Middleweight contender Avtandil Khurtsidze has had a long wait for another shot at a belt, but it’s here now.
Khurtsidze (32-2-2, 21 KOs) will face Tommy Langford (18-0, 6 KOs) for a vacant interim title Saturday at Leicester Arena in Leicester, England -- only about an hour’s drive from Langford’s hometown of Birmingham, England -- in a fight that has been a long time coming.
Khurtsidze, 37, is a brawler. A Brooklyn, New York-based native of the Republic of Georgia, he’s built like a tank with a good chin and a fan-friendly style. He made a name for himself in March 2016 when he was the underdog against hot prospect Antoine Douglas on Showtime’s “ShoBox” series.
But Khurtsidze dropped Douglas twice and relentlessly battered him until the one-sided massacre was finally stopped in the 10th round. The victory put Khurtsidze in position for a mandatory title shot against England’s Billy Joe Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs), but delays and politics kept Khurtsidze out of the ring while a deal was eventually made to allow Saunders to take another optional defense. One of the results was Khurtsidze and Langford, 27, meeting for the interim belt. Saunders will owe the winner a shot at the full belt.
"I am very excited to finally get this opportunity," said Khurtsidze, who arrived in England on Monday. “I've worked real hard these last few years to get another shot at a world title, and I will give my best on Saturday to achieve my dream. It will be an honor to add the first loss to Tommy Langford's record and to seize the interim WBO middleweight world title. After I defeat Langford, Saunders is next."
Khurtsidze has won nine fights in a row since losing a close decision to Hassan N’Dam in an interim world title fight in October 2010.
To prepare for the fight with Langford, Khurtsidze spent time in California’s Bay Area training with Daniel Jacobs as Jacobs trained for his March 18 fight with unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin. Khurtsidze and Jacobs are both trained by Andre Rozier.
"My trainers Andre Rozier and Gary Stark always bring out the best in me, and getting to work with a world class fighter and champion like Danny Jacobs really helped to sharpen my technique ahead of this very important task in front of me,” Khurtsidze said. “On Saturday, I will be ready for anything Langford tries to do."
Lou DiBella, who promotes Khurtsidze, said he was pleased to be able to make a deal with Langford promoter Frank Warren for the fight so he could deliver his boxer a significant opportunity.
"This fight on Saturday is a hard-earned and well-deserved opportunity for Avtandil," DiBella said. “His victory over Antoine Douglas last year was remarkable and I know Khurtsidze will do his best to replicate that performance in England against Tommy Langford."
In less than three weeks, Anthony Joshua will defend his world title against former longtime champion Wladimir Klitschko in one the biggest heavyweight fights in years.
Wembley Stadium in London, where the fight will take place April 29, sold out quickly and will have a British boxing-record crowd of some 90,000 on hand. The fight will generate tens of millions of dollars from the gate, the Sky Box Office pay-per-view in the United Kingdom (where Joshua is a bona fide star) and German network RTL (where Klitschko has a lucrative deal) -- not to mention dozens of other television networks from around the globe that will pay for the right to televise the fight.
There is another $3-million plus on the table from American networks Showtime and HBO, who, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, have already made deals with Joshua promoter Matchroom Boxing and Klitschko promoter K2 Promotions.
But it has been a difficult process because Showtime has a contract with Joshua and HBO has one with Klitschko and neither is willing, understandably, to give up its rights. So they had to figure out how to make it work because this is not a pay-per-view fight in the United States like Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao or Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson, massive events that forced the networks to come together and meld their broadcast and production teams as well as their public relations efforts for the event.
So for the past few months, Showtime and HBO have been trying to work out a deal they can both live with that will assure U.S. television coverage. They’re not there quite yet, hence the reason why the American television plans have not been announced.
According to the sources, the networks have agreed to the most significant basic deal point, that Showtime will air the fight live in the late afternoon/early evening and HBO will present a tape-delay of the fight a few hours later in prime time. Showtime would pay more for the fight because it has the live airing and HBO would pay quite a bit less to show it on tape.
But any disparity in the price each network would pay could even out in the long run because Joshua and Klitschko have a two-fight deal. So regardless of who wins the networks would flip positions for the contractual rematch, meaning HBO would have the right to air it live with Showtime getting the delay. Of course, there is no guarantee of a rematch, however, because if Klitschko loses, and he is the underdog, there is a good chance he could retire at age 41 after back-to-back defeats.
Also agreed to is that both networks will send their personnel to the stadium to put on their telecast rather than remain in the U.S. and call the fight from a studio. Both have already done site surveys of the stadium and are ready to go -- assuming the deal between the networks is finalized.
One source said the networks have already taken care of many issues with the promoters, such as credentials, broadcast positions and other production details, but they’re not there yet on everything because, as one source said, “there are games being played on both sides.”
One of the big issues is how the networks would announce a deal without giving the other a leg up. The idea discussed was for them to put out a joint press release. The hope from the promoters and networks was that they would have wrapped up the deal by this past Saturday so it could be announced early this week.
But HBO, according to one of the sources, said it wanted the announcement to come during its telecast of the Vasyl Lomachenko-Jason Sosa card on Saturday night. According to one source, Showtime Sports boss Stephen Espinoza said no to that scenario because “it would give HBO an advantage, so it wasn’t announced Saturday night.”
HBO has no more boxing events between now and April 29 on which to promote the fight. Showtime still has a “ShoBox” card on Friday night and a “Showtime Championship Boxing” event on April 22, but the fight is getting close, and there is precious little time remaining for either network to seriously promote such a big fight.
The view of one of the sources involved is that “there’s a lot of gamesmanship going on on the part of both networks. Who knows what they’re going to do or if they’re even willing to go with the deal they’ve negotiated at this point.”
