It was an eventful weekend in boxing, with Oscar Valdez staking his claim in a big way at 130 pounds, Adrien Broner returning at
140 147 pounds with a so-so performance, David Avanesyan doing what he said he’d do against Josh Kelly, and much more.
So what comes now for the fighters of note?
Many weeks throughout the year, we’ve got a new “King for a Day” sort of thing in boxing. The latest big winner is the toast of the sport, the name on everyone’s lips. This week, that’s Oscar Valdez.
Valdez (29-0, 23 KO) had a career-best performance on Saturday night in dominating and then brutally knocking out Miguel Berchelt, and he’s now a two-division champion, taking the WBC junior lightweight title.
Valdez was magnificent. The game plan was perfect, the execution was just as good. He made Berchelt (37-2, 33 KO) look ponderous and even at times feeble, and I say that with great admiration and awe for Berchelt’s iron chin and even stronger will and determination. But Valdez took him apart. He was better in every way. It was a masterful performance.
So, y’know, now what?
As far as unification goes, Gervonta “Tank” Davis has the WBA belt, and that fight’s just not happening. It just isn’t. Until proven otherwise, Davis isn’t fighting non-PBC guys. The WBO title is in the Top Rank family, as we await a hopeful new March date for Jamel Herring vs Carl Frampton. Shakur Stevenson is with Top Rank, and he wanted Valdez at 126; Valdez moved up in weight when Stevenson was made his mandatory challenger. (Shakur, for what it’s worth, has “bashed” Valdez plenty, but did say he was impressed and surprised by Valdez’s win on Saturday.)
The IBF belt is vacant, with an order for Shavkat Rakhimov to face Kenichi Ogawa.
There’s a story for Valdez-Stevenson, and it looks like a really good fight on paper, has way more heat now than it would have last year at 126. It’d be a big step up for Stevenson, but everyone thinks he’s got the goods and is ready to take that crack. Stevenson wanted it before, he surely does now. We know he wants a world title fight.
There’s going to be no immediate interest in a Berchelt rematch. Past Stevenson, who was the WBC’s No. 2 contender, the WBC have O’Shaquie Foster, Leo Santa Cruz, and Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov. They also have Andrew Cancio ranked in the top 10. Cancio’s with Top Rank now, but also has a witch’s curse that is preventing him from ever fighting outside of the Fantasy Springs in California. He also hasn’t fought since getting smashed by Rene Alvarado in 2019.
We’ll have to see how Berchelt is doing after that loss before we speculate on him coming back. One figures he’ll be relatively fine, but he took a beating and was savagely knocked out. It was ugly, and for a few minutes, legitimately scary.
I’d expect when he’s ready, Berchelt will take a tune-up style fight, possibly back in Mexico on a Zanfer show. He might move up to 135. He had legitimate trouble making weight for this one. Eventually, fighters have to move up in weight.
Berchelt’s still only 29, so he’s got time left in his career for sure, and he could be a threat. He’s got a leaky defense, but his offense at his best is so good he makes up for it, and God knows the man is tougher than an old boot. He took punishment from Valdez that would have finished most fighters way, way sooner. We may have seen the best days of Berchelt, but that doesn’t mean he can’t come back and still be a really good fighter, even fully back in the world title mix.
Broner (34-4-1, 24 KO) didn’t frankly look any worse than he has in years, if you want my honest opinion, as he struggled to an iffy win over Jovanie Santiago after two years out of the ring.
People are going to blame rust, or at least some of them are. I’m sure he had some. But he’s also just never been that great at welterweight. Or at 140, for that matter.
It was 2013 when he got a controversial win over Paulie Malignaggi and then lost to Marcos Maidana. It was 2014 when he had problems with Emanuel Taylor at 140. It was 2015 when he lost to Shawn Porter. It was 2016 when he labored against Ashley Theophane, and it was 2017 when he scraped by Adrian Granados in a split decision. It was 2018 when he had to rally to get a draw with Jessie Vargas. It was 2019 when he did basically nothing against Manny Pacquiao and lost a clear decision.
