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Jim Lampley Wistfully Recalls The Roy Jones That Was

Kryptonite could bring the Man of Steel to his knees. Greek mythology’s Achilles was unconquerable in battle, but he could be brought down

Bernard Fernandez

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Kryptonite

Even Superman was not wholly impervious to danger and the specter of defeat. Kryptonite could bring the Man of Steel to his knees. Greek mythology’s Achilles was unconquerable in battle, but he could be brought down if struck with a strategically placed blow to an unprotected heel.

The only two boxers that longtime HBO blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley has observed who were so preternaturally gifted that they superseded the normal bounds of human excellence were the younger, nearly-perfect versions of Muhammad Ali and Lampley’s current HBO broadcast partner, Roy Jones Jr. But each of those superheroes of the ring eventually encountered a relentless opponent that incrementally stripped away the insulating layers that had made them such very special fighters. It was not so much another living, breathing human being who served as the kryptonite that revealed their fallibility as the unseen thief that comes silently in the night, stealing tiny bits and pieces of their exquisite talent until only a shell of what had been remained.

On Feb. 8, in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla., the 49-year-old Jones (65-9, 49 KOs) presumably brings down the curtain on his 29-year professional boxing career when he takes on a carefully selected designated victim, Scott Sigmon (30-11-1, 16 KOs), in a scheduled 10-round cruiserweight bout. The plan is for Jones, a world champion in four weight classes and a surefire first-ballot International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee whenever he becomes eligible, to go out in a blaze of out-of-the-spotlight glory. But if boxing history tells us anything, it is that not everything goes according to plan even for those who have enjoyed the panoramic view from the summit of Mount Pugilism. Mike Tyson, 19 days from his 39th birthday, never fought again after he was stopped in six rounds by plodding Irishman Kevin McBride on June 11, 2005, and Bernard Hopkins, 29 days from his 52nd birthday, was finally obliged to acknowledge the natural laws of diminishing returns when he was knocked out in eight rounds by Joe Smith Jr. on Dec. 17, 2016.

“I have read reports that he is saying this will be his last fight and that’s very encouraging and gratifying to me,” Lampley said of his friend’s farewell appearance, which by any reasonable criteria is coming a good dozen years after what should have been his career’s optimal expiration date. “I don’t know of a single soul in our little universe of boxing who wants him to keep doing this. We all know realistically that it’s certainly of no value to his legacy as a fighter.

“I’d be lying if I said that I never once made a comment to him or tried to engage him in a conversation as to why he was still doing this. The last time I did so he made clear to me that, in his view, it wasn’t something he had to defend to me. He was going to do what he was going to do and that within our friendship it was important for me to accept that. I accepted it. Probably five or six years have gone by since the last time I had a discussion with him about it.”

The most revered gods of war are held to a higher standard than fighters of a lesser pedigree. It thus should come as no surprise that those members of boxing’s most exclusive club are sometimes resistant to step away from something that always has defined them more than anything they could ever do outside of a roped-off swatch of canvas.

“You always think of yourself as the best you ever were,” Sugar Ray Leonard, he of the four announced retirements that didn’t stick, once said. “Even if money is not an issue, and you have other options, you never lose that belief in yourself as a fighter, particularly if you’ve been to the very top of the mountain. (Being retired) eats at you. It’s hard to finds anything else that gives you that high.”

Ali lost three years of his prime to his banishment for refusing to be inducted into the Army during the Vietnam War, but, unlike the stop-and-start Leonard, Jones’ response to every warning sign that he was on the downward slope of that figurative mountain was to keep fighting on, all the while holding fast to the distinctive style he shared with Ali. It was those non-traditional mannerisms, which worked so spectacularly well when Ali and Jones were at their best, that sometimes produced disastrous results when their fundamental deficiencies were exposed.

“The direct comparison is Ali,” Lampley said of the closest thing to Jones he has known, both in good times and not so good. “I’ve said a thousand times that there were only two fighters in the history of the sport, certainly since I’ve been watching boxing, whose physical talents were so overwhelming that they could take apart the tool kit and put it back together in any way they wanted – lead with a hook, lead with a straight right hand, dispense with the jab, back away from punches rather than duck and slip. Ali could do that for a while. Roy could do that for a while. But nobody can do that forever.

“That is why the tool kit is what it is, for normally talented human beings. It’s your protection in the ring. For a long time Ali and Roy didn’t need that protection. Then, when their bodies lost something and they weren’t so overwhelmingly physically superior anymore, they didn’t have that tool kit to protect them.

“The perfect and most graphic example is if you watch the first Roy Jones-Bernard Hopkins fight (on May 22, 1993). It’s all Roy Jones. If you watch the second Jones-Hopkins fight (on April 3, 2010), that’s all Bernard Hopkins. The difference is that, during the passage of time, Roy felt he never needed to employ the tool kit. Bernard, of course, was passionate about learning and amplifying and exercising everything in the tool kit. The amazing thing to me is that Roy knows the tool kit. He knows it as well as anybody. He demonstrates that as an expert commentator. He sits there and talks about what normal fighters should do, using the normal craft of boxing. But he never felt compelled to use any of that throughout his own career.”

For some, the best of Roy Jones Jr. was on display the night he picked apart fellow future Hall of Famer James Toney to win a wide unanimous decision on Nov. 18, 1994. For others, it was his utter domination of Vinny Pazienza en route to scoring a sixth-round stoppage on June 24, 1995. The highlight of Jones’ deconstruction of Paz was a sequence in which, holding onto the top ring rope with his right glove, he fired eight consecutive left hooks in a machine-gun burst, all eight connecting with the target’s increasingly busted-up face. It was an expression of creativity akin to a musical genius who spontaneously reproduces the rhythm in his head only he can hear. Think Miles Davis at the Newport Jazz Festival, Ray Charles at the Apollo, Count Basie at Carnegie Hall.

Said Seth Abraham, then-president of HBO Sports: “George Foreman (who did color commentary for Jones-Pazienza) told me after that fight only Roy fights like a great jazzman plays. He improvises. He does riffs. I thought that was such an insightful way to describe Roy Jones.”

For a majority of fight fans, however, the most lasting memory of Roy Jones Jr. came on March 1, 2003, when the man who began his pro career as a middleweight and won a world championship in that division, later adding super middleweight and light heavyweight titles, boldly moved up to heavyweight to challenge the much-larger but less-skilled WBA champion, John Ruiz. There was a school of thought that Ruiz was too big and strong for Jones and another that Jones’ speed and mobility would surely carry the day because talent is usually a more precious commodity than size.

It was, of course, no contest as Jones – who went off as a 2-1 favorite — darted in and out, pounding on the bewildered Ruiz as if he were just another heavy bag in the challenger’s Pensacola gym. The margins of victory on the official scorecards – eight, six and four points – scarcely reflected the level of Jones’ dominance.

But, as is sometimes the case, the showcase conquest of Ruiz actually marked the beginning of the end of Jones as a larger-than-life source of wonderment. Curiously, at age 34 he elected to return to light heavyweight instead of a more sensible reduction to cruiserweight. While it had been a bit of a chore to bulk up the right way to 193 pounds for the weigh-in for Ruiz (he was 199 the morning of the fight), paring 20-plus pounds of muscle was infinitely more taxing. In retrospect, it now seems apparent that Jones was never the same after the happy glow of his rout of Ruiz had subsided.

“He took 31 pounds of muscle off (that figure might be a tad excessive) and that can’t be done without a residue of damage,” Lampley said. “It just can’t be done, and he suffered from that, maybe permanently. I don’t know what his thought process was, why he thought it was important to come all the way back down to light heavyweight. I certainly get it that he was never a natural heavyweight. For him to remain in the heavyweight division would have been an aberration. I guess he figured that, as a big-name fighter, for him to fight as a cruiserweight, which was not a prestigious weight class at the time, would be like saying, `I’m going to go over here in the back closet and fight where you won’t see me.’ Maybe that was an option that was not acceptable to him.”

