An April to remember
On a recent excursion to the ostentatious money pit in the desert east of LA, I had the honor of eating at one of the most acclaimed restaurants in town, Sinatra. I traveled with two good buddies who frequent the city as often as James Harden goes to the free throw line and they insisted there was no place else in Sin City in which we could dine other than at the decadent house Sinatra built (well, his heirs, at least).
I was told the drinks, specifically the “Sinatra Smash,” were delicious. It was and the savory entrees were to die for; they truly were. I enthusiastically picked out Frank’s Spaghetti and Clams after receiving a ringing endorsement from the waiter, who gave me a description so detailed I expected him to run toward the kitchen, while shedding his suit to reveal a chef uniform underneath. I considered not ordering appetizers out of fear they would ruin my appetite. “Give me the entrée now,” I demanded, as I gulped down the Smashes like Shaquille O’Neal after a two-mile run at a Gatorade stand. The appetizers my friends ordered were an afterthought until I tasted them. The Panzanella Con Granchio and the Caprese were absolutely amazing! If you asked me at that moment if I had ever tasted anything better, I would’ve sworn on a stack of Bibles that I hadn’t.
There is no boxing conversation that can be had right now that doesn’t include a mention of Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao, the biggest event in the history of the planet Earth, if you let some folks tell it. I’m as stoked about May 2 as the next person. However, there are some very attractive fights scattered across the loaded April boxing schedule that are very appealing. Panzanella Con Granchio and Caprese-level appetizers served up before the Mayweather-Pacquiao main event that merit a column and, more importantly, your attention.
Here are my top five fights in the month of April:
5) April 25, Wladimir Klitschko, 63-3 (53), vs. Bryant Jennings, 19-0 (10), for Klitschko’s WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO heavyweight titles – After fighting mainly in Germany for the last six years, the recognized heavyweight champion of the world, Klitschko makes his long-waited return to the U.S. to face undefeated top contender Jennings.
What’s appealing about it…
There isn’t much good to be said about the heavyweight division. There’s a ton of bad stuff but I’ll save that for another article; however, Wladimir’s dominance over the last 10 years is simply incredible. He’s knocked out every notable and unknown heavyweight in the division. You name him and “Dr. Steelhammer” has probably drilled him the way UConn’s female basketball team decimates its opponents. Some contenders, like veteran Tony Thompson, even got knocked out twice. Wladimir has managed to rack up a gaudy 80 percent knockout ratio while somehow fighting the best available opponents. He’s not fighting for only money or titles at this juncture; he’s carving out his legacy as one of the best heavyweights of any era. Bryant Jennings’ progression from novice fighter – with no amateur experience – to savvy vet with some good wins on his record has been a pretty remarkable feat. Jennings’ last four opponents had a combined record of 82-4-1 before he entered the ring with them. Though he’s a smaller heavyweight, at “only” 6-foot-3 and roughly 225 pounds, he uses this to his advantage by throwing more punches in one round then most heavyweights throw in two or three. He’s also shown a willingness to attack his opponent’s bodies, which might be his best weapon against Wladimir, who protects his chin extremely well. Finally the fight is being held at the Mecca of Boxing, Madison Square Garden. Need I say more?
There’s nothing that Jennings does better than any opponent Wladimir has faced during his 10-plus-year rampage through the division. There is no opponent anywhere near Klitschko’s level or size on Jennings’ resume. The champion is listed anywhere from a 10/1 to 41/1 favorite on oddschecker.com and there isn’t a boxing insider anywhere who thinks Jennings can win. This could be a slaughter but it should be fun, however long it lasts.
4) April 11, Andy Lee, 34-2 (24), vs. Peter Quillin, 31-0 (22), non-title bout
Andy Lee would have made the first defense of the title he won by sensational stoppage in December of last year against top contender Matt Korobov when he faces former WBO titleholder “Kid Chocolate.” But Kid Chocolate,” who gave up the title in the fall of last year, turning down a career-high payday of $1.4 million dollars to face the aforementioned Korobov (because his adviser, Al Haymon, doesn’t like the guy, Jay Z, who bought the rights to promote the fight), didn’t make weight. So there goes that opportunity for the somewhat reviled Quillin.
