The Saturday night special rankings: the top 10 to watch tonight
A busy weekend culminates tonight in Las Vegas, NV, in a rare dueling broadcast between HBO and Showtime. Golden Boy Promotions will man the ship over on Showtime and its stacked card from the MGM Grand is big enough to also have fights slated on Showtime Extreme, which will kick off the evening. Over on HBO, Top Rank Promotions brings us its card on Las Vegas Boulevard from the Cosmopolitan. In this piece, I will rank which fights I’m most excited for and classify them in order from 10 to one. My criteria for these rankings are a blend of entertainment value, importance to the landscape of boxing and style match-up. I will also lay out my prediction for each fight (trying to go 10 for 10!). Before the list, the most important part of the evening are the particulars on the evening’s scheduling:
Showtime Extreme: 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT
Showtime: 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT
HBO: 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT
UniMas: 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT
10. Showtime Extreme: Errol Spence Jr. vs. Mike Arnaoutis (junior middleweight)
[Editor’s note: At press time, Spence’s opponent is now replacement Javier Castro, 27-7 (22).]
9. UniMas main event: Felix Verdejo vs. Karim El Ouazghari (lightweight)
It’s another showcase fight, if you will, and this one features a gem out of the boxing-rich island of Puerto Rico, Felix Verdejo, 15-0 (11), shown later in the evening on a UniMas tape delay. Top Rank Promotions has kept its prospect busy all year and this fight marks Verdejo’s seventh of 2014. For a better part of this year, he has been headlining “Solo Boxeo” cards on UniMas and such is the case this tonight in Philadelphia, PA. Verdejo is coming off a memorable knockout of Sergio Villanueva in October. His opponent this weekend, Karim El Ouazghari, 16-5-2 (4), is on the mend after being brutally knocked out in his last fight in April. Coincidentally, the knockout Verdejo delivered to Villanueva was very similar to the one El Ouazghari received from Stephen Ormond.
Note: The UniMas broadcast will be shown on a tape-delay tonight.
Prediction: Felix Verdejo by KO
8. Showtime: Abner Mares vs. Jose Ramirez (featherweight)
It’s been a while since Abner Mares, 27-1-1 (14), was shockingly knocked out by Jhonny Gonzalez and 15 months later, he is still trying to find himself. He made a change by hiring famed trainer Virgil Hunter after the defeat but his last outing, a wide decision win over Jonathan Oquendo, was a revision that looked unimpressive to many. Apparently Mares also felt like the change wasn’t a step in the right direction and rehired his original cornerman, Clemente Medina. It will be interesting to see if the return to his roots will bring back the old Mares who rolled through the bantamweight and junior featherweight divisions. HIs opponent, Jose Ramirez, 25-4 (15), finally ironed himself out 14 months after getting folded by a Vasyl Lomachenko body shot. Mares is pretty much getting a second fresh start and until he returns back to his relentless form, Gonzalez will still be regarded as the one who took his soul.
Prediction: Abner Mares by unanimous decision
7. Showtime Extreme: Jermall Charlo vs. Lenny Bottai (IBF junior middleweight title eliminator)
Jermall Charlo, 19-0 (15), may have had the worst luck outside of the ring of any boxer in 2014. His year was supposed to start off with a world title shot in March against Carlos Molina but it was called off days before the fight after Molina was jailed for an outstanding warrant and immigrant issues. In return, he has easily stepped over two meager opponents this year. Charlo has quietly stopped his last 13 opponents in a row but his opponent this weekend will be the livest he will face so far in 2014. Lenny Bottai, 22-2 (9), is coming from Italy and making his American debut riding a seven-fight win streak. The 37-year old has nothing to lose and everything to gain as this will be a 154-pound IBF title eliminator. The junior middleweight titlist, Cornelius Bundrage won the belt at the age of 41 this past October against Molina after Carlos finally fixed his legal issues (by fighting in Mexico).
Prediction: Jermall Charlo by TKO
6. Showtime Extreme: Victor Ortiz vs. Manuel Perez (welterweight)
Whenever Victor Ortiz, 29-5 (22), puts on a set of gloves, drama ensues and that’s the only reason he ranks so high on this list. His fight with Manuel Perez, 22-10-1 (4), will kick off the Showtime Extreme telecast from the MGM Grand. It’s the first time Ortiz has professionally stepped foot into the Grand Garden Arena since getting knocked out by Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2011, a fight and mental mishap that seemingly started his downward spiral. After suffering a broken jaw against Josesito Lopez in his following fight, Ortiz took a year off from the sport and spent his free time on TV and the silver screen. He made his return in January and got knocked out by Luis Collazo in the second round – a result many considered the third time Ortiz quit a fight. It was certainly a memorable moment to start the year and at the rate he’s been going, perhaps Ortiz will continue this trend tonight.
