When Russia's Evgeny Gradovich accepted a featherweight world title shot against Billy Dib, he took it on less than a month's notice and pulled off the upset.
Dib had been scheduled for a March 1 defense against Luis Franco, but Franco abruptly retired in February (although that ended quickly and he returns Aug. 2). So Gradovich had a brief training camp with trainer Robert Garcia in Oxnard, Calif.
Despite the short prep time, Gradovich, a nearly obscure fighter before facing Dib, was in excellent condition and outfought Dib to win the title via well-deserved split decision.
If Gradovich, nicknamed "The Mexican Russian" because of his aggressive style, was able to claim the belt in such a tough fight despite such a short training camp, doesn't that bode well for his first defense?
Gradovich (16-0, 8 KOs) said he has trained for nine weeks to prepare for his mandatory defense against Argentina's Mauricio Munoz (26-3, 12 KOs), which takes place on Saturday (HBO2, same-day tape, 5:30 p.m. ET/PT) at the CotaiArena at the Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel on the card headlined by flyweight Zou Shiming, the two-time Chinese Olympic gold medalist and star of the show. Shiming (1-0, 0 KOs) faces Mexico's Jesus Ortega (3-1, 2 KOs) in the six-round main event.
Shiming is the star attraction to the Chinese, but Gradovich-Munoz and the fight between unified flyweight titlist Juan Francisco Estrada (23-2, 17 KOs) and Milan Melindo (28-0, 11 KOs) are the attractions for the rest of the world. There is also the interesting fight between heavyweight prospects Andy Ruiz (18-0, 12 KOs) and Joe Hanks (21-0, 14 KOs), which will air on tape delay Saturday night (midnight ET/PT) on Spanish-language network UniMas.
"I feel good. My training was good, my weight is good," said Gradovich, 26, whose English is excellent. "We are just waiting to fight. We have good preparation this time [in Oxnard], nine weeks. This time was better preparation [than for the Dib fight]."
Munoz, 27, is experienced. He won a controversial split decision in Argentina against Franco in an elimination bout last October. He also had a previous world title fight, but he was knocked out in the ninth round challenging then-junior featherweight titlist Toshiaki Nishioka in Japan in 2011.
"I know [Munoz] is a good fighter. He has good experience," Gradovich said. "I hope it will be a good fight. I saw a couple of his fights, his last fight [against Franco] and his fight against Nishioka. I'm prepared for this fight."
Winning the title has not done much to change Gradovich's life, but he believes a win over Munoz just might.
"Everything will change next if I defend my title," Gradovich said. "I'm going to have big fights in the future. So, right now, nothing change, not too much."
Because Gradovich is with Top Rank, there are possible fights with opponents such as Nonito Donaire, junior featherweight champ Guillermo Rigondeaux and Vic Darchinyan.
However, if Gradovich wins, he also will owe Dib a contractual rematch. After their fight, Dib took an interim bout and outpointed Mike Oliver on July 5. Gradovich has his mandatory, and then they are supposed to fight again.
But Gradovich didn't want to talk about Dib or any of the potentially bigger fights in his future.
"I don't think about Billy Dib right now," he said. "I focus on [Saturday] against Mauricio Munoz. I have to defend my title, so I am only thinking about this fight."