Thursday, August 20, 2009

Robert Guerrero vs Malcolm Klassen Preview

Michael Nelson previews Saturday night's super-featherweight match-up between Robert Guerrero and Malcolm Klassen.

Robert Guerrero will be the definitive favorite Saturday night. He has the impressive KO record (his last 16 wins have been by knockout), the significant size advantage, and most importantly, the name recognition.

Check out our live blog coverage of this event: Guerrero vs Klassen

But recently, South African fighters have shown that name recognition and glossy records mean little to them. Ali Funeka burst onto the scene by destroying Zahir Raheem and nearly upsetting Nate Campbell. And most believe that heavy underdog Jeffrey Mathebula deserved the nod against Celestino Caballero in April, five months after Moruti Mthalane made Nonito Donaire look ordinary until a cut inside of his eyelid forced the ring doctor to halt the fight.

The perpetual underdog role may be partially due to the memory of Mzonke Fana's embarrassing 2005 performance against Barrera, ghosts that linger whenever a relatively unknown South African fighter steps up to the big stage. Whatever the case, these guys will continue to exceed expectations as long as fight fans overlook them because of their anonymity outside of their home country.

It would be a mistake to overlook Malcom Klassen. The baby face 28 year old from Toekomsrus, Gauteng, South Africa is a punishing fighter with busy hands. In his surprise victory over Cassius Baloyi, Klassen thrashed his older opponent with a harrowing body attack until Baloyi finally crumbled under a cascade of punches.

The inside work between Guerrero and Klassen will be fun to watch. The tall southpaw is a rough customer in close and has one of the better body attacks in the game. Quite a few opponents have been brought to a knee from his digging left hands to the solar plex. But Klassen won't shy away from the combat; look for him to run off combinations to the midsection and mix in uppercuts and left hooks up top. As long as the fight is waged in the trenches, the smaller man with the busier hands may have the advantage.

Being three inches taller, Guerrero's advantages will lie on the outside. The Ghost has displayed refined boxing skills as of late, particularly in his victory over Spend Abazi, and in the quick dismantling of Martin Honorio. He'll have his opportunities to pick Malcolm off with counters; Klassen's jab is busy, but not stiff enough to deter Guerrero from shooting left hands over the top or timing uppercuts underneath.

Klassen's torrid pace will keep Guerrero from getting too comfortable though. Through the first 6-8 rounds, the man is a tornado. The amount of punches thrown behind a solid guard would give anyone fits. Down the stretch though, he tends to settle into more of a brisk breeze, electing to counter punch off the ropes instead of push the fight. He outworked Mzonke through the majority of their 2007 clash, only to falter late and lose a split decision (I scored it a draw when I recently watched video of it). He showed similar stamina issues in his decisive win over Gary St. Claire.

Malcolm's busy starts and shaky endurance in the late rounds births a quandary in picking a winner here. Guerrero has shown that he can be frustrated and outworked by relentless opponents in the past. Gamiel Diaz gave the 26 year old Californian his first loss (later avenged) by staying in his chest and keeping his hands moving. Likewise, Orlando Salido moved Guerrero around the ring and peppered him with shots to win a wide decision (later overtuned due to Salido failing a steroid test). While it's true that Robert has improved since these setbacks, it's also true that Klassen will probably be the best opponent he's faced in his professional career.

How many rounds will Guerrero win in the first two-thirds of the bout if the aggressive South African keeps his head buried in his chest? And can Klassen withstand a late Guerrero surge if he begins to wilt in the championship rounds? It has the makings of a rugged battle of attrition, one that may favor the slightly more battle-tested Klassen. If Klassen's tough enough to take Guerrero's heavier artillery, which I suspect he will be, I favor him to win a close decision.

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Check out our preview of Juan Diaz vs Paul Malignaggi by Carlos Acevedo.