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The Big PPV Preview

It is with sense of exasperation that I note boxing fans have become conditioned to the fact pay-per-view events are sold on the basis of star value at the top vice competitive matches from top to bottom. In press releases and interviews, Golden Boy Promotions acts like they are doing fans a favor by providing what should be a given, a competitive PPV card from the opening bell to the final round. A conscious decision was made by Oscar De La Hoya and Richard Schaefer to provide quality, 50-50-type matchups for the entire card, in stark contrast to the usual great main event preceded by cheating fans out of compelling matches on the undercard. Remember, this nondescript undercard trend began with Bob Arum putting Butterbean and Mia St. John on events which De La Hoya headlined. However, I must give credit where it is due and point out this is a quality PPV worth purchasing. My hope is this becomes something that continues to be demanded by boxing fans or promoters, instead of a one-off event which can be marketed differently because it is out of the norm for providing quality from beginning to end.

Overview of card from the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas, NV.

Juan Manuel Marquez (50-5-1) vs. Juan Diaz (35-3)
(For The Ring magazine World Lightweight Championship)
(WBA & WBO lightweight belts)

Robert Guerrero (26-1-1) vs. Joel Casamayor (37-4-1)
(The Ring magazine #8 lightweight vs. unranked)

Jorge Linares (28-1) vs. Rocky Juarez (28-6-1)
(The Ring Magazine #8 junior lightweight vs. unranked)

Daniel Jacobs (20-0) vs. Dmitry Pirog (16-0)
(WBO middleweight belt)

Dmitry Pirog – It is a sign of the times that Pirog lists MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko as one of his favorite fighters. The Russian is one of those wiry tough-as-nails guys, in line with Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams, who is stronger than he looks at first glance. Like many Eastern European boxers, has a great amateur background, finishing with a record of 200-30 by his own approximation. Though, worryingly, he never won any major international titles. Pirog puts it down to a combination of bad luck and trying to improve his technique instead of fighting for trophies. A pro for five years, he has only been in 16 professional bouts stopping 13 opponents. Put himself on an advanced schedule, defeating once-promising European champion Sergey Tatevosyan over ten rounds in only his fourth pro fight. That strength of schedule was upped when Pirog traveled to Germany, defeating Kofi Jantuah in scintillating fashion. Pirog’s resume is filled with wins over names that are not well-known to American fans but are possessed of talent a notch above American trial horses because of their amateur backgrounds. Amazingly, won most of his fights without the aid of a trainer; Pirog studied film and prepared for bouts alone until his tenth pro bout. Said he improved by traveling to Germany’s advanced gyms to face quality sparring partners. Is a student of the game and such a boxing junkie that Pirog schedules vacations where boxing events are planned. Took one year off from boxing to finalize his college degree and start a business but put aside his entrepreneurial efforts once he made enough money to concentrate solely on boxing. In the ring, rarely clinches and is constantly moving to create openings or set up a punch. Is most accurate with the left, possessed of a cool ring demeanor that allows him to throw double and triple hooks. Works the body more than most European boxers. Jab is solid but not hard and, to this point, has gotten away with leading with an uppercut and throws that punch whenever possible on the inside. Sense of space makes up for a lack of blazing hand speed. Is most impressive on the defensive side, where Pirog employs a lot of upper body movement, bending, twisting, anticipating, and rolling with punches. Has his elbows tucked and guard high but can get caught pulling straight back at times. Senses punches coming and, in instances, looks like Floyd Mayweather but without the flare or hiding behind a shoulder. Is more like an American boxer like Zab Judah than his Eastern European cousins Lucian Bute, Kostya Tszyu, or Arthur Abraham.

