We’ve got three world title fights coming your way Saturday night on DAZN, led by Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr for Joshua’s WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titles. Our staff make their picks for that one, plus Smith-N’Dam and Taylor-Persoon.
CALLUM SMITH vs HASSAN N’DAM
N’Dam’s been a pretty good fighter over his career, a fine contender at 160 for many years, and still looked solid last time out against Martin Murray. But Murray and N’Dam are both at the back ends of their careers, while Smith is an in-prime 168-pounder, and is absolutely massive for the division. N’Dam is going to be physically giving up a lot here, and he was probably never quite good enough to overcome it, and he almost certainly isn’t now.
I don’t hate this fight — honestly it takes quite a lot to get me to froth at the mouth anymore, otherwise I’d be doing it every weekend over some fight — I just don’t see it as intriguing, because I can’t figure any way that N’Dam can possibly win. He’s not a big puncher at 160, won’t be at 168. He’s not such a great boxer that he’s going to fluster Smith moving in and out on him. And he’s had problems staying on his feet against punchers (David Lemieux, Peter Quillin) in the past. Smith is just going to be way too much for him at this stage, and I expect he gets him out inside the distance. Smith TKO-6
Call me crazy but I don’t see this one being a crowd-pleaser. Smith has been out of action since stopping George Groves last September and N’Dam is just good enough to make a fight ugly if it better suits him. I expect Smith to show at least some signs of ring rust and N’Dam happy to last the distance if he finds himself getting outclassed by the champion. N’Dam can be difficult to put away, and Smith doesn’t really have the style to overextend himself to push for a stoppage. Therefore I see Smith taking this one pretty clear on the cards in a forgettable fight. Smith UD-12
Patrick L. Stumberg
Hassan N’Dam is, at his best, a nightmarishly difficult opponent cursed with either poor balance or a truly astonishing recovery/resistance ratio. Hassan N’Dam is not at his best; he’s 35, a lifetime middleweight fighting at 168, and got absolutely mauled by Ryota Murata two fights ago.
Oh, and he’s also fighting arguably the best super middleweight in the game, one who happens to be 3.5” taller and has a 4” reach advantage.
Even putting aside the question of whether N’Dam can still be his customary tricksy bastard self in the ring, his ability to consistently stay upright against the heavy-handed “Mundo” is a serious question and I don’t think he’ll like the answer. If Smith survives the weigh-in, he should batter N’Dam, either handing him his first true (T)KO loss or pummeling him enough that his corner steps in for the save. Smith TKO-4
Why Stonehenge was formed? Did anyone really see the Loch Ness Monster? How does Callum Smith still make 168 pounds? Three of the biggest British mysteries still leaving us scratching our heads. Smith’s first defence as a world champion is coming against a seasoned middleweight. N’Dam has had a successful career, but the sheer size and punch selection of “Mundo” will make this fight as one-sided as it gets. Smith is a front-runner to get the next “Canelo call,” so won’t be taking his eye off the ball in the Big Apple. N’Dam showed he could get hurt to the body against Murata, with Smith probably opting for a similar line of attack. Smith TKO-4
And the staff winner is...
Callum Smith (4-0)!
KATIE TAYLOR vs DELFINE PERSOON
I’ve expressed this thought before, and will do it again: Katie Taylor and Claressa Shields have come into the pro game post-2016 Olympics on another level. They spent years being schooled well in amateur systems and winning medals at international competitions against a lot of other well-schooled opponents, including Olympic gold for Taylor in 2012 and for Shields in both 2012 and 2016.
The amateur lightweights were starting to catch up with Katie after a decade of her domination, but the pros she’s fought simply aren’t actually as skilled as Estelle Mossely or Mira Potkonen, the fighters who defeated Taylor in amateur competitions three years ago. When Shields was matched with Christina Hammer, I suspected going in that Shields would totally outclass her, that Hammer simply didn’t have the skill to test Shields. And I expect we’re going to see about the same between Taylor and Delfine Persoon. I’m not saying Taylor has developed so much as a pro that she will now beat Persoon rather handily. I’m saying Taylor would have beaten Persoon rather handily if this had been Taylor’s third pro fight. Taylor and Shields came in ahead of the pro game and it has shown in both cases. Taylor UD-10
Katie Taylor is easily one of the most well-crafted female fighters out there. And even with only 13 professional fights under her belt compared to Persoon’s 44, it’s not difficult to see who the more polished fighter is. Persoon is an aggressive fighter who doesn’t mind eating one to deliver one, but I think against a fighter like Taylor that’s going to cause more problems than she’s previously encountered. That’s not because I see Taylor as a monstrous puncher or anything, but I think she’s skilled enough to take advantage of the wide shots that Persoon tends to recklessly throw at range. That said, I think this should still be a pretty fun one considering the style matchup. I’m going with Taylor to take a decision en route to becoming undisputed champion. Taylor UD-10
Patrick L. Stumberg
To me, Taylor’s unification run has had something of a mythical feel to it. While other recent unifications like Oleksandr Usyk’s have seen the conqueror defeat well-known foes, Taylor’s been scouring the globe to rouse the division’s complacent elite. She’s waking slumbering titans, dragging them from their dens, and outclassing them on the biggest stage there is. Her momentum is staggering at the moment; none of the women she defeated to claim her myriad belts took more than two rounds from her.
