This Saturday streaming live on DAZN, WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight titleholder Anthony Joshua leads a British invasion of sorts, as a number of UK stars and titleholders, plus Ireland’s Katie Taylor, populate the card at Madison Square Garden.
Here’s a look at what you’ll see besides AJ against Andy Ruiz Jr on Saturday. We’ve got champions and prospects, Olympians and scrappers.
Callum Smith vs Hassan N’Dam
Of the fighting Smith brothers, it’s long been believed that Callum, the 6’3” super middleweight, had the most upside. He’s got a dangerous frame at 168, good skills, power, and a toughness to him. And so far, so good, as he’s 25-0 (18 KO), has the WBA title, and won the World Boxing Super Series, stopping and retiring George Groves last September in Saudi Arabia.
This will be the 29-year-old Smith’s first fight since then, and it’s coming against N’Dam (37-3, 21 KO), who has long been a credible middleweight and held a secondary WBA “world” title at 160, then was suddenly inserted into the WBA rankings at 168 without having fought seriously in the division, an early clue that he would be facing Smith on June 1, though the announcement came pretty late in the promotional process.
N’Dam has had a good career, been a good fighter. He first entered serious contention back in 2010, beating Avtandil Khurtsidze for the interim WBA middleweight title, then he won the interim WBO title in 2012 by beating Max Bursak.
In two bids at full titles at 160, N’Dam came up short but had sort of miraculous performances both times. In 2012, he was knocked down six times by Peter Quillin, but otherwise was extremely competitive in the fight. He lost on scores of 115-107 across the board, but that means Quillin won 7-5 in rounds, scoring a trio of 10-7 rounds thanks to multiple knockdowns in the fourth, sixth, and 12th frames.
There was a similar result in his 2015 fight with David Lemieux, where N’Dam was dropped four times, losing on scores of 114-110, 115-109, and 115-109 — one judge saw it even in rounds, the other two 7-5 for Lemieux. That sort of resilience and ability to fight pretty well in the face of adversity is rare.
More recently N’Dam received a gift decision over Ryota Murata in May 2017, which Murata corrected by stopping N’Dam after seven rounds of a rematch five months later. But then, after 14 months out of the ring, N’Dam returned in December to beat Martin Murray in Manchester.
All that said, Smith is and should be the heavy favorite here, and the chances that he flat-out trucks N’Dam are pretty decent.
Katie Taylor vs Delfine Persoon
The Irish hero Taylor (13-0, 6 KO) looked like maybe she’d hit a wall toward the end of her long, incredibly successful run in the amateurs. First, in May 2016, she lost to Estelle Mossely in the semifinals of the World Boxing Championships, which ended Taylor’s run of five straight golds at that competition, dating back to 2006. Then in August 2016, she was upset in the Olympic quarterfinals by Mira Potkonen, and was denied a medal, having won gold at London 2012.
But turning pro has been kind to Taylor, now 32. You might argue that the level of talent at the higher levels of the amateur scene in women’s boxing is just better than it is in the pros, and I personally believe there’s a case to be made there. But either way, Taylor has gone for the gusto as a professional. She won her first world title in her seventh pro bout, beating Anahi Sanchez, and has picked up two more, beating Victoria Bustos in 2018 and Rose Volante on March 15. She’s also had wins over Jessica McCaskill, Cindy Serrano, and Eva Wahlstrom. Taylor has simply dominated as a professional, only sometimes losing so much as a round or two.
Persoon (43-1, 18 KO) has the one lightweight title that Taylor doesn’t, so we’re getting a full unification here. Persoon, 34, is from Belgium, and has fought her entire, 10-year pro career in her home country, save for one 2015 fight in Switzerland. She’s held the WBC 135-pound belt since beating Erica Farias in 2014, making nine successful defenses since then.
On paper, this is easily Taylor’s toughest test to date, but we kinda keep saying that and she kinda keeps totally outclassing her opponents. Taylor certainly isn’t unbeatable, but she might be unbeatable by anyone in the pro ranks at 135. Persoon will try to prove that idea wrong and make the case that there are sincere challenges in the pros that won’t come from Taylor moving up a couple divisions to fight Cecilia Braekhus, or Estelle Mossely deciding to go pro.
Josh Kelly vs Ray Robinson
Another former Olympian, welterweight prospect Kelly (9-0, 6 KO) represented Great Britain at Rio 2016, and turned pro in April 2017. He’s earned sort of mixed reviews thus far. At times, “PBK” looks like he has the tools to become a world level contender. At other times, he looks like a guy who just might think too much of his tools and get zapped out at if not before that level.
