Kendall Holt – Former WBO titleholder had chances to get his career back on track, against Danny Garcia and Kaizer Mabuza, after a disappointing title unifying loss to Tim Bradley in 2009 but suffered debilitating setbacks in both bouts. This fight could be Holt’s last chance since he has not garnered big-money offers from the networks or titleholders despite engaging in exciting fights. As a child, Holt was raised in foster homes after his mother’s conviction on murder charges and his father’s removal for child abuse. Luckily, the young Holt was introduced to boxing at age seven, winning three New Jersey Golden Gloves titles, saving him from further abuse on the streets. Stopped boxing for four years in his early teens but still accumulated an 80-5 amateur record. The physical tools are in place for the Jersey-based counterpuncher; Holt stands 5’9” with a 74-inch reach to aid a wealth of boxing ability and ring intuition. Holt can lose focus in the ring (Jesse Reid trains Holt now after Roy Jones Jr. guided him in his last fight) and has previously unraveled mentally when the referee’s calls have gone against him. Endured a memorable and controversial two-bout series with Colombian slugger Ricardo Torres and in his last fight, looked terrific stopping fringe contender Tim Coleman with wicked body shots. Like most slick boxers, Holt can be outhustled and fights up or down to the level of his opposition by waiting for the perfect punch instead of staying busy. Though slender, Holt is a more impressive puncher than a 48% kayo ratio suggests. Because Holt fought good opponents, that whip-like power does not shine through as with others. Speed and straight punches are Holt’s best tools plus a strong, wiry physique that lends reach advantages against most junior welterweights. Holt says he can finally use that physically factor now, “My shoulder is 100% healthy and I feel fantastic. The explosiveness is there and I’m punching harder than ever. Now that I’m back punching at full strength, I feel more confident in my ability to back up my opponents. I feel like a whole new man.” At age 31, Holt’s timing-based style of countering becomes more dangerous as his reflexes and body slow down. Holt has the ability to forestall creeping age with experience and Peterson is a flawed enough champion to gauge where Holt is at this stage of his career.
Lamont Peterson – Younger of the hyped Peterson brothers or, as I tell him apart, the lighter hitting but smoother boxing of the duo. Has not been in a ring for 14 months, his life put on hold by a PED suspension after scoring the biggest and now most tainted win of his career over Amir Khan. Lamont was a masterful amateur, establishing a 140-28 record, winning titles at the Junior Olympic, U.S. Nationals and National Golden Gloves, beating the likes of Mike Alvarado and Andre Dirrell. As mentioned, Lamont is the less powerful Peterson brother but because he lacks power, has become more versatile and fluid in every other aspect. Technically, there is nothing Peterson lacks, using textbook posture and balance to lash out with combinations on offense but has regressed defensively, using his feet less and no longer blocking punches with a hands-high posture. D.C. native has the ring sense to outbox, outmaneuver or outwork opponents, depending on how Peterson decides to approach foes. Outclassed every foe with the exception of Tim Bradley and Amir Khan, leading with punches to draw out opponents and then guiding them into sharp counters when they attempt to retaliate. When pressed backward in close fights, failed to put his punches together and dropped his punch rate when his feet could not create separation for punching angles. Peterson has let frustration get the better of him, tuning his trainer out mentally during the Bradley loss or displaying bad facial and body language to crowd and judges. Is a better body puncher than given credit for, adept at moving his punches up and down the target according to openings, preferring to target the ribs early. Another knock on Lamont is that he has not gotten rid of his opposition with flair and is satisfied with a comfortable win instead of looking to finish inferior opposition. At 29, is in his physical prime and despite some grueling wars, has not looked the worse for wear. Showed real heart rebounding from two early knockdowns against Victor Ortiz to rally and scrape his way back into the fight, earning a draw. Did well shutting down Ortiz’s early advantages and upped his offense as Ortiz struggled late in the face of Peterson’s stamina, which shows itself late in bouts. Which Lamont shows up tonight - the one from the start or end of the Victor Ortiz fight - determines whether Peterson returns to HBO or ESPN2 for his next fight.
