Thursday, June 08, 2023  |


Matchmakers assess prospects

Fighters Network

Despite the relative inexperience of Victor Ortiz (pictured), veteran matchmaker Brad Goodman believes the 22-year-old junior welterweight is ready to fight for a world title right now. Photo / Alexis

Before and after their HBO-televised fights from San Jose, Calif., this past Saturday, James Kirkland, Victor Ortiz and Robert Guerrero were billed as future champions and stars of the sport by the heads of Golden Boy Promotions, which recently signed the three standouts.

The trio, who already have another HBO date this summer, according to Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, are obviously talented and have considerable potential given their young age.

However, only two of three are currently recognized as contenders by THE RING. Kirkland, 24, is THE RING's No. 9-rated junior middleweight. Guerrero, 25, is THE RING's No. 10-rated junior lightweight. Ortiz, the youngest and perhaps the most gifted of the trio, is still recognized as a prospect by most publications and boxing writers.

Kirkland and Ortiz might make the undercard of the May 2 Ricky Hatton-Manny Pacquiao pay-per-view event, but their opponents will likely be second-tier fighters at best.

The question fight fans are asking is this: If Kirkland, Guerrero and Ortiz are the future of boxing, how far off is “the future?”

Are they ready for legitimate Top 10 contenders? Are they ready to challenge for major titles?
I asked three matchmakers with no ties to Golden Boy Promotions or the three young fighters for their opinions.

Brad Goodman, who began learning the art of matchmaking under the tutelage of hall-of-fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler at age 16, believes all three youths are ready for the best fighters of their divisions.

“All three of them are ready to go to the next level,” said Goodman, a longtime matchmaker for Top Rank, which developed Ortiz until last year. “I think Ortiz has the ability to go all the way. He can box and he can punch. Guerrero is also a very strong young fighter. Remember how much bigger and stronger he was than his opponents when he fought at featherweight? I think he's still got the size advantage at 130 pounds, and I think the extra weight will make him even stronger.

“Kirkland may be the only guy who's a little iffy because of his defensive lapses. But I think all three are on their way to a world title; Ortiz and Guerrero just might get there a little sooner.”

Joe Quiambao, matchmaker for DiBella Entertainment, agrees that Ortiz and Guerrero have the size and talent to go all the way, but he isn't sure if this is the year based on what happened in the ring this past Saturday.

“It's hard to tell if they are really ready,” said Quiambao, a former amateur boxer. “Guerrero's fight was over before it ever got started because of the cut he received from the headbutt, and as good as Ortiz looked against Mike Arnaoutis, that fight didn't get out of the second round.

“So you have Guerrero, who got a two-round no-decision and before that only went 43 seconds and before that was out of the ring for a year, and you got Ortiz, who went a round and half without getting hit and has been knocking guys out in just a few rounds, and you have to wonder if they have enough quality rounds under their belts to get in there and deal with the adversity that comes with fighting champions and experienced contenders.”

Goodman believes that competitive rounds are what develop fighters outside of the gym, but he doesn't think a young talent like Ortiz should be held back just because he's ending fights early.

“It's a hard thing to figure out,” Goodman said, “but even though Ortiz had a quick night, I'd still move him forward if I was his matchmaker. Arnaoutis was supposed to take Victor rounds. He went rounds with punchers like Urango and Ricardo Torres, so he figured to do the same with Ortiz. But Victor is not just a strong puncher, he's a sharp shooter. If he hits you real good on the button, it's over.

“Arnaoutis was an experienced guy with a difficult style. I give Victor credit for knocking him out. If I were his managers or Golden Boy, I wouldn't worry about his stamina. When I was doing his fights, and I think I did his first 22 fights, I never saw anything that made me think that he would slow down after the early rounds. Look at his record; he had a few eight-round decisions and he had no problems going that distance. Victor fought a 10-rounder against Emmanuel Clottey back in August of 2007 and he stopped him with one or two seconds left in the 10th round. He never showed signs of fatigue in that fight, so I don't think he needs to go rounds to prove his stamina.”

Kirkland, who ruthlessly wore down former title challenger Joel Julio over six rounds last Saturday, doesn't have to answer any questions about his stamina.

Chris Middendorf, the former matchmaker for Gary Shaw Productions, signed Kirkland to Shaw when the Texan was 7-0 and then made the fighter's next dozen fights.

The veteran matchmaker, who currently works with TKO Boxing, 'Let's Get It On' Promotions and Ballroom Boxing, says if he were still making Kirkland's fights, he wouldn't hesitate to put him in the ring with the best fighters of the 154-pound division.

“I considered Joel Julio a contender, and the way Kirkland beat him let me know that he's ready for just about anyone,” said Middendorf. “I recall the day of the first fight I made for him. I was sitting around the small lobby of the hotel in North Carolina and in walks Ann Wolfe with James. I asked her what they were doing and she told me that they were doing what they always do the day of a fight; they were going on a 5-mile run.

“You can question her methods and you can question Kirkland's skill, but the fact of the matter is that she made him a beast. I don't think there are a lot of world-class fighters who want to fight Kirkland. But I'd like to see him in with (WBC titleholder) Vernon Forrest. I like his chances in that fight.”

Goodman is also high on Kirkland.

“I'm a fan of his,” Goodman said. “You gotta love a guy with no fear in the ring, but he's got shaky defense, so that is the one thing to worry about with him.”

