With all of the great boxers and fights being made in the welterweight and middleweight divisions in recent years, it’s easy to overlook the junior middleweight division. The display on Wednesday night, however, gives us all reason to take notice. Particularly with some of the best middleweight talent constantly heading to higher weight classes.
Wednesday Night Fights went out with a bang in the season finale at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, FL. Leading off the television card was a matchup pitting up-and-comer Mean Joe Greene from Queens, NY against Jose Miguel Torres in 12 rounds of no-holds-barred action.
Greene, in just is third fight at 154 pounds, was taking on Torres, who was in his first fight on American soil. Torres, the older brother of junior welterweight Ricardo Torres, provided some unique challenges to the well-pedigreed New Yorker, as he used nearly every dirty tactic in the book to frustrate Greene.
Indeed, Torres at times was able to make the younger fighter look more green than mean, but Greene’s skill was too much for Torres in the end, as he handily won a unanimous decision in a fight that was filled with enough big shots that it was surprising that it went 12 rounds.
Greene, a very well decorated amateur, improved to 20-0 with the win, but it was not easy. The first three rounds were marked by the fighters circling and pawing at each other, with very little action of note. Greene, fighting out of a southpaw stance, did not appreciate that a couple of shots that he perceived as low blows not recognized by the referee. Both fighters were practically sleepwalking in the early rounds.
The first three rounds may have had the look of a dud, but the fourth round was nearly non-stop action, as Torres was all over Greene right from the bell. Greene was clearly shaken at first, but it served mostly as a wake-up call. Greene began to take the reins by punishing Torres with his explosive left hand, but the naturally right-hander was surprisingly neglectful of utilizing his right jab.
In the fifth round, Greene knocked down Torres with a mean left hand 25 seconds into the round. Torres responded by hitting Greene when he went down after a slip on an overzealous right hand and was deducted two points. However, the action was intense enough that points seemed to be a moot point. Greene continued to punish Torres with left hands and would do so for the rest of the evening.
At other points of this brawl, Torres raked Greene over the eye with the lower part of his glove and repeatedly punched him in the back of the head. In a fight filled with questionable blows, it wasn’t until midway threw the 11th round that the fight was stopped for a low blow, this time by Greene. This particular low blow seemed less obvious than some of the earlier trips south of the border perpetrated in this bout, however.
In the end, Greene was simply too skilled for Torres and took home the NABA junior middleweight title.
In the main event, the exciting Joel Julio took on Jose Varela. The 23-year-old Julio improved to 34-1 with his 31st career knockout as he forced a stoppage after his fifth knockdown of the fight near the bell at the end of the sixth. Varela fell to 23-4 with the loss.
The fight was an impressive display of power from Julio since the 6-2 Varela is a man who has gone the distance with the likes of the monstrous Edison Miranda. And at times in this fight, it looked like Varela would once again go the distance, as he courageously withstood a cartel of Julio fireworks and always quickly regained his composure after each knockdown.
In the first round, Julio clearly had difficulty adapting to Varela’s size and awkward style. Varela’s body is unique, with a very long, lean frame. His legs almost make him appear to be walking on stilts. Lightweight champion Nate Campbell, sitting in for Teddy Atlas, compares his build to Abraham. No not Arthur Abraham, but Abraham Lincoln. The Great Emancipator was more emaciated than muscle bound, however. Obviously, that is not the prototype for a prizefighter, but it is clearly an adjustment for Julio, who is giving up four inches to Varela.
It doesn’t take Julio’s too long to adjust, however, and he unleashes his power early in the second round. He knocks Varela down with a big overhand right about 50 seconds into the round. He follows that up with another knockdown less than 30 seconds later, this time on a left hook. After the impressive display of two-fisted power, it seems like only a matter of time before the Love Child notches another kayo.
In the third round, Julio once again puts Varela down, this time by way of an over the top right hand. Julio then traps him up against the rope, but the lanky Nicaraguan absorbs the punishment with aplomb and survives the round. He may not be close to winning this bout, but he is proving to have an elite will.
In the fourth, Julio is clearly biding his time and looking for one big punch. It never comes, though, and Varela capitalizes on Julio’s passivity by effectively working his jab and using his size advantage. I give this round to Varela.
The fifth round sees Julio reassert his ring dominance and he knocks Varela down for the fourth time, this time with a sweeping left hook. However, once again, Varela gets back up, dusts himself off, and fights competently for the remainder of the round. He’s displaying the kind of toughness that a man of his kind of build must have to go 12 rounds with an intimidator like Pantera.
Varela continues eating a steady diet of vicious shots in the sixth round, but amazingly stays on his feet through all of them. Varela is looking like the proverbial glutton for punishment. It is a remarkable display and we’re sure Abraham Lincoln would be proud. But alas, it would not last. Just before the sixth round bell, Varela goes down for a fifth time on the latest right hand with bad intentions from Julio. As the fighters head to the corners, the fight is called and Julio is the news WBO Latino junior middleweight champion.
Julio is now 7-0 since losing to Carlos Quintana in June of 2006 and is undefeated as junior middleweight. But is he ready for the upper-tier junior middleweights?
As explosive as Julio is, Campbell thinks he needs more seasoning before he gloves up with the likes of even Sergio Mora or Vernon Forrest (whom Mora recently upset).
What then, does Campbell prescribe for Julio?
“Get him in the ring with fighters with jabs,” said Campbell adding that he needs to face competition that will force him to move his head as he comes forward. If he doesn’t learn more “boxing” skills, he will be unable to defeat the best junior middleweights, in Campbell’s opinion.
It is clear that Julio is already elite in terms of punching power. It is also true that the junior middleweight field has less landmines than the middleweight division (where the young Julio’s future probably is). He needs to start working towards a title shot sooner than later, but some seasoning could be used.
SPEEDBAG: Campbell, when asked to comment on his upcoming fight with Joan Guzman remarked, “I have no concerns. I’m not concerned about anything he’s gonna do.” Ironically, that comment followed his statement that he refuses to look past Guzman…As part of the Wednesday Night Fights season finale, the broadcast awarded a WNF’s KO of the Year. It was awarded to Juan Urango for his vicious fourth round kayo of Carlos Vilches on April 23rd.
TSS Universe: what are your thoughts? Is Julio ready for the big time? And who do you like in Campbell vs Guzman? With Pacman and the Golden Boy apparently at odds, which lightweight should Pacman turn to?