THREE PUNCH COMBO — After Conor McGregor put up a more spirited effort than most anticipated against Floyd Mayweather Jr. a few weeks ago in Las Vegas, thoughts turned to other UFC fighters possibly facing boxing’s best in the squared circle. As a matter of fact, current UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic went as far as challenging Anthony Joshua on Twitter to a fight in the immediate aftermath of Mayweather-McGregor. For a variety of reasons, it is a fight that may actually happen at some point, either next year or early 2019.
Many inside the sport feel that Joshua, a charismatic heavyweight with a big punch and big time skills, is boxing’s next big pay-per-view star following the exit of Mayweather. In his last fight against Wladimir Klitschko, Joshua not only beat the best opponent he has faced but overcame major adversity, showing the heart of a champion to prevail. Basically, Joshua has all the tools to be a global star.
Joshua has fought all of his bouts in the U.K. He is scheduled to face Kubrat Pulev in October in Cardiff, Wales. To be boxing’s next big pay-per-view star he needs to have a fight in the United States to build his base.
If all goes right against Pulev, Joshua could be headed across the pond for his next fight. But the names of possible opponents, such as Deontay Wilder or Luis Ortiz, while known to hardcore boxing fans, would not have the crossover appeal to be a major sporting event in the U.S. So such a fight would probably not go the pay-per-view route. As a matter of fact, selling tickets may even be a bit of a challenge for Joshua’s first fight in the U.S.
Hypothetically, let’s say Joshua defeats Pulev easily and then dispatches Wilder or Ortiz in the U.S. in the spring of 2018. Joshua would be heavily favored in all of those contests, so that’s not going out on a limb. While these fights will be watched by hardcore boxing fans, casual sports fans, particularly in the U.S., may or may not take notice. This is where Joshua would need a name that mainstream fans would take notice of and that name is Stipe Miocic.
Miocic has a big fan base. At the moment, he is more recognizable than Joshua to casual sports fans in the U.S. and the better than expected performance by McGregor would help legitimize the fight. It would no doubt go pay-per-view and while it wouldn’t get Mayweather-McGregor- like attention, it would still garner big time media coverage. This is precisely the attention that Joshua would need to become an overnight star in the U.S. There is no other opponent available right now that could bring this much attention to him. That is why a Joshua vs. Miocic match is more probable than possible.
Under the Radar Fights
In my estimation, the best fights top to bottom in 2017 have been put on by Golden Boy Promotions. To that point, not surprisingly a pair of Golden Boy promoted fights highlight this week’s under the radar fights segment.
On Friday, Claudio Marrero (22-1, 16 KO’s) takes on Jesus Rojas (25-1-2, 18 KO’s) for an interim title in a bout that will be televised on ESPN2. This fight is evenly matched and features a very interesting match of contrasting styles.
Marrero would best be described as an aggressive boxer-puncher who usually maintains a high rate of activity in his fights. He is fundamentally sound, having picked up vast ring experience during a lengthy amateur career. Marrero, who is coming off a one round destruction of the previously undefeated Carlos Zambrano, also has above average power in both hands. Jesus Rojas is a pressure fighter who relies on getting inside to get his work done. He is rugged and prefers to just try to walk down his opponents instead of using a jab to get inside. He is one of those guys who is hard to discourage as he keeps coming and coming, chucking leather. So we have a match with a high volume puncher in Marrero facing a pressure fighter who likes to mix it up. Yeah, this is going to be fun and will likely be the most action-packed fight of the weekend.
On Saturday, Diego De La Hoya (19-0, 9 KO’s) battles Randy Caballero (24-0, 14 KO’s) in a 122-pound contest that will be on the televised portion of the Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin pay-per-view card. This is an intriguing toss-up fight between two young fighters with seemingly bright futures in this sport.
De La Hoya is a boxer-puncher who will use his legs to navigate the ring. He is not a runner but instead uses lateral movement to get in position to throw combinations. He has quicker hands than Caballero, but is not as compact defensively. Caballero, for his part, is more experienced and has fought much better opposition. In addition, Caballero is a good counter puncher and suburb at timing his opponents to throw in between their punches.
It will be the speed of De La Hoya against the timing and counterpunching ability of Caballero. While this bout won’t have the action of Marrero-Rojas, expect a nice crisp competitive professional boxing match.
While the attention of the boxing world will be focused on the super fight between Alvarez and Golovkin, there will be plenty of other action that warrants our attention. These two fights are flying deep under the radar but each should be competitive well-fought contests that should not be missed.
There is one key factor many pundits are overlooking when breaking down this week’s clash between Alvarez and Golovkin. Golovkin turned pro in 2006 in the 160-pound weight class. Eleven years later, Golovkin is still fighting at 160. That is a long time to keep making the same weight. Some have speculated, myself included, that maybe Golovkin did not look as good last time out against Daniel Jacobs in order to entice Canelo into the ring. But maybe, at age 35, it is now becoming more and more difficult for Golovkin to squeeze down to 160. If that is the case, his performance in the ring will obviously be negatively impacted. There won’t be the same zip on his punches and he may hold back more if his energy level is not up to par.
For comparisons sake, Alvarez turned pro at 140 in 2005 and as his body matured he moved up in weight gradually. Cutting weight, time and time again, can take a lot out of a fighter and as a fighter gets older getting down to that same weight has to be more difficult. There could come a point in time where it is just too much and performance inside the ring takes a major hit. Could this happen to Golovkin on Saturday?
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In 1995, an unknown fighter from Thailand named Saman Sorjaturong came to the United States and lifted a 108-pound title from Humberto Gonzalez who was a big star at the time. It was a tremendous war that was named the fight of the year by The Ring Magazine. There were potentially a lot of big fights in the lower weight divisions for Sorjaturong following that win but none ever materialized because he went back to Thailand and defended his title in his home country for years against lesser foes because he could draw bigger audiences and bigger paydays while fighting inferior opposition at home than traveling overseas to fight higher risk opponents. It was simple boxing economics.
I bring this up because we had another exciting Thai fighter, namely Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, lift a belt in a lower weight division from another former star in Roman Gonzalez back in March. Of course, they just had the rematch, which was ordered by the sanctioning body, and Sor Rungvisai won again, albeit much more decisively.
A new star is born in Sor Rungvisai and a lot of big fights are available to him. But will boxing economics dictate that he ends up back in Thailand defending his belt in front of big audiences against inferior competition? I hate to be a buzzkill but that is a strong possibility and we may never get to see Sor Rungvisai in those big fights.
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