Another small, but important detail to HBO, according to one of the sources, is what will take place during the roughly four-hour window between the end of Showtime’s live broadcast and HBO’s tape delay.
HBO wants assurances that Showtime will not release footage of the fight, publicize the result of the fight or do anything else to help spread the word on the outcome following its broadcast -- even though any legitimate fight fan will surely already know what happened.
In the end, the rival networks will surely make a deal -- there’s no way the promoters will allow it to fall apart with that much money at stake in rights payments -- but making the sausage has been brutal.
Naturally, neither network wanted to discuss the matter.
“We’re not going to comment on any ongoing negotiations,” Showtime spokesman Chris DeBlasio told ESPN on Monday.
Also Monday, HBO spokesman Ray Stallone told ESPN, “Nothing to report at this time."
There had better be something to report soon. The fight is 19 days away.
Since Richard Schaefer, the former Golden Boy Promotions CEO, returned to the boxing business last summer, when he founded Ringstar Sports, he has been involved in some major shows.
He served as the co-promoter of the Abner Mares-Jesus Cuellar card in December and the Leo Santa Cruz-Carl Frampton rematch in January.
While Schaefer will continue to promote bigger cards involving fighters managed by Al Haymon, his close associate, and the World Boxing Super Series tournaments, he has also signed a strong group of prospects, including five 2016 Olympians he intends to build from the ground up.
That process kicks off with a Premier Boxing Champions card on Sunday night (Fox Sports 1/Fox Deportes, 9:30 ET) at the Novo at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles.
While Riverside, California, welterweight Josesito Lopez (34-7, 19 KOs) headlines the card in a 10-rounder against Mexico’s Saul Corral (22-8, 13 KOs), the undercard is filled with many of the bright prospects Schaefer has signed and he is excited to get rolling on building what he thinks will be the next generation of world titleholders and attractions.
"All of these young fighters we're letting loose on Sunday are coming to fight,” Schaefer said. “This won't be 'Dancing with the Stars.' They will come to engage and destroy. These guys all have advanced skills and I look forward to seeing them in the ring.
"I'm excited for opening night. It's the beginning of the next generation of stars. To see them all in one night is going to be very special."
The most heralded of the fighters making his pro debut is U.S. Olympian Karlos Balderas, 20, of Santa Maria, California, who will turn pro in a six-round junior lightweight bout against Thomas Smith (3-4-1, 2 KO), 29, of Dallas.
Also making their pro debuts are Mexican middleweight Misael Rodriguez, a bronze medalist in Rio De Janeiro, who is managed by Mares and trained by Robert Garcia; lightweight Lindolfo Delgado, who was also on the Mexican Olympic team; and Lithuanian Olympic welterweight Eimantas Stanionis, who is trained by Hall of Famer Freddie Roach.
Another fighter, welterweight Money Powell IV, a standout amateur who would have been a top prospect to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic team, is also turning pro.
"With Karlos Balderas you have someone with the skills in the ring, the personality and the character outside of the ring as well,” Schaefer said. “The combination of all of this will ultimately make him the new face of the sport. There always has to be somebody who carries the Southern California boxing scene. Right now there is a void. I see Karlos very quickly becoming the ‘King of L.A.’ and a star in the sport.”
Balderas, 20, is anxious to kick off his career.
"I'm really looking forward to this fight. I've prepared well,” he said. “I'm taking this as seriously as a championship fight. I definitely want to make Los Angeles my home for as many fights as possible. That's where everything is happening. I want to make Los Angeles mine.
"I want to be in exciting fights as a professional. I'm proud of what I did in the amateurs and the Olympics, but I know this is an entirely different game. I'm looking to do even bigger and better things. I want to build a perfect record and build my fan base. I hope to be fighting for a world title in a few years. I know that I have the right team to get me there.”
Balderas said he is also looking forward to moving up the ladder along with the other fighters in the Ringstar stable, many of whom he already knows.
"I've known a lot of these other fighters here for a long time from all of the amateur tournaments,” he said. “It's nice to see us all coming together now as professionals. In the amateurs people pretty much stay with their own team, but this is the time for us to come together and learn from each other. It's a great feeling to be a part this.”
Incidentally, Balderas always went by “Carlos” but now is going by “Karlos.”
“Everyone knows a Carlos with a C, so I wanted to stand out,” he said. “As a professional, and from here on out, I am going to be known as Karlos with a K.”
Stanionis, 22, was a highly sought-after Olympian. He has relocated to Los Angeles to live and train as he gets his career going. Roach has been impressed with him.
"This is a great show for the future of boxing. You have four talented Olympians on this show. I can't wait for Stanionis to show his skills to the world,” Roach said. “Stanionis sparred with five of Miguel Cotto's sparring partners and he knocked down three of them if that tells you anything about his power.”
Said Schaefer: "Freddie told me that the only other time he saw someone walk through the door with as much natural talent as Stanionis is when Manny Pacquiao came through that door.”
Stanionis said he is glad he made the move to Los Angeles as he looks toward a bright pro future. His debut will be in a four-rounder against Ventura, California’s Rasheed Lawal (1-4-1).
“I was very excited and eager when I first heard about the opportunity to train with Freddie Roach,” he said. “I came out to California as soon as I could to start training. I'm working very hard. I give it my all in training and I leave everything in the gym every single day. I'm just going to keep doing my best.
"The Olympics were a very good experience for me. I won a lot of tournaments to get there and that road has led me to this moment.”
Cruiserweight world titleholder Oleksandr Usyk has a similar mindset as his good friend and junior lightweight world titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko.
