The Weekender

Jose Ramirez (left) and Jose Pedraza weigh in Fresno, California.
(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

As the world continues to revolve on its fragile axis we try to seek some refuge from world events with a packed boxing weekend.

First up tonight (Fri 4 Mar) from Fresno, California, USA is the excellent junior-welterweight (140lb/10st) contest between Jose Ramirez and Jose Pedraza. Promoted by Top Rank and shown live in the US on ESPN+ this is a continuation and welcome addition to the perennial Mexico v Puerto Rico fistic rivalry.

Up until a year ago the Californian-Mexican, Ramirez was the WBC world champion until he was dethroned by Scotland’s Josh Taylor in a massive unification fight. This remains the sole defeat on his 26-1 (17 KO’s) record. Puerto Rican, Pedraza (29-3, 14 KO’s) is a two-times world champion and having recently recovered from long COVID is confident of victory.

Ramirez is the bigger puncher of the two and until the Taylor fight was looking the next big thing. Pedraza is more a box-puncher and technically very astute on the back foot. It’s an excellent match up between two world class operators and we expect the busy Ramirez to eventually catch up with Pedraza somewhere around the 10th round and win by stoppage.

Main interest on the undercard is the pro-debut of Tokyo 2020 silver medallist at super-heavyweight USA’s Richard Torres Jr. He faces Allen Melson over six rounds and should come through unscathed.

Saturday night (5 Mar) sees the return of modern boxing legend Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez against Julio Cesar Martinez.

Promo courtesy of Matchroom Boxing.

Gonzalez (50-3-0, 41 KO’s) is a four-weight world champion and former Ring magazine pound-for-pound #1. Now in the twilight of his career he’d been scheduled to face Juan Francisco Estrada in a trilogy fight at junior-bantamweight for the Ring magazine title. But, with Estrada contracting COVID and having to pull out, he’s been matched quickly by Matchroom Boxing with the WBC world flyweight champion Martinez (18-1, 14 KO’s).

Nicaraguan ‘Chocolatito’ at 34 is the older man but has a wealth of big fight experience to draw on. The Mexican, Martinez at 27 is an excellent operator and will pose his challenger plenty of problems.

If Gonzalez can use his superior experience and guile, along with his heavy punching we see him winning on a close points decision and then moving onto the third fight with Estrada and boxing immortality.

The fight and full card will be available on the DAZN streaming site in the early hours of Sunday morning (UK time).

Have a great boxing weekend and keep safe.

Inside the Jab

Lineal world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
Courtesy: Queensberry Promotions

The current shocking events in Ukraine show that we live in very troubled times. The response across Europe and around the world shows our thoughts and hopes are with all those that have been, and continue to be affected by this human tragedy.

To discuss and critique the sport of boxing at this moment seems an irrelevance, but if nothing else provides temporary distraction to our readers and some relief from the ongoing situation.

Our sport, through its world appeal and reach, and the immense bravery of its protagonists, has been at the forefront of a number of stories this last week. Most notable is the involvement of four of our finest champions – Vitali Klitschko (the former heavyweight champion of the world and current Mayor of Kiev), his brother Wladimir Klitschko equal achiever in the ring, the current WBA and IBF world heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk and, double Olympic champion and former undisputed world lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko.

All four champions are extremely proud Ukrainians who’ve held their country’s flag with pride in boxing rings around the world, and represented their nation with honour and distinction. In different roles, and to varying degrees, they’ve been in the world news in the last week and our thoughts are with them as they take an active role in defending the freedom and liberty of their sovereign nation.

In addition, there are other less known boxers and sportsmen across Ukraine (and by association Russia) plus their families who are affected by this tragedy and our thoughts are also with them.

Now that we hopefully have some perspective I will try to summarise an eventful week in boxing:

Scotland’s Josh Taylor (19-0, 13 KO’s) remains in name the unified junior-welterweight champion of the world but for many watchers of last Saturday’s (Feb 26) contest in Glasgow the word ‘undisputed’ can no longer be applied. The stink from the split decision in his favour has been emanating from the sport for the last four days.

This afternoon (Weds) on talkSPORT radio British Boxing Board of Control General Secretary Robert Smith agreed that the image of British Boxing had been tarnished. This follows an announcement earlier in the week that the Board would be carrying out an investigation into the scoring of the contest. Smith confirmed today this will primarily consider the card of English judge Ian John-Lewis.

The twelve round decision in Taylor’s favour (112-113, 114-111, 113-112) was not the homecoming he expected, and quite frankly one of the worst decisions in a British boxing ring for many a year. Judge John-Lewis must have had ‘Flower of Scotland’ ringing in his ears from the pre-fight festivities to return a card of 114-111 in the Scot’s favour. This being the main bone of contention, among some disputable cards.