It’s 2021. My point is none of this is new. Broner has just never been as good, at least at these weights, as a lot of people want to think he is. The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is the fights. He’s looked so-so at best a lot more than he’s looked good over 135.
What’s he do next? Basically whatever he wants. I can tell you for a fact there was still significant interest in Broner fighting again, and that was against a nobody opponent behind a paywall on Showtime.
Can he seriously contend at 147? I don’t think so. Not as the division is currently shaped. Can he seriously contend at 140? That depends on whether or not he can actually make 140, for starters, but I have serious questions there, too.
If he can make 140, someone like Subriel Matias might get a call. Or someone like Keith Hunter. Who’s Keith Hunter? Dude with unbeaten empty record. Who was Jovanie Santiago?
The 32-year-old Avanesyan (27-3-1, 15 KO) has been in the world title scene at 147 before, however fringe it might really have been. He won the WBA interim title against Charlie Navarro, who was never close to a legitimate contender, in 2015, and defended it against a shot Shane Mosley in 2016, the fight that finally, actually retired Mosley at age 44. He lost a WBA “world” (the secondary belt) title fight to Lamont Peterson in 2017; Avanesyan was very competitive, but he took the L.
A fight with Egidijus Kavaliauskas went the wrong way in 2018, with “Mean Machine” stopping Avanesyan in six. He looked like a young gatekeeper, so he was signed up to fight Josh Kelly in Dec. 2018. It got canceled. So Avanesyan did what we all would surely do in that situation, he went to Spain and spent 2019 beating the crap out of the locals and winning the European welterweight title.
He finally got Kelly on Saturday, and he crushed him. Avanesyan has basically done all there is to really do at European level. Yeah, he could hang around and fight someone like Conor Benn, but why? Avanesyan has done all he can to earn himself another crack at the world stage.
The belts are tied up with true money men in Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford, plus Yordenis Ugas, who probably will fight Spence next in a three-belt unification. If Crawford gets the Manny Pacquiao or Shawn Porter fight he wants next, that takes that one out, too. But there’s no guarantee “Bud” gets Manny or Porter, either. If he doesn’t, listen, Avanesyan’s as good a name as anyone who would likely actually be available for Crawford.
Now, nobody is asking for Crawford-Avanesyan. Crawford would be a massive favorite. I’m just saying Avanesyan has literally done all he can to get himself into that sort of fight. If there’s no belt, then there are other options at 147. Even a rematch with Kavaliauskas might be something Top Rank would be happy to have. Maybe he’s somebody credible for Mikey Garcia to fight, or for Danny Garcia to come back against, or Keith Thurman. Even a good, simple tear-up, guaranteed action fight with someone like Josesito Lopez might be attractive.
Golden Boy have Vergil Ortiz Jr, who, if he beats Maurice Hooker next month, still needs opponents. Lots of directions Avanesyan could go. And Matchroom have Daniyar Yeleussinov, whom Eddie Hearn wants to find good opponents for, he thinks Yeleussinov is ready for the bigger names. And I also don’t mean to say that Conor Benn can’t happen. If Matchroom make it worth Avanesyan’s while, I’m sure he’d go into that plenty confident. He’s peaking, fighting better than ever.
He’s in an oddly attractive position — I think top names will see him as plenty beatable, and I think he’ll see a lot of them as plenty beatable, too.
There were a lot of expressions of “gutted” and “heartbroke” after Kelly lost to Avanesyan, but former middleweight titleholder Darren Barker might have said the realest (if coldest) thing on social media, at least among people who aren’t just hateful.
“Bags and pads don’t hit back,” Barker wrote on Twitter. “Seems harsh but you can’t run before you walk. Experience is so important. I wish Kelly well and with help and the above he can come back.”
