By Jake Donovan
Jose Pedraza and Andrey Klimov collide for a vacant junior lightweight title in the chief supporting bout Saturday evening at Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Alabama.
Topping the bill, Tuscaloosa's own Deontay Wilder faces Eric Molina in the first defense of his heavyweight title, doubling as the first ever heavyweight title fight in history to take place in Alabama. Both bouts air live on Showtime.
Pedraza (19-0, 12KOs) isn't as celebrated as fellow Puerto Rican rising star Felix Verdejo (who fights in New York City this evening on HBO). However, many believe the unbeaten junior lightweight to be perhaps the island's best young fighter in the world today.
A sampling of his potential was served in the fight that brought him to this very opportunity, a landslide win over Michael Farenas last December in San Juan. Pedraza built up an early lead and had enough in the tank to not only fend off a late rally from his opponent, but finish strong to seal the well-deserved win.
The feat was supposed to lead to a title shot versus Rances Barthelemy, but Pedraza instead settled for a bid at the vacant title after the Cuban boxer decided to move up in weight.
The vacancy opened the door for Klimov to slide into the title picture. The once-beaten Russian has scored three straight wins following a disappointing showing versus Terence Crawford. Their Oct. '13 bout didn't exactly offer the best available version of either fighter, although Crawford went on to enjoy a Fighter of the Year-level campaign in 2014.
Klimov regrouped, dropping down to junior lightweight where he has boxed his way into title contention. Saturday's bout comes on the heels of a 10-round decision over Gabino Cota at home in Russia last November.
Read on to see how the staff at BoxingScene.com believes the junior lightweight action will go down.
BOXINGSCENE.COM STAFF PREDICTIONS:
JOSE PEDRAZA vs. ANDREY KLIMOV
Ryan Burton (Pedraza UD):
Pedraza is simply the better boxer and should win 9-10 of the rounds.
Jake Donovan (Pedraza UD):
Klimov is a lot better than what was displayed in his lone loss versus Terence Crawford. Pedraza appears to be on another level, though; quite possibly the best of the next generation of rising stars from Puerto Rico and it will be on display here.
Lyle Fitzsimmons (Pedraza UD):
The Puerto Rican doesn’t have the recognizable resume names that his foe has, but he feels like the more surging commodity here. He should pick up a belt in a close one.
Michael Gibbons (Pedraza UD):
Pedraza looks like the real deal.
Takahiro Onaga (Pedraza UD):
Pedraza is too good for the tough Russian. Pedraza prove he belong in talks for big fights at 130.
Per Ake Persson (Pedraza Dec.):
Pedraza to win but it won't be easy. Pedraza is the better boxer and has fought a higher level of opponents.
Cliff Rold (Pedraza Dec.):
Klimov is fundamentally sound but Pedraza is quicker and will fight with more desire.
Victor Salazar (Pedraza Dec. or late TKO):
It could be a snooze fest or a fun fight. While Verdejo is getting most of the shine this weekend, Pedraza can add another title to the Puerto Rican island where a few years back, the island was lacking in champions. I see Pedraza using his size and reach out boxing Klimov, maybe even stopping him late.
Alexey Sukachev (Pedraza UD):
Knowing him pretty well, Andrey Klimov is too lethargic. He can box well, he can take a punch but he is too playful and too concentrated on pure boxing to compete on even terms with solid boxers-punchers (not just punchers like Molina). Pedraza will have to work hard, and that'll not be fun to watch but he will do just enough to slightly edge the Russian.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox