gave ground and backed away. With a pay-per-view outing against Saul Alvarez on the line, Ortiz wasn’t just fighting to win.
Ortiz was fighting not to lose.
Lopez didn’t have the same burden. Ortiz was his big fight, the chance to make a new life for him and his after a debatable loss to Jesse Vargas last September. A fighter who has never shown give found the ladder he needed to the next level. Lopez weathered some hammering shots and would not relent. He proved he is all fighter and ready to make all of the lessons of his career begin to bear fruit.
Ortiz is being unfairly taken to task for opting not to go on with a broken jaw. The man has given fans wars with Maidana, Andre Berto, and now Lopez. Boxing needs more ‘quitters’ this entertaining and everyone at the Staples Center on Saturday got their money’s worth and then some.
Where critique is not unfair is in, again, wondering about the mentality of Ortiz. Does he have it between the ears to ever live up to the speed and power nature blessed him with?
That’s a fair question.
Some fighters never quite meet the promise others see. It’s not a sin. Ortiz is having a fine career in its own regard and, when he heals, there is every reason to think a rematch would again be great. If Ortiz could go in only needing to win, with no outside pressure beyond victory, he might perform better. The Berto win came as an underdog and maybe Ortiz is just not comfortable as a favorite.
Regardless, he’s earned maintained attention. Lopez has earned a little more. In a Welterweight division with a lot of logjam in the middle, Lopez could easily slide into the title picture. Thinking with keys, is there any way Lopez versus Robert Guerrero wouldn’t be a hell of a fight if Guerrero wins a belt next month against Selcuk Aydin?
That’s assuming Guerrero isn’t being prepped for Floyd Mayweather of course.
Lopez-Alvarez is probably too big a size difference right now for that to be the new answer for “Canelo” and there is no avoiding the ramifications of Lopez-Ortiz. What now for Alvarez?
The answer should be easy. Golden Boy was going to match Alvarez in losable fights with Paul Williams and Ortiz. Williams suffered tragic injury. Ortiz suffered defeat. The next best foe available shares a promoter with Alvarez and one would assume Golden Boy is actually giving fair representation to that man.
His name: Erislandy Lara.
If Lara isn’t pushed by his promoter as the new foe for Alvarez, the Cuban bad ass has every reason to wonder why Golden Boy signed him at all. If Alvarez refuses so be it, but it is the right fight to make and the best for the fans.
It was a hell of a week in the sweet science, aided in part by less science and more sweet violence. Good fights as tonic with leather flowing like gin, leaving fans to feel the best kind of drunk on the beauty of it all.
Report Card Picks 2012: 34-10
Light Heavyweight: With a year of inactivity, and no fight scheduled, former lineal champion Zsolt Erdei exits the ratings. Denis Grachev, still flush off his win over Ismayl Sillakh, slides in.
Welterweight: Lopez enters high and could well be riding a long winning streak with better luck on the cards versus Jesse Vargas. Ortiz drops just a little with most of the class still waiting for more big wins. Randall Bailey is tied at ten with Paulie Malignaggi.
Jr. Welterweight: Matthysse gets a bump past the first man to narrowly defeat him, Zab Judah.
Strawweight: Ioka rises to number one as the first man to win a unification bout in class since Ricardo Lopez. His last four wins are some of the best work seen at 105 in years. Yaegashi remains where he was after a valiant effort.
Remaining results and the full ratings update are a click away.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]