Fresh off a banner year for boxing in 2013 this Friday and Saturday will be the busiest fight weekend so far for 2014. And since the rematch between Jhonny Gonzalez and Abner Mares is postponed due to injury this will also be the last major network (not HBO2 Macau) championship fight card until March, when the boxing year will really heat up.
Normally one of the major network premium channels will take advantage of the bye week on the Saturday a little over a week before the Super Bowl.
Shane Mosley vs. Antontio Margarito was the biggest fight that I recall of late that filled a void from the overdose of hype before the big game.
Although February looks slow we’ve been spoiled this year for major network activity in January with a huge Pascal vs. Bute HBO fight from Canada.
The top two networks first battle of the year in the war that turned cold early last year between HBO/Top Rank and Showtime/Golden Boy should be very interesting on multiple levels.
HBO’s main event from the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City pits Mikey Garcia who is knocking on the door of greatness, against the solid and steady Juan Carlos Burgos.
Garcia had a fighter of year type year that started in the same place where they will be fighting on Saturday in a fight versus the always rugged Orlando Salido who was coming off back to back career defining knockout wins over Juan Manuel Lopez.
Mikey looked as good as ever with crisp counter punches dropping the normally solid chinned Salido early and often until a head butt caused Garcia’s nose to bend thus stopping the fight before Mikey could secure a possible KO victory.
After some time off to heal his nose Garcia was back on the horse this time weight issues proved more of a challenge than his opponent making short work of Juanma Lopez scoring a devastating stoppage.
Mikey moved up to test the waters at 130 facing Rocky Martinez and although that fight had a moment of intrigue when Rocky dropped Garcia early it was one sided ending by 8th round knockout.
Not long ago I recall fans and media members especially the HBO broadcast team giving Mikey grief for being too patient and lethargic complaining about his lack of aggressiveness and energy.
The pressure to entertain has always existed in boxing but the current state of the sport has promoters and TV executives giving action fighters whether they lose or win opportunities that a more skilled but boring fighter gets passed on.
Luckily for Garcia he had Bob Arum to help him early as a rising prospect and also HBO/Top Rank has matched him of late with come forward fighters that bring out the best in the counter puncher.
Being Mexican-American helped as well with a built in loyal fan base but it also puts pressure for action on a young Garcia to satisfy that loyal but unforgiving fans who will boo at the drop of a dime when a fights gets even remotely slow.
Robert Garcia is no one trick pony as a trainer with only face first punchers like Rios and Maidana. Any given weekend or sometimes on the same night you can hear Robert giving different advice to his more skilled fighters like Mikey Garcia and Nonito Donaire.
Come Saturday Mikey will not be facing a run of the mill balls to the walls type fighter. In fact it will be just the opposite with Juan Carlos Burgos, a guy who depends of his skill and long reach to keep his opponents at bay.
Burgos is coming into his fight with Garcia off of back to back draws that found a way to even themselves out with most feeling that Burgos got the short end of the stick versus Roman Martinez and lucky to escape with the outcome in his last outing against Yakubu Amidu.
Burgos made enough noise at the Espn2 Friday Night Fights level to get a shot at a title just over a year ago on HBO.
Burgos may be a bit inconsistent but make no mistake he comes into this matchup tested and brings some of the best defensive skills of any fighter on the resume of Mikey Garcia.
With all the counterpunching strategy of each fighter’s normal game plan my crystal ball fight predictor predicts that a good portion of the fight will be fought at long range and at slow pace.
I’m interested to see how Mikey Garcia reacts to the crowd when they begin the booing at this stage of his career and who will ultimately push the pace after they feel each other out in the early goings of this fight.
Normally I wouldn’t ask that question but with all the talk coming from Bob Arum and Garcia’s camp about him moving to 135 and beyond with Manny Pacquiao representing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow there defiantly is new pressure to perform and entertain now for Garcia.
As far as the fight goes in between all the slow moments the pace will pick up with Garica possibly walking to the more defensive Burgos. At some point the leather will land favoring Garcia who has heavy hands to go along with his overall skill.
Juan Carlos Burgos has a good chin plus having the experience of going 10 rounds three times and the full 12 twice in 5 out of his last 6 fights should only breed confidence. Burgos should be skilled enough on defense to stay clear of enough Sunday punches by Mikey assuming he doesn’t get caught up in too many fire fights.
Garcia will push the fight at his patient pace using the jab to get close enough on the inside to apply pressure and punishment to the body.
My official prediction is Mikey Garcia by late stoppage or unanimous decision.
The co-feature matches two unbeaten heavyweights sporting contrasting styles with the winner raising his profile and possibly be matched again on the network.
Bryant Jennings has made some progress not only climbing up the ladder of the heavyweight division but as a fighter who’s made steady improvement with his skill set. Raising his name with regular slots on the NBC Sports Network put him in a good space to get that exposure fighting 5 times in 2012.
However in 2013 Jennings fought only once in June compared to his opponent Artur Szpilka who managed to fight four times last year sharing the ring with Mike Mollo in two full out wars on Espn2 Friday Night Fights.
Both Szpilka and Jennings are very raw at this point of their prospect careers and honestly speaking neither has the goods to make it to the top. That said I feel this will be the better fight from a fans perspective and should produce plenty of two way action.
Jennings who has been sitting down on his punches of late will likely be on the move while Szpilka pushes the pace behind a good jab and a decent punch rate.
This fight will narrows down to what Bryant Jennings wants out of his performance. If he wants to stick, hold, and move I believe he could avoid the damaging blows to win the fight by outpointing Szpilka.
If Jennings wants to put a show on and by show I don’t mean a master class type boxing clinic. I could see Jennings, who with all those muscles looks the part of a puncher, getting the early lead than while trying to make a statement getting hurt by some clean punching on the inside.
Both fighters have plenty of deficiencies which could make for a good fight. I’m calling for Jennings to use his speed and athleticism to gain an early edge with Szpilka landing the more telling blows mid to late.
My official prediction is Bryant Jennings by split decision with most fans walking away from the fight thinking Artur Szpilka did enough as far as power punching to win the fight.