Fightful Boxing Newsletter (3/8): Canelo Alvarez, Wilder-Ortiz, Showtime Preview

The Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin rematch, perceived by many to be the biggest pure boxing match since Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao, suffered a tremendous hit in the wake of Canelo's positive test for the banned substance clenbuterol. Golden Boy Promotions, who promotes Canelo, blamed the positive test to tainted meat, with the WBC and WBA essentially believing Canelo's story and supporting the fight moving forward. The fight itself likely isn't going to be affected much in terms of will it happen or not, but public perception has quickly turned sour, potentially affecting the final pay-per-view buyrate.

The most highly-watched heavyweight boxing fight on Showtime in years solidified Deontay Wilder as a boxing star, perhaps superstar, essentially creating even more demand for a potential superfight against Anthony Joshua. Wilder made one of the most impressive comebacks in a heavyweight world title fight in a long time by knocking out Luis Ortiz, Wilder's best opponent to date. The fight, which headlined Brooklyn's Barclays Center, drew in more than a million viewers on Showtime with a peak of nearly two million viewers on an extremely busy sports night.

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All this and more covered on this week's edition of the Fightful Boxing Newsletter.

Fightful Boxing Newsletter (3/8) Table Of Contents:

  1. Canelo Alvarez Tests Positive For Clenbuterol (Page 2)
  2. Deontay Wilder vs. Luis Ortiz Review (Page 3)
  3. Sergey Kovalev vs. Igor Mikhalkin Review (Page 4)
  4. Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Jorge Linares Possible For May 12 (Page 5)
  5. Japanese Boxing Roundup (Page 6)
  6. British Boxing Roundup (Page 7)
  7. March 9/10 Showtime Boxing Preview (Page 8)

Canelo Alvarez Tests Positive For Clenbuterol

With two months before he is scheduled to fight unified middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin in the sport’s biggest rematch in years, Canelo Alvarez tested positive for trace amounts of the banned substance clenbuterol. The positive test is consistent with meat contamination that has impacted dozens of athletes in Mexico over the last several years, at least according to Daniel Eichner, who is the Director of SMRTL, the lab that WADA accredited to conduct drug tests.

Upon receiving this information, Golden Boy Promotions immediately notified the Nevada State Athletic Commission and Gennady Golovkin's promoter, Tom Loeffler.

As a result of the positive has been planned, Canelo will immediately move his training camp from Mexico to the United States and will submit to any number and variety of additional tests that VADA deems necessary ahead of and after May 5. According to the press release, Canelo was already planning on moving his camp to the United States, so this seems like a convenient excuse.

In response to the news, Canelo simply issued a short statement on the press release that says the following: "I am an athlete who respects the sport and this surprises me and bothers me because it had never happened to me. I will submit to all the tests that require me to clarify this embarrassing situation and I trust that at the end the truth will prevail."

The current Ring Middleweight champion is scheduled to fight Golovkin on May 5 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas with the winner walking away with the Ring, WBA, WBC, IBF and Lineal middleweight world titles.

There's no word on if the fight will be canceled or if any governing bodies will withdraw sanctioning for the fight, but it looks like none of the two will actually happen. WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman did write that the governing body will investigate the matter.

"[The WBC] will follow protocol with consistency and analyze this specific case of [Canelo Alvarez] with clenbuterol which is a public health problem in Mexico," Sulaiman wrote on Twitter.

Gilberto Mendoza, the president of the WBA, also was on the side of Canelo on the whole matter, stating on Twitter that he is aware of the situation and that the trace amounts are expected when it comes to eating contaminated meat. It’s safe to say the WBA and WBC will not withdraw their titles from the fight if the fight continues. The one thing that still remains to be seen is how both the IBF and Nevada State Athletic Commission.

For the former, executive director Bob Bennett said the commission will investigate the matter. Clenbuterol is listed on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List and according to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) official website, the substance is classified under the category of other "Anabolic Agents.

This wouldn't be the first time a Mexican boxing superstar has tested positive for clenbuterol. Erik Morales and Francisco Vargas both tested positive for clenbuterol in the past, both blamed it on contaminated meat and were allowed to move forward with their respective fights. Luis Nery was another very recent case who had positive drug test results be as a result of contaminated meat, or so Nery’s camp alleges. Nery did not test positive for clenbuterol, but the problem still lies with the contaminated meat.

