|Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images|
Expectations were high, and eight of the best and/or most promising fighters in two of the deepest divisions in boxing didn't disappoint Saturday night.
What a great night of fights.
Overall, one title was lost in surprising fashion, another title was defended in an expectedly rough tumble, a pair of former title challengers nullified each other to a majority draw, and a former 2-division champ and young star battled to a split decision. We had boxers, sluggers, movers, in-fighting, defensive displays, point deductions, post-fight scuffles. For one night at least, we had it all.
HBO in particular went out with a bang, even though the network ended the year quite early in the month of December and isn't scheduled to air another boxing card for more than a month and a half.
As boxing network rival Showtime staged a divisional tournament between four name fighters, HBO again counter-programmed and put together their own tournament of sorts, matching up junior welterweights Victor Ortiz and Lamont Peterson, and Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana.
In the co-main, Victor Ortiz sleepwalked his way through a number of rounds after seemingly having Lamont Peterson in trouble early, earning a draw. And in the main event, Marcos Maidana survived his own early knockdown in the 1st to crack open a bottle of hell and pour it all over Amir Khan en route to losing a close decision.
Seemingly on a comeback tear since being stopped by Maidana in a crushing war, Golden Boy Promotions-backed Victor Ortiz may have actually been deliberately fed spent name opponents while mending a likely scarred psyche. Not only were were Nate Campbell, Antonio Diaz and Vivian Harris fighting through injuries, ongoing promotional issues and inactivity, but Harris and Campbell were essentially signed by GBP specifically to be opponents for the company's budding 140-lb. stars.
That said, it came as a surprise to many that Golden Boy would be putting Ortiz in with a guy who went a hard 12 rounds with perhaps the best junior welterweight in the world, Tim Bradley.
Despite being timed and schooled down the stretch, Lamont Peterson showed terrific handspeed and promise against "Desert Storm" in December 2009, snatching a few rounds from Bradley and showing toughness not many knew he had.
But regardless of what the pundits thought, Lamont Peterson wasn't being brought in to beat Ortiz in this 10-round bout. 20 months ago, Victor Ortiz was an undefeated "next young star" complete with commercials and inspirational video blurbs airing on HBO before and after a number of their shows.
The fight began with Peterson seeming tentative and cognizant of Ortiz' size advantage, and Ortiz capitalized early, possibly shaking Lamont up with a lead left or two. In the 2nd, Ortiz was cut on the scalp by an accidental headbutt and Peterson came back with some stiff shots, but went down twice in the 3rd -- once from an uppercut-hook combo followed up by a right hand to the gloves, and again from a near-tumble into the ropes, both possibly caused by balance issues. But the D.C. native recovered well at the end of the round, cracking Ortiz with a few nice hooks.
Peterson picked up where he left off in the 4th, handling occasional single shots but controlling much of the pace with his jab, and even backing Ortiz up at times. Lamont was again wobbled in the 5th though, but appeared to be using his legs well and moving his head at the right times.
The 6th round saw the momentum swing towards Peterson as he caught with hooks while the younger man jumped in, and dipped his head in close before landing flush body shots and quick combinations from a distance. Starting quickly in the 7th, Peterson controlled the fight with snapping shots from a favorable range. When Ortiz bore in with his head down, he was generally tied up, save for two good combinations he landed near the end of the round.
Ortiz wasted no time in round 8, going right after Peterson and landing a few left hands that his opponent took surprisingly well. But with about 30 seconds to go Peterson wobbled Ortiz with a series of stinging left hooks and sent Victor back to his corner a bit shaky.
Righting the ship, Ortiz tightened his shots up in the 9th and landed a couple of good left hook-right hand salvos, but again Peterson stole his thunder with two heavy rights and more body work. Ortiz began backing up not long into the round, and Lamont cracked him with right hands when he'd lunge in, predictably.
The 10th and final round saw Ortiz moving forward behind hard shots, backing Peterson up for most of the round. Peterson did manage to land a right hand bomb that clearly wobbled the young man though.
Judges saw the fight 95-93 for Peterson, and 94-94 twice, resulting in a majority draw. Ortiz, now 28-2-2 (22 KO), could only smile after the bout, clearly feeling he won on the strength of his early rounds attack.
The now 28-1-1 (14 KO) Peterson also seemed confident he pulled the fight out by dominating Ortiz later on.
While not scintillating, the fight was entertaining in spots. Indeed Ortiz seemed to ease up at the wrong moments, allowing Peterson to gain in confidence later in the fight and hurt him on more than one occasion. Both men showed the ability to take a slug or two and give some back, though the bigger Ortiz showed that he may still have a few mental hangups.
Where "Vicious" Victor goes from here is difficult to tell. Backing up and being forced to hesitate against a guy that's not a huge puncher may not bode well for the 23-year old. The fluid combination punching from past fights was mostly absent, and twice now we've seen him struggle when his opponent could take the heat.
On the other hand, Peterson seems to have surprised many who thought he'd crumble in the face of adversity. 0-1-1 in his sternest tests to date, the man needs a signature win, and this gutsy performance may steer him towards an opportunity to get one.
