The PressBox

The ‘Sauce’ puts his belt on the line against ‘The Gentleman’.

Back in April we said the cruiserweight picture was starting to look a little clearer with the announcement at a BOXXER press conference of Lawrence Okolie defending his WBO world title against compatriot Chris Billam-Smith in the latter’s hometown of Bournemouth, England. This Saturday (27th) the time will arrive.

Billam-Smith, known as ‘The Gentleman’ is one of a triumvirate of world ranked 200 pounders based in the UK. Inside the world top ten he is joined by the only man to beat him, Richard Riakporhe (16-0, 12 KO’s), who waits in the wings for the victor, or for an alternative title shot.

Top man, as recognised in the division, is New Zealander Jai Opetaia (22-0, 17 KO’s). This, by virtue of beating Latvian Mairis Briedis late last year and now being the man with most titles, also considered by The Ring magazine as their champion. Rumour yesterday was that Opetaia is about to step up to full heavyweight to face WBC and ‘lineal’ world champion Tyson Fury. This, if it happens, will further open the door to British and world cruiserweights to the big titles.

Lunchtime today, both Okolie and Billam-Smith met for a final time on a dais on Bournemouth beach’s pier for the last pre-fight press conference.

The ‘Sauce’ Okolie (19-0, 14 KO’s) is a 2016 Team GB Olympian and has answered all questions so far as a pro. He arrives only nine weeks off a recent WBO title defence in Manchester against David Light, which was heavily criticised for it’s lack of action. Okolie did though win a convincing unanimous decision and this will be an early chance for him to get everyone back on board.

Billam-Smith (17-1-0, 12 KO’s) recently fought in December 2022 in a comfortable home win and also has the British and Commonwealth titles at the weight.

The fight will be held open air at AFC Bournemouth (Association Football Club), in the aptly named Vitality Stadium. The local pulling power of Billam-Smith will ensure a good turnout and raucous atmosphere. It’s been said it’s already a 15,000 sell out and the atmosphere should be electric.

The home fighter knows Okolie well and claims to have sparred 300-500 rounds with him. Although they remain close friends; this will be put on hold for domestic bragging rights and a world belt.

It’s an intriguing match up for British bragging rights and future world domination. In a UK fight weekend packed ludicrously with two other ‘world’ titles being contested, both at featherweight, and staged by separate promoters, this cruiserweight contest has all the makings of a classic contrast of styles and engines.

Okolie is known for a cautious approach, but has undoubted boxing ability and respectable power. Billam-Smith is the pressure fighter of the two, albeit this can be reckless, but has the heart and engine to make the contest a ‘must see’.

Both boxers scaled 14st, 3lbs (199lbs) at Friday’s weigh-in and the championship fight is ON.

The whole event will be broadcast in the UK live on Sky Sports this Saturday (27th) from 7pm BST.

The Weekender

World lightweight champion Devin Haney (left) faces Vasiliy Lomachenko.

No Light Matter

In these current troubled times, when you push a Ukrainian you expect a reaction. The time may be delayed but is likely coming.

The final media staged weigh-in for tonight’s big lightweight (135lb/9st,9lbs) championship fight in Las Vegas, USA ended on a confrontational, and maybe, fight defining note.

In a Top Rank led main event The Ring magazine and current undisputed champion, American Devin ‘Dream’ Haney (29-0, 15 KO’s) will defend his titles against double Olympic champion and former three-weight professional world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko (17-2, 11 KO’s). It’s an elite match up held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.  

Last night, as both were brought together for the penultimate time for the expected and traditional pre-fight face off Haney visibly exchanged loud words with his challenger. In concluding his rant, receiving no visible reaction from Lomachenko, he lunged out quickly and unexpectedly shoved ‘Loma’ off balance. All in attendance were aghast as chaos initially ensued, before some semblance of order was restored. The Ukrainian was surprised but largely unshaken. His final chilling comments on being interviewed and directed towards his opponent and media was “Now he’s mine. He is scared”.

The first may be true and the latter may be be wishful thinking, but tonight we will find out for sure.

This a quality match up and ‘pick-ems’ between the 24 year old champion and Ukrainian veteran.

