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Charlo Brothers in World Title Defenses in Unique PPV Twin Bill in September

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PRESS RELEASE: New York – July 22, 2020 – SHOWTIME Sports and Premier Boxing Champions announced today a lineup of nine live boxing events featuring 18 undefeated fighters, nine world champions, and eight world championship fights including one world title unification bout. The schedule comprises 22 critical matchups from bantamweight to heavyweight and features some of the biggest stars in the sport today – Gervonta Davis, Leo Santa Cruz, Jermall Charlo, Jermell Charlo, David Benavidez and more. It is the largest collection of world championship boxing announced since the COVID-19 pandemic forced a stoppage of the sport.

The SHOWTIME boxing schedule begins on Saturday, August 1 and runs through the end of 2020. Initially, each live telecast will be presented without fans in attendance from Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Included in the schedule are four world title eliminators, three interim title fights and 13 bouts in all pitting top-10 ranked fighters.

There are two SHOWTIME PPV® events in the lineup presented by Premier Boxing Champions. The first in late September is a pay-per-view doubleheader featuring four world title bouts in back-to-back three-fight events on the same night all for one price. Doubleheaders are common in the NFL, NBA and MLB. There hasn’t ever been a boxing PPV doubleheader – until now. The second blockbuster PPV event in October is a unique clash with the winner earning world titles in two weight classes.

“We are proud to announce the strongest and most comprehensive schedule of fights in all of boxing,” said Stephen Espinoza, President, Sports and Event Programming, Showtime Networks Inc. “….this lineup delivers on our promise to provide boxing fans with the best talent, the most exciting fights and the highest quality presentation in the sport. We are thrilled to return to live boxing with this star-studded schedule of exciting, meaningful fights.”

Philadelphia’s 122-pound rising star Stephen Fulton Jr. will headline SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING® on August 1 (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) against talented, fellow undefeated contender Angelo Leo of the Mayweather stable in a marquee 12-round matchup for the vacant WBO junior featherweight world title. This will mark the first live boxing event on SHOWTIME since ShoBox: The New Generation on March 13 when the network presented what was to be the last nationally televised professional sporting event in the U.S. for several weeks.

The fight-by-fight schedule follows:

August 1

Main Event: Stephen Fulton Jr. (18-0, 8 KOs) vs. Angelo Leo (19-0, 9 KOs) – Vacant WBO Junior Featherweight World Championship

Co-Feature: Tramaine Williams (19-0, 6 KOs) vs. Ra’eese Aleem (16-0, 10 KOs) – Super Bantamweight Title Eliminator

Co-Feature: Joe George (10-0, 6 KOs) vs. Marcos Escudero (10-1, 9 KOs) II – Light Heavyweight Bout

About: Fellow Americans and undefeated fighters Fulton and Leo are legitimate top-10 junior featherweight contenders who will meet for the vacant WBO 122-pound world title. A southpaw from New Haven, Conn., Williams will clash with Las Vegas-based Aleem in an intriguing, 50-50 matchup between talented, undefeated prospects. Managed by All-Pro lineman Trent Williams, Houston’s George upset Escudero in an exciting ShoBox affair last November.

August 15

Main Event: David Benavidez (22-0, 19 KOs) vs. Roamer Alexis Angulo (26-1, 22 KOs) – WBC Super Middleweight World Championship

Co-Feature: Rolando Romero (11-0, 10 KOs) vs. Jackson Marinez (19-0, 7 KOs) – WBA Lightweight Interim Title

Co-Feature: Otto Wallin (20-1, 13 KOs) vs. Travis Kauffman (32-3, 23 KOs) – Heavyweight Bout

About: Undefeated Benavidez, 23, kicks off his second reign as WBC Super Middleweight Champion. In 2017, he became the youngest 168-pound champion in boxing history by defeating Ronald Gavril on SHOWTIME at just 20 years old. Angulo is coming off an upset win over heavily hyped and then unbeaten prospect Anthony Sims Jr. The power-punching “Rolly” Romero of the Mayweather stable, who has scored five first- or second-round stoppages in his last six fights, is an undefeated ShoBox alum ranked No. 10 by the WBA while Marinez is ranked No. 6. Wallin vs. Kauffman is an intriguing heavyweight matchup between the Swedish southpaw and the veteran Kauffman. Both fighters have survived bouts with the COVID-19 virus, made full recoveries and are anxious to get back in the ring.

