Saturday night’s Spence vs Porter pay-per-view from Premier Boxing Champions and FOX features three fights on the undercard.
Our staffers make their picks.
Josesito Lopez vs John Molina Jr
Looking to their last fights, Lopez managed a majority decision in his loss to Keith Thurman, and legit had Thurman hurt and running. Was that Lopez or Thurman’s flaws and rust? Probably both, but I lean toward the latter being more significant. Molina gave Omar Figueroa Jr a much better fight than the scores might make you believe. Was that Molina or Figueroa’s limitations? Probably both, but I lean toward the latter being more significant.
Both are past their prime, but this is well-matched and has potential to be really fun as a fight. I don’t want or need to see the winner in a fight with a top PBC welterweight afterward or anything like that, but it’s boxing, we may get that. I’m going with Molina on a hunch — partially it’s because I picked Provodnikov against him in 2016 (you know, like everyone did), and he was good-humored enough to call that out in a friendly way after he pulled the upset, but partially I just think this might be one of those fights where Josesito gets into a firefight and loses out at some point. I don’t think Molina stops Lopez, but I think he might drop him and make the difference on the cards. Molina UD-10
In fairness, and for the sake of consistency, I haven’t had the nicest things to say about John Molina’s boxing in the past, so I’m not going to start now. That has nothing to do with the kind of guy Molina is outside of the ring — he seems like a perfectly good dude — but I personally have never been impressed with his boxing ability. Heart and determination? Molina has tons of that. Wear and tear? Molina has tons of that, too! I mean, there’s a reason Molina is 6-6 in his last 12 fights. I suppose the one saving grace for Molina is that Josesito Lopez has been through a number of tough fights himself. Lopez did manage to push Keith Thurman early this year, though, and I just think he’s a little better preserved than Molina. Lopez should have faster hands and be able to outbox Molina, but he’s not a big puncher so I don’t expect him to get Molina out of there or anything. I’m going to take Lopez to win a majority decision in a pretty gritty fight. Lopez MD-10
Patrick L. Stumberg
What better way to open a pay-per-view than a knockdown, drag-out coin flip of a slugfest? Admittedly, both these guys are probably a few years past their best, but they’re absolutely still good for a scrap. Though one punch could change things, I like Lopez here; his style seems to have held up more consistently against higher-level opponents, as he’s given a good account of himself even in defeat since the Canelo debacle.
Molina did defeat some very solid brawlers in Ruslan Provodnikov and Ivan Redkach, admittedly. and it’s worth noting that Lopez’s chin failed him in highly competitive fights with Marcos Maidana and Andre Berto, undoing the very solid work he was managing against the both of them. Still, I think he can hold his own here, warring his way a close decision. Lopez SD-10
I’m more of the opinion that this fight is the contender to steal the show on Saturday night. Two veteran sluggers who are more than happy biting down on their gum shields, going to war for as long as they last. Their recent BoxRec’s look like the audience of an episode of “Ready Steady Cook” (one for the UK readers), with a combined age of 71 facilitating the ease at which both will get dragged into a brawl. Lopez just looks to have that bit more in the tank. “The Riverside Rocky” faired well against Thurman at the start of this year and with Molina unlikely to want to leave this to the judges he may fall into traps. Lopez KO-7
And the staff winner is...
Josesito Lopez (3-1)!
Mario Barrios vs Batyr Akhmedov
I’ve said this 100 times now, but Barrios at 130, with his height, intrigued me. Barrios at 140 intrigues me a little less, but the results have been arguably even better there, as he’s gone 7-0 (7 KO) since the jump all the way to 140. He was 17-0 (9 KO) under 140. Maybe it’s the MAN STRENGTH!!!! as he has gotten further into his 20s. So it’s probably just me being stupid about height at a lower weight. WoW hE’s TaLl So ThAt MeAnS hE’s BeTtEr ThErE, etc.
Akhmedov was a good amateur and I think he presents some really tough style issues for Barrios. He’s certainly got more skill than Eudy Bernardo or Juan Jose Velasco. There’s a part of me that thinks Barrios gets EXPOSED! here, but then I’m thinking I’m underrating what Barrios does well — he’s still tall at 140, taller than Akhmedov, and he has power and goes to the body well. My idiot brain is leaning so hard toward Akhmedov that I think I’m fooling myself — it’s not like his wins are better than Barrios’ or anything. So I’m going with Mario to fake surprise me. But if I’m wrong then just know I knew I was wrong so technically I was right, right? Barrios TKO-10
This could be the closet thing to a pick’em fight of the bunch. In all honesty I haven’t seen a ton of Mario Barrios, and have seen even less of Batyr Akhmedov, so I had to go back and do some research. But with only seven professional fights under Akhmedov’s belt, there’s not a whole lot to dissect, especially against really high skill-level opponents. I will say, though, that while I’m not going to say Akhmedov is the second coming of Vasiliy Lomachenko, he does have this Loma-esque thing about him with his movement and angles. He’s really swift on his feet and uses his movement and angles to set up his punches off a natural rhythm. That alone makes Akhmedov a much different style fighter than anyone I think Barrios has fought before, and because Akhmedov is fighting for a world title in his eighth fight, I’m going to assume his handlers feel confident he’s the goods. I’m going to take Akhmedov to pull of the slight betting upset on the cards. Akhmedov UD-12
Patrick L. Stumberg
This is a genuinely excellent fight between two young, fearsome body punchers. Barrios is riding an eight-fight knockout streak, while Akhmedov has dispatched six of his seven professional opponents inside the distance. I’m even okay with the WBA shoving out another extraneous belt if it means we get to see them go at it for 12 rounds.
