Five days till Mayweather-Pacquiao, and just three fights left to cover–including The Fight, which we will look at exclusively in the next preview, along with my full list of Best Plays for the boxing weekend of April 30th – May 2nd. There will, however, be a short segment on Mayweather vs Pacquiao at the end of today’s write-up. If you missed our previous writeups please check them out here. You ready? Let’s jump in.
Kountermove: Lomachenko – $6000, Rodriguez – $3600
Now we come to the most prohibitive favorite on the card, and the one real reason to watch anything prior to the main event come Saturday night. Vasyl Lomachenko is the best thing to come out of Ukraine since Wladimir Klitschko, and to most he’s a hell of a lot more exciting than the heavyweight champ. Lomachenko was an amateur standout, only entering the pros after compiling an amateur record of 396-1, and having avenged that lone loss–twice. He won Olympic gold twice, World Amateur gold twice, and European amateur gold once.
Lomachenko received a sharp reminder of the differences between professional and amateur competition in his second pro fight, when he was given a shot at the vacant WBO title against Orlando Salido, a well-traveled veteran who used every trick in the book–holding and hitting, wrestling, and even hitting Lomachenko below the belt throughout the fight. Salido also came in over the 126 lb weight limit, and reportedly rehydrated to 147 pounds on fight night, compared to Lomachenko’s slim 136. And Lomachenko still managed to out-land Salido in total punches, earning one of the three judges’ scorecards as a result.
It was a bit too much too soon, but the Ukrainian bounced back with a win over another decorated amateur, American Gary Russel Jr. After that Lomachenko cruised to a decision over the out-gunned but undeniably game Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo. And just in case everything above hasn’t convinced you of Lomachenko’s skill and potential, the 27 year-old southpaw badly injured his left hand in the 7th round of the bout, and yet continued to dominate Chonlatarn with only his right for the remainder of the fight. So yeah. He’s pretty good.
Who is his opponent? Gamalier Rodriguez
Rodriguez’s two greatest strengths are his active, aggressive defense--he rarely slips or blocks a punch without coming back with a few good counter shots–and the fact that he, unlike almost every other right-handed fighter in the world, has no particular trouble with southpaws. He handled the tricky Orlando Cruz just last year, in fact, and fought the lefty as he would any other opponent. There is every reason to expect Rodriguez to make this fight competitive. He is gritty, tough, skilled, and experienced.
There is virtually no reason, however, to expect an upset. Rodriguez may not deserve the sheer magnitude of the odds against him, but Lomachenko’s bag of tricks is deeper than anything with which the young Puerto Rican has ever had to contend, and he really does seem to have learned his lesson since the Salido bout. Lomachenko won’t take Rodriguez lightly.
The pick is Vasyl Lomachenko by Unanimous Decision.
Kountermove: Pearson – $4900, El Harrak – $4700
A close fight reflected by close odds. Pearson was a standout amateur, and after a brief but successful stint in the pro-am league “World Series of Boxing” he made his official pro debut, quickly racking up 12 wins over a pretty solid array of competition–at least as far as boxing neophytes are concerned.
El Harrak, on the other hand, has been in the pro game since 2008. His spots of inactivity since a second-round TKO loss in 2009 would be more concerning if El Harrak hadn’t been noticably improving in the meantime. But he has, and he presents a stiff challenge to Pearson, whose biggest problem is inactivity–or rather, lack of initiative.
Pearson is very fast, with a commanding southpaw jab and an absurdly quick and powerful right hook. His tendency to wait around hoping to counter has gotten him into trouble before, notably in his most recent fight against 15-1 Steve Martinez, but he still managed to beat Martinez convincingly, wearing him down over the course of the fight. The most important number in this matchup? Nine. That’s the number of knockouts Pearson has accrued in his 11 professional wins. And while El Harrak has only been knocked out once, he’s more hittable than Pearson and more susceptible to being shut down by combinations.
The pick is Chris Pearson by late TKO.
Mayweather-Pacquiao is interesting for lots of reasons–duh, right? For hardcore boxing fans, however, it’s the promise of a tantalizing style clash that makes the matchup most compelling. You could argue, based on their past performances, that both Pacquiao and Mayweather represent one another’s perfect foils.
Mayweather, it’s often been said, struggles with southpaws–and Manny Pacquiao happens to be the best southpaw on the planet. It may not be true that he doesn’t fight as well, but he is undeniably forced to fight differently. Mayweather’s entire style (what I call The Mayweather Crab–not “the Philly Shell”) is built around taking away the right hand of an orthodox opponent. His right glove, held by his chin, picks off jabs and blocks hooks–usually the set up for a right hand, which he masterfully deflects using his patented shoulder roll. The whole system is designed around waiting for and then defeating that big right hand. The extreme specialization of the style is also its drawback, as southpaws tend to rely on their powerful left hands, which can neither be shoulder rolled, nor easily picked off as a much lighter jab can. Even orthodox opponents who favor their left hands–such as Miguel Cotto and Jose Luis Castillo–have given Mayweather trouble with their power jabs and left hooks.
This has led Floyd to develop a new, pared down style for dealing with southpaws. He abandons his fundamental position (the eponymous “crab” stance), eschews the shoulder roll and the jab, and relies almost entirely on his tricky lead right to initiate attacks. He makes it work, but it lacks the diversity afforded by his usual approach.
Pacquiao, on the other hand, has been outboxed and broken down with counters in the past. Juan Manuel Marquez actually managed both, fighting off the back foot and picking Pacquiao apart in their third fight (the decision in which was regretfully awarded to Pacquiao), and knocking him clean out with a counter right hand in their fourth meeting. If Mayweather is forced to adapt to southpaws, then Pacquiao outright struggles with counter punchers, particularly ones brave enough to counter while he’s attacking, which is when he’s most vulnerable.
This two-way threat makes the bout extremely difficult to predict with any real certainty–it could also mean a virtual stalemate, but better not to think of that. Later this week we’ll take our final look at the bout, in-depth, and I’ll give you my Best Plays for your Kountermove roster. Until then, hope as hard as you can for a good fight!