by Cliff Rold
Now this is more like it. After a sputtering start to the year, action kicks into high gear on two continents with three title fights of consequence.
In the U.S., Jr. Chavez faces arguably the sturdiest test of his young career in defense of his 160 lb. paperweight while Nonito Donaire attempts to win a vacant belt and honors in his third weight class. Across the Atlantic, American Steve Cunningham will attempt to win his third IBF 200 lb. title and exact a measure of revenge for a debated decision defeat in his last outing.
Barring a draw, we’re guaranteed at least one “And new…”
Could the weekend close with three?
Let’s go to the report cards.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Titles: WBC Middleweight (2011-Present, 1 Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 159.5 lbs.
Hails from: Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico
Record: 41-0-1, 31 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #9 at Middleweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 2-0, 1 KO
Current /Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 1 (Sebastian Zbik)
Marco Antonio Rubio
Titles/Previous Titles: None
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 163.5 lbs.
Hails from: Torreon, Coahuila de Zaragoza, Mexico
Record: 53-5-1, 46 KO, 3 KOBY
BoxingScene Rank: #8 at Middleweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 0-1, 1 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 2 (Jorge Vaca, Frankie Randall)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 2 (Kasim Ouma, Kelly Pavlik)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Chavez B; Rubio B-
Pre-Fight: Power – Chavez B; Rubio B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Chavez B-; Rubio B-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Chavez B; Rubio B
This has become a sexy upset pick in some quarters. Chavez hasn’t faced the same quality of foe as Rubio and remains a question mark. Rubio has been through the rigors, facing hard men on the path to becoming one. However, there is no ignoring the size issue. Chavez puts on a lot of weight between the scale and the ring. He likely enters the ring on Saturday a full-bodied Light Heavyweight if not small Cruiserweight. Given height, reach, and youth advantages to go with weight, Rubio has a mountain to climb. If he can tag the youngster, and Chavez isn’t hard to find, Rubio might be able to grind him down. It will be a full night’s work but the veteran knows that. Chavez hasn’t been hit by anyone with this experience level. Can he swim if the waters get deep? It’s one thing to get caught by the feather fisted Sebastian Zbik and endure. Rubio will be another matter…though he doesn’t have the speed or combination output of Zbik.
Previous Titles: IBF Flyweight (2007-09, 3 Defenses); WBC/WBO Bantamweight (2011, 1 Defense)
Height: 5’5 ½
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 116.4 lbs.
Hails from: San Leandro, California
Record: 27-1, 18 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #1 at Bantamweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 6-0, 5 KO (8-0, 6 KO including interim title fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 6 (Vic Darchinyan, Moruti Mthalane, Hernan Marquez, Wladimir Sidorenko, Fernando Montiel, Omar Narvaez)
Wilfredo Vazquez Jr.
Previous Titles: WBO Jr. Featherweight (2010-11, 2 Defenses)
Height: 5’5 ½
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 122.65 lbs.
Hails from: Bayamon, Puerto Rico
Record: 21-1-1, 18 KO, 1 KOBY
BoxingScene Rank: #10 at Jr. Featherweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 3-1, 3 KO, 1 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 2 (Ivan Hernandez, Roberto Leyva)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 1 (Jorge Arce)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Donaire A; Vazquez B
Pre-Fight: Power – Donaire A; Vazquez B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Donaire A; Vazquez B-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Donaire A; Vazquez B
Donaire is one of the game’s most obvious super talents. Vazquez got stopped by the aged Jorge Arce two fights ago. Prior to Vazquez, Arce hadn’t beaten anyone of prime value in years. It spoke to the limits of a Vazquez with a lack of amateur experience learning his craft on the fly. He’s got great genes, and has done well for himself all things considered, but there is a ceiling. Vazquez’s chance here comes in the form of legitimate pop. Vazquez can hurt what he lands on and is the largest foe of Donaire’s career. If Donaire is pressing to make up for a lackluster win over Omar Narvaez last time out, could Vazquez use it to his advantage? It’s his puncher’s chance.
Yoan Pablo Hernandez
Titles: IBF Cruiserweight (2010-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 198.7 lbs.
Hails from: Halle an der Saale, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany (Born in Cuba)
Record: 25-1, 13 KO, 1 KOBY
BoxingScene Rank: #1 at Cruiserweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 1-0 (2-0, 1 KO including interim title fights)
Cu rrent/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 1 (Steve Cunningham)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 1 (Wayne Braithwaite)
Previous Titles: IBF Cruiserweight (2007-08, 1 Defense; 2010-11, 1 Defense)
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 196.5 lbs.
Hails from: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Record: 24-3, 12 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #2 at Cruiserweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 4-3, 2 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 5 (Guillermo Jones, Kelvin Davis, Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, Marco Huck, Wayne Braithwaite)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 3 (Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, Tomasz Adamek, Yoan Pablo Hernandez)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Hernandez B; Cunningham B+
Pre-Fight: Power – Hernandez B; Cunningham B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Hernandez B; Cunningham B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Hernandez B; Cunningham B+
Let’s call this round seven. After coming off the floor in the first round of their first fight last October, Cunningham grinded back into the fight aided by a body attack. A questionable cut led the fight to the cards after six and two far too wide scores in favor of Hernandez sealed fate. Cunningham has a problem with getting dropped beginning in the Tomasz Adamek fight but he recovers well. Hernandez isn’t the most diverse boxer, but he’s steady and fundamentally sound. If he can exploit an early opening from Cunningham again, will the older man’s legs hold? If he cannot, can Cunningham convince the judges to favor his body shots on the scores? Can Hernandez keep his feet for a full twelve? The Cuban looked to be flagging bad when the convenient end came last time. Counting on a cut twice isn’t always a safe bet.
Starting with the Cruiserweights, the stakes are high. Ring Magazine will recognize the winner as outright Cruiserweight champion. WBO titlist Marco Huck should have some say in the matter if and when he returns from a pending Heavyweight excursion, but it would be hard to deny Cunningham should he win. With a superior jab and speed, a Cunningham who stays off the floor should be a clear winner. One who hits the deck, given the controversy the first time, might just get the benefit of the doubt as the rounds wear on. Cunningham appears still the more complete fighter and is the pick here with a stoppage from the ninth round on.
The HBO show is less intriguing in terms of picking winners though the fights should be entertaining. Rubio is tough but limited and Chavez has too many physical advantages. It’s a good progress step for the popular progeny. He should shake off some shaky moments to break Rubio down and stop him around the eighth.
As to Donaire, this is a case where a rise in the scale is not the same as moving up. Jr. Featherweight isn’t very good right now in terms of depth and Vazquez is a step down from what could have been with fighters like Abner Mares and Anselmo Moreno at Bantamweight. There is only one real fight for Donaire at 122 lbs. for the moment: Toshiaki Nishioka. Guillermo Rigondeuax could be ready within a year. For now, it’s a title in a third weight class by round seven.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com