CompuBox Preview and Prediction: Linares vs. Campbell

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By CompuBox


When boxing's best "road warriors" are discussed, Jorge Linares' name should be in the mix. That's because the Venezuela native has succeeded at world level despite having fought away from home in 41 of his 45 pro fights and just once since July 2010. He won his first world title in Las Vegas (KO 10 Oscar Larios for the vacant WBC featherweight title), his second in Panama City (KO 5 Whyber Garcia for the vacant WBA super featherweight belt), his third in Japan (KO 4 Javier Prieto for the vacant WBC lightweight belt) and his fourth in England (W 12 Anthony Crolla for Crolla's WBA lightweight title).

Meanwhile, Luke Campbell, who won several international amateur titles away from England, won his Olympic gold medal before his home fans in London in 2012 and is fighting in the U.S. for only the second time in his pro career (KO 2 Steve Trumble on the Kell Brook-Shawn Porter undercard). How will the lanky lefty cope with the absence of rapturous applause as well as the most skilled the experienced fighter he has yet faced? We shall soon see.

Career Renaissance

Linares has won 11 straight since back-to-back KO losses to Antonio DeMarco and Sergio Thompson, and he has done so with the blend of speed, power and technique that moved some experts to declare him boxing's next great superstar. In the eight CompuBox tracked fights compiled during his current streak, Linares has done it with superior volume (62.7 per round to his foes' 53.8), better jabbing (33.1 thrown/5.3 connects per round to 22.1 thrown/2.7 connects per round for his foes), more frequent hitting (19 total connects per round to their 11.7) and especially more precise power hitting (46% to 28%).

Because Campbell is a southpaw, Linares' past performances bear mentioning. He has not fought a lefty in three-and-a-half years and has faced three since July 2009 -- Josafat Perez, Antonio DeMarco and, most recent, Nihito Awakawa. In his 12 tracked fights against right-handers, he's performed well. He's thrown more (63.5 per round to 58.6), landed more (19.1-12.7 per round overall, 6.4-2.7 landed jabs per round, 12.7-9.9 power connects each round) and did so much more accurately (30%-22% overall, 19%-12% jabs, 42%-28% power). Against the three lefties, Linares throws fewer punches (52 per round to their 48.6) but the numerical spreads are even wider (20.9-9.7 total connects per round, 5.3-1.7 jab connects each round, 15.6-8 landed power shots per round and percentage gaps of 40%-20% overall, 26%-9% jabs and 49%-28% power).

A caveat: None of the three southpaws are jab-oriented technical boxers like Campbell, but the closest one to the trio in terms of style -- DeMarco -- only found success when he went for broke in round 11 after being thoroughly out-boxed over the first 10 rounds.

Distance Control

Campbell didn't turn pro until two months before his 26th birthday, so many elements of his amateur style remain deeply ingrained. The most obvious manifestation is his emphasis on the jab. The typical lightweight averages 60.2 punches per round, of which 24.1 are jabs -- a 60-40 split in favor of power shots. In his three CompuBox-tracked fights against Argenis Mendez (W 12), Derry Mathews (KO 4) and Darleys Perez (KO 9); Campbell averaged 63.4 punches and 38.3 jabs per round -- a 60-40 split in favor of jabs. Against his three best opponents to date, that approach has worked out well as he nearly doubled his opponents' total punches per round (13.2 vs. 6.8) and jabs (3.5 vs. 2.0) while more than doubling their power connects per round (9.8 vs. 4.8). However, one potentially fatal flaw is that while he jabs often, he doesn't do so accurately. In his three bouts he landed a combined 9.1% of his jabs, including 7.2% against Perez and 8.3% against Mathews (he landed 11.3% against Mendez). Campbell has compensated with precise power punching (38% vs. Mendez, 48% vs. Mathews and 36% against Perez) but if he is to maximize his height and reach advantages (one inch and two inches respectively) he must do a better job with the jab.

Inside the Numbers

Linares (in his last 6 fights) landed 44.7% of his power shots despite landing just 15.6% of his 30.1 jabs thrown per round. Linares opponents landed just 22.3% of their total punches and just 28.5% of their power shots. Campbell is busy (63.4 per round in his last 3 fights) and landed 39% of his power shots, but landed just 9.8 per round. 38.3 of his 63.4 punches (60.4%) are jabs.  Campbell opponents landed just 24.7% of their power punches- look for Linares to add significantly higher.