It’s an issue that has plagued athletes eating in Mexico for years. Boxers aren’t the only ones who have endured this issue. MMA fighters and even NFL players experience this type of issue whenever they travel to Mexico.

The issue of contaminated meat is not in the actual contents of the meat and its legality regarding having elevated levels of clenbuterol. Although clenbuterol is not FDA-approved in the United States, it is legal in meat made in Mexico, so the actual use of the word contaminated is only prevalent when it comes to getting drug tests done in the United States or in most places around the world.

What has the boxing community up in arms, and rightly so, is the always convenient excuse of eating contaminated meat whenever a Mexican boxer gets a positive drug tests. While some of these cases do have legitimacy, it almost always never seen to be on the up and up and it only hurts the sport significantly.

Canelo’s drug test had the sports world talking about the fight, but in a negative light. People will now look at the fight with second thoughts, especially if Canelo walks away with the victory. With the drug test announcement taking place so shortly after the initial press conference when people were already talking about the fight, it could lead to some people not even wanting to buy the pay-per-view. It doesn’t matter what type of marketing is done for the fight from this point now until May 5, Canelo’s reputation has taken a hit, which in hand, hurts the entire sport because Canelo is generally referred as the top boxing star in the world. In a way, there are some parallels to Canelo’s clenbuterol issue in boxing with Jon Jones’ drug troubles in the UFC, albeit on a smaller scale.

What’s baffling from all this is that it’s become a widely-accepted thing in the sport of boxing that Mexican boxers seem to have a built-in excuse whenever drug test failures happen. To think that the sport suffered a major hit may seem like hyperbole, but we’ve seen entire sports be nearly erased from public consciousness because of drug problems such as cycling.

In the aftermath of the news, Golovkin’s camp, mainly trainer Abel Sanchez, has been highly critical of Canelo and the whole issue of Mexicans blaming failed drug tests due to tainted meat. Perhaps no one should be more upset than Golovkin himself, whose entire professional career arc is solely based on not getting a chance to fight the best boxers in the world. Now that Golovkin got the superfight, everything in the world seemed to conspire against him and prevent him from a getting a fair shake in the two biggest fights of his career.

Talking to Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times: “We are elite athletes, and I want to keep boxing on this elite level. There are laws and a commission and [anti-doping scrutiny], and we have to fulfill them. They have to take action in that case, either disqualify him or [deliver] penalties.

Deontay Wilder vs. Luis Ortiz Review

Showtime returned to the Barclays Center to host Deontay Wilder’s latest WBC heavyweight title defense, this time against tough Cuban knockout artist Luis Ortiz.

The fight was a world title doubleheader, originally a tripleheader, but the interim WBC middleweight title fight between Jermall Charlo and Hugo Centeno Jr. was postponed for April 21 after Centeno suffered an injury in late February.

Nonetheless, the card continued as a doubleheader with the opening bout being an interim IBF super middleweight title fight between Andre Dirrell and Jose Uzcategui. The fight is a rematch from their first encounter last year that ended in disqualification after Dirrell was knocked out by Uzcategui after the eighth round bell had sounded. The news surrounding the rematch was whether or not Uzcategui would use dirty tactics in the rematch, but there was a feeling around the Barclays Center that he did it before the fight had begun.

The fight was actually delayed in the broadcast because Uzcategui’s pre-fight urine test was actually off-colored, showing a tint of red in the urine, and the New York State Athletic Commission investigated the issue. It was revealed fairly quickly that it was not PED-related, but then the concerned lie in Uzcategui’s health. Initial fears were that the urine had blood in it, in which case the fight would have not happened, but the weird reddish color was due to a reported vitamin shot. Uzcategui later also made that claim after the fight, saying that he took a vitamin C shot (although initial reports said it was a vitamin B12 shot) and that his urine sometimes had a different color as a result.

The event was one of Showtime’s most successful television events in years. The official attendance for the fight was 14,069, making it the second-highest attendance for a boxing event at the Barclays Center (highest for a Showtime Championship Boxing card).

Viewership for the fight was excellent, drawing in an average viewership of 1.055 million for the main event, peaking at over 1.8 million. The viewership comes in spite of the fact Showtime had to deal with direct competition with an HBO Boxing After Dark card, an NBA on ABC game and a UFC pay-per-view happening at the same time. The final viewership numbers were the best since 2015 when Wilder first won the title.

