Everyone knows Canelo Alvarez and most have probably learned plenty about Alfredo Angulo over at least the last couple of weeks, but what about Saturday night's undercard fighters? We've got guys on the way up, guys who have probably been as good as they're going to get, some decent matchups, a big risk for a prospect, and two world title fights.
Here's some quick analysis on the bouts.
Super Bantamweights, 12 Rounds
Leo Santa Cruz (26-0-1, 15 KO) vs Cristian Mijares (49-7-2, 24 KO)
Odds (via Bovada): Santa Cruz -1200, Mijares +700.
Santa Cruz will be defending the WBC title in this one, and as you can see by the line, he's a sizable favorite to retain. The 25-year-old Mexican is a must-see action fighter who brings relentless pressure and breaks opponents down. He's not a particularly big one-punch guy, but he just keeps throwing and landing, and tires his foes as they have to not only try to work for their own offense, but they're going to have to walk through a good amount of Leo's just to get there.
Mijares, 32, is a good veteran fighter and betrays the Mexican stereotype of the action fighter, as he's much more of a tactician. He's probably still best-known for absolutely obliterating Jorge Arce in 2007, but that was seven years ago now. A former WBC, WBA, and IBF super flyweight titleholder, Mijares skipped the bantamweight division to move straight up to 122, where he lost a debatable decision to Victor Terrazas in April 2013. He also scored a win over Rafael Marquez in a featherweight bout in October 2012.
Fight Rating: 7/10 for the matchup, 6.5/10 for action. The action could easily wind up better than predicted by my score, but that will probably mean a largely one-sided fight in Santa Cruz's favor. If Mijares has his way, he'll slow it down, frustrate the younger man, and try to ugly his way to a decision win. (Also note that matchup scores are on the sliding scale of boxing. This isn't exactly No. 1 vs No. 2 or anything, but it's a good matchup at 122 right now.)
Junior Middleweights, 12 Rounds
Carlos Molina (22-5-2, 6 KO) vs Jermall Charlo (17-0, 13 KO)
Odds (via Bovada): Charlo -200, Molina +160.
Molina is making the first defense of his IBF title here. He was in the running, supposedly, to face Canelo Alvarez, with his world title belt being the biggest reason for that. But Canelo and Golden Boy predictably picked Angulo, which makes sense because there's more money and a better fight in that, and let's just say that the "unfortunate" happens and Canelo loses on Saturday. If he loses to Angulo, you can market Angulo. If he loses to Molina, there's not much marketing can be done for Carlos Molina, as unfair as that might be.
Charlo, 23, is seven years younger than his veteran opponent, and will be the superior athlete and more naturally gifted man on Saturday. But Molina is often the lesser pure athlete and less naturally gifted fighter. That's nothing new to him. He does his work in his opponents heads as much as anywhere. Charlo is taking a very big step up in competition with this fight. The thing about that is, it either means his team (behind the scenes) thinks he's 100% ready to win this fight, or his team isn't very sure he'll ever be ready to win this sort of fight. Boxing promoters don't often stick prospects in a fight like this if they think there's a huge future in them, and that they haven't yet reached the right time to go for it. So Charlo is either seen by his handlers as ready or a guy who might as well go for it now.
Fight Rating: 7/10 for the matchup, 4/10 for action. Some of y'all may just love watching Molina ply his sweet science trade with all the old-timey tricks, traps, fouls, holds, and whatever else he can throw in, and that's perfectly fine. But does it make for action? Absolutely not. Molina is not an exciting fighter, but he's a very crafty one. Charlo may be in over his head here, and could be vulnerable to Molina's frustrating style. If that's the case, this one could get really dull in a hurry. The bad news for Molina is that his style just doesn't win over judges, because he's not Bernard Hopkins. Molina has all the feel of a guy The Boxing Establishment kind of would have liked to hold in check at the Friday Night Fights level, but he just kept plucking away, and now here he is. Charlo has to be the house favorite, and what's bad news for Carlos is good news for Jermall Charlo -- judges don't always see Molina as effective, and that could give Charlo some crucial swing rounds.
Lightweights, 10 Rounds
Jorge Linares (35-3, 23 KO) vs Nihito Arakawa (24-3-1, 16 KO)
Odds (via Bovada): Linares -900, Arakawa +550.
If you'd said a few years ago that Jorge Linares was going to be on pay-per-view in 2014, I think most #boxingfriends would have seen that as a distinct possibility, even a likelihood. Maybe not as a headline act, but certainly a featured player. Instead, it's 2014, Jorge Linares is on a pay-per-view card, and he's only there because Omar Figueroa is injured and had to pull out of his fight with Canelo's older brother. Linares-Arakawa was originally slated as the live "Countdown" fight before the PPV went live, and it was great for that position. This figures to be a very entertaining fight and it might have convinced a few more people to buy at the last minute.
As a pay-per-view opener, it's also a very good fight, and in terms of action, the best fight on the bill, save perhaps for the main event.
Linares, 28, is a superbly skilled boxer with excellent footwork, the sort that makes him seem as though he's almost gliding around the ring, like Fred Astaire in his dancing shoes. He's got all the ability in the world, plenty of power for a real contender, speed, technique, and an awful, awful chin that has let him down against the likes of Juan Carlos Salgado (TKO-1, 2009), Antonio DeMarco (TKO-11, 2011), and Sergio Thompson (TKO-2, 2012). The DeMarco fight is one to watch if you're not familiar with Linares and want to see the full range of what he has to offer. You will seem him thoroughly dominate a solid opponent for 10 rounds, then get stopped when the heat is on. To me, Linares is a more skilled version of Amir Khan, with perhaps a worse chin, and less major achievements as a professional.
Arakawa, 32, is 100 mph straightforward, as we saw last July when he was savagely beaten by Omar Figueroa over 12 rounds, going down in the second and sixth rounds, and miraculously finishing the fight on his feet. That was the last time he fought, so the good news is he's taken some time off to recover. He's an incredibly brave fighter, and he did very well at the domestic level in Japan. A win here would be easily his biggest.
Fight Score: 8/10 for the matchup, 8/10 for action. Even before this was added to the main card, it was the best undercard fight on the show by a good bit, and make no mistake, this is a better fight than Omar Figueroa and Canelo's mediocre brother, who didn't even deserve his win over Rod Salka on Showtime last year. This is a good fight for both Linares and Arakawa, has a nice style matchup, and there's a sincere risk either man could lose. The betting odds are heavy for Linares, but he's been a sucker's bet before.