Jose Zepeda needs to show more if he wants a world title; preschool teacher Gabriel Muratalla makes the grade

Where Jose Zepeda stands in the 140 lb. division (2:32)

Mark Kriegel breaks down why he expects Jose Zepeda to get a title shot in a crowded junior welterweight division. (2:32)

Jose Zepeda did what he was expected to do on Tuesday.

He once again proved himself to be an extremely well-schooled and fundamentally sound fighter as he controlled the majority of his fight against Kendo Castaneda in the main event of a Top Rank on ESPN card at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.

Zepeda is undeniably silky smooth and a sharp technician, but even though he won for the 32nd time as a pro against just two defeats, he left you wanting just a bit more.

As he cruised to victory in the late rounds against Castaneda, there was a hope that Zepeda could end on a flourish, an exclamation point to his outing to leave fans with a memory and a reason to be excited for a future world title fight. Instead, it was simply a workmanlike effort in seeing the fight out to the end of the 10th and final round.

It's hard not to be impressed by Zepeda's vast skill set, but his inability -- or maybe it's an unwillingness -- to shift into another gear costs Zepeda something in terms of wider appeal.

The way Zepeda fights is like having a sleek, dynamic sports car that you never push past 65 mph. It's good enough to get you home, but you're left with the frustration of wondering "what if."


Jose Zepeda exchanges blows with Kendo Castaneda in Round 8

Jose Zepeda and Kendo Castaneda heat up and engage in a vicious exchange at the end of Round 8.

Zepeda has already proved he has what it takes to fight on the same level as the best the 140-pound division has to offer. He easily could have had his hand raised last year when the WBC junior welterweight title was on the line against Jose Ramirez, but the majority decision went the other way.

It's possible that Zepeda's risk-averse approach against Castaneda was the result of a letdown in not facing fellow 140-pound contender Ivan Baranchyk, as originally scheduled, or not having enough time to prepare for Castaneda. But Zepeda fought down to the level of his competition, and he isn't the first fighter to fall into that trap.

But if Zepeda wants to be one of the top junior welterweight boxers in the division and get a rematch against Ramirez, a bout against Josh Taylor or a fight for a vacant belt if one of those two moves up in weight, there can't be another performance like Tuesday's. Putting forth maximum effort no matter the circumstances is one of the key factors that separate talented fighters from the truly great ones.

Muratalla passes test


Muratalla lets his hands go on Lopez to end Round 2

Preschool teacher Gabriel Muratalla unloads a combination on Sergio Lopez in the final seconds of Round 2.

Gabriel Muratalla, who has gained notoriety because of balancing his job as a preschool teacher with being a professional prizefighter, got some hard rounds in against the tough Sergio Lopez.

Yeah, Lopez's record was a bit upside down (4-5-3 coming in). But Lopez is a guy who has never been stopped, and in his last bout, he defeated the 7-0 Anthony Casillas. Lopez also had spent time in the camp of Andrew and Jason Moloney, getting quality work in the lead-up to his fight against Muratalla.

After a rough first round, Muratalla got more and more comfortable, and he began to adjust to working inside. By the third and fourth rounds, his combinations were starting to flow much more freely. For a guy who had scored three first-round KOs for a total ring time of just over six minutes, this was an invaluable experience. Muratalla saw the final bell and likely found out some things about himself as he got better as the bout went on. Muratalla might be more than just a feel-good story; he could be a legitimate bantamweight prospect.

"The Bubble" has been an opportunity for boxers such as Muratalla -- who prior to the start of the summer wasn't even the best-known fighter in his own family -- to gain exposure and move his career forward. Muratalla has taken advantage of both opportunities inside a Top Rank ring, and fortune favors the bold. Muratalla has had the experience to live the life of a full-time fighter over the past few months during the pandemic, and he has put himself on the radar. This teacher might have found a new career, and I'm eager to see how he looks as he steps up in the level of competition.

Did Vences' bubble burst inside 'The Bubble'?


Luis Lopez punishes Andy Vences in Round 6

Luis Lopez lands a series of vicious combinations that has Andy Vences in trouble in Round 6.

You could make the argument that Andy Vences did enough to edge past Luis Alberto Lopez in a close fight, even though he lost. Regardless of the result, Vences didn't do nearly enough against Lopez to indicate he can compete at an elite level at junior lightweight.

With this split decision defeat -- Vences' second decision loss in three fights -- his future as a top fighter could be murky. Vences' progress has clearly stalled in the past year or two; and while he showed an abundance of heart in seeing the finish line on Tuesday, we might well have seen a fighter who has hit his ceiling.

After the fight, Vences needed 12 stitches to close a cut over his left eye and two stitches to seal a smaller cut on his forehead, according to ESPN reporter Bernardo Osuna. Vences will take some time off before deciding about his future.