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Preview: Jessie Magdaleno returns, hunting for second world title

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Jessie Magdaleno is looking for a world title in a second division, and returns to action on Thursday.

Emanuel Navarrete v Francisco De Vaca Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

You may have heard, but if you haven’t, BOXING IS BACK!!! At least on ESPN. At least from Top Rank.

Fights resumed from the empty MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas on Tuesday, with prospects bashing overmatched foes on the undercard, and Shakur Stevenson doing the same in the main event.

I tried over the evening to keep a positive-thinking mind about it all. I admit I’m naturally skeptical, and after years of enduring boxing’s never-ending overhyping of bad fights as spectacular victories, I have short patience with the PR machine that pushes every would-be star until there’s even the slightest hitch in their giddy-up. But I wanted to enjoy boxing’s return to the airwaves. I had some fun watching Robeisy Ramirez and Jared Anderson and Guido Vianello club their opposition down in short order, and the Quatavious Cash-Calvin Metcalf fight was a hoot for its level, with Metcalf and his excellent haircut arguably the star of the entire show.

But the main event was just too lousy to stay cheerful about. Stevenson, in all candor, proved nothing against Felix Caraballo that we didn’t already know two years ago when he was beating the likes of Aelio Mesquita and Viorel Simion. Caraballo could do a wonderful Miguel Cotto cosplay in terms of the visual aesthetics of it, but he’s leagues short of Miguel Cotto in the ring.

We are in an extraordinary situation, yes, and it’s nice that we have any fights at all, yes, but we’ve also seen UFC come back with marquee stars and world title fights, not a young featherweight champion demolishing a 33-year-old club fighter who has barely fought outside of his hometown in Puerto Rico.

“It is what it is” gets said a lot in boxing — by fighters, trainers, managers, promoters, TV people, and thus fans have largely accepted, too, that it is, in fact, what it is. It doesn’t really have to be, but what can we do? The fan base has protested for decades by leaving in droves. But there’s still enough money to be made over the course of a year with a few big fights that everything keeps operating the same way.

This is my exciting and enticing introduction to Top Rank’s next show, coming Thursday night (June 11, 8 pm ET) on ESPN, which isn’t much different from Tuesday’s event.

I’m not involved in the promotion. I don’t have to tell you this is better than it is. But I do genuinely believe — and this is my boxing fan brain working overboard for or against me, I’m not sure which, maybe both — that there is value simply in keeping up with who’s fighting and how they look.

And that leads us to Thursday’s headliner, former junior featherweight titlist Jessie Magdaleno (27-1, 18 KO), now on the hunt for a world title at featherweight.

One might think that if Magdaleno wins, it would be natural for him to face Stevenson (14-0, 8 KO) later this summer. But that fight really hasn’t been brought up much at all since Stevenson won the vacant WBO 126-pound title last October, not by Stevenson or anyone else. If it were an idea Top Rank were seriously planning to bring to our TV screens, it would’ve been mentioned more by now. Certainly, it would have been a major plot line headed into this week’s events.

The 28-year-old Magdaleno is the No. 4-ranked contender by the WBO, behind Michael Conlan, Ruben Villa, and Ryan Walsh. All of those guys can fight, and Magdaleno may eventually meet one of them for the vacant belt if Stevenson does decide to move up to 130, where he fought on Tuesday.

Magdaleno, too, will be fighting at 130 on Thursday, though it’s really more convenience in his case than serious intention of moving up in weight again. His opponent, Dominican-born Yenifel Vicente (36-4-2, 28 KO), is really a 122-pound fighter, a 33-year-old who has lost all his steps up. He has some power, but that power has made no difference against the better opponents he’s faced. If this were a title fight or whatever, Magdaleno would be at 126. It’s not, so why burn off four more pounds you don’t have to for a fight against a guy who isn’t any naturally bigger than you are?

Jessie Magdaleno v Nonito Donaire Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Magdaleno is the younger brother of Diego Magdaleno, once a Top Rank prospect who just never quite panned out. Diego, now 33, lost title shots to Roman “Rocky” Martinez and Terry Flanagan in 2013 and 2015, and was knocked out badly by Teofimo Lopez in 2019. Most recently, Diego did right the ship a bit, beating prospect Austin Dulay in February.

But Jessie has turned out to be the better fighter, with respect to his brother. Little brother took the WBO 122-pound title from Nonito Donaire in Nov, 2016, winning a competitive and — to the judges — rather wide decision in Las Vegas. After a defense against Adeilson dos Santos, however, Magdaleno dropped his belt in Apr. 2018 against the determined and relentless Isaac Dogboe in a terrific action fight, and moved up to 126.

He’s had two bouts at the new weight, and has looked like a solid contender if not a spectacular fighter or anything, beating the legendary TV poison Rico Ramos and fringe contender Rafael Rivera in a pair of 2019 bouts.

Magdaleno, frankly, should win without trouble on Thursday. Vicente has had his chances and come up well short against the likes of Chris Avalos, Juan Rodriguez, Eric Hunter, and Tramaine Williams — all of them solid fighters at the least, but none of them Magdaleno’s quality.

If you want a reason to tune in, to me it’s simple if not particularly urgent or thrilling: Magdaleno is a legitimate contender at 126, will probably be in a more worthwhile fight next or at least soon, and it’s good to know how he’s looking. Even if he wins handily but doesn’t look great, that gives you something to consider next time he gets in the ring.

Undercard

Masayuki Ito v Jamel Herring Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Another featherweight will be in action in the co-feature. Adam Lopez is about as intriguing a fighter as you’re going to find with a record of 13-2 (6 KO). The 24-year-old from Glendale, California, doesn’t have any BIG! wins that jump off his BoxRec page, but his two losses are more than just red background L’s, too.

In 2017, he lost a majority decision against Stephen Fulton in Florida. Fulton, now 18-0 (8 KO), is a skilled emerging contender at 122 pounds, someone who really might be of world title quality. And last November, Lopez was stopped in seven by former featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez, yes, but he put up a real fight, coming in on very short notice and putting Valdez on the canvas in the second round. At the time of the stoppage, the scores were tight, as they should have been — it was a competitive fight that, at least in my opinion, referee Russell Mora stopped a bit early.

There really might be something to Lopez. There might not be, too, but he’s intriguing at the very least, and Top Rank agree enough to have him out here in a co-feature. He’ll be facing Luis Coria (12-2, 7 KO), a 21-year-old also out of California — Moreno Valley, to be exact. Coria lost a razor thin four-rounder to Percy Peterson (a well under .500 club fighter) in 2017, and an eight-round split decision to Thomas Valdez, a better club fighter, in 2018.

Coria really hasn’t fought anyone, but there is the chance that this a kid who might “find it” at some point, as he learns on the job. He turned pro two weeks after his 18th birthday in 2016 and was working with Golden Boy before that first upset loss.

Prospects Bryan Lua (lightweight, 5-0) and Gabriel Muratalla (bantamweight, 2-0) will also be on the bill, but the most interesting of the prelim-style matchups on paper is Eric Mondragon against Mike Sanchez, which is sort of like a ShoBox Kids matchup, pitting the unbeaten 21-year-old Mondragon (3-0, 2 KO) against the unbeaten 23-year-old Sanchez (6-0, 2 KO) in a six-round lightweight fight.

Bad Left Hook will have live coverage for Magdaleno-Vicente starting at 8 pm ET on Thursday, June 11.