Saturday night's Top Rank-produced, HBO-distributed pay-per-view from Mexico City and Las Vegas will feature two big names in action in the co-main event bouts, plus an intriguing undercard fight that will likely steal the show, and a showcase bout for a top Filipino prospect. Bad Left Hook will have live, round-by-round coverage of the entire card on Saturday night, but first, let's break down these fights so you can decide whether this is worth your $44.99-54.99.
First off, this is not really what anyone wants from a pay-per-view card. So right there, it's kind of hard to justify the price tag. But let's talk about why this is a pay-per-view card, and go beyond just Yuriorkis Gamboa pulling out of his HBO fight with Brandon Rios, which was to be the April 14 fight.
The reality is this kind of pay-per-view card is more about fulfilling contracts than making money. The expectations for this show are very tempered. As HBO's Larry Merchant has said in the past, it's basically like putting in extra bleacher seats for those who won't make it out to Las Vegas. Shows of this nature are loss leaders designed to advance careers when slots are unavailable on HBO or Showtime.
"It's doing what my obligation is to the fighters. We're taking the risk. We're taking the risk of making this event happen to link it up, to make it sellable, to do whatever it is. Is it a 500,000-home fight? No, it isn't a 500,000-home fight," admitted duBoef. "Do I think we can do a decent amount of business? We're going to do the best we can and give all these fighters the opportunity to live up to our commitment that we gave them."
This is not a PPV card meant to make money. It's just a reality. They're not going to win out here. duBoef also goes on to make some points about fighter activity, about basically rebranding boxing, that I totally agree with. It's kind of radical in that the entire makeup of the sport as currently constructed would have to change, but this thing about not enough TV outlets anymore -- who cares? It's the internet age. You can get anything to anyone any time you want to do it. That would be when "stay busy" fights are actually stay busy fights, and not just, you know, the fight that guy's having at that time. Few fighters REALLY takes stay busy fights anymore. They just take weaker fights. Vanes Martirosyan fighting Troy Lowry was not a stay busy fight. It was just an awful fight. It led to nothing.
Bottom line for those asking, "Why is this on pay-per-view?" It's on pay-per-view because networks didn't want to buy the show. Period. If it weren't on pay-per-view, it wouldn't be on HBO or Showtime or ESPN2 or NBC Sports, either. It just would not be televised anywhere.
But anyway, let's get to this weekend's fights.
Junior Welterweights, 12 Rounds (Interim WBO Title)
Juan Manuel Marquez (53-6-1, 39 KO) vs Serhiy Fedchenko (30-1, 13 KO)
Juan Manuel Marquez, now 38 years of age, is one of the true great fighters of his generation. Having won world titles at 126, 130, and 135, Marquez now aims for an interim belt at 140, where he says he'll be staying from now on. Marquez has been the Ring Magazine lightweight world champion since unseating Joel Casamayor in September 2008, and made three defenses of the title: Two against Juan Diaz, and one against Michael Katsidis.
Apart from those fights, he's also moved up in weight twice since beating Casamayor (which was also his first fight at 135), losing to Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao in catchweight bouts north of 140 but south of 147, although Mayweather blew off the contracted weight and just paid some money, then insisted it was "a welterweight fight," not bothering to ever explain why, then, he would have to pay Marquez for weighing in a pound short of the welterweight limit.
For both of those fights, Marquez came in at 142 pounds, but they were very different 142s, it seemed. Even taking into account that Mayweather and Pacquiao are not remotely similar in style, and that Mayweather was always going to make JMM look bad simply because the fight shaped up that way, Marquez seemed to learn from the mistakes he made bulking up in 2009, hiring a conditioning guy for the Pacquiao fight last November, which saw him look tighter at 142, plus lighter on his feet and quicker with his hands. It was a stronger, better weight gain, but Marquez narrowly lost a majority decision in a fight that many felt he won.
The move to 140 is intriguing, but this fight shouldn't be much of a struggle for him. It's been booked to get Marquez a fight, hopefully, if Top Rank is to believed and then has their way, setting up a clash with Brandon Rios in July, which could in theory lead to the winner facing Pacquiao later this year.
