By Jake Donovan
Evgeny Gradovich hopes to cap a breakout 2013 campaign the same way in which it began – with a win over Billy Dib in a featherweight title fight.
The two meet tonight at the Cotai Arena in Macau, China, nearly nine months after their first meet earlier this year. Their ESPN2-televised headliner saw Gradovich rise from relative obscurity to pull off a minor upset with a split decision win over Dib.
Neither fighter has done much to separate from the rest of the pack in the featherweight division. Gradovich looked good but not spectacular in a near-shutout win over Mauricio Munoz in his last trip to Macau, which took place in July.
Gradovich (17-0, 8KO) was the co-feature attraction on that night as well, but to the second pro fight of three-time Olympic medalist Zou Shiming. Tonight’s task for the “Mexican Russian” is to prime the crowd – in attendance and on pay-per-view (Saturday, 9PM ET/6PM ET) – for the ring return of international superstar Manny Pacquiao, who headlines against Brandon Rios in the main event.
Dib (36-2, 21KO) heads into tonight’s affair with every intention of upsetting the apple cart and proving that his loss earlier this year was little more than a fluke. However, the confident Aussie has his work cut out for him, as his most recent affair – a 10-round points win versus fringe contender Mike Oliver – was anything but inspiring.
All told, it hasn’t been much fun for Dib outside of his native Australia. Both of his losses took place in the United States, as did his struggling performance against Oliver. Tonight marks his first fight in Macau, while Gradovich fights on location for the second straight time.
Will history repeat itself for Gradovich in tonight’s rematch, or will Dib enjoy payback?
PREDICTIONS – EVGENY GRADOVICH vs. BILLY DIB (REMATCH)
"I think we'll have another close fight but Gradovich's work rate will squeak out the win."
- Ryan Burton (Gradovich SD)
"Gradovich continues to gain confidence - and fans - with each fight. A catchy nickname ("The Mexican Russian") and a cult following doesn't necessarily make him as good as advertised. Still, Dib was a weak champ when they fought earlier in the year, and looked horrible in what should have been a walkover against Mike Oliver. Look for tonight's rematch to be wider than their first meeting, though not as much fun."
- Jake Donovan (Gradovich UD)
"Dib was the favorite last time for good reason. He's more athletic and his arsenal is more varied than Gradovich's. It didn't do him much good on ESPN, but he'll respond here with his back against the wall and win back a belt with a clear verdict
- Lyle Fitzsimmons (Dib UD)
"I think the first Dib fight really instilled some confidence in El Ruso Mexicano and he takes it up a notch putting even more pressure on Dib to oblige."
- Ernest Gabion (Gradovich TKO10)
"The logic is that the winner of the first fight often wins the rematch in easier fashion. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, but I don't believe this bout will be one of them. Gradovich wins again and then gets pushed toward a fight with Nonito Donaire."
- David P. Greisman (Gradovich UD)
"I don't expect this to be a spectacular fight but I do expect it to play out like the last one. Gradovich will be the more active fighter winning a workman like UD.
- Timothy Kudgis (Gradovich UD)
"Gradovich is the sort of fighter likely to improve as his reign wears on. Dib is what he is. Their first fight was close. Gradovich's pressure will be better employed this time and make the decision clear."
- Cliff Rold (Gradovich UD)
"I have never seen Dib badly shaken, and Gradovich is a swarmer, not a slugger or a puncher. That's said, the Australian is past his prime, fading and on his way out. It will be a one-sided fight, dominated by Gradovich's ever-improving confidence, his sheer activity and desire. Dib will show his ugliest, mixing fouls, hugs and pitty-pat shots just to stay in the game.
- Alexey Sukachev (Gradovich UD)
Evgeny Gradovich 7
Billy Dib 1
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox