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The ESPN2 Friday Night Fights TV Cheat Sheet- April 20, 2012


Outside of America and perhaps Germany, Canada plays host to the widest array of boxers when it comes to international flavor. That holds true tonight when a Haitian-born Canadian citizen is challenged by a Uruguayan who fights out of Argentina and, in the opener, a hot Colombian prospect is matched against a Pittsburgh-bred American. Also on the card are boxers born in France, Lebanon and Canada. proving once again that, besides soccer, boxing has one of the widest reaches of any sport in the world. Canada has also provided “Friday Night Fights” with some excellent fights and, to my eye, the best fight atmosphere on the continent. That atmosphere should be on full display in the main event, an intriguing clash of power-punchers sure to bring the cheering crowd to its feet.

At the Bell Centre, Montreal, Canada
(ESPN2) Adonis Stevenson (17-1) vs. Noe Gonzalez Alcoba (28-1)
(ESPN2) Eleider Alvarez (7-0) vs. Rayco Saunders (22-15-2)

Rayco Saunders – Pittsburgh veteran possesses a journeyman record but Saunders has faced quality opposition and is a stern test, having only been stopped once early in his career. Saunders did not start boxing until his late teens, saving him from the streets where he was stabbed and shot in the left shoulder, eventually serving four years in prison. Won Pittsburgh and state titles in the tough Pennsylvania amateur system but shortage of refinement limited Saunders to regional success. Grew up idolizing Marvin Hagler and Michael Spinks but lacks the punching power of both, so attempts to outmuscle foes and use mauling tactics on the inside. Has a great physique, very muscular in the upper body, torso and shoulders, placed on a burly 5’11” body with a 74-inch reach. Sports natural strength but Saunders lacks the fine-tuning and balance to make the best use of it. This shows in his kayo ratio, a meager 23%, because Saunders thinks defense-first with both hands held high and often his bobbing and weaving leaves Saunders in no position to throw counterpunches. Learned to protect himself, and other tricks of the game, as a main sparring partner for a prime Roy Jones. Obviously keeps in great shape, only been over 180 pounds once since 2005, and is relatively active for a 37-year-old, fighting an average of four times a year. Saunders is 6-4 in his last 10 fights dating back to 2009. Though on the losing end against quality foes, Saunders is a solid test for young foes with world title aspirations as he displayed going 10 rounds with burgeoning star Ismayl Sillakh. Saunders beat world title challenger Tommy Karpency and fading Daniel Judah and should have gotten a decision over Chris Henry, so anyone not showing up ready for a fight can lose to “War” Saunders. A resilient person (recovering from the death of his mother of a drug overdose when he was 11), Saunders staged his own promotions, managed and trained himself but this also split his focus and limited Saunders from reaching his full potential. Saunders has turned himself into a fine ambassador for the sport, in and out of the ring, showing how boxing turns lives around.

Eleider Alvarez – Colombian light heavyweight looks and fights a lot like Felix Trinidad (minus his Mohawk haircut), earning the nickname “Storm” with fast starts and prodigious stopping power. Alvarez started boxing before his teens, registering over 200 amateur victories, probably the best amateur Colombia has produced in 30 years. Won multiple national titles, a Pan American Games trophy and made appearances in the World Amateur Championships as well as the Olympics to cap his unpaid career. Can make a living in the pros with a short right hand that is precise and comes at quick sharp angles. It is also Alvarez’s favorite punch, seemingly able to stretch it just enough to always reach its mark. Almost certainly perfected it sparring with former champion Jean Pascal, with whom he shares respected trainer Marc Ramsay. Alvarez is not a combination puncher until he gets inside, when he lets go with flurries, showing the confidence to drop in quality uppercuts to end some combinations. Is a good sized light heavyweight at 6’0”, who uses it to snap a long jab but Alvarez is more of thudding puncher then someone who puts foes away with one big shot. Should probably up his punch volume to maximize that effect but is effective not wasting punches before hurting opponents and then finishing them with precise follow-ups. That amateur pedigree shows in Alvarez’s calm patience inside the ropes, stopping him from opening up too much and exposing himself to counters. Alvarez does look a touch slow on the defensive scale in terms of upper body reflexes but, in general, holds his guard high and sees punches to block or deflect them. Most impressive victory was a first round knockout of aged Dominican Emiliano Cayetona, who lasted six and seven rounds with world title challengers Mads Larsen and Karo Murat. Only been six rounds once but scheduled for 10 and 12 rounds already and rededicated himself in the gym after scaling as high as 196 pounds for a fight after a 15-month ring absence. I did not find out why Alvarez was away from ring for that long but it might have been a result of his mother passing away. At 28, Alvarez is a mature prospect and has relocated to Montreal (where he says simple pleasures like spending time with friends and playing cards and dominoes keep him busy), fighting in Canada exclusively to this point.

Verdict – While Saunders is a good test, Alvarez should find him predictable and slow, unable to confuse the Colombian banger without a solid jab. The only drama is whether Alvarez is able to hurt Saunders. Fellow prospect/contender Ismayl Sillakh couldn’t but if he does, Alvarez will have made a huge statement. Alvarez will sweep all eight rounds on the strength of his right hand and when not throwing it, will dictate pace and space with a long jab to prevent Saunders from generating any offense. Saunders is too tough and defensive-minded to stop or knockdown but it will be interesting to see what kind of offensive combination Alvarez comes up with in an attempt to get rid of Saunders. Alvarez wins 80-72 on all cards.