‘Loma’, at 35, and in the back end of his career, is a big outsider with most pundits and observers. His boxing class though is beyond reproach.  As an amateur he compiled an impressive 396-1 record with that sole loss avenged and his dominance topped by Olympic glory (Beijing 2008 and London 2012). He then achieved his world titles as a professional in record time, even after suffering his first defeat in only his second paid contest. A world title challenge to Orlando Salito in March 2014.  He subsequently held world titles from featherweight (126lbs/9st) to lightweight and is currently ranked #7 pound-for-pound by The Ring, having been inside their top ten for 361 weeks and their former #1.

Haney, from San Francisco, is yet to feature in their pound-for-pound listing but has done all expected of him as a professional after an impressive amateur career. Each test, he’s stepped up and achieved. This was emphasised by capturing two victories against former undisputed champion, George Kambosos Jr., both of them in the Australian’s backyard.

Haney is a slick boxer, very much in the Floyd Mayweather Jr. mode, and will attempt to outbox his foe.  Lomachenko, a southpaw, won’t be found wanting in that department and the acclaimed ‘Matrix’ will see this as his final chance to regain his former undisputed title. Loma held all the belts back in 2018 and was voted The Ring’s Fighter of the Year before being spectacularly dethroned by Teofimo Lopez in New York during ‘COVID lockdown’ in October 2020.  

This is very much an emotional return for Lomachenko with his country still at war and having taken time out to defend his family and country from Russian aggression.

The height differential is only officially an inch (Loma at 5’7” and Haney 5’8”) but it appeared more pronounced in this week’s face-offs. Haney is clearly the man with the bigger frame but Lomachenko will attempt to negate this with his technique and aggressive sorties.

The American claims he first called out Lomachenko four years ago and has been denied until now the opportunity to defeat him. It is true to say that Loma had ‘bigger fish to fry’ at the time as he cemented a fistic legacy but now the timing seems right.

In many ways this is an opportunity for Loma’s ‘last hurrah’ as he attempts to turn back the clock. Some legends of the ring have achieved this in past (e.g. Robinson, Ali, Duran, Leonard) and he will attempt to do so again. The odds are against him being successful, but we see him prevailing in a split decision points victory. Then the career will be almost complete and the Ukrainian enter boxing folklore. Haney is young and skilled enough to come again.

The contest is headline promoted by Top Rank and will be available live on ESPN+ pay-per-view in the USA and Sky Sports in the UK.

Last month, Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis (29-0, 27 KO’s) excelled against Ryan Garcia (23-1, 19 KO’s) in a catchweight contest and earlier two-weight ‘world’ champion Shakur Stevenson impressively entered the lightweight party.

Tonight’s Las Vegas card also features a ten round junior-lightweight contest between Oscar Valdez (30-1, 23 KO’s) and Adam Lopez (16-4, 6 KO’s) in a rematch of their 2019 fight won by Valdez.

Also featured is another ten rounder between Raymond Muratella (17-0, 14 KO’s) and Namibia’s Jeremia Nakatila (23-2, 19 KO’s) also at lightweight.

The Monday LunchBox

WBO world middleweight champion Janibek Alimkhanuly.

With the future boxing career of Gennadiy ‘GGG’ Golovkin in a state of uncertainty, the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan is now proudly represented among the middleweight elite by classy southpaw Janibek Alimkhanuly.

The 2016 Rio Olympian made his second successful defence of the WBO 160lbs (11st, 6lb) title in Stockton, California, USA on Saturday. He destroyed Canadian challenger Steven Butler inside six minutes with three knockdowns, first registering a powerful left uppercut followed by left hook that took the legs away from the Canadian for the remainder. The stoppage from there on was inevitable with referee Jack Reiss giving Butler every opportunity to continue before finally waving it off after 2:35 of the second.

The 30 year old Alimkhanuly improved his record to 14-0 (9 KO’s) and confidently called out all in the division, “Champions ! Boxing superstars ! Where are you ? I am waiting. Lets fight”. He then called specifically, “Canelo (Alvarez) and (Jermall) Charlo, I am ready !”. The Kazakh clearly has the amateur pedigree and has been largely faultless as a professional, his first successful defence against Britain’s Denzel Bentley being his sole poor showing in a competitive fight.

The excitement generated by and achievements of Golovkin will take some equalling, but the WBO middleweight belt looks safely in the hands on the new Kazakh hero. Should he get the marquee fights he strives for, he is well equipped to be successful.

