Carlos Quintana – When this Puerto Rican wild card puts it all together, Quintana is a slick stylist who frustrates opponents with movement and well-timed counters (most memorably when he scored a major upset befuddling hot young champion Paul Williams over 12 rounds). Handed hard-punching Joel Julio his first loss as well, smartly defusing Julio’s power with lateral movement. As high as those victories were, Quintana’s lows were equally devastating. In rematch with Williams, Quintana was knocked out in one round and countryman Miguel Cotto was too strong, stopping Quintana over five rounds in their island rivalry. Andre Berto handed Quintana his last loss, a decisive eighth round stoppage over two years ago. Since then, Quintana has registered two good wins, most recently knocking out Floyd Mayweather Jr. protégé Deandre Latimore. At 36, this is Quintana’s biggest chance to alter his career trajectory, either moving forward as a contender or facing relegation to gatekeeper status. Southpaw was an above-average amateur with a 62-8 record and has more pop in his mitts than generally given credit for. Began boxing at age 10 but did not fight in amateur competitions until age 15, scoring an impressive 48 stoppages in unpaid ranks. Anticipates punches well and often counters with his left hand before an opponent’s punch is at its halfway point. Would not classify Quintana as a pure counterpuncher and he begins to lead, once confidence is bolstered with early success. Was only ever outclassed in the second Williams fight and had his moments against Cotto before body shots caught up with the tiring fighter. Stamina could be an issue for Quintana since he had problems late in fights and Thurman is a physical foe who will try to push a Quintana who has only fought once a year for the past three years. This fight is only scheduled for 10 rounds, which Quintana might use to his advantage with a quick start. Staying active is a key to a boxer/mover like him, though Quintana always looks comfortable inside the ropes and can fall back on 161 rounds of professional experience. Quintana wins by frustrating opponents, causing hesitation in boxers weary of fast counters and movement that leads them off balance. A style which has untracked many a young or overconfident champion, something Quintana has achieved numerous times on HBO and is confident he will repeat tonight.
Keith Thurman – Rangy puncher with frightening power has star potential, knocking out his last seven opponents, and has yet to find a foe to test him as a professional. Thurman began boxing at age seven, training for power to accentuate his natural strength, emulating idols Mike Tyson and Roberto Duran though understanding it hindered his amateur progress. Despite that, had a distinguished amateur career, packing a PAL and U.S. National title, a silver medal in the 2008 Olympic trial (losing to Demetrius Andrade) and 76 stoppages into 101 wins. Before passing away, amateur coach Ben Getty described Thurman as a combination Roberto Duran and Miguel Cotto. Trainer Dan Birmingham (of Winky Wright and Jeff Lacy fame) now has plenty to work with in a 24-year-old slugger who stands 5’11” with an intimidating reach. Thurman honed his skills sparring champions Andre Berto, Jeff Lacy, Winky Wright, Chad Dawson and Antonio Tarver and this is probably how Thurman became a better counterpuncher than given credit for. Employs a relaxed fluid style despite standing a bit straight and lacking a consistent jab (using it as a range finder). Thurman’s amateur power traveled up to the pros, stopping 17 of 18 foes, having only gone eight rounds once. Two names on Thurman’s résumé are proficient, Orlando Lara and former Cuban amateur Stalinn Lopez, with 10 others sporting sub-.500 records. A dedicated body puncher, scoring four stoppages with it and setting up plenty more, Thurman dips and torques into shots when a foe is on the ropes. Hurts opponents with either hand but starts and finishes majority of victims with a striking left hook. Impressive timing lends an awe factor and doubles impact of punches, leading people to underestimate the manner in which Thurman uses his feet to set up shots. Did miss all of 2011 with a fractured hand and knuckle injury. If he develops an intelligent jab to hide or set up his power punches, Thurman can become a beast in the mold of James Kirkland. Defense needs development, knocked down in the first round by Quandray Robertson rushing for a kayo, relying on reflexes rather than head movement. Self-confident without being brash, Thurman knows the importance of looking good on HBO. Thurman explained to writer Jake Donovan, “It’s highly important to make a statement. I want them to know that I belong in that elite class of fighters.”
Verdict – A match-up that follows traditional hungry young prospect versus aging former champion storyline and could get interesting if Thurman can’t deal with a cagey southpaw. I think it can take Thurman a round or three to adjust since Quintana is also his best opponent by far. Thurman does not have the fastest of hands, so there will be timing issues which Thurman solves with his feet from the fourth round onward to hunt down his smaller prey. Judges will appreciate Thurman’s forward momentum more than Quintana’s accurate counters (mostly off his back foot) that do not come with enough volume or land with the power to make an impression on judges to steal rounds. The fight will have exciting moments and Thurman will learn a lot from it, especially on defense where Thurman will be punished when lazy, having his head snapped back with the occasional Quintana hook. Still, Thurman wins six rounds to four with every round easy to judge on clean punching from both men.
