What to Watch: March 1-3

By Caryn A. Tate on February 28, 2018
What to Watch: March 1-3
Ortiz is the toughest test yet for the champ from Alabama and he does have great skills.

WBC heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder defends his title for the seventh time in three years against Cuban challenger Luis Ortiz…

Join me as I break down which of the week’s televised fights are most interesting and why. Here’s this week’s rundown:

Thursday, March 1
beIN Sports Español (US)
Shinsuke Yamanaka vs. Luis Nery; Ryosuke Iwasa vs. Ernesto Saulong

Yamanaka (27-1-2, 19 KOs) was the WBC bantamweight world champion since 2011, up until he faced Nery (25-0, 19 KOs) last August. Nery upset Yamanaka by knocking him out in the fourth round. Afterwards, Yamanaka retired following the loss—until VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency) revealed Nery had tested positive for zilpaterol, a substance commonly used to pack the pounds onto beef cattle. But it’s also used as an underground anabolic agent in humans.

Nery claimed he had zilpaterol in his system from eating tainted meat. Following an investigation, the WBC allowed Nery to retain his new belt provided he face Yamanaka in a rematch. After learning of the positive drug test and presented with the opportunity to compete for the title again, Yamanaka reversed his retirement decision.

This week, the plot thickened when Nery missed weight by an egregious five pounds—Nery was a featherweight on the scale. When he was given two hours to lose it, he still weighed three pounds over the 118-pound limit. As a result he was stripped of the title, so now it’s only on the line for Yamanaka.

The whole situation is a messy one, but the question must be asked why the WBC allowed Nery to retain the title after testing positive for a banned substance. His excuse may be valid, but unfortunately there is no way of proving or disproving it as far as I’m aware. So the fact remains that he had an illegal substance in his system when he won the title off of Yamanaka. The sanctioning organization allowing the result of that fight to stand, rather than ruling it a No Contest, is unfair to Yamanaka and setting a damaging precedent for the sport. If the WBC decided there was no way to prove Nery took the substance purposefully and wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt—which is understandable, since zilpaterol is commonly found in beef in Mexico—it would have made a lot more sense to reverse the result to a No Contest yet forego the suspension for Nery and allow him to continue to compete in the rematch with Yamanaka. To allow the knockout result to stand in spite of a positive drug test result for the victor is a bizarre and unfair choice and contributes to a cloud of doubt hanging over Nery at this point. If sanctioning bodies intend to help improve the performance enhancing drug situation in boxing, they need to develop and stick by procedures rather than making decisions based on whether someone’s excuse is believable enough. If a fighter tests positive, they need to face some sort of consequence, whether it was intentional or not.

Moving on to the actual fight…the match-up is a good one. They’re both southpaws. Yamanaka has been a great champion, defending the title 12 times in nearly six years and remaining undefeated until he faced Nery last year. He’s not a flashy fighter but he utilizes the fundamentals well, particularly the jab. Nery has a lot of speed and is notably effective with his overhand left. The rematch is intriguing. 

In the supporting bout, we have Iwasa (24-2, 16 KOs), who lost by stoppage to Yamanaka in his ninth bout. Now they’re sharing a card; Iwasa is now the IBF super bantamweight world champion and is making his first defense against Saulong (21-2-1, 8 KOs). 

Saturday, March 3
2:30pm ET/11:30am PT - Sky Sports (UK)
Kell Brook (36-2, 25 KOs) vs. Sergey Rabchenko (29-2, 22 KOs) - 12 rounds, super welterweight

5:00pm ET/2:00pm PT - Channel 5 (UK)
Josh Taylor (11-0, 10 KOs) vs. Winston Campos (30-3-5, 18 KOs) - 12 rounds, super lightweight

9:00pm ET/6:00pm PT - SHOWTIME
Deontay Wilder vs. Luis Ortiz; Andre Dirrell vs. Jose Uzcategui 2

This card is now a doubleheader, rather than a tripleheader when Charlo vs. Centeno got pushed out due to an injury sustained by Centeno. It’s disappointing that the women’s world title fight taking place on the undercard didn’t get promoted to a TV spot—it would have been an ideal opportunity in my view. Alicia Napoleon (8-1, 5 KOs) is facing Femke Hermans (6-0, 3 KOs) for the vacant WBA middleweight world title. Napoleon is a local (New York) fighter with a good following, and the winner of this bout could be poised to face Claressa Shields down the line if she moves down to middleweight as she’s said she’s interested in doing. It’s a missed opportunity by the network.