Butler dropped to 32-4-1, 26 KO’s) and will need to regroup.

The Top Rank promoted card also featured Australia’s Jason Moloney (26-2, 19 KO’s) winning the WBO ‘world’ bantamweight (118lbs/8st, 6lb) title with a majority decision over Filipino Vincent Astrolabio (18-4, 13 KO’s). The scores were 114-114, 115-113, 116-112 in the man from Melbourne’s favour. He calmly outboxed his opponent after breaking his hand in the fourth round.

His brother Andrew (25-2, 16 KO’s) also boxes for a ‘world’ title soon. Jason proudly predicting “This is job done for Team Moloney. Next week Andrew will join me as champion of the world”.

Australian boxing is back on the up with several new and exciting world champions and contenders. Tim Tszyu (22-0, 16 KO’s) at 154lbs (11st) is the pick of the bunch and sure to challenge for junior-middleweight supremacy soon.

This national resurgence is good for world boxing moving forwards.

This weekly feature is also to raise awareness of the Ringside Charitable Trust.

The Monday LunchBox

‘Canelo’ Alvarez consoles a brave but bloodied John Ryder.

Worldwide fight and boxing event of the weekend was held Saturday (6th) before an estimated 55,000 fans in the Akron soccer stadium in Guadalajara, Mexico. Hometown hero Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (59-2-2, 39 KO’s) defeated England’s John Ryder (32-6, 18 KO’s) to defend his undisputed world super-middleweight (12st/168lbs) title for a second time.

The Mexican hero, future hall-of-famer and The Ring magazine pound-for-pound #5, secured a solid victory by unanimous decision (120-107, 118-109, 118-109).

The fight was always competitive and both mixed solid shots throughout. Ryder sustained a broken nose in the second round and bled profusely throughout the remainder of the contest. This clearly affected his breathing and the effort he put in over the twelve rounds was exemplary, in a fight he was always in, but never fully in reach of victory.

Alvarez dropped his challenger midway through the fifth round with a powerful straight right and Ryder, although on the verge of being stopped, managed to regroup and give a good account of himself. Ryder ultimately finished the stronger of the two as he forced the pace in the later rounds, but by then the Mexican was clearly ahead. The Englishman’s stock has risen on the back of his performance and he can look forward to future marquee fights.

Alvarez was coming off his his trilogy victory last September over Gennadiy ‘GGG’ Golovkin, and post fight Saturday, talked of avenging his earlier 2022 loss to Dmitry Bivol up at light-heavyweight (175lbs/ 12st, 7lbs). This is a fight that all of boxing will eagerly wait to be made and is sure to be big box office. Bivol is expected by us to be victorious again, but Alvarez is sure to rise to the challenge to cement his already assured legacy.

Also Saturday, in Birmingham, UK on a BOXXER card, world ranked light-heavyweight Joshua Buatsi (17-0, 13 KO’s) laboured to a unanimous twelve round points victory against capable Pavel Stepien (18-1-1, 12 KO’s) from Poland. Rio Olympic bronze medallist Buatsi, had been out the ring for over a year and this fight served to shake off his ‘ring rust’ and retain his undefeated record and world ranking with the sanctioning bodies. He was never in trouble throughout but seemed to struggle to change gear to up the pace.

The light-heavyweight division is ‘red hot’ in the UK on a world level with five fighters ranked by The Ring magazine in their top ten. Current British, European and Commonwealth champion Dan Azeez (19-0, 13 KO’s) was in attendance from ringside and a fight between the two is a natural. Callum Smith, Anthony Yarde and Craig Richards also feature in the rankings, with Smith (29-1, 21 KO’s) contesting the world title soon against intimidating Russian, Artur Beterbiev.

The BOXXER card also featured the long anticipated third professional outing of Tokyo 2020 Olympic silver medallist Ben Whittaker (3-0, 2 KO’s) also at 175lbs dominating and stopping Jordan Grant in the third round. The flash and multi-talented Whittaker from Wolverhampton, England has huge potential and the performance further enhanced this. The 25 year old has the world at his feet.