Those worried that Marquez's fight on Saturday will resemble last summer's between-fights farce between Marquez and Likar Ramos can ease up: Fedchenko is a lot better than Ramos, and won't be falling over on the first right hand that grazes him.
Fedchenko, 31, is a totally competent boxer from Ukraine, nicknamed "The Professor." He is a fairly stereotypical eastern European fighter -- he's got the fundamentals, he's got the knowledge, and he lacks explosiveness and doesn't take many risks. He compares somewhat to Andriy Kotelnik, though he is not quite as good as Kotelnik. I wouldn't pick Kotelnik to beat Marquez, and I sure as hell don't think Fedchenko has much of a chance unless Marquez's body just totally betrays him out of nowhere.
Fedchenko was last in action on February 18, beating Hungarian novice Laszlo Fazekas easily over eight rounds on the Klitschko vs Chisora show in Germany.
Now the part I want to focus on there is the eight rounds. In his 31-fight pro career, which started in 2002 but didn't become regular until 2005, Fedchenko has fought only six fights that were scheduled for 12 rounds, and has gone a 12-round distance just four times. In fact, he's only ever gone 10 or more on five occasions. Marquez will have an advantage there. We know how good he is over 12, and he can go hard for 12 rounds. He did it with Pacquiao in November at 142, he can do it with Fedchenko, who ain't Pacquiao.
The only real question here is how Marquez will win. Can Fedchenko take Marquez's hard, accurate punches? Will he play coy and make Marquez turn into the aggressor, and if he does, will Marquez take the challenge and bring the heat, or will he allow this to turn into a snoozer where nobody wants to lead the dance?
Marquez is going to win on Saturday night. Fedchenko is a credible professional fighter who knows what he's doing, but he's not on Marquez's level, and never will be, either. He is a meat-and-potatoes sort of boxer with no standout skills or qualities, no spark, nothing that leads one to think anything other than the aforementioned total physical collapse of Juan Manuel Marquez will make this a fight that Marquez can lose.
Since 2007, Marquez has only won a single fight by decision, and that was the Juan Diaz rematch, where it seemed like Diaz was there mostly to cash a check and not so much to win, which Marquez may have taken as an invitation to lay back a little more and just win the fight without taking any risks. That could happen here, too. Marquez has been in every kind of fight there is. He's not going to be dumb with money fights on the horizon. Marquez UD-12, but could easily be a stoppage.
Lightweights, 12 Rounds (Interim WBA Lightweight Title)
Brandon Rios (29-0-1, 22 KO) vs Richard Abril (17-2-1, 8 KO)
There are bigger Brandon Rios fans in the world, but I'm not sure anyone who does anything even kind of close to boxing journalism thinks he's a better fighter than I do. Rios, 25, is more than a brawler. He's subtly clever, a much better boxer than he usually gets credit for being, and I even think his defense is somewhat underappreciated.
Look, I'm not saying he's a cutie or a defensive whiz by any means. Most of his defense does still come down to "absorb punches, charge forward," but he has little moments where he proves how much better he is than most similar fighters. Take both Urbano Antillon and John Murray, for instance. Those guys are good pressure fighters. Both of them were worn out by Rios, and I don't think it simply comes down to Rios being superhuman tough. Antillon and Murray can take shots, but Rios has extremely heavy hands and just doesn't relent -- plus, he makes small adjustments in fights that simply make him better than those guys. He proved it last year by stopping both of them.
I find it hard to describe exactly what I mean when I say Rios is better than he's usually considered, but I really feel it's true. I'll leave it at that and everyone's free to agree or disagree.
Rios was supposed to face Yuriorkis Gamboa on this date, but Gamboa pulled out and that's fallen through, so instead we have another Cuban, Richard Abril. Abril, 29, is not Yuriorkis Gamboa, and that's not all bad.
