Tomorrow night’s FOX pay-per-view features three undercard matchups that might well bring the action, but each has a clear favorite and a clear underdog.
Is anyone in real danger for an upset L? Our staffers make their picks.
Luis Nery vs Emmanuel Rodriguez
I really think Rodriguez might give Nery some issues in this fight, sort of in the way that Juan Carlos Payano did against Nery last time out, winning a couple rounds and staying in the fight. But like that one, I just can’t see Rodriguez avoiding the power of Nery long enough to actually win this thing. There will simply come a time where Nery lands a significant shot or two or three and turns this fight in his favor. He’s a good closer and he always likes to bring pressure, so if he gets Rodriguez hurt, don’t expect Rodriguez to last a lot longer. As I said before in the preview, Rodriguez is a good fighter, but Nery is better than good. Nery TKO-6
Luis Nery doesn’t exactly have the cleanest reputation following everything surrounding his two fights with the respected Shinsuke Yamanaka, but the guy is a really good fighter nonetheless. I’m pretty even-keeled and don’t tend to get emotionally attached to the stories, dramas, and controversies surrounding fighters, so I end up just breaking down fights through a relatively clear lens. Nery is a legit talent, and one I think is clearly a class above someone like Emmanuel Rodriguez. In fact, with Rodriguez most recently coming off a stomping at the hands of Naoya Inoue, I expect Rodriguez’s confidence to be a little shaken and I think Nery jumps on him for it. Nery has skill and power, and once he starts touching Rodriguez I think Rodriguez will realize there’s levels to this, and he just can’t stand up to it. Nery TKO-4
Patrick L. Stumberg
Rodriguez genuinely has the tools to give Nery problems. “El Pantera’s” speed and power let him get away with a lot; despite a solid jab, he tends to loop his left hand and throws his right hook with his arm almost fully extended. A hard hitter with the composure and durability to meet him head-on with crisper punches would be a nightmare for Nery, and Rodriguez at his best seems to fit that bill. His combinations are sharper than Nery’s and his pull-back right cross looks like the perfect weapon to deal with an overeager southpaw.
If Rodriguez still had his undefeated record, I’d be tempted to call the upset. After getting blown away by Naoya Inoue in a fashion devastating enough to crack any man’s confidence, though, I’m not sure how much faith I can have in his ability to execute in the face of Nery’s onslaught. This will be Nery’s toughest fight to date and I can easily see Rodriguez banking some early rounds, but once the power shots start racking up, it’s only a matter of time. Nery TKO-8
Putting aside the overwhelming feeling of resentment towards Nery and his career, the 24-year-old can fight. An impressive pressure fighter who is able to cut the ring off with ease, with good, patient combinations to the body and head looking seamless when he finds his rhythm. He’s widely regarded as the second-best 118-pounder, with the PBC happy to give him their backing.
Rodriguez is a solid contender. Despite getting torn apart by the “Monster” in the WBSS, the Puerto Rican will have learnt from his night in Glasgow. If he shows patience in his attacks and has improved off the back foot he may frustrate Nery for longer than expected. This being said, his defensive flaws were evident against Jason Moloney, with Nery tooled up to take full advantage as the rounds tick by. Nery TKO-9
And the staff winner is...
Luis Nery (4-0)!
Brandon Figueroa vs Julio Ceja
If there’s a banana peel matchup on this card, I think it’s this one. Figueroa is longer and taller than Ceja but doesn’t always (or often) use his height and reach to his advantage. He likes to throw tons of punches and he’s not afraid to get inside. The trouble with that is he’s a lot longer than the tyrannosaurus-armed Ceja, and when Ceja is close enough, he can bang. Ceja is 2-3 in his last five and was stopped in all of those losses, but Figueroa is still a pup, too, and I don’t think he’s faced anyone with the pop of Ceja. I’m going with the favored rising star, but this is the one fight on this undercard where I was tempted to pull the trigger on the upset call. I also think this fight has a fantastic chance to steal the entire show in terms of action, even if it will pale in comparison to the atmosphere of the main event. Figueroa TKO-7
This fight should be a good one for Brandon Figueroa to show out if he really wants to make a statement. The fact is Julio Ceja is coming off consecutive stoppage losses and has three of those out of his last five fights. That’s not the story of a fighter who’s trending upwards, or even treading water. Meanwhile Figueora remains undefeated, confident, with seven straight stoppages under his belt. I think Figueroa rides that momentum to steamroll Ceja, who I believe will show up to fight but will just get overwhelmed before it’s all said and done. Should the 22-year-old Figueroa come through this fight clean, I’d sort of like to see him take the next step up in competition. Figuerora TKO-6
Patrick L. Stumberg
It’s hard to picture a definitive outcome in a fight between two guys who prefer to go forehead-to-forehead and slam power shots into their opponents’ ribs until one or the other falls over. Figueroa has the volume and reach, Ceja has the experience and one-shot power; any one of those traits could potentially determine the winner. All I can guarantee is that it’s going to be fun as hell.