September 19

Main Event: Erickson Lubin (22-1, 16 KOs) vs. Terrell Gausha (21-1-1, 10 KOs) – WBC Super Welterweight Title Eliminator Bout

Co-Feature: Tugstsogt Nyambayar (11-1, 9 KOs) vs. Eduardo Ramirez (23-2-3, 10 KOs) – WBC Featherweight Title Eliminator Bout

Co-Feature: Jaron Ennis (25-0, 23 KOs) vs. TBA – Welterweight Bout

About: Lubin, already a veteran at just 24 years old, has excelled since his shocking first-round loss to Jermell Charlo three years ago. Gausha is a former U.S. Olympian with just one loss. Both men are poised and hungry for a signature win and the opportunity to fight for a unified 154-pound title, which will be on the line the following week. Nyambayar and Ramirez are legitimate top-10 contenders. Nyambayar faced Gary Russell Jr. in February on SHOWTIME in the last SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING telecast before the COVID-19 shutdown. Ramirez, of Mexico, is coming off a stoppage of previously unbeaten Leduan Barthelemy. A graduate of the popular ShoBox: The New Generation series, Philadelphia native Ennis has fought twice on ShoBox and twice on SHOWTIME BOXING: Special Edition cards. Ennis is a former National Golden Gloves Champion ranked No. 12 by the WBO and No. 14 by the IBF.

September 26 – SHOWTIME/Premier Boxing Champions PPV Doubleheader

In One of the Main Events: Jermall Charlo (30-0, 22 KOs) vs. Sergiy Derevyanchenko (13-2, 10 KOs) – WBC Middleweight World Championship

Co-Feature: Brandon Figueroa (20-0-1, 15 KOs) vs. Damien Vasquez (15-1-1, 7 KOs) – WBA Super Bantamweight World Championship

Co-Feature: Diego Magdaleno (32-3, 13 KOs) vs. Isaac Cruz (19-1-1, 14 KOs) – IBF Lightweight Title Eliminator Bout

About: Houston’s Charlo will defend his title against WBC No.-1 ranked Ukrainian Derevyanchenko in one of the main events of this pay-per-view twin bill that boasts four world title fights. Charlo has held the WBC middleweight title since 2019 and reigned as the IBF junior middleweight champion from 2015 to ‘17. Charlo holds wins at 154 pounds against championship-level fighters including Cornelius Bundrage, Austin Trout and Julian Williams. Derevyanchenko has twice challenged for the IBF middleweight title in 2018 and ‘19, losing only to top-level opponents Daniel Jacobs and Gennadiy Golovkin. The 23-year-old Figueroa claimed the interim WBA 122-pound title with an eighth-round stoppage of Yonfrez Parejo last April, before successfully defending the title with a homecoming KO of Javier Chacon in Edinburg, Texas. After being upgraded to the “regular” titlist, Figueroa retained his belt after a 12-round draw against Julio Ceja last November. The southpaw Vasquez is coming off a stoppage win over Alejandro Moreno in February of 2020. Magdaleno vs. Cruz is an IBF title eliminator matchup of ShoBox alums currently ranked 10th and sixth, respectively.

The Other Main EventJermell Charlo (33-1, 17 KOs) vs. Jeison Rosario (20-1-1, 14 KOs) – WBC, WBA and IBF 154-Pound Unification Bout

Co-Feature: Mario Barrios (25-0, 16 KOs) vs. Ryan Karl (18-2, 11 KOs) – WBA Super Lightweight World Championship

Co-Feature: Daniel Roman (26-3-1, 10 KOs) vs. TBA – Super Bantamweight Bout

About: In the other main event of this two-part, six-fight pay-per-view telecast, Jermell Charlo will take on Rosario in just the eighth world title unification fight in the 154-pound division’s history. It is also just the second fight with three super welterweight world title belts up for grabs. In January, Rosario upset Julian Williams to win the WBA and IBF titles. Last December, Charlo regained the title by stopping Tony Harrison. At stake is supremacy in a talent-rich division. The 25-year-old Barrios from San Antonio has held the WBA (regular) super lightweight title since September of 2019. His opponent Karl hails from Houston and is ranked No. 9 by the WBA. A regular sparring partner of Erislandy Lara and Jermell Charlo, Karl is trained by Ronnie Shields. Roman is a former unified super bantamweight champion, having held the WBA (Super) and IBF titles from 2019 to January 2020. Roman’s 19-bout winning streak was snapped in January in a split-decision loss to Murodjon Akhmadaliev. Ranked in the top five by all four sanctioning bodies, Roman previously held the WBA title from 2017 to 2019.

