Notebook: Teofimo Lopez eyes spring return at junior welterweight; Barboza likely foe
Another Fury-Whyte purse bid delay; 2 more offered Hrgovic eliminator; Conceicao, Martinez motivations; Makabu-Mchunu II at hand; Hearn signs gold medalist; Quick hits; Show and tell
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Plans are in the works for former unified lightweight world champion Teofimo Lopez to return to the ring this spring.
He will move up to junior welterweight and is expected to return in April or May and probably face Top Rank stablemate Arnold Barboza Jr., David McWater, Lopez’s manager, told Fight Freaks Unite on Thursday.
“Barboza is the logical opponent. He’s highly regarded, he’s undefeated, he’s also with Top Rank and he’s a 140-pounder, which is where we’re going,” McWater said. “Top Rank has asked us about fighting Barboza and we’re fine with that. It’s a fight that seems to make sense for everybody. We’ve discussed that name with Top Rank. That said, there have been no offers yet or a specific date, but that is what we are looking at and (Barboza) seems to be the logical person out there.”
In Lopez’s last fight, which was on Nov. 27 at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, he got knocked down in the first round and dropped George Kambosos Jr. in the 10th round of a bloody, action-packed slugfest that ended with Kambosos pulling off the upset of the year in a contender for fight of the year.
Australia’s Kambosos (20-0, 10 KOs), the mandatory challenger, won a split decision — 115-111 and 115-112 with one judge scoring it 114-113 for Lopez — in Lopez’s hometown to take the unified crown in an absolute shocker.
It was revealed after the bout that Lopez (16-1, 12 KOs), who was hospitalized, fought despite having pneumomediastinum, a condition in which air was trapped between his chest, lungs and neck, and could have proven life threatening in the course of a boxing match. Had he been hit a certain way in the neck or chest it could have led to a collapsed lung.
McWater said Lopez, 24, needs to be cleared by his doctor before he can return to serious training but that his lung issue is OK.
“The bigger problem than all of the lung stuff is that he’s had trouble with his wrist and elbow, which were injured going into the camp,” McWater said. “That’s what we’re concerned about. We’re going to try to nail everything down for the fight by mid-February. Teofimo is eager to get back in the game. His head is in a great place right now. He’s handled (losing) way better than I thought he would and now he is excited to get back to the top.”
McWater said Lopez is currently on a family trip in Honduras, where his parents were born before moving to the Untied States. McWater said Lopez was invited the inauguration on Thursday of Honduras’ first woman president, Xiomara Castro, a ceremony also attended by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.
“It was a big deal for him and his parents to be invited there for the swearing in,” McWater said.
Barboza (26-0, 10 KOs), 30, of Los Angeles, is coming off a 10-round decision win over Antonio Moran in August. In the fight before that Barboza survived a knockdown in a 10-round decision over former world title challenger Alex Saucedo, who suffered a brain bleed in the bout and was forced into retirement.
Fury-Whyte purse bid delayed again
The purse bid for the fight between heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and interim titlist and mandatory challenger Dillian Whyte was postponed yet again this week.
It was slated for Jan. 18, postponed until Jan. 21 and postponed again until this past Wednesday. But on Wednesday morning the WBC announced a “final extension” and rescheduled it for Friday, when participants will either be present at the WBC offices in Mexico City or via video conference for the bids to be unsealed.
“The World Boxing Council has received once again requests from the teams of Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte to extend the period of free negotiations,” the WBC said in a statement on Wednesday. “The WBC has granted this final extension and if there is no agreement, a purse bid will be held this coming Friday, January 28.”
It appears that unless there is a last-minute deal the purse bid will take place with Fury (31-0-1, 22 KOs), 33, of England, entitled to 80 percent and Whyte 20 percent, although Whyte (28-2, 19 KOs), 33, of England, remains in arbitration with WBC over the split. He wants a greater percentage.
Fury seems intent on facing Whyte next as discussions for an undisputed title fight in Saudi Arabia in the spring against unified titleholder Oleksandr Usyk — which would have required a deal for Whyte to step aside and for Anthony Joshua to step aside from a rematch with Usyk and then for Whyte to step aside again for the winner to face Joshua — have broken down, according to a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations.
Hrgovic: The Boogeyman?
The ongoing search for an IBF-ranked heavyweight to accept a position in a final elimination bout against Filip Hrgovic continues.
First, Luis “King Kong” Ortiz, claiming a hand injury, and former titleholder Joseph Parker turned it down. Then Tony Yoka accepted the fight for the right to become one of Oleksandr Usyk’s mandatory challengers. However, days after Yoka agreed to participate in negotiations, the IBF ruled him unavailable because of a dispute over whether Yoka is obligated to reschedule a fight with Martin Bakole that was scheduled for Jan. 15 in Paris before the card was postponed in late December because the spread of Covid-19 in France caused the government to restrict aspects of sports and cultural events.
The IBF then continued down its rankings and notified the handlers of Joe Joyce and Agit Kabayel that they could have the fight against 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Hrgovic (14-0, 12 KOs), 29, of Croatia. But both also turned it down, Joyce because of a wrist injury that will keep him out until April and Kabayel because he is committed to a spring fight with Marco Huck for the vacant European title.
Next up, the IBF has offered former unified cruiserweight titlist Murat Gassiev (28-1, 21 KOs) and former unified heavyweight titlist Andy Ruiz Jr. (34-2, 22 KOs) the opportunity to negotiate the bout with Hrgovic. They have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to notify the IBF if they are willing to participate. Gassiev, who is ranked No. 8 by the IBF, would have first dibs if he and Ruiz, who is No. 9, both accept.
Conceicao, Martinez motivations
Junior lightweights Robson Conceicao and Xavier Martinez, who recently signed with Top Rank, are going into their 10-rounder that headlines a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card on Saturday (ESPN/ESPN Deportes/ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET) at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with different motivations.
Conceicao (16-1, 8 KOs), 33, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist from Brazil, is motivated to put a disputed decision loss to WBC titlist Oscar Valdez in September behind him and put himself in position for another title shot.
“What happened against Valdez was just a small setback,” Conceicao said through an interpreter at Thursday’s news conference. “What I learned from that fight is that it was a great fight, but the fans know I won the fight. They know I’m the man.
“I’m very motivated. After the fight with Valdez, I walked out of the ring very happy with my performance. I went straight to the gym. I had a very good training camp, and now I’m facing a very tough opponent. That makes me even happier. I hope he is ready for a great fight. I’m ready. I always overcome all obstacles. Martinez is a very tough fighter. We will be battling for our lives inside the ring. I trained very hard to come out with a big victory. For me, every fight is a world title fight. I’ve been away from my family and sacrificing for over a year. I’m very close to my goal, and I will not rest until I accomplish my goal.”
Martinez (17-0, 11 KOs), 24, of Sacramento, California, finds his motivation from his newborn child.
“Now I’m really motivated. I just had my little girl. I have to fight for my little girl. She is my motivation,” Martinez said. “Makes me even hungrier, and that makes me train even harder.
“Those last two fights (hard-fought decisions over Claudio Marrero and Juan Carlos Burgos) were very tough and got me ready for this moment right here. I’ve been putting the work in, and I can’t let this opportunity slip by me.
“I’m not overlooking Conceicao. He is a great opponent. He is the main objective right now, but after this, I want a title shot. If it's not right after, I want to keep active and maybe fight for a title next year.”
In one of the bouts part of the ESPN+-only stream of preliminary bouts, middleweight Nico Ali Walsh (3-0, 2 KOs), 21, of Las Vegas, the grandson of Muhammad Ali, will be back in action in a four-rounder against Jeremiah Yeager (1-1-1, 1 KO), 31, of Erie, Pennsylvania.
Ali Walsh will have a new head trainer in his corner. He has parted ways with SugarHill Steward and assistant trainer Richard Slone, also known as a prolific painter, has been promoted to head trainer.
“Working with Slone is a blessing to my career,” Ali Walsh said. “Most people recognize Rich Slone as the world’s greatest boxing artist but I’ve known him for many years. I know his extensive background working with Joe Frazier and Emanuel Steward as a professional boxing trainer. Together we will do great things.”
Slone added, “Working with Nico is something I never anticipated but I have known him for most of his life and I know that he has a good work ethic. Nico has worked very hard in preparation for this fight and I think that will show in his performance.”
WBC cruiserweight titlist Ilunga Makabu and mandatory challenger Thabiso Mchunu were men of few words at their pre-fight new conference ahead of their fight headlining a Don King-promoted card on Saturday (FITE, 8 p.m. ET, $49.99) at W.D. Packard Music Hall in Warren, Ohio, where Cleveland native King has long operated a training camp for his fighters.
“I hope everybody knows who I am,” said Makabu, who with a win could be the next opponent for pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez in the spring. “I’m very thankful to Don King Productions for making this event happen because plenty of events have been disturbed by Covid. I’m very happy to be here and to have the opportunity to defend our title. I don’t have much to say. I just want to say good luck to my opponent Thabiso Mchunu because this is the second time I’m fighting him now. Enjoy the fight.”
