CompuBox Preview and Prediction: Saunders-Lemieux

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

By CompuBox

Boxing, more than most sports, thrives on contrasts, and few fights offer more contrasts than that provided by WBO middleweight titlist Billy Joe Saunders and David Lemieux. Yes, they do share similarities -- they're both 28 years old and both have reached the mountaintop at 160 -- but the differences are more striking: Saunders is a southpaw from England who depends heavily on his jab and deep amateur pedigree while David Lemieux is a right-hander from Montreal who fights best when he's coming forward and throwing bombs. While Saunders competed in the 2008 Olympics for Great Britain, Lemieux chose to skip the Beijing games and turn pro. Will these differences mesh into a great fight, or will they produce an unwatchable mess?

saunders-vs-lemieux-stats.jpg

Life After GGG

Lemieux has fought four times since losing his IBF belt to Golovkin more than two years earlier and while he's won all four, two foes (Christian Rios and his most recent foe Marcos Reyes) managed to last the distance. It wasn't from a lack of trying, because Lemieux averaged 65.8 punches per round against Rios and out-landed him 212-92 overall and 195-81 power while creating percentage gaps of 32%-17% overall and 46%-32% power. When he couldn't dent Rios' chin, he smartly went to the body and found great success (107 of 195 power connects, 109 of 212 total connects). Against Reyes, Lemieux averaged a modest 44.2 punches per round but forged leads of 145-115 overall and 112-83 power because he was more precise (33%-25% overall, 41%-26% power). This time the body attack was shelved (25 of 145 total connects, 25 of 112 landed power shots), perhaps because Reyes' spoiling tactics proved effective. That could be good news for the slick Saunders, because when Lemieux met fellow power hitters Curtis Stevens and Glen Tapia, he produced fireworks, then early-round knockouts. Against Tapia, Lemieux averaged 70.4 punches per round, led 90-55 overall and 71-30 power and forged percentage gaps of 39%-35% overall and 50%-44% power while against Stevens he opened the fight with a career-high 117 punches and 42 connects, including 37 power shots, then produced a potential KO of the year in round three with a massive hook. In the end, Lemieux led 93-36 overall and 57-32 power as well as 35%-34% overall and 56%-39% power. The moral for Saunders: Box, don't slug.

Jab or Bust

Very few fighters are more dependent on his jab than Saunders. The proof: In his last six fights the jab comprised 64.3% of his output and 57.9% of his connects, far higher than the middleweight averages of 42.3% (23.4 of 55.3) and 28.7% (4.8 of 16.7). The good news for Saunders is that his jab is effective enough (25 thrown/6.2 connects per round, 25% accuracy) to slow the pace to a crawl as Saunders averaged 38.9 punches per round to his opponents' 43.4. This offensive strategy has reached new levels in his three middleweight title fights against then-titlist Andy Lee, Artur Akavov and Willie Monroe Jr. Against Lee, the jab represented a sky-high 83.2% of his output (243 of 292 punches) and 83.5% of his total connects (86 of 103) while he accumulated similar numbers against Akavov (409 of 579 total punches, 70.6%, 51 of 82 total connects, 62.2%) and Monroe Jr. (236 of 405 total punches, 58.3%; 97 of 159 total connects, 61%). Will Saunders' tense, fast-twitch style prove effective against Lemieux, or will the Montreal mauler plow through the interference?

Inside The Numbers

As Saunders (last 6 fights) jabs goes, so goes Saunders. 25 of his 38.9 punches thrown per round (64.3%- C'Box avg.: 41.6%)) are jabs and 6.2 of his 10.7 landed punches per round (57.9%- CompuBox avg.: 28%) are jabs. He landed just 4.4 power shots per round- 1/3 fewer than the CompuBox avg.  His style is effective, as opponents landed just 18% of their total punches (7.8 per round-- half the wgt. class avg.) and just 23.6% of their power shots (4.7 per round).  Lemieux is busier and made more contact in his last 5 fights than Saunders (18 landed per round/55.3 thrown- 45.1% power connect pct.).  As a result of his aggressiveness, opponents landed 36.8% of their power shots

Prediction

Because Lee, Akavov and especially Monroe are counter-punchers by nature, they easily fell into Saunders' preferred pattern. If he can force Lemieux into a low-output boxing match, he can hunt and peck his way to a big road win, especially since Lemieux's defense is nothing to write home about. But the more likely result is that Lemieux, especially fighting in front of his home fans in Montreal, will feed off the energy and blast Saunders into a TKO defeat.

