On Saturday, July 27, in Macau, China, IBF featherweight champion Evgeny Gradovich puts his belt on the line against Mauricio Munoz. It's one of two world title fights this weekend from China, as Top Rank once more presents a card built around Zou Shiming, the former Olympic star.
China is a potentially massive market for boxing, and Top Rank has targeted it aggressively this year. Gradovich, hot off an upset of Billy Dib on Friday Night Fights last March, looks like he could be a future star and is a nice addition to the HBO broadcast.
|Per Boxrec:||Evgeny Gradovich||Mauricio Munoz|
|Record:||16-0, 8 KO's||26-3, 12 KO's|
|Weight:||126 pounds||126 pounds|
|Hometown:||Oxnard, California||San Juan, Argentina|
Munoz is a tall, rangy featherweight. The Argentinian does not bring the same punching power as his larger countrymen, Marcos Maidana and Lucas Matthysse, but he has a swarming, attacking style.
Gradovich is a native of Siberia, but he has settled very comfortably into Oxnard. He has blended in so well at Robert Garcia's Boxing Academy that he has earned the nickname the Mexican Russian.
The former amateur standout turned professional in 2010 and has advanced his career quickly. He's a defending world champion after only 16 fights.
Gradovich seemed to come out of nowhere when he captured the IBF 126-pound title from Dib last March on an episode of Friday Night Fights. Gradovich took the fight on just a month's notice.
The 35-1 Australian, Dib, made a flashy ring entrance, accompanied by his rapping promoter, Curtis Jackson. But once the music died down and the fight started, it was Gradovich's night.
He applied intelligent, stifling pressure and won a split decision, which I definitely think he deserved.
It was yet one more world champion for super trainer Robert Garcia, and it placed Gradovich firmly on the boxing road map.
In his first defense, Gradovich faces a credible, if flawed, contender. In his only fight against world-class competition, Munoz was knocked out by Japanese star Toshiaki Nishioka in Round 9.
Munoz also lost earlier in his career to 14-14-3 Miguel Leonardo Caceres in August 2009 and to 15-7-2 Jose Saez in September 2008.
Gradovich has a strong amateur background and a high IQ in the ring. He's a former member of the Russian National team.
He is a pressure fighter who moves forward behind a stiff jab and a high guard. He lowers levels well to avoid punches.
Gradovich has very good footwork and balance. He has a hair trigger on his straight right, letting it go aggressively as he closes into range and then following up with hard shots to the body and uppercuts to the head.
Munoz has good length and quick hands, which allows him to beat his opponents to the punch. He fights with a physical style that forces his opponents to keep up with him.
He is good at lowering his level to avoid a punch, and then countering with a left hook or straight right.
Gradovich did a good job picking up punches and deflecting them or stifling them against Dib. But there was no mystery as to what direction he was attacking from.
Gradovich moves mostly in straight lines. It means he gets into the position he wants to be in quickly and efficiently.
But it also makes him easier to time. Gradovich is in range to get punched, or moving into range for it, most of the time.
Munoz has lost three fights in his career, and two of them were against lightly regarded journeymen. He's fought more consistently in the past three years but still got thoroughly outclassed by Nishioka when he attempted to step up in competition in April 2011.
Against Nishioka, Munoz showed a bad habit of lunging as he attacked. I usually take that as a sign of desperation from an overmatched opponent.
Unable to methodically work his way into range on the dangerous Nishioka, he fell back on wild attacks.
I've never seen Munoz employ a solid-looking jab, even in fights where he dominated. A fighter with his reach should be pumping a jab all night.
Last March, Gradovich topped a once-beaten world champion with a mere 29 days to prepare for the fight.
If he can come out and impose the same game plan against Munoz that he did against Dib, he should have little trouble recording his first successful defense.
Gradovich should come forward, jabbing aggressively and lowering levels. As he moves into range, he needs to be letting his big punches go in flurries.
Then he should cover, withdraw out of range for a beat and attack again, before Munoz gets the chance to catch his breath.
Gradovich should look to hammer Munoz to the body in the early rounds, as he crowds him on the inside.
Gradovich is a skilled fighter in the trenches. Against Dib, he was able to slip and deflect most of the champ's offense, while finding the holes to score with regularity.
The last time Gradovich got in the ring, he fought the fight he wanted to fight and came away as a world champion. He looked like a machine.
There's never a good reason to fix a machine that functions flawlessly.
Munoz has to make full use of his length to win this fight. As Gradovich moves forward, he should look to take a half step back and time a sweeping lead hook as the Russian presses into range.
When Gradovich is in front of him, Munoz should cover quickly, then counter instantly with the lead hook or straight right.
Munoz has to be ready to throw punches as soon as there is a pause in Gradovich's attack. Whenever Munoz is attacking, he needs to remember that Gradovich is going to attack him as soon as he is done.
Gradovich is aggressive, but patient. He has excellent balance, and the wilder Munoz gets with his own attacks, the worse Gradovich will make him pay.
So Munoz needs to keep his composure. If he is feeling overly pressured by Gradovich, he needs to retreat slightly, not lunge forward with an attack.
If he backs up behind a jab or lead hook, he can be fairly confident that Gradovich will be moving into range for it.
This isn't exactly the way I have seen Munoz fight in the videos I've watched of him. But this is a world title opportunity, and I think he needs to make some adjustments to get over the hump here.
Beating Dib doesn't automatically make you an all-time great. But Dib was a world champion who had lost just once in 36 fights when Gradovich faced him. Dib had knocked out 21 opponents in the professional ring.
Gradovich took the fight with a month to train, and while it was a competitive fight, I thought he clearly won.
In his first defense, he's facing a guy who looks to me like a blossoming journeyman. Munoz has definite skill and plenty of heart.
But he's lost to extremely mediocre opponents in his past, and he was exposed when he faced a legitimate world-class opponent in Nishioka.
I don't necessarily think beating Dib makes a fighter a legitimate world-class talent. But when he does it after just 15 fights, he sure looks like he's on his way.
I think Gradovich is going to rough up Munoz on the inside and grind out a one-sided decision, possibly a late stoppage.
Gradovich by decision, 117-111.