Three greatest fights – of 2007
December 11, 2006
If there’s a sport where there are no certainties, it’s in the world of boxing. And while there may be a few flies in the ointment to get in the way, here are three attractive fights – all of which are candidates for fight of the year – that will take place in 2007.
Joe Calzaghe vs. Jermain Taylor: Calzaghe, 42-0 with 31 knockouts, has 19 successful title defenses of his WBO super middleweight belt and is recognized as the legitimate champion at 168 pounds in spite of what the various other sanctioning bodies may say.
Calzaghe’s comprehensive title-unification victory over former IBF beltholder Jeff Lacy earlier this year finally brought the Welshman the international attention and acclaim he deserved and a fight with the 28-year-old Taylor – most likely in America – is the most lucrative match out there for him.
For his part Taylor, 26-1 (17), has rapidly ascended to the top of the 160-pound division with his pair of decisions over former undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins, a disputed draw with Winky Wright (I thought Taylor won) and Saturday’s easy win over former IBF junior middleweight titlist Kassim Ouma.
The only thing standing in the way of this proposed summer fight is a pair of contenders – as in former participants on the NBC reality show “The Contender” – super middleweight Peter Manfredo Jr. and middleweight Sergio Mora.
Calzaghe and Manfredo, 26-3 (12), are already scheduled for April 7 and Taylor-Mora is yet to be signed, but the prospect of earning a somewhat easy paycheck for the least amount of danger should entice Taylor to sign for the match before long.
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Manfredo has shown tremendous improvement since his days on “The Contender,” stopping Scott Pemberton and Joey Spina in his last two outings, but neither bout will prepare him for Calzaghe.
Ditto for Mora, 19-0 (4), who will find out he’s in a whole new league with Taylor.
Injuries, promoters and the unexpected aside, look for Calzaghe-Taylor to happen around August.
The pick: I’m going with Calzaghe. Although he will be 35 by the time this fight jumps off, Calzaghe hasn’t taken much punishment, so age won’t be a factor.
And while he’ll give up a little more than an inch in height to the 6-foot-1 Taylor, Calzaghe will have several other physical advantages over his American opponent. For one, he is a natural 168-pounder who could easily move up to 175.
Taylor couldn’t put away Ouma, a natural 154-pounder, and Calzaghe showed his physical strength against physical specimen Lacy. Although Taylor dealt well with Ouma’s southpaw stance, it had more to do with Ouma’s lack of technical skill than anything else.
There will be no such weakness with Calzaghe, who can box in-and-out and laterally. He also has excellent hand and foot speed and, as he showed against Lacy, carries good power to go with his superb conditioning.
It should go the distance and Calzaghe should be the one who gets his hand raised in victory when he ties Sven Ottke’s division-record 21 title defenses.
Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr.: This fight is already set for May 5 and the only question mark is what weight De La Hoya, 38-4 (30), makes Mayweather 37-0 (24) enter the fight.
The “Golden Boy” will be 34 come fight time and will try and play some more games with the (then) 30-year-old “Pretty Boy.” If Mayweather, who will be moving up from 147 pounds, is prepared to come up to 154, De La Hoya will probably demand he comes in at 158.
What won’t be a question mark is the greatness of both fighters, with De La Hoya trying to go out on top and Mayweather trying to prove it is he, not De La Hoya, who is the best fighter of this generation.
With the fight on Cinco de Mayo, it should attract an all-time record pay-per-view audience.
The pick: Regular readers of this space should find it as no surprise that I’m standing by guns and going with Mayweather. De La Hoya has never ceased to amaze me in how his once-a-year fight plan hasn’t yet caught up with him, but this should be the time it does.
The “Golden Boy” could win this fight if he stays 100-percent disciplined and forces the smaller Mayweather to come forward and be the aggressor. But crowd-favorite De La Hoya will likely fall victim to the partisan fans and try to impose his superior size and strength on “Pretty Boy” instead of handling him with his excellent jab.
This will work to the advantage of Mayweather, whose defensive genius and counter-punching style is unparalleled in the game today. And even though De La Hoya is the stronger fighter, don’t think that “Pretty Boy” is unaware of the fact that he doesn’t need to punch as hard as Oscar if he’s going downstairs with a left hook to the liver a la Bernard Hopkins, who stopped De La Hoya with the punch.
Mayweather by unanimous decision.
Ricky Hatton vs. Jose Luis Castillo: OK, both fighters have to get through one fight before meeting in the early summer, but does anyone give Juan Urango (who will meet Hatton on January 20) or Herman Ngoudjo (Castillo’s next dance partner, also on Jan. 20) a chance?
Due to style this is the most explosive fight of the three and should be the one that eventually garners fight of the year honors. Neither fighter knows how to back up, a fact that should have you glued to the television while it lasts.
Hatton, 41-0 (30), is the naturally bigger fighter and who is coming back down to 140 pounds after his less-than-sterling performance against Luis Collazo at 147.
And although he possesses a 2-inch height advantage over the 5-foot 6 Hatton, Castillo, 54-7-1 (47) is also a squat, powerfully built slugger.
The pick: In addition to being the best fight of the three, it’s appropriately the hardest from which to select a winner. There is really no strategy to analyze as it’s no secret that both fighters will continue to throw bombs until the other falls or is cut.
Other considerations: Hatton has a bit more craft and pivots to the side when he throws his merciless body shots. Although he is the one coming up in weight, Castillo should be the bigger puncher. Castillo has been stopped, but it was in 2004’s fight of the year against the menacing Diego Corrales.
In the end it may be Hatton’s skin that will let him down. The Englishman has shown a propensity to cut and this is one fight where his face will be hammered – win or lose.
I can see Hatton winning in one of two ways: by going to the body early – his best bet – or by rallying for a dramatic knockout.
I can also see Castillo winning in one of two ways: by overpowering Hatton and stopping him outright or by stopping him on cuts.
If I were a betting man I’d choose the latter scenario. I’ll take Castillo with a bloody, exciting (or bloody exciting, if you’re English) seventh-round TKO in what will turn out to be 2007’s fight of the year.