By Jake Donovan
Joan Guzman stares at the computer screen, which is open to a page showing the most recent 140 lb. ratings for the World Boxing Association (WBA). All the Dominican boxer is shake his head in disbelief.
The frustration isn’t over the rankings (which often prompts industry-wide head-shaking), as Guzman is sitting pretty. He is currently the highest rated fighter eligible to take part in a potential vacant title fight, but not even the allure of facing an unbeaten 36-year old for a shiny alphabet trinket is tempting enough to his divisional peers.
“First Marcos Maidana took off,” Guzman states, noting the Argentine’s defection from the 140 lb. ranks to pursue a career at welterweight. “Then Pablo Cano is offered the fight and he takes off.”
Several high-profile opponents – and several low-profile, though at least known in hardcore boxing cirtcles – have passed on the opportunity to face Guzman, even with the dangling carrot of a future title shot hanging overhead.
“Jessie Vargas took off. Amir Khan’s dad said ‘No.’ Danny Garcia’s dad said, ‘No.’ All I need is just one to say yes and I’ll be happy,” Guzman insists.
There is one fighter at the moment willing to give him the day. It’s not the most ideal opponent, but nevertheless a potential opponent.
“Khabib…” Guzman says before pausing on the rest. The fragmented statement is in reference to fellow unbeaten contender Khabib Allakhverdiev. The Russian challenger is currently the highest WBA-rated opponent willing to face the former two-time champ.
For the moment, there exists the possibility that Guzman could be heading to Russia, though his team hopes it doesn’t come to that. Given what’s taken place in recent times, the safe bet would be to begin scouting for good travel packages to Moscow.
“We’re in negotiation right now, so hopefully we’ll have some good news soon,” states Jose Nunez, Guzman’s manager for nearly a decade and loyal friend for even longer.
Loyalty is hard to come by for Guzman these days, though of course he is well aware why that’s the case. A history of winning in the ring has been overshadowed by losing at the scales, which has cost him championships and in one instance a championship fight altogether.
The most notable instance was his pulling out of a scheduled lightweight title fight with Nate Campbell in Sept. ’08. Guzman showed up well above the limit for his title challenge against Campbell, which would have headlined a Showtime-televised card. He instead left everyone high and dry – including himself, as he was checked into a nearby hospital and treated for dehydration that evening.
Ensuing follies at the scales for bouts with Ali Funeka (rematch) and Jason Davis (tune-up) put his career in grave danger, at least in the court of public opinion. His record remains unblemished but has severely missed the boat in terms of having the opportunity to add to his collection a belt in a third weight class.
The fight with Davis was a mess of epic proportions. The tune-up was placed on the undercard of Amir Khan’s thrilling win over Marcos Maidana in Dec. ’10. The intention was to build up consideration for a showdown between Khan and Guzman, providing that both won their bouts. Guzman showed up heavy at the scales and then tested positive for a banned diuretic, turning the win into a no-contest and turning the night as a whole into one more burning bridge.
Rarely does anything good come from a suspension, which is what Guzman received for the failed Dec. ‘10 drug test in Nevada. What the break allowed him to do, however, was properly reflect on the self-inflicted damage done to his career, and also catch up on past memories and suppressed feelings.
The height of Guzman’s struggles at the scales came at a time when he was caring for his ailing mother, who would eventually succumb to a brain tumor nearly three years ago. The Dominican talent never properly mourned the loss, trying to balance his career and emotions at the same time.
Needless to say, the results weren’t pretty. Worse was that the fighter knew that no matter the excuse, his next appearance would still come in front of a largely unforgiving public.
“I’ve read what fans and media have said about me in the past,” Guzman (32-0-1, 19KO) admits whenever the subject of wasted opportunities arises.
The forced hiatus from the ring allowed Guzman to rebuild. The tour has included a new promoter and three straight wins, even if against modest opposition.
“I appreciate the faith that my manager Jose Nunez has always placed in and that my new promoter Henry Rivalta is willing to take a chance on my future,” Guzman says of the dream team that surrounds him today. “I promise to make them proud.”
Guzman’s signing with Rivalta’s Acquinity Sports came at a time when the Florida-based promoter was loading up on Latin talent. Several of Guzman’s countrymen followed, prompting the company to dub the group the ‘Dominican Dream Team,’ naming its elder statesmen as captain.
It’s an honor to which Guzman cherishes. He just wishes he had a fitting crown to mark the occasion.
“I know the mistakes I made in the past. The promise I made when I returned to the ring last year was that I would fully dedicate myself to the sport and not stop until I win a world title at 140 lb.”
The irony in Guzman’s struggles to reach his goal is that he’s in prime position for two major belts at 140.
In addition to the WBA, Guzman is also rated high enough in the IBF to where his team has become interested observers in the outcome of the pending case with Lamont Peterson, who tested positive for synthetic testosterone earlier this year. The former two-belted titlist now has to appear before the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The reason for the hearing is to explain why he should still be licensed to fight despite the result, which killed plans for a May 19 rematch with Amir Khan.
Should Peterson be stripped by the IBF (and assuming a suspension follows), the next two highest rated challengers would fight for the vacant title.
Zab Judah is the mandatory challenger, followed by “Not Rated”, Mike Alvarado and Guzman. Not Rated can never seem to get his sanctioning fee paid in time, while Alvarado “mentions my name, but agrees on someone else,” Guzman frustratingly points out, referring to the Denver native’s planned October 13 showdown with Brandon Rios.
That would leave Judah and Guzman, a fight that the Dominican would be fine with – if only it were that easy. Even if Peterson’s hearing is placed on the agenda for Nevada’s next commission meeting (August 24), Guzman still has to wait at least another two weeks.
By then, there should be a sense of how negotiations are going with Allakhverdiev. Even with the fight potentially being for a vacant title, a show close to his adopted Brooklyn home serves as a reminder of the struggles he’s endured to reestablish credit in the boxing world.
An October 20 show at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn features two fighters – Danny Garcia and Pablo Cano – who have declined on the chance to face Guzman. Garcia faces Erik Morales in a rematch to a March bout that barely warrants a second look, much less a second fight. Cano moves up a weight class to face Paul Malignaggi for an alphabet welterweight belt.
Guzman understands the industry being sour on him until he fully proves himself in the ring at the sport’s highest level. However, he can’t help but shake his head at the double standard that still exists in when experts and network executive choose when and when not to play the righteous card.
Morales gets the Showtime slot despite looking well past his best in his title-losing effort to Garcia in March and in an HBO-televised fight where he didn’t even attempt to make weight. His punishment is yet another premium network appearance and payday.
Brandon Rios has failed to live up to the contracted terms of his past three scheduled bouts. The Californian missed weight by a considerable margin for consecutive bouts with John Murray and Richard Abril.
A July showdown with Mauricio Herrera was scrapped when Rios suffered a mysterious injury, which coincided with sightings of a fighter who didn’t look like he was ready to make the 140 lb. in one month’s time.
The form of discipline he has been dealt? A high-profile HBO-televised showdown with Alvarado, tentatively scheduled for October 13 in Carson, California – assuming of course he makes it to the ring and at the agreed-upon weight.
There was nothing unfair about the past punishment handed to Guzman. He also gets why he has always been regarded as high-risk and low reward, and that any chance of his being taken seriously in this latest comeback tour will require something dramatic in its most positive form.
All he’s left with for the moment is the frustration of a selectively unforgiving industry.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox