Fightful Boxing Newsletter (10/4): Death Of HBO Boxing, WBC Convention, Billy Joe Saunders, WBSS

HBO Announces It Will No Longer Do Regular Boxing Broadcasts

In a move that may shock some boxing fans, HBO, which has been the premium cable home for many of the sport's biggest events for the better part of the last five decades, announced that it will no longer be doing regular boxing broadcasts.

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A report by the New York Times states that HBO is leaving the boxing broadcast business after 45 years and more than 1,000 fights shown on the network.

The report states declining ratings as a key factor in the network no longer carrying boxing as well as the lack of return on investments on the boxing programs compared to other programming who have generated far bigger rewards and ratings with a smaller budget. One such example is the documentary on WWF legend Andre The Giant, which drew about than seven million viewers.

Gone are the days of boxing being an important component of the network as HBO had been slowly decreasing the amount of live boxing broadcasts per year. Its latest live boxing card, the September 8 card titled “SuperFly 3,” drew some of the lowest ratings in the history of the network when it came to live boxing.

Now it should be noted that HBO is open to the idea of doing a select few fights if they are big enough for the network to try and get the broadcast rights to, but this essentially ends the company's run as a major boxing company.

As previously mentioned, the move shocked some people in boxing, mainly those that are not in the know. Those that have been following television viewership trends or even pay somewhat close attention to how HBO has been operating in the last couple of years know that this was somewhat expected. Although those people may have expected something like this to happen, it doesn't make it any less painful as for many fans in the United States, HBO was the sole reason those people became fans in the first place.

The network broadcast many of the sport's biggest and most influential fights:

  • The Rumble in the Jungle, in which Muhammad Ali regained the world heavyweight title from George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1974
  • Thrilla in Manila, the final encounter between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier
  • Larry Holmes vs. Gerry Cooney, for the WBC heavyweight championship
  • the first fight between Aaron Pryor amd Alexis Arguello
  • Carnival of Champions, in which Wilfredo Gómez beat Lupe Pintor, and Thomas Hearns beat Wilfredo Benítez
  • Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas Hearns; Julio Cesar Chavez stopping Meldrick Taylor in the final round
  • Michael Moorer vs. George Foreman, in which Foreman knocked out Michael Moorer to become the oldest heavyweight champion of the world at age 45
  • James "Buster" Douglas's stunning upset of Mike Tyson for the undisputed world heavyweight title in Tokyo, Japan in 1990
  • Floyd Mayweather defeating Oscar De La Hoya for the WBC junior middleweight title
  • Manny Pacquiao vs. Oscar De La Hoya, where Pacquiao won and cemented his status as a global superstar
  • Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao in 2015, which broke pay-per-view records

I even recall one particular broadcast in 1978 in which HBO aired a pro fight from New Jersey's Rahway State Prison between top light heavyweight contender Eddie Gregory and James Scott, who had spent most of his adult life in prison. It was a bizarre broadcast, but certainly one of the more memorable boxing events HBO had produced in the 1970s.

So what happened with HBO? How could a titan of the sport for so long have fallen in a matter of a few years.

First, let's look at viewership for the network. Excluding pay-per-view events, there has been a sharp and steady decline in viewership and attention being given to boxing events over the past few years.

2014 Average Viewership: 1,016,500 (16 Events)

2015 Average Viewership: 1,126,250 (16 Events)

2016 Average Viewership: 856,000 (13 Events)

2017 Average Viewership: 701,688 (16 Events)

2018 Average Viewership: 690,727 (11 Events)

Of course, looking at this doesn't seem to show why the numbers have gone down. There are several theories as to why the viewership has gone down. The first one, and this might be the most probable, is simply that HBO has failed to adjust to the times. With the advent of online streaming taking over sports, HBO never really seemed to embrace it. They have the HBO GO app, but it was more catered towards on-demand programming rather than live streaming such as Showtime has been doing.

There's also the fact that Top Rank Boxing left HBO in 2016 to eventually move over to ESPN and losing a roster that includes the likes of Vasiliy Lomachenko and Terence Crawford was a huge blow to HBO. In hindsight, Bob Arum was smart to leave HBO as he appeared to have been among the first to see the end of HBO coming.

The network also suffered the loss of a few key individuals that made HBO the titan that it was. Floyd Mayweather going from HBO to Showtime was a huge deal and the fact that announcer Larry Merchant, who has been with HBO from 1978 to 2012, was no longer a part of a commentary team that truly felt special and unique. Although he wasn't well-liked by many, Merchant was one of the polarizing figures in the sport and his departure did directly lead to a less impactful commentary team that now mainly consists of Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman and Roy Jones Jr. (still a solid team, but not as good as previous iterations of HBO Boxing's commentary teams).

