Our resident boxing writer Diego Morilla previews the fights you need to follow every week.
Ontario, California, Saturday, Nov. 16
Andre Ward vs. Edwin Rodriguez, 12 rounds, WBA super middleweight title
After a 14-month layoff, Ward (26-0, 13 KOs), one of boxing’s top pound-for-pound fighters, will finally make his long-awaited return to the ring after a very serious injury in his right shoulder that required surgery. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist will be facing a dangerous opponent in Rodriguez (24-0, 16 KOs), a powerful puncher who has very noticeable ups and downs in his energy level during his fights. To make matters worse, Rodriguez will no longer be challenging for Ward’s title after missing the contracted weight for 2 lbs (which cost him a painful 20 percent of his low seven-figure purse), which in turn means that he probably had to drain his energy reserves even further for that futile attempt. Ward had no problem annihilating Chad Dawson at 175 in his last outing, so Rodriguez is clearly in trouble in what is now a non-title bout for a discounted purse. And he still has a beating to look forward to. What to look for in this fight: signs of Ward’s recovery, both in his mental and physical condition, after such a long and troublesome time away from boxing, in what would likely be a unanimous decision/late TKO victory for him.
Brandon Gonzales vs. Jonathan Nelson, 10 rounds, super middleweights
In what could easily be the toughest matchup of a terrific boxing day across the globe, two undefeated young lions will let it all hang out as Gonzales (17-0-1, 10 KOs) and Nelson (19-0, 9 KOs) promise to give the main event a serious challenge for the Fight of the Week honors. In his last fight, Gonzales had the first blemish of his record in an unjustified draw against up-and-coming South African contender Thomas Oosthuizen after putting on a superb display of boxing and courage through the entire bout. A duel of great trainers looms in the background, as Gonzales is trained by Ward’s trainer Virgil Hunter and Nelson is trained by his uncle Ozell Nelson, formerly with world champion Jermain Taylor. The bad blood of their encounter in the amateur ranks (won by Nelson, in 2006) is just the extra push that this fight needs to turn into one of the highlights of a great week in boxing. What to look for in this fight: after a slow start, it’s all Gonzales after the fifth round, and a TKO victory caps a great performance by a fighter who is more than ready for bigger challenges.
Sergio Mora vs. Milton Nuñez, 8 rounds, middleweights
Here’s one fighter who could never claim to not having the right opportunities. Mora had a terrific career as an amateur, went on to win The Contender reality series, defeated a pound-for-pound entrant in his prime (Vernon Forrest) and was chosen to headline a card in honor of Mexico’s bicentennial even though he was born in the States. Fast-forward to today, and Mora (24-3-2, 7 KOs), is fighting in an 8-rounder buried in the untelevised part of an undercard for chump change. Even if he does defeat Colombia’s Milton Nuñez (26-8-1, 24 KOs) and manages to improve on his 3-3-1 streak (which includes a decent performance against Poland’s Grzegorz Proksa in a decision victory), Mora will have to continue working hard to come back to the spotlight. He doesn’t lack the talent, but time is indeed running out on him, and the always demanding Mexican fans are not going to wait on him forever. What to look for in this fight: Mora trying to impress and look good against a limited opponent, in what could be a deciding fight in his future as a headliner.
Cancun, Mexico, Saturday, Nov. 16
Daniel Ponce De León vs. Joksan Hernandez, 10 rounds, lightweights
At 33, and after losing his title to his compatriot Abner Mares, Ponce de León (44-5, 35 KOs) is on the comeback trail, and he choose a tough cookie in Hernandez (23-5-1, 15 KOs), an experienced fringe contender who loves to trade leather in the short range. However, Hernandez is on a 3-3-1 streak since mid-2010, and shouldn’t be much of a test for a proud, tough former two-division titlist. What to look for in this fight: a peek of how would Ponce de Leon look at 135, where he should become a player if he can manage to carry his punching power with him.
Roberto Manzanarez vs. Alejandro Barrera, 10 rounds, lightweights
Widely considered a blue-chip prospect after making his debut in 2010 at the tender age of 15, Manzanarez (24-1, 20 KOs) is now in recovery mode after being upset by Barrera in 2012. It would have been a minor bump in a road towards greater things if not for the fact that Barrera (22-15, 15 KOs) made Manzanarez the lone victim of a woeful 1-11 streak since 2011 (and winning by a TKO, no less). What to look for in this fight: a young gun in a must-win situation will always make for an attractive fight, and the bad blood between them should complete the recipe for a good fight.
