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The Weekend TV Cheat Sheet Part One- Sept. 30, 2011

It is a big weekend of boxing with five major cards taking place around the world. This prompts a tweaking of the usual TV Cheat Sheet format to offer a more panoramic view of the sport. This week, instead of only covering events that are televised in America, Maxboxing previews four main event bouts around the world to provide better global coverage. In Part One, the focus is on the Juan Manuel Lopez – Mike Oliver bout in Puerto Rico, as well as Rafael Marquez challenging Japanese world champion Toshiaki Nishioka in Las Vegas. The Nishioka – Marquez bout is aired on Fox Sports Deportes but it was recently reported that the “JuanMa” – Oliver bout is no longer available in America via PPV. Too bad since I think both fights will feature moments of drama and perhaps one big upset.

At Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez, Bayamon, Puerto Rico
Juan Manuel Lopez (30-1) vs. Mike Oliver (25-2)
(The Ring magazine #4 featherweight vs. unranked)

Mike Oliver – New England southpaw, born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut, was an amateur standout with over 300 bouts to his credit. Luckily, never had freelance tendencies and impulsive punches trained out of him and replaced with jab-jab-right-hand-and-retreat tactics. However, at age 31, Oliver’s reflexes are dulling and all those unpaid contests put a lot of mileage on his boxing odometer. At age of 15, Oliver made the Jr. Olympic team and was a two-time New England Golden Gloves champion at the senior level who represented the USA in international competitions. Lost in Olympic trials because of a broken hand and best placement nationally was a silver at the US Nationals. Respected trainer John Scully, who has worked with Oliver on and off, was impressed with what he saw from him. “Mike often does things in the ring that no one ever taught him. Just instinctive, reactionary moves that come out of him. ‘Mike-Mike’ is the type of guy, whether he’s ready for it or not, if you’re in the ring with him and punching at him, he’s going to fire back with as many punches as he can. I’ve seen him in the gym at 122 pounds going toe-to-toe, back-and-forth, with guys who weighed 165.” Oliver, at 5’5”with a 68-inch reach, is nearly identical to “JuanMa” physically but he lacks power (only eight stoppages in 28 bouts) and Oliver’s chin is questionable at the highest level. Possesses above-average hand speed and likes to employ it from the outside where Oliver can use his legs after a flurry to quickly reset. When Oliver has been stopped, it has been early (both times in the third round) before the counterpuncher establishes a rhythm and gauges his opponent. Has been the 12-round distance four times with little problems, stamina-wise, and retains speed deep into fights. Understands the enormity of this fight, training in Poconos Mountains before moving to Puerto Rico two weeks ago for final preparations at the Wilfredo Gomez Gym. Oliver is probably the loneliest person on the island but enters on a four-bout winning streak and the knowledge that unless he wins, he will never get that elusive world title shot.

Juan Manuel Lopez – A victory over Rafael Marquez elevated Lopez near pound-for-pound heights and gave “JuanMa” what looked like the first of many career-defining victories. However, in boxing, great heights can lead directly to deep cliffs and a mega-fight (and mega-payday) against Yuriorkis Gamboa was dashed by an unexpected stoppage loss to Orlando Salido. Before moving up to conquer Marquez and a second weight class, Lopez made five defenses of his junior featherweight title before struggling against awkward Rogers Mtagwa. As a junior featherweight champion, the Puerto Rican was considered a star on the rise, sporting one-punch power and a willingness to take chances to deliver his payload. Still sports an impressive 87% kayo ratio, stopping his last three victims at featherweight. Before his loss, Lopez, a southpaw, looked like the prodigious talent boxing insiders had pointed toward since his amateur days. Lopez began boxing at age 10 and ended with a 126-24 amateur record. Level of progression was reminiscent of Miguel Cotto, dispatching of various styles with little problem before weight-making difficulties. Destroyed the sturdy Daniel Ponce de Leon to win one title but now all those quality wins have to recertified by another string of victories to erase the memory of Salido. The 5’5½” boxer-slugger is a former Olympian and has taken apart a variety of styles slung at him by prospects, veterans, former title challengers, and men he turned into former champions. A blend of speed and power maximized by intelligent ring movement, Lopez understood when to press the advantage but sometimes failed to back into tactical retreats when stung. It is still uncertain if Lopez’s power will travel up with him in weight but because of his forethought and surprising angles, I suspect it will. On defense, Lopez takes too many chances and was punished for it. He does so for the right reasons, hoping to lure opponents toward him for a fast counteroffensive. Lopez is now 28 years old, entering his physical prime and was perhaps hardened by defeat the way no win can. “JuanMa” could still be everything that the Puerto Rican people expected Miguel Cotto to be. To date, he beat a good caliber of opposition as junior featherweight champion and holds a win over future Hall-of-Famer Rafael Marquez. However, until his loss to Salido is avenged, a true career-defining fight against someone like Gamboa seems forever lost.

Verdict – I can envision Oliver enjoying some success in the first round or two but sooner rather than later, “JuanMa” drops a bomb on Oliver’s chin from which the visitor cannot recover. That has been Oliver’s modus operandi in big fights and Lopez will be eager to redeem himself in the eyes of fans after the disappointment of the Salido loss in Puerto Rico. For the first nine minutes, Oliver stays at a distance and gets off nice combinations, then Oliver’s legs are stiffened and locked in place by a solid punch early in the fourth round. A dazed Oliver retreat to the ropes, where the referee is slow to react to a six-punch combination that puts the near defenseless Oliver down for the count.

At the MGM Grand Casino, Las Vegas, NV
(FOX Sports Deportes) Toshiaki Nishioka (38-4-3) vs. Rafael Marquez (40-6)
(The Ring magazine #1 junior featherweight vs. unranked)
(WBC junior featherweight belt)

Rafael Marquez – Along with brother Juan Manuel Marquez, forms arguably the best brother duo to ever grace the sport of boxing. Some may be surprised to know that Rafael Marquez was once rated as high as number three in The Ring magazine’s unbiased pound-for-pound ratings. Considering that Marquez is one of the best punchers of his generation, I fail to understand how he fell off the radar for a time after competitive loses to rival Israel Vazquez. Marquez remains overlooked, despite sporting a 78% kayo ratio (36 of 40 victims never heard the final bell) and is a dominant two-division champion who ducked no one. Yet, this Marquez’s name rarely crosses the lips of fans discussing the best boxers of recent vintage. Yes, inactivity has been a mitigating factor. However, when Marquez sets foot in the ring, his combination of skills, speed, and power are thrilling. As far back as 2001, Marquez was beating the likes of vastly underrated Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson and stopped Tim Austin in another “Fight of the Year”-type performance. The Mexico City-bred fighter is a striking offensive force, starting with a debilitating body attack before coming over the top with well-timed right crosses, whose impact are doubled by their accuracy. Though Marquez can get opponents out with one punch, is really a combination puncher with hands faster than generally given credit for. Lost in the flurry of punches is the intelligence used to select the right punch for openings that last nanoseconds and Marquez seems to spot before they appear. Obvious weak points that have been revealed in Marquez’s fights with Vazquez are his defense and chin. Marquez has a propensity to hold his gloves slightly apart on defense, allowing for punches right down the middle and perhaps a blind spot to stiff jab. On top of natural skill at age 36, Marquez remains a coachable gym rat, who has performed masterly taking orders from former champion DanielZaragoza after splitting with legendary trainer Nacho Beristain. Stylish bangers are rare in boxing but Marquez certainly fits that bill.

Toshiaki Nishioka – The 35 year old champion has won 15 consecutive bouts, 10 via stoppage, and is a slick speedster whose unpredictable movement adds to his stinging power. Undefeated for nearly eight years, what makes Nishioka special are nimble feet, which disguise somewhat predictable punching patterns that send him darting in every direction at the blink of an eye. Nishioka did not gain the nickname of “Speed King” for nothing and his attacking patterns are never repeated at the same angle. This strains opposing boxers attempting to calculate the trajectory of punches, doubly exasperated since the punches are generated from a southpaw stance. Some American fans might remember Nishioka overcoming a first-round knockdown to brutally kayo (with one straight left hand) Jhonny Gonzalez in Mexico. Nishioka is also special because of his mental strength and has surprisingly fought in North America three times. The champ overcame two losses and two draws in title challenges as well as an Achilles’ heel injury before finally winning a world title in his fifth attempt. Has one-punch stopping power in his left hand but generally stuns foes with a punch before overwhelming them with follow-up flurries. A nimble boxer, Nishioka works a blinding jab followed by solid punches that cut the air with cunning accuracy. Punches are made more dangerous when Nishioka repositions himself an instant before releasing a combination, cutting the distance his blows travel and creating unorthodox angles. Rarely is Nishioka not moving, either throwing punches or jitterbugging laterally to aid his defense and create a new path to exploit. Though constantly moving, he is an economical puncher refusing to throw punches for the sake of activity. Consider Nishioka a sharpshooter, a sniper whose victims often never see the punch that gets ‘em. Has a great sense of space, staying at the edges of his opponents’ reach, waiting for the right moment to attack. Is tricky to track down on offense without running into a straight punch when he stops and pivots on a dime. Has held the title for over two-and-a-half years now with five successful defenses and is a late bloomer whose confidence is sky high at the moment. Nishioka should go down as one of the more unique boxers of this era, able to switch from leading to counterpunching at will.

Verdict – Upset alert! I believe an underrated Nishioka stays out of Marquez’s left hook danger-zone and is awarded a deserved decision on the basis of accuracy and ring generalship. This will be particularly evident in the late rounds when a frustrated Marquez looks for one big shot to turn the tide. There is no predictability or tipoffs to Nishioka’s movement or attacks and the slowing Marquez will have a hard time landing clean shots while avoiding clever counters and Nishioka’s deceptive hand speed. All of Nishioka’s surprises will come from the southpaw stance as well, which Marquez has not faced since 2005. I can also see Nishioka scoring a stoppage via cuts, with his fast and slicing punches opening up Marquez’s brow…or Nishioka wins a cut-shortened bout by accidental headbutt, a viable scenario because Nishioka is a fast starter. Either way, North American fight fans will be pleasantly surprised by Nishioka, an entertaining fighter who I believe is two quality wins away from pound-for-pound status.

Prediction record for 2011: 87.5% (119-17)
Prediction record for 2010: 85% (218-40)
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