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At the Moment Boxing is Dormant, but There Will Be Fireworks Aplenty in February

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At the Moment Boxing is Dormant, but There Will Be Fireworks Aplenty in February

The month of January has been quiet on the boxing front and that’s putting it mildly. And making matters worse, the month’s best offering, a Golden Boy card on Jan. 30, bit the dust when Sergey Kovalev tested positive for a banned substance, harpooning his bout with Bektemir Melikuziev and forcing the cancellation of the entire card.

Once considered a shoo-in for Canastota, Kovalev has degenerated into a longshot and his match with Melikuziev didn’t figure to help his chances. The Uzbek southpaw, a Bronze medalist at the Rio Olympiad, has only six pro fights under his belt but is so highly regarded that the bookies installed him a 7/2 favorite.

Showtime has a PBC card on Jan. 23 headlined by a WBO world title match between super bantamweights Angelo Leo and Stephen Fulton, there’s an intriguing heavyweight match on the 29th between musty Manuel Charr and Don King’s undefeated Trevor Bryan, and Caleb Plant is slated to defend his IBF 168-pound belt the following night against Caleb Truax, but that’s it for this month, quite a limp slate, even considering that January is historically a slow month for the sweet science.

The good news is that things will heat up in February.

February 13

The 13th will be a particularly busy day. The action kicks off in the afternoon (U.S. time) when Josh Warrington, the Leeds Warrior, defends his IBF world featherweight title against Mexico City’s Mauricio Lara on a Matchroom/DAZN card. Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs) doesn’t pack a hard punch, but makes up for it with a high-octane attack. He will go to post a solid favorite over Lara (21-2, 14 KOs).

That evening, two West Coast shows will compete for eyeballs.

In Las Vegas, Joe Smith Jr. (26-3, 21 KOs) opposes Russia’s Maxim Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs) for the vacant WBA light heavyweight title. A Long Island construction worker who has branched out and started a tree surgery business, Smith will be forever remembered as the man who rucked Bernard Hopkins into retirement, but based on his recent efforts that was certainly no fluke. In bouts with Jesse Hart and former title-holder Eleider Alvarez, Smith showed that he is a skilled craftsman with a high boxing IQ.

The are two title fights on the Golden Boy card going head-to-head in Indio, CA. It’s Brazil vs. Argentina when Brazil’s Patrick Teixeira (31-1, 22 KOs) opposes Brian Castano (16-0-1, 12 KOs). Teixeira will be making his first start since copping the WBO 154-pound title with a mild upset of Carlos Adames in November of 2019. That was a bloody battle in which Teixeira overcame a big deficit to pull the fight out of the fire.

Teixeira will dress as the underdog vs. Castano, a second-generation professional boxer who was reportedly 181-5 as an amateur and who recently held a version of the WBA light middleweight title (doesn’t everybody?). The draw on Castano’s ledger came in a spirited skirmish with Erislandy Lara.

Teixeira vs. Castano will more than likely precede the match between Joseph “Jojo” Diaz (31-1, 15 KOs) and Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (15-0, 12 KOs) in the bout order. Diaz will be making the first defense of the IBF 130-pound title he won from Tevin Farmer in January of last year. Rakhimov, a native of Tajikistan who currently resides in Ekaterinburg, Russia, will be making his U.S. debut.

Feb. 20

The featured bout of the second Matchroon/DAZN event of 2021 is a 12-round welterweight contest between David Avanesyan (26-3-1, 14 KOs) and Josh Kelly (10-0-1, 6 KOs). The well-traveled Avanesyan has turned his career around after suffering a sixth-round stoppage at the hands of Egidijus Kavaliauskas in February of 2019. Since then, he’s won three straight in Spain, including back-to-back knockouts of the highly-touted and previously undefeated Spaniard, Kerman Lejarraga.

England’s Kelly, a former Olympian, is moving up in class, but at last look he was a very slight favorite over his Russian adversary. Akin to Warrington vs. Lara, the match is expected to take place at Wembley Arena where Anthony Joshua TKOed Kubrat Pulev before 1,000 fans on Dec. 12.

The all-Mexico showdown between Miguel Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) and Oscar Valdez (28-0, 22 KOs) is the crème-de-la-crème of the February docket. On paper this bout, a Top Rank promotion pushed back from Dec. 12 when Berchelt tested positive for COVID, will warrant consideration for Fight of the Year.