San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Saturday, Nov. 16
Jorge Arce vs. Jose Carmona, 10 rounds, featherweights
Former multiple division champ Arce (61-7-2, 46 KO) is one of boxing’s most entertaining fighters in recent memory, and a true warrior who would walk through fire and brimstone to get the job done. He’ll fall short occasionally, but he never fails to entertain, and he’ll try to give his compadres some of his magic when he takes on Colombia’s Carmona (22-3, 12 KO), who comes from a 0-2 streak and is being offered as a sacrificial lamb in Arce’s homecoming. Arce will try to bounce back from his KO loss against Nonito Donaire in 2012 with a win that he hopes to parlay into a shot at Orlando Salido’s title. If it ever happens, it would be tall order for a 34-year old who started as a junior flyweight almost 17 years ago, but Arce (coming off an 11-month layoff for this fight) can never be counted out. What to look for in this fight: Arce’s legendary badassery in full display, one of boxing’s most beautiful sights.
Hamilton, New Zealand, Saturday, Nov. 16
David Tua vs. Alexander Ustinov, 12 rounds, heavyweights
At 41, former perennial contender Tua (52-4, 43 KOs) is in over his head in his return from a 2-year layoff against a towering 6-foot-7 Alexander Ustinov (28-1, 21 KOs) in this perfectly logical WBA Pan-African heavyweight title fight between a New Zealander and a native of Belarus (if you’ve just arrived in the world of sanctioning body insanity, let this be your red-carpet welcome). A once-formidable, forward-charging heavyweight contender, Tua is 1-1-1 in the past three years, and at 5-foot-10 he will be giving up almost nine inches against his opponent. Not a good scenario for a fighter who should seriously be considering an alternative career. What to look for in this fight: Tua will try, but he may find out sooner than later that he picked the wrong opponent for a comeback fight. A hometown, close decision is his best hope to keep his career alive.
Laughlin, Nevada, Saturday, Nov. 16
Jose Felix vs. Santos Benavidez, 10 rounds, junior lightweights
Chris Avalos vs. Rolly Lunas, 10 rounds, junior featherweights
Jose Benavidez vs. Abraham Alvarez Osuna, 6 rounds, welterweights
Intended as a showcase for fresh, young Mexican-American talents, this card will feature some interesting prospects trying to get to the next level. Mexico’s Felix (25-0-1, 20 KOs), will meet Benavidez (23-4-1, 17 KOs), a native of Nicaragua, in an attempt to cap a successful 2013 with a fourth straight victory against a major step-up opponent. California’s Avalos (22-2, 16 KOs) will try to hold on to his top WBO ranking at 122 at the expense of a seasoned veteran in Lunas (33-8-1, 20 KOs). And top prospect Benavidez (17-0, 13 KOs), from nearby Phoenix, Arizona, will be risking his undefeated status against Mexico’s Abraham Alvarez (17-4-1, 8 KOs) in a long-awaited jump in level of opposition. A few hundred lucky fans in attendance will see a handful of great fighters in the making. What to look for in this fight: Benavidez will steal the show with a flashy performance in a night of great boxing but not too many surprises.
Greenhithe, England, Saturday, Nov. 16
James DeGale vs. Dyah Davis, 12 rounds, super middleweights
A local hero with a huge following after his gold-medal Olympic performance in 2008, DeGale (16-1, 11 KOs), will be facing the son of another Olympic gold medalist in Dyah Davis (22-3-1, 10 KOs) (son of Howard Davis Jr., the only medalist of the 1976 U.S. boxing team who never achieved a professional championship). If the southpaw DeGale has his way, the Davis family will have to wait even longer for that elusive title, as the local fighter is well on his way to transforming his ludicrous WBC Silver title into a real achievement in the near future. What to look for in this fight: DeGale will continue to develop into a major player (both in the ring as in the negotiation tables) in a division that has been heating up for the past few years, especially in Great Britain.
Chris Eubank Jr. vs. Frankie Borg, 6 rounds, middleweights
Lost in the middle of a decent undercard will be this interesting clash that will feature the offspring of yet another legendary fighter of the past in Chris Eubank, Jr., son of the former middleweight and super middleweight titlist of the same name. As talented and cocky as his father, Eubank Jr. (11-0, 6 KO) will surely jump over the top rope (just like his daddy used to do to) enter the ring and keep his unbeaten mark intact at the expense of an inexperienced journeyman in Frankie Borg (8-1, 3 KOs) who has more chances of becoming a real-life borg than of winning this tough assignment. What to look for in this fight: another star in the making trying to win some confidence (as if he actually needed it) in an easy fight.
Bethlehem, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 16
Ronald Cruz vs. Hector Muñoz, 10 rounds, welterweights
A young, promising Puerto Rican contender will try to keep his good momentum going when Cruz (19-2, 14 KOs) faces Muñoz (22-11-1, 14 KOs), of Albuquerque, NM in an interesting crossroads fight. Cruz is coming off a hard-earned final round KO over Alberto Morales in his last outing, in his second consecutive win since dropping back-to-back decision losses against Antwone Smith and Ray Narh in his two previous fights. Muñoz will have a chance to score another upset after defeating Hector Camacho, Jr. back in September. Cruz is revitalized by his recent wins and by his recent gig as Danny Garcia’s sparring partner, so at some point he should be able to put all that mojo to work for him and nail a solid win. What to look for in this fight: hopefully, some progress in Cruz, a good fighter in need of tougher assignments.
Verona, N.Y., Saturday, Nov. 16
Garrett Wilson vs. Vyacheslav “Czar” Glazkov, 10 rounds, heavyweights
Originally, this fight was meant to showcase former cruiserweight titlist Tomasz Adamek, but a stomach flu knocked the Polish bruiser out of the match, in which now Glazkov (15-0-1, 11 KOs) will have to face Wilson (13-6-1, 7 KOs), in a considerably watered-down main event. This will open the door for 29-year old Glazkov, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist for his country of Ukraine, to try to catch some of the spotlight left vacant by Adamek against a fighter who comes from a points loss in Romania against Alexander Alekseev nine months ago. What to look for in this fight: A solid, workman-like win for Glazkov, and hopefully a few entertainment moments.
Karl Dargan vs. Mike Brooks, 10 rounds, lightweights
In a rare clash of unbeaten up-and-comers, local hero Dargan (13-0, 7 KOs), and Brooks (10-0-1, 2 KOs), will put it all on the line in a step-up fight for both of them. Originally slated for 8 rounds, the fight became a 10-rounder to make up for Adamek’s absence from the main event, which bumped that fight down from 12 to 10 rounds. One of these guys will see his stock rise dramatically, should he manage to score a convincing win. What to look for in this fight: a true banger like Dargan going after New York’s Brooks from the first bell and taking a close decision in front of his local fans.
Isaac Chilemba vs. Michael Gbenga, 8 rounds, light-heavyweights
A once-promising contender with tons of potential, Malawi-born Isaac “Golden Boy” Chilemba, (20-2-2, 9 KOs), will try to come back from a disappointing 0-1-1 run by taking on a dangerous proposition in Michael Gbenga (16-9, 16 KOs) of Ghana in an intriguing 8-round bout. Chilemba is in desperate need of a career-reviving victory, and he picked a tough cookie in a KO artist like Gbenga, who comes off a three-fight losing streak including a KO at the hands of Badou Jack. What to look for in this fight: a few bombs, occasional moments of great action, and a workman-like win by a still recovering Chilemba.
Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, Saturday, Nov. 16
Janiel Rivera vs. Joel Collazo, 6 rounds, junior flyweights
A bad-blood matchup between two gritty minimum-weight local fighters is brewing in this exciting 6-rounder (for a main event?) between former WBC Silver titlist Janiel Rivera and sneaky but tough Joel Collazo (3-1, 1KO). Not much to write home about in this one, other than the possibility of Rivera finding his way to the top of a division in serious need of exciting headliners after the departure of Roman Gonzalez and several other marquee fighters. What to look for in this fight: a few early fireworks and an easy win for Rivera, who joins the search for the Great Puerto Rican Hope in this now champ-less, boxing-crazy island-nation.
Albertslund, Denmark, Saturday, Nov. 16
Patrick Nielsen vs. Jose Pinzon, 12 rounds, middleweights
A local hero on a mission to keep Denmark on the boxing map after Mikkel Kessler’s best years have passed, southpaw Patrick Nielsen (20-0, 9 KOs) will be fighting in his hometown of Albertslund for the first time of his career, and will try to use this opportunity to set a weird world record during his clash against Jose Pinzon (24-5, 15 KOs). According to his promoter, Sauerland Event, Nielsen (who will be joined by his younger brother Micki, also unbeaten at 10-0, 8 KO) will attempt to break the record for the noisiest indoor sports crowd currently standing at 106.6 dBA (set during an LA Clippers-Milwaukee Bucks NBA game in 2008). Weird, but true. What to look for in this fight: Unless they can deafen Pinzon into submission, the fans will be treated to a full 12 round bout between an up-and-coming contender and a tough journeyman on survival mode.
Vratsa, Bulgaria, Saturday, Nov. 16
Sergey Rabchenko vs. Cedric Vitu, 12 rounds, European junior middleweight title
The fight was intended to be a rematch of Rabchenko’s win by split decision last year against French southpaw Cedric Vitu, but the pride of Belarus finally had to settle for tough Welsh journeyman Bradley Pryce (34-14, 18 KOs) after a wrist injury sidelined Vitu. This situation could make it easier for Rabchenko (24-0, 18 KOs) to keep both his undefeated mark and his status as a top contender for the WBC at 154, even ahead of Canelo Alvarez and Miguel Cotto. Promoted by Ricky Hatton, and supremely talented, Rabchenko could be headed for a title bout within next year, and this fight will provide some clues about his progress. What to look for in this fight: A stay-busy fight between two solid punchers that could become interesting at any moment.