The last weekend in October brings four boxing cards involving some of the best fighters in the sport, as Naoya Inoue, Oleksandr Usyk and Gervonta Davis, among others, step into the ring.
Golden Boy Promotions hosts a card on Friday highlighted by middleweight contender Jaime Munguia and a host of their bright young prospects.
Saturday is a full day of boxing from across the globe, with shows taking place in Russia, England and Las Vegas, plus the first major boxing show in the U.S., with a live audience at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of this weekend:
“Monster” Inoue makes his U.S. debut on Halloween
Unified bantamweight world titleholder Naoya Inoue finally makes his debut under the Top Rank banner on Saturday, when he faces Jason Moloney inside the bubble at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas (ESPN+ 7:30 p.m. ET).
Before the coronavirus pandemic halted the sport, Inoue was slated to face WBO titlist John Riel Casimero on April 25. Not only did that fight get scratched, but Inoue’s next fight also was backed up several months.
Bob Arum, whose company signed Inoue to a promotional deal after he defeated Nonito Donaire in the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament finals in November, is eager to see him compete again.
“It’s terrific,” Arum said. “Obviously, we wanted him to fight before this. Then we ran into the pandemic. The MGM was hoping, when we were planning it, to get, like, 2,000 tourists from Japan. It would’ve been a much different event from what we’re doing now — no question about it. But the pandemic is something we have no control [over], except to work around it.”
Although Moloney (21-1, 18 KOs) is a solid contender — rated seventh in the division by ESPN — many were looking forward to seeing Inoue (19-0, 16 KOs) have the opportunity to add the WBO belt to his collection. Inoue-Casimero would be a shootout between two of the most potent punchers in the division. Arum still hopes that fight can be made in the future.
“That’s a fight that we wanted, but the purse that [Casimero] wanted was a lot more than what we could afford,” Arum said. “Now, could we have afforded it in normal times, if we had a big gate? Of course. But we didn’t.”
Casimero has fought once since, with a third-round TKO of Duke Micah on Sept. 26.
“I am not disappointed,” Inoue said of not facing Casimero. “He is on my radar only because he has the WBO title.
“He is one of my targets if he has the belt.”
Title fight: Naoya Inoue vs. Jason Moloney, 12 rounds, for Inoue’s IBF/WBA bantamweight world titles
Title fight: Ewa Brodnicka vs. Mikaela Mayer, 10 rounds, for Brodnicka’s WBO junior lightweight title
Julian Rodriguez vs. Jose Eduardo Lopez Rodriguez, 10 rounds, junior welterweights
Robson Conceicao vs. Luis Coria, 10 rounds, junior lightweights
Andy Hiraoka vs. Rickey Edwards, eight rounds, junior welterweights
Andres Cortes vs. George Acosta, eight rounds, lightweights
Jared Anderson vs. Luis Eduardo Pena, six rounds, heavyweights
Weighty issues for “Tank” Davis
The Showtime pay-per-view (9 p.m. ET Saturday) is headlined by WBA “regular” lightweight titlist Gervonta Davis and WBA “super” junior lightweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz. It’s a fight at 130 pounds, but it will have both titles on the line. It’s reminiscent of when Sugar Ray Leonard and Donny Lalonde fought for super middleweight and light heavyweight belts back in 1988.
Lalonde, who came into the fight as the WBC 175-pound champion, was forced to get down to the super middleweight limit of 168 pounds because of the star power and leverage that Leonard possessed.
Davis (23-0, 22 KOs) had major issues making the lightweight limit for his fight against Yuriorkis Gamboa in December. Not only was he two hours late for the official weigh-in, but he also needed extra time to get down. He finally weighed 134.5 pounds.
Basically, what the WBA did is give Davis a backup plan to make weight in this fight. But last week, Davis promised, “For sure I’m going to make 130. I’m positive.”
What happened last year before the fight with Gamboa?
“Just me … not playing around but not doing what I was supposed to have been doing, at the last minute,” Davis told ESPN.
That wasn’t the first time Davis had issues making weight. In 2017, he lost his IBF 130-pound belt on the scale after he failed to make weight prior to his contest with Francisco Fonseca. Davis eventually defeated Fonseca by eighth-round KO, and the title became vacant.
Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs), who moved up to junior lightweight last year, hopes Davis can make the weight.
“I’m a little worried that he’s not going to make weight,” said Santa Cruz, adding, “I think he might make weight, and he might prove people wrong, so we’re just going to wait and see what happens.”
