Undercard Overview: Intense Brawling Guaranteed

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

Photo Credit: Will HartThere 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

Photo Credit: Will HartIs 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.

Boxing Fans Have Much to Be Thankful For

By Kieran Mulvaney

Photo Credit: Will HartIt seems reasonable to assume that there a lot of people involved in boxing in Mexico, Las Vegas, New York and elsewhere feeling extremely thankful this holiday weekend. At the front of the line: Antonio Margarito, who received a belated go-ahead from the New York State Athletic Commission to fight Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden on December 3rd; Bob Arum of Top Rank, who is promoting the bout and who was prepared to move it elsewhere at the last minute until being confronted with a Cotto ultimatum that it had to be in New York or nowhere; officials at the Garden, who assuredly did not want what promises to be a huge event snatched away from under their noses; and the thousands who had bought tickets to the fight and made travel plans to the Big Apple.

This has been a year of highs and lows in boxing – at times, seemingly more of the latter than the former – but even so, there has been plenty for which the rest of us can be thankful, as well. For example:

Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao: Each may be loathed by the other's fans, but for neutrals it's a rare treat to have two such outstanding and contrasting practitioners at the top of the game. Here's hoping in 2012, they give us something to make us truly thankful.

Andre Berto and Victor Ortiz: For what is still probably the leading contender for Fight of the Year.

Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez: For giving us another Fight of the Year candidate - one so good, in fact, that they're going to do it again, on the Cotto-Margarito undercard.

Freddie Roach and Ann Wolfe: Freddie Roach is the number one trainer in the sport, an always-accessible and engaging interview, and the subject of his own upcoming reality show on HBO. But if Freddie's is the most interesting story among active trainers, Ann Wolfe's is right there with him. Plus she gave me the best quote ever.

James Kirkland: For three minutes of boxing action that still has me breathless.

Joe Frazier: Because although he may be gone, he will never be forgotten.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. May your beagle make you a memorable holiday dinner of buttered toast and popcorn.