THREE PUNCH COMBO—This past Saturday, June 30, in the fourth defense of his 168-pound title, Gilberto Ramirez (38-0, 25 KO’s) won a wide unanimous decision over Columbian challenger Roamer Alexis Angulo (23-1, 20 KO’s). This was also the second straight time that Ramirez (pictured on the left) faced an opponent with questionable credentials. Ramirez expressed a desire afterward to unify and seek out bigger fights. But just what are his realistic options?
Two belt holders at 168, James DeGale and David Benavidez, are involved with PBC, as is the interim IBF champion Jose Uzcategui. Crossing political boundaries may not be as insurmountable as it once was between PBC and Top Rank, but it stands to reason that PBC will not risk losing their 168-pound champions in a high risk / low reward fight to Ramirez. There are other bigger opportunities for those fighters in the near term.
The other champion is George Groves who is tied to a match in the World Boxing Super Series against Callum Smith. The winner could make for a future opponent for Ramirez but that is down the road.
I do think Top Rank would love to put Ramirez in with the winner of Groves-Smith. They would even be willing to do so in the UK where the fight would be massive. Top Rank also knows such a fight needs to be built. As such, it would not shock me to see Ramirez head to the UK for his next title defense against a hometown fighter.
Last week on ESPN+, Top Rank broadcast Martin Murray’s victory against Roberto Garcia in a middleweight contest from the UK. Though Murray has an expressed desire to stay at middleweight, he would almost certainly jump at the chance to fight Ramirez at 168 for a title. It would seem logical that fight would take place in the UK where it would garner a ton of interest and sell a lot of tickets. It would also help build Ramirez’s marketability in the UK for a future showdown against the winner of Groves-Smith.
There is one other possibility for Ramirez. And that is Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Granted, the relationship between Chavez Jr. and Top Rank is not great, but both sides could make a lot of money and money has a way of smoothing out these differences. Ramirez would be a substantial favorite, but such a match would certainly draw large ratings for ESPN. Chavez would need to have a fight in the interim and win it to get back in the ratings, or the bout could be structured at some sort of catch weight with no title at stake.
Regardless, an all-Mexican showdown between Ramirez and Chavez Jr is within the realm of possibilities.
The month of July is a particularly busy one in the sport of boxing. There is not a weekend without a major fight card or two on the docket. With so many fights, there are bound to be some surprises. Here is a look at a couple of potential upsets.
Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KO’s) vs. Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KO’s)
Finally we have a date of July 21st for the World Boxing Super Series Cruiserweight Final between Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev. Though not a prohibitive favorite by any stretch, Usyk is favored in the sports books as well as favored by most boxing insiders to defeat Gassiev and lift the Ali Trophy.
In my opinion, this is about as close to a pick-‘em type fight as we will see. Usyk has the better boxing skills and footwork. He will try to pepper the more aggressive Gassiev with jabs and combinations from the outside. The volume will be in favor of Usyk but the harder cleaner punches will be in favor of Gassiev. Gassiev knows how to set up his power shots and land clean hard effective punches as evidenced by recent performances. Usyk can be vulnerable to the straight right hand which is Gassiev’s best punch.
There will be a lot of close rounds. I foresee a split decision and a fight that Gassiev can very easily steal on the cards.
Jaime Munguia (29-0, 25 KO’s) vs. Liam Smith (26-1-1, 14 KO’s)
Also on July 21st, Jaime Munguia makes the first defense of his newly won 154-pound title against mandatory challenger Liam Smith. Make no mistake about it, Smith is a live underdog.
Munguia is hot right now coming off his destruction of Sadam Ali. But Munguia was considerably bigger than Ali who also possessed a somewhat shaky set of whiskers. It all added up to a blistering performance by Munguia.
Smith is a legit 154-pounder who should take Munguia’s power much better than Ali. Munguia also has severe defensive issues. He likes to block punches with his head. That did not present itself so much in the Ali fight but will matter down the road. Smith is solid and if he can absorb Munguia’s bombs early he can make this into a really interesting fight, possibly exposing those defensive liabilities of Munguia.
Mikey Garcia (38-0, 30 KO’s) vs. Robert Easter Jr. (21-0, 14 KO’s)
The following week on July 28th, Mikey Garcia takes on Robert Easter Jr. in a lightweight unification fight. Believe it or not, Easter has good chance of prevailing — a much better chance than most feel at this time.
Granted, this is the longest shot of an upset of the three listed. But Easter is very talented, a fact that a lot of folks have forgotten given some of his recent performances. He will have a five inch height advantage as well as a significant reach advantage.. Easter has an excellent jab but does not always use that weapon. He can be very good when working combinations behind that jab. Easter has quick hands and is a sharp puncher.
The issue for Easter has been lack of focus and development, but we have seen fighters suddenly put it all together and live up to their potential overnight. The talent to spring an upset is there for Easter and if he suddenly figures it out, it makes for one scary proposition for Mikey Garcia.
Under The Radar Fights
Top Rank is back on ESPN next Saturday from Fresno, CA with a card headlined by hometown hero Jose Carlos Ramirez (22-0, 16 KO’s) making the first defense of his 140-pound title against Danny O’Connor (30-3, 11 KO’s). However, it is not that fight that perks my interest as much as a couple undercard fights.
In the televised co-feature, welterweight contender Egidijus Kavaliauskas (19-0, 16 KO’s) returns to face Juan Carlos Abreu (21-3-1, 19 KO’s). Kavaliauskas appears ready to take that next step in his career and is even being mentioned as a possible opponent for Terence Crawford. Kavaliauskas is a boxer puncher with a solid amateur pedigree who possesses heavy thunder in both hands. As he has stepped up in quality of foes, the knockouts have still come but not as early as in some previous fights. In his last performance, he impressively broke down and stopped the solid David Avanesyan in six rounds.
Abreu is no slouch. He’s not as big a puncher as his record suggests, but he can be slick and elusive. Abreu also is not afraid to exchange with his opposition. He is a credible opponent for Kavaliauskas at this stage of Kavaliauskas’s career and should at the very least make for an entertaining fight.
As part of the undercard stream on ESPN+, 130-pound contender Andy Vences (20-0-1, 12 KO’s) takes on rugged veteran Frank De Alba (22-3-2, 9 KO’s). Vences is a solid boxer-puncher and a very fundamentally sound fighter. He has a fairly long reach of 72” for the division and will try to establish the jab from the outside against the southpaw De Alba.
Like Vences, De Alba is fundamentally solid. He will try to work past the jab of Vences to work on the inside. Talent wise, there is not much that separates the two and the winner will be whoever imposes his particular style of fighting on the other. I expect we see a solid competitive professional fight.
Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank
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