The Featherweight division is one of the most interesting right now and seems to be one with no definitive and clear champion. The two most exciting fighters in the division to watch are Nicholas Walters and Jhonny Gonzalez, both monster puncher, the most talented fighter in a technical sense if Vasyl Lomachneko, who of course beat Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo recently. Contenders in the division include Marvin Sonsona, Simpiwe Vetyeka, Hisashi Amagasa, Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar, Lee Selby and Satoshi Hosono.
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.
This coming weekend really is a monster weekend with more major bouts than you can shake a stick at. Unfortunately with such a busy weekend it's obvious that some fights will be forgotten, or given less respect than they perhaps deserve. One of those bouts is the IBF Featherweight title fight between defending champion Evgeny Gradovich (18-0, 9) and Belgian-Armenian challenger Alexander Miskirtchian (24-2-1, 9), the European champion and #1 ranked IBF challenger.
Gradovich is a fighter we are big fans of. In the ring he's a non-stop punching machine who throws in the region 100 punches a round, every round. He's aggressive, fun to watch, busy and the sort of fighter who makes up for his limitations in sheer bloody mindedness. And in fairness to Gradovich his limitations are few and far between with the most notable of them being that he doesn't really have major power, he hurts people when he sits on his shots but lacks truly concussive power, that is pretty much his main issue.
What Gradovich does so well is break people, both mentally and physically. He showed this in his two victories over Billy Dib and his very impressive decision victory over Mauricio Javier Munoz. These fights showed all the different facets to Gradovich who showed he could swarm, proved he could box and proved that he was improving fight after fight. If that improvement continues then there is every chance he could become one of the truly elite Featherweights.
Whilst Gradovich is a proven world class fighter with a number of world class wins Miskirtchian is a little less well known, though has proven his ability against fringe world class opponents. For him this is a step up to true world class and for many that's the hardest step a fighter can take.
So far Miskirtchian's most notable victories are over Sofiane Takoucht, who he has beaten twice, and Andreas Evensen. Both of those men are good European level fighters but their is a huge gulf between European class and world class and we feel that will be shown up here.
If Gradovich is defined by his insane work rate then Miskirtchian is probably defined by how basic he is. He's strong and looks tough but there is nothing that really looks outstanding. He comes forward behind his jab and throws huge lopping over-hand rights regularly but his jab isn't sharp or all that fast whilst his right hand appears to lack power and is slow and looping. There is nothing in the footage of Miskirtchian that makes us think wow, in fact the most impressive thing about him is that he's become the IBF #1 contender despite looking so very ordinary.
Although there must be something about Gradovich that makes him fight better than the footage suggests there is nothing that makes us feel he can really give Gradovich any sort of a test. In fact this bout is almost made for Gradovich to look good and to get his mandatory out of the way. There is little, if anything, in Miskirtchian's arsenal that will bother the Russian who will come forward, and gradually grind down the challenger.
Although this bout is the lesser of 3 Featherweight world title bouts on a card dubbed "Featherweight Fury" it is arguably going to be most exciting as Gradovich doesn't really know how to be in a boring fight. For us Nicholas Walters's bout with Vic Darchinyan looks likely to be one-sided whilst the bout between Nonito Donaire and Simpiwe Vetyeka is likely to be a very tactical affair between very capable counter-punchers. This might be a bit of a mismatch but it will be an entertaining mismatch.
(Image courtesy of EuroboxePromotion)
Earlier this year "The Mexican Russian" Evgeny Gradovich (17-0, 8) announced himself on to the world stage by getting a chance to fight for a world title, and taking it. Gradovich, who had only gotten a chance due to a late pull out by Cuban Luis Franco, went out and performed as if his life depended on.
On that night Gradovich took on Australian Billy Dib (36-2-0-1, 21), then then reigning IBF Featherweight champion, and upset Dib taking a split decision over the experienced Aussie.
The two men will meet for a second time in little more than 8 months as Gradovich seeks the second defense of the beat he took from Dib whilst Dib hunt revenge over the man who took his world title.
Unlike the first bout, which took place as the headline fight of an ESPN Friday Night Fights, this one takes place on the massive undercard of Manny Pacquiao v Brandon Rios, a card in Macau that the world will be tuning in for. A show that will have the world's attention a show that will help define the two men for the foreseeable future.
With such a big potential audience this bout really does leave the fighters looking to prove a lot. For Dib he'll be looking to prove that it was an off night the first time around, a fluke victory for Gradovich. On the other hand Gradovich will be looking to show that he is a genuine world level fighter, not just a title holder who beat an off colour champion. This will see both men fired up and both men looking to put it all on the line in the search for victory.
