Sizing Up 2005: The January Match-ups
By Chris Robinson (December 31, 2004) 
Scott Harrison
The new year is almost upon us and with it comes the promise of several potential great fights. In January, February, and March alone we have a great mix of young guns and champions either defending their titles or chasing further towards their championship dreams. I saw it fitting to take a look over the early 2005 schedule, month by month. Here’s how I see the month of January shaping up for us fight fans.

January 21

Crowd pleasing stylist Juan Diaz puts his WBA Lightweight belt on the line January 21st against former title challenger Billy Irwin. Diaz had a great 2004 in which he iced fellow prospect Martin O’Malley in 2 rounds, defeated Lakva Sim for the WBA belt which he holds now, and closed the year up in early November with another solid decision over former champion Julien Lorcy.

Diaz has always seemed to be fighting an uphill battle, as his lack of power and aggressive style lead many to believe that the Houston, TX native would be exposed early in his career. Despite the negative words dished out by others, Diaz always remained hungry and marched forward, piling up win after win. His victory over Lakva Sim was a true coming out party, as he overwhelmed his older foe with an endless amount of punches on his way towards becoming a champion in front of his hometown fans.

Irwin made somewhat of a name for himself in the late 90’s as he built up an eleven fight winning streak in hopes of getting then IBF Lightweight champion Paul Spadafora in the ring with him. At his best, Irwin mixed an aggressive style with a nice left hook to the body, and many felt this would be enough to defeat the southpaw Spadafora. Irwin’s hopes were high but he fell way short, as Spadafora easily out boxed him on his way towards a unanimous decision in December of 2000. Irwin was lacking in many areas, and would go on to lose his next fight against Virginia native Dorin Spivey on ESPN. He has since won eight straight fights against non-descript opposition in hopes of regaining some status in the division.

This is a fight that Diaz will most likely win in clear form. Diaz is the fresher fighter and has shown himself to be a champion who takes up his craft with great pride. It’s up for debate how long Diaz will hold on to his WBA belt but against Irwin he appears to be holding all the cards.

On the undercard we'll get to see Heavyweight Calvin Brock put his undefeated record on the line against all action Clifford ‘The Black Rhino’ Etienne. Brock is untested in the eyes of many and could serve himself well with a good showing against Etienne, who has stayed unbeaten in six fights since being blasted by Mike Tyson in February 2003.

January 22

Floyd Mayweather gets back to work in Miami on January 22nd on HBO against Puerto Rican Henry Bruseles. The last time Mayweather was seen in Miami was December of 98’ where he was delivering a brutal beating to Angel Manfredy. That victory surprised many and Mayweather has done nothing but deliver the goods ever since. Mayweather is notorious for taking on the best and rising to the occasion. Just when it seems that the criticism of Floyd is about to boil over, he gives us yet another electrifying performance to remind us why he’s one of the games’ best.

Many expected Bruseles to go on to great things but his career has been a bit checkered, with losses to Roberto Ortega and Ernesto Zavala standing out. Bruseles claims to be the bigger man and expects to use his size and underrated punching power as key roles in upsetting the Grand Rapids native. Nothing wrong with hoping, but the jury here still likes Mayweather to take things by way of decision. Floyd may eventually meet his match in the Jr. Welterweight division but I don’t think it will be in the form of Henry Bruseles.

January 28

After his split decision loss to Angel Manfredy and shocking first round knockout loss to Juan Valenzuela, things looked bleak for Coachella native Julio Diaz. The fighter once labeled by many in the Southern California area as an eventual sure-fire superstar now saw his career on the rocks with two losses in just a six-month period. Diaz was ruled as damaged goods by many in the game and I personally didn’t know how much more he had to offer before his career was up.

Diaz would get back on the saddle and continue his winning ways, but he seemed to be missing something. Wins over notable fighters like James Crayton and Ernesto Zepeda were far from spectacular but things would take a change in early 2004. In March, Diaz would meet Manfredy-conqueror Courtney Burton and in this fight we would see glimpses of the old Julio. Diaz out boxed Burton and finished things off in the 11th round, securing a shot at IBF champion Javier Jauregui.

