Monday, July 1, 2024

Bam Spectacular, Teofimo Cruises - Boxing Esq. Weekend Wrap

This Saturday in Phoenix, AZ, in one of the more highly anticipated matches of what has been a great year of fights, there was a changing of the guard in the lower weights. Jesse "Bam" Rodriguez dominated Juan Francisco "El Gallo" Estrada - dropping him twice, and finishing him with a wicked left to the body in round 7 of a near punch perfect performance. Rodriguez picked up Estrada's WBC super flyweight and Ring/lineal championships.

Rodriguez came into the fight as the favorite, as Estrada was coming off of a year and a half layoff after his victory in the third fight of his brilliant trilogy with Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez in December 2022. Rodriguez had momentum from his unification win at flyweight over previously unbeaten Sunny Edwards in December 2023. Youth was also on Rodriguez's side as he is a mere 24 years of age with Estrada 10 years his senior.

From the opening bell, it appeared that the moment was Rodriguez's. He landed solidly and showed the ability to counter off of Estrada's misses. Estrada is a volume puncher, but as great as he is, he's not exactly hard to find. Rodriguez is not a fighter you want finding you with any frequency. Rodriguez's jab was getting home in the second and he began to assert some dominance.

Round three was a turning point as Rodriguez hurt Estrada with a wicked right hook off of a beautiful pivot. Estrada fought back hard, as great fighters do, but the fight was definitely moving according to the younger man's rhythm. In round four, Rodriguez looked like he might end it when he put Estrada down with a quick three-punch combo punctuated by a left cross. Estrada went down hard and looked shaky. He made it to the bell but Rodriguez was brimming with confidence.

Rodriguez continued to dominate in round five and, according to CompuBox, outjabbed Estrada 11 to 0 in the round. He was also trading without fear with the veteran. This would prove to his determent in the next round as Estrada reminded him that he was in there with a future hall of famer by dumping Rodriguez on the canvas with a beautiful counter one-two. Rodriguez got up smiling and promptly resumed control of the fight, bouncing more straight left hands off of Estrada's bruised face.

Estrada and Rodriguez traded fairly evenly for most of round seven until right before the bell, Rodriguez got in a hard left hand to the body in an exchange. They separated briefly and exchanged again and Rodriguez sunk a second hard left to the body that left Estrada writhing on the canvas and unable to beat the count.

It was a masterclass from Bam Rodriguez.

Unfortunately, two of the three judges ringside did not get the memo. Javier Camacho’s card of 57-56-Estrada and Robert Tapper’s card of 56-56 were way off base. Although the Compubox numbers were surprisingly close in terms of power punches per round (the fighters were separated by 2 or fewer power shots in 5 of the 7 rounds), Rodriguez was dominant with his bruising, head-snapping jab in almost every round. Steve Morrow’s card of 58-54 (5-1 Rodriguez) was a more accurate reflection of what transpired in the ring.

Though this fight appeared to all but two judges and Estrada to be one-sided, Estrada, now 44-4, 28 KOs, was adamant in the post-fight interview that he would exercise his rematch clause. If I’m Bam Rodriguez’s management, I’m keeping the fight out of Arizona and losing the 1 Mexican judge (in this case Camacho), 1 neutral judge (Tapper of Canada), and 1 US judge (Morrow) setup. Get the fight in a state with a strong commission that will pick the best judges based on experience. God forbid the fight is actually closer next time around.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR BAM?

As for Rodriguez, now 20-0, 13 KOs, his future is about as bright as any American fighter on the scene. In the post-fight interview, Chris Mannix of DAZN was pressing him to commit to jumping 2 weight classes and 7 pounds to fight one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, undisputed junior featherweight king Nouya Inoue. Much as that is a mouth-watering matchup in theory, Rodriguez just jumped back up to 115 after spending a year winning two titles down at 112. For him to move up two divisions and fight Inoue in his first fight at 122 is a big ask. Especially when the division he just moved into is still live with great opponents.