If anything, the move may have been expected by some, but the timing sure feels somewhat odd. The announcement came two weeks after the company had a successful pay-per-view event headlined by the rematch between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, an event that saw at least a million buys. There's still one more big boxing card the network has remaining in its lineup and that is the October 27 world title doubleheader from Madison Square Garden. In the main event, Daniel Jacobs will fight Sergiy Derevyanchenko for the vacant IBF middleweight title while Alberto Machado defends his WBA “regular” super featherweight title.

HBO shutting down its boxing division also means a number of prominent boxers will look for new television homes. Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez, who recently headlined the September 15 HBO pay-per-view from Las Vegas, are free agents, but now, other boxers such as Jacobs, WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol, WBC super flyweight champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and former world champion Roman Gonzalez, among many more, will be looking for television homes for their next fights. Those boxers will now likely be getting offers from the likes of ESPN, Showtime and the DAZN streaming service.

While it is sad to see many of these fighters no longer be competing on HBO, this does essentially start a new era for the sport. With HBO gone, Showtime (alongside FOX), ESPN and Matchroom Boxing are now competing for those boxers. A decade ago, HBO was the clear No. 1 in terms of boxing broadcasts with Showtime a distant second. Now in 2018, with ESPN, FOX and the DAZN streaming service entering the fray, there are perhaps more options for people to watch the sport than ever before.

We've already seen some signs of HBO fighters coming to other networks as ESPN is broadcasting the rematch between Sergey Kovalev and Eleider Alvarez for Alvarez's WBO light heavyweight title in early 2019. The network also got the rights to broadcast Miguel Berchelt's WBC super featherweight title defense against Miguel Roman in November on the ESPN+ streaming service.

For fans of sports such as basketball and baseball, the free agency period after every season is always an exciting one because of the possibilities of multiple stars heading to other teams and completely shifting the power from one team to another. Right now, we are in a similar situation with all of these boxers suddenly looking for U.S. television homes to fight in.

Of course, the two biggest "free agents" right now are Alvarez and Golovkin as their respective contracts expired after September 15. For Golovkin, since it is looking like he may only have a few years remaining on his career, he will most likely go to the highest-bidder for each of his fights moving forward.

This creates multiple interesting scenarios, but the biggest takeaway for Golovkin, and for Alvarez to a larger extent, is that the other middleweight stars are either with Matchroom Boxing (Daniel Jacobs and Demetrius Andrade) or with PBC (Jermall Charlo).

The options are there for either fighter to take the best deals out there, but since the WBC ordered Golovkin to fight Charlo in a final eliminator for the WBC title, there is always the possibility of that fight taking place in early 2019 on Showtime, or even on FOX. Beyond that, fights with Jacobs, Andrade, Billy Joe Saunders and Ryota Murata (who is with ESPN in the United States) are certainly likely for Golovkin.

It's tough to say where Golovkin ends up next, but my personal belief is that, although the prospect of getting to fight only one eliminator before getting a third fight with Alvarez is certainly incredibly appealing, Golovkin will likely go another route for his career in 2019. As such, I can see Golovkin fighting Murata for the WBA "regular" middleweight title in spring 2019. A Golovkin vs. Murata fight, potentially at the Tokyo Dome, would be one of the biggest boxing events in the history of Japanese boxing since Golovkin is now a global star of the sport and Murata is certainly the biggest domestic star in Japan.

Now, if that fight were to happen, there are a number of different ways this can go. One scenario is to have Golovkin fight Murata in Japan and have the fight be on ESPN+ as a prime time fight in Japan would be the early morning in the United States. You could work around this and have the fight be shown in primetime in the United States on the main ESPN television channel, but that would mean the fight would have to take place potentially around 11 p.m. ET, which would be noon the next day in Tokyo.

ESPN could also simply demand the fight to only be shown on primetime ESPN and that it would be much easier for all parties for the fight to be shown in the United States. That would somewhat diminish the allure of the fight, which was supposed to be a massive Japanese event that could have been the first boxing card to take place at the world-famous Tokyo Dome since Douglas' upset win over Tyson in 1990.

As for Alvarez, his next fight is expected to be the December 15 Madison Square Garden show against David Lemieux. It's not a guarantee the fight will happen as Alvarez has yet to even meet with Golden Boy Promotions to discuss his next fight and we are about 10 weeks away from December 15 and without as so much as a television deal in place for that next fight, it's possible there's no December 15 show after all and Alvarez fight as early as February 2019 or as late as Cinco De Mayo weekend next May.

The closest scenario we have to Alvarez's free agency situation is that of LeBron James in the NBA when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers on two occasions and the Miami Heat once. He was the biggest star in basketball and every team wanted to get him as he alone was a game changer for the entire league, and the sport at large.

