Some significant outcomes in the sport of pugilism over the last forty-eight hours. Here are the highlights, with a lowlight or two as well.
First up, Hopkins vs Smith Jr. was not the only important match in the light heavyweight division this past weekend. On Friday, top-ranked contenders Sullivan Barrera (18-1) and Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (17-1) clashed at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California.
There was much at stake in this battle between two middle-ranked contenders vying for a future title shot, and the action in the ring reflected that as both men gave their all and gave boxing fans the best fight of the weekend. Shabrankyy hit the deck in round one courtesy of Barrera’s right hand, but in round two the Ukrainian struck back, decking Barrera with a hard left. It was a fast-paced, back-and-forth scrap which kept the fans in Indio on their feet and saw Barrera score two more knockdowns to prevail by a TKO in round seven.
“With this win, I proved all the people who bad-mouthed me wrong,” said Barrera afterwards. “I know I’m a better boxer now with my new trainer, Derik Santos, and I want to fight the best in the division. We would be very interested in Nathan Cleverly and we’ll go right to his backyard if we have to.”
On the undercard, welterweight “Speedy” Rashidi Ellis (17-0) made a late entry for KO of the Year with a sensational knockout of Eddie Gomez (19-2). Showing impressive hand-speed, Ellis scored with a vicious right hand that sent Gomez to the canvas. When his opponent beat the count, Rashidi wasted no time and ended matters with a blistering volley of power shots, the match over in just 79 seconds.
In Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Jean Pascal (31-4-1) returned to the ring for the first time since his rematch defeat to Sergey Kovalev last January, blowing away Argentina’s Ricardo Marcelo Ramallo (21-11-1) in three rounds. On the undercard, uber-talented Eye Of The Tiger prospect Batyr Jukembayev improved to 7-0 as he heard the judges’ scorecards for the first time in his career in a shut-out points victory over Mexican Manuel Mares (16-11).
Bermane Stiverne (25-2-1) was set to face Alexander Povetkin (30-1) in Ekaterinburg, Russia for the WBC heavyweight title when, at the last minute, Povetkin tested positive for a banned substance. The WBC withdrew its involvement in the match, Stiverne packed up and went home, and Povetkin instead fought Johann “Reptile” Duhaupas (34-4), knocking him out with a left hook in round six. What is wrong with this picture?
Former world middleweight champion Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam (35-2) made a significant statement with a spectacular one-punch, first round KO over previously unbeaten Alfonso Blanco (12-1, 5 KOs) to reclaim the WBA interim belt on Saturday night in far away Saint-Denis, Reunion, an island in the Indian Ocean. N’Dam, who is 4-0 since losing to David Lemieux back in June of 2015, came out fast, measured his man, and then connected with a devastating right hand. It was all over in just 21 seconds. Meanwhile, in Sydney, Australia, middleweight Tim Tszyu, son of former champion Kostya Tszyu, won his professional debut by decision.
At the Forum in Inglewood, California, the farewell fight for Bernard Hopkins (55-8-2) did not go according to plan, to say the least. Most anticipated that the 51-year-old veteran had enough left to out-smart and out-box young Joe Smith Jr. (23-1) of New York. But instead the naturally bigger and stronger Smith eventually caught up to Hopkins and blasted him out of the ring in round eight. The ex-champion, who insisted he had been pushed through the ropes, never even tried to re-enter the ring and he was counted out. A huge win for the young Smith and a sad end for “The Executioner” who, let’s face it, should have said his final goodbyes to boxing a few years ago.
On the undercard, WBO cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk (11-0) retained his title with a ninth round stoppage victory over Thabiso Mchunu (17-3). In the early going Usyk was slow to take control of the fight as he clearly had difficulty with Mchunu’s safety-first style. But in round six the champion finally found his groove, scoring a knockdown with a left uppercut. Two more knockdowns followed in round nine before the referee halted the action.
It’s official, middleweight titlists Gennady Golovkin and Danny Jacobs will clash on March 18 at Madison Square Garden. About time a top fighter at 160 had the guts to take on GGG. Meanwhile, word is Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who could not fight Golovkin because he is not a full-fledged middleweight (yeah, right), may instead face fellow Mexican Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. At 165 pounds. Talk about your mamadas! That’s a wrap!