Friday, November 16, 2007

A Possible Cult Classic, Or Maybe A Big Hit In Its Own Right

Dangerous. Avoided. Underrated. Boxers with that kind of reputation often find themselves stuck in an unpleasant limbo where they can't lure big names into the ring. So if there are two of these feared types in one division, why not fight each other? That's the choice junior lightweights (130 lbs.) Joan Guzman and Humberto Soto made for Saturday night, in the kind of battle that usually creates a lot of action. Lots and lots. And, maybe, forces the big names to face the winner when the public says, "Wow, he's for real. He deserves a big shot."

Soto actually did lure a big name into the ring, in 2005, but he wasn't supposed to win. He was supposed to be a mere stepping stone for Rocky Juarez, a hot prospect with big knockout power. With five losses on his record, and with a lot of mediocre competition in a three-year winning streak leading up to the Juarez fight, who could have expected Soto to be such a big obstacle? When the tall-for-a-featherweight (126 lbs.) Soto stood and traded with Juarez in a slugfest, it became apparent that he was as for real a five-loss fighter gets. But nothing much happened for Soto after that. Suddenly, he was "dangerous." He won a rep for being "rugged" as a result of taking Juarez' big punches with relative ease, another label that makes big name boxers shy away. In a six-knockout barrage since his fight with Juarez, Soto has only lured one other big name into the ring, but he had the wrong first name: Bobby Pacquiao, the less talented brother of superstar Manny Pacquiao. Soto knocked him out.

Guzman got avoided, in part, because of his nickname: "Little Tyson." He also has the natural gifts that the workmanlike, disciplined Soto can only dream of -- speed, power, boxing ability. Lots of knockouts, too. The closest name to "big" that he's lured into the ring is Jorge Barrios, but Barrios ain't built like anyone else. He's as fearless a face-first slugger as you'll ever see, at any given moment likely to be on the delivering or receiving end of a huge knockout, and what's more, he wears these crazy goggles into the ring. In a fight that was competitive, but that most people thought Guzman clearly won, Guzman pulled out a close decision victory. That was last September, and it didn't get Guzman a big fight, either. His style presents some difficult challenges for the big names, which is why he's fighting at 130 lbs. these days instead of his apparently more natural 122 lbs.

With 130-pound stars Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez contemplating a move up to 135, career-wise, this may all be for naught for both Soto and Guzman. But it almost certainly won't all be for naught for the knowledgeable fans. Late 2007 has brought a remarkable series of quality match-ups, most of which have fully delivered on their hype. Soto-Guzman is the match-up that could be like the summer movie people in the know thought could turn into a big hit, but that nobody else could have guessed until it happened. We'll find out Saturday if the people in the know were right.

MY PREDICTION: Soto by clear, but competitive, decision. Soto has carried his power with him as he's moved up in weight. It's less clear that Guzman, without a knockout since 2004 but 17 at mostly lighter weights, has. Soto, too, seems to be the more solid, disciplined technician.
CONFIDENCE: 25%. I probably shouldn't be making a prediction on this one, truth be told, having caught very few of each man's fights. Guzman is the betting favorite, and his speed could be troublesome. Barrios said he felt Guzman's power, so maybe it's still there. But Barrios was weight-drained for their fight, so I'm giving the edge to Soto still.
ALLEGIANCE: None. I'm just looking forward to a big ol' brawl. This is one of the more hotly anticipated of the year among hardcore fans, pitting two boxer-punchers -- guys with skill, but guys who hit hard -- against one another. Ring Magazine ranks Guzman the third best junior lightweight and Soto the fifth best, in a division that's a notch or two below welterweight (147 lbs.) in overall quality but still pretty loaded. Best of all, while both guys can do some of the pretty stuff -- dodging punches, fighting smartly -- they both have exhibited tendencies toward slugging it out.

Way more colorful than the sepia-tone posters that seem to be in vogue, yeah?


Sean A. Malone said...

What a great fight. Boy was I wrong about Guzman. I swore that Soto would be too much for him. Shows you what I know!

Tim -- said...

Shows what I know, too, but then, it's nothing to be ashamed of -- it's not like Soto was the runaway favorite.