Monday April 6th, 2009

All that was really known about Valero before Saturday night's showdown with Antonio Pitalua was that he: a) had staggering knock-out power, b) had showcased that power against relatively inferior competition, and c) was only able to fight in Texas because of lingering concerns about his 2001 brain surgery. But after dispatching Pitalua in less than two rounds and claiming the vacant WBC title, there is no question that Valero (25-0, 25 KOs) has positioned himself as a player in the loaded lightweight division.

However, I don't think Valero is quite ready for universally recognized lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez. The new champ exposes his chin too much when he comes forward, leaving him wide open for heavy shots from an elite counter-puncher like Marquez, and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer said that Marquez is looking at bigger fights against Manny Pacquiao, Ricky Hatton or Floyd Mayweather Jr. But a step up in competition is definitely in order for Valero. One possibility is fellow power-puncher Michael Katsidis, who revived his own career Saturday with a TKO victory over Jesus Chavez. Grade: A

Give Bradley credit. After being dropped by a picture-perfect left hook from Kendall Holt in the first round of their junior welterweight unification fight Saturday, Bradley regrouped and stormed to a convincing decision victory. The busier fighter for virtually every round, Bradley (24-0) put constant pressure on Holt inside and, despite never seeming to hurt Holt, he undoubtedly took his spirit with the relentless assault. Speculation before the fight had the winner challenging either Pacquiao or Hatton at the end of the year, but I don't believe Bradley is ready for that yet. Holt was awful (see below) and Bradley was still knocked down twice and backed up by Holt's jab. A rematch, in which the major networks would assuredly be interested, wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for either fighter. Grade: B

The fact that Vitali Tsypko is vastly overrated (why was he in a title elimination fight to begin with?) has a lot to do with Andrade's mediocre grade, despite his unanimous-decision victory. I just wasn't that impressed with Andrade's performance; he dropped Tsypko in the second and seventh rounds, but the reality was that Tsypko was so inept and so timid in this fight that Andrade probably should have ended it a lot sooner.

Instead, Andrade will enter his anticipated rematch with IBF champion Lucian Bute (their first fight was a wide decision victory for Bute that Andrade nearly stole after battering Bute in the 12th round) with the same questions hanging over his head: Can he box with the more skilled Bute? Will his power be enough to overwhelm the champ before the 12th round? With the rematch likely to go down in the fall, we won't have to wait long to find out. Grade: C

For some reason, watching Holt fight reminded me of watching Clippers forward Zach Randolph play. Bear with me: Randolph is one of the NBA's most premiere low post presences, but every so often he will drift outside and start launching three-pointers. And opposing coaches pray that he makes them. Why? Because it virtually guarantees that Randolph will take several more. And that's not his game.

Similarly, when Holt scored a first round knockdown of Bradley, it caused him to break from his game plan. Holt got cocky. He strutted around the ring, abandoned his jab and was content to look for that one punch that would knock out Bradley. It never came. Meanwhile, Bradley kept accumulating rounds until Holt's only option was to go for the knockout. If Holt had just stuck to his game plan and thrown that stinging jab and counterpunched with the aggressive Bradley, he probably would have won the fight. He may have even KO'd Bradley. Instead, Holt lost a wide decision that would have been even more lopsided had he not scored a 12th-round knockdown. Holt called for a rematch after the fight, but Bradley is under no obligation to give him one. Face it, Kendall: you blew it. Grade: D

Did Diaz not take Rolando Reyes seriously? I know Reyes was a last-minute replacement for Joel Casamayor, but Diaz didn't show his opponent any respect throughout this fight. And he paid for it. After muddling through four uneventful rounds, Diaz, a former 135-pound titleholder, was dropped twice in the fifth round before the referee waved off the fight.

Afterwards, Diaz had the audacity to suggest that his training was compromised by the switch from Casamayor to Reyes. Huh? Unless Diaz had a comprehensive strategy to beat Casamayor that was not applicable at all to Reyes, that's a pathetic excuse. With two knock-out losses in his last four fights, Diaz faces a steep climb back to contender status. Grade: F

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