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Azad Championship Report: The Friday Night Fights/HBO PPV TV Cheat Sheet- June 8, 2012

Azad Championship Report
Azad Championship Report

ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” returns after a week off, good timing since NBC Sports’ show was an adequate replacement last week, featuring a former champion on the comeback trail (in many ways) and a hot young prospect. Kelly Pavlik and Jesse Magdaleno are worthy of television airtime but I hesitate to say the same about the opposition which frankly looks underwhelming in the threat department. Kelly Pavlik’s last three years have been a sadly turbulent reality show unto itself but he seems to have turned things around, moving to Oxnard, California to train under Robert Garcia. Jesse Magdaleno is at the bottom of the boxing mountain Pavlik already climbed and it will be good for him to hear firsthand about some of the pitfalls he may encounter. Ultimately, boxing fans hope Pavlik defeats alcoholism and any opponent he conquers inside the ring is a secondary victory.

I have been asked if I was going to do a TV Cheat Sheet on the pay-per-view card tomorrow but again, the quadruple-header format would make it a book-length feature instead of an article. Instead, like last week, I will give individual synopsizes on how I think the bouts will play out without an introduction of the boxers. Those are at the end of the ESPN2 “FNF” preview.

At the Hard Rock Casino, Las Vegas, NV
(ESPN2) Kelly Pavlik (38-2) vs. Scott Sigmon (22-3)
(ESPN2) Jesse Magdaleno (9-0) vs. Carlos Valcarcel (12-4-4)

Carlos Valcarcel – A lot was expected from Valcarcel after representing Puerto Rico at the 2000 Sydney Olympics but he had the bad luck of drawing current junior bantamweight champion Omar Narvaez in the first round, losing a decision. Decided to remain an amateur another four years but failed to make the 2004 Olympics and has not excelled in the professional ranks. On film, has a complete repertoire of punches, fine form and boxing acumen but somehow, never puts it all together to form a cohesive boxer or winning formula. It happens sometimes and often, the answer is not found in the ring but inside a boxer’s head with Valcarcel not putting the puzzle together consistently. Every once in a while, Valcarcel shows us dazzling combinations and seems to enter the ring with confidence, fighting with spirit early in fights. Valcarcel comes at opponents compact and fluid with hands held high but seems off-balance leaning in and hesitating to throw punches as he is frustratingly out of range. Does not back up willingly, preferring to come forward to make use of what is left of his hand speed. Suffered his first shock loss in his ninth bout to pedestrian Salvador Garcia and because of it, was rushed into tough fight to show fans the loss was a fluke. The strategy backfired with Valcarcel going 1-1-4 in his next six fights before beating three easy foes. Valcarcel has lost his last two fights by 10-round decisions to very good prospects; his most notable setback was a sixth round kayo to former champion and countryman Eric Morel. The losses were not for a lack of effort; in his losses to top prospects Jayson Velez and Robert Marroquin, he threw punches plenty of punches but could not land consistently and lacked a secondary plan. The will looks like it is still there but years of boxing have added many miles to Valcarcel’s boxing odometer despite only fighting 20 times in an eight-year career. Even when Valcarcel lands cleanly, he does not have a lot of power, only stopping five of 12 victims though he puts his weight behind punches. Now, at age 30, Valcarcel is solidly in the underachiever bracket and only a win over an aspiring prospect like Jesse Magdaleno can elevate his boxing fortunes.

