Photos: Will Hart
By Nat Gottlieb
The Crawford-Postol supporting card features four unbeaten boxers and three potentially explosive fights with boxers that could impact the light heavyweight, welterweight, and featherweight divisions.
The 175-pound bout is headlined by power puncher Oleksandr Gvozdyk, an undefeated Olympic bronze medalist from Ukraine, who will be taking an important step up against Tommy Karpency, an experienced world title challenger.
Fast-rising featherweight Oscar Valdez, a two-time Mexican Olympian with superb boxer-puncher skills, will be fighting for a vacant title against another unbeaten fighter, Matias Rueda, a heavy-fisted Argentine who has knocked out 23 of the 26 opponents he has faced.
In another intriguing matchup, welterweight Jose Benavidez puts his unblemished record on the line against an all-action fighter, Francisco Santana. Both boxers are hoping to use this fight to move closer to a 147-pound championship bout.
Gvozdyk (10-0, 8 KOs), whose power is being compared to light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, is being moved up the ladder fast by Top Rank. The promoter did the same thing with Gvozdyk’s fellow Ukrainian and Olympian, Vasyl Lomachenko, the exciting featherweight champion and pound-for-pound contender.
Putting Gvozdyk in the ring with Karpency (26-5-1, 15 KOs) in just his eleventh professional bout is an ambitious bit of matchmaking, but not unusual for a boxer with a standout amateur pedigree.
That being said, there are potentially a couple pitfalls for Gvozdyk in this fight.
While he possesses a tremendous skill set, Gvozdyk still appears to be a bit raw at times. In contrast, Karpency is a finished product who’s been in two title fights – though he lost both, first to then unbeaten Nathan Cleverly in 2012, and last year to knockout artist Adonis Stevenson.
Based on Gvozdyk’s last fight in April, there appears to be some question of just how sound his defense is. Facing former title contender Nadjib Mohammedi, Gvozdyk took four clean punches to the head in the first round. None, however, seemed to faze him, and in the next round he knocked out Mohammedi with a right hand that hit so hard, the Frenchman was unable to stand for over a minute.
There’s no denying, however, that like most top-tier European amateurs who turn pro, Gvozdyk’s offensive skills are as technically sound as they come. With his long reach of 75½ inches, the Ukrainian boxes behind a crisp jab that he often doubles up on. He is well-balanced at all times, his footwork is excellent, and he fights out of a compact stance, throwing short, crisp punches with power in both hands.
Karpency’s signature win was a split-decision victory over former elite champion, Chad Dawson, who was, however, past his prime. An American who fights out of Pennsylvania, Karpency has a simple but often effective style. He is a plodder who boxes flat-footed and likes to keep the fight at a distance. His offense consists of sudden lunges inside with his jab leading the way. While inside, he’ll land a couple of quick punches and then jump back out. For a fighter with a high-boxing IQ like Gvozdyk, Karpency’s style won’t be hard to figure out, and a convincing victory would bump the Ukrainian up the ladder toward a title fight.
Two-time Mexican Olympian Valdez (19-0, 17 KOs), who has future superstar stamped all over him, is also taking something of chance by facing fellow-unbeaten featherweight Rueda (26-0, 23 KOs), who has fought all but one of his bouts in his native Argentina. The welterweight division over the years has seen quite a few relatively unknown boxers from Argentina come to the U.S. and score major upsets, including Marcos Maidana and Lucas Matthysse. The common denominator in the Argentinean fighters who come to the U.S. is power to the extreme.
Valdez also possesses plenty of power himself, in addition to a polished boxing-skill set. The 25-year-old Mexican is managed by Frank Espinoza and his son, Frank Jr., who’ve handled several lower weight class world champions, including Martin Castillo, Daniel Ponce De Leon, Abner Mares, and Israel Vasquez.
“This is not an easy fight for Valdez,” Espinoza says. “But I felt the timing was right. Valdez is at a point in his career that I feel he is ready for a world title shot. Rueda has earned his opportunity and this is not an easy task. But world title opportunities are usually not considered easy.”
Rueda enters this bout having won his last 10 fights by way of knockout. Besides his power, the Argentinean appears to be a well-schooled boxer-puncher. He fights with a high-glove defense, is patient, and doesn’t waste his punches.
Valdez took his first step up in April when he faced former world title holder Evgeny Gradovich. The Mexican easily handled him with a combination of quickness and accuracy, eventually knocking him out in the fourth round. It was the first time in 23 career fights that Gradovich had been knocked out.
“Valdez was very poised during his fight against Gradovich,” Espinoza says. “He proved to the boxing world he can box as well take a punch, and he keeps getting better. I have no doubt when the time comes Valdez will be ready for Lomachenko.”
Espinoza also manages Francisco Santana (24-4-1, 12 KOs), whom he took on in February. Santana will be facing undefeated Jose Benavidez (24-0, 16 KOs) in a fight which could put either boxer in line for a welterweight title fight.
Although Santana, a crowd-pleasing, aggressive fighter, has four losses on his record, Espinoza feels those defeats came as a result of being overmatched too early in his career. “Santana was thrown to the wolves early on, but he gave those boxers a run for their money,” Espinoza says. “But he has learned from those fights. There are some things you can learn in the gym, and some things you have to learn in that square circle on your own. It’s called experience.”
Espinoza say that since he signed the 30-year-old Santana the boxer seems rejuvenated. “As you know, boxing is not just physical but mental,” the manager says. “And I see Santana as a different fighter now mentally. He’s very motivated and he has that will to win, which is something people easily overlook.”
This is not the first time the manager has taken on a fighter later in his career. “I would say I compare him to Daniel Ponce De Leon,” Espinoza says. “At the time I signed him people thought he was done. But I helped him capture another world title.”
Although unbeaten, the 24-year-old Benavidez, who fights out of Phoenix, has yet to live up to the potential he displayed as a standout amateur. He’s in need of a signature win and is hoping Santana is it. “This fight is very important,” Benavidez says, “because I want to show everyone that I’m ready to beat world-class fighters in the welterweight division. I know Santana is a good fighter, but I have what it takes to outclass and beat him.”