Showtime will once more test its "more is better" theory on the airwaves Saturday, and this time the four-fight slate is a modest upgrade in quality over the last high-quantity Showtime card from this past summer.
The main event is not a dreadful-on-paper cruiserweight bout between Antonio Tarver and Lateef Kayode, but rather a rematch between two top junior welterweights, Danny Garcia and Erik Morales, who put on a decent enough scrap the first time around. It's not a fight that many people were clamoring for, sure, and Morales' flunked drug test leaves an unsavory taste, but it's definitely a better fight than Tarver-Kayode, especially since Tarver later failed a drug test himself, leaving the cards tied 1-1 on that front.
Like last time, middleweight Peter Quillin is on this card, too, but he's not fighting his latest opponent-coming-off-a-loss; Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam is a current, fresh and undefeated contender, unlike Quillin's last foe Winky Wright, who still had a little starch left but was old and semi-retired. Rather than sighing about another Quillin leftover takedown, then, we're left with a Quillin fight that is the competitive highlight of the show.
There's also a fight that was scheduled to be its own headliner, Devon Alexander-Randall Bailey, but logistics demanded moving it over to this card instead. So even if the welterweight bout wasn't headliner-worthy to begin with and isn't likely to thrill unless Bailey dials in that lethal right hand in the middle of getting his ass boxed off, it still feels like we got a respectable bout at a discount.
And a revived Paulie Malignaggi rounds out the card, as he takes on Pablo Cesar Cano in a welterweight bout where heart abounds, although this one, too, has picked up an odor of controversy because Cano didn't make weight Friday on his initial try. Alexander-Bailey/Malignaggi-Cano probably don't trump June's other two supporting bouts of Austin Trout-Delvin Rodriguez/Leo Santa Cruz-Vusi Malinga, but overall I see a better card than the one from this summer.
What enthusiasm the card might have engendered is probably plummeting with Morales' and Cano's high jinks, although maybe the controversy will stir up attention. And Showtime's ominpresent reliance on adviser Al Haymon -- three of the four bouts feature his clients -- is uncomfortable.
At its core, as before when Showtime tried this volume approach, more doesn't always equal better. Quantity gives the viewer a better chance statistically of seeing something that stands out, but ultimately that's about better matchmaking more than it is about just piling fight on top of fight. That said, if Showtime can figure out a way to merge "more" and "better," they could be on to something, and they're getting closer with this offering on the "better" front.
Mini-previews, then, of each of the four major fights (all rankings according to the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board):
DANNY GARCIA-ERIK MORALES II
Morales' chances of avenging his loss to Garcia depended on a couple things: Whether he could come into the fight in shape, unlike last time, and whether Garcia's confidence coming off a huge win over Amir Khan had gotten too sky-high for Morales to be able to reach him like he did last time.
That first part is now looking dicey. Reportedly, the drug test kind of sort of found some Clenbuterol in his system -- I say kind of sort of because we don't have the "B" sample back from the labs yet -- which is a weight loss drug that also apparently helps build strength. That means that if he did indeed take the drug, he was probably using it as a shortcut to getting in actual shape, and/or is desperate enough to win that he felt the need to cheat to build up strength. Yet the show will go on, probably under the aegis of "We don't have the 'B' sample back yet so we can't penalize the fighter," although you wonder what kind of drug test regime schedules things so that confirmation of a failed test is delayed until after the fight.
Garcia, the world's #1 junior welterweight, already was poised to be very confident based off his win over Khan, and probably grew from his first fight with Morales (#8), too. Now he's pissed off, shouting things at Morales at the weigh-in about what a cheater he is. There goes Morales' other hope of winning, then. Garcia was already very solid and all-around talented, and Morales patented fake overhand right/left combo isn't as likely to work with Garcia knowing it's coming this time.
Morales doesn't have much going for him, then, besides accumulated boxing knowledge and toughness. He's not quicker, he's fighting over his best weight and he's definitely older. He's a living legend with a long resume that has gone on longer than it should've, even if his best performance in recent years was a loss to Marcos Maidana, but this time it won't be enough. He had nowhere to go but down from the first fight -- either down in weight or even older and slower -- and he only managed the first part with what looks like some chemical assistance. He might make it to the final bell, but I don't see a path to victory.
