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HITS and MISSES from a Weekend Spearheaded by a Biggie in Saudi Arabia

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The fate of Anthony Joshua’s future rested on how well he performed against Andy Ruiz on Saturday in Saudi Arabia. Billed as the “Clash on the Dunes”, Ruiz vs. Joshua 2 was the most hotly anticipated rematch of 2019 and one with huge ramifications at stake far beyond the careers of the two principal participants.

Could the fairly new over-the-top streaming service DAZN survive losing three of the four major heavyweight alphabet titles to a rival organization? And might the PBC have been on its way to creating its own branded heavyweight championship if Ruiz could somehow stave off Joshua one more time?

The stakes surrounding Ruiz-Joshua 2 on DAZN really couldn’t have been higher.

Plus, there was bountiful boxing action from other places around the world, including the fourth title defense for rising junior featherweight star Emanuel Navarette on ESPN+ and the continued showcase of newly-crowned WBC middleweight titleholder Jermall Charlo on Showtime.

Here are boxing’s biggest HITS and MISSES from the first weekend in December.

HIT: Anthony Joshua Floats Like a Butterfly in Career-Defining Reclamation Project

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, so it’s a good thing Anthony Joshua was still just 30 years old heading into his rematch against Andy Ruiz on Saturday in Saudi Arabia. Because Joshua boxed brilliantly over the course of 12 rounds in a way most people believed him to be incapable.

There are two common paths someone can take after suffering as humiliating experience as Joshua did when he was knocked down four times and stopped in seven rounds by Ruiz in June in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history.

Joshua could either have doubled down on his past mistakes, which included training more like a spokesperson and Instagram model than a professional fighter. Or he could rethink his entire approach and take the long way back up the mountain, which entails employing the single-minded approach of focusing all his efforts on reclaiming his heavyweight titles each and every day until the moment he steps back into the ring.

Joshua chose the latter, and it was immediately apparent as soon as he disrobed for the fight. Here appeared a man living the life of a true prizefighter now, and he went on to prove it by dominating al 12 rounds of action against the suddenly inept Ruiz.

MISS: The Predictable Failure of Andy Ruiz

If you needed a reminder about why Top Rank cut ties with the talented but discipline-challenged Ruiz at the end of last year, you saw it in Saudi Arabia. This isn’t to pile on Ruiz over the 15 extra pounds he entered the second contest carrying. In a way, that was sort of expected the moment Ruiz scored the stunning upset the first time around.

People who struggle with something like staying focused on training usually don’t suddenly become better at it unless they’re forced into it.

Humbling failures and huge successes both have a unique ability to bring out the best and worst in people. But failure often provides the opportunity for someone to accept their faults, whereas success leaves room for someone to keep denying the truth about all the things they could probably do better.

Ruiz wasn’t very competitive in the rematch. Part of it was Joshua’s newfound approach of no longer foolishly giving up his eight-inch reach advantage, but the piece that Ruiz could control in future fights would be to train seriously enough to be able to consistently apply pressure for 12 full rounds. He could hardly do it for one round on Saturday, so hopefully, the lesson has now been learned for good.

Ruiz is talented, affable and a very special fighter. It’s time for him to start treating himself that way.

HIT: Critical Heavyweight Contender Matchups on Ruiz-Joshua 2 Undercard

Boxing’s glamour division was featured mightily by promoter Eddie Hearn on the undercard of Ruiz-Joshua 2, and it’s about time a promoter did that. There’s no more important division in boxing than the action that happens above 200 pounds. Moreover, the heavyweight division is as deep and as talented as it’s been in a good 20 years or so.

So why don’t we see more heavyweights in important matchups on big fight cards? That must be what Hearn was wondering when he was putting this card together. That or it was just blind luck on his part.

Whatever the case, Filip Hrgovic appears to have all the tools to be a real contender someday, and he proved it by stopping veteran title challenger Eric Molina in the single biggest win of the 27-year-old from Croatia’s career. Hrgovic needed just three rounds to stop Molina, the same amount of time it took Joshua in 2016 and six rounds faster than Deontay Wilder did it the year prior.

