Roc Nation Head-to-Head With PBC

Nearly halfway through 2015, boxing has already seen a number of developments that may have lasting impacts on the sport. Perhaps most importantly, boxing has returned to network television, with Al Haymon’s promotional company and fight league Premier Boxing Champions serving as the driving force. As a sort of counterweight to Haymon’s progress, Golden Boy Promotions filed a lawsuit alleging anti-competitive business practices and violations of the Muhammad Ali act by Haymon, and this could spark much legal wrangling between boxing’s splintered factions. All of this makes for interesting times ahead.

Roc Nation Sports, a subdivision of rapper Jay Z’s entertainment company Roc Nation, signed undefeated super middleweight champion Andre Ward in early January. Shortly afterwards PBC announced its formation and network takeovers of NBC and Spike TV (its CBS deal was made public in February). Usually the signing of the last male American to win gold in the Olympics would have been huge news, but Ward’s inactivity (and frankly, his often disagreeable attitude) engendered mostly indifference, overshadowed, as it was, by the dramatic PBC announcement. On March 5, two days before PBC’s premier on NBC, Roc Nation announced a much more significant signing in Miguel Cotto, one of boxing’s biggest draws and the lineal middleweight champion.

It’s possible the timing was a coincidence, but it could also be that there’s still bitterness stemming from a 2011 lawsuit filed by Beyoncé, Jay Z’s superstar wife, against her father, Matthew Knowles, and PBC demiurge Haymon. The suit alleged that Beyoncé’s father and Haymon, a former concert promoter, conspired to defraud her out of a substantial sum of money; a countersuit was then filed and things got ugly.

Against this dramatic backdrop, tomorrow Roc Nation and PBC will go head-to-head with shows on different networks.


Miguel Cotto vs Daniel Geale

Let’s get it out of the way early: the 157 pound catchweight Cotto demanded for the defense of a belt he beat out of a hobbled Sergio Martinez last June is just poor form. Catchweights are certainly not a new concept in boxing, but using them as a tool to weaken opponents taints—even if only slightly—what otherwise may have been a perfectly good match up.

Cotto was a bludgeoning pressure fighter at lower weights. Now, partially with the help of trainer Freddie Roach, he’s more of a boxer-puncher and has developed a fine jab, and he still lands to the body about as well as anyone in the business. At 34 and regularly talking about life after boxing, Cotto is a veteran on whose exterior has formed a bit of patina. Any weathering that’s set in over his career didn’t stop him from rapidly closing distance on the larger Martinez last year, however, and landing a left hook in round one that the Argentinian never recovered from. At his best Cotto is a tricky offensive riddle only solved by supreme resolve and toughness, a slippery style, or Manny Pacquiao. Unfortunately for Geale, he doesn’t possess these traits in the degree Cotto’s four conquerors did; nor is he Manny Pacquiao.

Last summer Cotto destroyed a wobbly Martinez.

That doesn’t mean Geale is a helpless schlub. The Australian, dubbed “Real Deal,” was a respectable amateur who dominated at the local and regional levels. His results in international competition have been mixed. Geale’s odd rhythm has him alternate between using a high guard defense and standing his ground to throw lashing punches, especially to the body. As a professional his only two fights in the U.S. resulted in losses, to Darren Barker and then Gennady Golovkin (who the Aussie had also lost to as an amateur).

Geale is active offensively, which leaves him hanging around in the line of fire. His tendency to cover up and go defensive serves up free shots to his opponents, which Golovkin and Barker both took advantage of. The loss to Barker is particularly troubling because Geale was Barker’s lone world class win, a blight Geale never got to avenge; the Londoner retired following his early TKO defeat to Felix Sturm, who Geale had himself triumphed over in 2012.

There are two things in particular working in Geale’s favor. Firstly, Cotto isn’t a big 157 pound fighter, and assuming Geale makes weight Cotto will still be substantially smaller than the man from Tasmania on fight night. Secondly, Cotto has been inactive enough that Geale’s average of two fights per year in the last three years is still twice as many as Cotto’s. Both are 2-1 in their last three, but a mix of Cotto’s popularity and a notable edge in experience make Geale a 4-to-1 underdog, and correctly so. The Brooklyn crowd will overwhelmingly favour Cotto, and Geale’s not a big hitter or cutesy enough to defeat the champion by using power or intricate boxing skills. Geale’s best and perhaps only hope is to catch Cotto looking past this fight and toward looming showdowns against either Saul “Canelo” Alvarez or Golovkin. If a stoppage comes, expect it later, but the safe money would be on Cotto by decision.

Geale Barker
Geale never got to avenge his loss to Barker.

Two other recognizable names on the card belong to Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. and Alberto Machado, who, like the headliner Cotto, hail from Puerto Rico. It seems like Roc Nation is banking on the card’s ethnic drawing power to fill seats at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, which just had a high profile card last weekend in Khan-Algieri. Geale is a well-known fighter but none of the other ‘opponents’ on the card are. Clearly, the hope is that Cotto’s popularity can draw bodies to the live event and snag HBO a solid rating, because the card offers little else.

