Undercards for major pay-per-view fights in boxing are rarely what you'd call "good," but with three major PPV shows here in the final third of 2013, we've seen one where future change may (or may not) have been indicated, while two have been subpar even for the standard, and that includes this Saturday's Pacquiao-Rios undercard.
Top Rank also put together a lackluster PPV undercard for the October 12 Bradley-Marquez card, which was also, of course, an HBO PPV event. The one wrinkle we've seen was the September 14 Mayweather-Canelo show on Showtime PPV, which featured a Danny Garcia vs Lucas Matthysse fight that could have easily headlined a Showtime Championship Boxing broadcast, sold its own tickets somewhere, and made its own money (not a ton, but plenty) separate from the biggest show of the year.
But really, it was just that one fight, too. Apart from Garcia-Matthysse, Showtime/Golden Boy/Mayweather Promotions served up pretty much standard fare in the form of an Ishe Smith vs Carlos Molina world title fight, which featured champion and challenger of dubiously entertaining style; and a Pablo Cesar Cano vs Ashley Theophane fight, a matchup of mid-tier fighters that could be replicated on any old edition of ESPN Friday Night Fights or the like.
Saturday's show is substandard even compared to Bradley-Marquez, though it does at least have the bonus of adding a major local (national, really) draw to a featured spot, so at least it makes sense.
Flyweights, 6 Rounds: Zou Shiming (2-0) vs Juan Tozcano (4-0, 1 KO)
In many ways, this is similar to the Garcia-Matthysse fight on the September 14 show. It adds something substantial to the card, but this time that something is not a major fight for all boxing fans. Instead, it's a substantial fight in terms of appeal to the market in Macao and China. Zou Shiming, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, has headlined Top Rank's first two successful cads in Macao on April 6 and July 27, both of which were major events and proved that this could be a viable boxing market. The success of the Zou-led cards are the biggest reason that Pacquiao-Rios is being held in Macao.
Shiming is a good boxer, but not exactly the in-ring phenom Top Rank would like you to believe. As we've stated several times, he really struggled and arguably got lucky twice in London last year en route to his second gold medal, and at 32, he's not exactly going to get better. This isn't a Vasyl Lomachenko deal, where Top Rank is already thinking world title after just one pro fight. Lomachenko is an incredibly polished product out of the amateur ranks, but he was a lot better than Shiming at their times of turning professional. Zou may not ever win a world title, and has shown little to no power in the pro ranks in his first two fights, a pair of easy wins.
Tozcano is the third straight unaccomplished Mexican fighter to be served up for Zou, and it figures he'll be just about as easy as Jesus Ortega and Eleazar Valenzuela were. He's 4-0, but his wins have come against opponents who had a combined record of 2-21-3.
Featherweights, 12 Rounds: Evgeny Gradovich (17-0, 8 KO) vs Billy Dib (36-2, 21 KO), rematch, for Gradovich's IBF title
This one is here because it's not really a marketable fight on its own, and it's a world title fight, which means they can go, "Hey, there's a world title fight on this undercard! World class action!" Gradovich upset Dib in March on Friday Night Fights, keeping 50 Cent's boxing promoter life in a holding pattern as he's watched his guys either lose or fail to impress and then get accused of domestic violence (again).
In the first bout, Gradovich (pictured up top with Zou Shiming) was a short-notice opponent, not well-known at all, but hyped in the short build-up by his trainer Robert Garcia. Gradovich lived up to the talk, as he was in constant motion and simply outworked Dib on his way to a split decision win. (We had it wide for Gradovich, who clearly was the better fighter.)
Dib, 28, has never really been an impressive contender and was a pure paper champion who beat a non-contender for the vacant belt and then defended it against three more, the best of whom was Eduardo Escobedo. Dib is not a world-class fighter, but Gradovich is pretty unproven himself, given that his best win is Dib, who isn't that great, and hell, the scores were pretty close, even if the shouldn't have been. More distressing for Dib supporters than the prior loss to Gradovich may be Billy's last fight, a July win over Mike Oliver, a still-fast former prospect whose chin betrayed him in the pro ranks. Dib won a 10-round majority decision.
This time around, Gradovich will be the favorite. He fought on the July card in Macao, successfully defending his title against Argentina's Mauricio Munoz.
Heavyweights, 10 Rounds: Andy Ruiz Jr (20-0, 14 KO) vs Tor Hamer (21-2, 14 KO)
24-year-old heavyweight prospect Andy Ruiz Jr is fat. There's no other way to put it, and it's not really meant as an insult. He just is. He's jiggly, with a soft, sagging physique that impresses nobody on sight. Then he starts throwing his hands. And then you realize why he's a guy to pay attention to: he has a pair of the fastest hands in the heavyweight division, and he's one of the few guys who throws honest to goodness combinations in the entire division.
Ruiz also fought in July on the last Macao show, overwhelming fellow unbeaten American heavyweight Joe Hanks. It was pretty well-known that the fight was basically an audition for an undercard spot on this event, and Ruiz has his fight. Now, I don't want to sugarcoat too much here. Ruiz, a 6'2", 255-pound guy, is not going to make anyone forget the days of Riddick Bowe, let alone the days of prime Mike Tyson, let alone the golden era of the 1970s with Ali, Frazier, Foreman, and so many more guys who many figure would totally dominate today's crop (Ken Norton and whatnot).
But he's got some real talent, and doesn't get by simply because if you leave yourself open long enough to be hit hard by one right hand, he can knock you over, or because he's 6'8". Who cares what his body looks like? He's effective and he can fight.
Hamer, 30, is a New York fighter who briefly kicked up some press a few years back, but it didn't stick, and he's fallen well short of projections and/or hopes (the two are easy to confuse in boxing). In 2010, he lost a debated decision to Kelvin Price, but he rebounded from that to go on a good run, including a 2012 Prizefighter tournament win, where he beat Marcelo Luiz Nascimento, Tom Dallas, and Kevin Johnson in three-round fights in one night.
Worries came about when he quit on his stool after four rounds against Vyacheslav Glazkov in December 2012, though. He's since won two in a row, but there's a question of how much Hamer "wants it," and with the way Ruiz can pepper opponents with the sort of attack they just don't see much in this division, that could come into play again on Saturday night.