Jesse Magdaleno – Las Vegas native was a betting favorite to make the 2012 American Olympic team but followed his older brother into the pros instead of subjecting himself to the vagaries of amateur judging. Grew up in a fighting family, strapping on a pair of gloves at age seven and had a fine amateur career, ending with a 123-16 record. Won a National Golden Gloves as well as US National title, defeating three-time Olympian Rau’shee Warren along the way. Like his brother, Diego, Jesse has a thick upper body that suggests a ton of physical strength that has yet to translate into one-punch kayo power. Trained by Augie Sanchez (the last boxer to beat Floyd Mayweather Jr.), Magdaleno is naturally right-handed but boxes out of a southpaw stance. At 5’4”, is a bit small in stature for a junior featherweight but says he is accustomed to punching up and dealing with bigger opponents. Makes up for lack of size with great movement and hand speed, throwing short compact punches that are hard to see coming or block because of tight trajectories. Signed by Top Rank, they are moving him well and putting Magdaleno in against different styles. In his last fight, had no problem knocking out Nick Fast (at 7-1-2, his best opponent on paper) and swept all six rounds against his first lefty, Shawn Nichol, before that. Turned pro at age 18 and is a mature boxer, thinking before he punches despite having less than 10 fights. From limited footage I saw, likes to stand a bit upright and counterattack, using excellent vision and accuracy to duck under or slip punches before launching immediate counter-hooks. This is different from how Magdaleno describes himself, “I can be a boxer and at the same time, I can be a brawler. My game, I usually put the pressure on more. After my first professional fight, I kind of noticed that I still sort of fight like an amateur, throwing an outrageous amount of punches and using my speed a lot more.” The jab is underutilized but because of reflexes and sense of distance, he still lands consistently. Magdaleno keeps a busy schedule, fighting six times in 2011 and is on the same pace this year. An excellent prospect given the fast pace at which Jesse’s career has accelerated; it would not be surprising to see two Magdalenos with world titles in 2015.

Verdict – These are two boxers going in opposite directions and I don’t see anything Valcarcel can do to reverse his slide into mediocrity. Older boxers are more susceptible to speed than power and Magdaleno’s has speed in excess. The only question I have is if Magdaleno has the maturity to stop Valcarcel. Given it is an eight-round fight, I am going to say yes but barely and it will have to come from the referee. Magdaleno’s speed advantage becomes more pronounced as Valcarcel eats punches but lack of body work by Magadelno will allow Valcarcel to stick around until the sixth or seventh round. At this point a big head shot snaps Valcarcel’s head back violently and the referee sees it as his opportunity to stop the one-sided affair.

Scott Sigmon – Southern circuit boxer is nicknamed “Cujo” despite lacking real bite and enters the biggest challenge of his career with confidence despite heavy odds against him. Started boxing after high school; now a four-year pro, Sigmon had some amateur success winning a Virginia Golden Gloves title but never progressed at the national level. Is a pressure fighter pure and simple, a hard worker limited by a lack of speed that shows even against journeyman-level competition. Wants to get inside and throw punches to negate lack of speed and Sigmon makes use of natural strength to maul opponents. Form is not a concern, throwing arm punches while displaying enough balance to lead with either hand. Looking good is a secondary concern; Sigmon comes forward and makes fights with toughness and determination. Toughness is on display because of poor defense, lacking a solid jab or sharp reflexes. Sigmon resets often, forcing him to eat punches on the way in. No surprise that Arturo Gatti is his favorite boxer but Sigmon lacks the athleticism to emulate Gatti’s all-out aggression. A great representative for the sport as far as what hard work can get you, though Sigmon is punching above his class with former champion Kelly Pavlik. Sigmon is in his physical prime at 25 years old (though suffered a knee injury last year) and won six fights in a row against beatable foes whose combined record was 6-30 in their last 36 fights. Is self-trained, made easier since he works at his gym where he trains local kids and adults. Bounced back and forth between super middleweight and light heavy, losing to his three best opponents but kept busy beating low-level competition in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. Has been upset by Pavlik’s trash-talking and Teddy Atlas calling him a “low-level opponent” in a preview piece. Sigmon told writer Pattee Mak he is coming to fight. “I don’t look for a way out or an excuse to quit. I am a throwback fighter. It is sad to see guys on the sport’s biggest stages look for ways out or just pack it in and try to survive. People pay to see you lay it all on the line, nothing less. If Pavlik expects me to quit or be intimidated, he is dead wrong.”

