When unbeaten fighters collide we can get some great fights as both men put it all on the line to not just win the bout but the keep their perfect record intact. We saw one such fight earlier this year when Kosei Tanaka beat Ryuji Hara in a genuinely enthralling contest for the OPBF Minimumweight title. When a world title is at stake however things are even more interesting and there is so much on the line for both men.
We saw one such world title bout this past Saturday when IBF Featherweight champion Evgeny Gradovich (19-0-1, 9) took on mandatory challenger Jayson Velez (22-0-1, 16) and we ended up with both men retaining their unbeaten records whilst we all tried to lift our jaws off the floor at one of the worst decisions of the year.
The Russian champion was defending the belt for the fourth time and early on it appeared that Velez had the style to beat him. For the first few rounds Velez simply out boxed Gradovich, he used exceptional movement and fought superbly behind a very busy jab that kept Gradovich at range and prevented the usually busy Gradovich from getting inside where he likes to work.
In round 3 things began to change as Velez's feet began to slow and he was gradually forced into the fight that Gradovich would have wanted. The Puerto Rican challenger probably did enough to take the round but it was probably the final round that Velez could have been given without a debate.
In round 4 Gradovich began to really close the distance, both traded body shots and both had their success in the bouts closest round. It was one that could have gone either though to us it seemed that Gradovich just did enough to take it as he began to turn the fight into his style of a fight. The Russian was cutting the distance, building on his success from the previous round and began to force Velez to trade shots. When trading Velez did have plenty of success of his own but was out-worked, out landed and out powered.
From round 5 to 11 Gradovich became more and more successful. His trademark engine was helping him to grind down his challenger who was game but out fought and came off second best in every exchange. It was to Velez's credit that he was fighting back but he was unable to ever establish the distance that had helped him to take the earlier rounds.
The action, for the most part in those Gradovich won rounds, was exciting and saw both men unloading a high volume of shots but sadly for Velez it was hard to see him winning any of them, or even taking a a share of an occasional round as his punches resembled arm punches and his head was snapped back time and time again.
Going into the final round it seemed clear that Velez was in a hole and would need a KO to win the title. His early work had long been forgotten and he seemed to know he needed something special to pull the bout out of the bag. Knowing he was down Velez really went for it in the final moments and seemed to unload everything he had at Gradovich who saw out the storm to hear the final bell.
It seemed a clear win for Gradovich who had swept much of the bout. At most we suspected Velez could have won 5 rounds, giving him the close 4th and the 12th, at an absolute push. In reality however we hadn't given him anything after the third round and had it a very clear 117-111 to Gradovich. The judges however threw their typical spanner into the works. One judge had it the same as us, one judge somehow found 6 rounds to give to Velez giving a 114-114 card whilst the third judge had a frankly ridiculous card of 115-113 to Velez, a truly shocking card that should see the judge dragged over the hot coals.
For Gradovich the key thing is that he retained his title and there is still a chance for him to get involved in major bouts with the likes of Nicholas Walters in 2016. For Velez the draw was an early Christmas present and whilst it's clear he's a talented fighter he was very lucky to escape with his unbeaten record.
It's a shame the judging has cast controversy over this bout which was, the scoring aside, a really enjoyable bout that saw both men fighting their heart out and we hope to see both men in action sooner rather than later, though not a rematch as some suggest. This wasn't close enough to actually warrant a rematch, even if it was a “draw”.
Gradovich grinds down Dib
There are some fighters in this sport that we, as a site, genuinely dislike. Something about them rubs us up the wrong way and really love tuning in in the hope of seeing them lose. This past Saturday saw one of those few fighters in action and thankfully we got to see them taking a bit of a beating.
Australian Billy “The Kid” Dib (36-3-0-1, 21), the former IBF Featherweight champion, is a fighter who has really disgusted us over the years. Starting back in 2009 when he punched Kanichi Yamaguchi who was down, Dib has had a bullseye on his back from us as a team.
Unfortunately not only was Dib excused of a DQ loss against Yamaguchi but he also seemed to have this aura of self importance. He was, in our eyes, a dirty, cheating fighter with a self inflated idea of being world class. He often talked about fighting world class opponents, such as Chris John, whilst fighting significantly less foes such as Italian non-puncher Alberto Servidei.
Thankfully Dib's world came crashing down to earth earlier this year as he was upset by Russian Evgeny Gradovich (18-0, 9) who claimed a scrappy decision over Dib.
Just 8 months on from their first meeting Gradovich and Dib fought for a second time, this time over in Macau as part of “The Clash in Cotai” card. This time there was to be no excuses, such as a Dib being a late replacement, there was to be no controversy and most telling this time there would be no suggestion of it being a bad night at the office for Dib.
