If you look close enough, there’s lots of reasons to pay attention to the boxing card Al Haymon has put together for this Saturday in Nevada. Unfortunately, they have little to do with witnessing exciting, competitive matches. Sure, lots of recognizable names will step into the ring and try to do their best, and there’s always the chance a resentful underdog will make a fight of it just to stick it to the A-side and to Mr. Haymon himself. For the most part, though, there’s little hope for genuine drama at the MGM Grand in Nevada this weekend.
So to help you put things into perspective as you get ready for what will be a very busy night for Haymon’s stable of prizefighters, we bring you a fight-by-fight breakdown on the who? what? why? and huh? of the Golden Boy/Al Haymon fights taking place in Sin City.
Victor Ortiz vs. Manuel Perez
Former two-division champ Victor Ortiz will finally climb into a ring again after appearances on Dancing With the Stars, ‘The Expendables’ movie, and a third-round knockout fiasco at the hands of Luis Collazo. It’s been over three years and three KO losses since Ortiz saw his hand raised at the end of a prizefight, and given the Californian’s skewed mix of charisma, arrogance, and catastrophic results, boxing’s schadenfreude brigade will surely welcome him with open arms. Psychology undergrads for whom “delusional” remains an ungraspable concept are also advised to tune in so they can finally put a face to the word.
His opponent, 30-year-old Manuel Perez, sports a record of 22-10 with only four victories by KO, which means that if “Vicious” doesn’t find a way to win convincingly on Saturday, no punchline will be necessary to punctuate the joke his career has become. All of which begs the question: how come Ortiz gets one more shot after getting knocked out three times in a row? The obvious answer is Golden Boy Promotions and Mr. Haymon can still use him in any number of ways; for instance, he could become the welterweight trampoline Danny Garcia has been waiting for. Also, should he be guided back to even marginal relevance, he could be featured in Canelo Alvarez’s undercards and help prop up the PPV numbers, and maybe even build a fight with Canelo down the line. If this is what will happen, Saturday night will mark the first step in that journey back into the boxing limelight for Ortiz, even if he will never become the great fighter many thought he could be before Marcos Maidana derailed the hype-express.
Abner Mares vs. Jose Ramirez
Nothing gets fight fans’ blood pumping like a former champion taking on a light touch to fulfill a contractual obligation. Okay, that is not entirely true, but what is true is that on Saturday night the skilled Abner Mares will be fighting his last contest as a Golden Boy pugilist and will thereafter become a free agent. That this is the most relevant storyline going into Mares vs. Ramirez tells you all you need to know about what should be a noncompetitive fight. The 27-year-old Ramirez, who holds the distinction of being Vasyl Lomachenko’s first victim and who hasn’t fought in over a year, is not expected to pose much resistance to someone as talented as Mares.
There is some hope that 2015 will see Mares in more interesting fights, the most feasible of which is a confrontation with banger Leo Santa Cruz, who, like Abner, is also managed by Al Haymon. But if you want something to look forward to in the near future, perhaps you should tune into this Saturday’s bout to see if Mares shows hints of his old fighting shape and ring nous. Let’s remember that throughout his career—and before Johnny Gonzalez separated him from his senses 16 months ago—Mares showed talent in boxing, courage in brawling, and tremendous adaptability in fighting just the right style for each opponent. Let’s hope the Mares of old returns soon, and finds himself against better regarded opponents in the coming year.
Keith Thurman vs. Leonard Bundu
Pity Keith Thurman, the man with the looks of a movie star, the charisma of a WWE fighter, and the talent to match. Despite our open letter to Mr. Haymon in which we scolded him for the pathetic job he’s doing of handling Thurman’s career, Keith will have to wait a bit longer before he finds a true challenge. But hey, at least we’ll get to see ‘The Thurminator’ back in action before the end of the year and find out if his shoulder injury is fully healed. Other than that, there’s not much to see in his meeting with Bundu. While there are some who say the 40-year-old Italian could give him a good test, the majority believe a mismatch is going down on Saturday. The TFC staff unwaveringly sides with the latter.
It seems more than unfair that a guy on the rise with talent to spare gets undercard status and can’t be matched with a decent opponent. Adding insult to injury, the headliners of the card at the MGM Grand are both ranked lower than Thurman in Ring Magazine’s welterweight ratings: Khan is ninth, Alexander tenth, and Thurman seventh. What will it take for Thurman to finally get the break he deserves? Maybe he should take a page or two from Amir Khan’s book: file for British citizenship and leak an inappropriate Skype session. If that doesn’t do the trick, I don’t know what will.
Devon Alexander vs. Amir Khan
Overhyped and oversold as a Mayweather eliminator, Alexander vs. Khan will pit two fast-moving, fast-punching boxers in a desperate last push for elite status. It could be argued Alexander has more to lose than Khan, who will remain an attraction in his native Britain regardless of the outcome Saturday night. However, should Khan escape Vegas with a victory, he will have more of a case than ever for a showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr., even if that case was never solid to begin with. For Alexander it’s pretty much do or die; “The Great” has never been an easy opponent for anyone–not even his conquerors Timothy Bradley and Shawn Porter–and he has never been a draw either. This combination usually results in a frustrating stop-go-stop sort of career, and so it has been with Devon. Needless to say, a defeat on Saturday will only make things worse for the Missourian.
The stakes are high for both participants going into this match; unfortunately, the fighters’ mobile styles and mundane punching power will most likely make for an unexciting boxing match. So perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Alexander vs. Khan is the way Oscar De La Hoya is assiduously marketing it as the fight to determine Mayweather’s next opponent while at the same time voicing skepticism about rumours of the honest efforts being made to stage Mayweather vs. Pacquiao next year. Finally, there’s the fact he’s been cringingly praising the Brit out of the blue. Which makes us wonder: how come Oscar roots so hard for Khan and plays down the feasibility of Mayweather vs. Pacquiao? We can derive an answer from more De La Hoya comments from this week, in which he states that a clash between Canelo Alvarez and Miguel Cotto is close to becoming a reality. It’s no secret Canelo seeks to take back the Cinco de Mayo weekend that Mayweather has held hostage for several years now, and if that’s to happen, Oscar will be instrumental. Perhaps the Golden Boy is so set in making the red-headed Mexican’s wish come true that he would rather have Mayweather face a less appealing opponent than Pacquiao in Khan, so that Canelo could fight Cotto in May without Floyd getting in the way. Conspiracy theory? Maybe. Plausible? Yes. Does it make Alexander vs. Khan a more appealing matchup than it would otherwise be? Thankfully, it does.
— Rafael García