By Kieran Mulvaney
Three months after Manny Pacquiao defeated Brandon Rios at the Venetian Macao, boxing returns to Macau on Saturday in the form of a double-header televised on HBO 2.
In the main event, lightweight titlist Miguel Vazquez defends his belt against undefeated Russian Denis Shafikov, a former European 140-pound champion who has moved down in weight for his last few fights. Nicknamed "Genghis Khan," Shafikov is a compact, left-handed pressure fighter, who likes to use hooks to cut off the ring and keep his foe in front of him, and work his opponent to the body before switching his attack upstairs.
He may have his work cut out for him against Vazquez, whose style has befuddled and beaten one opponent after another. Vazquez takes the art of defense to another level, constantly circling backward and away, forcing his foes to lunge forward and using his long reach to keep them at the end of his jab. It's a style that is more likely to be described as efficient than as exciting, but it is certainly effective: the Mexican has suffered just three defeats in 36 contests, none of which have come at lightweight. One was against Timothy Bradley, the former junior lightweight and current welterweight champion, and the other two were to Saul Alvarez, who plies his trade these days at junior middleweight.
The matchup is a classic clash of styles. Will Shafikov be able to close the distance and force Vazquez to stand and fight? Or will Vazquez be able to deploy his movement to keep Shafikov at range and frustrate the shorter man's efforts to turn the contest into more of a brawl?
Of course, no fight card from Macau would be complete without China's former amateur standout Zou Shiming, who laces them up as a professional for the fourth time, on this occasion taking on Yokthong Kokietgym of Thailand in a scheduled eight-round flyweight bout. Kokietgym, it is fair to say, has not been brought to China to upend the Zou apple cart; the intrigue in this contest will be in seeing if Zou continues the improvement he showed in his last appearance, on the Pacquiao-Rios undercard.
Although he won his first two professional fights, he did not look like a fighter who matched the hype that accompanied his arrival in the paid ranks after an amateur career that netted medals at three straight Olympics. But against the previously undefeated Juan Tozcano, Zou put the pieces together, throwing fast, straight combinations and rocking -- and seemingly coming close to stopping -- his opponent on several occasions, as a partisan crowd roared its approval. Zou and trainer Freddie Roach will be looking for similar improvement against Kokietgym, as they seek to ride his popularity and progress into a possible world title tilt in the near future.