So what exactly does this all mean for Wilder in regards a potential superfight against Anthony Joshua? Assuming Joshua emerges victorious against Joseph Parker on March 31 and unify the WBA, IBF and WBO titles, then there are no more roadblocks preventing this fight from happening.

Based on how talks have gone between the two boxers, it appears the purse split has been a sticking point for both sides. In terms of where the fight took place, an argument can be made for and against having the fight in the United States and United Kingdom. Having such a historic heavyweight fight in the United States would attract an incredible viewership, perhaps historic viewership if the marketing for the fight is right.

But no matter where in the United States the fight takes place, it will not reach the 80,000 and 90,000 attendance figures Joshua draws in his fights in the United Kingdom. If the fight is held in an indoor venue like T-Mobile Arena or the Barclays Center, there’s a decent chance it will sell out.

If promoters are bold, they can perhaps have the fight take place at a stadium, such as MetLife Stadium, an idea proposed by Steven Muehlhausen and myself many months ago. Of course, there’s no chance that the stadium would sell out for the fight but it does provide a chance to create a big fight feel similar to how Principality Stadium and Wembley Stadium did for Joshua’s last two fights.

Holding the fight in the United Kingdom will guarantee the venue will be soldout within minutes. We already know how the United Kingdom handles Anthony Joshua’s fights and they have always been titanic events in British sports.

The one drawback for American viewers is that viewership will be nowhere near as high as it would be if the fight were to take place in the United States. The reason for this is that the fight in the United Kingdom would mean an afternoon start time in the United States. Viewership for those fights usually yield about half of the viewership a primetime live airing would bring.

Showtime Results:

Deontay Wilder defeated Luis Ortiz via TKO, round 10 to retain the WBC heavyweight title: Ortiz outjabbed Wilder in the first four rounds, landing a right jab to Wilder’s body to disrupt the champion’s offensive rhythm. Wilder managed to score a knockdown in the fifth round which seemed to turn the tide in favor of Wilder. Ortiz did hurt Wilder in the seventh round, staggering Wilder as he fled to the ropes often and couldn’t avoid getting hit by the Cuban. Wilder somehow managed to not get knocked down and even caught his second wind in the eighth round. Wilder scored a knockdown in the ninth round, but Ortiz never fully recovered and one strong uppercut by Wilder seconds later took Ortiz out of the fight for good, clearing the way for Wilder to fight Anthony Joshua in a heavyweight superfight, provided he defeats Joseph Parker on March 31.

Fight rating: 4.5/5

Jose Uzcategui defeated Andre Dirrell via TKO, round 9 to win the interim IBF super middleweight title: The fight was a rematch from their controversial first fight last May where Uzcategui knocked out Dirrell after the eighth round bell sounded. Uzcategui was disqualified and Dirrell was given the win and the title. Uzcategui dominated the fight from the beginning landing vicious power punches to batter Dirrell’s face. Dirrell made the fight somewhat competitive in the early going, but Uzcategui was too strong for Dirrell. It got to the point where Dirrell’s corner feared for Dirrell’s safety and stopped the fight two seconds into the ninth round.

Fight rating: 2.25/5

Sergey Kovalev vs. Igor Mikhalkin Review

While Showtime and Deontay Wilder were enjoying a successful evening at the Barclays Center, Madison Square Garden and HBO had their own live boxing card happening at the same time.

The main event was Sergey Kovalev defending his WBO light heavyweight championship against Igor Mikhalkin. The fight was unspectacular in that Kovalev stopped yet another glorified journeyman fighter who never really stood much of a chance to win, similar to how Kovalev easily defeated Vyacheslav Shabranskyy at Madison Square Garden. Even HBO's boxing announce team commented on the low skill level of Kovalev's past two opponents, saying that they are only there to help Kovalev bounce back from the two losses to Andre Ward in 2017 and 2018.

The co-main event was a WBA light heavyweight title fight between Dmitry Bivol and challenger Sullivan Barrera, who had some choice words to say to Barrera when he talked to me last month. Barrera put up a valiant effort, but was easily overmatched by Bivol as he knocked out Barrera in the 12th round of the fight, solidifying his status as biggest rising star in the division.

