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Three Punch Combo: Introducing Agit Kabayel, Under the Radar Fights and More

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THREE PUNCH COMBO: This past week, Top Rank announced the newest addition to its stable with the signing of EBU heavyweight champion Agit Kabayel (19-0, 13 KO’s). Thus far in his career, Kabayel has fought primarily out of his native Germany and is largely unknown to US boxing fans. But with this move to Top Rank, Kabayel will vacate his EBU title and move his blossoming career to the United States. So just who is Agit Kabayel and can he make noise in the heavyweight division?

Kabayel, soon to be 27, turned pro in June of 2011 and won his first 14 fights before earning his first substantial bout against the then undefeated Christian Lewandowski in June of 2016 for the vacant EBU title. Kabayel impressively broke down and stopped Lewandowski with a body shot in the seventh round to capture the belt.

After one successful defense, Kabayel faced off against veteran contender Dereck Chisora in November of 2017. Entering the ring as the underdog, Kabayel impressively out-boxed Chisora en route to winning a majority 12-round decision. This gained him some notoriety, putting him on the map in the heavyweight division.

Along with his 19 pro fights, Kabayel gained some noteworthy experience in sparring sessions with some of today’s top heavyweights including Tyson Fury and most recently Anthony Joshua.

Inside the ring, Kabayel is a classic boxer-puncher. He likes to circle his opponents and to work behind his left jab from the orthodox stance. And that jab is not only Kabayel’s best punch, but can be a dominant weapon. It is a head snapping jab that acts more like a power punch. Kabayel uses that punch to frequently control range from the outside.

Kabayel does possess a fairly sharp right hand that he will work frequently behind the jab. I would describe his hand speed as above average for a heavyweight; he can surprise his opposition with his quickness. He is also an excellent body puncher and will commit to working his opponent’s body from early in the fight. Though he does not carry one punch knockout power, Kabayel has heavy hands and his punches can have a cumulative effect.

From the video I watched, I really like what I see from Kabayel and understand why Top Rank made the move to sign him. He has developed some really good skills and has yet to peak. With further grooming, Agit Kabayel can certainly make some noise down the road.

Under The Radar Fight, Part One

ESPN+ will broadcast Saturday’s big fight card from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas that will be headlined by the return of Tyson Fury (28-0-1, 20 KO’s) who will face Otto Wallin (20-0, 13 KO’s) in a fight scheduled for 12 rounds. While this bout will receive almost all the attention for this event, the stacked undercard has some very intriguing contests flying under the radar.

Light heavyweights Felix Valera (18-2, 15 KO’s) and Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (20-2, 17 KO’s) will meet in a fight scheduled for 10 rounds. The light heavyweight division is very deep with many of the top names needing opponents and though both men have had some recent setbacks, they could each find themselves right back in the picture for a big fight with a win.

Valera has won three straight since losing a unanimous decision to Sullivan Barrera in November of 2017. Prior to that defeat, Valera also dropped a wide 12-round decision to current light heavyweight belt holder Dmitry Bivol in May of 2016.

Valera is a classic boxer-puncher. Fighting from the orthodox stance, he likes to use his feet to circle his opponents while flicking out the left jab. He will look to work combinations behind that jab. He is fairly athletic, possesses decent hand speed, and has a potent left hook. He certainly has the tools to be a solid contender. But defensively he has issues.

Valera lacks any sort of head movement and often times keeps his hands held low. But one of the reasons why I like this fight is that Valera will be facing an opponent with similar defensive flaws and that could turn this contest into quite a shootout.

Shabranskyy was once considered an elite prospect. Coming up the ladder, he put on some impressive showings that had many thinking he could one day be a big star. He was so fluid in the ring and possessed all the skills, along with devastating punching power.

However, a fight in June of 2015 against journeyman Paul Parker exposed a major flaw. In that fight, a supposedly light hitting Parker nearly knocked Shabranskyy out in the first round. Shabranskyy showed tremendous heart to come back and stop Parker but serious questions arose about his chin.

Those concerns proved to be real. In his two biggest fights against Sullivan Barrera and Sergey Kovalev, Shabranskyy was knocked out.

Both Valera and Shabranskyy are at a crossroads. Both have skills, punching power and defensive liabilities. This has all the ingredients for a shootout, albeit a potentially quick one. Of all the fights in store this coming week, this is the one I am most excited to watch.

