At the Hard Rock Casino, Las Vegas, NV
(ESPN2) Jessie Vargas (19-0) vs. Aaron Martinez (18-1-1)
(ESPN2) Luis Cruz (20-1) vs. Casey Ramos (16-0)
Casey Ramos – Blue-collar Texan is fighting his way onto major cards after fashioning a strong local following with his swarming style and relentless work ethic. Ramos comes from a boxing family with his grandfather, father, uncles and brothers all boxing. Casey began at age eight, gaining the nickname of “The Wizard” (misleading since there is nothing magical in his methodical style) and remains trained by his father. Established a 95-15 amateur mark, winning five Texas titles but never a national tourney while medaling at two Junior Olympics. Ramos caught the eye of former bantamweight world champion Paulie Ayala, who served as his mentor and promoter before Top Rank took over the reins in 2011. Has average size at 5’6” with shortish arms, using his feet to cut off the ring and get inside where lack of length is negated by volume punching. Ramos’ punches pop without making the impact that rocks; they sting but not enough to force foes into a shell or permanent retreat. Best win was a fantastic back-and-forth slugfest with fellow prospect Joselito Collado; Ramos got up from a hard knockdown and suffered a cut over his eye. They counteracted each other’s tactics, victory coming down to Ramos pushing through his pain barrier to back up Collado more consistently. Ramos is too technical to be shoehorned into the volume-punching, mauler mold, an in-betweener missing the power to move foes but possessed of a work rate to make opponents react instead of pressing their offense. Needs to move forward, lacking balance and accuracy when on his toes or backing up. Might lack overall physical strength, his upper body muscle definition is average at best. Defense needs an upgrade; against aging vets, Ramos is too willing to take shots instead of evading or countering. That is correctable since Ramos is a gym rat, showing in his stamina, easily going eight rounds in tough fights. Conversely, Ramos only stopped one of his last nine opponents, lacking offensive variety and finishing technique. Ramos says of himself, “I’m pretty versatile in the ring - I can do a lot - but I’d say I’m mostly a boxer-puncher. I’m not too much of a bragger or a boaster.” That comes across in interviews; Ramos is a personable type (holds a business major in college) everyone roots for to succeed.
Luis Cruz – Stirring Puerto Rican prospect (born in America but moved to Puerto Rico at age three) garnered a sizeable following, aided by a controlling boxing bravura and TV appearances. Considering Cruz’s in-the-pocket skill and style, he should have had a better amateur record than he approximates at 50-21. Cruz, a boxer-puncher, won two Puerto Rican youth titles and was part of the national team. At 26, is ready for the elite physically but suffered a close loss when pushed on the mental and strategic level by contender Juan Burgos. Miguel Cotto, his promoter, thinks highly of Cruz, saying he possesses “fantastic boxing skills and power.” Cruz is a power and timing-based boxer, lacking the pure speed to connect without the aid of a consistent and strong jab. Starts combinations and straight right hand from severe angles, squaring up to approaching foes an instant before shifting his hip, nearly facing foes dead on. A good two-fisted puncher, able to hurt foes with either, but still loops his punches and can fall too far in love with his uppercut. Cruz has good defensive instincts, starting evasive action almost simultaneously with an opponent’s punch but his gloves are held low. Shows patience, waiting for opportunities to counterpunch against strong foes that enjoy leading but has aggressiveness to lead with right hands when he wants. Cruz employs a good hybrid uppercut/hook and does not forget to work the body, even when headhunting tactic is working. Gets cocksure when dominant, leaving openings on defense as his hands drop and Cruz flashes in with his chin (admittedly tucked) in front of gloves. Uses length (72-inch reach) well to make up for a lack of sizzling speed and Cruz’s good form keeps those punches short. Went 10 rounds three times, not suffering stamina issues when pushed out of his comfort zone by Burgos. Cruz mentally bested Martin Honorio and Antonio Davis easily, veterans who challenged for world titles, but was found wanting when faced with Burgos’s mix of speed and guile. Cruz says he predicates his style on Juan Manuel Marquez’s and a review of a Cruz video confirms his game is based on precision more than speed and power. Nickname of “El Artesano” [“The Craftsman”] is suitable but Cruz is but an impressionist artist at this point, not coming fully into focus with one great strength to his art.