Whittaker was joined in victory by fellow Tokyo Olympic medallist Lauren Price (4-0, 1 KO), who clearly defeated Kirstie Bavington on points to win the first contested British female welterweight (147lbs/10st, 7lbs) title. An extremely bright future is expected for Price, from Wales, who is likely to be the new face of British and world female boxing. The famous (Lord) Lonsdale belt was awarded post fight, the first time to a female, and Price adds this to her many amateur titles which include a gold in last year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Bright futures await for all the Olympians on show on Saturday with exciting contests ahead. ‘Canelo’ Alvarez meanwhile rolls onto a Bivol rematch when terms are finally agreed. A minefield awaits before light-heavyweight superiority is determined.

This weekly feature is to also raise awareness of the Ringside Charitable Trust.

The Monday LunchBox

Wales’ Joe Cordina regains the IBF super-featherweight title.
(Photo: Matchroom Boxing).

Standout performance of the weekend goes to Joe Cordina who regained the IBF ‘world’ title at 130lbs (9st, 4lbs) with a hard fought split points decision (114-113, 115-112, 111-116) over previously undefeated Shavkat Rakhimov of former Soviet state Tajikistan.

Welshman Cordina (16-0, 9 KO’s), had previously been stripped of the title he’d won last June due to sustaining a hand injury post-fight. Rakhimov (17-1-1, 14 KO’s) subsequently picked up the vacant title to then lose it in is first defence on Saturday to the original (and rightful) title holder.

Shown live on the DAZN streaming site the contest was an early contender for fight of the year. Held in a a packed and vocal Cardiff International Arena, the fight was toe to toe for the full twelve rounds.

Cordina dropped his opponent in the second round thereafter the Tajikistan southpaw spent the rest of the fight coming forward to the slick Welsh boxer. On our card the fight was finally sealed with a strong final round from Cordina.

This was a standout victory for the Welshman and the promise he showed coming out of the 2016 Rio Olympics has now been fufilled both at domestic and world level. He looks all set to equal the popularity and achievement of his compatriot and boxing hall-of-famer Joe Calzaghe if he continues on this trajectory. Calzaghe was supporting at ringside, and knowing him, nothing will delight him more than further Welsh fistic success.

Elsewhere, the main headline was in Las Vegas, USA in the big ‘lightweight’ fight (albeit at 136lbs, slightly over the divisional limit) . Three division ‘world’ champion Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis dropped and eventually knocked out Ryan Garcia before a 19,000 star studded crowd at the T-Mobile Arena. Broadcast on Showtime pay-per-view in the US this was big business.

It was another contest between previously undefeated fighters and although it was always interesting, failed to deliver on its pre-fight build up and hype. Both fighters exchanged months of verbal barracking, and leading in, it was viewed as a contest the sport needed to deliver and ultimately crown a new ‘young’ king.

Garcia won the first round and Davis known as a notoriously slow starter just bided his time. The tall and rangy Latino-American was then dropped in the second round from a left hook and, although managed to rise and compete in the following rounds, the die was cast.

Davis edged all the subsequent rounds with the exception of the sixth, a clear Garcia round. The compactness and power-punching of Davis eventually won the day as he had accurately predicted pre-fight.

Midway through the seventh round with the fighters coming out of a clinch the Baltimore southpaw landed a straight left cum hook just under Garcia’s chest. The results of the impact had a 3-5 second delay and Garcia in retreat dropped to one knee. In distress and gasping for breath within, he was eventually counted out after 1:44 of the round.

Davis’ record rose to 29-0 (27 KO’s) with Garcia falling to 23-1 (19 KO’s). At ages 28 and 24 respectively, both will come again. Post-fight Garcia was magnanimous in defeat admitting he’d been caught by a “good shot” and acknowledging the “better man”. He later announced he would campaign at 10st (140lbs), possibly resulting in him closing in on recognised #1 Josh Taylor.

Davis’ star continues to rise and big further big fights now await anywhere from 135 to 147 pounds.

At lightweight, all eyes now switch to Devin Haney versus Vasiliy Lomachenko on May 20 and the continued rise of Americans Shakur Stevenson and Keyshawn Davis. All potential Gervonta Davis opponents.

This weekly feature is to also raise awareness of the Ringside Charitable Trust.

The Weekender

Original fight promo courtesy of promoters and providers listed.

