Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Joey Bag O'Donuts: Ranking the Undefeated

Understatement of the week: Boxers take great pride in their records.

As competition stiffens, it's often said the greatest weakness of an unbeaten prospect is his not knowing how to lose. The undefeated carry their lack of L's like their birthrights. This is sometimes an advantage and other times a detriment.

Just ask Acelino Freitas, who boasted a 35-0 record when he faced fellow power puncher Diego Corrales in 2004. The unorthodox Brazilian was seemingly having his way with the stalking Corrales, using every inch of the ring and countering effectively through the first five rounds.

Halfway through the scheduled 12-round bout, Freitas began slowing down. Corrales, 38-2 at the time, was getting to him more frequently and cutting off the ring to land flush combinations. The result was Freitas walking away from referee Michael Ortega after being floored a third time. Corrales was declared the winner by 10th-round TKO.

On the other hand there is the late Corrales, who -- despite legal, emotional and weight issues -- fought Floyd Mayweather Jr. on relatively short notice in a 2001 super featherweight title bout. Corrales was 33-0; Mayweather was 24-0 and too much for his troubled opponent.

Corrales was knocked down five times, peeling himself off the canvas before each 10-count was reached. In the 10th round, Corrales' corner decided it had seen enough and threw in the towel. Corrales vehemently protested the stoppage, even had to be restrained from attacking his own father (whose decision it was to call a halt to the action).

These contrasting examples prove varying responses boxers have to tallying first losses. Freitas was never the same as he was before and became comfortable with saying "no mas" when things weren't going his way, as he did in his most recent fight (vs. Juan Diaz in 2007). Corrales went on to become a legend in winning the lightweight championship against Jose Luis Castillo in 2005 in what may be the greatest bout in recent memory. Sadly, Corrales died in a motorcycle crash two years to the day of his most celebrated triumph.

Some risk all to keep their loss columns empty, while others do whatever it takes -- even if that means avoiding unfavorable matchups -- to remain blemish-free. Either way, that intangible donut weighs heavily on every undefeated boxer's plate as he step through the ropes.

With that, a list of the best undefeated fighters in the sport:

1. Ivan Calderon (32-0-1, 6 KOs), junior flyweight: The Iron Boy showed some rust in a technical draw with Rodel Mayol on June 13. Even if he's losing a step, he can still avoid getting hit better than most in the business. But how much does he have left at 34?

2. Juan Manuel Lopez (26-0, 24 KOs), junior featherweight:
If this Puerto Rican southpaw boxer-puncher has a weakness, it has yet to be exposed. Juanma disposed of another victim, Olivier Lontchi, on June 27. Super stardom may be on the horizon.

3. Floyd Mayweather Jr. (39-0, 25 KOs), welterweight:
Money May's financial instability has forced him out of retirement. His pride has forced him to face one of the best boxers in the world, Juan Manuel Marquez, in his return bout. Too bad Marquez is a lightweight.

4. Carl Froch (25-0, 20 KOs), super middleweight:
The Cobra was on the better end of a thriller against Jermain Taylor, knocking out Bad Intentions with 14 seconds left in their April 25 bout. The 168-pound division is deeper than the English Channel, and this Brit may be the best in it.

5. Chad Dawson (28-0, 17 KOs), light heavyweight:
Bad Chad has incredible physical tools, especially speed, but the southpaw hasn't been a critical success in recent wins against Antonio Tarver (twice) and Glen Johnson. A scheduled rematch with Johnson is pivotal.

6. Arthur Abraham (30-0, 24 KOs), middleweight:
Boxing fans are clamoring for a King Arthur-Kelly Pavlik middleweight championship bout. It is uncertain whether it will happen with Abraham's difficulty making 160, though he showed no signs of sluggishness in defeating Mahir Oral on June 27.

7. Chris John (42-0-2, 22 KOs), featherweight:
A blood illness kept the Dragon from rectifying a faulty draw with Rocky Juarez. The June 27 rematch was scrapped, but the self-promoted Indonesian remains an entertaining and under-appreciated fighter.