According to Showbuzz Daily, the main event drew an average viewership of 599,000. The fight peaked at 674,000 viewers, but both the peak and average viewership were down from HBO's last telecast, the Superfly 2 special event from last month. That card drew an average of 639,000 viewers for the main event, peaking at 753,000. That event's television's numbers were even down from the first HBO boxing card in January, which only attracted an average viewership of 719,000. The final numbers for the March 3 event were the lowest the network had since the December 9, 2017 HBO telecast, which only averaged 576,000 viewers.

The opening bout of the HBO card was another light heavyweight world title between WBA champion Dmitry Bivol and Sullivan Barrera. Bivol knocked out Barrera to retain the title and that fight drew an average viewership of 512,000, peaking at 570,000. The next HBO boxing telecast is the April 28 event at the Barclays Center with a main event of Daniel Jacobs vs. Maciej Sulecki, which already has the makings of a not so great number in the ratings. There's no stakes in that fight as Jacobs is simply biding his time before challenging for the first middleweight world champion that has an open date.

Bivol's power is certainly impressive, but what is even more impressive is Bivol's potential. Bivol said in the post-fight interview that he has a lot to improve on, but as the world champion, he'll have to fight the best in division, leading some to speculate that Kovalev vs. Bivol is the next fight for the two of them. Unfortunately for fans, that fight will likely not happen in the coming months if Kovalev's promoters have anything to say about the matter.

The current plan is for both Kovalev and Bivol to return later this summer for another HBO-televised card at Madison Square Garden. The prospects of Kovalev fighting Bivol on that card are slim due to Main Events, who promotes Kovalev, not believing that the moneymaking potential of fighting Bivol has not been quite reached. The idea is to have the two of them face each other perhaps in their respective third fight of 2018 at the end of the year.

So who does Kovalev and Bivol fight in the meantime? For Kovalev, two options are the winner of the Badou Jack vs. Adonis Stevenson fight for the WBC title later this year and IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev. Facing the Jack vs. Stevenson winner is tough considering the timing of that fight.

What we'll likely see on that proposed summer HBO card is Kovalev hopefully fighting Beterbiev in a unification fight and Bivol fighting a somewhat easy fighter to look good and build up even more excitement for the eventual Kovalev vs. Bivol fight. It's a sacrificial lamb of a card, not exactly being an exciting one and likely drawing another relatively low viewership, but the payoff to having one of the more intriguing light heavyweight boxing fights in years seem to be worth it for HBO.

HBO Boxing Results:

Sergey Kovalev defeated Igor Mikhalkin, via TKO, round 7 to retain the WBO light heavyweight title: The only hope Mikhalkin had at beating Kovalev was Kovalev not being able to fight comfortably against a southpaw throughout the entire fight. That lack of comfort only lasted for a very short time as Kovalev dominated the fight. There was a cut on the bridge of Mikhalkin's nose and it got significantly worse as the fight progressed. Kovalev kept headhunting and landing his strongest punches to Mikhalkin's face. The referee and ringside doctor had to stop the fight in the seventh round because the cut got too deep and it looked horrifying on television. It was an easy opponent for Kovalev, who should be looking at a big fight next, perhaps a unification fight on HBO in the summer.

Fight rating: 2/5

Dmitry Bivol defeated Sullivan Barrera, via TKO, round 12 to retain the WBA light heavyweight title: One can argue that Barrera had a really good chance at beating Bivol. Bivol is still somewhat inexperienced and Barrera has looked impressive since losing to Ward a few years ago. That was not the case in this fight. Bivol put in the best performance of his career by effectively outlanding Barrera throughout most of the fight. Bivol had to deal with a cut over his left eye from an accidental head butt early in the fight as well as swelling on the right side of his forehead from another headbutt. The champion controlled Barrera with his jab before landing a strong 1-2 in the 12th round to knock out Barrera.

Fight rating 2/5

Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Jorge Linares Possible For May 12

Vasyl Lomachenko's next fight could see him face the one of the top lightweight boxers in the world, but only if Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions are able to work out a deal.

There had been talks of Lomachenko fighting WBA lightweight champion Jorge Linares on May 12, possibly at Madison Square Garden. Top Rank, who promotes Lomachenko, and Golden Boy Promotions, who co-promotes Linares have been butting heads as well as HBO and ESPN.

Top Rank wants to have the fight take place on May 12 on ESPN, but HBO is currently planning a boxing telecast on the same night and that fight could likely feature Sadam Ali's first WBO junior middleweight title defense. Ali is another fighter currently promoted by Golden Boy and figures to be someone the company will market heavily in the wake of Ali defeating future Hall of Famer Miguel Cotto last year at Madison Square Garden.

