With one world title fight, another fight masquerading as a world title fight, and the return of Zou Shiming, Saturday night's HBO pay-per-view undercard for the Manny Pacquiao vs Chris Algieri fight is pretty much business as usual for these things, with no single fight that stands out as a must-see for boxing fans.
Let's run down the matchups for this thoroughly mediocre -- on paper, at least -- show.
Zou Shiming vs Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym
This 12 round flyweight bout pits Chinese superstar Shiming (5-0, 1 KO) against unbeaten Thai fighter Kwanpichit (27-0-2, 12 KO) in a fight that seems a lot better on paper than it probably is. Shiming, 33, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but one with limited upside. For one thing, he's old for a prospect, and for another thing, he can't punch. He's a skilled boxer, but he was already looking past his prime at London 2012, where he received his second questionable gold medal after first winning one in Beijing in 2008.
Kwanpichit, like many fighters from Thailand, has a pretty but empty record loaded up with novice foes, many of whom were making their professional debuts. He last fought on June 6 in Phimai, beating Oscar Raknafa via 7th round TKO. Shiming was last seen on July 19 in Macau, beating Luis de la Rosa over 10 rounds.
Shiming's career is being handled very carefully, because surely the people in charge of it -- Bob Arum and the matchmakers at Top Rank -- are totally aware that he is, quite frankly, a fairly limited fighter with a marginal upside inside the ring. Yes, he's talented and well-schooled, but this is no longer the amateur game, and Shiming is no spring chicken. 33-year-old flyweights don't historically exist at the top levels of the sport.
The real key to Shiming is his stardom in China, which is the new "it" market for pro boxing. With the American audience once again all but tapped out on supporting a niche sport, China's huge population is extremely intriguing, and there's been a good push to make it a mainstream sport there. The interest is legitimate, and Shiming is a major athletic star in the country. Protecting his value is a very big deal in terms of opening up that market. But that doesn't mean that you have to think he's a great pro boxer. He's shown no evidence of that so far, and if and when he beats Kwanpichit -- drawing attention this week for looking kind of like Manny Pacquiao -- it's unlikely he'll be any more legitimate than he was before.
Vasyl Lomachenko vs Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo
Lomachenko (2-1, 1 KO) is another two-time gold medalist, winning at featherweight in Beijing and lightweight in London. He also won featherweight gold at the 2008 European Amateurs and 2009 World Amateurs, and as a lightweight at the 2011 worlds. He was a silver medalist at featherweight at the 2007 World Amateurs in Chicago, when he was just 19.
Now 26, Lomachenko is a legitimate featherweight contender and holder of the WBO title. He went after that belt in just his second pro fight, where he lost to the gritty and highly experienced Orlando Salido, who also missed weight for the fight, which certainly didn't help Lomachenko any. But though he lost, the Ukrainian prodigy got valuable experience. He made a lot of mistakes early in that bout, and inactivity was the biggest reason he lost. From that, he came back to beat Gary Russell Jr for the then-vacant belt, more or less schooling a top American prospect, even though the scores came back just a majority decision.
Cholatarn (52-1, 33 KO) is another Thai fighter with another empty, fluffed-up record. Consider that he's 52-1, and that BoxRec.com considers him just the 42nd best featherweight in the world. That's not to say that Chonlatarn can't fight, or that Kwanpichit can't, either. You never know until you get in there. But their records are no indication of their quality, because they haven't beaten anyone.
Jessie Vargas vs Antonio DeMarco
Vargas (25-0, 9 KO) is a former Mayweather Promotions prospect who defected to Top Rank while Floyd was in jail in 2012, and after a stall-out period, has finally broken through to the higher levels. At 25, Vargas has returned to 140 pounds to win a version of a version of the world title, as he beat Khabib Allakhverdiev for the WBA "world" (or "regular") title in April, on the Pacquiao-Bradley II undercard. (The real WBA titleholder at junior welterweight is Danny Garcia.)
Vargas was impressive in beating Allakhverdiev, and in beating Anton Novikov on August 2 in his first defense of the belt. Those are second-tier junior welterweights, but those were good wins for Vargas, who is still young and has a long career ahead of him.
DeMarco (31-3-1, 23 KO) feels like an afterthought as the opponent here, but he shouldn't be totally overlooked. Though it may be hard to believe, he's only 28 years old, and he's won three straight fights as a welterweight following his one-sided loss to Adrien Broner in November 2012, which wound up beating the Mexican's final fight as a lightweight.
DeMarco has been a bit overrated owing mostly to a 2011 win over Jorge Linares, where Linares fell apart when cut after dominating the first 10 rounds of the fight, plus a September 2012 wipeout of John Molina in just 44 seconds, a fight that may not have stood out so much, except it was aired on HBO.
Is DeMarco a serious threat at 140 pounds? That remains to be seen. But is Vargas a serious player at 140? Even with a couple of solid wins this year, that also remains to be seen.