English challenger Jack Catterall (26-1, 13 KO’s) gave the standout performance of his career and should have returned south with the undisputed title rather than a first defeat on his record. A heavy underdog going in he clearly won the fight on our card 115-112.

True, the early rounds were close, but we struggled to give the champion anything other than a share of the second. The Lancashire man dominated the pace of the fight with excellent boxing out of his southpaw stance. The much lauded champion just couldn’t get going as he continued to miss and be stung with strong counters. There was a lot of clinching when the two southpaws came together making for a scrappy contest and not easy on the eye, but Catterall dictated the tempo of the fight throughout.

Taylor marked under and cut over the right eye by the seventh, dropped by a chopping left after a minute of the eighth and then deducted a point after a blow after the bell in the eleventh. Catterall was deducted a point for continual holding in the tenth but was clearly ahead by then on our card.

To his immense credit BOXXER founder and CEO Ben Shalom who co-promoted the event with Top Rank did not hide behind the scoring. On the contrary. In a refreshing post-fight interview on Sky Sports he said “I’m embarrassed tonight, because I promoted this event….that’s heartbreaking for Jack….I’m embarrassed….there should be an inquest”. This was not a promoter trying to angle for an immediate rematch to fill his coffers, but rather an honest assessment of the outrage felt by most observers.

One of the most staggering things on the night was the champion declaring “One hundred per cent I know I won the fight”. He admitted it wasn’t his best performance, had started slow and put a lot of pressure on himself, but then referring to Catterall said “He know’s he never won the fight”. The challenger has explained his devastation since the decision was announced throughout this week and the terms “gutted” and “sickening” have been regularly used.

We predicted a Taylor victory on points, giving Catterall pre-fight benefit of the doubt based on his undefeated record and the pressure expected on Taylor given this was his homecoming fight since becoming unified champion. We would ordinarily boast our accuracy in this but frankly it’s embarrassing to suggest we got it right. The new champion should be in Chorley, Lancashire, no doubt.

Co-star of the BOXXER card was double Olympic champion Robesiy Ramirez who stopped Eric Donovan inside three rounds. His performance was excellent, showing all his former amateur pedigree and he should now move towards a world title.

On the Matchroom Boxing card Sunday night (27 Feb) in London, WBO world cruiserweight champion Lawrence Okolie came through a tough examination from Poland’s Michal Cieslak winning an ugly unanimous decision 117-110, 116-111, 115-112. Okolie dropped his challenger in the fifth but was unable to capitalise as the fight went the full twelve. This was the Olympian’s second title defence and he looks now to unification fights or ultimately a move up to heavyweight.

Big news yesterday (1 Mar) was the no-show by Dillian Whyte to promote his up and coming WBC world heavyweight challenge against Tyson ‘Gypsy King’ Fury. It was the first official press conference to promote the event to be held at Wembley Stadium, London on Saturday April 23rd, promoted by Queensberry and Top Rank. Exclusive coverage in the UK will be on BT Sport Box Office and on ESPN pay per view in the US.

The fight will be a massive domestic contest in front of a 90,000+ outdoor crowd with worldwide relevance. The destiny of the ‘lineal’ heavyweight championship will be decided with the winner being ‘the man, who beat the man, who beat the man..’ and regarded as the true heavyweight champion on the world.

The hopeful safe passage and returning Oleksandr Usyk may have something to say about that and we pray that we get the opportunity to witness that.

Tickets for Fury v Whyte are now on sale on Ticketmaster.

Finally, our thoughts continue to be with our Ukrainian neighbours and we wish them immediate peace.

The Friday Faceup

Undisputed world champion Josh Taylor shows what’s up for grabs.
Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER

The big fights keep coming.

A sensational weekend of boxing awaits with the overdue return of undisputed world junior-welterweight (140lb/10st) champion Josh Taylor against undefeated Jack Catterall in Glasgow, Scotland on Saturday night (26 February). It’s a complete sellout at the atmospheric OVO Hydro Arena and live and exclusive on Sky Sports in the UK and ESPN+ in the United States.

This will be followed Sunday night from the wind battered O2 Arena London with the WBO world cruiserweight (200lbs/14st, 4lbs) fight between champion Lawrence Okolie and challenger Michal Ciesak being shown live on the DAZN streaming platform.

Both are excellent match ups promoted by BOXXER/Top Rank and Matchroom respectively. The fans are the winners, with the latter opting to promote on the Sunday rather than go head to head with BOXXER. Hopefully this will become a growing trend.

The Taylor-Catterall match marks the return of big time boxing to Scotland with the first defence of an undisputed world title by a domestic fighter since Benny Lynch in the 1930’s.

Taylor, the Prestonpans, Edinburgh champion has cleaned up the ten stoners over the last three years defeating six fighters with a pre-fight combined record of 136 wins and 1 loss. This illustrates the elite company he’s mixed in, capped by beating Jose Ramirez in the US last year to win the WBC world title and unify the belts.