However, even with his defensive lapses, Goodman believes Kirkland is at least a live underdog against the titleholders of his division.

“He's the kind of guy who, even if he fights a slick boxer, his relentless pressure is going to give them problems. The only guys who are going to give Kirkland problems are guys who can box and punch. Those are the dangerous guys for him. I've seen him wobbled by punches before, but not seriously hurt. I think he's got a solid chin. He handled Julio's punches, and Julio can punch.”

Quiambao also likes Kirkland, but he doesn't think the southpaw pressure fighter is ready for the likes of Forrest.

“I think he needs to take on someone between Julio's level and Forrest's level,” he said. “He should fight a young, undefeated tiger like himself, a prospect who is in similar place in his career, like Joe Greene, or a former champ like Carlos Quintana.

“They shouldn't put Kirkland in with Vernon Forrest or a fast and mobile guy like Sergio Martinez, yet. If he is what they think he is, a guy like Quintana will test him and he will learn from that experience. Quintana had a good amateur background and has been in with everybody as a pro. Kirkland's people have seen what he can do. They know he can box and that he has heart, but they've also seen him get knocked out. It's a crossroads fight, a winnable fight for both fighters. If I'm someone who wants to see where the kid really is, that's the kind of fight I'd make.

“Greene is a test because he's an undefeated fighter,” Quiambao continued. “He doesn't think he can lose. I'm sure Kirkland has seen Greene and figures he can beat him, and I'm sure Greene thinks the same thing about Kirkland. That's an entertaining fight because they fight the same way. You know someone is going to get knocked out.

“But the Quintana fight is probably the better move for Kirkland because of the skill and experience Carlos brings. If he can beat Quintana he might be ready for a title. It depends on how he beats him. If he dominates Quintana, he's ready for the elite. He's ready for (Daniel) Santos, Forrest, and Sergio (Martinez). If he struggles, or looks bad, or gets a draw, then no, he's not ready. If he loses, it's back to the drawing board.”

More than a few fans and members of the media believe that Guerrero, who suffered a nasty cut in the second round of his fight with unheralded Daud Yordan and opted not to continue after visiting the ringside physician, needs to go back to the drawing board.

Goodman doesn't agree but admits that following Guerrero can be a bit frustrating at times.

“He's one of these guys who has a lot of talent but gets into these mental lapses,” Goodman said. “In one fight he puts it all together and he looks like a world beater, and then the next fight he has a lapse of concentration and starts getting hit and fighting sloppy.

“It's too bad about the cut because it looked like Yordan was going to turn their bout into a real solid fight.”

Unlike Ortiz, Goodman believes that Guerrero, who has fought less than two rounds in the past 12 months, could use some ring work before stepping up the level of his competition.

“I think he needs some rounds against a durable guy,” Goodman said. “However, even if you put him in with someone you think is tough, he can always knock a guy out with one shot, like he did Edel Ruiz in January. Robert's a real good puncher.

“On paper you think you can give guys like Guerrero, Ortiz and Kirkland rounds, but it's to their credit that they can make it short night because of their power.”

Goodman says he wouldn't count Guerrero out against the titleholders of his division because of his power, even if he fought them in his next fight.

“I absolutely think Guerrero can win a world title this year,” he said. “I would pick him to beat the winner of the Nicky Cook-Rocky Martinez fight (for the WBO 130-pound title). I'd like to see him fight (WBC beltholder) Humberto Soto; that's a hell of a fight. I don't know who wins that one, but it's an intriguing fight because both guys can punch.

“I would favor (WBA titleholder) Jorge Linares to beat Guerrero, because I think he's the best of the 130-pound group, but I think Guerrero's competitive with anyone.”

Goodman thinks the same of 22-year-old Ortiz.

“I wouldn't hesitate putting Victor in with (WBA 140-pound titleholder Andreas) Kotelnik. He has that difficult European style, but he's not a big puncher. I think Victor is a bigger, stronger guy who can bully Kotelnik. I also think Victor is faster than Kotelnik and can beat him to the punch.

“(WBC beltholder Timothy) Bradley may be the toughest matchup for Victor in the 140-pound division. Bradley looked good beating an experienced southpaw (Junior Witter) in England last year. He's a strong guy; I think he can match Victor's physical strength. He's also got good speed. He's not a knockout puncher, but he can punch pretty good and he's able rough guys up on the inside. I haven't seen anyone rough up Victor up yet, so I don't know how he would handle that.”

“(IBF titleholder Juan) Urango is another tough fight for Victor. He's limited, but he's durable and he's a tremendous puncher. I would stay away from him if I was moving Ortiz.”

Although Goodman, Middendorf and Quiambao don't agree on whether Kirkland, Guerrero and Ortiz are ready to fight for world titles this year, their consensus opinion is that that all three youngsters are ready to step up their competition and take the next step in their careers.

That's good news for the sport.

“I don't do the matchmaking for Kirkland anymore but I'm still a fan of his,” Middendorf said. “If you love boxing, you love watching Kirkland fight. I think he'll go all the way, but even if he doesn't, win or lose, he's going to be exciting. People are going to want to tune in whenever he fights.”

“All three guys are good for boxing,” Quiambao added. “Kirkland is all action, Guerrero sells tickets, and Ortiz is a good-looking kid who knocks guys out and then says all the right things. I listen to Ortiz talk after his fights and I notice how respectful he is of his opponents, and I think 'That's how it should be done; that's what other young fighters should do.'”

Doug Fischer's column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected]