On one side, a seemingly indestructible force of nature. On the other side, a hard punching underdog. That's Saturday night's HBO pay-per-view main between Gennady Golovkin and David Lemieux. It also aptly describes the show's main undercard bout, a flyweight showdown between champion Roman Gonzalez and former titleholder Brian Viloria.
Gonzalez (43-0, 37 KO) made his HBO debut on May 16, pairing with Golovkin for a night of exciting knockout action from The Forum in Inglewood, California. The crowd at the famous venue were there largely to see Golovkin, who received a hero's welcome later in the night, but "Chocolatito" impressed, too, demolishing another former flyweight titleholder, Mexico's Edgar Sosa.
Gonzalez, 28, looked sharp in round one, and then tore through the veteran challenger with three knockdowns in round two, forcing referee Wayne Hedgepeth to call a halt to the fight.
It was an auspicious debut for the Nicaraguan, a former champion at 105 and 108 as well, as he not only was impressive, but he managed to break through as a must-see fighter on major American TV as a flyweight, something near unheard-of in the modern era.
But if there is a flyweight that American fans have known for some time now, it's Brian Viloria, a Filipino-American fighter from Hawaii known as "Hawaiian Punch." Now 34, Viloria's career has had ups and downs, with world titles at 108 and 112 pounds.
After a mild upset loss in 2013 against Juan Francisco Estrada, who took the WBA and WBO flyweight belts in Macau, Viloria took nearly a year off before getting back to business, and has won four straight fights, albeit against less than impressive opposition. He came to the division in July 2010, after losing his IBF 108-pound title to Carlos Tamara six months earlier.
Viloria's second career at flyweight really took off a year later, when he beat Pingo Miranda for the WBO title. He made successful defenses against Giovani Segura and Omar Nino in his next two bouts, stopping both, before unifying with the WBA belt held by Tyson Marquez in November 2012, an electric performance that saw Marquez hit the canvas three times, Viloria stopping him in the 10th round.
The loss to Estrada was an upset, but obviously not anything that counts Viloria out. Estrada has solidified himself as the world's second-best flyweight to Gonzalez, and one fight before he faced Viloria, Estrada had himself challenged "Chocolatito," and acquitted himself pretty nicely in a 2012 loss at junior flyweight.
Gonzalez is the massive favorite in this fight, like Golovkin is in the main event. The lines are even pretty similar on the sports books, and this new Golovkin/Gonzalez pairing seems like a good bet to move forward into 2016. Like Lemieux, Viloria is seen as a capable and credible opponent, but "an opponent" nonetheless.
Viloria (36-4, 22 KO) is a good puncher, maybe even a bit better a puncher than his KO rate would suggest. That said, he is 34 years old and he hasn't faced serious competition in two and a half years now. 34 is elderly for a fighter at these weights, but one thing that could delay that serious decline in ability for Viloria is that he has never relied heavily on slickness or reflexes, and if the punch is indeed the last thing to go, he should still have that, which has been his greatest weapon over his career.
Still, it's hard to envision even the absolute best version we've ever seen of Viloria beating today's version of Gonzalez. "Chocolatito" is a precision boxer-puncher with power in both hands, throws great combinations, does damage, and fights with big confidence. He's won his last nine fights by stoppage, and there have been some pretty tough guys in that group. Sosa, Rocky Fuentes, and Akira Yaegashi were not exactly chopped liver, and Francisco Rodriguez Jr went on to win a world title at strawweight, 11 months after Gonzalez beat him at flyweight.
The smart money in this fight is obviously on Gonzalez, and this is a matchup where he's going to have every chance to be impressive and get the crowd on its feet. Viloria is not exactly known for defense or for shying away from a fight.
Tureano Johnson vs Eamonn O'Kane
The working theory is that this fight is here to set up Johnson (18-1, 13 KO) as a potential next opponent for Golovkin should both win on Saturday. It's not the worst idea in the world. Johnson, 31, is a pretty good fighter whose career might look a lot different had he ever been in league with a power promoter or manager.
The Bahamian middleweight got a shot on American TV in February 2013, and beat Willie Fortune on a ShoBox event from California. That fight didn't lead to anything, though, and he was out of action for 14 months before he got the call to face Curtis Stevens on NBC Sports. That fight had a highly controversial ending, with referee Gary Rosato stopping the action at 2:09 of the 10th and final round. Johnson led 88-83 on our score card at the time of the stoppage, and while he had gotten hurt on one of Stevens' vaunted left hooks, he was covering up against the ropes and defending himself, with Stevens throwing but not landing.
That had been a chance for Johnson to really put his name out there. Stevens was in his second fight after getting wiped out by Golovkin in 2013, and had some solid name value at the time. But Johnson did enter the conversation thanks to that fight, at least. He returned three months later to beat Mike Gavronski on ESPN2, and most recently starched Alex Theran on a FS1-televised show in January, one of Roc Nation's thus far fairly limp efforts to become a boxing promotional company.
O'Kane (14-1-1, 5 KO) is a 33-year-old fighter from Northern Ireland whose biggest fight to date probably came in 2012, when he lost to fellow prospect John Ryder in London. Since then, O'Kane's career has sort of stalled, and he's shown no sign of becoming a serious player at 160 pounds. He is here as an opponent, but it's a big opportunity for him, too. O'Kane did win gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, beating 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Anthony Ogogo in the final.
Luis Ortiz vs Matias Ariel Vidondo
36-year-old Luis Ortiz is an imposing physical specimen, a 6'4" southpaw heavyweight with an 81-inch reach and an impressive KO percentage, with a record of 22-0, 19 wins coming early. The Cuban, now based in Miami, is nicknamed "The Real King Kong," turned pro in 2010 after a lengthy amateur career, going a reported 343-19 in the unpaid ranks, although he never did make a true mark at the higher levels of international competition.
Ortiz's biggest fight to date came in September 2014, when he stopped Lateef Kayode in 2:55. That win was changed to a no contest, however, when Ortiz tested positive for a steroid.
This figures to be a showcase fight for him, as he takes on Argentina's Matias Ariel Vidondo (20-1-1, 18 KO), a bulky 38-year-old who has never fought outside of his home country, and has never faced the sort of credible competition that would seem to give him an upset shot in this matchup. Certainly stranger things have happened than Vidondo beating Ortiz, but this is a fight that feels like it's here because it didn't cost much money to make, and the chance for a highlight reel sort of knockout is solid.
In a 10-round lightweight bout, Ghislain Maduma, a Congolese fighter based in Montreal, will take on Maurice Hooker of Dallas. Maduma (17-1, 11 KO) was solid in a loss last year to Kevin Mitchell, leading on all three scorecards before he was stopped late in the 11th round. Hooker (18-0-2, 14 KO) has won six straight and five in a row by stoppage following an eight-round draw with Abel Ramos in 2014.
Another lightweight prospect, 20-year-old Lamont Roach Jr (8-0, 3 KO), will face Mexican Jose Bustos (7-5-3, 4 KO) in a six-round bout.
In a four-round junior welterweight bout, Azriel Paez, the son of Jorge "El Maromero" Paez and younger brother of Jorge Jr, will face Kazakhstan's Ruslan Madiev. Paez is currently 4-0 (1 KO), and Madiev is 5-0 (3 KO), so someone's "0" will probably go, although they could fight to a draw or a no-contest, too, that's possible.