What: Anthony Yarde vs. Travis Reeves, Light HeavyweightsWhen: March 8
How to Watch: ESPN+ 2:30 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Anthony Yarde looks good enough to beat Sergey Kovalev, or if there’s a reason his team has been protecting him.
Anthony Yarde is 17-0 with sixteen knockouts, built like he was carved out of stone, and ready to face the best of the best at light heavyweight. But, for whatever reason, he’s not.
Yes, while Yarde consistently talks about facing Sergey Kovalev and taking “the Krusher’s” WBO light heavyweight belt, even going so far as to claim it could happen this year, fans on twitter have harassed Yarde for fighting a gaggle of “Latvian taxi drivers.” While that’s a harsh criticism, the truth is that everybody not on Team Yarde is waiting to see him against one of the elite light heavyweights and confused why it hasn’t happened yet.
It’s not happening on Friday either. Instead, Yarde will be facing Travis Reeves, a 17-3 fighter from Baltimore who has already been stopped twice as a professional. Fighting in London, Reeves has little chance of winning the fight, but that‘s not really the issue. The issue is, whether watching Yarde we see why his team is so hesitant to let him fight a world champion. Do they see something he needs to improve on before he faces a world champion? Do they see something that has them worried about his future?
Anthony Yarde will almost certainly not lose on Friday, but if he stumbles, he may give us the answer why.
What: Shawn Porter vs. Yordenis Ugas, WelterweightsWhen: March 9
How to Watch: Fox 8:00 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Shawn Porter made a colossal mistake taking this fight, or if people are just underestimating him as always.
This could be a mistake. After not having fought since September 2018 (when he won a decision over Danny Garcia) Shawn Porter is fighting Yordenis Ugas, a 32-year-old Olympic Bronze medalist for the Cuban national team that is on an eight-fight win streak. Considering there were talks of Porter fighting Manny Pacquiao (he himself is calling out Pacquiao, Errol Spence and Thurman for after he wins this fight), and Keith Thurman’s long time away from the ring didn’t seem to hurt him inside of it or in the rankings, Porter would seemingly have been better served fighting an easier opponent or not fighting at all.
But maybe the only reason someone would say that is because they’re once again underestimating the man who calls himself “Showtime.” Yes, despite holding the WBC welterweight title, and despite having beaten guys like Andre Berto and Devon Alexander, while having only lost to Kell Brook and Keith Thurman, there is still a pervasive belief that Porter is a brawler, an athlete, or a football player getting by on toughness and grit. How many times does Porter need to beat guys we think are superior technical boxers before we stop underestimating him?
One more wouldn’t hurt. Shawn Porter is taking a big risk that has seemingly little payoff. We should give him credit, because Ugas will give him a fight.
What: Abel Ramos vs. Francisco Santana, WelterweightsWhen: March 9
How to Watch: Fox 8:00 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Because both men have too many losses to add another, no matter how “good” those losses are.
Abel Ramos has three losses on his resume, but they are three good losses. The only men to have beaten him are Ivan Baranchyk, the undefeated IBF titlist, Jamal “Shango” James who is 25-1 and would have gotten a title shot if he talked more trash, and Regis “Rougarou” Prograis, the consensus best fighter in the division. Fransico Santana, on the other hand has good losses as well, to Karim Mayfield, Jermell Charlo, Sadam Ali, Jose Benavidez Jr., and Mahonrey Montes.
In boxing, especially in the Floyd Mayweather era, losses (no matter who they come against) are considered heinous. So, adding a seventh or fourth loss could very well put a fighter out of the title hunt forever, based solely on how the public perceives fighters who have taken so many “L’s” over the course of their careers.
On Saturday, one fighter will add the other’s name to their list of losses. Once again, it won’t be a bad loss, but it will be a loss nonetheless.
What: Dmitry Bivol vs. Joe Smith Jr., Light HeavyweightsWhen: March 9
How to Watch: DAZN 9:00 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Dmitry Bivol’s rise in prestige coincides with the end of Joe Smith Jr.
Dmitry Bivol is a rising star looking to knockout another big name, while Joe Smith Jr. is teetering on the edge of becoming the next Kevin Mcbride. That may sound harsh, but it’s the truth. After retiring Bernard Hopkins by knocking him out of the ring, the NY based Joe Smith Jr. became a well-known name in boxing bolstered by his compelling working man turned champion story. But, after losing to Sullivan Barrera, questions about how Smith can fare against the elite at light heavyweight, on a fight in fight out basic remain. A bad loss to Dmitry Bivol would be terrible for him, and questions would be raised whether he’s more of a boxing trivia answer than an actual contender.
But he can punch too hard to ever rule out. In fact, he is likely the hardest puncher Dmitry Bivol has ever faced. Bivol is considered the rising star in the division (despite already holding the WBA title) and was being groomed for a unification bout against Sergey Kovalev when Kovalev was upset by Eleider Alvarez throwing the whole plan for a loop. By way of promotion, Bivol has been beating the most well-known names he can in the division, such as Jean Pascal and Isaac Chilemba, and it would appear Smith is simply the next iteration of that plan.
Dmitry Bivol plans to knockout Joe Smith Jr.to make sure casual boxing fans know who he is. Joe Smith Jr. needs to avoid that at all costs, because while a win would put him back on track, a loss would make him a trivia question about a far better boxer than himself.
What: Maurice Hooker vs. Mikkel LesPierre, Junior WelterweightsWhen: March 9
How to Watch: DAZN 9:00 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Maurice Hooker can earn his Dallas showcase of if Mikkel LesPierre can quit his day job.
Maurice Hooker just wants to fight in Dallas. After going to Manchester England to take the WBO junior welterweight title off Terry Flanagan, then defending his belt against Alex Saucedo in Saucedo’s hometown of Oklahoma City, Hooker is now fighting Mikkel LesPierre on a card headlined by Dmitry Bivol in Verona New York.
But Hooker has told anyone who will listen that he desperately wants to fight in Dallas to show the kids in his hometown what can happen if they set their mind to something and work hard to accomplish their goals, saying in part “It would mean so much to me to fight in Dallas as a champion,” said Hooker. “I want to show the kids in my neighborhood that don’t have anyone to look up to that they can look at me - I’m a champion that they can follow and look up to.” The plan is for Hooker to fight in Dallas after this bout, but the plan only works with a win.
Enter Mikkel Lespierre. Lespierre is undefeated at 21-0 with 10 knockouts -- it should be noted Hooker’s last three opponents were undefeated before facing him -- and trains out of the once dominant, now largely irrelevant Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. But while Hooker is a world champion professional athlete, Lespierre is a 34-year-old who works the front desk at Mount Sinai Hospital every day to pay the bills.
Maurice Hooker wants to win this fight to finally get a showcase in front of his hometown. Mikkel Lespierre wants to win so he doesn’t have to go to work on Monday. On Saturday night, we’ll see which fighter has to cancel their plans on Monday.