From 24/7 to one-on-one interviews, watch all of the HBO video for the fight between Manny Pacquiao and Chris Algieri, Saturday night at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT.
By Kieran Mulvaney
By rights, Jessie Vargas should be a star. He’s well-spoken, bilingual and outgoing. The camera loves him, as he has shown in a stint as an interviewer for Univision here in Macau during fight week. Plus he’s an undefeated boxer who is the holder of a world title belt.
But Vargas’ career has yet to truly take off, despite his personal charms and his 25-0 record. Part of that is because that quarter-century of wins includes just nine knockouts; part of it, also, is that his performances have far too often underwhelmed.
The frustration for many critics has been that Vargas gives every impression of having the talent to shine, but hasn’t demonstrated the ability to get over the hump and move on to the next level. He might be considered the proverbial rough diamond – although one prominent observer disagreed with that assessment this week.
“You see him today, he’s polished already,” insists Roy Jones, Jr., who will be the chief second when Vargas does battle with Antonio DeMarco in the opening bout of Saturday’s pay-per-view and who will assume his regular ringside duties as HBO’s expert analyst. But, he concedes, “he was rough when I met him.”
That was just two months ago, and both Vargas and Jones believe that the work the two have done in that time – since Vargas first met the future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and asked him to be his trainer – has brought about just the sort of changes that many have wanted to see in the young boxer. The veracity of that assertion will be tested on Saturday night, but both fighter and trainer feel that some form of destiny must have been at hand to bring them together.
Vargas had already begun training for his encounter with DeMarco, he says, when Ismael Salas, his trainer for his last two fights, secured a job training fighters in England. Salas suggested that Vargas decamp to Britain with him, but the Sin City resident said that “I couldn’t go to England: my home is Las Vegas, my home base is Las Vegas, my family’s here.“
Ten days or so later, as he contemplated his options, Vargas was at a fundraiser at the recently-opened Roy Jones Jr. Fight Academy, and he and Jones found themselves talking.
“He comes out and tells me, ‘Hey man, I’ve seen your last fight; you’re good, but why don’t you do this differently? For some reason, I’ve always seen you fight and I always want to tell you, throw your hands like this. Come into the gym Monday and I’ll show you some tricks that I think will help you.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Wow, there has to be a reason behind this, there’s a reason I’m here, there’s a reason that he opened up. Could he be my new trainer?’”
Jones remembers it in much the same way.
“God blessed me to see this dude fight like three times,” he says. “Each time I watched him, I would get stuck watching him by mistake. I wasn’t trying to watch him fight. I was like, “Damn, why I keep seeing Jessie?” After the third time, I thought, ‘Damn, I need to teach Jessie how to throw a hook, because he needs to be knocking these dudes out. He keeps squeaking by every time I see him.’ So when I saw him, I said, ‘I love what you’re doing, you’ve got to have a hell of a heart because you’ve already got your way to a world championship. But I want to help you do better. I want to see some improvement. I wasn’t going to sugarcoat it, because that’s not what I do. I would have just shown him my hook, and you guys wouldn’t have known about it, unless he decided to tell you.”
Vargas took Jones up on his offer and, he says, “in the first half-an-hour he was teaching me things. I was amazed. I thought, ‘Wow, this man has a lot to show me, a lot of knowledge that he can share with me.’”
Adds Jones: “I guess he liked it because he came back a second day and he said, ‘I don’t have a trainer no more.’ I didn’t know that, and I know that I’m so busy, it’s hard for me to do it, but if you're gonna work with me, we can do it. It all depends how hungry you are and what you want.”
Jones offered to train Vargas for the DeMarco fight, a suggestion Vargas enthusiastically accepted, and as the two prepare to work together in a fight for the first time, it is clear that the affection and admiration is mutual.