Verdict – Cruz’s loss to Juan Carlos Burgos was respectable and if he learns from it, it will make Cruz better in long run. Ramos is good but not physically strong and struggled more than he should have with some trial horses. In order to beat Cruz, you need speed or a varied offense; Ramos has not showed enough of either to indicate he can counteract Cruz’s slickness. Cruz will work angles and outmaneuver Ramos leading him into punches, landing the cleaner and more precise punches. Ramos will counter with a higher work rate but it will be ineffective because he cannot get inside on Cruz, causing his volume to decrease. Cruz wins 98-92 on all cards.
Aaron Martinez – Thirty-year-old was born in Mexico, moving to East L.A. as a young child, a good-natured fighter with a misleading nickname of “El Asesino” (“The Assassin”) that does not fit his ring personality either. Part of a boxing family - his brother is an aspiring featherweight - Martinez idolized Julio Cesar Chavez and still watches Salvador Sanchez videos. Fights out of talent-filled Maywood Boxing Gym, sparring with champions Tim Bradley, Sergio Mora and contender Fernando Angulo. An eight-year pro, never fighting more than three times a year, Martinez did not take boxing seriously enough until signing with undervalued Thompson Promotions last year. On a four-year, 10-fight winning streak, besting Prenice Brewer in his last fight on ESPN2. Despite lack of power, is a pleasing TV fighter, forcing action with consistent forward movement and active hands. Is aware of criticism about a low kayo percentage, telling writer Michelle Chong, “I’m doing more strength training; I wanna prove I can punch. I’m working hard on conditioning to add kayos to the résumé and I’m working 100% at bettering my punch.” Martinez has shown the power to stun but lacks the finishing touch to end fights dramatically. His uppercut surprises foes, coming at sharp inside angles that Martinez disguises well, which he follows up with hooks instinctively and impressively. Has a tendency of leaning forward into wide punches sometimes, causing headbutts that have cut Martinez in the past. Looks more crude and awkward than he actually is; Martinez times punches well and his accuracy is underestimated. Level of opposition increased with new promoter and Martinez bested undefeated prospect Joseph Elegele with a fast start (the right hand/uppercut combo that put down Elegele was beautiful), battling through a bad cut, ultimately winning a technical decision. A great result considering Martinez took the fight against a lanky southpaw on seven days’ notice. On defense, lacks head movement but his chin seems sound despite being rocked and wobbly on two occasions. Like others, Martinez credits boxing with putting his life on a positive course. “I haven’t had an easy upbringing and I wanted to change my direction in life so I put everything I have into my training. As a result, I have been able to build my professional boxing career. I have been around for a while and it is a good feeling.”
Jessie Vargas – A decorated amateur who, unlike American Olympians of recent vintage, has been moved fast without buckling under the learning curve. Vargas won an American Junior National PAL (and two junior Golden Gloves titles) tourney but fought his way into Olympics as part of the 2008 Mexican Olympic team. Is now a hot 23-year-old prospect, developing under trainer Robert Alcazar (of Oscar De la Hoya fame) after separating from Roger Mayweather, who trained Vargas since age eight, guiding him to a 135-20 amateur record. Because of the Mayweather influence, Vargas’ defensive movement, spacing and combination punching is elevated. With Alcazar, Vargas is working on the traditional hook to the liver preferred by Mexican boxers and other offensive techniques. Vargas grew up in boxing, calling the fight capital of Las Vegas his home and seemingly is at home in a ring as blood on the canvas. Cannot help but improve and mature as a sparring partner for Floyd Mayweather Jr. and has beaten solid veterans as well, rarely dropping a round or looking intimidated (such as a methodical breakdown of Arturo Morua, a two-time title challenger, stopping him in six rounds by working the body before destroying the head). Showed a “Knockout of the Year”-type hook against Walter Estrada that left his opponent unconscious and his legs quivering. Vargas did lose his temper and hit Trenton Titsworth on the break and was deducted two points for an intentional foul after Titsworth planted a kiss on his neck during a clinch. Vargas composed himself and won the decision but it suggests others can get in his head. Vargas’ incessant pressure unnerves foes; while not overwhelming; his punches force opponents to think and react rather than attack. I appreciate Vargas’ adaptability to box at range if need be and even go to a speed game because of the timing and zip on his punches. That versatility showed in his best win, outsmarting and besting Josesito Lopez over 10 tough rounds, beating Lopez to the punch consistently. Power looks equal in both hands but he finishes with a right hand over the top. Vargas’ counterpunching could be better since he has the reflexes to excel but that could be for lack of need so far. Names Julio Cesar Chavez and Oscar De la Hoya as his idols and is trying to fuse their styles to create his own legacy.
