Boxing
Bottom line: Litzau expecting anything against Guerrero
Lyle Fitzsimmons

By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Boxing Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Jason Litzau is a bottom-line guy.

And while that may not always endear him to sportswriters seeking compelling copy, it could serve him well for his own more pressing objective this weekend.

The 24-year-old Minnesota product gets the first world title shot of a five- plus-year pro career Friday night in Lemoore, Calif., where he'll face incumbent IBF featherweight champion Robert Guerrero in a scheduled 12-rounder at the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino.

The bout will be televised on Showtime's "ShoBox: The Next Generation" program at 11 p.m. ET/PT.

"Preparing for a fight is no different than preparing for a war," Litzau said in a recent phone interview. "You're going to have obstacles. In the ring, it's the other guy and what he can do. In a war, it could be a roadside bomb. Either way, you have to prepare for the worst and be able to react to it."

The approach has helped him emerge unscathed from all but one of his 24 professional fights, the most recent of which ended in a 10-round decision win over veteran gatekeeper Edel Ruiz last November.

He's scored 19 knockouts along the way, including a two-round demolition of former world title challenger Emmanuel Lucero one month prior.

Still, the result most often cited in the pre-fight run-up has been his lone blemish - an eighth-round KO at the fists of unheralded Jose Andres Hernandez in December 2006 - a bout Litzau led on all three scorecards until his combat- before-safety mindset caught up with him.

Jason Litzau
Jason Litzau gets the first world title shot of his career.
But it's not a mishap he spends a lot of time thinking about.

"I look at my career the same way now as I did before it happened," he said. "I don't think about it in camp, and I don't change the way I do things. That fight's over. I did something wrong and I lost, and now I've got to prepare for this one like it's a new day.

"But talk is cheap. You'll have to tune in on Feb. 29 to see if I've learned my lesson."

The loss at least temporarily took the shine off Litzau's "American Boy" promotional aura, which had moved him to the brink of stardom after he'd begun his career with 20 straight wins and 18 KOs.

Into the void stepped the compelling Guerrero, who earned his title just before Litzau's stumble, lost and won it again after a failed drug test, then defended it for the first time with a 57-second blowout of Martin Honorio on Showtime, just days after his wife was diagnosed with leukemia.

Put it all together Friday and it reads, "Guerrero headliner, Litzau sideshow"...with a grudge.

"It doesn't matter to me that it's gone that way," Litzau said. "I don't notice or care about what anybody says or thinks, so it doesn't matter. But I do know that even though it was the Patriots who got all the attention during the football season, they weren't celebrating at the end.

"This is boxing, and it's the last place where you'll find a guarantee on how things are going to turn out. It's not the WWF. If there were a guarantee on it, we could all go to Vegas and bet and make a lot of money. But that's not the way it works. And all I know is that I'm good and ready."

FitzHitz says: Guerrero by decision.

Oh, yeah, there's another card on Showtime this weekend too.

Just 24 hours after the Guerrero-Litzau showdown, the spotlight will shift 211 miles southeast to Carson, Calif., where super bantamweight elitists Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez will renew hostilities for the third time in less than a year at the Home Depot Center.

The initial encounters between the two - both for the WBC's title at 122 pounds - were among the best and most violent of 2007, with Vazquez surrendering his title via TKO after seven rounds on March 3 before regaining it with a sixth-round stoppage on Aug. 4.

The "threematch" will headline the network's "Showtime Championship Boxing" card at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

"I don't think there is any question that the third fight will be the best out of all of three," said Scott Woodworth, vice president of Sycuan Ringside Promotions, the bout's associate promoter.

"You can only expect great things for March 1. We knew from the first time they faced each other that this would turn into an unforgettable trilogy. The first fight was phenomenal, and the second bout was even better. Sycuan can't wait for the third one. Not only are super bantamweight bragging rights on the line, but the winner will also become the next Mexican fan-favorite boxer."

Marquez - whose older brother, Juan Manuel Marquez, will face Manny Pacquiao for the WBC's 130-pound belt on March 15 in Las Vegas - was a seven-defense IBF champion at bantamweight before moving up to snatch Vazquez's title in his first bout at 122 pounds.

He is 37-4 with 33 KOs.

"I know what it takes to beat Vazquez," Rafael Marquez said. "I've done it before, so I'll be ready for whatever he brings."

Vazquez failed in his initial title shot at 122 against former foe Oscar Larios in May 2002 but came back to win the vacant IBF crown two years later. He traded up for the WBC belt and a defeat of Larios in their third go-round in December 2005, then defended twice before falling to Marquez.

"I want to thank all my fans for their support," said Vazquez, now 42-4 with 31 KOs. "On March 1, you will see why they call me 'Magnifico.' Get ready for round 13."