“Roy Jones Jr. is a very intelligent individual,” Vargas enthuses. “He knows how to explain things in detail, and being a fighter himself, he won’t just tell you, he’ll show you. Not only that, but the way he looks at the game is very different. He’s two steps ahead of his opponent, and that’s where I am now. He’s setting everything up, so his opponent moves to the right if he wants him to. So that’s what we’re working on. We’ll continue to get better, but you’re going to see a difference on Saturday night.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better student,” responds Jones. “I’m so happy with the way that he received everything I taught him. The things I told him the beginning, he sees now. And that’s just in an eight-week period. That’s good enough for me. I can’t ask for more from a guy, because he trusted me to do what I asked him to do, and he saw the outcome of it. Win, lose or draw, I’m very proud of Jessie Vargas.”
By Kieran Mulvaney
What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, when Manny Pacquiao headlined the first boxing pay-per-view event in China, a dominant twelve-round decision over Brandon Rios, the location was as much of a storyline as the contest itself. There was a novelty to the experience, and something of a question whether it would be a singular one. Now, while fight week in Macau still lacks the familiarity of New York or Las Vegas, it has the air of becoming a permanent and important fixture in boxing’s traveling circus.
And yet, says Top Rank’s CEO Bob Arum, “like many things in life, it happened by chance. As a member of the Las Vegas community, I knew people in Sands [the company that owns the Venetian resorts]. Sheldon Adelson [Sands’ chairman and CEO] and I go back a long way. And they wanted me to put on a boxing card in Macau.” For Sands, which has operated the Venetian Macao on the purpose-built Cotai Strip for 10 years, the attraction was clear: it wanted as many events as possible to encourage members of China’s burgeoning middle class to visit the resort and spend large amounts of money at its casino. Arum, however, initially resisted, not seeing the value in staging an event in a country that has little to no historical involvement with the sport. But then he was approached by the agent for Zou Shiming, China’s most successful amateur boxer, who won gold at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and, after the London games, elected to turn professional.
“I thought what in the hell am I going to do with a 112-pound Chinese boxer?” chuckled Arum. “But I had my guys check out to see just how big he was in China, and it turned out he was huge.” Zou would prove the key to unlocking the door to Chinese boxing. “Without him, none of this would have happened,” Arum emphasized. Recognizing the Chinese fighter's importance, Arum rewarded him handsomely before he had thrown a single punch in the professional ring. “His first fight was a four-rounder, and I paid him $300,000.”
That first fight, in April 2013, served as a test run; his second bout, in July of that year, enabled Top Rank to build on what they had learned and to then take that knowledge into the Pacquiao-Rios event. There were plenty of logistical obstacles to overcome along the way.
“There was no boxing commission, so there was the challenge of getting an authority together to oversee an event,” explained Top Rank’s executive event producer, Brad Jacobs. “Then there was the question of ringside physicians; well, we discovered that there is a huge hospital on site here at the Venetian, so we were able to ensure that some physicians and nurses were hired from there.”
Some challenges will always remain, not the least of which is the huge difference in time zones (Macau is 13 hours ahead of the US east coast). “I’m doing business at 2AM every night,” said Jacobs. But Saturday’s contest between Pacquiao and Chris Algieri will be Top Rank’s seventh in Macau, and eighth in China (the company recently staged its first card on the mainland, in Shanghai, with a second upcoming), and with each successful venture, the comfort level increases, even if new issues are seemingly always around the corner. “With our Shanghai card, we had a great main event, but halfway through it, half the crowd stood up and left,” recalled Jacobs. “We wondered what was going on; it turned out that most people came by train, and the last train ran at 10:45, so at 10:20, everyone left to catch it.”
If there wasn’t much awareness of professional boxing before, says Sands China CEO Ed Tracy, then that is changing, to the extent that even if Zou, on whose small shoulders so much has thus far rested, were to suffer a shocking defeat on Saturday, the project would be able to continue.
“The challenge here is to create events that are memorable, that nobody else can do,” Tracy explained. “If you’re in my business, it’s no different here than in the US: you want to help people escape the mundane qualities of their everyday life by giving them experiences they can’t get anywhere else. And this plays into that so beautifully because of the people who follow boxing. Having Sylvester Stallone latch on to the Chris Algieri story and say, ‘I’m coming to the fight’ – that’s an extraordinary thing. He’s getting on a plane and traveling 8,000 miles because he likes boxing. But that’s the kind of appeal boxing has. All you need is the right fighters and the right venue.”
The long wait is finally over. Or so Manny Pacquiao thought in this commercial for Foot Locker's "Week of Greatness." Watch the clip above to see how Manny's sense of timing extends to his comedic abilities.
By Diego Morilla
Before the bell rings in Macau this Saturday night, one of the first things Manny Pacquiao will notice during the customary pre-fight stare down is a bright yellow sun shining through the menacing grin in his opponent’s mouth, right next to a map of the Italian peninsula colored in red, white and green.
Neither Pacquiao nor the people who catch a glimpse of this colorful mouthpiece on live television may know it, but the combination of images illustrates Algieri's pride in a set of traditions that go well beyond the obvious Italian heritage embedded in his name, and goes back to his essence as a fighter.
“I have the Argentine sun and the Italian map,” explains Chris Algieri (20-0, 8 KO), the undefeated junior welterweight that Pacquiao will be facing on HBO PPV, in explaining his seemingly odd choice of graphics for his mouthpiece. “And my colors are always blue and white [the colors of the Argentine flag]."
Quite likely, the news about Algieri being a “closet Latino” will mean very little to Pacquiao, who made a name for himself (along with a few nicknames, including the infamous “Mexicutioner”) by defeating some of the best Latino talents out there. But as it turns out, Algieri’s Latino roots are responsible in a big way for his involvement in boxing, and he regularly bites down on much more than an anatomically fitted piece of rubber to feed the proud mixed legacy of his Italian and Argentine background.
Because, just as it happens with the sons of immigrants from many other cultures, Algieri carries the old country in his heart, but also in his taste buds.
“Parrillada is a big part of our summer,” says Algieri, in reference to the Argentine-style barbecue that is a staple of the Argentine diet. “It’s part of my culture. I grew up with my mother and her parents living in the same household, and I absorbed their culture.”
And there is no bigger part of the Argentine food culture than mate (pronounced mAh-té), the strong, bitter pre-Colonial beverage that the local natives offered to the Spaniards upon their arrival, and which has become the all-around, all-day beverage of choice for millions of people in a region that spans the entire lower portion of the South American continent. They rely on it as a source of nourishment and warmth, but also as an essential agglutinating factor in their social life, where every conversation features a hot mate exchanging hands.
For Algieri, who graduated from Stony Brook University with a degree in nutrition, the advantages of keeping with his family tradition go well beyond making mom proud by sharing her favorite drink with her.
“I drink mate every day. I bring it with me even when I am in camp. It’s warm, it is soothing for the belly, and it helps you digest better, so you get all the nutrients from your food. I drink it all the way till fight day”, says Algieri.
Algieri has even posted an instructional video on his YouTube channel on how to prepare mate in the traditional way, using a dried gourd with a metal straw that filters the chopped leaves deposited inside it, and taking small sips after refilling the receptacle several times until the flavor dies out. And by the time this happens, the benefits of drinking it have already worked their magic.
“It is packed full of vitamins and nutrients. It has a lot of B vitamins that you can only normally get from meat, and you find them there. The caffeine content affects me differently than coffee does, it is a more mild stimulant, and I can drink more of it. It’s one of my favorite drinks, especially in a cold morning, and it gives me just enough pep before my workout,” says Algieri.
His tall, muscular physique seems to have reaped the many rewards of a beverage in which a number of interesting properties have been identified, from antioxidant to natural diuretic and laxative.
“It also helps also with fat loss and staying lean, so it really is an overall incredible health drink, and on top of it is a part of my culture, it is something that my whole family does, and we’ve always done it.”
Keeping an eye on the vibrant Argentine boxing scene of the ‘70s and early '80s was another big part of his family tradition, thanks to the influence of his sports-crazy grandfather Carlos. One that Algieri has grown closer to since his initial stint as a kickboxer in which he went 20-0 before making the transition to the more traditional, footwear-based combat sport that his grandfather told him so much about.
“Carlos Monzon is one of the first fighters I ever learned about,” reminisces Algieri, in reference to Argentina’s biggest boxing icon and one of the best middleweights ever. “I even remember watching guys like Omar Weiss on ESPN.”
Later, he started paying attention to fighters like Lucas Mathysse, Sergio Martinez, and Marcos Maidana (with whom who he sparred in preparation for one of Maidana’s fights), just as their goals were became his own goals as well.
“It’s great to see a part of my culture doing so well in the sport that I love,” says Algieri, referring to the current “golden era” of Argentine welterweights with Maidana, Matthysse, Martinez (a former super welterweight) and also Luis Carlos Abregu and Diego Chaves providing inspiration for his still budding career. “More and more often you see Argentine fighters doing big things on a major stage, and so to be associated with those guys is really an honor and it’s great to see so many people from my culture doing big things in the sport.”
There is also a big part of that tradition that may, unbeknownst to him, be playing in his favor come November 22nd, and it is the usual good fortune that has accompanied Argentine fighters in Asia since the days in which Pascual Perez became the country’s first-ever world champion with a victory against Yoshio Shirai in Japan on November 26th, 1954, almost 60 years to the date in which Algieri will be facing his greatest challenge to date.
Perez was later joined by icons such as Horacio Acavallo, Nicolino Locche and others in career-defining wins on the farthest regions of the Eastern Hemisphere. Algieri hopes to follow in the footsteps of those men, albeit in his own personal way.
“It’s not going to be different in this fight,” he says in regards to his style, which he feels has been underappreciated by those who have only seen his fight against Provodnikov and who base their appreciation of his skills solely on that performance. “I feel that I fight an aggressive style, but it is a smart aggressive style. I would have been more aggressive in the [Provodnikov] fight if it hadn’t been for the damage done to my eye early on. I had to protect that eye more than I normally would."
Still, the door is open for the ‘closet Latino’ in Algieri to finally emerge when push comes to shove. And even though he is not likely to go from a ‘master boxing’ practitioner (as he defines himself) to full-on Monzon in only one fight, the chance of seeing him taking on the role of the aggressor remains a possibility.
“Don’t be confused by that one fight: I am an aggressive boxer, and I will be in there to mix it up, but it will be in a smart way,” says Algieri, who claims to be ready for anything Pacquiao may show him in the ring.
“I had to fight every single style out there to get here,” he asserts, and a statement like this should be taking seriously if it comes from a guy whose roots are in a country that has broken records on numbers of economic crisis per decade and number of presidents within one week. But as much as his ability to adapt to any situation may be out of the question, other doubts remain, and justifiably so.
After all, he was fighting at the club level only a year ago, and he is now tackling one of the most dangerous fighters out there in what has been dubbed a “real-life Rocky” story. But Algieri never doubted that this day would arrive sooner rather than later.
“I knew my time would come if I stayed hungry and disciplined,” says Algieri, and even though victory is far from certain, he suggests that another life-long dream may be soon realized for him, win or lose.
“That has been the goal since I started,” says Algieri in reference to his trip to Argentina, where he has never been before. “I’d like to go there for a couple of weeks with my family. I don’t want to go there for a couple of days, I want to go there for two weeks or a month, I want to get situated there.”
And when that happens, Algieri will have the chance to rediscover another one of his favorite treats, one that is equally embedded in every Argentine’s taste since childhood, and which Algieri had also grown fond of in his early life.
“That’s a treat that my mother loves. I am not big on deserts myself, but that’s something that I would have after the fight. It’s celebratory,” says Algieri in regards to dulce de leche, or milk caramel, a thick, peanut butter-like spread which is nothing more than condensed milk and a ton of sugar reduced to a brownish jelly.
Not exactly what a nutritionist would recommend to anyone trying to stay fit, but as it has been the case in Algieri’s life, he has learned to save the sweets for later while he endures the bitterness of training and sacrifice with the help of his beloved mate.
“After the fight,” he laughs, when asked about the proper time to enjoy a heaping spoon of milk caramel, in true Argentine guilt-less fashion.
“Mate before, dulce de leche afterwards,” he concludes, hoping that dulce de leche will carry the sweet taste of victory after his fight against Pacquiao.
