Boxing pay-per-view undercards are forgettable a lot more often than they are good, and that’s been the standard for, oh, 20 years or so. It does not appear it will be changing any time soon, especially for something like Wilder-Fury 2 on Saturday. That fight sells the pay-per-view alone, and the promoters have no reason to invest money into its undercard, even more so in the current climate, where fights like Adam Kownacki vs Robert Helenius can headline a card on FOX.
So no, Saturday’s undercard isn’t what you might call “good,” but it’s certainly happening, so let’s take a look at the three fights we’ll see.
Charles Martin vs Gerald Washington
This is an IBF heavyweight eliminator, which is great because current IBF mandatory Kubrat Pulev is on course to get his shot at Anthony Joshua, who also holds the WBA and WBO titles, probably in June, and it’d be a lousy old world if the IBF didn’t immediately line up some overmatched also-ran to be a pain in the ass sooner or later after that’s done.
On paper, “Prince” Charles here wouldn’t be the worst guy to have in a world title fight. Well, if the paper doesn’t actually explain anything. This isn’t paper, however, you’re reading this on a screen of some sort (unless you’ve printed it out, which would be odd), so we’re free to say that while, yes, Martin is a former IBF titleholder, he probably shouldn’t have been for various reasons.
When Tyson Fury beat Wladimir Klitschko in Nov. 2015 to win the IBF, WBA, and WBO titles in Germany, he was contractually obligated to do a rematch with Klitschko. As a result of that, the IBF pretty much immediately stripped him of their belt, putting the vacated title up for grabs in Jan. 2016 between Martin and Vyacheslav Glazkov, whose team had petitioned for the title to become vacant, having won an eliminator over Steve Cunningham in Mar. 2015.
When Martin and Glazkov met in Brooklyn, Martin won on a fluky third round TKO when Glazkov injured his knee severely enough that he never fought again. That quick win set Martin up for an April date in the United Kingdom against rising superstar Anthony Joshua. Joshua knocked Martin out in the second round to win his first world title.
After a year out of the ring, Martin returned for wins in 2017 over journeymen types Byron Polley and Michael Marrone, then lost a competitive 10-round decision to Adam Kownacki in 2018. In 2019, he went 2-0, beating Gregory “Nutshot” Corbin via disqualification and Daniel Martz via fourth round stoppage.
Of the two contender types Martin, now 33, has faced and the fight didn’t end via injury, Joshua clubbed him with ease and Kownacki beat him over 30 minutes.
And then there’s 37-year-old Gerald Washington, “El Gallo Negro” himself. A former Navy man, he also played football at USC and had stints on NFL practice squads before making his pro boxing debut at age 30 in 2012.
Washington (20-3-1, 13 KO) is a hard-working, friendly guy, a good interview, and a high-end result from the experiments years back of trying to turn football players into late bloomer heavyweight boxers. He built up a 16-0 record before a 2015 draw with Amir Mansour, and then got a shot at Deontay Wilder’s WBC title in 2017. He was doing OK against Wilder for four rounds — in that Wilder wasn’t doing much at all and Washington was kinda winning some rounds — then was finished in the fifth.
Since the Wilder fight, Washington has gone 2-2, dropping fights to Jarrell Miller in 2017 and Adam Kownacki in 2019, both stoppages. But he did beat John Wesley Nofire and Robert Helenius, and he remains a fringe guy in the division, as does Martin.
Is this the biggest fight in the world? No. But it also might not be so bad. Both guys have had some entertaining enough moments in the ring, and if they let their hands go, this might be perfectly fine to watch.
If anything, from a fan’s standpoint, the IBF eliminator tag kinda makes this worse; instead of it just being a potentially fun, seemingly well-matched meeting of veteran heavyweights, we’re being guaranteed that the winner eventually will be in a world title fight nobody was asking to see.
Emanuel Navarrete vs Jeo Santisima
WBO junior featherweight (122 pounds) titleholder Emanuel Navarrete has become one of Top Rank’s breakout young stars, and it’s kind of happened by accident.
Navarrete challenged Isaac Dogboe for the WBO belt in Dec. 2018, with Dogboe expected to cap off a terrific year with a fourth win and a second successful title defense, making his case for 2018 Fighter of the Year. Instead, the little-known Navarrete used his superior height and reach and battered Dogboe around the ring, winning a 12-round decision.
Dogboe made the decision to go right back after Navarrete in May 2019, which went even worse. This time, the Mexican really beat the crap out of Dogboe, whose corner finally mercifully stopped it in the 12th round, perhaps a few rounds after they should have.