Akhmedov has the best win between them thanks to his knockout of Ismael Barroso, but his tendency to linger in the pocket and swing overly wide looks like trouble against a compact puncher like Barrios. Plus, while both are adept with counters, Barrios’ reach advantage means he’ll have more opportunities to land them when Akhmedov has to overextend. It’ll be back-and-forth and plenty violent, but I say Barrios outlands him in enough exchanges to take the win. Barrios UD-12
Throughout all of this weekend’s action, this is the closest to a 50/50 you’ll find. Two unbeaten guys looking to throw their hat into a 140 pounds ring which with Prograis vs. Taylor and Ramirez’s recent win over Hooker is beginning to generate headlines. With Barrios moving through the weights and not really registering a notable win throughout his eight-fight knockout spree, Akhmedov will be banking on providing the 24-year-old with a hurdle he is yet to jump. Akhmedov is still fairly green having started boxing at 18, but with a solid start to life as a pro following a fairly successful amateur career, his ceiling may prove higher than Barrios at this weight. Both guys can bang, so no result would be a shock. I’m just leaning towards the technicalities of the southpaw. Akhmedov TKO-8
And the staff winner is...
We have a draw (2-2!)
Anthony Dirrell vs David Benavidez
I like Anthony Dirrell. Like everyone, I always thought Andre was more talented, because in terms of pure ability, he was. But Anthony has been the better fighter because he wanted it more. Where Andre struck me as a guy who often didn’t want to deal when the going got tough in the ring, Anthony’s never been that sort. What he lacks in next-level ability he makes up for in determination. David Benavidez is kinda similar, as mentioned earlier this week. Brother Jose was seen as the blue chipper. But David, at 22, is the one who’s already won a world title. Even his one really difficult pro outing, against Ronald Gavril, he made up for with a dominant performance in their rematch.
Dirrell’s a good fighter still, but he’s 34 and talking retirement. That’s not the best thing going into a fight with a guy who wants “his” belt back and is 22 and hungry. I think Anthony gives this his all, but reaches a point where he’s just outgunned. I do think “The Dog” goes the distance, and he might well hang it up after. Benavidez UD-12
I give full credit to Anthony Dirrell for reclaiming a world title at age 34, when I thought he was just about done. Sure, he’s won six fights in a row since dropping a decision to Badou Jack in 2015, but half those fights weren’t all that compelling matchups if we’re being honest. Unfortunately I think the buck stops here for Dirrell, who will now be running into a big, strong, and young super middleweight in David Benavidez. Dirrell certainly has some boxing ability, but I have serious questions about whether or not he’ll be able to keep up with the sustained pressure I expect Benavidez, 22, to put on him. If Benavidez pours it on Dirrell and makes him feel his age, I think Dirrell could break down in the second half. At that point I think Dirrell is still a wily-enough veteran that might be able to make it through the final bell, but he might have to take some real punishment in order to do so. Benavidez UD-12
Patrick L. Stumberg
I made a conscious effort not to watch Benavidez’s knockout of Porky Medina when considering this fight, as it’s impossible not to come away from that thinking “El Bandera Roja” could beat anyone in the world. Honestly, though, Dirrell’s prospects don’t look that much brighter from a sober perspective. Benavidez is over a decade younger, notably faster, boasts a not-insignificant reach advantage, and hits stupid hard. Leaning on your power and athleticism to duke it out inside works against Avni Yildrim, not against a guy whose flurries look like someone futzed with the shutter speed.
Outgunned and already talking retirement, Dirrell’s only real advantage lies in experience against top-level opposition. Unfortunately, said experience is a pair of close fights with Sakio Bika and a decision loss to Badou Jack. Benavidez walks him down and overwhelms him in a close-quarters firefight to reclaim the WBC belt. Benavidez TKO-5
This fight has finally come about, but I’m struggling to get on board with the narrative that this fight is set to steal the show in LA. It’s as pure as a youth vs. experience bout as you are likely to find for a world title, with the 12 years separating both men likely to prove crucial when the first bell goes. Benavidez looks hungry to regain what he lost outside the ring, and with significant power at 168 pounds, Dirrell could find himself in trouble early on if he doesn’t use his vast professional experience. Dirrell has looked troubled by pressure fighters, which the challenger will show in abundance – I’m not sure this “Dog” has will have learnt enough new tricks to cope with Benavidez’s flurries. Dirrell is solid, but Benavidez will be looking for a statement stoppage. Benavidez TKO-9