It was a case of the good, the bad and the ugly for boxing over the past couple of weeks. The good was very good. The two major shows at the weekend were great examples of everything that was good in boxing. The Indio show had a great bell to bell scrap between Takashi Miura and Miguel Roman. Both fighters gave everything they had for three minutes of every round. Some of Miura’s headwork was a bit questionable but you could not question his guts. Once Roman had got over his usual slow start he was hardly ever out of Miura’s face and they served up a great fight. Miguel Berchelt was a revelation against Vargas. He could not match the skills of Vargas but he looked huge at the weight and you have to wonder how a very ordinary Luis Eduardo Florez could have demolished him in just 90 seconds. Vargas showed courage beyond the call of duty but Berchelt was the star.
The Las Vegas show was topped by a fight that provided everything you could want from a fight. For much of the time it was a tense technical battle between two true professionals and even when they cut loose on each other it was still work of the highest quality. But just as important it was a fight between two fighters who had nothing but the highest respect for each other. The referee could have stayed in the casino and played the machines as he rarely had to break the fighters and never had to issued a warning and to top it all in a fight that could have been called either way the one who lost the decision accepted the loss and they both said let’s do it again.
The Mikey Garcia vs. Dejan Zlaticanin fight never reached the heights but you will rarely see two better punches than the short inside uppercut and the thunderous right cross with which Garcia flattened the gutsy little Montenegrin.
If there was a downside it was the stupidity of Vargas going in to the fight against Berchelt still showing scar tissue over his left eye from the cut he suffered in his drawn title fight with Orlando Salido in June. It was inevitable it would open and the wound was deep. Stupid. It might have suited his management and the promoter for him to fight with that handicap but it was not in Vargas best interests. It was also dumb to put him in three very hard fights in a row-Miura, Salido and then Berchelt. That’s how to shorten a guy’s career.
The bad was yet another heavyweight and yet another proposed opponent for Deontay Wilder testing positive for a banned substance. First it was Alex Povetkin now Andrzej Wawrzyk. Now Gerald Washing is Wilder’s opponent for 25 February which means he will have less than a month to prepare. Please Mr Washington don’t even take an aspirin between now and fight time. Washington has followed the Wilder approach to opposition quality. In his last three fights he has drawn with 43-year-old Amir Mansour, defeated beefed-up cruiserweight Eddie Chambers and then beaten 46-year-old Ray Austin. Thank goodness for Anthony Joshua vs. Wlad Klitschko. I don’t care if Klitschko is 41 at least he has been preparing for the fight for 17 months! For me that is the biggest heavyweight fight since Lennox Lewis and Vitali Klitschko.
If there is any good news in there it is that the WBA have said they will join the WBC drugs free programme so that could be another step in the right direction. I guess the IBF and WBO don’t think there is a drugs problem.
The ugly is the ongoing talk of a fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Conor McGregor. Mayweather has said that if the fight was to come off he would expect to get $100 million and McGregor $15 million so that hopefully should put an end to that. McGregor is under contract to the UFC and It is not certain that they would allow McGregor to fight Mayweather but you can be sure some boxing commission somewhere would. Get it off the table; it is nothing to do with boxing.
It was a week of now you see it-now you don’t. Jorge Barros was not allowed to fight Lee Selby when he tested positive for Hepatitis C in Las Vegas and the fight was rightly cancelled. However a test conducted the following day showed negative for Hepatitis C and it now seems the fight with Selby will go ahead but in Britain in March. It was also alleged that Danish boxer Micki Nielson gave a positive test for a banned substance for his fight with Johnny Muller in South Africa. Doubt was cast on this allegation as the results were not reported until more than six months after the fight and also after Nielson had fought in South Africa again in October. That report seems to have faded away. Now we have Alex Povetkin’s people questioning the “positive” test that led to the cancellation of his fight with Bermane Stiverne saying that an independent laboratory had subsequently cleared him. It should be mandatory for any title fight that the test results produced by WADA or any other mutually agreed body are accepted without recourse. Right now there seems to be more loopholes than in the sweaters my Aunt used to knit.
Saturday against Renold Quinlan for the vacant IBO super middle title will be an important test for Chris Eubank Jr. A win is obviously a must but just as important is that the show will be PPV on a terrestrial channel. In the past SKY and BoxNation have competed with each other for PPV viewers so this will be an important test of the popularity of boxing and of Eubank Jr. The undercard has good fights with Kid Galahad vs. Joseph Agbeko; Andrew Selby vs. Ardin Diale, David Price vs. Christian Hammer and a testy domestic middleweight title fight between Adam Etches and John Ryder but Quinlan is relatively unknown and may not have been the best choice to ensure good ratings. Everyone involved in British boxing-and other terrestrial channels-will be waiting to see how the PPV figures go.
Good to see a champion who is willing to go into the other man’s backyard to defend his title. Jorge Linares is making a habit, and a good living, out of it. He puts his WBA lightweight title on the line in a return fight with Anthony Crolla on 25 March again in Manchester. That will be the third fight in Britain for Linares and it illustrates the financial muscle in British promoting which gets their fighters important home advantage in title challenges.