October 10

Main Event: Sergey Lipinets (16-1, 12 KOs) vs. Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (15-0, 8 KOs) – IBF Welterweight Interim Title

Co-Feature: Xavier Martinez (15-0, 11 KOs) vs. Claudio Marrero (24-4, 17 KOs) – Super Featherweight Bout

Co-Feature: Malik Hawkins (18-0, 11 KOs) vs. Subriel Matias (15-1, 15 KOs) – Super Lightweight Bout

About: The 31-year-old Lipinets has won three significant fights in a row since his lone loss to Mikey Garcia, including a dominant stoppage that sent former word titlist Lamont Peterson into retirement. Uzbekistan’s Abdukakhorov is coming off his biggest win to date over former world titlist Luis Collazo and is yet to taste defeat since turning professional in 2015. With Abdukakhorov ranked No. 1 by the IBF and Lipinets ranked No. 3, the winner will be in prime position to challenge the unified 147-pound world champion Errol Spence Jr. Sacramento’s Martinez of the Mayweather stable is an exciting prospect who thrilled ShoBox viewers when he scored one of the quickest knockouts in the history of the series last November, while Marrero is a grizzled veteran who held the WBA interim featherweight title in 2017. Hawkins of the Mayweather stable is trained by Calvin Ford and a teammate of two-division world champion Gervonta Davis. Every one of Matias’ 15 career victories as a pro has come by way of knockout, with his only setback a unanimous-decision loss to Petros Ananyan back in February.

October 24 – SHOWTIME/Premier Boxing Champions PPV

Main Event: Gervonta Davis (23-0, 22 KOs) vs. Leo Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs) – WBA Super Featherweight World Championship/WBA Lightweight World Championship

About: This blockbuster main event will be contested at the super featherweight limit of 130 pounds. The winner of the match, however, will be in the unique position to earn world championships at 130 and 135 pounds on the same night. Two crowd favorites with massive followings will meet with Santa Cruz’s newly won WBA (Super) 130-pound world title on the line. The unbeaten “Tank” Davis is a two-division world champion and reigning WBA lightweight titlist at the age of 25. He emerged as a bona fide star in 2019 with sold-out main event bouts in Baltimore and Atlanta. “El Terremoto” Santa Cruz is a four-division world champion who avenged his only professional loss to Carl Frampton. The stage is set for one of the best matchups that can be made in all of boxing. Both men are all-action fighters. Davis boasts a knockout percentage of .957 while Santa Cruz is one of the busiest punchers in the sport. The winner of this fight will rightfully earn a top-10 spot on the coveted pound-for-pound list.

November 28

Main Event: Chris Colbert (14-0, 5 KOs) vs. Jaime Arboleda (16-1, 13 KOs) – WBA Super Featherweight Interim Title

Co-Feature: Richardson Hitchins (11-0, 5 KOs) vs. Argenis Mendez (25-5-3, 12 KOs) – Super Lightweight Bout

Co-Feature: TBA

About: The WBA interim super featherweight champion Colbert has fought five times in the past 20 months. Arboleda of Panama earned a split-decision win over veteran Jayson Velez in a WBA junior lightweight eliminator in February. New York City’s Hitchins of the Mayweather stable represented his parents’ home country of Haiti in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and Mendez is a former IBF Super Featherweight champion from the Dominican Republic.

December 12

Main Event: Nordine Oubaali (17-0, 12 KOs) vs. Nonito Donaire (40-6, 26 KOs) – WBC Bantamweight World Championship

Co-Feature: TBA

Co-Feature: TBA

About: France’s Oubaali will be defending the WBC bantamweight world title for the third time. Donaire is the No. 1-ranked contender and fighting for his eighth world championship. A four-division titlist and former pound-for-pound mainstay, Donaire fought brilliantly in what many picked as 2019’s Fight of the Year, a decision loss to Naoya Inoue. At age 37, Donaire is attempting to defy the belief that the smaller the fighter, the earlier the prime.

