Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The summer boxing calendar is filled with massive showdowns despite losing Mike Tyson vs. Jake Paul

Just weeks ago, the boxing summer schedule looked stacked with intriguing fights, with one controversial bout that may have drawn more interest than any fight in recent years. But things change quickly in the sport and that schedule has taken some recent hits. Still, there are enough meaningful and interesting fights to come that boxing fans have plenty to look forward to.

For starters, the Mike Tyson vs. Jake Paul fight has been postponed to a date yet to be announced after Tyson suffered what his team referred to as an “ulcer flare-up” during a recent flight. Tyson vs. Paul had fan opinion split, with many feeling put off by the 30-year age difference between the men and a return to Paul’s approach of fighting older fighters in gimmick bouts rather than building a “real” boxing career.

Despite all the controversy, there’s no denying that the fight, which would have been the first ever streamed live on Netflix, would have drawn more attention and eyeballs than any fight in memory. It still will if and when it does go down but, for better or worse, it was the biggest fight of the summer.

More recently, Cody Crowley was forced out of his July 13 bout with IBF welterweight champion Jaron “Boots” Ennis in Philadelphia. Crowley was the IBF mandatory for Ennis and the fight was the first to be set to take place at Wells Fargo Center since the arena opened. It was also a rare big fight to be held in the city and Ennis’ hometown.

There’s no word on if the card will go forward with a replacement opponent. Crowley was set to make nearly $600,000 for the fight, which is a decent amount that could tempt someone to face one of the sport’s elite talents on short notice.

Now, let’s take a look at the fights that remain on boxing’s summer schedule.

A loaded June 15 slate

June 15 features three cards and a total of four championship fights.

First up is a card featuring a rematch between WBO cruiserweight champion Chris Billam-Smith and challenger Richard Riakporhe in London. Riakporhe won their first meeting in July 2019. That remains the only blemish on Billam-Smith’s 19-1 record. Billam-Smith won the WBO belt in May 2023 with a majority decision over Lawrence Okolie. He defended the belt in December with a stoppage of Mateusz Masternak.

Riakporhe hasn’t taken big strides in level of opposition but has ripped through his five most recent fights, scoring stoppages in each. It’s an interesting pairing that will give the winner domestic bragging rights as well as setting them up in a powerful position as the cruiserweight continues to reshape itself.

In a card from Puerto Rico, Subriel Matias will defend his IBF junior welterweight title against Liam Paro. In the wake of Devin Haney’s loss to Ryan Garcia, which will almost certainly be overturned due to Garcia’s multiple failed drug tests, Matias might actually be the best fighter in the division. Sporting a 20-1 record, Matias has scored stoppage wins in each of his professional victories.

Should Matias win, as expected, he is in position for big fights against the likes of Haney or WBO champion Teofimo Lopez. If Paro scores the win and remains undefeated, he slides into the spot of being a potentially attractive option for the division’s big names.

The crown jewel in the June 15 lineup is the Las Vegas event headlined by WBA lightweight champion Gervonta “Tank” Davis and Frank Martin. Davis is arguably the biggest star in the sport and routinely delivers a memorable show with his impressive power punching. He has not been in the ring since April 2023, when he knocked out Ryan Garcia with a body shot, the inactivity largely a product of having been first under house arrest and then in jail for a November 2020 hit-and-run incident.

In Martin, Davis faces a solid boxer with all-around skills but who isn’t outstanding in any one area of the game. His most recent outing was a difficult decision win over Artem Harutyunan, who proved a stylistic nightmare. The good news for Martin is that Davis fights nothing like Harutyunan.

Also on that card, David Benavidez moves up to light heavyweight to face former champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk for the interim WBC title.

Benavidez is jumping up a division after it became clear that he would never get his earned shot at Saul “Canelo” Alvarez despite a lengthy time as Alvarez’s WBC mandatory challenger. Alvarez has shown little interest in fighting the dangerous Benavidez, complaining about the weight Benavidez puts on after weight-ins and saying it would take an offer upwards of $200 million for him to accept the fight.

Gvozdyk retired after a 2019 loss to Artur Beterbiev but made his return in 2023 with three wins over lower-tier opposition. He now returns to the deepest of waters against a young, strong and hungry fighter in Benavidez.

