THREE PUNCH COMBO — After pulling two stunning upsets in 2016, light heavyweight contender Joe Smith Jr. (23-1, 19 KO’s) returns to the ring on Saturday to face Sullivan Barrera (19-1, 14 KO’s). This is a high stakes, high reward fight for Smith who can solidify his position in what is becoming a deep light heavyweight division with a victory.
Entering 2016, Smith was known mostly as a fun-to-watch club fighter. But his two knockout wins against Andrzej Fonfara and Bernard Hopkins moved him from a journeyman to an instant contender.
Those wins, however, were not without questions. Fonfara was coming off a brutal war against Nathan Cleverly, a fight in which he took a lot of punishment. After getting starched by Smith, Fonfara then struggled mightily against a very faded Chad Dawson. Then Fonfara stepped into the ring for a second time against Adonis Stevenson and was destroyed in two rounds, seemingly hurt by every significant punch that landed. The point here is that Fonfara may have gotten old fast following the Cleverly fight which raises questions about the type of fighter Smith beat last summer.
The other win was against the legendary Hopkins. Smith impressed here, becoming the first man to stop Hopkins, a future first ballot Hall of Famer. However, Hopkins was 51 at the time and had been out of the ring for two years. Smith did what he needed to do, but the fact remains that he was meeting a fighter who had finally succumbed to Father Time.
A win against Barrera would erase the questions noted above and place Smith firmly in line to challenge either Stevenson or Andre Ward. Barrera is a skilled fighter coming off a big win of his own against the previously undefeated Vyacheslav Shabranskyy. Barrera showcased his speed and power in that fight in beating a rising, highly regarded prospect. The win also placed Barrera back in the picture at light heavyweight.
Unlike Fonfara and Hopkins, Sullivan Barrera is still in the prime of his career. This is a dangerous fight for Smith and he deserves credit for taking on such an opponent where many in his position simply would not have taken the risk. If Smith prevails on Saturday, he will prove he is no average Joe and will have earned an opportunity for a big money title fight his next time out.
World Boxing Super Series Quarterfinals
This past weekend the draw for the World Boxing Super Series was held to determine the quarterfinal matches in the cruiserweight and super middleweight divisions. There are some very interesting matches that will be taking place when the tournament commences in a few months. Two fights in particular are especially intriguing.
In the cruiserweight division, Yunier Dorticos (21-0, 20 KO’s) takes on Dmitry Kudryashov (21-1, 21 KO’s). This is an evenly matched bout between two fighters who are big punchers and developmentally at the same point in their respective careers. Dorticos is a boxer puncher who likes to work behind the left jab and throw punches in combination. He is a volume puncher, though he will also look for spots to land the straight right hand which is probably his best punch.
Kudryashov is a pure pressure fighter, one who is not afraid to eat a few punches to get into the grill of his opponents to unload power shots of his own. As his record suggests with all 21 wins coming by knockout, he carries serious power in both hands. This could be a high contact shootout with Dorticos firing off combinations as Kudryashov presses forward. There is no doubt in my mind this will be fun for the fans as long as it lasts. It could be a fight of the year contender.
Although it may not be the shootout that Dorticos-Kudryashov will almost certainly become, the super middleweight quarterfinal bout between Juergen Braehmer (48-3, 35 KO’s) and Rob Brant (22-0, 15 KO’s) is a very interesting fight. This is a classic matchup of an older former champion on the decline in Braehmer against a young up-and-coming but untested prospect in Brant.
Braehmer, a southpaw, likes to work from the outside behind his jab and set up angles using his legs to pot shot his opponents with the left. He is not a high volume puncher and can be out-worked, but he can frustrate an opponent into fighting his fight and then pick him apart from the outside. Brant is a boxer puncher with above average hand speed and decent power, but he is taking a giant step up in competition as well as a step-up in weight from middleweight to super middleweight. In order for him to win, he will need to force Braehmer to fight at a pace at which Braehmer is uncomfortable. He will need to beat Braehmer to the punch and out-hustle the former champion with flashy combinations. In all probability this will be a tactical fight fought at a very high skill level.
The World Boxing Super Series has come together and the quarterfinals are now officially set. This single elimination tournament should be very exciting and bring together many quality matches, including the two highlighted above.
Under The Radar Fights
After a slow week, the boxing schedule heats up this week with several televised cards. With so much on the agenda, there are some solid fights flying severely under the radar.
ShoBox returns on Friday and brings with it the return of hot prospect Ivan Baranchyk (16-0, 10 KO’s). He will be facing fellow undefeated fighter Keenan Smith (11-0, 5 KO’s).
Baranchyk scored some highlight reel knockouts earlier in his career that put the boxing community on notice. However his star has been a bit on the decline of late as he hasn’t been winning as impressively. Each of his last three fights went the distance. He needs an impressive performance against Smith to get the buzz going again.
Smith, for his part, is also a ShoBox veteran, having scored his best win against Benjamin Whitaker nearly two years ago on the series. He’s a southpaw with decent skills, and if he can take Baranchyk’s power he can make things very interesting. It is an intriguing matchup between two young undefeated fighters and a fight that fits the mode of the excellent matchmaking historically done on the ShoBox series.
As part of HBO’s Saturday’s tripleheader, WBA super featherweight champion Jezreel Corrales (21-1, 8 KO’s) defends his belt against Robinson Castellanos (24-12, 14 KO’s). On paper, this looks like a showcase for Corrales, a quick handed southpaw, but it is far from that. Castellanos may have the record of a journeyman, but that is very deceiving. He has followed a career path similar to that of Orlando Salido in suffering many early losses before figuring things out and going on a run. That run was topped off two months ago when he upset the highly favored Yuriorkis Gamboa. Castellanos is a confident fighter who is hard to discourage inside the ring. He brings pressure and throws a high volume of punches from all sorts of angles and that seems to perplex his opponents. Throwing such punches from awkward angles often leaves him open to be countered and that can, of course, lead to plenty of action when he fights.
As for Corrales, although he has only eight knockouts in 22 fights, six have come in his last seven fights which shows improving power. Corrales likes to counter and should have plenty of opportunities to do so against Castellanos. Expect to see a competitive fight with good action and plenty of exchanges, a fight more evenly matched than what it appears to be on paper.
It’s a busy week in boxing with several cards slated for the televised schedule. The fights above aren’t getting as much buzz as some of the others, but are definitely fights that fight fans should not miss.
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