I'll give thanks for last night's fights (well, all but one of them). So let's recap some of the action, and give me thoughts on where everyone goes next.
Carl Froch (27-1, 20 KOs) UD12 Arthur Abraham (31-2, 25 KOs)
This was the stinker of the night, as Froch meticulously outboxed Abraham all evening for a landslide decision. Abraham couldn't get off all night, thanks to Froch's lateral movement and persistent jab. It was the recipe that Andre Dirrell used to hand Abraham his first loss, but folks weren't sure if Froch was up to Dirrell's level of slickness. And honestly, he's not -- but he was close enough to make it an easy night.
Froch has had a lot of doubters, myself included, but it is getting close to the point where he is forcing folks to take him seriously. Yes, "King Arthur" is probably a bit overrated, particularly out of his natural 160 lbs weight class (Froch's reach advantage, in particular, was absolutely lethal tonight). And yes, we really don't know how much Jermain Taylor had left when Froch stormed back for a dramatic 12th round KO (we know he had nothing left when Abraham starched him). But these wins, coupled with an ever-more impressive one over Jean Pascal and a tight decision loss to Mikkel Kessler, demonstrate that he's the real deal. He's deceptively talented along every dimension -- faster handspeed than you think, better footwork than you think, more elusive than you think, more powerful than you think, and exactly as tough as you think -- and that's a solid combination. I can't wait to see him in against Glen Johnson in the semis, which I think has the potential to be a firecracker of a fight.
As for Abraham, he's in trouble. He's been beaten twice now by the same gameplan,and he hasn't historically been good at adjusting. And he faces tournament favorite Andre Ward next, who is nothing if not good at adjusting. I see Ward boxing to an easy decision. Abraham's power makes him dangerous with anyone who is willing to mix it up with him, but that makes him little different than a Germanic Edison Miranda.
Andre Ward (23-0, 13 KOs) UD12 Sakio Bika (28-5-2, 19 KOs)
Exceptionally wide scorecards aside (the judge who scored it a Ward shutout might as well not have attended the fight, and I'd take it as a kindness to the sport if he didn't attend any others in official capacity), this was a grueling fight in which Ward justifiably took a tight decision. But Bika gave him all kinds of hell early in what was easily the hardest fight of Ward's career, and I include Mikkel Kessler in that mix. Ward likes to bully folks on the inside, but Bika is all about that style, and was ripping Ward to the body early on. But Ward, as ever, adjusted mid-fight and began neutralizing Bika's looping hooks and landing the precision shots on the inside.
More importantly, unlike many bullies, Ward showed that he doesn't crumble against the same tactics. Both men threw almost as many headbutts and elbows as they did punches. But whereas Bika's stemmed more from his style as bang-em-up brawler, Ward's fouls were, dare I say it, more tactical -- reminding me a lot of Bernard Hopkins. In the final round, for instance, Bika was going for the knockout and stunned Ward with a hook. So Ward intelligently held on, then, as the ref was separating the two, hit Bika on the break. Bika complains, the ref admonishes both fighters to keep it clean, and all of the sudden Ward gained an extra 30 seconds to recover.
Ward is really amongst the very elite of the sport under any metric, but particularly in the category of ring technicians. Along with B-Hop and Mayweather, he's one of those fighters that seems to know all the tricks, and has both the physical tools and the presence of mind to change courses when the fight isn't going his way. That's a very valuable skill, and one of the reasons Ward, I think, is a potential #1 P4P guy in the future.
As for Bika, I think he did show that he belongs in the conversation of top Super Middleweights, and demonstrated that he'll be a hellish outing for any fighter in that class. He's built like a Men's Health centerfold, exceptionally strong, and brings incredible pressure to the table, has a mean streak the size of the Dan Ryan Expressway, and carries serious power in those looping hooks. Unfortunately, most of the good match-ups in the division are tied up in the Super 6. Lucien Bute already beat him and would probably do so again (though Bika has improved markedly from their first match-up -- but then, so has Bute). Bika would shred Allan Green, I think. I think he'd tear through Robert Stieglitz, who I'm equally sure wants no part of Bika. Librado Andrade is a dream fight for fans of oldest-of-old school street fights. Bika/Kessler would be interesting, as Bika brings exactly the sort of raw pressure and intensity that sometimes causes Kessler to fade. Whatever it is, I'm interested.
