While lightweight sensation Adrien Broner will be stepping up in weight to take on welterweight gatekeeper Paulie Malignaggi on June 22nd, Malignaggi will be the one taking the real step up in class. Even though Broner’s opposition has been limited up to this point, his big-name opponents consisting of fighters like Daniel Ponce de Leon and Antonio DeMarco, Malignaggi has suffered a defeat every time he has stepped in the ring with elite opponents. His impressive record includes losses to some of the best junior welterweights of the past decade: Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton, and most recently, Amir Khan. At age 32, Malignaggi needs to make this final campaign for the top of the division count. One significant loss at this point in his career could crush any chance of ever drawing big-money fights again in the future. It could be called an assumption to declare the fight against Broner lost before the beginning of the bout, but I think of it more as a foregone conclusion. Broner may have fought at lower weights early in his career, but I think the move up to welterweight was inevitable. He makes beating up legitimate fighters look easy, which has probably contributed to the frequent comparisons made between his style and that of Floyd Mayweather Jr. Not only is Broner young and talented, but he’s hungry for the kind of fight that can draw large crowds and the kind of accolades he feels he deserves. All of this is bad news for Malignaggi, who has blazed an impressive comeback trail since his loss to Brits Ricky Hatton and Amir Khan. The foundation for that comeback trail, however, has been the careful matchmaking ability of his team, pairing him with fighters who had just enough influence to get attention, but not enough talent to be a threat. For some reason, that strategy has been turned on end, as if Malignaggi’s insistence that he wants to fight the best finally overwhelmed his better judgment. Broner may not be the best yet, but I don’t think anyone expects a fighter of Malignaggi’s quality to derail his train to the top.
This Saturday’s fight card on Showtime will offer an exciting battle between two aggressive fighters as Erislandy Lara takes on Alfredo Angulo. Both fighters are skilled athletes with professional records that don’t fully represent their abilities. In one of the worst decisions in recent history or at any other time, judges declared Lara defeated by crowd favorite Paul Williams in a decision so outrageous that the athletic commission that sanctioned the fight set a precedent in suspending all three judges for remedial training. Angulo has been a top contender in the 154-pound division for years, but has always come up short against higher-level opposition, losing to Kermit Cintron and, more recently, James Kirkland. These fighters share an aggressive style and the ability to take a punch well, so they should put on an exciting show in probably the most publicized match of their careers. The winner will continue on with a more lucrative career, while the loser will be, at least temporarily, cast as a gatekeeper who does not challenge the elite of the division.
The card will also offer the exciting matchup between Marcos Maidana and Josesito Lopez. Lopez and Maidana are both known for punching hard and taking even harder punches. If one of them has demonstrated a better ability to take a punch, it might be Lopez, who managed to beat favored opponent Victor Ortiz into submission by broken jaw in June of last year. These fighters are even more aggressive than the contestants in their co-featured bout. Maidana will maintain his defensive composure early, but even with fighters who do not attempt to be precise boxers, his guard usually loosens by the later rounds. Lopez will mirror this behavior until one of the two fighters demonstrates an edge in endurance or heart. Neither man will be throwing precise combinations in round 8, so whoever wins will have to get a second wind and maintain pressure to keep the other aggressive fighter at bay long enough to accumulate points.
The biggest fight out there is still looming ahead. Satisfying the fans insatiable desire to see a clash of titans, Floyd Mayweather has finally accepted a fight against Saul Alvarez, who is almost universally considered the best challenger to the Mayweather reign. Of the thousands of voters who have participated in the poll on ESPN.com predicting the outcome of the fight, only about %15 think Alvarez will win. While that disparity is logical enough, it implies a mismatch when in fact it refers to the general perspective on the odds for the best fight in boxing. Mayweather has long held the title of the pound-for-pound king among most boxing critics, but now that the fanatical Manny Pacquiao fervor has begun to dissipate, fans and analysts can only see iron in the fire, being hardened by every challenge he’s faced. Saul Alvarez has developed his skill in the ring almost entirely as an active professional. Winning a title at a young age, Alvarez was criticized for accepting soft competition as he defended his titles and rose through the ranks. Gradually, he and his team began to target more noteworthy opponents until his most recent clash with the talented Austin Trout. Finally achieving a sound defeat over a fighter in the spotlight, Alvarez has gotten his wish for a fight with the best in the business. But we all know how the old saying goes, and as the poll numbers suggest, Alvarez has most likely gotten in too deep this time. The speculation that Mayweather’s talent had already begun to erode with age has all but disappeared as he has repeatedly performed exceptionally against worthy challengers. A fighter many fans would consider one of the best of all time, still in some phase of his prime, Mayweather is the tallest order Alvarez can take. Still being in the early phases of what could have been a legendary career, I don’t think Alvarez has the talent, the confidence and even the luck necessary to defeat such an icon. While I still think this is the best fight that could be made in boxing, I don’t necessarily think it will be as competitive or as seminal as it could have been. I think we’ll see an incredible clash between two biggest talents in the sport, but maybe we might see a more competitive, punch-for-punch war between Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios. Maybe we’ll see these guys bring out of each other the best performances of their careers, but it won’t be the timeless war that we know it could be. What do you think?