By Chris Robinson
Earlier this week I caught up with longtime HBO color commentator Larry Merchant in an effort to get his thoughts on the ongoing drama surrounding the now-cancelled Lamont Peterson-Amir Khan rematch. The fight was set to go down later this month at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas but Peterson was found to have tested positive for synthetic testosterone on Monday and the boxing world has since been ablaze about the entire ordeal.
And while Peterson-Khan II figured to give some clarity to the junior welterweight division, there is a bevy of talented champions, contenders, and former titlists also worth mention at 140 pounds, including Mexico City’s Juan Manuel Marquez.
Before my conversation with Merchant wrapped up, I gathered his thoughts on Marquez’s next move.
Having fought Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao tooth and nail yet again in a majority-decision loss last November and less than a month removed from a workmanlike decision over Sergiy Fedchneko, the 38-year old Marquez is eyeing a July 14th return at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Texas.
Presently there are three names in the mix to land the assignment with Marquez; former champion Zab Judah, Mexican legend Erik Morales, and all-action former WBA lightweight kingpin Brandon Rios.
All three contests are interesting in their own right, yet Merchant has an obvious preference on who he would like to see in the ring.
“I think that a fight between him and Morales would be a really popular fight,” said Merchant of the four-division champion and beloved warrior. “It would be the biggest fight of the three. It would, sooner than later, fill a gap in that great era of those featherweights with Barrera and so on. That would be the biggest event and I’m for big events when they can happen.
“The other fights are fights that could happen after this,” Merchant said, almost dismissing Judah and Rios.
Judah suffered a one-sided loss at the hands of Khan last July as failed to get into a rhythm before seeing the fight stopped in fifth round after he was dropped with a body shot that he claimed was low.
His back to the wall, Judah rebounded tremendously on March 24th when he outclassed previously-unbeaten Vernon Paris on his way towards a savage 9th round TKO.
And despite Judah’s dominance over the loud-mouthed Paris, Merchant is unsure of how much stock to put into that effort.
“I just don’t know how good Paris was,” said Merchant. “It’s to Judah’s credit that he came back, that he won the fight. He keeps himself going in the game but I don’t know what it proves after he was beaten so thoroughly by Khan. But he did it and that goes to his credit.”
Rios is still a hot commodity in the sport but saw the buzz from his career dulled a bit with his split-decision verdict over Cuba’s Richard Abril on April 14th. The fight was an awkward an uninspiring affair, as the always-aggressive Rios seemed befuddled by the moving and clinching style of Abril.
Making matters worse was the fact that Rios failed to make the lightweight limit of 135 pounds for the second straight fight, as he came in weighing 137 despite a determined in effort in training camp to squeeze his body down.
Merchant feels a move up to the junior welterweight class is long overdue for the 26-year old banger.
“I have to assume that some of his performance is assigned to his weight issues,” Merchant stated. “It’s clear that he’s outgrown his division. I think he’s got to fight at 140. He’s a crowd-pleasing fighter and a good fighter. And I’m all for that. If he can go out and beat somebody at 140 then he might get a big fight at 140 or 147. I’m a big Brandon Rios guy.”
There is definite danger at 140 pounds but Merchant sees Rios as a threat himself.
“He’s the kind of fighter, the bigger the guys he fights, the tougher it’s going to be. But he’s going to make it tough on everybody. And I want to see him fight the guys you mentioned you before and anybody else who makes dollars and sense. Because he’s a fighter you want to see," Merchant explained.