We finally had ourselves a truly busy weekend in boxing again, with a monstrous Saturday that included Deontay Wilder’s comeback, Devin Haney staying undisputed, Claressa Shields once again going undisputed, an unexpected win for Alycia Baumgardner, and an unexpected method of victory for Caleb Plant.
Plus, like MORE! There was MORE of real note, too!
And now this coming weekend is about dead empty, but for the moment, let’s revel in Meaningful Happenings in the Sport of Boxing.
Deontay Wilder vs Robert Helenius
Thoughts: Wilder is back, doing Wilder things, like punching people in the head and knocking them out in a round. I’m sorry, it is very hard to have any further thoughts on something that isn’t a surprise, and is at its core a fight where an entire eight punches were counted as landing between two fighters.
Next for Wilder: The WBC are expected to order the super duper extra special final eliminator between Wilder (43-2-1, 42 KO) and Andy Ruiz Jr, both with PBC, easy fight to make, between $74.99 and $84.99 on PPV next year. Trainer Malik Scott has expressed some disinterest in that. A fight with Anthony Joshua would still do big business, and it’s the one fight for both that hasn’t gotten done. WBA/IBF/WBO titleholder Oleksandr Usyk has expressed interest in fighting Wilder, and I think he sees it as a genuine challenge to avoid and/or survive Wilder’s power, which it would be. I love Usyk and he is unquestionably the more skilled fighter, but my God does Wilder hit hard. An intriguing potential matchup, though, and one that would get a lot of talk flowing.
For Helenius: Same as before the Kownacki fights. What happened here is not a surprise. He was chosen for a reason to be Wilder’s comeback opponent, and it played out the way it did. Kownacki was tailor-made for him. But Helenius will get more paydays out of beating Kownacki twice and fighting Wilder. His profile has been raised. He’s not going to become his country’s first-ever heavyweight champ, and that was clear years ago, but this was a last shot to try and make it a potential reality. Didn’t happen. He’s a veteran heavyweight who will continue being a veteran heavyweight until he wants to stop.
Claressa Shields vs Savannah Marshall
The basics: Shields got a long-awaited bit of revenge for her one defeat ever, beating Marshall to become a two-time undisputed middleweight champion, and a three-time undisputed champion counting all divisions.
Thoughts: This was a terrific fight. A lot of people expected Mayer vs Baumgardner to be the better fight in the ring, including me, but it was Shields vs Marshall. Both Claressa and Savannah cut a torrid pace, showed why they were by miles the two best in the world at 160 lbs — and north of 140, if you ask me — and gave one another a hell of a tough night. Shields (13-0, 2 KO) won and clearly deserved it, there’s no argument the other way, but she admitted quickly and honestly that Marshall (12-1, 10 KO) gave her by far her toughest test as a pro. Shields is No. 1, No. 1A/B, or No. 2 pound-for-pound, depending on how badly you’ve been deeply upset by Katie Taylor having tough fights when presented with quality opposition over the years, as we saw Shields get here. And yes, they are the two in the honest conversation for “GWOAT,” with respect to the pioneers who came before them.
Next for Shields: MMA, maybe. She still has a deal with PFL, who worked with Shields to make this date available after the September date was postponed at the last minute because an extremely old person passed away of natural causes. The harsh truth is, and I’ve said this all year with this fight on deck, there is nothing left for Claressa Shields in boxing other than a second Savannah Marshall fight. There are things she can do, but there’s nothing more she can achieve other than maybe fighting her friend Franchon Crews-Dezurn for undisputed at 168. Shields can’t responsibly or safely make any weight lower than 154, probably, and her size and skills make the idea of anyone coming up from below 147 to fight her kind of absurd. She’s not Patricia Berghult or Hannah Rankin, nobody’s jumping up from 130 to beat Shields at 154. It’s an unfair circumstance that she’s simply run through everyone already, basically. But the Marshall rematch would sell in the UK. Maybe not quite so well as this one, but way beyond anything else.
For Marshall: The Shields rematch is there if they both want to do it and the money is right and all that. Otherwise, Marshall herself could go up to 168 to fight Crews-Dezurn, who’s already put out there that she’d be interested. She’s a damn good fighter; awkward, uses her height and dimensions to do something of a Tyson Fury impression with her style, and she can punch. Shields made no bones about the fact that Marshall does hit hard. I’d be totally happy to see Crews-Dezurn vs Marshall, personally.
Mikaela Mayer vs Alycia Baumgardner
The basics: Baumgardner upset Mayer to win unify the WBC, IBF, and WBO junior lightweight titles. It was a debated split decision and a good fight, both begging for a rematch we may not get right away.
Thoughts: Hey, I picked Mayer to win, as most people did. Some people — including, most importantly, herself — really believed in Baumgardner’s skills at this level, and they had it right. She started fast, Mayer (17-1, 5 KO) made adjustments and appeared to be taking the fight over with her “basic” skills, and then Baumgardner (13-1, 7 KO) made her own and got the win. I had it even, and I thought there were plenty of rounds that were really, really close. But I have no beef with Alycia getting the W, and it’s an incredible achievement for her. She as a virtual unknown when she upset Terri Harper all of 11 months ago, and I think she’s clearly an even better, more well-rounded fighter now.
Next for Baumgardner: The rematch is there, potentially, but just like Mayer was saying before the fight, Baumgardner also has said her goal is undisputed at 130. That means WBA titleholder Hyun Mi Choi. Baumgardner vs Choi isn’t, in theory hard to make; both have Matchroom connection. Where you put it is another story. Baumgardner vs Choi probably wouldn’t make a lot of money at the gate in the U.S., and I doubt Alycia’s going to Seoul for it. The United Kingdom, where Baumgardner has fought her last three fights and women’s boxing is more greatly appreciated than it is here, seems the right place. The biggest issue may be that Choi just doesn’t seem tremendously interested in her boxing career for a reigning world champion, and hasn’t shown any incredible desire so far to get in with the division’s best.
For Mayer: We’ll see. Mayer was not happy about the decision, but she also hasn’t gone on some crazy internet tirade about it yet. We’ll see how Mikaela processes this, but if she’s able to bounce back, her future is still strong. Baumgardner’s good. When two good fighters fight each other, one of them’s gonna lose. There are lots of good fights between 130 and 135, even someone coming up from 126 or down from 140. Mayer has also said in the past she thinks her real best weight would be 140, and if we’ve seen people jump from 130 to 154 to win belts in women’s boxing — and we have with both Tasha Jonas and Terri Harper — no reason Mayer can’t leap right to 140 if a fight is there. Being honest, this is going to be humbling for Mayer, more than the average first loss might be. Mayer was certain she was going to embarrass Baumgardner and totally out-class her; in retrospect, way too certain, and that over-confidence may have played a factor in the outcome.
Devin Haney vs George Kambosos Jr 2
The basics: Haney handled business and handled Kambosos for a second time in four months to retain his undisputed lightweight championship in Melbourne, Australia.
Thoughts: Watching the fight on delay after it was over, I thought Kambosos had probably his best round of the 24 in the first round here, and then the next 11 were Haney showing even more true dominance than the first 12 in June. Kambosos tried some new things, but none of it really worked, because Haney is simply better than him and a nightmare matchup. Personally, I think Haney is a nightmare matchup for anyone at 135 — Lomachenko, Tank Davis, Shakur, anyone. He is going to be extremely hard to beat. No, he’s not flashy and he’s not a charismatic sort on his way to obvious box office mega-stardom, but he just doesn’t make many mistakes, and even when he does, they haven’t been true fight-changers.
Next for Haney: I’m expecting Vasiliy Lomachenko, if and when Lomachenko beats Jamaine Ortiz on Oct. 29. Top Rank have lined that up so that the two could fight in the spring of 2023. Lomachenko was going to say no to a pending order to fight Haney in late 2019, so instead the WBC made up a bullshit title so that they didn’t have to be mean to a favored son, which created two-and-a-half years of “Franchise” nonsense Haney (29-0, 15 KO) finally put to bed in June. But it’s a different time, and there are different, more limited options for Lomachenko now. Shakur Stevenson could also be in the mix, another Top Rank fighter and set to move up to 135. That would be one for the true “sweet science,” “skills pay the bills” perverts to get crazy horny over. Tank Davis does exist and would be the biggest attraction/event, but he will not be fighting Devin Haney so long as Devin Haney is not with PBC.
For Kambosos: He’ll take a break after three extremely high-level fights within 11 months, and he deserves it. Whatever else I might think of Kambosos, the guy has an incredible ability to elicit really extreme gut reactions from me. Sometimes I think he comes off like one of the most annoying dudes in boxing — non-real life criminal division — and sometimes he’s so earnest I can’t help but like him. Kambosos (20-2, 10 KO) is a fighter. He’ll be back to fight.
Caleb Plant vs Anthony Dirrell
The basics: Plant landed the best punch of his career and scored a vicious Knockout of the Year contender in the ninth round against Dirrell, a fellow former titleholder at 168 lbs. The fight was a WBC eliminator, and Plant remains right in the top level of the super middleweight division.
Thoughts: I’ve been a mix of cautious and optimistic about Plant (22-1, 13 KO), because he always passes the eye test for me — not saying my eyes are perfect — but also the resume lacks a genuine high-level win. I think it still does; Dirrell (34-3-2, 25 KO) is 38 years old and hasn’t really looked all that good in a few years, and I didn’t think he was top 10 in the division coming in. But Caleb not only won as I expected, but he did so in a style I don’t think anyone expected. He’s not known as a puncher, but Dirrell got caught with a blistering left hook to the chin after one to the body, and it was over as soon as the punch landed. I think Plant is the clear No. 3 super middleweight in boxing right now. For what it’s worth, I wasn’t too bothered by Plant taunting the downed Dirrell. It’s ill-mannered, even tasteless maybe, but Dirrell invited exactly that with weeks, even months of pretty nasty trash talk. And “at the end of the day,” as it is always said, these are people who punch each other for a living. We all love a “classy” display, but I can’t be shocked when we get something else after a heated build and some dirty tactics in the ring on top of it.
