IBF champion Miguel "Puppet" Vazquez (33-3, 13 KO) might be the best lightweight in the world, but few non-boxing purists know who he is.
On Saturday in Macao, China, Vazquez will have an opportunity to show the world his skills on an HBO broadcast. He'll defend his 135-pound title against undefeated Russian challenger Denis "Djingis Khan" Shafikov at the Cotai Arena, Venetian Resort.
The other featured bout will feature rising local star and Olympic champion Zou Shiming in his fourth professional fight.
It may not be the most star-studded card, but there could still be fireworks. Here's how you can catch the action.
When: Saturday, Feb. 22 at 5 p.m. EST
Where: Cotai Arena, Venetian Resort, Macao, Macao S.A.R., China
The Book on Vazquez
Despite enjoying a 12-fight win streak and five successful title defenses, the Puppet's fights don't draw a crowd. At 5'10", he's one of the longest lightweights you'll ever see, but he has very little punching power.
He effectively uses his length and superior boxing skills to keep opponents at bay. He's also an excellent counter puncher. Vasquez is usually comfortable boxing smartly from the outside.
Some purists can appreciate his style, but unfortunately for him, not all boxing fans are purists.
Alex McClintock of Queensberry Rules isn't a fan of Vazquez's style. He wrote this in his preview of the bout:
The lightweight Mexican spoiler is taking on Russia’s Denis Shafikov (33-0-1, 18 KO) in what figures to be one of the more difficult fights of his career. Shafikov is a little pitbull, but is he prepared for Vazquez’s mauling? I hope so, because then I’d likely never have to watch 'El Titere' again.
The skills, mindset and frame Vazquez possesses make him successful—but boring to the masses. If you haven't heard of him, that's probably why.
McClintock may not be the only one who wouldn't mind seeing Vazquez lose. Shafikov is undefeated, and he fights a more crowd-pleasing style. It would be much easier for HBO to market him than it is to sell Vazquez.
As Vasquez heads to fight far away from his home in Mexico, he is defiantly confident and ready to perform against the odds. He told Miguel Angel Cebreros of Boxing Scene: "I am aware that I am going to a strange land, where I probably will not be the favorite, but I'm used to it since I have almost always fought against all odds and I know this time will be no exception. But we are going with a positive mindset to win."
Should he sacrifice his comfort level in an effort to thrill the crowd—even though he doesn't have the power to bang with big punchers?
The smart answer is no, but the temptation is there while he continues to win in relative obscurity.
The Book on Shafikov
The 28-year-old Russian is almost the complete opposite of Vazquez. He's a pressure fighter who stands a full five inches shorter than the champion. He doesn't have huge power, but he has finished 18 of his wins by stoppage.
If you're looking for a good comparison, picture a smaller, slightly less explosive version of Ruslan Provodnikov.
Most recently, Shafikov defeated Santos Benavides via seventh-round TKO in August to earn this shot at the title. While Shafikov's style could present a challenge for Vazquez, Djingis Khan will be taking on the most skilled boxer he's ever faced.
The style and height difference could make this a memorable scrap.
Who wins Vazquez-Shafikov?
Vazquez haters are going to have to wait to see the end of his title reign. He's too long and skilled for Shafikov. Don't rule out the possibility for a questionable decision, though.
Vazquez's fights are sometimes hard to watch and score. Because Shafikov is the more marketable fighter, he could get the benefit of the doubt in close rounds.
Still, Vazquez should earn the unanimous decision victory.
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