A June 29 doubleheader

Teofimo Lopez is set to defend his WBO junior welterweight championship against Steve Claggett in Miami on June 29. It’s not an exciting fight in terms of level of opposition for Lopez, who was once seen as one of the key figures in boxing’s future, but it is a fight that may serve to rehab Lopez’s image.

Lopez has struggled with middle-tier opposition repeatedly over the past few years, starting with his loss to George Kambosos that cost Lopez three lightweight world titles. Lopez struggled to a majority decision against Sandor Martin and, in his most recent outing, looked terrible against Jamaine Ortiz when Ortiz used footwork to move around the ring rather than stand flat-footed to be hit. Before the Ortiz fight, Lopez again looked like his old self, dominating Josh Taylor to win the WBO championship.

Claggett is a Canadian veteran who has compiled a 38-7-2 professional record. Claggett is likely to be a much easier target for Lopez to hit, which will produce a more aesthetically pleasing fight than usual for Lopez, but will prove little about where he currently stands in the sport. 

More exciting is the main event from Glendale, Arizona that sees future Hall of Fame member and current WBC junior bantamweight champion Juan Francisco Estrada against rising star Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez. Estrada has been out of action since closing out a fantastic trilogy with Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez by taking a majority decision win in December 2022. Estrada is one of the best fighters of his era but is a bit past his prime and coming off a lengthy layoff.

Rodriguez broke through as a major star with a 2022 campaign that saw him move up to junior bantamweight on short notice to defeat Carlos Cuadras for the vacant WBC title. He then defended the belt against Wisaksil Wangek and Israel Gonzalez to close out the year. Rodriguez dropped back to flyweight in 2023, picking up the vacant WBO title with a win over Cristian Hernandez and thrashing Sunny Edwards in December to add the IBF title to his collection.

After the Edwards win, Rodriguez made it clear he was moving back to 115 pounds looking to become champion at the weight once again.

A unique mix of fights on July 6

For boxing fans, July 6 will be all about the show from Newark, New Jersey, headlined by Shakur Stevenson vs. Artem Harutyunyan.

Stevenson is one of the sport’s brightest young stars but his November win over Edwin De Los Santos to win the vacant WBC lightweight title hurt Stevenson in the eyes of many. Stevenson only landed 65 punches in the entire fight but that was enough to beat the Compubox record low of 40 landed by De Los Santos. Neither fighter landed double-digit punches in any round.

Stevenson promised more action in his next outing, but Harutyunyan was a frustratingly difficult puzzle for Martin to solve in their 2023 meeting.

Also on the card, O’Shaquie Foster will defend his WBC junior lightweight title against Robson Conceicao.

For fans of “crossover boxing,” a pair of UFC rivals will throw down in the boxing ring in Anaheim when Nate Diaz boxes Jorge Masvidal. Masvidal thrashed Diaz in the UFC Octagon in 2019, winning the first “BMF” ceremonial title. With both men out of the UFC, they agreed to meet in the boxing ring for a fight that will be nothing if not “interesting.”

The biggest card of the summer

Los Angeles will play host to the biggest fight card of the summer with an absolutely stacked card on Aug. 3. In the night’s main event, pound-for-pound elite fighter Terence Crawford moves up to junior middleweight where he will challenge for Israil Madrimov’s WBA title.

Crawford is coming off a career-defining thrashing of Errol Spence Jr. in his most recent outing. That win moved him to 40-0 and finally cemented his claim as the best welterweight of his era. Crawford has stated he has a limited number of fights left and moving up to fight Madrimov may be the first step in a plan that ends with a mega-fight with “Canelo” Alvarez.

There are two other title fights on the card, with Isaac “Pitbull” Cruz defending his WBA junior welterweight title against Jose Valenzuela and David Morrell facing Radivoje Kalajdzic for a vacant secondary WBA light heavyweight title.

Also set for the card is former unified heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz vs. Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller and Vergil Ortiz Jr. against an opponent still to be named after Tim Tszyu was forced out of the bout due to injury.

It’s a stacked card that sets up the winners for potentially huge fights. As mentioned, Crawford could be angling for Alvarez. But also Cruz is an appealing option for other champions at junior welterweight who may be looking for unification opportunities.

Morrell followed the Benavidez path of moving up when Alvarez clearly wouldn’t defend his title against him despite his status as mandatory champion. If Morrell and Benavidez both win secondary championships in moving up a division, a showdown between the two could make sense while Dmitry Bivol and Artur Beterbiev face off to determine an undisputed champion at lightweight.

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