Prediction: DOUBLE KNOCKOUT! (In all seriousness, Victor Ortiz by unanimous decision – Perez has little-to-no KO power, an opponent Ortiz has desperately needed as of late).
5. Showtime main event: Amir Khan vs. Devon Alexander (welterweight)
Golden Boy Promotions President Oscar De La Hoya has said the winner of this fight could be next in line to face Floyd Mayweather Jr. I would take that with a grain of salt because promoters say a lot of things but this fight arguably has the two of the biggest names already squaring off against each other tonight (I guess you can take that with a grain of salt as well). However, this is a match-up that should have already happened last year. They were both slated to meet each other last December and at the time, Alexander held the IBF welterweight title. Khan abruptly pulled out of the fight because of the possibility of facing Mayweather the following spring. Well, things didn’t go as planned for the UK star after Floyd chose Marcos Maidana as his opponent and now we’re here left scratching our heads. Had Khan fought and beaten Alexander last December, the chances of him winning the boxing lottery may have grown substantially.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and Khan, 29-3 (19), has suffered the consequences of treading lightly with a big fight looming in the distance. He’s only fought twice in the past 24 months and they haven’t been against the top names like Khan has beaten throughout his career (Paulie Malignaggi, Marcos Maidana, Zab Judah). Those last two decision wins came against Julio Diaz and Luis Collazo. To his credit, Khan looked his best against Collazo this past May since getting brutally stopped by Danny Garcia, seemingly putting a halt to all the momentum Khan had in his career. Alexander, 26-2 (14), had since lost that IBF 147-pound title to Shawn Porter on the same date he was supposed to square up with Khan. He has since beaten a viable opponent in Jesus Soto Karass.
The storyline is there but the stylistic match-up doesn’t make this fight quite as anticipating as the plot may make it out to be, particularly because Alexander is well-known for making fights dull with his technical style of boxing. Khan, on the other hand, also comes with a similar style but his fights come with the well-known less-than-solid chin he possesses. Unfortunately for this match-up, Alexander doesn’t come with the huge threat of delivering a knockout. It can easily be a technical boxing match rather than a brawl fight fans will be craving. To be frank, I think Khan goes through Alexander rather easily with his hand speed and defensive mindset.
Prediction: Amir Khan by unanimous decision
4. HBO: Mauricio Herrera vs. Jose Benavidez Jr. (junior welterweight)
Ever since Mauricio Herrera, 21-4 (7), suffered a shocking majority decision loss to the lineal junior welterweight champion, Danny Garcia, “El Maestro” has somewhat grown in favor of fight fans. Many felt for Herrera not getting the love from the judges that night in Puerto Rico last March and the outcry has left a positive impact on his career. Herrera followed it with a fun scrap with Johan Perez on the Canelo Alvarez-Erislandy Lara undercard and won another surprising majority decision that didn’t reflect how well Herrera fought that night. The Mexican has a unique, awkward style of fighting that has given the likes of Ruslan Provodnikov (and Garcia, for that matter) trouble, ultimately giving “The Siberian Rocky” the first loss of his career.
The savvy skills of Herrera will be a perfect test for 22-year old Jose Benavidez Jr., 21-0 (15). Like many prospects, he hasn’t come close to facing the same level of opposition Herrera has but has potential assets that can keep him in this fight. Namely, the lengthy 5’11” frame of Benavidez that comes with a 73-inch reach. Herrera is a shade under 5’8” and has almost a two-inch reach disadvantage. Should Benavidez establish a comfortable distance against the pesky opponent, he can certainly get his name in lights against a solid fighter. It’s a fight in which we will learn a lot about Benavidez and I believe this bout could offer the biggest chance in which an upset were to happen.
Prediction: Jose Benavidez Jr. by split decision
3. Showtime: Keith Thurman vs. Leonard Bundu (welterweight)
Keith “One Time” Thurman, 23-0 (21), has become a fan favorite with every knockout he delivers and every lisp-heavy, well-thought interview he conducts. After a breakout year in 2013 with knockout victories over Diego Chaves and Jesus Soto Karass, this year has been nothing but utter disappointment. It has nothing to do with his performance but rather his lack of activity and his only fight this year against Julio Diaz, cut short because of an apparent rib injury to Diaz. Thurman also had an injury to deal with, a shoulder that kept him out of the ring for a better part of 2014. Nonetheless, his absence hasn’t really hampered his rise in popularity but it has slowed his process in getting his first world title shot.
Another fighter from Italy will be making his American debut against Thurman. European welterweight champion Leonard Bundu, 31-0-2 (11), is a 40-year-old wily veteran who has been unscathed, fighting only European competition. Because he hasn’t fought the best competition available, he hasn’t garnered an opportunity to fight for a world title yet but an upset win over Thurman can definitely get him in consideration for one at the tail end of his career. He goes into this fight with arguably the two best wins in his career. Last December, he stopped Lee Purdy in the 12th round and is coming off August’s unanimous decision win over then-undefeated British prospect Frankie Gavin.
