A look at upcoming fights

So while we await word on those developments, I'll take a look ahead to some scheduled upcoming title bouts and offer some pugilistic pontifications and prognostications.

Date: April 22, HBO

Fight: Chris Byrd, 39-2-1, with 20 knockouts, vs. Wladimir Klitschko, 45-3 (40)

Belt: IBF heavyweight

Analysis: The 30-year-old Klitschko already owns a victory over the 35-year-old Byrd, whom he beat on Oct. 14, 2000, in Germany. The 6-foot-7 Klitschko owns a 7-inch height and serious power advantage over the light-punching Byrd, who claimed a foreign substance - not Klitschko's punches - were responsible for his swollen face in their first meeting. Conspiracy theories aside, Klitschko also twice dropped Byrd during their first contest.

Byrd's biggest strength is his hand speed and defense. He's also an experienced southpaw, who badly slapped around an aging Evander Holyfield for the vacant IBF strap in 2002. But while he holds a victory over slugger David Tua, Byrd received gift decisions over Fres Oquendo and Andrew Golota.

Although he showed he could outbox another big man - 6-foot-6 Jameel McCline - the result had more to do with his opponent's lack of amateur experience and technique than anything extraordinary on the part of Byrd, who scored a unanimous decision.

Byrd's last fight - a 12-round sleepwalk over DaVarryl Williamson last October in Reno - was perhaps the most boring bout in heavyweight history. In spite of his previous victory over Byrd, Klitschko still has a lot of question marks swirling around him. Doubts began to emerge when Klitschko was stopped in two rounds by southpaw Corrie Sanders in 2003 and further suspicions arose concerning his chin and heart after he lost via five-round TKO to Lamon Brewster in 2004.

In his last fight, however, Klitschko showed fantastic footwork and resolve - not to mention power - in defeating then undefeated prospect Samuel Peter.

Pick: Byrd no longer has Don King as his promoter, which will hurt his chances for a decision in Germany, where Klitschko (who was born in Ukraine) began his career and has a large fan base.

Byrd doesn't hit hard enough to stop Klitschko, who will simply be too much for the smaller man. Klitschko by unanimous decision.

Date: April 29, HBO

Fight: Acelino Freitas, 37-1 (32), vs. Zahir Raheem, 27-1 (16)

Belt: Vacant WBO lightweight

Analysis: The 29-year-old Raheem is coming off the most impressive performance in his career, a 12-round unanimous decision over Erik Morales in September. It was a bout in which the Philadelphia native finally met all of the expectations boxing pundits had for him.

Although he doesn't carry much pop in his punches and was a featherweight throughout his career, Raheem does have a slick boxing style and he can make sluggers pay with well-timed counterpunches.

Conversely, Freitas, a former junior lightweight and lightweight champion, built his reputation on power, notching 29 consecutive knockouts to open his career. He also has shown an unexpected ability to box, as he did in a win over Joel Casamayor and for a while in a loss to Diego Corrales.

But it was in his loss to Corrales where Freitas was heavily criticized for quitting after suffering several knockdowns. That said, Freitas has lived to fight another day and has since tuned up on inferior opposition such as Fernando David Saucedo (W 10) and Fabian Salazar (KO 1).

Pick: After a victory such as the one over Morales, one would expect Raheem to be able beat a fighter who quit in a title fight. That said, Raheem can also look pretty uninspired, as he did in his loss against Rocky Juarez at featherweight. And Freitas will not just come in winging punches.

What we should see is a fairly disappointing boxing match in which the stronger and naturally bigger man - in this case, Freitas - should have an advantage.

It can go either way, but I'll take Freitas by split-decision victory. Also, look for an immediate rematch.

Date: April 29, Showtime

Fight: Guillermo Jones, 33-3-2 (26), vs. Steve Cunningham, 19-0 (10)

Belt: Vacant IBF cruiserweight

Analysis: Putting aside that the IBF stripped O'Neil Bell - the cruiserweight division's real champion - because he had dental surgery and wouldn't have had sufficient time to heal for a May defense, this is bout which matches a boxer-puncher (Jones) and a pure boxer.

The 29-year-old Cunningham took a split decision over the 33-year-old Jones in April 2005 and, at 6-foot-3, is only an inch shorter than the Panamanian and he makes that inch up with an 82-inch reach (compared to Jones' 81).

Both own victories over former IBF champion "Koncrete" Kelvin Davis (Jones via fourth-round TKO, Cunningham via 10-round decision), but it is Jones who has the greater momentum, having stopped another former cruiserweight tiltist, Wayne "The Big Truck" Braithwaite, in a September slugfest.

Be that as it may, Jones has always had troubles with slick boxers, twice losing to former WBA junior middleweight titlist Laurent Boudouani in close, controversial decisions at 154 pounds.

Pick: Yes, Jones has packed on 50 pounds in about six years. Yes, he's a big jiggly around the midriff. But Jones is an action fighter with boxing skills. If his fight with Davis is any indication, Cunningham will be on his bicycle from jump street.

As is his wont, Jones will bring the fight if it's not brought to him. He has never owned a belt and, taking his age into consideration, should be the more motivated fighter. This again may be a close fight and subject to the interpretation of the ringside judges.

Considering the area where the fight is being held - macho Worcester, Mass. - I'm betting those judges will pick the aggressor, which will be Jones, who will win via split decision.


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