Juan Francisco Estrada, Zou Shiming, Evgeny Gradovich Win Tough Fights

The scorecards didn't always show it on the HBO2 tripleheader, but nobody had it easy in the ring in Macau, China on Saturday.

Headliner and ex-Olympic gold medalist, flyweight Zou Shiming, in his second pro fight and first six-rounder, came out super-aggressive but couldn't stop Jesus Ortega (3-1 in his career) and got hit a ton back, leaving him swollen en route to a wide unanimous decision win. It was, at least, a more enjoyable outing from Zou than his debut. It did, however, reinforce skeptics of Zou going very far in his career — Freddie Roach's prediction of his charge winning a world title within a year now sounds all the more far-fetched. He may have bloodied Ortega's nose, and Top Rank might be arguing that it's matching Zou tough early, but if Zou isn't knocking anyone on this level out even when he goes gung ho for the KO, it's hard to imagine him ever having enough power to compensate for how frequently he gets hit himself. Maybe Roach can teach him to punch, since what he does is more like a swinging swipe, yet even then it's clear Zou has virtually no natural power. If boxing is going to survive, according to this laughable Slate piece that echoes every false cliche about pugilism dying that's been uttered since the sport began, it's all going to depend on Zou. Let's hope it doesn't. So long as he keeps drawing crowds and TV audiences in China, though, it'll be good for the sport to develop that market until someone else can come along to capitalize on it, assuming he doesn't magically transform into a pro who can carry the market by himself for years to come.

The most competitively significant card on the fight saw Juan Fransico Estrada defeat fellow flyweight Milan Melindo by unanimous decision, albeit not without a fierce struggle. Nobody thought the scorecards of 117-109 and 118-109 twice were remotely accurate; hell, I'd given Melindo two rounds out of the first four, and none of the judges gave him more than one the whole fight. Melindo may have been the one who was bloodied, but he was countering Estrada smartly, repeatedly knocking him off balance if not exactly hurting him. RingTV's Ryan Songalia said on Twitter that Estrada's team had indicated Melindo was a guy they had hoped to avoid, and early, it was clear why — Estrada can box some, but he was getting outboxed in stretches. Eventually, his volume and power won out, just as they had against Melindo's Filipino countryman Brian Viloria. By the 11th, he had dropped Melindo with a right and by the 12th he was beating him up. Melindo showed he was a real contender, not a one-win flash. He just ran into the #1 man in the division, a young fighter who has generated a considerable amount of enthusiasm for his brutal talents.

Featherweight contender Evgeny Gradovich may have won every round of his UD against Mauricio Munoz, but Munoz gave him everything he had to offer and the result was a bruising battle where one man just was a notch or two better. Munoz would land a couple hard ones, only for Gradovich to come back with with a combination that nullified what Munoz was doing. By the end of the fight Gradovich had more in the tank, and Munoz's face was grotesquely misshapen, like the beating had turned him into a particularly ugly neanderthal. Gradovich is craftier than he looks, since he relishes slugging it out, but I get the impression a slick fighter would give him more difficulty than most slick fighters give people. For now, he moves forward against an opponent who proved tough enough to test him, and to further establish Gradovich — nicknamed "The Mexican Russian" — as an action fighter of some ability.

(photo by Chris Farina, Top Rank: Juan Franscio Estrada, left, exchanges with Milan Melindo, right)

About Tim Starks

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