Because Roc Nation is making its big-time boxing debut with Cotto-Geale, as much could be riding on the atmosphere tomorrow night in Brooklyn as the result.


Robert Guerrero vs Aaron Martinez

Cotto-Geale is easy to criticize for a number of different reasons, but at least neither fighter in the HBO main event is coming off a loss. Both Guerrero and Martinez lost their most recent fights, even if both came against good fighters in Keith Thurman and Josesito Lopez, respectively. Its fragile pretence of importance has the Guerrero-Martinez card fighting an uphill battle from the start. Even the “main event” part is an issue, as Guerrero, the show’s star, is most famous for having lost two of his last three bouts.

Guerrero, a long-armed southpaw from Gilroy, Calif., likes to wade in close and mug his opponents. His 2006 featherweight rematch against Gamaliel Diaz, who handed him his first loss, signaled the beginning of his mean streak, and “The Ghost” has become a more physical fighter in his journey to welterweight. Consistent warnings for using his elbows and tossing low blows usually occur whenever Guerrero fights, and the only man who’s out-fought him is the notoriously scrappy Orlando Salido . Unfortunately for Salido, he tested positive for the banned steroid Nandrolone after the fight and his win was overturned.

In Guerrero’s last two losses, Thurman and Floyd Mayweather prevented him from getting much offense started, setting a safe distance from which to work and keeping Guerrero at bay. Losing wide to top flight fighters like those two doesn’t reveal much about Guerrero at welterweight, but his other outings at 147, against Yoshihiro Kamegai, Andre Berto and Selcuk Aydin, have been rough and difficult affairs.

Mayweather Guerrero
Mayweather’s skill and tact easily neutralized Guerrero’s aggression.

Guerrero’s been on TV plenty of times, and we at least know that if he can make it a skirmish, it’s liable to get messy. It’s Martinez nobody seems to know much about.

Just a few years ago, Martinez was a highly touted Mexican prospect from the state of Michoacan who had moved to East Los Angeles as a kid. Settling at the same Maywood Boxing Club that hosted former flyweight champion Isidro “El Chino” Garcia’s comeback in the late 2000s, Martinez hooked up with trainer Ramon “Yucca” Morales. The affable 33-year-old has a quick jab and smart foot work, but has repeatedly said he’s an inside fighter and scrapper. The problem with that line of thinking is that he’s already been walked down by Josesito Lopez and Jessie Vargas, two fighters who aren’t especially known for elite clinch-fighting.

In his last bout, a loss to Lopez that saw Martinez turn his back to the action and receive a TKO5 for it, he couldn’t keep Lopez from wading in. Martinez says he sparred regularly with his southpaw brother Aalan, a former contender at 130 lbs, in advance of this fight. But will preparing for the southpaw stance allow Aaron to work effectively on the inside and prevent against falling in with his right hand? Is he ready for the more grueling fight Guerrero is likely to bring? Probably not.

Vargas walked through Martinez.

Martinez has a history of head clashes and he was badly cut in a 2011 technical decision win over Joseph Elegele. He’s been cut or has swelled significantly in several fights since, including the Lopez loss. Inactivity has also been a career-long issue, as Martinez turned professional in 2004 but has only 23 fights to date. Guerrero has had even fewer fights in recent years, but the bouts he’s had count for far more than perhaps the sum of Martinez’s career.

Aaron Martinez seems like a fighter who leaves significant pieces of his performances in the gym; he’s been a sparring partner for welterweight contender Tim Bradley and was reportedly out of commission prior to the Lopez fight due to a broken rib incurred while sparring with Shane Mosley. Signs point to a dominant win for Guerrero, and it’s unlikely Martinez’s skin will hold up for the entire 10 rounds.

The best fight on the card should be a crossroads bout between featherweights Jesus Cuellar and Vic Darchinyan. Cuellar sent Juan Manuel Lopez packing with a horrific knockout last year and has the look of a pure street fighter, while Darchinyan is long in the tooth and in need of an upper level win to prove he can still compete. Darchinyan is tricky as all hell and can still pop a bit, but conventional wisdom suggests he’ll get run over. Every other fight featuring someone we know is a showcase.

Even at the lucky West Coast venue, the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., this card stands out on paper as the weakest PBC offering thus far.

Which card winds up churning out the better or more entertaining fights remains to be seen. Cotto-Geale gets the edge going into the weekend, even if only because it features two upper level fighters and Guerrero-Martinez does not. Roc Nation isn’t poised for anything resembling a takeover, but with the announcement of main events featuring Keith Thurman vs Luis Collazo and Danny Garcia vs Paul Malignaggi in the coming months, there aren’t many reasons to chalk up the PBC experiment as anything but business as usual. It was supposed to create a wave of nostalgia, but has offered only a diluted version of what network boxing once was.

        — Patrick Connor

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