The eyes of the sports world will be fixated on Super Bowl LIV this week, of course, but boxing isn’t taking time off. In fact, DAZN and Matchroom Boxing are looking to take advantage locally, putting on a world title tripleheader on Thursday in Miami, a card that also features YouTubers Jake Paul vs AnEson Gib in the co-feature.
Demetrius Andrade vs Luke Keeler
This is the main event, but of the three world title bouts is by far the biggest mismatch on paper. Andrade (28-0, 17 KO) holds the WBO title and is being pushed as a star by DAZN and Matchroom, which is not an easy thing to do. Andrade does not remotely have a fan-friendly style, despite his belief otherwise, and he’s also never had a real breakthrough fight. For a two-division titleholder at age 31, that’s a bad combination.
Andrade hasn’t been on a lot of stars’ short lists, to be fair; he’s legitimately skilled enough that he’s a threat to just about anyone, and with various promotional issues over the years before signing with Matchroom, he didn’t have any easy paths to force big fights, either. We’re still at a point, over 11 years into Andrade’s pro career, where his biggest wins are over the likes of Vanes Martirosyan, Jack Culcay, and Maciej Sulecki.
There are disagreements on whether or not Andrade can really hang with the likes of fellow titleholders Canelo Alvarez, Gennadiy Golovkin, and Jermall Charlo if he gets the call, but there is little doubt about how he does against opponents like Ireland’s Keeler.
Keeler (17-2-1, 5 KO) is a 32-year-old veteran coming off of an admittedly decent win over Luis Arias last August in Belfast, and that’s his best win to date. His losses were both to Tom Doran in 2015 and 2016, the first in a Prizefighter tournament, the second a second round stoppage.
Keeler is an OK boxer, but on paper it’s hard to imagine what he can do to challenge Andrade. This is a weak world title matchup, with respect to Keeler, who says he’ll come and give it his best shot, and surely he will. But almost always in a matchup like this, the talent wins out.
Tevin Farmer vs Joseph Diaz Jr
Farmer (30-4-1, 6 KO) will be making the fifth defense of his IBF junior lightweight title against Diaz (30-1, 15 KO) in a matchup that should settle a beef that started about eight months ago, and also brings together a pair of fighters who’ve had very different career paths.
Philadelphia’s Farmer, 29, came up the tough way in the game. He lost his 2011 pro debut and has admitted he didn’t take boxing seriously early on, resulting in a career start of 7-4-1 through 2012. He looked like he’d just be a local/regional club fighter.
Eventually, Farmer got serious, and he’s gone 23-0 since then. He should have won the IBF 130-pound belt against Kenichi Ogawa, but judges ruled the fight for Ogawa, which was a robbery, and then the result was changed when Ogawa tested positive for PEDs.
Eight months later, Farmer traveled to Australia to again fight for the vacant title, dominating Billy Dib over 12 rounds and claiming the belt for real. His defenses against James Tennyson, Francisco Fonseca, Jono Carroll, and Guillaume Frenois (mandatory) haven’t exactly been against the cream of the crop at 130, and Diaz figures to be a bit of a step up.
Diaz, 27, fought for Team USA at the 2012 Olympics and has been groomed in his pro career. He linked up with Golden Boy after London and turned pro that December, running up his record before a 2018 featherweight title challenge against Gary Russell Jr.
Diaz actually gave Russell a pretty good fight, but Russell pulled away down the stretch and took a deserved victory. In his next fight three months later, Diaz had a chance to fight for a WBA secondary belt at featherweight against Jesus Rojas, but missed weight. He won the fight, but not the belt.
Last year, Diaz had to move up in weight to 130, and the results were mixed. He was fine in one-sided wins over Charles Huerta and Freddy Fonseca, but in September he won a majority decision over Jesus Cuadro in Mexico, a fight that was much more difficult than anyone expected.
Farmer’s slick, defensive style doesn’t mean he can’t get into a bit of a brawl at times. Carroll in particular was able to push Farmer into a scrap, and Farmer responded well, showing there’s some real dog and grit in him in addition to the old school skills. But he’s still seen as something of a vulnerable titleholder; the record, even with the long unbeaten run, says he’s beatable, and the fact that he didn’t beat a top fighter for the belt and hasn’t defended it against one has people reasonably wondering just how good he really is, too.
Diaz doesn’t have any real standout skills, but he’s a talented boxer-puncher at his best, and he’s a legitimate contender. One has to wonder if his recently-stated frustrations with Golden Boy might be weighing on him. He’s felt pushed aside by his promoters. A win here could put him into their good graces, a loss here would not just hurt his career, as he’d fall to 0-2 in world title fights, but could see him released by Golden Boy and looking to start over. The latter might not terribly upset him, it seems, but he definitely doesn’t want to lose.
Daniel Roman vs Murodjon Akhmadaliev
Like Farmer, unified WBA/IBF junior featherweight titleholder Roman (27-2-1, 10 KO) didn’t come up easy, handled with kid gloves as a protected prospect. He turned pro in 2010, started his career 2-1-1 in his first four fights, and didn’t look like someone who was going to go much of anywhere. He took his second loss in 2013, which seemed to confirm the low ceiling.
But the 29-year-old Roman has also scratched and clawed his way to the top. A 2017 win on ShoBox over previously-unbeaten Adam Lopez started the ball rolling, and eight months later he was in Japan, beating Shun Kubo for a WBA belt. He went back and made a successful defense against Ryo Matsumoto in early 2018, and made successful defenses against Moises Flores and Gavin McDonnell before a unification matchup with TJ Doheny last April.
Roman got the duke that night in a war, one of the best fights of 2019. And now he has to face a mandatory challenger, Uzbekistan’s Murodjon Akhmadaliev, a dangerous prospect looking to rocket into the role of two-belt holder.
Akhmadaliev, 25, won bronze at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and had won silver at the 2015 World Amateur Championships. At Rio 2016, his loss in the semifinals came against eventual gold medalist Robeisy Ramirez, who was excellent at two straight Olympics, a real standout for the decade in amateur boxing.
Akhmadaliev (7-0, 6 KO) is like many other recent amateur standouts, who have come into the pro ranks not looking to screw around fluffing up a record. They know — and their handlers know — what they’re capable of quickly with their schooling and pedigree, and there’s just no great point in having an extra 10 nothing fights if your fighter is ready, and Akhmadaliev appears pretty ready.
His opposition to date as a pro hasn’t exactly been stellar, mind you, but plenty of guys come into world title fights with no better a résumé than he’s got, with a few wins over half-decent club journeyman types. I mean, Roman’s best win before winning a world belt was a questionable ShoBox veteran.
This is the best matchup of the night and, as I said early in the month, I think it’s the best fight of January. Akhmadaliev really may be the more skilled and powerful of the two, but Roman’s experience and heart can’t be overlooked at all, and he’s always up for a fight. This is not only a good matchup, but could be a legitimately highly entertaining fight, too. We may see Roman pushed to the brink of his abilities, but Akhmadaliev pushed to the brink mentally if he can’t overwhelm the more experienced titleholder.
Jake Paul vs AnEsonGib
Paul is taller and looks a lot more like an athlete.