Crossroads Fights, Tune-Up Fights, and Under the Radar Fights

THREE PUNCH COMBO — In a pivotal crossroads fight in the 135-pound division, Anthony Crolla (32-6-3, 13 KO’s) scored a unanimous decision against Ricky Burns (41-7-1, 14 KO’s) in a competitive but more tactical contest than what was expected. There’s talk of a rematch, but given the nature of the fight a rematch seems very unlikely. So what is next for both Crolla and Burns?

With the win, Crolla puts himself right back in position at 135 for a big fight. He is a widely popular figure in the UK and could opt for a domestic showdown with fellow British 135-pound contender Luke Campbell (17-2, 14 KO’s). Both Crolla and Campbell are aligned with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing so the fight would be easy to put together. It would be an easy fight to sell and certainly represent a nice payday for both men.

Crolla could also chase a title shot at 135. The Campbell fight for Crolla can really be made anytime and Crolla may want to get that one more shot at a title before heading toward that fight with Campbell.

The most likely belt holder that Crolla may target would be Robert Easter (20-0, 14 KO’s). Crolla has already lost twice to one belt holder in Jorge Linares and politics make a bout with another belt holder in Terry Flanagan unlikely at this time. So that leaves Easter. For his part, Easter may welcome a Crolla bout. Stylistically, Crolla’s aggressive style should play right into Easter’s hands. Easter is much taller and would make Crolla pay a heavy price to get inside. In addition, Crolla is not a big puncher and Easter would not be too concerned with taking a few shots. The matchup may be so enticing to Easter that he may even be willing to travel to the UK where the payday would be bigger. An Easter-Crolla showdown makes sense for all involved and is a likely scenario for early next year.

As for Burns, there will be plenty of calls for him to retire. But I suspect given the close competitive nature of the Crolla fight that Burns will plug forward. If he does continue, he will probably head north to the 140-pound weight division. And one strong possibility would be a bout against Ohara Davies (16-1, 13 KO’s). Similar to Crolla and Campbell, both Burns and Davies are promoted by Matchroom Boxing so the fight would be relatively easy to put together. It is a good payday for both as well as a good bounce back opportunity for both. Just as important, it is a fight that would sell big in the UK.

Another option for Burns could be Adrien Broner. Broner is mulling his options at the moment and could go in a number of directions including some fights with higher stakes. But if Broner decides to look to rebuild with a fight that he’d be a sizable favorite to win, Burns could be the top option. A Broner-Burns fight has been close on several occasions and now may be the appropriate time.

About Tune-Up Fights

In boxing, so called tune-up fights in which one combatant is heavily favored are often times necessary for a variety of reasons. A fighter may be coming off a long layoff and need to shake off some rust or possibly just want to stay busy honing his skills while waiting for that bigger opportunity. There is a right way and a wrong way to handle such fights. Unfortunately, this week’s nationally televised card featuring Leo Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 KO’s) and Abner Mares (30-2-1, 15 KO’s) in separate tune-ups is an example of the wrong way such fights are being handled.

Santa Cruz and Mares have a right to take tune-up contests. That is not the issue. The issue is that these mismatches are being broadcast on national television. Television dates in this sport today are limited enough and showcasing such fights on a big stage only hurts the credibility of the sport in the long run. Televised fights on such platforms as Fox should be reserved for the best fighting the best.

This is what turns fans away from the sport. They do not want to watch events where the result is more or less already pre-determined. The odds of either Santa Cruz or Mares losing are very remote. As a matter of fact, organizers are so confident in the result that plans are already in the works for the two to meet next March. So why use such a big platform to show two utter mismatches? This is what is unfortunately killing the sport today.

As an example of how tune-up fights should be handled, let’s use the example of Arturo Gatti’s non-title fight against Feliciano Correa on July 11th, 1996. Gatti was then the IBF 130-pound world champion, but his fight with Correa was then stuffed deep on the undercard of Riddick Bowe-Andrew Golota I. The fight was off US television and designed to be a bout for Gatti to work on his boxing skills. Gatti was coming off of two shootouts and his people not only wanted him to work on using his jab more but also on tightening some things up defensively. In addition, a confidence booster was needed coming off those tough fights. The fight went to script with Gatti getting the work in he needed and also getting a knockout win.

It is completely understandable that Santa Cruz and Mares are fighting tune-ups. Each is coming off some tough contests and each has had a bit of a layoff. They need some work before stepping into some bigger challenges. However, these bouts should have been handled like Gatti-Correa and placed deep on undercards off the big stage.

Under The Radar Fights

This week’s under the radar segment will focus on the Golden Boy show on Friday on ESPN which features a pair of well-matched bouts.

In the main event, we have a classic crossroads contest in the 140-pound weight class between Fidel Maldonado Jr. (24-3-1, 19 KO’s) and Ismael Barroso (19-1-2, 18 KO’s). Maldonado had been known as a fighter that gets involved in wars but in his last fight he used his boxing skills to defeat tough veteran Pablo Cesar Cano, keeping Cano at bay for most of the night with his jab and lateral movement in winning a wide decision. Against Barroso, Maldonado faces a fighter stylistically similar to Cano and will presumably look to box again.

Barroso is an aggressive fighter and, as his record indicates, is a big puncher. He is going to look to get inside the jab of Maldonado and make this a dog fight. Maldonado has shown a tendency to slug in the past and if Barroso can be effective with his aggressiveness this could turn into a shootout. One thing to keep in mind is that both fighters have shown questionable chins and with both possessing power this could turn on a dime at any moment. This should be an interesting, evenly matched fan friendly contest and another example of great matchmaking by Golden Boy on this series.

Speaking of great matchmaking and fan friendly fights, the co-feature between the aforementioned Pablo Cesar Cano (30-6-1, 21 KO’s) and Marcelino Lopez (32-2-1, 17 KO’s) should be an absolute barn burner. Cano knows only one way to fight and that is coming forward letting his punches flow. He is defensively challenged and will take a few shots to get a few in of his own, particularly with the left hook to the liver.

Lopez is very similar stylistically to Cano. He presses forward and is not afraid to eat some leather to get off with his own power shots. And like Cano, Lopez is not the greatest defensive wiz in the sport. These two will be in each other’s grills from the opening bell chucking leather. There is no other way the fight could possibly progress.

I generally do not issue guarantees, but I guarantee this is going to be a war. If there is any fight this month to make sure to tune in to watch, this is the one.

The Golden Boy on ESPN series continues this week with a couple of matchmaking gems. The fights may be flying under the radar but fans of the sport should not miss this card on Friday.

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