It was easy to look at the schedule for boxing’s first couple months this year and think the sport was in a waiting pattern.
When it comes to big events, it’s certainly the case. We’re waiting…
…for Gervonta Davis-Ryan Garcia to be finalized…
…for Tyson Fury-Oleksandr Usyk to become more than a negotiation…
…for a concrete date for Stephen Fulton-Naoya Inoue…
…but waiting isn’t all that’s going on in the sweet science.
For the more rabid boxing fans, 2023 so far has been the sort of year that genuinely feeds fandom. For those who just check in when the headlines get bigger, it doesn’t really matter. They’re not popping in for every Saturday night or afternoon of overseas ESPN+ streams.
The fans that do tune in for as much as they can get are being rewarded with real red meat. This weekend looks like more of the same. DAZN has a pair of cards on tap with main events that look both intriguing and potentially violent.
In the first part of Saturday (DAZN, 2 PM EST), the winner of BoxingScene.com’s 2022 Fight of the Year returns to the ring for the first time since rallying to dump Michael Conlan through the ropes last March. 34-year old WBA featherweight titlist Leigh Wood (26-2, 16 KO) appears to have an even tougher assignment this time.
There are times when the “wrong” fighter wins a fight. Of course there is never a wrong winner when the verdict is reached fair and square. 24-year old Mauricio Lara (25-2-1, 18 KO) scored a 2021 stoppage of then-undefeated former titlist Josh Warrington that couldn’t have been more so. Lara went on the road to do it too.
Warrington took an ass whooping from Lara the first time and things weren’t looking much better in a rematch later that year. We never found out for sure. Lara suffered an accidental cut early and the fight never got past the fourth round, rendering it a technical draw. Still, it was Warrington with something to prove and to the victor goes the spoils right?
Not so much.
Warrington has since won and lost another title at featherweight while Lara lingered in the wings. Lara wasn’t supposed to win that first Warrington fight and the win didn’t speed up his chances for more. Opportunity is here now. Almost two years after the upset of Warrington, Lara will face Wood with a chance to win his first major title and should be considered the favorite.
Given the way this year has gone so far, expect fireworks anyways. While the Tank Davis-Hector Garcia started off the year with a star fix, there have been several fights since that have kept the hits coming by exceeding expectations. Artur Beterbiev was assumed as a favorite over Anthony Yarde; fans were treated to a thrilling clash of big punchers before that proved true. It was an early fight of the year contender.
So was Emanuel Navarrete’s quest for a title in his third weight class. Navarrete having to come off the floor against unheralded Liam Wilson wasn’t on everyone’s Bingo card. Amanda Serrano rose to undisputed at featherweight but had to work hard against a relentless Erika Cruz. Last weekend’s O’Shaquie Foster-Rey Vargas fight was far from a classic but it was a hell of a breakout performance for Foster.
Wood-Lara fits into this mix nicely. So does DAZN’s other main event (Saturday, 6 PM EST).
While boxing builds towards Fulton-Inoue, the rest of Jr. featherweight will offer plenty of additional red meat, starting with a non-title clash between two consensus top ten battlers. 28-year old former bantamweight and Jr. featherweight champion Luis Nery (33-1, 25 KO) wants to be back in the title mix. Nery is 2-0 since suffering a stoppage loss to Brandon Figueroa in 2021 but he’s never looked like the rising star who excited hardcore fans on the way to his two contentious wins over Shinsuke Yamanaka at bantamweight.
A real test awaits this weekend.
34-year old Azat Hovhannisyan (21-3, 17 KO) has won seven straight since a 2018 loss to Rey Vargas. It was Hovhannisyan’s lone title shot to date and, given his age, a loss to Nery would be a heavy obstacle to a second chance. Both men can fight, both can punch, and neither can really afford a loss right now.
It’s hard to describe a boxing match in more appealing terms.
There are only so many events to go around. There are always plenty of good fights to be made and seen between them. Boxing’s matchmakers are on a roll so far this year making this a rewarding time to be an all-the-time fan.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com