For weeks, a fight between Lomachenko and Linares had been discussed, but talks recently were stalled due to the date. For a while, the fight seemed dead, but a recent breakthrough could make the fight possible. There are talks of ESPN moving up the start time of their planned May 12 boxing card so that HBO can do their live boxing telecast after ESPN's telecast ends.

There had been a ton of verbal back-and-forth between both Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions, with Arum accusing the other company of trying to avoid that fight altogether. Golden Boy president Eric Gomez told Dan Rafael that ESPN is open to the idea, which was first reported by Yahoo Sports.

"We have reached out to executives at ESPN to see if they would be willing to move up the start time for the Linares-Lomachenko card so it doesn't interfere with the HBO telecast, and they told us they are considering it. We're doing our part so that we can try to make this fight. So let's have a really great fight and a great day of boxing on the two biggest platforms for boxing, which is ESPN and HBO. ESPN loves the idea and said they're considering it, so we are hopeful we can work it out," Gomez said.

The idea of television networks working together to hold boxing cards one after the other on the same night is nothing new. FOX and Showtime have held boxing events with FOX doing a live card and Showtime televising their own boxing event immediately afterwards. It's happened once last October and it happened last month to somewhat varying degrees of success. In the instance of last October, ratings for the FOX and Showtime cards were very solid with the FOX card, a doubleheader featuring Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares in separate fights that drew in more than a million viewers. The February 2018 card, which had a main event of Victor Ortiz vs. Devon Alexander, struggled to even get a million viewers.

But in those two cases cases, the two events had one main promoter, Premier Boxing Champions. The case of two networks working together with two separate boxing promotions is much more rare due to the clashing egos and behind-the-scenes conflicts preventing these types of events from happening.

If in fact Linares faces Lomachenko, Lomachenko would move up in weight and vacate his WBO super featherweight title. Linares, the WBA and WBC Diamond champion, is currently ordered by the WBC to fight WBC world champion Mikey Garcia. Garcia is currently scheduled to face Sergey Lipinets for the IBF junior welterweight title on March 10 on Showtime. Fightful will have live coverage of that fight.

Financial details of the fight have been mostly ironed out with Teiken Promotions, Linares Japanese boxing promoter, getting a $1.2 million package for taking the fight. Linares himself would receive $1 million from that package, making it the largest fight purse of his career.

Top Rank has been dead set on doing a boxing card on May 12 for Lomachenko to headline Madison Square Garden. There had been some discussions about a possible fight between Lomachenko and WBO lightweight champion Raymundo Beltran, another Top Rank-promoted fighter, but Top Rank has other plans for Beltran in case the fight against Lomachenko is not made for the May 12 card. The chances of Beltran being able to fight in May depends on how he recovers from cuts suffered from his title fight against Paulus Moses. Just by looking at his face after the fight, Beltran did appear like he would need several months of rest before fighting someone of Lomachenko's caliber.

Lomachenko has not fought since defeating Guillermo Rigondeaux on December 9, 2017 at Madison Square Garden. That fight headlined a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card, the last card on primetime for 2017 and delivered strong numbers for the network and interestingly, was the last time ESPN did solid viewership numbers for a Top Rank Boxing card. If the March 17 boxing card does not deliver a good rating, then expect ESPN to really start pressuring Golden Boy, who also hold fights on ESPN, to negotiate a deal to have the Lomachenko vs. Linares fight on ESPN, have that ESPN card start at 8 p.m. EST and end at 10 p.m. EST so that HBO can do their own boxing card at that time, which is usually the time HBO starts its boxing broadcasts. With May 12, HBO can afford that because the 10 p.m. bout will likely be the replay of the Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin rematch, which is scheduled to happen on May 5.

Japanese Boxing Roundup

1. Kadoebu gym is slowly filling out the card for its upcoming "Slugfest Vol. 4" show on May 7 at Korakuen Hall. The card will be headlined by a Champion Carnival bout between Japanese junior welterweight champion Valentine Hosokawa and Vladimir Baez. It was announced that rising prospect Ryota Yamauchi will take on Yota Hori, who is ranked in the top 10 by the Japanese Boxing Commission (JBC) on both their flyweight and super flyweight rankings. The fight will be Yamauchi's first against a domestic opponent and could end up being a hidden gym among all the Champion Carnival cards for 2018. Yamauchi is only 2-0 but already got a huge win in his last bout when he stopped former OPBF title challenger Lester Abutan.