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Oleksandr Usyk from a Historical Perspective 

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Oleksandr Usyk flipped the heavyweight division onto its head this past Saturday night in the Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, travelling a long way from home to seal his greatest victory. Usyk, small by modern heavyweight standards, towers over most men at 6’3″ and 220lbs and sporting a reach that lineal champions Ezzard Charles or Joe Walcott would have killed for. Things have changed though, and in the middle rounds of his war with Tyson Fury, Usyk suddenly appeared tiny. Fury, a giant at around 6’8” and over 260lbs seems a heavyweight for this century. Usyk, a journeyman in the most ancient sense of the word, feels like a throwback to a more savage time. His greatest achievements have taken place on foreign soil. The last time he boxed at home was almost a decade ago and given the situation in Ukraine and given Usyk’s 37 years, it is unlikely he will ever box there again.

Usyk took chances in the seventh and especially the eighth to take charge of a fight that seemed to be slipping away from him. In the vertigo inducing ninth, it was he, not Fury who appeared the giant. Usyk draped the Englishman over the ropes like so much fresh meat and tenderised him to within an inch of unconsciousness, the sheer hugeness of Fury perhaps preventing a referee’s intervention on behalf of his opponent, and not for the first time. Against both Deontay Wilder (the first fight) and Otto Wallin, a more squeamish official would have stepped in and stopped the fight, and here, too, there was a case. If Usyk seems a throwback, then Fury has been refereed like one, spared stoppages likely to be inflicted upon his peers, he was allowed once again to continue boxing, as Joe Louis was against Max Schmeling, or Jack Dempsey was against Luis Pirpo. But with Fury buckled at the knees, Usyk seemed the true heavy man in the ring.

In historical terms, Usyk is not a small heavyweight. He would have dwarfed “The Galveston Giant” Jack Johnson in the ring and loomed large over “Big” George Foreman. Usyk has every attribute necessary to make an unpleasant evening for Joe Louis, but it should be noted that while his footwork and speed and technical excellence would be the source of the discomfort, his excess of height and reach are the wildcards. Usyk would seem two to three weight classes bigger than Rocky Marciano, mainly because he is, and the towering Sonny Liston would look up. Circus strongman Jess Willard and the mob-sponsored Primo Carnera would both look down on Usyk – but not by that much. Usyk would stand eye to eye with Muhammad Ali but prime-for-prime he would outweigh him by ten pounds, as he would Larry Holmes. We must skip Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield and reach all the way into the Lennox Lewis era before we find men from history that truly out-size Usyk on a consistent basis.

Size, as Usyk has proven, is far from everything. Big by historical standards, he is small by modern standards. What else is now true in the wake of the seismic fistic events of Saturday night? Firstly, Usyk is unquestionably ranked the #1 heavyweight in the world. Of this, there can be no dispute. Accounting for his two wonderful defeats of another “super” heavyweight, Anthony Joshua, he is 3-0 against the rest of the top five and sitting unassailably at the head of the heavyweight table. More, and I have been surprised to see it disputed in some corners, Usyk is now almost as equally unassailably the pound-for-pound number one. The only fighter breathing the same air as Usyk right now is Naoya Inoue. Inoue has been operating at or near the highest level for longer, but the level of his opposition has not been as rarefied. Comparing the first phase opposition defeated by Naoya to the murderer’s row of cruiserweights that Usyk ran into during the Super Six series can lead to only one conclusion. Although Naoya’s busy, weight-class-bursting style has topped him out for most of the past two to three years, only one of these men has consistently been beating bigger, taller, longer opposition at the highest level, and that is Usyk. It is not a matter of opinion – he is the smallest man in my heavyweight top ten.

01 – Oleksandr Usyk

02 – Anthony Joshua

03 – Joseph Parker

04 – Tyson Fury

05 – Filip Hrgovic

06 – Zhilei Zhang

07 – Agit Kabayel

08 – Daneil Dubois

09 – Martin Bakole

10 – Joe Joyce

Usyk lives among giants now and where there is parity of height (Kabayel) he is the lighter man by 15 pounds. This is not true of Naoya, who despite his weight-hopping, still manages to run into fighters of the same height and of shorter reach. The opposition argument is narrow, but the relative size opposition is not and there is no pound-for-pound credential more significant than that of consistently out-fighting bigger men. Usyk has done so and will continue to do so for as long as he fights. There is simply no smaller man in his class.