Moreover, both former titleholder Alexander Povetkin and the once-beaten American Michael Hunter showed why they should figure heavily into the future of the stacked division. The 40-year-old Povetkin and 31-year-old Hunter fought to a split draw in a fun, competitive fight that showed why both deserve the chance to fight their way into world title opportunities.

MISS: ESPN’s Low-budget Treatment of Emanuel Navarette vs. Francisco Horta

It wasn’t the most compelling action of the weekend, but how could ESPN expect people to care about WBO featherweight champion Emanuel Navarette’s fourth title defense against Francisco Horta in Mexico on Saturday night if they didn’t even bother to send any of their crew over there to cover the fight?

That’s what I was wondering on Saturday when I saw ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna and Tim Bradley calling the Top Rank on ESPN+ card from the studio. That kind of thing makes sense for lesser cards from the other side of the world sometimes, but it didn’t seem to fit this case. Puebla, the city in Mexico where the card took place, is on this side of the planet and has its own international airport. What gives?

Regardless, Navarette has enjoyed a fantastic 12 months. Over his last five fights, which began when he shockingly upset Isaac Dogboe in December 2018 for the title, Navarette has solidified himself as a must-watch star. That’s a hard thing to do for someone weighing only 122 pounds, and probably even harder to accomplish in today’s world where its common to see four or five full cards airing over different networks every single weekend.

That last bit about all the other options available is why ESPN shouldn’t cheap out on its fight coverage. Either a card is important enough to show us, or it isn’t. This one deserved better coverage.

HIT: Jermall Charlo’s Emphatic Middleweight Title Defense Against Dennis Hogan

If there’s any middleweight right now who deserves a big fight against a notable opponent, it’s Jermall Charlo.

Charlo, younger by one-minute to twin brother Jermell Charlo, is a two-weight world champion who just can’t seem to get another top middleweight in the ring. So, Charlo had to be content on Saturday to dominate and stop former 154-pound world title challenger Dennis Hogan in seven rounds in the main event of the Showtime card in Brooklyn.

Charlo is the reigning WBC middleweight champion thanks to the elevation of Canelo Alvarez to whatever that organization’s “Franchise” championship is supposed to designate. Regardless, the 29-year-old remains undefeated and ready for a bigger opportunity.

One fight that makes a ton of sense is a title unification against WBO titleholder Demetrius Andrade. There’s a PR narrative pushed by Andrade’s handlers that suggests their fighter has never been able to snag a big fight against a top name because he’s so dangerous and avoided.

Of course, that isn’t the entire story. After all, Andrade was set to face Jermell Charlo in December 2014 before dropping out less than a month away from the scheduled bout after finding out how much more money Charlo was making.

Now it seems Andrade would be a good fit for the other Charlo, and everyone should hope a fight like that gets made for both fighters. That’s especially true for Charlo, who hasn’t yet been afforded a chance to prove how good he can be since stopping current unified junior middleweight champion Julian Williams back in December 2016.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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Artur Beterbiev: “I’d prefer to fight Bivol because he has the one thing I need”

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Russian Artur Beterbiev, triple champion of the 175-pound division, is the only current world champion who, thanks to the enormous power he wields in his fists, has won all his fights inside the distance.

Beterbiev has 18 victories by way of chloroform since he debuted as a professional fighter in June 2013 when he anesthetized retired American, Christian Cruz, in the tenth round at the Bell Center in Montreal where Beterbiev currently resides.

Beterbiev, who turned thirty-eight last Saturday, will defend his WBC, IBF, and WBO titles against Brit Anthony “The Beast from the East” Yarde (23-2, 22 KOs) on Saturday, January 28th at the OVO Arena in London.