Verdict – An evenly matched pair, with both men’s skills and size seemingly measure-made to neutralize the other’s best assets. This could make it a boring technical affair for the first four to five rounds with the boxers taking turns advancing on each other while neither builds a head of steam. Peterson eventually settles down to sharp-shoot and work the body, which will play to a big effect in the late stages of the fight. Both men’s aggressive tendencies should push the bout into high gear from the fifth round on as they become desperate to separate themselves on the scorecards. This is where Peterson’s superior timing and boxing ability sets him apart, landing counters on a Holt who gets sloppy and loops punches in the later rounds. In his setbacks, Peterson allowed good offensive fighters to take the initiative and early lead; I don’t see that tonight since Holt can be stalled with well-timed counters. The hometown crowd will push Peterson as we saw in his bout against Amir Khan as well. The crucial difference is that Peterson is better suited for a strong stretch drive in the championship rounds, giving Peterson a close but deserved win by two rounds on every scorecard.
February 23rd, (Saturday)
At the Masonic Temple, Detroit, MI
(Showtime) Cornelius Bundrage (32-4) vs. Ishe Smith (24-5)
(The Ring magazine #9 junior middleweight vs. unranked)
(IBF junior middleweight belt)
Ishe Smith – One of four breakout boxers to find initial celebrity, appearing in the first season of “The Contender” reality TV series but was never able to parlay it into HBO performances like Sergio Mora, Peter Manfredo or Alfonso Gomez did. Is now a 34-year old veteran with a sense of desperation, receiving one last shot at a title to cash in on that opening burst of fame. Smith was raised around boxing, born in Las Vegas and started boxing as an eight-year old, establishing a 100-17 amateur record and winning state Golden Gloves titles but losing in the Olympic trials to Zab Judah. Time is running out for Smith since his style of boxing is that of an intuitive counterpuncher who works defensive skills first based on reflexes, movement and speed. Sports respectable skills in every department except power, reflective in a 38% kayo ratio, especially on the defensive side where Smith’s movement puts opponents on the wrong foot which he tries to exploit with quick combinations. This has allowed Smith to face a good level of opposition without losing via stoppage in five losses but when Smith has stepped up against a higher caliber boxer (Mora, Joel Julio and Sechew Powell), he lost in boring fashion. Could have developed that dull trait as a favorite sparring partner of Floyd Mayweather and trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad preaches an all-around game dependent on capitalizing on a foe’s mistakes instead of pressing to make openings. One of those boxers who does everything well without having that one special tool or gift that would drive him to a world title. Smith also ventured too high in weight, losing twice at the middleweight limit to solid prospects Daniel Jacobs and Fernando Guerrero. Scored solid victories against former champion Randall Bailey and contender Pawel Wolak but Smith’s good movement and counterpunching style gives pause to managers putting their prospects in against him. Seems to be getting this title shot off name recognition (now managed and promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr.), not fighting at all in 2011 and has not faced a top-rated fighter in two 2012 wins. If Smith is to rise above anything more than a gatekeeper, he needs to use this Showtime spotlight to move to the next level; the odds are against him in that regard but desperation can do a lot for aging fighters.
Cornelius Bundrage – Nothing comes easily to this Detroit native, fighting his way to a world title but since suffered through contract squabbles with Don King that limited Bundrage to one fight a year since 2008. Now 39, Bundrage has missed out on his most productive years and must work harder than ever to retain his title. Thankfully, Bundrage has a fantastic physique (sculpted by a Spartan lifestyle and tremendous training habits) that fits his ultra-aggressive style to make up for a lack of finesse or sharpshooter’s accuracy. Came to the notice of fans as a contestant on the second season of “The Contender” and worked his way up the boxing ladder by sparring anyone to improve since he only had 12 amateur bouts. Fashioned a respectable 21-0 record, subsequently falling to top-notch prospects Stevie Forbes, Joel Julio and Sechew Powell. It is a testament to Bundrage’s mental toughness that he did not fold, rebounding with a win over Kassim Ouma before traveling to Germany and beating undefeated Zaurbek Baysangurov. That win earned Bundrage a shot at Cory Spinks’ title. Bundrage knocked out Spinks in five rounds, proving it was no fluke by stopping Spinks again in the rematch. Avenged loss to Sechew Powell too but because of inactivity, has not been able to build any career momentum. Guided by Emanuel Steward over that period of success, so it will be with a heavy heart that Bundrage enters the ring for the first time in years without his Hall of Fame mentor, who died of cancer last year. Sports a rock-hard body that suggests more power than 51% kayo ratio delivers. I classify Bundrage as a grind-it-out fighter whose underdeveloped feet has kept him from consistently keeping opponents in range. At only 5’6” with a 72-inch reach, Bundrage is a small junior middleweight, making up for it with pure strength and a ton of upper body musculature (that pit bull physique got Bundrage his “K9” nickname) that allows him to bully foes backward. Lack of activity keeps Bundrage off his best form in terms of reflexes and timing but since he depends on pressure and fast starts, Bundrage can find it by the halfway mark of bouts. I admire Bundrage for turning his life around through religion and boxing and his dogged determination has allowed him to become a titlist despite his skill level falling short of a world champion.
