Last night in Miami on DAZN, Demetrius Andrade retained his WBO middleweight title, while Joseph Diaz Jr and Murodjon Akhmadaliev became first-time world titleholders, and Jake Paul made AnEsonGib stumble around for a couple of minutes.
So what’s next for everyone? Let’s make some guesses.
Andrade was dominant against the miserably overmatched Keeler, who had no business fighting for a world title but, being fair, gave it his best effort. It’s just that, predictably, his best effort was nowhere near Andrade’s level and skill.
The 32-year-old Keeler (17-3-1, 5 KO), a Dublin native, really isn’t even a top 25 middleweight, so it’s tough to be impressed by the performance of the 31-year-old “Boo Boo,” who remains a two-division titlist without a single thing approaching a signature win. While Andrade (29-0, 18 KO) always tries his best to put on a happy face, declaring that fans just love his style, and DAZN do their best to push him as the bogeyman of the middleweight division, some cracks are starting to show in Andrade’s demeanor.
There was a sincere frustration in his voice after last night’s fight during his in-ring interview, as he bemoaned a lack of opposition willing to get into the ring with him.
It’s tough not to think that Matchroom are forcing this narrative at least a little bit, however; their target has been WBC titleholder Jermall Charlo, a PBC fighter who has been openly critical of the entire DAZN platform in the past.
Now, this certainly can be argued from both sides, like most things in boxing. Charlo is reportedly being offered what would be by far career-best money ($7 million), so why not take the fight?
At the same time, no matter how much money you try to throw at someone, that won’t guarantee political lines get crossed in boxing. Maybe you chalk that up to Charlo not wanting to fight Andrade, and for sure Andrade is no easy out. On paper, he’s a very tough matchup for Charlo, who has had issues in the past with southpaws.
But it’s not hard to think Matchroom are forcing this narrative to some degree, too. Simply put, it’s easy to bark about a $7 million offer if you know behind closed doors the guy isn’t going to take it, and while they shout about Andrade being willing to go fight on a PBC outlet for a similar money offer from that side, they also know that the money they’re offering for Andrade-Charlo would be supremely reckless coming from someone who isn’t backed by the deep and loose pockets of DAZN. So that offer isn’t likely to come back from PBC, because it would be an incredible overpayment for a fight that has limited appeal behind the diehard boxing audience.
The biggest note out of last night is that Andrade seems ready to move on and, if need be, move up to 168 to face WBO super middleweight titleholder Billy Joe Saunders. Saunders is with Matchroom and DAZN, and the two were supposed to fight in Oct. 2018 for Saunders’ middleweight belt, but that fight was scrapped when Saunders failed a drug test. In the end, Saunders was stripped, Andrade won the vacant belt, and Billy Joe moved up in weight.
On paper, there’s every chance an Andrade-Saunders fight is a sincere stinker. Both guys are boxers first, but there is a not totally insignificant chance it might surprise simply because Saunders (29-0, 14 KO) doesn’t always fight to the best of his ability; actually, he almost never seems to, which leads one to suspect “the best of his ability” may be a little overstated, but that’s a story for another day.
Last time we saw Saunders, he was seemingly losing a fight to huge underdog Marcelo Coceres (although two judges had Saunders up because boxing is fun), before rallying for an 11th round stoppage. When he feels his back’s against it, Saunders can and will turn up the heat. And the Andrade we saw last night against the hopeless Keeler was a lot more reckless than usual, as if he were trying to prove something in a fight where he really couldn’t prove much of anything that anyone didn’t already believe about him.
Andrade-Saunders is intriguing because it’s a major step up from the level of opposition both have been fighting recently. It’d be a sincere “put up or shut up” fight for the two unbeaten fighters, both past 30 years of age.
If it’s not Charlo (and it doesn’t seem like it will be), and it’s not Saunders, Andrade does potentially have other options. The top-ranked WBO contender is former 154-pound titleholder Jaime Munguia, a Golden Boy/DAZN fighter. Would Golden Boy risk Munguia against Andrade before the chance to cash in on an all-Mexico fight between Munguia and Canelo Alvarez, preferably with Munguia still holding his “0”? Probably not, but then again maybe; Golden Boy often do things that seem weird.
The options to unify beyond Charlo are Canelo Alvarez (WBA) and Gennadiy Golovkin (IBF), neither of whom have shown any interest in fighting Andrade despite DAZN clearly wishing they would. The best bet seems to be a move to 168 to fight Saunders. Any move up is risky, but Saunders isn’t a natural super middleweight himself, so it’d be a calculated risk.
As for Keeler, he goes back home to Ireland and will surely continue his career. It’s hard to put this the right way given that last night was the first and only time most people have seen him fight, surely, but he’s really not a bad fighter. There’s absolutely a place in boxing for guys like Keeler, but it’s not the world stage. He did his honest best, he showed toughness getting off the canvas twice and amazingly not going down again in the ninth when the fight was mercy stopped, and he goes home the exact same level fighter he was coming in, in all reality. He got a call, took his swing, and struck out.
Joseph Diaz Jr and Tevin Farmer
JoJo Diaz cashed in on the world title opportunity in his second real attempt (in the third one they kept talking about last night on commentary, he missed weight but won the fight), beating Tevin Farmer to take the IBF junior lightweight belt.
It was an odd fight in a lot of ways. Farmer (30-5-1, 6 KO) hurt his right hand in the opening round, and was thus unable to do much with his jab. The two clashed heads early in the fight, too, with a nasty cut opening on Diaz (31-1, 15 KO), who seemed to get the worst of it, and he did from a visible damage standpoint, but maybe not, because after the butt Farmer seemed totally off his game mentally, sort of twitchy and constantly jerking his neck around in very strange fashion.