Under The Radar Fight, Part Two

Also on the Fury-Wallin card, former two division champion Jose Pedraza (26-2, 13 KO’s) makes a move up to 140 to face recent 140-pound world title challenger Jose Zepeda (30-2, 25 KO’s). This is a crucial fight for both men as the winner is likely positioned to receive a title shot at 140 in 2020.

Pedraza, who lost his 130-pound title to Gervonta Davis in January of 2017, enjoyed a career resurgence in 2018. After two impressive showings early in the year, he captured a lightweight title belt with a clear-cut decision over Raymundo Beltran. And despite losing that belt to Vasiliy Lomachenko in his next outing, Pedraza’s stock did not take much of a hit given his solid effort against the fighter many consider to be the best pound for pound in the sport.

Zepeda is a two-time world title challenger. His first shot ended in disappointment when he had to retire early due to a shoulder injury, but he fared much better in his second title shot, albeit in a losing effort, against 140-pound champion Jose Carlos Ramirez this past February. Despite being a sizable underdog, Zepeda gave Ramirez all he could handle for twelve rounds. In the end, Ramirez wound up holding onto his title with a tight majority decision. But Zepeda’s stock certainly rose in defeat.

Stylistically, these two are matched well for what should be a crisp, competitive action fight. Pedraza is appropriately nicknamed “Sniper” because of his effective placement of his punches. Working behind a jab from the orthodox stance, Pedraza is very adept at setting up angles to land clean precision combinations.

Zepeda, a southpaw, has an awkward style that can be a complex puzzle to solve for his opponents. Zepeda will use his feet to move around the ring and pick his spots to attack. When he does, he usually jumps into range and fires off a volley of punches before getting back on his bike. He is very slick with excellent head movement and subtle quickness that makes him able to elude and slip punches.

In his fight against Ramirez, Zepeda was not quite busy enough to win the decision. Can he up his output a little more against Pedraza to catch the eyes of the judges? And how will the sharp, accurate punching Pedraza deal with the slick defensive skills of Zepeda? On paper, this is about as evenly matched as it gets and we should see a very solid professional fight between these two on Saturday.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round

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There were few surprises when co-promoters Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren and their benefactor HE Turki Alalshikh held a press conference in London this past Monday to unveil the undercard for the Beterbiev-Bivol show at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 1. Most of the match-ups had already been leaked.

For die-hard boxing fans, Beterbiev-Bivol is such an enticing fight that it really doesn’t need an attractive undercard. Two undefeated light heavyweights will meet with all four relevant belts on the line in a contest where the oddsmakers straddled the fence. It’s a genuine “pick-‘em” fight based on the only barometer that matters, the prevailing odds.

But Beterbiev-Bivol has been noosed to a splendid undercard, a striking contrast to Saturday’s Haney-Garcia $69.99 (U.S.) pay-per-view in Brooklyn, an event where the undercard, in the words of pseudonymous boxing writer Chris Williams, is an absolute dumpster fire.

The two heavyweight fights that will bleed into Beterbiev-Bivol, Hrgovic vs. Dubois and Wilder vs. Zhang, would have been stand-alone main events before the incursion of Saudi money.

Hrgovic-Dubois

Filip Hrgovic (17-0, 13 KOs) and Daniel Dubois (20-2, 19 KOs) fought on the same card in Riyadh this past December. Hrgovic, the Croatian, was fed a softie in the form of Australia’s Mark De Mori who he dismissed in the opening round. Dubois, a Londoner, rebounded from his loss to Oleksandr Usyk with a 10th-round stoppage of corpulent Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller.

There’s an outside chance that Hrgovic vs. Dubois may be sanctioned by the IBF for the world heavyweight title.

The May 18 showdown between Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury has a rematch clause. The IBF is next in line in the rotation system for a unified heavyweight champion and the organization has made it plain that the winner of Usyk-Fury must fulfill his IBF mandatory before an intervening bout.

The best guess is that the Usyk-Fury winner will relinquish the IBF belt. If so, Hrgovic and Dubois may fight for the vacant title although a more likely scenario is that the organization will keep the title vacant so that the winner can fight Anthony Joshua.