What’s appealing about it…
Lee has toe-curling knockout power in both hands. If you haven’t seen his crushing knockout of John Jackson in June of last year, please put this column to the side and look it up now. The right hand that Lee stuck him with literally made Jackson do a 90-degree turn before crashing to the canvas face-first with his left arm extended in the air as if he had been struck by lightning. Lee was trained by the late, legendary Emanuel Steward, who was like a father figure to him, at the Kronk Gym in Detroit and he possesses the trademark style that’s become synonymous with it. Lee, who’s Irish, is expected to draw a big crowd of his countrymen, who have been known to have a few drinks and get pretty lively at the fights. Kid Chocolate is one of the most gifted and talented fighters in the sport. In the short period he’s fought on the world stage, he’s displayed above-average power and speed. Quillin’s a middleweight but his frame would lead you to believe he could go up in weight as high as light heavyweight. He’s tall, chiseled and has the look of a fighter. He’s also yet to lose since turning pro and has shown he can win by either boxing or slugging.
In both of Lee’s last two fights, he’s recorded highlight reel knockouts but he was losing beforehand. Against Korobov, it’s somewhat understandable because he’s a talented fighter but Lee was a huge favorite against Jackson, who was dominating him before he landed what some called a lucky punch. Lee has also gone life and death with other mediocre fighters you would expect a top talent to expose easily. Quillin is 31 years old and still searching for a career-defining win. His best victory to date was over a past-his-prime Winky Wright, who returned to the ring following a three-year absence. Though he’s shown flashes of brilliance, there are times he appears to have no game plan or focus in the ring, just biding time until his hand is raised.
3) April 18, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., 48-1-1 (32), vs. Andrzej Fonfara, 26-3 (15), 172-pound catchweight, non-title bout
This will mark Junior’s first fight that Top Rank Promotions won’t be promoting, since he signed with adviser Al Haymon.
What’s appealing about it…
Chavez doesn’t come to train much, unless the training is taking place in his living room but he does come to fight. You would be hard pressed to find a recent fight of his that wasn’t compelling with the exception of his challenge of former middleweight king Sergio Martinez, that saw Junior get clowned for 11 rounds before nearly knocking out his man in the 12th. That was widely considered the round of the year in 2012 by numerous boxing sites. Chavez doesn’t have explosive power like Andy Lee but he can thump. Ask Lee, whom he stopped in seven rounds in June of 2012 after essentially bludgeoning him into submission. He’s also one of the most vicious body punchers in the game and has displayed pretty good stamina despite tales of him spending more time running out to hit a bong than running on any kind of track. Fonfara holds wins over two former titleholders like Chavez does; Junior beat Lee, who, as I mentioned before, still holds a title, but both of Fonfara’s have come at 175 pounds. After starting his career in unimpressive fashion, losing two of his first 12 fights, he’s won 16 of his last 18. In the latter loss he suffered during that stretch, he outperformed expectations in losing a close, 12-round decision to light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson. This is a fight many insiders consider to be a pick ’em because neither is clearly better than the other and is probably the most evenly matched of my top five fights this month.
These guys have more offenses against the sport than Mike Tyson. Fonfara had a fight changed to a no-contest because he tested positive for steroids. Chavez Jr. had a fight changed to a no-contest as well after testing positive for an illegally banned substance and also flunked a drug test when traces of marijuana were found in his system. In preparation for the biggest fight of his life against Sergio Martinez, Chavez smoked weed and not the fake kind Mayweather says he used for his reality show. Fonfara is tough and he fights hard but he doesn’t do any one thing spectacularly. This fight is being fought at a catchweight of 172 pounds because Chavez hasn’t fought in over a year and has a hard time training hard when he’s preparing for a fight, so forget about when he’s on the shelf.
2) April 11, Danny Garcia, 29-0 (17), vs. Lamont Peterson, 33-2-1 (17), 142-pound catchweight, non-title bout
If this fight were scheduled for almost any other month of the year, it would likely be rated No. 1 on my list. The undefeated best junior welterweight in the world, Danny Garcia returns to his adopted home of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. to face IBF titleholder Lamont Peterson in a 12-round non-title bout.
What’s appealing about it…
As previously stated, Garcia is the best fighter in the division and Peterson is in the top five. Both fighters have varied offensive arsenals and are able to both box and bang. Garcia had a stretch between Oct. of 2010 and Sept. of 2013 in which he faced seven straight former or then-current titleholders, including the past-his-prime, first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Erik Morales. He shocked the media and fans in July of 2012 when he destroyed the favored Amir Khan in four lopsided rounds, knocking the Englishman down a total of three times before the fight was mercifully stopped. In Sept. of 2013, in a fight he entered as 2-to-1 underdog, Garcia turned in the best performance of his career. After weathering an early hurricane level storm from “The Machine,” Garcia closed Lucas Matthysse’s eye late in their fight, controlling the fierce action with his jab and eventually dropping the Argentinean in the 11th round, the first time the latter had ever tasted the canvas. Garcia has consistently engaged in terrific fights in recent years, almost always giving the fans compelling action. Garcia isn’t the biggest puncher, nor does he have the fastest hands in the division but he’s shown time and time again that he’s the best all-around fighter at junior welterweight. Plus his chin is apparently made out of the rock-hard gel that Jimmy Johnson applies to his hair because he’s never been down in a fight. The 31-year-old Lamont Peterson is the rare fighter you can’t put into a box. Is he a technician or a slugger? He’s actually shown he can be both. He bullied former titleholder Kendall Holt in Feb. of 2013, stopping him in the eighth round of their IBF world title fight. In Dec. of 2011, Peterson outboxed aforementioned Khan over 12 fan friendly rounds. And you can make a valid argument that Peterson deserved a victory over Victor Ortiz in their clash in Dec. of 2010, which the judges ruled a majority draw.