This Sunday in Tokyo, WBA super fly champ Kazuto Ioka faces IBF super fly champ Fernando Martinez in a great unification matchup. Ioka, a four-division champion (straw, jr. fly, fly, and super fly), is probably underrated on this side of the world. There has been a lot of talk about the “big four” super flyweights of this generation, Chocolatito Gonzalez. Estrada, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Carlos Cuadras. Ioka, unfortunately, did not get to fight any of them. But his resume at super fly, with wins over current WBO champion Kosei Tanaka, former three-division champion Donnie Nietes, and former WBA champion Joshua Franco (following a draw in an attempted unification in their first fight) puts him at least on par as a “big” with someone like Cuadras.

Martinez is the younger fighter by 3 years at 32 but will be coming in after a year layoff. The 2016 Olympian has been impressive at the world level with two convincing wins over long-reigning IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas and a stoppage win in his second defense over unbeaten challenger Jade Bornea. To me, this is a pick ‘em fight. Will the relentless aggression of Martinez wear out the veteran Ioka, or will the crafty Ioka find a way to win on home soil? Your guess is as good as mine and I can’t wait to find out.

For Rodriguez, I’m sure he’s hoping for an Ioka win so that he can exact some Klitschko-like “Revenge of the Brother” on Ioka who beat his brother Joshua Franco in June of 2023. Ioka has fought in the US one time, a decision win over McWilliams Arroyo in 2018. Martinez has fought his last three bouts in the US on PBC cards. Either fighter would be an intriguing matchup for Rodriguez, hopefully stateside, assuming he wins the rematch with Estrada later this year.

There is also another rising star between Rodriguez and Inoue at bantamweight. Unbeaten WBC champion Junto Nakatani, a three-division champion himself (fly, super fly and bantam), is an absolutely great matchup for either Rodriguez or Inoue. His height and reach, combined with one-punch power, make him a threat for either man. Nakatani has yet to unify titles at any of the weights he’s won belts in. It would be nice if he started to at bantamweight. With Inoue’s brother Takuma holding the WBA belt, a fight between Nakatani and the lesser known Inoue would be a perfect set up for a Japanese “Revenge of the Brother” scenario at 122. Bottom line, we’ll probably have to wait until at least 2025 before we see any of the new “big three” (Rodriguez, Nakatani and Inoue) fight each other in what should be tremendous fights.

TEOFIMO EASY

The other top-tier fighter in action on Saturday was Teofimo Lopez defending his WBO junior welterweight title against veteran Canadian warhorse Steve Claggett. This one was not considered competitive going in and was an attempt by Top Rank to erase the stench of Lopez’s narrow escape earlier this year in his snoozer against Jamaine Ortiz. Say what you will about Claggett, but he’s rarely ever in a boring fight. He always comes forward and throws punches in bunches.

However, this one turned out to be a pretty repetitive bout, with each round looking like the last. Lopez dominating, actually outworking the worker bee, but neither man really being able to hurt the other. It was a good workout for Lopez and he got a decisive win. But make no mistake, this was just a stay busy fight that was a showcase for Lopez. Not that I’m complaining. There has been way too much inactivity from the top fighters in the sport and if Lopez wants to get in at least 3 fights this year, I’m all for it.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR TEOFIMO?

You would think that with a division as deep as 140, Teofimo would have a ton of great options but it’s not quite as it appears. His mandatory is unbeaten 30-0 Arnold Barboza, Jr. Barboza was with Top Rank, but signed last year with Golden Boy. He and Lopez had some heated dialogue on social media and otherwise when Barboza was still at Top Rank and it’s rumored Lopez does not want to give Barboza the opportunity.

Barboza, for his part, nearly fumbled his mandatory status in April when he was very lucky to get a split decision win over tricky lefty Sean McComb on the Devin Haney-Ryan Garcia undercard. On a recent Golden Boy card on DAZN, Oscar De La Hoya stated that Barboza is headed for a showdown with fellow Rick Mirigian managed Jose Ramirez later this year. So clearly, Lopez-Barboza is not in the plans for 2024.

