September 23 (Friday)
At the Fantasy Springs Casino, Indio, CA
(Telefutura) Vicente Escobedo (23-3) vs. Rocky Juarez (28-8-1)
Rocky Juarez – Maxboxing’s own Steve Kim famously calls Rocky Juarez “The Susan Lucci” of boxing, a fighter who is always nominated for a title fight but never wins one. The Texas native calls himself a "young-old boxing veteran.” I call him this generation’s Oba Carr or Yaqui Lopez (look him up). Juarez has the talent to defeat everyone his path to a title shot but cannot manufacture the break in a championship fight needed to come out victorious. This Rocky has faced elite opposition since the amateurs, establishing a 145-17 record in national and international competitions. A three-time U.S. amateur champion, Juarez also won a World Amateur championship. A 68-fight winning streak was snapped by losing a controversial (aren’t they all?) decision to Kazakhstan’s Bekzat Sattarkhanov in the gold medal bout of the 2000 Olympics. Because of Juarez’s amateur pedigree, he was fast-tracked, defeating former champ Hector Acero-Sanchez in his 13th fight and faced quality fighters ever since. Registered The Ring magazine’s “Knockout of the Year” in 2003 (against Antonio Diaz) and has good power in either hand that is increased by intelligent selection of finishing punches. Now 31 years old but Juarez’s boxing odometer displays more wear and tear than his actual age. Juarez has not won a fight in three years and is 1-4-1 in his last six bouts. Even taking into consideration that all those fights were against good opposition, Juarez always does just enough to lose closely. Stretch runs are mistimed by Juarez, staging furious championship-round rallies that leave fans asking where that manic effort was in the first nine rounds. In his last fight, lost to Mexican prospect Alejandro Sanabria, suffering a knockdown in the sixth round that turned the tide. Generally a busy fighter, Juarez’s hands and feet are in constant motion but his aggression has relented with age. Is now finding it easier to be effective by picking spots to let his hands go. Juarez will go toe-to-toe but most often maneuvers his way around or through opponents with lateral movement and a blindingly accurate jab. As of late and in losses, suffers sudden drops in punch output that could be chalked up to overthinking instead of letting his hands go. Defense is solid; at 5’5”, many blows glance off the top of his head and his chin has not failed him. This Rocky is a hard luck case (though he made good money in multiple HBO and PPV appearances), especially given the expectations Juarez created in the amateurs.
Vicente Escobedo – Californian has shown the ability and willingness to face champions and kept pace with them in stretches but lacks a key ingredient to defeat top-ten opposition. In three losses, to Robert Guerrero, Michael Katsidis, and Daniel Jimenez, Escobedo was pushed to the limit by physical brutes, losing distance decisions. Escobedo faded late against Jimenez, suffering a last-round knockdown in a split decision loss, and Katsidis got the judges’ nod through superior volume. The Guerrero loss is the only one where Escobedo was not competitive but showed heart battling through two knockdowns and a cut to win the last round in a good scrap (a bloodied Escobedo asked his fiancée to marry him after the fight). Escobedo has plugged away on smaller cards televised by Telefutura, ESPN, and minor PPVs to get back into the title picture, handing Dominic Salcido his first loss. Until last year, was studiously learning his trade under the hyper-observant eye of Mexican training icon Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain (Freddie Roach before that) but has now settled in with respected California trainer Joel Diaz. Escobedo says the past is still with him, especially in the form of outstanding sparring with Juan Manuel Marquez at the La Romanza Gym. Inside the ropes, Escobedo’s hands are more quick than fast, and he still has the reflexes to choose and launch a punch while the opponent is within reach. Escobedo is coming back down to a more natural weight, 130 pounds, but recovering from a torn ligament in his right hand for which he underwent surgery. Two of Escobedo’s setbacks were via split decision and maybe the ring generalship that sets up accurate punches was not appreciated by the judges. Gained that ring awareness as a superb amateur (beating Anthony Peterson twice in the Olympic trials), winning two National PAL titles and a USA National championship, besting Paulie Malignaggi. Finished as a 2004 Olympian but disappointed with a second round exit. Escobedo initially did not meet the high expectations in the pros that his pedigree fashioned. It seems every time Escobedo ran a string of victories to get to the precipice of a title shot, he lost a pivotal fight. Surely, he learned from wins over former champions Kevin Kelley and Carlos Hernandez, despite those opponents falling in the faded category. Now, the 29-year-old feels he finally has all the parts in place to not only fight for but also win a world title. Ironically, they’re traits he shares with opponent Rocky Juarez tonight.
Verdict – It is not often that two former American Olympians are matched against another, no matter the stage of their careers. A factor that cannot be measured for this fight is whether Juarez has become accepting of slipping into name opponent status. Or, does Juarez still see himself as one fight away from another title shot he can finally win? The physical part is just as pivotal, this edge falling squarely in Escobedo’s favor with a three-inch height and five- inch reach advantage. I see this as Escobedo’s key to victory, since Juarez is so reliant on his jab to hide slowing punches. With Escobedo able to see and avoid Juarez’s incoming punches, look for Escobedo to play more of a counterpuncher role without losing his volume. Escobedo times Juarez from the third round on (and Juarez is a slow starter anyhow) to prevail by two to four points, even though Juarez wins the final two rounds to make the fight respectable on the scorecards.