Daniel Jacobs – An emerging force who has been a winner at the highest levels since his amateur days. Activity is key for an emerging prospect and Jacobs does not shy away from getting into the ring against ever-improving competition. The kid is not afraid to step up to a challenge; last year, fought two good opponents in the span of eight days. The pressure was on Jacobs to get rid of hardnosed Jose Varela, televised on ESPN2, so he could participate on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao – Ricky Hatton PPV. Jacobs delivered an impressive second-round kayo and went on to outpoint Michael Walker the next week. Since then, impressively destroyed former prospect George Walton in an NYC grudge match and defeated Ishe Smith much easier than fellow prospect Fernando Guerrero. Jacobs is only 23 years old and is in a division (middleweight) in need of fresh faces. A five-time amateur champion (and four-time NY Golden Gloves champ), he began to box a bit late at age 15. Jacobs has made the transition from amateur accuracy to pro power with little problem. Is from the same NYC neighborhood that produced Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe, so he has a lot to live up to. A solid 6’1” frame is filling out nicely; Jacobs’ weight is distributed evenly with his musculature around the chest and shoulders particularly well-developed. On offense, puts his punches together well but, like most youngsters, is more imaginative and concerned with offense than defense. 85% kayo ratio is solid and not the product of many easy wins; some of the trial horses he dispatched of were known for survival instincts. Has abandoned his jab on occasion and against Ishe Smith, made the fight harder than need be by moving the action toward the ropes instead of using his size advantage. So there is still a need for him to listen between rounds but is said to be a sponge in the gym and a respectful person outside the ropes. His training might have been effected by the death of his grandmother last week, an emotional event that could either distract Jacobs or focus him to do better. Like Pirog, he has had two fights already this year and enters with a seven-year advantage in youth as well as a home country advantage. Most New York City prospects of the last decade were overhyped but Jacobs has the type of blue collar work ethic sprinkled with sudden bursts of brilliance to deliver on his headlines.

Verdict – I spent more ink reviewing these two boxers because they have not been given the opportunity to prove themselves at the highest level or in front of a worldwide audience. I believe both their skill sets are worth lauding. Pirog gives himself no room for excuses stating, "I am fully acclimated since coming to America on July 17. I am ready to fight.” What Pirog lacks is great physical skills and power; he’s not a big puncher but makes up for it in intuition and smarts. The Russian gets to opponents with accuracy and hitting foes with punches that are frustrating because they seem easily avoidable. The key to victory is actually defense; Pirog’s is better and sets up his offense by using defense to move an opponent where he wants. Jacobs still has problems maintaining distance, as in the Ishe Smith fight, and is not as smooth switching from offense to defense and vice versa. The cleaner punches will be landed by Pirog, the harder by Jacobs. The tie breaker is volume, where Pirog’s annoying habit of landing tapping punches will frustrate Jacobs into hesitating. If Pirog has a sound chin, he wins; if not Jacobs gets to him late and scores a come-from-behind stoppage. My guess is Pirog does have the chin, if not the stamina and reflexes to survive a still-maturing opponent. Both men are better for engaging each other and the more mature Pirog wins this time. Two years from now is another matter, where I think a rematch favors Jacobs if he uses this loss as a lesson to build on.


Rocky Juarez – Our own Steve Kim famously calls Juarez “The Susan Lucci” of boxing, a fighter who is always nominated for a title fight but never wins one. Texas native calls himself a "young-old boxing veteran.” I call him this generation’s Oba Carr or Yaqui Lopez (look him up). Juarez is a fighter who has the talent to defeat everyone his path to a title shot but cannot get or manufacture the break in a championship fight needed to come out victorious. Has been facing elite opposition since the amateurs, where Juarez established a 145-17 record in national and international competitions. Was a three-time U.S. amateur champion, World Amateur champ. Had a 68-fight winning streak snapped by losing a controversial (aren’t they all?) decision to Kazakhstan’s Bekzat Sattarkhanov in the gold medal bout. 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. Scored The Ring magazine’s “Knockout of the Year” in 2003 and has good power in either hand that is increased by intelligent selection of finishing punches. Turned 30 a couple months ago but his boxing odometer displays more wear and tear than his actual age. Is 2-3-1 in his last six bouts, with Juarez failing to maintain the consistency or urgency needed to defeat a champion; aside from a 12th round rally, he seemingly always stages when it is too late. At the same time, consider that he faced and won rounds against the likes of Chris John (twice), Marco Antonio Barrera (twice), Jorge Barrios, and Juan Manuel Marquez. Is a busy fighter, his hands and feet are in constant motion early on but his aggression has relented with age. Is now finding it easier to be effective by picking spots to let his hands go. Will go toe-to-toe but most often maneuvers his way around or through opponents with lateral movement and a blindingly accurate jab. Of late, and in losses, had sudden drops in work rate and punch output that could be put down 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 been dented or come close to failing him. So far has to be considered a hard luck case (though he made good money in many HBO and PPV appearances), given the expectations Juarez created in the amateurs.