Kelly Pavlik – The troubled former champion enters this fight on the heels of the biggest battle of his life, reportedly sober and free of alcohol since November of last year. Pavlik’s emerging reputation as the next great middleweight was ruined when he was outpointed by the last great middleweight Bernard Hopkins and he has seemingly never recovered from the setback. Before that loss, Pavlik built himself up the hard way, twice besting Jermain Taylor and eliminating a solid lineup of prospects and contenders en route to the title shot. Pavlik’s most recent bloody loss, a gutsy setback to Sergio Martinez, is forgivable given Martinez’s rise to pound-for-pound elite. At 6’2½ ”, he remains a tall super middleweight but I would not characterize Pavlik as big since he lacks bulk and his legs are skinnier than most kitchen tables. The 30-year-old is a product build on the basics developed in the amateurs, where Pavlik had an 89-9 record, winning three national competitions between 1998 and 1999. Uses a long and lean frame to jab and pick holes in opponents with precise punches, then moves in to finish off softened up foes with powerful hooks and straight right hands. A smarter fighter than given credit for, especially in the aftermath of the Hopkins loss. Pavlik takes his time to break down opponents, getting a feel for tendencies and range needed to score while continuing to lead instead of countering. Is not a bad counterpuncher when needed, doing well against speedier Taylor and Martinez but his footwork is suited to advancing toward foes. Does need forward momentum to get the most out of his lean frame, punching down and through opponents who are moving away from him. Looked frustrated and lethargic against Hopkins but his performance was overly maligned against Martinez, where he battled a bad cut as well. Pavlik has been hurt in a couple fights but always from punches he did not see and seems to have an otherwise sound chin. Sometimes carries his hands too high on defense, leaving room for shots under the elbow and blocking his sightline to looping blows. If allowed to maintain space and punching room, Pavlik dictates and overwhelms opponents without fail. Displays the offensive mindset of a finisher and when one of his punches breaks through, Pavlik rushes to finish the job. It is great to see Pavlik back but this fight will not tell us if training under Robert Garcia has improved Pavlik markedly. Are Pavlik’s high-profile losses because of the talented opposition or is Pavlik fading rapidly?

Verdict – This show better have good boxers on the undercard because they will get airtime since this fight is going to be over in three or four rounds. Sigmon simply does not have the speed, ability or experience to hold off Pavlik and I am surprised at ESPN’s lack of quality control here. Not much to say otherwise; Pavlik has every advantage and is not afraid to use them. Pavlik finds his range early, by the second round maximum, and knocks down Sigmon with a straight right hand. Sigmon has enough fight in him to get up, probably twice, but cannot escape Pavlik’s precision and power. This one ends in the third round with Pavlik taking little in return, a waste of time given Pavlik’s pedigreed past.

Saturday Night’s Pay-Per-View
At the MGM Grand Casino, Las Vegas, NV

Guillermo Rigondeaux (9-0) vs. Teon Kennedy (17-1-2)
(The Ring magazine #2 junior featherweight vs. unranked)
(WBA junior featherweight belt)

Cuban world champion Rigondeaux is a classy boxer in every sense of the word and Kennedy had a distinguished amateur showing himself to also be an excellent boxer. Here is the difference: in the pros, Kennedy turned brawler with mixed results, losing and drawing in his last two tough fights. On the other hand, Rigondeaux has made the transition to pro much better, showing he can knock out people with a variety of punches or befuddle them for 12 rounds. I believe if Rigondeaux had defected and turned pro after the 2004 Olympics, he would be challenging Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather for pound-for-pound supremacy. Don’t be surprised if this fight steals the show because Kennedy comes to fight and Rigondeaux is best when pressed. I look for both men to throw wicked punches from tight angles and circling each other instead backing up. Rigondeaux has the defensive acumen to avoid punches while Kennedy has gotten used to accepting them. Rigondeaux plays his usual role of cool customer, counterpunching for three rounds and hurting Kennedy with body shots until he blasts him out with a left hook counter worthy of “Knockout of the Year” consideration.

