In Saturday’s main event of HBO PPV’s Star Power event (9 p.m. ET), Floyd Mayweather Jr. (41-0, 25 KOs) faces Victor Ortiz (29-2-2, 22 KOs) for the WBC welterweight title.
It is Mayweather’s first fight since May 1, 2010, when he cruised to a wide unanimous decision win over Shane Mosley despite nearly getting dropped in the second round. Ortiz, for his part, looks to defend the title he took from Andre Berto in April and grab a whole heap of bragging rights as the first man to defeat the mighty Mayweather.
The undercard is loaded: The co-feature bout, which is taking place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles while the main event and the rest of the undercard are at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, features WBC junior middleweight titlist Saul Alvarez (37-0-1, 27 KOs) taking on fellow Mexican fighter Alfonso Gomez (23-4-2, 12 KOs) for what will be the second of three WBC belts on the line on Saturday.
The third title fight is at 140 pounds. The belt vacated by Timothy Bradley (Technically, he’s a “champion in recess,” but for all intents and purposes Bradley has abandoned the belt by not negotiating a title defense at the WBC’s request.) will go to the winner of the battle between ageless veteran Erik Morales (51-7, 35 KOs) and late replacement Pablo Cesar Cano (22-0-1, 17 KOs), who replaced Lucas Matthysse after the Argentine withdrew from the bout citing a viral infection — Matthysse had been a replacement for Jorge Barrios, who could not get his visa status in order to travel to the United States for the fight.
The last fight on the card (in reverse chronological order) is at lightweight, where up-and-coming prospect Jessie Vargas (16-0, nine KOs) faces a stiff test against rising star Josesito Lopez (29-3, 17 KOs). Vargas has been brought up against journeymen; there will be a lot at stake against a legitimate fighter such as Lopez.
Here’s a breakdown of all four fights, including what’s at stake for each man in each contest, so when you watch the fights either at home or on closed-circuit at a bar or casino, you’ll be the smartest fight fan in the room.
Vargas vs. Lopez, lightweights
Jessie Vargas is Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s protégé, part of Mayweather’s promotional operation, and previously trained by Floyd’s uncle, former world champion Roger Mayweather. Vargas has something of a puffed-up record; his biggest win to date was against a completely shot Vivian Harris in April, fully six years removed from when Harris held a world title. Josesito Lopez last was seen on ESPN2 in January, when he fought then-unbeaten prospect Mike Dallas Jr. and knocked him out in the seventh round. Lopez holds the NABF strap at junior welterweight, but this fight will be contested at the lightweight limit.
So what’s at stake? For Vargas, it’s a chance to prove that he can beat someone who isn’t either way past his prime or clearly a B-level or lower fighter. A win here will keep the gravy train rolling and keep Vargas marketable as an “unbeaten prospect” fighting either on Mayweather PPV undercards or headlining events on Telefutura or ESPN. A loss likely will not do much damage unless Vargas loses in embarrassing fashion, because he has a very strong promotional team behind him and one loss does not usually end a fighter’s career. Vargas needs to get in there and take care of his business.
Lopez, on the other hand, has a lot more at stake here. This is a chance to put himself on the US boxing map. Fighting on ESPN is the springboard to getting a prime slot like this fight, and with the eyes of the world on him a win here could be a launch pad to mainstream success. The bad news is that Lopez is already a three-loss fighter without a real signature win on his résumé. Losing to Vargas likely will tar him with the brush of a gatekeeper rather than a contender. Vargas can get away with a defeat; Lopez has his boxing life at stake. We will see if this means Lopez will be the hungrier, more motivated fighter in the ring.
Morales vs. Cano, WBC junior welterweight title fight
Erik Morales put himself back on the map in a valiant losing effort against top-five junior welterweight Marcos Maidana of Argentina in April. Even though Morales lost the majority decision, the mere fact that a guy with as many miles on the odometer as the Mexican legend (who captured his first world title at 122 pounds in 1997 and whose first fight with Marco Antonio Barrera happened so long ago that Bill Clinton was president) didn’t get blown out of the ring means either Maidana is severely overrated or Morales has more left in his tank than anyone thought.