Wilder-Zhang

The match between Deontay Wilder (43-3-1, 42 KOs) and Zhilei Zhang (26-2-1, 21 KOs) is a true crossroads fight as both Wilder, 38, and Zhang, who turns 41 in May, are nearing the end of the road and the loser (unless it’s a close and entertaining fight) will be relegated to the rank of a has-been. In fact, Wilder has hinted that this may be his final rodeo.

Both are coming off a loss to Joseph Parker.

Wilder last fought on the card that included Hrgovic and Dubois and was roundly out-pointed by a man he was expected to beat. It’s a quick turnaround for Zhang who opposed Parker on March 8 and lost a majority decision.

Other Fights

Either of two other fights may steal the show on the June 1 event.

Raymond Ford (15-0-1, 8 KOs) meets Nick Ball (19-0-1, 11 KOs) in a 12-round featherweight contest. New Jersey’s Ford will be defending the WBA world title he won with a come-from-behind, 12th-round stoppage of Otabek Kholmatov in an early contender for Fight of the Year. Liverpool’s “Wrecking” Ball, a relentless five-foot-two sparkplug, had to settle for a draw in his title fight with Rey Vargas despite winning the late rounds and scoring two knockdowns.

Hamzah Sheeraz (19-0, 15 KOs) meets fellow unbeaten Austin “Ammo” Williams (16-0, 11 KOs) in a 12-round middleweight match. East London’s Sheeraz, the son of a former professional cricket player, is unknown in the U.S. although he trained for his recent fights at the Ten Goose Boxing Gym in California. Riding a skein of 13 straight knockouts, he has a date with WBO title-holder Janibek Alimkhanuly if he can get over this hurdle.

The Forgotten Heavyweight

“Unbeaten for seven years, the man nobody wants to fight,” intoned ring announcer Michael Buffer by way of introduction. Buffer was referencing Michael Hunter who stood across the ring from his opponent Artem Suslenkov.

This scene played out this past Saturday in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. It was Hunter’s second fight in three weeks. On March 23, he scored a fifth-round stoppage of a 46-year-old meatball at a show in Zapopan, Mexico.

The second-generation “Bounty Hunter,” whose only defeat prior to last weekend came in a 12-rounder with Oleksandr Usyk, has been spinning his wheels since TKOing the otherwise undefeated Martin Bakole on the road in London in 2018. Two fights against hapless opponents on low-budget cards in Mexico and a couple of one-round bouts for the Las Vegas Hustle, an entry in the fledgling and largely invisible Professional Combat League, are the sum total of his activity, aside from sparring, in the last two-and-a-half years.

Hunter’s chances of getting another big-money fight took a tumble in Tashkent where he lost a unanimous decision in a dull affair to the unexceptional Suslenkov who was appearing in his first 10-round fight. The scores of the judges were not announced.

You won’t find this fight listed on boxrec. As Jake Donovan notes, the popular website will not recognize a fight conducted under the auspices of a rogue commission. (Another fight you won’t find on boxrec for the same reason is Nico Ali Walsh’s 6-round split decision over the 9-2-1 Frenchman, Noel Lafargue, in the African nation of Guinea on Dec. 16, 2023. You can find it on YouTube, but according to boxrec, boxing’s official record-keeper, it never happened.)

Anderson-Merhy Redux

The only thing missing from this past Saturday’s match in Corpus Christi, Texas, between Jared Anderson and Ryad Merhy was the ghost of Robert Valsberg.

Valsberg, aka Roger Vaisburg, was the French referee who disqualified Ingemar Johansson for not trying in his match with LA’s Ed Sanders in the finals of the heavyweight competition at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Valsberg tossed Johansson out of the ring after two rounds and Johansson was denied the silver medal. The Swede redeemed himself after turning pro, needless to say, when he demolished Floyd Patterson in the first of their three meetings.

Merhy was credited with throwing only 144 punches, landing 34, over the course of the 10 rounds. Those dismal figures yet struck many onlookers as too high. (This reporter has always insisted that the widely-quoted CompuBox numbers should be considered approximations.)

Whatever the true number, it was a disgraceful performance by Merhy who actually showed himself to have very fast hands on the few occasions when he did throw a punch. With apologies to Delfine Persoon, a spunky lightweight, U.S. boxing promoters should think twice before inviting another Belgian boxer to our shores.

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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