Miguel Vazquez Goes the Distance to Earn Unanimous Decision

By Tim Smith

Photo Credit: Chris Farina - Top Rank

Over a year’s worth of ring rust and a cut above his left eye was not enough to slow down Miguel Vazquez in successfully defending his IBF lightweight championship against Denis Shafikov. Vazquez scored a 12-round unanimous decision over Shafikov at the Cotai Arena in Macao, China on Saturday.

Looking at the three judges’ scorecards, it seemed Shafikov slowly slid down a hill toward a loss to Vazquez. Judge Patricia Jarman scored it 115-113. Judge Chris Wilson scored it 116-112. And judge Sylvian Leblanc scored it 119-109. It looked like they were all watching a different fight and they may have been. Vazquez and Shafikov, clumsy and awkward at times, made it difficult to cleanly score rounds. But it was clear that Vazquez was in control for most of the match as Shafikov never found a way to cut off the ring or land any telling blows.

Vazquez (34-3, 13 KOs) entered the ring expecting a grueling match against Shafikov (33-1-1, 18 KOs), who had fought most of his previous 34 matches in Russia and had chalked up an undefeated record. Shafikov, a 5-foot-5 fireplug known for pressing the action, was anxious to prove that he deserved to be in the world championship ranks.

For those expecting fireworks it proved to be a disappointing affair, as the short southpaw Shafikov had trouble finding his range. The 5-foot-10 Vazquez, using his height and reach advantage, often seemed two steps ahead of the 28-year-old Russian challenger. Vazquez used his jab to keep Shafikov at bay. When Shafikov tried to rush in and press the action, Vazquez used his speed and mobility to slip away or he would nail Shafikov with sharp left uppercuts and looping right hands. They weren’t hard enough to stun or knockout Shafikov, but it was just as effective, as Vazquez was scoring points on the way to a unanimous decision.

In the fourth round there was a clash of heads as a cut opened over Vazquez’s left eye. It seemed to throw a sense of urgency into Vazquez and he started to engage more, which played into Shafikov’s game plan of coming forward and putting pressure on Vazquez. But it was short lived as Vazquez's cutman closed the gash and took away that sense of urgency.

In the fifth round Shafikov seemed to get within range to land some shots, but Vazquez was smart enough to smother Shafikov’s punches and tie him up. When Shafikov thought he had gotten close enough to land, he would unleash a shot and wind up swinging at air as Vazquez pedaled away.

Another accidental head butt in the seventh round opened a nasty cut over Shafikov’s right eye, but it didn’t deter him from coming forward. Though it had to be frustrating for Shafikov to land nothing more than potshots against Vazquez, give him credit for never giving up. He kept trying, and in the later rounds was able to land a few telling shots, including a jarring straight right in the seventh.

But it wasn’t enough. The two boxers grappled with each other in the eighth round and fell to the canvas. That was as close to a knockdown as either man get in this fight.

Shafikov had his best round in the 10th. He caught Vazquez with some sharp combinations on a couple of occasions, but it was too little, too late. Vazquez nailed Shafikov with a powerful counter right as Shafikov pressed. That seemed to stun Shafikov, who was bloodied from that cut over his right eye. The momentum was broken when the referee called a timeout to cut off a dangling piece of tape on Vazquez’s glove.

The best that can be said for Shafikov, particularly in his effort against the crafty Vazquez, is that he is a game fighter.

Vazquez’s style is atypical of other Mexican greats. He would rather box his way out of trouble than run headlong into a brawl. His nickname is El Titere (The Puppet) because of his lanky, loose-limb build and because he likes to bounce around. The 27-year-old Vazquez started out as a welterweight and his three losses came at welterweight and junior welterweight, losing to WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley and Saul “Canelo’’ Alvarez earlier in his career. All three losses were by decision and they came after Vazquez acquitted himself well. Now that he has moved down in weight, it appears that he has found his championship groove.

It was the eighth successful title defense for Vazquez, who has fought his way into the mix of one of the hottest divisions in boxing with the victory over Shafikov. He is now in line for possible matches against WBC interim champion Omar Figueroa, WBA champion Richard Abril, and the winner of the upcoming match between Terrance Crawford and Ricky Burns.

Boxing Returns to Macau on HBO2

By Kieran Mulvaney

Miguel Vazquez - Photo Credit: Chris Farina/Top Rank

Three months after Manny Pacquiao defeated Brandon Rios at the Venetian Macao, boxing returns to Macau on Saturday in the form of a double-header televised on HBO 2.

In the main event, lightweight titlist Miguel Vazquez defends his belt against undefeated Russian Denis Shafikov, a former European 140-pound champion who has moved down in weight for his last few fights. Nicknamed "Genghis Khan," Shafikov is a compact, left-handed pressure fighter, who likes to use hooks to cut off the ring and keep his foe in front of him, and work his opponent to the body before switching his attack upstairs.

