What: Robert Brant vs. Ryota Murata, MiddleweightsWhen: July 12
How to Watch: ESPN+ 7 a.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Brant-Murata flips, or follows the Dogboe-Navarrete script established earlier this year.
On Friday night, we have a rematch of a huge upset, where the networks involved really want to see the guy that lost the first fight get back on track, because his star potential is so much greater than the winner’s.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, because you should have.
That’s essentially what happened when vaunted Ghanaian/British product Issac Dogboe got stopped by little known Mexican Emanuel Navarrete in what was supposed to be his big showcase fight for the network. ESPN desperately wanted Dogboe -- who spoke English perfectly having been raised in large part in the UK, was exciting in the ring, and was making a name for himself at a time when “Black Panther” was making neo-Africanism cool again -- to become their next big thing. He got stopped, so ESPN booked the rematch hoping it was a fluke and watched him get stopped again in a fight that played out basically the same way as the first.
Ryota Murata is in a similar position. The former Olympic gold medalist from Japan was being mentioned as a potential GGG opponent when Rob Brant beat him and took his WBA “Regular” middleweight title by decision in October. Athletes from Japan can make tons of money for not especially impressive results. Consider how Forbes’ 25th highest-paid athlete, Japan’s zero-time Grand Slam Champion Kei Nishikori, is two spots above Spain’s 18-time Grand Slam Champion Rafael Nadal due to his abundance of endorsements. It is clear everyone that can make money in boxing would like to see Japan’s Murata erase his loss to Brant, and move on to bigger, better and more lucrative things.
They wanted those things for Dogboe too, but that didn’t quite work out. So, will Brant do what Navarrete did: repeat his past performance and prove he’s the fighter everyone should be investing in, or will Murata flip the script and get back on the path to fame and fortune? On Friday, we’ll find out.
What: Ken Shiro vs. Jonathan Taconing, Junior FlyweightsWhen: July 12
How to Watch: ESPN+ 7 a.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Ken “The Amazing Boy” Shiro can become more than a guy with a clever marketing gimmick.
This week, Ring Magazine showed off its new cover that features a cartoon version of Naoya “The Monster” Inoue drawn by George Morikawa, the acclaimed Manga author behind the boxing-based series “Hajime No Ippo.” While that is an incredibly cool idea, and Ring Magazine’s covers that think outside the box are by far the best (think of their iconic Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns with an M16 cover) the resulting image looks nothing like Naoya Inoue. It looks like white Southpaw, while Inoue is a Japanese orthodox fighter. #NotmyInoue
What does this have to do with Ken Shiro? Well, Shiro was way ahead of the game when it came to capitalizing on Japanese anime references to build his career. While Inoue didn’t make the connection until this week, Ken Shiro’s real name is Kenshiro Teraji. He goes by Ken Shiro because of the beloved character in the anime series “Fist of the North Star." Nicknamed “The Amazing Boy,” Shiro is 15-0 with eight knockouts and holds the WBC World Light Flyweight title.
This weekend, his opponent is Jonathan Taconing, a 32-year-old Filipino with a deceptively good-looking 28-3 record. Taconing has lost to Ganigan Lopez (whom Shiro has beaten twice), Suriyan Satorn and unknown Filipino Joe Galamition. Outside of Galamition, these aren’t terrible losses. The problem with his record is that it’s padded with tons of .500-and-below Filipino fighters, though it should be noted that he did beat the respectable Vince Paras in his last bout.
Inoue may be the best knockout puncher in boxing, including Deontay Wilder. So, while the manga connection is a nice touch, he is far from just a guy with a cool new gimmick. While a win over Taconing on the Brant-Murata undercard may not be enough to prove Shiro is as well, it will go a long way to showing he and Inoue both have the in-ring goods, not just the same promotional ideas.
What: Shakur Stevenson vs. Alberto Guevara, FeatherweightsWhen: July 13
How to Watch: ESPN 10:30 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if numerous opponent switches can do anything to slow down Shakur Stevenson’s ascension to featherweight stardom.
Shakur Stevenson is on his way to stardom, and nothing seems to be able to slow him down. Outside of the ring, even though there is a video of a brutal brawl in which he was involved, which saw his friend punch a woman, Stevenson has not faced much public retribution for the incident. In the ring, he is now 11-0 and coming off an easy decision over Christopher “Pitufo” Diaz. That fight that was supposed to be a big step up in competition for the Olympic silver medalist, but it wasn’t even close. Yes, Stevenson seems poised to take the featherweight division sooner rather than later and there doesn’t seem to be any stopping it.
