At the Wynn Resort, Las Vegas, NV
(HBO) Erislandy Lara (17-1-1) vs. Vanes Martirosyan (32-0)
(The Ring magazine #4 junior middleweight vs. #5)
(HBO) Mikey Garcia (29-0) vs. Jonathan Barros (34-3-1)
(The Ring magazine #3 featherweight vs. unranked)
Jonathan Barros – Awkward Argentine is a battle-tested veteran at 28 years old and Barros will be desperate having lost two of his last three fights against elite foes. Many only know Barros because of a controversial win over Celestino Caballero (in which Barros was knocked down in the first and ninth round) last year. Those who took time to watch the fight saw neither man did much to distance himself with judges in a sloppy fight featuring little flow or sustained action. At 5’9” with a 70-inch reach, Barros has good size though he just moved up to super featherweight in his last fight, losing to a mauling Juan Salgado by decision in Mexico. Barros’ feet enable him to be dangerous, making up for average hand speed by moving in and out of position, varying from short, quick steps to long, striding leaps as other boxers would switch up the jab and short hook. Offense can be schizophrenic, sometimes pressuring with abandon in straight lines while at other moments, wavering on an attack, waiting for openings or content to hold and maul on the inside. Shows stunning if not overwhelming power when he gets to the target. Has good defensive reflexes and quality chin but his recuperative skills are key, twice getting off the canvas to get back in the fight and drop a split decision to Caballero in their first outing. Has a sneaky left hook/uppercut thrown on the inside, along with good bodywork, not letting his positioning go to waste. A right hand (not always straight) is Barros most powerful punch, as well as his awkwardness that sees Barros off-balance, sometimes throwing at untraditional angles. Can get out of control and lose focus, opening up with wide shots against Caballero and Yuriorkis Gamboa when pressured and unable to escape their reach or speed. Timing is better than average, voluntarily backing up to lead challengers into straight right hands up the middle. Will make things ugly with rabbit punches behind the head and holding if he feels at a strength disadvantage but it takes a lot to get him to that point. In setbacks, Barros only threw one punch at a time and he is not accurate or quick enough to get away with that strategy. Overall, a generally aggressive fighter who will not go more than three rounds without trying to lead or press the fight, even against larger, more powerful or speedier foes.
Mikey Garcia – Garcia keeps law and order inside the ring and outside will do the same in time as a graduate of the Ventura County Police Academy. Enjoys a great boxing background and team, starting with his trainer and older brother, Robert Garcia, manager Cameron Dunkin and Top Rank’s promotional backing. Oxnard product grew up in a gym, lending Garcia an innate sense inside the ropes that cannot be taught. As an amateur, was 58-7 despite using fights to further his pro style instead of hunting for trophies on a national level. There is no hesitation throwing punches; they come at sharp and straight angles with a velocity born of perfect balance. Displayed early promise, outboxing world title challenger Walter Estrada despite breaking a finger. Improved measurably since, stopping 13 of his last 14 opponents. Mature beyond his years, aided by sparring champions Edwin Valero, Israel Vazquez, Brandon Rios and Manny Pacquiao. Still developing a ring persona but has shown the ability and diversity to beat opponents with speed, power or movement. That offensive arsenal allows Garcia to break down foes before shooting for the stoppage, showing ring intellect in choice of punches. Calm demeanor is unnerving for a young fighter (he is only 24), reminiscent of how Marco Antonio Barrera hunted down opponents behind an emotionless poker face. Displays real stopping power in his right hand without overusing it, using his lanky 5’6” frame and a 70-inch reach to maximum impact. Is solid on defense but has not been pushed in this regard either. There could be holes to exploit for championship-caliber opponents who do not shrink in the face of Garcia’s offense. Steadily increased his level of opposition, fighting four times a year, and needs to be sharp to cope with Barros. Went into double-digit rounds against veteran Cornelius Lock and fellow prospect Matt Remillard but has only been eight rounds on two other occasions. The 12-round distance is less of a concern after stopping Lock and Remillard late; Garcia built momentum and increased his connect rate as the rounds ratcheted up. Only hiccup was a knockdown against Estrada but it can be forgiven considering the lefty power-puncher entered with a 34-6 record. Defeated slick boxers like Olivier Lontchi and Remillard as easily as pressure fighters Tomas Villa and Estrada. I rate Garcia (29-0 with 25 stoppages) the best young boxer without a title and perhaps a star in the making.
Verdict – Barros is the underdog in terms of skills and athletic gifts and his one chance lies in getting Garcia’s respect early to establish a slower offensive pace. Since Garcia is not a fast starter, he will gauge Barros, spotting tendencies and judging incoming velocity before unleashing his arsenal late in the third round. Barros will endure body/head combinations when coming up the middle or backing straight out. There is little Barros can do about this since his punches are sometimes wide, unless he gets inside to try and make it a mauling affair. Here again, Barros runs into trouble with the naturally bigger and stronger Garcia able to push Barros out and into his punches. Garcia will parry Barros’ attacks and push punches down the middle to maintain distance while spotting and ducking looping punches. It will be hard work from the fourth round on with Garcia knocking down Barros twice in the middle rounds before getting a stoppage around the 10th.
