At the Barclays Center, New York City, NY
(Showtime) Danny Garcia (24-0) vs. Erik Morales (52-8)
(For The Ring magazine World Junior Welterweight Championship)
(WBC and WBA junior welterweight belts)
(Showtime) Paul Malignaggi (31-4) vs. Pablo Cano (25-1-1)
(The Ring magazine #4 welterweight vs. unranked)
(WBA welterweight belt)
(Showtime) Peter Quillin (27-0) vs. Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam (27-0)
(The Ring magazine #9 middleweight vs. #7)
(WBO middleweight belt)
(Showtime) Randall Bailey (43-7) vs. Devon Alexander (23-1)
(The Ring magazine #7 welterweight vs. unranked)
(IBF welterweight belt)
Peter Quillin (27-0) vs. Hassan N’Jikam (27-0)
Verdict – For me, this is the most intriguing and difficult bout to pick. N’Jikam is not some European slouch but a very good and confident fighter entering with a solid amateur pedigree which saw him make the 2004 Olympics where he eliminated Andy Lee. The French-based Cameroonian likes to bounce on his feet a bit too much and won’t be fast enough to settle on his punches against a Quillin who can match him in physical ability. An advantage N’Jikam has is unpredictability, as likely to lead with a left hook to the head as a straight jab to the stomach with nary a tipoff. I believe Quillin’s small size advantage and more consistent offense gets him a win at home with N’Jikam lacking the big punch to swing the fight in his favor on the road or late in the fight. If the fight takes place at range, the quicker hands of N’Jikam can prevail but N’Jikam’s chin has been dented and is questionable so he needs to stay out of the trenches. It could end in a controversial decision - with N’Jikam landing the flashier punches - and if this bout were held in neutral territory, N’Jikam could win over the crowd with his daring offense. The better body work of Quillin can also play a role, bringing N’Jikam off his toes and making him stationary thus not as loose on offense. I can see a close N’Jikam victory too but the combination punching of Quillin is more likely to be recognized and rewarded by New York judges who have seen him perform before. If this fight takes place in France, N’Jikam wins; it is that close and the added comfort of fighting at home is the small difference a competitive fight like this hinges on.
Randall Bailey (43-7) vs. Devon Alexander (23-1)
Verdict – In his title-winning performance, Bailey slowly reeled in and knocked out a slower and less savvy Mike Jones. Can he do the same against a faster but more vulnerable Alexander? I am of the mind that he cannot; Bailey has made a habit of rescuing fights and his career with big punches. However, he needs the help of opponents and ever since Alexander struggled with Lucas Matthysse, he has played power-punchers smart and safe. Alexander bested a similarly strong Marcos Maidana in his last fight and I see the same blueprint this time with Alexander staying on the outside, peppering the slower Bailey with accurate jabs and stinging left hands. The other factor is that Bailey has historically struggled with southpaws with less shifty lefties like Juan Urango and DeMarcus Corley outmaneuvering the single bombs of Bailey. If Alexander does get hit, he has shown resiliency if not an iron chin, scrapping his way out of trouble and surviving to the bell where his recuperative powers set in. As always, Bailey is dangerous until the final bell but he can’t track down Alexander with aging legs to score consistently enough to pull out a victory. Alexander breezes through the first eight rounds but catches some punches in the final couple stanzas to make the fight appear closer than it was. Final verdict: the Maidana fight was great preparation for Alexander who wins nine rounds to three.
The Co-Main Events:
Pablo Cano – Golden Boy Promotions has been making moves into Mexico, signing talented prospects before they make a name for themselves on that tough boxing circuit. Other than Saul Alvarez, Cano is the most obvious example and is a fighter fans on both sides of the border envision as a future champion. Cano turned pro at age 16 and still managed to score 17 stoppages against grown men but until last year, had not elevated his level of opposition when he ventured into deep waters against legendary Erik Morales. Watch for Cano’s right hand; it has that thrilling combination of natural power, straightness and accuracy. Maintains that accuracy through activity and Cano’s six-foot frame is filling out with muscle that’s deployed through sound balance to generate even more power. I appreciate Cano’s grit, traveling to Colombia and knocking down touted local boy Fabian Marimon late in the fight to earn a close victory. Never backed down from Morales in a respectable loss either. Cano still comes at opponents too straight but his power and underrated speed rip openings through foes who see it coming and are unable to react to his quick punches. I would not say Cano is a “natural” but he is doing things instinctually that more seasoned pros work hard at perfecting. Should go to the body more but because only three stoppages have come past the third round, Cano has not had to set up victories. Went 10 rounds without stamina problems and the volume did not dip noticeably in the late going. Defense has not been tested besides Morales but Cano absorbed punches from Oscar Leon, Marimon and Morales without hesitating to throw back. Is confident despite moving up a weight class for this opportunity, “This is the best preparation I have ever had. I respect Paulie tremendously but I also feel that my youth, my strength, my motivation and my preparation will guide me to win. And if I want bigger fights, I have to win this fight to go on to bigger and better fights.” I was pleased to see Cano had the grit to mix it up with Morales (taking that opportunity on two weeks’ notice); now I want to see if his feet are up to fighting someone who can dance. Even with his stoppage loss to Morales, Cano has delivered what has been promised of him by boxing insiders.
