The World Boxing Super Series continues on Saturday in Glasgow, with fights in the 140 and 118-pound divisions, featuring Josh Taylor and Ryan Burnett as the home — or close to home — fighters against the opposition.
Josh Taylor vs Ryan Martin
Taylor (13-0, 11 KO) is one of those fighters who has quickly gone from prospect to top flight contender. The 27-year-old “Tartan Tornado” is hitting what should be his prime, and he’s been really strong as a pro, with notable wins over Ohara Davies (TKO-7), Miguel Vazquez (KO-9), and Viktor Postol (UD-12) in his last four outings.
Taylor is one of a handful of fighters with an argument to be considered the best in the world at 140, but he doesn’t have a world title, though he does have the WBC’s “silver” title, for whatever it’s worth. (The WBC also has titleholder Jose Ramirez and interim titleholder Regis Prograis. Prograis is also in this tournament, and handily won his first round matchup with Terry Flanagan.)
Martin (22-0, 12 KO) is an American prospect who has been handled in a very American style, taking minor steps up the ladder. He’s got some solid wins for the level, but nothing hugely eye-catching, his best arguably his TKO-8 win over Bryant Cruz in March 2017. Since then, he’s won four more fights, including a victory in May over ol’ Breidis Prescott, who is still banging around. At 25, he’s a couple years younger than Taylor, and more of a true prospect taking a big step up.
Matchup Grade: B. I can’t really hate on a matchup of two unbeaten, hungry young fighters looking to make their mark, especially when one (Martin) is willing to travel across the pond to make that mark. Without this tournament format, there’s almost no way Martin would be asked to go over to Scotland to face Taylor at this stage, but here we are. That’s a good thing, too. I’m very interested to see how “Blue Chip” Martin does stepping up like this. I’ve got a good feeling of how Taylor will do; he’ll fight at a high level, and it’s Martin who has something more to prove here.
Ryan Burnett vs Nonito Donaire
Burnett (19-0, 9 KO) has emerged as one of the world’s top bantamweights in the last year and change. The Belfast native, 26, beat Lee Haskins in June 2017 for the IBF bantamweight title, and followed that up unifying with the WBA title in a win over Zhanat Zhakiyanov four months later. He gave up the IBF title but still has the WBA belt, which he defended on March 31 against Yonfrez Parejo in Cardiff.
What’s more impressive than just beating Haskins and Zhakiyanov, two good fighters, is he did it in style, winning clear on the scorecards and leaving no real doubt or room for argument. He’s not a big puncher — he hasn’t stopped anyone since 2015 — but he knows how to go 12 rounds and do so with consistency and class.
While Burnett has been on the rise, Donaire (38-5, 24 KO) has been on the decline. For a while now, in fact. I was going to say something like, “It wasn’t that long ago that Donaire was a top pound-for-pound contender,” but in boxing terms, which are the terms that matter here, it’s been ages.
It was five years ago that Guillermo Rigondeaux outclassed Donaire on HBO, and Donaire has never really recovered from that. He moved up from 122 to 126, then struggled to beat Vic Darchinyan, coming back to score a TKO; got a controversial technical decision over Simpiwe Vetyeka; and then got absolutely ragdolled by Nicholas Walters, who proved conclusively that Donaire was no featherweight.
A move back down to 122 saw Donaire capture another world title, battling past Cesar Juarez in December 2015, and then 11 months later he lost that to Jessie Magdaleno. In April of this year, he moved back to 126 and lost to Carl Frampton in Belfast.
Donaire, at 35, is moving back to bantamweight for the first time since 2011, a full seven years since he beat Omar Narvaez in a classic HBO stinker. Donaire’s had a great career, several world titles, he was, again, a P4P guy for a few years there, and he scored one of my favorite upsets in recent memory when he shocked Darchinyan in their first fight back in 2007, which — shit, I was in my mid-20s then, and I’m careening toward 40 now. That’s how long ago that was. But can he effectively move back down to 118 after all these years? That’s the big question.
Matchup Grade: C+. This is an OK matchup. What I like about it is, really, it feels like a “last stand” scenario for Nonito Donaire. If he can’t get the job done in this fight, it would not at all surprise me if he announces his retirement. Whether that sticks for more than a few months is another thing — this is boxing, after all — but it’s gotta be on his mind. He can’t really compete at 126 at a high level, he can’t really compete on the world level at 122, so he’s taking this shot at 118. The tough thing for Nonito is that Burnett’s a very good fighter. Donaire has always been a bit one-dimensional, falls in love with throwing his left hook, waits too much, and Burnett is a young guy who has handily outboxed other good fighters. If Nonito can’t make something happen early here, something that changes Burnett’s approach, I have a hard time seeing Donaire get much done at all. But Donaire DOES still have a cracking hook (power being the last thing to go), and if he lands that, hey, you never know. Maybe he’s got one or two more performances left.