Dib, at his best, is a talented boxer. He's not a big hitter but he can sting an opponent with clean shots, he has decent hand speed, decent movement and likes to control the pace and distance of a fight. At his worst however the Australian is nothing short of a nightmare to watch holding, pushing down and generally making things incredibly messy.
Although often a messy and criticised fighter Dib is seemingly a permanent fixture in the world rankings. He has so far fought in five world title fights, losing two of those and winning the other three. Despite that record in world title fights he has yet to beat a genuinely proven world level fighter, in fact his most notable victory is probably a 6th round retirement over Eduardo Escobedo.
Whilst Dib is a boxer it's fair to say that Gradovich is a bit more of a brawler. The Russian doesn't look to find gaps with movement and defense but instead looks to force a fight with an all action style, a never ending barrage of punches and unrelenting pressure. Gradovich's work isn't always the smoothest or the cleanest but it is non-stop as he attempts to grind down and beat up his opponents.
With just 17 fights of professional experience experience behind Gradovich it'd be easy to call him inexperienced though that's far from accurate. The Russian has fought in 150 amateur fights and countless rounds of sparring in the Roberto Garcia gym in Oxnard with numerous rounds sparred with world class fighters. In fact it's probably fair to say that Gradovich, who shares a gym with the likes of Mikey Garcia, Brandon Rios and Marcos Maidana, has learned more in the gym than he has learned in his professional contests. His development over Garcia has been phenomenal.
Going on their last performances the two men are heading in different directions. Gradovich abused Argentinian Mauricio Javier Munoz in a very one sided bout, in fact it was a bout that saw Munoz almost becoming a heavy bag for Gradovich. Dib's last contest however saw him escaping with a majority decision over Mike Oliver, a man who hadn't fought in almost 2 years following a second round blast out to Juan Manuel Lopez.
The fact Gradovich won last time out and seems to be getting better whilst Dib is getting worse makes it hard to see anything but a repeat result here. Dib may manage to make life difficult for the Russian but it's hard to see anything but a victory for the unbeaten Russian who appears to be one of the sports most over-looked world champions.
Courtesy of Top Rank
Former amateur stand out Evgeny Gradovich (16-0, 8) shocked the boxing world earlier this year when he claimed the IBF Featherweight title and defeated Australian Billy "The Kid" Dibb. Now the man dubbed "The Mexican-Russian" seeks his first title defense.
Gradovich, originally of Igrim, Russia though now based in Oxnard at the Robert Garcia Gym, will be taking on Argentinian Mauricio Javier Munoz (26-3, 12), otherwise known as "Chucky".
Gradovich, as mentioned above, is trained by Robert Garcia and this has seen him sharing a gym with some of the sports best fighters. Not only has he been alongside Mikey Garcia (current WBO Featherweight champion) but also Brandon Rios and Marcos Maidana. It's this level of activity in the gym which has helped Gradovich becoming the fighter he is today.
With boundless energy Gradovich is a pure pressure fighter who throws a lot of shots to both the head and body. His shots aren't concussive but they do accumulate and really wear fighters down mentally and physically. Technically his game is solid though unspectacular and there are holes in it, though he overcomes most of them with his heart and work rate.
For those fans who recognise the name of Mauricio Javier Munoz, he is best known as a former world title challenger having faced the then WBC Super Bantamweight champion Toshiaki Nishioka back on 2011. In that bout Nishioka stopped Munoz in the 9th round with a stunning left hand that sent the bruised and swollen Munoz down for the count.
Interesting for Munoz that was his first fight outside of South American and it was also his first against any sort of a notable name. Since the loss to Nishioka, Munoz had moves to Featherweight and has also scored his most notable victory, a highly debated split decision over Cuban Luis Franco. Funnily it was Franco who was supposed to fight Dibb though retired and Gradovich got the opportunity instead.
In terms of Munoz as a fighter he looks very strong but is incredibly basic in everything he does (much like a number of the B tier Argentinians). He's not a big hitter but he is tough and will look to have a fight with people if they don't run from him.
Unfortunately for Munoz his willingness to engage in a fight is unlikely to serve him well against a man whilst not outstanding technically is better than Munoz in almost every way. Gradovich is busier, naturally bigger, hits harder and more technically rounded than he Argentinian challenger.
With the styles seemingly likely to gel well, we'll admit we are expecting this to be a very fun fight and one that could very easily steal the show, despite feeling that it could be a bit one-sided in favour of Gradovich.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.