Andre Berto (27-0, 21 KOs) KO1 Freddie Hernandez (29-2, 20 KOs)
This was a mismatch on paper, as Hernandez jumped straight from B/B+ fighters to an A/A+ guy in Berto. And it turned out to be a mismatch in practice, as Berto put him down in the first with a pretty sweet right hand. Hernandez got up, but was unsteady, and the ref waved it off. For Berto, this was an audition for Manny Pacquiao, and along that axis it was a pretty rousing success. And given that I'd much rather see Pacquaio against Berto than against most of the other names being thrown out (Mosley, Cotto, Marquez at 147), that's a good thing. But in terms of finding out more about Berto, it does nothing. He's really only been in against one truly elite foe, Luis Collazo, and that was a white knuckle affair which Berto barely squeaked through. As for Hernandez, this was likely his one shot at glory, and he didn't exactly cover himself in it.
Jason Litzau (28-2, 21 KOs) SD10 Celestino Caballero (34-3, 23 KOs)
Jason Litzau, previously seen on the wrong end of one of my favorite knockouts, was brought in as a mere opponent to showcase Caballero and see if the latter could force the issue with a desperately desired fight with either Yuriorkis Gamboa or Juan Manuel Lopez. But Litzau came to fight, and Caballero, who felt like he's been overlooked in the 122 and 126 lbs weight classes, overlooked Litzau. Caballero, who came up in weight, didn't have his usual towering height advantage (he's 5'11", Litzau is 5'10"), and seemed at times stunned that his opponent was actually firing back. Caballero did start to wake up a bit late in the fight, but it was too little, too late.
Litzau, whom many (including myself) had written off as a one-dimension brawler with a poor chin, has easily the best win of his career and, paired with a technical decision over Rocky Juarez in his last fight, may be seeing a bit of a career resurgence after being obliterated by Roberto Guerrero six fights ago. It was a great fight, a great performance by Litzau, and probably the upset of the year. And Caballero may have just dealt his own career a mortal blow. His physique alone makes him a nightmare for anyone in the lower weight classes, but he brings no money and a ton of danger, and after losing unimpressively in his big showcase fight, nobody has any incentive to get in the ring with him. It'll be a long road back for the 34-year old.
Juan Manuel Marquez (52-5-1, 38 KOs) TKO9 Michael Katsidis (27-3, 22 KOs)
I missed the first half of this fight to finish up Ward/Bika, and what I apparently missed was the fight everyone expected it to be -- a knockdown, drag out brawl which pitted Katsidis's insatiable aggression against Marquez's legendary counter-punching. After Marquez's lopsided loss to Floyd Mayweather at 147, folks were left wondering how much of it was the weight, and how much was Marquez finally aging. His victory over a severely faded Juan Diaz didn't answer much, but tonight filled in any gaps that might have been left. Marquez stood in and traded with the younger, hard-hitting Katsidis, and it paid off. But Katsidis was certainly in this fight every step of the way, and put Marquez on the canvas in round 3 -- a wild round which saw Katsidis going for the kill and Marquez displaying incredible fortitude to survive and turn the tables.
Marquez wants, more than anything else, a third fight with Manny Pacquiao. In a just world, he's earned at 135 or 140. But the world isn't just, and at 147 it's simply a mismatch. Marquez, being the warrior that he is, will undoubtedly take the fight at 147 (as someone remarked, Marquez would agree to fight Pacquiao with no weight limit, no gloves, and no ropes if that's what it took), but I can't see it ending well for him. What I can see if Marquez as a future hall-of-famer, going down as one of the greatest Mexican fighters of our generation, and one of the greatest counter-punchers of any generation.
As for Katsidis, he showed why he is one of the premier action fighters of our time -- this decade's answer to Arturo Gatti. There is not a single fight Katsidis could possibly be in that doesn't have the potential for fight of the year honors. He is a great sportsman and a great star, and I look forward to seeing him again in the ring, soon.