Andre Berto – An instinctive boxer-puncher groomed as a combat sport champion from an early age, Berto’s image suffered after testing positive for the steroid Norandrosterone that he continues to blame on a contaminated substance. Won over 200 bouts in an amateur career that saw Berto triumph in two National Golden Gloves and PAL tourneys, collecting a bronze at the World Amateur Championships as well. Represented Haiti in the Olympics (after a controversial disqualification in the USA Olympic trials) losing in the opening round to Frenchman Xavier Noel. At 29, is slipping out of his physical prime and overcoming his first defeat in a “Fight of the Year”-type bout against Victor Ortiz. Berto had a tough time with crafty southpaw Luis Collazo too but junior welterweight slugger Juan Urango never tested Berto’s defense with his lumbering style. Camp Berto says he was diagnosed with anemia in the aftermath of the Ortiz setback, adjusting his diet accordingly under dubious guidance of convicted steroid nutritionist Victor Conte (severed after the positive test). Berto is a quick-fisted combination puncher who generates a lot of speed despite a wide stance that looks more limiting than it is. Because of Berto’s extraordinary hand speed and reflexes, he gets away with minimal upper and lower body movement. When in rhythm, Berto allows opponents to make a first move, which he invariably greets with well-selected counters. If there is such a thing as an offensive counterpuncher, it is Berto; his center of balance allows him to connect despite widespread legs in combination sequences. That style got him in trouble with the quick Ortiz and Collazo but Berto showed a lot of heart and stamina exchanging in the pocket. Muscular upper body gives the impression that Berto has one-punch stopping power but it is his speed and sharp angles that do the damage. Accuracy is a big part of that 76% kayo ratio and when combined with punch selection, it is what makes Berto an exciting force. When opponents try to take away one part of Berto’s game, his brain compensates to amplify other parts of his arsenal. Berto’s physical gifts overshadow a pronounced boxing I.Q., which should reveal itself more with experience. Berto can probably beat a host of contenders on muscle memory alone. Over an eight-year pro career, Berto might have acquired the knowledge to beat anyone at 147 pounds not named Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather.
Robert Guerrero - The last time fans saw Guerrero, he was gutting out a dramatic win over psychotic-punching Selcuk Aydin after undergoing shoulder surgery and moving up two weight classes. Before that, Guerrero outthought borderline Hall-of-Famer Joel Casamayor (unfairly criticized for his measured approach against a dangerous foe) and dominated Vicente Escobedo in distance wins. Laidback Californian is a three-division champion (sorry, I don’t count interim belts) who has overachieved considering the mental strain he and his wife, Casey, (who courageously overcame leukemia) have endured. Thankfully, the disease is in remission and Guerrero can now fully devote himself mentally to boxing. In the past, I unfairly underrated Guerrero. 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; it just always stuck in my mind like a bad song. Fairly, Guerrero has made me regret my faulty evaluations with a string of impressive victories. Guerrero is a snappy-punching southpaw, his diverse abilities allowing him to box patiently before switching into seek-and-destroy mode if a foe is hurt. A former featherweight and junior lightweight titlist, he was huge for those weight classes but it does not look like his power traveled with him to welterweight (even though Guerrero’s power is predicated on speed as much as pure punching with his accuracy adding to the impact). Guerrero turns over his punches well from a distance and finds space by taking judicious backward steps when needed. However, in other instances, unleashed sharp uppercuts inside. On defense, Guerrero 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 29, Guerrero is exiting his physical prime and looks best when moving forward behind a forceful jab and accurate hooks. At lower weights, was the complete package, eliminating minor flaws while adding new tools to his offensive arsenal despite never replacing his father as trainer. Because of the odd circumstance of his no-contest against Daud Yordan, cut and concussed by a hard headbutt, Guerrero was unjustly downgraded in terms of toughness. Now that his wife’s medical issues are behind them, a more focused and dedicated Guerrero can go on to fulfill the star potential many see in him. Maybe that Floyd Mayweather bout Guerrero has been hyping is not that implausible after all…
Verdict – I have always underestimated and picked against Guerrero but have come around to admire his ring acumen and pure willpower. I always admired the way Berto is able to get close to foes despite an unnaturally wide stance but this will work against Berto in this fight, frustrating his attempts to come forward with speed and accuracy. I can’t see Berto staying connected to Guerrero enough to get him in trouble or stopping Guerrero from coming straight up the middle as Berto tries to adjust his guard. I have wavered and changed my mind on the outcome of this fight since plausible scenarios exist for either man emerging with a victory. If the referee separates the boxers quickly or warns Berto for roughhousing, it is advantage Guerrero as well. Look for Guerrero to time Berto early while he shakes off 14 months of ring rust, never allowing Berto to get comfortable or in a rhythm. Guerrero withstood the physically strong Selcuk Aydin and I believe he can do the same with Berto’s shots that sting more but are not as thudding. I remain hesitant in picking Guerrero but have learned my lesson and back the Californian to win a unanimous decision somewhere around a 116-112 or 115-113 margin.
Prediction record for 2012: 84% (118-23)
Prediction record in 2011: 88% (138-19)
Prediction record in 2010: 85% (218-40)
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