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Canelo vs Ryder undercard preview: Julio Cesar Martinez defends title, Oleksandr Gvozdyk comeback attempt gets more serious

Julio Cesar Martinez returns to defend his belt, Oleksandr Gvozdyk looks to get back in the race at 175, and more on the Canelo vs Ryder undercard.

Julio Cesar Martinez returns to defend his belt and more on this Saturday’s Canelo vs Ryder undercard
Julio Cesar Martinez returns to defend his belt and more on this Saturday’s Canelo vs Ryder undercard
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Canelo Alvarez is set to return on Saturday in a DAZN PPV main event, defending his undisputed super middleweight championship against John Ryder.

It’s Canelo’s first fight in Mexico in 11 years! It’s a big deal there! But for the average fan, even the average dedicated fan, this is a pay-per-view fight coming in the middle of what has been “PPV season” starting in late March and running at least through the end of May, and maybe you need more than a main event with a -1800 favorite to sway you into buying.

Now this may not sway you into buying the show, but here’s a breakdown of what you’ll see on the pay-per-view undercard on Saturday.

Julio Cesar Martinez vs Ronal Batista

Flyweights, 12 rounds

  • The matchup: Mexico’s Martinez, 28, defends his WBC flyweight title against the 26-year-old Batista of Panama. Martinez went up to 115 lbs — and missed weight, something to keep an eye on every time he fights — for a loss to Chocolatito Gonzalez in early 2022, but went back down to flyweight for a December win over Samuel Carmona, which did not come easy. Batista has won three in a row, but all at pretty low level following a 2019 loss in Russia to Misha Aloyan.
  • Pre-fight analysis: Martinez (19-2, 14 KO) will be a big, big favorite to retain here, and when he’s on his game and the style matchup works for him, he can be very exciting, a lot of fun to watch. He loves throwing power shots, but both Chocolatito and Carmona exposed the limitations of his approach, and if he gets in with a guy who can box, he’s going to have problems. Batista (15-2, 9 KO) really doesn’t have much of anything on his record that suggests he can be that guy, but it’s not like Carmona — while skilled, mind you — is some super-elite fighter, either. The most likely struggle (if any) we see from JCM here is if Batista can box effectively early, but even then, the odds favor Martinez’s power punching and pressure to be too much at some point.
  • Odds: Martinez -1600, Batista +800 (DraftKings)

Gabriel Gollaz Valenzuela vs Stevie Spark

Junior Welterweights, 10 rounds

  • The matchup: No world title on the line here, but a regional WBA belt held by Spark, the 26-year-old Aussie nicknamed “The Viking,” who came to the U.S. and upset Montana Love in a wild disqualification last November. Valenzuela, 28, is a Mexican fighter who has been a bit of a road warrior in recent years, making his name with a win over Robbie Davies Jr in the UK in 2021, a close loss to the aforementioned Love in Las Vegas in 2022, and a 52-second demolition of Yves Ulysse Jr in Montreal on Feb. 2.
  • Pre-fight analysis: Both of these guys are solid fringe contender sorts in a very crowded, very talented 140 lb division, and a win here keeps them in contention for something bigger. Simple as that. Spark (16-2, 14 KO) showed big courage in taking a short notice fight two divisions up against Tim Tszyu in the summer of 2021; he got run over, basically, but it said a lot about his heart, and he’s working off of four straight wins overall since then, back at his real weight. Valenzuela (26-3-1, 16 KO) is exactly the sort of guy who sneaks up in his career. He started 3-2 in his first five fights back in 2015-17, but is 16-1 in his last 17 outings. On paper, probably the most well-matched fight of the card, no big favorite and no massive underdog.
  • Odds: Valenzuela -160, Spark +125 (DraftKings)

Oleksandr Gvozdyk vs Ricards Bolotniks

Light Heavyweights, 10 rounds

  • The matchup: This is the wild card of the show, because we really just don’t know for sure what we have in the 36-year-old Gvozdyk anymore. The former light heavyweight titleholder retired after his 2019 loss to Artur Beterbiev, but returned early this year, telling our own Lewis Watson that sparring Canelo last year indicated to him that he had something left in the tank. Latvia’s Bolotniks, 33, is the first legitimate test of what that something in the tank really is in 2023.
  • Pre-fight analysis: There are a few ways this fight could go. If Gvozdyk (18-1, 14 KO) is even 80 percent of the fighter he was the last time anyone outside of Pomona, Calif., saw him, he should win this fight. He’s sound, skilled, and can punch. The Gvozdyk of 2019 — and we’re talking about the fight he lost to the monster Beterbiev here — is simply a better fighter than Bolotniks. But the scrappy, spirited Bolotniks (19-6-1, 8 KO) is the exact sort of test you want to see Gvozdyk pass if he’s going to continue a comeback. He’s not a huge puncher, but he’s tough, strong, isn’t afraid to bring pressure, doesn’t shy away from taking shots. As much as anything, he could test where Gvozdyk really is mentally inside the ropes these days, in a way that a club fighter who came in with seven straight losses could not when Oleksandr fought a few months ago. And if mentally it’s not there, then that could spell an early end to Gvozdyk’s comeback bid, even if he is still the better fighter in this matchup.

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