Garcia holds the WBA and WBC belts and Peterson has possession of the IBF trinket, so naturally, you would assume this would be a title unification. Since this is boxing, of course it’s not. There are rumors that Garcia can no longer make 140 pounds, so this fight is at a 143-pound catchweight. What’s the point of having titles if you’re not going to defend them? Rod Salka! That was Garcia’s last opponent, an overmatched club fighter who Garcia knocked out in two rounds in August of last year, in what many panned as a farce of a fight when it was made. And its stench still smells. Though Peterson has some nice wins on his ledger, he has a two disturbing losses. Matthysse seemed to knock him down the moment he stepped foot into the ring when they fought in May of 2013 and Peterson suffered a third round knockout after being thoroughly manhandled in what had been an anticipated outing. Timothy Bradley also dominated Peterson in 2009 in an noncompetitive affair in which Peterson seemed clueless.
1) April 18, Lucas Matthysse, 36-3 (34), vs. Ruslan Provodnikov, 24-3 (17), junior welterweight non-title bout
Boxing fans are already penciling this in as the fight of the year and these two haven’t even stepped foot inside the ring at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, NY. A bit premature, sure, but they’re certainly justified, given these fighters’ impressive resumes and this mouth-watering match-up.
What’s appealing about it…
The fact these two fighters are going to facing each other is reason alone for celebration. Cue up the Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward trilogy, Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo I and, more recently, the Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado trilogy comparisons now. Matthysse is one of the most brutal punchers in the sport today, as testament to his obscene 85% knockout ratio. He’s 9-3 in his last 12 fights, with all nine of those wins coming by stoppage and two of those losses considered very debatable decisions that occurred in his opponent’s backyards. Zab Judah had to pick himself off the canvas in the 10th and last rounds to barely escape before final bell rang in Nov. of 2010. Many observers had Matthysse winning; however, Judah received a gift, split decision in front of raucous crowd at the Prudential Center in New Jersey, who vociferously cheered after every punch he landed. The Machine almost steamrolled over Devon Alexander in the latter’s hometown of St. Louis, Mo. in June of 2011, like Marshawn Lynch hits safeties. That said, Alexander was awarded a split decision that seemed to even surprise his own fans. His one clear loss was to the best fighter in the division, Danny Garcia, in one of the most violent chess match-type fights in recent years. For all I know, The Machine has never been in a bad fight. I don’t know this succinctly because many of his early fights weren’t televised in the States, as they were in his native Argentina, but only one of his first 28 fights went more than four rounds. Boxing is known as the Sweet Science but what Ruslan Provodnikov does inside the ring is anything but sweet. It’s quite wicked, in fact.
The barbaric beating Provodnikov gave former titleholder Mike Alvarado in Oct. 2013 – in Alvarado’s hometown, no less – was a brilliant display of violence. His 12-round slugfest with former champion Timothy Bradley in March of 2013 seemed like a fight sequence out of a movie. If you thought Rocky Balboa took punishment against Apollo Creed, that was nothing compared to what Ruslan did to Bradley. Somehow, Provodnikov still lost a unanimous decision. Though both men have losses on their records, neither has ever been stopped before. We potentially get 12 rounds of these guys fighting like the Bad Girls Club and that either seems too good to be true or downright cruel for the pain they will undoubtedly have to bear.
Provodnikov suffered a disheartening loss to the resilient but limited Chris Algieri in June of last year, in which Algieri captured Ruslan’s WBO title and put on a boxing clinic. Ruslan gave away rounds because he either refused to or was simply unable to establish any kind of consistent jab, repeatedly loaded up on big shots and/or was too enamored with his own power after dropping Algieri twice in the first round. Matthysse has proven he can effectively stick and move at times but, make no mistake, he’s a slugger by nature.
You can follow Teron Briggs on Twitter @TeronBriggs.