Not since the heyday of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield has a lineal heavyweight champion consistently fought bigger men and not since Mike’s hype-infused prime has a heavyweight menaced the number one pound-for-pound spot. Usyk has not enjoyed anything like the same machine support as Mike did; indeed, he has laboured in the shadow of more prominent men until such time as he thrashed them. He is a true manifestation of pound-for-pound glory in the unlimited class. Where does this leave him in terms of all-time standing?

I am reluctant to rate active fighters for reasons that are obvious enough; Usyk could be pole-axed in three by an irate Fury in a December rematch and all this ink is for naught. But what I am willing to do is play let’s pretend and imagine Usyk as retired and consider his place in heavyweight history now.

Usyk’s raw numbers are low-grade at just 22-0 with 14 knockouts. Worse, most of this was built in the cruiserweight division and not the heavyweight division. Against men weighing in as heavyweights, Uysk is essentially 7-0, and only 3-0 against ranked opposition. On the other hand, one of these victories came against Daniel Dubois, now ranked, and the 3-0 was posted against Tyson Fury, generally held to be the best or second-best heavyweight in the world, and Anthony Joshua, ranked behind only Fury at the time of his first fight with Usyk. So, when he stepped up, he stepped up to tackle the best in the world and has become lineal as a result. It’s a hard ledger to wrestle with, but fortunately we have a career that is comparable in the shape of Gene Tunney.

Tunney, a career light-heavyweight, earned a heavyweight legacy built of essentially one man: Jack Dempsey. Past-prime and inactive, Dempsey was ripped apart by Tunney in their legendary first fight and did better in a losing effort against the genius “Fighting Marine” in a rematch, much like Joshua did against Usyk. Tunney then boxed the limited but game Tom Heeney and retired. The rest of his heavyweight career was spent beating great middleweights like Harry Greb and limited losing-streak gatekeepers like Charley Weinert and Martin Burke. One thing that must be noted is that Tunney is matching men who are smaller than Usyk’s cruiserweight opposition to his heavyweight credit. Men like Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev would have been big men in Tunney’s era, but they aren’t counted towards heavyweight legacy for the Ukrainian – either would constitute Tunney’s second-best heavyweight scalp, I think. Tunney’s wider resume does not necessarily include fighters who compare that favourably even to Dereck Chisora or Chaz Witherspoon, the men who make up Usyk’s second layer of opposition.

The point is, Tunney was made a legend for defeating a champion. Both Fury and Joshua were active, physically enormous fighters that Usyk simply unmanned with a type of genius Gene Tunney would have stood to applaud. Tunney appended to his light-heavyweight career the important part of a heavyweight career – the part where you fight and beat the champion, and it has made him a stalwart of heavyweight history. This, Usyk too has achieved, but I have been more impressed with Usyk’s summit than Tunney’s. To be direct: Usyk should rate higher at heavyweight than Tunney.

What that means is that the top twenty at heavyweight is the minimum Usyk can expect from history’s eye should he retire undefeated. In such a case, I would place Usyk in this sort of company:

18 – Ezzard Charles

19 – Oleksandr Usyk

20 – Jersey Joe Walcott

21 – James J Corbett

22 – Peter Jackson

23 – Ken Norton

24 – Max Schmeling

25 – Vitali Klitschko

26 – Riddick Bowe

27 – Gene Tunney

Also illustrative of a point is Tunney’s career pre-heavyweight. Tunney, every bit as brilliant as Usyk in the ring (although notably smaller, and successful against notably smaller opposition), laced up his gloves on close to ninety occasions and his level of competition dwarfs that of Usyk. That is no indictment. All it really means is that Usyk isn’t among the thirty greatest fighters ever to have drawn breath, like Tunney is. He can join an enormous and star-studded cast that includes Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins and Carlos Monzon in that. I do think, though, that Oleksandr Usyk’s career, were it to end tomorrow, could be readily compared to that of Evander Holyfield and that means that an unbeaten Usyk, lineal cruiserweight and heavyweight champion of the world, current pound-for-pound king, is within spitting distance of a list that captures the fifty greatest fighters in history.

