At the US Airway Center, Phoenix, AZ
(ESPN2) Jesus Gonzales (26-1) vs. Francisco Sierra (24-3-1)
(ESPN2) Yuandale Evans (14-0) vs. Emmanuel Lucero (26-6-1)
Emmanuel Lucero – Veteran was once a top prospect and despite challenging for a world title, Lucero is considered a bust, given the New York City press’ hype. Came to NYC at age nine, from Mexico with his parents, finding a second home at Gleason’s Gym. A fearsome amateur, other elite boxers purportedly waited to pick a weight to fight at until Lucero declared his intentions. It was there and in gym wars that Lucero earned nickname of “The Butcher.” Even in the unpaid ranks was a fierce body puncher and regularly sparred with the best pros. Lucero’s amateur trophy case filled with Metro titles, Empire State statuettes, and he was a two-time NYC Golden Gloves champion. Won a Junior Olympic title as well, finishing with an estimated 56-4 record. Snapped up by Main Events (when it meant something and Lou Duva evaluated talent), Lucero went undefeated in 22 fights en route to an IBF title shot. One big problem though, Manny Pacquiao scored a one punch kayo in the third round of their fight, making Lucero’s wide punches look amateurish. Lucero never recovered and was seemingly ruined, unable to impress against quality opponents and going 6-5 since that setback. Now 32, Lucero is finding it even harder to sell his 5’4” stature and lack of classic boxing style. He does seems renascent, winning two fights this year against pedestrian competition, taking steam off his punches for accuracy’s sake. Taking three years off, from 2007 to 2010, Lucero has done well and has impressively returned at his regular fighting weight. Lucero has only been stopped by big punchers (Pacquiao, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Jason Litzau, and Rocky Juarez) and can make an ugly fight by throwing low blows, headbutting and shouldering inexperienced or mentally weak opposition. Is not a concussive puncher, failing to stop a foe with a winning record since 2004. Fights out of a low crouch, often winging looping shots, but because Lucero is often leaning over his feet, he lacks balance to generate power. Has beaten world title challengers Rogers Mtagwa, John Lowey, and Ivan Alvarez but has yet to take out an elite opponent. A loss to Evans confirms that Lucero peaked as a respectable gatekeeper.
Yuandale Evans – With Prenice Brewer losing his undefeated record, this Cleveland product takes the lead role in the city’s boxing resurgence. “Money Shot” has a mix of intangibles, combined with premonitory instincts that complement his speed, solid power, and reflexes, all that combined to score ten stoppages in 14 wins. I appreciate that Evans has won overseas, traveling to Russia and Indonesia in only his second year as a pro. Just as impressive is that this is Evans fifth fight of 2011. Evans began boxing at age 11, estimating his record at 147-13, and was a mainstay at national tourneys, making it to multiple PAL and Golden Gloves medal rounds. Not just a student of boxing, Evans is personable (joking and laughing during interviews) and working toward a college degree in computer engineering. As an amateur, employed the “Hit, move, parry, and play distance defense until openings present themselves” style. Successfully switched to an attacking method as a pro, using his strong upper body during infighting and showing versatility when not outspeeding foes. The opposition has been poor but all were dominated in a fashion expected from a prospect. Likes to explode with punches out of a crouch, sometimes throwing a short right hook instead of jabbing with the lead hand, but loses power by leaving his feet. Does a lot of jumping in, which leads to headbutts, but conversely stays on top of foes with pressure. When not cutting off the ring, bounces around looking for the right moment to attack. On defense, Evans holds his hands high and slips under punches but does not lose sight of foes by keeping his chin down and eyes up. On the negative side, Evans allows himself to back into ropes and will lay there hoping to land a counter. Watches films of Roy Jones, Floyd Mayweather, Muhammad Ali, and Oscar De La Hoya for inspiration. Says of his style, “I box a lot. I move around; I use my pivots and my reach. I’m definitely a power puncher. I throw a lot of hard shots. I make my opponent pay.” Has seen good champions up close, sparring with Guillermo Rigondeaux and Chris John. A stocky kid, with solid musculature and cut abs, Evans reminds me of Shane Mosley in build and boxing form. Celebrates wins with a back flip and fans will flip if he can maintain his rate of improvement.
Verdict – Lucero has the experience but he does not hit hard enough to impress and lacks the upper body strength to move Evans backward. For 32, Lucero is pretty fast, but again is outdueled in this and every other area by Evans. Lucero reverts to throwing one looping punch at a time when frustrated, telegraphing his intentions and setting up Evans for speedy counters. I doubt Lucero wins a round and I can envision a late-round stoppage if Evans works the body. Official prediction: Evans by ten-round shutout.