Unlike Gamboa, Abril is not short. Unlike Gamboa, though, Abril is not a dynamic, explosive fighter with blinding speed and a natural ability to put punches together so fast that they might have knocked Rios' ill-advised mohawk right off of his head before Brandon even knew what was happening. To be clear, I really liked Gamboa in that fight, good as I think Rios is. Gamboa is, when he's challenged at all and turns on the gas, a top five talent in the sport. Few guys have the ability to do the things he often doesn't even feel the need to pull out during a fight.
Abril is listed at 5'11" and would have a three-inch height advantage if the listed measures aren't fudged at all. He is a pretty good boxer, a guy who has learned to use his range well, and like Rios' trainer Robert Garcia predicts, I could see Rios struggling in this fight for a while. If Abril boxes smart and uses that height and a strong jab, he could give Rios fits as the Mexican-American slugger tries to get inside during the early rounds.
But I don't think he has the package to upset Rios here. He might be a lot more competitive than some are expecting, but I don't believe he has the tools to keep Rios off of him over 12 entire rounds. Rios is an excellent stalker, and has proven that he won't give up on himself. Miguel Acosta was giving him absolute fits. Early in the fight, unless you're Elie Seckbach, you would have been forgiven for thinking Rios had jumped too high in class and wasn't going to get himself into the bout. Acosta was dominant early on, totally outclassing Rios.
And Rios didn't give up. Because he didn't give up, he wore Acosta down, made him expend a lot of energy, and then when Acosta couldn't do much more, Rios just plain took that fight over. Hard shot after hard shot came in until Acosta was knocked out. It was a great performance from Rios, one that showed his greatest flaws and his greatest strengths in the same fight.
Is Abril that much better than Acosta? I don't think so. Abril did beat Acosta in October in Panama (UD scores of 117-108, 115-111, and 113-112), and if I haven't made it clear already, the fact is Abril can fight a little. He's not a bum, he's not a chump. Is he overmatched here? Probably. But this is what's happening for him. If he pulls this off, then it's going to be one of the upsets of the year, no doubt. I don't think he'll get it, but I'm expecting him to have people doubting Rios picks for about five rounds. Rios TKO-9
Junior Welterweights, 10 Rounds
Mike Alvarado (32-0, 23 KO) vs Mauricio Herrera (18-1, 7 KO)
This could very well be the show-stealer, and it's an important fight for another reason. If Alvarado wins, and Juan Manuel Marquez does not want to fight Brandon Rios in July, Alvarado could very well be the next opponent for Rios.
Alvarado, 31, is a guy who damn near threw a promising career away but has gotten himself together enough to get it back on track. He featured on two Pacquiao undercards last year, beating a pants-shitting Ray Narh in May, and then storming back from a deficit to pummel Breidis Prescott in a bloody war that went overlooked by too many on the Pacquiao-Marquez show.
The 31-year-old Herrera is a good fighter. He's been a battler, a guy without big time promotional backing who has made his way in boxing the old-fashioned way, by winning fights. He took the 0 off of Ruslan Provodnikov's record last year, and followed that up with wins over Cristian Favela and Mike Dallas Jr, though the win over Dallas was disputed by some.
I simply think this fight is a bit beyond him. When Alvarado's head is on straight, he's a handful. He can box a little, he mixes up his punches, and he can thump. Herrera is a fine fighter and has earned this opportunity, but I'm thinking he comes up pretty well short here. Alvarado TKO-8
Lightweights, 10 Rounds
Mercito Gesta (24-0-1, 12 KO) vs Oscar Cuero (15-7, 12 KO)
This is pretty much a showcase for Gesta, the highly-regarded, 24-year-old Filipino prospect. Given that he's left-handed and Filipino, he gets a lot of Pacquiao comparisons. He's not Pacquiao, or at least not yet, but they do have something else in common: Carrying a ton of weight in their legs for a pro boxer. This will probably be an introduction to Gesta for most. I know nothing about Cuero other than his record and won't pretend that I do, but I can tell you he's lost to every halfway decent fighter he's faced, including Fidel Monterrosa, Dannie Williams, Emmanuel Lucero, Matt Remillard, and Monty Meza Clay. If he was safe enough for Remillard, he's definitely safe enough for Gesta. Gesta TKO-5