May 20, 2009

From Floyd Mayweather's return, to Bernard Hopkins' possible departure,'s boxing experts weigh in on the latest news in the ring.

1. Floyd Mayweather is set to face Juan Manuel Marquez on July 18. What do you make of this fight?

CHRIS MANNIX: You have to give Floyd credit: he could have taken a tune-up fight against a C-list fighter like Paulie Malignaggi, shaken the rust off for 12 rounds and still pocketed $10 million. Instead, he's taking a significant risk by ending a 17-month layoff against one of the most skilled technical fighters in the sport in Marquez, whose best performances have been his most recent ones.

This fight should come down to power. Does Mayweather have enough of power to put down Marquez? He did against Ricky Hatton, who walked straight into a steady barrage of Floyd's counterpunches. The danger with Marquez is that he, too, is a counterpuncher, and a pretty good one at that. If Marquez is able to build an early lead on the scorecards and force Mayweather to be more aggressive, Marquez could pile up points in the later rounds and steal a decision. But if Marquez gets reckless, or if the jump from lightweight to welterweight proves to be too much, Mayweather should be able to put him on his back.

RICHARD O'BRIEN: After more than a year and a half away from the ring, most guys might opt to shake the rust off against someone who wasn't, y'know, one of the four or five best fighters in the world. But then, Floyd isn't most guys. Or, at least, the Floyd we last saw wasn't. The question is how much, if any, Mayweather has lost during his "retirement."

At 32, Mayweather's still young, and he's always been a gym rat, so he figures to be in shape. And lord knows he's never taken too much punishment. But Mayweather's make-'em-miss-and-make-'em-pay style depends on superb timing, and that's often the element that's hardest to reclaim after a long layoff.

BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: Do I think Marquez is capable of giving Mayweather a tough, crafty fight? Sure. To me, that's kind of the point. Floyd knows people want to see him lose. Maybe he looks a little vulnerable against Marquez. Good. More people will think he'll lose against Manny Pacquiao -- and more people will pay to see it. That's what Mayweather is counting on, that people will forget he was walking over people before he left.

But it's a safer fight than it seems: Marquez, who's never fought above 135 pounds, has yet to face an opponent who's not only bigger, but probably faster, too. Marquez's counterpunching helped him against Pacquiao, but Floyd doesn't give anybody an opportunity to counterpunch. Marquez is going to get hit a lot in the early rounds. He'll catch up to Floyd's timing in the middle rounds, but won't have enough pop to finish it late. I see Floyd winning a comfortable decision and fighting Pacquiao in November or December.

2. Andre Ward looked impressive in his first high profile fight, dismantling Edison Miranda. Is Ward a future star in the super middleweight division?

MANNIX: Ward looked fast and strong through most of the fight, and though I would have liked to have seen him drop Miranda the way Kelly Pavlik did in 2007, I can't knock the result. But a future star? I'm still not sure.

Ward has been coddled for most of his career. He's been matched against mostly tomato cans who haven't put up much of a fight. Beating Miranda was a step forward but Ward needs a few more recognizable names on his resume before we deify him. Two names I think Ward should be looking hard at for later this year: WBC 168-pound champion Carl Froch, and Jermain Taylor, who had Froch dead to rights last month before he ran out of gas in the 12th round. Beat either of those two, and we'll talk again.

O'BRIEN: Yes, Ward looked good against Miranda. He showed composure and a wide range of skills. It was a fine "coming out party," as Ward himself put it. But that's all it was. Despite his proclamations, Ward is not ready for Froch or even Mikkel Kessler. And that's okay. Ward is just 25 and has had a mere 19 pro fights. Clearly, his promoter, Dan Goossen, has been careful about rushing his prospect along (some have said too careful). Now is not the time to change that approach.

GRAHAM: For all the guff over Ward's resume, it's not like people are rushing to fight him. After Froch's dramatic victory over Taylor in April, the Englishman chose to call out Joe Calzaghe -- a guy who's comfortably retired -- instead of giving Ward a mention. That says something. I'd rank Ward among the top six or seven fighters in the robust super middleweight division, among the likes of Kessler, Lucian Bute, Librado Andrade, Froch and Taylor. Ward will own a world title by the end of the year and should be a player at 168 pounds for years to come.

