This Saturday night’s FOX pay-per-view show from Premier Boxing Champions has a hell of a main event, as Errol Spence Jr and Shawn Porter meet in a welterweight title unification fight from Los Angeles’ Staples Center.
Pay-per-view undercards have gotten a bad reputation in boxing, and rightly so. But this Saturday’s has at least one legitimately significant fight, and a couple more fights that are intriguing for different reasons, a meeting of unbeaten prospects and a meeting of rugged veterans.
Anthony Dirrell vs David Benavidez
The main undercard attraction is the WBC super middleweight fight between Anthony Dirrell (33-1-1, 24 KO) and David Benavidez (21-0, 18 KO). The title has passed from Benavidez to Dirrell without the two ever having fought, so this is a chance to settle any question over the 168-pound green belt.
Benavidez, 22, is one of boxing’s best and most exciting young fighters. The younger brother of welterweight Jose Benavidez Jr, David wasn’t quite the blue chip prospect his brother was, but he’s achieved a level of success that Jose hasn’t as a professional.
In this regard, he and Dirrell, 34, are actually very similar. For years, it was expected that Andre Dirrell, Anthony’s older brother, was going to be the world champion in the family. That never panned out. Andre was, on paper, the better talent, but Anthony has been the better pro fighter. Where Andre came up short in title challenges against Carl Froch and James DeGale, and had his career bounce sort of up and down due to various issues, Anthony won his first world title in 2014, beating Sakio Bika in a rematch (the two had previously fought to a draw), and his second this year, beating Avni Yildirim for the vacant WBC belt.
Not to get too pointed on his nickname, but Anthony’s always been more of a “dog” in the ring than Andre was, and while Jose is a very gifted boxer and plenty hard-edged himself, David’s ruggedness and power netted him a world title in 2017, when he beat Ronald Gavril for this same vacant WBC title, beating Gavril again in a rematch in early 2018.
Benavidez’s youth could be a big advantage, but that also means Anthony has a significant experience edge. Truth be told, neither of them have ever beaten what you’d call an elite fighter in the sport, but Benavidez has the much higher ceiling at this point. Dirrell, in fact, has frequently talked about retirement coming soon — he wants to get out before the game gets the best of him, which more and more boxers in the modern era set as a goal, even if few of them stick to it when the time seems right.
Benavidez lost the WBC title when the sanctioning body stripped him last year after he failed a drug test, testing positive for cocaine, something he was candid and honest about. Success and money came to him at a young age. He looked explosive in a March comeback win over J’Leon Love.
Dirrell’s win over Yildirim was a split technical decision in February, and the winner of that fight was expected to face Benavidez next, which is what we’re getting. So Dirrell has known this fight was a likelihood for quite a while. He’ll be prepared, and he’s already said he doesn’t think Benavidez is quite all he’s cracked up to be.
Mario Barrios vs Baktyr Akhmedov
This is a fight for the vacant secondary “world” WBA title at 140 pounds, with Barrios (24-0, 16 KO) and Akhmedov (7-0, 6 KO) squaring off in what is easily the biggest fight of either fighter’s career to date.
Barrios, 24, was really intriguing as a 5’10” prospect at 130 pounds (he actually turned pro at 122), but his body just couldn’t keep making that weight, and he pretty much skipped over 135 and went up to 140, where he’s been fighting since 2017.
At times, Barrios has seemed a bit underwhelming, but he’s young and his power has come to 140 with him. Since moving up full-time, he’s gone 7-0, stopping every opponent. Representing Turkey, he fought in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, losing in the quarterfinal to Germany’s Artem Harutyunyan.
Now based in Russia, Akhmedov has some solid wins in his young pro career, beating the likes of Ricky Sismundo and Ismael Barroso convincingly.
Barrios will have height on Akhmedov, but the southpaw is a good technician who can bang, and Barrios hasn’t really had to face someone like that yet, with his level of opposition sort of stagnating over the last couple of years. This is a chance for both of these fighters to put on a show and establish himself as a serious player at 140, which is a really good division right now.
Josesito Lopez vs John Molina Jr
Let’s not sugarcoat this one any: Lopez, 35, and Molina, 36, are both a bit past their prime. That doesn’t mean they can’t fight anymore, though, and we know they both sure as hell bring it every time out.
That’s the attraction here: even if these guys aren’t at their best anymore, this figures on paper to be a hell of a good fight, sort of like what we saw this past weekend with Alfredo Angulo and Peter Quillin.
Lopez (36-8, 19 KO) shot to prominence back in 2012, when he shocked Victor Ortiz, breaking the former titleholder’s jaw and taking Ortiz’s planned fight with Canelo Alvarez, which was set to happen three months later. Lopez had come up from 140 to 147 to fight Ortiz, and then had to go up to 154 to take his place against Canelo in Sept. 2012, where he was physically overmatched and trounced by a rising young superstar.
But “The Riverside Rocky” didn’t lay back after that, either. He went right into a fight nine months later with Marcos Maidana, where he was stopped again, then rattled off a few wins before a valiant stoppage loss to Andre Berto in 2015. After three more victories, he gave returning Keith Thurman a very tough fight in January of this year, losing a majority decision. He hurt Thurman in that fight and put the favored man on the run, but couldn’t quite close the show.
Molina, like Lopez, is a known warrior, a reputation he made for good in 2010, when he was losing badly to Hank Lundy and roared back to stop Lundy in the 11th round, trailing badly on every scorecard. He did basically the same thing in 2013 against Mickey Bey, and has been in wars with Lucas Matthysse, Humberto Soto, and most recently Omar Figueroa Jr. He came up short in those, but he shocked a lot of people when he outpointed Ruslan Provodnikov in another hard-hitting battle in 2016, and he came out on top of a slugfest with Ivan Redkach in 2017.
Lopez and Molina aren’t serious contenders at 147 anymore — or at least we don’t think they are — but both guys are gritty and rugged veterans, tough dudes who can and will take a shot to get their own in.