HOF’er Pacquaio, rising star Prograis, and a few fighters on the cusp of contention bolster an exciting ESPN weekend of boxing
If you’re going to have as disappointing an event as Top Rank and ESPN (as well as ESPN+ which we’ll get to in a sec) had after last week’s Ramirez vs. O’Connor world title fight turned into Kavaliauskas vs. Abreu, you would definitely want to follow it up with a weekend such as what’s scheduled for Saturday, July 14.
By the way, Daniel O’Connor should be completely out of the woods now, health-wise, after being hospitalized last Friday due to complications from severe dehydration. O’Connor was attempting to lose his last two pounds to make weight for his bout against WBC Super Lightweight champion Jose Carlos Ramirez in the scheduled main event. Let’s all hope for a speedy and full recovery for O’Connor. We’ll see if this weight-cutting related scare creates any new best-practices in boxing.
On to this week’s slate.
Normally boxing’s sole eight-time world champion Manny Pacquiao would be the must-watch fight on any given weekend. But 39-year old Pacquiao – currently in the middle of his six-year term as a Senator of the Phillipines – finds himself at a most awkward crossroads ahead of his attempt to capture his 60th win. Should he defeat Lucas Matthysse for the Argentine’s WBA Welterweight title, perhaps Pac Man fights on, despite peers such as Andre Ward questioning why he would.
After spending a good portion of his prime knocking out opponents on premium cable network Pay-Per-View events, Pacquiao is fighting 35-year old Matthysse at Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Based on the optics of this situation, it almost looks as if Paquiao is ronin. Top Rank’s involvement with this fight looks to be minimal. Longtime trainer Freddie Roach is no longer in the picture. Childhood friend and former assistant trainer Buboy Fernandez has been elevated to chief second, and will be the main voice in between rounds after 17 years of learning on-the-job. As recently as last week, there was uncertainty that all the details were in order for the fight to actually happen. Lastly, thanks to ESPN+ stepping up in the last two weeks, this bout can now be streamed by interested fans.
Pacquiao lost his WBO Welterweight title Down Under nearly 380 days ago. Jeff Horn’s dogged effort and resilience displayed by surviving a fierce round nine Pacquaio outburst, served him well as his aggression and physical approach earned him a surprising unanimous decision. Matthysse’s pressure and activity is unlikely to match Horn’s output.
Frankly, Matthysse’s performance under the brightest lights, with the exception of the first few rounds against then unified Super Lightweight champion Danny Garcia in 2013, haven’t been awe-inspiring. Four months earlier, his third round stoppage of Lamont Peterson created a lot of expectations that never really materialized for ‘La Maquina’ and his highly touted power.
Tonight, Pacquiao likely outboxes Matthysse, relying on advantages like his speed, movement and enough power to keep the Argentine at bay to earn a victory by decision. We’ll see if Pacquiao still has the timing and footwork to deliver his signature laser straight left hand with the accuracy to put Matthysse in danger. Back in January Matthysse got off to a lackluster start against unknown Tewa Kiram before knocking out the Thai fighter in the eighth round to win the vacant WBA title.
Perhaps ‘The Machine’ is primed tonight, and the prospects of defeating a legend motivates Matthysse to do everything in his power to avoid not capitalizing on another shot at a career-defining victory. There aren’t any noticeable Tale-Of-The-Tape advantages for either man, and Matthysse is somewhat made for what Pacquiao wants to do, so this fight could come down to whether Matthysse can consistently fight well enough to convince Pacquiao he stayed around for one fight too long. Everything gets answered starting at 9 p.m. ET live on ESPN+ in English and in Spanish in the United States.
Speaking of ESPN+. Last week during the undercard, the App went down before the Andy Ruiz Jr-Kevin Johnson Heavyweight fight, and the stream was never recovered. This technical difficulty caused fans to miss a chance to catch a prospect like Gabriel Flores Jr. in action. For $4.99 per month, and for the sake of boxing, incidents like this must be rectified in a timely manner if this platform is going to service boxing and attract new subscribers. Lastly, what will elite fighters and their business teams’ comfort level be regarding marquee fights being streamed on the App, if a problem can’t be fixed in an hour?
Regis Prograis in (another) The Big Easy
Read that sub-title as Super Lightweight contender Regis Prograis is returning to his hometown, New Orleans, to face undefeated Juan Jose Velasco for the WBC diamond belt – and a berth in the 140-pound tournament of the second season of the World Boxing Super Series.
You can also read that sub-title as a question: Is Prograis going to make another fight against a credible opponent look easy?
Back in March the Houston-based 29-year old southpaw surgically dismantled Julius Indongo in just two rounds of action that included four knock downs. This time a year ago, Indongo held the IBF, IBO and WBA Super Lightweight titles after traversing the globe to defeat a pair of champions in their own backyards. Former undisputed Super Lightweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford knocked out Indongo in round three of their unification fight last August, ending the contest with a brilliantly placed body shot.
Crawford subsequently relinquished his belts, and moved up to Welterweight to pursue lucrative bouts with the champions in boxing’s premier weight division. His departure cleared the way for Prograis’ emergence as the man at 140-pounds, and while the belts have managed to elude Rougarou, his immense talent has put the division on notice.
Velasco is an active fighter (four bouts in 2017), he’s a big Super Lightweight, he has a slight reach advantage, and he’s noted for possessing good power. In September 2017, his first and only fight in the States, he defeated Juan Garcia Mendez in New Mexico by technical knockout in the ninth round.
In short, the Argentine is facing a tall order tonight in Prograis’ hometown at Lakefront Arena. Velasco could quite possibly get the work Prograis wanted, ever so badly, to give to WBC Super Lightweight champion Jose Carlos Ramirez.
Look for Prograis to patiently assess Velasco’s skill set, determine his power, and then move in range to impose his will offensively. Prograis isn’t a safety-first fighter, and with 18 KOs in 21 bouts (or 86 percent), no opponents have caused him to make big adjustments or deal with adversity. Expect Velasco to come to win, but ultimately there will be a man down Down Bottom.
Prograis vs. Velasco and Lopez vs. Silva will be televised live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes at 7 p.m. ET. The entire undercard will be streamed on ESPN+ beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET. In order to enjoy a full night’s worth of action, in addition to catching fast-rising Lightweight Teofimo Lopez in the opener, it would behoove fans to do whatever it takes to catch all the interesting prospects on the undercard. Tune in early to stay on top of the development of some impressive young standouts including 2016 U.S. Olympian Charles Conwell, 2016 Olympic gold medalist Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, and unbeaten 130-pound contender Erick De Leon.
All photos by Mikey Williams/Top Rank