It's similar in Alvarez's case as he is arguably the biggest boxing star in the world and certainly the biggest in the United States. He's only 28 years old, in the prime of his career and has the looks to be a centerpiece of any company out there. Right now, the favorite to land Alvarez for a long-term TV deal would be Showtime as the two sides already have history together.

A deal with Showtime, unless it is an ironclad exclusivity deal, also creates an opening for Alvarez to fight on FOX, which in this day and age in the sport of boxing in the United States, it is unheard of. We saw something similar last year Manny Pacquiao fought on ESPN, but Pacquiao wasn't the star that he was in the early 2010s. Even so, that fight with Jeff Horn garnered incredible ratings for ESPN, which eventually became the catalyst for Top Rank's longterm deal with the sports network.

Wherever Alvarez, as well as the rest of the free agents, ends with up, it will signify a massive shift in the power struggle between ESPN with Top Rank, DAZN with Matchroom Boxing and FOX plus Showtime with PBC. Such a change could potentially create the next boxing empire in the country, potentially one in the same vein as HBO's rule over the sport in the United States was for so many years.

WBC Convention

The annual WBC Convention, which has many of the top figures in the sport, from champions to retired legends to promoters and even media members, convey together and find out what the future for the governing body is.

Among the many topics on hand at the convention was the status of every world champion the WBC has and what their immediate future would be.

For starters, the biggest announcement of those world champions is the potential third fight between middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. Tom Loeffler, Golovkin's promoter arrived in Kiev, Ukraine where the convention was taking place, and tried to get the WBC to order a third fight between the two middleweight stars.

With the WBC announcing that Alvarez can make a voluntary title defense and will likely do so in December, the WBC proposed a fight between Golovkin and interim champion Jermall Charlo. Whether or not the fight gets made is a completely different story. Both Loeffler and trainer Abel Sanchez previously stated that there's a good chance Golovkin would rest until spring 2019 before he fights again. With this new development, Loeffler will speak to Golovkin on the possibility of accepting a fight against Charlo.

The rest of the world champions' futures have also been discussed among the top members of the WBC.

WBC super bantamweight champion Rey Vargas is out of action for a while and so, the governing body is creating an interim championship fight and already has picked out its two combatants.

The WBC has ordered Abigail Medina and Tomoki Kameda to fight for the interim title while Vargas recovers. The fight pits the two highest-ranked contenders in the WBC rankings (Medina is ranked No. 1 and Kameda is ranked No. 2) and the winner presumably becomes the mandatory challenger to Vargas' title.

Vargas has held the WBC title since early 2017, making three successful title defenses with the last one taking place this past May with a unanimous decision victory over Azat Hovhannisyan. Vargas is currently recovering from a left hand injury.

Kameda was arguably the top Japanese bantamweight in the 2010s, holding the WBO title from 2013 to 2014. Kameda previously challenged Jamie McDonnell for the WBA bantamweight title twice, but on both occasions, Kameda lost by unanimous decision. After not fighting for a little more than a year, Kameda returned to action in 2016, fighting as a super bantamweight where he is riding a four-fight win streak.

Medina, the current European super bantamweight champion, has been riding a ten-fight win streak since suffering two straight losses in 2013. Medina sports a 19-3-2 record with 10 knockout victories and is competing for his first world title.

The governing body has also ordered multiple title eliminators to create new mandatory challengers for some of its world champions, starting with WBC super featherweight title. While champion Miguel Berchelt and mandatory challenger Miguel Roman are fighting in November, the WBC has ordered a title eliminator between Eduardo Hernandez and Francisco Vargas, the two highest-ranked super featherweights in the WBC after Roman.

In the junior middleweight division where Jermell Charlo is the WBC champion, a title eliminator between Julian Williams and former world champion Erislandy Lara has been ordered. Lara has not fought since narrowly losing a unification fight to Jarrett Hurd back in April.

As for unified lightweight champion Mikey Garcia, who reportedly agreed to a deal with IBF mandatory challenger Richard Commey, the WBC ordered Garcia to fight WBC mandatory challenger Luke Campbell. In addition, the WBC has created a title eliminator between Javier Fortuna and Zaur Abdullaev, both ranked by the WBC in the top five at 135 pounds.

Perhaps the most interesting title eliminator is one that wasn't even formally announced. Although WBC junior welterweight champion Jose Ramirez has Josh Taylor as a mandatory challenger and Regis Prograis as the interim champion, both men are competing in the World Boxing Super Series.

That leaves Ramirez without a mandatory challenger available to fight him immediately, but the WBC does have a fight in mind: Adrien Broner vs. Jorge Linares. Linares recently returned to the ring on a Golden Boy card on Facebook where he won his junior welterweight debut. Broner has not fought since fighting Jessie Vargas to a draw back in April.

