By Eric Raskin
Every boxer starts out undefeated. The question is how long can each prospect hold onto that zero at the end of his record? While being unbeaten is not necessarily proof of exceptional ability (sometimes it’s proof of exceptional matchmaking), and while losing is often helpful to a fighter’s development, there’s no denying that the claim of perfection and the effort each time out to hold onto that claim are magnificent marketing tools.
(In Spanish): HBO Latino presenta una cartalera de peleadores invictos
On Saturday, December 5, from the Osceola Heritage Center in Kissimmee, Florida, an HBO Latino doubleheader (9:45 p.m. ET/PT) offers two boxers trying to hang onto their zeroes against opponents who know the taste of defeat. Here’s a snapshot of each bout on the televised card:
Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. (24-5-1, 19 KOs) vs. Rafael Rivera (20-0-2, 14 KOs), 10 rounds, Featherweights
In the main event, the unbeaten fighter is not the fighter who brings the biggest name to the table. That would be Vazquez Jr., the son of a three-division former titleholder and a sturdy veteran contender in his own right. The 31-year-old Puerto Rican’s career has taken on an unmistakable pattern since he suffered an upset loss to Jorge Arce in 2011 in a show-stealer on the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley pay-per-view undercard: He has alternated wins and losses in his eight bouts over four years since. Coming off a decision defeat in his most recent fight, Vazquez is, according to the pattern, due for a W—and a 2013 win over undefeated but untested Guillermo Avila suggests he might still have it in him.
Undefeated fighters don’t come much more untested than Rivera, who has never fought a 10-rounder and in fact just stepped up to eight-rounders two fights ago. In his most recent fight, the Mexican prospect made a statement by outpointing 14-0-1 Ruben Garcia. Prior to that, however, Rivera had never beaten an opponent with a winning record. Vazquez is playing the gatekeeper role, seeking to deny Rivera entry into boxing’s pool of prospects worth keeping a close eye on.
Alexander Brand (24-1, 19 KOs) vs. Medzhid Bektemirov (16-0, 12 KOs), 10 rounds, Light Heavyweights
If you’re asking yourself why the name Alexander Brand looks familiar, the answer is that he was scheduled to face Andre Ward on the Canelo Alvarez-Miguel Cotto card last month, until Ward withdrew from the fight. The Colombian instead makes his HBO-adjacent debut in a lower-profile spot, but with a much more beatable opponent.
Brand got off to an unusually late start in boxing, turning pro at age 32, but he’s a capable 175-pounder, with his only loss coming by split decision to the well-regarded Badou Jack. Across the ring stands the latest in a seemingly never-ending line of intimidating Russian prospects, the 28-year-old Bektemirov. By facing Brand, Bektemirov is taking a significant step up in class, given that his last four fights were scheduled for eight rounds or fewer. (Prior to that, Bektemirov won one 12-rounder, back in 2013.) Given that he’s already been pushed to a split decision twice, Bektemirov has a long way to go before anyone starts calling him the next Sergey Kovalev. But extending the unbeaten start to his career by getting a Brand name on his record would be a step in that direction.