Beterbiev obtained the WBO belt on June 18th this past year when he defeated American Joe Smith (28-4, 22 KOs) in the second round at Madison Square Garden. This was Smith’s second defense of the belt.

Earlier, in November 2017, Beterbiev won the vacant IBF belt after defeating German Enrico Koelling (28-5, 9 KOs) by knockout in the twelfth round in Fresno, California.

Two years later, Beterbiev seized the WBC belt from Ukrainian Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-1, 14 KOs) in Philadelphia. Three knockdowns in the tenth round forced referee Gary Rosato to stop the lopsided bout with 11 seconds remaining in the round.  Beterbiev maintains that although his intention is to win each fight, in no way does he want to harm his rival and that his greatest wish is for both of them to leave the ring healthy.

Referring to his upcoming matchup, Beterbiev told BoxingScene that “after the fight, I just hope he (Yarde) is okay.”

He acknowledged that he does not know much about the British boxer, although he has watched several of his fights: “He’s a good fighter, has good experience as a professional and he’s a boxer. He’s dangerous so I have to prepare for this fight like I always do.”

Beterbiev said that his main motivation is to successfully defend the three belts he owns and that is why he will try to be one hundred percent ready and then it will be evident who is the better fighter.

Regarding his knockout streak, Beterbiev emphatically denied that he enjoys knocking out his opponents: “No. There’s no pleasure in it. I just hope everything is OK with them. I just want to do good boxing, not hit people.”

Beterbiev smiles enigmatically and stares at the horizon when they ask him to what he attributes the strength of his fists to. “I know for sure, 1000 percent, that the secret to my power is somewhere in my boxing gym but I don’t know exactly where,” he adds. “I don’t know which exercise or bag gave me this secret. I don’t know where it comes from. I wasn’t always like this either, it has come from working every day. But really my dream is to be a good boxer one day.”

Aside from the upcoming fight with Yarde, Beterbiev acknowledges in each interview that his goal is to be the undisputed champion of the division, which means facing (and defeating) the undefeated Russian Dmitry Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs), who holds the WBA light heavyweight super championship belt.

“I need Bivol,” Beterbiev admits. “I’d prefer to fight Bivol because he has the one thing I need. I hope I fight him in 2023 but the hold-up is not from my side, it’s from their side. In the last three years he always says he will fight me next but in this time we’ve done unification fights against Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Joe Smith. We’ve done that whereas he has just been talking about it.

Beterbiev recalled that he was with Bivol on the Russian national team where they were amateurs. “I knew him then, but he is younger than me. We haven’t talked for 10 years now. He was 75kg back then, too small for me. We were never friends.”

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

 Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A New Foe for Broner and an Intriguing Heavyweight Match-up

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A New Foe for Broner and an Intriguing Heavyweight Match-up

BLK Prime’s inaugural venture went off without a hitch. An announced crowd of 14,630 turned out in Omaha to watch native son Terence Crawford dismantle David Avanesyan. BLK Prime’s second promotion, slated for Feb. 25 at a 5,000-seat venue in Atlanta, has been messy from the get-go. The executives at the fledgling company, based in Hayward, California, are learning to their dismay that the sport of professional boxing is governed by Murphy’s Law: whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

Adrien Broner’s nickname is “The Problem” (how perfect!) but the problem isn’t him but finding a suitable opponent for the former four-division title holder who purportedly signed a three-fight deal with BLK Prime that will pay him an absurd $10 million. As reported in a story that ran on these pages last week, Broner’s original opponent Ivan Redkach pulled out and was replaced by Hank Lundy. Today (Tuesday, Jan. 24) it was revealed that Lundy was also off the card and would be replaced by Michael Williams Jr.

Prior to being lopped off the card, it was reported that Hank Lundy had been suspended by the California Athletic Commission for failing to honor his contract to fight up-and-comer Ernesto Mercado (8-0, 8 KOs) on Feb. 4. The match was to be an 8-rounder in Ontario, California. According to prominent boxing writer Jake Donovan, Lundy provided paperwork to the California commission showing that he was unable to keep his commitment because of a cut he suffered in sparring.