Heading into the Jauregui fight, Diaz was looked at as the underdog but would find a way to flip the script as he out boxed Javier on his way to finally capturing a world title. Diaz put on an excellent show and has regained much of the recognition he had seemed to lose earlier. Rumors of an eventual showdown with Brazil’s Acelino ‘Popo’ Freitas are around, but Diaz must first get by former title challenger Levander Johnson.

Johnson definitely knows how to fight, but he has rung up a fair amount of miles on his speedometer and at age 35 he looks to be in tough against Diaz. Johnson has lost previous title efforts against whirlwind puncher Orzubek Nazarov by TKO in the 7th, and also to Javier Jauregui by TKO in the 11th. Johnson is a quality fighter in many areas but Diaz appears to be riding a new high and should come away with both a victory and his much-coveted IBF belt in hand.

January 28

Braehead Arena, Glasgow, Scotland

A lot of people seem to be split on WBO Featherweight champion Scott Harrison. Some love his work rate and strength and claim him to be the dark horse at 126 lbs. Others are quick to bring up his loss to Manuel Medina, claiming him to be one dimensional while also bringing up his lack of solid opposition. On January 28th we won’t have all the questions answered but we will get to see Harrison defend his belt against a solid guy in Victor Polo.

Colombian Victor Polo isn’t great by any means but the guy surely can fight. I remember being most impressed with his decision win over David Toledo as Polo was on top of his game in out hustling and beating the Jersey fighter. Others might remember Polo smothering Derrick Gainer for much of their fight as he lost a split decision to the Pensacola native. Polo pressured Gainer for much of the contest but he had troubles with Gainer’s slickness and was dropped late in the fight.

This looks to be a match up of Harrison’s aggressive style against the sometimes herky-jerky rhythm and activity of Polo. Both guys can punch a bit but I envision this one as the type of scrap that will find itself headed to the scorecards. If Polo brings his best he could give Harrison some serious troubles but I expect the Scotland native to dig down deep and pull away with the win. If he does win, hopefully we will get the chance to see Harrison test his skills against some of the elite Featherweights in the world.

January 29

HBO brings us a terrific doubleheader January 29th as Arturo Gatti and Kassim Ouma defend their belts against rugged opposition. First we will see Ouma put his IBF Jr. Middleweight crown on the line against always-aggressive Kofi Jantuah, followed by Gatti taking on former world champion and recent Francisco Bojado slayer Jesse James Leija.

Both fights should be action packed, to say the least. Ouma is one of the sports bright young champions and with an impressive win over Kofi he can expect bigger paydays and bigger fights down the road. Jantuah is coming off of a crushing 1st round knockout over Marco Antonio Rubio and will most likely be looking to take the contest right towards the Uganda native. This one will probably be fought in a phone booth as both guys are the come-forward type.

Jesse James Leija has once again resurrected his career and one can only imagine what a win over Gatti would do for him. Since being under new trainer Buddy McGirt’s wings, Arturo Gatti has shown flashes of the excellent boxer we all knew from the mid-90’s. The power, left hook, and blood and guts attitude are all still apparent, it's just that Arturo has once again mixed things up with a nice dose of old school boxing. Gatti is coming off of a body shot knockout over Leonard Dorin and a win over Leija could lead towards a huge showdown with ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd Mayweather.

Logic here says that both champions will hang on to their belts, but not without being tested. I think both Jantuah and Leija will go out valiantly, losing hard fought decisions. Whatever way the fights go, this truly is HBO boxing at its best.

Also this January…

January 3rd Jose Navarro challenges Katsushige Kawashima for the WBC Jr. Bantamweight belt in Tokyo…Hot streaking Middleweight David Lopez returns on January 6th on HBO Latino. Lopez is coming off of wins over Lonnie Bradley, Jerson Ravelo, and Kirino Garcia…Unbeaten Welterweight Chris Smith takes on David Estrada January 21st on Showtime. On the undercard Sechew Powell squares up against Aslanbek Kodzoev…Nelson Dieppa defends his WBO Light Flyweight belt against Alex Sanchez January 29th in Puerto Rico.
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