Kelly, 25, sort of showed all of that in his last outing, an April 20 win over Przemyslaw Runowski. Runowski was never any real threat to Kelly, and Kelly scored three knockdowns and won a wide, clear decision. On paper, it all sounds great. But if you watch that fight, you see the fundamental mistakes and some would argue arrogance of his style. Within those 10 rounds, you see exactly why some people are high on him, and exactly why others are skeptical.
Robinson (24-3-1, 12 KO) is a 33-year-old Philly veteran who had a pair of losses in 2009-10 to Brad Solomon and Shawn Porter, then rattled off 13 straight wins between 2011 and 2017. At that point, he was stalking the contenders list, looking to make his case, and then he was stopped in seven rounds against Yordenis Ugas in Feb. 2018. He bounced back, to some degree, by playing spoiler on March 30 against Egidijus Kavaliauskas, pushing things to an ugly 10-round draw at home in Philly against the unbeaten Lithuanian.
Robinson may or may not be able to do what he did against Kavaliauskas, but that’s really the risk. Kelly’s style — if perhaps he can’t truly back it up against better, craftier opponents — is one made to be spoiled. Robinson is unlikely to go on any world title charge, but fighters like him have serious value at least checking prospects like Kavaliauskas or Kelly. They have a habit of giving you more details on those guys — win, lose, or draw. This could be a stinker if Robinson has his way, or if Kelly finds things easy and doesn’t take any real risks. But while this has a high risk of being dull in terms of action, it’s also the kind of fight you need to see Josh Kelly in at some point to get a gauge on where he is and who he might be.
Chris Algieri vs Tommy Coyle
This one has the potential to be a show-stealer in terms of action. Algieri (23-3, 8 KO) generally does prefer to box smart when he can, but in all candor he’s not so skilled that he can prevent a tear-up from happening if the opponents wants it bad enough, and Coyle (25-4, 12 KO) will definitely bring the fight to him.
Algieri, 35, returns to the ring last November following a break of a bit over two-and-a-half years. He is best-known for two fights in 2014, the first an HBO-televised upset of Ruslan Provodnikov, which gave Algieri the WBO 140-pound title, and then his fight in Macau with Manny Pacquiao five months later, where Algieri quite infamously never got out the cage, being knocked down time and again but going the distance, completely routed. Since then, he’s also suffered losses to Amir Khan and Errol Spence Jr, and won a trio of fights against lesser opposition.
Coyle, 29, is coming over from Hull, England, to fight Algieri on Algieri’s turf in New York. “Boom Boom” fought for the Commonwealth lightweight title in 2013, losing to Derry Mathews, and picked up a 2014 win over Aussie action star Michael Katsidis. In 2015, Coyle lost to Luke Campbell, then moved up to 140, where he faced Tyrone Nurse for the British title in 2016. Nurse went down in the seventh round, but got the decision. Coyle’s won three straight since, including a fight back at 135 against Sean Dodd, where Coyle won the Commonwealth lightweight title, and a hard-fought victory over Ryan Kielczewski last October in Boston, back up at 140.
I’d say this maybe isn’t the most significant fight, but there’s a good chance the winner winds up with a WBO title shot at 140 by the end of 2019, too.
Joshua Buatsi vs Marco Antonio Periban
Buatsi (10-0, 8 KO) is a fast-rising, 26-year-old light heavyweight who represented Great Britain at the 2016 Olympics, winning a bronze medal. He’s stormed through his first 10 pro fights, and on March 23 in London, won the vacant British title with a third round stoppage of Liam Conroy. That belt won’t be on the line on Saturday, of course.
The 34-year-old Periban (25-4-1, 18 KO) fought for the WBC super middleweight title back in 2013, losing a majority decision to Sakio Bika. He went 0-2-1 in his next three against Badou Jack (draw), J’Leon Love, and James DeGale, then won five in a row over lesser opposition before a 2017 loss to Avni Yildirim. Periban hasn’t fought since then, so he’s been out of the ring for two years, isn’t really a light heavyweight, and has always come up short against better opponents. If Buatsi is what he’s thought to be, he should roll here.
And the rest!
Middleweight prospects Diego Pacheco (3-0, 2 KO) and Austin Williams (1-0, 1 KO) will both be in action. The 18-year-old Pacheco and the 23-year-old Williams are both really promising prospects. Souleymane Cissokho (8-0, 6 KO) will also be in action, as the 27-year-old French junior middleweight makes his US debut. Cissokho won welterweight bronze at the 2016 Olympics.