In his first post-Ruiz bout, Jones retained his light heavyweight titles on a disputed majority decision over Antonio Tarver. He followed that with a two-round TKO loss to Tarver in the second of their three fights, but that could be dismissed as a bolt of lightning that occasionally can fell even elite fighters. But it was in his next outing, on Sept. 25, 2004, against Glen Johnson, that it became apparent to all that Roy Jones Jr. had descended from on high into the ranks of the merely mortal. Johnson, a fringe contender whose willingness to mix it up superseded his good but hardly remarkable talent, gave Jones a taste of his own butt-kicking medicine until he literally knocked him cold to win on a ninth-round knockout.

For Lampley, it was like a repeat of another fight from another time, when Jones’ magnificent stylistic predecessor suffered a similar head-on crash with boxing’s crueler realities.

“The night that Ali fought Larry Holmes (Oct. 2, 1980, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas) I heard – and I’ll never forget it – the greatest single line of boxing commentary ever, and it came from someone who wasn’t involved in boxing,” Lampley recalled. “I was in the executive suite at ABC in New York, watching the fight, which was one of the sport’s rites of passage. We all know the culture of boxing, the old giving way to the new. Ali vs. Holmes was just such a rite of passage. It had to happen the way it happened.

“In the late rounds, when Holmes was beating Ali to a pulp, I got a little jab to my rib cage. I looked to my right and it was Mick Jagger. Mick said to me, `Lamps, you know what we’re watching?’ And I said, `No, Mick, what are we watching?’ He said, `It’s the end of our youth.’ And it wasn’t just that for us, but for the whole audience.”

The night that Jones, who once had towered over boxing as if he were the Colossus of Rhodes, was pummeled by Johnson, reminded Lampley as no fight ever had of Ali-Holmes. Nothing would ever be quite the same again.

“How else could a relatively ordinary fighter, albeit one with a big heart and a big motor like Glen Johnson, knock the great Roy Jones into next week the way he did? That was not the Roy Jones we had seen before. It was a different person.”

But, as Sugar Ray Leonard noted, it is human nature to think of ourselves as the best we ever were. The Roy Jones Jr. who will answer the opening bell against Sigmon will have his hands low, leaning back from punches instead of stepping to the side, because that is who he was at his best. To do otherwise would be a concession to mortality, an acknowledgment that all glory is fleeting, and perhaps his last waltz around the ring will turn out better than it did for Tyson and for Hopkins. But whether it does or doesn’t, his enshrinement into the IBHOF in Canastota, N.Y., is assured.

“What I don’t understand is why, once the handwriting was on the wall – Glen Johnson, Danny Green, Denis Lebedev – why keep going after that?” Lampley said of Jones’ refusal to leave the arena when so many were urging him to do so. “That’s what I don’t understand, and never will. He’s never tried to explain it to me and I’m too respectful of him to have pressed the issue. I did at one point say to him, `I think you’re hurting your legacy and you’re not accomplishing anything here.’ He basically said to me, `That’s my business, not yours.’ So I said, `OK.’

“When it comes right down to it, I think there’s a part of Roy Jones who still thinks, and always will, that he’s still that Roy Jones, despite all evidence to the contrary. And he’s earned the right to think that way.”

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Gvozdyk vs. Beterbiev: Point Counterpoint

Ted Sares

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Gvozdyk vs. Beterbiev: Point Counterpoint

Putting pineapple on pizza is not a good idea but it IS an example of point counterpoint, and when these two boxers meet on Friday in Philadelphia with the WBC and IBF world light heavyweight titles at stake, it also will be a contrast—but not of tastes as much as styles..

There are, however, many similarities. Both are Eastern European boxers though one, Gvozdyk, is a Ukrainian and the other, Beterbiev, is a Russian and this particular regional difference has sparked a lot of conversation. (Interestingly, Beterbiev has never fought professionally in Russia, nor has the English-speaking Gvozdyk ever fought in the Ukraine.)

Both have superb amateur credentials but this has a flip side in that too many amateur fights can add to the wear and tear of these Eastern Euro warriors when they become professionals. Beterbiev is 34; Gvozdyk 32.

Both are undefeated with outstanding knockout percentages. Gvozdyk, aka The Nail, is 17-0 with 14 KOs. Beterbiev (14-0) has won all of his fights inside the distance.

Both are excellent finishers and when they have their man hurt, it’s all over.

Both have excellent corners and handlers and will be fit and ready to rumble.