The fight started on a somewhat even keel with Dib trying to use his boxing skills to neutralise the aggression and work rate of Gradovich. Although the Russian seemed to be winning the rounds they were competitive over the first 3 or 4 with neither man really stamping their authority on the action. Although the action was pretty give and take at times it was obvious that the tempo of the fight was being controlled somewhat by Gradovich who was picking his spots much better and landing the more memorable of the action.
With the pressure and the work rate of Gradovich making life uncomfortable for Dib it was obvious that the Australian needed to find a plan B if he was going to recapture the belt he had held earlier this year. Instead however Gradovich began to grow and grow in to the fight and by the end of round 6 it was becoming clear that Dib was being ground down. Although a knockdown, in the sixth, was only a flash knockdown against Dib it had summed up how the fight was going, Gradovich was simply landing too many for Dib to cope with.
The Russian, growing round after rounds, saw things go from good to better as he found a new gear in round 7 and continued to grind down Dib. The Australian, at times, was looking helpless as Gradovich's aggression, pressure and work rate began to really take their toll. Dib was unable to create space, unable to tie up and unable to force Gradovich to respect him, it was effectively only a matter of time.
Despite the horrible seventh round for Dib he did manage to see through round 8, although it was more a case of “surviving” the eighth rather than doing anything else. Dib was looking like a man who knew his fate. He wasn't just being beaten up by the punches which he was being forced to eat but was also being mentally broken up by a man who refused to give him a break. It had began to look like a bully beating up a helpless child and for us it was fantastic to see Dib being given the beaten he had long deserved.
Just over a minute into round 9 the referee had seen enough and saved Dib. The torment for the Australian had been enough, he had taken the punishment that he had been long deserving and finally knows what it's like to be beaten up by a genuine world class fighter.
What this fight showed, more so than their first meeting, was that Gradovich has improved a lot. He's maintained his high out put but appears to have added more sting on every shot, he's more selective in what he throws and most telling he believes in himself. He's no longer a fighter who will just throw and throw but is instead a man who will throw with the intention of hurting the opponent every shot. This new found confidence could well see Gradovich developing into a seriously devastating fighter.
The story we've been hearing is that Gradovich is in line to face Nonito Donaire next year, though we dare say that a fight with the Chris John-Simpiwe Vetyeka winner would actually be a much, much more interesting test. In fact if Gradovich fights the winner of that contest it also gives Donaire a chance to fight a genuine Featherweight in the interim.
If Top Rank head honcho Bob Arum feels like it, he could well organise a mini-tournament with his Featherweights and include the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko and Orlando Salido, who will be fighting each other early next year, as well as Donaire, Gradovich and even Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. Then again Arum has missed such opportunities in the past and this may be another pipe dream of fans as opposed to the promoter.
For Dib however this is surely the end of the cock-sure Australian at the world level. There really is little appeal in seeing him in action again especially following this contest which should, for once and for all, end his self delusion of being world class.
The Mexican Russian Retains
Courtesy of Boxrec.com
The always fun to watch Evgeny Gradovich (17-0, 8) successfully retained his IBF Featherweight title with an impressive and fun to watch 12 round decision victory over Mauricio Javier Munoz (26-4, 12).
The bout was Gradovich's first defense of the belt he won earlier this year when he upset Billy Dib and it was obvious that he wanted to put on a show for the fans. The bout may have been a long way from home but the "made for TV" fighter didn't seem to care and he waged war with Munoz.
The Argentinian challenger, much to his credit played his part to create an all action bout with the fighters taking it in turns to come forward and bang away at each other. Unfortunately for Munoz however he often looked like an inferior replica of Gradovich with the "Mexican Russian" being faster, more skilled, bigger and more energetic.
Sadly for Munoz the fact he was cruder and less over-all developed than Gradovich allowed the Russian to do as he wished. He mixed up coming forward and brawling with boxing and even brawling on the backfoot with Munoz effectively walking into a hail storm of shots.
Despite the Argentinian being forced to eat a lot of leather he was never really in any trouble until the last round when his energy levels were clearly running low and Gradovich went on an all out offensive to try and put a exclamation mark on his performance. Unfortunately he didn't have the time or the power needed to get Munoz out before the final bell.
With the first defense behind him it's fair to say that Gradovich is a fighter that is going to be hard to dethrone. He's not the most technically solid fighter but he's a developing fighter who clearly has an impressive engine, seems durable and has a bucket load of heart. It's going to take a very special fighter to dethrone him and if recently turned pro Vasyl Lomachenko is eying him as an easy title the Ukrainian probably needs second thoughts.
For Munoz this is his second loss in a world title bout following a stoppage loss in 2011 to Toshiaki Nishioka, the then WBC Super Bantamweight champion. It's fair to say that he's shy of genuine world level, though with his style I think it's fair to say that Asia will welcome him back if he wants to fight some of their top fighters somewhere down the line.
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.