Lomachenko has had complete tunnel vision on trying to collect as many world title belts as possible and as quickly as possible, placing a premium on that goal even more than the money he can earn for those fights. So far, Lomachenko has two titles, one at featherweight and one at junior lightweight with ambitions to unify and to go to lightweight.
It’s no surprise that Usyk and Lomachenko have similar philosophies given their close friendship. They both won Olympic gold medals as teammates on the 2012 Ukrainian team. They train together in Oxnard, California, and they both have learned from trainer Anatoly Lomachenko, Vasyl’s father, although Russ Anber, part of Anatoly Lomachenko’s camp, is Usyk’s trainer.
The 30-year-old Usyk (11-0, 10 KOs), 30, accomplished one goal already by winning a cruiserweight world title belt in September to set the division record for fewest fights needed to win a title. By traveling to Krzysztof Glowacki’s home country of Poland and outpointing him, Usyk broke the mark of 12 held by Evander Holyfield.
In December, Usyk made his American debut on HBO by making his first defense against awkward South African contender Thabiso Mchunu. After a slow start, Usyk got rolling, eventually scoring three knockdowns and stopping Mchunu in the ninth round.
Now Usyk is back for defense No. 2 against 2012 U.S. Olympian Michael Hunter, whom he meets Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET/PT) on the debut boxing card at the new MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
The card is headlined by Lomachenko (7-1, 5 KOs), who will make his second title defense against Jason Sosa (20-1-4, 15 KOs), and also includes Oleksandr Gvozdyk (12-0, 10 KOs), a 2012 Ukrainian Olympic bronze medalist and good friend to Lomachenko and Usyk, taking on Yunieski Gonzalez (18-2, 14 KOs) in a 10-round light heavyweight fight.
Although Hunter (12-0, 8 KOs), 28, of Las Vegas, stands in his way, Usyk wants to unify titles and then move up to heavyweight.
“The biggest motivation for me is my desire to be the best,” Usyk said. “I give 100 percent every day in the gym. I know that I need to continue to improve to become the undisputed cruiserweight world champion. There are plenty of champions I would like to fight in the division, but I’m only thinking about Michael Hunter right now.”
Even if that is the case, Usyk always comes back to his desire to unify titles.
“I want to have all four cruiserweight titles in the future,” he said. “Any of the other titles holders I’m willing to face.”
In preparation for Hunter, Usyk left home for two months to go Southern California to train alongside Lomachenko and Gvozdyk.
“I love California, the weather is fantastic,” he said. “It’s much easier to train (in California). It’s very cold in the Ukraine right now. This is much better. Yes, it’s a sacrifice to be away from my wife and three small children to train (in California), but this is my job and they are understanding of that. Running by the ocean and training in the warm weather is much better for me.”
Said promoter Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions: “This has been a big commitment for Oleksandr to bring his training camp to the U.S. He sees the opportunities in the United States that he can build on for his career by training here and fighting in this country.”
Anber, who has been in boxing for decades as a trainer and cut man, spent the past month with Usyk in camp and loved what he saw.
“Usyk is a courageous, ambitious, focused individual,” Anber said. “He’s a trainer’s dream.”
If Usyk defeats Hunter -- and Usyk is the clear favorite -- manager Egis Klimas and Loeffler said they will do everything they can to line up a unification fight, even though that won’t be easy.
“What we’re gonna do is look for other champions,” Klimas said. “There are other good champions around. You have Mairis Briedis, who just won a title (last week), Denis Lebedev and (Murat) Gassiev. So, basically, we’ll be looking for good fights, good opponents who can bring a good fight, an exciting fight.
“We’ll see if any champions will step in for a unification. If not, he wants to go to heavyweight. Our first priority is to beat Hunter, then unify titles, then go to heavyweight.”
Junior lightweight contender Edner Cherry has twice fought for a world title. The first time, which came in 2008, he challenged then-junior welterweight titleholder Timothy Bradley Jr. and lost a clear decision to a bigger man. The second time was a controversial split decision to then-junior lightweight titleholder Jose Pedraza in 2015.
Cherry has fought just once since, a fairly dominant 10-round decision against the very solid Haskell Rhodes last June. Now Cherry is getting back to work and hoping to force his way into a third shot at a world title.
Cherry (35-7-2, 19 KOs) will take on Omar Douglas (17-1, 12 KOs) in what should be a competitive main event on a Premier Boxing Champions card Tuesday night (Fox Sports 1/Fox Deportes, 9 ET) at the Sands Bethlehem Events Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
"A win definitely puts me ahead,” Cherry said. “It will open doors for better fights and better paydays. A title shot is what I want, but also a bigger money fight that will take care of my family."
Bahamas native Cherry, 34, of Wauchula, Florida, is not in an easy fight against the 26-year-old Douglas, despite the fact that Douglas is coming off his first loss, a competitive 10-round decision to former 130-pound titleholder Javier Fortuna in November.
"Everything is good, and we will be prepared for everything on (Tuesday)," Cherry said. “Whatever Douglas brings, we will be prepared for. This is not the first time that I've been in this position. He is the guy who has to prove he can perform. I have been there before, so the pressure is on him.
"I am motivated and I believe in myself. Those are the reasons that I am still here at the top of the 130 and 135 divisions. My family gives me drive every day. (Tuesday) will be another great fight. This is my job and I have to go out and do it well."
Douglas, of Wilmington, Delaware, believes he has what it takes to defeat the more experienced Cherry and said the loss to Fortuna, who he knocked down in the opening round, was a good learning experience.
"I am the better fighter (than Cherry). I have known about him for a long time,” he said. “I watched him a lot when he fought on ‘Friday Night Fights,’” Douglas said.
