Boxing
Musing aloud: IBF misgivings, Hopkins-Jones excitement
Lyle Fitzsimmons


By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


Ocala, FL (Sports Network) - I know. It's only Thursday.

But it's already been a tough week.

On Saturday, it was tough leaving my almost two-year-old son at his grandparents' house near Knoxville - for his first overnight stay away from Mom and Dad.

On Sunday, it was tough leaving Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, having just watched my beloved New York Jets and their 11-point second-quarter lead fizzle at the whim of Peyton Manning - setting up a somber and rainy post-game drive back to the little guy in Tennessee.

And on Monday, it was tough hanging around the waiting room at a Walmart in beautiful downtown Cartersville, Ga., where I'd been ferried via tow truck after a right-front sidewall inconveniently gave way during the reunited family's 600-mile caravan back to paradise in North Florida.

So by Tuesday morning, when I arose and realized several esteemed colleagues had chosen the exact same topic I'd planned to do my feature piece about later in the week, I didn't have enough angst left over to produce a grunt.

Fact is, folks...I'm pretty much out.

So, rather than recycling another 1,000 words worth of indignation about Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Bob Arum until it's warranted by new events, I decided to use the platform this time around to simply toss a few random things against the wall to see how strongly they stick.

Gentlemen, start your message boards.

Item 1: Pablo Navascues, Billy Lyell and the IBF

While it's not often marching out a 21-7 journeyman as a substitute challenger in a 160-pound championship fight could be considered an improvement for a sanctioning body, it just might be the case this week for the clearly middleweight-challenged folks in East Orange.

When Ohio second banana and iffy No. 14 contender Lyell toes the line against dubious incumbent champion Sebastian Sylvester this weekend in Germany, he'll do so as a fill-in for embattled Spaniard Navascues, the No. 15 who lost his chance by testing positive for a banned substance.

And as questionable as Lyell's chops - three straight Ws since a wide loss to Vanes Martirosyan and five of six since a fifth-round TKO against 35-12 David Lopez, not to mention KO losses to James Kirkland and Charles Whittaker since 2006 - Navascues clearly did little to warrant the shot to begin with.

The 34-year-old "Hurricane" blew into championship contention on all of a one- fight win streak, outpointing 28-33-1 trialhorse Mike Algoet over six rounds in October after going 10 even rounds with 41-year-old Javier Castillejo to end a two-year layoff in April.

The work rate before the break was barely more inspiring, with 16 of 23 wins coming against sub-.500 opponents and seven others featuring such notable never-weres as Andrei Pestriaev (29-7), Christian Bladt (29-5-1) and Miguel Angel Pena (25-11-4).

Lest we forget a two-round TKO loss to Paata Kikushvili - he of the 1-10 career mark.

For my money anyway, the Lyell-Navascues combo becomes an automatic frontrunner for 2010's most under-qualified title challenger award - a promotion that ironically comes in spite of insistent and tired defenses of the status quo from e-mailers and fans.

Hard to imagine why the IBO is such a polarizing proposition for change when the so-called "established" and "legitimate" organizations continue to march out such laughable flotsam and jetsam to challenge for their supposedly higher-echelon championship belts.

Incidentally...Navascues and Lyell were ranked 26th and 30th by the IBO in December.

Free your mind, folks.

Item 2: I love Hopkins-Jones

Trust me, I know the general consensus. Fans hear that 45-year-old Bernard and 41-year-old Roy are still planning to get together this April in Vegas - in spite of Roy's recent one-round beatdown at the fists of Danny Green - and they get annoyed.

They question the promoter's sanity. They question the fighters' sanity.

They plead for Jones' health.

And they moan aloud over and over about how much damage the matchup will do to legacies and how far they'll go out of their way to ignore it when fight night finally arrives at Mandalay Bay.

Well, I've got news for you folks...I'll be there with bells on.

It's for competitive reasons. It's for sentimental reasons.

And it's because I've got a long memory.

In fact, the more shots I hear taken at this fight the more I recall another repeat matchup of two legends - one of whom was still going strong and the other who was considered well past his prime and primed for a dangerous hammering.

Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns II. June 6, 1989.

Still one of the most compelling events I can recall.

Those in my age bracket remember a familiar pre-rematch drum beat, how a still-reigning Leonard would put a convincing period on the fading career of Hearns - who'd been dusted by Hagler and Barkley and barely got past James Kinchen in his previous eight fights.

Fast-forward 21 years and Ray/Tommy becomes Bernard/Roy.

Some still argue Hopkins is the best in the business on the strength of routs of Kelly Pavlik and Antonio Tarver and zero clear-cut losses since Jones won a wide verdict in their first go-round at middleweight 17 years ago in Washington, D.C.

Jones, on the other hand, has heard only fleeting applause since a 49-1 start through 2003 devolved to a 5-5 encore triggered by a stunning two-round KO by Tarver in the second of their three fights in 2004.

The smart money says Bernard wins easily.

The smart money said the same thing about Leonard.

Reason enough to pay attention this time around, too.

Jones by decision.

* * * * * * * * * *

This week's title-fight schedule:

FRIDAY

WBA light heavyweight title - Las Vegas, Nev.

Gabriel Campillo (champion) vs. Beibut Shumenov (No. 10 contender) Campillo (19-2, 6 KO): Second title defense; First fight in U.S. Shumenov (8-1, 6 KO): Lost decision to Campillo in August; Unbeaten in U.S. (4-0, 3 KO) Fitzbitz says: Shumenov by decision

SATURDAY

IBF middleweight title - Neubrandenburg, Germany

Sebastian Sylvester (champion) vs. Billy Lyell (No. 14 contender) Sylvester (32-3, 15 KO): First title defense; Unbeaten since 2008 (3-0, 1 KO) Lyell (21-7, 4 KO): First title fight; Second fight outside U.S. (0-1, 0 KO) Fitzbitz says: Sylvester by decision

WBA minimumweight title - Puebla, Mexico

Roman Gonzalez (champion) vs. Ivan Meneses (No. 10 contender) Gonzalez (24-0, 20 KO): Third title defense; Second fight in Mexico (1-0, 0 KO) Meneses (14-5-1, 8 KO): First title fight; Won six fights since 8-0 start (6-5-1, 5 KO) Fitzbitz says: Gonzalez in 9

Vacant WBO junior bantamweight title - Mexico City, Mexico

Jorge Arce (No. 2 contender) vs. Angky Angkota (No. 4 contender) Arce (52-6-1, 40 KO): Former WBC/WBO champion at 108; Fifteenth title fight (10-4, 7 KO) Angkota (24-4, 14 KO): First title fight; First fight in North America Fitzbitz says: Arce by decision

Last week's picks: 2-1 Overall picks record: 161-59 (73.1 percent)

Lyle Fitzsimmons is an award-winning 21-year sports journalist, a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a frequent contributor to sports radio talk shows throughout the U.S. E-mail him at fitzbitz@msn.com, follow him at twitter.com/fitzbitz and read more at fitzbitzonfights.wordpress.com.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.

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