By Eric Raskin
It was sportswriter Pierce Egan who first dubbed boxing “the sweet science” in the early 1800s. Two hundred years later, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, and their undercard cohorts are poised to present an action-packed night of pugilism with nothing sweet and nothing scientific about it. Some fans appreciate a brilliant technical display; every fan loves a brutality-filled brawl. The December 3 pay-per-view card at Madison Square Garden features no less than four fights that just might fit that latter description. Here’s a closer look at who’s leading up to the Cotto-Margarito grudge match:
Brandon Rios (28-0-1, 21 KOs) vs. John Murray (31-1, 18 KOs), 12 Rounds, Lightweights
There isn’t a more polarizing young fighter in the game right now than the 25-year-old Rios. His fighting style is highly offensive, and the things that come out of his mouth are, well, highly offensive. He’s emerged in the past year or so as true must-see TV, whether you’re rooting for him or against him. It almost doesn’t matter who “Bam Bam’s” opponent is—but for what it’s worth in this case, he’s taking on a respected former British and European regional champ in the 26-year-old Murray.
Murray will be highly motivated, as his lone defeat came in his most recent fight, an eighth-round TKO against Kevin Mitchell. He needs to get back on the winning track, and he’ll have the backing of hundreds of British fans flying across the Atlantic to pack the Garden. Still, Rios is the big betting favorite here. He’s riding high off of two thrilling wins so far in 2011, a come-from-behind knockout of Miguel Acosta to claim his first title and a three-round decimation of Urbano Antillon in his first defense. Margarito’s foul-mouthed stablemate is expected to secure successful defense number two on Saturday night, and however long the fight with Murray lasts, it won’t be boring.
Pawel Wolak (29-1-1, 19 KOs) vs. Delvin Rodriguez (25-5-3, 14 KOs), 10 Rounds, Junior Middleweights
This fight requires no selling—at least not via words. Just sit someone down in front of the 10 glorious rounds of warfare that Rodriguez and Wolak gave us at New York’s Roseland Ballroom in July, and they’ll be instantly sold. In that bout, Wolak battled through a hideously swollen eye to gut out a controversial draw, the fourth time in Rodriguez’s hard-luck career that the Connecticut veteran was left flummoxed by the judges.
Wolak is 30, Rodriguez is 31, and they’re each at a crucial juncture in their careers. Both are peaking in popularity on the heels of their July brawl, but only one can make the leap to that next level after this fight. Unless, that is, they give us another Fight of the Year candidate. Then, somewhat like Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward nearly a decade ago, they can rise to new heights together.
Mike Jones (25-0, 19 KOs) vs. Sebastian Lujan (38-5-2, 24 KOs), 12 Rounds, Welterweights
Is Jones a future opponent for Manny Pacquiao? For Andre Berto? For the Cotto-Margarito winner? For the past year or so, the unbeaten Philadelphia welterweight’s name has been tossed around in that elite company, but he has to get by merciless Argentine Lujan before any of those breakout fights can come into focus.
Lujan is best known as the poor guy who nearly got his ear literally punched off his head by Margarito back in ’05. The 31-year-old tough guy is now riding a 12-fight winning streak and represents arguably the stiffest test Jones has ever faced. At 28, Jones has emerged as a legitimate top-10 contender in the star-packed welterweight division. With his long jab and all-around skills, Jones appears to have the tools to pass this test. But we won’t go so far as to predict that he’ll box Lujan’s ears off.