While hype is as much a part of boxing as leaking plasma, it is often when little is expected that the most seems to happen.
That was certainly the case a few years back when HBO put former world champion Arturo Gatti in the ring with a journeyman from Massachusetts named Micky Ward. Twelve rounds later, HBO had the fight of the year, and the first version of what became an emotional trilogy both fighters will be remembered for long after the video and grainy memory have faded.
In that tradition be forewarned that when WBO super featherweight champion Joan Guzman steps into the ring at the Borgota in Atlantic City Nov. 17 to face former WBC featherweight titleholder Humberto Soto what they produce may be far more than people's expectations. Sandwiched between megafights between Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler and Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley in the two weeks before the meeting of The Little Big Men and Floyd Mayweather-Ricky Hatton two weeks after it, Guzman-Soto is the kind of Boxing After Dark show that could easily end up being more talked about than watched. If that's the case the loser would be fight fans who favor skilled boxing, power punching and action fighters.
There figures to be plenty of all that when the undefeated Guzman (27-0, 17 KO) tries to prove at Soto's expense that he still has the punching power he carried with him when he was a junior featherweight champion and then a featherweight challenger who tired of waiting for then champion Scott Harrison to stop getting in fights in Glasgow pubs long enough to get into one with him for a payday. In those days, Guzman's supporters called him "Little Tyson,'' a nickname he never fully appreciated but at the time he was 21-0 with 17 knockouts so it seemed to fit. What Harrison thought about it we will never know but he never got in the ring with Guzman, which seems to be enough on that subject.
Since stopping former junior featherweight champion Agapito Sanchez 3 1/2 years ago however, Guzman has been faced with a power outage. He has twice moved up in weight yet not once has knocked out an opponent in six victories, first at featherweight and now a super featherweight. This has not stopped him from winning a second world title but it has led some observers to wonder if he has suffered the fate of so many power punchers who fail to carry their knockout punch with them when they abandon their starting point and move up in weight.
Soto (43-5-2, 27 KO) is among those who believes Joan Guzman no longer punches with the authority he did at 122 pounds and he might be right. Then again, he might also be wise to check in with the man Guzman beat to win the then vacant 130-pound title, Jorge Rodrigo Barrios, before being too sure of himself.
Although that victory was judged a split decision 14 months ago, ringside observers wondered if lasek surgery might be in order for judges Carol Castellano (114-113 Guzman) and Bill Graham (113-114 Barrios). William Lerch's 115-112 score for Guzman didn't seem close to accurate either but by comparison with his colleagues he had x-ray vision. Regardless, when it was over Guzman was the new champion and Barrios was conceding that his lanky (5-foot-7) opponent had a surprised for him.
"I was shocked with Guzman's power,'' Barrios said after the fight. "He surprised me. I didn't think he was going to come on that strong.''
That night Guzman did not stop Barrios but he buckled his knees several times, including in the 11th round with a short right hand that seemed for a moment like it would finally send the game Barrios to the floor. He sagged but did not fall, giving further ammunition to those who wonder if Guzman still hits with enough authority to drop junior lightweights the way he once did junior featherweights.
Never one to hide his light under a basket, Guzman dismisses such criticism by pointing out he always considered himself "a slick boxer'' in the first place but believes "I'm not only one of the best punchers but the best boxer at both 130 and 135.''
Time will tell if the latter is true but he gets a chance to make a statement about the possibility of former against a man who comes to punch first and box later. Only 27, Soto may be the most avoided fighter in his weight class after upsetting Rocky Juarez to win the interim WBC featherweight title two years ago as a late replacement who overwhelmed the unsuspecting Juarez and then never got a shot at the big names in the division - Manny Pacquiao, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera or Juan Manuel Marquez. This was for good reason. It was bad business because Humberto Soto is potentially more trouble than he's worth.
"I don't think he can hurt me,'' Soto says of Guzman. "I expect a great fight but my goal is not to just take his championship but to take his undefeated record too. Just like I did to Juarez.''
Soto has already said he doesn't intend to stay long at super featherweight because he has to battle his body as hard to get down to 130 as he intends to battle Guzman, making the point without saying it that he will be the bigger man on Nov. 17 and the more powerful puncher. Whether that proves to be true or not, Pacquiao's brother, Bobby, found out the hard way back in June what Soto brings to the arena with him.
Unable to lure his brother into the ring, Soto agreed to take on Pacquiao Lite and for seven rounds he punished him, dismantling him like a wrecking ball taking down a skyscraper. He dropped Pacquiao in round one when he came out and jumped all over him, cut his eye in round 4 and finally sent him sinking to the floor in round 7 with the kind of body shot that would dent a side of beef. There was no recovering from that and Soto believes firmly he can do the same to Guzman even though he concedes that Guzman is just what he says he is - a slick, superior boxer who is faster and whose defense may well baffle Soto for a time.
While the champion has a clear advantage in style and technique, he cannot take Soto lightly and assume he will have his way with him because of his speed advantage and superior footwork because although Soto has five losses, four came during his first 20 fights when he will ill-served by his managers. Since losing a majority decision to Kevin Kelley over five years ago, he has won 20 in a row and has six straight knockouts to his credit since upsetting Juarez. Those successes have given Soto complete confidence as he prepares to face Guzman, a fighter he respects but does not fear.
Soto's biggest problem, or so he believes, will not come from the power of "Little Tyson'' but rather from the problems his speed and footwork will present. What Soto knows is he will miss more often than he connects at times in this fight, especially early, as he purses a man faster than he is. Trying to lure that kind o opponent into a vulnerable position can, if one is not careful, cause you to over reach and make mistakes yourself, mistakes Guzman is sure to punish Soto for if they happen.
Knowing that, Soto has said he will fight Guzman differently than he has opponents like Pacquiao, insisting he will remain patient and avoid the kind of frustrations that could lead to fatal mistakes.
But it is one thing to say that and quite another to do it, as Guzman's previous 27 opponents learned and as, he believes, Scott Harrison understood so well he was disinclined to fight him. In Guzman's mind that's the only reason he's not a three-division champion but once he's done with Soto he sees no reason why that can't happen at 135 pounds.
"I know what I'm capable of,'' Guzman has said. "I can beat them all but I want to show I'm the best at 130 pounds (first).''
Perhaps he will but to do it he must get in with the likes of Pacquiao, Marquez and Edwin Valero and to do that the first order of business is facing down a hard man many of the division's top names have had little interest in sharing ring space with. Certainly the risk-reward ratio that comes with fighting a hard puncher like Soto is not something most insurance salesmen would be interested in exploring but Guzman took the opportunity because he understands to get to the kind of fights that have eluded Soto he first must face down Soto himself...which is where, and why, the fireworks are very likely to begin on Nov. 17.
HBO BAD - Nov. 17, 2007
Mares vs Marchiano
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