Prediction

Linares has struggled most against physical fighters who disrupt his highly technical and patient approach. Campbell is, by nature, a careful points-oriented boxer who uses his fencing jab to set up sudden power strikes down the middle and surprisingly effective body shots. There's a reason for that: Campbell was floored by Mendez in round two and, in his only loss to Yvan Mendy, was knocked down in the fifth. Linares definitely has the power to exploit that weakness in Campbell. Campbell's jab could wreak havoc with Linares' cut-prone eyes but history suggests he won't land it often enough to do significant damage. Thus, the guess here is that Linares will methodically cut the distance between them, exert his all-around technical expertise and land enough firepower to pound out a unanimous decision.  

Linares, Campbell Battle Each Other, Expectations

By Kieran Mulvaney

When Luke Campbell and Jorge Linares face off in the ring at The Forum in Inglewood on Saturday (HBO, 10 PM ET/PT), what is nominally at stake is Linares’ lightweight championship belt. But the two men are also fighting for their reputations, to prove that their reality matches their early hype, and to dispel the doubts about their durability and potential. That may seem harsh, given that between them they boast 59 wins against just four defeats, that Linares has not lost a fight in six years and Campbell is just five years removed from winning Olympic gold. But both men, lauded early in their careers, have struggled through patches that have raised questions, questions that one will hope to put to bed and another will hope are not raised anew – or even deemed to have been answered in a way he won’t want to hear.

Linares (42-3, 27 KOs), has had something of a globetrotting career. He now lives in London, having moved there from Las Vegas; but he was born in Barinas, Venezuela, and turned professional in Japan. Five years later, in 2007, he made his U.S. debut on the Bernard Hopkins-Winky Wright undercard, immediately garnering attention by dominating Oscar Larios en route to securing his first world title belt, at featherweight. He defended it just once before moving up to 130-pounds, where he secured another title.

He seemed to have it all: boxing skills deployed in a pleasingly aggressive style, and knockout power to match, along with a natural charisma that suggested he had the makings of a future star.

Then, in October 2009, he made the second defense of his junior lightweight crown, against Mexico’s Juan Carlos Salgado, and was knocked out in the first round. It is a measure of Linares’ standing in the sport at the time that the loss was dubbed “Upset of the Year” by Ring Magazine, and its nature suggested that there was a very serious chink in the Venezuelan’s armor. A left hook dropped Linares to the seat of his pants, and although he beat the count, Salgado immediately swarmed him in the corner, causing Linares to slump down on the ropes and prompting referee Luis Pabon to intervene. The whole affair lasted just 73 seconds.

Still, it can happen. Anyone can be caught clean and cold in the opening round; perhaps this was just a one-off. But after scoring four comeback victories, including against solid if shopworn veterans Rocky Juarez and Jesus Chavez, Linares was stopped by Antonio DeMarco in a bloody war at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in October 2011. The problem this time wasn’t his chin but his skin, which had long displayed a tendency to cut; Linares had been coasting through six rounds, until a DeMarco flurry opened a gash on his nose, followed by a cut over his eye two rounds later. Sent off-kilter by the bleeding, a fading Linares was being battered by a resurgent DeMarco until referee Raul Caiz Sr. stepped in in the eleventh. The cuts were a mitigating factor, but the late fade hinted anew at an underlying fragility, and when he was again knocked out early in his next fight, against unheralded Sergio Thompson, it appeared he had reached the end of the line. 

But slowly, he began to rebuild. By March 2014, he was defeating Nihito Arakawa in a lightweight title eliminator, and at the end of the year won the vacant alphabet belt outright against Javier Prieto. But it was his first defense, against rugged Brit Kevin Mitchell, that truly showed he had turned the corner. In a tough battle, he was knocked down in the fifth; but this time he passed the gut check with flying colors, reentering battle and halting Mitchell in the tenth.

That contest, in London’s O2 Arena in May 2015, was the first of three in England in under two years, the others being a pair of victories against Anthony Crolla, the second of which in particular showcased him at his most dominant.