8. Jorge Linares (27-0, 18 KOs), junior lightweight:
It's a shame how little American fight fans get to see of El Nino de Oro. After sitting out nearly all of 2008, the Venezuelan has notched stoppages in back-to-back fights, most recently over Josafat Perez on June 27.

9. Timothy Bradley (24-0, 11 KOs), junior welterweight:
Desert Storm proved his mettle by overcoming a first-round knockdown (and a rare standing 8-count) to win a decision over Kendall Holt on April 4. An August 1 bout against Nate Campbell is mouth-watering.

10. Edwin Valero (25-0, 25 KOs), lightweight:
Despite his lack of quality opposition by comparison, El Inca has run through every opponent in his path. Valero has limited medical clearance in the States stemming from a brain injury, but he is a thrilling enigma at 135.

Of course, there are other notable no-loss fighters who could easily be on the list. If you like or dislike, agree or disagree, post a comment. The "Bag O'Donuts" will appear on the last Tuesday every month.

Ortiz backlash: Victor Ortiz is likable, talented and fun to watch. That stated, he is not "vicious," as his nickname implies. Not after quitting in the sixth round against Marcos Maidana on June 27.

As if robbing fans of what was a back-and-forth firefight that had both fighters tasting promotional decal a stunning total of five times wasn't enough, Ortiz felt it was necessary to tell Max Kellerman in a post-fight interview that he wanted to be able to talk when he is older and fans shouldn't hold it against him for not wanting to continue.

He has since changed his tune, attributing his comments to impulsiveness and nerves. Sorry, Victor, but it's going to take a lot more than an apology to mend what you have broken. Fans connect with those who go out on their shields.

Ortiz must find something within himself to be a warrior in the heat of battle, not in hindsight.

Remember that aforementioned comparison between Freitas and Corrales? Ortiz has decided not to be held in as high regard as Corrales. It will be a long road back to winning fans' trust in his degree of fortitude.

As Ortiz may have learned, the science isn't always sweet.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cotto-Clottey: A Gem in The Garden

How bad did Joshua Clottey want to step into the squared circle and stare down a fellow top welterweight? The Bronx-based native of Ghana vacated the IBF belt he earned in a ninth-round technical decision over Zab Judah to get the chance.

If there are few fighters who considered Clottey's constant call outs, there are even fewer who would relinquish a trinket for the sake of facing a more dangerous opponent. But that's how Clottey rolls. He's 32 and has 37 bouts under his belt. He's as good as he'll ever be yet isn't where he wants to be in terms of name recognition.

That may change June 13 when the underdog Clottey challenges Miguel Cotto in what might as well be Cotto's back yard.

Cotto, 28, is no stranger to Madison Square Garden, where he is 5-0. From 2005-2007, Cotto has headlined at the legendary arena during the weekend of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. The native of Puerto Rico has not only possessed an edge in skill in the main events but also had a rabid crowd behind him.

And it took Antonio Margarito, a common opponent between the two, to be suspended for the fight to come to fruition. Basically, when Margs decided to defecate on the sport by attempting to use an illegal substance in his hand wraps against Shane Mosley, the seeds of a solid matchup were fertilized. Fans will find out how it blossoms at 10:35 p.m. ET when HBO airs the fight live as part of its free preview weekend.

To expand on the pre-fight report card posted in the last blog, here is how the two compare:

Speed: Cotto: B | Clottey: B

Neither fighter has especially quick hands, and each has a different type of speed. Cotto (33-1, 27 KOs) creates combinations from footwork. His lateral movement opens his opponent's guard and allows him to unleash both hands to the head and body. Creating the multiple targets gives the illusion of speed and, while certainly not slow, the punches aren't thrown at a blistering clip.

Clottey, who is more of a defensive fighter than Cotto, has sneaky speed. He confuses opponents by not allowing them to solve his rhythm. He occasionally lets his hands go -- and vows to do so on the inside where he's most effective -- but he is more economical with his output than Cotto.

Power: Cotto: B+ | Clottey: B-

Despite a high knockout ratio, Cotto's jab and right hook aren't as damaging in single shots as someone like Mosley's. He has been the physically stronger guy in most of his fights and will be against Clottey. His left hook to the body is probably the best in the game at the moment.