2. Earlier this week, the East Japan Boxing Association announce their monthly award winners for the month of February. The MVP for the month was Japanese Lightweight champion Shuichiro Yoshino, who successfully defended his title on February 8 against mandatory challenger Masaki Saito. The Fighting Spirit award was won by Hayato Kimura, who stopped Kenya Yamashita on February 26. The Newcomer Award was won by Naoya Okamoto, who got a majority decision win against Yuta Saito on February 26. The three men will be given their awards at a ceremony on April 12 at the Korakuen Hall.

3. On some occasions, Japanese boxers who retain their national titles in the Champion Carnival and vacate those titles usually do it in the hopes of challenging for a world title in the near future. In the case of Izuki Tomioka, he vacated his lightweight title in order to potentially challenge for the Japanese super featherweight title. Tomioka retained his title for a second time after he got a technical draw against Kaiki Yuba and the understanding among Japanese fans is that the two would fight a rematch for the title. Now the plan for Tomioka is to fight in a title eliminator, possibly in October, win the eliminator and then challenge for the super flyweight title next year, likely in one of the marquee fights of the 2019 Champion Carnival.

4. Danny Roman successfully retained his WBA super bantamweight world title by beating Ryo Matsumoto at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo with a wide unanimous decision victory (119-109, 119-109, 118-110). Roman, who became the sole WBA champion at super bantamweight after Guillermo Rigondeaux was stripped of his “super” title, has been trying to secure a title defense in the United States, but problems finding a television network to pick up his fight forced him to go to Japan to defend his title. The plan now is for Roman to make another defense, likely in the summer, in the United States. Although no television network has been linked to picking up Roman’s next fight, Showtime is a strong candidate. After all, Showtime aired Roman’s last fight in the United States when he fought on the ShoBox: The Next Generation card in January 2017.

5. Luis Nery’s problems has finally caught up to him and his WBC bantamweight title has been stripped from him. One day before he was set to defend his title against Shinsuke Yamanaka in Japan, Nery showed up to the weigh-ins massively overweight. Instead of stepping to the scales at or under the bantamweight limit of 118 pounds, Nery weighed in at 123 pounds, five pounds over the bantamweight limit and one pound over the next division’s limit, the super bantamweight at 122 pounds. Nery was given another chance to cut the five pounds, but instead only managed to drop two pounds when he returned to the weigh-ins. As a result, Nery has been stripped of the title. This rematch came to happen after Nery tested positive for a banned substance after the fight and the WBC ordered a rematch. By this point, it’s obvious to see that Nery either may not be the most disciplined fighter in the world or does not have the right team behind. Nery would then knock out Yamanaka inside two rounds, but he has been suspended by the WBC and is on a prohibited list by the Japanese Boxing Commission.

6. The March 26 Phoenix Battleshow event that was announced by the Ohashi gym has added a couple of fights to the show. Unbeaten prospects Koki Inoue and Kazuki Nakajima have been added to the card fighting in separate bouts. Their respective opponents have not been announced, but it will not be against tough opposition. The plan is to have Inoue eventually challenge for a title, whether it would be a national title fight after the Champion Carnival or an OPBF title shot. The event already had an OPBF featherweight title fight between Satoshi Shimizu and challenger Kyung Min Kwon as well as the return of former three-division world champion Akira Yaegashi as he takes on Frans Damur.

7. Two title fights have been announced for April on shows promoted by the Mutoh Gym. The first title fight will take place on April 1 in Osaka and will feature Masahiro Sakamoto defending his WBO Asia Pacific flyweight title against Pigmy Kokietgym. For both men, world title opportunities are at stake for both men. A win for Sakamoto could open the door to a potential rematch with WBO flyweight champion Sho Kimura. While a win for Kokietgym won’t lead to a world title shot, a loss would likely end his chances at challenging for a world title as he will be 36 years old by the time he steps to the ring. The second title fight is scheduled for April 4 in Tokyo. That fight is an OPBF bantamweight title bout between Mark John Yap and challenger Takafumi Nakajima.