"The Fortuna fight let me know and let the people know that Omar Douglas is a world class fighter. Even in a loss, people did not expect me to do well. I thought that I showed a lot that night and I will carry that confidence into this fight.”
Like Cherry, Douglas believes a victory should help clear his path to a shot at a belt.
"I think that it is time,” he said. “I just happen to be crossing paths with Cherry. This fight makes sense for me. I will let people know that I am player and a win will earn me a title shot. I have shown that I will fight anyone. Look at the records of my previous opponents. Fortuna was 30-1 and one fight removed from being a world champion. Alexei Collado was 19-1; Frank De Alba was 17-1. So wins over those guys plus Cherry should have me right there, but I am focusing on Edner Cherry. He is a great veteran, but on Tuesday night I will be victorious."
Two eight-round fights are also scheduled to be on the telecast with unbeaten featherweight prospects Stephen Fulton (10-0, 5 KOs), 22, of Philadelphia, and Luis Rosario (8-0-1, 7 KOs), 24, of Puerto Rico, squaring off and Bethlehem junior lightweight Frank De Alba (21-2-2-, 9 KOs), 29, taking on Ryan Kielczweski (26-2, 8 KOs), 27, of Quincy Massachusetts.
Marco Huck long ago established himself as one of the best fighters in cruiserweight division history.
From 2009 to 2015, the German brawler was the dominant fighter in the weight class. Even when he made a one-fight foray into the heavyweight division and challenged Alexander Povetkin for his secondary world title in 2012, he fought very well, though he came out on the losing end of a highly controversial majority decision and was denied a rematch.
In all, Huck, 32, made a division-record-tying 13 title defenses. He matched the record set by England’s Johnny Nelson before losing his belt by 11th-round knockout in a big upset to Poland’s Krzysztof Glowacki in August 2015.
Since that defeat, Huck has won two fights in a row, both against quality opponents -- a 10th-round knockout of rival Ola Afolabi in their fourth fight 13 months ago followed by a unanimous decision against Dmytro Kucher in November despite fighting with a broken hand for much of the fight.
“The pain was hard during the fight in November,” Huck said. “But, of course, I never thought to give up.”
Now Huck (40-3-1, 27 KOs) has the chance to win another cruiserweight world title when he faces big-punching contender Mairis Briedis (21-0, 18 KOs) on Saturday at Westfalenhalle in Dortmund, Germany.
Initially, the bout was slated to be for the WBC’s interim belt, but when titleholder Tony Bellew moved up to heavyweight and knocked out David Haye in March it left Bellew uncertain about his future? Would he remain at heavyweight or return to cruiserweight? He also suffered a broken hand that would keep him sidelined. So with Bellew out of action for the time being and also wanting time to consider his next step, the WBC this week reclassified Bellew as a “champion in recess” and Briedis-Huck was sanctioned for the vacant full title. Bellew can have a crack at the winner should he decide to fight at cruiserweight again, but the Breidis-Huck winner will take over the full title.
Huck, 32, was already motivated to fight Briedis, but now having the full title at stake makes it even bigger for him.
“From my childhood it was a dream for me to fight for the green belt of the WBC,” Huck said at Wednesday’s final news conference. “Now this dream comes true. It is a maximum motivation for me.”
Briedis, 32, of Latvia, had been Bellew’s mandatory challenger but accepted a step-aside deal that allowed Bellew an optional defense against B.J. Flores in November while he knocked out Simon Vallily in the third round on the undercard.
While Briedis would have liked to fight England’s Bellew, he is just as pleased to tangle with a fighter as good as Huck and also have the chance to win the belt.
“Of course, it is an honor to fight for the WBC belt, but it will be the same Marco Huck in ring like before,” he said at the news conference. “I prepared very well and take this really seriously, of course. I fight with a warrior and that means everything can happen. I have no plan for a knockout but I want to fight with a lot of tactical discipline.”
Huck, as always, plans to go for the knockout, which is why he has become such a popular fighter over the years.
“My opponent is strong. I know this. But I am stronger,” Huck said. “If I wouldn’t believe in this I would be in the wrong place. And, of course – I always want to win by knockout.”
Lightweight titleholder Mikey Garcia will be thousands of miles away when world champion Jorge Linares squares off with former titlist Anthony Crolla in a rematch on Saturday, but he will be paying as close attention as if he were sitting ringside at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England.
Garcia will be in New York in the Showtime studios to serve as a guest analyst on the network’s coverage of the fight (6 p.m. ET) while also sizing the fighters up and hoping that he will get a unification fight with the winner, particularly if it’s Linares, later this year.
Garcia, a former featherweight and junior lightweight titleholder, looked sensational when he obliterated previously undefeated Dejan Zlaticanin by third-round knockout to take his 135-pound belt on Jan. 28 in Las Vegas in just his second fight since ending a 2˝-year layoff related to his legal fight with former promoter Top Rank over his contract.
Linares (41-3, 27 KOs) beat Crolla (31-5-3, 13 KOs) by unanimous decision in a competitive and action-packed fight on Sept. 24, also at Manchester Arena, in Crolla’s hometown, to win the WBA’s version of the title. However, Linares had previously been stripped of the WBC belt Garcia won from Zlaticanin and given recognition as the organization’s “champion in recess.”
Sanctioning body nonsense aside, the upshot is that the Linares-Crolla winner, in addition to holding a world title, will be the mandatory challenger for Garcia, which could help facilitate making the fight.
Mandatory or not, it is a fight that Garcia (36-0, 30 KOs), 29, of Oxnard, California, very much wants. Presently, Ringstar Sports promoter Richard Schaefer, who works with Garcia, is in talks with Showtime for a fight for Garcia in June or July, but Garcia has the Linares-Crolla winner on his mind.