The latest chapter of David Benavidez's career saw the WBC make a ruling regarding his status as the super middleweight champion.

The governing body has elected to name Benavidez "Champion in recess" after it was announced in mid-September Benavidez tested positive for cocaine. The ruling means that the WBC 168-pound title is now vacant. As such, the WBC has ordered mandatory challenger Anthony Dirrell and Avni Yilidirim to fight for the vacant belt. Dirrell was originally ordered to fight Benavidez for the title, but the fight was never officially announced.

But the ruling did come after an unexpected twist. Originally, the WBC was going to order Dirrell and former IBO champion Chris Eubank Jr. to fight for the title, but after Eubank "rejected" the WBC, president Mauricio Sulaiman chose to have Yildirim ranked above Eubank. The shift in the rankings is somewhat strange from an in-ring perspective as Eubank knocked out Yildirim one year ago in the World Boxing Super Series super middleweight quarterfinals.

The WBC has also ordered featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. to fight WBA "super" champion Leo Santa Cruz in a unification fight. Although Santa Cruz did not win any title eliminators of the sort and governing bodies don't usually order unification fights, Santa Cruz does hold the WBC Diamond title which gives the WBC the ability to order such a fight. Santa Cruz won the WBC Diamond title earlier this year as an added bonus when he defeated then-WBA "regular" champion Abner Mares in a rematch that took place on Showtime.

Billy Joe Saunders Tests Positive For Oxilofrine

WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders has failed a drug test administered by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA), putting an upcoming title defense in jeopardy.

According to a report from ESPN, Saunders tested positive for the banned substance oxilofrine, which is a stimulant that mainly helps with increasing adrenaline production and oxygenation of the blood.

This puts his October 20 title defense against former world champion Demetrius Andrade at the TD Garden in Boston in jeopardy. That fight was going to be the main event of a Matchroom Boxing USA card streamed exclusively in the United States and Canada on the DAZN platform.

With the positive drug test, Saunders could potentially be stripped of the title he won back in 2015. Saunders won the belt with a victory over Andy Lee and most recently defended the title with a wide unanimous decision victory over David Lemieux last December.

The failed drug test also comes days after Saunders was fined £100,000 by the British Boxing Board of Control for posting a disturbing video on social media that involved Saunders claiming that he would give a woman drugs in exchange for sexual favors to a friend of Saunders.

Saunders is not the first athlete to test positive for the banned substance. Sprinters Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell tested positive in 2013 and pro baseball pitcher Michael Kopech have also tested positive for the banned substance in 2015. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) also lists oxilofrine on its extensive list of banned substances.

VADA president Dr. Margaret Goodman sent a letter to the camp notifying the parties involved of the test results and ESPN obtained a copy of that letter, which can be seen below:

"The results of the analysis are as follows: Adverse. Urine specimen number 4248408: oxilofrine detected. Note the following is also contained on the laboratory report: 'Opinions: oxilofrine may have resulted from the administration of ephedrine which was also detected but below the decision limit of 11ug/ml. The estimated concentration of ephedrine is 4.6 ug/ml.'"

Promoter Frank Warren of Queensbury Promotions released a statement giving further details on the failed drug test. In that statement, Warren and Saunders claim the reason the WBO champion tested positive for oxilofrine is because of a "common decongestant nasal spray."

"Following reports of an adverse analytical finding in a test carried out by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (“VADA”) on WBO World Middleweight Champion, Billy Joe Saunders, we can confirm that the product concerned is permitted to be used ‘Out of Competition’ by United Kingdom Anti-Doping (“UKAD”) in line with the regulations of the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”).

For the avoidance of doubt, the product in question was a common decongestant nasal spray.

The British Boxing Board of Control (“BBBofC”) under whose jurisdiction Billy Joe Saunders is licensed are affiliated only to UKAD/WADA.

Today the BBBofC have confirmed that Mr Saunders is not in breach of BBBofC or UKAD anti doping regulations and is therefore in good standing and is licensed to box and defend his World Title on October 20th.

Mr. Saunders has been tested a number of times in 2018, all negative, his last out of competition test by UKAD was on 24th September 2018."

In separate tweets, Saunders further claimed that he is innocent and that he will fight on October 20.

"I’m a clean fighter to the bone and always have been and I’m ready to go on the 20th."

"Thank you to my fans who stick by me I’m a clean athlete and gonna be around a long time thank you all stay blessed," Saunders tweeted.

At the moment, it does not appear that neither the BBBofC nor the UKAD will exact some disciplinary action on Saunders, but it does not mean that Saunders is scotch-free. Saunders will still have to hear from the Minnesota commission and from the WBO.