Jorge Linares – One word description of Linares? Elegant! I am not the only one who’s reminded of Alexis Arguello when Linares stepped into the ring to match wits with bewildered foes. Not only in style but also indicative of a demeanor where Linares just seems to sense he is superior to opponents (in a good way). First gained an underground reputation in America without actually fighting here, most of his fights took place in Japan, when news of Linares impressively handling Manny Pacquiao in sparring sessions made the rounds. At age 14, was already a national amateur champion and finished with an 89-5 record in the unpaid ranks. Was heavily recruited at international competitions, accepting an offer from Japan’s top promoter to turn pro at age 18. Linares was scheduled for ten-round bouts from his fifth bout onward and defeated 55-9-2 Hugo Soto in his eighth bout. The 25-year-old is still maturing in the ring, knocking out six of his last eight opponents, but Linares needs to show everyone his one-round defeat to Juan Salgado was a fluke. In that fight, Linares was hit on the temple and his lack of equilibrium, after the punch, never allowed him to recover from the blow. Showed a good chin, absorbing punches when Oscar Larios went for broke and landed a couple good hooks but a smart Linares showed patience and intelligence, finishing Larios from a distance after absorbing those punches. Linares is a fluid puncher whose timing and placement of punches makes them even more effective; his punches zip through the air and are delivered with picture-perfect form. Could go to the body a bit more but has otherwise shown nothing but class on offense. Inactivity because of injuries and promotional issues has been the major reasons keeping Linares from achieving the fame many had predicted for him. At 5′8½″, Linares is a big lightweight who has the ability to use that body to fight from the outside or overwhelm foes on the inside. On offense, Linares has a wealth of weapons to choose from but until he faces some more big punchers, the questions about his defensive liabilities will remain. He sees his one setback as a blessing now. "It was the best thing that could’ve happened to me. It forced me to improve.” There is still time for Linares to become the special boxer many envisioned but his career-defining fights are likely to come in 2011.

Verdict - I am still on the Linares bandwagon and believe his one loss was a fluke and that Linares has the skill set to become a long-reigning champion. Juarez is the opposite, a fighter with enough skill and dedication to get to a title fight but enough of that certain something to get him over the top. Look for Juarez to once again ineffectively pressure and crowd an elite opponent without being able to cut off the ring. This time Rocky might run into punches that can halt him in his tracks. Juarez is too tough and experienced for Linares to take chances with and try to stop, so look for the Venezuelan to box from a distance and bring plenty of straight right hands up the middle. As always, Juarez is brave and wins the late and final rounds to make people remember him for what he could have done...instead of what he actually did. By round three, the fight falls into a repetitious pattern, as Juarez chases and runs into punches. Linares will give ground in order to use his jab and deliver occasional combinations that let the judges know who is in control. I pick Linares to win seven of the ten rounds.

