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Table’s set for the creme de la creme

Nov 13, 2007 8:04 AM

Forty years ago, I had dinner at this little two-star (Michelin, of course) restaurant in the tiny Norman village of Orbec where the back room had not yet been cleared of the dishes from the luncheon served Queen Elizabeth II that day.

It was an incredible menu. After the assortment of hors d’ouevres, appetizers (including a terrine that the great boxing writer Vic Ziegel would later call "the best cold meat loaf I ever ate"), a full fish entrée and the rich ducklings for which the restaurant, Aux Canetons, was named, the diner was offered a choice for the final course before the assorted cheese for which Normandy is rightfully famous and desserts. It was either a rack of lamb, or if the appetite was beginning to wane despite between-course samplings of Calvados (apple brandy known as  the "Norman hole" because it is used by locals to create more room in the stomach), a thick slab of foie gras with salad.

What reminds me of Orbec was the rich menu boxing fans have luckily been enjoying recently and the foie gras that comes up next weekend, before we get back to the meat and potatoes — and I don’t mean Big Macs and French fries.

It’s almost like Beethoven’s Fourth, a non-pretentious yet elegant symphony that comes between two of the Master’s great works, the Eroica and the fateful Fifth. Overshadowed perhaps by the Joe Calzaghe-Mikkel Kessler, Sugar Shane Mosley-Miguel Cotto bouts that precede it, and muffled by the noises to come from Fernando Vargas-Ricardo Mayorga and Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Ricky Hatton, it is like a perfect gem surrounded by the Crown Jewels. Not as big as the Hope Diamond, but probably just as brilliant.

Too bad it’s in Atlantic City. Before we ask what’s a great fight like Joan Guzman and Humberto Soto doing in a joint like that, let’s be thankful it’ll be on HBO’s Boxing After Dark.

Do not think, by the way, that this WBO 130-pound title bout is strictly for purists. Hell, no. The entertainment value will be as high as a choreographed Rocky movie fight. The skill levels will be a Mayweather shadowboxing session crossed with Barrera-Morales.

No, I don’t know the line, but then, I have no idea who will win.

 I suspect the undefeated Guzman would be slightly favored with a lot of smart money on the solid Soto, who was the first to defeat Rocky Juarez. That was at featherweight.

 Both guys are pushing the envelope a bit at 130. Guzman isn’t that far removed from being a dominant 122-pound fighter. The Dominican is one of my favorites, a flashy boxer who throws straight punches from inventive angles. For the last couple of years, I’ve been openly calling for him to fight Manny Pacquiao or Juan Manuel Marquez. There’s no higher company, of course. Soto, though, would be a nice match for either star as well.

But I suspect Soto is more solid, that Guzman can be chipped away and made vulnerable by the sturdy Mexican. Maybe Soto’s chips will not find the mark.

This will be Soto’s fourth fight of 2007. Guzman hasn’t been active since last December. Guzman should take an early lead, but where the fight goes from there I haven’t a clue. Guzman has 17 knockouts on his 27-0 ledger, but Soto is the puncher here.

Guzman has won his last six on points; Soto his last six by stoppages - including one of Pacquiao. Except of course, it was Manny’s far-less-talented brother Bobby.

Since outpointing Juarez, who just went 12 with one eye against Marquez, Soto has not beaten much. On the other hand, he hasn’t lost since early 2002 to Kevin Kelley. Guzman has outpointed such as Javier Juaregui and Jorge Solis recently.

Even up, I guess I’d have to go with the speed and that’s Guzman. But Soto is more than just a puncher. He outboxed Juarez. Sometimes, you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. Champagne and caviar or champagne and foie gras. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Is anyone pointing a gun to your head? If so, ask him to desist.