Jorge Arce (60-6-2) vs. Jesus Rojas (18-1-1)
(The Ring magazine #9 bantamweight vs. unranked)
(WBO bantamweight belt)

When will a veteran warhorse like Arce turn into a trial horse? It can happen at any time given a taxing 16-year and 390-round career and a 25-year-old young upstart is the type Arce is most likely to stumble against. However, Rojas does not have the experience or has been in against the type of opponents to prepare him to challenge Arce. The two times Rojas has stepped up, he looked vulnerable and Arce can smell vulnerability better than a bloodhound. Arce won’t play around long, accepting the cheers and evaluating Rojas for the first two rounds, dispatching him before the halfway mark of the fight. By the fifth round, Rojas is backing up and looking for the escape hatch, not for lack of fighting heart but because of confusion and the inability to establish an offense or hurt Arce. The venerable old champion has another day in the sun and even if it is setting on the Hall of Famer, Rojas won’t be the one to bring that to the light.

Mike Jones (26-0) vs. Randall Bailey (42-7)
(The Ring magazine #6 welterweight vs. unranked)
(Vacant IBF welterweight belt)

The level of progression is just right for Jones, who showed against Jesus Soto-Karass (Sebastian Lujan, to a lesser extent) that he has the chin and stamina to go the distance in hard fights. Bailey is a slightly better version of a Soto-Karass, making the latter the perfect preparation for Jones taking on an aging slugger in Bailey. While Bailey possesses more one-punch power, he lacks consistent pressure and allows opponents to dominate stretches if they have the chin or movement to throw off his attacking style. Jones has both and should score a comfortable win or late-round stoppage as Bailey swings wider, trying to score a desperation kayo. Jones is smart enough to step inside Bailey’s punches or to stay at a safe distance and will wear on Bailey with youth, punching volume and his big upper body on the inside. Unless Jones gets caught with something big early, I like Jones, nine rounds to three.

Manny Pacquiao (54-3-2) vs. Timothy Bradley (28-0)
(The Ring magazine #1 welterweight vs. #1 junior welterweight)
(WBO Welterweight belt)

Not an easy choice since one headbutt-induced cut can swing the momentum and Pacquiao has not dealt well with his own blood in the past, seemingly losing focus. A cut is a distinct possibility and I nearly picked a third-round no-contest. These two will be going at each other awkwardly in the early rounds before finding the rhythm of the fight. What I don’t see is a stoppage; Bradley has an excellent chin and since he comes in 100% physically, won’t wilt and is able to recuperate from Pacquiao’s onslaughts. Bradley does not have the power to stop Pacquiao and has not shown great finishing instincts. Pacquiao’s big fight experience, superior corner and previous appearances before these judges are the intangibles that will edge him the fight. I am concerned about Pacquiao’s training camp problems with Alex Ariza and Freddie Roach but he has dealt with similar issues before. I don’t see either boxer taking more than two rounds consecutively and this will be a back-and-forth affair with neither establishing their strengths because of the other’s unorthodox attacking styles. Pacquiao’s superior accuracy and power wins the day, perhaps scoring a flash knockdown against an off-balance Bradley to create a cushion on the scorecards. I like Pacquiao by two or three points on all judges’ tabulations, mostly because “Pac-Man” has the big fight experience and more tools to adjust within a fight, compared to Bradley.

For those interested in the odds, these were sent to me by Jimmy Shapiro on Wednesday and are courtesy of

Straight Win Odds
Manny Pacquiao   -450
Timothy Bradley   +325

Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley
Over Rounds         O 9½  (-280)
Under Rounds       U 9½ (+190)

Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley - Method of Victory
Manny Pacquiao By Decision or Technical Decision         11/10
Manny Pacquiao by KO, TKO or DQ                                  8/5
Timothy Bradley by Decision or Technical Decision          11/2
Timothy Bradley by KO, TKO, or DQ                                 9/1
Draw                                                                                   25/1

Prediction record for 2012: 81% (52-12)
Prediction record in 2011: 88% (138-19)
Prediction record in 2010: 85% (218-40)
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