Pablo Cesar Cano, for his part, is nobody’s idea of a contender. All of his fights have been in Mexico against local fighters — save one, when he traveled to Colombia in 2009 and won a split decision against club fighter Fabian Marimon. Cano’s only fight for even so much as a regional title was another split-decision win for the NABF strap in June 2010 against Oscar Leon, who took a 28-12 record into that fight. Cano is not even close to Morales’ league; the only thing that promises to provide real intrigue in this fight is the age factor; does Morales have the ability, at age 35 and with 58 pro fights (including trilogies with Barrera and Manny Pacquiao) on his odometer, to get rid of a guy who is nowhere near his talent level?
There is no plausible reason to believe this fight will be competitive. For Morales, a knockout is a requirement to show the world that the valiant defeat against Maidana was not a sort of Indian summer for the twilight of his career and that he is still worthy of being considered for big-time fights.
For Cano, this is a chance to shock the world and turn himself into the next great marketable Mexican prospect. Mexico has a proud history at junior welterweight, particularly with the WBC; Julio Cesar Chavez held the belt for which Morales and Cano are fighting and, except for a brief period when Frankie Randall took it from him for one fight, held that belt for seven years before losing it to Oscar De La Hoya. A win over Morales will vault Cano to bigger and better things; lose, and it’s back to the Mexican club circuit as “that guy who lost to Erik Morales.”
Alvarez vs. Gomez, WBC junior middleweight title fight
Saul “El Canelo” Alvarez is a rising star. Already a celebrity in his native Mexico, American fight fans, particularly Hispanic fight fans, are showing that Canelo can be a draw in the States. Argue all you like about the WBC’s shenanigans with its title system, but Alvarez beat the stuffing out of Matthew Hatton for the belt in March and defended the title with a twelfth-round TKO of Ryan Rhodes in June.
On a night when someone who has fought only twice since 2007 is the marquee name in the main event, credit should be given to a man who is fighting for the eighth time in the past 18 months. Put another way, while Mayweather is fighting for only the third time since that win over Ricky Hatton on Dec. 8, 2007, Alvarez has stepped into the ring and won 23 times (15 by KO) since that date.
Alfonso Gomez is a veteran of “The Contender” reality series, on which he lost to Peter Manfredo Jr. Gomez also has lost to a very young Ishe Smith (in Smith’s fourth and Gomez’s second pro fight in 2001), against Jesse Feliciano in 2003, and six fights ago in April 2008 by knockout to Miguel Cotto for a world title at 147. Gomez has not yet shown he can beat a truly elite fighter; his biggest win was against a shopworn Arturo Gatti in 2007, which was Gatti’s last fight after a long and brutal career.
At stake for Alvarez is the continuation of his marketing gravy train. A loss will not end his career; Alvarez is 21 years old and has the WBC hell-bent for leather on keeping him in the spotlight. While no fighter wants to take a loss, one will be more of a temporary setback than a real killer.
For Gomez, meanwhile, this is something of a now-or-never moment. Win, and he beats what the boxing media would have you believe is the best thing to come out of Mexico since the burrito. Lose, especially by wide unanimous decision or knockout, and Gomez never will be able to shake that reputation of a guy who is just good enough to get title fights but nowhere near good enough to win them. This fight is do-or-die for Gomez; he needs to win or at the very least come damn close.
Mayweather vs. Ortiz, WBC welterweight title fight
Victor Ortiz is not Manny Pacquiao. But style-wise, Victor Ortiz does not have to be Manny Pacquiao. Styles make fights, and when you put an action-oriented, straight-ahead fighter in with one of the best counter-punchers and defensive wizards in the history of the sport, the chances of it going 12 rounds are minimal. As Mayweather said: “He’s looking for the knockout. I’m looking for the knockout. This fight ain’t goin’ 12.”