British Boxing Roundup

1. The rematch between Tony Bellew and David Haye, scheduled to take place on May 5 at the O2 Arena in London and is generally regarded as one of the most-hyped all-British fights of 2018, will be shown to fans in the United States via the AWE Network. The fight, the start of a massive boxing day culminating with the Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin rematch in Las Vegas, has been in the making for months after Haye suffered an Achilles injury and lost the first fight back in March 2017. The fight was actually supposed to take place last December, but Haye suffered a bicep injury weeks before the fight, prompting the bout to be postponed. It is interesting to see if fans will be interested in watching the fight or will get to swept up in the Canelo vs. Golovkin craze to even pay attention to this fight, but in the United Kingdom, the rivalry between the two boxers has been one of the more fierce all-British heavyweight rivalries in quite some time. As with the first fight, there aren’t any titles, or title opportunities at stake, but it hardly matters given both men’s personal history with one another which kind of shows that a title is not really all that required to create a strong build to a boxing fight.

2. In just his sixth pro bout, Josh Kelly will be placed on potentially the biggest British boxing card of the year against a former world champion. Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn announced on March 7 that Kelly will face former IBF junior middleweight champion Carlos Molina on the Anthony Joshua vs. Joseph Parker undercard. Hearn is making a big gamble on Kelly. It’s not often that you see a young boxer face a former world champion already at this point of his career. If Kelly gets the win, then that will catapult Kelly into stardom and already competing for regional titles afterwards and even get a world title ranking (Molina is ranked No. 13 in the IBF welterweight rankings). If Kelly loses, then some may see him as either damaged goods or someone not ready for those types of opponents yet, but Hearn could still spin this Kelly was brave enough to face a former world champion so early in his career. There’s no word where on the card he’ll fight or if he will fight on what can be safely assumed is an online stream of the undercard Showtime would likely be in charge of distributing.

3. British lightweight champion Lewis Ritson made his first title defense on February 25, but will be back in the ring less than a month after the fight. Ritson will fight on the March 24 O2 Arena boxing card on Sky Sports. Ritson will face former champion Scott Cardle on the card headlined by the WBC Silver heavyweight title fight between Dillian Whyte and Lucas Browne. It’s risky sending a fighter out into the ring so soon as we have seen this backfire last year with Cletus Seldin, who lost his first boxing fight last December after fighting five weeks prior, both of those fights on HBO. Regardless of the fight result, Hearn might consider giving Ritson an extended break, perhaps until late summer before fighting again.

4. In an interview with The Scotsman, Josh Taylor’s promoter said the plan for Taylor is to perhaps have him face the winner of the March 17 fight between Jose Ramirez and Amir Imam for the vacant WBC junior welterweight title. The planned fight would take place in June, but it’s interesting to note that the WBC wants to pit the March 17 winner with the March 9 winner between Julius Indongo and Regis Prograis, where the interim WBC title is on the line, but Indongo came in as a last-second replacement for the injured Viktor Postol. It’s possible that Postol fight the winner of the March 9 fight in the summer, have Taylor fight the March 17 winner and have the two winners of those fights battle for the unified WBC title at the end of the year or in early 2019.

March 9/10 Showtime Preview

March 9: Julius Indongo vs. Regis Prograis

A somewhat minor, but significant boxing card is scheduled to take place the day before the big Showtime card. The card will take place in South Dakota with a main event of Julius Indongo vs. Regis Prograis for the vacant interim WBC junior welterweight title.

Indongo is coming in to the fight as a late replacement after former world champion Viktor Postol was unable to fight due to an injury suffered during training. Less than eight months ago, Indongo was a unified champion in the division, holding two of the four main belts, but after Terence Crawford knocked Indongo out in just three rounds, Indongo became an afterthought overnight. It is hard to see where Indongo's head will be at considering he's already back in the title mix so soon. Some fighters move past the loss and still find success, but some fail to capture the level of success they had previously attained.

Indongo is not fighting an easy opponent. While not on the same level of power as Crawford, Prograis has considerable power at the 140-pound division, something Indongo will have to watch out for. What killed Indongo in the fight against Crawford is that Indongo allowed his opponent to get off to a hot start the second the opening bell rung. Indongo might have to do something like that in order to avoid a similar fate. Indongo does not have to necessarily hurt or knock down Prograis early in order to win, but if Indongo can throw enough punches early to keep Prograis from getting his feet and range set, then he stands a much better chance to win the fight in the scorecards because Indongo's power will not be enough to win the fight via knockout barring anything unusual happening in the fight.