Over the next month the lightweight division is definitely where it’s at. In a period where most of the world’s elite fighters in other weight classes are meticulously avoiding legacy defining fights, the 135 pounders (9st, 9lbs) are setting the standard.

The Ring magazine and current unified champion is American Devin Haney (29-0, 15 KO’s). He defends his titles against Ukraine’s double Olympic champion and two-weight pro world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko (17-2, 11 KO’s), in an elite match on May 20 at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas.

First up tonight, also in ‘Sin City’ at the T-Mobile Arena, is the mouthwatering prospect of two of the top five world ranked lightweights meeting head on.  The contest held at a ‘catchweight’ 136lbs will pitch Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis (28-0, 26 KO’s) against Ryan ‘King Ry’ Garcia (23-0, 19 KO’s). Both have shown mutual contempt throughout the pre-fight build up.  Their lengthy verbal barbs on social media and numerous face-offs, peaking in yesterday’s public weigh-in, have added fuel to the fire.

Both, rare in this current era, bring in undefeated records and long term promise for the division. Davis, at 28, already an ‘achiever’ has won world belts in three weight divisions. From the US city of Baltimore, Maryland he is known for his tough upbringing and equally confident demeanour. To add, he’s a vicious puncher and is coming down from campaigning at a heavier 10st (140lbs).

Latino American, Garcia, featured on The Ring cover way back in May 2021 with a crown inked in and at the time was promoted as the youthful future of the division.  This was straight after he’d dropped and stopped former Olympic champion and world title contender Luke Campbell to legitimately announce himself. From then, he unfortunately was derailed by mental health issues and is now firmly on the way back. Over a number of months he’s almost goaded Davis into taking the fight. The Baltimore man has duly obliged.

Garcia holds a significant height advantage over the compact Davis, the latter who from his record and standout victories looks to have the greater power.

The fight is available on the DAZN streaming service and via the Sky network in the UK early hours and on Showtime pay-per-view in the USA. It promises much, to the extent that The Ring once christened it ‘A Matchmakers Dream’ and listed it as a ‘must see’ fight in 2022. Albeit a year late, it’s time for both to deliver.

Waiting in the wings is the Haney-Lomachenko victor and also the perceived future of the division, two-weight champion Shakur Stevenson (20-0, 10 KO’s). The American, an Olympic silver medallist in the Rio Games, and winner two weeks ago at 135lbs adds further lustre to the division.

Then there’s recent undisputed champion George Kambosos Jr. (20-2, 10 KO’s) who adds an Antipodean mix to the pot.  After losing back-to-back fights to Haney he is looking for some further redemption. Up and coming is also another American Olympic medallist from 2020 Keyshawn Davis (8-0, 6 KO’s). A big star in waiting.

 In terms of tonight’s routes to victory; if Garcia can use his long levers and keep Davis at range, backed by power shots, frustrating him as the fight progresses, then he can eek out a points decision.

In an ultimate ‘grudge match’ we though expect Davis to dominate on the inside. His superior power and downright toughness should be telling. We predict him to gradually unravel his Latino foe and win by stoppage anywhere from rounds 8 to 10.

It should be great whilst it lasts and as they say “Someone’s O’s gotta’ go’. Garcia is young and hungry enough to come again in future marquee fights and will make the lightweight division all the better for his continued presence. There should really be no losers tonight and enjoy the fireworks in a genuine peak match up.

The Friday Faceup

‘Wrecking ball’ contest of the weekend should be at the Copper Box Arena on the London 2012 Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on Saturday. Two elite giants collide when Britain’s Joe ‘Juggernaut’ Joyce (15-0, 14 KO’s) faces Chinese, Zhilei ‘Big Bang’ Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KO’s) for the WBO world ‘interim’ heavyweight title.

The Queensberry and Top Rank promotion sees these huge men, both Olympic super-heavyweight silver medallists – Zhang at Beijing 2008 and Joyce in Rio 2016, collide. Both now as professionals are significant pieces of the muddled world heavyweight puzzle.

As current sanctioning body champions Oleksandr Usyk (IBF, WBA and WBO), Tyson Fury (WBC) and ex-champions Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder circumnavigate each other to delay coronation of the outright boxing king, it is now left to the next best to duke it out.

