The weigh-ins are done, words have been exchanged, hands have been shook and Michael Buffer now knows that Kevin Johnson isn’t Kevin Mitchell.
Whichever promoter you support more between Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren (a sad sentence if ever there was one), put it to one side for several hours and enjoy tomorrow night’s terrific ensemble of boxing from London’s O2.
Three legitimate world title fights, two British title fights, a domestic tear-up, a heavyweight hope, the return of a light heavyweight turned cruiserweight turned light heavyweight (Nathan Cleverly) and a super bantamweight debutant (Lucien Reid). From 5pm (UK time) tomorrow evening your derrieres should be planted to wherever you sit, your toilet breaks chosen carefully, and for one night, just immerse yourself in the fisticuffs.
All the usual bumflufferies are irrelevant: the irritating Hearn; the incessant hyperbole; the inane commentary; Sky’s need for humour straight out of David Brent’s locker (“The Office,” in case you don’t know what I’m on about) … for one night just let all the irritations go and remember what it’s like to just be a boxing fan.
Yes, there’s no Ian Darke and no Paul Dempsey, and Jim Watt might say “bang on the chen”multiple times, and Nick Halling might sound out of his depth. But none of that matters. Here’s why:
Kell Brook vs Frankie Gavin – IBF world welterweight title
Brook, who seems to be embracing the mantle of bonafide world champion, makes the second defense of a title he took from Shawn Porter last August. Gavin, one of the finest amateurs Britain has ever produced, a fact that can’t be overlooked, is in deep water. He narrowly lost to Leonard Bundu last year, the same Bundu who lost to Keith Thurman, and whose best professional win is against Denton Vassell. Simply put, Brook should be too big, too strong and too powerful for any tricks Gavin can come up with.
But, what if…?
What if Brook is taking the task at hand too lightly? And what if Gavin brings his absolute best?
There is no doubt that Gavin matches, and perhaps even exceeds Brook for skill. His footwork alone can be a joy to watch for the boxing purist. It’s unlikely he has the power to trouble the champion but he does carry a bag of tricks built from the jab through to his top-to-bottom movement that could present problems. But while the contender will dance, the champion will hunt.
For so long Brook looked like an amazing talent whose potential would go unfulfilled. But since winning the title, he appears a different animal and a much better boxer. My sense is it would take a force by the name of “Floyd” to wrest that championship belt from the Sheffield welterweight. And Gavin’s first name is “Frankie.”
Prediction: Brook TKO8
Jorge Linares vs Kevin Mitchell – WBC world lightweight title
Like more than one match on this card, Linares vs Mitchell has the potential to be a fight of the year contender. This 135lb clash could be a ding-dong affair where the number of knockdowns eclipses the number of rounds it goes. Perhaps that’s fantasy land, but evidence on the boxers’ records isn’t something that should always be ignored.
Linares has struggled with the weight, so will he be a gunslinger in the first half of the fight and a faded marksman in the second? Mitchell is carrying a cut on his nose into this bout. Will he protect himself and look to get the job done early? If the cut re-opens will the taste and smell of blood fuel his inner boxing soldier and lead him to seek out a war with the champion?
But what if…?
What if Mitchell is again dealing with outside issues that scupper another big fight for him? It doesn’t look likely. Word round the campfire, where Mitchell’s name is often discussed, has it he’s finally done everything right for this camp. There has been no abuse to his body outside the ring, and he surely knows that, having admittedly thrown away opportunities against Burns and Katsidis, this is a last chance for him. I would like to stake a sum (not too much thanks, to history) that tomorrow night you will see the performance of Mitchell’s life.
What if it isn’t enough? If we do see the very best of Mitchell outdone and outgunned by Linares, we will have seen a very, very special world lightweight title fight. Mitchell will be despondent, yes, but he has a promoter who could so easily get him another world title shot, possibly overseas. Mitchell’s future is in his own hands tomorrow night.
Prediction: Mitchell TKO10
Evgeny Gradovich vs Lee Selby – IBF world featherweight title
A ‘Welsh Mayweather’ against a ‘Mexican Russian’. What’s not to love? Theatrical nicknames aside, there is an expectation this will be the night Lee Selby shows the world what Britain has been watching for a while now.
The pencil ‘tashed 28-year-old, in theory, should be made for the occasion. A five figure attendance, pay-per-view, Buffer doing the introductions and a door waiting to be knocked down to Vasyl Lomachenko, Gary Russell and Nicholas Walters. Selby should rise to the occasion, but since Gradovich is something of an immovable object, can Selby be an unstoppable force?
So what if…?
What if Selby does rise to the occasion? Then, unquestionably, he has everything at his disposal to win the fight. There’s more questions about Selby that need answering than any of the British world title participants on Saturday night. He could simply dazzle Gradovich with a boxing lesson and make it easier than we all thought.
If Gradovich brings his best? Then Selby is going swimming at the deep end. Gradovich may be the “easiest” of the four champions, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy for Selby to win. Gradovich is considerably better than Joel Brunker, Romulo Koasicha, Rendall Munroe, Ryan Walsh and Viorel Simon, the four men Selby has defeated in his last four fights. Gradovich won’t freeze, he won’t shy away from the challenger and he won’t be bothered by losing rounds. He’s a Duracell bunny that will keep going and going and going. Selby better be prepared to work every second of every round.
Prediction: Selby UD
And if that’s not enough there’s John Ryder vs Nick Blackwell (British middleweight title), Scotty Cardle vs Craig Evans (British lightweight title) and Dave Ryan vs John Wayne Hibbert (Commonwealth/WBC International light welterweight titles). Three all-British fights that, on their own, wouldn’t be a bad show for a Saturday night. Titles, reputations, boxers, punchers, vulnerabilities, and then there’s Anthony Joshua vs Kevin Johnson.
I’ve reached over 1000 words. Johnson has reached well over that with his verbal contributions about how the fight will play out. I’m not getting carried away with Joshua, because there is no need to at this stage, but if he does become the first man to stop Johnson then even the doubters will have to respect that particular accomplishment after only 13 fights. For however long it goes, it will be attack vs defence.
Just sit back and enjoy it. No Team Hearn or Team Warren. Just enjoy it.
— Shaun Brown