“Tank” Davis is the naturally bigger, stronger fighter. How competitive this fight is could hinge on whether he squeezes down to 130 or comes in closer to 135. Santa Cruz began his career as a junior bantamweight (115 pounds), and his first major title came in the bantamweight division (118 pounds). By contrast, Davis began as a featherweight (126 pounds).
What if he doesn’t make the junior lightweight limit?
“We’re going to make him drop as much as he can. If he’s going to come in at 133, 134, we’re going to make him drop as much as he can,” Santa Cruz said. “If he can’t, I think there’s going to be penalties. He’s going to have to pay a fine or something for those pounds that he’s over. But we’re going to try to not let him be more than 2 pounds over.”
There are penalty clauses in place in case Davis misses the 130-pound limit, Rene Rodriguez, Santa Cruz’s manager, told ESPN. But you get the sense that this fight will move forward if he isn’t too far from 130.
“One or two pounds,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think [Leo] will go up to 135, so if [Davis] comes in at 134, 135, it’s going to be tough to do. But if he’s at a reasonable weight, I think [Leo] really wants to go through with it.”
Santa Cruz admits that in this instance, both fighters’ coming in as junior lightweight favors him.
“He’s not going to have too much time to recover, to put on too much weight,” he said. “Which is a good thing for me.”
There will be no shortage of interested observers as the fighters hit the scales on Friday.
“The weigh-in should be a pay-per-view,” Rodriguez quipped. “It’s going to be a big, big day.”
Title fight: Gervonta Davis vs. Leo Santa Cruz, 12 rounds, for Davis’ WBA lightweight title and Santa Cruz’s WBA junior lightweight title
Mario Barrios vs. Ryan Karl, 12 rounds, for Barrios’ WBA “regular” junior welterweight title
Diego Magdaleno vs. Isaac Cruz Gonzalez, 10 rounds, IBF lightweight title eliminator
Regis Prograis vs. Juan Heraldez, 10 rounds, junior welterweights
Michel Rivera vs. Ladarius Miller, 10 rounds, lightweights
Jerry Perez vs. Joshua Zuniga, eight rounds, junior lightweights
Julian Rodarte vs. Jose Morales, eight rounds, lightweights
Kent Cruz vs. Dieumerci Nzau, six rounds, welterweights
Anthony Cuba vs. Leon Cavalli, four rounds, lightweights
The return of Usyk
Former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs) has his second bout as a heavyweight as he faces Dereck Chisora (32-9, 23 KOs) at Wembley Arena in London (DAZN, 2 p.m. ET Saturday) in a scheduled 12-round contest.
This bout should give us a much better gauge of where Usyk is as a heavyweight. Last year, he faced late replacement Chazz Witherspoon in Chicago, stopping him in seven rounds in a rather uninspired effort. But Chisora is a real challenge, and a convincing victory by Usyk will give legitimacy to his status as a heavyweight contender.
Usyk is the No. 1 contender in the WBO rankings, and should he come out victorious against Chisora, he has rights to a title shot in 2021 against WBO titlist Anthony Joshua.
The co-main event on this show is an IBF lightweight eliminator between Lee Selby (28-2, 9 KOs) and George Kambosos (18-0, 10 KOs). The winner of this contest becomes the IBF mandatory for undisputed champion Teofimo Lopez Jr.
Oleksandr Usyk vs. Dereck Chisora, 12 rounds, heavyweights
Lee Selby vs. George Kambosos Jr., 12 rounds, IBF lightweight eliminator
Tommy McCarthy vs Bilal Laggoune, 12 rounds, for vacant European cruiserweight title
Title fight: Savannah Marshall vs. Hannah Rankin, 10 rounds, for the vacant WBO middleweight title
Amy Timlin and Carly Skelly, 10 rounds, for the vacant commonwealth junior featherweight title
Dave Allen vs. Christopher Lovejoy, 10 rounds, heavyweights
Kash Farooq vs. Martin Tecuapetla, eight rounds, bantamweights
From Russia with love
It has been more than two years since former unified cruiserweight champion Murat Gassiev has entered the ring. Gassiev was outboxed conclusively by Usyk in the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament finals in 2018 and hasn’t fought since.
Like Usyk, Gassiev made the decision to move up to the game’s glamour division, but he has been beset by a host of injuries, including a damaged right shoulder, ligament and tendon issues with his right hand, and an injury to the nose.