Joel Casamayor – Of all the post-revolutionary boxers escaping Cuba to turn pro (those who came after Jose Napoles), Casamayor has achieved the most and should be commended for not losing focus or dedication once he attained freedom to do as he wished in America. Casamayor was burdened with, but overcame, the failures of other high-profile Cuban defectors who preceded him. The southpaw established himself as the first Cuban expatriate to win a world title and repelled an impressive list of challengers while seeking out unification bouts. Before professional success, Casamayor dominated amateur boxing, a four-time World Champion in two different weight classes. His defining moment in the unpaid ranks was an Olympic gold medal in 1992 and finished with a 363-30 mark. Did not turn pro until age 25 but quickly found his footing and matured into a two-division champion in the pro ranks as well. One of the craftiest practitioners in the sport, there is nothing Casamayor is not capable of in the ring on offense or defense. This was proven when he came back from a couple knockdowns to stunningly reverse the tide against powerful Michael Katsidis, stopping the Aussie in the tenth round. Juan Manuel Marquez remains to only man to defeat Casamayor with no controversy but, at age 39, more doubters have surfaced. Even Casamayor had to address his age in pre-fight interviews. “I’m a lot more focused now. When I was a lot younger, I thought I would get away with some of the things I did in training camp I shouldn’t have, that I’m not doing now." He is also aware that this fight is the key to his future, describing himself as "A guy who’s got his back against the wall." Casamayor should be remembered as the man who singlehandedly changed the perception of Cuban boxers. I am sure Casamayor and his countrymen believe there are more glorious stories to be told about him after tonight.

Robert Guerrero – The last time fans saw Guerrero was on HBO, fashioning a crafty victory with an offensively diverse performance, outpointing speedy and awkward South African Malcolm Klassen. The laid-back Californian is already a two-division champion who has achieved so much, considering the mental strains he’s endured helping his wife overcome a cancer that has thankfully gone into remission. I believe Guerrero drew unwarranted criticism by forcing the ringside doctor to stop his fight against Daud Yordan (because of a cut) with some well-chosen words. Some have interpreted those actions as Guerrero quitting, which is erroneous, since Guerrero showed a lot of courage in previous fights and does not lack mental toughness. In the past, I consistently and unfairly underrated Robert Guerrero. For some reason, I chose to remember his loss to Gamaliel Diaz more than impressive stoppage victories over the likes of Jason Litzau, Spend Abazi, and Efren Hinojosa. Why? I am not sure. I just have and Guerrero has made me regret my evaluations and picks against him. Guerrero is a hard-hitting southpaw whose abilities are diverse enough to let him box patiently before switching into seek-and-destroy mode when an opponent is hurt. A former IBF featherweight and junior lightweight titlist, the jury is still out on whether his power will travel up with him to lightweight. I tend to think it will since that power is predicated on speed as much as pure punching. Really turns punches over well from a distance and finds space by taking judicious backward steps when needed. On defense, he seems a bit stiff, not rolling with punches and standing too tall during exchanges. When on defense, crowds opponents enough to absorb the impact of punches instead of taking full brunt at range. At 27, Guerrero is in his physical prime and looks best when moving forward behind a forceful jab and accurate hooks. He is the complete package, seemingly eliminating minor flaws while adding new tools to his offensive arsenal every time out. Now that his wife’s medical issues are behind them, perhaps an even more focused Guerrero can go on to fulfill the potential many saw in him and perhaps unify the lightweight division.


Verdict – Do not look for Guerrero to be intimidated by his best opponent to date, since these two have sparred a lot together in various training camps. That is a big hurdle to have overcome. Guerrero has the added bonus of Joe Goossen to prepare him; it is especially helpful since Goossen trained Casamayor in the past. Another factor for choosing Guerrero is that he’s a much bigger man who is entering his prime, while Casamayor is more reliant on experience and angles now. Both are southpaws so the early rounds will be hard to score but Guerrero will land the harder shots that judges see and appreciate. Casamayor is fighting against his weight as well (and not faced a good opponent in a year) and can no longer use his speed to create angles he previously used to put boxers off-balance. All the intangibles are lined up in Guerrero’s favor tonight. Guerrero stays on the outside picking Casamayor apart and, as the rounds add up, can go inside and break down Casamayor for a late stoppage or clear points victory. I think Casamayor can still beat some top-ten opponents but Guerrero is not one of them.


