Another weekend, more winners, more wondering what’s next. And another weekend where there’s no clear answer in really any case, but a lot of possibilities, some of which could even be interesting!
Navarrete’s win over Christopher Diaz saw him retain the WBO featherweight title, but also considering the possibility that he might have to move up to 130 to get a big fight, which is what he says he wants.
He does sound like he’d rather stay at 126, unifying with WBC titlist Gary Russell Jr or WBA titlist Leo Santa Cruz. Neither is likely; both are PBC fighters. Santa Cruz is a deep Haymon loyalist, and despite what Russell has ever said about being a promotional free agent, he just keeps fighting only on PBC cards.
Currently, Russell has an order to defend against Rey Vargas, and the two have reportedly agreed to terms, though a date hasn’t been announced. Santa Cruz hasn’t fought since his loss to Gervonta Davis last October, and also hasn’t actually fought at featherweight in over two years, though the WBA have refused to strip him of their “super world” title at 126, even though he has since then won and lost the “super world” title at 130. They are leaving a light on for Leo in case he decides to move back down, and the WBA can then continue to take a nice chunk of his good purse money. (Xu Can holds the WBA’s secondary “world” (“regular”) title.)
If, by chance, Xu Can were to get bumped up via Santa Cruz finally vacating or being stripped, a fight between he and Navarrete could be tremendous fun.
If no unification, there’s not much out there. Two of Navarrete’s top five contenders by current WBO rankings — Kid Galahad (No. 5) and Jazza Dickens (No. 1) — will fight at some point for the vacant IBF title. Joet Gonzalez is at No. 2, with Jessie Magdaleno at No. 3. Magdaleno had an order to fight Navarrete last year, then didn’t go through with it. Musashi Mori is the No. 4 contender.
The rest of the top 10 is the just-beaten Diaz, Mark Magsayo, Ruben Villa (Navarrete has beaten him, too), Isaac Lowe, and Bryan Chevalier. Nobody here fits the “big fight” that Navarrete says he wants.
Moving up to 130 could get him a title shot. The WBO belt is held by Jamel Herring, who must either agree to face the June 12 Shakur Stevenson vs Jeremiah Nakathila winner, or vacate the title, at which point Stevenson-Nakathila becomes a vacant title fight (it’s already an interim title fight).
Stevenson says he’d like to fight Navarrete if the Mexican comes up. If Navarrete moves up without a WBO title fight, or without fighting someone like WBC titleholder Oscar Valdez, names like Archie Sharp and Abraham Nova are ranked in the top five at 130 by the WBO, with Albert Bell at No. 10. Nova and Bell are Top Rank guys, Sharp is a Queensberry fighter, they could be easy fights to make.
There’s no clear path, but a couple of paths that could clear out, if that makes sense.
Everyone got a nice little reality check with the super middleweight powerhouse Berlanga on Saturday night when he went an eight-round distance and beat Demond Nicholson. I said it already, will say it again: It was a reminder that he is at least a very good prospect, maybe a really great one. But he is a prospect.
Berlanga (17-0, 16 KO) has a lot to work on. His footwork could be better, his stamina wasn’t a huge problem but he’d obviously like it to be better, which he admitted post-fight. Berlanga has a healthy ego, but when you catch him in the moment after fights, he’s not barking or making big call-outs. He pretty much always talks about what he can do better, how he can improve, and how he wants to put in the work to improve.
There had been some chatter that Top Rank might look to match Berlanga with former title challenger Jesse Hart (26-3, 21 KO) if he got past Nicholson, which may sound a bit riskier now than if Berlanga had beaten Nicholson in a round instead of over eight. Berlanga did pretty much dominate, but Nicholson had been stopped a couple times before; Berlanga officially scored four knockdowns, but at best two of them were legit.
Hart, 31, has never been stopped. He’s got two 12-round decision losses to Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez at 168 and one 10-round decision loss to Joe Smith Jr at 175. He’s a tough dude, and he knows how to survive when in trouble.
There being risk is what makes Berlanga-Hart a fun idea. If it’s me as a fight fan, being reasonable and not expecting Berlanga to fight Canelo Alvarez or David Benavidez next, I have no problem with that fight. It makes sense and should be easy to get done if they both want it.