Noe Gonzalez Alcoba – Sharp-punching Uruguayan, by way of Argentina, enters the fight on a four-year unbeaten tear that includes 13 straight knockouts. I was not able to find anything on Alcoba’s amateur background but given he turned pro at age 25 and is not a sophisticated boxer, I doubt he competed at the highest levels in South America. Thankfully, there is plenty of YouTube footage to evaluate Alcoba’s boxing ability, but I found background and personal information hard to come by. I read multiple reports of Alcoba training with Sergio Martinez mentor Pablo Sarmiento but had no luck finding out if Alcoba is still under Sarmiento’s tutelage. Alcoba’s lone loss was a world title challenge against precise-jabbing Felix Sturm, where Alcoba managed to take a couple rounds late with bullish charges in the champion’s backyard. Uruguayan looks taller than his reported 5’11½” frame (with broad shoulders and muscular arms that generate his power); the lanky puncher uses it surprisingly well on defense with arms held high to block punches and leaning backwards to soften blows. Is a one-punch-at-a-time slugger; a long and sometimes looping right hand is his best punch that he should hide behind a solid jab. That jab can be excellent but because Alcoba often tries to plow through with hooks, he does not bother stepping into the jab enough. Alcoba’s long punches have a downward trajectory which can heighten their impact and when he finds a rhythm, those punches are concussively accurate. Sports a sneaky short uppercut on the inside, which he uses to good effect to make openings for a long right when foes are thrown off-balance by it. Did well recovering from a first round knockdown by Mariano Carrera, rallying to knock down Carrera twice, breaking the Argentine’s jaw. Has scored a couple late-round stoppages as well, so Alcoba carries power into the later rounds where his lack of hand speed is evened out by a foe’s fatigue. Alcoba’s level of opposition has been average, outside of Felix Sturm, but he does fight all his tough fights on the road and will not be intimidated by the party atmosphere in Canada. Alcoba does not seem to exert enough pressure on elite foes, content to cover up and look for openings for big punches instead of creating holes with his strong punches. That needs to change for Alcoba to win tonight.

Adonis Stevenson – Isn’t it overkill for a fighter whose first name is “Adonis” to adopt the nickname “Superman”? No matter. Stevenson enters this fight on a high, registering a first round evisceration of Jesus Gonzalez that leads the pack for 2012’s “Knockout of the Year” honors. Notably, it was also Stevenson’s first fight under the tutelage of Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward. It is rare that someone 34 years old and not fighting at heavyweight is still considered a prospect. One reason why Stevenson remains an enigma is because he did not start boxing until his early-20s. The Haitian-born southpaw was 35-5 in amateurs, including a silver medal at the prestigious and talent-packed Commonwealth Games. Endured two close losses to countryman Jean Pascal in the amateurs, with Pascal’s superior speed and experience negating Stevenson’s raw power. Stevenson defeated and knocked down current American super middleweight prospect Edwin “La Bomba” Rodriguez twice and did well for Canada in other international tourneys. The straight left hand is Stevenson’s most dangerous weapon, which only suffers in comparison to his remarkable work ethic. It is obvious by Stevenson’s ripped physique that he is a gym rat and everyone who spars him comments on Stevenson’s natural power. Those sparring sessions have come against the likes of Lucian Bute, Arthur Abraham, Mikkel Kessler and Librado Andrade. You can see Stevenson adopted some of their styles, a similarly aggressive fighter whose success depends on forward momentum. What Stevenson needs most work on is variety and accuracy, sometimes loading up for one punch when a jab and body shot score better. A 78% kayo ratio speaks to inherent power and aside from Jermain Mackey and Aaron Pryor, Stevenson did not have to wear on foes before striking them down. There is no doubting Stevenson’s power but he might lack the refinement to deliver it against elite opponents and like other big punchers, his chin is questionable, having been stopped in his only loss to 16-15-2 trial horse Darnell Boone. Only fought once in 2009 and 2010, which could be why Stevenson was upset in his outing against Darnell Boone. The loss was a shock since Stevenson was making progress and about to up his level of his opposition to where it is now. Rebounded with four straight stoppages against solid opposition, so lingering mental issues have seemingly been dealt with by Emanuel Steward. In final analysis, Stevenson is a physical banger with too much natural athletic ability to be called a pure brawler.

Verdict – This fight could be a war, with the man who detonates his punch on the chin of the other winning via vicious kayo. An edge goes to Alcoba in the chin department and, given this is an otherwise even match-up of two sluggers, that could be the key to who emerges victorious. However, Adonis is fighting at home and Alcoba has shown himself to be accepting of the counterpuncher role, allowing himself to be outworked in the past. My sense is Stevenson is the stronger, physically, and Alcoba was ineffective backing up against Felix Sturm. Stevenson has reportedly improved his jab and balance under Steward, whose words in the corner are invaluable. Alcoba does not have the offensive imagination to exploit Stevenson’s lack of overall experience but look for Alcoba to land some shots since he is awkward but Stevenson will see the punches coming and roll or block accordingly. I am going to go against the grain and call for a decision win, with some exciting flurries and both men visiting the canvas. Stevenson’s strength and volume lead the way, with a 116-112 score an accurate reflection of the fight.

Prediction record for 2012: 80% (32-8)
Prediction record in 2011: 88% (138-19)
Prediction record in 2010: 85% (218-40)
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