Clottey (35-2, 20 KOs) relies on outlasting rather than outslugging his opponents. Because he is a pressure fighter who prefers to mix it up in a space equivalent to a phone booth, he throws short, well-placed shots while preserving energy.

Chin: Cotto: C+ | Clottey: A

Listen, Paulie Malignaggi rocked Cotto. There is, of course, no shame in being shaken by Ricardo Torres, Mosley or Margarito (whose KO win looks shady now). But Cotto, even if he was drained at 140, was visibly rattled by DeMarcus Corley, Kelson Pinto and Lovemore N'Dou.

Whether Margarito used the plaster of Paris against Clottey was a non-issue. Dude has a beard. Even though Clottey lost that bout, he continued to go head-to-head with the Mexican for most of the 12 rounds and was showing no signs that Margarito's punches were bothering him as much as they have others.

Ring generalship: Cotto: A- | Clottey: B-

What Cotto might lack in his jaw he makes up for in his brain. He knows how to use the expanse of the ring, as he did against Mosley and Margarito. He also knows when to jump on a guy when he has him hurt. His footwork has improved over time, and he can be surprisingly elusive sometimes.

Make no mistake, Clottey has been in some stinkers (Clottey-Gutierrez II, anyone?). Because of his propensity to fight on the inside he is prone to the occasional, sometimes frequent, clinch. He has had point deductions for hitting low and -- intentionally or not -- been warned for other fouls. He was disqualified for a low blow in round 11 against Carlos Baldomir. He was up on all three scorecards at the time.

Intangibles: Cotto: A- | Clottey B

Cotto has the crowd, that much is clear. He will carry his aforementioned record at MSG into the ring along with an alphabet soup strap. Cotto is as focused as they come, even if he's working with a new trainer in Joe Santiago after firing uncle Evangelista Cotto in April's physical confrontation.

As focused as Cotto might be, Clottey is just as determined. He has not fought on stages as high as Cotto, but that may be to his advantage. It's a surprise this will be his first bout in The Garden, but rest assured he'll want to make it a lasting impression. He has the death stare locked.

Prediction: Clottey W12 Cotto

How is that for a curve ball? Ever since the bout was announced I've leaned slightly toward Clottey to pull off the upset. He's not as skilled as Cotto, but styles make fights. Both are known to fade down the stretch. I'm picking the guy who can take the better punch and has the defense advantage. I can see Cotto outboxing Clottey, sure, but eventually he'll be dragged into a brawl. Clottey will take four of the final six. A draw is a strong possibility.

Remember to tune in!

"Fight Night Club" premieres: Golden Boy Promotions' first "Fight Night Club" card premieres tonight on Versus at 9 p.m. ET. The monthly installment will showcase prospects and is intended to attract a younger audience by implementing a disc jockey and broadcasting on RingTV.com.

The first card is full of feel-good stories. In one of the co-main events, David Rodela squares off against Juan Garcia at a catch weight of 133. Rodela, who sparred with Manny Pacquiao in preparation of his decimation of Ricky Hatton, is on the comeback trail after surviving a near-fatal car accident.

Garcia spends his time outside the ring working with children at a Los Angeles YMCA. Though he began his career 14-0, he has lost his last two and has fought once in the past 14 months. The matchup is intriguing enough to carry the inauguration of "Fight Night Club" if the innovation doesn't.

Etc: Don't forget Robert Guerrero is in action on "Friday Night Fights."

It's a sweet weekend of boxing. Drop science in my comment section.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Weighing In - June 2009: A look at the welterweights

No weight class has housed more talent or been more consistent over the past 30 years -- if not history -- than the welterweight division. Almost exclusive to combat sports, the term "welter" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a state of wild disorder."

In the first installment of "Weighing In," where I rank a division's fighters and offer other analysis, I will try to bring order to the 147-pound class. "Weighing In" will be a monthly installment appearing at the beginning of the second week each month. Comments and suggestions are encouraged.

In the words of the legendary Mills Lane: Let's get it on.

Top 10 at 147:

1. Shane Mosley (46-5, 39 KOs):
Despite ESPN jumping the gun and reporting Manny Pacquiao accepted Mosley's challenge (without checking with boxing writer Dan Rafael), Sugar Shane is still without an opponent for the second half of the year. He may just have to take a risk and fight Paul Williams. According to the RING's championship policy, Mosley should own the title after battering Antonio Margarito. It's a shame "The Bible of Boxing" didn't crown him.