“This could very well be the fight of the year…These are two evenly matched, undefeated light heavyweight champions. There is nothing better in the sport of boxing,” says promoter Bob Arum.

Styles

The 6’0” Beterbiev’s style is one of a stalking aggressor and he is especially dangerous when his opponent engages him in a heated exchange as that allows him to land one of his heavy-handed bombs. To use an old cliché, Artur has “bricks in his fists.” He also is dangerous when he is stunned as Callum Johnson discovered.

Some say Beterbiev’s chin is a question mark but his style allows an opponent to nail him (no pun intended) as he moves in. That may well be more a function of his go-forward movement than it is any weakness in his chin.

Conversely, The Nail is a very accurate and powerful puncher and is technically (and defensively) more sound than the bludgeoning Russian. He uses a super-fast jab and counters with sharp stuff. This 6’2” slickster combines exceptional speed and deceptive power. He is patient, relaxed, and fluid.

Intangibles

Has Gvozdyk’s psyche been altered by the events of his December 2018 fight with Adonis Stevenson wherein Adonis (thankfully now recovering) was severely injured? While The Nail was somewhat stymied by his last opponent, Doudou Ngumbu, the thinking here is that that had more to do with Ngumbu’s awkwardness than anything else—and that the Stevenson matter is mostly in the past. In short, the Nail’s focus on Friday should be right where it should be.

With a KO percentage of 100%, Beterbiev has answered the bell for very few rounds, only 52 to be exact. This could weigh against him.

Prediction: Gvozdyk’s superior boxing skills should begin to bear fruit in the mid to late rounds when a frustrated Beterbiev is forced to take risks for which he will pay dearly. I see “The Nail” winning by late stoppage or by UD.

A Russian vs. a Ukrainian — one who lives in Canada and the other who lives in California.  Heck, it’s the battle of ex-patriots. If ever a fight was much anticipated, this is the one.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Terence Crawford is Bob Arum’s Yuletide Gift to New York

Arne K. Lang

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Terence Crawford is Bob Arum’s Yuletide Gift to New York

Throughout history, boxing promoters have shunned the weeks before Christmas. The conventional wisdom is that the typical fight fan has little money at his disposal for a frivolity such as a night at the fights, having exhausted his funds buying Christmas presents. But don’t tell that to Top Rank promoter Bob Arum who has flouted this dictum and profited handsomely.

Back in 1995, Arum secured Madison Square Garden for the night of Dec. 15 for a show that pitted Oscar De La Hoya against Jesse James Leija in the main event. The cynics said the date was all wrong, let alone the location for a match between two Mexican-Americans from out west, one from LA and the other from San Antonio. But lo and behold, the show was a big money-maker, attracting a crowd of 16,027, more than 15,000 paid.

Arum anticipates another box office bonanza on Dec. 14 when he plants an ESPN and ESPN Deportes tripleheader in America’s most famous sports arena, an event headlined by Terence “Bud” Crawford’s WBO title defense against Egidijus Kavaliauskas. Crawford, who turned 32 several weeks ago, moved up to welterweight after grabbing all the belts at 140 and will be making his fourth welterweight title defense.

The opening bout on the telecast pits featherweight Michael Conlan against former amateur rival Vladimir Nikitin. Conlan will be making his sixth appearance at the Garden. In the co-feature, Richard Commey defends his IBF world lightweight title against Teofimo Lopez.

Although many rate Terence Crawford the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, he has been something of a forgotten man lately. Almost 10 full months have elapsed since he last fought. Oscar De La Hoya, who had a bitter break-up with Arum late in his boxing career, recently took a swipe at Arum for not keeping Crawford more active, suggesting Arum’s “inertia” might be keeping Crawford out of the Hall of Fame.

The Crawford-Kavaliauskas match-up serves as Arum’s retort as it will shine a bright spotlight on Crawford, the pride of Omaha, Nebraska, as Arum’s show will air on ESPN directly following the Heisman Trophy presentation. Now it behooves Arum to pull some strings so that the Heisman Trophy show doesn’t run too long as has happened in the past.

At the moment, parlaying Terence Crawford (35-0, 26 KOs) to Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa seems like a safe bet, but Egidijus Kavaliauskas, a two-time Olympian who was profiled on these pages in July of 2016, is no slouch.

