After an unusually (for this time of the year) bad lull in the boxing schedule, we’ve got a mass of big names back in action this Saturday.
Deontay Wilder returns after a year out of the ring to spice up the heavyweight division with his right hand bombs. Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall finally meet to settle a long grudge, and not to be ignored, Mikaela Mayer faces Alycia Baumgardner in a three-belt unification on their undercard. Devin Haney is back in Australia for a mandatory rematch with George Kambosos Jr.
So what’s the best fight on tap?
Best Fight: Shields vs Marshall
If you’ve been living under a rock, you might not know that Savannah Marshall is the only woman to ever beat Claressa Shields in a sanctioned boxing contest, which came when they were amateurs at the 2012 World Championships, where Marshall wound up winning gold, having beaten Shields in the second round.
At that time, Marshall was 21, Shields just 17 years old. They never did meet again; Shields started winning major tournaments, including gold at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and Marshall kept being eliminated from tournaments before a rematch could happen.
Marshall is now 31, Shields 27. Shields has won titles as a pro at 168, 160, and 154, including already going undisputed at 160 and 154, working her way down in weight, before now coming back up to 160 to go for a second undisputed championship at middleweight. Marshall comes in with the WBO title, which she won against Hannah Rankin in 2020, while Shields has the WBC, WBA, and IBF belts.
They are the clear two best fighters in the world north of 147 lbs in women’s boxing, and you could argue they’re the two best in the world north of 135, although I’m sure current undisputed 168 lb queen Franchon Crews-Dezurn would argue.
More than just the significance of the matchup, though, these two have spent years going back-and-forth in the media and directly on social media. For Shields (12-0, 2 KO), the loss so long ago to Marshall clearly sticks in her craw, and is something where she wants badly to settle the score. For Marshall (12-0, 10 KO), it has been a claim to fame and something with which she can easily and consistently needle Shields, and she has loved doing just that.
I think there is a clear respect between the two, however much trash they may talk, and I get the sense both know that this is a truly worthy fight, the most their skills will be tested. The bad news on that is that after this is over, there isn’t much else out there other than a rematch or a fight at 168 with Crews-Dezurn, whom Shields has already beaten. The good news is that if it’s as good as it could be, a rematch should make sense.
Expect a lively atmosphere in London.
Biggest Happening: Deontay Wilder’s return
Deontay Wilder simply has a pure star quality that not many fighters of the modern age have had. Wilder is charismatic, can bounce between very likable and villainous, and, well, is a heavyweight with monstrous punching power in both hands, but especially his cannon right.
Wilder (42-2-1, 41 KO) will fight someone other than Tyson Fury for the first time in 2019, as Robert Helenius (31-3, 20 KO) has been drafted in as the comeback foe for the “Bronze Bomber.” The 38-year-old “Nordic Nightmare” isn’t a scrub, but a borderline top 10 guy at best, coming off of back-to-back smashings that fully derailed the career of Adam Kownacki.
While Helenius is plenty tall at a listed 6’6½”, he doesn’t carry the weight of Fury; Helenius will come in somewhere around 240-245, while Fury used every bit of his 273 and 277 lbs in his latter two fights with Wilder to make a difference in a few key ways.
It will be interesting, on that weight note, to see where Wilder is at. He was in the 230s for his last two bouts with Fury, but those were abnormally high weights for him, and he honestly seems more comfortable somewhere around 215-225 or so.
If Wilder is successful in this return, PBC have a ready-made WBC eliminator to make between Deontay and Andy Ruiz Jr, two former titleholders, which could, in theory, lead to Fury vs Wilder 4 in the back end of 2023. That may seem unlikely, as what business is left unfinished there, but remember that we’re apparently getting Fury vs Chisora 3 in the back end of 2022.
Best Matchup: Mayer vs Baumgardner
As good as Shields vs Marshall is, I think Mikaela Mayer vs Alycia Baumgardner should be the better fight in the ring, and it’s not lacking for spice in the lead-up, either.