Because between the bitterness of mate and the sweetness of dulce de leche, there is a journey that Algieri is just beginning, and which will find in the Pacquiao fight one of its most significant milestones.
Ambition is the fuel by which great boxers are driven, and that trait certainly shines through in WBO welterweight king Manny Pacquiao and challenger Chris Algieri.
Just two fights ago, Algieri was headlining an ESPN2-televised card from his hometown of Huntington, N.Y. There, he defeated Emanuel Taylor in a hard-fought 10 rounder. Many wrote off his chances when he challenged WBO super lightweight titlist Ruslan Provodnikov and those who still believed at the opening bell had good reason to doubt once he suffered two first-round knockdowns and the beginnings of a horrific swelling over the right eye. But Algieri, despite possessing very little power, managed to pound out a split decision win over the Siberian and that compelling performance has lifted him to a fight with Pacquiao, seven pounds north and light-years beyond where his career path was expected to be at this point.
Pacquiao is not without goals either. Two fights removed from a one-punch KO against arch-rival Juan Manuel Marquez in a fight he was winning handily, Pacquiao sought to avenge a controversial loss to Timothy Bradley this past April. With doubts about his ability swirling freely, "The Pac Man" performed better than he had in years while Bradley vainly tried to produce an unlikely knockout instead of using his skills to score a second victory. Pacquiao's efforts paid off handsomely as he won a wide unanimous decision and put himself back on the map in terms of how he might fare against another rival in Floyd Mayweather Jr.
While the fight everyone wants to see may well not happen -- mostly due to Floyd's reluctance -- Saturday will witness a potentially fascinating exercise in ambition. Which man's is the stronger? And who will come out on top if the action gets rough? Pacquiao is a 7-1 favorite.
Statistical factors that might sway the contest include:
Calming The Storm: Pacquiao used timely punching to turn back Bradley, who is nicknamed "Desert Storm." Averaging 46.9 punches per round -- far fewer than the 65.8 he averaged against Rios and the 62.6 he logged in the first Bradley match -- Pacquiao out-landed Bradley 198-141 overall, 50-32 jabs and 148-109 power and connected on a far higher percentage of his blows (35%-22% overall, 23%-11% jabs and 43%-32% power) to register a critic-silencing decision victory. Even Pacquiao's jab -- an underwhelming weapon in the past -- did the job as he averaged 18.2 attempts and 4.2 connects per round to Bradley's 23.9 and 2.7 respectively. Bradley tried very hard to reverse the tide by averaging 52.2 punches per round, but Pacquiao's skills and motivation were more than enough for the task.
Using His Assets: At 5-foot-10 Algieri is the tallest opponent Pacquiao has faced in some time. In fact, only the 5-foot-11 Antonio Margarito and the 5-foot-10 1/2-inch Oscar de la Hoya were taller than the articulate New Yorker, and in terms of schooling he may well be the most intelligent fighter Pacquiao has ever faced. He has a bachelor's degree in health care science from Stony Brook University as well as a Masters from the New York Institute of Technology.
That intelligence has been channeled to his boxing. Knowing he doesn't have one-punch power, Algieri smartly has utilized incredible volume and lateral movement to forge his undefeated record. In winning the title from Provodnikov, Algieri averaged 82.8 punches per round to Provodnikov's 64.7 and his jab was particularly busy (47.2 thrown, nearly twice the 24.7 junior welterweight norm) and effective (9.2 connects per round was nearly twice the 140-pound average). Despite his Basilio-esque swelling Algeri never lost heart and the result were wide gaps in connects across the board (288-205 overall, 111-41 jabs, 177-164 power; 29%-26% overall, 20%-12% jabs, 41%-38% power).
Negative Splits: In long distance running this term defines an athlete who can run a faster pace in the second half of a race than during the first half. For the most part, Algieri brought this concept to boxing. Consider:
In decisioning Curtis Smith over eight rounds, Algieri averaged more punches in the last four rounds (93) than the first four (90.5) while Smith's pace decreased from 71 to 64.5. The connect gaps during the two halves grew from 60 overall (134-74) and 53 power (118-65) to 89 overall (138-49) and 78 power (118-40). The result: A commanding decision (80-72 twice, 78-74).
