Four To Watch

While last weekend offered slim pickings in terms of ring action, this weekend is something else. On tap, a number of relevant matches involving some of the sport’s biggest names across a number of weight classes. However, while those bouts will ostensibly serve to answer questions about its protagonists, and maybe even set up future matches, each contest also presents us with a clear favorite. Does this mean we should expect zero drama this weekend? As the following breakdown makes evident, that really depends on which fight we’re talking about. Thus, we present to you the four most significant bouts happening this weekend, ranked in terms of their potential to thrill and surprise. Let’s get to it!

The Gypsy King is back!

Tyson Fury vs Sefer Seferi
The event featuring the biggest name is also, on paper, the least interesting one. That is because, while legions will duly tune in to witness the return of Tyson Fury on Saturday, the choice of opposition for his comeback fight is not only unrecognizable to most fight fans, but also blatantly undersized. Albanian Sefer Seferi has never weighed more than 216 pounds for a bout, while Fury has weighed as high as 274, to say nothing of the frame disparity, which is embarrassingly evident from press conference pictures. To be fair, the Gypsy King will be breaking a 31 month long hiatus this weekend, and so a soft touch is more than justified. Fury will not be looking to thrill the masses or deliver the performance of a lifetime, but to shake off some rust, go some rounds, and—hopefully—show at least hints of the mobility and awkwardness that allowed him to outbox Wladimir Klitschko back in November of 2015.

Can Fury regain his title-winning form?

But if Fury is half as serious about his comeback as he claims to be, there’s nothing on Seferi’s ledger that tells us he’s anywhere near ready to face the man who shockingly, albeit briefly, wore the heavyweight crown more than two years ago. The only way this becomes a halfway intriguing contest is if the Gypsy King shows up in awful shape and Seferi puts on the fight of his life. The more likely scenario will see Tyson emerge victorious, either via decisive 10-round decision or stoppage, further fanning the flames of the heavyweight division, with tantalizing matches against Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder begging to be made. But as far as this weekend’s concerned, no one will blame you if you spend Saturday afternoon with your kids, at the mall, or even taking a nap; this one can wait for the online replay on Sunday.

Jermell Charlo vs Austin Trout
One notch up the list we find a super welterweight encounter in which a young lion will try to prove his worth against a top shelf veteran. Jermell Charlo, aka the smaller one, will try to outdo his brother Jermall, who earned a hard fought, but clear, 12-round decision over Austin Trout two years ago. And if Jermell is a clear favorite this weekend, it’s not only due to his skills and physical attributes—among which he counts speed, mobility, and efficiency of movement—but also because Trout, 5-4 in his last nine bouts, is past his best days. In fact, the New Mexico native hasn’t had a significant win since outpointing Miguel Cotto back in 2012, since dropping decisions in big fights with Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara, while more recently he got stopped by the same Jarrett Hurd that a few weeks ago made Lara look every day of his 35 years of age.

Jermell Charlo

All of this to say that there’s a changing of the guard happening at 154-pounds, and if anyone’s on the right side of it, it’s Jermell Charlo, who has stated his intention to remain at the weight class long enough to exert dominance. While “No Doubt” has shown time and again tenacity and heart, there’s little reason to believe that will be enough to carry him to victory against a strong, hungry fighter on his way to the top. That is not to say Charlo vs Trout is not worth watching; it’s just that it feels like we’ve seen this story play out before, and we know how it will end. Expect it to be competitive for at least a few rounds, with Charlo taking over somewhere in the middle and earning a late stoppage that gets #HurdCharlo trending on Twitter.

Jeff Horn vs Terence Crawford
Horn vs Crawford made it this far in our ranking mainly because “The Hornet” has talked a great game in the buildup to what amounts to his North American debut. And yet it goes without saying that the ocean that sometimes separates bluster from actions can be as big as the one that separates Brisbane—where Horn controversially defeated ring legend Manny Pacquiao last year—from Las Vegas, where pound-for-pound talent Terence Crawford will challenge him for the title he lifted from the Pacman. But the fact remains that Jeff Horn emerged from the bloody Brisbane affair as a tremendously confident fighter, eager to take on the biggest names in the welterweight division, entirely certain that he can defeat any of them. And who can blame him? If I came out of nowhere to not only go 12 hard ones with Pacquiao, but also to hang an L on him, I’d feel pretty good about myself too, no matter how shot everyone said Pacman was, and no matter how “controversial” everyone told me the scorecards were.

That said, if someone has what it takes to bring The Hornet back down to earth, it’s Terence Crawford; “Bud” has the pedigree, the skills, the mean streak, and the temperament to deal with Horn’s swarming, unorthodox offense. Horn will be the bigger guy in there, sure, but that and his self-belief are about the only things he’s got going for him. Crawford, on the other hand, is faster, more accurate, and has more experience at the championship level. But perhaps most important of all, Terence has shown he has the patience and ring smarts required to figure out opponents and outclass them by the time it’s all said and done.

That’s not to say Horn vs Crawford will necessarily be a dud: Horn’s heart will keep him in the fight early on, and maybe even allow him to show Crawford that he’s in a real fight, for at least a few rounds, anyway, but it will take a lot more than that to steal this one from Omaha’s prodigal son.

Leo Santa Cruz vs Abner Mares II
It’s hard to care about the rematch between featherweight stars Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares for the same reason it’s hard to look forward to opening a flat can of beer. It is, after all, beer, but it’s just not the same, is it? Not when it’s been left in the fridge for so long that it’s lost all its buzz. That being said, both Santa Cruz and Mares are ranked in the top-5 of their weight class, and for that reason alone it’s worth tuning in. The second reason is that their first fight—while not a scorcher by any means—was a good fight, and there’s little reason to believe their second go-around won’t also be an entertaining affair.

However, it’s also true that in the almost three years that have transpired since their first meeting, it’s 29-year-old Santa Cruz who has remained more active and has faced the better opposition; his back-to-back fights with Carl Frampton stand out in this regard. Meanwhile, 32-year-old Mares—already on the wrong side of his prime for the first fight with Santa Cruz—has failed to perform at anywhere near the level he used to before getting knocked out in one round by Johnny Gonzalez in 2013, which is the level he would need to fight at to defeat Santa Cruz at this point.

Much has changed since the first Santa Cruz vs Mares battle.

Interestingly, the most important thing “Terremoto” Santa Cruz lacks—namely, punching power—is the one thing that will allow Mares to stay in the fight and make things competitive. Expect a fair share of exchanges, and a handful of close rounds that will remind us of why we once thought so highly of Mares, but in the end, Santa Cruz’ activity rate and skillful combinations should be enough to leave an aging Mares firmly behind. If Santa Cruz’ is to be trusted, should he defeat Mares he will angle for a fight with Gary Russell Jr., who looked pretty good a couple of weeks ago against Joseph Diaz. On paper, that would be a more competitive fight than anything on tap this weekend. Let’s hope the powers-that-be (Haymon? Showtime? PBC?) don’t let that one marinate for another three years.        — Rafael Garcia 

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