Pick It: Jared Anderson vs. Ryad Merhy

When to watch: Saturday, April 13. The prelims are expected to begin around 5:40 p.m. Eastern Time, while the main broadcast is scheduled to start at 10 p.m. Eastern Time.

How to watch: ESPN+ for the prelims, and then ESPN and ESPN+ for the main broadcast.

Why to watch: Anderson was once thought to be a future heavyweight contender. He still could be — he remains undefeated as a pro — but he has also experienced some very public struggles with mental health. Will those struggles sidetrack him? Or will the 24-year-old from Toledo, Ohio, be able to get on the right track again with this fight against Merhy?

Anderson had impressed against some good, early tests and had taken advantage of being prominently featured on Top Rank undercards. Then came a fight last July against former titleholder Charles Martin, who stepped in as a late replacement opponent. Anderson scored a legit but flash knockdown in the third round. Two rounds later, Martin had Anderson hurt and reeling. Anderson was able to recover and took a wide decision victory. 

That might’ve been better for his development as a fighter than an easy win would’ve been.

At the same time, though, there are other battles going on.

“My toughest fight is outside the ring,” Anderson told Roy Jones Jr., who visited the young heavyweight in a feature filmed ahead of Anderson vs. Martin. “My hardest fight so far in life [is] just staying the course and trying to stay true to who I am, but keeping a steady, clear mind to the top.”

“I know I’m good at this and I know I can have fun in this, but this might not just be what completely makes me happy,” Anderson said to Jones at another point.

It was a fair insight. None of us should be wholly defined by our work, and for fighters this field can dictate their life for years on end, from childhood well into adulthood. 

Jones responded by talking about Anderson’s obligation to succeed and how he would let people down if he quit.

“But it’s the pressure, though,” Anderson responded, tears in his eyes and emotion in his voice. “I’m 23.”

Jones: “Sometimes there’s a lot put on us, but it’s put on us because we’re the ones that can take it. Jared may not think he can sometimes. Jared may get messed up sometimes. But Jared can wear these shoes. That’s why Jared has it.”

Anderson: “But Jared ain’t ask for it.”

Anderson took some unfair mocking for this segment, especially given the “Big Baby” nickname he’s long had. Yet there was cause for concern that perhaps Anderson approaching this as his job — much like baseball player Anthony Rendon does — and perhaps begrudgingly continuing on with his career could hamper the potential he otherwise had.

Nevertheless, Anderson got by Martin and then dispatched Andrii Rudenko in five rounds last August, bringing him to 16-0 (15 KOs). 

Then came trouble.

There was an arrest in November that started with a traffic stop for speeding and led to accusations of driving under the influence and a firearms charge. And this February, he allegedly led police on a chase that ended with Anderson crashing his car.

Given that this is supposed to be a preview of a fight broadcast, that was a lot of text about things that took place outside of the ring. But this provides important context. Mental health is health.

We’ll see how these past months have affected Anderson when he takes on Merhy, a 31-year-old originally from the Ivory Coast and now fighting out of Belgium.

Merhy is a former cruiserweight contender who lost to Arsen Goulamirian in 2018 and eventually moved to heavyweight in 2022. Merhy lost to another former cruiserweight, Kevin Lerena, dropping a decision in May 2023. But he came back in December with a big win, notching a split decision over Tony Yoka. Merhy is now 32-2 with 26 KOs. And if he’s going to move forward at heavyweight, this fight with Anderson is pivotal.

As for the undercard of this show, which takes place at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas:

Efe Ajagba takes on Guido Vianello in a battle of once-beaten heavyweights who competed in the 2016 Olympics. Ajagba lost in his second match there, while Vianello was outpointed in his opening fight.

Now in the pros, Ajagba, a 29-year-old from Nigeria with a towering 6-foot-6 presence, had been on a good run before suffering that lone defeat against Frank Sanchez back in 2021. He’s trying to put together another campaign toward becoming a contender; he’s won four straight since to move to 19-1 (14 KOs). 

Vianello, also 6-foot-6, was stopped last year by Jonathan Rice — someone Ajagba had previously outpointed. Though it should be noted that Vianello was ahead on the cards when he suffered the cut that stopped the fight. The 29-year-old from Italy bounced back with a pair of wins to bring his record to 12-1-1 (10 KOS).

And opening the main broadcast, junior lightweight contender Robson Conceicao returns against Jose Ivan Guardado Ortiz. Conceicao, a 35-year-old from Brazil who won gold at lightweight in the 2016 Olympics, has suffered a few disappointments in a few title shots the past few years. There was a unanimous decision loss to Oscar Valdez in 2021 that many felt could’ve gone Conceicao’s way. There was a points defeat to Shakur Stevenson in 2022. And there was his last appearance, against Emanuel Navarrete in November, when Conceicao was dropped twice but was able to escape with a draw, though with no belts around his waist.

Now 17-2-1, Conceicao will face Ortiz, a 25-year-old from Mexico. Ortiz has mostly taken on nondescript opposition, aside from a 2021 win over the 45-year-old version of Cosme Rivera — yes, the same Cosme Rivera who fought Zab Judah, Joel Julio and Andre Berto between 2005 and 2007. Anyway, back to Ortiz, who dropped a six-round majority decision last June to a 6-2-1 opponent, came back with a quick KO of a 14-20 opponent in November, and arrives this week with a record of 15-1-1 (5 KOs).