3. Chad Dawson soundly beat Antonio Tarver in their rematch but no one seems to be impressed. What does Dawson need to do to become a star?

MANNIX: Is there any fighter more maddening than Dawson? The guy has electrifying skills and the physique that suggests there is power behind his punches. But he fades late in fights and doesn't seem to understand that emphatic knockouts get the headlines, not dull 12-round decisions.

There's no reason Dawson shouldn't be able to correct either of those problems. He has admitted that his late round struggles are a concern and he has sworn to work on them before his next fight. And if he follows up his surgical combinations with a few more power shots he should be able to secure more knockouts. But every time I talk to Dawson I get the feeling he doesn't believe he needs the big KO to jump to the next level. He thinks just winning will get him there. Dawson doesn't seem to understand that the big names (BernardHopkins, specifically) won't touch him if he doesn't bring some money to the table and he will never be a big money fighter until he starts laying people out.

O'BRIEN: First of all, Dawson against Tarver was not a rematch I was salivating over. But, even with low expectations, it was something of a disappointment. Even Dawson's own promoter, Gary Shaw, was put off by his fighter's lack of, well, gumption. As the always-blunt Shaw put it, "Chad was in a defensive posture when he needed to be in an offensive posture." That pretty much says it, as far as I'm concerned.

GRAHAM: Dawson might not be a household name but he's certainly broken through as far as boxing fans are concerned. Simply put, the undefeated 26-year-old is the star of the light heavyweight division. To achieve crossover stardom, he's got to fight a recognizable name. But who? Calzaghe is gone. Hopkins is a lion in winter, Froch might consider moving up to 175, Roy Jones is out there. But if Dawson can't get a name, the next best thing is simple enough: fight more often and keep winning.

4. Bernard Hopkins says that if he can't get a fight he wants by June, he will retire. Should he?

MANNIX: I don't think Hopkins wants to retire. I think he is royally ticked off at Roy Jones for blowing the Calzaghe fight (and thereby setting up a long-anticipated rematch with Hopkins) and even more upset at Calzaghe for not giving him a another shot after Welshman took a close decision victory over Hopkins last year. But I also think Hopkins has resigned himself to the fact that there is no opponent out there enticing enough to get his 44-year-old body into a training camp. Dawson doesn't interest him, he inexplicably low-balled cruiserweight champion Tomasz Adamek, and no network wants to see a Jones fight.

Hopkins should walk away. His broadcasting career has promise, and as a promoter, he has the opportunity to shape the careers of dozens of young fighters. And he can say he went out on top. His destruction of Kelly Pavlik was one of the single most impressive performances I have ever seen and there is no reason Hopkins should ruin that exit by taking a fight his heart isn't into.

O'BRIEN: For my money, B-Hop can do anything he damn well pleases. If he fights again, I'll be there to watch. If he retires, I'll enjoy the farewell speech (or, OK, at least the first hour of it) and cheer him off the stage. The man has earned the right to close it out on his terms. That said, if he does fight again, I hope that the ever-shrewd Hopkins is discerning in his choice of an opponent. His dismantling of Pavlik was a brilliant and thrilling performance, but Pavlik was tailor-made for B-Hop. Now there's talk of a Hopkins fight against British 168-pound champ Froch. I think Hopkins sees Froch as another Pavlik, but Froch brings more angles and urgency than Pavlik; he could be a bit more troublesome. And, impossible as it seems, even B-Hop has to get old one of these days. Still, I think he has one more masterpiece in him.

GRAHAM: Even at 44, Hopkins can be competitive against whoever's in front of him. The longtime middleweight champ still fights at a very high level, regardless of wins and losses, so there's no reason Hopkins should stop fighting if he wants to keep competing. Sure, the idea of moving up to fight Adamek for a title in a third weight division would go a long way toward crystallizing his legacy as, among many other things, the greatest fighter ever over 40.

But because of Hopkins' selectivity at this point in his career, there's a good chance we may have already seen "The Executioner's" last fight. And I'd still rate him very high among history's all-time great fighters.

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