Next for Plant: His hope is to fight his way back to a Canelo Alvarez rematch in time, which may not seem appealing right now, but what if he fights and beats interim WBC champ David Benavidez? They’re both with PBC, they both want big fights, Benavidez has been frustrated by the lack of big fights he’s received. And unless Canelo Alvarez throws a curveball or Dmitry Bivol loses to Zurdo Ramirez on Nov. 5, neither of them are getting Canelo next. Benavidez vs Plant is the biggest fight either will have available. It’s very easy to make, but it’s also not a huge fight, and we’d mainly be left hoping the money is there to make it, which it may not be without PPV.
For Dirrell: Honestly, I think Anthony Dirrell’s had a good career and that it’s probably time to hang it up. He’s not going to beat top guys anymore, and more than that he’s not going to seriously compete with them. His strategy here was a combination of not over-exerting his aging legs and also trying to rough Plant up and get into his head. Neither really worked out, and again, Plant didn’t suddenly become a monster puncher at 30. I think Dirrell’s just that much past it. Is he still top 20 in the world? Yeah. But is that enough for him to keep going out there and risking it in increasingly irrelevant fights? Maybe. That’s up to him. He wouldn’t be the first.
From the undercards
- Emmanuel Rodriguez: Rodriguez (21-2, 13 KO) remains a top contender at 118 lbs, a division that likely will open up significantly in 2023 if Naoya Inoue does as expect on Dec. 13 against Paul Butler. If/when Inoue goes undisputed, it’s expect that he’d then vacate and move up to 122, because there are zero interesting fights for him left at 118 unless one of the top guys from 115 moves up, and I don’t see any of them itching to fight Inoue; some are too young, some are too old. Rodriguez’s two losses are getting smashed by Inoue and then getting robbed against Reymart Gaballo, and he was simply too good for Gary Antonio Russell in this one, there was a clear level difference.
- Frank Sanchez: The Cuban heavyweight gets the FOX hype, but while Brian Kenny insists that surely no one out there among the great and knowledgeable hardcore fans would argue that he isn’t “excellent,” there were plenty of arguments I saw on Saturday that “excellent” is a step or two too far in describing him. Sanchez (21-0, 14 KO) didn’t wow anyone against Carlos Negron, who is well off contender level, and Sanchez feels like he’s treading water. He also came in too heavy and it showed. What legitimate contenders are you really confident Sanchez would beat?
- Michel Rivera: 24-year-old lightweight Rivera went to 23-0 (14 KO) with an eight-round decision win over Jerry Perez, who was game but over-matched. If Tank Davis vs Ryan Garcia does not happen, Rivera remains a top candidate to fight Tank, because he’s a PBC guy and PBC don’t have that many guys at 135, and Tank has shown negative interest in a rematch with Isaac Cruz.
- Vito Mielnicki Jr: Mielnicki went to 13-1 (7 KO) with a points win over Limberth Ponce, whose main job in boxing is going out and giving whatever test he can to prospects. Mielnicki, 20, has gotten the FOX push, but a lot of that comes from the fact that FOX are not putting any real money into non-PPV boxing for the PBC arm of their FOX Sports brand. Mielnicki is not expensive and his opponents certainly aren’t. He’s not a bad fighter, and still young, but this is not a blue chipper, and the ceiling appears low for someone who has received so much featured TV time.
- Gurgen Hovhannisyan: Big Gug is another Joe Goossen heavyweight, a 6’7” Armenian giant with some hand speed and some skills, has the build and baby-faced looks of a taller, heavier Adam Kownacki. I don’t think there was much to take from his win over Michael Coffie to tell you if he’ll be a top tier heavyweight, but he should be an easy fan favorite other than the joyless types fancying themselves genius talent scouts who will hang up on his physique, perhaps assume he’ll never be a top guy, and thus never pay him any mind again.
- Lauren Price, Caroline Dubois, and Karriss Artingstall: All of them are very talented. All of them were in awful mismatches on the London card. This is not unusual for boxing on the whole, where almost every fight is a purposely designed true mismatch, and even many of the ones that don’t turn out that way were meant to be, but you have to wonder how long is too long doing this sort of thing on the women’s side, with shallow talent pools. Do we need even 10 fights of these three doing this sort of thing? Is it going to make them any better, really? But all three women are potential future champions.
- Jason Moloney: You never truly know what you’ll get when you bring a fighter out of Thailand for the first time after 58 pro fights (well, some actual pro fights, and 58 of them officially recorded) at the age of 31, but Nawaphon Kaikanha was in there for 12 tough rounds with Moloney (25-2, 19 KO), who has now won four straight following his 2020 loss to Naoya Inoue. As with Rodriguez, Moloney will be right in the mix for vacant world titles if/when Inoue goes undisputed and moves up.
- Andrew Moloney: It’s also now four straight for Andrew (25-2, 16 KO) following 2020 and 2021 losses to Joshua Franco, and he remains viable at 115 lbs, a division below Jason. Being truthful, neither Moloney’s schedule on these runs has been terribly ambitious, but boxing is marketing and politicking first, sport second. Both the twins remain quality fighters, if maybe a crucial half-step below true top level.