This Saturday night, July 23, on HBO pay-per-view (9 pm ET), Terence Crawford will meet Viktor Postol in a big junior welterweight title unification main event.
We’ll go in-depth on that fight tomorrow, but this evening, let’s take a look at the pay-per-view undercard.
Oscar Valdez vs Matias Rueda
Record: 19-0 (17 KO) ... Streak: W19 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'5½" / 66" ... Age: 25
Thoughts: He was one of the more exciting fighters at London 2012, representing Mexico in the the bantamweight division, winning a pair of fights before losing a cracker against Ireland’s John Joe Nevin, the eventual silver medalist. Valdez also fought at the 2008 Olympics at age 17, losing in the first round to eventual gold medalist Enkhbatyn Badar-Uugan of Mongolia.
Valdez seemed like a fighter not quite meant for the amateur scene, though, and also felt like one of the real top pro prospects in London. With skills, power, and an exciting style, he has proven out as a top prospect in the pro game, and already has a few really solid wins under his belt, victories over Jose Ramirez, Ruben Tamayo, Chris Avalos, and former titleholder Evgeny Gradovich, whom he brutalized in April on the Pacquiao-Bradley III card.
This fight could potentially be a test, though. His opponent is unproven, but also unbeaten, and with a great KO percentage. Valdez doesn’t always play the best defense, and if he gets clipped, he might find himself on the wrong end of a big upset. Put that on the Keys to Victory graphic: "Don’t get hit real hard and knocked out."
Record: 26-0 (23 KO) ... Streak: W26 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5’6" / N/A ... Age: 28
Thoughts: In some ways, Rueda is your typical unknown Argentine fighter: good record on paper, and important questions left to be answered. Is he actually any good? Well, we’ll find out.
And I don’t mean to single out Argentina in a negative manner, either. Even just counting recent years, the country has an interesting boxing history and has sent some terrific fighters abroad. But for every Sergio Martinez, Marcos Maidana, or Lucas Matthysse, there is a Roberto Bolonti, Ezequiel Maderna, or Maurico Munoz. Not bad fighters, but certainly not world class.
You can find a bit of Rueda on YouTube, if you want to go looking. He looks somewhere between the recent Argentine standouts and the recently nicknamed "Eddie Hearn Argies," guys brought in specifically to lose, knowing that they’re going to lose. And he can punch a little, so he’s at least that much of a threat.
Matchup Grade: C. This is a cautious grade, because it could be a surprise, or it could be a quick blowout. I don’t know. We have to find out. But at worst, it’s an Oscar Valdez fight, so it will have action, and will be a chance to again see a top prospect in action.
Oleksandr Gvozdyk vs Tommy Karpency
Record: 10-0 (8 KO) ... Streak: W10 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6'2" / 75½" ... Age: 29
Thoughts: A top prospect from Ukraine, now fighting out of Oxnard, California, Gvozdyk was a light heavyweight bronze medalist at London 2012, losing a controversial callback decision against Azerbaijan’s Adilbek Niyazymbetov. He didn’t turn pro until April 2014, and had stayed busy since.
This year alone, he’s fought twice, knocking out Mike Snider in 2:58 on February 13, and then stepping up his competition against former world title challenger Nadjib Mohammedi. Gvozdyk’s second round KO of Mohammedi on April 9 was one of the best knockouts of the year, just a simple stiff, straight right hand on the button.
This fight wasn’t supposed to be here, but when Gilberto Ramirez had to cancel his fight, Top Rank needed something to fill the pay-per-view slot left vacant. They could have gone with IK Yang vs Lenny Zappa, which was already slated for the prelim portion of the show, but instead moved Gvozdyk’s fight date back a week, and found him a decent opponent.
