It was another week in boxing, and damn, kind of an odd one out there!
Let’s get into what we saw.
Janibek Alimkhanuly vs Denzel Bentley
The basics: Janibek retained his WBO middleweight title, but didn’t score the crushing knockout many expected. The over/under line for this fight was 4.5 rounds, and we went all 12, with the Kazakh winning by decision.
Thoughts: Yeah, I think some of the “bogeyman” selling of Janibek has to die down from here. Someone in the comments on the recap post compared Janibek coming out of this to when HBO tried in vain years back to make Dmitry Bivol into a 175 lb Gennadiy Golovkin, and I think there’s something there. Bivol is a great fighter, but that’s not his style. Janibek is at worst very good, but while the obvious and easy comparison is to GGG — both middleweights, both Kazakh — he ain’t GGG. Look, there aren’t many GGGs that come along, he’s one of the best middleweight fighters ever, certainly one of the best in the last 30 years. Where he might be really similar to GGG is that he’s just going to have to keep plugging away, probably. Even with a world title, he doesn’t have big star power, he’s not a proven draw by any means — that could come, but it’ll take time, as it did with Golovkin, and I doubt he ever becomes Golovkin-level as an attraction, but he’ll have to be bigger than he is right now to get bigger fights, unless he’s willing to take short money sometime.
Next for Janibek: I hate to refer to sanctioning body rankings, but given the situation, that’s probably where we need to look. Jaime Munguia is the WBO’s No. 1 contender, which is ridiculous because Munguia has turned down title orders, but he sits there anyway. Chris Eubank Jr is No. 2; depending on what Eubank wants to do, that could happen, but I wouldn’t expect it. Meiirim Nursultanov, Janibek’s countryman, and Felix Cash are at Nos. 3 and 4. Esquiva Falcao, who will fight GGG next, rounds out the top five. Other, non-Bentley candidates in the top 15: Ryota Murata, Michael Zerafa, Juan Manuel Taborda, Hamzah Sheeraz, Vincent Feigenbutz, Andrei Mikhailovich, Dennis Radovan, Hiroya Nojima, and Vincenzo Gualtieri. If I were laying down any money, I might say Cash, Zerafa, or Feigenbutz.
For Bentley: Bentley goes back to the UK with zero shame, can be very proud of his performance in this fight. I think some of his work “exposed” Janibek a little, and made for a necessity on Janibek’s end to get back in the gym soon and maybe start working on switching up his approach some. He became very predictable in the fight, and Bentley made it competitive because of that, took advantage and made it a scrappy, tough fight. He also hung in well when Janibek did land hard shots, and threw plenty back himself.
From the undercard
- Seniesa Estrada: Estrada (23-0, 9 KO) retained her WBA 105 lb title in her Top Rank debut, beating a brave but way over-matched Jazmin Villarino over 10 rounds. I remain unconvinced that Top Rank will have more for Estrada to do than Golden Boy did, but if they are willing to pay her more money for basically the same career, of course she should do that. Seniesa has star appeal and quality in every way, basically, but she’ll have to find compelling opponents to move any further as an attraction, and that’s not the easiest thing. She may have to go to 108 or even 112 to do that; she’s won a belt at 108 already, she can fight there, she should be fine at 112. Even if she’s on the smaller side at 112, her talent should see her through fine against just about anyone. She’s a terrific boxer, she’s good on TV, she’s a really smart fighter. Hopefully, she can find the right fights.
- Emiliano Vargas: The 18-year-old son of Fernando Vargas is the most promising fighter of Fernando’s three fighting sons. Top Rank taking this early a look says a lot to that belief, and then he went out there and delivered a highlight reel KO in his second pro bout. He showed some obvious nerves in his pre-fight interview, but this was the bright lights — I mean, even if it’s an ESPN+ prelims spot, it’s still a step up from his pro debut in May on a Triller card. The kid looks like he could be a real deal prospect.