Berchelt, who will be defending his WBC 130-pound world title, has knocked out 15 of his last 17 opponents. This will be the third fight at 130 for Valdez, a two-time Olympian who successfully defended his WBO world featherweight title six times before vacating the belt because he was having trouble making the weight.

If Berchelt  (pictured on the left) is victorious, he is expected to move up to lightweight where some rich paydays await in potential fights with Vasyl Lomachenko and bevy of young hotshots. If Valdez wins, it is expected that he will pursue a unification fight with the winner of the forthcoming match between Carl Frampton and Jamel Herring.

Top Rank honcho Bob Arum has indicated that both the Smith-Vlasov and Berchelt-Valdez fights will be staged in Las Vegas at an MGM property, but not necessarily at the MGM Grand where Top Rank promoted 24 shows without fans during the pandemic.

Feb. 27

On the last Saturday of the month, fight fans in the U.S. can take in a doubleheader if they can roust themselves out of bed in the middle of the night. In Auckland, New Zealand (18 hours ahead of New York), there’s a big domestic clash between heavyweights Joseph Parker (27-2, 21 KOs) and Junior Fa (19-0, 10 KOs). These two have been on a collision course since 2009 when Fa, the older man by 27 months, defeated Parker in the first of their four meetings as amateurs. Parker won two of the next three to even the series at 2-2.

Here we have a bout with international significance that is also a match for neighborhood bragging rights. Parker and Fa grew up in the same South Auckland neighborhood and attended the same LDS church. But yet it won’t be hard to contort this fight into a grudge match. Parker’s family roots are in Samoa; Fa’s in Tonga. The two nations have a fierce rivalry in rugby.

This fight was more than two years in the making and when the bout was finally signed, 9,000 tickets went on sale to the general public.

Later that day, at a yet undetermined site in London, Carl Frampton (28-2, 16 KOs) seeks to become a title-holder in a third weight class when he challenges WBO 130-pound title-holder Jamel Herring (22-2, 10 KOs). The twice-postponed fight will air in the U.S. on ESPN+.

Frampton is currently a consensus 3/2 favorite over Herring who suffered an eye injury over his right optic, described as scraped lens, in his messy September fight with billy goat Jonathan Oquendo. A former Marine and former Olympian, Herring currently trains with Terence Crawford in  Omaha

As we move into March, the first Saturday will bring the rematch between Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin. Whyte dominated the first meeting until Povetkin found a home for a hellacious uppercut in the fifth frame, terminating the bout. Whyte, at age 32 the younger man by nine years, is favored to avenge that bitter defeat. As for the location, promoter Eddie Hearn has had conversations with potential suitors in Gibraltar and Monaco.

So, hang in there, fight fans. January may be dry, but there’s a whole bunch of interesting fights lurking around the corner.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ and More

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It’s official. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a formal press conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, to announce the forthcoming fight between Mahmoud Charr, formerly known as Manuel Charr, and Kubrat Pulev. They will meet in Bulgaria’s capital city on March 30 at a 12,000-seat arena.

Charr vs Kubrat bears the imprimatur of a world heavyweight title fight (WBA version). Charr is considered the champion, notwithstanding the fact that others have held the title since he first laid claim to it more than six years ago.

The WBA, as we know, recognizes two champions in some weight classes, a “super” champion and a “regular” champion. The “super” designation was created in 2000. It was designed to segregate title-holders into levels of accomplishment. In theory, a “super” champion has made five successful defenses and is recognized as a world title-holder by at least one of the three other major sanctioning bodies. “Super” champions are allowed certain liberties with respect to mandatory title defenses.

The bifurcation was greeted with hoots of derision. The Panama-based WBA trivialized the sport.

Mahmoud Charr

Mahmoud Charr was born in Beirut but has resided in Germany since he was a little boy. He won the vacant title with a 12-round decision over unexceptional Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany.  It was a close fight. TSS ringside correspondent Phil Woolever had Ustinov winning 7 rounds to 5, but conceded that the verdict could not be called an injustice.

