Premier Boxing Champions makes its return this Saturday afternoon on CBS, with a doubleheader featuring a pair of exciting young fighters taking on a pair of fighters coming over from the United Kingdom, one looking to refresh his career with an upset, the other looking to solidify himself as a true world-level fighter.
Here's a look at the two matchups, which you can watch on your TV without pay-per-view or premium cable or even basic cable, actually.
Omar Figueroa vs Ricky Burns
- 12 Rounds, Junior Welterweights
Figueroa (24-0-1, 18 KO) has never met a fight he can't make exciting, which is to say he's never met a fight he can't make more difficult than it might need to be. The 25-year-old Texan is a former lightweight titleholder moving up in weight following a ninth round knockout win last August at the StubHub Center over Daniel Estrada, which followed up a blood-and-guts war in 2013 with Nihito Arakawa, and a fairly controversial decision victory over spoiler Jerry Belmontes in April of last year.
"Panterita," a native of Weslaco, Texas, is a great young action fighter with good power but some worry of potentially fragile hands. He had to postpone an appearance for a month last year before fighting Belmontes instead of Ricardo Alvarez, as hand and wrist injuries suffered by smashing his fists into Arakawa's iron skull had proven a bit more troublesome than anticipated. Before fighting Estrada last summer, he admitted that the hands were always going to be an issue for him.
Brittle hands don't necessarily kill a career. Floyd Mayweather is known to have issues with his hands, and he's the best boxer in the world. Paulie Malignaggi has bad hands, too, and has won world titles at 140 and 147 pounds. But if it saps the power of Figueroa over time, that's a major issue. He's not a master technician like Mayweather or a clever boxer like Malignaggi, and the chances of him adjusting his game to become one are slim and none. It's just not his style or his mentality.
For now, it doesn't seem to be something that's haunting him, but you never know. It's the sort of thing that can come up at any time, in any fight or in any training camp. Obviously, the hands are put to good use in the boxing game.
But if he's healthy, he should be the clear favorite here. He's facing an opponent who has looked burnt out the last couple of years, but one who is tough and can box. If Belmontes can challenge Figueroa, there's no reason Burns can't, as well, unless Figueroa is simply better than he was on that night.
For the 32-year-old Burns, this fight marks his debut on U.S. soil, as the former two-division world titleholder has fought his entire career in the United Kingdom, with most of those bouts coming in his native Scotland, where he became a pretty fair star attraction.
But Burns (37-4-1, 11 KO) is certainly on the downslope, or so it would appear. After upsetting Rocky Martinez for a super featherweight title back in 2010, Burns faced a slate of mediocre challengers before moving up in weight in 2011, knocking off tough Aussie Michael Katsidis by decision at Wembley Arena. He reigned as WBO lightweight titlist from 2012-14, peaking with a surprisingly overpowering wipeout of Kevin Mitchell in September 2012.
The next four fights didn't go quite so well. He was trailing on all three scorecards against Jose "Chepo" Gonzalez in May 2013, but did manage to dig down deep for a rally that stopped the Puerto Rican underdog after nine rounds, with Gonzalez claiming he had injured his wrist. Four months later, Burns was given a gift by the judges in Glasgow, escaping with a heavily criticized draw against Ray Beltran.
Burns' luck ran out in March 2014, when he faced rising American star Terence Crawford, who out-slicked Burns over 12 rounds to win a clear decision. A comeback fight against unheralded Dejan Zlaticanin three months later resulted in a split decision loss, once again at home in Glasgow, this time against a fighter who wasn't even on anyone's radar beforehand.
Burns did get back to the winner's circle last October, beating Alexandre Lepelley. Burns moved up to 140 pounds in that fight, and looked solid, winning a near-shutout eight-round decision against a mediocre opponent.
If Burns was able to get some confidence back, and if the move up in weight has suited him, he might be a bit of a sleeper in this fight. Figueroa is a very vulnerable fighter, both because of his hands and because of his style, which leaves him wide open to take shots. While Burns is not a puncher by any stretch, Figueroa relies on overwhelming pressure, and Burns has proven a solid boxer in many fights.