Both Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford have had dates confirmed for their next fight. Lomachenko will face Jason Sosa on 8 April in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Oxon Hill is what is known as a census-designated place of just 6.6sq miles (no I had never heard of it either and yes it is named after Oxford in England). Looks as though the WBA are up to their usual tricks. Their current list of champions and their latest ratings list Jezreel Corrales as their super super featherweight champion but if that is so then he is only the secondary champion it can’t be a unifier against Lomachenko. Ah but this is the WBA so Sosa will become the super super featherweight champion and Corrales will be upgraded to super super super featherweight champion-or something like that. Crawford has another home fixture as he fights in Omaha on 20 May with his WBA and WBO titles on the line. No opponent named yet but suggestion is his WBC No 1 challenger Antonio Orozco.
Other WBA business has seen them order a return between Jamie McDonnell and Liborio Solis. McDonnell retained his secondary bantam title with a unanimous decision over Sosa in December. Something the WBA have not done is to follow their own publicised decisions. When they upgraded Keith Thurman to super champion at welterweight in November they declared that David Avanesyan was promoted from interim champion to secondary champion but as yet they have not kept that promise. Oh and by the way guys at the WBA Rau’shee Warren would appreciate it if you could actually give him the belt he won last June. It would be nice if he could have it before he defends the title against Zhanat Zhakiyanov on 10 February.
British fans will not get the domestic fight they want as negotiations for a Kell Brook vs. Amir Khan fight have broken down. It now seems likely that Brook will be under orders to defend against his No 1Errol Spence which will be every bit as good a fight as Brook vs. Khan but it is yet a great British fight that will slip away.
Mayweather vs. McGregor is not the only fight that should not take place. Former WBO super bantam and featherweight champion Juan Manuel Lopez was handed a hefty ban after exchanging punches in the ring with Albert Rivera the trainer of Wilfredo Vazquez Jr after he had knocked out Vazquez last October. Now Lopez and Rivera have signed up to fight each other and if the Puerto Rican Commission approves it they should be ashamed.
There will be an interesting mix of nationalities on the show in Casablanca, Morocco on 18 February. The principle match will be the professional debut of local welterweight Mohammed Rabii who won a gold medal at the 2015 World Championships and a bronze at the 2016 Olympics. Also on the card South African Simphiwe Vetyeka, a former WBA feather and IBO super bantam and feather champion, has his first fight for ten months, former interim WBA cruiser champion Youri Kayembre Kalenga from the DRC has his first fight since losing to Yunier Dorticos for the interim title in May last year and also featured will be Dutch Gevorg Khatchikian who is 24-2 with his losses being against James de Gale and Gilberto Ramirez.
A top class cruiser match will see former WBO champion Marco Huck and Mairis Briedis clash in Dortmund on 1 April for the interim WBC title. Briedis is No 1 and Huck No 2 in the WBC ratings. The interim title fight comes about because of Tony Bellew’s choosing to fight David Haye (and the sanctioning fee will come in handy) and if Bellew returns to cruiser after the Haye fight then the WBC has said that he must fight the winner of the Huck vs. Briedis or the winner of the interim title fight will be elevated to champion.
Still on Germany Tyron Zeuge will put his WBA super middle title on the line against Nigerian Isaac Ekpo on 18 March in Potsdam. It will be the first defence for Zeuge of the title he won with a twelfth round kayo of Italian Giovanni De Carolis in November. Ekpo lost a wide points decision against Robert Stieglitz for the WBO title in 2013 but since then has spent his time beating mediocre African fighters but has still somehow climbed to No 3 in the WBA ratings. Ekpo is a very awkward opponent and it will be difficult for Zeuge to look good against him.
Stieglitz has a tough test coming up when he defends his European light heavyweight title against Erik Skoglund. That fight is still in the negotiation phase so Stieglitz will defend his European title against Nikola Sjekloca on 18 March in Leipzig. Another good European title fight will see former interim WBA middleweight champion Dmitry Chudinov and Mariano Hilario contest the vacant super middle title. Purse offers for that close on 20 February. Three of Ghana’s top fighters are scheduled to fight in Accra on 11 March. Richard Commey, Frederic Lawson and Duke Micah are all scheduled to face TBA with Commey and Micah challenging for vacant WBC International titles at lightweight and bantamweight respectively.
Good to see that Xolisani Ndongeni landed the Fighter of the Year award at the South African awards ceremony. The IBO lightweight champion had tough competition in Zolani Tete and Simpiwe Konkco. He is certainly one to watch and 2017 may be his breakout year. Fight of the Year went to Hekkie Budler vs. Konkco for their WBA/IBO minimum title fight in September 2015. It was the first time the awards had been held for a number of years but not everyone was happy that the BSA decided that an exhibition match between a couple of actors was suitable entertainment. I went to a charity dinner in Dundee in December and the entertainment was a noticeably overweight fan dancer (honest). I can get her phone number if the BSA want her for next year.
Budler will be in action on Saturday in Johannesburg when he fights Filipino Joey Canoy for the vacant IBO light flyweight title and Kevin Lerena faces Namibian Vikapita Meroro at cruiser. A third fight will be the light heavyweight scrap between Ryno Liebenberg and German Enrico Koelling. When they fought in Germany in October Koelling won on a split decision. Liebenberg wants revenge but with four losses against world class opposition in his last five fights he needs to win this one to keep his career hopes alive.