The aforementioned Haney recently bailed on his WBC title that he had managed to hold onto despite being dropped three times by an overweight Garcia and initially losing the decision (since overturned by the NYSAC on anti-doping grounds - now a no contest). Haney walked away from a low seven figure payday to fight his mandatory Sandor Martin after Top Rank was the only bidder in the purse bid. Haney’s plans to potentially fight Mario Barrios for Barrios’ WBC welterweight title seem to be on hold as Barrios is more interested in a Manny Pacquiao fight.

With a WBC unification much less appealing for Lopez now that Alberto Puello is holding the title (after his upset of Gary Antuanne Russell and Haney’s abdication) and an IBF unification slightly less appealing after Liam Paro’s upset of Puerto Rican star Subriel Matias - the pickings are somewhat slim at 140.

Isaac “Pitbull” Cruz is a rising star after his demolition of Rolly Romero for the WBA title. But will PBC really want to risk him against Lopez if they’ve got a potentially lucrative rematch with Tank Davis on the horizon? Probably not.

I don’t really think Jack Catterall is an appetizing option either, even after a pretty entertaining win over Josh Taylor in their long-delayed rematch. Catterall is another lefty stinker. He’s also got a fight coming up with Regis Prograis in late August. He’d have to create some serious buzz with a win there to entice Top Rank and Lopez. I don’t see that happening.

Lopez keeps talking about a big fight at welterweight with Terence Crawford but Crawford seems to have one man on his mind and that’s Canelo. I don’t see Crawford ever coming back to welterweight. He’s already moved up to challenge WBA junior middleweight champion Israil Madrimov on August 3 and Turki Alalshkh seems to desperately want to make the Canelo fight for Crawford. Another dead end for Lopez.

I’d also be surprised if Lopez takes another stay busy fight at 140. Unless Top Rank can entice their unbeaten lightweight prospect Raymond Muratalla to move up to challenge him in a semi-intriguing fight, I’m not sure they’d be motivated to give him another stay busy fight.

The most likely scenario would be a move up to welterweight to fight newly crowned WBO champion (and Top Rank promoted fighter) Brian Norman. Three of the so-called “four princes” of boxing, Lopez, Haney, and Garcia seem to be drifting up to 147 (Tank Davis being the fourth and seemingly stuck at 135 for the time being). If Lopez were to be the first to grab a belt, he’d have a leg up on negotiating a big fight at the weight.

It’s possible that Haney will stay at 140 and try to work something out with Top Rank to fight Lopez. Both of them need a big fight right now. Haney seems to be in a funk over the beating he took at the hands of Garcia, despite the result being reversed, as well as the lack of interest in his proposed mandatory with Sandor Martin. Maybe these two need each other enough to get something done by year’s end.

Maybe - but I think that Norman fight is the most likely option.

OTHER ACTION

Lamont Roach looked sharp in dispatching unbeaten but limited Feargal McCrory in the first defense of his WBA super featherweight title. This was an old-school easy first defense in a champ’s hometown and Roach executed on the opportunity with perfection. McCrory was game but never really in the fight. Roach hit him with big shots almost at will and after three early knockdowns and a sustained beating, the referee mercifully stopped it in the eighth.

There is a lack of star power at 130 right now as the shine came off of the most well known fighter, WBO champion Emanuel Navarette, when he moved up to 135 and lost a snoozer to Denys Berinchyk for the vacant WBO lightweight title. The WBC champion, O’Shaquie Foster, looked flat and dead at the weight in his last fight against Abraham Nova. Newly crowned IBF champion Anthony Cacace is already slated to fight fading former featherweight champ Josh Warrington. Not exactly a great field of foes, but a round robin could produce some interesting fights. Hopefully, one of the above will give Roach a shot at unification. He’s deserving of the opportunity.