At 31, the Scottish southpaw has looked the ‘real deal’ having compiled an 18-0 (13 KO’s) record and is currently ranked #5 pound-for-pound by the esteemed Ring magazine. The ‘Tartan Tornado’ aspires to, and has shown ability to date to become a future hall of fame champion.

Catterall by contrast, aged 28, and from Chorley, Lancashire has made steady progress through the ranks to secure a mandatory position to challenge for the title. He boasts a 26-0 (13 KO’s) record and is an excellent boxer.

Interest on the night is further fueled by this being a classic Scotland v England match and the atmosphere in the Hydro is sure to be electric, a throwback to former WBC world lightweight champion Jim Watt’s title fights in the early 1980’s and those of undisputed champion Ken Buchanan a decade earlier.

In terms of a result, there are levels in boxing and the home fighter has shown he’s a class above Catterall at this juncture. With that expectation though comes pressure and that will all be on Taylor on the night. Fighting in front of his home crowd for the first time since 2019 on a massive promotion and one in which everyone expects him to win convincingly.

The Undisputed sees this as a much more competitive contest than it may immediately look, any boxer who boasts an undefeated record has to be respected. Catterall is technically sound and on the up, but when the dust finally settles we see the champion retaining his title by a convincing points decision.

In London, Sunday night, local Olympian Lawrence ‘Sauce’ Okolie (16-0, 13 KO’s) will be making the second defence of his WBO world cruiserweight title and has looked impressive to date. In Michal Cieslak (21-1, 15 KO’s) he faces a solid 32 year old contender who’s fallen just short in his previous attempt to win the WBC title. He’s as tough as they come and the Londoner will do well to stop him.

Okolie (29) with his long and rangey jab should though find a way to prevail and can be explosive when holding his ground. At 6ft,5 he’s big for a cruiserweight and known to be on the cusp of moving up to the heavyweights. We see him winning by a late stoppage.

Both main events in both promotions should provide excellent entertainment and will give us a much better understanding of the long term futures of the main protagonists. It caps an excellent month of UK contests with big live crowds.

Enjoy your fight weekend.

The Monday LunchBox

Kell ‘Special’ Brook celebrates his victory over Amir Khan.
Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER

Khan v Brook – Five things we learned:

  1. Big time boxing is back – A 22,000 sellout, Michael Buffer getting ‘ready to rumble’, Liam Gallagher and Premier League footballers ringside and hundreds of thousands of pay per views sold. The BOXXER/Sky Sports Box Office promotion was an immense success. Right from day one when the AO Manchester Arena sold out within ten minutes on announcement of the fight and the subsequent weeks of build up, the weekend marked an emphatic return to British boxing post-COVID.
  2. Kell Brook has closure – when the dust finally settled it wasn’t even close. The Sheffield man dominated from the opening bell to the referee stopping this one sided contest in the sixth round. Amir Khan promised much in the lead up but was simply outgunned and by all intents and purposes outclassed. This was as dominant a performance as Brook has delivered in his 18 year professional career. Any rumours of a potential rematch pre-fight, outcome depending, have now been firmly extinguished.
  3. Amir Khan’s boxing career was a success – Though nothing has been announced to date, Saturday should have brought an end to Amir’s boxing journey. Despite all the damning reports of his performance on the night let’s re-cap on what the Bolton-kid, turned man, has given British boxing. He was the sole British representative at the 2004 Athens Olympics and came home with a silver medal further securing the lottery funding for the success we now see at amateur level today. He won, lost and regained a version of the world junior-welterweight (140lb/10st) title, and whether in victory or defeat has entertained us royally. We’ve shared his journey through brutal stoppage defeats by Breidis Prescott way back in 2008, his numerous standout wins against Marco Antonio Barrera, Marcos Maidana, Zab Judah and Devon Alexander and marquee fights against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Terence Crawford. He’s also done much to raise the positive profile of the British-Muslim community and raised millions for charity on the back of his sporting success. If he inevitably calls it a day he can hold his head up high to reflect on a stellar career.
  4. Opportunities open up for Brook – It’s a shame that at 35 years of age the big domestic paydays have suddenly become available for the Sheffield man. After his excellent performance and raising his record to 40-3 (28 KO’s) the temptation will be to continue and possibly take up the challenge of Chris Eubank Jr. in another domestic ‘catchweight’ contest. This would be a big risk from a fighting perspective as Eubank Jr. is the larger man, campaigning exclusively at middleweight (11st, 6lbs/160lbs), but would be a very lucrative domestic showdown and even in defeat not harm his legacy. On the positive side, a win would further elevate his now secured status. However, with his history of eye injuries would it be worth the risk ? The sensible option would be to call it a day, but since when have boxers always taken the sensible option ?
  5. You can’t beat a domestic dust-up – There are so many ‘world’ titles available from differing sanctioning bodies that they’ve now in many cases become an irrelevance. Saturday’s turnout and interest showed that most importantly it’s the fights that matter, not the fake ruby belts. British boxing is resplendent with historic domestic contests (Cooper-Bugner, Bruno-Lewis, Benn-Eubank, Froch-Groves) and this brings the fans out in their thousands. Whatever is up for grabs, and Saturday being noteworthy that no title was on the line, if the rivalry and contest is perceived good enough the fans will come. Despite the inevitable steady decline of both fighters, this was a genuine 50/50 fight for that very reason. Competitive contests make boxing greater, whoever the protagonists are. If that’s between two boxers from the same nation with a history of mutual contempt all the better.
Natasha Jonas shows off her new title.
Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER.