"The first two clashes were both fight-of-the-year candidates. If the pattern continues, this should be one for the ages," said promoter Gary Shaw. "As a promoter, I am proud to present this event. As a fan, March 1 cannot come fast enough."

FitzHitz says: Marquez by decision.

So, I hear Floyd Mayweather Jr. is heading to WrestleMania next month.

It's funny, but as much as I try to conjure up any angst, concern or disgust about the idea that he's taking his act to Vince McMahon's circus of scripted mayhem for a night, all I'm instead left with is envy.

Yep, just plain, old envy. The very same feeling that I'm guessing is really at the core of anyone who somehow has a problem with the "Pretty Boy's" choice of down-time activity.

In fact, if you ask me...the kid's a genius.

Twenty million times over.

Not only has he proven far and away the best in the sport - with decisive wins over Oscar De La Hoya (SD 12) and Ricky Hatton (TKO 10) as recent evidence - he's also joined the short list of boxers able to translate their in-ring acumen to mainstream success.

The two fights in 2007 were huge successes on pay per view and allowed Mayweather to cash the biggest one-year paycheck in boxing history - a largesse he supplemented with a multi-week appearance on ABC's ratings bonanza "Dancing With the Stars."

No matter how you slice it, it's a win-win for everyone.

People who've never gotten within 50 miles of a boxing match know who he is based on the dance-floor performances last fall, and it's hard to reason that a few minutes on a wrestling show this spring is going to have anything resembling negative residue on the legacy he's already created.

It had no impact on his efforts last December against Hatton. It'll have no impact on his efforts this September against De La Hoya. And if it all brings even one extra viewer into the mix for fights down the line against Cotto or Cintron or Margarito or Hulk Hogan, it's nothing but time well spent.

And, by the way, if McMahon and Co. want to go low budget next year...I'll do it for $10 million.

Two other title bouts share the weekend schedule with the aforementioned television cards.

At the Bell Centre in Montreal, reigning IBF super middleweight champion Lucien Bute makes the first defense of his crown when he faces former middleweight belt-holder William Joppy in the headliner of a six-bout card on Friday night.

Bute, a 28-year-old Romanian now living in Montreal, captured his belt with an 11th-round TKO of first-defense title claimant Alejandro Berrio last October at the Bell Centre.

Previously, he'd won 20 straight bouts against pedestrian competition, with the most notable win coming via 12-round decision over recent "Contender" champion Sakio Bika in June.

Joppy, who turned 37 in September and is 39-4-1 with 30 KOs, held the WBA's 160-pound title over three distinct reigns between 1996 and 2003.

He won the belt with a ninth-round stoppage of Shinji Takehara in June 1996 and defended it twice before losing a 12-round decision to Julio Cesar Green 14 months later.

He beat Green via decision in a January 1998 rematch and defended five times - including a third-round TKO of Roberto Duran - before falling in the fifth round to Felix Trinidad in May 2001.

Title reign No. 3 began six months later when - after Bernard Hopkins was dubiously elevated to "super champion" status - Joppy defeated Howard Eastman by majority decision for the vacant "regular" title, which he defended once before losing to Hopkins over 12 rounds in December 2003.

The Washington, D.C., native is 5-1 since, dropping a 12-round decision to then-unbeaten Jermain Taylor in December 2004 before rattling off wins against Rashaan Abdul Blackburn (TKO 3), Eric Howard (TKO 5), Jonathan Corn (KO 5), Virgil McClendon (TKO 1) and Etienne Whitaker (TKO 1).

Ominously, the pre-fight records of the five recent victims were 117-84-7, with 45 KO losses.

Elsewhere, Japanese incumbent Yutaka Niida makes the seventh defense of his second WBA minimumweight title reign on Saturday, when he'll meet Venezuelan veteran Jose Luis Varela at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo.

Niida, who turned 29 in October, initially won and vacated his title in 2001, then was beaten by split decision in a second try in 2003 before returning to topple Noel Arambulet by unanimous 12-round nod in July 2004.

His six subsequent defenses have all gone to the scorecards, including a unanimous decision over Eriberto Gejon at Korakuen Hall in September that improved him to 22-1 overall.

Varela, who is also 29 and stands at 15-3 overall, dropped a 12-round verdict to WBO minimumweight champion Ivan Calderon in his lone career title try in October 2006.

He's 2-1 with a no-contest since, with that match ending because of an accidental head butt in his most recent bout in September against Oscar Martinez.

Lyle Fitzsimmons is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He is a periodic contributor to the Dave Smith Show on Sporting News Radio (radio.sportingnews.com), provides 'In The Ring' boxing commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com) and is available for freelance print, radio or TV assignments at fitzbitz@msn.com.

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