INTERESTING UNDERCARD ACTION

On the Estrada-Rodriguez undercard, I thought Sunny Edwards had a nice bounce-back win over Adrian Curiel. He caught hell from the crowd for his jab and run style but he executed it well. There is talk of him and Galal Yafai getting it on later in the year. There are a number of vacant titles at flyweight and both men are rated in the top ten in a few different organizations. Hopefully they can make it for one of the titles and put it in the UK. Also on the Estrada-Rodriguez undercard, I thought Ramla Ali got shorted a little on the scorecards but I’m not mad that Yamileth Mercado retained her WBC junior featherweight title. I had it scored a draw. Hopefully, Ali gets another shot. She fought well but needed to be busier to win on the road.

On the Lopez-Claggett undercard, Robeisy Ramirez looked good in stopping Brandon Benitez with an uppercut that came up from the floor. It was a devastating KOTY candidate. He’s got a rematch with WBO featherweight champion Rafael Espinoza penciled in for later in the year. That was a great first fight, can’t wait for the rematch. Below that fight were a number of Dominican prospects that Top Rank is bringing along very nicely. Elvis Rodriguez nearly got stopped in the first round when he got ganked by a huge right hand by Jino Rodrigo and looked to be in bad shape. He came back with a wicked right hook to floor Rodrigo in a wild round. Unfortunately, the rest of the fight was a bit of a snooze. Don’t know what to think of Rodriguez. He can punch but he’s really vulnerable. The other DR stars (Yan Santana, Rohan Polanco and Euri Cedeno) won comfortably.

FIGHTS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS WEEKEND

It’s going to be a busy weekend. Shakur Stevenson is back in action in what may be his last fight for Top Rank. I say may - because I don’t know where else he can go that has a roster full of potential opponents like Top Rank (Lomachenko, Keyshawn Davis, Muratalla, Navarette, Foster) - or if someone will pay what Top Rank is paying him. He’s defending his WBC lightweight title against Artem Harutyunyan. Harutyunyan, an Olympic bronze medalist in 2016, gave Frank Martin all he could handle last year. If Stevenson is on his game, he should win but he needs to do more than win if he wants to get the big fights. Another stinker like the De Los Santos fight and his market value goes down even further. I’d be surprised if he stops Harutyunyan. Let’s hope for everyone’s sake it’s at least entertaining. Solid undercard with O’Shaquie Foster vs. Robson Conceicao in a pick’em fight for the WBC super featherweight title and Keyshawn Davis vs. the never boring, heavy handed Miguel Madueno at lightweight.

Also on Saturday, my current favorite fighter William Zepeda is in tough against once beaten Giovanni Cabrera at lightweight on a Golden Boy card. Cabrera hung tough against Isaac Cruz on the Crawford-Spence undercard last year. I thought Cruz clearly won and the fact that Cabrera got one of the scorecards seemed a little out of whack - but he was definitely competitive. Should be a good test for Zepeda. If the referee lets Cabrera hold a lot, it might get really tough for Zepeda, but his volume should see him through. I also like the flyweight co-feature between Ricardo Sandoval and Angel Acosta. Both guys bring it.

Matchroom’s Saturday offering is a fight between two heavyweights with not much in terms of technique - but should be a fun, sloppy slugfest while it lasts. Unbeaten local hero Johnny Fisher battles Alen “the Savage” Babic. Babic was blownout in two minutes by 37-year-old Lukasz Rozanski for the WBC’s ignominous bridgerweight title last April. Rozanski was then blazed in one round by Lawrence Okolie in his first defense earlier this year. Gives you an idea of where the 33-year-old “Savage” is at in terms of class. Nonetheless, this should be a pier-six brawl while it lasts.

One last Saturday fight that I have no intention of watching live - but still intrigues me - is on the undercard of a boxing match between two washed MMA fighters, Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal. I’m interested to see what my fellow Brooklynite Danny Jacobs still has in the tank, as he returns from a 29-month layoff against Shane Mosley, Jr. - winner of four straight. Hopefully, someone will put it up on Youtube so I can see it.

Sunday from Japan is the aforementioned dynamite unification fight at super fly between Kazuto Ioka and Fernando Martinez. Pick ‘em fight with a potential Bam Rodriguez showdown for the winner. It’s a shame DAZN isn’t picking this one up - another fight I’ll have to catch on YouTube.

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