One week after one of the biggest, and most debated, fights of the year, boxing delivered a flurry of activity on Saturday with three major titles changing hands by the end of the night.
At featherweight, Leigh Wood overcame a weight advantage and the ghosts of a knockout loss just months ago to regain the WBA featherweight belt from Maurico Lara. At cruiserweight, Chris Billam-Smith scored three knockdowns en route to lifting the WBO belt from undefeated Lawrence Okolie. Finally, at strawweight, Oscar Collazo became Puerto Rico’s quickest world champion with a stoppage of WBO titlist Melvin Jerusalem in just his seventh professional fight.
And that was only some of the action this weekend. Saturday also saw Terri Harper retain her WBA belt at Jr. middleweight with a decision over Ivana Habazin, stretching her win streak to three after a stoppage loss at Jr. lightweight to Alycia Baumgardner.
As a companion to Wood-Lara II, the featherweight division saw one champion retain his title. Luis Alberto Lopez went on the road late last year to win the IBF belt with a decision over Josh Warrington. He bettered that with a knockout of Irish Olympian Michael Conlan, in Northern Ireland, to retain on Saturday.
Just a week after Devin Haney’s win over Vasyl Lomachenko, and a month after Tank Davis’s knockout of Ryan Garcia, it was the sort of weekend emblematic of what is making 2023 such a special year.
It just keeps coming.
It’s not all perfect. The gross stoppage of Ismael Barroso-Rolly Romero, the overstated scoring debate over Haney-Lomachenko, the “how the hell did that happen” even score in Okolie versus Billam-Smith, and the absence so far of notable heavyweight action are reminders that boxing remains boxing. This year, the good is heavily outweighing the bad and there is a whole wave of fights now set to carry the sport through the next two months to keep it going.
Futures: For a look ahead, let’s focus on the action this weekend at 126 pounds.
At featherweight, could there be unification in anyone’s future? Wood’s win over Lara puts him back into the mix and Lopez now has a comparison shopping win over Conlan after Woods’ big knockout of Conlan last year. Lopez has won two in a row in the UK. A Wood fight would present the chance for a hat trick.
Lopez is an interesting new factor in the division. He’s won eleven in a row since a loss to Ruben Villa and is in a groove. Another possibility, considering Lopez-Conlan was on ESPN, would be Robeisy Ramirez should Ramirez retain in an upcoming defense.
The WBC title picture featuring Rey Vargas and Brandon Figueroa will likely need resolution before anyone can unify there but that’s two more rock solid names.
Unification fever has been a real thing at boxing the last couple years. Featherweight might have the pieces to add to it sooner than later.
The biggest headline of the week wasn’t about anything happening in the ring this week as much as something to come. It’s finally made. Terence Crawford and Errol Spence will meet to unify the welterweight division on July 29. It’s the biggest fight at the weight since Mayweather-Pacquiao and while, like that contest, it might not be happening at the perfect time, it’s still happening at a time when both men appear to be in top form when last seen.
Neither has been an abundance of activity in the last few years but credit to Spence for holding his ground on wanting this fight above all others. Coming off a pair of injury layoffs, Spence fought Danny Garcia and then a unification with Yordenis Ugas. Now, Spence will come back off more than a year out of the ring to fight the best opponent of his career. It is a maximizing of minutes.
Crawford has already been the lineal king at lightweight and undisputed at Jr. welterweight, but welterweight is one of boxing’s premiere glamor divisions. It would be a career best victory for Crawford as well and, already in his mid-30s, a career statement in victory.
Both are undefeated. Their styles should mesh. It’s the fight everyone wanted, added to an inferno of quality action throughout 2023 so far. May the best man win.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org