Juan Diaz - How does he do it? Volume, volume, volume! That is the popular refrain of bulk salesmen and of one Juan Diaz. The little dynamo throws punches from his ring walk to the end of a fight, which proves too much of a strain (both mentally and physically) for opponents to endure. Turned pro in Mexico at age 17, since he was not legally allowed to fight at that age in Texas. Diaz’ punch-a-second style is the antithesis of Marquez’ and before his lightning-quick stoppage at the fists of Marquez, Diaz had been winning their initial meeting. Blamed his poor performances and listlessness against Paul Malignaggi on fighting above the lightweight limit, which is a good explanation, given his previous performances and stout physique that does not tolerate extra weight. Diaz was doing well against Juan Manuel Marquez, winning the early rounds, but fell apart when he was cut over the eye and the blood affected his vision. After that, it looked like Diaz shut down mentally. That was followed by a beatdown by Marquez and ended with a kayo-of-the-year candidate in favor of Marquez. Often you see youngish boxers who suffer a beating- as had Diaz against Marquez and Nate Campbell- seemingly become shot overnight. Jeff Lacy, Fernando Vargas, and David Reid are recent examples. However, Diaz is an experienced fighter (over 100 amateur fights and made Mexican Olympic team before he was told he was too young to compete) and has the type of style that engages opponents and reveals mental weaknesses before they can get to his. Diaz’ team claims a new dietician and strength coach have helped their fighter and that they are working on a strategy that keeps Diaz from staying directly in front of Marquez. Diaz remains a TV-friendly fighter, both in the ring and for his story outside of the ring where he has earned a law degree. His constant forward movement would have been as appreciated on the old black-and-white “Gillette Friday Night Fight” shows of the 1950s as it is today.

Juan Manuel Marquez – One of the finest Mexican boxers of his generation, Marquez’ name can be put on equal billing with Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. 15 years into his pro career, the Mexico City native retains the pinpoint accuracy which enables him to end a fight at any moment and still, the future Hall-of-Famer works his butt off, getting up at 4 AM every morning to run in the mountains. Reviewing his career, I cannot think of a skill or aspect of boxing Marquez lacks in the ring; “Dinamita” has proven he can do it all and against elite opposition. He was born into a boxing family; his father was a former pro boxer who inspired sons Juan and Rafael to world title glory. Began boxing at age eight, only losing once in 36 fights but obviously more suited for the pro ranks. Would have been a force on the world stage earlier but had a controversial and boring loss to then-unbeaten champion Freddie Norwood on HBO which alienated the network from him for awhile. Gained fame and admiration for coming back from three first-round knockdowns to battle Manny Pacquiao on even terms in their first meet. Many thought Marquez beat Pacquiao in a split decision loss four years later and defeated Marco Antonio Barrera to make that fight possible. I could go on for pages rehashing his exploits but, suffice it to say, he lacks nothing in the ring. The other factor that impresses is the quality of opposition that Marquez has been able to achieve his success against, and some of the fighters who avoided him when reigning as ‘champions’. Of course, at age 36 and after an unadvisable move up in weight to fight Floyd Mayweather (who came in over the contracted weight), there are a few skeptics predicting doom. Is guided by the sage hand of Nacho Beristain, the Mexican equivalent of Freddie Roach, an invaluable asset in preparations for big bouts such as this. Marquez is a special boxer attempting to add another paragraph to his Hall of Fame plaque and imposing résumé.

Verdict - Bottom line, Marquez has the abilities and boxing style to adapt to anything Diaz can throw at him. Diaz, on the other hand, only knows one way to fight and because of physical limitations cannot do certain things. Even worse, in my opinion, Diaz stated, "This time around, I am thinking more about where my punches need to land, as opposed to throwing them in clusters." That is too much change in a short time and takes away the pressuring style Diaz naturally possesses that can get to an older fighter like Marquez. There is too much doubt in Diaz’ mind and camp and as things begin to go against him in the ring, all that will surface. Diaz will make life hard for Marquez early but as the rounds progress and Marquez begins to time and create the distance he wants, the tide will turn. Look for uppercuts to land for Marquez as Diaz loses composure and leans in trying to get inside. The damage will build up and Diaz’ corner wisely throws in the towel during the championship rounds. If Diaz gets cut again, the end could come even sooner.

Prediction record for 2010 to date: 82% (146-31)



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