The two headliners on the Versus card that took place in Washington on Thursday evening had a boatload of losses between them, and have both been dismissed as nothing more than capable journeymen. But, on this evening, Cristobal Cruz and Orlando Salido were one win away from realizing dreams that danced in their heads when they both debuted as pro boxers in their early teens. The IBF featherweight championship was on the line, and that led me to a rarely stated realization: sometimes, it’s good we have a 1:1 fighter to sanctioning body ratio, for occasions such as this. Who wouldn’t think it’s cool that two lifers, who’ve shed so much blood and sweat for this sport, get a title crack? These two started fighting for money right after they started to shave, fer cripes sakes!
There weren’t an excess of showy connects for the judges to absorb, and aid them in choosing a winner, so there was drama in the air when the call went out: via split decision, Cruz got the nod. Two scored it 116-112 for the victor, while the dissenter saw it 115-113, Salido.
Does Salido have grounds to grouse? Maybe—he had the edge in punches thrown, 1,178-1,017.
The Mexican Salido dropped to 31-10-5, and this loss was his first since 2004 (JM Marquez). That was a title shot, and he’d had one before. He “beat” Robert Guerrero in November 2006, but that win was dumped after steroids were found in his system. Cruz, a fellow Mexican, went to 37-11-1. This has to represent a pleasing turnabout for him. He was 2-4, before ripping off three straight wins, culminating in this big-league title bonanza. Sorry, but this figures to be a short reign for the hitter, whose skills are distinctly ordinary. But, I may be wrong, because he is busy, busy, busy, and that can make up for a multitude of sins in form, or a deficiency in genetic blessings.
The 27-year-old Salido, who debuted at age 15 in 1996, weighed 126, while the 31-year-old Cruz, who debuted at age 14 ½ in 1992, also weighed 126 pounds on Wednesday. With 20 losses between them, it bears asking how they found themselves in a position to gain a title fight. Robert Guerrero had held the strap, and left it behind when he moved up in weight. Were these two the first and second ranked boxers in any sane sanctioning body’s hierarchy? Probably not, but this is not particularly a golden age at 126, so why don’t we just soak in the happy vibes as we let two long-suffering leather traders go for the glory?
The fight was tight, and there were no knockdowns through eight to give the judges an easier time of it. The holes in both men’s games were on display. Neither has the fastest hands, and both men could have a little less arc on their tosses. They were active, but there was little danger that someone would uncork a brain scrambler to force a stop. Cruz landed 36 punches to 35 for Salido in the ninth, for the record.
SPEEDBAG An overhand right goes out to the Versus production team. The show went over the TiVo allotted time, and the fight cut off with two rounds left for those that didn’t program overage time. Producers, some 25% of people watch shows on TiVo. Some of them don’t overtape. Hit your marks!