by Nat Gottlieb
Credit: Chris Farina - Top Rank
The undercard features four intriguing bouts, headlined by a featherweight championship rematch between dethroned title-holder Billy Dib and "The Russian Mexican" Evgeny Gradovich who won their first match back in March. Also sure to draw a lot of interest is an unusual clash of heavyweight prospects, Andy Ruiz Jr. and Tor Hamer. Ruiz, who looks more like a sumo wrestler than a boxer, belies his rotund appearance with a pair of the fastest hands in the heavyweight division and a skill set not usually seen in bigger men. Challenging him will be Hamer, whose back-story is a rarity in the gritty world of boxing: son of a Harvard-educated father and a mother with a degree from Villanova, Hamer himself has a BA from Penn State. A Village Voice piece on Hamer once carried the headline: "The Gentleman Boxer."
Also on the card is the much-anticipated third career fight for the Chinese double Olympic gold medalist, Zou Shiming, a national icon whose first two fights in Macau were watched by a staggering 200 million viewers in China. His opponent will be a little known Mexican flyweight, who has won all four of his professional fights. The other televised bout features unbeaten, former Puerto Rican Olympian, Felix Verdejo, taking on a Thai boxer distinguished most by having perhaps the longest name in all of sports, Petchsamuthr Duanaaymukdahan.
Evgeny Gradovich vs. Billy Dibs
Gradovich (17-0, 8 KOs) is a pupil of the hottest young trainer in boxing, last year's "Trainer of the Year" Robert Garcia, who also conditions Rios, Mikey Garcia, and Nonito Donaire among others. Befitting his nickname, the Russian-born Gradovich's style is a hybrid of European and Mexican. Last March, Gradovich took a fight on short notice against then-champion Dib and won a controversial split decision by outworking the Australian with his high-volume, aggressive head and body work. Although Dib's corner thought he had won the fight, the CompuBox stats backed up the judges: Gradovich landed 292 total punches to Dib's 228.
If Dib (36-2, 21 KOs) was looking for an excuse in that loss, he might have had one. The Australian suffered a slight concussion and cuts to both his scalp and above one eye. His scalp wound later required 10 staples, while the other cut took 14 stitches. After the fight, Dibs said, "I got sucked into a toe-to-toe brawl with him and I didn't make the right adjustments. I fought with all heart and no brains." Gradovich's high intensity style is crowd pleasing, but he only has eight knockouts in 17 fights and will need to gain more punching power if he is to become a true fan favorite.
Andy Ruiz Jr. vs Tor Hamer
Ruiz (20-0, 14 KOs) defies easy description. When he walks into the ring, he looks like the "before" side of a weight loss commercial. And then he lets his hands fly. Incredibly, the giant Mexican has the hand speed of a top welterweight. A former Mexican Olympian, Ruiz fights behind a very crisp jab that often drives opponents backwards, and always throws four and five-punch combos. Coming forward aggressively, he likes to dig into both sides of the body and the midsection. If you try to grab and hold him, Ruiz will continue to bruise your body with punches until the referee steps in. Despite his physical appearance, Ruiz is a genuine, bona fide heavyweight contender.
The same can't be said yet for Hamer (21-2, 14 KOs), a fighter with a sculpted body. Before he can be considered a legitimate contender, Hamer will need to beat someone like Ruiz. The only time Hamer faced a top-notch opponent was last year, when he was vastly overmatched against Vyacheslay Glazkov, a former Olympic bronze medalist from the hotbed of heavyweights, the Ukraine. After taking an early beating from Glazkov, Hamer retired on his stool after the fourth round. His best chance to beat Ruiz is to test his chin with his power.
Zou Shiming vs. Juan Tuscano
Shiming (2-0), the diminutive flyweight and national hero, will be trying to demonstrate continued growth as a professional under the tutelage of his Hall-of-Fame trainer Freddie Roach. In his first fight last April in Macau, Shiming admitted to being flustered by the large, partisan crowd that was rooting for him to score a knockout. Feeling uncomfortable in the ring, Shiming reverted to his amateur style of fighting. When he returned to the ring in July, however, he started to look like a real pro. Fighting more like an aggressive Mexican than a Chinese amateur, he kept firing hard shots upstairs and downstairs. Even more telling was the adjustment he made in the way he threw his punches. In his debut, he did a lot of slapping with wide, looping shots. In July, his punches were short, compact, and crisp. He will be facing the Juan Toscano (4-0, 1 KO), who appears to be a designated body for Shiming. But with young fighters from Mexico, you never know when they might have a breakout fight.
Felix Verdejo vs. Petchsamuthr Duanaaymukdahan
The other bout, a junior lightweight contest, features the hard-hitting young Puerto Rican prospect, Verdejo, who has an 8-0 record with six knockouts. Virtually nothing is known about his opponent, Duanaaymukdahan (8-1, 1 KO), whose fights have all been in Thailand, the land of boxing secrets. With Verdejo's vast Olympic experience from the London Games, he figures to make light work of the Thai fighter. But again, since nothing is known about him by fans in the Western world, the Thai might very well be a closeted assassin.