Francisco Sierra – Young Mexican slugger, 23-years-old, with a slay-or-be-slain attacking attitude that has nullified various styles in national TV appearances. Sierra enters with natural power, 22 of 24 victims kayoed, that halted once-formidable (in the late 1990s) WBO titlist Jose Luis Lopez in the sixth round. Shocked American audiences with a brutal thrashing of Chicago prospect Don George, whose face looked like it was worked over with a baseball bat. His lone blowout loss was a telling one-round destruction by Edison Miranda, where Sierra was caught up in the moment, swinging for the fences from the opening bell. So who is Sierra: the guy that bludgeoned George or the one knocked out in a round by Miranda? Sierra is not purely a banger, navigating the 12-round distance before his tenth fight against mirror-image countryman Rigoberto Alvarez and drew in ten with elusive Dyah Davis. Two of his losses were to an Alvarez who just has Sierra’s number. Other than the aforementioned, his opposition has been mediocre with the exception of victories over useful blue-collar guys Henry Porras and Esteban Camou. Fought as high as 175 pounds but is at his best fighting at super middleweight. The reasons for his losses are simple: absolutely no defense. When Sierra keeps his hands up, he spreads them to punch and a lack of head movement makes this as if Sierra were framing his head to make a better target. 90 percent of the time, his left glove hangs low, nearly to his knees, and Sierra is too lanky to get his frame into a defensive posture quickly to block punches. He eats straight right hands and jumps in with punches that leave him unable to react to short punches. At 6’1”, Sierra has size and length but little idea of how to use it and skips in with his jab instead of sticking his foot down to gain leverage. Whips punches to the body well, looking like a sidearm pitcher to get his body blows behind his foes’ elbows. Sierra is not pretty to watch but when allowed to come forward, is dangerous and has proven himself capable of scoring upsets.
Jesus Gonzales – Eight years ago, “El Martillo” (“The Hammer”) was seen as a can’t-miss future champion, and USA Boxing was furious when he signed with Top Rank a year before the 2004 Olympics. Gonzales was a medal favorite, defeating the likes of Andre Ward, Andre Berto, Alfredo Angulo, and Sechew Powell in national tourneys. Reports circulated that Bob Arum spent $250,000 to entice Gonzales and the southpaw delivered out of the gate racing to a 17-0 record with 14 stoppages. The stylish rogue entered the ring with a Mexican fedora (minus the zoot suit) and lived up to other Mexican traditions by attacking the head and body with equal zeal. His combination of power and smooth movement reminded one of Darryl Strawberry’s perfect swing in baseball, looking natural because Gonzales began boxing at age eight. Gonzales’ star imploded when he was knocked out by former Mexican Olympian Jose Luis Zertuche in eight rounds. There were warning signs, however, with Gonzales knocked down in two of his previous three bouts and not taking defense seriously, with his hands often at waist level. The Zertuche loss was also a case of man versus boy; the 32-year-old veteran absorbed and then steamrolled (scoring three knockdowns) an overconfident 21-year-old who claimed he entered the fight with a damaged left hand. That setback remains Gonzales’ only loss but seemingly did irreparable damage 11 months later Gonzales returned, signing a bad promotional contract where fights dried up, leading to a two-year ring absence (resulting in Gonzales taking a job as a security guard to make ends meet) and Gonzales losing Top Rank’s backing. Gonzales has had two fights in 2011, including an impressive rib-breaking stoppage of Jason Naugler. Left hook to the head or body was always Gonzales’ best weapon. In fact, he would overuse it, forgoing the jab, and because of weak opposition, never had to learn how to set it up. Trained by his father until recently, which caused concern since Gonzales did not progress adequately, considering the potential shown in amateurs. Is now under the guidance of Alan Viers and says he has a new appreciation for the sport. Phoenix is an appropriate locale for the fight, since the city’s boxing scene and Gonzales are both attempting to rise from the ashes.
Verdict – I am done underestimating Sierra’s ability to drag opponents into the trenches and this should be an entertaining back-and-forth affair. In some ways, Sierra is Zertuche, who defeated Gonzales, able to soak up punches and retaliate immediately. Gonzales is a strong kid, who has the overall skills to outbox Sierra for most of the fight and is big enough to ride out stretches where Sierra scores well. My concern is that this is a 12-round fight, allowing Sierra more time to reel in Gonzales. The deciding factor is Gonzales’ body work, using a great left hook to the liver that will slow and make a defensively flawed Sierra react to the blows instead of punching. The victory will go a long way to erasing doubts about Gonzales’ status as a frontrunner, setting him up for more ESPN-level main events.
Prediction record for 2011: 86% (96-15)
Prediction record for 2010: 85% (218-40)