Three Punch Combo: An Unexpectedly Strong PPV Undercard and More

THREE PUNCH COMBO — This week, the pay-per-view undercard for Mayweather-McGregor was formally announced. As much as I hate the main event, I must applaud the organizers for putting together a pay-per-view undercard that delivers. I feared we’d get another Mayweather-Pacquiao type undercard with a couple of showcase bouts leading into the main event, but we didn’t. A strong undercard wasn’t necessary in terms of pay-per-view buys, but those putting together the Aug. 26 event are giving boxing fans some solid undercard fights when they really didn’t have to and they deserve some credit for putting together what should be a good group of bouts.

In the co-feature, rising star Gervonta Davis (18-0, 17 KO’s) defends his 130-pound title against fellow unbeaten fighter Francisco Fonseca (19-0-1, 13 KO’s). Davis appears to have all the tools to become a superstar. He is tremendously gifted, possessing fast hands and devastating one punch power in either hand. Davis is clearly being showcased here by Mayweather Promotions but his opponent is no pushover. Make no mistake, Fonseca can fight. His best punch is his left hook which he throws with power to the head and body. Fonseca is not on Davis’s level athletically but is still a dangerous heavy-handed opponent. Davis could certainly score an early knockout but there could be intrigue if the fight goes rounds and the body attack of Fonseca takes a toll. Either way, I think this will be an entertaining lead-in to the main event.

Badou Jack (21-1-2, 12 KO’s) moves up from the 168-pound division to fight for a 175 pound belt when he faces Nathan Cleverly (30-3, 16 KO’s). This should be a very competitive action fight given the styles and skills of the two combatants. Jack is a classic boxer-puncher with good hand speed and good skills. He has risen to the challenge when facing stiff tests, often exceeding expectations. Cleverly may be on the down side of his career but is far from being a shopworn fighter. He is naturally much bigger than Jack and will probably try to impose his strength. Cleverly is also a high volume puncher and many times his fights turn into shootouts as his willingness to throw often leads to many counter opportunities for his opponents. I think this fight could steal the show.

The pay-per-view broadcast will open with a cruiserweight contest between Andrew Tabiti (14-0, 12 KO’s) and former world title belt holder Steve Cunningham (29-8-1, 13 KO’s). Tabiti is a very strong puncher but he’s raw. Cunningham may be 41 but still has something in the tank. He may not be able to use his feet like he used to but still has ring skills that Tabiti does not yet possess. It will be Tabiti’s youth and power against the ring wise Cunningham. And keep in mind too that Cunningham does have a history of going to war with his opponents. This one too could be a lot of fun in what is a very interesting matchup of youth versus experience.

While many of us may hate the main event, let’s give a little credit to the organizers for putting together a solid pay-per-view undercard. Frankly, I am looking more forward to these three fights than to the main event.

Under the Radar Fights

After a slow week this past week, the schedule heats up again this coming week with some interesting fight cards. As usual, as some fights get a lot of attention, others are falling severely under the radar. Here is a look at a couple of under the radar fights that should not be missed.

Four months after his impressive destruction of contender Yunieski Gonzalez, light heavyweight Oleksandr Gvozdyk (13-0, 11 KO’s) returns on Saturday to face once-beaten Craig Baker (17-1, 13 KO’s) in an ESPN televised bout on the undercard of Crawford-Indongo. Gvozdyk is a decorated former amateur star from the Ukraine. His deep amateur background has helped develop his immense skill set and put him on the fast track toward a world title shot. In addition to being a technically sound fighter, Gvozdyk carries heavy handed thunder in both hands. It’s no wonder why so many in the sport are so high on him. Baker is a fighter who likes to box and use his legs but will also stand and trade in spots. He keeps a tight guard and possesses a sneaky quick right hand. Look, this is no doubt a showcase for Gvozdyk, but Baker’s style and history suggest we could see some fun exchanges. And Baker is a bit dangerous with the sneaky right that could do some damage if it lands flush. I think we see a quick but exciting fight, so don’t blink.

On Friday night, the excellent Golden Boy on ESPN series returns with a well matched main event in the 130-pound division between Alberto Machado (17-0, 15 KO’s) and Carlos Morales (16-1-3, 6 KO’s). Machado, a southpaw, has good developing skills including a decent jab that seems to be getting sharper and sharper with each performance. He has good power in both hands, but his best punch is the counter right coming from the southpaw stance and he has scored some highlight reel knockouts with that punch. However, he is taking a huge jump up in class. Morales is one of those types of fighters we see that has been brought in to lose on several occasions where he walked out the winner. There is nothing special on tape that jumps out about him but the guy can flat out fight. He is a grinder who looks to get inside to throw quick punches from all sorts of angles before stepping back out of his opponent’s range. He does this very well and often frustrates his opponents who can’t seem to hit him cleanly. One thing to keep an eye on too is Morales will often lead with his head when jumping inside. This, of course, can result in cuts which often happen when he fights. Machado may be the prospect here but if Morales can take his power (or avoid it altogether), he may take Machado to school. This is a fascinating matchup and may be the most competitive fight of the week.

Top Rank on ESPN – The Good and Bad

We are now a little more than a month into the new partnership between ESPN and Top Rank. So far, we have seen plenty of good in the series and as well as a little bad. Let’s look at what Top Rank and ESPN have gotten right so far and what they have not, starting with the bad.

ESPN and Top Rank are making a significant investment in the sport of boxing and have to be disappointed by the low ratings for Lomachenko-Marriaga. The card was pushed back due to other ESPN programming running over its allotted time slot and eventually started on another ESPN network more than 30 minutes after it was supposed to begin. Many fans were confused by the switch. Eventually the card shifted back to ESPN, but due to the event being pushed back the main event ran well past midnight on the east coast.

For their investment in boxing to work, ESPN and Top Rank need to come up with a plan for how to handle such cases going forward. ESPN already has such a plan in place for other sports, notably college football. If Alabama was scheduled to play a big college football game on ESPN and ESPN was televising another big college game right behind it, ESPN would not delay the start of the second game. Rather, they would shift things around so fans knew where to find the second game when it started. The same needs to happen for boxing. The issue is certainly correctable and I am confident that ESPN and Top Rank will get it right moving forward.

On the plus side, there is plenty to cheer about so far on the series. We are seeing good match-ups. For example, this Saturday we have a can’t-miss 140-pound unification fight between two top level fighters in Terence Crawford and Julius Indongo. These are the kinds of bouts that will help grow the sport if presented on a wide platform.

Another positive that has come from the Top Rank/ESPN alliance is that they are streaming the undercards of these events in their entirety. This gives boxing fans a chance to enjoy a full evening worth of bouts and watch fights that they have been shut out from in the past. Also, it gives exposure to fighters who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten that exposure. Prospects have more of an audience to showcase their talent and veteran fighters looking to resurrect their career can get buzz going to generate interest in bigger fights for them. This week, we will get a chance to watch live such prospects as Shakur Stevenson and Mike Reed in separate bouts as they continue their development in the pro ranks. Also, we can watch as veterans Bryant Jennings, Mike Alvarado and Nicholas Walters all look to impress in hopes of getting another opportunity on the big stage. It is great for both fight fans and fighters. Plus, how many times have we heard of a tremendous undercard bout that had the crowd in a frenzy but was missed by everyone not in attendance?

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