2. Miguel Cotto (33-1, 27 KOs): He'll have his hands full with a very determined Clottey in Madison Square Garden on June 13. Cotto is no stranger to fighting at MSG, having fought there five times prior. This will be the fourth time he headlines a card on the weekend of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. He bounced back from his knockout loss to Margarito by disposing of Michael Jennings in five rounds in February and will have the crowd behind him against Clottey.

3. Joshua Clottey (35-2, 20 KOs): The tough-as-nails Ghanaian relinquished the IBF trinket he won in his technical decision over Judah last August. That's how much he wants to fight the best. If every boxer was as resolute as Clottey, Mosley would have an opponent by now.

4. Andre Berto (25-0, 19 KOs): He didn't surprise nor disappoint anybody by earning a unanimous decision win over junior welterweight Juan Urango on May 30. He has the physical tools to maintain a high ranking, but he needs to grasp his star potential and get rid of guys like Urango.

5. Luis Collazo (29-4, 14 KOs): The slick southpaw from Queens, N.Y., proved he was an elite welterweight when he took Berto through hell in January. The bout was closer than a unanimous loss for Collazo, which included judge Bill Clancy's ludicrous 116-111 score in Berto's favor.

6. Carlos Quintana (26-2, KOs): Speaking of Puerto Rican lefties, Quintana showed superior skill in easily outpointing Joel Julio and Paul Williams. He followed each of those huge wins with knockout losses against Cotto (KO5) and in a rematch with Williams (KO1).

7. Zab Judah (37-6, 25 KOs): No rematch with a shower door for "Super" Judah. The unpredictable Brooklynite is scheduled to face Hatton -- Matthew Hatton -- on the Floyd Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez undercard.

8. Isaac Hlatshwayo (28-1-1, 10 KOs):
Remember, this guy does own a win over Nate Campbell. After a strange draw with Rodriguez in his home country of South Africa, the two will fight for the IFB strap vacated by Clottey.

9. Delvin Rodriguez (24-2-2, 14 KOs):
Seriously, within the next 12 months we need a Berto-Rodriguez bout. Anybody down to see that? If he gets by Hlatshwayo (and another rematch isn't mandated), there might be a chance for the showdown.

10. Vyacheslav Senchenko (29-0, 20 KOs):
The great unknown of the ranked welters (all but three of his fights were in Ukraine). The 2000 Olympian hasn't fought much since 2002, but when he has, he's won.

Notably absent:
Floyd Mayweather Jr. (returning from retirement), Antonio Margarito (suspended), Manny Pacquiao (campaigning as 140-pound champ) and Paul Williams (last three bouts at 154 and 160).

As promised, and appropriate for this month's "Weighing In," how about a Cotto-Clottey report card?

Speed: Cotto: B | Clottey: B
Power: Cotto: B+ | Clottey: B-
Chin: Cotto: C+ | Clottey: A
Ring Generalship: Cotto: A- | Clottey: B-
Intangibles: Cotto: A- | Clottey: B

Check back for a full preview and the lowdown on the "Fight Night Club" premiere.

Until then, the Sweet Science lab is closed.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

April showers bring May sours

I've been a bad blogger.

The first four months of 2009 were chock full of quality bouts, both on paper and in competitiveness. Fights like Andre Berto-Luis Collazo and Jermain Taylor-Carl Froch were cinematic in their drama, setting the stage for the May 2 junior welterweight "superbout" between champion Ricky Hatton and consensus No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer Manny Pacquiao.

With the storm clouds gathered, the monsoon that is Pacquiao blew through Hatton in less than six minutes. As spectacular and one-sided the performance was, it could be argued that the bout didn't live up to the phenomenal promotion by Golden Boy.

And the rest of the month followed suit. What do fans know now?

