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Canelo next fight, Berchelt-Valdez, Paige VanZant in BKFC: Boxing’s 10 best fights for Feb. 2021

Finally, the action will be flowing again on the boxing schedule, as there’s plenty set for the coming month.

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Ed Mulholland/Matchroom USA | Mikey Williams/Top Rank | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

More than any other time in modern history, any schedule right now still needs to come with a solid knock on wood, but after a very slow run where we got almost nothing of real note in January, the boxing schedule is set to heat up and get really busy in February.

It’s honestly against the odds right now that every fight on this list will actually happen, but let’s hope!

My picks for the 10 best fights coming in February:

10) Gabriel Flores Jr vs Jayson Velez, Feb. 20 (ESPN)

This is the co-feature to a fight we’ll get to later on the list (the top spot, in fact), and a really good matchup of prospect and veteran. The 20-year-old Flores (19-0, 6 KO) was originally set to face Andrew Cancio in what was to be Cancio’s repeatedly delayed Top Rank debut, but Cancio pulled out with a back injury. I still am holding on to my theory that Cancio was cursed by a witch during his in-ring activity between 2016 and 2018, and that the witch guaranteed he would never fight outside of the Fantasy Springs in Indio, Calif., ever again. Thus far nothing has proven me wrong.

But Velez (29-7-1, 21 KO) is a good replacement, sort of the same level of opponent as a game, 32-year-old veteran fighter who still puts in a solid effort every time out. He went 0-2 in 2020, dramatically losing to Jaime Arboleda and then getting stopped late by Oscar Valdez. But there are questions about Flores as he steps up against better opposition, and Velez is good enough to give us at least some answers.

9) BKFC KnuckleMania, Feb. 5 (PPV)

This isn’t just that I like BKFC, and it’s not just that if you buy the PPV at this link I get a pat on the back or whatever, I’m legitimately strongly interested in two fights here. The first is, of course, Paige VanZant’s bare knuckle boxing debut. She’s taking a legitimate fight for the venue against Britain Hart, and it could be a big miscalculation if the idea is to get VanZant going as a winning attraction for the company.

The other is the lightweight title fight between Johnny Bedford and Dat Nguyen, which could be fireworks for as long as it lasts, which in bare knuckle always might not be long at all. Maybe it’s cheating to put two fights together as one entry, but here’s the thing: it’s my list and I can do what I want. That’s pretty much the thing.

8) Patrick Teixeira vs Brian Castano, Feb. 13 (DAZN)

Brian Carlos Castano v Wale Omotoso Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Brazil vs Argentina rivalry returns to big-time boxing, as Brazil’s Teixeira (31-1, 22 KO) defends his WBO junior middleweight title against Argentina’s Castano (16-0-1, 12 KO) on this Golden Boy card.

Teixeira, 30, is one of the sport’s iffier world titleholders, at least for the time being, having won an interim title against Carlos Adames in Nov. 2019, after which he was bumped to full titlist status when Jaime Munguia moved up to middleweight. But he has a chance to legitimize the reign against the 31-year-old Castano, who is a very good fighter and contender, and really the favorite here. Castano also hasn’t fought since Nov. 2019, when he trounced Wale Omotoso, eight months after a draw with Erislandy Lara in a really good fight.

7) Joe Smith Jr vs Maxim Vlasov, Feb. 13 (ESPN)

The vacant WBO light heavyweight title will be on the line as Smith (26-3, 21 KO) takes on Vlasov (45-3, 26 KO) in an ESPN main event from Las Vegas, which Bob Arum wound up not getting the fuck out of after all, shocking the lot of us.

The 31-year-old Smith may actually be peaking, having put together a great couple of performances in 2020 wins over Jesse Hart and Eleider Alvarez. Vlasov, 34, is a tough veteran, tall, likes to be busy in fights, and could make for some really great action with the measured, power-punching Smith, who has put his overall skills together as much as he’s going to, and is a better fighter than he was a few years ago, it seems.

This show also has a nice lightweight co-feature in Richard Commey vs Jackson Marinez.

6) David Avanesyan vs Josh Kelly, Feb. 20 (DAZN)

Long overdue, as Avanesyan (26-3-1, 14 KO) and Kelly (10-0-1, 6 KO) were supposed to meet in Dec. 2018 on the Brook-Zerafa card in Sheffield, England, only for Kelly to pull out the day of the fight after falling ill, an excuse that Avanesyan’s team never bought, instead feeling Kelly simply ducked out of the fight at the last minute.

Since then, Avanesyan, 32, has gone on a tear in Spain, winning the European welterweight title, which he’ll defend against the 26-year-old Kelly, a prospect with mixed reviews from fans and critics. Kelly has shown a love of Roy Jones Jr-like flashiness, but many have pointed out that there truly is only one Roy Jones Jr; lots of people have tried imitating Roy over the years, and it works for a bit, but then never against better foes because they are not the athlete he was.

Kelly got a bit of a warning shot lesson against Ray Robinson in June 2019, going to a disappointing draw with the American veteran. Avanesyan is definitely good enough to make Kelly pay for any silly mistakes, but Kelly has the ability to be a very good fighter if he really finds his own identity, too. There’s a lot of beef between the teams here — maybe more than there is between the fighters — but it’s also just an interesting style matchup, period.

5) Joseph Parker vs Junior Fa, Feb. 27 (DAZN)

Joseph Parker v Junior Fa: Media Announcement Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

Personally, I love a big, domestic clash like this one, pitting Parker (27-2, 21 KO) against Fa (19-0, 10 KO) in Auckland, New Zealand, a major event for boxing in that country.