Special mention for Natasha Jonas (11-2-1, 8 KO’s) who gained the WBO world super-welterweight (11st/154lbs) belt with a superb second round stoppage of Chris Namus (25-7, 8 KO’s). This was the Liverpool lass’s third attempt at a world title and she took it emphatically.

Saturday also marked the successful pro debut of Tokyo 2020 Olympic heavyweight bronze medallist Frazer Clarke who stopped Jake Darnell inside the opening round. A bright future should await this welcome addition to the heavyweight ranks. Clarke was an elite amateur who’s shared the ring with compatriots Anthony Joshua and Joe Joyce and a host of other international names. It will be worth tracking his progress.

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

The Friday Faceup

Promo courtesy of BOXXER and Sky Sports.

Finally.

After 17 years operating as professional boxers in separate but parallel universes, finally clustering around the 10st,7lb (147lbs) welterweight division, two planets (or should I say English counties) will collide.

The war of words across the Pennines which separate Lancashire from Yorkshire and boxing’s version of the ‘War of the Roses’ will reach its conclusion on Saturday night (19 February) before a sellout crowd in the AO Manchester Arena.

Promoted by BOXXER and available live on Sky Sports Box Office in the UK (ESPN stream in USA) it should bring an end to the perennial debate as to who is the better fighter – Amir Khan or Kell Brook.

The match is made at a ‘catchweight’ 149lbs and although has little jeopardy on a world level with both fighters now ranked outside the top ten and in the twilight of their careers, is highly interesting and full of backstory and intrigue.

In the intervening years both have operated regularly at the elite level, captured world titles in momentous stateside victories, suffered defeats in losing their titles – sometimes in damaging and devastating circumstances – but, always been relevant. They’ve fought in championship fights and lost to some of the modern greats of the game in big box office/pay per view events. In the UK they are proven operators and well known by even casual fight fans.

One constant has been they’ve disliked each other for a long time and both made it known over the years.

It is a fight long overdue, but remains a mouthwatering domestic match up in the vein of Nigel Benn v Chris Eubank, David Haye v Tony Bellew or even dating back to Frank Bruno v Lennox Lewis. Many still argue it has come way too late, five years to be generous, that both are shot and mere shadows of the fighters they were. However, as Brook said in an early press conference it’s “better late than never”.

Whilst respectful of each other’s accomplishments, they at this juncture, plainly don’t like each other. That usually makes for a great fight.

Khan (34-4, 21 KO’s) cites Brook’s jealousy of his accomplishments and riches as his opponent’s prime motivating factor. In yesterday’s final press conference he referred to him as a “fanboy” and that he’s been living in Brook’s head for a long time. He went on to say “I think it’s more jealousy than anything”.

In truth, the Bolton man (Khan) has always been the marquee name, turning professional in 2005 in a blaze of publicity after capturing Olympic silver in the 2004 Athens Games in comparison to Brook who turned pro in September of that year largely under the radar.

The Sheffield man responded “I don’t like him, he don’t like me, we’re going to see an excellent fight…it goes back to the amateur days”.

Both were excellent in the unpaid ranks, turned pro simultaneously, then worked their way up through domestic, European and world competition to capture titles and subsequently lose them. With each success or defeat came further media speculation of their impending meeting and an exchange of words that further fueled interest in the outcome, if and when that happened.

Problem is, it’s just taken so damn long.

Both are 35 years old, but their skills are still there to see, albeit tempered somewhat. Khan was always lightning quick, from the seventeen year old who lost to Cuban great Mario Kindelan in the Athens final, right through to his effort against pound-for-pounder Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in 2016. He’s never been a big puncher but carries respectable power.

Brook (39-3, 27 KO’s) has been a quality operator for most of his career; technically sound, able to switch hit with his slick boxing skills, and aligned with good KO power. His 2014 victory over Shawn Porter to win the IBF ‘world’ welterweight title was a standout performance.

Leading into the fight the million-dollar question is Who has most left ?

