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.