It’s no secret Thurman has the mentality to finish his opponents soundly and his 88% KO rate supports that claim. It also reflects the fact that his fights are rather exciting because he has no problem testing his own chin in order to get the “One Time” shot he adamantly looks for. Bundu may be longer in the tooth but is certainly a game fighter who isn’t going in looking for a late payday. Instead, it’s the biggest fight of his career and one that can parlay into more opportunity. Thurman is still the heavy favorite but because Keith is pretty much always in a watchable fight and Bundu has a lot riding on this one, it’s probably going to be one of the best fights of the evening.
Prediction: Keith Thurman by TKO
2. HBO: Matt Korobov vs. Andy Lee (for vacant WBO middleweight title)
The only world title on the line for the night will be the WBO middleweight title Peter Quillin abruptly vacated in September. Matt Korobov, 24-0 (14), was the mandatory opponent selected by the WBO to face Quillin beforehand and the bout was even held for a purse bid in which Roc Nation Sports won on its first attempt to break into the boxing scene. Quillin thought it was best to move forward with his career without the title and after all the moving and shaking, we’re left with Korobov as still the number one contender for the strap and a new challenger picked by the WBO, Andy Lee, 33-2 (23).
Hailing from Russia, Korobov has been a regarded prospect his entire career yet hasn’t really been tested with the best competition up to this point. His last fight against Jose Uzcategui in June was the first victory against an undefeated opponent for Korobov but even Uzcategui was largely uncontested at that point. Nonetheless, Korobov shows some flashes of skill that may compete with the elites of the division (perhaps Quillin would agree?) but we really don’t know. Lee, on the other hand, does have a much better track record and his experience alone makes him a quality opponent. For a long while, Lee was heavily touted by his former trainer, Emanuel Steward, ever since he became pro. The Irishman had one other opportunity to win a world title in 2012 but was knocked out by Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in that attempt. Lee has fought five times since and has won each outing, including a thrilling KO victory over John Jackson in June in which Lee survived a knockdown in the first round.
I would consider myself in the minority liking this match-up but it ranks high on my list for two reasons: first and foremost, the uncertainty of figuring out who will win this contest. It’s not too often toss-up bouts like these come around and when I can be happy with picking either fighter, I can’t help but be intrigued. Second, the winner of this fight will become a new world titleholder and is speculated to be next in line to face WBA middleweight titleholder – and one of the most feared fighters today – Gennady Golovkin.
Prediction: Matt Korobov by unanimous decision
1. HBO main event: Timothy Bradley Jr. vs. Diego Chaves (welterweight)
Neither fighter holds a world title and both are coming off a defeat but the style match-up alone indicates this will be an all-out war. Coming off the first loss of his career at the hands of Manny Pacquiao in their rematch this past April, Timothy Bradley Jr. 31-1 (12), isn’t exactly making his return against soft competition. Diego Chaves, 23-2 (19), suffered a disqualification loss in his last bout with Brandon Rios. Considering the Argentinean was ahead on a majority of the scorecards, the terrible refereeing of Vic Drakulich that night in August made this loss a farce. Chaves’ only other defeat came at the hands of Keith Thurman in the summer of 2013. With the possibility of a dreaded losing streak staring each fighter in the face, the stakes are high.
Both fighters have been heavily regarded for not being afraid to get into a brawl over their careers and it would be quite surprising if that wasn’t the case come Saturday night. Chaves is also known to use dirty tactics in order to frustrate an opponent but he will need more than that to be victorious. The catalyst of this proposed action fight rests on the style of Bradley. With a warrior-type mentality that can be considered psychotic to some, Bradley’s motives seem to change once he gets hit and all ideas of boxing leave his game plan in exchange for a free-for-all. Luckily for him, he possesses arguably the strongest chin in boxing and because of it, he has no problem eating a punch in order to land several of his own. As of late, Bradley has been consistently getting involved in these brutal fights. To be frank, he is the recipe for a fantastic boxing match for the viewer and we will likely walk away from this busy weekend with this fight as the most memorable.
Prediction: Timothy Bradley by split decision
Am I the only one who thinks these dueling broadcasts are an awful idea? By no means do I think it was intentional by both networks but would it be so hard to check and see what each other are doing? Do they think boxing fans only exist in their own realm of programming? The answer is no, for the most part. The fans who painstakingly follow the sport usually watch regardless of network and this Saturday night leaves them in a sort of cluster between flipping back and forth aimlessly. And that’s under the assumption one shells out money every month in order to have access to both networks. To be honest, I hope both regret having the dual broadcast with mediocre viewership on both sides because I can see this weekend as an (in)opportunity to easily miss something occur in real-time. It can become sort of a distraction and hopefully it doesn’t disrupt the experience fans wait all week for.