Update: Heavyweight and Cruiserweights Prospects

By Tom Donelson
Updated: April 12, 2007

IOWA CITY, Ia. — On Good Friday, cruiserweights and heavyweights prospects took center stage on both ESPN Friday night fights and ShoBox.

Raphael Butler looked like a fighter, perfectly sculptured, and throughout the first round he even played the role of a fighter perfectly against Art Binkowski. Binkowski got nailed repeatedly throughout the first round, a round that saw him down three times.

Butler unleashed jabs followed by wicked right hands and kept his distance from the brawling Binkowski. Binkowski kept coming forward only to be thwarted by Butler skills.

Movie fans will recognize Binkowski as he played Cornbread Griffin in the movie Cinderella Man but on this night, this was for real and not Hollywood. And it appeared to be a matter of time before Butler ended the affair.

But appearance can be deceiving and Binkowski proved that while he lacked skills, he did not lack heart. As Showtime Nick Charles observed, “Binkowski may not have skills but he has heart; Butler has skills but his heart is questioned.”

Butler had the skills to move beyond the Midwest boxing circuit but there was something in his make up that prevented him from winning on this night. From the second round on, Butler fought not to lose and allowed Binkowski to fight his fight.

Each round resembled the previous as the young Butler fell into Binkowski trap. Binkowski knew that his only chance to win was to crowd Butler and pressure him.

“Challenge his will,” thought Binkowski as he put his head on Butler chest and just threw punches after punches. Most of these punches often missed their target and Binkowski got nailed by some great counters from Butler but Butler rarely followed up on what successes that he had.

While each round favored the more accurate Butler, Butler’s punches lost steam as the fight continued.

Fighting in front of his home crowd and going into the last round, Butler had an insurmountable lead on the scorecard. Only a Binkowski’s knockout could derail Butler from his first significant victory.

The round began as the others ended, with Binkowski trying to crowd Butler and Butler shooting accurate punches. Then with a minute left, the Hollywood ending happened.

Binkowski nailed Butler with a right hand that spun Butler’s head and after a swift combination, Butler was down with his mouth piece out. He managed to climb back up and the referee put the mouthpiece back in.

Butler, so exhausted from Binkowski constant pressure, could not keep the mouth piece in and he staggered a few feet toward Binkowski. When the mouthpiece flew out of the tired Butler’s mouth, the referee ended the fight.

Like a zombie, Butler moved toward his corner; not realizing that the fight ended. Binkowski snatched victory with a combination and won a fight that he had no business winning. This was a fight that heart beat skills.

Travis Williams was one of those American heavyweight hopeful that American boxing fans are looking for. Tall at 6-feet-4 and muscular built, the young Williams was making his second SHOBOX appearance.

His previous appearance saw Williams escape with a narrow victory over Jason Estrada, another American heavyweight hopeful.

On the other side of the ring was George Garcia. Garcia looked like a reincarnation of Tony “Two Ton” Galento, complete with pot belly built on a 5-foot-11 frame.

Garcia actually outweighed Williams and again, this was a fight that featured heart vs. skills. Only Williams showed that he had as much heart as Garcia. Unlike Butler in his fight, Williams was not about to allow Garcia to derail his career.

The first three rounds saw Williams dominating the action as his jab set up his right hand. Garcia short arms failed to connect against the taller Williams and a left hook to the body sent Garcia down in the second and near the end of the third, the bell saved Garcia from a possible knock out as a Williams’ left hook spun Garcia’s head around and only a miracle kept Garcia from collapsing to the floor.

But starting in the fourth, Garcia borrowed from the Binkowski’s playbook and sat on Williams’ chest. From this point, Garcia’s clubbing right and left hook nailed Williams repeatedly and Williams countered with his own combinations.

The fight moved back and forth as each fighter fought a furious pace. Garcia forced Williams to fight every second of each round and both men showed desperation as the fight climaxed.

Going into the last round, it was still anyone’s fight and Williams began with ferocious combination banging off Garcia head. Garcia moved back inside to nail Williams with his own shots.

Halfway through the round, Williams lost a point when his left hook found its target below the belt. Williams was now facing a 10-8 round unless he rallied and took the round. As the final bell sounded, both men were toe to the toe, the taller Williams mixing it up with the shorter Garcia.

Williams escaped with a split decision, his second straight victory over an undefeated prospect. Williams showed skills but throughout the fight, he continuously got nailed with combinations. If Garcia had any power, Williams may not have survived.

Williams is a work in prospect with the talent to be a top ten heavyweight. The jury is still out on whether Williams is a legitimate championship contender. As for Butler, his career path is teetering toward mediocrity.

On ESPN, Jason Estrada showed why he is one of the most frustrating heavyweight prospects. Armed with quick hands, Estrada has not shown the dedication needed to be a top heavyweight and his career has moved along at a snail pace.

In his most recent fight with Zack Page, Estrada showed up in the best shape of his life. After losing his previous fight to another undefeated prospect, Estrada found himself back on the under cards. His appearance on television came as a result of Matt Godfrey slaughter of Felix Cora.

Page alternated between Cruiserweight and heavyweight throughout his career, but he did not have either the weight or hand speed to compete with Estrada but Estrada showed nothing special in methodically beating Page down. Estrada produced no knockdowns and very few flashing combinations as he jabbed and allowed Page to hold.

Estrada won an easy decision but there was nothing in this fight to show that Estrada will ever be a top ten heavyweight. His hand speed is neutralized by his lack of power.

Chris Byrd survived as a heavyweight champion and contenders for years using hand speed to win over bigger fighters. Byrd had two things going for him- a championship heart along with tenacity and endurance. Estrada has yet to show that heart nor the tenacity or endurance.

The one prospect that showed that he belong with the big boys was Matt Godfrey. Godfrey was fighting the biggest fight of his life against contender Felix Cora, Jr. Cora was tricky southpaw who threw punches in bunches.

His defense was his offence but Godfrey had a surprise for Cora. He junked his orthodox style and came out fighting in a southpaw stance. Godfrey hand speed gave him the first round and Cora looked confused as he proved tentative.

Cora appeared to solve the Godfrey puzzle as he nailed Godfrey with a couple of solid left. He moved forward during the first minute and forced Godfrey to the corner. Suddenly lightening struck. For one brief second, Godfrey went orthodox and nailed Cora with a solid right.

He followed up with a second right hand hook and Cora went down. Cora barely beat the count and looked staggered as Godfry went for the kill. Raining punches upon his hapless opponent, Godfrey showed no mercy. Referee stopped the fight as Cora did not respond.

The Cruiserweight division is a deep division with excellent fighters all along the top 15. Whereas the Heavyweight appeared to be weak and depth free, the Cruiserweight division is possibly boxing deepest.

Heavyweight champions avoid each other but Cruiserweights don’t and Godfrey has a tougher road than any of the heavyweight prospects for there is no easy path to the top. The difference that unlike Williams or Estrada, Godfrey is ready for primetime and a legitimate contender.

His victory over Cora showed maturity and talent. Godfrey showed the difference between being a prospect and being a contender. Travis Williams is a prospect. Godfrey is a contender.