This fight is not for undisputed officially, but considering Hyun Mi Choi seems to want little to do with the top end of the division, it kind of might as well be. Mayer (17-0, 5 KO) has the IBF and WBO titles at 130 lbs, while Baumgardner (12-1, 7 KO) has the WBC belt.
Baumgardner, 28, burst onto the world stage when she demolished Terri Harper about 11 months ago, and there was a lot of talk, very quickly, of her fighting the 32-year-old Mayer, who has stood out as the cream of the crop in this division for a bit now.
Both of these women are extremely confident that they’re going to prove the other isn’t in their league. They’ve both had pointed criticism of the other’s style and perceived limitations. Mayer believes she will school Baumgardner and, in a sense, embarrass her, that Baumgardner is stepping up to a level where she’ll be made to look foolish. Baumgardner believes she has the combination of skills, athleticism, and power to take Mayer down a peg or two.
Mayer is skilled and probably at her best as a boxer first, but when she has to, she’s proven she can get in there and truly fight it out, too, as Maiva Hamadouche made her do last year. I think this is a fascinating matchup where one of them really might be proven right and “expose” the other.
Also Happening: Haney vs Kambosos 2
This is also happening. It has to, because to secure the first fight earlier this year with George Kambosos Jr, Devin Haney had to sign off on a rematch clause. He did, and he and his father Bill were both adamant that doing it twice was no big concern for them, something they even welcomed because they’d made a good money deal.
Once Haney (28-0, 15 KO) had gotten done outclassing Kambosos (20-1, 10 KO) in June, the Haney side badly wanted to find any way out of the rematch, but there never was one other than vacating all the belts and going up to 140, and Kambosos definitely wasn’t going to pass on the biggest fight he can possibly get just because it may not be particularly marketable to American fans.
That said, and not to defend this fight as attractive right now so much as just point something out: What ESPN main events are better than this one lately? How many main events in general are pitting two guys who are top five at their weight? In two weeks, the ESPN main event is Vasiliy Lomachenko vs Jamaine Ortiz. Upcoming Top Rank main events include Teofimo Lopez vs Jose Pedraza and Janibek Alimkhanuly vs Denzel Bentley.
Yeah, it’s “unnecessary,” but a harsh reality is that Devin Haney probably wouldn’t be in a better fight right now if this weren’t happening. Maybe it’d be Lomachenko, maybe not! He might have wanted a fight like Jamaine Ortiz first anyway, and it wasn’t going to be Tank Davis or Ryan Garcia.
Basically, let’s get this done, and if Devin wins handily again, then maybe early next year we have Haney vs Lomachenko.
Sleeper: Paro vs Jarvis
If you’re American, you will quite possibly literally sleep on this fight, as the card starts at 4 am ET Saturday from Australia. DAZN have it live, so if you’re up, hey, it’ll be there.
This is Matchroom’s debut in Australia, something Eddie Hearn has been talking up for months, though it’s coming at a point where Hearn and Matchroom have really taken some licks lately, and you just hope Big Ed can conjure the enthusiasm he really wanted to have for this show.
Paro (22-0, 13 KO) is highly ranked by at least one sanctioning body (I’m not looking up all of them) at 140 lbs, a 26-year-old southpaw you may have seen late last year on the Jake Paul vs Tyron Woodley 2 undercard in Tampa, where he edged a split decision over Yomar Alamo after being dropped in the opening round.
Jarvis (20-0, 18 KO) is an intriguing case going into this fight. The 24-year-old turned pro as a bantamweight in 2018, and in his last four bouts has fought at 122, 126, 130, and 135, now popping up to 140. He has the frame for the weight, but you just don’t see that happen.
As far as the matchup, this could be fun. Each man has shown perhaps equal amounts potential and vulnerability already in their young careers, and this is a really big fight for both.