True enough, Kavaliauskas (21-0-1, 17 KOs) didn’t look all that sharp in his last outing when he was held to a draw by Ray Robinson, but Philadelphia’s Robinson had an awkward style (think former heavyweight contender Jimmy Young) and was fighting in his hometown.

If Kavaliauskas were a horse, we would say that he comes from a great barn. The 31-year-old Lithuanian is a stablemate of the Big Three in the barn of Egis Klimas: Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk, and Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

Richard Commey (29-2, 26 KOs) hails from Ghana but now hangs his hat in Brooklyn. His losses were both by split decision in back-to-back fights with Robert Easter and Denis Shafikov and he has won five straight since then, most recently an eighth-round stoppage of veteran Ray Beltran in the first defense of his IBF title.

Teofimo Lopez, 10 years younger than Commey at age 22, is moving up in class, but will yet go to post the favorite. In his last start, Lopez won a unanimous 12-round decision over Masoyoshi Nakatani, ending a skein of highlight reel knockouts. In December of last year, Lopez scored a one-punch knockout over Mason Menard in a bout that lasted all of 44 seconds. It was named the TSS Knockout of the Year.

Lopez (14-0, 11 KOs) grew up in Davie, Florida, but was born in Brooklyn and currently has a home there, giving the show even more of a local flavor. He and his Honduras-born father of the same name are not shy when it comes to boasting of his prowess and Teofimo’s braggadocio has enhanced his appeal with young fans.

Michael Conlan (10-0, 7 KOs) and Vladimir Nikitin (3-0, all by decision) met in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Rio Olympics. Nikitin got the decision, a jaw-dropper that spawned the most indelible moment of the Games when an enraged Conlan gave the judges a two-middle-finger salute.

The rematch between them was hatched at that moment although it took awhile for Arum to rope the Russian into the fold. They were originally slated to fight on Aug. 3 at an outdoor show in Conlan’s hometown of Belfast, but Nikitin suffered a torn bicep in training and had to pull out.

This is the kind of match that Bob Arum can really get his teeth in. The crusty octogenarian and former attorney would have it that all people of good character ought to be rooting for Conlan in the interest of seeing an injustice rectified.

Regardless, Arum’s Dec. 14 show is a nice Christmas present for Big Apple boxing fans.

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Three Punch Combo: Gvozdyk-Beterbiev Thoughts and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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Three Punch Combo — For hardcore fans, one of the most attractive fights of the year takes place on Friday when undefeated light heavyweight champions Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KO’s) and Artur Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KO’s) battle in a title unification bout. This contest will headline an ESPN televised card from the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, PA. Here are a few subtle things that could play a factor in how this fight plays out.

A Tactical Fight?

Twenty years ago, Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad met in a welterweight title unification fight. It was a super fight between two explosive punchers. Everyone expected fireworks, but as we all know, it turned into an all-out chess match for twelve rounds.

When two big punchers meet, sometimes we get fireworks and sometimes each fighter respects the other’s power so much that they both become somewhat tentative inside the ring.

Keep in mind we have seen in several Gvozdyk fights a somewhat cautious approach. He will take what is given and nothing more. As for Beterbiev, he has typically been a very aggressive fighter (more on that later) but has had his moments where caution has entered his mindset. Just take a look back at his 2017 fight with Enrico Koelling.

I know it is the unpopular opinion but we could certainly see a very tactical chess match between these two on Friday.

Beterbiev’s Defense and Chin

Beterbiev, as noted, is a very aggressive fighter. But with that aggression comes an almost complete lack of focus on the defensive side of the game.

So far, Beterbiev’s offense has been his best defense as many times his opponents have simply been too fearful of opening up. But at times the cracks have shown. Callum Johnson, for example, wasn’t afraid to throw in spots and when he did, his punches landed.

In that fight, we saw Beterbiev get hurt and dropped. Beterbiev showed a ton of heart to come back from that moment and later stop Johnson, but his chin is certainly a question mark. And Gvozdyk, aside from carrying one-punch power, is a very sharp and accurate puncher who has shown excellent finishing skills thus far in his career.