Montana Love vs Stevie Spark
The basics: This was developing into a really interesting style clash and fight, then Montana Love decided he wanted to be Diesel in the ‘94 Royal Rumble, getting himself disqualified by dumping Spark over the top rope to the floor. Spark landed on his feet and was fine, but the referee’s mind was made up.
Thoughts: I’m not really shocked that Love (18-1-1, 9 KO) lost to Spark (16-1, 14 KO), but the method by which he lost was obviously not what I had in mind. I thought he might just be overconfident, get caught, get hurt — Spark can punch, and he did put Love down in the second. Spark is also a fearless sort of fighter who came in here on the road with nothing to lose. A lot of the idea of this fight was building up to be a story of Spark getting an upset. Love fought well at times, Spark fought well at times — then the ending.
Thoughts Pt. 2, About Something Else: Promoter Eddie Hearn found himself yet again thrust into a situation where, by virtue of defending his fighter (Love), he was making himself look like kind of a goof, and the complete opposite of the idea that because he’s younger, he’s not like those old-timey stodgy boxing promoters, he’s changing the game! Nah, Eddie’s exactly like them. Other than being taller and more handsome than most and younger. He’s had a lot of those situations lately, and could probably use an actual vacation. Poor feller. Poor, rich feller.
Next for Spark: A rematch would probably be the biggest fight he’ll have on offer. I wouldn’t take it in Cleveland again if I were him, maybe, but then again that might be where it’s worth the most money. I doubt Love goes to Toowoomba for it. Otherwise, there are lots of fighters at 140 who would probably love to take him on at this moment, with Spark having as much fame as he’s ever had.
For Love: A rematch would give him the chance to sort of make amends, but will he really want it? A lot of people think Love just wanted out of this fight, that he didn’t like the pressure, didn’t like the physicality of it, wasn’t responding well. I’m not fully writing him off — he’s a talented guy and sometimes fighters lose their temper — but it’s something he’ll have to “come back from,” even more than just taking a loss.
From the undercard
- Richardson Hitchins: Hitchins (15-0, 7 KO) picked up a solid win over Yomar Alamo in his Matchroom debut, having bounced over from PBC, where his career had stagnated a bit. At 25, Hitchins has huge belief in his abilities, and just wasn’t moving the way he wanted. Maybe at Matchroom it’ll be different. Maybe not, too, but they got him a decent fight here and hopefully he moves forward. 140 is a good division.
- Raymond Ford: Ford (13-0-1, 7 KO) had maybe his best showing yet, stopping Sakaria Lukas in the eighth round. Lukas pushed Tugstsogt Nyambayar to a 10-round draw earlier this year, and Ford pretty much had his way. Sometimes guys really put it together in some training camp or another, things just click. Ford’s 23, right around the age that could happen for him. Some nights he’s looked really good, some nights not as much. This was a “really good” night.
- Thomas Mattice: I thought two fights of the main four on this card had upset potential. One was Spark over Love, which happened but not in a way I possibly imagined, really, and the other was Mattice against Christian Tapia. Mattice won by unanimous decision, which just isn’t a surprise to me at all. Tapia (15-1, 12 KO) was a borderline prospect at best, 28 years old and never really leaping off the screen at me before, and Mattice (20-3-1, 15 KO) was at home in Cleveland and is a legitimate, true gatekeeper. He’s a hot-and-cold fighter, but he had a pretty hot night here. He’s not any higher up the ladder than he was before, and at 32 he’s not going to become a world championship-level fighter, but the role he plays in boxing is very valuable, and it’s his third straight W.
Floyd Mayweather “vs” Deji
The basics: Mayweather cackled in your face if you paid money to watch this, playing with his YouTuber opponent before “forcing” a “stoppage” in round six, then telling Deji how much he respects him after clowning around on his dignity for about 10 minutes, plus the comical breaks between rounds.
