DEMETIRUS HOPKINS vs. BRAD SOLOMON
Rounds / weight class: 10 / welterweight
Location: Hollywood, Fla.
The backdrop: Solomon (16-0, 7 KOs) is one of the most-talented and battle-tested prospects in the sport. The 27-year-old native of Louisiana has defeated two fellow unbeaten prospects (Ray Robinson and Kenny Galarza) and many seasoned vets, including Anges Adjaho. His body of work has already earned him No. 1-contender status in the WBA’s welterweight rankings. Is Solomon really a contender? His fight against Hopkins (30-1-1, 11 KOs), a skilled former title challenger from Philadelphia, will let fans know for sure. Hopkins, the 30-year-old nephew of former middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins, is by far the best fighter Solomon has ever faced. On the undercard, Yan Barthelemy, a 2004 Olympic champ from Cuba, faces Dominican standout Francis Ruiz in a 122-pound bout, and middle-aged heavyweights Oliver McCall (45) and Cedric Boswell (41) face off in a 10-rounder that actually has a regional belt up for grabs (tsk, tsk).
Also fighting: Yan Barthelemy vs. Francis Ruiz, 10 rounds, junior featherweights; Oliver McCall vs. Cedric Boswell, 10 rounds, heavyweights.
Rating the card: B. Solomon is one to watch, and Hopkins should test the up-and-comer with his superior technique. Barthelemy was originally scheduled to face Chris Avalos, but the Southern Californian puncher had to withdraw due to a hand injury. Ruiz will be outclassed by the Cuban but he’s a solid late replacement. McCall and Boswell are way past their primes but they probably match up well. Boswell, a crafty boxer from Detroit, is better preserved than McCall but the hard-punching former titleholder has fought better opposition recently.
Prediction: The experience, technique and well-timed jab of Hopkins will give Solomon more trouble than any of his previous opponents, but the naturally bigger and more athletic prospect will outmaneuver the fringe contender and land the harder punches over 10 rounds to take a close decision.
LUIS RAMOS vs. JOSE HERNANDEZ
Rounds / weight class: 10 / lightweight
Location: Costa Mesa, Calif.
The backdrop: Ramos (17-0, 8 KOs), an aggressive southpaw boxer from Santa Ana, Calif., has built up a nice record and a solid local following in recent years, but the 22-year-old prospect has fought only journeymen. Hernandez (10-4-1, 4 KOs), a 24-year-old spoiler from Ft. Worth, Texas, does not fit that mold. He has four losses, but apart from his three-round TKO to Sharif Bogere last February, all were close, highly competitive decisions to prospects. Hernandez is coming off an eight-round draw with former U.S. amateur star Mickey Bey Jr. (16-0) in February that most observers believe he won, so his confidence should be high going into the Ramos fight. Ramos needs to make a statement against Hernandez, as Bogere did, if he wants to be taken seriously as a future contender. On the undercard, former junior middleweight contender James Kirkland, recently released after 18 months of incarceration, continues his comeback against well-traveled Colombian journeyman Jhon Berrio.
Also fighting: James Kirkland vs. Jhon Berrio, 8 rounds, middleweights; Antonio Orozco vs. Manuel Aguilar, 6 rounds, junior welterweights.
Rating the card: B-. Both Ramos and Hernandez make for entertaining fights, so this one should be a barnburner. It’s a thrill to watch Kirkland even when he’s blowing out an overmatched opponent, which describes Berrio. Undefeated junior welterweight prospects Antonio Orozco and Fidel Maldonado are also on the card.
Prediction: Ramos will have to dig deep, but he’ll outwork Hernandez and land the harder punches, especially to the body, to narrowly outpoint the spoiler in a fast-paced eight-round shootout.
Also fighting on Friday: Hard-punching Mexican prospect Dante Jardon faces Colombian slugger Humberto Martinez in a 12-round junior lightweight bout in Mexico City. The bout will be televised on Telemundo.
LUCIAN BUTE vs. BRIAN MAGEE
Rounds / weight class: 12 / super middleweight
Location: Montreal, Quebec
The backdrop: The first fight of Bute’s three-bout deal with Showtime is the proverbial “gimme” if the undefeated titleholder is the best super middleweight in the world, as some believe. If Bute (27-0, 22 KOs), a 31-year-old Romanian based in Quebec, is not the elite fighter he seems to be, he’ll have his hands full with Magee (34-3-1, 24 KOs), an experienced and well-rounded veteran from Ireland who has shown the best form of his career in recent bouts. The undercard (which will not be part of the Showtime broadcast) features Quebec-based super middleweight veteran Renan St-Juste and undefeated junior middleweight contender Vanes Martirosyan.
