By Jake Donovan
In recent years, Top Rank has come under fire from the boxing world for what is perceived as a minimal effort in putting together compelling undercards for its major events. The working theory, so believes Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum, is that while the sport’s hardcore fanbase cares greatly about the undercard, the large majority of fans are tuning in for the headlining act.
Such logic has led to top-heavy pay-per-view events accompanied by a supporting cast often met with a collective shrug of the shoulders from prospective buyers. Still, it never prevents Arum from proudly hyping up the fighters who appear on such cards.
With that, the ageless promoter – who has worked some of boxing’s best events through seven decades in the game – spoke fondly of those who will appear on the undercard of the November 23 show in Macau. The card is topped by Manny Pacquiao’s first defense of his second reign as a welterweight titlist, as he faces unbeaten Chris Algieri, a 140 lb. beltholder moving up in weight.
While the undercard isn’t loaded with a who’s who of boxing’s best, event handlers certainly took into account of what key fights mean from a historic perspective.
“This card is something very special because of the quality of fights and the interest the fights will create,” Arum insisted during Monday’s press conference in Macau. “The feature bout, Manny Pacquiao - the welterweight "champeen" who successfully fought here last year - will defend his title he won from Timothy Bradley Jr. will face Chris Algieri.
“This event should be spectacular as will all of the other fights.”
Two bouts confirmed each involve two-time Olympic Gold medal winners, the second straight show in Macau to make that claim.
Zou Shiming, the fighting pride of China who has spent his entire career at the Venetian Macao, returns for his biggest test to date as he faces Thailand’s Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym. The bout marks his first scheduled 12-round affair, which is sanctioned as a flyweight title eliminator. A win by Shiming would land a title shot in just his 7th pro fight.
Vasyl Lomachenko has already trumped that. The unbeaten Ukrainian wunderkind needed two tries to win a featherweight belt, but those attempts coming in just his second and third pro fight, respectively. The man many consider to be the greatest amateur boxer of all time came just shy of topping Orlando Salido in their March clash, before dominating Gary Russell Jr. to win a featherweight belt in June.
“Vasyl is fighting a Thai fighter whose record is 52-1,” Arum pointed out before bravely attempting to sound out the name of the veteran opponent from Thailand. “I'm probably going to pronounce this wrong - Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo.
“This will mean on this card, we will have the only two fighters who won gold medals in both Beijing and London Olympics because Vasyl also won Gold medals in both of those Olympics.”
Lomachenko was named Top Boxer during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, although Shiming was clearly the sentimental favorite given the location. Both could have easily turned pro at that point, but decided to stick around in the amateur ranks for another four years before once again hitting paydirt in London.
The decision made by both allowed for accelerated paths to stardom the moment they each turned pro. With that comes upcoming fights against levels of opposition unheard of for fighters with just eight pro fights between them heading into the November show.
“What does this mean? The record of the three ‘opponents’ (Algieri, Piriyapinyo and OnesongchaiGym) – so to speak - is 94 wins and only one defeat. For the guys who are on the top of the bill, they have their work cut out for them.”
Arum confimed that one more title fight will be added to the show, with that announcement to come later this week. Boxing database website BoxRec.com shows a 130 lb. title fight between defending titlist Bryan Vasquez and Diego Magdaleno as being part of the show, but Top Rank did not mention the fight during Monday’s presser.
Other fighters slated to appear on the undercard include unbeaten middleweight Gilberto Ramirez, Hong Kong’s Rex Tso – an undefeated bantamweight prospect – and local undefeated lightweight Ik Yang, all of whom appeared on the July 19 show in Macau.
Yang’s placement on the show is pending the outcome of a regional lightweight title fight with Sukkasem Kietyongyuth, slated for Tuesday in Shanghai, the next stop of the promotional tour and a show in which Top Rank will co-promote.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox