Emmanuel Taylor – Maryland marauder is nicknamed “Tranzformer” and needs a televised win to transform back into a prospect after dropping a controversial split decision to hot and cold Prenice Brewer. Taylor comes from fighting stock; his father and brother box, lacing up the gloves for the first time at age eight. It is how Taylor gained his nickname; unlike problem children who come to boxing, Emmanuel was quiet and reserved until he got inside a ring, where a bold and confident personality emerged. This alter ego became a decorated amateur, winning silver at the 2007 Junior Olympics and three National PAL titles en route to a 186-26 record. Took his all-around set of skills to the pros, where it has been smooth sailing with one notable exception. Described his ring instincts and style to the Baltimore Sun, “I’ve seen everything now since I’ve been boxing. I’ve seen the slugging, fighting, boxing, brawling. I’ve learned that when a fighter comes towards me, I can see what he is going to bring to the table automatically.” Best win is over tough Ayi Bruce, when Taylor outmaneuvered and countered an overaggressive foe using good lateral movement and elite hand speed. Is a counterpuncher at heart but Taylor will take chances to roll off a combination of punches. Shows the instincts to box from the pocket or pick shots from the outside as well. In lone loss - most ringside reports had Taylor winning - started slow trying to adjust to his opponent’s enormous height and reach advantage but settled in mid-fight, getting inside of punches to deliver his own formidable payload (10 kayos in 15 wins, which has caused some hand problems). Took 11 months off after the loss to refocus mentally more than anything and says he has trained nonstop for two months, understanding the importance of this opportunity. “I’m just going to use my jab and pressure and that’s what is going to win me the fight. I’ve worked hard in the gym and I’m ready to show what I’ve got. I’ve got a lot of styles. I can box or bang but, basically, I usually box. It depends on the other fighter.” At 5’7½”, has good size for the division and the kind of patience and instincts that are hard to train into a pure athlete who has not grown up in the sport.
Raymond Serrano – A quality product of the tough Philadelphia gym system, graduating from those rings to prospect and sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao. Has his sights set beyond being a world-class sparring partner but those aspirations suffered a setback when Karim Mayfield stopped him in five rounds last year. At 23, Serrano has time to develop into a contender and took a good step hiring respected trainer Barry Hunter to supplement his father’s corner guidance. Serrano was selected as Pacquiao’s sparring partner for is his upper body strength and he goes to the body with a scything left hook to the ribs. Boxing since age eight, Serrano was a respected amateur (won a National and World Junior Olympics as well as bronze at the World Cadet Championships), registering over a hundred victories and fought for the American national team. Attacking style makes a good impression but other than Jay Krupp and Ayi Bruce, his opposition was not good enough to challenge Serrano until Mayfield. Best win was an eight-round decision over awkward Daniel Sostre, outworking Sostre to the body and landing the cleaner blows. Can get carried away; against Krupp, was overanxious after knocking him down and headhunting too much. Serrano showed mental toughness coming back from a cut and first round knockdown against Anthony Bowman (yes, Serrano’s chin is a concern), knocking him down in the following round to win a decision. Knocked down against Kenny Abril too but rebounded well, again winning a comfortable decision once he focused. Serrano has not fully matured, in terms of power, and will add pop as he gets more comfortable switching from defense to offense more fluidly. Will never be a knockout machine but dedication to volume-punching will up his kayo ratio from the ordinary 42% it currently stands at. Best part of Serrano’s game is cutting off escape paths with his feet and working crippling body shots. Lived in Philadelphia his entire life but moved his training camp to his family’s native Puerto Rico three fights ago. Came under the watchful eye of trainer Felix Pintor, known for his work with smooth-boxing, former champion Ivan Calderon while in Puerto Rico. Previous televised bouts were efficient but uninspired, lacking excitement exuded in earlier wins. A good prospect who has the advantage of growing up around the sport and in one of America’s boxing hotbeds.
Verdict – The pair are familiar with each other, fighting at the same regional and national amateur tourneys though not against each other, according to Taylor. A hard fight to call since there is little footage of Taylor as a pro and it is hard to judge what a boxer will do in his first fight back from a defeat like Serrano. I believe Serrano’s offensive mindset and forward momentum will make the judges look at him vice Taylor but that style plays into Taylor’s countering abilities and preferences. Taylor allows opponents to take the initiative and Serrano’s body attack will be on full display but as we saw in the Juan Carlos Burgos- Roman Martinez fight, a good body attack is not always rewarded by the judges. For a change, I am playing a hunch more than picking styles and am going with Taylor to win a close decision against the promoter’s guy (yes, not very wise; I agree). Like I said, not much science or boxer evaluation to this pick, Taylor seems just a tad quicker, more mobile and accurate enough to edge the fight, holding on after an early lead.