In our 2015 Year in Review series, I ranked Gvozdyk as the No. 4 light heavyweight prospect in a strong prospect class. I had him behind Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, Dmitry Bivol, and Marcus Browne, and a spot ahead of Egor Mekhontsev, the gold medal winner in London. With a bit more knowledge of all those guys, Browne looks like the fighter I ranked too high (perhaps considerably so). Gvozdyk is a clearly better prospect, even accounting for the difference in age, with Gvozdyk now 29 and Browne 25.
Record: 26-5-1 (15 KO) ... Streak: W1 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 7-3 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'11½" / 73" ... Age: 30
Thoughts: Karpency has become a solid gatekeeper sort in the light heavyweight division, a guy who twice challenged for world titles and came up well short against Nathan Cleverly (shutout decision in 2012) and Adonis Stevenson (TKO-3 last September).
The gatekeeper idea is really more his proper level. Karpency can handle himself, and isn’t a bad fighter — he did upset former champion Chad Dawson in October 2014, after all — but he’s not a world level fighter, and he’s never been a legitimate contender, even after he beat Dawson, a result that was largely chalked up more to Dawson’s skills and focus fading than anything special that Karpency did.
But he is the right sort of opponent for Gvozdyk right now. It’s not exactly a bold step, because Gvozdyk has beaten someone at this level already, and quite handily, but neither is it a step back, and that’s important.
Karpency has been stopped twice, by Stevenson and by Andrzej Fonfara in a strange fight in 2012, so that should really be the goal for Gvozdyk, find a way to stop this guy. He’s tough, but he can be put away.
Matchup Grade: C+. For a replacement fight put together on short notice, it’s not bad at all. Gvozdyk is a good prospect and Karpency isn’t a hopeless fighter, even if he may get overwhelmed here.
Jose Benavidez vs Francisco Santana
Record: 24-0 (16 KO) ... Streak: W24 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'11" / 73" ... Age: 24
Thoughts: Once thought of as a blue chipper, Benavidez’s career thus far has not so much been about anything he’s done wrong, but just about a perceived failure to live up to early hype. He turned pro at age 17, and came in with a massive amateur résumé for an American, a reported 120-5 record, several championships, and a 2009 Golden Gloves championship at the age of 16, the youngest to ever do it.
Like former amateur rival Frankie Gomez, though, he’s been missing something. Unlike Gomez, it’s not about issues outside the ring. Benavidez has stagnated the last few years. In 2012, he beat Pavel Miranda. In 2013, he beat Abraham Alvarez. In 2014, he beat Prince Doku Jr. All decent enough wins for the level. But he got a reality check in December 2014, getting a gift from the Las Vegas judges with a decision win over Mauricio Herrera. Last year, he beat Jorge Paez Jr, then moved up in weight to beat Sidney Siqueira.
This fight is a step back in the right direction, though, and even if it’s not a big blockbuster card, a lot of eyes will be on the show. Benavidez will want to look impressive, and "looking impressive" has been what’s missing sometimes.
Record: 24-4-1 (12 KO) ... Streak: W2 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5’10" / 72" ... Age: 30
Thoughts: Chia Santana is capable enough to give Benavidez trouble if his opponent has really stumbled in his work, and he has been in this sort of position before; in 2014, he upset then-unbeaten prospect Eddie Gomez, another highly hyped young fighter.
As for his four losses, those have come against Karim Mayfield (2008, 2009), Jermell Charlo (2011), and Sadam Ali (2015), so he’s been in with some pretty talented fighters over the years. He also has wins over Freddy Hernandez and Joachim Alcine.
He’s the underdog, certainly, and losses to prospects in the past outweigh his win over Gomez, but Santana isn’t a pushover. He gave good rounds to all those guys, and is coming in on a two-fight win streak over Arman Ovsepyan and Ed Paredes.
Matchup Grade: C+. Not bad, but not a standout matchup, either. Again, it’s a step back in the right direction for Benavidez. If he wants to become a contender at 147, he has to do well against a fighter like Santana, has to show the skills that were lauded when he was younger. Whether or not he can or will is the question.