Not that there’s any lack of evidence to help people understand why boxing will most likely never regain the kind of mainstream acceptance that it enjoyed in decades past, but should you need an Exhibit A for such a discussion, the date of March 3, 2018 could well suffice. Only the circus that is professional boxing would, when it didn’t have to and when plenty of empty calendar spaces abound, schedule two major events for the same night, and in the same city, no less.
Thus, not only do we have a major heavyweight showdown happening in Brooklyn between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz tonight, but we also have a seriously compelling fight card at Madison Square Garden going down. The latter is billed as “Division Collision,” an apt moniker given the significant ramifications involved for an already stacked and highly intriguing light heavyweight class. With two big fights involving three of the best at 175, it’s a more than worthy rival to Wilder vs Ortiz, a heavyweight match with as much potential to be a farce or a freak show as it is to be a seriously competitive and compelling battle of the big men.
There was much chatter that Sergey Kovalev might never be the same after his stoppage defeat to Andre Ward last June, but he looked like nothing less than the “Krusher” of old when he stopped lightly regarded Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in November. Tonight he faces southpaw Igor Mikhalkin (21-1), a past European champion and current IBO titlist. Clearly, this is another safe opponent for a rebounding fighter, but at the same time Mikhalkin is a significant step up from Shabranskyy. At the very least, he should help us determine with some certainty just where Kovalev is at in terms of regaining his standing as arguably the best fighter in the world at 175 pounds.
But the night’s co-feature is at least as intriguing as it will see another Russian power puncher and current WBA light heavyweight champ, Dmitry Bivol, defend his title against Sullivan Barrera, the Cuban-born pugilist who last year scored a huge win over the man who retired Bernard Hopkins, Joe Smith Jr. In truth, Bivol vs Barrera should be the more competitive of the two matches and considering that Barrera represents both the first real test for the Russian wrecking machine, and the biggest fight of his career thus far, this high stakes match of top contenders with much to lose could very well end up being the most exciting fight of the weekend.
Bottom line: the people at Main Events and HBO have successfully put together a fight card that is every bit as compelling as tonight’s big heavyweight showdown at the Barclays Center. And to help you get hyped for it, we turn to our good friends at Boxcaster.
As usual, they got the inside dope on the fight scene and here offer boxing fans some intriguing viewpoints on tonight’s Garden party from HBO’s Kieran Mulvaney, and from former world champ Chris Algieri, who has helped Barrera prepare for what could be another big win on the heels of his excellent 2017 campaign. Here’s hoping we get two great battles tonight and then the winners will face off in the near future. Barring a World Boxing Super Series tournament for the light heavyweights (Hey, come to think of it, what a great idea!), fight fans can’t ask for much more. — Neil Crane