Still, the televised card is a very good one. Kicking off the telecast is the rematch between Dirrell (26-2, 16 KOs) and Uzcategui (26-2, 22 KOs) for the interim IBF super middleweight world title. Their first bout was entertaining, and close, but ended in turmoil: Uzcategui was in the middle of throwing a combination when the bell rang to end the eighth round, and the referee wasn’t in position to break the fighters on time. The last punch did land after the bell but a fighter shouldn’t be held responsible for a referee’s mistake.

The main event is one of my picks of the week: WBC heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder (39-0, 38 KOs) defends his title for the seventh time in three years against Cuban challenger Luis Ortiz (28-0, 24 KOs). Many view Ortiz as the toughest test yet for the champion from Alabama, and he does have great skills: Ortiz has good footwork and moves correctly as far as his positioning, but sometimes falls a bit behind his opponents if they’re more mobile (like Malik Scott). He prefers his foe come to him (like Bryant Jennings)—if that happens, Ortiz looks superb.

I expect Wilder, with his speed and unorthodox style, to exploit this. We’ll very likely have an interesting fight the first few rounds with Ortiz in pursuit of a jabbing, boxing Wilder. Then I suspect Wilder will start laying it on and may stop Ortiz in the last half of the fight. But whatever happens, it’ll be great to see two top flight heavyweights in the ring.

10:05pm ET/7:05pm PT - HBO
Sergey Kovalev vs. Igor Mikhalkin; Dmitry Bivol vs. Sullivan Barrera

The supporting bout on this card is my other pick of the week: top Cuban light heavyweight Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs) faces WBA world title holder Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs). The division was splintered when unified champion Andre Ward retired last September, releasing the three titles he held. The move left the other top light heavyweights including Kovalev, Bivol, Barrera, Beterbiev, and Stevenson to fight it out and determine who deserves the crown. We’re seeing the first step of that on Saturday with this contest.

Bivol is the champion, but he faced little known and not particularly well-ranked Trent Broadhurst for the vacant title in November (Broadhurst was rated #11 by the sanctioning body at the time, and had never competed as a pro outside his native Australia).

Bivol, a native of Kyrgyzstan who now resides in Russia, has looked very impressive since coming onto the American boxing scene. He’s got good fundamentals, but similar to Kovalev and most Eastern European-schooled fighters, he struggles a bit with more awkward opponents who don’t back up a lot (or at least, not in straight lines). He has faced so-so opposition so far, so Saturday will be very telling, one way or the other, when he faces Barrera.

The Cuban challenger is a fighter who is often overlooked when discussing the best in the weight class, but he shouldn’t be. His only loss came at the hands of Ward, but aside from that, he has fought some good opposition. When he fought Shabranskyy in late 2016, it was seen as a hard bout to call and most expected Barrera to fall—yet he stopped Shabranskyy in the seventh round. He was expected to get knocked out against Joe Smith and instead, Barrera turned that into a one-sided beat-down. When he faced Felix Valera in November, a common opponent to Bivol and himself, he struggled at times (as did Bivol) due to Valera’s understated awkwardness and power. But he came out on top in a relatively wide decision.

This contest should tell us a whole lot about both fighters. If Bivol wins, he’s the real deal. If Barrera wins, the business of boxing can no longer overlook him as a top light heavyweight.

The main event of the card features Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) returning to fight Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs). Since losing his titles to Andre Ward in November 2016, Kovalev has returned and regained the WBO world title, which he’s defending on Saturday. The champion is a fantastic boxer with superb timing and skills, but since his losses to Ward he hasn’t been tested yet and it’s doubtful Mikhalkin will be the one to do it. I don’t have any questions about Kovalev’s skillset, but I am still not sure where he is at mentally, and I’d like to see him in against some tougher opposition now that he’s already had one stay busy fight since returning.

Still, one never knows, and this is Mikhalkin’s big shot.

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  1. Koolz 05:00am, 03/01/2018

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PL0wP7ybb2nT45kfqDp_2q1nQprxCs-Lhp&v=VNTQl6eq468

    Yamanaka deserves better then this crap!  He fights a rematch with guy and his tainted meat, who comes in over weight loses the belt, and who knows what he weighs when they actually fight.

    Joke!  Yamanka is better!

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