The same scenario played out against Raul Tovar, whom Algieri out-pointed over eight. Tovar surprised Algieri by counter-punching rather than tearing inside as the New Yorker expected and his selective punching paid dividends in the first four rounds as he trailed by just 67-61 (total) and 44-21 (power). But Algieri, though his pace slowed from 91 per round to 82 and Tovar's increased from 53.8 to 56, still gained strength down the stretch as he out-landed Tovar 74-43 (total) and 45-23 (power), leading to scores of 78-74 and 77-75 (twice). The pace might have slowed, but the negative splits came in the number of connects he produced in the second half.
Algieri's stamina also served him well against Bayan Jargal. Jargal went punch-for-punch with Algieri (he trailed 851-814 in total punches and led 425-397 in power shots) and he increased his pace from 67 over the first five to 95.8 in the final five. Though Algieri was given a dose of his own medicine, he responded by being much more accurate. Though he accelerated from 72.6 per round to 81.4 in the last five, he out-landed Jargal 143-134 (total) and 98-97 (power) to capture a hard-earned but more lopsided than thought 98-92, 97-93 (twice) decision.
The pattern continued in two more of his recent fights:
* W 10 Jose Peralta -- First half: 93.6 punches per round, 151-135 overall connect lead; Second half: 122.6 punches per round, 220-107 overall connect lead
* W 10 Mike Arnaoutis -- First half: 94.2 punches per round, 60-41 overall connect lead; Second half: 97.2 punches per round, 94-33 overall connect lead
In his two most recent fights (his toughest tests to date), that trend didn't hold quite as strongly. Against Emanuel Taylor, Algieri's output in the first half was 65 punches per round, a noticeable drop from his usual standard, but he still led 99-61 in overall connects. But in the final five rounds, Algieri raised his output only slightly (66.8 per round) and Taylor actually out-landed him 74-70. Worse Yet, Taylor out-threw Algieri 83-66 in the final round and out-landed him 21-17, the fourth time in five rounds he had done so.
Against Provodnikov Algeri's pace dropped from 86.5 punches per round over the first six to a still-healthy 79 in the final six, out-landing his foe 158-101 in rounds 1-6 and 130-104 in rounds 7-12. Given the injuries and adversity Algieri faced, the face that his motor still ran strongly is a major plus.
While the Taylor fight was a jump in class, the Provodnikov fight was another and there he did much better in terms of his pacing and his second-half effectiveness. Will that occur as he takes another quantum leap up against Pacquiao? Provodnikov, Taylor, Peralta & Arnaoutis, nowhere near the combination punchers that Manny is, landed 36% of their power shots.
Prediction: Stylistically, this is a dangerous fight for Pacquiao because Algeri knows what he is and he doesn't deviate from it. He's focused, well-conditioned and extremely intelligent. He doesn't care whether the crowd boos as long as he's piling up the points. His three-and-a-half inch height and five-inch reach advantages will be critical to his success, as well as getting off to a quick start.
The big question for Algieri is whether he has enough of a punch to earn Pacquiao's respect, especially since he was considered a light hitter at 140, much less 147. If he can sting Pacquiao enough to make him think twice about coming in, a monstrous upset is a distinct possibility.
The guess here, however, is that Pacquiao, who still has an eye on a potential Mayweather fight, will want to prove that he is still a viable force. The possibility exists that he may score his first KO since stopping now lineal middleweight champ Miguel Cotto in the final round five years ago, but the mostly likely result will be a Pacquiao decision win. It won't be easy, but he'll find a way to get the job done.
By Kieran Mulvaney
Vasyl Lomachenko does not suffer fools gladly. Specifically, he does not appear to be a fan of the paid inquisitors he is obliged to accommodate during fight week.
Ask the two-time Olympic gold medalist, who won a featherweight title in his third professional bout, how it feels to be in the co-main event on Saturday night’s pay-per-view telecast from Macau, and he pointedly prefaces his answer by noting that he is about to repeat what he already said in the previous evening’s pre-fight press conference: namely, that he is “very excited” to be on the card.
