This weekend we get to see two of the divisions top names in action as IBF champion Evgeny Gradovich (19-0, 9) puts his world title on the line against fellow unbeaten fighter Jayson Velez (22-0, 16). The bout will Gradovich's 4th defence and will also be his toughest since he burst on to the worst scene with an upset win over Billy Dibb back in March 2013.
Gradovich, who originally hails from Russia though is now based in Oxnard, California, is a fighter that is hard to dislike. He has solid technical ability though is better known for his amazing engine and work rate. From the opening round to the final round we expect to see around 100 punches a round from the Russian who love to come forward, let his hands go and then let his hands go some more. It's not always the prettiest but it is effective and it drains opponents both physically and mentally.
Despite having one of the best engines in the game Gradovich has issues himself. The most obvious is his relative lack of power. He lands a lot of shots, every fight, but none of them ever seem to do much damage and his stoppages come from accumulation more than anything. Generally the work rate can force opponents back but unlike Walters and Gonzalez he won't take your head off when you make a mistake, instead he'll just 4 or 5 shots before letting you off the hook. His second issue is his defense which is sloppy at times, though it is masked by his work rate with the mentality seemingly that of a man who believes his offense is his best defense.
Whilst Gradovich is all about relentless aggression we'd describe Velez as beign a bit of a boxer-puncher. The Puerto Rican fighter remained relatively under-the-radar until a 2012 win over Salavadoz Sanchez saw him claiming the interim WBC silver Featherweight title. The win over Sanchez was the best of Velez's career and saw him rising the ocassion in style as he dominated the Mexican fighter outlanding him 4 to 1 and stopping him in just 3 rounds. In theory the win over Sanchez should have got Velez a shot at the WBC title, then held by Daniel Ponce De Leon, though he had been over-looked following the win and has instead had to go another route for a world title fight.
Since the win over Sanchez back in December 2012 Velez has fought just twice. One of those was an easy blow out against Miguel Soto earlier this year whilst in 2013 he had to labour to a hard fought win over Dat Nguyen who really gave Velez hell for the first 5 or 6 rounds before running out of steam. It's the Nguyen fight that interests us the most as he was the toughest fight of Velez's career and saw Velez need to dig deep to beat Nguyen who started well before fading. Velez was unable to stop the tough Vietnamese born fighter who, like Gradovich, takes a shot well.
Going in to this bout we're expecting a good fight with styles that we suspect will gel well. Gradovich's come forward mentality could back up Velez who may need to fight off the back foot as a counter puncher however Velez may himself choose to meet Gradovich centre ring in what would make for a really exciting fight.
On paper Velez is the better boxer but he is stepping up here whilst Gradovich is the better fighter and the more proven man. As is often the case we need to go with the proven fighter ahead of the man stepping up. With that said we'll be going with Gradovich to win a very exciting 12 round decision.