Headlining a huge show tonight at Family Arena in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles, MO is the IBF light heavyweight title defense by reigning champion Tavoris Cloud against challenger Yusaf Mack.
After winning his first 18 contests inside the distance, Cloud earned an IBF title eliminator ex-WBO titlist Julio Cesar Gonzalez in 2008 and battered the far less mobile Mexican until the bout was called off in the waning seconds of the tenth frame.
The 29 year old from Florida, 22-0 (18), made the most of his shot at the vacant IBF belt a year later by outworking a former owner of that belt, Clinton Woods, in a competitive contest to grab a 12 round points verdict.
Cloud's maiden voyage last year as IBF supremo was a toe to toe slugfest with the always difficult Glen Johnson and while the seasoned ex-IBF king had his moments, Cloud came through with another decision win.
Last December, Cloud had the best win of his career by twice dropping veteran two-time super middle and former light-middle title challenger Fulgencio Zuniga enroute to a dominating 12 round unanimous decision.
Tonight, Cloud meets the least experienced foe he's faced in three years, but Mack, 29-3-2 (17), is by no means wet around the ears, having pegged wins over Chris Henry, Richard Grant, Daniel Judah and most recently Otis Griffin in March, drawing with Randy Griffin while losing to Glen Johnson, Librado Andrade and Alejandro Berrio.
Mack has held the USBA belt at super middle and the USBA, NABF and NABA crowns at light heavy but this occasion marks the first time he's ventured to contend for a world title.
Going into tonight's clash with Cloud, the challenger has a height, reach and hands speed advantage that could cause the champion some difficulty but Mack is very much the underdog in this fight.
Cloud has the heavier hands and sharper skills but most importantly, the better balance, which should allow him to land his best punch, a swift counter right hook.
Both of these fighters aren't very difficult to hit and that could be a big problem for Mack, who has suffered stoppages in all three of his losses.
The champion likes to work slightly on the outside where he can launch effective combination punching and good counters but is durable enough to stand and trade with anyone on the inside and that's a place Mack can't afford to reside.
For Mack to walk out of Family Arena wearing the IBF belt, he'll have to stay on the outside, working off the jab and never standing right in front of Cloud or allow himself to rest on the ropes.
Cloud should win this, possibly by a middle round stoppage but if he suffers any lack of focus or has an off night, a motivated Mack could produce the first loss on a spotless resume.
There are several interesting clashes on the undercard, mainly an IBF light middle title scrap between newly minted champion Cornelius Bundrage, 30-4 (18), and challenger Sechew Powell, 26-2 (15), in a rematch.
At 38 years of age and standing a very short 5 foot 6 inches, Bundrage ended years of obscurity and disappointment by halting Cory Spinks for the IBF crown a year ago and will have revenge on his mind when he tangles with Powell.
Southpaw Powell, 26-2 (15), is a longtime contender at 154 pounds with wins over Grady Brewer, Terrance Cauthen and Ishe Smith but also has losses on his record to Kassim Ouma and Deandre Latimore.
In his most recent outing, Powell won an IBF eliminator by posting a majority decision in a rematch with Latimore and has vowed to once again stop Bundrage.
This one should be an even matched affair that will probably go the distance as neither fighter has a big punch.
There are some big local names also on the bill as former IBF/WBC light middle king Devon Alexander, 21-1 (13), looks to comeback from his loss to Timothy Bradley in January but must outbox Argentine slugger Lucas Martin Matthysse, 28-1 (26), over 12 rounds in a WBO 140 pound title eliminator.
Ex-undisputed welterweight champion and IBF light middle ruler Cory Spinks, 37-6 (11), will be making his comeback from the Bundrage loss and is in an eight round tune-up bout against 42 year old veteran Shakir Ashanti, 16-10 (4), who has gone 1-1 since returning from a five year layoff.
The vacant WBC silver heavyweight title will be fought over by Bermane Stiverne, 20-1-1 (19), and Ray Austin, 28-5-4 (18), while cruiserweight Ryan Coyne, 16-0 (6), meets David McNemar, 13-0 (10), for the USNBC and WBA Fedelatin baubles.
Boxing News Tags: Alejandro Berrio, Cornelius Bundrage, Cory Spinks, Family Arena, Glen Johnson, Grady Brewer, IBF, Julio Cesar Gonzalez, Last December, Lucas Martin Matthysse, MO, Otis Griffin, Ray Austin, Ryan Coyne, Shakir Ashanti, Southpaw Powell, USBA, USNBC, WBC, WBO