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Pacquiao vs. Bradley Undercard: Preview, Prediction for Allakhverdiev vs. Vargas

Briggs SeekinsFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2014

Pacquiao vs. Bradley Undercard: Preview, Prediction for Allakhverdiev vs. Vargas

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    We'll see a clash of undefeated light welterweights on the Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley pay-per-view this Saturday, as WBA "regular" world champion Khabib Allakhverdiev faces Jessie Vargas.

    The 140-pound division has been terrific in recent years, and Allakhverdiev and Vargas represent the next wave of potential stars.

    Serious North American fans have been anxious to get a closer look at the Russian Allakhverdiev. Vargas, despite only being 24, has already been a fixture on high-profile undercards.

Tale of the Tape

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images
    Per Boxrec      Khabib Allakhverdiev      Jessie Vargas 
    Record     19-0, 9 KOs     23-0, 9 KOs 
    Height     5'8"     5'10" 
    Reach     68"     71"
    Weight     140 lbs     140 lbs
    Age     31     24 
    Stance     Southpaw     Orthodox 
    Hometown      Derbent, Russia      Las Vegas, Nevada
    Rounds     96     132

    Jessie Vargas is the longer fighter, but he doesn't always exploit his reach. Although he has had a few more professional bouts, the 31-year-old Allakhverdiev has an extensive amateur career, and I'd actually give him a slight edge in experience.

    His home city of Derbent is located within the semi-autonomous Republic of Dagestan. This region of Russia produces more great wrestlers, boxers and combat athletes in general than any similar-sized place on the planet.

    Vargas makes his home in Las Vegas now but is an LA native.

Main Storylines

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    Khabib Allakhverdiev is the WBA "regular" world champion at light welterweight. But this is typical buffoonery from the WBA, which already has a world champion at 140 pounds: Danny Garcia.

    The WBA can call Garcia the "super" world champion if it wants to. For all I care, it can call him the "super-duper, most excellent" world champion. As a boxing writer, I'm still unwilling to recognize more than one of an alphabet-soup organization's world champions per division.

    However, that doesn't mean Allakhverdiev's appearance on this broadcast isn't a big deal. The ever-growing proliferation of elite fighters from the former Eastern Bloc has been one of boxing's biggest stories in recent years, and he looks like he might be the next big star from the region.

    This is his first significant exposure in North America, and hardcore fans are excited.

    Jessie Vargas is just 24, but he's been fighting high-profile fights for more than two years now. He started off as a Floyd Mayweather protege, but in 2012 he jumped ship to bitter rival Top Rank.

    These two unbeaten fighters look to have a pretty big upside. Somebody's zero has to go on Saturday night, and the winner should position himself for a major fight in the fall.    

Strengths

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    Khabib Allakhverdiev has quick hands and very accurate punching. He has a solid jab, but the clever southpaw often catches opponents off-guard with his lead left hand.

    He has great head and shoulder movement and very smart footwork as he moves forward into range.

    Jessie Vargas is a rangy and athletic fighter. He punches well with both hands and does a nice job of stringing his combinations together and targeting both the body and head.

    He is not shy about mixing it up on the inside, but he has a very good jab and can use it to control distance against shorter opponents.

Weaknesses

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    Khabib Allakhverdiev has not fought an extremely high level of competition. He has had a tendency at times to camp out and study his opponents.

    This can be an advantage for a smart tactical fighter, but against a quick and aggressive opponent it can backfire.

    Jessie Vargas disregards his natural length advantage a little too much. Instead of keeping opponents at the end of his jab, he mixes it up in the trenches, where his slender frame is sometimes vulnerable to being muscled around.

    I felt this weakness cost him against Josesito Lopez in 2011, even though the judges gave Vargas the victory by split decision.

Khabib Allakhverdiev Will Win If...

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    Before he can do anything else, Khabib Allakhverdiev needs to slip Jessie Vargas' jab and cross into his own range. As he moves in, he needs to make sure he is maneuvering his own lead right foot to the outside of Vargas' lead left.

    If he can slip forward in this manner, it will perfectly set up his lead left. A lead left from a southpaw can be a nightmare counter for an orthodox opponent's jab. If Allakhverdiev can find that punch early, he will make it a hard fight for Vargas.

    When he lands the straight left, Allakhverdiev should follow it with a double right hook—one to the body and one to the head. Once they are in very close range, he should look to muscle Vargas with his shoulder, turn him at an angle and then back up to make space to throw another straight left.  

Jessie Vargas Will Win If...

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Jessie Vargas needs to use his jab in this fight to keep Khabib Allakhverdiev on the outside. Vargas has to fight a disciplined fight and avoid being drawn into too many exchanges on the inside, where Allakhverdiev's strength and punching accuracy will give him an edge. 

    He also has to be careful not to let the southpaw slip his lead foot to the outside in order to get an angle for the straight left hand. To do this, Vargas wants to double up the jab with a lead hook or even feint the jab and then hook Allakhverdiev as he tries to step to the outside.

    Vargas is a versatile fighter. He likes to mix it up and entertain the crowd, but by this point he should be smart enough to use the right style to have a chance to win.  

Prediction

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    Maybe I'm just a boxing writer who has gone giddy in the past year due to the likes of former Eastern Bloc fighters like Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev and Ruslan Provodnikov. But to my eyes, Khabib Allakhverdiev looks like the next great one to emerge from that region. 

    Watching video of him only convinced me of his legitimacy. 

    Jessie Vargas is a flashy and physically talented fighter, but Allakhverdiev is far more solid. He's the rare pressure fighter with very good defensive tools. 

    He'll be able to close in on Vargas and rough him up. I'm picking him by Round 10 TKO. 

    It will be interesting to see where Allakhverdiev goes next from here. If he puts on a big show on a Top Rank card, it's possible that Bob Arum will snap him up and match him with fellow Russian Ruslan Provodnikov. 

    Potentially, Allakhverdiev could even return for Provodnikov's scheduled bout in June. But he will also have the option to jump over to Showtime and challenge Danny Garcia, which would clear up the WBA's silliness about recognizing two world champs. 

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