Persoon, unbeaten in over eight years, might do slightly better than that. But only slightly; Persoon is in her 10th year as a pro and Taylor’s looked a class above her peers. This story’s got too much inertia for the Belgian veteran to knock it off course.
Also, as an aside, I looked at one of Persoon’s recent opponents and found out that said opponent is in the middle of a 1-11 slump yet still ranked No. 5 in the division by BoxRec. Weird. Taylor UD-10
A year ago, this wasn’t the #RoadToUndisputed fight we were probably expecting to land in New York this weekend. What the heavyweights have failed to do, Katie Taylor is on the verge of managing: sweeping the lightweight division of it’s four recognised belts. Persoon — part-time boxer, part-time police officer — hasn’t lost in nine years, but also hasn’t ventured away from Belgium small halls having taken up the sport 12 years ago. Granted, I haven’t spent days trawling through Persoon’s pro career, but Katie Taylor’s style looks enough to overwhelm any contender under 135-pounds. Fast hands, fast attacks and a relentless work rate have allowed Taylor to glide to the top of the tree in just 13 pro fights; Persoon’s admission to Taylor having that edge in speed doesn’t bode well for the challenger who has modest 41% KO record. Taylor has the ability to wear Persoon down over 10 gruelling rounds of constant pressure. Taylor UD-10
And the staff winner is...
Katie Taylor (4-0)!
ANTHONY JOSHUA vs ANDY RUIZ JR
While Andy Ruiz Jr has decided to act like this is his first and long overdue chance to become the first Mexican heavyweight champion, thank you so much Al Haymon and the PBC, it’s not. Ruiz got a shot to become the first Mexican heavyweight champion back in 2016, when Top Rank got him into a fight with Joseph Parker for the vacant WBO belt. Parker edged a majority decision in New Zealand to win the belt. I had it 114-114, for whatever that’s worth. I’m just saying, he’s had the chance before, but you’d never know it listening to him the last few weeks.
Anyway, I like Andy Ruiz Jr. I think he’s a good fighter. I don’t give a tuppenny fuck that he’s fat, I’m not looking for boxers to be trying to sell blue jeans. Ruiz can fight. Fast hands, decent power, solid skills. But he’s going to lose to Anthony Joshua. Height and reach-wise, Ruiz is about exactly the same as Alexander Povetkin. Povetkin was a very good amateur who never quite got over the the last hump as a pro because it’s the era of the giant heavyweights. The Klitschkos have given way to Fury, Joshua, and Wilder, three giants with very different body types. I honestly think Ruiz will do a little bit better than the super doubters expect, but he’s not going to come close to winning. Joshua TKO-8
I’m not going to overthink this one. Anthony Joshua is a huge star over in the UK and is looking to crash the gates in the US market, while Andy Ruiz steps in as a late replacement for Jarrell Miller. Ruiz was essentially hand-picked by Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn, and whatever you make think of Hearn, he’s no idiot. So despite how much he talks-up Ruiz as a “dangerous opponent,” he certainly wouldn’t throw his cash cow in with a fighter he honestly believes could upset him in a short-notice matchup — particularly with a mega-fight against Deontay Wilder still looming somewhere in the background. Andy Ruiz will come to fight but he’s overmatched in the talent department, which is exactly what Joshua needs to look good in this showcase outing. I’ve got Joshua stopping him early. Joshua TKO-4
Patrick L. Stumberg
I don’t think this will be quite as viscerally entertaining as Joshua-Miller would have been, but it’s definitely more interesting from a stylistic standpoint. I’d like to see more of Joshua’s infighting outside of his killer uppercut, and provided we don’t get the referee from the Joseph Parker fight, whom I believe had a deep-seated phobia of male intimacy due to toxic masculinity and/or a strained relationship with his father, we should see at least some of that against the squat Ruiz.
Possibly not all that much, though. Ruiz has an 8” reach disparity to deal with, and though he boasts fast hands, I’m not sure the rest of him is sufficiently agile to weave his way inside without taking heavy fire. I expect a few fun rounds before Joshua catches Ruiz coming in and plants a seed of doubt that neuters Ruiz’s willingness to put himself at risk, leaving Joshua to rack up the rounds at range. Joshua UD-12
Joshua will be looking to make a statement in his first outing on American soil this weekend; Ruiz looks like the perfect opponent — albeit at late notice — to do so against. The fast hands of the Mexican have focused the narrative of a “potential slip up” for AJ, but without that concussive one-punch power, Ruiz will find himself working overtime in trying to land attacks on the champion. He’s likely to fall short and fall in on occasions, leading to a Joshua onslaught. For all his faults, AJ is one of the most clinical finishers in the game — he’ll smell blood within the first three rounds. Joshua should be able to back up Ruiz fairly easily, with the stoppage coming after a barrage on the ropes. Joshua TKO-3