Right now, says the 32-year-old, “I feel like I’m 25. I feel very good, strong. I have very good focus, mentality. I feel in the best moment right now.” Certainly, he says, “I feel better than six years ago,” when he suffered his losses to DeMarco and Thompson. His fragile skin now stands up to the rigors of being punched in the face, an improvement Linares puts down to taking better care of himself. “I changed some things,” he notes. “Different vitamins and supplements.”

His regular appearances in the United Kingdom have won him recognition and a fan-base, and he likes the idea of returning there for a major fight, perhaps against the likes of Mikey Garcia or Vasyl Lomachenko, or a title unification with England’s Terry Flanagan.

But first he must contend with Campbell (17-1, 14 KOs), although he enters the contest feeling confident.

“He is a good boxer, an amazing fighter,” he praises. “He’s taller than me. I like his style. He’s a southpaw, he moves around the ring, it’s perfect for me. It’s not easy, but it’s not hard for me, this fight.”

Campbell was arguably Britain’s greatest ever amateur boxer, securing a silver medal at the 2011 World Championships and gold at the London Olympics, part of a vaunted crop of British amateurs that includes fellow 2012 champion Anthony Joshua. But whereas Joshua stands at the very pinnacle of the profession following his enthralling victory over Wladimir Klitschko in April, Campbell as a pro has a long way to go to catch up to him (or indeed to come near the professional achievements of Oleksandr Usyk or the admittedly barely-human Vasyl Lomachenko, who also took gold in London).

“I think the perception of Luke Campbell in the UK is oddly not as high as when he turned professional,” observes Matt Christie, editor-in-chief of the weekly British publication Boxing News. “He won the Olympic gold medal on the back of an amazing amateur career, and then when he turned over, he was knocking people out. This wasn’t the Luke Campbell that we knew as an amateur. And then that stopped, as it very often does as you go up through the levels, and people began thinking, ‘Maybe Luke Campbell isn’t as good as we thought he was,’ whereas the truth of the matter was that the opposition had just got that little bit better.”

Then, like Linares, he suffered a loss in something of an upset – and whereas, unlike the Venezuelan, he was not knocked out but instead dropped a split decision, it was a loss that came earlier in his career, in a European championship bout against unremarkable Yvan Mendy. As a result, it perhaps solidified negative perceptions of him before he had had the opportunity to justify a more optimistic outlook.

“Many people saw that [Mendy defeat] and thought, ‘Well, he’s exposed,’” adds Christie. “But I think what you have to remember about that is that he’s still a young man, he’s still learning the professional game; he mastered the amateur discipline and now he’s learning his way in the professional game. But I still think he’s a work in progress, and we haven’t seen the best of him yet.”

Despite being just three years younger than Linares, the man from Hull is unquestionably a neophyte in comparison, and Christie admits that he initially thought Saturday’s bout was too much, too soon.

“But there’s another train of thought to that. We haven’t seen anything from Luke Campbell as a professional to suggest that he can upset Jorge Linares. However, the ability is there. He uses height very well. At times, he can look like he was born to do it. He’s a lovely, fluent boxer, very natural. He may not win, but I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people.”

***

In the co-main event, undefeated Antonio Orozco faces off against once-beaten Roberto Ortiz in a 130-pound bout. The 31-year-old Ortiz boasts 35 wins on his résumé, but none against an opponent of particular caliber. It would be a shock if he defeats Orozco, who has overturned solid veterans such as Martin Honorio, Steve Forbes and Humberto Soto. Orozco may not be able to do to Ortiz what Lucas Matthysse did, and stop him on an early body shot (although the stoppage in that fight was somewhat controversial, as Ortiz appeared to beat the count), but if he does beat him, and especially if he beats him convincingly, then it may well presage the entry of yet another exciting and genuine contender in a stacked division.

PODCAST: Ep 212 Linares-Campbell Preview

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney preview this Saturday's Jorge Linares vs. Luke Campbell lightweight fight — featuring interviews with Linares and Boxing News Editor-in-Chief Matt Christie — plus they share a few extra reflections on the thrilling Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin battle.

