Big Boxing Weekend In Vegas Kicks Off Thursday With ESPN2 Show

LAS VEGAS — Thursday night, a gigantic weekend of boxing in Las Vegas kicks off a few days early as ESPN2 will bring a special edition of their Friday Night Fights series to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

In the main event, Las Vegas welterweight contender Jessie Vargas (19-0, 9 KOs) makes his Top Rank debut in a 10-round bout against Aron Martinez (18-1-1, 4 KOs) of Los Angeles.

Up until this year, Vargas, who weighed 148 pounds at the weigh-in on Wednesday, was one of the few fighters promoted by Floyd Mayweather, Jr.’s promotional company. Despite often getting the opportunity to appear on Mayweather’s HBO pay-per-view undercards, Vargas spurned him and went with the promoter with a more proven track record in developing champions.

Though mostly unknown, Martinez, 147 pounds, could prove to be one of Vargas’ toughest opponents yet. It won’t be unfamiliar territory tomorrow when Martinez comes in as the opponent, as Martinez knocked off Gary Shaw prospect Joseph Elegele in an ESPN2 co-feature last December, earning a technical decision after a head butt caused a terrible cut to open up for Martinez. Most recently, Martinez earned a split-decision over Prenice Brewer in an eight-round ESPN2 co-feature in July.

In tomorrow’s co-feature, junior lightweight Luis Cruz (19-1, 15 KOs) looks to rebound from his first defeat as he meets undefeated Jose Felix Jr. of Los Mochis, Mexico in a 10-round bout. Cruz was initially set to fight young prospect Casey Ramos, but Ramos was replaced at the end of last month by Felix, who is unbeaten but untested.

Cruz, 132, hasn’t fought in 2012 since losing to Juan Carlos Burgos on last November’s Pacquiao-Marquez card. Felix has only fought a handful of opponents with a winning record and is taking a major step up. Felix weighed 132.5 and was a half pound over, eventually shedding the excess weight and making 132.

Fan favorite heavyweight Andy Ruiz Jr. (15-0, 9 KOs) of Mexicali, Mexico will meet Maurenzo Smith (10-2-2, 7 KOs) of Houston, Texas in an eight-round heavyweight bout. Ruiz, who at one point was being trained by Hall of Famer Freddie Roach, has deceptively fast hands for a guy who usually comes into fights around 250 despite only being 6’2”. Ruiz weighed 254.5 while Smith came in a fitter looking 236.

Prospect Mikael Zewski (15-0, 11 KOs) of Trois-Rivieres, Canada takes a bit of a step up as well as he meets Atlanta, Ga.’s Xavier Toliver (23-8, 15 KOs) in a swing bout that could make television. Zewski, 152.5, who has fought on a number of high profile Top Rank cards, including June’s Pacquiao-Bradley card where he earned a win over John Ryan Grimaldo. Toliver, 153, has been relegated to an opponent and has been stopped in five of his eight losses. The bout is scheduled for six or eight rounds depending on what time allows.

Omaha, Neb. Lightweight prospect Terence Crawford (17-0, 13 KOs) will test his skills against Osorno, Chile’s Hardy Paredes (15-10, 9 KOs) in an eight-round lightweight bout. Crawford, 136.5, is working his way up the ladder slowly but surely. Paredes weighed in at 136 pounds.

In another swing bout is hometown lightweight Jesus Gutierrez (5-0-1, 2 KOs), who promises to sell a lot of tickets after showing up with close to 50 people at the weigh-in. Gutierrez meets Commerce, Calif.’s Joaquin Chavez (1-2-2, KO) in a bout that will either be four or six rounds depending on time. Both fighters tipped the scales at 136.5 pounds.

The card is promoted by Top Rank with tickets priced at $21, $46, and $96. Doors open at 4PM and the first bout starts at 4:30PM. ESPN will televise at 7PM.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.