Monday, February 9, 2009

HBO Triple-Header Preview

by Michael Nelson

This Saturday night from the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida, HBO will broadcast a very interesting triple-header, pitting 3 known commodities against dangerous opponents.

Lightweight champ, Nate Campbell takes on South African, Ali Funeka. Alfredo Angulo goes head to head with late sub, Danny Perez. And heavy handed welterweight, Kermit Cintron challenges Sergio Martinez. This fight card was patched together rather quickly, and that could make for some surprising results in the ring.

In an intriguing contrast of styles, Kermit Cintron moves up from welterweight to face jr. middleweight upstart Sergio Martinez. It may not be a fight that will produce fireworks, but we should see an intense chess match that can turn in the blink of an eye.

Martinez put forth a dazzling exhibition of foot and hand speed against journeyman, Alex Bunema in his last bout, stopping him in 8 rounds. The dominating performance may not have raised many eyebrows a year earlier when Bunema was considered fodder material for showcases. But in his two fights prior, however, he knocked out Roman Karmazin in a shocking upset, and obliterated Walter Matthysee (who, coincidentally, Cintron also obliterated). By the time he entered the ring to face Sergio, he was thought of as a solid test for the 33 year old southpaw from Argentina.

It was not to be. Martinez snapped his head back at will with a sharp right jab. He shot a straight left hand with surgical precision, placing it to the solar plexus as well as to the head with regularity. No longer an unknown, Sergio Martinez' effort made him a respected fighter at 154 lbs.

Kermit Cintron has been there before. It wasn't too long ago when his star was shining bright, using the explosive power in his right hand to go on a stunning knockout streak. He seemed to have improved under the tutelage of Manny Steward, perhaps on his way to the top spot in the hottest division in boxing.

But in 2008, he hit a ceiling made in Tijuana that abruptly stopped his ascent; the same ceiling he hit three years earlier, and the same ceiling Sergio Martinez himself hit eight years ago - Antonio Margarito. Margarito serves as the only blemish on both men's records - knocking out Cintron twice and Martinez once - as well as a gauge in understanding how this fight may go. Through Antonio, we know that neither Cintron or Martinez is particularly comfortable fighting on the inside. We know that the durability of both men may be in question, which favors Cintron, since he has the significant edge in power. And we also know that Cintron has some difficulty with adjusting in a tough situation.

Thus, whether or not Cintron can adjust to a slick southpaw with quick hands, or if Martinez can eat a flush right hand from Kermit without wavering, are questions that should make for a fascinating opening bout to Saturday's fight card.

In the evening's second bout, hard hitting Alfredo Angulo will take on rugged veteran Danny Perez. Perhaps having second thoughts about the prospect of facing the fourth knockout defeat in six fights, Ricardo Mayorga pulled out a week ago, putting Angulo's appearance on the card in jeopardy. After some shuffling, Danny Perez stepped up like the gladiator he is, in hopes of using the 26 year old opponent as a rudder to getting his career back on track.

The 14-0 Angulo is on a 10 fight KO steak, 9 of them within 5 rounds. He finally got taken into the 10th round by Andrey Tsurkan in his last bout, before Tsurkan started succumbing to his relentless body attack, which prompted the referee to rescue him with less than a minute to go in the fight. It's always promising to see a prospect look to wrap things up in memorable fashion and not be content with lopsided decisions against over-matched foes.

Danny Perez, for his part, is notoriously hard to hurt. While the men in the opening bout were stopped by Margarito, Perez went through two bouts with the Mexican star without ever being in any real trouble. Since then, Perez' career has been up and down, beating recognizable opponents in Julio Cesar Garcia, Jose Luis Zertuche, and Grady Brewer, but struggling with non-descript guys like Marcos Primera and David Lopez.

Whether Perez can be considered a serious threat to Alfredo Angulo is unknown, but he will most certainly give him rounds. It'll be interesting to see if Angulo can take him out. I do hope that Perez' corner has the insight and compassion to wave the fight off if it gets too ugly.

Finally, in the main event, Nate Campbell puts his IBF and WBO lightweight titles on the line against Ali Funeka, an astonishingly tall 135 pounder from South Africa.

In Funeka, Campbell will not only have to deal with a five inch height differential, but a man with considerable power. 25 of Funeka's 30 victories have come by the way of knockout, and if knocking out a host of obscure characters from South Africa doesn't impress you, his performance against American spoiler Zahir Raheem should have. Raheem met the canvas nearly every time he got touched by Funeka's short right hand. Controversially, he got nailed flush with it after the bell sounded to mark the end of round 4, and fell flat on his face. As a result, a seemingly confused referee halted the fight in Funeka's favor. Whether you agreed with the ref's call or not, Funeka showed a dangerous set of offensive tools: a stiff jab, accurate right hand, punishing uppercut, and keen sense of distance. He caught Raheem both as he was pulling out and leaping in.

We don't know a ton about this fighter, but I think we can make some assumptions looking at his record. He has gone 12 rounds three times in his career, and all three times he struggled: dropping a unaminous decision against Mzonke Fana, and squeeking by Gabriel Phakula and Yakubu Amidu with a split decision and a majority decision respectively. His strife in long bouts may suggest he has stamina or focus issues against opponents he can't overpower.

A tendency to fade in tough matches is not a weakness you want to have when in with the likes of Nate Campbell. Cementing his reputation as a torturous body puncher in his title winning effort against Juan Diaz last year, look for Campbell to dig malicious right hands and left hooks into Funeka's long midsection from the opening bell. If Funeka is made of anything short of stone, he will start to weaken as the bout progresses. The danger zone for Campbell is the first six rounds. If he gets too reckless, his time in the spotlight may end before it began.

Kudos to HBO for putting together what should be an entertaining night of boxing.

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