Doug Fischer

Weekend Preview: Froch-Johnson, Zbik-Chavez make for super Saturday





Rounds / weight class: 8 rounds / bantamweights

Location: Indio, Calif.

Television: Telefutura

The backdrop: Santa Cruz (15-0-1, 7 knockouts) is the 22-year-old younger brother of former lightweight contender Jose Armando Santa Cruz. The Cameron Dunkin-managed prospect is not as heavy handed as his older brother but he’s just as rugged and possesses much better skill and technique. Santa Cruz, who has stopped his last five opponents, has discovered that a good body attack can produce knockouts. Dunkin believes Santa Cruz is ready for a real test, which is why Lopez (39-9-2, 32 KOs) has been brought in for the young man’s first nationally televised headliner. The 39-year-old former 115-pound titleholder from Puerto Rico is coming off back-to-back decision losses to undefeated standouts Marvin Sonsona and Cesar Seda but the veteran has the experience and tools — an iron jaw (he’s never been stopped) and heavy hands — to give Santa Cruz a competitive fight. On the undercard, lightweight prospect Luis Ramos (18-0, 8 KOs) faces the most formidable opponent of his career in former junior lightweight beltholder Francisco Lorenzo (36-9, 16 KOs). The 23-year-old southpaw has size and youth on his side but Lorenzo is awkward and very tough (the Dominican has never been stopped). The 39-year-old veteran has faced seven world titleholders, including Erik Morales, who he gave fits in a 12-round decision loss last January, and Jorge Linares, who he was competitive with in a 10-round loss last March.

Also fighting: Luis Ramos vs. Francisco Lorenzo, eight rounds, junior welterweights

Rating the card: B. The Solo Boxeo Tecate main event and co-feature are classic crossroads matches that should be competitive and telling of the potential of the two undefeated prospects.

Prediction: Santa Cruz emerges as a young bantamweight to watch with unanimous decision over Lopez in a good fight.



Rounds / weight class: 10 rounds / welterweights

Location: Tampa, Fla.

Television: ESPN2

The backdrop: Jhonson (10-0, 7 KOs) is a 29-year-old welterweight/junior middleweight prospect from Cuba who won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games. The talented Miami-based southpaw, who is coming off a seventh-round stoppage of former fringe contender Richard Gutierrez in March, is looking to stay busy against Torres (21-4, 19 KOs). The 33-year-old Colombian veteran should give Jhonson some rounds as he has never been stopped, but his inactivity (he’s only fought once in the past three years) suggests that he won’t be very competitive with the former amateur standout. On the undercard, Tyrese Hendrix, a solid 30-year-old fighter from Gainesville, Fla., takes on veteran spoiler Walter Estrada (38-14-1, 25 KOs) in his first test since losing back-to-back decisions to talented boxers Ty Barnett and Henry Lundy last year. Estrada, a 35-year-old southpaw from Colombia, is coming off a competitive 10-round decision loss to fringe contender Vicente Escobedo and an eight-round victory over former lightweight titleholder Nate Campbell.

Also fighting: Walter Estrada vs. Tyrese Hendrix, eight rounds, junior welterweights.

Rating the card: C+. Jhonson should have little problem with Torres in this Friday Night Fights main event.

Prediction: Jhonson outworks, out-boxes and easily outpoints Torres to a unanimous decision.




Rounds / weight class: 12 rounds / super middleweight

Location: Atlantic City, N.J.

Television: Showtime

The backdrop: Both Froch (27-1, 20 KOs), the defending two-time WBC super middleweight titleholder, and Johnson (51-14-2, 35 KOs), a former light heavyweight champ, are skilled and battle-tested veterans who should make for a hotly contested fight. Froch, a gangly boxer-brawler from Nottingham, England, has proven to be one of the best 168-pound fighters in the world by going 4-1 against Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrell, Mikkel Kessler and Arthur Abraham in his last five bouts. Only Kessler managed to defeat Froch via competitive 12-round decision in his native Denmark. Johnson, a 42-year-old marvel who earned THE RING’s Fighter of the year honors in 2004, was a perennial contender at light heavyweight for the past 10 years before entering the Super Six World Boxing Classic as a sub for Dirrell and scoring an eighth-round TKO of Allan Green in his first bout of the tournament. The winner of the Froch-Johnson Super Six semifinal bout will face Andre Ward in the tournament finals later this year.

Also fighting: Mikkel Kessler vs. Mehdi Bouadla, 12 rounds, super middleweights (same-day tape from Copenhagen, Denmark)

Rating the card: A. The main event of this Showtime World Championship Boxing broadcast matches a versatile boxer-brawler (Froch) against a hard-nosed pressure fighter (Johnson) in a can’t-miss barnburner.

Prediction: Froch will mix in just enough lateral movement with numerous exchanges to win a close decision.



Rounds / weight class: 12 rounds / middleweights

Location: Los Angeles

Television: HBO

The backdrop: Chavez Jr. (42-0-1, 30 KOs) seeks to become the first middleweight titleholder from Mexico and to silence his many critics by beating Zbik (30-0, 10 KOs), a solid boxer from Germany who holds the WBC’s 160-pound belt. Zbik, THE RING’s No. 6-rated middleweight, has the edge in hand speed and technique, while the 25-year-old son of the Mexican legend appears to be the bigger and stronger fighter. The result of their interesting matchup should be a competitive and entertaining fight as both unbeaten middleweights will try to impose their contrasting styles on the other. On the undercard, undefeated featherweight contender Miguel Angel Garcia (25-0, 21 KOs) stays busy against late-sub Rafael Guzman (28-2, 20 KOs).

Also fighting: Miguel Angel Garcia vs. Rafael Guzman, 12 rounds, featherweights.

Rating the card: B+. Neither Zbik nor Chavez are really worthy of calling themselves “champion.” RING middleweight champ Sergio Martinez would easily overwhelm either man. However, Zbik’s technically sound European boxing should mesh well with Chavez’s more aggressive Mexican style and fans will likely get a good fight.

Prediction: Chavez’s aggression, sporadic pressure and concentrated body attack will receive more credit from the judges than Zbik’s accurate one-two combinations and the young Mexican star will win a close, perhaps controversial, decision.


Also fighting on Saturday:
Middleweight contender Marco Antonio Rubio, who is in line to fight the Zbik-Chavez winner, stays busy against Ricardo Marcelo Ramallo in a scheduled 10 round bout in Mexico City.

Faded former three-division titleholder Johnny Tapia faces cross-town rival Frankie Archuleta in a third fight scheduled for 10 rounds in Albuquerque, N.M.

Former 140-pound beltholder Gavin Rees takes on Andrew Murray in a scheduled 12-round bout for the vacant European lightweight title in Cardiff, Wales.



Photo of Sebastian Zbik (left) and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. by Chris Farina-Top Rank.

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