Our Generation’s Leonard-Hagler

By Eric Raskin

A beloved pretty boy moving up from the lower weight classes waits until he thinks the time is just right to face the long-reigning badass career middleweight the fans have been begging him to face. Together, they put on a tense, thrilling show in Las Vegas, the eyes of the world upon them as they empty their reserves for 12 rounds. They both raise their hands at the end, and fans and media wait nervously for a decision that has a “nothing would surprise me” edge to it. Then something does surprise them: a galling 118-110 scorecard in favor of the pretty-boy underdog. In the end, the conversation is as much a debate over the outcome as it is a celebration of the drama produced by two Hall of Fame-bound warriors.

Saturday night’s Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez battle was electrifying, repulsive, rewarding, deflating. It was all of these things. But it wasn’t the first of its kind. We’d been there before – 30 years earlier, with Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

Taking a page from the present-day Hollywood playbook, Alvarez and Golovkin remade a classic.

And this remake might well have been better than the original.

It’s not an exact one-to-one comparison, but the similarities between Canelo-GGG and the April 6, 1987 middleweight championship superfight pitting Sugar Ray against The Marvelous One are striking. It begins with the wait. In the case of Leonard-Hagler, it was a five-year delay that included a couple of Leonard retirements, as compared to Canelo stalling Golovkin for two years while he puttered around against relative no-hopers. Both promotional A-sides engaged in teases: Leonard, when he invited Hagler to a news conference of sorts in Baltimore then yanked the rug out by telling him, “It’ll never happen”; Canelo, when he invited Golovkin into the ring after the Amir Khan fight, insisted (in less delicate language) that Mexicans don’t mess around, and then proceeded to spend the next year messing around.

Alvarez is undoubtedly the Leonard of the modern fight game. He’s the heartthrob who had to fight his ass off over and over to earn the respect of those fans who couldn’t see beyond the soft exterior. He’s the number-one cash cow in the sport, the guy everybody within two weight classes in either direction calls out. He’s even promoted by the Leonard/Canelo equivalent who reigned in between Leonard and Canelo, Oscar De La Hoya.

Golovkin, like Hagler, has refused to leave his natural weight class of 160 pounds. “If you keep knocking everyone out, they’re going to have to come to you,” Hagler told me in 2011 of his attitude toward patiently waiting for the stars at welterweight and junior middleweight to fight him on his middleweight turf. Golovkin, like Hagler, was repeatedly put in a position where he had to consider sacrificing money to stay busy in the ring and keep getting the exposure he so badly needed.

When GGG struggled unexpectedly against Daniel Jacobs in March, it was almost impossible not to think of Hagler’s draining fight with John “The Beast” Mugabi. Was Golovkin starting to slip? Canelo seemingly thought so, since it was only after that fight that De La Hoya and Alvarez got serious about putting pen to paper for a Golovkin showdown. Leonard liked what he saw in Hagler-Mugabi – liked it so much, in fact, that he ended a three-year retirement to capitalize on what he suddenly perceived as opportunity rather than obligation.

Few fights in history can compare in terms of the prefight butterflies and nonstop edge-of-your-seat intensity that both Leonard-Hagler and Alvarez-Golovkin brought to fans. There were swings in momentum, there were late rallies that may or may not have been enough. Like Canelo, Sugar Ray incorporated a great deal of movement – which, of course, Hagler labeled “running” afterward. In quite a few of the rounds this past Saturday evening, Canelo did his best work in the first 30 seconds and the last 30 seconds, a technique perfected 30 years earlier by Leonard.

Former HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant was ringside for both affairs, and his words about Leonard-Hagler six years ago apply almost perfectly to the scoring of Canelo-GGG. “I scored it a draw,” Merchant said of Leonard-Hagler. “But Leonard was able, as I said at the time, to steal the fight fair and square. As an underdog, he won the drama and looked like he was able to impose his boxing style on Hagler … I think this was a very close fight, but I also think Ray pulled off a historic con job to get the decision – and I think he earned that.”

