By Cliff Rold
This weekend, boxing’s biggest stop won’t be in the US. It won’t even be in prime time. There will be plenty of action in the States but the biggest fight of the week will happen Saturday afternoon on the American dial (AWE, 2:30 PM EST/11:30 AM PST).
For those with access to AWE, it won’t be a short day at the fights. As has become common, fans will get the full Sky Sports coverage. There are ten fights on the card. Most of them will likely air here. If you’re setting a DVR, set it for the overrun as the typical AWE show can go an hour over more over the expected finish time.
After the long wait, fans will see a pair of Jr. welterweight titlists lock up. Fans in Scotland are surely primed for local favorite and WBA beltholder Ricky Burns (41-5-1, 14 KO) in his first attempt, after titles in three weight classes, at unification. Fans in Namibia will surely be thrilled to root for their man, IBF/IBO titlist Julius Indongo (21-0, 11 KO) as he attempts to win a second belt in only his second title fight.
Fans in the States?
It might be safe to say many might not have realized until right now that Burns-Indongo was happening this weekend.
More than a few might have missed the news of this fight altogether.
But it’s happening.
It’s an unlikely event. Few had seen Indongo fight before winning a belt late last year. Burns even being in this position was an unlikely story not long ago. Three losses in four fights from March 2013 to May 2014 seemed to signal his best days were behind him. That’s probably still true but he’s here and still taking tough fights.
Both men should be applauded for making the fight and fans with access should tune in. While neither Indongo nor Burns might be considered the best at 140 lbs. right now, their willingness to fight each other will allow both to at least move closer to the top of the mountain. In a class ruled currently by superb lineal, WBC, and WBO champion Terence Crawford (30-0, 21 KO), closer might be as close as either man gets.
Burns already knows how good Crawford is. Crawford defeated him for his first title, the WBO lightweight strap, in March 2014. Crawford earned a clear unanimous decision daring what Indongo will this weekend by traveling to Scotland for a big opportunity. Burns hasn’t been unbeatable at home but it’s always riskier to play on another man’s home court.
What Burns doesn’t know yet is how good Indongo is. He’s not alone. Indongo burst onto the world scene last December with a stunning 40-second knockout of previously undefeated Eduard Troyanovsky. As will be the case this weekend, Indongo was playing the road warrior for that first title shot, upsetting the Russian titlist in Russia. It was Indongo’s first trip outside his native Namibia.
This will be his second.
Should he win, could a trip to the States be a third? Crawford would have two belts, as would Indongo. Let’s assume Burns might never go near Crawford again (and their might not be a market for that fight anyways). That doesn’t mean Indongo wouldn’t be an attractive foe with two straps to his credit. The chance for a four-belt unification is rare in boxing. While Crawford waits for a big name opportunity, a clean out of all the hardware in his class could surely be enticing. It wouldn’t hurt his bona fides.
Likewise, Indongo would have the chance to go from nowhere to king with three passport stamps. That’s a hell of a story. For now, just food for thought. With four belts around, four mandatories often beckon and boxing politics have a way of making a simple concept into complicated reality.
The reality of boxing also rears its head in preventing these sorts of match-ups as and more often than they are made. For a night, a unification match can pay well. Holding a belt and navigating through winnable defenses can pay more by spreading out the labor and maximizing available paydays.
There is nothing wrong with a more purist perception that there are too many titles and they water down the concept of what a champion is. It’s true. Readers in this corner have read as much and more over the years.
That doesn’t mean we can’t respect the risk involved when two men agree to risk an easier path to livelihood. Guys with belts have easier access to income the overwhelming majority of the time. Currently, the only unified titlists in boxing are Andre Ward (light heavyweight), Gennady Golovkin (middleweight), Keith Thurman (welterweight), and Crawford. Not including WBA sub-champions in some divisions (versus their ‘sooooper’ champs who hold higher regard), boxing has over 60 ‘world champions’ in seventeen weight classes with an available 68 primary belts of the WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO variety.
After this weekend, a whopping five of the men who hold those titles will have more than one. The winner of Burns-Indongo will decide that fifth.
Outside their native markets, this has been an affair kept all too quiet. There’s still time to make some noise and plenty of time to plan to give them some deserved eyes.
Anyone who still doubts whether Vasyl Lomachenko is special is kidding themselves…Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward may be the best real feud in boxing since Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. Most of the time, all the talk is about getting butts in seats. Sometimes, two fighters genuinely hold disdain for one another. This is both and more power to them…Finally saw Stranger Things and waited too long. What a fun little show…Shouldn’t the Justice League posters be a little more, well, fun? It’s live action Super Friends. No need to be stoic…Keith Thurman calling out Manny Pacquiao? Good. That’s what he should be doing. It’s a pay-per-view fight that would be worthy of the price tag.
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 [email protected]