Featherweights find the spotlight

Jan 19, 2010 5:04 PM


It is time to stop cursing the void and return to work, to ignore the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. plague and talk about real fights with real favorites and live underdogs.

No winners guaranteed.

But in an HBO double-header next Saturday from New York’s Madison Square Garden that opens the 2010 calendar, a pair of juicy live underdogs will tempt us, though not enough to risk real money on them.

Actually, the first betting fight of the year probably takes place the night before outside Manila where Brian Viloria, the Hawaiian Punch of Filipino descent, defends the IBF junior lightweight title and is almost a prohibitive favorite against Carlos Tamara, a Colombian now living in New Jersey.

It matters not what the buy-back rate on Tamara is for the Jan. 22 contest; he cannot be recommended against the almost 7-1 chalk. Viloria had only two fights last year, winning his second 108-pound title with an 11th-round stoppage of the well-regarded Ulises Solis, then defending it with a clear points victory against Jesus Iribe.

Tamara also won his two 2009 starts, but against opponents with records of 14-22-4 and 0-16-1.

The next night, though, the dogs will be barking – but their bite may not be enough against two talented and undefeated featherweights on a collision path. Juan Manuel Lopez, the 27-0 Puerto Rican with 24 stoppages, is moving up from 122 pounds to challenge Steve Luevano for an alphabet title. Juanma is around a 9-2 or 5-1 favorite and will have the home-ring advantage in New York.

He looked to be a major player in the game, but staggered badly in the final round – almost put away in one of the best fights of 2009 – by the Philadelphia-based Tanzanian, Rogers Mtagwa. That’s one way to look at it. Lopez, who had demonstrated his terrifying power with a one-round knockout of Daniel Ponce de Leon in 2008, and showed amazing stamina in his continuous beat-down of the gutsy Gerry Penalosa, may have indicated an Achilles chin against Mtagwa. But he also showed guts and heart in riding out the storm.

Luevano is a solid pro, like Lopez a southpaw, his only loss on a 37-1-1 record to the respected Martin Honorio, but you don’t bet on a Volkswagen in the Indianapolis 500 unless you know a hell of a shortcut (which is what Mrs. Ron Stander said of her husband’s chances before Joe Frazier knocked him out in the fifth round back in 1972). JuanMa’s speed advantage should take him safely through on his path to the Cuban star, Yuriokis Gamboa.

The 2004 Olympic gold medallist, 16-0 as a pro with 14 knockouts, is an oversized favorite – I’ve seen odds as high as 12-1 – against the very same Mtagwa who gave JuanMa so much trouble last outing.

Mtagwa can punch, but despite a considerable reach advantage, he’ll find it difficult landing against the superlative Gamboa. It matters not that the buy-back rate is about 6-1. He’ll be trying, which is what "live" underdogs do, but he won’t be succeeding.

Meanwhile, let us hope that the Pacquiao-Mayweather dispute is all a charade designed to let them fight at a more opportune time than March 13, like in the fall. There’s a rumor going round that Pacquiao wanted the delay, not only to run for Filipino political office in May, but because he also has been suffering with an ear problem. If that’s the case, expect his March 13 date now with Joshua Clottey to also be scrapped. Clottey hits a lot harder than that other guy with the bad hands.