The inclusion of Filipinos Michael Farenas and Mercito Gesta on the Manny Pacquiao – Juan Manuel Marquez 4 card at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas tonight does not create the same level of fervor that is typically generated by today's top two fighters out of the Philippines ("Pacman" Pacquiao and "The Filipino Flash" Nonito Donaire). After an absence of over a year from the ring, we shall see if former featherweight champion Yuriorkis Gamboa will instead be able to provide the heat as he takes on Farenas for the interim WBA super featherweight title on the undercard of tonight's HBO pay-per-view broadcast.
Gamboa (21-0, 16 KO's), a Cuban amateur standout and 2004 Olympic gold medalist, was once considered one of the most promising talents in the sport with his speed, hand power and athleticism. Unfortunately, there has been a steady decline in his activity since winning his first featherweight title in 2009, with this being his first fight in 2012 after fighting only twice in 2011 and three times in 2010. Rather than building his professional career inside of the ring, the 30-year old Gamboa was potentially destroying it by waging promotional and contract battles with Top Rank.
He now returns with SMS Promotions, the newly formed company led by rapper 50 Cent, and claims he has been working diligently in the gym throughout the entire layoff. Gamboa is an efficient and well-rounded fighter who generally prefers to use his legs, work from the outside and throw quick shots in spurts, yet he suffers from being overly confident and comfortable at times. This has caused him to be somewhat undisciplined in his defense and vulnerable to getting hit when he is aggressive and goes on the attack.
Although the extent to which Gamboa's gym work alone has improved the over-confidence issue is questionable, it is quite unlikely that Farenas (34-3-4, 26 KO's) will be able to exploit it. This particular Filipino stands straight up, does not provide angles, has a weak jab, is rather slow in his punch delivery and doesn't apply much in the way of pressure. Farenas does not have the tools to disrupt even the most comfortable Gamboa. The one area that could become problematic is the potential for headbutts. The southpaw Farenas has a history of accidental headbutts, with three of his four draws the result of early round stoppages due to cuts.
After three consecutive fights against traditional Mexican fighters in Orlando Salido, Jorge Solis and Daniel Ponce De Leon, this should be a good fight for Gamboa to ease back into relevance and claim a second division title in the process.
The other Filipino on the card, 25-year old Gesta (26-0-1,14 KO's), is getting his first title shot against IBF lightweight champion Miguel Vazquez (32-3, 13 KO's). Gesta can be explosive when he wants to be, but that doesn't occur with enough regularity or consistency. To this point in his career, he has faced opposition where he has been able to get away with a somewhat cavalier style rather than going to work and winning impressively. This was evident in his last fight against Ty Barnett.
That said, Gesta's explosiveness should be the difference against Vazquez who is not the typical come-forward Mexican fighter. The champion prefers to box and counterpunch, constantly circling and keeping a distance on the outside. At 5'10" and a 72" reach, Vazquez has a 3" height and 4" reach advantage over the Filipino and far more experience, taking Canelo Alvarez the distance twice in two decision losses and losing on points to Timothy Bradley.
Gesta must look to overwhelm the veteran by getting inside, being aggressive, keeping busy and letting his hands go consistently. Vazquez's lack of power and wide punches that are launched from his waist offset the risk of Gesta getting countered with a shot that would get him into any serious trouble. This is a fight that Gesta should win if he does not cavalierly try to coast to a decision against an opponent who knows how to score points without engaging or taking too much risk.
If all else fails, featherweight sensation Javier Fortuna (20-0, 15 KO's) can be relied upon to provide the fever and the flash. With all but one of his knockout victories coming within the first two rounds, the southpaw Fortuna is a devastating puncher with a blinding left hook. As with most young fighters who score early knockouts, the 23-year old from the Dominican Republic has not been tested and there are questions surrounding how he will respond when in a tough, competitive fight. He has a tendency to circle his lead right when lining up a punch and can get a little wild when he goes in for the kill. Thus far, he has always been able to finish off his victims but he might have more difficulty doing so against world-class fighters.
Fortuna gets his first title shot tonight for the interim WBA featherweight strap against Patrick Hyland (27-0, 12 KO's), a former Irish featherweight champion and Ireland's boxing record holder for most consecutive wins to start a professional career. The gritty Hyland is looking to take his young opponent into the late rounds and provide the kind of physical fight that will test Fortuna. Hyland has a tight high guard and throws an excellent left hook to the body which may take some steam from Fortuna if he stays in the pocket as he generally likes to do, therefore movement will be important for the Dominican.
Given the high guard and brawling style of Hyland, Fortuna may also need to rely upon a different variety of punches beyond his signature left hook, particularly uppercuts and body shots. While he may be challenged and forced to be more versatile, the expectation is that Fortuna will emerge victorious and become another threat in the highly talented featherweight division.
Whatever happens, hopefully the highlight of tomorrow night's undercard action will not involve 50 Cent and/or Hyland co-promoter, TV reality star Snooki.
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