Vanes Martirosyan – American Olympic representative in the 2004 Olympics, this intelligent boxer has attracted the likes of Freddie Roach and Ronnie Shields to guide him to a title. From all reports and given results, they have plenty to work with in terms of talent and attitude. Martirosyan’s work ethic is as impressive as his amateur résumé of 120 wins and 10 losses, which includes a National Golden Gloves title and victories over professional champions Timothy Bradley, Andre Berto and Austin Trout. The 26-year-old was born in Armenia, moved to America at age four and started boxing at eight (his father was a boxer as well), rounding into the perfect size for the junior middleweight division at 6’0” with a 73-inch reach. Martirosyan uses that size properly, muscling smaller guys on the inside and reaching others with a stiff jab followed by combinations of straight punches. Viewing film, you’ll notice Martirosyan has a natural sense of the ring, knowing when to wait and when to force his own openings with forward momentum. Sharpens those senses sparring familiar names like Peter Quillin, Serhiy Dzinziruk, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and even tried to corner Manny Pacquiao. Some of Martirosyan’s gloss was tarnished when Kassim Ouma gave him a much tougher match than expected with some ringsiders and fans of the belief Ouma beat Martirosyan on volume. Best win came over fellow prospect and undefeated Joe Greene, serving up the first loss for the Bronx bomber in 23 professional fights. Stopped six of his last 10 foes but his level of opposition has stagnated, only facing one foe with world title experience. Freddie Roach thinks Martirosyan is ready to chase title dreams starting tomorrow, “Vanes has progressed a lot. He’s starting to be a better puncher, setting down on his shots a little bit better. He can really move when he wants to but I’m getting him to settle down and he’s delivering his punches with much more authority. He’s knocking a lot of people out now. I’d like to get a world title fight for Vanes now.” Martirosyan is not particularly fast of hand or foot but like a Fernando Vargas or Kelly Pavlik, finds ways of getting close to land precise and well thought out punches. Against Ouma, Martirosyan did not handle the big-stage mental pressure and a main event HBO slot is a big step in this contender’s journey.
Erislandy Lara – The busy Lara is on television as often as beer commercials, fighting seven times in 2009, five times in 2010, and this will be his fourth appearance of 2012. This Cuban cutie has avoided the dreaded “lackadaisical” tag, fighting often and working hard between fights, staying at the right weight and even taking bouts on short notice. Lara garnered a lot of praise defeating Grady Brewer and Danny Perez early in his career, displaying classy moves and instincts beyond his pro experience in those 20 rounds of action. When faced with inferior opposition, destroyed them the way a contender should and when faced with world-class foes, only suffered one disputable setback against Paul Williams by decision. To avoid the pitfalls of other Cuban boxers based in Miami, Lara leaves to train under the tutelage of Ronnie Shields in Houston. The impressive junior middleweight is a three-time Cuban and one-time world amateur champion, favored to make an Olympic appearance before defecting. Showed sporadic, one-punch kayo power since turning pro and boosted his reputation with insiders, manhandling Ricky Hatton during sparring sessions, employing smart tactics and timely punching he translated to real fights. A mature 29-year-old, Lara’s power (58% kayo ratio) and amateur pedigree shone through when faced with highest level foes. Is rarely off balance and does not retreat mentally if success does not materialize early, working divergent punch sequences until one pays off. A well-rounded southpaw, I would not classify him a great puncher since Lara does not look for power punches from the opening bell. He is not a speed merchant either; I would call Lara cunningly fast and exceedingly accurate. Stands 5’9” and his body looks like it could make the jump to middleweight if a title opening presents itself. Because of intelligent fists, has been able to avoid physically depleting wars against maulers like Carlos Molina or a puncher of Paul Williams’ skill. Lacks the flash, brilliant hand speed, power or cocky persona of fellow Cuban Yuriorkis Gamboa but shown he is fine without it. Instead, is a controlling boxer in the vein of Joel Casamayor or - dare I say - Jose Napoles. Shows a lot of variety in punches despite being right on top of opponents with pressure. Lara seems as comfortable countering as leading with only his finishing skills still in doubt. The question from this point forth is whether Lara progresses from rock-solid to sensational.
Verdict – As much as I praise Lara and enjoy his fights, the Cuban’s playbook can be matched by Martirosyan’s own ability to adapt in three-round stretches. Given the duo’s similarity in size and amateur background, I believe this comes down to reflexes and physical ability. Here, Lara has small advantages in speed, footwork and countering reflexes. They are very small advantages but in boxing, a little means a lot! The extra three or four connected punches those edges afford Lara can swing the bout in a judge’s eyes. So will Lara’s more accurate punches that rock Martirosyan’s head back vice Lara’s head rolling with a Martirosyan punch. So, it is aesthetics that this bout comes down to and when it comes to which boxer’s punches and movement looks better, it favors Lara. A split decision, by two points in both directions, for Lara will be argued by partisan sides but accepted by boxing fans not tuning in with a favorite beforehand.
Prediction record for 2012: 84% (111-21)
Prediction record in 2011: 88% (138-19)
Prediction record in 2010: 85% (218-40)
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