There are three important boxing shows on Saturday, Feb. 17. The host cities are Manchester, England, El Paso, Texas, and Las Vegas, Nevada. The good news for serious boxing fans is that none of the main events overlap.
The fight getting the most buzz is the Manchester fight between WBA 168-pound title holder George Groves and Chris Eubank Jr (pictured). Over in the U.K., this would be a major event even if it wasn’t part of the World Boxing Super Series.
Both fighters are in excellent form. Groves (27-3, 20 KOs) has won six straight since hooking up with trainer Shane McGuigan. Two of his three losses came at the hands of countryman Carl Froch, a future Hall of Famer, and the other at the hands of surging Badou Jack, a reigning light heavyweight champion, and all three bouts were nip-and-tuck, notwithstanding the fact that both Froch fights ended inside the distance. Eubank Jr. (26-1, 20 KOs) has won eight straight, seven inside the distance, since losing a razor-thin decision to current WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders.
Groves entered the WBSS super middleweight tournament as the top seed, but the money has come in on Eubank. The son of the former two-division champion of the same name was a consensus 8/5 favorite in man-to-man betting when we last checked, odds that smack of a very competitive fight.
The bad news for U.S. fight fans is that the WBSS has no U.S. TV partner. However, last week’s exciting cruiserweight contest between Murat Gassiev and Yunier Dorticos popped up with no advance warning on the Internet. The livestream from Russia was picture-perfect, free and completely legal. If we google around on Saturday afternoon, perhaps we’ll get lucky again.
The featured bouts on Saturday’s El Paso show will air at 8 PM ET, 5 PM PT on the Fox and Fox Deportes networks. The main event is a 12-round welterweight contest between Victor Ortiz (32-6-2, 25 KOs) and Devon Alexander (27-4, 14 KOs). In the co-main, Caleb Plant (16-0, 10 KOs) opposes Rogelio “Porky” Medina (38-8, 32 KOs) in a 10-round super middleweight affair.
Ortiz and Alexander are former world welterweight titlists who have been relatively inactive in recent years. Ortiz has lost four of his last seven; Alexander has lost three of his last five. This is a relatively uninteresting, albeit potentially entertaining fight. However, the co-main is enticing as Plant, a promising prospect, meets his toughest opponent to date. Mexico’s Medina has been in with the likes of Jose Uzcategui, Badou Jack, and David Benavidez.
A self-styled country boy with a kickboxing background, Plant grew up poor in Ashland City, Tennessee (pop. 4,500). Asked what kind of work his father did, he replied “whatever work he could find.” He had a terrible tragedy in his life. A daughter, born with a congenital disorder that required round the clock care, died at 19 months. Plant now lives and trains in Las Vegas where is often seen in the company of his girlfriend, PBC television personality Jordan Hardy. They have been described as “boxing’s power couple.”
Plant’s last three fights went the distance, but summing the scorecards he received 299 of a possible 300 points. If he looks good against Porky Medina, you will be reading a lot more about him.
The TV portion of the El Paso card will also showcase lightweight Karlos Balderas. As a pro, the 2016 Olympian from Santa Maria, California is 3-0, having stopped each of his opponents in the opening round. He is promoted by globetrotter Richard Schaefer, one of the architects of the World Boxing Super Series. The off-TV portion includes a stay- busy fight for former world 154-pound world titlist Austin Trout, who resides in nearby Las Cruces, and a featherweight title fight between local fan favorite Jennifer Han, the incumbent, and Argentina’s Liz Crespo.
A 12-round welterweight contest between Danny Garcia (33-1, 19 KOs) and Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios (34-3-1, 25 KOs) tops the marquee at the Las Vegas show at Mandalay Bay. SHOWTIME will televise at 10 PM ET, 7 PM PT.
This will be Garcia’s first start since losing his welterweight title and undefeated record in a unification match with Keith Thurman in March of last year. The verdict was split, but Team Garcia had few sympathizers when they wailed that Danny was robbed. Rios is a former world lightweight titlist.
While this has the look of a good action fight, the co-main between David Benavidez (19-0, 17 KOs) and Ronald Gavril (18-2, 15 KOs) is more intriguing. This is a rematch. They fought last September with the vacant WBC 168-pound strap on the line and Benavidez, three months shy of his 21st birthday, won a split decision to become the world’s youngest active world champion. But Gavril, a big underdog, made it interesting with a furious rally.
Benavidez, who had his first seven pro fights in Mexico because he was too young to legally fight in the United States, comes from a fighting family. His older brother Jose Benavidez Jr. is undefeated (26-0) and previously held an interim 140-pound title. Gavril, who grew up on a farm in Romania, is a member of Floyd Mayweather’s “Money Team.” He is trained by former light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.
A third TV bout is a welterweight affair between Philadelphia southpaw Ray Robinson (24-2, 12 KOs) and Cuban defector Yordenas Ugas (20-3, 9 KOs). Both are streaking, notably Robinson who is seeking to win his 14th straight. This reporter looks forward to seeing Jonathan Esquivel on the undercard. The young prospect from Anaheim, who has won all four of his pro fights by stoppage, just missed making the 2016 U.S. Olympic team. At the final qualifying tournament in Venezuela, he had the misfortune of being thrust against 12-year pro Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam of France, a former two-time world title challenger. Esquivel lost a 2-1 decision.
It’s no coincidence that the El Paso and Las Vegas shows feature bouts in the 168-pound and 147-pound divisions at the top of the card. If form holds up, look for the winner of Plant-Medina to fight the winner of Benavidez-Gavril next. Likewise, the winner of Ortiz-Alexander will be in the line to fight the winner of Garcia-Rios.
And let’s not quit this look-ahead without taking note of Friday’s Top Rank ESPN card in Reno, the overture to the Saturday scrums. Veterans Ray Beltran (34-7-1, 21 KOs) and Paulus Moses (40-3, 25 KOs) tangle for the vacant WBO lightweight title in the main go. According to a Top Rank press release, a victory for Beltran will almost certainly assure of him of receiving his coveted green card which would allow him to remain in the U.S. with his family without fear of deportation. Beltran is from Los Mochis, Sinoloa, Mexico, but has resided in Phoenix for many years where he has supplemented his ring earnings at various times as an uber driver. Moses is reportedly a high ranking policeman in his native Namibia.
The chief undercard fight pits Lithuania’s Egidijus Kavaliauskas (18-0, 15 KOs) against David Avenesyan (23-2-1, 11 KOs). The well-traveled Avenesyan, born in Russia, currently resides in England. His manager claims that Avenesyan, a welterweight, recently got the better of the much heavier Chris Eubank Jr in a sparring session.
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