SATURDAY’S FISTIC FEAST — What a difference a year makes! In May of last year, boxing fans in North America were moaning over a sport that was mired in the doldrums. Today those fans are whistling a happy tune, gratified that the slack was short-lived.
The last Saturday of April brought us a scintillating see-saw rumble between the two men generally recognized as the top two heavyweights in the world, an instant classic contested before a great multitude. You can’t ask for more than that. The month of May opened on the wrong foot, but before the month is over that dud in Las Vegas that cast a pall over Cinco de Mayo weekend will likely be a distant memory. From here on out, the docket is chock full of important fights that promise good action.
Former New York Daily News boxing writer Tim Smith, who is now a PR man with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, advises fight fans to get their eats and drinks in order for a full night of binge-watching on May 20. Between SHOWTIME and FS1, notes Smith, fans can watch six fights that will encompass six hours of viewing time. To which we would add that fight fans won’t be limited to this six-pack. HBO will be on the scene for Terence Crawford’s title defense at Madison Square Garden.
Here’s are snapshots of the eight fights that comprise Saturday’s horn of plenty:
Copper Box Arena, London, England (SHOWTIME)
Gervonta Davis (17-0, 16 KOs) vs. Liam Walsh (21-0, 14 KOs), 12 rounds, super featherweights
On paper this is the least competitive of the featured bouts. A protégé of Floyd Mayweather, Gervonta “Tank” Davis (pictured with his mentor) looked sensational in his last start while dismantling Jose Pedraza to win the IBF 130-pound world title. The 22-year-old Baltimorean is the youngest reigning American champion…One of three fighting brothers, Liam Walsh, like Davis, is an undefeated southpaw, but the comparison ends there.
MGM Grand National Harbor, Oxon Hill, MD (SHOWTIME)
Gary Russell Jr. (27-1, 16 KOs) vs. Oscar Escandon (25-2, 17 KOs), 12 rounds, featherweights
Russell, a decorated amateur before turning pro, has the home field advantage as he seeks to retain his WBC world title in his second title defense. His lone defeat came at the hands of Vasyl Lomachenko; no shame there…..Escandon, who hails from Columbia, earned this assignment by knocking out one of boxing’s best spoilers, Robinson Castellanos. Short of stature, he is a tough out when he can work his way inside. Both of Escandon’s defeats were by split decision in bouts sanctioned for interim world titles.
Andre Dirrell (25-2, 16 KOs) vs. Jose Uzcategui (21-1, 19 KOs), 12 rounds, super middleweights
A 2004 Olympian (he lost a narrow decision in the semifinals to Gennady Golovkin), Dirrell is the older brother of former 168-pound world titlist Anthony Dirrell. A southpaw, his only defeats were to Englishmen — namely Carl Froch and James DeGale – in world title fights….Uzcategui, who hails from Venezuela but fights out of Tijuana, has won four straight inside the distance since moving up in weight.
Rances Barthelemy (25-0, 16 KOs) vs. Kiryl Relikh (21-1, 19 KOs, 12 rounds, super lightweights
Barthelemy has held world titles at 130- and 135 pounds. (He vacated both titles because he found it harder and harder to make the weight.) The rangy 5’11” Cuban defector, who lives and trains in Las Vegas, lacks a big punch but the same can be said of his opponent, notwithstanding those 19 KOs…..Relikh, from Minsk in what is now Belarus, ventured to Scotland for his last assignment where he was outpointed by defending 140-pound world titlist Ricky Burns. He is making his U.S. debut.
Laredo Energy Arena, Laredo, TX (FS 1 and Fox Deportes)
David Benavidez (17-0, 16 KOs) vs. Rogelio Medina (37-7, 31 KOs), 12 rounds, super middleweights
The six-foot-two Benavidez, who has the frame to grow into a cruiserweight, had his early fights in Mexico because he was too young to be licensed in the United States. He seems destined to be recognized as one of the greatest fighters to come out of Phoenix, a rich pod that includes such notables as John Henry Lewis and Michael Carbajal….In Rogelio Medina, the precocious Benavidez is taking a big jump up in class. Medina has been in with the likes of Badou Jack and James DeGale and scored a knockout when last matched against an undefeated opponent, chopping down 18-0 J’Leon Love in the opening minute of the third round.
Jorge Lara (28-0-2, 20 KOs) vs. Mario Briones (28-5-2, 22 KOs), 10 rounds, featherweights
Lara routed Fernando Montiel in his last start, blowing away the faded former two-division world titlist in the opening round. A southpaw, he hails from Guadalajara, home to Canelo Alvarez and his clan….Only seven of Briones’s 28 wins have come against fighters with winning records. In his best performance, he fought a 10-round draw in Panama with Panama’s Roberto Vasquez. Unfortunately, the rules in effect didn’t allow for a tie and Briones lost the 11th round.
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY (HBO)
Terence Crawford (30-0, 21 KOs) vs. Felix Diaz (19-1, 9 KOs), 12 rounds, super lightweights
The lineal world champion at 140 pounds, Crawford is ranked among the top pound for pound fighters in the world and probably hasn’t reached his peak….Diaz, who is dropping down in weight after competing as a welterweight, is a huge underdog, but more than a few knowledge observers believe that the former Olympic gold medalist from the Dominican Republic will prove to be a tough nut to crack.
Raymundo Beltran (32-7-1, 20 KOs) vs. Jonathan Maicelo (25-2, 12 KOs), 10 rounds, lightweights
Beltran, who turns 36 in July, has won four straight since suffering a lopsided decision loss to Terence Crawford in 2014. In his last start, on the Crawford-Molina card in Omaha, he took hot prospect Mason Menard to school en route to scoring a seventh round stoppage….Maicelo, who is from Peru but fights out of New Jersey, is coming off his career-best performance. In a shocker, Maicelo dropped Jose Felix Jr. five times on his way to winning a wide decision. Felix was 35-1-1 going in.
In some parts of the world, the action doesn’t stop there. Earlier in the day on Saturday, several important fights are being staged in Tokyo. A grand feast, indeed.
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