Joyce is the mandatory contender for the WBO title held by Usyk, is ranked #4 heavyweight by The Ring magazine, with Zhang just outside of their top ten.

The Chinese brings his enormous 6ft, 6″ frame, power, fast hands and an always awkward southpaw stance to the party. He boldly announced at yesterday’s London press conference “I am the Big Bang…I bang everything…I’m gonna’ land my shots”. Continuing he said “I’m not here in London to sightsee. I’m here to take things…I’m here for a reason – to be the strongest and best one”.

Zhang will be 40 years old in a few weeks and is coming off a much disputed points defeat to Croatian Filip Hyrgovic in his last contest, his sole defeat to date.

Joyce, age 37, and of similar physical stature, albeit taller, when questioned in the conference said “This is the calm before the storm…I’m a tough man”. He added, in reference to his contemporaries, “All the others (champions etc) seem to be running scared”.

On his opponent and fight strategy Joyce said “I respect Zhang’s power and won’t be going in there recklessly… “It could go twelve rounds, but I don’t plan on that”

It’s a contest that is sure to be explosive for as long as it lasts. The general  consensus is that Zhang will be dangerous early and fade in the second half of the fight due to his advancing years and his perceived low workrate. Zhang responded to this supposed flaw identified in defeat to Hrgovic, claiming he thought he was clearly ahead in the fight and he relaxed in the twelfth round.  In an intriguing match-up this should be fully tested tomorrow night in a scheduled twelve rounder.

The contest is considered high risk for both fighters due to their respective knockout ratios and what’s at stake in the world pecking order. Whether the ‘Big Bang’ can detonate or Joyce can safely negotiate the ‘Great Wall’ it should be a good watch.

We think the technical sniping will be high until the first big shot is landed by either man. It could be the Chinese’ fast hands will come as a surprise to the Briton early on, and if clubbed, Joyce may have to come off the canvas to win. We expect him to be victorious by registering a late KO in an attritional fight.

Joyce is known to be ponderous and methodical in his approach; advancing forward in straight lines, taking multiple shots, but his chin has been impervious to date. He will need to show a bit more savvy tomorrow to prevail. His elite amateur pedigree would indicate he does possess this.

At today’s weigh in Joyce scaled 18st, 4lbs (256lbs) compared to Zhang at 19st, 12lbs (278lbs). The Brit comes in almost 14lbs lighter from his previous contest last September against New Zealand’s world ranked Joseph Parker. So far, his standout victory.

Chief support to the big one is an interesting British middleweight (11st, 6lbs/160lbs) title contest between champion Denzel Bentley (17-2-1, (14 KO’s) and unheralded Kieran Smith (18-1, 7 KO’s). Bentley should have too much for his challenger, but is prone to switch off at times. His higher knockout ratio and mixing in better company should be the telling factors.

Also featured, at lightweight are Kent, England’s Sam Noakes (10-0, 10 KO’s) in a test against Indian national Kathik Sathish Kumar (10-0, 4 KO’s). This should be excellent between two undefeated fighters, with Noakes expected to prevail.

Plus, Kent’s young heavyweight prospect Moses Itauma (2-0, 2 KO’s) has his third professional fight. Much is expected of the 18 year old Itauma after a successful amateur career at youth level. Recently turning pro, he has a lofty ambition to become the youngest world heavyweight champion since Mike Tyson showed “Plenty at twenty” when spectacularly ripping the WBC ‘world’ title from Trevor Berbick in November 1986. That record still stands today.

Itauma should safely make it 3-0 against his Ukrainian opponent to remain on course.

The stacked event should be excellent and will be shown live in the UK on BT Sport 1 from 19:00 BST and selected contests on ESPN+ in the US. Settle in for a cracking night’s boxing.

The Friday Faceup

Shakur Stevenson points to fellow US Olympic medallist Keyshawn Davis (in green).

Tomorrow night (Sat 8th), two of the brightest lights in world boxing take to the ring in Newark, New Jersey, USA on a Top Rank promotion.

Former WBC and WBO ‘world’ super-featherweight (9st, 4lbs/130lbs) champion Shakur Stevenson, and fellow USA starlet Keyshawn Davis showcase their undoubted skills, both at lightweight (9st, 9lbs/135lbs).

Both are also Olympic silver medallists, with Stevenson achieving his in Rio 2016 and Davis more recently at Tokyo 2020.

