From Belfast to Atlantic City, the boxing world got a sample of talent from all levels of the scale. The most noteworthy event, while not the most crowd-pleasing fight, was lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury’s shutout victory over Francesco Pianeta. Fury, who lost three of the four alphabet titles he won from Wladimir Klitschko due to failed drug tests, looked notably improved from his sluggish outing two months ago against Sefer Seferi where the 6’9’’ Brit came in at a career high 276 pounds. Against Pianeta, Fury was 18 pounds lighter and looked much more fluid and effective, over the course of the match reducing his southpaw opponent to single digits in punches landed.
But while all is well with an uneventful shutout win in only his second fight back, the real excitement came in the post-fight interview when Fury and WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder confirmed rumors of their fall superfight with an official announcement. Wilder, who was ringside in Belfast, engaged in round two of the WWE-style fight buildup that both had engaged in following Wilder’s knockout over Artur Szpilka in 2016. Fury even topped his 2016 insult of “The Bronze Bomber,” going from saying he was going to “beat you, you bum!” to promising Wilder that he would knock him “the fuck out.”
The fight is expected to take place in Las Vegas in November, with Fury’s promoter Frank Warren stating that an official date and venue would be announced in the coming weeks. In many ways, this match is more interesting now than it would have been in 2016, given that Fury still looms as one of the biggest question marks in the heavyweight division following the unusual chain of events that led to his two year hiatus. Is Fury ready for a fighter of the caliber of Wilder with only two comeback fights against limited opposition? Maybe. Maybe not. But his reduced weight, plus his workmanlike victory over Pianeta, do alleviate some doubts as to his conditioning and motivation in phase two of his career.
Also showcased in Belfast was Irish prospect Paddy Barnes, who bit off more than he could chew by challenging WBC flyweight champion Cristofer Rosales in just his sixth professional fight. While Barnes gave a lively effort in the first three rounds, the taller Nicaraguan champion dropped “The Leprechaun” for the count in round four with a hard right to the gut, leaving Barnes gasping for breath as referee Victor Loughlin counted him out. This is the first title defense for Rosales, and the second time in 2018 in which he gave up homecourt advantage, having won the title earlier this year with a stoppage over Daigo Higa in Japan. Rosales might be headed towards a rematch with number one WBC contender Andrew Selby, a fighter who got off the canvas to best him in 2017.
In the main event, former two-division world champion and hometown hero Carl “The Jackal” Frampton entertained the 25,000 fans at Windsor Park with a dominant ninth round stoppage over the game, but dreadfully overmatched, Luke Jackson. Frampton won every round with ease, and finally put the Aussie down in the eighth with a Micky Ward-esque left hook to the liver. While Frampton is not a devastating puncher, particularly at 126, the accumulation had broken down Jackson, and in the ninth Jackson’s corner threw in the towel to protect their fighter from further punishment.
The victory didn’t do much to bolster Frampton’s campaign towards 126-pound supremacy, but it certainly didn’t hurt his position in the loaded division. “The Jackal” holds arguably the most impressive victory in the division when he became the first and only man to dethrone WBA featherweight kingpin Leo Santa Cruz in 2016, only to lose the belt in the rematch six months later. A fight between Frampton and undefeated WBO champion Oscar Valdez makes sense given that Frampton holds the interim WBO title, but Frampton instead expressed interest in a fight with IBF 126 pound champion Josh Warrington early next year, which is both less risky and more feasible to make, given both fighters’ association with promoter Frank Warren.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, the Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City saw plenty of fireworks from Jesse Hart and Bryant Jennings, both of whom scored impressive knockouts in their ESPN-televised outings. However, earlier in the card, 2016 Olympic Silver medalist Shakur Stevenson delivered significantly less drama in his uneventful eight round shutout of journeyman Carlos Ruiz. This would be Stevenson’s sixth outing in the last 12 months, and his fourth bout of 2018. The pacing of Stevenson’s career thus far makes it clear the unbeaten Top Rank prospect from Newark, New Jersey wants to waste no time in his climb up the featherweight ranks.
This was Stevenson’s first outing since his July arrest for misdemeanor battery, when he and welterweight contender David Grayton brawled with a group of people in a Miami parking garage on Shakur’s 21st birthday. As a boxing fan who greatly appreciates Stevenson’s ring craft, the most I can hope for is that Top Rank and those close to the young prospect can keep him poised and focused and thus prevent him from becoming the next Adrien Broner.
In the co-feature, super-middleweight contender Jesse Hart of Philadelphia walked through Mike Gavronski via an impressive third round stoppage. Hart was in command from the start, disorienting Gavronski with an assortment of clean punches before flooring his man with a straight right to the temple. Gavronski got up on unsteady legs, and when Hart floored him again, referee Eric Dali waved off the one-sided affair.
In the post-fight interview, Hart called out WBO 168-pound champion Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, a fighter who defeated him less than a year ago by close, but unanimous decision. Hart has scored three consecutive knockouts since the loss to Zurdo last year, but the quality of opponents that Hart has impressed against hardly justify a second title shot. Nonetheless, Hart is currently ranked the number one contender for Ramirez’s WBO title and appears eager to make the rematch happen as soon as possible.
In the main event of the Atlantic City card, former heavyweight title challenger Bryant Jennings got off the deck to stop veteran Alexander Dimitrenko in the ninth round. Dimitrenko started off well, out-boxing Jennings from range before dropping his opponent with a hard overhand right to the ear in the fourth. Jennings, renowned for his endurance in combat, got up and pressed forward, taking the fight to the Russian-born German contender, eventually driving a fatigued Dimitrenko to the canvas with a hard left hook in the eighth. Jennings put Dimitrenko down for the second time in the ninth with a vicious right uppercut, and instead of administering a count to the fallen fighter, referee Allen Huggins surprisingly called an immediate halt to the contest.
As would be expected, Dimitrenko disputed the referee’s call in the post-fight interview, claiming he was ready to go on. I believe a count and an assessment of Dimitrenko’s condition was merited, even though it did appear as if the German was fading. Jennings was unfazed by the controversy, claiming he is “ready for the top” and another title fight. But Jennings still has quite a few heavyweights ahead of him in line, and might have to take a few more B-side matches against the likes of Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, Dillian Whyte, or a rematch with Luis Ortiz, before he finds himself back in the ring with a world title-holder.
But it’s intriguing that a knockout over Dimitrenko doesn’t immediately elevate Jennings to title-challenger status in today’s loaded heavyweight division. When Joseph Parker stopped Dimitrenko in 2016, he received a shot at the WBO heavyweight title in his very next outing, and in 2009, Dimitrenko and Eddie Chambers faced off in a WBO title eliminator that saw Chambers receive a title shot just a fight later. That’s not the case anymore, not because Dimitrenko’s name has faded significantly since Chambers, Pulev, and Parker defeated him, but because we currently live in one of the most exciting heavyweight divisions since Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, and Evander Holyfield were at the top. And as early as November of this year, the round-robin of top-level heavyweight bouts will begin with Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury. Can’t wait! — Alden Chodash