Freddy Hernandez – At age 33, Hernandez does not fit the “ShoBox” demographic but is a solid boxer and generally a TV-friendly fighter if allowed to find a rhythm early. There is little middle ground with one Hernandez, looking fantastic scoring a “Knockout of the Year”-type kayo, landing a huge right hand that sent usually durable DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley into dreamland. Or the other Hernandez can show up and get blasted out in one round by Andre Berto. In his last fight, Hernandez put in 10 respectable rounds against top 10-rated Erislandy Lara but lacked the footwork and boxing I.Q. to unsettle or pressure the Cuban ring artist. The Corley stoppage was stunning and in general, Hernandez has good power that is an accurate reflection of his 59% kayo ratio. That stoppage ratio could be higher but Hernandez has faced formidable foes like Jesus Soto Karass, Carson Jones, Ben Tackie and Luis Collazo. Came up the hard way, graduating from the Mexico City gyms to Telefutura shows, topping out with appearances on HBO and Showtime. Only ever completely outclassed by Berto, otherwise, Hernandez is possessed of the fundamentals to defeat anyone who does not show up against him 100% physically. Formed those fundamental in the amateurs, winning national titles and registering some international wins using a lean 5’10” frame to his advantage. Dominated three good southpaws, Damian Frias, Luis Collazo and DeMarcus Corley (two of the three are former world champions), which are positive signs heading into a fight with the left-handed Andrade. For a tall fighter, goes to the body well and begins looking for weaknesses downstairs early. At his age and size, I am not sure how long Hernandez can continue to make weight (been as high as 161 but 154 seems an ideal weight) or train to lose weight instead for an opponent. Showtime commentator and decades-long boxing insider Steve Farhood thinks Hernandez is the perfect test for Andrade, “Hernandez is a legit tough guy who’s fought the very best. This is a real test for Andrade, a major step up. Andrade’s been criticized for the level of his opposition but part of that criticism stems from how easily he’s beaten the fighters put in front of him. Hernandez will bring it, so if Andrade’s as good as we think he is, he’ll not only win but shine.”
Demetrius Andrade - Blue-chip New England prospect was a 2008 Olympian, educated in the finer points of pugilism since age six. The southpaw was somewhat of a disappointment in the Olympics, losing controversially (11-9) in the third round to two-time Korean bronze medalist Kim Jung-Joo. However, Andrade won the 2007 World Amateur Boxing Championships and nearly every national amateur tourney in an unpaid career, spanning nearly 300 bouts with only a handful of losses. A two-time U.S. National champion and Golden Gloves champion, Andrade holds victories over Daniel Jacobs and current world champion Austin Trout. Is a still a physically maturing 24-year-old junior middleweight but carried the punching power from his amateur welterweight days up to 154 pounds. Andrade’s 72% kayo ratio, stopping 13 of 18 foes, is based on speed, accuracy and punch selection instead of brute force. However, with the exception of Grady Brewer and Saul Duran (when you consider Andrade’s pedigree), his level of opposition has been decidedly weak. Another concern for many has been addressed with Andrade now employing “2011 Trainer of the Year” Barry Hunter to supplement his father’s guidance. Andrade has all the tools in his bag to develop into a world titlist and now has an experienced trainer to sharpen them. When in rhythm and feeling comfortable, snaps off a piston-like jab and can switch from southpaw to orthodox stance in an instant. In that sense, Andrade is like his boxing hero, Roy Jones Jr., and carries the kinds of reflexes and ring intuition to get away with mistakes for now. A major criticism has been consistency because Andrade only shows his terrific skills in spurts, pointing to a lack of mental poise or boredom with the opposition. In every outing, sharp footwork has gotten and kept Andrade in punching range but he did not exploit it with combinations or aggression. Andrade seems accepting of the easy connect when more pressure could open up an opponent for the stoppage. At 6’1”, Andrade uses his size well on defense, employing long steps to get out of range with one fluid motion, leaving opponents reaching and off balance. Andrade is a bright and likable kid but like Andre Ward early in his career, a lack of fire has fans viewing him as passionless. That needs to change if Andrade is to become the type of champion to command HBO or pay-per-view dates in the future and could begin with “Shobox” tonight.
Verdict – Andrade sports every advantage but one: experience. That lone edge for Hernandez is overcome by Andrade’s exceptional athleticism, size and superior reflexes. Simply put, Andrade’s physical skills allow him to get away with mistakes against a slowing and plodding Hernandez. Andrade stays on the outside and catches Hernandez on the way in consistently but as the rounds progress, does swallow body punches that slow him as well. I hope Andrade comes forward a bit instead of resting on his laurels as in the past. Given Hernandez’s experience and proven record of accomplishment against southpaws, I think he bullies a couple rounds in the middle when Andrade is frustrated and looks for a Plan B to confuse Hernandez. Trainer Barry Hunter will refocus Andrade, getting him to box and pick Hernandez apart from the outside as much with his feet as fists. If there is a stoppage, it comes via cut or swelling or if Andrade snaps a retreating Hernandez’s head back along the ropes to compel the referee’s intervention. Otherwise, I see a 97-93 win for an Andrade who shows more fire but not enough world-class experience to look as exceptional as we know he can be.
Prediction record for 2013: 86% (6-1)
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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