Brook has suffered fractured eye sockets on two occasions in defeats to Gennadiy ‘GGG’ Golovkin and Errol Spence Jr. Both superb fighters in their own right. He then went on to meet future great Terence Crawford in a 2020 defeat and, before being stopped, the evidence suggested he was desperately protecting further damage to this facial weakness. On Saturday, will the significant wear and tear manifest itself again ?

The Bolton man, Khan, has always shown a low punch resistance, right back to his first shock defeat against Breidis Prescott in 2008, lasting a mere 54 seconds. He’s made up for this deficiency by being carefully matched, using his blinding hand speed and boxing ability, and managing to avoid engaging regularly with the biggest of punchers. When he’s got ‘clocked’ though, he’s got clocked. The KO by ‘Canelo’ in 2016 being the most chilling example, similar to Ricky Hatton’s blow out by Manny Pacquiao some years earlier.

The challenge is which boxer can more importantly protect their deficiencies whilst also enabling them to maximise their strengths. It could be said that this is true of all contests, but non more so than this one. Self preservation will be in the forefront of both fighters minds, but the dislike of each other and confidence in their individual abilities will surely make for an exciting fight.

There is no way back for the loser other than to meet each other again, and a rematch has already been mooted. But that will be depend on the quality and result of Saturday’s contest. The public has accepted this once and it’s a fight we all wanted to see happen, but has the marinade turned ?

The Undisputed thinks not, this is still a quality match up, between two once elite fighters, who are not what they were, but on the night that ain’t gonna matter. It’s their fragility that in a way makes it a must-see.

Both will come to fight – Khan cannot do anything other than this after his pre-fight predictions “I’m gonna hurt him and he’s gonna be put in his place”. Brook will want to settle the argument once and for all “He’s definitely gonna sleep Saturday night when I smash him…He’s going on his face or back, either way”

A winner ? Take your pick. It’s probably the most 50/50 contest to be held this year, certainly to date. Brook enters the slight favourite.

After much deliberation we expect the man who carries the white rose of Yorkshire (Brook) to prevail on the night with a sixth round knockout. The red rose of Lancashire will flutter early in the contest but Khan’s chin will fail him when his early speed starts to slow and Brook lands that first really concussive blow. He may have to come through some difficult moments before prevailing.

It will be exciting while it lasts and you never know we may be even be asking for more !

The event features an good undercard which is highlighted above.

Transmission starts at 18:00 GMT on Sky Box Office. The main event is also on TalkSport radio in the UK.

Fight weights – Brook (10st, 8lb/148lbs), Khan (10st, 7lb/147lbs).

The Monday LunchBox

Chris Eubank Jr. moves in on Liam Williams.
Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER

The UK boxing year got off to an excellent start with a star studded event at the Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff on Saturday (5th) promoted by BOXXER and shown live on Sky Sports.

Top of the bill in front of a partisan Welsh crowd, complete with a rendition of Tom Jones’ Delilah, was the middleweight contest between Chris Eubank Jr. and hometown favourite Liam Williams. The 32 year old Englishman dominated the contest scoring four knockdowns en-route to a convincing points victory (116-109, 116-108, 117-109).

Williams showed great heart and bravery repeatedly picking himself off the canvas and trying to take the fight to Eubank. The 29 year old Welshman had boasted of his better boxing IQ in the build up to the fight, but on the night was out thought and out fought.

After dominating the fight through the first five rounds, Eubank then frustratingly chose to coast and showboat his way to victory, losing a number of rounds over the second half of the fight but ended the clear winner. Williams bothered by a nasty bruising under his right eye simply couldn’t evade Eubank’s advances or make any lasting impact on his opponent.

It was a contest deemed as ‘must win’ for both boxers going in and Eubank (32-2, 23 KO’s) now sits on the cusp of marquee fights, either domestically against former conqueror Billy Joe Saunders, or on the world stage against one of the 11st,6lb (160lb) champions or main contenders. His immediate desire is to fight Gennadiy ‘GGG’ Golovkin but that will depend on the want of the 40 year old champion.

There’s also website gossip of a ‘catchweight’ contest between the Brighton man and top welterweight Conor Benn which would be a throwback to the epic 1990’s contests between their respective fathers. That may be some way off as Benn has immediate business at 10st,7lbs (147lbs) but it’s a mouthwatering prospect.

Williams dropped to 23-4-1, 18 KO’s and will re-build domestically before possibly competing at world level again.

Much of the hype and attention Saturday night was focussed on the appearance and excellent performance of double Olympic champion and multiple world professional champion Claressa Shields. The GWOAT – Greatest Woman of All Time acronym she promotes gained some friction with another dominant performance. Shields (12-0, 2 KO’s) defended her middleweight titles with an emphatic and at times bludgeoning of brave Slovenian Ema Kozin. Scores of 100-90 on all three judges cards confirmed her dominance.