A Bruising Jubilee: Billy Joe Saunders and David Lemieux Meet for High Stakes

photo: Ed Mulholland

photo: Ed Mulholland

By Carlos Acevedo

Not long ago middleweight titlist Billy Joe Saunders must have thought he was snakebitten. He had been inactive, failed in bids to land marquee fights, and made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Then, last summer, in the strangest twist of all, his scheduled championship defense against Avtandil “Mini Mike Tyson” Khurtsidze was cancelled when Khurtsidze was swept up in an FBI dragnet of Russian mob operatives in New York City. Now, Saunders takes his first step into the international spotlight when he faces crackerjack puncher David Lemieux at the Place Bell in Laval, Quebec, Canada, on Saturday night in the intriguing main event of HBO World Championship Boxing at 9:40 PM ET/PT.

For a while, Saunders (25-0, 12 KOs) seemed hell-bent on embodying some of the worst excesses of the modern prizefighter: specifically the social media blowhard who turns the ring into a waltz session whenever he actually steps into one. But Saunders deserves credit for hitting the road to face a dangerous foe. No matter what his limitations are, Lemieux, who atomized Curtis Stevens last March in one of the most frightening knockouts of the year, is potential dynamite for anyone who shares the ring with him. With only a handful of outings over the last few years, however, Saunders is now looking to become an X-factor in a compelling middleweight division, which includes Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin, and Daniel Jacobs. A potential jackpot matchup with any of these money men is why Saunders is rolling the dice against Lemieux.

In his last fight, Saunders scored an uneventful decision over Willie Monroe, Jr. at the Copper Box Arena in London. Saunders hardly lived up to his nickname, “Superb.” In fact, Monroe probably took more punishment prior to the fight, when Stevie Saunders, all of eight years old, punched him in the groin at the weigh-in. It was a poor contrast for Billy Joe: his own son seemed more inspired by the prospect of swapping blows with Monroe than he did. Saunders is a southpaw cutie who sets a glacial pace, minimizes exchanges, frequently grapples, and relies on an accurate jab to go along with an old boxing standby: the one-two. Andrew Harrison, who covers the U.K. scene for Boxing Monthly sums up his troublesome style. “Saunders is a quick and crafty southpaw. He's very difficult to hit cleanly and has extensive amateur experience. His chin has proven dependable to date and he's all fighter—there's no quit in him. On the flip side, he can be a tad over-reliant on his right hand, he doesn't possess world-class power and he's shown a tendency to fade late in fights.”

Saunders also has the unique ability, like the old pulp character The Shadow, to cloud the minds of men. Andy Lee and Monroe, both of whom Saunders defeated by points, seemed mesmerized by Saunders. In 2014, Chris Eubank, Jr. looked positively desultory when he dropped a split decision to Saunders. If Saunders, 28, seems to lack zeal, it may be because zeal would undercut a nightmare style whose appeal is limited, certainly, but whose difficulties between the ropes are undeniable. 

This combination of spoiling tactics in the ring—despite an Olympic pedigree—and odd behavior out of it has made Saunders a genuine enigma. Since winning his middleweight title from Andy Lee nearly two years ago, Saunders, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, has fought only twice and each time failed to impress. A nighthawk lifestyle, inactivity, and a revolving door of trainers have all contributed to Saunders looking less than scintillating in the ring recently.

Like his fellow Traveller Tyson Fury, Saunders has cultivated a zany aura that has intrigued some and baffled others. There is a Monty Pythonesque air about him. His Twitter feed is raucous and profane, his behavior at public events is outlandish, and his reputation as a snooker fiend precedes him.  Even more bizarre, video footage of Saunders razing his caravan with a bulldozer popped up on in The Daily Star a few months ago. If Saunders can get by Lemieux, the middleweight division will have no choice but to take him seriously.