“I want to fight this summer, whether June or July, or maybe even August if the Linares-Crolla winner doesn’t come out injured or cut and we need to go to August so they can be ready for me. That’s fine by me. If it’s October or November, though, I’d like to fight [somebody else first] in June.”
Linares-Garcia is the best fight that can be made in the lightweight division, a notion Garcia agrees with. It’s also a fight Linares has not shied away from saying he wants.
“I think it’s also probably the best fight,” he said. “Linares has proven himself in three different divisions by winning world titles. Even after being stopped he bounced back and regains another world title and was looking great. It shows you the caliber of fighter he is. He has proven himself and he has the skills. There’s no other match that’s as competitive [at lightweight] as that can be.
“I think Linares wants to fight me and prove himself and make a great fight for the fans.”
Garcia knows a thing or two about promotional politics, given that his own battle cost him two-plus years of his prime, so he is well aware that Linares is promoted by Golden Boy and he is working with Schaefer, the former Golden Boy CEO with whom Golden Boy boss Oscar De La Hoya and president Eric Gomez had a bad falling out with.
But Garcia said it shouldn’t matter when it comes to make the right fights.
“My brother [trainer and manager Robert Garcia] and I were speaking about that fight with Oscar and Eric a few weeks ago. I’m pretty sure we can get that fight done,” Garcia said. “I think it’s a very, very possible fight this year. I don’t see why not.
“Let’s make it happen. Let’s not let any promoter or network get in the way. Linares is fighting on Showtime [on Saturday] and that makes it even easier. I spoke to Golden Boy and they’re excited for it. Let’s get it done.”
As for another potential summer fight, Garcia also has his eye on the winner of the bout between lightweight titlist Terry Flanagan (32-0, 13 KOs) and Petr Petrov (38-4-2, 19 KOs), who meet April 8, also at Manchester Arena.
“I spoke to [Showtime Sports boss] Stephen Espinoza and Richard and they feel that I could be on in June or July, but we’re waiting for results of [Linares-Crolla] and I’m also keeping an eye on Flanagan-Petrov. Depending on how these two matches go, I will have a better idea of what my future will be like. There are options there. We can definitely get to work on them.”
Flyweight Nico Hernandez admits he is feeling the pressure of his upcoming professional debut, but he’s been the sort of fighter who has been able to handle it.
In August, Hernandez claimed a light flyweight bronze medal for the United States at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, thus ending the drought for the American men, who had not taken home an Olympic boxing medal since Deontay Wilder claimed heavyweight bronze in 2008.
Now the 21-year-old Hernandez is set for his pro debut in a scheduled six-round bout against upset-minded Patrick Gutierrez (0-2), of Las Vegas, that will headline a card on Saturday night (CBS Sports Net, 9 ET) at the Kansas Star Casino Arena in Mulvane, Kansas, a hop, skip and a jump from Hernandez’s hometown of Wichita, Kansas.
"It's a great feeling," Hernandez said. "I am feeling some pressure, but once I'm in the ring everything goes away. There definitely is some pressure on me because I'm fighting where everybody knows me in my hometown. So I can't lose. At the Olympics, all the Americans there gave me more energy to win. I didn't want to lose in front of my people. Fighting at home will push me to do my best.”
Hernandez’s pro debut was supposed to take place in December in Omaha, Nebraska, on the undercard of unified junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford’s defense against John Molina. Hernandez and Top Rank had come to an agreement on a one-off fight, but in the end it was not signed and didn’t happen. Hernandez waited a few more months for the big day after signing with promoter Knockout Night Boxing, which brought Hernandez’s debut to his home area.
"I'm not really focused on fighting on national television,” Hernandez said. “I'm going out there to put on a boxing clinic and if the knockout comes, it comes. If it happens, it happens, but I’m not going in there looking for a knockout. I'm used to fighting only three rounds (as an amateur), but as the fight goes on I've always gotten better. Six rounds do give me more time to work on my opponent and do more damage."
Hernandez will become the second of the six men on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team to turn pro. Olympic flyweight Antonio Vargas scored a first-round knockout win in his pro debut in a featherweight fight on Feb. 24 in Palm Bay, Florida.
The four others have dates scheduled for their pro debuts: Carlos Balderas on April 9 in Los Angeles; Charles Conwell on April 21 in Miami, Oklahoma; silver medalist Shakur Stevenson on April 22 in Carson, California; and Gary Antuanne Russell on May 27 in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
NEW YORK -- I am used to reporting the news, not being part of it. But thanks to my new pal Conor McGregor, that changed Friday night at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Like many of my combat-sports-writing colleagues, I am in New York to cover Saturday night’s big Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Jacobs fight at Madison Square Garden.
But on Friday night, 2016 Irish Olympic star Michael Conlan made his pro debut in the main event of a card Top Rank purposely put on St. Patrick’s Day to help launch the kid’s career, so I also covered that spectacle. How many other boxers could draw a sold-out crowd of 5,102 to see him fight a low-level opponent in a six-rounder?
Conlan, that’s who. As it happens, UFC superstar McGregor, also an Irishman, is a good buddy of Conlan’s and was on hand to walk him to the ring.
When McGregor exited the ring before the bout began, he walked along press row and playfully said hello to some of the writers who also cover his MMA career. When he got to me, it was clear he didn’t recognize me. And why should he? I don’t cover MMA, and we had never met. But he said hello and we fist bumped, and I jokingly said that he didn’t know me because I don’t cover MMA. I told him I was a boxing guy.
