Undercard Recap: Gradovich Overpowers Dib Yet Again

by Kieran Mulvaney

Photo Credit: Will HartIn the co-main event, Evgeny Gradovich retained a featherweight belt with a ninth-round TKO victory against the man from whom he first took the title, Australia’s Billy Dib. Gradovich, who bills himself as “The Russian Mexican,” steadily ground Dib down with his relentless, suffocating offense, knocking him down in the sixth round. Dib was game and did his best to return fire, but by the end he appeared to be wilting from every punch that landed.

After eight rounds, as Dib struggled to respond to commands, his trainer said to him in the corner, “Billy, I love you, but one more punch and it’s over.” It took only 1 minute and 10 seconds of the following frame for him to fulfill his promise, stopping the contest as Gradovich landed another combination. 

Weigh-In: Wait is Almost Over as Pacquiao, Rios Make Weight

by Kieran Mulvaney

[Click for Slideshow] Manny Pacquiao (left), Brandon Rios (right) - Photo Credit: Will Hart

Eight o'clock in the morning is really too early to be watching (mostly) skinny young men stand on bathroom scales in their underwear, and judging from the slightly muted atmosphere in the Venetian Macao’s Cotai Arena, fighters and fans alike felt the same way. There were hundreds, rather than thousands, for the official weigh-in, staged early in Macau in order to stream live on Friday evening in the United States, but there was no doubt about the allegiance of those who did show up, even if few of them had had the opportunity to caffeinate sufficiently before whooping and hollering for their man.

Not that Brandon Rios cared about the boos from the Filipino contingent, cupping his hands to one ear and then the other, beaming, and making a “Look at me, this is what it’s going to look like when I put a title belt around my waist” motion. That waist, by the way, appeared a little bit more expansive than Manny Pacquiao’s; but then Rios has never possessed the most svelte of physiques. By his standards, though, he looked fighting trim, and actually weighed in one half pound under the 147 lb. welterweight limit.

Pacquiao, as always, looked in perfect shape, and boasted his characteristic beatific smile, soaking up the cheering, struggling as ever to keep from grinning during the face-off with Rios, and then departing the stage – perhaps, like the writers who grumbled about being forced to work so early, to take a nap.

It has been a long and slightly strange week, but now suddenly the end is near. The epithets, the insults, the kicks, the complaints: all are in the past. Pacquiao doesn’t have to see Rios, or vice-versa, for another 26 hours, and the next time they are in each other’s presence will be the only time that matters. The bell will ring, the fight will be on, and the truth will be just around the corner.

Undercard Overview: A Mix of Weights, Nationalities and Stories

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 Jr (left) and Hamer (right) - Credit: Chris Farina, Top Rank

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

Zou Shiming - Credit: Chris Farina - Top Rank

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

Felix Verdejo - Credit: Chris Farina - Top Rank

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.

Zou Shiming Puts On a Show, Stays Unbeaten

by Nat Gottlieb

Brandon Rios, Zou Shiming - Photo: Chris Farina

If you took away all the hype, glitz, and glamour of the fabulously over-the-top Macau casino, and the 300 million people watching on free Chinese TV and HBO, what you would have left in Saturday night’s headline fight was a rare phenomenon in boxing: a 112-pound flyweight who could demand extraordinary attention.

The object of all this affection was a two-time Olympic gold medalist from China, Zou Shiming, who turned pro just this past April at the ripe old age of 32. But turning pro and fighting like one are two different things.

In his four-round debut in April against a veritable body-to-be-named-later, Shiming readily admits he was so daunted by the raucous 15,000 fans watching in the Cotai Arena at the Venetian Resort, that he sought refuge in an old, comfortable friend: his amateur boxing style.

The result was a lackluster, unanimous victory that disappointed the fans and did nothing to bolster promoter Bob Arum’s grand vision of turning China into his own personal gold mine. “Yes, I reverted to the old Olympic style,” Shiming said recently, “but believe me, I will be better for my second bout. I wasn't used to the environment. I think I was overawed by it all, fighting in front of 15,000 passionate fans.”

Saturday night, he was back in the Cotai. There were just as many rabid fans, the environment was equally as daunting, but this time, Shiming didn’t disappoint the crowd. Although he wasn’t able to knock out his opponent, 19-year-old Jesus Ortega (3-3), in their scheduled six-rounder, the Chinese medalist did thrill his fans by abandoning his stick-and-move amateur style and going toe-to-toe in what proved to be a pleasing, exciting fight. All three judges scored it 59-54 in favor of Shiming.

Right from the start, Shiming showed the signs of being trained by Hall of Famer, Freddie Roach. He actually looked more like a Mexican fighter than a Chinese one. Not only did he stand toe-to-toe, but he was firing hard body shots, working upstairs and downstairs, and using a picture-perfect uppercut, certainly a new wrinkle to his arsenal. His punches, unlike in his debut, were short, compact, and crisp. He was also showing the ability to throw counter punches. Not surprisingly, every punch the Chinese Olympian landed with any authority drew roars from the highly-partisan crowd.

The cost Shiming paid for standing in the pocket was that he was taking more shots to the head and body than he probably ever had as an amateur. But Shiming didn’t seem fazed by the young Mexican’s shots. He kept coming and firing combos with the high-hand speed that made him a great Olympian. That being said, not a single blow by the Chinese fighter appeared to have much effect on the Mexican, either. One had to wonder whether Shiming’s chin could have withstood the shots he was taking from an experienced and harder-hitting pro, but it is far too early to assess the Chinese fighter’s whiskers.

