3 Punch Combo: Three Potential Upsets plus Top Rank’s ESPN Deal and More

THREE PUNCH COMBO — September is a busy month in the sport of boxing. There are many cards on the schedule and many big fights on the horizon. With so many bouts, there are bound to be a few upsets. In looking ahead, here are the three most likely upsets in what will be a busy month.

On September 23rd, Yunier Dorticos (21-0, 20 KO’s) takes on Dmitry Kudryashov (21-1, 21 KO’s) in San Antonio, TX as part of the World Boxing Super Series in the cruiserweight division. When the fight was announced, I thought Kudryashov, the bearded Russian, would be favored.  However, at the moment sports books list Dorticos a solid 2-1 favorite. The reason for this is the one loss for Kudryashov. It was a stoppage loss to Olanrewaju Durodola in November of 2015. But since that fight, Kudryashov has come back strong, winning three straight by knockout while avenging the loss to Durodola in a dominant performance this past June.

Kudryashov is a pressure fighter with heavy handed power in both hands. He is relentless in his pressure and has fine-tuned some defensive lapses from that first fight with Durodola. Dorticos has a glossy record but has not faced anyone near the caliber of Kudryashov. On tape, Dorticos seems somewhat mechanical and not as fluid as Kudryashov. Dorticos also has a bad habit of holding his hands low and throwing wide looping punches that are easy for a skilled fighter to counter. In bringing the heat, Kudryashov is bound to find a home for some big shots early and often. I don’t see Dorticos being able to withstand the pressure.

Also on September 23rd, Jorge Linares (42-3, 27 KO’s) defends his portion of the 135-pound title against Luke Campbell (17-1, 14 KO’s) in Inglewood, CA. Linares is listed as a very solid favorite at the moment and I can certainly see the reasoning. He is a skilled fighter and one of the most fluid fighters in the sport. Everything seems to come so natural to Linares and when he puts it all together he often times looks unbeatable. The combinations flow beautifully and his opponents often can’t get their timing or are unwilling to throw altogether because of what is coming at them.

So why do I think a much less experienced Campbell can spring an upset against such a gifted fighter? Well, Linares has had issues with his chin and stamina in the past. Fighting as a pro for 15 years, those issues could reoccur. A young heavy handed fighter like Campbell may be able to push Linares and make those issues spring up again. Campbell will bring the pressure and work the body of Linares where we have seen Linares get hurt in the past. This could be one of those fights that if dragged deep could turn quickly in favor of the younger fighter from England.

A week earlier on September 16th, Billy Joe Saunders (24-0, 12 KO’s) defends his version of the 160-pound title against Willie Monroe Jr. (21-2, 6 KO’s). The fight will take place on Saunders turf in England, a large reason why he is currently favored by about a 2-1 margin at most sports books. As his record indicates, Monroe is not a big puncher and in order to win would almost assuredly have to do so on the scorecards. Yes, that can be a tall task when traveling to the UK to face a native fighter on his home soil. Still, Monroe is slick and skilled and, in my estimation, just the downright better fighter. He is much quicker and has much faster hands than Saunders and is better defensively. When Monroe has struggled, it has been against bigger punchers who get his respect but Saunders is not really a big puncher. The signs are all there for Monroe to be able to easily out box Saunders on route to a decision win. But in the UK will the judges give him a fair shake?

Some Ramifications of Top Rank’s ESPN Deal

 We had been waiting for the final details for some time on the Top Rank/ESPN deal and finally full details were unveiled at a press conference this past Saturday. Here are some of my final takeaways on how this venture will shake up the boxing industry.

The term “trickle down” gets thrown around a lot when discussing economics but is also appropriate in this case. At the press conference, those representing Top Rank made it clear that their content is going exclusively to ESPN in both the near and long term. Also, if a Top Rank event is going to pay-per-view, then ESPN would be the partner in producing such event. So, what all this means is that for the foreseeable future Top Rank will not be doing business with HBO.

