Pick It: TBRB #9 Sergey Lipinets vs. #10 Jaron Ennis (Saturday, Showtime, 9:00 PM EST)

One part of boxing largely missing in 2021 is the space between prospect and titlist most fighters graduated through. Before Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns became one of the biggest fights of the 1980s, before either man won the titles that led to their unification showdown, they’d beaten several widely recognized contenders.

Just using old Ring ratings as a gauge, Leonard beat more than half-dozen fighters rated from Jr. welterweight to middleweight before he got to Wilfred Benitez. Now, too often it feels like the game is about safely landing at a belt with blue chip prospects before facing other tested talent. The ‘contenders’ faced are often sanctioning body specials if any contenders at all.

It makes Saturday’s welterweight clash a bit of a throwback. The 23-year old Ennis (26-0, 24 KO) looks the part of future ace but the proof isn’t there yet. His activity level given his age makes him one of the few fighters out there who could potentially have a serious career of 50-60 starts before he’s done. That was already encouraging. So is this matchmaking. There are easier paths to securing a shot at Errol Spence or Terence Crawford than 32-year old Sergey Lipinets (16-1-1, 12 KO). Lipinets is rugged, talented, and experienced enough to force new dimensions out of Ennis; steel to sharpen steel and potentially even knock it off course.

This excellent main event in arguably (and usually) boxing’s most talented division comes with solid support from IBF Jr. bantamweight titlist Jerwin Ancajas and another excellent rising welterweight in Eimantas Stanionis (12-0, 9 KO) against veteran Thomas Dulorme (25-4-1, 16 KO).        

Additional Shows to Watch For

Saturday - Benn vs. Vargas (DAZN, 2:00 PM EST)   

Being the son of one of the most exciting fighters of his generation can’t be easy. 24-year old welterweight Conor Benn (17-0, 11 KO) is doing his best to carve his own path, learning on the job and showing progress. 31-year old Samuel Vargas (31-6-2, 14 KO) was once a hopeful and now serves as a good test for others with hopes of their own. For Benn, it’s a little bit of comparison shopping as Vargas lasted to the seventh with Vergil Ortiz not long ago.  Potential Claressa Shields rival Savannah Marshall (9-0, 7 KO) is in action in defense of the WBO middleweight belt as well as a social media attention drawing bantamweight clash between 34-year old Ebanie Bridges (5-0, 2 KO) and 27-year old Shannon Courtenay (6-1, 3 KO) for a vacant WBA belt.   

Saturday - #2 Smith vs. Vlasov (ESPN, 10:00 PM EST)

31-year old Joe Smith (26-3, 21 KO) might be one fight from a crack at unified and lineal Light heavyweight king Artur Beterbiev. Before he can get there, he has to deal with a 34-year old Maxim Vlasov (45-3, 26 KO). Vlasov has competed for titles at cruiserweight and may have his last, best chance here to break through. Vlasov has never been stopped; Smith hasn’t been stopped in more than a decade. This could be a real lunch pail sluggers battle.

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 roldboxing@hotmail.com