Also fighting: Renan St-Juste vs. Fulgencio Zuniga, 10 rounds, super middleweights; Vanes Martirosyan vs. Bladimir Hernandez, 8 rounds, junior middleweights.
Rating the card: B-. Bute is one of the most-talented boxers in the sport but this fight is a mere appetizer before he really challenges himself against the likes of Mikkel Kessler and the eventual winner of the Super Six tournament.
Prediction: Bute may or may not be the sport’s best 168 pounder (a distinction many give undefeated American beltholder Andre Ward), but he’s too skilled, too slick, too fast and too powerful for Magee to compete with over 12 rounds. Bute by late stoppage.
VITALI KLITSCHKO vs. ODLANIER SOLIS
Rounds / weight class: 12 / heavyweight
Location: Cologne, Germany
Television: Epix (streamed live on EpixHD.com)
The backdrop: The most interesting angle on Klitschko’s latest fight is that it will be aired on a new U.S. premium cable network (Epix). This is not to say that Solis (17-0, 12 KOs) isn’t a worthy challenger for the WBC belt held by the elder Klitschko brother. The Miami-based Cuban has extremely fast hands and may possess the most-decorated amateur background of any fighter the Ukrainian giant has faced. However, Klitschko (41-2, 38 KOs) has been so dominant since he returned to the sport (after nearly a four-year hiatus) in late 2008 that it’s hard to get excited about his fights. Has the 39-year-old veteran lost more than one or two rounds in all of his comeback bouts combined? Probably not, but Klitschko might lose a few rounds to the ring-savvy Cuban. At least, hardcore fans desperate for a competitive heavyweight match hope so. On the undercard, cruiserweight fringe contenders Ola Afolabi and Lubos Suda face each other in a crossroads match.
Also fighting: Ola Afolabi vs. Lubos Suda, 12 rounds, cruiserweights.
Rating the card: B-. Klitschko is second only to his younger brother Wladimir in the shallow heavyweight division, and Solis, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist and three-time world amateur champ, knows his way around the ring. But that doesn’t mean the two will make for a competitive or entertaining fight.
Prediction: Klitschko uses his sledgehammer jab and occasional right hands and uppercuts to gradually wear down an ever-stalking Solis to a late rounds stoppage.
GUILLERMO RIGONDEAUX vs. WILLIE CASEY
Rounds / weight class: 12 / junior featherweight
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Television: RTE (in Ireland) and streamed live on www.rte.ie/live.
The backdrop: Rigondeaux (7-0, 5 KOs) lived up to his billing as arguably the greatest amateur boxer ever by outpointing seasoned contender Ricardo Cordoba (37-2-2) to win an interim title in his seventh pro bout. However, the ultra-skilled southpaw killed a lot of his own hype by making for a stinky fight with the former beltholder. Rigondeaux has an opportunity to regain some of his buzz against Casey (11-0, 7 KOs), a rugged Irish fighter with an all-action style. Casey gained popularity by winning the Prizefighter TV tournament last May and then earned respect by upsetting more-experienced Paul Hyland for the European junior featherweight title last November. His showdown with Rigondeaux promises to be a big event in Ireland. On the undercard, Anthony Fitzgerald, of Ireland, and Affif Belghecham, of France, fight for a European 160-pound title.
Also fighting: Anthony Fitzgerald vs. Affif Belghecham, 12 rounds, middleweight.
Rating the card: B-. Casey, who loves to mix it up (especially to the body), is tailor made for Rigondeaux, but the scrappy Irishman will make the fight interesting while it lasts.
Prediction: Rigondeaux by mid-to-late rounds stoppage.
Also fighting on Saturday: Former strawweight titleholder Roman Gonzalez, an undefeated boxer-puncher once rated No. 1 at 105 pounds by THE RING, goes for a junior flyweight belt against battle-tested Mexican veteran Manuel Vargas in a scheduled 12-round bout in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico. The fight will be televised on Fox Deportes.