Of course, Canelo’s “con job,” if you want to think of it as such, wasn’t quite enough to get him the decision. It merely allowed him to escape with a draw — a draw that wouldn’t be quite so controversial if not for one outrageous scorecard in his favor. When Michael Buffer announced Adalaide Byrd’s 118-110 card for Canelo, boos reverberated throughout T-Mobile Arena. It was every bit as unfathomable as the scorecard Chuck Hull read at Caesars Palace, featuring the exact same numbers, 118 and 110, turned in by judge Jo Jo Guerra in favor of Leonard. Neither of these were 10-2 fights, but both times one disturbing outlier scorecard said they were and thus detracted and distracted from the 36 minutes of action that had just been completed.

A couple of other random officiating tidbits: Kenny Bayless, the referee for Golovkin-Alvarez, was the chief inspector in Hagler’s corner 30 years ago; and Dave Moretti judged both fights, and both times he turned in a 115-113 card that perhaps most accurately reflected the overall public opinion.

Three decades on, the debate still rages over who won Leonard-Hagler. It’s hard to predict exactly how the Canelo-GGG conversation will sound in 2047, but it’s certainly possible that fans will still be arguing. The argument, however, won’t be over who won; it will be over whether somebody deserved to win.

The fights seem destined to diverge when it comes to the matter of where they lead. It appears all but guaranteed that Alvarez and Golovkin will attempt to clear things up with a rematch next May. It’s also probably a safe bet that Golovkin will not retire immediately in disgust and move to Italy to star in B action movies.

That’s because Golovkin is far from done making action movies in the ring. He and Alvarez gave us one of the modern greats of that genre on Saturday night. They gave us a fight that in countless ways repeated what Leonard and Hagler did, except with more brutality and, quite likely, more rewatchability.

GGG and Canelo didn’t do it first. But they might just have done it better.

Read “Still Standing: Marvin Hagler vs. Sugar Ray Leonard” in Inside HBO Boxing’s From the Vault collection.

PODCAST: Canelo - GGG Fight Week Pod 7 Postfight

Direct from Las Vegas, HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney give their immediate reaction to the sensational (and controversial) middleweight championship battle between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez.

Golovkin Wins the Crowd But Must Settle for a Draw

Photos: Ed Mulholland/Al Powers

By Kieran Mulvaney

LAS VEGAS – Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez did everything that was expected of them, and delivered everything that we had hoped that they might. Over twelve highly skilled and hard-fought rounds, the two best middleweights in the world delivered a classic contest that was ultimately – this being boxing – marred by a disgraceful scorecard from judge Adalaide Byrd, who somehow saw fit to award 10 rounds to Alvarez. The ultimate result – a split decision draw – was not a terrible verdict on a close fight, even though most of the 22,358 fans at the T-Mobile Arena felt Golovkin clearly won; but Byrd’s positively larcenous contribution to the evening ensured that there was more than a tinge of distaste and disgust in the air following a fight that deserved only praise.

It had taken the best part of two years to get Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KOs) and Alvarez (49-1-2, 34 KOs) together in the ring, and the long build-up had heightened the anticipation. It had also allowed enough time for what had once been seen as a likely Golovkin win to morph into more of an even-money proposition, with fans and media alike split down the middle as to who would be the likely winner. The fight that unfolded, which had changes in momentum and a clash of styles within individual rounds as well as over the course of the entire bout, justified that widespread uncertainty and equivocation.

After a close, slightly tentative opening round, Canelo was the one who settled into his groove first. In the second and third round, he was the one who was commanding the distance, Golovkin – perhaps slightly uncertain of how to adjust to Canelo’s excellent head movement – struggling to get into a rhythm and frequently falling short with his punches, allowing Alvarez to land strong counters. The third in particular saw Alvarez in full flow, landing a strong lead hook, a one-two combination and an uppercut as Golovkin plowed forward in straight lines. The Alvarez movement and footwork, often criticized and even derided, saw him circling around the ring on his toes as a leaden-footed Golovkin watched him from ring center.

Then, in round four, the script flipped.