If I’m managing Berlanga and wanting to maximize how good he can be, I might hold off on someone like Hart. Maybe a sideways step from Nicholson is a better idea. Steven Nelson sounds like he’d take the fight if offered, and maybe he’s sideways from Nicholson, but also maybe not.
Perhaps somebody like Roamer Alexis Angulo (26-2, 22 KO), Ryan Ford (17-6, 12 KO), or Cem Kilic (15-1, 10 KO) would fit the bill. Maybe Max Bursak (37-6-2, 16 KO) is an idea. Just don’t make it Mike Gavronski. That’s basically all I’m asking here.
If they sideways step it, Top Rank and/or Berlanga may face some criticism. My answer to this is a question: So what? Everyone in boxing faces criticism at some point. If Top Rank are looking to make sure Berlanga has the chance to be as good as he can be — and he has real star potential — it’s better safe than reckless. And for Berlanga to max that potential, same thing.
Teraji did about as expected, beating Tetsuya Hisada via wide decision. Hisada is a good fighter, still probably a top 10 guy at 108, but he’s a known commodity, a veteran who’s been around a long time now, and nobody thought he was beating Kenshiro for the WBC belt.
Teraji (18-0, 10 KO) is 29 now, not really an “Amazing Boy” anymore. He’s been a pro since 2014 and has been in world title fights since 2017; nine of them now, in fact. He has shown no huge desire to fight outside of Japan yet, but that can change.
The other titlists at 108 are Hiroto Kyoguchi, Elwin Soto, and Felix Alvarado. Kyoguchi and Soto are with Matchroom. Alvarado is with Golden Boy. Japanese champion Masamichi Yabuki (12-3, 11 KO) is the WBC’s No. 2 contender (Hisada was No. 1), and veteran Hekkie Budler — who hasn’t fought in almost two-and-a-half years — is No. 3.
Felix Cash made a big statement on the UK domestic level, smashing Denzel Bentley inside of three rounds to unify the British and Commonwealth titles.
Cash (14-0, 10 KO) has already stated his preference. He’d like to go after the European middleweight title now, which is currently held by Matteo Signani (30-5-3, 11 KO), a 41-year-old Italian veteran who won the vacant title in Oct. 2019 against Gevorg Khatchikian and defended in Oct. 2020 against Maxime Beaussire.
The actual quality of the European title is like any belt, it’s dictated by how good the current champion and contenders really are. Right now, Cash looks like he’d be a clear favorite against Signani, a decent veteran fighter of what you’d stereotypically call “European level”; Cash, 28, looks like he’s really more than that. He was a good amateur and has developed into a very good pro, and the way he’s beaten higher-end British domestic opposition, he’s someone you can start thinking about as a possible world title contender already.
But the European title is a symbol, an achievement. It’s been a step on the journey for many top European fighters who went on to win world titles. Signani currently has a mandatory challenger in fellow 41-year-old Ruben Diaz (26-2-2, 17 KO).
If I’m Cash’s team, honestly, I forget the European title. I do get why he would want to go after it, but it really seems like a waste of some valuable career time, especially if you have to wait around for the Signani-Diaz winner, or for the Signani-Diaz winner to vacate instead of fighting you. There’s also no real reason for Cash to defend the British and Commonwealth titles; I’m sure he’d love to win the Lonsdale belt outright, but again, we’re talking about limited career time, and he’s not 22, either.
But middleweight isn’t exactly bursting with great opponents to step up against, either, without trying to take a crack at one of the world titlists or Sergiy Derevyanchenko, all of whom may be a bit big of an ask just yet.
Someone like Kanat Islam (28-0, 22 KO) could be an interesting opponent, or Maciej Sulecki (29-2, 11 KO), Vincent Feigenbutz (32-3, 28 KO), or Michael Zerafa (28-4, 17 KO). Andrey Sirotkin (19-1-1, 7 KO) just gave Danny Dignum a tough fight, resulting in a draw. Luke Keeler (17-3-1, 5 KO) or Kamil Szeremeta (21-1, 5 KO) could be billed as “former world title challenger,” which promoters love to do until they’ve smashed every ounce of juice left from that.
Whatever he does, Cash is someone to keep an eye on. He’d probably like to be in position to challenge for a world title by the time he’s 30, but he’ll need the right stops. He has pretty much dominated at domestic level. “European level” might not be any actual step up. And he’s not getting in with Golovkin or Charlo or Andrade or Murata next or this year.