Even when Ortiz is losing, he is hitting people with bad intentions. One of his two losses was by disqualification because he hit his opponent (Corey Alarcon) while he was down and got the DQ hung on him when Alarcon was unable to continue. The other, a six-round war against Marcos Maidana, had throughout the look of a kill-or-be-killed slugfest; Maidana was down in Round 1 and twice in Round 2 and Ortiz hit the floor first in Round 1 and then again to stay in Round 6. Ortiz actually was ahead on the scorecards before the coup de grace caught him.
Incidentally, Ortiz can be said to have softened up Vivian Harris; Harris’ last fight before his beatdown at the hands of Jessie Vargas came in a three-round “that was ugly, I hope he’s OK” demolition by Ortiz. The last time an Ortiz fight went the distance without someone going down at least once was in 2006, when Alfred Kotey kept satin off of canvas and did not do much else in an eight-round unanimous decision.
Ortiz’s chin is very, very suspect; in addition to the Maidana fight, Ortiz went down twice in his win over Berto, once in the second and once in the sixth. For a precision counter-puncher like Mayweather, this is a recipe for highlights, the kind of knockout punch that will pick up a million hits on YouTube, an opponent tailor-made for his style. Mayweather is not known for his power, but Ortiz seems likely to make a lot of the same mistakes that Ricky Hatton made in the course of his tenth-round TKO at Mayweather’s hands four years ago; Mayweather caught Hatton coming in with a perfect counter left hook that closed the show.
The other side of that Hatton fight, however, was that Mayweather showed that he can be vulnerable to pressure. Nobody knows just how Mayweather has handled his skills and reflexes as he has aged; even though he has not been hit as often as, say, Erik Morales (who is only a year older but may as well have a decade on him), fighters can get old in a hurry.
Ortiz is being variously touted as a 5-1 or 6-1 underdog on the betting lines, so for the bettors, putting a few bucks down on Father Time could pay off.
The short version on this is that a relentless, all-action pressure fighter is stepping into the ring with a defensive mastermind. In other sports, the saying goes that “offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.” If that is true in the Sweet Science, and over the course of 41 fights it always has been true for Mayweather, this could be a painful night for Ortiz.
As for what’s at stake? A loss for Mayweather and he will lose a lot of negotiating leverage when trying to put together the fight that everyone wants to see against Pacquiao. But for Team Mayweather, the most important stat won’t be kept by CompuBox. This pay-per-view needs to draw a lot of buys to make Bob Arum, who promotes Pacquiao, see the kind of dollar signs that make the fight too good to pass up no matter what sort of drama or drug testing or media circus the fighters themselves may concoct. A disappointing take will hurt Mayweather more than even "Vicious" Victor Ortiz’s fists could.
On the other side of the ring, Ortiz can leap to greatness in one single bound, especially if he wins by knockout (which he very likely will have to, because Mayweather is a fighter whose style tends to win decisions and Ortiz’s chin is too suspect to carry into the late rounds). Lose, and the welterweight division will pass into the sort of “top two and everyone else” lore of the heavyweight division in the Klitschko era; Ortiz will find himself fighting everyone not named Mayweather or Pacquiao for belts and mentions in best-of-the-rest articles on sports sites. While it is far from a career-ender, winning will have Ortiz’s star shining with a brilliance that only a win over a still-unbeaten legend makes possible. Victory? A punch right on the chin and Ortiz will have apotheosis.
A lot has been made about the price tag of this night of action, but considering what a ticket to the fights in Las Vegas (or the Alvarez fight in Los Angeles) will run you, getting a few friends together and ponying up the 70 bucks to have a ringside seat from the comfort of the home theater of whoever has the best TV promises to give a good night’s entertainment to all in attendance. Throw a party, get all the fight fans together, because if this lineup of fights can’t give fans their money’s worth, nothing can.