Paul Malignaggi - Is it me or was Malignaggi “Jersey Shore” before there was a “Jersey Shore”? Anyone who doesn’t believe personality sells has not followed the career of Malignaggi. The brash New Yorker is not overly TV-friendly inside the ring, frustrating foes with a pestering jab and movement that leaves them tripping over their feet trying to catch the elusive counterpuncher. Outside the ring is another matter where Malignaggi is a quote machine whose cocksure “tough Italian kid from Brooklyn” shtick sells. However, it has to be noted, Malignaggi is not afraid to stand and fight when forced to do so; in fact, he won over fans in lopsided beatings from Miguel Cotto and Amir Khan. Started boxing at 16, establishing a solid amateur record as a two-time New York City Golden Gloves champion and winner of an U.S. Nationals title. Still fights in the amateur tap-and-move style but that is forced on him by brittle hands which dogged Malignaggi his entire career. That was not a problem in his last fight, when Malignaggi shocked experts by traveling to Russia and knocking out veteran champion Vyacheslav Senchenko. No one doubted his ability to fight through adversity and Malignaggi has looked better at welterweight. Tough as barbed wire mentally, staying within punching range of stronger opponents in order to create angles for weaker punches of his own. Malignaggi is an accurate puncher; he does not waste punches, only rattling off combinations when available. Prefers to stay in a dangerous pocket inside the reach of opponents instead of only working from the outside to pick his shots thus creating less action. The problem for Malignaggi is that those blows look better than they actually are. Malignaggi’s punches do not debilitate opponents and are more of an annoyance then a weapon. Judges reward Malignaggi for the pitty-pat punches and, more often than not, foes cannot land their punches because of Malignaggi’s deft footwork and reflexes. The 31-year-old’s body looks fit and toned at 147 and he has no stamina concerns engaging in 14 fights that went 10 or more rounds. Malignaggi is hyped to fight in the Brooklyn borough, “Obviously you want to look good and win in your hometown and put on a festive atmosphere for them, so that everybody can celebrate afterwards but the focus for me is on winning the fight first.” Malignaggi’s style is not for everyone but it is an effective one which leads to victories. Pernell Whitaker would be proud.
Verdict – Just as the competitive loss to Morales made Cano a better boxer, another respectable setback to Malignaggi will mature the young Mexican into a future champion. In some stages against Morales, Cano looked unable to deal with Erik Morales cutting of the ring with angles and movement. Imagine what Malignaggi will do with his lively feet and accurate single shots. It is foot speed that I am most concerned with where Malignaggi has a pronounced advantage and is likely to dance circles around Cano. Malignaggi sports a great sense of distance and looks reborn on offense at welterweight, throwing punches with more confidence and at a higher connect percentage. Cano’s lack of volume, because he cannot trap Malignaggi, will hurt him with the judges. I see Malignaggi winning the fight by unanimous decision from a distance after discovering he cannot hurt Cano, losing four rounds at most.
