Ringside Seat: Kavaliauskas and Gonzalez look to fight back into contention after major losses

Boxing

While the past month has seen multiple boxing cards every weekend, this Saturday has one event of note. Coming from the bubble at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas, Top Rank’s card features a pair of fighters looking to get back in the mix after tough losses.

And Egidijus Kavaliauskas — who is paired against Mikael Zewski in the main event — and Joet Gonzalez — who faces Miguel Marriaga in the co-main event — are not taking soft touches as they try to reassert their status as bona fide contenders.


Kavaliauskas has eyes on another title shot

When you ask Kavaliauskas what he remembers most about his bout with WBO welterweight world titlist Terence Crawford last December, he points to a moment that was memorable to anyone watching: “Round 3, when I dropped him.”

Kavaliauskas (21-1-1, 17 KOs) technically didn’t score a knockdown, but he did buzz Crawford with a lead right hand and a series of follow-up punches that had Crawford down on his knees for a quick spell. Referee Ricky Gonzalez ruled it was a slip, not a knockdown.

“I thought that he was hurt, but he recovered pretty fast. The referee didn’t count it as a knockdown, but I think most of the people saw that,” Kavaliauskas said.

Despite Kavaliauskas fighting well early, Crawford eventually wore down “Mean Machine” with his wide array of skills and a touch of ferocity. Crawford won by ninth-round TKO.

“I lost the focus and lost the game plan in Round 7 when he dropped me,” Kavaliauskas said. “So the first time I went down — after that, everything changed and I went to the fighting mode. I forgot the game plan, I was just going there to exchange the punches.”

After some uneven performances in recent years leading into the Crawford bout — including an uninspiring draw against Ray Robinson last March, Kavaliauskas proved he is a viable welterweight. Saturday’s fight against Zewski (34-1, 23 KOs) is likely to be a solid back-and-forth affair.

“I know he’s a tough guy, he’s pretty strong, he has lots of knockouts, lots of wins,” Kavaliauskas said. “He’s there to fight, he’s not a guy who’s avoiding the fight, or moving a lot. He’s in there making pressure all the time. So I like it, this is my style, too.

“Our styles are going to make a good fight.”

Neither fighter is a household name, but they are world-ranked welterweights. Kavaliauskas is No. 7 in the WBC and No. 13 in the WBO. Zewski is No. 7 in the WBO, No. 8 in the IBF and No. 13 with the WBC. Whomever comes out victorious in this bout will further strengthen his position as a title contender at 147.

For Kavaliauskas, another shot at a title would mean everything.

“This is my dream for many, many years, I was working for this opportunity,” he said. “I messed up with the first fight. I did pretty good, but my goal is to just fight for the title — and get that title.”


Gonzalez wanted tough competition? Well, he has it

As the calendar turned to 2020, Gonzalez (23-1 ,14 KOs) wanted to erase the memories of his loss to Shakur Stevenson last October. The 26-year-old failed to capture the vacant WBO featherweight title and eagerly looked to get back in the ring.

Then like every other boxer in the world, his plans were disrupted.

“I started hearing about [COVID-19] in March, obviously the East Coast was getting it real bad,” Gonzalez told ESPN. “Then they suspended the NBA season, and the next morning they canceled my fight. Literally a week before my fight.”

Gonzalez worked out as regularly as he could as he had the usage of the United Sports Academy in La Verne, California. As fights were being rescheduled, Gonzalez made it clear that he wanted a tough opponent in his return.

“From the beginning I told my manager, Frank [Espinoza] that, ‘I don’t want to come back against a nobody, somebody who has like seven losses, 10 losses,'” he said. ” I wanted a name, just to show the people that I’m here to fight, I’m here to fight, regardless.”

As the sport resumed, a call came from Top Rank to face Marriaga. When Espinoza informed Gonzalez of the opportunity, he quickly accepted.

“We’re here to fight, we’re not here to take tune-ups,” Gonzalez said. “I’m a fighter, and I’m here to fight whoever.”

Marriaga, 33, of Colombia, has been defeated by only a trio of world titleholders: Nicholas Walters, Oscar Valdez and Vasiliy Lomachenko.

Marriaga (29-3 25 KOs) was supposed to face Stevenson on March 14, but that bout was canceled due to the pandemic. Marriaga then had more bad luck as another fight earlier this summer was scrapped because his opponent, Mark John Yay, missed weight.

Since Marriaga’s loss to Lomachenko in 2018, he has notched four consecutive KO victories. And he is exactly the type of opponent Gonzalez wanted.

“People, when they lose — they quit, you don’t seem them no more,” Gonzalez said. “They start taking tune-up fights for a whole year, or rarely fight. I’m here to fight, win or lose. I’m not afraid to go back into top opposition.”

Looking back at the Stevenson fight, while he regrets how the fight played out and the ultimate result, it doesn’t haunt him.

“It is what it is, it was definitely his night,” he said. “I moved past it months after that. I feel fine, right now. Now my focus is on Marriaga.”

The full card

  • Egidijus Kavaliauskas vs. Mikael Zewski, 10 rounds, welterweights

  • Miguel Marriaga vs. Joet Gonzalez, 10 rounds, featherweights

  • Aleem Jumakhonov vs. Jorge Ramos, 8 rounds, featherweights

  • Manuel Flores vs. Jonathan Rodriguez, 6 rounds, bantamweights

  • Adan Gonzalez vs. Anthony Chavez, 6 rounds, junior lightweights

  • Eric Puente vs. TBA, 4 rounds, lightweights

  • Alejandro Martinez vs. Ernesto Mercado, 4 rounds, lightweights


Yarde still shaking off Kovalev loss

There’s one other card with a fight to keep an eye on, as heavyweight Anthony Yarde (19-1, 18 KOs) faces Dec Spelman in a scheduled 10-rounder at the BT Sports Studio in London, England

Yarde challenged Sergey Kovalev for the WBO light heavyweight title in August 2019 and had “Krusher” hurt badly in the eighth round of their bout in Russia. Kovalev was able to regain his bearings, though, as he reestablished control with his persistent jab and stopped Yarde in the 11th.

It was a physically grueling fight for Yarde, and in his return in February, his handlers took no chances as they tabbed Diego Jair Ramirez (who had a record of 4-48-3 coming in) to be his opponent. Yarde ended up stopping Ramirez in the second round.

In Spelman (16-4, 8 KOs) Yarde is facing a much better opponent. Just two months ago, Spelman went the distance and lost a unanimous decision to undefeated Lyndon Arthur.

The full card

  • Anthony Yarde vs. Dec Spelman, 10 rounds, light heavyweights

  • Mark Heffron vs. Denzel Bentley, 10 rounds, middleweights

  • Cedrick Peynaud vs. Ekow Essuman, 10 rounds, welterweights

  • Nathan Gorman vs. Richard Lartey, 10 rounds, heavyweights

  • Mohammad Bilal Ali vs. TBA, 4 rounds, lightweights

  • Amin Jahanzeb vs. TBA, 6 rounds, featherweights

  • Josh Frankham vs. TBA, 4 rounds, junior middleweights

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