This Saturday morning by U.S. time, Nonito Donaire will make his return to the ring as he looks to pick up a featherweight title against Simpiwe Vetyeka, part of a bill that includes three world title fights at 126 pounds, and some other intriguing matchups and featured fighters, as well.
Macau is quickly becoming one of the world's top fight destinations, as the mega-money casinos there are of great appeal to the boxing world, and Top Rank promoter Bob Arum in particular. Arum sees Macau as part of boxing's future, internationally expanding, and with China as a potentially huge market for the sport, which is no longer mainstream in the United States, and almost certainly never will be again.
Mostly, the returns have been encouraging. While the Pacquiao-Rios PPV from Macau flopped in terms of buys last year, the gate was good, and that has been the case for Zou Shiming-headlined cards, as well. This card has neither Pacquiao nor Shiming, but Donaire is expected to pull in a solid crowd, too, along with some of the undercard talent.
Let's take a look at the full rundown of what you'll see on Saturday. Remember, BLH will have live morning coverage for the full event, and the Donaire-Vetyeka fight will be shown via tape delay in the U.S. on HBO on Saturday afternoon, while Avalos-Ishimoto will air via tape delay that night on UniMas' Solo Boxeo Tecate.
Nonito Donaire vs Simpiwe Vetyeka
Featherweights, 12 Rounds, for Vetyeka's WBA "super" title
Donaire, 31, has won titles at 112, 118, and 122, as well as an interim belt at 115, and now he looks to add a 126-pound strap to his résumé, facing red-hot South African Vetyeka. The 33-year-old Vetyeka (26-2, 16 KO) is an odd case, and this fight is a bit perplexing on paper. Sure, Donaire (32-2, 21 KO) has looked pedestrian in recent outings, while Vetyeka has smashed both Daud Yordan and Chris John in back-to-back fights, but it was also just two years ago that Vetyeka lost an eight-round split decision to Klaas Mboyane, who came into the fight with a 14-9-2 record.
So which Donaire will we get? The pound-for-pound contender that may have been mostly a creation of smart matchmaking, or the guy who not only got a boxing lesson from Guillermo Rigondeaux last year, but was also getting one from a shop-worn Vic Darchinyan before rallying for a knockout?
And which Vetyeka do we get? The recent destroyer, or the ho-hum non-contender?
Both guys are in their 30s, but athletes peak differently. We have most likely seen the best of Donaire, even if he has a great run from here, while Vetyeka appears to have put it together over the last year. Vetyeka's style could be one that gives Donaire serious trouble, especially if Nonito hasn't really made the adjustments he's claiming he has, or if he winds up over-thinking about not doing the wrong things. It's a very good fight on paper, and pretty much a pick'em as far as I'm concerned.
Nicholas Walters vs Vic Darchinyan
Featherweights, 12 Rounds, for Walters' WBA "regular" title
Darchinyan, 38, just keeps proving that he shouldn't be counted out, no matter how high he goes up in weight, or how old he gets. And really, when you look at the way he's fought over the years, there's really been no serious dip in his quality. He's lost five fights since 2009:
- Darchinyan effectively beat himself in 2009 against Joseph Agbeko, losing a decision in a very winnable fight. This is not revisionist thinking; this is what I thought then, and what I think now.
- He lost a split decision to Abner Mares in 2010, a debatable and rough fight where Darchinyan feels Mares got away with a lot of dirty tactics.
- He was outclassed by Anselmo Moreno in 2011, a style matchup that just didn't go Vic's way. No excuses or reasons here, he just lost to a guy who had his number.
- Darchinyan lost to Shinsuke Yamanaka in 2012, making him 0-3 in bantamweight title fights. He was competitive, but I do think he clearly lost that fight.
- He lost his rematch with Nonito Donaire last year, but he dominated the majority of the fight before getting caught late on when Donaire became desperate.
Over time, I think I allowed myself to believe Darchinyan was getting washed up. He's certainly weathered and past his prime, but he can still fight, and his style seems to lend itself well to aging. It also doesn't hurt that for the bulk of Darchinyan's career, he was thrashing guys at 112 and hasn't taken a lot of real beatings.
Walters (23-0, 19 KO) remains a virtual unknown, a Jamaican fighter with no wins as good as this one would be on his record to date. He's got a long reach (measured at 73") which should give him an advantage over Darchinyan in theory, but Vic is so awkward and unique that things like that don't really seem to come into play that often.
This could be a coming-out party for Walters, or it could be Darchinyan (39-6-1, 28 KO) claiming a world title, paper or not, at 126 pounds as he closes in on 40.
Evgeny Gradovich vs Alexander Miskirtchian
Featherweights, 12 Rounds, for Gradovich's IBF title
Gradovich (18-0, 9 KO) has become a fan favorite, as "The Russian Mexican" from Robert Garcia's camp knocked off Billy Dib in March 2013 to win the IBF belt, and has made two defenses of that title in Macau, including a rematch win that retired Dib last November on the Pacquiao-Rios bill.
I do think it's only fair that even with his entertaining style, Gradovich's opposition as a "world champion" should be called out. Miskirtchian (24-2-1, 9 KO) isn't a real contender, and neither was Dib, and neither was Mauricio Munoz. (I'm sure some would argue that Dib was, but I am not on that team.)
That said, let's look at it another way: this is really his career progression. The fact that Gradovich is a "world champion" aside, he's taken steps forward. He was fighting club guys before he got the short-notice call to fight Dib, won that fight, and has been fighting the guys that come as the next step up since then.
He should be expected to win this fight handily.
Chris Avalos vs Yasutaka Ishimoto
Super Bantamweights, 12 rounds, IBF eliminator
Avalos (23-2, 17 KO) has made a minor name for himself in the U.S. with entertaining fights on ShoBox and Friday Night Fights, while Ishimoto (24-6, 7 KO) notably upset Wilfredo Vazquez Jr in April 2013 in Macau. At one time, it seemed as though Avalos might be topping out at fringe contender, but he's put together a nice four-fight win streak, and is still just 24 years of age, very young with plenty of time left in the ring.
Also in action: Hong Kong super flyweight Rex Tso (12-0, 8 KO) will face Thailand's Ratchasak Kokietgym (22-2-1, 10 KO); 2012 middleweight silver medalist Esquiva Falcao (2-0, 1 KO) of Brazil will take on Korean Eun-Chang Lee (7-3, 3 KO); Chinese lightweight Ik Yang (14-0, 9 KO) faces Geisler AP (5-1, 3 KO) of Indonesia; and "The Macau Kid," Kuok Ku Ng (3-0, 1 KO) will meet Indonesia's Muhammad Imam (9-4, 3 KO) in junior middleweight action.