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Spence-Garcia, Thurman’s return, and more: Running down the PBC/FOX lineup

FOX and PBC announced a big slate of 2019 matchups today, so let’s run down the list.

FOX Sports and Premier Boxing Champions Press Conference Experience Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Earlier today in Los Angeles, a number of fights were announced for January-April 2019 at a PBC and FOX press experience or whatever they called it — it was a press conference, you’ve seen a billion of them.

Let’s take a quick look at the full slate of coming cards in the new partnership (not counting the Charlo card on Dec. 22 which had already been made official).

Jan. 13: Jose Uzcategui vs Caleb Plant (FS1)

The 2019 PBC/FOX schedule kicks off with this super middleweight title fight between Uzcategui (28-2, 23 KO) and Plant (17-0, 10 KO). It’s a style matchup that I think could go one of two ways, depending on which fighter picks up the momentum. If it’s Uzcategui, it could be entertaining. If it’s Plant, it probably won’t be so great from an action perspective, but he could put on a sparkling sort of show if he gets in his rhythm.

Plant’s a guy who has fashioned himself a bit of a slickster against limited opposition, and it’s always interesting to see how those fighters do when they step it up a bit. Uzcategui is fighting with a lot of confidence these days and there’s a reason James DeGale wanted nothing to do with him. He’s high risk and relatively low reward, as he doesn’t have a big star name or anything.

Jan. 26: Keith Thurman vs Josesito Lopez (FOX)

It’ll be nice to see Thurman (28-0, 22 KO) back in action, defending the WBA welterweight title against Lopez (36-7, 19 KO), a likable veteran fighter who is years past his really dangerous days, in all honesty.

I get the matchup — Thurman is potential money down the road in bigger fights, and by the time he steps into the ring in January, it’ll be nearly two years since he’s been in there. So you bring him back relatively soft against a guy with a little name value who always comes to fight. They could have done a lot worse than Lopez, and let’s not discount entirely that Lopez is coming off of a one-sided win over a previously unbeaten prospect in Miguel Cruz. If Thurman is tentative or overly rusty, Lopez is at least fiery enough to push him.

Feb. 16: Leo Santa Cruz vs Miguel Flores (FOX)

Not to spoil anything I’ll say after this, but this is the only real dud of the bunch, in my view. This is a lousy matchup for a world title fight, with Santa Cruz the overwhelming favorite on paper.

Flores (23-2, 11 KO) has lost his last two notable fights to Dat Nguyen — who dropped and stopped Flores in six — and Chris Avalos, who won on a cut stoppage with Flores admittedly leading 48-46 on all three score cards. Flores was at one point a prospect, beating guys like Alfred Tetteh and Mario Briones and Ryan Kielczewski on the way up, but the wheels came off. Again, the nice thing to say is that this is a huge shot for Flores, and he’ll surely give it his all. But more likely than not, he’s plan overmatched here against Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KO), who is a world class fighter.

That said, I do like the welterweight co-feature matchup between Omar Figueroa Jr (27-0-1, 19 KO) and John Molina Jr (30-7, 24 KO). I just see no way that fight’s not an absolute war.

Feb. 23: Anthony Dirrell vs Avni Yildirim (FS1)

This is for the vacant WBC super middleweight title, as the suspended David Benavidez is now “champion in recess” for the sanctioning body. That means the winner likely will have to face Benavidez later in 2019.

Dirrell (32-1-1, 24 KO) should win this fight, I think — he’s a better athlete, a better boxer, just a better fighter. Yildirim (21-1, 12 KO) isn’t a scrub, but he’s built his record beating guys worse than Dirrell, and the one time he really stepped up, Chris Eubank Jr made mincemeat of him. But I don’t think this is a bad fight, either. Dirrell is getting older and can be a little inconsistent in the ring, so you never know.

March 9: Shawn Porter vs Yordenis Ugas (FOX)

It’s good that Ugas (23-3, 11 KO) is getting the shot he deserves at a big fight. He lost a couple and has gone on a tear since, truly fighting his way into legitimate contention at 147 pounds. He’s a guy who would be easy for power brokers to put on the backburner forever — he’s not a big name, doesn’t have a fan base, really, isn’t a thrilling fighter or anything. But he’s getting his shot.

And it’s nice that it comes against Porter (29-2-1, 17 KO), a guy who will fight anyone. Shawn is coming off of a career-best win over Danny Garcia in September, and has won three in a row overall, also beating Andre Berto and Adrian Granados following a tight loss to Keith Thurman in 2016. I like Porter’s physicality here, but I like Porter’s physicality against all but the genuine elite welterweights, the guys truly good enough to keep him from just bullying them too much. Ugas is good, but I don’t think he’s that good.

March 16: Errol Spence Jr vs Mikey Garcia (PPV)

It is my opinion that Errol Spence (24-0, 21 KO) is going to prove too big and too powerful for Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KO).

That said, I am choosing to be excited about this matchup. I like when fighters take risks, when they truly do dare to be great, and that’s what Mikey Garcia is doing. Listen, Garcia had some physical matchup issues at 140 against Sergey Lipnets — not enough to lose or even give Lipinets the argument in the end, but it was noticeable. Now he’s trying 147, and Spence is a lot better than Lipinets.

So yeah, I’m of the mindset that it’ll wind up being a physical mismatch in the end. But Garcia is a hell of a fighter, a true pound-for-pound guy, and he wants to be THE pound-for-pound guy. He surveyed the landscape and decided this was the fight to do. He must see something. That or he’s just crazy enough to risk it anyway. And either one is fine by me, something truly respectable.

March 24: Lamont Peterson vs Sergey Lipinets (FS1)
April 13: Peter Quillin vs Caleb Truax (FS1)

I’ll lump these two together because they’re similar fights to me. These are must-win fights for everyone involved. Quillin (34-1-1, 23 KO) and Truax (30-4-2, 19 KO) are both 35 years old, so if they’re going to be in the mix at 168 pounds going forward, they absolutely cannot afford a loss here. Time is ticking on both guys. And Peterson (35-4-1, 17 KO) is coming off of a beating at the hands of Spence. At 34, time isn’t on his side either. Lipinets (14-1, 10 KO) is only 29, but I didn’t like what I saw of him at 147 against Erick Bone. He needs a much better showing if he’s going to hold off Peterson.

April 20: Danny Garcia vs Adrian Granados (FOX)

I might be high man on this matchup, but I just love Granados (20-6-2, 14 KO), a real dog of a fighter, a true fighter. Skills-wise, he may be overmatched against Garcia (34-2, 20 KO), but he’s had that same situation several times in the past and made a real fight of it pretty much every time. Of Granados’ six losses, five were by split or majority decision — only Shawn Porter really beat him clearly.

With Garcia coming off of the loss to Porter, it’s a question of him getting himself right. But Danny does well against tough guys, too, as he’s shown in past wins over Lucas Matthysse, Robert Guerrero, and Brandon Rios.

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