In the fourth round, Shiming landed a huge right hand, and although the Mexican didn’t seem fazed by it, the crowd raised the roar several decibels, encouraging the Chinese fighter to go all-out for the knockout. But after a ferocious assault for nearly 30 seconds, Shiming wisely realized he wasn’t going to get the knockout, and toned down his attack.

In the fifth round, Shiming began to show the effects of throwing far more punches at a faster pace than he had ever thrown in his countless amateur fights. The Olympian began to tire, and looked a bit ragged. For much of the round, he fought with his hands down, a sign not only that was tired, but also an indication he wasn’t particulary worried about the Mexican’s punches hurting him.

By the sixth and final round, Shiming was fighting flat-footed and holding at times to rest. It appeared questionable that he could have fought four or six more rounds at this pace, but Roach, who undoubtedly was not too thrilled with his fighter standing toe-to-toe in a hyper-aggressive fashion, will surely tone down his boxer’s aggression and pace a notch or two in future bouts.

While Shiming (2-0) remains a work in progress, after this fight it can be said that he’s now officially a pro boxer. His next fight will be back in Macau on Nov. 23 on the undercard of a Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios slugfest on pay-per-view TV.

In the co-feature, flyweight champion, Juan Francisco Estrada (26-2, 18 KOs), made the first defense of the title he won in an upset of Brian Viloria in April, by scoring a unanimous 12-round decision by a wide margin over previously unbeaten Filipino, Milan Melindo (29-1, 12 KOs). Melindo managed to keep the early rounds competitive, but the Mexican gradually began to dominate the later rounds, punctuated by his knockdown of the Filipino in the 11th.   Although Melindo was competitive throughout the fight, the scorecards didn’t seem to reflect this, 117-109 and 118-109 twice.

The opening event on the HBO card featured undefeated lightweight champion, Evgeny Gradovich (17-0, 8 KOs), fighting against an outclassed Argentinean, Mauricio Munoz (24-4, 12 KOs). Gradovich is a stablemate of Rios and is also trained by Robert Garcia, last year’s Trainer of the Year. The super-aggressive Russian Gradovich pounded Munoz at will throughout most of the fight, but was unable to finish him off. The scorecards reflected the one-sided beating, 120-108 and 119-109 twice. Although Gradovich is certainly exciting to watch, with just eight knockouts in 17 fights he’ll have to gain more punching power before will be considered the kind of star who can draw crowds.

 

Shiming's Sophomore Outing Heads Return Ticket to China

by Kieran Mulvaney

Three and a half months after opening his professional career with a unanimous points win over Eleazar Valenzuela, flyweight Zou Shiming, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and Chinese boxing royalty, headlines his second card in Macau this Saturday. As with his debut effort, the three-fight televised card will be broadcast on HBO2.

Shiming is not exactly being matched up with a beast of an opponent in his sophomore outing, which is understandable for a fighter taking only his second step on a fast track to a title. But supporting his showcase is a pair of what promise to be competitive title bouts. Here's a quick rundown of the three TV fights:

 

Zou Shiming vs Jesus Ortega

This one is all about the A side, and how good Shiming looks in his second outing with the legendary Freddie Roach in his corner. Ortega has fought four times as a professional, winning on three occasions; his only loss came against the only opponent who had a win to his name. That opponent, Clemente Grijalva, sported a 1-0 record when he beat Ortega; that's the record Shiming will bring into the ring, and if he doesn't hand Ortega his second loss, it will be a major upset.

All fighters take on similarly inexperienced opposition in the early stages of their professional careers, but because of his age (he's 31) and extensive amateur experience, Shiming is likely to be mixing it with the big boys sooner rather than later. His second pro bout will be his first scheduled six-rounder; should he win as expected, his third contest will be slated for eight rounds. Expect him to climb the ladder swiftly and earn a title shot in short order.

 

Juan Estrada vs Milan Melindo

The co-main event looks to be one of those evenly-matched, closely-fought, can't-help-but-be-exciting highlight reels. Mexico's Estrada stole the show on the last Macau card, when he overhauled veteran Brian Viloria to win a flyweight belt; he earned that shot by dint of how impressive he looked even in a losing effort against the outstanding Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez. Melindo, an undefeated Flipino, wowed the fans in attendance for the untelevised portion of April's Macau card, knocking down Tommy Seran with a left hook in the opening seconds and then knocking him out with another in the fourth round.

Both men are stand-in-the-pocket action fighters. Neither is likely to yield an inch. Expect plenty of punches and few lulls in this one.

 

Evgeny Gradovich vs Mauricio Munoz

Gradovich was born in Siberia, trains in California with Robert Garcia, and has been dubbed "the Mexican Russian" for his body-punching fighting style – a style he used to great effect in his last outing, defeating Billy Dib to take a featherweight belt.

His first defense of that belt comes against Munoz, who is making his second attempt to win a world title; his first, against then-super bantamweight champion Toshiaki Nishioka, ended in a ninth round stoppage defeat. That was only the second occasion Munoz fought outside his native Argentina, and the first and only time he faced truly world-class opposition; accordingly, he'll be the big underdog against Gradovich. But while not the most sophisticated boxer, he's tough as teak and ready to dish out and receive punishment. He'll find a willing trading partner in the exciting Gradovich.