Post fight there was a heated exchange between Shields and former amateur conqueror Savannah Marshall (11-0, 9 KO’s) which was both entertaining and fuels interest for an intended match up later in the year. This is a genuine grudge match and could sell out a number of large indoor arenas in the UK when it happens. The only potential obstacle to this will be Marshall ensuring she successfully defends her WBO ‘world’ middleweight title against Femke Hermans in Newcastle next month.

Women’s boxing is on an unprecedented high with news of a groundbreaking contest at Madison Square Garden, New York to be held on April 30 between Ring magazine #1 pound-for-pounder Katie Taylor (20-0, 6 KO’s) and multiple champion Amanda Serrano (42-1-1, 30 KO’s). A stateside announcement was made last week and the contest for the undisputed lightweight title will be officially launched in the UK by Matchroom Boxing today.

The successful debut of 21 year old British Olympian Caroline Dubois over eight rounds against Vaida Masiokaite in Cardiff on Saturday further showed the current and increasing strength of women’s boxing in the UK and worldwide. A bright future is planned and expected of the London lightweight and it will be interesting to see her develop. She has charisma, a boxing pedigree and undoubted ability.

Main stateside news over the weekend was the upset victory by late substitute Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez (15-0, 10 KO’s) to win the WBC junior bantamweight (8st,3lbs/115lbs) title from Mexico’s Carlos Cuadras (39-5-1, 27 KO’s). Rodriguez became the youngest ‘world’ title holder in boxing at age 22 and another bright future is expected from the Texan southpaw.

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

The Friday Faceup

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER

Boxing is back in the UK ! And with a bang.

Saturday night at the Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff sees the much awaited contest between world ranked middleweights Chris Eubank Jr. and Liam Williams. This is a genuine grudge match following months of animosity exchanged on social media and a number of postponements fanning the flames further.

Eubank Jr (31-2, 23 KO’s) from Brighton, England will enter the dragons den of the Welsh capital against the hometown hero. On the surface he seems unfazed by this citing his previous experiences of fighting overseas and with supreme confidence in his own abilities. Williams (23-3-1, 18 KO’s) whilst having the advantages of home recognises the pressure might be on him greater due to the expectations and passion of his compatriots.

The atmosphere is sure to be electric in a contest promoted by BOXXER and being shown live on Sky Sports in the UK.

The contest is the epitome of a crossroads fight with the loser having nowhere to go other than step back down to domestic level. Williams (29) is coming off a loss to Demetrius Andrade for the WBO ‘world’ middleweight title, whereas Eubank (32) has knocked on the door of the elite fighters, but is yet to secure that marquee fight. His two losses have come at domestic level to former ‘world’ champions Billy Joe Saunders and George Groves. The Brighton man quite simply has to win to remain relevant at world level.

In yesterday’s final press conference Eubank Jr. said “I’m going to take him out. All that matters is what’s going to happen on the night and that’s me standing over him and looking down and raising my fists as he gets counted out. It’s going to be a hell of a fight”.

Williams equally confident replied “It’s an unbelievable opportunity to fight here in Cardiff in such a high level fight against Chris. I’m just so excited to put an end to this guy, drop him down a few levels. You’ll realise his level after this fight”.

It promises to be a humdinger with the rough-tough Williams looking to take the fight to Eubank from the opening bell and the Englishman boasting the same. Both predict knockouts, but The Undisputed sees a frenetic opening, leading to a boxing match in the mid rounds before Williams is stopped around the eighth on cuts, as Eubank picks him off.

The main event is supported by an excellent card featuring women’s double Olympic gold medalist and professional world champion Claressa Shields of the USA against Slovenia’s Ema Kozin.

Shields (11-0, 2 KO’s) although rated pound-for-pound #2 by The Ring magazine (behind Ireland’s Katie Taylor) refers to herself as the GWOAT ‘Greatest Woman of All Time’ on the basis of her substantial ring accomplishments. She is a three-weight world champion and currently undisputed in two divisions (middleweight and junior-middleweight).

Kozin (21-0-1, 11 KO’s) cannot boast that pedigree but would appear to be the bigger puncher of the two, although the quality of her opposition is inferior.

Saturday’s contest is an opportunity to showcase Shields’ skills in the UK before setting up a blockbuster contest with Britain’s former Olympian Savannah Marshall; the only woman to beat her in the World Amateur Boxing Championships back in 2012.

There has been a lot exchanged between the two on social media over the last few months. The American summed up her approach and immediate future “I’ll break it down for you quick: one, beat up Ema Kozin and then beat up your [UK] favourite Savannah Marshall and go home. That’s why I’m here. So February 5 is the beginning”.

Shields (26) has all the pedigree and, although Kozin (23) is to be respected and will come to fight, we see the American putting on a boxing masterclass and winning the contest on points to set up that big date later in the year.