Stevenson (19-0, 9 KO’s), aged 25, is currently the more professionally advanced of the two, having already gained ‘world’ titles from 126 to 130lbs. Davis, aged 24 is yet to contest one.

They are the potential future of elite world boxing in the lighter weight classes, being charismatic individuals and multi-talented to boot. Their trajectory is very similar to those from the highly successful US Olympic team of Los Angeles 1984 which saw the rise of Evander Holyfield, Meldrick Taylor and Pernell Whitaker, amongst others. By coincidence, Keyshawn Davis is actually from the naval base city of Norfolk, Virginia made famous in boxing parlance by Whitaker, a dominant light to welterweight world champion and hall-of-famer.

Essentially Shakur’s and Keyshawn’s professional careers are only just beginning to break into the highest eschelons of the sport. For both, multi world titles and future superfights are expected if they continue their current form.

The lightweight division is one of the hottest in world boxing at the moment with major fights in the next few weeks and months. Unified champion Devin Haney meets Vasiliy Lomachenko on 20 May and there’s a big grudge match between multi-weight champion Gervonta Davis and talented Ryan Garcia on 22 April. All are potential opponents for Stevenson and Keyshawn.

Despite their obvious talent, the charisma and confidence of Shakur and Keyshawn is also reminiscent of a young ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard and team captain Howard Davis from the US 1976 Olympic team.

Tomorrow in Newark, Stevenson boxes a scheduled 12-round WBC title eliminator against Japanese Shuichiro Yoshino (16-0, 12 KO’s), and Davis a scheduled 10-rounder against Sweden’s Anthony Yigit (26-2-1, 10 KO’s). Stevenson will be boxing in his home city and promises much. In Thursday’s final press conference he pointed out “This dude (Yoshino) has been running around saying that I don’t have any power…Let’s see if he’s ready to go to deep waters with me. I’m going to drown him !”. Yoshino in response said “My trainer and I have been studying Shakur. We have a game plan to implement on Saturday”.

Stevenson, a slick southpaw, is the big favourite and with his reach and so far proven class he should have enough to advance within the distance, probably with a late stoppage.

In the Davis-Yigit contest, the latter has the far greater professional experience and with a southpaw stance will cause Davis some early problems. The American should though win over the 10 round distance, most likely convincingly on points.

The big story here is a further showcasing of the skills and future promise of the two quality US fighters, whom Top Rank have wisely invested considerably in. Look out for both to light up the coming years with their undoubted charisma and talent.

The event is broadcast in the US live on ESPN and on Sky Sports in the UK from 02:00 Sunday. The main events are backed up by a strong card featuring some good heavyweight contenders and other young talent. Enjoy their showcasing.

The PressBox

Promo courtesy of BOXXER

The cruiserweight picture is starting to look a little clearer with the announcement today in London at a BOXXER press conference of Lawrence Okolie defending his WBO world title against compatriot Chris Billam-Smith in the latter’s home town of Bournemouth, England on May 27.

Smith, known as ‘The Gentleman’ is one of a triumvirate of world ranked 200 pounders based in the UK. He is joined by the only man to beat him, Richard Riakporhe (16-0, 12 KO’s), who waits in the wings for the victor, or an alternative title shot.

Top man, as recognised in the division, is New Zealander Jai Opetaia (22-0, 17 KO’s). This by virtue of beating Latvian Mairis Briedis late last year and now the man with most of the titles, also considered by The Ring magazine as their champion.

‘Sauce’ Okolie (19-0, 14 KO’s) is a 2016 Team GB Olympian and has a 19-0, 14 KO record as a pro. He arrives quickly off a recent WBO title defence in Manchester against David Light which was heavily criticised for it’s lack of action. Okolie did though win a convincing unanimous decision and this will be an early chance for him to get everyone back on board.

Billam-Smith (17-1-0, 12 KO’s) recently fought in December 2022 in a comfortable home win and also brings the British and Commonwealth titles to the ring.

The fight will take place open air at the 15,000 Bournemouth Association Football Club, in a venue aptly named the Vitality Stadium. The pulling power of Billam-Smith will ensure a good turn out and raucous atmosphere. He knows Okolie well and claims to have sparred 300-500 rounds with him. Although they remain close friends; this will be put on hold for domestic bragging rights and a ‘world’ title. It promises to be an excellent contest and event in the UK early summer.

