By Nat Gottlieb
Crossroads fights are intriguing by nature because drama is heightened when the stakes are high for both boxers. This is the case for each of the three fights on the Pacquiao-Bradley undercard.
Raymondo Beltran (28-6-1, 17 KOs) vs. Arash Usmanee (20-1-1, 10 KOs)
This shapes up as a difficult and important fight. Beltran was originally scheduled to fight Rocky Martinez, but the latter was forced to drop out just six days before the bout because of an illness. Usmanee may prove to be a more difficult fight for Beltran. While Martinez is a former junior lightweight champion, he had been struggling lately to stay in contention, and had been knocked out in his last bout by undefeated Mikey Garcia. Usmanee, on the other hand, looks like a boxer on the rise. Fighting out of Montreal, the Afghan last year took on well-regarded and undefeated Rances Barthelemy and fought him down to the wire, losing a very close and controversial unanimous decision. Usmanee showed that the fight had not been a fluke by battling to a majority draw with junior lightweight champion Argenis Mendez last September. Usmanee, who will be stepping up in weight, took this fight with Beltran because he was already in preparation for another bout. Beltran, meanwhile, in his first chance to fight for a world championship, went after then lightweight title holder Ricky Burns in Scotland round after round, always with bad intentions. Beltran appeared to be winning the fight by a comfortable margin. But when the judges weighed in, his title hopes went up in flames, as they turned in a highly-disputed, split-decision draw. At age 32, with a lot of wear and tear on his tires, this may be Beltran's last chance to earn another shot at the title.
Khabib Allakhverdiev (19-0, 9 KOs) vs. Jessie Vargas (23-0, 9 KOs)
This is another fight with clear implications for both fighters. Allakhverdiev may be a reigning junior welterweight champion, but he still has a lot to prove. A longtime top amateur fighter in Russia, the 31-year-old Allakhverdiev won his title in November of 2012 by beating then-undefeated junior welterweight Joan Guzman on a technical decision. While that victory may have put Allakhverdiev on the boxing map, it was a win that could have an asterisk. Guzman suffered an injured left knee from an accidental foul in the 8th round, and was unable to continue. Without the injury, that fight would have been up for grabs in the later rounds. When they went to the scorecards, two judges gave the victory to Allakhverdiev by the slimmest of margins, 76-75, while a third had it in favor of Guzman by the same score. In his last fight, a title defense, Allakhverdiev did nothing to erase lingering doubts about him. The Russian beat former title holder and over-the-hill Souleymane M'baye on an 11th round TKO. The 24-year-old Vargas, meanwhile, is an untested prospect that could vault himself into contention for a big money fight if he wins. The two things Vargas has going for him here in his youth and his size. At 5'10", Vargas enjoys a two-inch height advantage and three inches in reach. He has also fought his last six fights at welterweight, and is coming down to 140 for this shot at the title.
Jose Felix Jr. (26-0-1, 21 KOs) vs. Bryan Vasquez (32-1, 17 KOs)
This fight pits two young fighters without big names on their résumés in a junior lightweight, "interim" championship fight. While neither of these two has distinguished themselves so far in their careers, either or both could be a diamond in the rough, which is the attraction here. The 21-year-old Felix is the harder-puncher of the two, having an 89 percent knockout rate to just 51 percent for the 26-year-old Vasquez. Felix's main edge, besides his power, is that he's a big junior lightweight at 5'8½" tall with a reach more typical of welterweights, 70½ inches. In contrast, the 26-year-old Vasquez is a diminutive 5'5" with a 66½-inch reach. The one thing Vasquez has going for him is that he has fought a slightly higher level of competition. In 2012, Vasquez won an interim title over one Jorge Lacierva, a boxer with a mediocre record of 41-8-6. If there is a signature fight on Vasquez's résumé, it would have to be a fairly game battle he put up in an 8th round TKO loss to undefeated Takashi Uchiyama in Tokyo. Uchiyama was making his fifth title defense against Vasquez. The Japanese boxer has since gone on to win his last two championship fights. Whether Vasquez can stand up to the hard-hitting Felix's power is the big question here.