This is the fight we’ve all been waiting to settle for, ever since late 2013 when it became apparent Al Haymon’s “takeover” of boxing, now known as the “Premier Boxing Champions” series, was rumored to be imminent. Danny Garcia’s thrilling victory over Lucas Matthysse on the undercard of the Mayweather-Canelo PPV in September 2015 was the kind of fight that begged for an immediate rematch, but boxing fans were fed lesser fights in the light welterweight division as Haymon maneuvered his 140 lb fighters toward the positions he wanted them to be in for the launch of Premier Boxing Champions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy boxing is now on major network TV, that the sport is getting mainstream exposure, that it has a chance to grow its fanbase and fighters have a chance to make more money, but as a long time fan who has suffered through the promotional “cold war” that has delayed and/or blocked some of the biggest fights in the sport for the last several years, I’m understandably a bit impatient. And while Al Haymon isn’t entirely responsible for the cold war, he’d become a pivotal figure in it and his ascendance on the scene resulted in fans being stuck with gross mismatches like Garcia-Salka, Peterson-Iforgothisname, and Adonis Stevenson vs pretty much everyone since he signed with Haymon 15 months ago. Premier Boxing Champions has a lot of promise, but at this point in time Al Haymon owes a debt to boxing fans that will take more than a few decent fights to repay.
But Danny “Swift” Garcia versus Lamont Peterson following the Thurman-Guerrero bout a few weeks ago isn’t a bad start. It’s not Garcia-Matthysee II, but it would be hard to find a better opponent for Garcia at 140 lbs, since we’re limited to Haymon fighters only fighting other Haymon fighters. Though that brings up another issue, which is the 143 lb catch weight. Why is this fight taking place at a catch weight? Garcia holds the WBA and WBC 140 lb titles, while Peterson holds the IBF strap, but none of those will be on the line tomorrow night. I applaud everyone involved for that; I’ve long thought that with 17 weight classes there is no reason titles should be fought for at catch weights. One explanation for the catch weight in this fight is Garcia plans to move up to 147 afterward, win or lose, and will vacate the belts. Peterson claims to not know why Garcia wanted a catch weight, but says he just wanted the fight, so he didn’t make it an issue. Good for him, though the IBF says he will be stripped of his belt if he loses to Garcia.
Lamont Peterson (33-2-1, 17 KO) is a good fighter and he has a great story. But in May 2013 Matthysse earned his title shot at Garcia by bouncing Peterson off the canvas like a basketball before scoring a highlight reel KO in the 3rd round.
Peterson’s only other loss was to Tim Bradley back in 2009, and his draw was against Victor Ortiz a year later, so his most impressive victories are a questionable decision he received versus Amir Khan, and an 8th round TKO over Kendall Holt he scored three months before losing to Matthysse. There are scores of examples of Triangle Theory not working in boxing (Matthysee beat Peterson, Garcia beat Matthysse, so Garcia will beat Peterson isn’t necessarily a valid conclusion when we recall the fights between Ali, Frazier, and Foreman, to give just one example), but in this instance if we account for styles and Peterson’s penchant for going toe-to-toe when he shouldn’t, it’s hard to imagine him winning this fight.
However, if Peterson has the skills and brains to implement Mauricio Herrera’s stick and move game plan that worked so well against Garcia last year, he’s got a chance. I think he has the skill, but I suspect Peterson’s nature will get the best of him and he will exchange with Garcia at close range more often than is healthy. Peterson isn’t a bad fighter at mid-range or inside, but like Matthysse, Garcia is a better one, and a bigger puncher. If Peterson tries to live in the pocket he will most certainly die there.
Garcia (29-0, 17 KO) is strong and heavy-handed, and while he doesn’t do anything spectacularly well, he does everything better than most guys. There are fighters with a bigger punch, better hand speed, quicker feet, better defense, higher ring IQ, etc., but there probably aren’t more than two or three guys at or near his weight class who can legitimately claim to be better than him at all those things, or even most of them. As hard as it is to name a particular strength Garcia possesses, it’s even more difficult to point out a specific weakness.
Peterson will come out looking to box at first, as his cornerman, Barry Hunter, will undoubtedly tell him to, but Peterson doesn’t always follow his trainer’s directions in the ring, and unless he’s able to experience a lot of early, obvious success with a stick-and-move style in the first 3 or 4 rounds, I think he will resort to standing his ground more often and for longer periods than is wise, and Garcia will work his body. Hunter will implore him between rounds to stick to the less engaging style, and Peterson will start some rounds complying, but Garcia’s early and mid-rounds body work will limit Peterson’s lateral movement, and the late rounds will become Garcia’s style of fight. Garcia will score a knockdown in the 10th or 11th round, and Peterson will get up, only to be finished in the 12th when the ref stops the fight as he’s being pounded along the ropes. It will be a big win for Garcia, and a tough loss for Peterson.
I’m much more excited about this fight than the headline bout. The middleweight division is admittedly shallow talent-wise, but Peter Quillin and Andy Lee are the best middleweights not named Gennady Golovkin. Lee’s WBO middleweight title will be on the line, which he obtained last December by knocking out Matt Korobov with a hellacious right hook in the 6th round of a fight Korobov appeared to be dominating. Six months earlier Lee had also KO’d a prospect named John Jackson in the 5th round of a fight Lee was losing, so if anyone can be said to have a “puncher’s chance,” it’s Andy Lee.
Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin (31-0, 22 KO) lost the WBO title he’s trying to regain Saturday when he refused to fight Korobov for a $1.4 million purse last year. It seemed like an odd move, as Korobov wasn’t seen as an especially dangerous opponent and the payday would’ve been (by far) a career high for Quillin. I don’t know what Quillin’s payday is for this fight, but it was speculated that Haymon advised him to drop the belt on the promise that future earnings would be greater than what he gave up when he relinquished his WBO title.
In any case, Quillin’s resume includes the very faded former champions, like Antwun Echols and Winky Wright, and current top 10 contender Hassan N’Dam, and the gutsy trial horse, Gabriel Rosado. Quillin knocked down N’Dam six times in their fight, so he has some pop, but he doesn’t have the one punch KO power Lee has. Regardless, Quillin is a sturdy favorite, as he’s the more overall skilled fighter, though at times he seems to fight down to the level of his opposition, as he was unable to put away the very overmatched and diminutive Lucas Konecny in his previous fight (which was last April), and he had his hands full with Rosado.
Lee (34-2, 24 KO) is a gutsy southpaw whose two losses were to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in 2012 and Brian Vera in 2008. In 2011 he avenged the loss to Vera, and other than that his resume is littered with victories over journeymen. He’s held a few minor titles as a pro before capturing the WBO belt, and represented Ireland in the 2004 Olympics, where he defeated Alfredo Angulo. I wouldn’t quite call Lee a crude slugger, but at 30 years old he is what he is, which is a guy with some skill, a bit of craft, a big punch, and a huge heart. He doesn’t necessarily stand there intentionally taking punishment, but if he has to take some shots to gain a chance to land his own, he’ll do it.
While Quillin is justifiably the favorite, I like the underdog here. Lee isn’t someone to take lightly, and I expect Quillin to come in with some considerable rust, having been out of the ring for an entire year. This will be Lee’s 4th fight in that same time frame, and he’s fresh off a couple of KO victories. I think Lee will come out aggressive early, back Quillin up and make him fight as much on instinct as on skill. If he can catch him with something big early, the undefeated challenger might find himself regretting turning down that payday for the Korobov fight last year. If Quillin had looked particularly good against Konecny or Rosado, I’d be taking him, but Lee’s penchant for pulling off upsets combined with Quillin’s ring rust and lack of impressive recent performances point toward another upset victory for Lee. It seems counterintuitive for a guy with Lee’s punch to win by decision, but I think Lee will win the early rounds, working Quillin’s body along the ropes, Quillin will adapt in the middle rounds and use his superior hand speed to buy a few rounds, but then the bigger man (Lee is 6’2”, Quillin 5’11”) will wear down the challenger by pressing the action and increasing his punch output. Lee will catch Quillin with something in the late rounds, perhaps sending him to the canvas, but at the very least hurting him enough for Quillin to alter his approach, and Lee will win a hard-fought decision.
Hopefully the broadcast team Saturday night will mention Gennady Golovkin’s name as a future opponent for the winner more times than we heard Sergey Kovalev’s name mentioned on last week’s CBS broadcast of the Adonis Stevenson-Sakio Bika fight, which was zero.