This weekend, he faces Alberto Guevara in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey. Is there anything in the ring Guevara possesses that can stop the ascension of Shakur Stevenson? Probably not. Guevara is 3-2 in his last five fights, has lost four fights as a professional, and with only 12 stoppages in 27 wins doesn’t possess the power to have a puncher’s chance. While his losses aren’t bad -- he’s been beaten by good fighters like Shinsuke Yamunaka, and in 2012 he went the distance with Leo Santa Cruz -- it’s hard to see him giving Stevenson issues under ideal circumstances.
Luckily for him, these are not ideal circumstances. See, Stevenson was originally going to fight Cuba’s Hairon Socarras, then the big punching Colombian Franklin Manzilla. Both those guys pulled out of the fight for unknown reasons, so now Stevenson will face Guevara having trained to fight two different fighters during training camp.
Stevenson would likely say what all boxers with extensive amateur backgrounds say when an opponent is changed at the last minute: look at how many tournaments I fought in where I faced a new guy every day or every hour. That’s valid, but amateur tournaments in Armories and DAV Halls against kids are not hometown showcases at the Prudential Center against guys that have fought for world titles.
Poised to become a world class fighter and mainstream celebrity, Shakur Stevenson is facing a guy he’d have no problem with under the best conditions. But these conditions are not the best. On Saturday, we’ll see if that matters.
What: Rey Vargas vs. Tomoki Kameda, Junior FeatherweightsWhen: July 13
How to Watch: Dazn 9:00 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if over 11 years of game planning will be enough for Tomoki Kameda to avenge his lone amateur loss or if too much has changed over the long span of time.
There’s a famous saying, often attributed to Greek philosopher Heraclitus, which reads “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for he is not the same man, and it is not the same river.” With this universal acceptance of change being so prevalent in society, it’s odd that boxers are so hung up on what a fight from the amateurs means years later. Still, time and time again fighters that beat a guy in the amateurs (no matter how old they were at the time) will tell you about the vast mental edge this win gives them over their opponent, and how they know they can replicate the victory by doing exactly what worked for them before.
Which is why it’s interesting that Rey Vargas isn’t saying anything like that. See, Vargas was the lone loss of Tomoki Kameda’s amateur career, and Kameda, who has only lost to Jamie McDonnell as a professional and is undefeated since 2015, claims he’s been thinking about how to beat Vargas since that loss over 11 years ago.
Vargas, now the WBC Super Bantamweight Champion sporting a 33-0 record with 22 of those wins coming by way of knockout, said this week “We fought a long time ago but that doesn’t count. Right now, it’s a new story. I’m very calm and have been working hard. It’s going to be a different fight in terms of style and quality. We’ve both improved.”
This is a pretty radical statement in the world of boxing, where the winning fighter always says the amateur win matters, to some degree at least. The fact that Vargas is so dismissive of it is notable.
Will Kameda be able to pull off the gameplan he’s been thinking about for over a decade, or will he find that the man he’s been plotting against isn’t the same man he fought so long ago and that the little boy it was built for isn’t the same man that now needs to carry it out?
What: Jamal James vs. Antonio DeMarco, WelterweightsWhen: July 13
How to Watch: Fox Sports 1 8 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Jamal James can stay motivated enough to beat a dangerous opponent, when his motivation has to be waning.
On August 21 of last year, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune ran a story about Jamal “Shango” James with the headline “Armed With Support, Minneapolis Boxer Jamal James Pursues Title Bout.” Essentially, the article was all about how “Shango” had only one loss in his career but didn’t talk enough or promote himself enough on social media to get a chance at a world title. Days later, he won his fight against Abel Ramos by majority decision.
This week, The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a story about Jamal “Shango” James with the headline “Minneapolis Boxer Jamal James Hoping to Punch Ticket to Title Fight” that is all about how “Shango” keeps winning, but doesn’t talk enough trash or promote himself enough on social media to get a chance at a world title.
The point being, going into his fight with Antonio DeMarco, “Shango” is now 30 years old, and does not appear any closer to securing that guaranteed title shot he’s been looking for for so long, even with a win on Saturday night. So while he should beat DeMarco, it’s hard to believe he can keep motivating himself to get wins that don’t seem to get him what he’s looking for.
And, if his motivation is waning against DeMarco, it could mean bad things. See, while DeMarco has seven losses and is 2-4 in his last six bouts, he has some good wins and not many bad losses. He stopped Jorge Linares in 2011 and John Molina in 2012 (Molina’s first ever stoppage loss), while his losses include bouts against the late, great Edwin Valero, Adrien Broner, Jessie Vargas and Omar Figueroa Jr.
Antonio DeMarco has been in there with the best, and though they’ve mostly beaten him, he does have some good wins over quality opponents along the way. A motivated Jamal James should beat him, but how can Jamal James still be motivated when he keeps winning fights, but not getting anything out of it? And if he’s not as motivated as he should be, will he still be good enough to beat a dangerous opponent like DeMarco? On Saturday, we’ll find out.