So what do you do when an exciting young fighter wins a world title via a favorable size and style matchup, but might not be quite as ready for it as you want? You match him soft for a while. Boxing fans won’t like this, though, so Top Rank sagely tapped into something they do like: active fighters.
Thus, Navarrete (30-1, 26 KO) defended his title in August, September, and December of last year, and here he is again in February. Are the opponents good? They sure haven’t been so far. Francisco De Vaca, Juan Miguel Elorde, and Francisco Horta were all smashed out within four rounds, all of them looking pretty hopelessly out of their depth. The matchups stunk, but Top Rank gambled right and nobody cares. Quantity helped fans and pundits overlook the total lack of quality.
On paper, we have about the same thing on Saturday. Santisima (19-2, 16 KO) is a 23-year-old Filipino who has never fought outside of his own country, has lost fights already, and hasn’t beaten anyone near being a legitimate contender.
But let’s play devil’s advocate for just a moment here, because I feel like I’ve seen something similar before.
In Dec. 2018, Emanuel Navarrete was 23 years old. He’d lost a fight, the sixth of his career in 2012. He’d never fought outside of Mexico. Not many people knew anything about him, really. Then he beat Dogboe for the belt.
Santisima’s losses came in 2013 and 2014 in his first and fourth pro bouts, when he was a teenager. You can probably forget about those. From the footage you can find, he’s a scrappy young guy who fights hard on the inside.
Navarrete still has the reach advantage here (about five inches of reach, in fact) and still should be the clear favorite. But he also has been constantly training and fighting; his body’s going to feel it at some point, and he might have a night where he’s just not quite himself any time now. We’re going by “on paper” now because that’s what we have to go on, but there are at least some little red flags for Navarrete in this matchup.
Sebastian Fundora vs Daniel Lewis
The original plan for this pay-per-view broadcast was to do three fights instead of the standard four. You’d have the Wilder-Fury 2 main event, co-promoted by PBC and Top Rank, then each of those sides would put on one fight for the PPV undercard.
Martin-Washington is the PBC fight, Navarrete-Santisima the Top Rank fight. But eventually someone went, “My God, what are we doing? Pay-per-views have had a standard four fights forever, we can’t — we can’t just NOT!” And thus PBC and Top Rank decided to work together on a third fight, and it’s this one.
Yes, these guys are in the same weight class. PBC’s Fundora, 22, was signed by Sampson Lewkowicz a couple years ago because he’s a ridiculous junior middleweight. Fighting at 154 pounds, Fundora was originally advertised by Sampson Boxing as standing 6’7”, “The Towering Infero” his nickname, a southpaw with a heavyweight’s 80” reach.
We’ve settled on Fundora being about 6’5”, which is still absolutely absurd. The co-feature heavyweights, Martin and Washington, are 6’5” and 6’6”. Martin has the same 80” reach, Washington’s is slightly longer at 82”.
Now, truth be told, we’ve seen a lot of these crazy dimensions guys come and go over the years in divisions under 175 pounds. Sometimes they’re successful and win a world title or two, sometimes they get found out quickly, but they almost always have major flaws. If they didn’t, the shit wouldn’t be fair at all.
Fundora (13-0-1, 9 KO) had a terrible time with Jamontay Clark last time out, a fight Clark probably should have won but John Mariano scored it 95-95 and Kyle Shiely turned in an incompetent 98-92 Fundora card, leading to a split draw. Clark, mind you, is a ridiculous dimensions guy himself, standing 6’2” with the same 80” reach that Fundora has, and he’s a fellow southpaw, to boot.
Lewis, who signed with Top Rank last year, is a 26-year-old Australian, 6-0 (4 KO) to date as a pro, and competed at the 2016 Olympics, where he lost in the second round to the very talented Bektemir Melikuziev, who went on to win the silver medal and is himself a top pro prospect now.
Lewis didn’t even turn pro until March of last year, so he fought six times by the end of 2019, and two of the bouts were scheduled for 10 rounds, one going the distance in July in Sydney, where he scraped past domestic veteran Wade Ryan in what was Lewis’ third pro fight. To put it another way, Lewis fought 26 rounds last year and was constantly in the gym.
It needs to be noted that the 5’10” Lewis is not a small guy at 154 pounds. And he’s got the tool set to chop the tree down, as he makes a point to work to the body. Styles make fights and all that.
Of the three fights on the undercard, this is the one with the least current significance, but might be the best matchup.