The commission will evaluate Saunders' status for the October 20 card in Boston on an upcoming commission meeting on October 8. If Saunders is in fact not licensed to fight Andrade in Boston, then the WBO will strip him of the title. If Saunders is given the green light to fight, then the WBO will further investigate the matter before making a final ruling.

Saunders potentially being out of the Matchroom Boxing card would be a major blow to the card, which was set to headline the event. There are two other world title fights on that Matchroom Boxing card: Tevin Farmer vs. James Tennyson for the IBF super featherweight title and Katie Taylor vs. Cindy Serrano for the unified WBA and IBF women's lightweight titles.

World Boxing Super Series 168-Pound Finals

For many months, fans have been eagerly anticipating the conclusion of the World Boxing Super Series super middleweight finals and now at the tournament's conclusion, a new world champion has been crowned in Callum Smith.

Fighting in the first boxing card in the history of Saudi Arabia, Smith knocked out George Groves in the seventh round to win the WBSS super middleweight tournament. As a result, Smith also won Groves' WBA "super" super middleweight title and captured the vacant Ring Magazine

The fight started off slowly as both men were cautiously waiting for the other to come forward. In the meantime, Groves and Smith threw the occasional jab, but Smith's right hand was the more dominant hand between the two boxers.

At numerous times in the fight, Smith hurt Groves with right hands upstairs and the now-former champion could not find an answer for it. But even though Smith's right hand broke down Groves at times, it was Smith's left hand that was the deciding blow. Smith landed a flush left hook to Groves and Groves was stunned in the corner while Smith bullied Groves with almost a dozen unanswered power punches. Groves went down on one knee and did not get back up, awarding Smith the victory.

At the time of the stoppage, there was no boxer ahead on more than one scorecard. One judge had Groves winning 59-55, another had Smith winning 59-55 and the third judge had the fight dead even at 57-57. On its live coverage page, Fightful had Smith ahead on its scorecard 58-56 after six rounds.

It is Smith's first world title victory after holding the European, British and English titles at 168 pounds. Smith's record improves to 25-0 while Groves now falls to 28-4, ending his reign as the WBA champion at 16 months.

This fight concludes the first season of the World Boxing Super Series, which also featured Oleksandr Usyk defeat Murat Gassiev to become the undisputed cruiserweight champion. The second season, which starts in early October, will feature a second cruiserweight tournament, a junior welterweight and bantamweight tournament.

Anthony Joshua vs. Alexander Povetkin

Against one of his toughest opponents to date, Anthony Joshua gave more than 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium another impressive knockout victory.

Joshua defeated mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin by TKO in the seventh round to unify the WBA "super," WBO, IBF and IBO heavyweight titles. It was Joshua's second main event fight at the London venue, nearly 18 months after defeating Wladimir Klitschko in front of a record crowd of 90,000.

The title bout started relatively well for Povetkin, who initially hurt Joshua early in the fight and even caused some bleeding from Joshua's nose. Joshua struggled in the first couple of rounds to establish the jab, but as the fight progressed, the champion got more comfortable.

Starting in the fourth round, Joshua let his hands go and fired away strong right hands that created a cut above Povetkin's left eye. Once the seventh round came, Joshua landed a right hand that stunned Povetkin and then Joshua knocked him down with a wicked left hand. After getting back up, Povetkin immediately was met with a barrage of punches from Joshua which sent the challenger tumbling down to the canvas once more and the referee had to put a stop to the fight.

Once Joshua was officially declared the winner, the focus then shifted to his next fight, scheduled to be another main event fight at Wembley Stadium in April 2019. No opponent has been named yet, but the hope around the boxing world that it would be against WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, who is defending his title against Tyson Fury on a pay-per-view event in December.

While Joshua would eventually go on to say Wilder would be his No. 1 choice for his opponent for the 2019 Wembley card, Joshua did not seem interested in talking about which fighter he could face next year. Joshua and Wilder originally agreed to terms on a fight earlier this year, but the fight fell through almost immediately afterwards. The WBA then ordered Joshua to face Povetkin or risk being stripped of the heavyweight title.

The fight was the first main event to be streamed live on DAZN in the United States after the steaming platform and Matchroom Boxing, which promotes Joshua, agreed to an eight-year broadcast deal worth up to $1 billion. One of the biggest storylines to watch out for heading into this fight would be how well the quality of the stream would hold up.

Well, for me and for many others, the quality of the stream was surprisingly excellent. The video looked crystal clear, there was barely any actual lagging and the audio quality was fantastic. So far, it was a very positive first step for DAZN and Matchroom Boxing.

