Sherdog’s Weekend Boxing Preview

By James Kinneen Oct 18, 2019
WHAT: Oleksandr Gvozdyk vs. Artur Beterbiev, Light Heavyweights
WHEN: Oct. 18
HOW TO WATCH: ESPN, 10 p.m. ET
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Because Beterbiev and Gvozdyk are not as well-known as the other light heavyweight champions, but a title unification on ESPN will instantly change that.

There are currently four titleholders at light heavyweight: WBO champion Sergey Kovalev, WBA champion Dmitry Bivol, WBC champion Gvozdyk and IBF champion Artur Beterbiev. When this fight is over, there will only be three. Unfortunately for Gvozdyk and Beterbiev, right now they are the lesser-known 175-pound champions. Kovalev was one of HBO’s premier fighters for almost a decade and made a name for himself by fighting Andre Ward on pay-per-view twice, with many thinking he deserved the decision in their first encounter. Bivol also managed to take advantage of the latter stages of HBO’s marketing team, as well as Bernard Hopkins’ fame, by beating a couple of his better-known former opponents: Jean Pascal and Joe Smith Jr.

Through no fault of his own, Gvozdyk’s career has been overshadowed every step of the way. He won a bronze medal for Ukraine at the 2012 Summer Olympics, but Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk both struck gold. He defeated Adonis Stevenson for the WBC light heavyweight title, but his win was the lesser story when Stevenson ended up in a coma after the fight. It does not help that Gvozdyk is trained by Teddy Atlas, who has a long history of taking attention away from fighters with his wacky advice and questionable motivational tactics. Still, he is 17-0 with 14 knockouts and holds the WBC belt.

Amazingly, Beterbiev’s record is even better. The undefeated Russian has stopped all 14 of his opponents, making him the only current champion with a 100 percent knockout rate. He competed in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, losing to Zhang Xiaopeng in Beijing and Usyk in London. An inability to make fights happen with the bigger names in the division has hampered Beterbiev’s star potential.

In the ring, the fight is fascinating. While his record looks perfect on paper, in reality, Beterbiev has struggled in some of his fights and finds himself on the canvas far more often than he should. Jeff Page Jr. dropped him, as did Callum Johnson. While Johnson admits he “froze” after the knockdown, Gvozdyk has shown a strong finishing instinct, assuming the Stevenson fight has not impacted that instinct. The only fight in which we have seen Gvozdyk since that incident ended via TKO due to leg injury. If Beterbiev ends up hurt, the odds of his recovering like he always does are much slimmer. What does Beterbiev have in his favor? An amateur win over Gvozdyk, above all else. In 2009, the two met at a tournament in Turkey, and Beterbiev stopped Gvozdyk in the second round. Gvozdyk has all sorts of excuses for the loss, ranging from entering the fight with a broken nose and not training ahead of time to going so far as to say that “they threw me in there like a victim into a tiger’s cage. Objectively speaking, I was not ready for that fight, neither mentally nor physically.”

Headlining a title unification fight on ESPN will likely make one of these fighters much more recognizable, even to the casual boxing fan, while the loser could fade back into obscurity.

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WHAT: Luis Collazo vs. Kudratillo Abdukakhorov, Welterweights
WHEN: Oct. 18
HOW TO WATCH: ESPN, 10 p.m. ET
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: To see if Abdukakhrov can make a name for himself in the United States against a well-known opponent, or if, despite being 38 years old, Collazo will still be too slick for the Uzbekistani.

Collazo was supposed to face Jose Benavidez Jr., but their fight fell through when Benavidez injured his leg. Considering that he was shot in the leg a few years back, it was the smart move, no matter how much Collazo was looking forward to the fight. In place of Benavidez stepped Abdukakhorov, an Uzbekistani in desperate need of a catchy nickname; his birthname was Qudratillo Xabibullo Ogli Abduqaxorov, so he is at least making it a bit easier for us. A 26-year-old who sports a 16-0 record, Abdukakhorov has nine knockouts on his record and has fought in places like Russia, Singapore, Malaysia and the United States. His opponents have all been good fighters, but they hail from places like Hungary, Zimbabwe, Japan and Tanzania, so it is not as if he has any wins over household names. His stoppage of Charles Manyuchi needs to have more views on YouTube, if only so people will appreciate how easy it is for the Emaneul Augustus drunken boxing style to go horribly wrong.

