A critical look at the past week in boxing
MOST DAMAGING CUT
‼️ Footage has now emerged appearing to show the moment Tyson Fury was cut by an ELBOW in sparring, causing the Oleksandr Usyk fight to be postponed… pic.twitter.com/dDy3e0Cv4o
— Michael Benson (@MichaelBensonn) February 2, 2024
S— happens. Fury (34-0-1, 24 KOs) was set to face fellow titleholder Oleksandr Usyk (21-0, 14 KOs) for the undisputed heavyweight championship on Feb. 17 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia when Fury suffered a deep cut over his right eye in sparring, which forced the postponement of the event on Friday. Organizers bemoaned the calamity, Fury apologized profusely and Usyk’s manager cried foul, calling Fury a coward and insisting the WBC beltholder had sought a way out of the fight. A day later the camps agreed to reschedule the event for May 18 in the same location. Problem solved. Of course, the initial news was disappointing for everyone. The fighters were primed to take part in the biggest fight of their careers only to have to slam on the brakes and begin preparations to restart their camps, probably next month. That’s an enormous letdown for them. Fans also were excited about the crowning of the first undisputed champion since Lennox Lewis and a compelling matchup, which became particularly interesting when Fury eked out a victory over an MMA star making his boxing debut (Francis Ngannou) in October. The good news is that May will roll around soon enough and we’ll have our big fight, assuming nothing else unforeseen happens.
Buatsi (18-0, 13 KOs) looked sharp in his one-sided decision over previously unbeaten London-area friend Dan Azeez (20-1, 13 KOs) on Saturday night in London, bolstering his status as the top 175-pound contender. He’s the mandatory challenger for the title held by pound-for-pounder Dmitry Bivol and arguably the best light heavyweight without a belt, as he’s ranked No. 1 by two of the three major sanctioning bodies and will soon ascend to the top of a third. The problem for him is that Bivol and fellow titleholder Artur Beterbiev have agreed to fight one another for the undisputed championship on June 1 in Saudi Arabia, which could tie up the titles for a while. Buatsi would have to wait at least until the fall to face the winner if he gets that opportunity at all. And Bivol vs. Beterbiev has the feel of a rivalry that could result in multiple fights. That could push back Buatsi’s big opportunity even further, although one never knows how things will play out. Fighters move up in weight, they get stripped, they get injured, they retire. The list goes on. Buatsi (18-0, 13 KOs) must continue to focus on the one thing he can control, winning fights. If the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist can do that – particularly as convincingly as he did on Saturday – his time will come soon enough.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Benn (23-0, 14 KOs) needed a win. The 147-pounder contender from England has had a rough year and half, after failing two drug tests, getting suspended, getting cleared of wrong doing by an independent anti-doping agency and then having British authorities appeal that decision. That leaves him without a license to box in his homeland to this day. His response? He has moved his career across the pond, where he outpointed Rodolfo Orozco in September in Orlando and Peter Dobson (16-1, 9 KOs) on Saturday in Las Vegas. He gave a solid performance against the defense-challenged Dobson in a 12-round 151-pound bout, using his overmatched foe as a punching bag en route to winning a one-sided decision. The fact he couldn’t hurt Dobson, at least not seriously, might be an indication that he should stick to fighting at 147 for the time being. The important thing is that he has gotten back to what he does best, which is to box. That’s helping him overcome the most difficult period of his life. Soon he’ll be reinstated in the U.K. and face the big-name opponents he has been calling out. Then he can leave his PED issues in the past.
We learned on Saturday that Bivol and Beterbiev had reached their deal to fight in less than four months, which is exciting. The winner arguably can claim to be the top 175-pounder of his era, making it one of the biggest possible matchups in the sport. The gifted Bivol (22-0, 11 KOs) became an overnight star when he easily outpointed Canelo Alvarez in May 2022 and has dominating many more top contenders, including Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba, Jean Pascal, Joe Smith Jr. and Gilberto Ramirez. Few active fighters have had a better run. And Beterbiev (20-0, 20 KOs) remains a beast at 39, as he demonstrated by becoming the first to stop Callum Smith on Jan. 13. He is one of the biggest punchers pound-for-pound and an underappreciated boxer, making him as a formidable opponent for anyone. Who wins? This is a 50-50 matchup if there ever was one. Bivol is the better boxer and athlete but it’s anyone’s guess whether he can withstand Beterbiev’s pressure and power. Can’t wait.
Manny Pacquiao, 45, evidently is no longer retired. That’s the word from his longtime advisor Sean Gibbons, who told BoxingScene.com that his client is interested in facing Gervonta Davis or Ryan Garcia in a sanctioned bout. Please, no. The last thing we want to see is Pacquiao take the kind of beating he delivered against Oscar De La Hoya in 2008. And that’s what would happen if he faces a titleholder or top contender. He has an exhibition against muay thai fighter Buakaw Banchamek scheduled for April 20 in Thailand, he has expressed interest in facing old rival Floyd Mayweather in an exhibition and a bout with Conor McGregor has been discussed. Those are reasonable options. Davis or Garcia? That could be a mistake. … News item: unbeaten 135-pound titleholder Shakur Stevenson last week announced his retirement from boxing at 26 years old, which evidently was prompted by his inability to get the fights he wants. I understand Stevenson’s frustration, which is common to many top fighters. Ask Terence Crawford. But does anyone really believe Stevenson is going to walk away from the millions of dollars he stands to earn over the next several years? Of course not. He’ll be back soon. And he’ll eventually get the biggest fights that have been elusive. … Japanese boxer Kazuki Anaguchi died Friday, the result of a subdural hematoma suffered in a decision loss against Seiya Tsutsumi on Dec. 26 in Tokyo. Anaguchi, who went down four times in the fight, lost consciousness afterward and never awakened. He was only 23. … And so long to actor Carl Weathers, who has died at 76. Weathers played Apollo Creed, the rival of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and one of the great characters in any boxing movie.