More Fights to Watch

Wednesday, April 10: Angelo Leo vs. Eduardo Baez (ProBoxTV.com, 8 p.m. Eastern Time)

(Note: BoxingScene.com is owned by ProBox.) 

Leo, a former junior featherweight titleholder, fights for the third time in about five months since moving up to the 126-pound weight class and signing with ProBox. 

The 29-year-old, who originally hails from New Mexico, had a brief reign at 122. He was supposed to fight Stephen Fulton for the vacant WBO belt in 2020. But when Fulton caught the coronavirus, Leo instead faced and defeated Tramaine Williams. Leo was then dethroned by Fulton in early 2021. He’s gone 3-0 since, notching a pair of knockouts since joining the featherweight ranks, including a KO3 of Mike Plania this past January. Leo is now 23-1 (11 KOs).

Baez, a 28-year-old originally from Mexicali, Mexico, and now living over the border in Calexico, California, is 23-5-2 (9 KOs). He had a rough stretch from 2021 into 2023, losing a majority decision to 122-pound contender Ra’eese Aleem, taking a majority decision over Enrique Vivas, and then dropping three straight to Emanuel Navarrete (KO6) in a featherweight title fight, Arnold Khegai (SD10) and Jonathan Lopez (UD10). Baez has added a pair of early nights against a pair of no-hopers since.

Friday, April 12: Charlie Edwards vs. Georges Ory (Channel 5 in the U.K., 10 p.m. GMT)

Edwards, a former flyweight titleholder, is now fighting at bantamweight. The 31-year-old from Surrey is 18-1 (7 KOs). His lone loss came in a title fight with Johnriel Casimero back in 2016. Afterward, Edwards went on to unseat Cristofer Rosales for the WBC belt in 2018. In 2019, Edwards was hit while down in a fight with Julio Cesar Martinez; what was originally ruled a third-round knockout for Martinez was later changed to a no-contest. Edwards then departed the division, unable to make 112 pounds anymore.

He faces Ory, a 32-year-old from France. Ory is 17-3-1 (2 KOs) and has won six straight since  a ninth-round TKO loss to Karim Guerfi in 2019.

On the undercard, unbeaten super middleweight Lerrone Richards fights Steed Woodall. Richards, a 31-year-old fighting out of London, is 18-0 (4 KOs). Woodall, a 29-year-old from Birmingham, is 18-2-1 (11 KOs).

Saturday, April 13: Jordan Gill vs. Zelfa Barrett (DAZN, prelims begins at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time / 4:30 p.m. GMT. The main broadcast begins at 2 p.m. Eastern Time / 7 p.m. GMT)

Gill and Barrett are each hoping a victory in this fight will get them closer to a title fight at junior lightweight. That would be the first opportunity of its kind for Gill, the second shot for Barrett.

They’ve each had their ups and downs. Sometimes in the span of a single fight.

Gill, a 29-year-old from Cambridgeshire, captivated in his February 2022 fight with Karim Guerfi. Gill’s nickname is “The Thrill,” after all. Gill was behind on the scorecards, had been knocked down in the seventh round, and was dealing with a swollen right eye, and then he landed a single right hand in the ninth round that ended it all.

But then Gill lost in his next fight, dispatched in a mere four rounds by Kiko Martinez. He was depressed and considered harming himself. Gill got the help and support he needed and then returned from a 14-month layoff at the end of last year, scoring a TKO7 of Michael Conlan.

Now Gill, 28-2-1 (9 KOs), heads to Manchester to face local favorite Barrett, a 30-year-old with a record of 30-2 (16 KOs). Barrett, too, is looking to resuscitate his career after disappointment. One week after Gill’s loss to Martinez, Barrett fought for a vacant world title but suffered a ninth-round TKO at the hands of Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov.

The undercard includes two women’s title fights. 

Junior featherweight titleholders Ellie Scotney (IBF) and Segolene Lefebvre (WBO) will meet in a unification bout. Scotney, a 26-year-old from London, is 8-0 (0 KOs). Lefebvre, a 30-year-old from France, is 18-0 (1 KO).

And Rhiannon Dixon will fight Karen Elizabeth Carabajal for the vacant WBO belt at 135 pounds that previously belonged to Katie Taylor. Dixon, a 28-year-old from London, is 9-0 (1 KO). Carabajal, a 33-year-old from Buenos Aires, is 22-1 (3 KOs).

Saturday, April 13: Nick Molina vs. Damian David Marchiano (CombatSportsNow.com, 7 p.m. Eastern Time)

Molina, who hails from Lowell, Massachusetts, headlines this show in the nearby city of Melrose. The 24-year-old lightweight is 13-1 (5 KOs) and coming off a first-round loss to Jamel Herring last November. 

He faces Marchiano, a 43-year-old from Buenos Aires whose name might be faintly familiar to those who watched him lose to Abner Mares way down at bantamweight and way back in 2007. Marchiano hasn’t won a fight since 2012. He stepped away from the sport in 2013, returned in 2022 with a loss, again in 2023 with a loss, and very well could have the same happen this coming Saturday.

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.