So the fight goes on, Conlan knocks out Tim Ibarra in the third round and, as I came to find out a bit later, when McGregor went into the ring to congratulate Conlan he asked Top Rank publicist Lee Samuels, “Who’s the boxing guy?”
Samuels pointed to me at ringside and with that McGregor left the ring and made a beeline directly to my position, where I was seated typing my story and listening to promoter Bob Arum give his take on Conlan.
McGregor got right in my face and started shouting: "You're the boxing guy?!!!”
I calmly responded, "I'm the boxing guy."
And then McGregor went off, though I never felt threatened. My take was that he was doing this with a bit of a twinkle in his eye. But he continued.
"I'm the boxing guy! Watch me take over boxing, trust me on that,” he yelled directly at me, only a few inches from my face. “No one in this boxing game knows what's coming. Trust me on that.”
Then he turned his attention to the much-hyped possible mismatch/boxing match with Floyd Mayweather that both men have been campaigning to make. It became more likely that it will happen in recent days when UFC president Dana White, in an interview on Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show said he would not stand in the way of the fight being made.
“I'm going to step in there and shock the whole god damned world. Trust me on that,” McGregor hollered at me. “Look me in the eyes, 28 years of age, confident as a m-----f-----, long, rangy, dangerous with every hand. Trust me, I'm going to stop Floyd, and you're all going to eat your words. The whole world is going to eat their words.”
When somebody asked McGregor when the fight would happen, he didn’t miss a beat. Still looking at me, he yelled out, “It’s getting close. Don’t worry about it. You’ll hear about it. I’m out of here.”
And with that, McGregor stormed away before briefly turning back and shouting, “I am boxing!”
To say I was a bit shocked was an understatement. I had never met McGregor, never even seen him in person before this incident.
While I have never said or written a negative word about his MMA career, mainly because I don’t follow it or care, I have made my opinion known about the prospect of the Mayweather-McGregor boxing match.
I have written and said (like literally every other opinion maker in boxing or MMA that I am aware of) that it’s a gargantuan mismatch, that not only does McGregor have zero chance to win, but that a state athletic commission should not even consider sanctioning the fight because it would be the best boxer of his generation, and one of the best of all time, in the 49-0 Mayweather taking on a boxer making his pro debut. That’s a mismatch by definition, but the almighty dollar is apparently more important.
McGregor is a tremendous MMA fighter and the biggest star in that sport. But that doesn’t mean he can box, and, frankly, from the video footage of his training that I have seen, he can’t box a lick. Apparently, he wanted to try to convince the boxing guy otherwise while continuing to do a masterful job of generating free publicity.
He did just that and ruined my night in the process. While McGregor went off to host his St. Patrick’s Day party after our little get together, I had to skip a relaxing time with the fellas after the fight. Instead, my SportsCenter people wanted me on the air to discuss said incident, first via phone and on camera, which meant a trip uptown to the ABC studios. Then it was back to the hotel room to write this blog that my editor wanted in the wee hours.
Thanks for nothing, Conor.
The Boxing Guy
The blizzard that hit the East Coast on Tuesday played havoc with the fight week schedules for the two fight cards in New York this weekend, but the participants are just rolling with the punches.
The storm caused media workouts on Tuesday afternoon to be canceled for the fighters on the Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Jacobs middleweight world title card on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) at Madison Square Garden and for the card topped by 2016 Irish Olympic star Michael Conlan’s St. Patrick’s Day pro debut against Tim Ibarra on Friday night (UniMas, 11 p.m. ET/PT) at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
The Golovkin-Jacobs organizers got lucky in one respect because way before the storm was even predicted they scheduled the final news conference for Monday afternoon rather than the traditional Wednesday afternoon.
K2 Promotions managing director Tom Loeffler was disappointed to have to cancel the workouts, but it had to be done with New York being pounded by snow.
“That’s always a great fight week event but it might be cold today but it will be red-hot on Saturday night in the arena,” Loeffler said on a teleconference with boxing media on Tuesday to replace the media availability the workout would have provided. “[The storm] affected things [on Tuesday] but we don’t anticipate any more issues. Everything is supposed to clear up by [Wednesday]. This was the worst part of the storm. We don’t expect any other deviations.”
For the fighters and their teams the bad weather just meant a little last-minute change to the schedule.
“Being confined inside and working in the hotel gym, I am sure is making them antsy,” Abel Sanchez, Golovkin’s trainer, said of the fighters.
Loeffler joked that Sanchez, who trains Golovkin and his stable of boxers in the snowy mountains of Big Bear Lake, California, might be responsible for the bad weather.
“Abel has been accused of bringing the snow from Big Bear,” Loeffler said.
The two stars of the show, Golovkin and Jacobs, didn’t seem too put off by the change of plans.
“Everybody is ready for a great show,” GGG said. “My close friends stay with me, my brother is also here. I feel very comfortable. No problem.”
Jacobs said it was no big deal and the weather still made everything else “pretty doable.”
Said Andre Rozier, Jacob’s trainer: “We’re used to it. This is our type of weather. New York will throw you a twist here and turn there but we’re ready to rock ‘n roll. It doesn’t matter.”
The fighters will instead do their daily workouts in the fitness centers at their respective hotels.
“We have nothing to do but keep the weight down and we have all the facilities in the hotel to do that,” said Sanchez, adding that Golovkin woke up on weight at 160 pounds on Tuesday morning.
Sanchez outlined Golovkin’s snow day routine.
“We’ve done all the work that needs to be done, sparred the rounds we needed, so this is the same as any other week. We’re just not going outside” Sanchez said. “He’ll eat dinner at 5 and then do a little run on the treadmill in the evening. Some friends and family will share some time before he goes to bed and then do the same thing (on Wednesday).”
