ERISLANDY LARA vs. CARLOS MOLINA
Rounds / weight class: 10 rounds, junior middleweights
Location: Las Vegas
The backdrop: Lara (15-0, 10 KOs) has transformed himself from a tactical boxer into a knockout artist – stopping four in a row in the first round — but had to lower his level of opposition to do it. Molina (17-4-1, 5 KOs) might actually give the well-schooled Cuban-born contender a little resistance. The Chicago-based Mexican has won nine consecutive fights, including victories over solid opponents. His draw with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. represents the only non-victory of Junior’s career. Chavez outpointed Molina in a rematch. The problem is that Molina hasn’t fought since June 2009 because of promotional problems, a 21-month layoff. No one can know what to expect from him. Lara, ranked in the Top 10 of three of four major sanctioning bodies, is nearing a title shot. Yudel Jhonson is a 2004 Olympic silver medalist from Cuba who turned pro in 2009. Rances Barthelemy, the brother of Yan Barthelemy, is another Cuban prospect.
Also fighting: Yudel Jhonson vs. Richard Gutierrez, 10 rounds, junior middleweights; Rances Barthelemy vs. TBA, 6 or 8 rounds, junior lightweights
Rating the card: B. Lara has been lumped in with Yuriorkis Gamboa and Guillermo Rigondeaux as the three best Cuban fighters. He must continue to impress if he hopes to keep pace with his compatriots. Jhonson might not be too far behind the big three. And watch out for Barthelemy, who is 5-foot-11 (180cm) and skillful.
Prediction: Lara probably won’t score his fifth consecutive first-round knockout but he should handle Molina, who is a good boxer but has little power and hasn’t fought in almost two years.
ANTONIO ESCALANTE vs. ALEJANDRO PEREZ
Rounds / weight class: 10 rounds, junior lightweights
Location: Fairfield, Calif.
The backdrop: Escalante (24-3, 15 KOs) is coming off the worst defeat of his career, a third-round knockout against Daniel Ponce de Leon last September. The Texan had been on a roll going into that fight, having won 10 in a row against good opposition and in position to challenge for a major title. Now he must rebuild. Perez (14-2-1, 9 KOs) is the perfect comeback opponent for Escalante because he’s tough but not overly talented and will come directly to him. Also, Perez, from Salinas, Calif., will be moving up a weight class to face Escalante. And he could be rusty; he hasn’t fought since he was outpointed by Rico Ramos in November 2009. Manuel Avila is an 18-year-old featherweight prospect managed by Cameron Dunkin.
Also fighting: Manuel Avila vs. Frank Gutierrez, 6 rounds, junior featherweights
Rating the card: B-. Escalante is one of the more-exciting fighters around. And Perez is an aggressive fighter. The combination should make for an entertaining matchup. Avila, from Fairfield, reportedly is gifted.
Prediction: Escalante is a complete fighter and particularly hungry after his disappointment against de Leon. Perez will come to fight but has too many disadvantages to remain standing for long.
YURIORKIS GAMBOA vs. JORGE SOLIS
Rounds / weight class: 12 rounds, for Gamboa’s IBF and WBA featherweight titles
Location: Atlantic City, N.J.
The backdrop: Gamboa (19-0, 15 KOs) probably faces the stiffest test of what is blossoming into a splendid career. Solis (40-2-2, 29 KOs) is a complete boxer-puncher with valuable experience over a 13-year career. The 31-year-old Mexican has one blemish on his record – a close decision against Cristobal Cruz in 2009 — since he was stopped in the eighth round by Manny Pacquiao in 2007. He is coming off a sixth-round KO of then-beaten prospect Francisco Cordero in September. One potential problem for Solis is that he is moving down from junior lightweight after three fights at 130, athough he says he's a natural 126-pounder. Gamboa is the most-accomplished of a growing crop of young Cuban-born fighters, including rivals Erislandy Lara and Guillermo Rigondeaux. He also is the most exciting … and probably the most vulnerable because of his wild style. His biggest fights lie ahead in a deep 126-pound division, assuming he beats Solis. The biggest prize is Juan Manuel Lopez, who is rated No. 1 by THE RING. Gamboa is No. 2. Mikey Garcia, the brother of trainer Robert Garcia, and Matt Remillard are undefeated and talented young fighters who are a step or two away from a major title shot.
Also fighting: Mikey Garcia vs. Matt Remillard, 10 rounds, featherweights; Teon Kennedy vs. Jorge Diaz, 12 rounds, junior featherweights; Tom Zbikowski vs. Caleb Grummet, 4 rounds, cruiserweights
Rating the card: B+. Gamboa isn’t the tactical fighter most Cubans tend to be; he’s fun to watch. And this is a good test for him. Solis, a legitimate contender, will help us guage how good Gamboa truly is. The Garcia-Remillard matchup is a tremendous co-feature.
Prediction: Solis is good all-around fighter with loads of experience. Gamboa is the more-talented of the two. And talent almost always prevails.