The co-main event of the card will feature an IBF junior welterweight eliminator between Petr Petrov and Ivan Baranchyk. The winner of the fight will move on to the vacant No. 2 position of the IBF rankings at 140 pounds. Like Indongo, Petrov is coming into this fight as a late replacement, only this time, Petrov was put into the fight with only five days' notice after Anthony Yigit suffered an illness. I don't want to say that this is a completely ill-advised moved for someone like Petrov, who challenged for a lightweight world title last year but got soundly beat by Terry Flanagan in what ultimately was Flanagan's second to last world title defense as the WBO lightweight champion.

Petrov's reasoning for taking the fight on such short notice is the opportunity to put himself in position to eventually challenge for a world title. It's hard to argue against that logic, but Petrov likely understands that a loss here, especially a bad one against one of the fastest rising junior welterweight contenders in years, would likely set Petrov's career back for a significant amount of time. But if he does end up winning the fight, this would only mean great things for Petrov where, if the winner of the IBF junior welterweight title fight does not fight the WBA champion or vacates the title (in the case of Mikey Garcia), then Petrov would likely be the favorite to fight for that world title in the summer or fall.

All in all, this card is a surprisingly strong one. The card may be devoid of any real names at 140 pounds, but the matchups are interesting on paper. The four feature fighters are all in the top 20 on most people's rankings in the division and although this card is not being given the Showtime Champion Boxing treatment, this, along with the March 10 Showtime and March 17 ESPN cards, will decide the fate of the divsion for perhaps 2018 and 2019.

March 10: Mikey Garcia vs. Sergey Lipinets

The March 10 Showtime Boxing card will take place in San Antonio, Texas and will feature Mikey Garcia’s attempt at being the 17th man in boxing history to win a world title in four different weight classes as he challenges for Sergey Lipinets’ IBF junior welterweight title in the main event.

It almost seems baffling to think, but Garcia makes a strong case to being the best boxer in the world, despite taking a two-year break from the sport (although it is through no fault of his own). Usually boxers who take such a break don’t look as great as they used to in their first run, but Garcia has never looked better. Garcia’s break from boxing came as he was entering his physical prime, so it may have actually benefited Garcia because even in his three fights since his return, where he has never gotten seriously hurt or hit for that matter. He’s been able to extend his physical peak and is still very well rested for someone of his level of skill. I had previously discussed the possibility of Garcia pushing for a 50-0 record and although the odds are heavily favored against him, it’s still realistic to see Garcia at least challenge that record while getting more world titles in more weight classes, including a potential quest to fight for a welterweight world title.

What’s interesting about Garcia’s title challenge is what happens if he wins. The simple answer is that Garcia would move down in weight in order to unify his WBC world title with Jorge Linares’ WBA and WBC Diamond lightweight titles, per the order of WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman.

Lipinets is coming to the fight as a massive underdog, not just because he’s facing a legitimate top 10 pound-for-pound boxer in Garcia, but also because he didn’t look all too great in beating Akihiro Kondo last year to win the then-vacant title. Lipinets is only 12-0, but already looks like a well-seasoned veteran at times throughout his career, so he will try to make this fight a competitive one and he’ll likely be Garcia’s toughest test since returning to the ring in 2016.

The rest of the undercard is solid for it being one of the more under-the-radar boxing events on Showtime’s calendar in 2018. The co-main event will be a WBA junior welterweight title fight between Rances Barthelemy and Kirly Relikh. The title was vacated by Terence Crawford last year and so Barthelemy and Relikh were ordered to fight for the title. It’s an intriguing fight between two of the more unknown, but elite fighters at 140 pounds and a win for either fighter could essentially put themselves in position to fight the winner of the main event to unify the IBF and WBA titles. But that depends on if Garcia wins and isn’t able to immediately secure a fight against either Garcia or IBF lightweight champion Robert Easter Jr.

Other fighters scheduled to fight on the undercard are former lightweight title challenger Richard Commey in an IBF lightweight title eliminator against Alejandro Luna, undefeated Mario Barrios, who is 20-0 at only 22 years old and rising Nigerian heavyweight prospect Efe Ajagba. Ajagba competed in the most recent Olympics, is 3-0 and might just be a heavyweight to watch out for come 2020 and beyond. Although heavyweight boxers are supposed to have power in order to succeed, Ajagba possess a rare breed of power unseen in fighters with his limited pro experience.

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