I ever-so-slightly favor Figueroa; Ceja’s come out on the wrong end of firefights in the past, and though Hugo Ruiz and Guillermo Rigondeaux are far more fearsome punchers than the likes of Yonfrez Parejo, they’re still black marks that Figueroa doesn’t have. The younger, bigger man should land enough shots that one of them hits the sweet spot, ending a wild ride sometime in the middle rounds. Figueroa TKO-7
Ceja is a great test for the rising star of Figueroa. If the 22-year-old “Heartbreaker” is set for stardom, an impressive win over a slugger like Ceja will be a good name to bolster his record. Ceja is a fun fighter who lives and dies by the sword. He can bang as much as he can get banged out, with his recent shootout with Guillermo Rigondeaux a real insight to his style.
Figueroa has gaps in his defence which Ceja will pressure to penetrate. Figueroa will inevitably have to prove his whiskers in this fight, but with the height and reach advantage will enjoy the bigger pockets of success. Figueroa TKO-7
And the staff winner is...
Brandon Figueroa (4-0)!
Leo Santa Cruz vs Miguel Flores
This fight was a hot pile of shit when PBC made it in February, and now that they’ve rescheduled it it remains a hot pile of shit here in November. When the calendar turns over into 2020, it’ll be three years since Leo Santa Cruz last took a genuinely risky fight. I give him credit for the Mares rematch in 2018, don’t get me wrong, it was a solid win, but he had beaten Mares before and was the definite favorite in the rematch. Since the rematch with Carl Frampton in Jan. 2017, Leo has fought Chris Avalos, Mares, Rafael Rivera, and now Flores. This is an awful run, particularly when it’s not as if PBC lacked has lacked fighters in his weight class(es).
Santa Cruz moves up to 130 here to claim a bogus/legit belt — bogus in that it shouldn’t exist, legit in that he’ll be the higher-ranking WBA super featherweight titleholder when he wins. Flores won’t be competitive; his WBA ranking is laughable. This is the No. 2 contender? The guy who lost back-to-back to Dat Nguyen and Chris Avalos, then beat Raul Chirino and Luis May? My only question is if Leo stops Flores or drags it the distance. Rivera went the distance in February, but Rivera’s also never been stopped. That said, another four pounds could take more zip off Santa Cruz’s fastball. I’m calling for the stoppage but won’t be surprised if this is a wipeout decision. Santa Cruz TKO-8
It’s been a pretty quiet year for Leo Santa Cruz, all things considered. The WBA featherweight titleholder fought once in February and hasn’t been back in action since. Normally I might be a little concerned about potential ring rust in a situation like this, but luckily for Leo, he’s taking on an overmatched opponent as far as I can tell. Flores might have a 24-2 professional record, but if you look closely he hasn’t fought anyone near the level of Santa Cruz. And in this sport experience against world class opposition — especially when you’re contending against that level of opponent — matters. Flores has been stopped by fighters worse than Santa Cruz in the last couple of years, so I don’t see why this should end up any different. Santa Cruz TKO-5
Patrick L. Stumberg
This matchup is a disgrace, the WBA is a disgrace for stapling one of its stupid titles onto it, and Leo Santa Cruz is a disgrace in general. Flores literally has nothing to offer here; close-quarters pressure bruising is his wheelhouse and Santa Cruz is miles better in that area. We’ve already seen Flores get battered into submission in his own preferred style of fight, one time by a fighter in Chris Avalos whom Santa Cruz absolutely mauled three months later.
Hell, there isn’t even the microscopic “puncher’s chance” that promoters desperately cling to to hype shitty mismatches. If Santa Cruz stood absolutely still, hands at his waist and chin in the air, I’d put money on Flores’ best shot bouncing harmlessly off. It’ll be “entertaining” in the sense that a boatload of punches will be thrown, but it won’t be competitive in the slightest. Santa Cruz buries him in output until Flores’ corner decides that they’ve watched enough snuff for the day. Santa Cruz TKO-5
I have no idea how Flores is ranked No. 2 in the WBA. He’s 2-2 in his last four, with a win over Raul Chirino in a six-rounder one of those two wins. The fact this fight is for the ‘super’ title at 130 pounds as well makes this fight even more pungent in its stink. What LSC wants for the rest of his career is unclear as it stands, but crowbarring in the “four-weight world champion” tagline seems to top fighting any credible opposition.
LSC should be able to walk through Flores whose tendency to drop his hands will prove to be shooting practise for someone as slick as “El Terremoto.” Santa Cruz TKO-9