Gvozdyk’s Mindset

A little more than ten months ago, Gvozdyk wrested away the title from Adonis Stevenson. But on what was supposed to be the night where Gvozdyk’s dream came true, things almost turned tragic as Stevenson suffered a brain bleed that nearly took his life.

Gvozdyk has had one fight since against journeyman Doudou Ngumbu. Though Gvozdyk won easily, there was something about his performance that just didn’t feel right. Gvozdyk had a fighter in front of him who offered little resistance but seemingly didn’t want to fully step on the gas.

In order to compete with Beterbiev, we have to see the same Gvozdyk that we saw against Stevenson. But has Gvozdyk’s mindset permanently been altered by the events of that evening?

Under The Radar Fight

A pivotal crossroads bout in the welterweight division between Luis Collazo (39-7, 20 KO’s) and Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (16-0, 9 KO’s) is also on Friday’s ESPN broadcast. The winner will be in prime position for a title shot in 2020.

Collazo, a world welterweight titlist back in 2005, is in the midst of yet another career resurrection. After getting stopped by defending WBA welterweight champion Keith Thurman in 2015, Collazo has won three straight. And these wins were not against subpar opposition. Two were against up-and-coming young fighters in Sammy Vasquez and Bryant Perrella; the other against fringe contender Samuel Vargas.

At age 38, Collazo has proven he still has plenty in the tank and has clawed back up the rankings in the welterweight division. But to get one more shot at a title, Collazo must find a way to get past another young up-and-comer in Uzbekistan’s Abdukakhorov.

Abdukakhorov, 26, is coming off the biggest win of his pro career this past March when he won a 12-round unanimous decision over former 140-pound title challenger Keita Obara. That win boosted Abdukakhorov into the number one position in the IBF at welterweight and in line to one day be the mandatory challenger for current belt-holder Errol Spence Jr.

Stylistically, I love this matchup. Abdukakhorov is an aggressive boxer-puncher. He will look to press the attack and won’t be afraid to lead looking to land his best punch which is the overhand right. Collazo is a southpaw who is a natural counterpuncher. He will look to make Abdukakhorov’s aggression work against him and should find plenty of opportunities to do so.

I think we are going to get an action-packed, competitive fight. This should serve as an excellent appetizer to Gvozdyk-Beterbiev.

What’s Next For Dmitry Bivol?

This past Saturday, Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11 KO’s) successfully defended his WBA light heavyweight title with a wide unanimous decision over Lenin Castillo (20-3-1, 15 KO’s). Though it wasn’t the most exciting performance, the win keeps Bivol in line for bigger opportunities down the road. So, what’s next for him?

Saturday’s title defense marked Bivol’s second consecutive appearance on the streaming service DAZN. DAZN needs future opponents for its two biggest stars in Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. Clearly part of the reason for DAZN showing interest in Bivol is geared toward him potentially getting one or the other down the road.

Though Alvarez is fighting at light heavyweight in November, this appears to be a one-time appearance for the Mexican superstar in that division. He is likely headed back to middleweight or the 168-pound weight class. As for Golovkin, he has fought his entire 13-year career at middleweight. A move at some point soon to 168 would not be a surprise.

Bivol and his team have made it very clear that he can get down to 168. With DAZN’s two biggest stars hovering around that division, a move down to 168 seems likely.

The WBA champion at 168 is Callum Smith who is slated for a title defense in November against UK countryman John Ryder. Assuming Smith prevails, he would make a logical opponent for Bivol in the spring of 2020.

Smith-Bivol would be a big fight between two young undefeated fighters and the winner would then be in position for a mega fight later in 2020 against either Alvarez or Golovkin.

But what if Smith goes a different direction following the Ryder fight? If that is the case, Bivol may instead just look to dip his toes in the water at 168 with someone like Rocky Fielding.

Fielding is a tough, gritty competitor who is popular in the UK and has name recognition in the US based on his fight last December with Canelo. But as we saw in that fight, Fielding is very limited.

Fielding is just the type of opponent who could bring out the best in Bivol. A spectacular knockout would help erase some of Bivol’s recent lackluster performances. And this would, of course, make Bivol much more marketable for a future date with Alvarez or Golovkin.

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