Verdict – Five years ago, the prevailing thought would have been that Ishe Smith was the superior boxer and prospect but Bundrage overachieved while Smith plateaued as a fringe contender. I see that theme playing out in their fight with Bundrage pushing and bullying his way through a stubborn but backpedaling Smith. While Smith has the skills to avoid and counter early (Bundrage is as quick as Smith for one punch but not as fast overall), he will feel the constant pressure and lessen his retaliatory punches, seeking escape the onslaught. I don’t believe Smith has the firepower to deter or slow Bundrage in front of his hometown supporters. The judges will reward Bundrage’s aggression; even if it is not always effective, it is the one positive that separates the two, giving the judges little option but to vote for Bundrage. Smith will last the distance but fall by wide scores of around 116-112.
Three other big fights this weekend…
(NBC Sports) Malik Scott (35-0) vs. Vyacheslav Glazkov (14-0) – When is 35 not as good as 14? When the 35 was created versus low-level opposition that did not push or force the winner to become better while the other 14 came against divergent styles picked to improve rather than stagnate a boxer. Malik Scott is very good boxer but his safety-first strategy could backfire against an opponent who does not leave room to operate a counterattacking strategy. Glazkov maintains contact via a consistent jab and good feet that put him in position to land short punches. The other advantage Glazkov conceivably has is timing, not lunging or reaching with his punches to leave counter opening Scott needs to get his game into a rhythm. Glazkov picks his combinations well, making every punch count and not making wasteful movements that will leave him open for the counterstrike. There is a lot of area to strike at for Glazkov; Scott boxes more like a European fighter, standing tall and exposing a lot of surface to target. It won’t be all one-sided since Scott is the faster boxer and will take an early lead with long, searching punches while Glazkov adjusts to the rapid punching. Once Glazkov finds the range, look for the Ukrainian to reel Scott in and do enough damage to score a late stoppage around the ninth or 10th and final round.
(Wealth TV) David Price (15-0) vs. Tony Thompson (36-3) – I expect Thompson to follow his modus operandi of shutting down in big fights, only endeavoring to meekly counter the actions of an aggressive foe to last the distance. Some fighters shut down in big moments; Thompson is that type while it looks more and more like Price is a man who revels in the spotlight. That is not a good combination for the American and I look for Price to control the action from start to finish with his jab and big right hand. Price will follow the blueprint set by Wladimir Kiltschko defeating Thompson by staying at a distance and only opening up with combinations when Thompson goes into his shell along the ropes or backs up in straight lines. Also, unlike the Klitschkos, Price likes to use uppercuts when foes get inside instead of tying up and restarting the action from the outside. Price might have more one-punch power than Wladimir Klitschko but lacks that thudding jab and quick reflexes that will allow Thompson to steal a round or two in the middle of the fight. That should be it for Thompson’s successes as the better timed punches of Price kick in, allowing him to win a wide decision using underrated defense through movement. Price looks good defeating Thompson (as good as you can against an awkward southpaw) by scores of 97-93 and begins to overtake Tyson Fury as the future of English heavyweight dreams.
(Showtime) Art Hovhannisyan (15-0-2) vs. Alejandro Perez (16-3-1) – Does Armenia produce any fighters who are not arrogantly cocksure inside a boxing ring? Hovhannisyan certainly falls into that category and the 31-year-old is pressing hard to get into title contention with his second straight “ShoBox” appearance. The difference in this fight should be Hovhannisyan’s big right hand, which should score at least one knockdown to separate him on the cards and give the judges even more reasons to watch him vice his speedier opponent. If Perez has a chance, it is to get to the powerful Hovhannisyan late since he faded in two fights I saw and lacked variance in his offense to make an opponent adjust in the late stages. I don’t think Hovhannisyan gets a stoppage but he will outwork Perez in punch output and win the fight on the basis of midrange accuracy and control of where exchanges take place. I like six rounds to four with a knockdown or two making the fight look less competitive than it actually was.
Prediction record for 2013: 81% (13-3)
Prediction record in 2012: 84% (128-25)
Prediction record in 2011: 88% (138-19)
Prediction record in 2010: 85% (218-40)
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