Expect good summer for boxing

May 23, 2006 4:53 AM

Next weekend’s big televised fight should be a thriller with Fernando Montiel moving up another weight class to challenge Jhonny Gonzalez for one of the bantamweight belts.

It is good that I have been unable to find a line on this scrap, which will be televised by HBO from Los Angeles, because my mother once told me I should never bet on anything smaller than my lunch portions. This is why I never bet on jockeys, thinking trainers and even horses were more important to the equation.

Admittedly, the equation ends with a minus sign.

The classy Montiel, who held belts at 112 and 115 (flyweight and superfly), is on my list of best fighters at any weight. He is a sharp boxer with accurate punches and good pop. However, he is meeting a naturally bigger and younger opponent in Gonzalez. Jhonny may not be able to spell, but he can box and punch.

I’m not sure about that spelling, which has been reported as a mistake by his parents. That is, unless Cleveland Indians’ shortstop Jhonny Peralta comes from the same dyslectic family. With the absence of action on boxing, though, I am not about to start giving my wrong-headed opinions on baseball. The lull does offer time to focus my thoughts on what shapes up to be a long and wonderful summer.

For gambling purposes of course, it begins Memorial Day and not with the vernal equinox.

On June 3, the week after Montiel-Peralta, there is the third and presumably final act of the Jose Luis Castillo-Diego (Chico) Corrales drama. I bet Castillo the first two times, soothing my feelings in the first bout knowing I had just witnessed one of the greatest fights in history. But this time I’m leaning toward Chico, even if Castillo does not have trouble making the 135-pound limit.

No, it’s not that an injury gave Corrales more time to heal from the first two brutal bouts where he took much more damage than his rival did. It’s simple arithmetic. Castillo has been a -220 favorite to Corrales’ +180 dogdom.

Too much, I think.

The beauty is that you don’t have to bet the house to get real action from these two guys. Modesty is heartily recommended, especially with the schedule so packed. On June 10, there are two pay-per-view cards competing for both your TV dollar and wagers. I will attempt to buy both cards.

In Atlantic City, Antonio Tarver will be at least a 2-1 favorite (-350 last time I looked) over Bernard Hopkins (+250). I don’t care that it’s the old middleweight’s fare-thee-well appearance and he’s older than Marvelous Methuselah. Tarver, no spring chicken at 37, has shown me definite signs of deterioration. He is the big puncher, but Hopkins has always been able to take a shot.

There’s a bigger, and playable, underdog in the rival card at Madison Square Garden. Miguel Cotto, whom I now think would beat Ricky Hatton, faces the elusive Paul Malignaggi (+350). Cotto, at -450, figures to hurt the undefeated loudmouth from Brooklyn. First, though, he has to catch him. This will be a game of hide and seek.

I can see the underdog putting on a boxing clinic. Malignaggi has dazzling hand speed, but his foot movement is just as impressive. I expect he will be hitting Cotto from behind during the course of action — a la prime Hector Camacho.

The week after, we get a pick’em biggie when Winky Wright challenges Jermain Taylor, now trained by Emanuel Steward, for the middleweight championship of the world. Right now, I can’t pick’em, which is a good sign.

On June 24, HBO’s Boxing After Dark has two great matchups. Undefeated heavyweights Calvin Brock and Timur Ibragimov go in one bout and undefeated welterweight Joel Julio faces Carlos Quintana in the other. On July 1 (it will be July 2 in Manila where the fight occurs), Manny Pacquiao meets the capable Oscar Larios.

July used to be the off season. Not any more. On July 8, there could be dueling dates between HBO and Showtime. HBO has plans for a Joe Calzaghe fight if an opponent can be found in time. Showtime will be in St. Louis for hometown favorite (no, not Albert Pujols) Cory Spinks challenging 154-pound title-holder Roman Karmazin.

The week after, there’s a good betting rematch double-header. Sugar Shane Mosley meets Fernando Vargas and Juan Diaz (everyone’s new favorite action lightweight), opposes tough -Lakva Sim.

Arturo Gatti, a favorite perhaps, challenges the real welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir on July 29. The same night Roy Jones Jr. will be on view, for a price, against someone named Prince Badi Ajamu.

August has at least Hasim Rahman against Oleg Maskaev. It’s a meaningful heavyweight fight that should be fun as long as it lasts.

In conclusion, there’s no reason to bet on small people.