He may have his work cut out for him against Vazquez, whose style has befuddled and beaten one opponent after another. Vazquez takes the art of defense to another level, constantly circling backward and away, forcing his foes to lunge forward and using his long reach to keep them at the end of his jab. It's a style that is more likely to be described as efficient than as exciting, but it is certainly effective: the Mexican has suffered just three defeats in 36 contests, none of which have come at lightweight. One was against Timothy Bradley, the former junior lightweight and current welterweight champion, and the other two were to Saul Alvarez, who plies his trade these days at junior middleweight.

The matchup is a classic clash of styles. Will Shafikov be able to close the distance and force Vazquez to stand and fight? Or will Vazquez be able to deploy his movement to keep Shafikov at range and frustrate the shorter man's efforts to turn the contest into more of a brawl?

Of course, no fight card from Macau would be complete without China's former amateur standout Zou Shiming, who laces them up as a professional for the fourth time, on this occasion taking on Yokthong Kokietgym of Thailand in a scheduled eight-round flyweight bout. Kokietgym, it is fair to say, has not been brought to China to upend the Zou apple cart; the intrigue in this contest will be in seeing if Zou continues the improvement he showed in his last appearance, on the Pacquiao-Rios undercard.

Although he won his first two professional fights, he did not look like a fighter who matched the hype that accompanied his arrival in the paid ranks after an amateur career that netted medals at three straight Olympics. But against the previously undefeated Juan Tozcano, Zou put the pieces together, throwing fast, straight combinations and rocking -- and seemingly coming close to stopping -- his opponent on several occasions, as a partisan crowd roared its approval. Zou and trainer Freddie Roach will be looking for similar improvement against Kokietgym, as they seek to ride his popularity and progress into a possible world title tilt in the near future.

Promoters You Know and Fighters You Should Get To Know on the Pacquiao-Marquez Undercard

by Eric Raskin

Take the plastic off the furniture and bust out the fancy bean dip, because you have a couple of celebrity guests coming into the house for your pay-per-view party on December 8. Two stars known far better by their nicknames than their given names, 50 Cent and Snooki, are promoting fighters on the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez 4 undercard. But, as always, the boxers in action are the real stars of the show, and this undercard features a battle of unbeatens, a talent knocking on the door of the pound-for-pound list, some Filipino flavor, and even the pro debut of one of the most decorated American amateurs ever. That would be 20-year-old lightweight Jose Ramirez, who will open the show in a scheduled four-rounder. Here’s a look at the three 12-rounders that will follow:

Yuriorkis Gamboa (21-0, 16 KOs) vs. Michael Farenas (33-3-4, 25 KOs), 12 Rounds, Junior Lightweights

Are you suffering from Gamboa withdrawal? It’s been 15 long months since the Cuban “Cyclone” kicked up dust in a prize ring, but he’s finally back and ready to show off his extraordinary combination of speed and power against Filipino southpaw Farenas. Gamboa sat on the shelf due to promotional squabbles, and his promotional status remains a major talking point because rapper 50 Cent is now officially the man guiding his career. This bout marks Fiddy’s promoting debut, and it marks the 31-year-old Gamboa’s first major fight at junior lightweight following an impressive run atop the featherweight division. Gamboa, whose 2010 defeat of Orlando Salido keeps looking better with the passage of time, is a healthy favorite over the unproven Farenas (who is trained by Pacquiao assistant Buboy Fernandez). But the Cuban also has a troubling tendency to find himself on the canvas, and with 25 knockouts among his 33 victories, Farenas can pop a little bit. Blink at your own peril.

Miguel Vazquez (32-3, 13 KOs) vs. Mercito Gesta (26-0-1, 14 KOs), 12 Rounds, Lightweights

Pacquiao and Farenas aren’t the only Filipino southpaws in action, as Gesta will get in on the fun in pursuit of his first pro title in what looks like a pick-’em fight against the crafty Mexican Vazquez. The 25-year-old Vazquez was viewed by some as the top dog in the lightweight division until a rocky outing against Marvin Quintero in October – which ended with Vazquez winning a split decision – socked his stock. He gets a chance at redemption against Gesta, who is also 25, hasn’t faced the level of competition that Vazquez has, but has shown flashes of potential on his way up. Vazquez is four inches taller at 5’11”, so expect the stocky challenger known as “No Mercy” to try to fight at close quarters and score with bodyshots and short uppercuts. This will come down to which man is able to dictate the style of the fight; the more action-packed it is, the better that will be for Gesta.

