SAN DIEGO, October 25, 2016 – Regular readers of this column must think the writer was kidnapped or on a long vacation. Although there have been some enjoyable regional bouts among aspiring competitors and a few exciting fights outside the United States, there hasn’t been much worth firing up the keyboard.
Within the last 48 hours, the boxing schedule has brightened with the announcement of a dynamic schedule of bouts from Showtime Sports and Premier Boxing Champions, along with several other bouts including Bernard Hopkins vs. Joe Smith Jr. and the addition of the professional debut of U.S. two-time Olympic boxing gold medalist Claressa “T-Rex” Shields on the Kovalev vs. Ward undercard, both on HBO.
Showtime Sports executive vice president and general manager Stephen Espinoza got to deliver the good news today. There are five new fight cards on the schedule, one in 2016 and the other four in early 2017. All are in association with PBC, which has not had a card on free or subscription television since July.
Best of all for fans, all main events are contests between legitimate champions and contenders, nearly all 50-50 fights between boxers the fans want to see.
The schedule announced Tuesday:
December 10, USC Galen Center, Los Angeles: Featherweights Jesus Cuellar (29-1, 21 KOs) of Argentina versus Abner Mares (29-2-1, 15 KOs) of Los Angeles via Mexico, USC Galen Center, Los Angeles. This fight was announced hours earlier and was originally scheduled in June in New York. Mares failed an eye test, but has now been cleared for this fight. Mares will have a home town advantage, is a former three division champion who will fight for one of Cuellar’s titles.
The news today is the addition of a junior middleweight co-feature between undefeated Americans Jermall Charlo (24-0, 18 KOs) of Houston and Julian “J-Rock” Williams of Philadelphia. To many fight fans this is the bigger bout of the night. Whoever wins this bout will move himself to the upper ranks of the division.
The 2017 fights:
January 14, Location TBA: Super middleweight champions Badou Jack (20-1-2, 12 KOs) of Las Vegas via Sweden will finally fight James DeGale (23-1, 14 KOs) of England in a title unification. Whoever wins will be considered the number one fighter in this division. Both men fought as part of a mini-tournament in April, with the winners (or titleholders, since Jack fought to a draw with Lucien Bute) scheduled to meet. Fans have been wondering why this hasn’t already happened. Water under the bridge and fans will forgive now that the bout is on the books.
The location hasn’t been selected, but Espinoza (and DeGale via Twitter) said it will be in the United States. I’ll predict it happens in Jack’s adopted hometown of Las Vegas. British fans came out in force to support Amir Khan’s fight in Las Vegas against Canelo Alvarez and who wouldn’t like a mid-winter trip to Las Vegas?
January 28, MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas: Carl Frampton (23-0, 14 KOs) of Northern Ireland vs. Leo Santa Cruz 2 (32-1-1, 18 KOs) of Los Angeles via Mexico fight a rematch of their terrific July 30 title fight in Brooklyn, won by Frampton. The pair began talking about a rematch almost immediately, and it’s good news to see this fight made in a reasonable time with no so-called “tune ups” in between. Frampton’s had a breakout year in 2016 with wins over Santa Cruz and Scott Quigg. Another win and Frampton would cement his status at the top of the junior featherweight division.
There will also be a solid co-main event between lightweight champion Dejan Zlaticanin (18-0, 11 KOs) of Montenegro against former two-division champion Mikey Garcia (35-0, 29 KOs) of California. Garcia recently returned to the ring after a two year plus layoff due to contract problems.
February 11, Location TBA: Adrien Broner (32-2, 24 KOs) of Cincinnati has become boxing’s designated villain for his bad behavior outside the ring. The former four division champion will fight Adrian Granados (18-4-2, 12 KOs) of Chicago. Although Broner has had trouble making weight at 140 pounds and said he planned to move up to welterweight, this will be a junior lightweight fight. Don’t let Granados’ record put you off. He scored an upset knockout win over rising star Imir Amam a year ago, and his losses have all been on narrow judges scorecards. While there is no location yet, why not put this bout in Chicago and make it a battle for Midwest bragging rights?
March 4, Location TBA: Undefeated welterweights Keith “One Time” Thurman (27-0, 22 KOs) of Florida and Danny “Swift” Garcia (32-0, 18 KOs) of Philadelphia is the match everyone has wanted to see happen for several years. Thurman defeated challenger Shawn Porter in a Fight of the Year contender in June, while Garcia beat Robert Guerrero in January (how long ago does this seem?). Garcia has a fight on the books November 12 against Samuel Vargas at Temple University in his hometown of Philadelphia.
This fight demands a major venue and it’s likely to be the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Showtime’s Espinoza said this fight could be aired on CBS, which also aired the Thurman vs. Porter fight. NCAA March Madness playoffs could derail this plan, but it could also offer a built-in audiences of sports fans who might be willing to give boxing a look in between watching their brackets.
In a written announcement, Espinoza said “This is a slate of high-level, evenly-matched, 50-50 fights—the best fighting the best—which has become the calling card of Showtime Championship Boxing,” said Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports. “Every fight we are announcing today features a top 10-ranked champion taking on a top 10-ranked challenger; in many cases, it’s top-five vs. top-five.”
Irritated, impatient fans expressed disappointment (and some stronger thoughts) via social media and boxing writers were increasingly critical about the lack of big stakes bouts normally expected from late September through early December. Many of the world’s best boxers were missing in action. From unavoidable injuries to failed drug tests to squabbles over money to flocks of ducks and chickens, fights were falling through or never getting made at all.
It’s (almost) enough to drive you to the UFC.
A great deal of the finger pointing was directed at Premier Boxing Champions, which promised fans nonstop boxing action but whose top fighters had made just one appearance all year long, and which hadn’t offered a top bout since Errol Spence Jr. appeared on the closing day of the Rio Olympics.
PBC went a long way toward shutting up its critics with today’s announcement, but the real credit likely goes behind the scenes to Showtime’s Espinoza and to Richard Schaefer, the former Golden Boy Boxing executive who started his own promotions company, Ringstar Sports. Schaefer is not officially aligned with PBC or agent Al Haymon, but he made no secret of his hope to promote some PBC events when he opened his doors at Ringstar. Schaefer also defended PBC from its critics, and is the promoter for Mares vs. Cuellar. Expect to see his company attached to more cards in the near future.
Although Wladimir Klitschko and Gennady Golovkin won’t be seen in the ring again in 2016 as hoped, the boxing schedule has come to life like Frankenstein’s monster. Manny Pacquiao vs. Jessie Vargas on November 5 with Nonito Donaire and Oscar Valdez on the undercard kicks off the resurrection, followed by the long awaited showdown between Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward two weeks later on November 19.
Still working on scheduling opponents are British heavyweight star Anthony Joshua, and American super lightweight champion Terence Crawford, both on December 10. Pray to your boxing gods to make it happen.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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Copyright © 2016 by Falcon Valley Group