Sho Kimura vs. Kosei Tanaka Review

While most of the boxing world was focused on Anthony Joshua vs. Alexander Povetkin and Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin 2, Sho Kimura and Kosei Tanaka had one of the greatest boxing fights in flyweight history and what should be the best fight of the year at this point

The two Japanese stars met on September 24 in Nagoya, Japan with Kimura’s WBO flyweight title on the line. After 12 incredible rounds (and I would be shocked if people who watched the fight didn’t have at least one round in their “Round of the Year” list), Tanaka defeated Kimura by majority decision (115-113, 116-114, 114-114) to win the title.

There are multiple storylines regarding this fight. The first, obviously, is the quality of the fight itself. Even looking at this fight on paper, expectations were already sky high by those who had already seen both men fight in the ring. The idea that this fight would meet its lofty expectations was certainly one that fans had, but in boxing, few can match those expectations when it comes to potential “Fight of the Year” candidates.

Both Kimura and Tanaka somehow managed to exceed most, if not everyone’s expectations.

The fight started off with high action from both men and the action never slowed down. No one took a round off to rest or study their opponent. Instead, both men threw hundreds of punches, some of which could have knocked down most flyweights, but almost miraculously, neither men ever went down by a punch.

The fight boiled down to one gameplan for each man: Tanaka focused on overpowering the champion with lots of high-pressure punches while Kimura attacked the body (as Kimura is arguably the best man at 112 pounds when it comes to body work) and worked his way up to pulverizing Tanaka’s face.

In some cases, both men executed their gameplan almost too perfection. In a sport where sometimes, great fighters’ biggest asset get canceled out when they meet in the ring, the strengths of both Kimura and Tanaka were not only in full display, but also enhanced. It’s hard to imagine a better performance coming from any of them and that is because the ring chemistry (for lack of a better phrase) between both men were exceptional.

This fight will most likely end up being the fight of the year which is strangely enough, a complete 180 from the best fight of 2017 (at least in my book), which was the Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko. That fight won “Fight of the Year” honors mainly for the drama and the back-and-forth exchange of knockdowns that fight brought. It wasn’t the most action-packed fight that year, but it told a story of two fighters competing for supremacy better than any other boxing match.

But when it comes to Kimura vs. Tanaka, the action itself was the story. They didn’t compete in front of 90,000 fans or was being watched by millions of people in the United States. It was almost like the fight was a secret to the rest of the world except for the ones who paid any attention to Japanese boxing.

At the very least, this is an all-time great flyweight fight and potentially the greatest flyweight fight in history. To put this fight in perspective, no fight in the 112-pound division has won Ring Magazine’s “Fight of the Year” award. Although for many fans who watched the fight, they would likely pick this fight as their pick for best of 2018, I’d suspect that the rematch between Alvarez and Golovkin would get the pick as it is the more popular choice among boxing fans as a whole.

The second storyline on this fight is the history made by Tanaka as the win over Kimura gave the 24-year-old Tanaka his third world title in a third weight class in just 12 fights. Only one other boxer has ever achieved that feat in that amount of fights and that is Vasiliy Lomachenko, who had set the record back in May with a win over Jorge Linares to win the WBA lightweight title.

The way Tanaka won the fight and tied the record, plus the quality of the fight almost elevated Tanaka to a major international star among the hardcore boxing fans who watched the bout, whether it would be on the live stream or on the replay of the fight on YouTube (I watched the fight after it went live).

October 7 WBSS Yokohama Arena Card Preview

The second season of the World Boxing Super Series starts on October 7 with a massive boxing card from the Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Japan.

As with all six first-round WBSS cards, each event will have two tournament fights. For the Yokohama show, the card will be headlined by a bantamweight quarterfinal fight between WBA “regular” champion Naoya Inoue and Juan Carlos Payano. The second tournament fight is a junior welterweight WBSS quarterfinal bout between Kiryl Relikh vs. Eduard Troyanovsky for the WBA 140-pound.

Inoue should be a massive favorite for this fight, and likely is the big favorite to win the whole tournament despite being the No. 2 seed at 118 pounds.

Now it would be unfair to say Payano stands no shot of beating Inoue, but considering that no one has even discovered a blueprint to beating Inoue, who is a once-in-a-generation talent in Japan, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Payano defeats Inoue.

Inoue proved that he is arguably the best bantamweight in the world with an incredible first-round knockout win over former world champion Jamie McDonnell earlier this year. Inoue, who is the third-quickest man in history to win a world title in three weight classes, has been one of the most must-watch fighters in the world today. Due to him barely fighting in the United States, the west has had little exposure to Inoue, but to anyone watching the card, they will likely get a first glance at someone whom many believe to be a top five pound-for-pound boxer.