Thoughts: It is what it is, right? As Lawrence Okolie said on commentary 20 or 30 times, this was an exhibition. But you can do these things and have them be fun — Hatton vs Barrera was that on Saturday in Manchester — or you can have them be atrocious to watch. This was the latter. I think Mayweather maybe just doesn’t have the personality to do these in the truly “entertaining” fashion; his idea of “it’s entertainment” revolves entirely around him. The best one he’s done in this vein was probably with Don Moore, who is a friend of his. The stuff he’s done in Japan with RIZIN were exhibitions where the opponents actually tried so he had to knock them out, and that’s fair enough, that’s a different thing.
Next for Mayweather: More exhibitions. Kouzi, a Japanese kickboxer, wants him in RIZIN, and if RIZIN will pay, Floyd will surely do it. There are others who will pay him. The mega-jackpot money is in doing an exhibition with Manny Pacquiao, but again, the egos involved — I don’t know if it can get done and everyone goes along with making it a partnership.
For Deji: MF x DAZN fights, probably. Deji has styled himself “The GOAT of YouTube Boxing,” which isn’t really a valid claim. He’s gotten a lot better than he used to be, but isn’t top five among the social media people I’ve seen box.
From the undercard
- Tommy Fury: The commentary from the “Global Titans” team chose to frame Fury’s saga this weekend as Fury bravely — hero that he is — taking a late opponent change and going through to fight. What really happened was Tommy Fury weighed seven lbs more than opponent Paul Bamba on Friday, which Fury and organizers say was in his contract, but Bamba disagrees that he had knowledge of this, so that was off. That was meant to be a sanctioned fight. Instead, Fury did an unwatchably bad exhibition with Rolly Lambert. The highlight was Jake Paul roasting him on commentary and then having a verbal showdown and wrestling angle with Tommy and John Fury after. If Tommy and Jake can manage to convince someone in the UAE to pay them more than their fight is worth, then it’s a big business success for them. I’m creeping further and further toward simply agreeing with Paul’s assessment of Fury’s boxing ability, for what it’s worth. I just don’t think there’s anything there. Forget Tyson, he’s not even Hughie.
- Jadier Herrera: A 20-year-old Cuban prospect based in Dubai, Herrera went to 9-0 (7 KO) with a wipeout domination over veteran Franklin Manzanilla. It was for a minor WBC belt, so Herrera is trying to get into the mix at 130. He’s a good-looking young fighter, someone you might want to keep tabs on.
- J’Hon Ingram: Speaking of keeping tabs, 21-year-old Ingram, based in Las Vegas, turned pro earlier this year and has had three club fights in San Antonio, winning all by stoppage. He did a three-round exhibition with the aforementioned Kouzi here that was plenty fun to watch, another exhibition done right. Keep Ingram, a lightweight prospect, in mind for 2023 and beyond.
- Natasha Jonas vs Marie-Eve Dicaire: Jonas (13-2-1, 8 KO) added the IBF 154 lb title to her growing collection, and now has three of the four major belts in the division, widely out-pointing Canada’s Dicaire (18-2, 1 KO), who once again struggled when faced with an opponent of high-level schooling and quality. Jonas is fighting kind of ridiculously at 154, as she’s never even weighed in at 150 lbs for her three fights at the weight, all of which have been for world titles. At most, she should probably be fighting at 140. But her skill level is good enough to beat the likes of Chris Namus, Patricia Berghult, and now Dicaire, because she is simply on another level technically. The other belt in the division is held by Terri Harper; you will recall Harper and Jonas fought to a draw in a 130 lb title fight in Eddie Hearn’s back garden in Aug. 2020, a fight many felt Jonas won. That should be easy enough to get done for UNDISPUTED, if everyone wants it, even with Jonas and Harper working for different promoters.
- Ricky Hatton “vs” Marco Antonio Barrera: I think Lewis about said it all here. A genuine fan favorite got to leave the sport on his terms, having one last night under the bright lights in the city that adored him and helped him become a superstar. Hatton and Barrera put on a good show.