After a few years in limbo—when the blue-chip prospect afterglow faded following consecutive losses to Marco Antonio Rubio and Joachim Alcine in 2011, David Lemieux (38-3, 33 KOs) regrouped to become that contemporary rarity: a fighting contender. No sooner did he win a title by outpointing footloose Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam, than Lemieux accepted terms for a partial unification bout against middleweight terror Gennady Golovkin. Instead of cashing in on a few easy defenses—the raison d'être of so many titleholders—Lemieux immediately challenged the top dog in his division. He was mauled for his temerity, of course, but showed bona fide moxie in scrapping with a fighter so many have found convenient reasons to avoid. A more cautious-than-usual “GGG” worked behind his jab en route to stopping Lemieux in the 8th round in 2015.

Although Lemieux, 28, has been stopped twice, Saunders is not Golovkin and seemingly lacks the firepower to render the judges irrelevant on fight night. That means carefully navigating his way across 12 potentially hazardous rounds while employing his special brand of strategic dawdling. It will be up to Lemieux to force a pace that will keep Saunders on his back foot and on the defensive.

Letting a cunning spoiler such as Saunders set up in relative comfort is a mistake that could cost the Montreal-native precious points. The bell-to-bell hellion style he employed against N’Dam seems to be his best option against Saunders. “Lemieux's best hope is to place stock in a concerted body assault,” says Harrison. “Saunders is so slippery and jabs so frequently, the Canadian has more chance of immobilizing him with left hooks to the body than he does to the chin. If Lemieux can resist the urge to erase the Brit's sneer with blockbusters up top and doggedly pound Saunders’ ribs instead—even if he has to give up some rounds in the process—it could pay dividends for him down the home stretch.”

To beat Lemieux, who boasts a KO percentage of 80%, Saunders will have to be at his sharpest, and, although Saunders has shown few signs of verve recently he remains undefeated and has beaten some credible opposition. Saunders is hoping for an uneventful night at the Place Bell; Lemieux is hoping for some sort of bruising jubilee. Look for Lemieux to start fast, struggle during the mid-rounds, and hold on for a split decision win. 

Carlos Cuadras and McWilliams Arroyo Join SuperFly 2

Following the outstanding response to SuperFly 2 being announced last week, a sensational ten-round super flyweight clash has been added with former WBC Super Flyweight World Champion, Carlos “Principe” Cuadras, (36-2-1, 27 KO’s), of Mexico City, Mexico facing hard-hitting, two-time world title challenger McWilliams Arroyo, (16-3, 14 KO’s), of Fajardo, Puerto Rico. The event takes place Saturday, February 24 from the Forum in Los Angeles, CA, and will be televised live on HBO Boxing After Dark beginning at 9:30 PM ET/PT.

SUPERFLY 2 is headlined by WBC Super Flyweight World Champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, (43-4-1, 39 KO’s), of Si Sa Ket, Thailand, defending his title over 12-rounds for the second time against former world champion and #1 ranked mandatory challenger Juan Francisco “El Gallo” Estrada, (36-2, 25 KO’s), of Sonora, Mexico. 

“We’re very excited to add this classic matchup of Mexico vs. Puerto Rico to the SuperFly 2 HBO triple header in what will be one of the most entertaining boxing events of 2018,” said Tom Loeffler of 360 Promotions. 

“Carlos Cuadras has proved to be one of the most exciting and most popular fighters in boxing over the last couple of years with his action-packed fights being telecast on HBO. His fight with Roman Gonzalez last year at the Forum was a "Fight of the Year" candidate as was his war with Juan Francisco Estrada at the first SuperFly event on September 9.”

“In April 2016, McWilliams Arroyo had a spectacular fight with then number-one Pound-for-Pound Fighter and Flyweight World Champion Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez and we expect another thrilling fight against Carlos Cuadras on February 24.”

“With previous fights against “Chocolatito,” Cuadras and Williams both know what it takes to face the best in the world and will be very highly motivated for victory on February 24.”

Stated Cuadras, “This is exactly what I want, to fight the best fighters in the division on the biggest stages. I love fighting in Los Angeles and for this fight I’ll be training in Big Bear Lake, California with my new trainer Abel Sanchez. I can’t be stopped in 2018 and will be a world champion once again.”

“My fight with “Chocolatito” was a great experience,” said Arroyo. “I loved fighting at the Forum with its loud and passionate fans and history of great fights particularly in the lower weight classes. I can’t wait to get to Los Angeles to face Cuadras.”

