This weekend, while we take a break from “major” fights here in the United States, Europe experiences a “mega-matchup” of sorts on Saturday in Hamburg, as FABRICE TIOZZO (48-2), the WBA light heavyweight champ, defends his title for the first time against the comebacking DARIUSZ MICHALCZEWSKI (48-1), the former WBO light heavyweight and cruiserweight titleholder.
Michalczewski made 23 successful defenses of his WBO light heavy belt – all in Germany or in his native Poland. Like many European fighters, he's had a lot of soft touches at the championship level, a situation made possible because of his drawing power of his bouts and the influence his promoter, Klaus-Peter Kohl, who was able to exert influence with an organization like the WBO. The man known as “Tiger'” has always been a very solid fighter. For years he was hyped for a showdown with Roy Jones, but demonstrated he wasn't “all that” when he lost a split decision to Julio Cesar Gonzalez. That was sixteen months ago, and he hasn't fought since.
What's interesting here is that any disadvantage Michalczewski's hiatus may have put him at is mitigated to an extent by Tiozzo's relative lack of activity. He hasn't fought since decisioning Silvio Branco for the WBA's 175-pound crown last March, and that's his only action in the last 18 months. Like Michalczewski, Tiozzo is an ex-cruiserweight champ, but that was much more recently. Both of his career losses were at the hands of Virgil Hill, including a first-round KO for that WBA title in December of 2000. Forty-four of Tiozzo's 48 bouts have taken place in France. This one is in Hamburg, Michalczewski's adoptive “home” territory.
Despite his layoff, Michalczewski has a lot of respect from the online sportsbooks. Intertops has him laying 4/1, with a +250 takeback on Tiozzo. Pinnacle Sports lists Tiger as a -282/+262 favorite, and World Sports Exchange has recently lowered its number from a -330/+270 spread, which would have represented the best price for Tiozzo, to -300/+250. At Sportsbook.com, Michalczewski is laying only -280.
The over/under at Olympic Sports is 10.5 rounds, where they have favored the under to the tune of -135/+115. But at Diamond Sports International they're using the number at 9.5 rounds, with -130 on the over and even money on the under.
The semi-final on the show in Germany features another light heavyweight title at stake. ZSOLT ERDEI, a Hungarian who is another of Kohl's “house fighters,” makes the third defense of his WBO light heavyweight championship in a rematch against Argentina's HUGO HERNAN GARAY. The two fought in May of last year, as Erdei took two of the three judges' cards, with the third one calling it a draw. Garay has been lightly tested since then, biding his time with a few tune-up fights.
If you like Erdei, you might find the best value at either William Hill (-225) or Intertops (-227). But Diamond Sports International favors Erdei quite a bit more, listing him at -295 with a takeback of +245 (the most generous we've seen yet) on Garay. All of the sportsbooks strongly favor the fight going the 12-round distance – the number is 11.5 rounds, and Olympic Sports has the over favored at -280/+240. You can get +250 on the under at Diamond Sports International.
MIGUEL ANGEL COTTO, the WBO junior welterweight champion, defends that title for the second time in Puerto Rico against former WBO titleholder DeMARCUS “CHOP CHOP” CORLEY, in a fight Cotto's supporters are probably viewing as a steppingstone to much bigger things. Corley won the WBO title in June of 2001 as a late substitute, stopping Felix Flores in the first round. His last five fights have gone the full route, including a unanimous decision loss to Floyd Mayweather and a split decision nod to current welterweight champ Zab Judah. Those guys may have been higher on the totem pole than Cotto then, and still are now, but neither of them appears to possess Cotto's power at 140 pounds.
I must admit I was a little skeptical of Cotto at first, and still feel that perhaps an artful boxer could cause him a multitude of problems he hasn't yet encountered. But he's a sharp enough puncher to take out this level of opposition. Since winning a ten-round decision over survivor John Brown, he's been taken the distance only once, by Lovemore N'Dou. He stopped Victoriano Sosa, who had previously gone twelve rounds with Mayweather, Randall Bailey, who had done the same with Corley in a title bout, and undefeated Kelson Pinto. He's been active, too, with six fights in the last eighteen months. Cotto capitalizes on a two-fisted attack, but his left hook combo to the body and head has been world-class from the outset. He might, in time, make a very intriguing opponent for either Mayweather or Kostya Tszyu.
Cotto is a big favorite, but prices vary. At William Hill, for example, you'd have to lay 33/1 on him, taking back just 10/1 on Corley. But other outlets offer better value. At BlueSQ.com, Cotto is listed at -1200; at Pinnacle he is -1442, at Diamond Sports International he is -1600. The best price coming back on Corley looks to be 12/1 at World Sports Exchange. Diamond and Olympic Sports are offering the over/under at 7.5 rounds; Diamond, for example, has the over favored at -175/+145. At Pinnacle, over 8.5 rounds is -114, with +104 on the under.
Alabama hosts an unusually good card on Saturday night, as super middleweights JAFFA BELLAGOU and KABARY SALEM square off in Mobile. Bellagou had a title shot once, being defeated on a decision by Frankie Liles. He's scored wins over undefeateds Dean Francis and Henry Porras, but it's quite possible he's never beaten anyone as good as Salem, a rough-and-tumble type who was never coddled, fighting the likes of Eric Harding and Richard Grant in his first six pro fights. Salem went to Germany last May to fight hometown guy Mario Veit for the vacant “interim” WBO super middleweight title, and despite being penalized two points, still got as close as a split decision defeat, which means he very well may have won the fight. He then lost a decision to Joe Calzaghe for the “real” WBO super middleweight crown last October, but put the undefeated Calzaghe on the deck in the fourth round. Salem may be one of the few fighters in the world where you could actually put a “headbutting” proposition on his fights; I haven't found one out there yet, but in his last three fights, he's been caught doing it. He nonetheless looms as a live dog – Pinnacle Sports has him grabbing +140 (Bellogou is the -150 favorite), while at Olympic Sports he is a -155/+135 underdog. Also at Olympic, the rounds prop (9.5 rounds) is a pick ‘em, going -110 either way.
Also on that Mobile show, DUNCAN DOKIWARI tries to bounce back from two straight losses as he takes on VAUGHN BEAN in a heavyweight match. Dokiwari, with a 22-3 record, put in a good performance in losing a decision to then-undefeated Dominick Guinn, but then was stopped in one round by Stacy Frazier in his last outing. Bean's record is a strange one. He has been rather competitive in losing to people like Evander Holyfield and Michael Moorer. He went eleven rounds with Vitali Klitschko. And losses to Yanqui Diaz and Tony Thompson were nothing to be completely ashamed of. But Bean has little or nothing in the way of a meaningful win. That's highly unusual for a fighter who's been around for so long, and who has fought for a couple of titles. Dokiwari is -204 at Pinnacle Sports, with bean fetching the best price at Sportsbook.com, where he is at +185. Olympic Sports is also carrying the fight, and has Dokiwari the -210/+180 choice. Diamond Sports International has Dokiwari at -210/+170.
In South Africa, there's big action in the junior lightweight division, as CASSIUS BALOYI engages in a rematch with LEHLOHONOLO LEDWABA in a scheduled 12-rounder. These two met last November 20, with Baloyi winning the unanimous decision by scores of 116-112, 116-112, and 116-113. Those who believe Ledwaba can turn things around will get their best price at Pinnacle, which lists him at +181. Baloyi's best value would be found at Sportsbook.com, which has him at -185, with a +155 takeback on Ledwaba.
(All information is presented for entertainment purposes only. Odds posted were current as of noon ET on Friday. Odds naturally are subject to change, so check first with each individual sportsbook.)