That’s not to say for a fact he was concussed or anything, but I don’t know that it can be counted out as a real possibility, though the DAZN crew never once speculated on that and instead just kept pointing out that he was acting strangely without searching for a root cause beyond “maybe it was hard to make weight?”
But the other thing that has to be strongly taken into account is that the 27-year-old Diaz was a big step up from the guys Farmer, 29, has been fighting during his long winning streak. Diaz is a former Olympian, a well-rounded fighter who gave Gary Russell Jr a solid challenge a couple years ago in his lone defeat, while Farmer’s title reign consisted of wins over Billy Dib, James Tennyson, Francisco Fonseca, Jono Carroll, and Guillaume Frenois.
A lot of promotional push was given to Farmer’s activity — and even that was kind of overstated, he had a run of three fights in four months to close out 2018, but in 2019 he fought a standard two times — because the opposition was really weak. We’re seeing Top Rank take a similar promotional approach with Emanuel Navarrete right now. “Look how OFTEN he fights! OLD SCHOOL!”
By hook or crook, Diaz was simply the better fighter on Saturday. Farmer has said he only had a couple fights left at 130, but in the moment after the fight last night he indicated that he would be exercising his rematch clause. Diaz seemed to expect the same even before Farmer confirmed his intentions, so the smart money at this moment would be that they’ll run it back. If Farmer chooses to do so, Diaz has no real option but to do it or vacate, and he won’t be looking to vacate.
But Farmer could well take a breath, a little break, and decide to go up to 135 now. He probably wouldn’t prefer to do this, trying to move up in weight without momentum, but he may decide that’s the right call. We’ll see.
Murodjon Akhmadaliev and Daniel Roman
In a fight that didn’t quite live up to the higher hopes but was a show-stealer all the same, Akhmadaliev tied Leon Spinks’ record by becoming a unified titleholder in his eighth pro fight, beating Roman by split decision to take the WBA and IBF 122-pound titles.
The 25-year-old Akhmadaliev (8-0, 6 KO) was emotional after the fight, paying great respect to Roman (27-3-1, 10 KO). The result probably shouldn’t have been a split decision (I’m not sure I saw anyone except judge Rodolfo Aguilar score it for Roman), but it was competitive throughout, and Roman did come in with a relatively short, six-week camp, and was coming off of a shoulder injury which scrapped this fight’s original 2019 date.
This is another that could well be run back, though perhaps not immediately. Roman, 29, is an extremely determined fighter and will surely want to even the score. And Akhmadaliev clearly isn’t going to be someone who ducks a challenge; he’s said flat out that he loves to fight, and it shows in the ring. He’s not some unskilled oaf, mind you, but he’s got a clear passion for doing his job.
If the two rematch next, that’d be fine. If they don’t, Akhmadaliev has two belts. This was a WBA mandatory fight, so that’s clear for the moment, but the IBF have an interim champ in Japan’s Ryosuke Iwasa, a former full titleholder who won the interim belt in December over Marlon Tapales. Iwasa (27-3, 17 KO) would be a perfectly acceptable next opponent, really.
Since people always want to know about unifying titles, it has to be said that further unification would be tough at the moment; WBC titleholder Rey Vargas just signed with PBC, and Top Rank are handling WBO titleholder Emanuel Navarrete with kid gloves.
We’ve now seen four YouTube celebrities box on DAZN cards in the last couple of months. The obvious two best of them are Jake Paul, who beat a hilariously inept AnEsonGib last night via first round stoppage, and KSI, who scratched out a win over Jake’s brother Logan Paul in a November grudge match. Jake seems like the one who has the best idea of how to punch, while KSI perhaps has the best .......................... skills.
Last night’s farcical competition featured a pretty obviously rehearsed post-fight bit with Jake Paul and KSI, as Paul has VOWED REVENGE!! for his slightly older brother, and the idea is for KSI to fight Jake now, one would guess in the spring. The highlight of all the Jake-KSI stuff wasn’t the bogus in-ring shouting and shoving, but before that, when KSI was shown in the audience after the fight was over, dramatically shaking his head and stroking his chin, as if deep in thought. Guys, listen, I’ve watched a LOT of pro wrestling in my life, from the highest levels to the lowliest armory and local tavern indies. I know horrendous acting when I see it.
The YouTube stuff will be involved with DAZN boxing until the lads and their fans lose interest, which they all eventually will. This is all just a little phase for these guys in their journey of fragile fame. You can do this a few times, probably four or five at most, before the novelty is gone even to those who are fans of these dudes.
And it’s not like there’s some steady stream of these people waiting to come along, either. At the moment there are a handful of them willing to punch each other, and Big Ed Hearn and the boys are willing to pay them. Being entirely fair, there’s also no question who sold the tickets in Miami last night; this went on second-to-last, and a good portion of the audience cleared out after it was over, with no interest in seeing Andrade-Keeler. And about five rounds into Andrade-Keeler, I decided they had made the right call, being honest.
Anyway, Jake Paul’s going to fight KSI. It’ll probably get a headline slot, there will absolutely be a world title fight or two beneath it on the bill, and it should do OK business-wise. I don’t really care either way, it just is what it is. It’s all going to go down a weird little footnote in boxing’s history. In five years we’ll all remember when Crazy Eddie and the gang at DAZN were doing this shit.