56 – Ruben Olivares

57 – Wilfredo Gomez

58 – Vicente Saldivar

59 – Oleksandr Usyk

60 – Evander Holyfield

61 – Ted Kid Lewis

62 – Lou Ambers

63 – Rocky Marciano

64 – Abe Attell

65 – Manuel Ortiz

A retired Naoya Inoue would join him in the top seventy, I think, and a retired Bud Crawford the top ninety.

Boxing is dead, haven’t you heard?

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Another Victory for Ukraine as Berinchyk Upsets Navarrete in San Diego

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Whether it was inspiration or perspiration, Ukraine’s Denys Berinchyk motored past Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete by split decision to become the WBO lightweight world titlist on Saturday.

Just hours after his fellow countryman Oleksandr Usyk became undisputed heavyweight world champion, Berinchyk joined the club.

“This is a great night for all people of Ukraine,” Berinchyk said.

The undefeated Ukrainian Berinchyk (19-0, 9 KOs) gutted out a win over Navarrete (38-2-1, 31 KOs) who was attempting to join Mexico’s four-division world champion club in San Diego. The lanky fighter known as “Vaquero” fell a little short.

Through all 12 rounds neither fighter was able to dominate and neither was able to score a knockdown. Just when it seemed one fighter gathered enough momentum, the other fighter would rally.

A butt caused a slight cut on Navarrete in the 10th round. That seemed to ignite anger from the Mexican fighter and he powered through the Ukrainian fighter the next two rounds.

In the final round Berinchyk bore down and slugged it out with the Mexican fighter as both relied on their weapons of choice. For most of the night Navarrete scored with long-range uppercuts and Berinchyk scored with overhand rights.

After 12 rounds two judges scored it 115-113, 116-112 for Berinchyk and one 116-112 for Navarrete. Ukraine gained its third world titlist in one a week. Berinchyk joins Usyk and Vasyl Lomachenko as world titlists.

“He’s a very tough guy,” said Berinchyk of Navarrete.

Welterweights

A battle between undefeated welterweights saw Brian Norman (26-0, 20 KOs) knock out Giovany Santillan (32-1, 17 KOs) in the 10th round to become the interim WBO titlist.

For nine rounds both welterweights engaged in brutal inside warfare as each tried to beat the sense out of each other.

Norman worked the body early as Santillan targeted the head. Neither fought more than two inches from each other.

The younger Norman, 23, connected with a right cross during an exchange that wobbled Santillan in the eighth round. From that point on the Georgia fighter began setting up for his power shots. Finally, in the 10th round, uppercuts dropped Santillan twice. In the second knockdown Santillan went down hard as referee Ray Corona stopped the fight immediately at 1:33 of the 10th round.

Other Bouts

Heavyweight Richard Torrez (10-0, 10 KOs) knocked out Brandon Moore (14-1) in the fifth round for a regional title.

Lightweight Alan Garcia (10-0) defeated Wilfredo Flores (10-3-1) by decision after eight.

Photo credit: German Villasenor

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UNDISPUTED ! – Usyk Defeats Fury ! – Plus Undercard Results from Riyadh

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The most ballyhooed fight of the young century played out today at Riyadh Arena in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where Ukraine’s amazing Oleksandr Usyk became an undisputed world champion in a second weight class with a split decision over WBC and lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.

This was a memorable fight with twists and turns. Usyk had some good moments early, but the middle rounds belonged to the Gypsy King. Heading into the second half of the bout, the old saying that a good big man will always beat a good little man, appeared to be holding up once again. Fury was having good success working the body as his trainer SugarHill Steward exhorted him to do, and when he went upstairs, he rattled Usyk, notably in round five when a big uppercut appeared to lift the Ukrainian off his feet. But Usyk finished round seven strong, a prelude of what was to come.

Usyk plainly won round eight and in round nine, he came within a whisper of ending it. A flurry of punches sent Fury reeling. He crashed into the ring ropes which dictated a standing-8 count from referee Mark Nelson. If Nelson had waited a few more seconds, he would have likely waved the fight off as Fury was on queer street. But this dramatic turnaround came late in the round and the Gypsy King was saved by the bell.

Among other things, Tyson Fury is known for his amazing powers of recuperation. He not only stayed the course, but appeared to win the final round. But in the end, Oleksandr Usyk, now 22-0 (14) saddled Fury (34-1-1) with his first defeat. Two of the judges favored him (115-112, 114-113) with the dissenter scoring it for Fury 114-113.

A draw wouldn’t have caused much of a stink and now they will do it again. The sequel is tentatively scheduled for October. Both are getting a little long in the tooth – Usyk is 37 and Fury is 35 – so we will be surprised if the rematch lives up to the hype.

Semi-wind-up

The first encounter between Jai Opetaia and Mairis Briedis was a grueling fight. Opetaia, an Australian Olympian at age 16, won the battle (a fair decision) but yet took the worst of it. Early in that bout, he had his jaw fractured in two places and for the next two months was forced to eat out of a straw.

The rematch tonight in Riyadh was a monotonous fight through the first nine rounds. Briedis, now 39 years old and inactive since their first meeting, looked old and rusty. But the fight heated up in round 10 and the championship rounds belonged to the Latvian.

It came too little, too late, however, as Briedis needed a knockout to win. At the conclusion, the judges favored the Aussie by scores of 117-111 and 116-112 twice.

Opetaia, 28, improved to 25-0 (19).  Briedis, who has defeated everyone that he has fought with the exceptions of Opetaia and Oleksandr Usyk (and the Usyk fight was close) falls to 28-3.

The first fight between Opetaia and Briedis was for the IBF cruiserweight title. Tonight’s match is for the vacant IBF cruiserweight title (don’t ask).

Cordina-Cacace

In a major upset, Belfast’s Anthony Cacace, a 12-year pro, captured the IBF 130-pound world title with a seventh-round stoppage of previously undefeated Joe Cordina who went to post a consensus 7/1 favorite. The end came 39 seconds into round seven with Cacace pummeling Cordina against the ropes.

The Irishman was the busier fighter and landed the harder punches, but the bout was not without controversy. In the third frame, Cacace stunned Cordina with a punch that landed after the referee ordered the fighters to break. That put Cordina on the defensive and before the round was over, Cacace put him on the canvas with a wicked uppercut and Cordina, badly hurt, barely survived the round. Cacace (22-1, 8 KOs) had a big sixth round and closed the show in the next stanza.

Cordina, a 2016 Olympian who was undefeated in 17 pro fights heading in, is a close friend and frequent workout partner of Lauren Price who captured the WBC female welterweight title last week. She now stands alone as the only current world champion from Wales.

Kabayel-Sanchez

In a mild upset, Agit Kabayel continued his late career surge with a seventh-round KO of previously undefeated Frank Sanchez. As was the case in his last fight when he upset Arslanbek Makhmudov, Kabayel (25-0, 17 KOs) finished his opponent with body punches. A left-right combination knocked Sanchez to his knees and then, after Sanchez got to his feet, a straight right to the belly sent him down again and he wasn’t able to beat the count.

Sanchez, who was 24-0 heading in, entered the bout with a brace over his right knee that compromised his mobility. Kabayel, the aggressor throughout, was comfortably ahead at the time of the stoppage. The official time was 2:23 of round seven.

Kovalev-Safar

In a dull 10-rounder, unsung Robin Safar, a Swedish-born fighter of Kurdish descent, may have written the finish for the career of Sergey Kovalev. At age 41 in his second fight as a cruiserweight and coming off a two-year layoff, the “Krusher” was a pale imitation of the fighter that won nine straight light heavyweight title fights before losing a controversial decision to Andre Ward in their first encounter.

Safar, who improved to 17-0 (12) punctuated his triumph by knocking down Kovalev (35-5-1) with a big right hand inside the final 10 seconds of the final round. The judges had it 99-90, 97-92, and 95-94.

Two early fights ended in early knockouts.

Moses Itauma, a 19-year-old, six-foot-six southpaw who was raised in London by a Nigerian father and a Slovakian mother, stopped Ilya Mezercev at the 50-second mark of the second round. Mezercev made it to his feet after being decked with a big right hook, but his legs were jelly and the fight was waved off.

Trained by Ben Davison, Itauma (9-0, 7 KOs) has been hailed as the next Anthony Joshua. As an amateur, he was reportedly 24-0. Mezercev, a Germany-based Kazkh, declined to 25-9.

British lightweight Mark “Thunder” Chamberlain (16-0, 12 KOs) looked sensational while blasting out Joshua Oluwaseun Wahab in the opening stanza. Chamberlain had Wahab (23-2) on the deck twice before the bout was waived off at the 2:42 mark.

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