Evgeny Gradovich (15-0, 8 KO) wasted little time accepting an opportunity to step in for Luis Franco as Billy Dib's (35-1, 21 KO) opponent and challenger for the IBF featherweight title.
Dib and Franco had agreed to fight, and the two had even met the media via conference call as recently as three weeks ago, but Franco pulled out after a dispute with his camp, per the Miami Herald.
These events created a championship opportunity for the 26-year-old Gradovich in just his 16th fight, and he's trying to cash in.
Looking for the specifics on this featherweight clash? Here's how you can watch the fight, and some deeper analysis into this matchup:
When: Friday, March 1, 9 p.m. ET
Where: MGM Grand at Foxwoods Resort, Mashantucket, Conn.
TV: ESPN Friday Night Fights
Live Stream: ESPN 3
The Book on Dib
In Need of Validation
From being caught up in the 50 Cent-Floyd Mayweather, Jr. beef (per the Herald Sun), to being a world champion whose title defense is being featured on ESPN Friday Night Fights, Dib has something to prove to the boxing world.
He was originally signed to Mayweather's TMT promotional company, but after some legal maneuvering, he ended up in 50 Cent's camp.
Though, this is the second straight episode of ESPN's Friday Night Fights to feature a world title bout, it is a rarity as far as the program is concerned. In general, for a world champion like Dib to defend on the program proves that his standing is not amongst the sport's elite.
An impressive win over Gradovich could help to change that.
Dib has been the IBF champion since he defeated Jorge Lacierva in July 2011, and the lone loss of his career came in 2008.
Per the Boxing Voice, Dib hopes to win this fight in spectacular fashion, and possibly challenge long-time champion Chris John in a unification bout.
In this video, Dib discusses his next opponent and other situations surrounding his career.
In the Ring
Dib doesn't possess blinding speed, but he throws a solid jab, that he can turn over into a lead left hook.
He also bangs the body with consistency and vigor. Here is an example of how devastating Dib can be when punishing the body. In this fight he decimates previously undefeated Alberto Servidei in the first round.
At times, he can be a little careless with his right hand on defense. This can make him vulnerable to hard counter shots. Even with that, Dib has a solid chin, and good recuperative qualities.
Fighters with great hand speed, or extremely effective counter-punching will be his toughest test in the ring.
The Book on Gradovich
Thrown into the Fire
Gaining a title shot in just your 16th professional fight is either a great opportunity to get a jump on your career, or an event bound to expose a young fighter that isn't quite ready for the big time.
We'll find out which is the case for Gradovich on Friday night.
Without a ton of attention being payed to his career thus far, the 26-year-old Russian almost had to take this opportunity to fight for a title. There is no guarantee he'd get this opportunity again.
Though born in Igrim, Russia, Gradovich now resides in Arapahoe, N.C. He has been training with famed trainer Robert Garcia, and he has improved rapidly in his recent fights.
Check out this post-fight interview after Garcia after Gradovich's most recent win over Willie Villanueva.
Gradovich is looking to make a name for himself in the sport with a stunning upset, or at least a good enough showing that makes fans want to see him again.
In the Ring
Gradovich is a puncher always looking to come forward. As Garcia mentioned in the video, one of their focuses has been on improving Gradovich's head movement.
Here is a video from an earlier fight in his career. There have been improvements in confidence and defense since, but this fight against Jesse Carradine in 2010 gives you an idea of Gradovich's style.
He isn't blessed with great athleticism, but he is a technically sound boxer. His ability to absorb and counter will be key against Dib.
While his head movement will need to be on point against Dib, he must protect his midsection from crushing body punches.
Because he's a late replacement, and under the tutelage of Garcia, he has a shot to knock off Dib, but it will depend on how he performs defensively and as a counter-puncher.
I'm taking Dib to win this fight, but I can see Gradovich making a good account of himself. In the end, the body-punching and experience will push Dib to a unanimous decision victory.
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