Tomoki Kameda vs Jamie McDonnell
- 12 Rounds, Bantamweights
The youngest and possibly most talented of the three fighting Kameda brothers, Tomoki Kameda started his career back in 2008 at the age of 17 in the rings of Mexico, where he fought 15 of his first 23 bouts. As such, he has a "Mexican style" which focuses on a healthy body attack. He even earned himself a rare nickname for a Japanese fighter: "El Mexicanito."
It was in neither Mexico nor Japan that he won his first world title, however, as Kameda (31-0, 19 KO) traveled to the Philippines to knock off previously unbeaten Paulus Ambunda of Namibia to win the WBO lightweight title in 2013. He defended once in Japan, beating another Namibian, Immanuel Naidjala, four months later, and has now moved his career Stateside.
Kameda's U.S. debut came last summer, when he was featured on the Canelo-Lara card from Las Vegas. That night, he lit up Thailand's Pungluang Sor Singyu with a vicious left hook to the liver, scoring a seventh round knockout and arguably stealing the show on the night. Just four days later, he signed a deal with powerful manager/adviser Al Haymon, and a return bout on Showtime was scheduled for November.
That night, Kameda faced veteran Alejandro Hernandez, a capable fighter with a deceiving record who had scored an upset over Daniel Rosas in his previous bout. Kameda didn't put on the sort of performance that was expected that night, but he left Chicago with his belt and his unbeaten record, scoring a split decision victory. He was noticeably bothered by a cut down the stretch in that fight, and nearly wound up giving it away in the last few rounds after a solid start.
Needless to say, it wasn't the sort of performance that Kameda, 23, wanted to give in his Showtime debut, and he'll be looking for something more special as he moves to network TV on Saturday. But he's also facing a better opponent in Jamie McDonnell, a fighter who hasn't lost since 2008 and has quietly emerged as one of the better bantamweights in the world over the last five years.
The 29-year-old McDonnell (25-2-1, 12 KO) doesn't seem intimidating on paper, and certainly he'll be the underdog in this fight. When Kameda has been at his best, he's appeared capable of reaching a level that McDonnell simply cannot. But given the way that Kameda was tested in his last bout, McDonnell and his team may have seen things they could be able to exploit, as "El Mexicanito" looked far from invincible.
If McDonnell, another U.K. fighter making his debut in the States, is to score the upset in this fight, he'll have to fluster Kameda and keep him at bay as best he can. That's easier said than done, obviously -- physically, Kameda is the stronger fighter, a better puncher, and his body attack can be downright withering.
McDonnell does have one fight of true road experience in his career, which came back in 2010 when he went to France and beat Jerome Arnould to win the vacant European bantamweight title, just shy of two months after he scored what was then considered an upset over Ian Napa to pick up the British and Commonwealth belts. He wound up unifying all of those titles with a 2011 win over Stuart Hall (who had won the British title after McDonnell vacated).
On the world title level, McDonnell has been successful but oddly unlucky. He won a majority decision over Julio Ceja in May 2013 to gain the IBF bantamweight title, but never got to defend it, as he was stripped eight months later for failing to agree to a fight with mandatory challenger Vusi Malinga. A year after his win over Ceja, he won the vacant WBA "world" title against Tabtimdaeng Na Rachawat with a 10th round TKO, and defended in November against Javier Chacon, a 10th round stoppage with Chacon suffering a shoulder injury.
That win over Chacon was a little odd, as well, as McDonnell had been struggling through the fight, and we had Chacon up 86-85 at the time of the sudden stoppage. To his credit, McDonnell did appear to be rallying in the fight, and had narrowed the scores heading into the championship rounds. (Also worth noting that McDonnell led on all three scorecards at the time of stoppage, though that was certainly questionable.)
Both Kameda and McDonnell are coming off of fairly unimpressive victories, but victories nonetheless. Each of them will be looking to do something more this time around, and to stake their claim in what is currently a pretty wide-open bantamweight division beyond top dog Shinsuke Yamanaka, who holds the WBC title.
(Note: Kameda's WBO title will not be on the line in this fight, as the sanctioning body declined to sanction a unification with a belt that isn't even considered the WBA's top title in the division. Juan Carlos Payano is the "super world" champion of the WBA, which outranks the "world" title." Boxing.)
PBC on CBS starts at 4:00 pm EST from State Farm Arena in Hidalgo, Texas, and BLH will have live coverage of both fights.