The second big weekend of heavyweight boxing this month arrives with a headlining WBC title fight between Vitali Klitschko and Kevin Johnson and several other fights featuring Top 100 fighters.
#2 Vitali Klitschko (38-2, 37 KO) vs. #29 Kevin Johnson (22-0-1, 9 KO) (Berne, Switzerland)
This is obviously the big one, held in Switzerland and shown by HBO on tape delay Saturday night. Though undefeated, "Kingpin" Johnson is given little chance in this bout mainly due to lack of experience against top fighters. Klitschko is a +1800 favorite while Johnson is a +750 underdog; converted to percentages this gives Johnson about an 11% chance to pull off the upset.
In some ways it will be like a man used to dealing with housecats being thrown in with a lion, but Johnson has good skills and so far has proven to be sturdy. We don't give him much of a chance to win, either, but could see him being the second person to go the distance in a losing bout. His reach and jab could enable him to fight on the outside against Vitali, which is normally a terrible idea, but Johnson's sideways stance could protect him from taking damage during the fight, and this would enable him to stay in the fight past the 8 to 10 round mark where previous Klitschko opponents Peter, Gomez, and Arreola gave up or were stopped.
But Johnson's résumé as a fighter does little to indicate that he has the ability or power to win the contest. His best victory is probably a KO over Devin Vargas, a smaller heavyweight who was undefeated at 17-0 and currently ranks #89. Other than that none of his victims are currently in the top 100, though in only his 4th professional fight he drew with #44 Timur Ibragimov in 4 rounds; this was five years ago and Ibragimov was just 13-0 at the time but it showed Johnson had potential.
A few months after the Ibragimov draw Johnson beat Robert Wiggins, then ranked #105, in 8 rounds and jumped into the SportsRatings Heavyweight Top 100 for the first time at #58. It was over a year before he had another significant opponent in #143 Robert Hawkins in March, 2006, in another 8 round unanimous decision. He stayed busy after that and in December beat #178 Charles Davis for his 13th win, putting him in the top 50.
Johnson fought five times in 2007, beating #114 Ron Guerrero, #130 Damian Wills, and #372 Jermell Barnes to inch into the top 30. In 2008 he beat #205 Terry Smith as well as the aging Bruce Seldon who was no longer ranked at the time, and unheralded Matthew Greer. This year he's fought just once, the win over Vargas, who wasn't yet ranked despite being 17-0. As mentioned, Vargas is now #89, making him the highest ranked of Johnson's current victims, along with the Ibragimov draw. Johnson inched as high as #23 in the rankings before beginning to slide due to inactivity, which in his case means he hasn't fought a rated fighter in a year and a half (though this is perhaps unfair as Vargas is currently ranked).
Without having fought an opponent who was in the top 100 at the time, Johnson is going to face a very different situation when he gets in the ring with perhaps the best fighter of this era. Klitschko's last three post-comeback opponents were all much more experienced, even Arreola. He doesn't have the KO ability of Arreola or Peter (though he claims he was holding back on purpose in his early fights), his ability to take a punch seems sound but is untested, and his boxing skills perhaps aren't the equal of Gomez'. His main advantage is his reach, and the fact that he's somewhat of an unknown quantity. Know one is quite sure how good he is, but if he's really good, we'll find out on Saturday.
Other action: Ustinov/Barrett, Guinn/Davis, Banks, Maskaev
- #45 Alexander Ustinov (18-0 15KO) vs. #145 Monte Barrett (34-8) (in Berne, Switzerland)
Up and coming fighter Alex Ustinov takes on gatekeeper/journeyman Monte Barrett on the Klitscko-Johnson undercard. Ustinov is 6' 7" and 300 lbs and is a former kickboxer. While not athletic like the Klitschkos he's much more mobile than the other Russian Giant, Valuev, and has an aggressive, pummeling style; a win would move him into the top 30. Barrett lost his last two bouts by KO, but both were to quality fighters, David Haye and Odlanier Solis. If he loses this one as expected it will be interesting to see how long he will continue to be a true "gatekeeper" for title hopefuls. A shock win by Barrett would put him back in the top 100 and keep him around a while longer but Ustinov shows little indication of being another Tye Fields.
- #91 Dominick Guinn (31-6-1) vs. #206 Charles Davis (19-17-2) (in Chicago, Illinois)
Guinn is enjoying something of a career renaissance after suffering all six of his losses in an 11 fight span. He's won three straight, knocking out Jean Bergeron (only his 2nd loss) in two rounds, decisioning massive Gabe Brown, and most recently handing Johnnie White his first-ever loss in 22 fights with a first-round TKO. All of this has put Guinn back in the top 100 for the first time in years. His opponent, Davis, is on a comeback trail of sorts, too; after 9 straight losses knocked him out of the rating system completely, Davis drew with Bermane Stiverne, then defeated Arron Lyons and Elieser Castillo. It wasn't enough to put him back in the top 200 even, but it's better than 9 straight losses. Davis probably is out of his league against Guinn, who has lost mostly to current top 100 fighters.
- #59 Johnathon Banks (22-1 15 KO) vs. Marcel Zeller (22-5 21 KO) (Berne, Switzerland)
Another heavyweight fight on the Klitschko undercard, Johnathan Banks takes on unrated Marcel Zeller. Banks has beaten two heavyweights (current #370 Paul Butlin and #170 Javier Mora) since moving up from cruiserweight where he lost to Tomasz Adamek (currently #56 HW). Banks shouldn't have much trouble with Zeller, who isn't great but always gives his all: in addition to winning 21 of 22 by stoppage, he's also lost 4 of 5 the same way.
- #16 Oleg Maskaev (36-6) vs. Nagy Aguilera (14-2) (Sacramento, CA, on December 11)
Maskaev continues his comeback from the Sam Peter loss with another tuneup as he hope to get a title shot soon. Fights like this one aren't likely to convince anyone that the aging fighter deserves consideration, however.
- #64 Fres Oquendo vs. #146 Franklin Lawrence - cancelled
This would have been a decent addition to an active weekend for heavyweights but the fight has apparently been cancelled.