RUSLAN PROVODNIKOV vs. IVAN POPOCA
Rounds / weight class: 10 rounds, junior welterweights
Location: Temecula, Calif.
The backdrop: The last time we saw Provodnikov (18-1, 12 knockouts) on Friday Night Fights, the 27-year-old Russian prospect suffered his first loss after being narrowly outboxed and outworked by once-beaten Mauricio Herrera in a bruising, fast-paced 12-round affair in January. His second FNF appearance this year will come against another tough prospect, Popoca (15-0-1, 10 KOs), and the two heavy handed sluggers should make for an entertaining main event. Popoca probably hits harder than Herrera, but the Chicago-based Mexican brawls a little too much for his own good, which is why he’s struggled against journeymen Guadalupe Diaz, Trenton Titsworth and Jose Luis Soto Karass. On the undercard, Tijuana puncher Marvin Quintero (21-3, 17 KOs) will take on Colorado spoiler Juan Santiago (13-6-1, 8 KOs), a late substitute for Ji Hoon Kim, who had to withdraw earlier this week due to a detached retina, in what could be a shootout.
Also fighting: Marvin Quintero vs. Juan Santiago, 10 rounds, lightweights
Rating the card: B. Friday Night Fights will not lack action this week. All four fighters in the co-featured bouts are offense minded and defense challenged.
Prediction: If Provodnikov learned from his first defeat, he’ll work his jab more and go to the body as early as possible against Popoca, who has a nice a right hand and occasionally switches stances. Even if Provodnikov hasn’t improved, he should be too strong and experienced for Popoca, who will make for a good scrap but lose a decision.
ELOY PEREZ vs. ALEJANDRO RODRIGUEZ
Rounds / weight class: 10 rounds, junior lightweights
Location: San Francisco
The backdrop: This is the second consecutive Solo Boxeo appearance at the Longshoremen’s Hall in San Francisco for Perez (20-0-2, 5 KOs), a squat boxer who lacks punch but makes up for his power deficit with speed, athleticism and crafty ring generalship. The 24-year-old resident of Salinas, Calif., hopes to maintain the sharp form he exhibited while outpointing former contender Roger Gonzalez in February when he faces Rodriguez (12-1, 6 KOs), a rangy 23-year-old prospect from Guadalajara, Mexico. Perez, who is closing in on a mandatory shot at the WBO title held by Scotland’s Ricky Burns, can’t afford to lose or suffer a poor performance. He should be just fine. On the undercard, 2008 U.S. Olympian Gary Russell Jr. (14-0, 9 KOs), a talented 22-year-old featherweight prospect from Washington, D.C., continues to gain experience and build his record against hardnosed Mexican journeyman Aldolfo Landeros (21-18-1, 10 KOs).
Also fighting: Gary Russell Jr. vs. Aldolfo Landeros, six rounds, featherweights
Rating the card: C+. Perez and Russell are skilled prospects worth watching but their competition leaves something to be desired. Rodriguez is inexperienced and unknown. Landeros, a 31-year-old veteran of 40 bouts who has lost eight of his last 10 bouts, is probably shopworn.
Prediction: Perez will outbox and outmaneuver a game but outclassed Rodriguez to a unanimous 10-round decision.
ANDRE BERTO vs. VICTOR ORTIZ
Rounds / weight class: 12 rounds, welterweights
Location: Mashantucket, Conn.
The backdrop: The main event to this edition of World Championship Boxing is an intriguing matchup between two young potential stars who are both looking for respect. Berto (27-0, 21 KOs), the defending WBC welterweight beltholder, is viewed by many hardcore fans as a built up “paper champ.” They say the 27-year-old Florida native, who is backed by powerful manager Al Haymon, was practically given the vacant WBC belt and has yet to face a truly formidable foe despite eight consecutive appearances on HBO. And the diehards have a point, although Berto did show heart in narrowly out pointing then-contender Luis Collazo in a fight of the year candidate in early 2009. Speaking of heart, that’s what fans and even industry people question Ortiz (28-2-2, 22 KOs) about. They say Ortiz’s fighting spirit was taken the night he was beaten into submission by Marcos Maidana, and that looked to be true when the 24-year-old southpaw inexplicably let Lamont Peterson off the hook after twice dropping his fellow contender in the third round of their 10-round majority draw in December. Saturday’s showdown should tell us a lot about both fighters. Ortiz is the first talented puncher Berto has faced. Berto, who possesses the power of Maidana and the speed and skill of Peterson, is by far the most formidable opponent of Ortiz’s career. HBO’s co-featured bout of the evening is a tape-delayed broadcast of the WBA junior welterweight title bout between British star and beltholder Amir Khan (24-1, 17 KOs) and Ireland’s undefeated Paul McCloskey (22-0, 12 KOs) in Manchester, England.
Also fighting: Amir Khan vs. Paul McCloskey, 12 rounds, junior welterweights
Rating the card: B+. Berto-Ortiz is a potentially explosive fight that should deliver compelling action and drama. Khan should outclass McCloskey but the ultra-talented 2004 Olympic silver medalist is still worth watching.
Prediction: Berto will survive an early knockdown and more than a few wobbly moments in the early-to-middle rounds when Ortiz goes for broke, but the undefeated beltholder will rock the Kansas native back with monster right hands and take control of the second half of the bout with a busy stick-and-move (and occasional jab-and-grab) strategy that earns him a razor-thin unanimous decision.
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ vs. ORLANDO SALIDO
Rounds / weight class: 12 rounds, featherweights
Location: Bayamon, Puerto Rico
The backdrop: Lopez (30-0, 27 KOs) is coming off a good 2010, a year that saw the former 122-pound beltholder win a featherweight title and defend it against Mexican legend Rafael Marquez. The popular Puerto Rican southpaw, who also cracked many pound-for-pound lists by the end of last year, is merely staying busy in Saturday’s Championship Boxing main event, however the 28-year-old boxer-puncher cannot afford to overlook Salido (34-11-2, 22 KOs), an experienced former beltholder who is a lot better than his record would indicate. The 31-year-old Mexican veteran is nothing if not tough. Salido, who hasn’t been stopped in more than 10 years, has gone the 12-round distance with the likes of Juan Manuel Marquez, Robert Guerrero and Yuriorkis Gamboa. On the undercard, Luis Cruz (17-0, 14 KOs), a rangy boxer-puncher who is arguably Puerto Rico’s most advanced prospect, takes on the most experienced foe of his career in Mexico City’s former contender Martin Honorio (29-5-1, 15 KOs).
Also fighting: Luis Cruz vs. Martin Honorio, 12 rounds, junior lightweights.
Rating the card: B-. It’s not that Salido isn’t worthy of a title shot, it’s just that he’s not the most interesting opponent for a dynamic talent like Lopez. Even diehard Mexican fans fail to get excited about Salido, who should give a decent account of himself on Saturday. Cruz-Honorio is a solid cross-roads match between an underexposed prospect and an underrated veteran. However, only the most hardcore fans will pay attention to it.
Prediction: Lopez controls the three-quarters of the bout with his power-boxing and technique before outmaneuvering the game challenger over a competitive final three rounds to earn a unanimous decision.
Junior bantamweight titleholder Omar Narvaez defends his WBO belt against undefeated challenger Cesar Seda on Saturday in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Long-reigning featherweight beltholder Chris John defends his WBA title against countryman Daud Yordan on Sunday in Jakarta, Indonesia.