Verdict – This duo has sparred against each other in the past, so neither should be surprised or intimidated by what the other brings to tonight’s battle. In the final analysis, Vargas is just too smooth and mobile for Martinez to track down or land against consistently. Martinez will chase but is unable to corner a mobile counterpuncher who likes the type of aggression (which lacks speed behind it) Martinez brings. I get the sense that if I go to the gym, I would see Martinez throw a thousand left hooks before landing the perfect one. Then Vargas would walk in minutes later and throw 10 punches before uncorking that same perfect hook. Vargas has the natural ability Martinez must work extra hard for; it’s not fair but it is life and why I favor Vargas. Speed and timing are aspects at which Vargas enjoys distinct advantages, leading to a comfortable decision in the range of eight rounds to two.
Predictions on all the Important Fights this Weekend…
Mateusz Masternak vs. David Quinonero
Quinonero is a mystery man, not facing good opposition but a high kayo ratio suggests a command of basics. However, Masternak has fought a higher level of opposition and has the amateur seasoning Quinonero lacks coming out of Spain. Big punchers like Quinonero sometimes lack in the chin department and are unable to box their way out of bad situations because they are used to having things their way. Masternak’s superior form, shorter punches, speed and superior athletic ability earns him a mid-round stoppage.
Dominik Britsch vs. Roberto Santos II
This is a rematch of a controversial decision but everything indicates Britsch has more room to improve and learn from mistakes (plus a better trainer) made in first fight. I believe their last meeting was just a bad night at work for Britsch, whom I am higher on then most for some reason. Another decision victory for Britsch, which will have nothing to do with it being fought in Germany.
Marcos Maidana vs. Jesus Soto Karass
I like Marcos Maidana by decision but think he loses his kayo pop at welterweight and with it, some of his inherent excitement. There is no guarantee Karass comes in at welterweight, having shown lack of work ethic in preparing for other important fights in his career. Karass can take a pounding, so I think he lasts the distance and retaliates enough to make this an exciting back-and-forth affair. Karass only fights in spurts against similarly skilled foes, which gives Maidana the openings to earn a decision victory in the range of 96-94.
Roman Martinez vs. Miguel Beltran
Roman Martinez should be a fan favorite given his all-action bravura but Martinez does not fight often enough (twice in the last two years) or get the television coverage his style demands. I like Martinez to overwhelm and stop Beltran late since he throws the harder and more precise punches. The two are evenly matched in terms of skill but Martinez is stronger and more direct. It could take Martinez four rounds to get into his rhythm but when he does the punches he lands will hurt a game Beltran who cannot fight backing up. A stoppage between eight and 10 is in order for this fight.
Matthew Macklin vs. Joachim Alcine
Alcine is a solid dark horse and has a good chance of pulling off a slight upset given his superior movement and slight speed advantage. It is also hard to tell how Macklin will rebound from the pounding he took from Sergio Martinez in his last fight but the Irishman is the superior boxer and has the age advantage. The bout should go to a decision if Macklin is not cut, where Macklin’s work rate and forward aggression wins the day by a close split decision.
Leo Santa Cruz vs. Eric Morel
The young and exciting Santa Cruz will have a hard time looking the part against a veteran spoiler but should win a comfortable decision. Santa Cruz is just too fast for Morel, who will try hard but never catch his younger foe and settle for a decision loss like he did against Abner Mares. Santa Cruz has the stinging pop to make Morel respectful but does not yet have the refinement to use his volume to score a stoppage. Will be surprised if Morel wins more than two or three rounds.