Kelly (10-1-1, 6 KO) came out of the 2016 Olympics with some hype, kept that hype as an early pro, but there have been doubters all the way. I think there’s a legitimate chance he just doesn’t have a pro style or a pro game at the higher levels. He struggled badly with Ray Robinson, and Robinson can be a pain in the ass, but he’s the type of guy really good fighters get past. Avanesyan is a good fighter, but he’s not great, and he just broke Kelly to pieces. Adam Booth threw the towel. He knew what his fighter could handle — that’s not really a shot at Kelly or Booth, to be clear. It was the right call.
Kelly might bounce back. He also might not. He’s got skills, he was so sharp the first couple rounds against Avanesyan, really showed what he can do. But I don’t know that he can ever sustain it over a full fight against good opposition. There have been a lot of good, even some great amateurs who just didn’t quite have it as pros. It’s now on Kelly to prove he’s not one of them.
Wallin (22-1, 14 KO) really has to be taken seriously as a heavyweight. He’s right in the mix to be a top 10 guy for anybody, he gave Tyson Fury a rough night in 2019, and he flat out takes care of business every time he’s in the ring with anyone else. Dominic Breazeale is far from a world-beater, but he’s a tough dude, he can punch, and Wallin looked good in victory over him. It’s about as much as the other guys at the back end of the top 10 can claim, really.
The 30-year-old Swedish southpaw also has a good attitude, and isn’t trying to rush back into the ring with Fury or Anthony Joshua or anyone. He gave a good accounting of himself against Fury, but he clearly wants to know for sure that he’s truly as ready as he can get when he goes for it again.
“My ultimate goal is to be champion. But I have to keep improving, I’m not there yet,” Wallin said after the win. “I’ve got a lot of work to do, I’m getting better. I’m not so focused on who I fight, I just want to fight, keep it stepping it up and when I get another shot, I’ll be ready for it.”
That said, I’d expect Wallin to sort of sideways step a bit. The four belts are tied up with Fury and AJ right now. The other big name in the division is Deontay Wilder, who is basically absent from the sport for all it matters, and PBC do have Andy Ruiz Jr, who is training and looking to mount his own comeback, probably not looking for a 6’5” southpaw who can box as a return foe.
Other than those guys, even Charles Martin is right in line with the IBF and unless ordered, probably wouldn’t want to risk that against Wallin. Robert Helenius and Adam Kownacki are likely going to rematch. So I’d honestly expect someone like Gerald Washington or somebody. I know that won’t get anyone excited. One possibly actual intriguing option would be the big Cuban, Luis Ortiz (32-2, 27 KO), who is 41, a fellow southpaw, still a dangerous guy, and still has some credibility.
Robert Easter Jr
Former lightweight titlist Easter (23-1-1, 14 KO) has been one of the more frustrating talents out there in recent years. He won a 135 belt back in 2016, edging Richard Commey in a controversial split decision (it wasn’t a robbery, it legitimately could have gone either way). And then his lightweight title run just didn’t impress. He went from exciting young fighter to — though he made three successful defenses before losing to Mikey Garcia in 2018 — feeling like he’d stagnated.
Then came the otherworldly bad fight with Rances Barthelemy in 2019, which went to a draw, the only fitting result as nobody deserved to win, and then he bounced back six months later and beat Adrian Granados. He was solid that night, and solid in victory last night over Ryan Martin, both those wins coming at 140.
Junior welterweight is an interesting division, more so for the near future for lots of guys. Right now, Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez control all four belts, and are expected to fully unify in May. Then what? The winner might move up to 147. He might stay a fight or two more. We’ll see, and even if he stays, it’s so hard to hold on to all four belts at once. There are mandatory obligations, time frames you have to figure in, etc.
If belts fall by the wayside by the end of 2021, or even by the summer, Easter is one of many who will look to capitalize. At his best, he’s a very good fighter and could be trouble for just about anyone at the weight. He’s not in a position where it’s easy to pick out a “next fight,” so let’s just hope he stays active.
We all know whomst Errol Spence Jr, Bud Crawford, and Manny Pacquiao are truly avoiding.