by Fox Doucette
2014 Boxcino lightweight champion Petr Petrov (35-4-2, 17 KOs) gets one hell of a test of his skills on Friday, April 3, from Corona, CA, when he takes on former world champion Gamaliel Diaz (38-11-3, 17 KOs) in the main event of ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights. In the co-feature, we’ve got either a showcase for an up-and-coming prospect or a serious upsetting of the apple cart—and it’s impossible to know which until the bell rings—between Taras Shelestyuk (11-0, 8 KOs) of Ukraine and Juan Rodriguez Jr. (12-1, 5 KOs) in an eight-round welterweight contest.
We begin, as will the broadcast, with the co-feature. Shelestyuk is unbeaten but untested, as most of his opponents have been either fresh-faced rookies or beaten-up old warhorses. Most notable was his fourth pro fight—a four-rounder against a guy named Travis Hanshaw who came into the fight 7-0. Shelestyuk grabbed the unanimous decision; Hanshaw went back to the Kentucky club circuit for more seasoning (and is currently 10-1 and still hasn’t beaten anyone of note.)
Every indication is that the Ukrainian is the kind of big-punching up-and-comer with a pedigree (bronze medal in London in 2012 and gold at the World Amateur Championships in 2011) who is being brought along slowly but steadily and is ready for his first real fight in twelve attempts so far in the pros. They’ve got the right opponent for him.
Juan Rodriguez Jr. has twelve wins against absolute nobodies…and one knockout loss, in the first round, to the first guy he fought with a pulse (Sammy Vasquez, who has since beaten some very live prospects, captured some regional belts, and stands 18-0 and ready to break out in his own right.) We’ve seen this dance before. Guy with a great amateur pedigree fights guy with puffed-up record but potentially no chin worth a damn (Vasquez dropped Rodriguez three times in that 167-second beatdown)…and either things go according to plan and we get a four-rounder after the first commercial, or the amateur turns out to have major structural flaws and in the best case gets a win and a lot to work on in the gym and in the worst case gets deposited on his backside.
That’s the value proposition for the viewer here. Is Shelestyuk for real? If he is, he destroys Rodriguez and we get our Robot Chicken “One-Sided Beatdowns” sketch in real life. If not, he has trouble with the guy in front of him, possibly even loses, and a career is derailed with a boom, which is a whole other kind of beatdown, one far more beautiful to those who love an underdog story.
Now then. The main event is the meat here, as Petr Petrov, who has won Boxcino, who has fought for a world title (getting smashed by Marcos Maidana in four rounds in 2013), and whose career has with shocking regularity involved losing to fighters that a good guy on the rise should be able to smack around (two unbeaten prospects stand among Petrov’s four losses, including Vitali Tajbert, who has held a world title, and Dejan Zlaticanin, who remains undefeated and on the rise himself), tries to continue the upward trajectory of his career back toward another world title shot.
Petrov is a 5-to-1 favorite over Gamaliel Diaz, but much like Breidis Prescott last week, who gave a great account of himself and nearly stole the win over Fredrick Lawson, Diaz has the credentials and the experience to score the upset this week.
Diaz was, at one point, the WBC junior lightweight champion of the world, after going to Japan and taking a unanimous decision win from champion Takahiro Ao (consider for a moment the implications of a Mexican fighter getting a decision win in hostile territory—your columnist didn’t see the fight but speculates it was probably a wider margin than the cards indicated.) This wasn’t some long-ago fight on a faded pugilist’s curriculum vitae, either, like the version of Jose Luis Castillo that Ruslan Provodnikov beat into a pile of pudding in Russia last year. Gamaliel Diaz was champion of the world as recently as the night of April 8, 2013—the night he lost the title by knockout to Takashi Miura, but still. Two years ago to the day as this goes to press, Diaz was the champ.
Don’t let Diaz’s 11 losses fool you either. Five of them were in his first eight pro fights, including a scrap against Martin Honorio, who would later fight for a world title twice in his career. Four more were during a seven-fight stretch that involved three world title shots and a title eliminator that he lost to Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero. The remaining two were the loss of the world title and the fight following it, where a foul-filled, controversial fight with Dante Jardon got completely out of hand and led eventually to Diaz falling in round eight.
What this comes down to is where you believe each fighter is at this point in his career. Is Diaz finished at 34 years old, with over fifty fights on his odometer and with seven career knockout losses pointing to a chin just waiting to be smashed by Petr Petrov? Or is Petrov just a puffed-up club fighter who never beat anyone important until he won a tournament staged for a lower-level fight series—put another way, how much faith do you put in Boxcino as being a test of mettle? Is it a launching pad (we’ll know this not this week but if Willie Monroe Jr. walks out of the ring with Gennady Golovkin under his own power, but that’s another story) or is it just a gimmick that featured third-rate fighters?
The true test is in the ring. Petrov may be the heavy betting favorite, but if you look at pedigree, if you look at legitimate world-class fight experience, and if you look at a career that’s got not only a higher level of competition but a summit-of-the-mountaintop success to crown it? You almost have to think Gamaliel Diaz is the favorite here, right?
That’s the beauty of boxing. This is going to be a hell of a scrap. You don’t want to miss it.
Friday Night Fights airs April 3 at 9 PM Eastern/6 PM Pacific on ESPN2 and the WatchESPN app. The Boxing Tribune will have a full recap of the night’s action, including any swing fights that make air, following the conclusion of the broadcast. Stay tuned—we’re the worldwide leader in covering the Worldwide Leader.
Fox Doucette writes the weekly What If series for The Boxing Tribune and covers (what’s left of) ESPN Friday Night Fights for this publication. Fan mail, hate mail, and answers to the philosophical question of whether enough live dogs win to ever cover the money line or whether the favorites prevail in proportions required to win on them can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.