While the rest of the boxing world is focused on Manny vs. Mosley, fans of the heavyweight division have another Prizefighter heavyweight tournament to look forwards to.
Though it's still the most loaded of the five heavyweight tourneys, it could have been great. The original lineup featured 8 fighters in the SportsRatings Top 250, and 3 in the Top 100. After pullouts by Juan Carlos Gomez, Kevin Johnson, and Fres Oquendo, there are still 6 in the top 250 and one top 100 fighter—the undefeated prospect Mike Perez.
Replacing Gomez is undefeated but unranked Lucien Bot (14-0-1); Johnson was replaced by #305 Evgeny Orlov (13-8-1); and Oquendo's replacement is #182 Kertson Manswell (20-1).
Manswell will face #41 Mike Perez (13-0-0). Though Manswell has just one loss, he doesn't really have more than a couple of notable wins, and has little experience against good fighters. Oquendo would have provided a seasoned test for Perez, who should beat Manswell without much difficulty. Manswell does stand 6' 4", 4 inches taller than Perez, his only advantage in the fight.
Orlov will face #128 Gregory Tony (14-1), whose resumé is similar to Manswell's—a loss against the only really good fighter (Robert Helenius) he faced. But that's better than Orlov's record, which includes many losses against both good and bad opponents. Again, Orlov's advantage is his size; he is 6' 9" and occasionally north of 300 pounds, and could give Tony problems in a 3-round fight.
The only matchup which stayed constant is probably the best of the first round, as #210 Michael Sprott (36-15-0) takes on #138 Tye Fields (45-3-0). Like Orlov, Fields is a giant (6' 8", 275 or so), he's a better fighter than Orlov. Still, his record is enormously padded and only roughly a dozen or so of his 45 wins are over 'name' fighters. He recently lost to Michael Grant, while Sprott has had mixed success lately: he won almost all of his fight against Audley Harrison before succumbing to a 1-punch knockout in the final seconds, but bounced back to win the last heavyweight Prizefighter tourney. In a 3-round fight, Sprott has a clear boxing advantage and just has to avoid Fields' big shots.
Finally, the undefeated Bot faces #245 Konstantine Airich (16-3-2). Airich is only 2-3-2 in rated wins and recently lost to the struggling Gbenga Oloukun, but Bot barely beat Pavel Dolgavs (now 8-14-1) in his last fight a year ago. This is the worst of the first round matches and the winner is very likely to fall in the second round anyway.
The favorite Perez may have to prove he can beat several tall fighters if things shape up a certain way. After beating Manswell, he could face Orlov and then Fields, a true valley of the giants with an average height of 6' 7" among the three. But more likely he will face Tony in round 2, and then Sprott. The aging Sprott won't be able to keep up with Perez, who is very active in the early rounds and is the fighter best suited to a 3-round format. Fields is usually agressive, too, so the format isn't bad for him, either. But he has little or no defense and if he somehow beats Sprott, then reaches the final, Perez will probably overwhelm him the way Monte Barrett did.
It's too bad Oquendo, Gomez, and Johnson pulled out, or we could have seen a number of very high-profile heavyweight fights. Perez would have had to defeat all three most likely to claim the title. He will probably earn the Prizefighter title today, but it will be a lot less impressive than if the original slate had remained, and rather than a likely Perez-Sprott clash we might have seen a Johnson-Gomez final.
The tournament is on Sky Sports 1 in the UK and on the internet at www.liveprizefighter.tv. The fights are scheduled to start at 10:00pm UK time, which is 5:00 Eastern time. Apparently it started at 4:00 eastern, whatever.