Seek some background by giving him the opportunity to reveal his favorite fighters, and before he names Mike Tyson, Roy Jones, and Sugar Ray Leonard, he underlines that he has publicly recited this list “many times.”
Unsurprisingly, inquire as to the most difficult aspect of making the transition from amateur standout to professional prodigy, and he responds without a smile that it is “answering the same questions from media people.”
But if that is who he is and how he is, so be it. So the guy’s kind of a hard ass. That, as well as his natural ability and finely-honed skills, is what has enabled him, after winning gold at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, to challenge for a world title in just his second professional contest and, after falling just short in that tilt against Orlando Salido, to succeed impressively in his next outing, against Gary Russell Jr.
Still, it doesn’t make a journalist’s life any easier. Did he learn anything from his fight against the experienced Salido that helped him in his next outing against Russell, or that he thinks will stand him in good stead in the rest of his career? “I can’t say I learned a good deal from either of those bouts. I also learned a lot from sparring and hard training.” OK; well, how does he feel about the fact that Russell was an undefeated guy who had also been highly touted, and that the manner in which Lomachenko dominated him impressed fans and media alike?
“I don’t know why many of you guys were impressed with that bout. I just did what I normally do. I don’t think he showed why everyone was talking about him, about his speed and his fast hands.”
As taciturn as he can be outside the ring, though, Lomachenko says everything he needs to inside of it – so much so that, with a record of 2-1, he is a huge favorite against an opponent, Chonlatarn Piriapinyo, whose ledger stands at 52-1 with 33 KOs. “All I know about my opponent is that out of the 50-plus fights he had, only one or two were against good opponents,” Lomachenko sneered. It is mildly reassuring to realize he doesn’t reserve his scorn for the Fourth Estate.
Just to prove that Lomachenko isn’t all sneers and snarls, here are some Instagram videos he recorded for his son’s third birthday:
By Nat Gottlieb
This undercard is loaded with intriguing story lines. Among the six boxers in the three fights, there’s unbeaten Jessie Vargas, possibly the next opponent for Pacquiao if he beats Algieri; the enormously crowd-pleasing Ukrainian sensation, Vasyl Lomachenko, a legendary amateur who won a pro championship in just his third fight, and the ongoing evolution of Chinese icon, Zou Shiming, a huge cash cow in the Chinese/Asian market for Top Rank promoter, Bob Arum.
Vargas (25-0, 9 KOs) will be matched up with former lightweight champion, Antonio DeMarco (31-3-1, 23 KOs) in what figures to be an all-action junior welterweight title bout between two fighters who leave nothing on the table.
Vargas’ manager, Cameron Dunkin, says he has been virtually assured by Arum that Vargas could be Pacquiao’s next opponent. “I talked to Arum about this,” Dunkin says, “and he said, ‘It’s a very good possibility.’ Then he quickly added, ‘No, in fact it’s better than possible.’”
Whether that fight ever comes about is dependent on two things. First, of course, Pacquiao has to win. Then, not only does the 25-year-old Vargas also have to win, too, but do so in an exciting way that leaves a lasting impression. “This fight is huge for him,” says Dunkin, who has managed over 20 world champions. “He needs to look good and make a statement. If he wins, but isn’t impressive, we’re in a tougher position.
Vargas, a high-volume puncher, is something of an enigma. Although he connects on a lot of power punches, he has just nine knockouts in his 25 fights. That could all change in this fight because he’s now being trained by all-time great Roy Jones Jr., who in his prime was a deadly knockout puncher.
Until Vargas hooked up with Jones, Dunkin was at a loss to explain his low KO rate. “I didn’t understand it,” the manager says. “I saw him as an amateur and he was knocking people out. But then he ran into Jones two months ago and Jones told him, ‘I can teach you to punch.’ Jessie has told me since he started training with Jones, he’s punching much better, sitting down on his shots, and delivering them from a different place.”
