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Manny Pacquiao vs. Keith Thurman preview: Three reasons to watch the PPV undercard

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It’s not very often you’ll ever hear the words, “This pay-per-view undercard is actually good!” when it comes to major boxing shows, but I’d say that Manny Pacquiao vs. Keith Thurman is a rare exception. No, you’re not getting a string of major title bouts, and there are clear favorites in every match we’re about to preview, but they all have some level of intrigue and relevance within their respective divisions.

The Pacquiao vs. Thurman FOX pay-per-view broadcast begins at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT.

Yordenis Ugas (23-4, 11 KOs) vs. Omar Figueroa Jr (28-0-1, 19 KOs) – A title shot on the line

In a different world, Ugas is the WBC welterweight champion and this is either a title defense or he’s the one actually facing Errol Spence Jr in September. The 33-year-old Cuban is an Olympic bronze medalist (2008) who is coming off a heated split decision defeat to Shawn Porter. It was the biggest fight of Ugas’ career up to that point, and he acquitted himself well, frustrating Porter with body shots and counterpunching. Ugas had gone from seemingly busted prospect in 2014 to solidifying himself as a legitimate contender. He may not have big KO power, but he did show against tough gatekeeper Ray Robinson (no relation to “Sugar” Ray Robinson) that he can close things out when the opportunity presents itself.

Figueroa may be an undefeated former WBC lightweight champion, but his career certainly leans towards frustrating than anything else. He’s had multiple instances of weight problems, multiple injuries, and a fairly recent DUI arrest that he claims was the moment he realized he needed to clean up his life. As far as his recent in-ring activity, he became the first man to stop Robert Guerrero back in 2017, and outlasted John Molina Jr in a fight that resembled more of a brawl than high-level boxing.

There is no questioning Figueroa’s entertainment value, though. His war with Nihito Arakawa in 2013 is a hidden gem, and it exemplifies his trademark endless aggression.

This is officially marked as a WBC title eliminator, which can often mean jack shit, but let’s play pretend for a bit. It’s a contrast of styles that also represents a major test for Figueroa to see if he can make that leap towards the elite. On paper, Ugas is a significant favorite, but it’s also been a ridiculously insane year for boxing upsets, and if Figueroa is focused then we could see a really intriguing battle.

Sergey Lipinets (15-0, 11 KOs) vs. John Molina Jr (30-8, 24 KOs) – An inevitable slugfest

If you like action then this one is for you. Lipinets is a former kickboxer who quickly ascended to the IBF junior welterweight title in 2016. The Russian fighter would promptly lose his belt to Mikey Garcia, suffering a knockdown but nevertheless giving Mikey a competitive fight. He has since moved up to 147 lbs, and while he looked lackluster in his decision over Erick Bone, he sent Lamont Peterson into retirement with a thrilling 10th-round TKO in March.

Molina is 36 years old and frankly I’d be surprised if he ever reinserted himself into the title picture. What he lacks in pure technical ability he makes up for with heart and a willingness to throw down as often as possible. He’s been in wars with Lucas Matthysse and Ruslan Provodnikov (winning the latter), and his last win was a remarkable comeback against Ivan Redkach.

His limitations are clearly defined, but that often makes for action fights. Lipinets is more powerful and can be very high-volume — he threw almost 1,000 punches against Peterson — but he’s hardly unhittable and he’ll present Molina with chances to crack him back. In all likelihood, Lipinets is going to break Molina down and stop him, but the odds of a cautious boxing match between these two is remote. It’s got potential to be the best fight of the night, and if Lipinets prevails as expected, he may parlay that into a bigger money matchup.

Luis Nery (29-0, 23 KOs) vs. Juan Carlos Payano (21-2, 9 KOs) – The biggest threat to Naoya Inoue at 118 lbs?

Outside of Naoya Inoue, there really isn’t a more dangerous bantamweight in world boxing than “Pantera.” With that said, the Mexican has certainly soured some fans over what’s transpired in recent times. He failed a drug test — later attributed to contaminated meat — after his TKO win over Shinsuke Yamanaka for the WBC title. In the rematch, Nery ridiculously missed weight by 3 lbs and battered Yamanaka into retirement. Nery was obviously stripped of the title, and Japan banned him from boxing in the country for life.

Nery inked a deal with PBC earlier this year, debuting with a convincing beatdown of the undersized and overmatched ex-super flyweight champion McJoe Arroyo in March.

Nery is a vicious power-puncher for his size, and there’s a good chance he could wipe former WBA bantamweight king Juan Carlos Payano out of the ring. Payano has only been bested twice, but last October he was annihilated out of the World Boxing Super Series in just 70 seconds by the great Inoue. The Dominican, who notably had a two-fight series with Rau’shee Warren, winning the first before losing the rematch, did win an eight-round decision vs. Damian Vazquez in March, setting the stage up for him to face another bantamweight elite.

Of the betting odds on this PPV, Nery is by far the largest favorite, and justifiably so. It’s not a squash match as much as it’s Nery being a great fighter who appears to be several levels above an otherwise real good, battle-tested veteran in Payano. With Inoue and Nonito Donaire fighting in the World Boxing Super Series tournament final later this year, keep an eye on Nery vs. Inoue as potentially one of the top boxing matches to make in 2020.

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