The title that Charr won was vacated by Ruslan Chagaev who won the belt from Fres Oquendo, lost it to Lucas Browne, and got it back by decree when Browne’s post-fight urine tests showed evidence of banned substances. But Chagaev never fought again. His fight with Browne was his last.

Charr’s first defense was to come against Fres Oquendo. Slated for March 23, 2019 in Cologne after being pushed back from September of the previous year, the match never came to fruition when Charr tested positive for two banned substances. Things get really muddled from here with Charr pushed to the sideline by legal battles complicated by Don King’s shenanigans. King arranged a fight in Florida between Charr and his fighter Trevor Bryan and succeeded in getting Bryan the WBA belt when Charr was unable to get a visa. The belt is vacant again after Bryan was knocked out by Daniel Dubois who, in turn, was knocked out by “super” champion Oleksandr Usyk.

There are more threads to this saga but let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that after defeating Ustinov, Charr was out of action for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s had only three fights since 2017 and to say that his opponents were men of low repute would be giving them the best of it. In his most recent assignment, in December of 2022, he scored a second-round stoppage over 46-year-old Swiss-Albanian slug Nuri Seferi. That brought his record to 34-4 (20). He has been stopped three times, most recently in 2015 when he was halted in five frames by future cruiserweight champion Maris Briedis.

Kubrat Pulev

Kubrat Pulev will have the home field advantage in Sofia. Charr will have youth on his side. He’s 39; Pulev is 42.

Pulev sports a 30-3 record. The losses came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko (L KO 5), Anthony Joshua (L KO 9), and Derek Chisora (L SD 12). He last fought in December at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, CA, where he won a lopsided decision over Polish journeyman Andrzej Wawrzyk.

In a previous engagement here at the Hangar, a concert hall that seats a shade over 3,000, he TKOed Bogdan Dinu. That bout is remembered mostly for what happened after it ended. In an incident that went viral on social media, Pulev surprised Jennifer Ravalo, a self-styled journalist, with a kiss on the lips. That animated women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and led to an 8-page spread in Playboy (of Ravalo, not Allred). The California State Athletic Commission fined and suspended Pulev and mandated that he undergo sexual harassment training. The suspension lasted 120 days.

The match between Charr and Pulev, says a blurb about it, is an “eagerly anticipated” clash between “two evergreen living legends.” We will let you provide the punchline, The winner is expected to fight Martin Bakole who was knocked out by Michael Hunter.

Jake Paul

Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of prizefighting, returns this Saturday on a card in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that will air on DAZN. Paul, a so-called influencer who brought his big social media following with him when he took up fisticuffing, is coming off a first-round stoppage of Andre August, a no-name fighter from Texas. Saturday’s sacrificial lamb is a fellow from Dickinson, North Dakota (by way of Benicia, California) named Ryan Bourland.

Bourland, who is reportedly 35 years old but looks older, scored his signature win in 2018 when he avenged a previous defeat with a 10-round majority decision over Jose Hernandez. He has fought only one since then, TKOing a fighter with a losing record in a 6-rounder at a lodge on a remote Indian reservation in North Dakota. That improved his ledger to 17-2 (6 KOs).

Regarding Jake Paul, Thomas Hauser once wrote that he’s worked hard to become a better boxer and is “certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.” There was a time when this reporter, perhaps naively, thought that Jake had the potential to become a legitimate top-15 cruiserweight, but his recent choice of opponents suggests that he is comfortable just spinning his wheels.

His bout with Bourland will play second fiddle to Amanda Serrano’s featherweight title defense against Germany’s Nina Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs). Although Amanda has a lot of mileage on her odometer, she is expected to have little difficulty with Meinke. In another bout of note, Puerto Rican campaigners Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KOs) and Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder with Gonzalez’s WBO light flyweight title at stake.

—-

Let’s conclude this write-up on an upbeat note. Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a frequent TSS contributor, informs us that his fifth and presumably final anthology is nearing completion with a likely release date of April or May. “Championship Rounds, Round 5” includes a foreword by Gerry Cooney and has drawn glowing reviews from the likes of Dave Kindred and Dr. Gordon Marino who both had an early peek at the manuscript. Kindred, a renowned sportswriter and author, was the subject of a 2021 piece on “60 Minutes.” Marino, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has written extensively about boxing for the Wall Street Journal.

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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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