By Jake Donovan
When DAZN USA was first set to enter the boxing business, promoter Eddie Hearn went quickly on the hunt in search of talent. Naturally, some of the biggest names in the sport were desired, but also key to England’s leading promoter looking to make a splash in the U.S. market was finding talented and hungry fighters willing to buy in to his vision.
In that vein, it was fitting that Demetrius Andrade was the first fighter to sign up to fight exclusively on the new streaming platform. The 2008 U.S. Olympian and unbeaten former 154-pound titlist was looking to make some noise in the middleweight division—but needed ring activity to go along with such desire.
Now, just three months following his vacant middleweight title winning effort in his DAZN debut, Andrade returns to make his first defense. It will come versus Russia’s Artur Akavov, with the two set to square off Friday evening at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theatre in New York City.
“It feels great to be out so soon – it’s the first time that has happened to me for so long,” admits Andrade (26-0, 16KOs), whose previous promotional issues with Star Boxing and Banner Promotions left him with just six fights in nearly five years before signing with Hearn last summer.
“It used to be eight months or once a year, so it just goes to show the difference between the levels of promoters that you go with. Eddie is keeping me active and he knows that the more active I am the better the fighter I am.”
Of course, there’s all-around benefit to a top boxer remaining active. For his new promoter, it means a chance to increase his client’s marketability, which in turn would—or should—lead to the type of big fights that have long eluded Andrade’s career.
“I honestly don’t believe we’ve yet seen the best of Demetrius Andrade,” Hearn insisted during Wednesday’s final pre-fight press conference in midtown New York City. “He’s a fighter that America should really get behind.”
It hasn’t been the easiest journey for Andrade since turning pro more than 10 years ago. A 6’1” southpaw who can do a little bit of everything extremely well isn’t exactly the prototypical opponent for any aspiring top middleweight.
Hope in turning that corner came last fall, when Andrade was named mandatory challenger to then-middleweight titlist Billy Joe Saunders. The two were due to dance last October, only for Saunders to be denied a license by the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission after testing positive for banned substance oxilofrine.
The unbeaten Brit was stripped of his title as a result, which Andrade scooped up after soundly outpointing previously unbeaten late substitute Walter Kautondokwa.
“There’s been criticism of how Demetrius Andrade became world champion because (Saunders) was unable to go through and vacated,” Hearn acknowledged but not without offering a counterpoint. “But the fact is that he did everything he was required to do to become world champion.
“Now that he’s got that title, there’s no more excuses for the top middleweights to not fight him. Guys like Daniel Jacobs, Canelo (Alvarez), Gennady Golovkin—he’s been denied these opportunities before but now he can no longer be avoided.”
Those fights remain high on Andrade’s wish list, but for now will gladly settle for something he hasn’t enjoyed since 2012—a steady stream of ring activity.
“It’s great to be back in the ring. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this active,” Andrade noted on Wednesday. “Every opportunity that comes my way, I’m going to take. I’m ready for the best at 154, 160 and maybe even 168.
“Right now, I got to take care of business in front of me and that’s Artur. I just have to be me, stay tall, dark and handsome and the rest will come.”
Akavov (19-2, 8KOs) comes in having won three straight since his lone previous title attempt, a narrow points loss to Saunders in Dec. ’16. Whereas Saunders with the Russian middleweight throughout the first defense of his title, Andrade is looking to treat the fight as his audition for bigger and better fights—along with helping Hearn plead his case as the next leading promoter in the U.S. market
“Eddie wants to make a statement, show people that the way it’s done in the UK is how it should be done in the US,” Andrade notes in admiration. “He’s young and I am too—we have the same hunger, he wants to be the top promoter and I want to be the top fighter.”