The co-main event fight should be a far more competitive one between Relikh and Troyanovsky. Rellikh lucked out on getting the chance to fight for the WBA title back in March due to Terence Crawford having vacated the belt a year earlier. Relikh, the first boxing world champion from Belarus, defeated Rances Barthelemy in a rematch from their May 2017 encounter to win the vacant WBA title. In that win over Barthelemy, Relikh was not only dominant, but also highly impressive and showcased his ability to throw every kind of punch imaginable at an alarming quick rate. Relikh threw more than 1,200 punches in that fight and solidified himself as one of the best junior welterweights in the world.

Troyanovsky, on the other hand, is looking to get back to being a world champion. Having held the IBF title from 2015 to 2016, Troyanovsky was certainly in the conversation for best junior welterweight, but after suffering a shocking 40-second knockout loss to Julius Indongo, Troyanovsky’s mystique as an unbeatable Russian champion was shattered. But since that loss, Troyanovsky got back to fighting seven months later and is 2-0 with both wins being quick knockout victories.

It’s a far different fight for Relikh as Troyanovsky is certainly a much tougher challenge than Barthelemy. Unlike most first-round matches for the second season of the World Boxing Super Series, you can definitely make a strong case for either man winning. One can side with Troyanovsky’s power (24 of his 27 wins were KO victories) or one can side with Relikh’s unrelenting strength and tremendous stamina.

Of course, the appeal of the boxing card isn’t simply the two tournament fights. Also on the undercard is WBC light flyweight champion Ken Shiro defending his title against former world champion Milan Melindo. Whether or not that also gets streamed on DAZN remains to be seen as I do not know what the schedule looks like as far as fight times are concerned. I do know that the DAZN stream for both the United States and Canada starts at 7 a.m. ET on October 7, which could mean that the Shiro fight might not get shown as Japan doesn’t have a show with three world title fights remaining at that particular time of the day.

The only other two fights scheduled for the card are Kazunori Yorimasa (3-5-2 record) vs. Takuya Kihashi (4-6-1) and Kenshin Megumi (2-2) vs. Seiya Yamaguchi (1-3-1).

Tale of the Tape: Naoya Inoue vs. Juan Carlos Payano:

Naoya Inoue:

Record: 16-0 (14 KO)

Age: 25

Height: 5’5”

Reach: 67.5”

Titles Won: Japanese Light Flyweight, OPBF Light Flyweight, WBC Light Flyweight World, WBO Super Flyweight World, WBA “Regular” Bantamweight

Notable Wins: Jamie McDonnell, Kohei Kono, David Carmona, Omar Narvaez, Ryoichi Taguchi

Juan Carlos Payano:

Record: 20-1 (9 KO)

Age: 34

Height: 5’5”

Reach: 64.5”

Titles Won: WBC Latino Bantamweight, WBA Fedelatin Bantamweight, WBA-NABA Bantamweight, WBA “Super” Bantamweight World, IBO Bantamweight World, WBO Intercontinental Bantamweight Title

Notable Wins: Rau’Shee Warren, Anselmo Moreno

Tale of the Tape: Kiryl Relikh vs. Eduard Troyanovsky:

Kiryl Relikh:

Record: 22-2 (19 KO)

Age: 28

Height: 5’9.5”

Reach: 67.5”

Titles Won: WBA Intercontinental Junior Welterweight, WBA Junior Welterweight World Title

Notable Wins: Rances Barthelemy

Eduard Troyanovsky:

Record: 27-1 (24 KO)

Age: 38

Height: 5’8”

Reach: 69”

Titles Won: WBO European Lightweight, PABA Lightweight, WBA International Lightweight, IBO Junior Welterweight World, IBF Junior Welterweight World Title

Notable Wins: Cesar Rene Cuenca, Michele Di Rocco

Matchroom Boxing USA Chicago Preview

Matchroom Boxing USA’s first shown on the DAZN platform takes place at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago, Illinois on October 6 with a decently stacked card from top to bottom.

The card is the first real test for Matchroom Boxing’s venture into DAZN. Although the streaming service had broadcast the Anthony Joshua vs. Alexander Povetkin fight last month and the World Boxing Super Series super middleweight finals last month (both broadcasts being given critical acclaim from fans and media alike), the October 6 card is the proving ground for whether or not this relationship between Matchroom Boxing and DAZN can last.

Of course, one card is not indicative of how good DAZN can be for boxing in the long run. But looking at the card from top to bottom, it is hard to argue that this is the most must-see boxing card in the U.S. this year. It is an incredibly deep card and while the ceiling isn’t as high as far as superstars competing on this event, the floor is very high.

The top five fight on the card is mainly filled with B- to B+ stars in the sport at this moment, which isn’t bad at all, but it isn’t as sexy as say, a boxing card at Wembley Stadium headlined by Anthony Joshua.