Defending his WBC Super Flyweight World Title, Cuadras made his HBO and Los Angeles area debut on September 10, 2016 at the Forum in a memorable 12-round war with then three-division world champion Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez. 

With boxing fans on their feet throughout the battle waving Mexican and Nicaraguan flags,

Cuadras and Gonzalez would clash in an epic 12-round battle that echoed the historical fights that have been held at the iconic venue over the last 43 years. Coming up just short on the scorecards, Cuadras has vowed to regain his belt in 2018. 

The 29-year-old Cuadras successfully bounced back into the win column on March 18, 2017 at Madison Square Garden with a 10-round unanimous decision over David Carmona on the HBO Pay-Per-View undercard of the World Middleweight Championship between Gennady “GGG” Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs.

Most recently, Cuadras and fellow Mexican warrior and former flyweight world champion Juan Francisco Estrada had the packed house on their feet at the StubHub Center on September 9 during their extraordinary 12-round battle won by Estrada at the initial SuperFly event.

Arroyo first challenged for the world title traveling to Thailand in 2014 where he lost a highly controversial split decision to Amnat Ruenroeng for the IBF World Flyweight Title.

Returning to Puerto Rico, Arroyo would stop Victor Ruiz in the third round on April 11, 2015 in San Juan. Back in the win column, Arroyo challenged "Chocolatito" for the WBC Flyweight World Title on April 23, 2016 at the Forum losing to the then #1 Pound-for-Pound Fighter.

Douglas and Seldin Look to Impress on Saunders-Lemieux Undercard

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

By Carlos Acevedo

In his first significant outing since being dismantled by Avtandil Khurtsidze last year, middleweight Antoine Douglas squares off against Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan in the co-feature scheduled for 10. Douglas (22-1-1, 16 KOs) was a hyped prospect before running into Khurtsidze, who pummeled him for a 10th-round TKO. Instead of being pulled out by his corner early, Douglas was allowed to take a sustained beating from a brutal puncher. It remains to be seen whether or not the Virginia-native has been adversely affected by the battering he took against Khurtsidze, but O’Sullivan (26-2, 18 KOs) is likely to give us a clue. O’Sullivan, who resembles a character from Gangs of New York, is a pure brawler who wades in behind a two-fisted attack and disdains traditional notions of defense and head movement. At his best in the trenches, where he batters the body with brio, O’Sullivan, fighting out of Cork, Ireland, will have to work hard to close the distance against a slick boxer with pulls in height and reach.  Although Douglas has plenty of amateur in him—including a tendency to drop his left hand after jabbing—O’Sullivan will likely be one step behind from round to round.  Look for Douglas to survive some harrowing moments before posting a unanimous decision.

***

Jewish fighters have been few and far between since they dominated boxing in the 1920s and 1930s.  Over the last decade or so, however, they have mounted a mini-comeback of sorts, with Yuri Foreman and Dimitry Salita most prominent among them. (Before that, you would have to go back to Dana Rosenblatt in the 1990s and Mike Rossman in the 1970s.)  Undefeated Cletus Seldin, “The Hebrew Hammer,” looks to make a name for himself when he faces Yves Ulysse, Jr. in a junior welterweight scrap. This is a quick turnaround for Seldin, (21-0, 17 KOs), who bloodied Roberto Ortiz a month ago on the undercard of Daniel Jacobs-Luis Arias. Give him credit for trying to keep his momentum going. Seldin can be wild, but he possesses a fair right hand, thrown as a cross or in roundhouse fashion, and can open up from an occasional bob and weave style. Despite head movement and the sporadic use of the cross-arm defense, however, the Long Island-native gets tagged frequently. This makes his pairing against Ulysse something of a pick ‘em affair. A switch-hitting boxer-puncher with some nifty moves, Ulysse (14-1, 9 KOs), has talent. But his lively legs were not enough to beat Calgary toughman Steve Claggett in his last outing in October. Ulysse seemed to wilt under pressure against Claggett, although he kept the bout close throughout and ultimately dropped a split decision after 10 rough-and-tumble rounds. Because Ulysse, who hails from Montreal, is the hometown favorite, he has an edge going into this bout that Seldin will have to offset with aggression. If he can pressure Ulysse from the opening bell, he has a good chance of squeaking a victory out on the scorecards.