DEVON ALEXANDER-RANDALL BAILEY
This is Alexander's first real test at welterweight, because his last fight was against a fellow upward-climbing junior welter, Maidana. And it's a test that comes against the purest power puncher in all of boxing, Bailey (#8).
If Alexander is interested in victory, he might want to play keep away. As much as people hated what Mike Jones was doing against Bailey in Bailey's last fight, stick and move was clearly the right ploy. The moment Jones opened up more, Bailey introduced him to the darkness that is being punched by Bailey.
Alexander can make a statement, sure, if he fights aggressively enough to stop Bailey, or even if he just swarms Bailey with so many punches that Bailey can't get his punches off, something Bailey struggles with anyway. Maybe Alexander can withstand Bailey's punches because he feels stronger at 147 than 140, where another big puncher, Lucas Matthysse, was able to drop Alexander. Or maybe Alexander can start aggressively but be wise enough to push his stomach away from the table the moment he feels Bailey's power.
Alexander has every advantage in this fight besides power, though, so he's my pick, likely by decision. But I doubt anyone, including myself, would even blink if Bailey again turned out the lights.
PETER QUILLIN-HASSAN N'DAM N'JIKAM
From the standpoint of development, Quillin, the #7 middleweight, has been been taking the right kind of fights, but mostly we've had to watch him beat a bunch of guys coming off losses and that's not something many of us have needed, even if it's what "Kid Chocolate" needed. This reverses the trend big time, because N'Jikam, #10, has never lost, even if his win over Avtandil Khurtsidze was controversial.
N'Jikam is a well-rounded fighter, not great at anything but good at most everything. He can get a bit sloppy and wide with his punches, if I had a complaint, and he's astute defensively but likes to trade a lot and tends to give that advantage away. He's aggressive and looks to make things happen, though, which speaks well of him. He has enough power to shake up his man but not huge power, and can be shaken himself, as Giovanni Lorenzo showed when he dropped him.
Quillin will have the speed and power advantage, but he too has his lapses into sloppiness, both in punch technique and defense. For all the crapping people do on Quillin's resume, I think he's faced better opposition than N'Jikam -- Marco Antonio Rubio coming off a loss is still better than Lorenzo, and a faded Hall of Fame-type like Wright is still better than Khurtsidze, in my estimation.
How good a fight this is will depend on how willingly Quillin mixes it up. He has a healthy instinct to get offended when someone is successful against him, and I don't doubt that N'Jikam will have moments, even prolonged stretches, of success. If they trade much, I think Quillin could knock out N'Jikam, maybe even spectacularly. Otherwise, I think he can outbox and outquick N'Jikam en route to a solid but competitive decision victory.
PAULIE MALIGNAGGI-PABLO CESAR CANO
Coming off his loss to Khan two years ago, there was a long stretch where Malignaggi seemed to have lost his fire. That fire was essential to his makeup as a boxer, as he showed in avenging his disputed loss to Juan Diaz in a fight where he was motivated to prove the previous verdict was an injustice. After a long disappearance, though, the hyperactive energy returned in Malignaggi's last fight against Vyacheslav Senchenko. It was an excellent performance, although maybe one burnished by the possibility that Senchenko was too highly ranked in the division to begin with. Either way, it was enough for him to move into the welter top 10 at #9.
Cano earned some fan goodwill with an action fight he lost against Morales -- this card is starting to seem incestuous -- then had another action fight last time out that he won by technical decision against Johan Perez. But those same fans tend not to like it when boxers fail to make weight. All the more confusing, Cano failed to make weight despite leaping up a division from his last bout.
Neither of these men punch very hard, but both are more than willing to mix it up, an interesting trait for one fighter in the ring at any given time, let alone two. The tendency of both to mix it up means we'll likely get a solid fight, albeit one that goes to a decision.
Cano is probably a bit more technically sound, and taller, but with below average speed. Malignaggi, with above average speed, is just the better all-around product. He should use his legs at times and trade at times en route to a decision win along the lines of 117-111, 116-112.