Danny Garcia – Over the last three years, this Philadelphian developed on television from a prospect to full-fledged champion. Garcia faced difficult styles and former champions as part of a maturation process that lead to bona fide Hall-of-Famer Erik Morales. First showing his mental toughness against Ashley Theophane, where Garcia remained composed, rallying in the late rounds securing a contentious split decision victory. One of Golden Boy Promotions’ few East Coast signings, Garcia made steady progress fighting all over America, only appearing in the same venue in consecutive fights once. Garcia also has a knack for delivering his best work when TV’s spotlight shines, showing a strong mental makeup and eagerness to excel at the highest level. Crystallized in a stirring out-of-nowhere knockout of Amir Khan three months ago. Garcia’s boxing skills were instilled at the amateur level (his father still trains him), with a 107-13 record, winning a National Golden Gloves title and topping out as an Olympic alternate. Growing up in the tough Philly gym system serves Garcia just as well - if not better - in the pros as his time with the national amateur team. Is proud and ready to represent Philadelphia, “I’ll make my mark as the next champion out of Philadelphia, making my own lane and making my own history.” Garcia has quick hands and educated feet keep him in continual contact with the target. I would not qualify Garcia as a strong puncher (with a 63% KO ratio) but his punches land with sudden authority and make a solid popping sound. Needs to work on keeping the hands up without losing his momentum or aggressiveness. Displays good head movement with sound reflexes but can stand a bit too erect when moving forward and is too eager to reply when tagged. Steadily upped his level of competition which focused Garcia and got better performances out of him. Soundly defeated former champs Kendall Holt and Nate Campbell, dropping three rounds at most, on the way up. At 24 years of age, has the right mix of youth, ring experience and is in his physical prime for the move to pay-per-view status level, having earned a Ring magazine championship belt along the way. Garcia is confident he did things right getting to this point, “I’m too smart and I can’t see myself losing to anyone anytime soon. I’m well prepared and I can’t wait to showcase my skills. I always go for the knockout; the fans love it. That’s what I do; I bring knockout power.”
Erik Morales – Until a triumphant ring return in 2010, Morales had enjoyed a well-earned two-and-a-half year retirement, a withdrawal initiated by a close loss to David Diaz and preceded by three losses against Manny Pacquiao (twice) and Zahir Raheem. Making weight and a host of other justifications surfaced to pave the way for Morales’ return but credit “El Terrible” for real moments of brilliance in his comeback. Morales earned more praise and plaudits, rightfully, for his loss to a prime Marcos Maidana than most champions receive for lopsided wins. Fans loved the prime Morales and he is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. I remained hesitant to fully welcome Morales back for fear of the eventual bad ending that could be in the cards. That said, at age 36, a rested Morales had great moments against Maidana, Danny Garcia and young banger Pablo Cano that cannot be discounted. At his best, Morales was a thinking man’s destroyer, finding and exploiting opponents’ holes to maximum effectiveness with an intelligent punch selection. His long arms were like laser-guided missiles and weaved their way around elbows or gloves to hit the target flush. Those are the traits that made Morales the last man to truly defeat Manny Pacquiao. However, it was Morales who exited that trilogy the more damaged party. Morales lost four subsequent fights, twice stopped by Pacquiao in revenge matches. Morales is looking less paunchy than in his previous comeback bouts and to ensure his safety, he underwent a cranial CAT scan in his last fight. Morales has not won a fight above 130 pounds against a top 10-level opponent and this bout will be contested at the junior welterweight limit. Morales fans can take consolation that he is coming back for the right reasons of pride and love for the sport, not forced to return to the ring by monetary problems as so many others have needed to do. I pay attention when a veteran like Morales speaks and his matter-of-fact statements are born of experience. “We’re totally prepared. We are ready and anticipating stepping in the ring. We’re very hurt over what happened in March and we have done everything possible to be ready for this Saturday. My body responded well to my training regimen and I feel that this time the outcome will be different.” Morales is one of the most understated legends of his era, whose intelligent punch selection speaks volumes so he does not have to.
Verdict – Including their last fight, Garcia has gained experience and become better while Morales has simply aged. This fight is about time; simply put, Morales is out of time and it is Garcia’s time to shine. There is a tipping point for every match-up where the importance of youth and speed outweighs experience and guts. Garcia is on the right end of that seesaw equation. The level of progression is right for Garcia; outdueling long-armed Kendall Holt and out-gutting Amir Khan in a rough-and-tumble brawl readies Garcia for the physical Morales again. Ten years younger and faster of hand and foot, the one thing Garcia has to be weary of is getting dragged into a brawl again, which he will have learned from his last two fights. Garcia needs a good early start because Morales is like a locomotive that is hard to stop once he has worked his way up to and found momentum. The late rounds could be the difference again with Morales coming on strong but not having the lively legs to track down and force his younger foe to engage. Garcia is still the naturally larger man and thus built to absorb Morales’ fierce punches. In the final analysis, Garcia’s speed and reflexes allow him to escape the intelligent traps of the old man for a 116-112 type victory on the cards.
Prediction record for 2012: 84% (104-20)
Prediction record in 2011: 88% (138-19)
Prediction record in 2010: 85% (218-40)
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