PODCAST: Episode 225 — Salido-Roman Postfight, Saunders-Lemieux Preview

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney preview Saturday’s tripleheader headlined by the David Lemieux-Billy Joe Saunders middleweight showdown, look back on this past weekend’s Boxing After Dark card that included a Fight of the Year candidate between Miguel Roman and Orlando Salido and a horrific injury to Stephen Smith, and touch briefly on the announcement of the 2018 International Boxing Hall of Fame induction class.

Roman Saves His Career and Ends Salido’s in Fantastic Fight

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

LAS VEGAS –Two Mexican warriors renowned for being in brutal brawls, each man fighting time after time in an all-action, brawling style: it was hard to see how the 130-pound clash between Orlando Salido and Miguel ‘Mickey’ Roman could be anything other than a fantastic fight. It proved to be that and more besides: for Roman, a career-saving victory, and for the veteran Salido, a career-ending defeat.

These were two men who had had to overcome a lot, including slow career starts that saw them notch almost as many losses and wins, to fight their way to respectability and main event status. They earned respect through skill and will and a relentless determination to succeed, and they earned more with a tremendous display of fighting heart and strength at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Saturday night.

If you have friends who either do not understand or have not watched boxing, show them a video of this contest. It may prove too brutal for the uninitiated, but it will shine a light on the beating heart of everything that this sport is about. This was a fight.

And it was a fight that Salido (44-14, 31 KOs) seemed to be in position to win early on. While Roman began the contest more brightly, aggressively pursuing Salido and forcing him against the ropes and into corners and throwing the faster, sharper punches, the first round went to Salido courtesy of a booming right hand that landed with a thud near Roman’s ear and caused his feet to do a little dance. Another big right in the second hurt Roman again, and Salido was now the one marching forward, looking to land hurtful blows, seizing the initiative and fighting on the front foot.

Roman, however, would not be easily disposed of, and in the third round, he was able to maul Salido in close, denying him the opportunity to gain the space he needed to launch those big right hands. Indeed, whenever there was a little separation between the two, it was Roman who was the quicker to let his hands go, in the process preventing Salido from launching his heavy artillery.

Roman (58-12, 45 KOs) came flying out of the blocks in the fourth, throwing rapid-fire combinations, but shipping another Salido right hand in the process. Suddenly, a Roman combination, ending with a short right hand, sent Salido backward and onto his haunches. The veteran staggered a little as he tried to raise himself, decided to sit against the ropes for a few seconds and collect himself, and then rose to beat the count of referee Robert Byrd and survive the round.

Roman looked to increase the pressure in the fifth and now he was on Salido like a rash, outworking him, firing off combinations in close. But Salido not only had the strength and resolve, he had the knowledge and experience accrued during a lifetime in the sport, and he tried everything he could to negate Roman’s offense and launch his own. He slipped, he slid, he

dodged, constantly trying to find angles that would defy Roman’s offense and allow him to launch his own. Round after round, the two men fought in a phone booth, heads touching as they ripped each other to body and head. Roman, though, emerged from each exchange with the advantage.

In the eighth, Roman found a bit of space and fired off a quick three-punch combination followed by a ripping four-punch one that once more put Salido down. Once again, Salido sat on the canvas against the ropes, this time appearing to question how much more of this he wanted to go through at 37 years old. He eventually decided to stay in the fight, beating Byrd’s count by perhaps a half second; but he appeared spent, clinging desperately to Roman as the two staggered across the ring. Then, suddenly, with a fresh burst of energy, it was Salido who was once more launching thumping right hands as the round ended.

It would prove to be a false dawn. In the ninth, Roman again found a bit of space in which to operate and landed a right hand that snapped back Salido’s head. He bulled his foe to the ropes and dug an uppercut to his body. Salido bent over to his left, Roman landed a left hand, Salido slumped down again and Byrd waved the contest to a halt.

Asked afterward how he was able to succeed this time when so often – as against Takashi Miura in January – he had fought valiantly only to come up just short, Roman said that, “the difference this time was that I had to overcome. It was my moment. Things will change from today on.” The importance of victory was underlined when he revealed that, “If I lost, I would have retired.”

