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Preview: Berchelt-Sosa, Ancajas-Rodriguez headline Top Rank doubleheader

Two world titles are on the line this Saturday night on a show that almost nobody will being paying attention to, sadly.

Top Rank Boxing Fall Schedule News Conference Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

This Saturday night on ESPN, almost nobody will be watching the boxing. That’s a shame, but such is life, as Top Rank and the worldwide leader are going head-to-head with the much bigger Canelo vs Kovalev card streaming live on DAZN. Not being able to compete with a Canelo card is just the reality of anything Top Rank could throw together.

But there are two world title fights on ESPN this weekend, and they deserve some attention at the very least, so let’s talk about ‘em.

Miguel Berchelt vs Jason Sosa

The 27-year-old Berchelt (36-1, 32 KO) is widely recognized as the top super featherweight in boxing today, in part because he’s really good (and fun to watch) and in part because Vasiliy Lomachenko moved up to lightweight.

Berchelt turned pro in 2010 and fought exclusively in Mexico until 2013, when he got a spot on a Top Rank undercard (Rios-Alvarado II) in Las Vegas, stopping Carlos Claudio in the first round, then returned to Mexico for a few more wins. His career hit a wall in Mar. 2014, when he was stopped in the first round by Luis Florez, but it wound up being more a hiccup than anything. Berchelt soldiered on, then two years later claimed the interim WBO title with a win over George Jupp.

BOX-US-WBC-BERCHELT-MIURA ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Berchelt’s first really big opportunity came in Jan. 2017, facing Francisco Vargas for the WBC title in an HBO main event, promoted by Golden Boy. In a fantastic action fight against a determined warrior, Berchelt hammered Vargas down in the 11th round and took the belt.

Later that year, he made a successful defense against Takashi Miura, winning a wide decision, and in 2018 he went back to Mexico for wins over Maxwell Awuku and Jonathan Barros, neither of them drawing a lot of attention. But to finish the year, he headlined on ESPN+ against rugged Mickey Roman, stopping the veteran in the ninth round.

This year, Top Rank and Golden Boy worked together to give Vargas a shot at avenging his 2017 defeat, but Berchelt was simply too much for him once again. Vargas, as always, gave a tremendous effort, but Berchelt is in his prime and firing on all cylinders, while Vargas is a bit faded and past his best days.

On Saturday, Berchelt is tasked with facing Jason Sosa (23-3-4, 16 KO), a veteran contender and former secondary titleholder.

The 31-year-old Sosa turned pro in 2009, starting his career 4-1-3 and battling on in the northeast until 2015, when he faced Nicholas Walters in an HBO-televised bout in December of that year. Sosa looked overmatched in the step up, but the judges came back with a baffling draw decision.

Jason Sosa v Haskell Lydell Rhodes Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Sosa absolutely did not deserve the draw, but it kept his career alive and moving forward. Six months later, Sosa found himself in Beijing facing Javier Fortuna for the WBA “world” title at 130 pounds, and he pulled an upset, coming off the canvas in the fifth to stop Fortuna in the 11th and claim a title.

Sosa proved it wasn’t a one-off, going to Monte Carlo in Nov. 2016, where he won a decision over Stephen Smith to retain the belt.

The run ended at the hands of Vasiliy Lomachenko in April 2017, as Lomachenko added Sosa to his “no mas” list following nine rounds of Sosa being unable to do a single thing with the Ukrainian master, but Sosa was right back in the mix his next time out, returning to HBO for a fight with Yuriorkis Gamboa.

That night, it was Sosa on the short end of the stick, as Gamboa was semi-gifted a decision win despite being knocked down in the seventh round and being docked a point for holding in the 10th and final frame. Gamboa, who had taken the fight on short notice, fatigued badly in the second half and for all the world appeared to have faded badly enough to lose the fight, but got the majority decision.

Following that setback, Sosa has put together three straight lower-level wins over Reynaldo Blanco, Moises Delgadillo, and Haskell Lydell Rhodes, and now he’s back in a world title fight.

Matchup-wise, this one favors Berchelt pretty clearly. He’s younger by three-plus years, he’s got a significant reach advantage, and he’s one of the most effective offensive fighters in the sport today. Sosa is a scrapper, no question about that, and this could be plenty entertaining, but it would be a true upset if Sosa wins this fight or even makes it particularly competitive.

Jerwin Ancajas vs Jonathan Rodriguez

Super flyweight has been a very fun division in recent years, in large part thanks to HBO’s “Superfly” shows featuring the likes of Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and others.

Outside of that mix has been IBF titleholder Jerwin Ancajas, as he’s been aligned with Top Rank, meaning it hasn’t been easy for him to get fights with the other top names at 115. If he wants to, I mean. He’s shown no great desire to publicly, to be fair.

Ancajas (31-1-2, 21 KO) won the IBF title in Sept. 2016 by outpointing McJoe Arroyo in Ancajas’ native Philippines, then made defenses in Macau and Australia against Jose Alfredo Rodriguez and Teiru Kinoshita.

BOX-PHI-JPN-ANCAJAS-FUNAI FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Ancajas closed out 2017 with a trip to Belfast, dominating and stopping Jamie Conlan in six rounds. That was enough professional boxing for Conlan, who now works for MTK Global in a non-boxing role.

Ancajas, now 27, hasn’t exactly lit up the stage in fights on American soil since then, scoring wins over Israel Gonzalez, Jonas Sultan, and Ryuichi Funai, and going to a draw with Alejandro Santiago. He wasn’t exactly thrilling against Gonzalez, and he was disappointing against both Sultan and Santiago. Funai was booked as the sort of opponent Ancajas would look good against, someone tailor made to get thrashed, which he did.

Rodriguez (21-1, 15 KO) is a 24-year-old Mexican fighter who may or may not have something, he hasn’t really been tested yet. He lost a fight to Jose Martin Estrada Garcia in Mar. 2018, a 10-round split decision, and has rattled off five straight wins since.

It’s not the end of the world that he lost a fight early in his career — we just talked about Berchelt doing the same, and Emanuel Navarrete is another Mexican fighter who suffered a loss before breaking through. Berchelt and Navarrete are now considered top-level fighters in their weight classes and hold world titles.

Will Rodriguez be the next? Odds are against him, but Ancajas has never looked unbeatable or anything, either.