Guillermo Rigondeaux vs. Robert Marroquin
What other people see as an unexpected title shot for Marroquin, I view as the consequence of Marroquin’s unexpected loss and Top Rank cashing out on the once hot prospect. Marroquin is not prepared for what Rigondeaux brings to the title table, and he will be overwhelmed by the quickness and artistry of Rigondeaux. I hope it is not an extended beating, but fear the worst if the fight lasts into the double digits. Which it could, since the duo’s preparations were probably affected by the uncertainty that the fight would actually take place (it had been canceled) because of legal battles involving Rigondeaux’s manager. At some point, Rigondeaux scores a breathtaking stoppage.
Alexander Povetkin vs. Hasim Rahman
There is no doubt that Povetkin wins this fight and it is a farce that the regales the WBA’s ineptitude and corruption in approving Rahman as a challenger. Povetkin has just started using Hall-of-Famer Kostya Tszyu as his trainer, which could see some early glitches as the duo figure out what each other wants and is capable of. Tszyu likes aggression (as seen with Denis Lebedev), so I believe he pushes Povetkin hard to score a kayo around the sixth round.
Yoan Pablo Hernandez vs. Troy Ross
Troy Ross is a live underdog but can’t seem to put it all together in big fights where his long layoffs do the Canadian no favors. Two tough fights with Steve Cunningham have steeled Hernandez and made him a quality champion in my opinion. The former Cuban Olympian should cruise after playing it safe in early rounds where Ross likes to swing for fences. Advantages in speed, size, movement, angles and youth all favor Hernandez but we should be reminded that Hernandez’s chin is not the greatest. Hernandez wins a wide decision, setting up a mouthwatering showdown with Marco Huck!
Jhonny Gonzalez vs. Daniel Ponce de Leon
Most people think the $100,000 knockout bonus Oscar De la Hoya is rewarding for this event will be earned during this fight. I like Gonzalez to win given his advantages in reach and more precise punches and Ponce de Leon still seems a bit caught between a power-puncher trying to become a boxer. No offense to Ponce de Leon but he is no Marco Antonio Barrera in that sense. There is too much hesitation in Ponce de Leon still as he is still caught in full offense or full defense mode, not finding a happy medium. Ponce de Leon does have a good chin and should be able to see all of Gonzalez’s punches straight down the middle. I would put the odds of this fight ending in a stoppage at about 40-50 percent, only because Gonzalez is such a force and his punches impact hard. Gonzalez will have to take off some of his usual pressure because of Ponce de Leon’s strength and own powerful punches, which should be enough for Ponce de Leon to last the distance but lose a decision.
Saul Alvarez vs. Josesito Lopez
That sound you hear is “Canelo” thundering down the railroad tracks at Josesito Lopez and if Lopez does not force Alvarez off a straight line, he will be run over in a gruesome fashion. If Lopez can create angles and make Alvarez shift his weight, he can last longer but I honestly don’t see a scenario in which Lopez loses in any other fashion but knockout. Lost in all the deserved post-Ortiz love for Lopez is that Ortiz was beating Lopez relatively handily. Alvarez is not as quick as Ortiz, so it will take a while for him to catch Lopez but when he does, Alvarez has proven himself a superior finisher to Ortiz. Rounds six, seven or eight sound about right for a primed Alvarez to make his impact and steamroll Lopez.
Sergio Martinez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
This should be an exciting and entertaining battle and, unlike other events of recent vintage, it is fueled by real animosity instead of contrived hype. Last week, I stated that I prefer speed to power in picking winners; that held true for the Andre Ward vs. Chad Dawson fight and will again tonight! It is not an easy fight to be sure with Chavez Jr.’s advantages in size, power and bulk playing a bigger factor as the rounds ratchet up and wear on a Martinez who is a small middleweight at best. The drama will build with each ensuing round and as many questions begin to surface about the boxers as are being answered with each completed round. The Argentine will have to battle a hostile crowd, Chavez Jr.’s undervalued determination and the corner work of Freddie Roach. In the end, Martinez’s superior speed, movement, work ethic and boxing intellect will get him through some tough patches in the middle rounds to win a decision…that is if the WBC-approved judges are allowed to score against WBC President-for-Life Jose Sulaiman’s favorite boxer…
Prediction record for 2012: 84% (86-16)
Prediction record in 2011: 88% (138-19)
Prediction record in 2010: 85% (218-40)
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