Next Saturday's HBO pay-per-view falls in line with most of them: Big name main event with questionable competitive possibilities, and then an undercard of three fights that will inevitably draw out the boo birds. This card was supposed to have a fight between former middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik and rugged but limited Brian Vera, but truth be told all that was lost in that cancellation of that bout was whatever remains of Pavlik's name value.
Lightweights, 10 Rounds
Brandon Rios v. Omri Lowther
This is the last-minute replacement fight for the scrapped Pavlik-Vera bout. Rios (25-0-1, 18 KO) got an overdue chance to make some fans with his win over Anthony Peterson in September. He's an all-action scrapper, and is a great TV fighter. Rios is indifferent to defense, and while he has a nice KO rate, he's not a huge puncher. It's just all activity and volume from him, and he can take some shots. Lowther (14-2, 10 KO) was exposed pretty badly in his last fight against Hank Lundy, losing a very wide decision. It's not a suitable opponent for Rios, and really it's not much of a fight at all, but Rios will get some more exposure, which is nice. Most likely this will be fought a bit above the 135-pound limit thanks to its short-notice nature. Rios TKO-5
Super Bantamweights, 12 Rounds
Guillermo Rigondeaux v. Ricardo Cordoba
This is the best and most interesting fight on the undercard, and it has been since the full event was announced. Rigondeaux (6-0, 5 KO) is a bona fide amateur legend. Fighting for Cuba, Rigondeaux won Olympic gold in 2000 and 2004, and also was the winner at the 2001 and 2005 World Amateur Championships, the 2003 Pan American Games, the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games, and the 2002 and 2005 World Cup, among other achievements.
The man can box. But now we find out if he can fight as a pro, for real. So far, he has looked very good, but Cordoba (37-2-2, 23 KO) is on another level from the men he's faced thus far. The bad news from a competitive standpoint is that the 30-year-old Rigondeaux chews up fighters similar to Cordoba. Cordoba's style is simply something that Rigondeaux's amateur pedigree and natural abilities allow him to feast upon.
He is the favorite in the fight, and deserves to be. I'd say something generic like "but don't out Cordoba," except being logical and rational, you probably should. Cordoba is actually younger at 27, but it's been a long time since he's faced a good, really well-trained opponent. He lost a FOTY contender to Bernard Dunne in 2009, and while we all love Bernard Dunne because he is/was a boat load of fun to watch fight, that's not the best loss, although it came with two exhausted men reeling, which does happen sometimes. And anyway, drawing parallels between Dunne and Rigondeaux is about as useful as comparing my cat to a cheetah, so I'll move on from that.
Cordoba's best opposition has come from Wladimir Sidorenko and Celestino Caballero. Cordoba drew twice with Sidorenko (both fights in Germany), and beat Caballero, but that win came in 2004. Cordoba is a good fighter and a contender at 122, but you'd be right to expect a Rigondeaux victory without a lot of trouble. Of all the Cuban amateur stars that have infiltrated the pro ranks to varying degrees of success in recent years, Rigondeaux might simply be the best of them all. Not the most exciting (Gamboa on his good nights), not the highest upside (maybe Luis Garcia), but the best right now. I believe he'll out-think, out-box, and out-fight Cordoba, wearing him down gradually before putting him away with a final push. Rigondeaux TKO-8
Welterweights, 10 Rounds
Mike Jones v. Jesus Soto Karass
Jones (22-0, 18 KO) is ... uh, how do I put this right? I don't want to call him a hype job, because the only hype the man has ever gotten is from diehard boxing fans who wondered what in the hell took so long to get him on TV. Now working an agreement with Top Rank (Jones' promoter is Russell Peltz, but gut instinct says Top Rank wants to change that), Jones is getting a bit more exposure, and this will be his first appearance on a truly major card. Karass (24-4-3, 16 KO) is a fringe contender, or what the Brits might call "useful." It's really a sideways step for Jones, who is a tall welterweight at 6'0", but has "just" a 72" reach (same as Mayweather, for instance). The Philly native is looking to land a bigger fight next, and there has already been talk of him facing WBC titlist Andre Berto next year. Both are American fighters stuck in the spot with no one suitable left to fight, so in a perfect world, they'd just fight each other, but this is boxing. Jones is going to try to become the first man to ever stop Karass inside the scheduled distance, and I think he'll do it, but it won't come easy or be all that splashy, I don't expect. Jones TKO-9