The main event of Amir Khan vs. Marcos Maidana clearly stole the show with late round drama, when what everyone was waiting for finally happened. Aside from a woeful officiating job by Joe Cortez, it was a fun fight; an unlikely early ending loomed, then the fight turned into a clinic, which turned into a slight struggle, which turned into a life-and-death effort.
Having picked up the pieces after getting blasted in 1 by Colombian banger Breidis Prescott in 2008, the Pakistani Brit Amir Khan rebounded by out-speeding Marco Antonio Barrera over 5 rounds before a cut ended the fight, then taking away Andriy Kotelnik's WBA 140 lb. title. Khan subsequently crushed Dimitriy Salita in one and debuted in the U.S. with a beatdown of possibly former contender Paulie Malignaggi this past May.
Argentinian Marcos Maidana came out of almost nowhere to challenge former WBA titlist Kotelnik in early 2009, turning heads in the diehard boxing community by thumping the Ukrainian en route to a split decision loss. In his very next fight, Maidana went to war with the opening bout's Victor Ortiz, hitting the deck three times, but rallying back to make the young charge quit. Since that June 2009 evening, Maidana has gone 3-0, bludgeoning William Gonzalez and undefeated Victor Cayo, and winning a difficult decision over a faded DeMarcus Corley.
Maidana, echoing the months of calling Khan out, bypassed touching gloves with the Brit at the opening bell, instead swinging wildly at him only to miss. But Khan wasted no time countering Maidana's rushes and wound up hurting him badly to the body and flooring him late in the round. Maidana somehow made it to his feet, but was forced to barely survive.
Fans in the Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas loudly cheered for Khan as Maidana pressed forward and ate flush bombs in the 2nd, although Khan seemed to get away from working the body. Maidana ended the round by landing a few thudding hooks to Amir's sides, but was warned by referee Joe Cortez for a number of infractions, some legit, some not.
Khan took two flush right hands from Maidana surprisingly well in the 3rd round, and was otherwise in control. But Maidana broke through again in the 4th with multiple body shots and right uppercuts, snapping Khan's head back and causing him to take some deep breaths in his corner between rounds. Cortez again went out of his way to warn Maidana for borderline low blows, and Khan for pushing Maidana's head down in close.
The Argentinian had a tough time catching Khan in the 5th, and the WBA champion found his range with hard combinations. Possibly out of frustration either with Cortez' curiously physical outing or Khan's movement, Maidana seemed to throw an elbow when being broken up in the clinch and was deducted a point. "El Chino" pushed to even up the round with a stiff combination towards the close, but found himself manhandled to his corner by the referee as the bell sounded.
Amir resumed moving in the 6th, stopping briefly to out-quick the challenger, displaying impressive handspeed and accuracy. Maidana rallied halfway through though, clocking Khan with left hooks that had him holding, for which Cortez warned him thrice before the end of the round.
Note: Joe Cortez was intrusive in nearly every round, got pissy with Maidana and warned Khan for pushing Maidana's head down in every round from 4 on, so take that as a given so it can stop being mentioned.
Clearly on steadier legs in round 7, Khan shoe-shined and pot-shotted his opponent, who resorted to taunting the champion before attempting a telegraphed hook. A visibly slowing Maidana looked to be simply following Khan around the ring, but landed several sweeping right hands and uppercuts that appeared to win him the round. Recovering well, Khan stood his ground more in 8 and strafed Maidana with right hands, sending him walking slowly back to his corner.
Uppercuts again played a role in the fight, but primarily for Khan this time in the 9th. The younger man also used his handspeed to fire quick combinations down the middle, clearly wearing Maidana down. His corner agreed, growing more and more restless between rounds.
Very lethargic rising from his stool, Maidana took several deep breaths between missing wide punches and getting slammed with right hands. About a minute into the 10th round, Maidana landed an explosive right hand as Khan backed up with his hands down, and suddenly the champion found himself being battered about the ring and repeatedly sent to the ropes by everything Maidana had, not throwing more than a shot or two for almost a full 90 seconds. He gamely fought back in the final seconds, was again badly hurt, but managed to finish the round on his feet.
An exhausted Maidana struggled to maintain control in the 11th, punishing Khan in close near the end of the round after not doing much for the first two or more minutes. All in all, a good comeback round for the champion considering how the previous round went.
After moving away from Maidana for almost a minute in the 12th and final round, Khan was relegated to holding Maidana's gloves with his elbows in order to survive while getting mauled. Again Khan stopped throwing for the better part of the last minute, but finished the round with a few quick flurries.
A unanimous decision for Amir "King" Khan improved his record to 24-1 (17 KO), and the young star's bruised face proved he worked hard for it. Judges scored the bout 113-112 and 114-111 two times, as Marcos Maidana fell to 29-2 (27 KO).
Both fighters overcame the inept refereeing to close the HBO telecast with some nice surprises and late round excitement. Both men bared flaws over and over again, but wound up withstanding punishment, fighting fatigue and letting leather fly, making for a possible Fight of the Year candidate.
Assuming no rematch is on the table, Khan should be able to find a capable opponent or two while Tim Bradley and Devon Alexander sort things out. While he definitely stood up to more punches than many of us expected, his inability to adjust to certain shots landing on him over and over could be worrisome. Regardless, his talent and new-found durability should see him through more adversity.
As for Maidana, I have a feeling he'll be trying to slug his way into our hearts before too long.
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