The Lightweight division is one of the oddest in boxing today. None of the champions right now are big global names and, other than WBC champion Omar Figueroa, none of them have the style to become must watch fighters. Ricky Burns, WBO champion, has a loyal Scottish following but lacks the power and even the skills to become a major player on the world scene, Richar Abril, WBA champion, is highly skilled but could bore the pants off an Inuit and IBF champion Miguel Vazquez (33-3, 13) has been MIA for the last year.
On February 22nd Vazquez finally returns to action for his first bout since beating Filipino Mercito Gesta back in December 2012. The talented and slippery Mexican, who is a real pain to fight, will be hoping to make the 6th defense of his world title as he battles unbeaten Russian Denis Shafikov (33-0-1, 18) in Macau on the "Ring of Gold" card.
Although he has 3 losses to his name Viazquez is highly skilled and all 3 of those losses came before he was 22. More importantly, regarding those 3 losses, they all came to major players on the boxing scene with 2 coming to Saul Alvarez and the other to Timothy Bradley. Lets be honest, losses to those two men can be excused considering what they have gone on to do between them.
At his best Vazquez, a bit like Shingo Wake, is a clever fighter who boxes on the move, makes opponents commit and then tags them with a sharp counter. It may not always look pretty but he has perfected the style to the point of making dangerous punchers, including J-Hoon Kim and Breidis Prescott, look silly on a regular basis.
Unfortunately at his worst Vazquez can become a runner. A man unwilling to engage on either the front foot or the back foot and will instead avoid pressure with his negativity. This almost cost him against Marvin Quintero in what was one of the poorest title fights from the last few years.
As poor as the Quintero fight was it was one that possibly showed up Vazquez's faults. He can cope with pressure from limited clueless fights, like Kim and Leonardo Zappavigna but against the intelligent pressure of Quintero he really struggled to create space or get his own punches off.
Shafikov, although not the most rounded of fighters, is an intelligent pressure fighter. He comes forward pretty relentlessly but carefully and is happy to take one or two to get inside when he needs to. His natural strength is incredible and although he'll be fighting for a Lightweight title here some have talked about him becoming a genuine threat at Light Welterweight if that's what he was wanting to do.
As well as being a strong and intense fighter Shafikov also has the ace of being a southpaw giving him yet another string to his bow.
One of the biggest issues with Shafikov is the fact he's a short Lightweight. Stood at just 5'5" he will be giving away notable reach and height to Vazquez who will be hoping to make the most of the size differential. Despite this Shafikov won't be needing to do too much new having already beaten taller fighters including Scotland's Lee McAllister. Yes there is a world of difference between Vazquez and Lee McAllister but the Russian has proven he can fight taller fighters and world class fighters with wins already against Giuseppe Lauri, Brunet Zamora and Alisher Rahimov.
Whilst this will be Shafikov's first world title bout, and he is a 9/4 under-dog at the time of writing, we actually see him pulling off the upset. Quintero, who was only marginally taller than Shafikov, was also a southpaw and it was the stance and mindset there that gave Vazquez a tough time. We imagine that Shafikov will use his physical strength and toughness to make life even more difficult for the champion who, after 14 months out of the ring, will feel that pressure more than ever.
We know Vazquez is good but we really think Shafikov is going to prove that he is just as good, if not better.
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.