If this relationship between the two entities were to last, then promoter Eddie Hearn will have to attract a Mikey Garcia-type of star, which can be a tall task given that PBC, after renewed deals that will have both FOX and Showtime give even more priority to boxing broadcasts, is now the top stable in the U.S. An argument can be made for Top Rank as they have the two best pound-for-pound boxers in Terence Crawford and Vasiliy Lomachenko, but aside from those two (as well as Isaac Dogboe), there isn’t much in Top Rank in terms of real star power.

The problem with online streaming, especially in sports (even more so in niche sports such as boxing), it’s tough to build a truly successful company as it is incredibly difficult to create new fans and there’s no guarantee that all the hardcore fans will immediately jump towards an opportunity to sign on. The closest example I can see for this kind of stuff is the WWE Network that WWE has. Even with more than a million subscribers for some time, the WWE Network started off relatively slow, with the first-year subscriber count being well below expectations.

Even if the October 6 card is full of great fights, that alone won’t mean more subscribers to DAZN. It’s going to take a strong effort from Hearn to get that top star that will draw more eyeballs to the platform.

In the meantime, the best Hearn and DAZN can hope for is the first few boxing cards provide exciting fights that will at least draw in more of the hardcore audience.

As far as what the actual card at the Wintrust Arena, despite three world title fights taking place on the card, the main event is actually a welterweight title eliminator between former world champion and Thomas Dulorme. Vargas and Dulorme will fight for the WBC Silver title with the winner becoming the mandatory challenger to Shawn Porter’s 147-pound world title.

Although the winner of the fight becomes the mandatory challenger, he will join a growing list of fighters who either won title eliminators or have the right to challenge for the title. There’s Yordenis Ugas, who won a title eliminator in early September with a win over Cesar Barrionuevo (a fight that did no favors to Ugas as many called the fight either boring or mediocre). Then there’s Andre Berto who won another title eliminator against Devon Alexander and was recently mentioned by name by Mauricio Sulaiman as a potential challenger for Porter’s first title defense. Finally, there’s WBA champion Keith Thurman, who previously held the title but vacated it earlier this year after not fighting for well over a year due to injuries. Thurman has the option to challenge for the title whenever he is feeling healthy and ready to go. So far, no fight has been discussed for Thurman or even when he’ll return and he has been out of action since March 2017.

Vargas is aiming to fight for a world title since 2016 when he lost his WBO title to Manny Pacquiao on a pay-per-view main event. Since then, Vargas took a 13-month break from the sport before returning last December with a dominant performance over Aaron Herrera and then fought to a draw with Adrien Broner back in April.

It’s been a somewhat frustrating journey back to title contention for Vargas as he told me weeks before the fight against Broner that on two occasions, he was negotiating a fight for Thurman’s WBA and WBC titles -- once in 2017 and the other in early 2018 -- before the fight fell through twice for no reason.

Dulorme’s career has been in somewhat of a freefall for some time. After signing with Mayweather Promotions and then winning a welterweight fight in January 2017, he suffered a minor upset loss to Ugas on the FOX prelim card for the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor fight. Dulorme left Mayweather Promotions and is now looking at a major opportunity to crash the welterweight division and potentially challenge for a title.

The other three world title fights are the following: Artur Beterbiev (c) vs. Callum Johnson for Beterbiev’s IBF light heavyweight title, Daniel Roman (c) vs. Gavin McDonnell for Roman’s WBA super bantamweight title and Erica Anabella Farias (c) vs. Jessica McCaskill for Farias’ WBC women’s junior welterweight title.

The other notable fight on the undercard is undefeated heavyweight contender Jarrell Miller facing off against Tomasz Adamek. While the fight itself isn’t anything special and Miller is a huge favorite to win, it’s what the win could provide Miller that is interesting. In the aftermath of WBA “regular” heavyweight champion Manuel Charr getting flagged for a banned substance on a recent drug test, the secondary world title could soon be vacant which could lead to a potential clash between Miller and Fres Oquendo later this year for the title.

Here is the full card:

- Jessie Vargas vs. Thomas Dulorme: Vacant WBC Silver welterweight title

- Artur Beterbiev (c) vs. Callum Johnson: IBF light heavyweight title

- Daniel Roman (c) vs. Gavin McDonnell: WBA super bantamweight title

- Erica Anabella Farias (c) vs. Jessica McCaskill: WBC women’s junior welterweight title

- Jarrell Miller vs. Tomasz Adamek

- Anthony Sims Jr. vs. Mario Aguilar

- Shawn Simpson vs. Francisco Javier Lapizco

- Reshat Mati vs. Adan Ahumada

- Nikita Ababiy vs. Jake Henriksen

- Nkosi Solomon vs. Matt Cameron

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