Javier Fortuna (20-0, 15 KOs) vs. Patrick Hyland (27-0, 12 KOs), 12 Rounds, Featherweights

New York-based Irishman Hyland has Snooki in his corner … and a “situation” in front of him. The 23-year-old Dominican Fortuna is one of boxing’s hottest prospects, particularly on the heels of his dazzling two-round destruction of veteran Cristobal Cruz this past July. He represents a major step up in class for Hyland who, despite having a Jersey Shore star for a promoter, is a relative unknown. But with two undefeated records on the line, Fortuna and Hyland might just produce a brawl that puts even the best Ronnie vs. Sammi fight to shame.

Abregu Denies Dulorme Via Seventh-Round Knockout

by Eric Raskin

Thomas Dulorme - Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland

As 1940s and ’50s major league pitcher Preacher Roe once famously said (and as the film The Big Lebowski more famously adapted), “Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.” Highly touted 22-year-old Puerto Rican welterweight prospect Thomas Dulorme stared down the bear on Saturday night in the form of Argentine bruiser Carlos Abregu. And, as happens sometimes when talented but inexperienced fighters are willing to step up and take risks, the bear ended up with a full belly.

Abregu (34-1, 28 KOs) scored a violent knockdown in the third round, then finished off Dulorme (16-1, 12 KOs) in the seventh with another knockdown that prompted the younger fighter’s corner to halt the bout. The end came at the 2:35 mark of round seven at Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York.

The Dulorme bandwagon will empty quickly because of a single unexpected defeat; that’s the way things tend to go in sports these days. But it’s not necessarily a fair or even correct response. This fight didn’t expose Dulorme as a fraud. It merely exposed him as a fighter with a lot of room to improve, particularly defensively. And it happened because Abregu was a high hurdle for any developing fighter to clear, a heavy-handed, in-his-prime warrior who had only lost once in 34 previous pro bouts, against the excellent Timothy Bradley.

“We analyzed [Dulorme], and we saw that he was too young,” Abregu said afterward when asked how he scored the mild upset. “Maybe with time, he could be a great fighter.”

Read More at HBO.com

Prospects and Power on Tap for Saturday’s Triple-Header

by Kieran Mulvaney

Timothy Bradley, Luis Carlos Abregu - Photo Credit: Will Hart

Following the “rock’em sock ‘em robots” performance for the ages by Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado, and the technical precision and punching power of Nonito Donaire, HBO’s Boxing After Dark returns on Saturday with a triple header featuring some of the sport’s more promising prospects, as well as some contenders who have been knocking on the door and looking for a breakthrough.

Tomas Dulorme  (16-0, 12 KOs) v Luis Carlos Abregu (33-1, 27 KOs), welterweights

Puerto Rican Dulorme is widely regarded as one of the brightest prospects in boxing. He brings blinding fast hand speed with one-punch knockout power and a body attack that some have compared to that of countryman Miguel Cotto.  But he faces a big step up in class and experience when he takes on hard-hitting Argentine Abregu, whose only loss was a decision to then-junior welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley, and who has won four in a row since then. This will go a long way toward showing us whether Dulorme is the real deal.

Mauricio Herrera (18-2, 7 KOs) v Karim Mayfield (16-0-1, 10 KOs), junior welterweights

The last time we saw Herrera, he was in a fantastic action fight with Mike Alvarado that was a Fight of the Year candidate until Alvarado’s battle with Brandon Rios usurped all other contenders. Herrera came out on the losing end of that contest, but the bout went to the scorecards and the decision was close. He feels that level of experience and quality of opposition will prove the difference against the heralded but relatively untested Mayfield.

Miguel Vazquez (31-3, 13 KOs) v Marvin Quintero (25-3, 21 KOs), lightweights

Vazquez turned professional against a young fellow Mexican by the name of Saul Alvarez, and dropped a four-round split decision. Since then, his only defeats in 33 fights have been in a rematch to Alvarez, now a junior middleweight titlist, in which Vazquez went 10 pounds above his normal weight, and to Tim Bradley. He has held a lightweight title since August 2010 and was the first man to hang a loss on the record of Air Khan’s nemesis Breidis Prescott. Quintero has knockout power, but he can also be knocked out – all three of his losses have been by stoppage, two of them within the first two rounds. As a result, one way or the other, this could be an explosive start to the evening.

CompuBox Analysis: Vazquez vs. Quintero

On a night where contrasting styles are pitted against each other, the IBF lightweight title match between the defender Vazquez and the challenger Quintero is the most stark. Vazquez prefers to operate at long range while Quintero is at his best when he brawls. Vazquez is a right-handed stylist while Quintero is a southpaw stalker. At 5-10 with a 72-inch wingspan, Vazquez's body is built for speed while the squat 5-7 Quintero has a 65-inch reach made for the trenches.

The gulf between their approaches is as evident as those between red states and blue states. Which method will cause the other man's madness? Their CompuBox histories offer the following clues:

See more Compubox analysis of Miguel Vazquez vs. Marvin Quintero on HBO.com.