Some state athletic commissions automatically honor a suspension handed down in another jurisdiction. Other commissions evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis. It’s a fair guess that had Lundy kept quiet about the (alleged) injury, the Georgia commission would have allowed the Broner-Lundy match to go forward. Regardless, he’s out and, barring more upheaval, Broner (pictured) will be touching gloves with Michael Williams Jr.

The son of an Army veteran who serves as his chief trainer, Williams Jr, 23, was born in Fort Riley, Kansas, and grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home to Fort Bragg. As a pro, he’s 20-1 with 13 KOs but those 20 wins came against a motley bunch of opponents and he failed miserably on the one occasion that he stepped up in class. On Dec. 11, 2021, he was stopped in four rounds by fellow unbeaten John Bauza on a Top Rank card at Madison Square Garden. Williams suffered five knockdowns before the match was halted. “He’s got a lot to work on. There are some glaring issues here,” said ringside TV commentator Andre Ward.

Although the Fayetteville area has long had a reputation as pugilistic feed lot (a place where boxers go to fatten up their records), the feeling is that Williams may have been awed by his surroundings that night in the Big Apple, hence his poor showing. During the early portion of his career, he was co-trained by Roy Jones Jr who reportedly hooked up with the young junior welterweight after witnessing him bully a bunch of ex-cons while sparring at a gym in New Orleans.

Does he have the tools to make things interesting against Adrien Broner? Likely not, but Broner tends to fight down to his level of competition, so it wouldn’t surprise us if Williams wins a few rounds.

Heavyweights at the Crossroads

SHOWTIME drops anchor in San Antonio on Feb. 11 with a card headlined by a match between Rey Vargas and O’Shaquie Foster. They will compete for the WBC 130-pound world title vacated by Shakur Stevenson.

Truth be told, this isn’t a contest that gets our juices flowing. The undefeated Vargas, who has won world titles at 122 and 127, is a solid technician but doesn’t fight with pizzazz. He hasn’t won a fight inside the distance since 2016. Foster is on a nice roll – he’s won nine straight, advancing his record to 19-2 — but likewise lacks charisma.

The pay-per-view opener, however, seized our interest. It’s that very rare contest between two rising heavyweights at the same juncture of their respective careers. On paper there’s little to choose between Viktor Faust (11-0, 7 KOs) and Lenier Pero (8-0, 5 KOs). Both are the same age (30), are roughly the same size (in the six-foot-five and 240-pound range) and were outstanding amateurs.

Faust

Viktor Faust, aka Viktor Vykhryst, is from the Ukraine. In 2017, he won the European amateur title, defeating future Olympian Frazer Clarke in the finals. He turned pro in 2020, spurning an opportunity to represent Ukraine in the Tokyo Olympics.

Faust, says prospect watcher Matt Andrzejewski, is extremely fluid for his size and his hand speed is well above average. He also has one-punch knockout power as he demonstrated in his third pro fight when he starched the Spaniard, Gabriel Enguema. However, his most recent fight on U.S. soil, a match in Hollywood, Florida, against Iago kiladze, left many questions unanswered.

This was a wild and wooly affair that ended in the second minute of the second round. Kiladze was down three times and Faust twice during the tumult. Because Kiladze was on the small size for a heavyweight, one was left wondering whether Faust could have weathered the storm if he were matched against a bigger man.

Since that scuffle, Faust has added two more wins to his ledger, comfortable 8-round decisions over 40-something gatekeepers Kevin Johnson and Franklin Lawrence.

Pero

Lenier Pero, a Cuban defector, was never an Olympian, but had a more extensive amateur career. He was 9-3 in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing but what really stands out is that he was 5-1 against countryman Frank Sanchez who has made great headway as a pro since leaving Cuba in 2017 and is currently ranked #3 by the WBC and #2 by the WBO.

Although the amateur careers of Faust and Pero overlapped, their paths never crossed. However, Faust did fight Lenier’s younger brother Dainier Pero who is currently 2-0 as a pro and may actually be a better prospect than his sibling. Faust and Dainier Pero met in 2018 at a tournament in the Ukraine and the Cuban won a close decision.

Perhaps that’s an omen. Regardless, Lenier Pero looks like the right side in what has the earmarks of an entertaining shootout.

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David Benavidez and Caleb Plant Both Want ‘Canelo’ Álvarez

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American Fighter David Benavidez has been in constant pursuit of an opportunity to face Canelo Álvarez and, until now, it has been an unrealizable dream. For his compatriot Caleb Plant, his match up with Canelo in 2021 resulted in a resounding loss.

For several years, Benavidez has been trying to cross gloves with Mexican star Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez (58-2-2, 39 KOs), who has avoided facing him despite receiving countless criticisms from boxing fans.

Undefeated in the ranks, everything indicates that today Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) is closer than ever to finally matching up against Canelo, the current holder of the four most prestigious super middleweight titles in boxing: WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO.

Previously, by order of the WBC, Benavidez faced Canadian David Lemieux (43-5, 36 KOs), to whom he applied chloroform in the third round in Glendale, Arizona, where the winner conquered the Interim title of that sanctioning body.

After the victory, the WBC declared that Benavidez had the obligation to collide with Caleb Plant (22-1, 13 KOs), who was ranked the number one contender by both the WBA and the WBO and third by the IBF.

According to Mauricio Sulaimán, president of the WBC, the winner between Benavidez and Plant becomes the mandatory challenger for Canelo in a battle for that organization’s belt.

However, the future seems quite complicated for the winner between Benavidez and Plant, since Canelo is currently in negotiations with British southpaw John Ryder (32-5, 18 KOs) to fight in May and, subsequently, in September, to carry out the rematch against Russian Dmitry Bivol (20-0, 11 KOs), who defeated him unanimously on May 7 of last year at the T-Mobile Arena where the European retained the WBA light heavyweight belt.

Benavidez has been outspoken about Canelo’s refusal to face him: He (Canelo) knows I’m the biggest threat at 168.” Benavidez stressed the fact that Canelo avoids him because he knows that if he accepts the fight, the same thing will happen to him as against Dmitry Bivol, an adversary who is also larger and equally as strong as the Mexican redhead.

Despite the efforts and multiple statements by Benavidez (also by José Benavidez Sr, his father and trainer), Canelo has always chosen other adversaries with the excuse that Benavidez has not fought any elite rivals that would make him worthy of the opportunity.

CALEB PLANT WANTS REVENGE AGAINST CANELO

“That wasn’t my best camp going into that fight,” said Plant about last year’s battle with Canelo, “but, regardless, that’s not the reason I lost. I lost because I got caught with a great shot and I got stopped.” Plant was clear about wanting to meet Canelo in the ring again. “I want a rematch with Canelo. If I have to pick up every last top super middleweight in the division to get to that, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Canelo’s victory against Plant at the T-Mobile Arena in November 2021 made him the first boxer from Latin America with the four most important titles, in any weight category. But six months later, in May of last year, Álvarez suffered the second setback of his career, losing unanimously to Bivol who retained his WBA “super” title belt at 175 pounds.

Four years ago, on January 13, 2019, Plant won the IBF belt, unanimously defeating Venezuelan José Uzcátegui (32-5, 27 KOs) at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Uzcátegui went to the canvas in both the second and fourth rounds. Plant lost the IBF title in the unification match against Canelo, a title that Plant had defended three times prior.

Mauricio Sulaimán confirmed to several media outlets that the winner of the upcoming battle between Benavidez and Plant will be the mandatory challenger for Canelo’s WBC super-middleweight title. Per ESPN’s Mike Coppinger, Benavidez vs Plant will take place on March 25th at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

 Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

To comment on this story in the fight Forum CLICK HERE

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