Collazo might not be a household name, but he has been in the ring with some. In fact, he has been in boxing so long that he was actually the opponent for Ricky Hatton’s American debut in 2006, and over the course of his long career, he has fought a number of other extremely well-known names, from Andre Berto and Victor Ortiz to Amir Khan and Keith Thurman. Of those opponents, he only managed to defeat Ortiz, and at 38 years old, he now holds a record of 39-7. Collazo has gone on a three-fight winning streak since the Thurman loss, though it should be noted that this will be the first time since 2015 that he has fought twice in the same year.

For Abdukakhorov, the path is clear. Collazo is far from his physical prime but represents a well-known name on what will be a widely viewed card on American basic cable. From a promotional standpoint, it makes perfect sense. The question centers on whether the slick, 38-year-old southpaw can show it makes zero sense inside the ring.

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WHAT: Ted Cheeseman vs. Scott Fitzgerald, Junior Middleweights
WHEN: Oct. 19
HOW TO WATCH: Dazn, 2 p.m. ET
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: To see which British boxer has bounced back from addiction better. Cheeseman and Fitzgerald have both had problems outside of the ring, but so far, it has only cost the former inside it.

Despite his pressuring style not being accompanied by enough defensive abilities to keep him from getting hit far too often, Cheeseman rolled along to a 13-0 record before dropping a fight to Sergio Garcia. After that fight, Cheeseman admitted he had a horrific gambling addiction that cost him over $1 million in his life and had him trying to get through training sessions so he could get back to gambling. After seeking help, Cheeseman fought to a split draw in his last fight against Kieron Conway.

For Fitzgerald, there is a lingering idea that if he does not have a personal beef with his opponent, he is not that committed to training. Even against Anthony Fowler, who said terrible things about him and had beaten him as an amateur, Fitzgerald struggled to make the 154-pound limit. That fight, however, was Fitzgerald’s best win, and these supposed motivational issues have not kept him from racing out to a 13-0 record. Fitzgerald has admitted to having a bad cocaine addiction in the past, as well as smoking cigarettes days before his fights, but claims all those activities are in the past and that he is now 100 percent focused on boxing.

Cheeseman gets hit too often, but his chin has held up so far and his only loss was by decision. The point? While he may look terrible early on in the fight, if Fitzgerald has not been training as hard as he should have been, Cheeseman may wear him down and take over late. Either way, the winner of this fight will be a guy who took control of some demons outside of the ring and controlled his opponent within it.

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WHAT: Francisco Vargas vs. Ezequiel Aviles, Lightweights
WHEN: Oct. 19
HOW TO WATCH: Facebook Watch, 8 p.m. ET
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Because Vargas is always entertaining. That means the 34-year-old is always in demand, so long as his entertaining style has not aged him too quickly.

Vargas has not fought in his home nation of Mexico in five years and the moment was not lost on him. “It’s an honor to be coming back to Mexico to begin another run at a world title,” he said. “It’s been almost five years since I last fought in my home country, so I’m excited to put on a great show for everyone there and for all those who will watch on Facebook.” For Vargas, the problem has never been putting on a show; it has been about beating Miguel Berchelt. Vargas is 25-2 with 18 knockouts and has beaten fighters like Juan Manuel Lopez, Rod Salka and Takashi Miura. Throughout his career, Vargas has been involved in wild, back-and-forth “Fight of the Year” candidates: the Miura fight, which featured nine knockdowns, the draw against Orlando Salido and the first Berchelt fight. Unfortunately for Vargas, in two fights, he has shown he is unable to defeat Berchelt. However, as long as he still puts on exciting performances -- even at 34 and with so many battles behind him -- he will never be far away from a main event on a major network or a title shot as a late replacement.

His next opponent is Aviles. At 16-4, Aviles -- who favors Alexis Arguello -- has lost his last three fights to Romero Duno, Hector Tanajara and Oliver Quintana, the Quintana was the only opponent to stop him. He should not have much for Vargas, unless Vargas is completely washed up. However, Vargas’ road back to a title shot depends on being in great fights, so it is not as if he will cruise to a boring decision.

Vargas should look good in an entertaining fight, as always. However, if those wild, back-and-forth fights have taken too much tread off his tires, he may find himself entertainingly losing his Mexican homecoming to a guy he never would have before.

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