Even with added power, Vargas will have his hands full with DeMarco, an ultra-aggressive boxer in the Mexican tradition. The 28-year-old DeMarco, whose three losses include two defeats in world championship fights, is also undergoing a makeover by moving up from lightweight, where he was a world champion, to junior welterweight. At 5’10, DeMarco has the frame to take on the extra weight. Plus, in addition to being trained by the great Freddie Roach, DeMarco’s strength and conditioning coach is Angel Heredia, who helped reshape the body of Juan Manuel Marquez for his last two fights against Pacquiao.
Lomachenko will be defending his featherweight title against Chonlataryn Piriyapinyo, a Thai boxer who has an impressive but suspect record of 52-1 with 33 knockouts, all coming in Thailand. Whether or not Piriyapinyo makes this fight competitive, it’ll be worth the admission just to see Lomachenko, who has superstar written all over him. Make no mistake about it, Lomachenko is the total package. In addition to consummate boxing skills honed over an amazing amateur career in which he won Olympic Gold twice and had a spectacular record of 396-1, Lomachenko is enormously crowd-pleasing. The Ukrainian is relentlessly aggressive, often throwing five or six punches in the blink of an eye with his lightning-fast hands. Lomachenko fights every second of every round right until the final bell.
After winning his pro debut last year, Lomachenko attempted to do what no boxer in history has done, win a world title in just his second bout. Matched up with multiple-division champion, Orlando Salido, a wily, almost maniacally-aggressive fighter with 54 bouts under his belt, Lomachenko looked untypically tentative throughout much of the early going before coming on strong later and nearly stopping the Mexican in the 12th round. That late surge resulted in a split decision loss for the Ukrainian.
Lomachenko bounced back from that defeat in his next bout, outclassing previously unbeaten and highly-regarded contender, Gary Russell Jr. In winning that title bout, he tied Saensak Muangsurin as the fasted fighter ever to capture a world championship.
The Ukrainian is as close to a perfect boxer as you will see in the ring today. He has every possible punch in his arsenal and throws them so fast opponents often cannot see his shots coming. In addition to superb defense, he works the head, he works the body, and every one of his precision punches is thrown with bad intentions. It may sound outlandish to say this about a boxer in just his fourth pro fight, but he has the look of a future pound-for-pound king.
The most distinctive thing you can say about his opponent, Piriyapinyo, is that he may have one of the most padded records in boxing. He has fought and beaten no one remotely of distinction. The records of his last four opponents were 2-2, 29-19-5, 25-14-1, and 1-10. That being said, after watching what little tape of him there was of him on YouTube, he does have very good boxing skills, works behind a crisp jab, and throws fast combos. He may not have fought anbody, but he is far from a pushover. Worth noting, however, is that his only loss came by unanimous decision to now retired champion Chris John, who was near the end of his career and had lost most of his elite skills.
Nearly as fascinating as Lomachenko is another storied amateur, Shiming, the only Chinese boxer ever to win an Olympic gold medal (which he also did twice). The diminutive flyweight is a virtual rock star in his homeland. While Pacquiao is easily the biggest name on this card, it is Shiming who is driving the dollar train in Macau. In each of his five pro fights, Shiming has been watched on TV by hundreds of millions in China.
Trained by Roach, Shiming has with each fight shaken off his amateur style and is rapidly adapting to the professional way of boxing. After his last fight, Roach told the South China Morning post that, “We did 10 hard rounds tonight. It wasn’t perfect, but we are going closer and closer all the time. I think we’ll be [in a world title fight] pretty soon.”
Even though he is 33, Shiming has very little wear on his tires, having been in few wars in an amateur career that saw him finish with a 137-31-5 record. His opponent, with the difficult to pronounce name Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym, is another Thai fighter with a padded record of 27-0-2, 12 KOs, including 13 wins over boxers making their pro debut. Like all of Shiming’s handpicked foes so far, OnesongchaiGym will probably give the Chinese fighter a good, crowd-pleasing workout, but the 33-year-old does not have the knockout power to upset Arum’s gravy train. The last thing Arum wants to see is Shiming get punched out by a freak blow. Eventually, Shiming will be matched much tougher. Only then will we see if he has the stuff to become a world champion pro, like his fellow storied amateur, Lomachenko.