A short Golovkin right hand looked as if it might have hurt Alvarez, who retreated to the ropes near a neutral corner. As Golovkin saw an opportunity and aimed hard, short, straight blows at Canelo’s head and torso, Alvarez was suddenly not countering. But he shook his head and spread his arms out to signify he was unhurt – dangerous confidence indeed in the face of a Golovkin assault – and even beckoned the Kazakh in. For all his bravado, however, the contest had suddenly become a typical GGG fight: Golovkin was now cutting off the ring and closing the distance, pressuring Alvarez, throwing and throwing and throwing again, keeping his punches short and straight and using them to spear Alvarez to the ropes and in the corner. Canelo’s head movement allowed him to slip many of Golovkin’s big overhand rights – although one booming blow in the fifth would have flattened lesser mortals –  but those short, straight power punches behind the constant pressuring jab were now turning the tide strongly in Golovkin’s favor.

The CompuBox punch stats show how much busier Golovkin was, especially with the jab: he threw 703 total punches to Canelo’s 505, and 361 jabs to 233 for Alvarez. But the Mexican landed at a higher percentage – connecting with 42 percent of his power shots – and many of those power punches were eye-catching and traveled in wider and more visible arcs than GGG’s frequently less flashy offense.

But for three straight rounds, from the fourth through the sixth, Alvarez threw little of any note at all. He looked tired, Golovkin’s constant pressure simply grinding him down. But he pulled out a sudden comeback round in the eighth, landing a strong lead right cross, then digging to the body once, twice, three times. For a period, he was back where he needed to be, in the center of the ring, but then he retreated to the ropes once more and Golovkin resumed his suffocating assault.

The man from Guadalajara found himself on the back foot again in the ninth and the fight looked in grave danger of slipping away from him completely, until he somehow found the resolve to fight a desperate rearguard action over the final quarter of the bout, and that was what enabled him to avoid defeat.

The tenth was a rousing affair, the best three minutes of the fight: Alvarez appeared to briefly hurt – and certainly moved – Golovkin with a one-two punch combination, only for the Kazakh to respond with a hook. Both men were showing signs of fatigue now, and as they fought in close, they grappled and wrestled as they sought to find angles to throw, and when they were free of each other they just unleashed fury, two-fisted punching temporarily devoid of any strategy, just a pair of warriors battling each other to the last.

The eleventh was close, a clearly weary Alvarez throwing punches with far less power than he had been able to muster in the bout’s early stages and yet somehow managing to detonate them directly on Golovkin’s face. Still Golovkin kept moving forward, still he kept throwing punches, but then Alvarez suddenly unleashed an eye-catching counterpunch combination before sliding briefly out the way.

The twelfth was fought the way twelfth rounds should be fought in high-stakes battles between the best: as if those three minutes were the dividing lines between victory and defeat, ecstasy and agony, elation and despair. And so in fact they were. The younger Alvarez dug as deep as he had ever dug in his life, somehow finding the final reserves of energy that enabled him to unload at one stage a sequence of four or five punches that landed to Golovkin’s head – several seconds that could conceivably have secured him the final round and thus the draw – and another flush shot before Golovkin appeared to catch and hurt him with a right. The final seconds were a perfect microcosm of much of the bout: Golovkin chasing determinedly, Canelo attempting to fight him off desperately.

When the bell rang, fans and media alike stood in unison and applauded a sensational effort.

And then the scorecards were read out.

That crowd, which had begun as perhaps 60-40 in Canelo’s favor, had decided which man had won and was now cheering the Mexican-style Kazakh over the actual Mexican; and when he was denied the victory they felt he clearly merited, they turned on the former favorite with boos.

Their anger was only heightened by Canelo’s defiance.

He insisted that Golovkin’s vaunted power was in fact unremarkable – “There wasn’t any power. It didn’t surprise me” – and also that he had been steadily compiling a lead on the scorecards.

“In the first rounds, I came out to see what he had, then I was building from there,” he asserted. “I think I won eight rounds. I felt that I won the fight.”

Golovkin expressed frustration with his opponent’s tactics, but claimed at least some measure of satisfaction from the result.

“I put pressure in every round,” he said. “The next fight I want a real fight, Mexican style. Of course, I want the rematch. But I still have all the belts. I’m still the champion.”

Stars Show Out For Canelo-GGG

Celebrities poured into the T-Mobile Arena for Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin's dramatic brawl. Michael Strahan, Tracy Morgan, Dave Chapelle and other noted guests took the action packed night.