The two heavyweights know each other well, as they were amateur rivals. The 29-year-old Parker has gone on to more notable pro success to date, winning the WBO title in 2016 before losing it to Anthony Joshua in 2018, and he’s been in with drastically better opposition over the years. Even someone like Hughie Fury is levels above the best guys the 31-year-old Fa has fought thus far, let alone Joshua, Andy Ruiz Jr, and Dillian Whyte.

This does strike me as the sort of matchup where anything can happen, though. There will be a lot of emotion here, and it’s the heavyweight division, where a big lad landing one shot can change the entire course of a fight more than in any other division. It’ll be an early morning stream for U.S. viewers, but I’m looking forward to it.

4) Canelo Alvarez vs Avni Yildirim, Feb. 27 (DAZN)

Canelo (54-1-2, 36 KO) fighting is always an event, even against a likely severely over-matched challenger in Yildirim (21-2, 12 KO). The Turkish WBC mandatory challenger did give Anthony Dirrell a good scrap, but that was two years ago, and he hasn’t fought since then, and he was also thrashed inside three by Chris Eubank Jr in 2017.

But it’s Canelo, so there will be the usual hype, at least at the level of the 2018 Rocky Fielding fight or something. Canelo can fight anyone and it’s a bigger deal than almost any fight in the sport, and Yildirim is at least “anyone.” There’s also a decent co-feature between WBC flyweight titleholder Julio Cesar Martinez and McWilliams Arroyo.

3) Jamel Herring vs Carl Frampton, Feb. 27 (TBA)

BT Sport will air this fight in the UK, while the broadcast status is still TBA for the U.S., but there will be some way to see it.

Yet another overdue matchup, as Herring (22-2, 10 KO) finally defends the WBO 130-pound belt against Frampton (28-2, 16 KO), who is looking to win a world title in a third division.

This isn’t an elite-elite level fight or anything, but I love sizing this one up. As for literally sizing it up, Herring is a 5’10” southpaw with a 72-inch reach, a former U.S. Olympian (not a great standout, but an Olympian all the same), a guy who has really come into his own in his mid-30s since moving to Top Rank and getting deep into work with trainer Brian McIntyre. Herring has also moved down from 135, he’s a big junior lightweight.

Frampton, listed at 5’5” with a 65-inch reach, is a tiny junior lightweight, in all honesty. A former titleholder at 122 and 126, he’s aiming high trying to win a belt at 130. Herring will have significant natural advantages, but Frampton is a really good boxer, tough and physically has always been strong; he wasn’t very big at either of his other two weights either, really, but he can really scrap in close, so if he can get Herring on the inside, this could be a hoot of a fight. At 35 and 33, Herring and Frampton will look to capitalize as much as they can in every fight from this point on. I like this one a lot on paper.

2) Joseph Diaz Jr vs Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov, Feb. 13 (DAZN)

Demetrius Andrade v Luke Keeler Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Might rank high to a lot of you, but I’ve simply got a great feeling about this matchup. Diaz (31-1, 15 KO) has talked a lot since beating Tevin Farmer for the IBF junior lightweight title about a year ago, and hey, good for him, he did what he said he’d do. And he’s a very good fighter who was probably underrated going in there; other than Vasiliy Lomachenko, Diaz has given Gary Russell Jr more problems than anyone as a pro, arguably, even if Russell did score a clear win.

The 26-year-old Rakhimov, a Russian born in Tajikistan, is no joke, though. Rakhimov (15-0, 12 KO) isn’t quite in my top 10 at 130 right now, but he could be, and for what it’s worth, BoxRec’s fancy computers see him at No. 5. He doesn’t have any big, notable wins, but if you watch the footage of him that’s out there, you see a good fighter with nice offensive skills. The 28-year-old Diaz is probably the slicker and quicker of the two, and Rakhimov probably the stronger puncher.

Maybe I wind up being wrong about this one and it stinks out the joint, but I really do think we could see a terrific fight with this one. I love this as a matchup.

1) Miguel Berchelt vs Oscar Valdez, Feb. 20 (ESPN)

To me, it’s a no-brainer for the No. 1 slot this month. Berchelt (37-1, 33 KO) and Valdez (28-0, 22 KO) should be good for a war, and that’s with me fully taking into account the fact that Oscar Valdez has actively tried to avoid wars in his recent outings.

Valdez, 30, is a former titlist at 126, and has moved up in search of gold at 130. You might argue he ducked a fight with Shakur Stevenson at featherweight, you might not, for the purposes of this fight it doesn’t much matter.

After his brawl with Scott Quigg in 2018 led to a busted jaw, Valdez has tried to become more of a boxer-puncher than a blood-and-guts warrior. Results have been kind of mixed. Yeah, he’s 4-0 since then, but the opposition has been mid-tier at best, and I still personally feel that it’s sort of a square peg/round hole situation. I fully respect that Valdez doesn’t want to be going balls to the wall in every fight, because avoiding that will extend the viable time in his career to make money, but I think against a guy like Berchelt, he will wind up with no choice.

The 29-year-old Berchelt is taller and longer than Valdez, and he tends to bring the heat. He’s stopped his last six opponents, dating back to 2018, but you can rightly argue the opposition for him over that stretch has also been so-so. His best wins remain his back-to-back 2017 defeats of Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura.

But I just love this as a fight, and I think every boxing fan should. This is the one I’d tell you is a genuine can’t-miss. Like any fight, it could disappoint, sure, but it’s also got the highest chance of being a war.

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