Four!: The Pre-Showtime Report Card
By Cliff Rold
Boxing fans have grown accustomed in the pay-per-view era to shelling out pay-per-view dollars for shows with a set of solid fights but no real main event. Showtime has saved them some coin with a rare quadruple header of interesting fistic encounters.
The headliner may not end up the fight of the night but it features the biggest name as Antonio Tarver continues his post-40 run for a major title at Cruiserweight. The card is supported by a solid mix of veterans and young comers, all of them looking to make an impression and standing out as the best of eight featured fighters.
Let’s go the report cards.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Antonio Tarver B; Lateef Kayode B
Pre-Fight: Power – Tarver B+; Kayode B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Tarver B; Kayode C+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Tarver B+; Kayode B
Pre-Fight: Speed – Austin Trout B+; Delvin Rodriguez A-
Pre-Fight: Power – Trout B; Rodriguez B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Trout B; Rodriguez B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Trout B; Rodriguez A-
Pre-Fight: Speed – Peter Quillin B+; Winky Wright B+
Pre-Fight: Power – Quillin B+; Wright B-
Pre-Fight: Defense – Quillin B; Wright A
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Quillin B; Wright A
Pre-Fight: Speed – Leo Santa Cruz B+; Vusi Malinga B+
Pre-Fight: Power – Santa Cruz B; Malinga B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Santa Cruz B+; Malinga B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Santa Cruz B+; Malinga B-
Tarver (29-6, 20 KO) enters this Cruiserweight affair on a modest two-fight win streak, the latter win a road knockout of Danny Green that breathed new life into his career. Tarver, now 43, can still crack and still knows how to set up offense off his southpaw jab. Kayode is a puncher but he is often stiff. Against Tarver, he needs to land early and hurt the older man to force questions on his legs. The 29-year old Kayode (18-0, 14 KO) can sometimes get locked into patterns and he has to be more diverse to have a chance here. If he fights in straight lines, and Tarver isn’t given anything to worry about early, the veteran will be able to set the pace and pick Kayode apart.
The style clash is different in the best co-feature. The WBA Jr. Middleweight titlist Trout (24-0, 14 KO) has shown a solid foundation but remains mostly untested. In Rodriguez (26-5-3, 14 KO), he’ll find a tested warrior who has been in with a wider range of professionals. The intrigue here could come in approach. Rodriguez may be a hair quicker, and is more willing to let his hands flow versus a Trout who can be deliberate. What of the desire question? Rodriguez has been a hard luck case in some big fights and, at 32, may be in his last serious shot at a title. Trout, at 26, has a foe that can help him get out of the chamber of anonymity his career has toiled in.
In inverse to Tarver-Kayode, the older man does not enter the favorite in the evening’s Middleweight clash. The 28-year old Quillin (26-0, 20 KO) has quick hands and solid pop, showing great growth in the last year or so. He has the look of a real emerging contender. The 40-year old Wright (51-5, 25 KO) hasn’t had any look in the ring since losing to Paul Williams in 2009. Can Wright still go? He is presumed, out of respect to the former undisputed Jr. Middleweight king, to be at least within range of his past talents in the selected grades. Quillin is hittable and does not present the same physical issues Williams did, but can Wright establish his needed long right jab? It used to be a great weapon, but rust could be a factor. Quillin will surely come out active to test him.
Finally, there is a clash at Bantamweight with a potential star in the making. The 23-year old Santa Cruz (19-0, 11 KO) gets the chance at a belt left vacant by Abner Mares against an opponent stopped in one by Hozumi Hasegwawa in a 2009 title shot. Don’t let that fool on the 32-year old Malinga. He had a career highlight knockout of the once formidable Veraphol Sahaprom in 2008 and has won twice since Hasegawa. Santa Cruz is quick, and accurate, but Malinga if he gets into a rhythm can be tricky, throwing quick punches from odd angles while applying pressure. It’s not much of a title fight, but it’s the right sort of opponent for Santa Cruz to be seeing in only his 20th pro fight.
Assuming Tarver can show up as sharp as he was for Danny Green, and in his 40s he may not have a ton of sharp outings left, he should still have enough in his tank to deal with the limited Kayode. Kayode has heavy hands, but he fights in straight lines and can appear befuddled when he doesn't get his man out of there. Tarver can use his long southpaw jab and angles to score points and build towards a decision.
Trout-Rodriguez may end up the best fight of the night and is the toughest pick on paper. Rodriguez is a game battler but Trout has the look of a fighter just coming into his own. Trout’s southpaw right jab should be the difference in a distance affair, setting up enough straight lefts to secure a close but clear verdict.
The biggest question mark fight is Quillin-Wright. If Wright were prime, he would be an easy pick but it’s hard to know what he has left at this juncture. He’s been off a long time yet stands as, by far, the best opponent of Quillin’s career. At 41 years old, it’s difficult to pick Wright and the choice isn’t made to do so here. Quillin by decision is the pick.
Finally, there is what appears the easiest pick of the night. Santa Cruz enters the title strand at Bantamweight at a moment when the division is transitioning from a great era to a new one. Malinga is solid but already past his best. Santa Cruz should be able to overcome a deficit of height (5’7 to 5’8) and reach (70’ to 74’) with quicker, firmer shots en route to his first belt. Santa Cruz gets the nod on points.
Report Card Picks 2012: 26-5
Cliff Rold is a member of the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org