Diaz, De La Hoya Cruise On Canelo-GGG Undercard

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Eric Raskin

If Joseph “JoJo” Diaz had as much punching power as he has personality, he’d be the complete package. Alas, fight fans had to satisfy themselves with another fast-paced, one-sided distance fight for Diaz in the chief undercard bout supporting the Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin showdown — seemingly the default outcome for a talented 2012 U.S. Olympian who hasn’t been able to visibly hurt anybody lately, no matter how much torque he puts into his digging bodyshots and southpaw right hooks.

On this occasion, the guy on the receiving end of those more-nifty-than-nasty punches was late substitute Rafael “Big Bang” Rivera, who, despite his monicker, wasn’t such a big banger himself. But he was undefeated, brave, game, and in great shape for a man who took the fight on four days’ notice (he was training for another fight at the time). For 12 rounds, both fighters’ best shots bounced off the other man, but it was JoJo beating Rivera to the punch and accumulating points throughout.

The 24-year-old Diaz took a few rounds to fully find his rhythm, but by the fourth, he was landing his best shots flush. An arsenal packed with left crosses and right hooks was expanded in the fifth to include some excellent left uppercuts, and by the ninth, it was turning into the kind of fight in which a case could be made to stop it. But the 26-year-old Rivera (25-1-2, 16 KOs) never stopped trying, never stopped throwing. Diaz (25-0, 13 KOs) was so comfortable by Round 10 that he was dropping his hands, but Rivera hung in there until the final bell to hear scores of 119-109 (twice) and 120-108 go against him.

Diaz called out 2008 U.S. Olympian Gary Russell Jr. when he was on the HBO Boxing Podcast on Thursday, and with this win, he becomes Russell’s mandatory challenger. That would be a serious test of just how far Diaz can go with his combination of exceptional skill and ordinary power.

***

There are pros and cons to bearing the De La Hoya name as a boxer. It opens up opportunities, but it also carries unfair expectations. For Diego De La Hoya, an opportunity on the Canelo-GGG undercard became a vehicle to elevate expectations even higher, as the 23-year-old looked like one of the best prospects in the 122-pound division in dominating a step-up fight with unbeaten former bantamweight beltholder Randy Caballero.

On the heels of a brief shoving match at the weigh-in that Uncle Oscar had to break up, there was no such drama on fight night. Judge Robert Hoyle gave De La Hoya (20-0, 9 KOs) all 10 rounds, while Eric Cheek and Patricia Morse Jarman both awarded him eight of the 10. It looked like a tough fight to predict on paper, but within a round or two, it was clear De La Hoya was too sharp for Caballero (24-1, 14 KOs). Combinations rained on Caballero, then the fleet-footed Mexican De La Hoya zipped away before anything could come back at him. It only got worse for Caballero when his left eye began swelling in the fourth, and a head clash (unnoticed by referee Robert Byrd) hurt the Coachella, California native in the fifth. Round after round, Caballero was game but unable to get much done, even when the fight moved inside and got chippier in the middle-to-late rounds. There wasn’t much he could do; he was up against a De La Hoya, and, as it turned out, not in name only.

***

In the opening bout on the pay-per-view telecast, lightweight Ryan “Blue Chip” Martin did not live up to his nickname but did escape with his perfect record intact, winning a highly questionable decision over Francisco “Paquito” Rojo. Highly touted Tennessee prospect Martin brought to the fight advantages in youth, length, athleticism, and abdominal definition, but it was Rojo who had the craft. The Mexican banged the body throughout, walked Martin down, and frequently beat the 24-year-old prospect to the punch, and when referee Russell Mora took a point from Martin in Round 9 for his third low blow, it seemed from this ringsider’s vantage point that Martin was going to need a final-round knockout to pull out the win.

As it turned out, though, he just needed to a 10-9 round in his favor, and he got it on two of the three cards. Judge Ricardo Ocasio had Rojo winning by a decisive 98-91 margin, but Lisa Giampa and Max DeLuca went the other way, by scores of 96-3 and 95-94, respectively. The crowd booed, but it’s the judges’ opinions that matters officially, and they saw fit to drop Rojo’s record to 19-3 with 12 KOs while Martin moved to 20-0 with 11 KOs. No matter how you scored it, it’s clear there’s work to be done if Martin wants to be regarded as truly blue chip.