Claressa Shields has been making women’s boxing history for the past several years and isn’t about to stop now.
The 21-year-old from Flint, Michigan, made it by winning back-to-back Olympic gold medals in 20012 and 2016.
She made it by being the dominant force in women’s amateur boxing during that stretch and finished her unpaid career 77-1 before turning pro with a one-sided, but action-packed, four-round decision win against amateur rival Franchon Crews in November on the Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev undercard at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Now Shields (1-0, 0 KOs) is set for a little more history when she takes on Szilvia “Sunset” Szabados (15-8, 6 KOs), 26, a former world title challenger from Hungary, in a six-round middleweight fight on Friday night (Showtime, 10 ET/PT) at the MGM Grand Detroit.
The men’s fights will take a backseat as the women will take center stage for the first time on premium cable with Shields-Szabados serving as the main event of the card. Shields is proud that she is the reason why women’s boxing is being put in the spotlight on “ShoBox: The New Generation.”
I'm not going to let her beat me in front of my family. I'm not going to let her beat me in front of my nephews and cousins and my mom and dad. I just don't roll like that. If she doesn't have the talent and skill to go six rounds with me, she will not go six rounds.
- Claressa Shields
“I started boxing at age 11 and all I really wanted was an opportunity. This is one of those big opportunities,” Shields said at the final news conference on Wednesday. “This is the first time that a woman has been the main event on Showtime, and I’m not coming to make women look bad when I get in there on [Friday].”
Shields won everything there was for a female boxer to win as an amateur, so even though she has only four professional rounds and Szabados has 130 more than she does, Shields is not at all concerned that this is too big of a step up in only her second pro fight.
“Her having  professional rounds doesn’t mean anything to me. Her being 15-8 with 6 KOs doesn’t scare me either, but I am glad she took the fight and didn’t pull out,” Shields said. “She’s a challenge and, on paper, she’s not supposed to be someone that I can just walk through. But I’ve been in training camp for three months, and I had a great training camp.”
While Shields is not concerned with Szabados’ pro experience, Szabados said the same about Shields’ extensive amateur experience.
“I’m ready to fight. I’ve been waiting a long time for this fight,” Szabados said. “I feel good and I’m in great shape. I think everyone has a destiny in life, and I’m glad I chose to be a boxer. This is a huge opportunity for me and I plan to take advantage of it. I know she has the amateur experience, but I have more experience as a pro. We’ll see what’s more important on Friday.”
Shields said she is always motivated to win, but she said she will be even more so for this fight because the crowd will be filled with friends and family, since she grew up only about an hour away.
“I’m not going to let her beat me in front of my family,” Shields said. “I’m not going to let her beat me in front of my nephews and cousins and my mom and dad. I just don’t roll like that. If she doesn’t have the talent and skill to go six rounds with me, she will not go six rounds. So, I hope she had a very good training camp. I know I did.”
In the co-feature, Antonio Nieves (17-0-2, 9 KOs), of Cleveland, and Russia’s Nikolay Potapov (16-0-1, 8 KOs) meet in a 10-round fight for a regional bantamweight belt. There are also two other eight-round bouts on the telecast: Welterweight Wesley Tucker (13-0, 8 KOs) of Toledo, Ohio, takes on Detroit’s Ed Williams (12-1-1, 4 KOs) and bantamweight James Gordon Smith (11-0, 6 KOs), of Detroit, will fight Chicago’s Joshua Greer Jr. (11-1-1, 4 KOs).
Former junior middleweight titlist Demetrius Andrade does not have a belt currently because he was stripped for inactivity in 2015. He is also going to titleholder Jack Culcay’s home country of Germany to fight him on enemy territory on Saturday.
Yet, Andrade (23-0, 16 KOs), who already beat Culcay (22-1, 11 KOs) as an amateur, is the heavy favorite to relieve him of his secondary 154-pound belt when they meet at the Friedrich-Ebert-Halle in Ludwigshafen, Germany.
They met face-to-face at the final news conference on Wednesday and Andrade vowed to make good on his status as the favorite and do so in punishing fashion.
“On Saturday, you’re going to see the A-train at full speed steam rolling Jack Culcay,” said Andrade, a 29-year-old southpaw from Providence, Rhode Island and 2008 U.S. Olympian. “I beat him as an amateur, and now, I’m going to beat him as a pro. This ain’t going to be a three-rounder with training gloves on. I’m going to give Jack a reality check right on his chin.”
Culcay, a 31-year-old native of Ecuador who lives in Germany, held an interim belt but was elevated to a secondary titlist last year and will make his first defense against Andrade. He said it won’t be his last.
I beat him as an amateur, and now, I'm going to beat him as a pro. This ain't going to be a three-rounder with training gloves on. I'm going to give Jack a reality check right on his chin.
- Demetrius Andrade
“I am ready for any kind of check Demetrius is going to give me,” Culcay said. “I have been waiting for an opportunity like this for almost 10 years now. After I beat Andrade, the doors are open for me to make a big splash in the U.S.”
The fight is in Germany because Team Sauerland, Culcay’s promoter, won the purse bid to gain promotional rights to the bout, which marks a rematch of Andrade’s victory over Culcay at the 2007 world amateur championships in Chicago. Andrade defeated Culcay on the way to a gold medal, though Culcay returned to the tournament and won gold in 2009, after Andrade had turned pro.
It is that loss combined with Andrade’s better resume and skill set that makes Andrade the favorite. Culcay, however, being an underdog serves as motivation for him.
“The odds for this fight just motivate me even more," Culcay said. “Maybe I'll go to the bookies and place a bet. That way I won’t only derail the ‘Andrade Express’ but also make some money.”
