By Cliff Rold
Friday was a pretty good day for boxing.
2016 has been a year of mediocre to good matches so far with big stars spending a lot of time talking about fight they will take…later. Friday, a lot of fights arrived via a major announcement from Showtime.
It’s not here yet.
This weekend, fight fans in the US couldn’t be blamed for thinking there isn’t much for them. HBO, Showtime, ESPN, and all the major networks involved with PBC are dark. The David Lemieux fight intended for Fox Deportes is off. The intriguing Roman Martinez-Miguel Berchelt Jr. lightweight title clash was aborted with a Martinez injury and Berchelt will now appear in what looks like a ‘well, I had a camp, might as well fight’ interim title clash.
English language BeIn gives us something to sink out teeth into (9 PM EST).
They will have a tape-delayed airing of the WBO lightweight title clash between titlist Terry Flanagan (29-0, 12 KO) and local rival Derry Matthews (38-9-2, 20 KO).
Flanagan is a strong favorite. If a 50-50 clash is what one is looking for, it’s probably not happening here. What makes this interesting is the favorite.
135 lbs. has been spotty, at best, in the years since Juan Manuel Marquez moved on and up the scale. We’ve had some good fights. We had the rise to prominence of Terrence Crawford. In the last year, we’ve had little to point to as a potential future for the class.
Flanagan is a candidate to be just that.
Standing tall for lightweight at almost 5’10, with long arms, decent power, and a solid skill set, Flanagan is one of the bright spots in a rebuilding field. Saturday, we find out if he can keep his momentum going.
An injury shortened title win over Jose Zepeda in July 2015 didn’t leave much impact. Flanagan’s first defense did. His second round stoppage of Diego Magdaleno in October raised eyebrows. Magdaleno had never been stopped before. His lone loss had come in a 130 lb. title challenge of Roman Martinez in 2013 via split decision.
Flanagan ran him over. Part of that may have been Magdaleno biting off more than he could chew. The leap from 130 to 135 lbs. isn’t that sizable. It all hinted that maybe Flanagan was a little more than the world outside the UK knew about.
Let’s find out.
Boxing is more fun when the so-called original eight weight classes have substance. Assuming he wins tomorrow, Flanagan takes another step towards providing that substance. Then it’s an issue of finding someone to define how much substance is there.
Two of the best candidates were supposed to be facing each other this spring. Jorge Linares (40-3, 27 KO), the WBC titlist, was slated for a mandatory clash with undefeated Dejan Zlaticanin (21-0, 14 KO). Linares broke his hand training for the fight, postponing what looked like a serious pick ‘em clash with bloody potential. When that fight finally comes off, the winner versus Flanagan is something boxing fans could really get into.
Also out there is undefeated IBF titlist Rances Barthelemy (24-0, 13 KO). The Cuban looked fabulous in winning the then-vacant belt against veteran Denis Shafikov in December. He’s also tall for the class, about an inch taller than Flanagan, and seems to have found a groove.
Last, there is another UK beltholder in the division. Anthony Crolla (30-4-3, 12 KO) won the WBA belt with an impressive stoppage of Darleys Perez last November. If he can hold on to his belt for a fight or two, he and Flanagan could certainly move tickets together.
None of these matches would trump the fights that are garnering the most headlines these days. Hoping for unification clashes can sometimes be a long wait. But they are matches that would at least get more than a passing glance. They are a start for something new, something better, at lightweight.
There isn’t a proven star in the mix at lightweight right now. No one is going to get there without a dance partner. After Saturday, Flanagan may be in position to dance with anybody and set the division onto a new sheet of music.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]