Watch Showtime’s contender,
not HBO’s pretender

Apr 3, 2007 6:34 AM

Showtime and HBO will be dueling again, but there is really only one fight on next Saturday. HBO may have the best man, but Showtime as usual has the best match.

Still, reeling from being so wrong about Mikkel Kessler, this may be the perfect time for a parlay of inaction. Lay off both bouts.

HBO’s features Joe Calzaghe, who is about -1000 against Peter Manfredo, a clubfighter from Providence. Manfredo made his name appearing on the first season of boxing’s unreality show, "The Contenders." The buyback number on the American was listed at +600, but he has as much chance of succeeding as an "American Idol" reject making the Metropolitan Opera.

First, Calzaghe is one of the best fighters in the world - No. 6, if one recalls my very own pound-for-pound list. The undefeated Welshman completely embarrassed a much more respected American Jeff Lacy last year. He will be performing in front of about 35,000 members of his fan club in Cardiff as he goes for his 20th successful defense of his 168-pound title (that’s supermiddleweight to all you cognoscenti).

The southpaw has terrific hand speed, can box, punch and has gotten off the deck when required. But I’m not paid the big bucks to recommend laying 10/1 odds, especially on a 35-year-old man with a reputation of fighting down to the opposition. I’m not sure Calzaghe can fight that low.

Manfredo may not have commensurate skills with which to face the champion, but does possess that New England spirit we admired in Micky Ward, Vinny Pazienza and, of course, the great Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

And he’s cocky.

"I think I’m going to turn the crowd around, kind of like Rocky going to Russia," he said.

That was Hollywood fiction. At least Manfredo has Sugar Ray Leonard working with him. Leonard, who sent Hagler into retirement, is one of the guiding forces of the "Contender" series. Leonard will be in Wales as the world marks the 20th anniversary of his great upset of the Marvelous One. But this would not be a case of history repeating. Remember, Leonard was a great fighter before he upset Hagler. Still, Calzaghe-Manfredo is not a fight on which to bet.

Over on Showtime, from that boxing hotbed of Springfield, Mo., we get a fight that I find very difficult to pick for other reasons. It matches Diego (Chico) Corrales, one of the toughest guys around, moving up two weight divisions to face the tough Joshua Clottey of Ghana.

For name recognition alone, Corrales figures to be the slight favorite. A lot of the boxing media think he may be taking on someone a bit too big for him. In his last appearance, Corrales lost his lightweight title when he could not make the 135-pound limit. Then Chico went on to lose to Joel Casamayor for the second time in three tries.

There’s no shame in losing to the great little Cuban but, after coming in at 139 for that fight last October, Corrales found he could not make the 140-pound junior welterweight limit either. He has since moved up to 147.

In Clottey, he faces a big and strong welterweight. His only two losses on a 30-2 register were to Antonio Margarito last December and Carlos Baldomir on a disqualification for repeated buttings while on his way to an apparent victory. He seemed on the way to beating Margarito for one of the other welterweight titles (Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the real king of this star-studded division) until he hurt his right hand.

Clottey had been beating Margarito to the punch repeatedly, outboxing the Tijuana Tornado and spanking him with meaningful combinations. He is definitely in the top 10 of what is perhaps boxing’s best and deepest division - Mayweather, Sugar Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, Margarito, Paul Williams, Kermit Cintron, Luis Collazo, Baldomir, Judah.

Corrales, who held titles at 130 and 135, has not won since his epic tenth-round knockout of Luis Castillo in a lightweight bout almost two years ago. Diego goes down, but he also gets up. He has not had a "gimme" in years. He only fights the toughest, so on the one hand I would be very hesitant to bet against him. Plus, I would be just as hesitant betting on a fighter coming off a serious hand injury.

And who would possibly risk hard-earned cash on a fight in Springfield, Mo.? There’s always another week.