In the co-feature, 18-year-old Leon Bauer (10-0, 8 KOS), a top Germany super middleweight prospect, will face Soso Abuladze (10-1-1, 7 KOs), 20, of the Republic of Georgia just days after taking his high school exams.
Each year the WBC and other sanctioning bodies clarify the mandatory status of their world titles at their annual conventions, but things in boxing are fluid. This week WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman issued an update on his organization's title situation in each weight class.
Keep in mind that just because a mandatory fight is due does not mean another fight might not trump it. As Sulaiman explained in his division-by-division rundown, “There is a provision in the rules that is often used by champions and mandatory challengers, which is the step-aside fee.”
That means if the titleholder and the mandatory challenger work out a payment that both sides are comfortable with the titleholder may take an optional defense first.
Of that situation, Sulaiman said it “provides the opportunity for a champion to make a voluntary defense before the mandatory by virtue of receiving acceptance from the mandatory, who has the right to challenge next.”
With that in mind, here is a look at where things stand as far as each WBC world title is concerned:
- Heavyweight: Titleholder Deontay Wilder was the mandatory contender and defeated Bermane Stiverne to claim the title in 2015. Alexander Povetkin won the final-elimination bout and was due to face Wilder in May 2016 but the fight was canceled because of Povetkin’s positive drug test. Povetkin and Stiverne were later ordered to fight a final elimination bout/interim title fight to determine the mandatory, but Povetkin failed another test and the fight was canceled with Stiverne being given the mandatory spot. Wilder is supposed to fight him next -- unless they can work out a step-aside deal that would allow Wilder to pursue the fight he really wants, a unification bout with WBO counterpart Joseph Parker, assuming Parker defeats Hughie Fury on May 6.
- Cruiserweight: Mairis Breidis is due to fight Marco Huck for the interim title on April 1 because titleholder Tony Bellew asked for an exemption to fight at heavyweight against David Haye, whom he stopped in the 11th round on Saturday. Bellew will soon notify the WBC of his intentions. If he returns to cruiserweight he will have to face the Breidis-Huck winner. If he stays at heavyweight the Breidis-Huck winner will become full titleholder.
- Light heavyweight: Eleider Alvarez won a final-elimination bout and is the mandatory challenger for champion Adonis Stevenson. Alvarez asked for permission to fight Lucian Bute, a bout that was accepted as another final eliminator. Alvarez knocked out Bute on Feb. 24 to maintain his position and is supposed to be next. However, Alvarez and Stevenson, both with promoter Yvon Michel, likely will make a deal that will allow Stevenson to defend against Seanie Monaghan on April 29 with the winner then fighting Alvarez.
- Super middleweight: Badou Jack vacated the title to move up in weight follow his draw with James DeGale in their January unification fight. Callum Smith and former titlist Anthony Dirrell will meet this spring for the vacant title. The winner must make two mandatory defenses with Avni Yildirim being first up.
- Middleweight: Unified titleholder Gennady Golovkin faces Daniel Jacobs on March 18. An undetermined final-elimination fight to determine a mandatory contender will soon be ordered to face the GGG-Jacobs winner, who will also have other mandatory fights to deal with since the winner will have three titles.
- Junior middleweight: Titleholder Jermell Charlo will face mandatory challenger Charles Hatley this spring in a fight postponed from March 11. The winner must face Erickson Lubin next. Vanes Martirosyan will fight Ishe Smith to earn the next mandatory position.
- Welterweight:Amir Khan had the mandatory position, but eventually fought at middleweight and then was injured, so he’s out of the picture and the April 22 fight between former titlist Shawn Porter and Andre Berto was approved as a final-elimination fight to determine one of the mandatory challengers for unified titleholder Keith Thurman.
- Junior welterweight: Terence Crawford will make a voluntary defense on May 20 -- opponent TBA -- and then must face mandatory challenger Amir Imam.
- Lightweight: Jorge Linares, the WBA’s titleholder and the WBC’s so-called “champion in recess,” will fight Anthony Crolla in a rematch on March 25 and the winner must fight WBC titleholder Mikey Garcia -- although Linares will have the WBA title as well and very well could ignore any WBC mandate.
- Junior lightweight: Miguel Berchelt won the title in January and must fight mandatory challenger Takashi Miura, who earned the position on the undercard of Berchelt’s title win.
- Featherweight: Titlist Gary Russell Jr. will face interim titleholder Oscar Escandon this spring or early summer after their March 11 bout was postponed because of Escandon’s back injury.
- Junior featherweight: Rey Vargas won the vacant title by majority decision against Gavin McDonnell on Feb. 25 and must make two mandatory defenses -- the WBC’s rule when a fighter wins a vacant belt. Julio Ceja will fight Anselmo Moreno to determine the first mandatory and the other one will involve Hugo Ruiz against an opponent to be determined.
- Bantamweight: On Saturday, Luis Nery will fight Jesus Martinez in a final-elimination bout to earn the mandatory fight against titleholder Shinsuke Yamanaka.
- Junior bantamweight: Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez will fight former titlist Srisaket Sor Rungvisai on March 18 with the winner obligated to fight former titlist and mandatory challenger Carlos Cuadras.
- Flyweight: Juan Hernandez Navarrete won a vacant title on March 4 and must make two mandatory defenses, the first one being against Daigo Higa.
- Junior flyweight: Ganigan Lopez holds the title and a final-elimination bout is due to be ordered to produce the next mandatory.
- Strawweight: A final-elimination bout has been ordered between Saul Juarez and Leroy Estrada to produce the mandatory challenger for titleholder Wanheng Menayothin.