Well, 26-year-old Chad Dawson can do just enough to take another decision in a rematch with Antonio Tarver, who is 14 years Dawson's senior. Berto, who
had maybe fought his heart out against Collazo on Jan. 17, lacked killer instinct against a completely inferior Juan Urango. Alfredo Angulo, perhaps suffering from the effects of an ailment, was out-gunned by a slicker Kermit Cintron. Andre Ward was impressive and maintained his focus after being cut by a headbutt against Edison Miranda, but -- let's face it -- Miranda can't keep up with anybody who can actually box.

So forgive me for being a slacker. I apologize. I didn't even get to use my "Union Jacked Up" headline for a Pacquiao-Hatton post-fight blog.

Now let's get back to our regularly scheduled program.

Haye fever: On June 3, David Haye pulled out of his scheduled heavyweight bout against Wladimir Klitschko. Claiming cold feet a back injury suffered during training, Haye said he hopes the June 20 fight can be postponed three weeks, pushing it to late July. Klitschko's crew, according to BoxingScene.com's Mark Vester, would rather Haye be available for July 11, but is exploring another option for the original date.

Ruslan Chagaev, who sits at No. 3 in the RING ratings below Klitschko and brother Vitali, is being discussed as an opponent. Good news: The bout will be for the RING magazine heavyweight title, vacant since then-champion Vitali retired in November 2005 (only to return three years later). Bad News: Chagaev (25-0-1, 17 KOs) might be infected with hepatitis B.

ESPN's Dan Rafael reported Chagaev's "health issues" forced him to pull out of a rematch against Nikolai Valuev for a third time. So, is he cured now? And why is Klitschko (52-3, 46 KOs) so eager to share the squared circle with him?

The Klitschko-Haye bout was actually a heavyweight fight fans were looking forward to. With Haye -- who is never at a loss for words -- showing up to pressers wearing a shirt adorn with a graphic photo of him standing triumphantly over Wlad's and Vitali's decapitated bodies holding their severed heads, he brought a theatrical nature to the mundane division. And it may have lit a fire under Klitschko, who has vowed to punish Haye like he has no other opponent.

Hopefully it happens sooner rather than later.

Pac Man says bring it, Arum says hold it: According to GMANews.TV, Pacquiao accepted the challenge from Shane Mosley to meet on Oct. 17. Sports news outlets were quick to jump on the story, including ESPN, who had
it scrolling across its BottomLine on June 3. Speaking with the Los Angeles Times, Top Rank's Bob Arum, who promotes the Filipino phenom, was quick to dispell the rumors:
This has absolutely no credibility to it. Manny hasn't decided who he is going to fight. It could be Mosley, or it could be (Miguel) Cotto, (Floyd) Mayweather Jr., (Juan Manuel) Marquez or (Edwin) Valero. They're all in the mix.
With the rest of the welterweight division seemingly suffering the effects of diabetes, it would be nice to see Sugar Shane step between the ropes again while BALCO founder Victor Conti's motions in Mosley's lawsuit against him keep being denied. The way Mosley (46-5, 39 KOs) demolished Antonio Margarito was a testament that a proposed matchup with Pacquiao (49-3-2, 37 KOs) would be more competitive than Pac Man's recent fights (Oscar De La Hoya, Hatton).

Wasn't Pacquiao's training leading to the Hatton bout wasted on six minutes of work?

Again, we'll have to wait and see.

Give me four: The California State Athletic Commission recently cleared Israel Vazquez to pursue his career. The
junior featherweight champion had been sidelined with a detached retina since winning the 2008 Fight of the Year, his rubber match against Rafael Marquez. Many, including Yahoo! Sports' Kevin Iole, hope this sets up a fourth bout between the two Mexican legends. Marquez (38-5, 34 KOs) is coming off a third-round knockout of Jose Francisco Mendoza, his first fight since losing to Vazquez (43-4, 31 KOs).

Now for something completely different: For the first time on this blog, I'm mentioning mixed martial arts. That is my disclaimer.

On June 7, WEC featherweight champion Mike Brown (21-4) will defend his title against the man he took it from in 2:23 with a crushing right hand, Urijah Faber (22-2). The rematch should be a firefight. Versus will begin airing the card at 9 p.m. ET. Try to catch it.

That wasn't so bad, was it?

Come back for more of the Sweet Science when I break down Miguel Cotto-Joshua Clottey.