The Weekender

Wednesday’s final press conference for Anthony Joshua’s ‘New Dawn’.

We live in an unforgiving and sometimes fickle and cynical world. This is shown in life, sport and too frequently in the boxing arena.

The same people who lauded British heavyweight Anthony Joshua for turning his life around from his difficult youth to become the 2012 London Olympic super-heavyweight gold medallist; a role model for youths from a similar background. To then, become a unified world heavyweight champion as a professional, and a millionaire face of the future, are now doubting his legitimacy and character.

Anthony Joshua (24-3, 22 KO’s) is a modern day success story as to how far sporting achievement can take a young man in the modern world. His face has adorned media outlets and billboards for much of the last decade. I recall browsing in Macy’s store in New York City in March 2017 to see the posters of him draping from the ceiling advertising the latest sportswear. He had landed globally.

What followed were more world titles, and then, he hit the canvas with a bump in the self same city in June 2019, losing shockingly and spectacularly to Mexican Andy Ruiz Jr.

The sponsorships and payments since have continued to roll in and having regained and subsequently lost versions of the world title he is now clearly a multi-millionaire. Despite this, he still feels he has to redeem himself. Foolish as this may sound to most mere mortals.

Tonight, (1 April) at London’s O2 Arena he faces heavyweight Jermaine Franklin. The American is a fringe contender with a respectable 21-1, (14 KO’s) record. 

In most people’s eyes Joshua is an outright favourite.  However, for most, a Joshua win is a ‘given’, but more importantly is how he looks. Coming off two consecutive losses to unified champion Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk and him having lost three of his last five outings, Joshua has to look good. The minimum requirement is to win, preferably by KO.

If Joshua can achieve this his shot at some form of redemption is possible. However, in the eyes of many, his lustre is tarnished and to rise to the same lofty heights is almost impossible.  He is considered what is known in the trade as ‘damaged goods’.

Maybe this view and the corresponding ridicule was a consequence of his pre- and post-fight utterances, which reached an embarrassing crescendo with his rant at the end of the second defeat to Usyk, denying the defending champion his moment in the sun.

In life now, the bigger someone becomes, the more of a target they are for trolls, cynics etc’. Then, the louder the laughs at their demise.  In many ways it’s borne of jealousy, in other cases it’s just wanting to see someone fall.  Anthony Joshua has done little to deserve this.

His story is remarkable and should be commended. But, we don’t need him to tell it, which he’s wanton to do, or his promoter to sell it.  Most, if not all successful boxers come from a background of adversity. It’s what makes them special in the first place. Joshua’s is just another story but so far one with a very happy ending.

His immediate professional peer Tyson Fury, in the eyes of many, now occupies the moral and successful high ground. His work for promoting mental health issues has been exemplary. He has also referred to making donations to charitable organisations, to be commended too.

Anthony Joshua can indeed invade and conquer this professional high ground, but first he has to defeat Franklin convincingly and likely has to go on to defeat anyone in the way, and ultimately, Fury or Usyk. Tonight he will remain active and attempt that ascent. Fury or Usyk have not fought for many months whilst they haggle over the financial split of a world heavyweight unification fight. We continue with that stalemate.

We expect this fight to be competitive in the early and mid rounds. The American is short and stocky in comparison to the Brit, but busy and a good inside fighter. Franklin weighed in yesterday just under two stone (24lbs) lighter and this could be a significant deficiency. Joshua weighed in a career high at over 18 stone (255lbs) and towers over his opponent.

Joshua has said he plans on not going back to his corner but plans on “taking him out”. He will be seeking to regain the moral high ground in any future attempt and ascent on the heavyweight crowns owned by Fury and Usyk.

Joshua could be shaken up a bit but we expect him to prevail, likely to be victorious in a clear points decision. Victory is expected and he should have enough left to deliver.

The contest billed as ‘New Dawn’ and promoted by Matchroom Boxing with associates, is available on the DAZN streaming site and via Sky platforms in the UK with pre-subscription. It is also on BBC Radio 5 Live with a 10 pm ring walk expected.

Enjoy and wait for significant post-fight announcements.