The card also sees the much anticipated professional debut of London’s Caroline Dubois, coming quickly off the back of her disappointment at early elimination from the Tokyo Olympics. Dubois is a quality act and expected to suit the professional code and, as sister of world ranked heavyweight Daniel, has the boxing DNA to match. She will be a bright addition to the professional ranks and will be looking to impress from the off. She faces Lithuania’s experienced Vaida Masiokaite (2-14-4, 1 KO).

Transmission starts in the UK on Sky Sports main event at 19:30 GMT and will also be available on Talksport radio.

The Monday LunchBox

Promo courtesy of the above.

It’s on !

Well, not quite. Not quite the fight we were all hoping for to unify the heavyweight championship of the world for the first time since Lennox Lewis in the early 2000’s.

What we did get though, as result of Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions record breaking purse bid in Mexico City to stage the Tyson ‘Gypsy King’ Fury mandatory WBC world title defence against London’s Dillian Whyte, is a heavyweight fight that brings interest and some jeopardy to the ultimate destination of the plethora of titles. We now know the potential route to unification.

Finally, the smoke has lifted and there is now clarity on former two-times sanctioning body champion and fellow Brit Anthony Joshua now going through with his rematch with Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk in an attempt to regain the IBF, WBA and WBO titles, and unification from there. However, recent boxing history has shown to always expect the unexpected. Shock defeats and rematch clauses aside the route to unification can be a perilous one.

The rumoured date set for the Fury-Whyte contest is April 23, likely staged at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. To attempt to recoup any of the eye-watering $41M (£30.6M) bid the co-promotion by Queensberry and US based Top Rank Inc. will need to fill the 85,000 Cardiff venue and sell bucket loads of Box Office/pay per view. The fight will be televised on BT Box Office in the UK and ESPN stateside and should safely be the most lucrative fight to be staged in the British Isles, surpassing the recent blockbuster events featuring Anthony Joshua and promoted by Matchroom Boxing.

The champion Fury will receive 80% of the purse ($32M/£24.5) and Whyte a minimum 20% ($8M/£6.1M).

It can only be hoped the whoever comes through victorious in both contests will finally meet and give us an undisputed heavyweight champion. The public have waited long enough.

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

Inside the Jab

Claressa Shields – we meet the GWOAT

Claressa Shields is a double Olympic champion (London 2012 and Rio 2016).

Claressa Shields is an undefeated professional boxer. She is The Ring magazine 160lbs middleweight champion, holds four world sanctioning belts, is an MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter and, in her opinion, is the GWOAT – the Greatest Woman Of All Time, in a fistic sense.

Claressa Shields (11-0, 2 KO’s) is undoubtedly a boxing superstar.

Next Saturday (5th Feb) she returns to the UK, her first visit since the London Olympics, to defend her professional world titles and legacy. She will meet Slovenia’s Ema Kozin (21-0-1, 11 KO’s) as chief support on the big BOXXER card from Cardiff, Wales and shown live on Sky Sports in the UK. The main event features world middleweight contenders Chris Eubank Jr versus Liam Williams.

Claressa Shields is from Flint, Michigan, USA – Floyd Mayweather country – she has a back story that includes overcoming child abuse and prejudice to achieve her goals. She has traveled the world as an elite amateur, she currently trains in ‘The Money Team’ gym in Las Vegas and is the epitome of an American sporting success story.

She is held in the highest regard among both male and female elite level boxers. She bows to no one, knows her worth and what she wants to achieve. She plans to win world titles from 10st,7/147lbs (welterweight) up to 12st,7/175lbs (light-heavyweight) and seal her claim as the GWOAT.

On Wednesday she dialled in from the US to a video press conference on the BOXXER media platform joined by her Salita Promotions team. Her opponent Ema Kozin also dialled in.

Claressa was eloquent, confident and determined. “I’m excited to come back to the UK to show my skills. You have great fans and great crowds. I’m really looking forward to experiencing that”. With regards to the fight ahead and responding to her detractors she continued “I mean business – anyone who talks trash to me, I wanna punch them in the face”.

Claressa Shields is a fighter, and a damn good one at that.

She is also a student of the game, a role model and advocate for female boxing. “All the women in boxing – Katie (Taylor), Amanda Serrano are all playing a big part (in promoting women’s boxing) by taking big fights…every boxing card needs to have women on it”.

When questioned on her opposition Saturday week she showed respect, but was circumspect with it. She recognised the good KO record Kozin brings to the ring but questioned the quality of the opposition faced, compared to her own. “She hasn’t fought those great challengers…I’ve been (in) with the top”. Expanding “She’s gonna have to deal with the new power and speed I bring”.

The quietly spoken but equally confident Slovenian responded “She doesn’t know me as she thinks she does”. Concluding, Kozin said “I wish Claressa good luck – I think the world will want to know me after this fight – I expect a brutal fight, a tough ten rounds”.

Shields in closing responded “I’m gonna destroy you on February 5th…I’m gonna make you call me the GWOAT !”