However, HBO still appears to want to be involved in the sport. Maybe not to the extent it has in the past but, as evidenced by its September schedule, the network has no short term plans to totally pull out of boxing. They will of course need content from promoters and Top Rank had in the past been one of their bigger providers. Golden Boy Promotions and other smaller promoters will benefit with Top Rank out of picture. But HBO can only turn to them for so much.

It seems inevitable that HBO will once again open its doors to Al Haymon and the fighters under the PBC banner. HBO needs Haymon if it continues in boxing and Haymon needs HBO with many of his PBC deals coming to an end. Recently, the relationship between the two has somewhat thawed with HBO signing off on a big pay-per-view featuring a Haymon fighter in Daniel Jacobs this past March and then allowing other Haymon fighters in John Molina and Felix Diaz to recently appear on its platform. The HBO door is no longer totally closed to Haymon fighters and that door is about to get opened wider out of necessity.

A few other notes and observations from the Top Rank/ESPN press conference: Aside from the major cards that ESPN will be showing (the type of cards that Top Rank used to place on HBO), it appears that come 2018 they will be doing smaller scale shows on a digital platform. This would explain Top Rank’s recent signing binge and why so many fighters are flocking to Top Rank much like fighters flocked to the PBC banner in 2014. Top Rank will have the biggest platform and get fighters to the biggest audience. Their stable is only going to get bigger.

Also, Top Rank has made it clear that it will work with other promoters. They know that in order for this to work long term good matches have to be made and, well, it is unrealistic to expect all those fighters to come from the Top Rank stable. As a matter of fact, they went as far as admitting to past mistakes at the press conference and assuring fans that lessons were learned. And their actions so far are showing that they are willing to work with fighters who are not in their stable. Julius Indongo recently fought in a Top Rank main event. Guillermo Rigondeaux, who left Top Rank a few years ago for another promoter, is reportedly close to finalizing a deal to face Vasyl Lomachenko in December. This is an indication that Top Rank is sincere about making this partnership with ESPN work for the greater good of the sport.

About Making Weight

 It happens all too frequently nowadays and happened again on the big pay-per-view card this past weekend. A fighter blows off the contracted weight and essentially buys a de facto advantage when entering the ring. It is a practice that is not only unsportsmanlike and unfair but also potentially dangerous. However, commissions in the United States have the power to put an end to this by enacting a simple rule.

Before getting to my proposal, let’s look at what transpired this past weekend. Gervonta Davis was slated to defend his 130-pound title against Francisco Fonseca on the undercard of the big Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor pay-per-view event. Fonseca made the 130-pound limit, but Davis came in two pounds over and did not attempt to get down any further. Keep in mind that Fonseca probably had to drain himself at the end to make weight which affects performance in the ring the following day. So all things being equal, Davis had the advantage of being the fresher and stronger man when he entered the ring.

Fonseca decided to go forward with the fight anyway, getting a few more bucks thrown his way for his trouble. Frequently, the fighters who are professional and make weight do go forward with the event for a variety of reasons. First, they went through a training camp to get ready and that cost money. Second, if they don’t fight they don’t get paid. And third, networks as well as promoters often put pressure on them to go forward or face consequences down the road.

So how does this get fixed? It’s a simple rule that boxing commissions here in the United States can enact. The commissions would require boxers to submit the contracted weight for a fight seven days prior to the event. Once that contracted weight is submitted, that is the weight the commissions go with for the fight. If a fighter then misses weight, there would be a substantial penalty enacted if the fight were to proceed. My proposal would call for a 75% forfeiture of the fighter’s purse with 50 percent going to the opponent and the other 25 percent to something like a retired boxer’s fund. Knowing he is facing a severe hit in his pocketbook, a fighter would think twice about not making weight.

Think for a moment if this rule had been in effect this past weekend. If Davis knew he was not going to make weight, his camp may have notified Fonseca’s and the contract redone at least a week in advance. Fonseca would not have had to struggle as much to make weight. Or Davis simply would have just sucked it up and made the weight like a professional because the specter of losing 75 percent of his purse would have given him more than enough motivation to do just that.

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