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Preview: Kovalev-Ward undercard

One major prospect headlines the Kovalev-Ward undercard.

Oleksandr Gvozdyk vs Isaac Chilemba

Oleksandr Gvozdyk

Nadjib Mohammedi v Oleksandr Gvozdyk Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Record: 11-0 (9 KO) ... Streak: W11 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’2" / 75½" ... Age: 29

Notes: Gvozdyk is a top prospect and, really, more than ready enough to take steps into title contention. That’s what Chilemba will test on Saturday — just how ready Gvozdyk really is as of now.

Gvozdyk has skill, power, and the Ukrainian has an amateur pedigree. He came into the pro ranks well developed already, winning bronze at London 2012. In April, Gvozdyk demolished former world title challenger Nadjib Mohammedi in the second round with a highlight reel knockout, and in July he beat another former world title challenger, Tommy Karpency, by sixth round TKO. Karpency did score a legitimate, hard first round knockdown of Gvozdyk, but from there it was all as it was expected to be.

Check out Christopher Trottier’s piece from earlier this week for more on Gvozdyk.

Isaac Chilemba

Carl Froch v Mikkel Kessler Super-Middleweight Unification Fight Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Record: 24-4-2 (10 KO) ... Streak: L2 ... Last 5: 3-2 ... Last 10: 6-3-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’2" / 73" ... Age: 29

Notes: Chilemba has been around the block more than once, and most recently came up well short but did push Sergey Kovalev to 12 rounds in July, preceded by a competitive loss to Eleider Alvarez last November.

Chilemba has also been in this exact spot before, facing a hyped, unbeaten prospect. That’s not to say that Thomas Oosthuizen, Maksim Vlasov, or Vasily Lepikhin were as well regarded or as talented as Gvozdyk, but he beat Vlasov and Lepikhin and went to a disputed draw with Oosthuizen. He’s got skill and he’s patient, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, and can lull opponents into bad positions. He even did it with Kovalev a little bit, and Kovalev has been considered the world’s best light heavyweight for a while now.

Matchup Grade: B. It might not wind up being an exciting fight — in fact, it won’t be, if Chilemba has his way -- but this is a good and meaningful matchup. It’s a tough step for Gvozdyk on paper, and another chance for Chilemba to upset an apple cart.

Maurice Hooker vs Darleys Perez

Maurice Hooker

Andre Ward v Alexander Brand Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Record: 21-0-2 (16 KO) ... Streak: W9 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 9-0-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: N/A / N/A ... Age: 27

Notes: Maurice Hooker is a little old for a prospect, but a quick turnaround and some good wins could make him a contender in a fairly open division quickly. That said, he’s proven little so far -- Hooker’s best wins are over Ghislain Maduma and, like, Santos Benavides. Not exactly murderer’s row.

So with that said, there’s not much you can really tell about Hooker at this point in his career. In August, he knocked out Ty Barnett in the first round on the Ward-Brand card. Roc Nation has hopes for him.

Darleys Perez

Boxing at Manchester Arena Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images

Record: 33-2 (21 KO) ... Streak: W1 ... Last 5: 3-1-1 ... Last 10: 7-2-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5’7" / 71" ... Age: 33

Notes: Former lightweight titleholder Perez has losses to Anthony Crolla and Yuriorkis Gamboa, and a draw (a lucky one) in his first fight against Crolla. This year, he’s fought once in Colombia, beating a club fighter in May.

This is going to be the first real fight that Perez will have as a 140-pound fighter. It will be crucial, of course, that he’s able to take a shot at the higher weight, and that he maintains a good portion of his own power. Perez has been a solid fighter in his career, but he’s here as the opponent, at least on paper. Whether that holds true is up to Hooker and his ability.

Matchup Grade: C. Could be better than this, could be worse, could be nothing, could be something. Coulda coulda coulda!

Curtis Stevens vs James de la Rosa

Curtis Stevens

Patrick Teixeira v Curtis Stevens Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Record: 28-5 (21 KO) ... Streak: W1 ... Last 5: 3-2 ... Last 10: 7-3 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'7" / 71½" ... Age: 31

Notes: Stevens has seemingly turned something of a corner with new trainer John David Jackson, who had the the left hook specialist throwing his right hand with authority last time out in May, when Stevens demolished Brazilian prospect Patrick Teixeira on the Canelo-Khan card.

But beating an unproven Teixiera is one thing. Is Stevens going to be able to do that sort of thing against better opposition? We won’t really find out this weekend, most likely. James de la Rosa is pretty much tailor made for an impressive Stevens performance, with leaky defense and a vulnerable chin.

What’s going to be more interesting is what Stevens does in 2017. This is a fight that keeps him busy, which is fine for now. But we won’t know if he’s really turned that corner without tougher opponents.

James de la Rosa

Alfredo Angulo v James De la Rosa Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Record: 23-4 (13 KO) ... Streak: L2 ... Last 5: 2-3 ... Last 10: 6-4 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'10" / 72" ... Age: 28

Notes: Still living off the notoriety of beating a washed-up Alfredo Angulo in 2014, de la Rosa has lost two straight fights to prospects Hugo Centeno Jr (KO-5) and Jason Quigley (a shutout UD-10).

Born in Mexico and fighting out of Texas, de la Rosa is a fighter just good enough to expose someone like the ‘14 version of Angulo, who was slow, had little power as a middleweight, and wasn’t able to keep up his former relentless pace. de la Rosa battered Angulo for 10 rounds, and because of that picked up some momentum.

That momentum was quickly derailed by Centeno, who knocked de la Rosa out less than three months later. In May 2015, Quigley dominated him. He hasn’t fought since, which also means there’s likely to be some rust.

Matchup Grade: D+. This should be a short night for Stevens, but he has more of a history of making fights difficult than he does making them easy. I’m choosing to believe he’ll be as good here as he was against Teixeira, largely because I don’t think de la Rosa is going to make Stevens work for much of anything.

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