September 24 (Saturday)
In Mexicali, Mexico
(FOX Sports Deportes) Jorge Arce (57-6-2) vs. Simphiwe Nongqayi (16-1-1)
(The Ring magazine #9 junior featherweight vs. unranked)
(WBO junior featherweight belt)
Simphiwe Nongqayi - It would be a mistake to judge Nongqayi by his record alone. Yes, he only fought a total of 18 pro bouts but had a splendid amateur apprenticeship. He has already proven he can win in Mexico, emerging with victories over both Arce brothers. A three-time national amateur champion in his native South Africa, Nongqayi won a silver medal at the highly prized and competitive Commonwealth games. Is just a tough S.O.B. in the ring, unaffected by his surrounding, brushing off temporary successes by opponents before finding a counterstrategy to regain the upper hand. Does this with more than just punches, Nongqayi can frustrate opponents with his clinching, movement, or quick grab-and-release moves. Is a physically strong champion who uses quick punches at close range since he cannot be classified as stunningly fast or the type to dominate from range. An excellent boxer/mover, luring opponents into accepting an opening before quickly beating them to the point, rattling off a combination and exiting with a quick pivot or dip to the side. Wants to counterpunch or lead opponents into open space, where his compact blows and ability to select the right punch are exercised. One thing Nongqayi lacks is a big punch with six stoppages in 18 bouts; it has been four years since his last stoppage victory. Nongqayi was dropped by Julio David Roque Ler but got up from that hard knockdown to sweep the final seven rounds and was stopped by awkwardly rugged Juan Rosas in his last fight. Excellent trainer Nick Durant guides Nongqayi. There are curious gaps of inactivity I have not found explanations for since Nongqayi turned pro in 2002 but didn’t fight in 2003 and only had one fight in 2006 and 2009. When Nongqayi has fought, it was against solid opposition. That shows a superior mindset and confidence, which is a sign of ring maturity. That goes to my next question: How old is Nongqayi? He was winning national and international medals in 1998 and is officially listed as 39. By his looks (his yellow-dyed hair does not help), I would not hesitate putting Nongqayi into his early 40s. At any rate, Nongqayi has been aging and is moving up two divisions after an inactivity of 14 months. Not an ideal way to go into the ring against someone of Arce’s ability.
Jorge Arce - One of my favorite fighters of the past decade, Arce brings an enthusiasm and joy to the game that cannot be faked. One of the few boxers I first witnessed in a loss, via kayo to Michael Carbajal back in 1999, whom I was so impressed and attracted to that I made a note to myself not to miss Arce’s next fight. As tough and gritty a fighter as you want to witness, his passionate offensive style has made Arce a fan favorite on both sides of the border. With age, the little Mexican is becoming more reliant on hard punches as he realizes his speed and work rate are declining. Now, Arce uses guile to pick spots in a round to impress the judges. Received a lot of punishment in bouts against Vic Darchinyan and the first Simphiwe Nongqayi meeting but seemingly found new life beating Angky Angkota, Martin Castillo, and Lorenzo Parra. In his last fight, Arce proved he was still a live bullet instead of a spent shell, knocking out streaking Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. in their final round. Were setbacks to Darchinyan and Cristian Mijares a case of losing to great fighters or had Arce lost his edge and a step at age 32? Remember, Arce turned pro at age 16 (after a 37-3 amateur career) and has been in many tough fights...never mind bloody rounds. To his credit, Arce looked in great shape physically against Vazquez Jr. and claims to be fitter not having to make the bantamweight limit. A 68% kayo ratio is for real; stoppages have come against good opposition and are built upon a foundation of quality bodywork and constant pressure. Remains an offensive force with every punch still available to him; only Arce’s speed has slipped a noticeable notch. Arce remains capable of throwing combinations in spurts but seems to be lucidly keeping reserves of stamina. On average, Arce fights three to four times a year, engaging in a tough bout four months ago and logged 369 quality rounds. A consistent pressure fighter, aside from the recent loss to hot-and-cold Nongqayi, Arce has not been defeated in a fight he was favored to win. Arce’s spirits are high and he has the comfort in the ring to use that intellect to set traps he worked on during his eight-week training camp.
Verdict – Nongqayi has already proven he can defeat Arce, though a proud Arce claims it was simply a case of having a “bad night”. I don’t see a replay of the first fight unfolding, with Nongqayi entering off a long layoff and moving up two weight divisions. Nongqayi has also beaten Jorge’s brother Francisco, so that doubles Arce’s motivation (who is 5-0-1 in his last six fights) and is another edge in a competitive bout. Do not discount the influence fans will have on the judges and Arce’s work rate; his timing and power will earn him the first three rounds. Nongqayi could enjoy a brief mid-round rally but the naturally stronger and more active Arce closes strong to score a tenth round stoppage. Usually Nongqayi can clutch or wrestle foes into inactivity but Arce will be much stronger and less weight-drained than this pair last meeting. The only way I see Nongqayi winning is by cuts, otherwise Nongqayi wilts and is put away impressively by a vengeful Arce.
Prediction record for 2011: 87% (117-17)
Prediction record for 2010: 85% (218-40)