By Eric Raskin
There’s a little something for everyone in the 130-pound division. It boasts quite possibly the best pound-for-pound pugilist in the sport right now, Vasyl Lomachenko. There are action fighters galore, such as Orlando Salido, Francisco Vargas, and Miguel Berchelt. There are undefeated up-and-comers like Gervonta Davis and many-times-defeated veterans like Robinson Castellanos. And there might soon be big-name featherweights on the rise, like Leo Santa Cruz, Gary Russell Jr., Oscar Valdez, and Carl Frampton.
With all of that going on, it’s easy for a couple of underexposed southpaws like Panama’s Jezreel Corrales and Puerto Rico’s Alberto Machado to get lost in the shuffle. And that’s part of the reason they’re facing each other on Saturday night at Turning Stone Casino on in the headline bout of an HBO Boxing After Dark card: so that one of them can step out of the shadows and into the mix for major fights atop the division.
The 26-year-old Corrales is fighting to prove he’s better than he showed in his HBO and American debut in July, when he tasted the canvas twice en route to an inconclusive 10-round technical decision win over Castellanos. Corrales (22-1 with 8 KOs) was at the forefront of the “best fighter you’ve never seen” conversation coming off of two straight wins over Takashi Uchiyama in Japan, but Castellanos brought into question whether “El Invisible” was even the best fighter in the ring that night. Two knockdowns in the fourth round — one more of push, but the second a clean decking when the Panamanian leaned into a right uppercut — put Corrales in a hole. He showed his mettle by dropping Castellanos with a left hand in round six, then a head clash in the 10th brought about a premature ending and the reading of scorecards of 94-94, 94-93, and 96-92, the latter two both for the prefight favorite. It was a victory, yes. But it was not the serve-notice arrival that Corrales had envisioned.
While Corrales fights for his reputation, Machado is fighting for an entire island nation. “I know that it won’t be an easy fight, but I am more motivated than ever to take this title to my family and to Puerto Rico, who really needs it during this time of grief,” the 27-year-old Machado says. “This fight is for my son, my family, and for Puerto Rico. I know that a victory would bring happiness to Puerto Rico after the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria.”
At 18-0 with 15 KOs, Machado has never fought outside of Puerto Rico and is far less proven than Corrales. The man known as “El Explosivo” was moved slowly for his first 16 fights, before stepping up a bit and blowing out Juan Jose Martinez in one round in April 2017, then winning a comprehensive decision over Carlos Morales in August. He looked good in those minor advances in competition, but it’s safe to say he’s never seen anything like Corrales.
Both men fight left-handed, but that’s about where the similarities end. Corrales is highly unconventional — for better and for worse. He can be sloppy, lose concentration, take rounds off. But when he’s on his game, he’s an expert counterpuncher who will attack from unexpected angles. The 5’10” Machado, who stands four inches taller than Corrales, is more of a traditional, stand-up boxer-puncher, packing most of his power in his left hand. Machado also has some serious power standing behind him: Miguel Cotto is his promoter, and he trains at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club, where a combination of Roach, Marvin Somodio, and Gavin McMillan are working to improve his balance and ability to cut off the ring. Though Machado is unproven, all the ingredients are there for another stiff test for Corrales in his second HBO fight.
“I know that Alberto Machado is a strong fighter,” Corrales says, “but I too am strong and intelligent. I know that my style of fighting will give him a lot of problems.”
This battle of southpaws will come down to which one is better equipped to solve problems. Then that man can move on to a new set of problems against his fellow elite 130-pounders.
Speaking of compelling style matchups and rising twentysomething fighters looking to make a leap, on the undercard at Turning Stone, southpaw 154-pound belt holder Demetrius “Boo Boo” Andrade is jumping up to the middleweight division to take on the ridiculously tall Alantez “SlyAza” Fox. (Say it loud if you don’t get the nickname.) Andrade (24-0, 16 KOs) was widely considered the best prospect from a 2008 U.S. Olympic team that included Deontay Wilder, Gary Russell Jr., and Sadam Ali, but it’s been a slow climb to true contendership. A close 2013 win over Vanes Martirosyan on HBO remains Andrade’s most significant victory; now, at 29, the Rhode Island lefty is ready to start fulfilling his promise.
His opponent on Saturday won’t make it easy, however. The 6’1” Andrade is used to being the taller man in the ring, but he’ll be looking up considerably at the 6’4” Fox, who is just 25 years old and has put together a record of 23-0-1 with 11 KOs against very limited opposition. If you want to know whether Fox uses his height in the ring, here’s a stat that can easily answer that question: In one fight in 2015, he threw 436 jabs in eight rounds. That’s 54.5 jabs per round. Andrade had better show up with a plan to close the distance or counter the stick.
“The Olympics were [nine] years ago,” the confident Fox declares. “Andrade is not the same fighter today. I don’t see anything that he will do that can put a loss on my record. I am going to put on a boxing exhibition.”
The HBO tripleheader will also include one fight from a separate location, the SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where unbeaten local Ryan Burnett puts his bantamweight alphabet belt and perfect record of 17-0 with 9 KOs on the line against a fellow belt holder, 33-year-old Kazakh veteran Zhanat Zhakiyanov, whose record of 27-1 with 18 KOs includes an eye-opening win in February that saw him rise from two first-round knockdowns to outpoint former U.S. Olympian Rau’shee Warren. The 25-year-old Burnett may be the hometown hero, but Zhakiyanov will be accompanied to the ring by a UK hero of his own: his trainer, Ricky Hatton.
“This is a massive fight for the city — the first ever unification fight in Northern Ireland — and it’s an honor to be the man stepping through the ropes to make history,” Burnett says. “I know Zhanat is a tough challenge for me, but I believe that I have the momentum behind me from beating [Lee] Haskins and I won’t be denied on October 21. I would love to be in a huge fight in America one day, and I intend to impress the American fans who will love the atmosphere in the SSE Arena.”