Heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, welterweight contender Egidijus “Mean Machine” Kavaliauskas and unified bantamweight world titlist Naoya Inoue are a few of the fighters scheduled to return to the ring in the upcoming months.
Joshua will finally face Kubrat Pulev in a fight that had been scheduled before the coronavirus pandemic forced most of the sports world to cancel events in March.
Inoue was supposed to further unify bantamweight titles against John Riel Casimero, but after that fight was canceled due to the pandemic, Inoue will face top contender Jason Moloney in a bout that doesn’t look like an easy task.
Steve Kim and Nick Parkinson discuss the hottest topics in boxing, including whether the WBO’s decision to order a mandatory fight for Jose Ramirez could jeopardize a bout against Josh Taylor for the undisputed junior welterweight championship.
Is Jamel Herring ready to take on Carl Frampton after his ugly win over Jonathan Oquendo?
Kim: I wouldn’t put too much into Herring’s fight with Oquendo, whose style is nothing like Frampton’s. The concern is just how quickly Herring will be medically cleared for this fight. Oquendo brought an ugly and awkward set of tactics, and time and time again he kept charging in with his head, cutting Herring over the right eye. Frampton brings a much cleaner set of skills to the table, but from a physical perspective, Herring is the naturally bigger man.
Herring is 34 years old and a world titlist. If he isn’t ready now, he never will be.
Parkinson: Herring may have wished for a better performance and more satisfying outcome, but there are mitigating reasons to how he performed against Oquendo. Plus, Herring already knew Frampton would be a step up from Oquendo. Frampton is more experienced and technically superior to Herring, who will have to make adjustments and improvements from the Oquendo fight if he wants to hang on to his belt.
Is Jason Moloney a more dangerous opponent for Naoya Inoue than original opponent John Riel Casimero?
Kim: Let’s put it this way: Moloney is a very solid replacement. Moloney is a legitimate top-10 bantamweight (he’s rated eighth by ESPN) and from a purely technical and fundamental standpoint, he is sharper than Casimero. But Casimero has a much better pedigree. Casimero is ranked No. 5 at bantamweight by ESPN, he is the current WBO titleholder at 118 pounds and he has won major titles in three different divisions. He is a heavy-handed fighter, and against Inoue he would’ve had a legitimate puncher’s chance.
Also, unification fights create much more interest. More fights with so much on the line are needed in the sport.
Parkinson: No — but he is still a great replacement. Casimero is a proven force at the world-title level, and a unification fight with Inoue would not have needed selling. Both Casimero and Inoue are three-division world champions, and Casimero would be a great test for Inoue, No. 4 in ESPN’s pound-for-pound rankings.
Moloney brings no title belt to the table, but he is one of the leading bantamweight contenders, a fighter on the rise after registering four successive KO wins. Moloney stopped Leonardo Baez in seven rounds in his debut with Top Rank in June, when he made the most of an opportunity to shine. Moloney patiently dismantled Baez, unloading thudding body shots and cut his opponent over both eyes. Moloney is a dangerous replacement opponent for Inoue.
How will the Anthony Joshua-Kubrat Pulev fight play out?
Kim: Pulev is a tough fighter, but he is a few levels below Joshua in terms of his offensive arsenal. Pulev simply doesn’t have the type of hand speed and fluidity of Andy Ruiz Jr., who caught lightning in a bottle in a TKO victory against Joshua last June. I see Joshua setting the table early with his long jab and then eventually layering his attack offensively.
Joshua stops Pulev in the mid-to-late rounds.
Parkinson: It should be a trouble-free win for Joshua … but then again, we said the same about his first fight against Ruiz. Joshua adopted a cautious approach in the Ruiz rematch, and don’t be surprised to see him follow similar tactics against Pulev early on before opening up with heavier punches and securing a middle-rounds stoppage. Pulev, 39, is not the threat he once was.
Hopefully the event looks more like boxing pre-COVID-19. Promoter Matchroom has delayed this fight in the hope/expectation of some sort of crowd being allowed back at sports events in the U.K. by the end of the year. It would be a small fraction of the 60,000-plus attendance planned for the original venue at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on June 20, but we will just be grateful for only the second heavyweight world title fight of 2020.
Who will have a better performance this weekend, Egidijus Kavaliauskas or Miguel Marriaga?
Kim: It’s hard to say, as both face pretty solid opposition in Mikael Zewski and Joet Gonzalez, respectively. But I’ll go with “Mean Machine,” who pressed Terence Crawford into a pretty tough fight in an eventual ninth-round TKO loss in December. Kavaliauskas showed that he is a legitimate welterweight contender, but how much did the fight with Crawford take out of him?
Marriaga, 33, is still a good fighter with his three losses coming in world title fights against Nicholas Walters, Oscar Valdez and Vasiliy Lomachenko. Since his TKO loss to Lomachenko in 2017, Marriaga has won four consecutive fights by stoppage.
Parkinson: Marriaga was on a good run before the pandemic disruption, winning four fights inside the distance since being taken apart by Lomachenko three years ago. But he faces a hungry, younger challenger in Joet Gonzalez who may prove troublesome. Kavaliauskas, 32, perhaps has a less daunting task against Zewski and also needs a win more than Marriaga does to stop a two-fight losing streak. That incentive alone could produce a better performance from Kavaliauskas.
Should the WBO let Jose Ramirez face Josh Taylor for all the titles instead of fighting a mandatory vs. Jack Catterall?
Kim: Ramirez, who also holds the WBC belt, should go straight to Taylor, the WBA and IBF belt holder, and unify the division. These two guys are the premier fighters in this weight class, and they have earned these belts inside the ring.
Both Ramirez and Taylor have said that after they face each other, they will be moving up to welterweight. Ramirez-Taylor looks to have some historic significance to it, and will history remember that one of the belts was not on the line for this fight? I’ve said numerous times that belts matter, and I stand by that, but they don’t matter as much as the actual quality of the fight.
Parkinson: Let’s hope the WBO does the right thing and allows boxing a rare chance of a fight to decide an undisputed world champion. It’s not a slight on Catterall, who deserves his shot for being WBO No. 1 contender for over a year. Plus, waiting could benefit Catterall. If Taylor beats Ramirez, Catterall potentially stands to make much more money from an all-British fight with full-capacity crowds — ideally in a U.K. venue later next year — instead of a bout in California with a limited audience.
Governing bodies have overlooked mandatory defenses if a unification bout is on tap, and the coverage Ramirez-Taylor would generate is good for the sport and a publicity boost for the WBO. Ramirez-Taylor is one of the biggest fights outside of the heavyweight division, and if it falls apart due to a mandatory defense, it will be “a crying shame”, as Taylor recently told ESPN.