After my first 45 minutes in Claressa Shields company I was impressed. Her knowledge of the sport and her contemporaries was exemplary. She is rightly confident in her ability and the legacy she has already created, but also recognises the challenges to her throne and ambitions.

The main challenger in her immediate cross-hairs is former GB Olympian Savannah Marshall (10-0, 8 KO’s). That is the dream fight in the middleweight division and her showcasing in Cardiff is to build for that mega-fight. There has been much recent exchange between the two on social media, mainly derogatory, and there is unfinished business from the amateur days.

Marshall fights again shortly after to likely leave the two standing alone. Shields put on record “I win, she wins, we fight”. Provided the expected happens a week Saturday that is the one to look out for.

Ema Kozin meanwhile aims to spoil the party. On February 5th watch her try. It should be interesting.

Inside the Jab

Promo courtesy of BOXXER and Sky Sports.

Despite the enforced suspension of boxing in the UK by the British Boxing Board of Control until February to relieve the draw on COVID medical response resources, there’s been plenty of activity this week to whet the appetite for the coming months.

Top of the tree was the BOXXER promotional company media link (Weds) with Kell Brook and Amir Khan in advance of their February 19 showdown in Manchester. Both fighters are deep in camp just four weeks out from the bout in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands and Colorado Springs, USA respectively. Both were open about their mutual dislike of each other, their motivation for the fight and, supreme confidence of being victorious on the night.

Many say the contest is five years too late with both past their primes but it remains a quality match-up with some jeopardy and interest. This was reflected in it becoming the quickest fight in UK boxing history to sell out at the ticket outlets and with the hype building will lead to large numbers tuning into Sky Sports Box Office on the night.

It pits two elite British fighters of recent years and former world sanctioning body champions in a big domestic dust-up. Both have shown class in the past but also considerable vulnerabilities.

Brook (39-3,27 KO’s) dialling in from the sunshine of the Canary Islands spoke of his animosity towards the Bolton man “It’s a fight I’ve wanted for a long time – better late than never as they say”. He expressed his desire “To prove to Amir and the world that I’m the better fighter…it’s personal”. Looking relaxed and trimmed he explained that camp had gone well over Christmas and he would “Go out and deliver what I’m supposed to do”.

Asked by The Undisputed on his strategy on the night, he replied “I’m training for every different situation… he might want to prove to the fans he can come out (and meet me ring centre)… he might get on his bike”. The Sheffield southpaw summed up, “So long as I’m 100% I’ve got no problem”.

The fight is effectively a welterweight contest but has been made at the higher 149lbs, much to Khan’s disappointment but the purse negotiated was likely too hard to resist. It was also revealed that a rematch clause had been included in the contracts. This contest will dictate the likelihood of that but we may even see Khan-Brook II.

A few hours later Khan (34-5, 21 KO’s) dialled in from the US, and referring to his primary motivation said “I wanna just shut him up and put a beating on him”. He explained Brook’s perceived “bitterness and jealousy” for Amir’s stateside success and earnings, and further emphasized his disdain for him by saying “He’s always had that chip on his shoulder”.

When asked about his gameplan on the night he failed to provide a clear answer and may wisely not be willing to share it at this juncture, but agreed they have a similar style. His response was more a comparison than a clear strategy “I don’t think he has the same workrate and speed…his punch resistance is literally gone”. Summing up, he said “Kell has no chance of winning this fight, on the 19th I am going to destroy him”.

It may indeed be five years too late, but as Brook said “Better late than never” !

On the same day Matchroom Boxing held a press conference in Nottingham for the upcoming WBA world featherweight (9st/126lb) contest between hometown champion Leigh Wood (25-2, 15 KO’s) and former elite amateur Michael Conlan (16-0, 8 KO’s) of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Possibly following in the steps of Irish hero Barry McGuigan this is the challenger’s big opportunity to fulfill the promise since turning professional amid much fanfare on St.Patrick’s Day in New York in 2017. The contest will be on March 12 and shown on the DAZN streaming platform.

Preparations also continue for the oft delayed Chris Eubank Jr. v Liam Williams middleweight (11st,6lb/160lbs) contest in Cardiff on February 5, the first major event once battles recommence next month.

February also sees the Josh Taylor v Jack Catterall contest for the undisputed world junior welterweight (10st/140lb) title in Glasgow on February 26. Both events are promoted by BOXXER in association with Sky Sports, with the latter having the Top Rank brand added for stateside interest. A busy month ahead no doubt.

Top of the rumour mill in the week was WBC world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury possibly swerving his mandatory obligation with Dillian Whyte and going immediately to a unification fight with Oleksandr Usyk, the IBF, WBA and WBO champion. This would take significant negotiation and step aside money for Whyte and Anthony Joshua, but in boxing never rule anything out !

So, despite little of note to preview this weekend, a lot to look forward to. Watch this space over the coming weeks.