Yet Gassiev (26-1, 19 KOs), who returns Saturday against Nuri Seferi (41-9, 23 KOs) at the WOW Arena in Russia, gives himself a clean bill of health.
“I’m 100 percent ready,” Gassiev told ESPN. “My body feels good. Mentally, I feel good. I’m ready to go.
“It’s been two years. I’ve been waiting a long time. I hope it never happens like that again. But my body, right now, it feels better. I’m ready for anything in that ring.”
Gassiev will be without longtime trainer Abel Sanchez, who has been in contact with Gassiev on a regular basis but is unable to travel to Russia. As immigration policies ease, Gassiev says he has every intention of going back to the mountains of Big Bear, California, to continue training with Sanchez.
Gassiev could become another interesting piece in the heavyweight division, and Sanchez believes that Gassiev’s raw power will absolutely move up with him.
Murat Gassiev vs. Nuri Seferi, 12 rounds, heavyweights
Shakhabas Makhmudov vs. Khusniddin Pulatov, 10 rounds, welterweights
Edgar Ghukasyan vs. Emmanuel Amos, 10 rounds, junior middleweights
Stepan Diyun vs. Kulwa Bushiri, 10 rounds, junior middleweights
Adlan Abdurashidov vs. Idd Pialari, 10 rounds, junior welterweights
Arslan Iallyev vs. Ariel Esteban Bracamonte, eight rounds, heavyweights
David Dzukaev vs. Farrukh Juraev, six rounds, light heavyweights
Yoenis Tellez vs. Andrey Tomashchuk, six rounds, junior middleweights
Tigran Uzlyan vs. Shodilbek Sharobiddinov, six rounds, welterweights
Vusal Aliev vs. Radmir Abdurakhmanov, four rounds, welterweights
Friday night fever
Former WBO junior middleweight titlist Jaime Munguia (35-0, 28 KOs) faces Tureano Johnson (21-2-1, 15 KOs) at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California (DAZN, 8 p.m. ET Friday). It will be interesting to see Munguia’s development under the guidance of Erik Morales, the Hall of Fame fighter who trains Munguia.
“We have been working on all types of things. We’ve had a lot of time to train,” said Munguia, now in his third training camp with Morales. “We’ve had more time than ever before because we didn’t have a fight confirmed for some time. Once we had the fight confirmed, then we started increasing the pace.”
Their first fight together came against Patrick Allotey (KO4) in September 2019. Back in January, Munguia stopped Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan in the 11th round.
Morales replaced Robert Alcazar as Munguia’s trainer after a string of unimpressive title defenses at 154, at which Munguia’s progress as a fighter stagnated.
Munguia’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, who was trained by Alcazar for a good part of his career, believes that the problem is that Alcazar tried to turn Munguia too much into “The Golden Boy.”
“It wasn’t his style at all,” De La Hoya said. “He had him on his toes too much. He took away his power. He took away his arsenal and what he knows best.”
Munguia is not De La Hoya, but more like Antonio Margarito, a classic, Mexican-style pressure fighter, who gets inside and breaks down his opponents with an array of body shots.
“Yeah, I want to see him brawl — but smart,” De La Hoya said. “You don’t want to see him box, and on his toes, it’s wasted movement.”
Munguia also believes his style is a better fit with Morales.
“We try to mesh with each other’s style. We do it to the best of our mutual benefit,” Munguia said. “We both know that I must throw punches and combinations. He also wants to make sure that I’m standing correctly and that I’m properly placing my punches. There’s an endless number of things that we work on, and I’m getting better in all of them.”
Just 24 years old, Munguia still has time to be molded into a more well-rounded fighter and become a legitimate player in the middleweight division.
“I want to show that I am an elite fighter at 160 pounds. I want to show that I have kept advancing and working. More than anything, I want to show that I am ready for the biggest challenges in this division,” Munguia said.
Jaime Munguia vs. Tureano Johnson, 12 rounds, middleweights
Rashidi Ellis vs. Alexis Rocha, 12 rounds, welterweights
Title fight: Elwin Soto vs. Carlos Buitrago, 12 rounds, for Soto’s WBO junior flyweight title
Lamont Roach Jr. vs. Neil John Tabano, 10 rounds, junior lightweights
Bektemir Melikuziev vs. Alan Campa, 10 rounds, super middleweights
Marlen Esparza vs. Sulem Urbina, eight rounds, flyweights
Tristan Kalkreuth vs. Tyler Vogel, six rounds, cruiserweights