Brian Vera: The rugged but limited Texan seemed to be all but finished at 29. He was 1-4 in the five outings that preceded his fight against Sergio Mora on Saturday, losing to James Kirkland, Craig McEwan, Issac Rodrigues and Maksym Bursak. He was deemed by some an “opponent” going into Saturday, a stepping stone for a former titleholder trying to work his way back to the top. Well, Vera (18-5, 11 KOs) had other ideas. Fit and determined, he swarmed Mora from the opening bell and never gave the betting favorite a chance to breathe en route to an impressive split-decision upset. Vera probably will never become an elite fighter but he turned himself back into a relevant one with an inspiring performance.
Sergio Mora: Mora demonstrated the boxing skills for which he is known. He also displayed more grit than some might’ve expected from him. In the end, though, he lost to an opponent he should’ve beaten. To be fair, the cards were stacked against him. Vera was bigger than anyone he has ever faced. He has no power, which made it difficult to slow Vera down. He was fighting in Vera’s place of birth, Fort Worth, Texas. And he was fighting for the first time without longtime trainer Dean Campos in his corner. Still, with a significant edge in talent, he should’ve found a way to win a fight in which he intended to make a statement. Well, he did make a statement – just the wrong one.
Austin Trout: A lot of people figured Trout (22-0, 13 KOs) would outbox Rigoberto Alvarez on Saturday in Mexico but his near shutout was particularly impressive given that Alvarez is a tough guy, if little else. The product of Las Cruces, N.M., is a good boxer and very resilient, which means he could give anyone trouble. He might get a chance to prove that soon. He could end up fighting talented Erislandy Lara in his next fight, which would be a significant test. We’ll see how good he is. As for Alvarez, the gut feeling here is that the older brother of Saul Alvarez accomplished about all he could in light of his limitations. That’s more than a lot of fighters can say.
Tomas Rojas: The junior bantamweight titleholder from Mexico embodies the fighter who will never give up. Rojas (35-12-1, 23 KOs) has been a 115-pound contender for a decade but could never get over the hump. He lost to the likes of Cristian Mijares, Luis Maldonado, Gerry Penalosa, Anselmo Moreno, Jorge Arce and Vic Darchinyan, which seemed to render him a career also-ran. Then, last September, fate finally fell his way as he stunned Kohei Kono in Japan to win the WBC strap. The 30-year-old from Veracruz, rated No. 3 by THE RING, then defeated No. 2 Nobuo Nashiro by a unanimous decision in his first defense Saturday. That’s two significant victories in a row, victories that make the one-time also-ran a truly elite fighter.
Luis Franco: The former Cuban Olympian passed a test on Friday in Santa Ynez, Calif., narrowly outpointing veteran Leonilo Miranda. And he demonstrated the solid skills we’ve come to expect from Cuban defectors. Franco (9-0, 5 KOs) shouldn’t have had so much trouble with Miranda, though. Remember, Miranda came out of Mexico with a gaudy record – 30-0, with 28 KOs – but was stopped in five rounds by the limited Orlando Cruz in his first fight in the U.S. He was then outpointed by a fighter with a sub-.500 record, Gilberto Bolanos. In other words, Miranda is nothing special. This isn’t to say that Franco won’t be a success; talented young fighters often struggle in fights against determined veterans. This is to say that several other well-known Cubans were ahead of him at the same stage of their careers.
Khan-McCloskey: It’s about time. Amir Khan decided to dig a little deeper into his pocket in negotiations with unbeaten Paul McCloskley – reportedly agreeing to pay the Irishman $322,000 – and the fight was made for April 16 at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester, England. For Khan, the short term financial hit will payoff in the longrun. He’ll most likely beat McCloskey in front of a home-country crowd and then fight Timothy Bradley in a lucrative matchup. For McCloskey, this is a tremendous opportunity. That payday won’t make him rich but a victory probably would. And a loss, particularly if it’s competitive, certainly won’t be a career-breaker. There’s no shame in losing to a fighter as talented as Khan.
Israel Vazquez return? The former junior featherweight titleholder reportedly is planning to fight in April. I think the 33-year-old Mexican has a little fight left in him, although not much. I also think that a slight breeze would cause deep and bloody gashes above his eyes, particularly the left; his scar tissue is that profound. Vazquez-Rafael Marquez IV was evidence of that. Once again, who am I to deny a man the right to make a living as he sees fit. I’m just saddened when I hear that a damaged warrior won’t walk away at the right time, particularly when he’s as nice as Vazquez. I hope I’m wrong, I hope he looks like the Vazquez of old if he fights again. I would be surprised, though.
Alex Camponovo to Timothy Bradley: Timothy Bradley was stung by criticism after his technical decision over Devon Alexander. Some members of the media and fans said or implied he cheats by leading with his head, which can result in fight-stopping cuts. A clash of heads ended the Bradley-Alexander fight in the 10th round. And some said he didn’t look particularly good in victory. What advice did his long-time promoter (now co-promoter) have for him? Ignore them. Excellent idea. One thing that all veteran fighters learn is that you will be criticized no matter what you do. Such is life in the public eye. To dwell on the comments of others will only drive you crazy. Camponovo was right: Don’t listen. In my opinion, Bradley outclassed a top-flight opponent. And the head thing? He’s a short guy with short arms. He has to bull his way inside to compete.
The death of Anthony Jones: The 28-year-old heavyweight from El Dorado, Ark., died a day after he was stopped by Quincy Palmer in the second round of his pro debut on Saturday. Every time a fighter dies as a result of punches I think back to Jimmy Garcia, the Colombian fighter who died after taking a beating from Gabriel Ruelas in 1995. I saw firsthand how devastating it is for the fighter who threw the punches and the family of the deceased. Ruelas was devastated. And I spoke to Garcia’s father on the one-year anniversary of his son’s demise. He was still in great pain. I had never heard of Jones before reading about his death. Still, I paused and thought about how difficult this must be for his family. Such a tragedy also renews my admiration for all boxers, who know the risk yet have the courage to take it.
James Toney (on a conference call): “Everybody talks about the Klitschkos are great. People who know boxing for real know they’re garbage. David Haye is garbage. I’ve got the best skills in the game. Nobody can touch me. You know why the heavyweight division is so terrible? Because all these supposed world champions are cowards. They let these Klitschkos fight nobody over there. I’ve been chasing them for seven years. Even now they won’t fight me. I’m just going to keep defending my belt and knocking out everybody they put in front of me. Until these clowns fight someone like me they have no credibility.” Toney, 42, fights Damon Reed on Feb. 24 in San Bernardino, Calif.