By Cliff Rold
So, the old man still has it against the right foes.
We already knew that. It was still something to see last week. Bernard Hopkins’s knockdown of Beibut Shumenov in round eleven was a memorable moment to punctuate the evening. Will we get some proper punctuation this weekend? Note, there will be a Thursday night edition of Friday Night Fights this week (Josesito Lopez-Aron Martinez, 9 PM EST/6 PM PST) as well as a Unimas show late on Saturday (Jose Zepdea-Rob Frankel, 11 PM EST/PST). Beyond those two shows…
These are the picks of the week.
Pick It: World Champion Wladimir Klitschko vs. Alex Leapai (Saturday, ESPN, 5 PM EST/2 PM PST)
After the steaming turd that was his successful defense against Alexander Povetkin, why would a fight against a fighter who really has no business with a mandatory slot be the pick of the week? It’s all about network location. Over the next two weeks, ESPN is investing in the Heavyweight division and increasing their overall investment in boxing by doing so. If the ratings are strong, we can hope for more. HBO and Showtime are fine but the audience mass available through ESPN is substantially better. It’s the next best thing to network TV. If ESPN can get some momentum going in what is classically the easiest division to mainstream, boxing can only benefit. Combine that with this: Klitschko (61-3, 51 KO) is sometimes more watchable against the hapless. Leapai (30-4-2, 24 KO) may or may not fit that description. It certainly looks that way on paper.
Pick Fly: #1 Juan Francisco Estrada vs. Richie Mepranum (Saturday, Azteca America, 10 PM EST/PST)
In 2013, Estrada (25-2, 18 KO) won two of the major titles at Flyweight with an excellent upset of Brian Viloria. He followed with an exciting, validating title defense against legitimate contender Milan Melindo. Both of those bouts stole the show on HBO2 shows from Macau. His reward? It isn’t an upgrade to HBO prime time. The urge is typically not to recommend Azteca shows because one never knows whose Azteca America listings will actually show frigging fights. Estrada vs. Mepranum (27-3-1, 6 KO) might air in your locale. If it does, watch it. Estrada is one of the best Mexican fighters going today. He’s also a standout in arguably the most exciting, maybe even best period, weight class in boxing today.
Pick Showtime: Tripleheader (Saturday, Showtime, 9:30 PM EST/PST)
So this is one of those cards that everyone seems ready to drown in antipathy. In a year where the two flagship networks are struggling to provide subscribers the quality they should expect, we have three fights with prohibitive favorites in every bout. Welterweight Keith Thurman (22-0, 20 KO) faces former Lightweight titlist Julio Diaz (40-9-1, 25 KO). Lucas Matthysse (34-3, 32 KO) returns from a loss to Danny Garcia against John Molina (27-3, 22 KO). Rising Lightweight Omar Figueroa (22-0-1, 17 KO) tackles Jerry Belmontes (19-3, 5 KO). None of the men in position of opponent are so terrible as to be without any chances, but those chances are mighty slim. This seems like a night designed to make the desired victors come out looking like beasts. We’ll see how it goes.
We’ll find out amidst what is really a pre-fight show for Saturday.
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Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org