Salido declared that, with this loss, he actually had retired.

“Time takes its toll. I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “I am done. This is it. This was my last.”

***

Kenichi Ogawa scored a controversial split decision victory over Tevin Farmer in a less-than-scintillating co-main event, which essentially featured Ogawa’s dogged aggression against Farmer’s schooled elusiveness. The Japanese boxer at times seemed unsure quite what to do with the crafty Philadelphian, who retreated around the ring behind a shell defense, flicking out southpaw jabs and straight lefts and seemingly deflecting most of the blows that Ogawa was able to land. At one point, in the third round, Ogawa nearly fell over trying to chase Farmer down and land a punch; at another point, in the eleventh, he actually did, flying over Farmer as the American held onto the top rope and ducked.

There were times when Ogawa looked a bit lost; in the fifth, for example, as Farmer dialed up his offense and began to land his left hand convincingly, and in the eighth as Ogawa walked into some powerful counters. But Ogawa (23-1, 17 KOs) never stopped coming, and on several

occasions when he did land a right hand, he appeared to do so with some effect, an appearance that may have been exaggerated by the way in which Farmer pulled back after being tagged. And as the rounds went on, Farmer (25-5, 5 KOs) looked increasingly weary, and the punches he continued to throw lacked their earlier authority. Even so, it appeared he had done more than enough to secure a victory and the scores of 116-112 and 115-113 in Ogawa’s favor, outweighing one of 116-112 for Farmer, were surprising – although warmly welcomed by an arena crowd that clearly appreciated Ogawa’s efforts.

Francisco Vargas scored a technical decision victory over Stephen Smith after an accidental headbutt came remarkably close to severing Smith’s left ear from the side of his head. It was a fight that Vargas (24-2, 17 KOs) was winning handily anyway, as evidenced by the scorecards of 89-82 and 88-83 (twice) that were handed in after ringside physicians stopped the contest in the ninth. But Smith (25-4, 15 KOs) was neither overawed nor hopelessly overmatched, and willingly engaged in the trenches with an opponent whose thirst for violent combat manifested in his being one half of the Fight of the Year in 2015 and 2016.

Smith’s problem was that he was unable to cope with Vargas’ stiff jab and long right hand from range, and when they fought in close, the man from Liverpool, England was slower than his Mexican foe and largely as a consequence did not possess the same snap or power in his punches. Even so, the bout looked on its way to going the full 10 rounds until blood suddenly started pouring from Smith’s ear. Referee Russell Mora immediately escorted Smith to the ringside physicians in the corner, and they had no hesitation in calling a halt to the contest. The crowd initially booed the sudden ending, until the injury was replayed on the screens in the arena, at which point their boos of discontent turned to groans of disgust at the sight of Smith’s ear flapping n the breeze as blood gushed from the wound. Smith, dejected, left the ring before the scores were announced.

Rene Alvarado emerged victorious by way of split decision over Denis Shafikov in an extremely bloody 130 lb. bout on HBO Latino. Shafikov was bleeding from a cut high on the left side of his head from round two, and by the end of the bout, it was streaming down the left side of his body and onto Alvarado, as well as coating the shirt of referee Tony Weeks. The pattern of the contest was essentially Shafikov stalking and landing hard single shots, as Alvarado (28-8, 19 KOs) circled away and responded with relaxed combinations. The fight may ultimately have been won and lost in the fifth round, a round that Shafikov (38-4, 20 KOs) was winning until the very end when a right cross from Alvarado dropped him for a flash knockdown.

Also on HBO Latino, Jaime Munguia (26-0, 22 KOs) remained unbeaten when he dropped Paul Valenzuela (20-7, 14 KOs) twice in the second round, prompting a stoppage by referee Jay Nady despite Valenzuela’s protests.

Weigh-in Recap and Slideshow: Salido and Roman Battle for Status in a Talent-Rich Division

Photos by Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

LAS VEGAS -- So much has happened during this HBO boxing year – Andre Ward’s defenestration of Sergey Kovalev, Gennady Golovkin’s titanic tussles with Daniel Jacobs and Canelo Alvarez, the ascension of Anthony Joshua, the toppling of Chocolatito Gonzalez, the departure of Miguel Cotto – that it’s easy to forget that the network’s very first fight of 2017 was a ripsnorting slobberknocker.

