If the old adage “when it rains it pours” were applied to boxing, then it would be fair to say we’re in the midst of a storm.
It’s been raining the best kind of leather almost since the New Year’s ball dropped.
Last Saturday was the latest addition to an exceptional start to the year. We got a spirited mini-war at Jr. welterweight when Subriel Matias batted Jeremias Ponce into submission, followed the next day with a feel-good stoppage win at cruiserweight for sturdy veteran Badou Jack. We also got the announcement of Gervonta Davis-Ryan Garcia in the last week.
The happenings this weekend should compliment a 2023 slate that already also featured Lara-Wood, Ellis-Villa, Beterbiev-Yarde, Nery-Hovhannisyan, and Serrano-Cruz among others. The in-ring quality has been consistently entertaining and often thrilling through two months of this boxing ‘season.’
One can assume this weekend was destined for a good fight from jump.
The word on the wind a few months ago was that the sport was headed toward a rematch when 26-year old Brandon Figueroa (23-1-1, 18 KO) stepped back into the ring. In November, it was reported at BoxingScene that a “petition filed by the unified WBC/WBO junior featherweight title to next compete at featherweight was unanimously approved by the WBC Board of Governors…during its convention in Acapulco, Mexico. The ruling also confirms plans for Fulton to face Brandon Figueroa in a rematch to their terrific clash from (November 2021).”
Fulton-Figueroa II sounded like good news. It wasn’t the unification fight Fulton wanted at 122 pounds with Murodjon Akhmadaliev but the first Fulton-Figueroa fight was a fight of the year contender. It spotlighted two young battlers in their prime and a rematch, with both still prime and a little more seasoned, figured to be another quality night.
Sometimes the drive planned hits a change of course.
While an official announcement is still not quite here, the overwhelming expectation is we’re going to get something even better than the rematch. Fulton will remain at Jr. featherweight to face bantamweight king Naoya Inoue. It might be the best fight boxing can make in 2023 between two fighters in their absolute prime.
And it’s coming.
This development had one downside though: it left Figueroa without a dance partner. The opening was quickly filled. Saturday night (Showtime, 9 PM EST), Figueroa will face 27-year old Mark Magsayo (24-1, 16 KO) in what could be a blazing affair.
Figueroa is 1-0 since his loss to Fulton, stopping Carlos Castro in his lone appearance of 2022. Magsayo comes in off a loss but his 2022 was a tale of two distinct appearances. He won the WBC featherweight strap by upsetting Gary Russell, ending the sport's longest reign (by duration if not complemented by activity). Magsayo then immediately lost his first defense via split decision to Rey Vargas, scoring a knockdown in the ninth but never able to tally the rounds he needed against a cagey, awkward foe.
The WBC’s interim strap will be up for grabs this weekend, a development made a little silly by a combination of factors. When Fulton-Figueroa II looked likely, it made some sense. Vargas was scheduled to move up and chase a belt at Jr. lightweight and, who knows, Vargas may yet elect not to return to featherweight after failing in that endeavor. Seeing the guy Vargas beat less than a year ago fighting for an interim belt immediately is par for the boxing course.
It has nothing to do with the quality of the fight. Magsayo has heavy hands and good speed. Figueroa can be a slow starter but he brings volume, pressure, violent attacks to the body, and sometimes leaky defense. Figueroa isn’t much for boring fights in general but the marriage of styles could mean some compelling moments this weekend.
If that’s the case, it will be more than enough to keep the sport’s momentum going for another week as we get closer to the sort of bigger events that allow the everyday fan to celebrate with those who only check in for certain names.
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.