The (Terrible) Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios Undercard – Why It’s Absolutely Passable

Forget writing well or sounding intelligent. Only one thought comes to mind when analyzing the televised undercard for Saturday night’s pay-per-view which is headlined by Manny Pacquiao (54-5-2) facing Brandon Rios (31-1-1): it absolutely sucks. There is no other way to look at it. It is a terrible set of fights. Instead of three undercard fights, we are getting four but none of these fights would be welcome on premium cable television. The first three fights probably would not be approved for ESPN’s Friday Night Fights. This is not a good formula for getting people excited for the main event.

The main reason we are getting four undercard fights instead of three is because the first two fights are six round bouts featuring novice professional fighters. In the first televised fight, Puerto Rican uber-prospect Felix Verdejo (8-0) will face Duanaaymukdahan Petchsamuthr who is making his pro-debut, in a junior lightweight bout. This is not a fight; it is a showcase for Verdejo to score a big knockout which is nice for the Puerto Rican fans who are buying the pay-per-view and are hopeful that Verdejo is the next superstar from the island. The only interesting thing about this fight is hearing how the HBO commentators, especially Roy Jones, pronounce the name of Verdejo’s opponent.

The second six round bout will feature popular Chinese boxer and three time Olympic medalist (two Gold, one Bronze) Zou Shiming (2-0) facing Juan Tozcano (4-0) in a flyweight bout. Shiming is on the card because he is a hero in China and will help sell tickets in the arena. However, as anyone who has seen his first two fights (which were aired on HBO2) will tell you, despite being trained by Freddie Roach, Shiming has an amateurish style which features a lot of movement and “slapping-style” punches. In short, he is not that exciting With Tozcano, he is facing a fighter with a nice-looking record but one built against horrendous competition. This should not be very competitive or entertaining either.

The third televised bout features undefeated heavyweight prospect Andy Ruiz (20-0) taking on Tor Hamer (21-2). Ruiz is a nice-looking prospect with fast hands and good power. With Hamer though, he is facing a former prospect who was exposed as a suspect when he lost a 2010 decision to Kelvin Price (later blasted out by Deontay Wilder). Hamer was able to rebound by winning a version of the U.K.’s “Prizefighter” tournament where he won three different three round bouts in one evening. Hamer parlayed that into an NBC televised fight with Vyacheslav Glazkov. There, Hamer basically embarrassed himself by being dominated through four rounds. To make matters worse, he then quit for no apparent reason. Thus, not much is expected here.

Finally, the co-featured bout is a rematch for the IBF featherweight title where titleholder Evgeny Gradovich (17-0) will defend against the man he took the title from, Billy Dib (36-2). The first fight, aired on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights, was a good fight where Gradovich, as a late substitute, used his pressure fighting and body punching to wear down the elusive Australian boxer and win a split-decision in a good television fight. Because the fight was close and entertaining, you may be expecting the rematch to be the same. An entertaining bout is certainly possible but the fighters’ subsequent fights do not suggest that it is likely. In July, Gradovich, known as the “Mexican Russian,” made his first defense in Macau against mandatory challenger Mauricio Munoz whom he busted up and beat in an easy unanimous decision. It appears that Gradovich, who is trained by the noted Robert Garcia, is only getting better, stronger and more destructive. That same month, Dib faced Mike Oliver who is a natural 122 pounder coming off a year and a half layoff who was thought to be past his best days following three knockout losses. Nevertheless, Dib struggled, lost points for low blows and only won a majority decision against the 10-1 underdog. Dib has never been an exciting fighter nor a big puncher so it appears that the rematch will not follow form to the first fight and should be a dull affair.

With the pay-per-view airing from China, the resulting lack of U.S. press coverage and the main event fighters both coming off losses, it is expected that the buy rate and profitability will not be as high as previous Pacquiao pay-per-views. Perhaps the promoter, Top Rank, had to save some money on the undercard in order to pay Pacquiao and Shiming.

If that is the excuse, it really holds no water considering the undercard rival promoter Golden Boy Promotions put on for September’s Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez event. That pay-per-view featured a highly anticipated fight that would have headlined its own premium cable telecast (Danny Garcia-Lucas Matthysse), a title match that was previously scheduled to headline a Showtime telecast before it was postponed (Carlos Molina against Ishe Smith) and a fight that looked to be a decent action fight and could have headlined an ESPN or Fox Sports 1 telecast (Pablo Cesar Cano-Ashley Theophane). Saturday night’s undercard is a joke compared to that one. Even when compared to “normal” undercards, it comes up well short.  

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