Junior lightweight Miguel Roman entered the ring at Fantasy Springs in California on January 28 with an underdog status and an unintimidating 56-11 record. The man he was facing, Takashi Miura, had held a world title belt for two years until being knocked out by Francisco Vargas in a contest he had been winning with stomach-churning violence; he was heavily favored to emerge victorious and challenge the winner of the night’s main event, between Vargas and Miguel Berchelt. And indeed, that ultimately is how events unfolded, but Miura’s path to the foregone conclusion was considerably more fraught than he had dared imagine. The Japanese fighter had planned to box his way to a stress-free victory, but Roman dragged him into a brutal war before ultimately succumbing to a 12th round stoppage.

Miura subsequently lost to Berchelt and retired from the sport, but Roman is back, and on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center (10:20 PM ET/PT) he squares off against fellow Mexican Orlando Salido in the main event of a three-bout card that has been officially dubbed “Warriors Collide” but could just as easily and accurately be named “There Will Be Blood.”

Like Roman’s, Salido’s professional boxing ledger appears, on the face of it, unimpressive. But his 44-13-4 record includes 11 wins, 7 losses and 2 draws from the opening 20 bouts of a career that he started at age 16, without any amateur experience to speak of, so he could earn money for his family. The most recent draw came last year, against Vargas, in 2016’s Fight of the Year. Given that neither he nor Roman seem physically capable of taking a backward step, there is every reason to believe that their clash could be a contender for this year’s honor.

Vargas is also back in action on the card, taking on Britain’s Stephen “Swifty” Smith. Smith recently lost to Jason Sosa, who was last seen on HBO dropping a disputed decision to Yuriorkis Gamboa, and would seem to be a step in class below the Mexican. But Vargas has been involved in three utterly savage fights in a row – against Miura, Salido and Berchelt – and his face has been shredded to pieces in the process. It feels as if a stiff breeze would be enough to open up another cut, and Smith will be landing to inflict far more damage than that.

There is a third bout in the 130 lb. division on the broadcast, with Philadelphia’s Tevin Farmer – who (continuing a theme of the night) opened his ledger with a relatively pedestrian 7-4-1 record before reeling off 18 consecutive victories – taking on Japan’s Kenichi Ogawa. There has been increasing attention of late to the jockeying for position in the light-heavyweight division following Ward’s retirement, and the super-flyweights are filled with talent, but the 130 pound. division continues to present a seemingly endless range of matchups. Even if the division’s true kingpin, the superhuman Vasyl Lomachenko, does as expected and moves up to lightweight following his own fight on Saturday night, it may still be, top to bottom, the most stacked division in the sport.

***

Saturday’s card is the first to be held at the Mandalay Bay since Ward defeated Kovalev in June – and the first since the events of October 1, when one of the hotel’s suites was converted into a launching pad for mass murder. The stage at the Las Vegas Village, the site where thousands of concert goers had gathered that night and where 58 people died, still stands; it is undeniably jarring, even for someone who has visited the Mandalay Bay untold numbers of times, to drive past the stage structure, look up at the gold building across the street, and imagine the horrors of that night. Last week, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the property was struggling to find its feet in the aftermath; this week, the place feels vibrant and full, not only with fight fans but with masses of Stetson-clad attendees of the huge annual National Finals Rodeo event taking place nearby. A boxing blog isn’t the place to wax philosophical or political about such an awful moment in history; but the Mandalay Bay, and the people who work there, have been gracious hosts for many a boxing event over the years, and many have become familiar and welcome faces. It is good to be back.

Weights from Las Vegas:

Orlando Salido: 131 pounds

Miguel Roman: 130.5 pounds

Tevin Farmer: 129.5 pounds

Kenichi Ogawa: 129.5 pounds

Francisco Vargas: 130 pounds

Stephen Smith: 130 pounds 

Watch: Salido vs. Roman Preview

HBO Boxing insider Kieran Mulvaney previews this weekend's battle between Orlando Salido and Miguel Roman. The fight happens Saturday at 10:20 PM ET/PT on HBO Boxing After Dark.