Makabu (28-2, 25 KOs), 34, of Congo, who will be making his second title defense, owns an 11th-round knockout victory over fellow southpaw Mchunu (23-5, 13 KOs), 33, of South Africa, in a May 2015 nontitle bout.
Mchunu comes into the fight having won four bouts in a row and is getting a second shot at a world title. He gave Oleksandr Usyk a good fight in December 2016 but got knocked out in the ninth round.
“The hard work has been done. Come fight night, I am ready to go,” Mchunu said.
In the co-feature, Schenectady, New York, native Trevor Bryan (21-0, 15 KOs), 32, will defend his WBA “regular” heavyweight belt for the first time against Jonathan Guidry, who was moved up from the undercard into the main event a few weeks ago when Mahmoud Charr (32-4, 18 KOs) was stripped of his “champion in recess” status and dropped from the bout due to not obtaining a visa within the time frame outlined by the WBA.
So, unknown Houma, Louisiana, club fighter Guidry (17-0-2, 10 KOs), 32, who has never been in a fight scheduled for longer than eight rounds and has faced nobody of remote note, is getting the opportunity. The winner will be mandated to next defend against British contender Daniel Dubois (17-1, 16 KOs).
Matchroom signs Olympic champion
Galal Yafai, who won the flyweight gold medal for Great Britain at this past summer’s delayed 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, is going pro and has signed with Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn, who announced the signing on Thursday.
Yafai, 29, will make his professional debut in a 10-rounder against an opponent to be determined the undercard of cruiserweight world titlist Lawrence Okolie’s defense against Michal Cieslak on Feb. 27 (DAZN) at The O2 in London.
Yafai’s older brothers are also professional fighters. Kal Yafai was a 2008 Olympian and is a former junior bantamweight world titlist. Gamal Yafai is a former European junior featherweight champion.
“The goal now is to win a world title,” Galal Yafai said. “I know there’s not many who have won Olympic gold and then a world title so hopefully I can add my name to that list. There’s some great current world champions out there at the minute. I’m not going to call out any names but my time will come. I have set my sights on being at the very top.
“I remember standing on the podium with the national anthem playing with the medal around my neck. It was a surreal moment. I enjoyed my time in Tokyo and now I’m ready for the next step. Matchroom are the biggest promotional company in the world. I’ve known Eddie for years, obviously, with all the shows with my brothers so it was the best fit for me to become a world champion.”
Hearn was pleased to sign Yafai.
“Galal was the standout British fighter at the Games and we have a long-standing relationship with his brothers, so it was personally very important to me to get this done,” Hearn said. “Galal is going to do things very differently. For his professional debut we are looking for him to challenge for his first professional (regional) title and from there move quickly to a world title which we expect him to win across multiple divisions. This young man is an exceptional talent and you are going to be able to watch him on the biggest shows.”
Former middleweight champion Sergio Martinez (54-3-2, 30 KOs), 46, of Argentina, who retired after losing the title to Miguel Cotto in 2014 before returning in 2020, won his fourth fight in a row of his comeback on Thursday. He scored two knockdowns and easily outpointed Macaulay McGowan (14-3-1, 3 KOs), 27, of England, at the Wizink Center in Madrid, Spain, where Martinez has close ties and has fought each of his comeback fights. Martinez scored knockdowns in the seventh and 10th rounds and won 99-89, 99-89 and 98-90.
The WBO on Thursday agreed to a five-day postponement of the purse bid for the bout between middleweight titlist Demetrius Andrade (31-0, 19 KOs) and mandatory challenger Janibek Alimkhanuly (11-0, 7 KOs), which was scheduled for Friday at 11 a.m. at the WBO offices in Puerto Rico. Now, it is scheduled for Wednesday, unless the camps make a deal. However, it is more likely that Andrade will not face Alimkhanuly and that his promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, will use the five-day delay to try to finalize a deal for Andrade to move up to super middleweight and face Zach Parker (22-0, 16 KOs), 27, of England, for the WBO interim super middleweight title.
OR Promotions bid $201,660 on to win the promotional rights to the IBF lightweight title elimination bout between Gustavo Lemos (27-0, 17 KOs), 25, of Argentina, and former featherweight titlist Lee Selby (28-3, 9 KOs), 34, of Wales. The only other bidder was Matchroom Boxing, which offered $115,111 at the purse bid on Tuesday. Lemos is entitled to 60 percent of the winning bid ($120,996) and Selby 40 percent ($80,664). Contracts must be submitted to IBF by Feb. 9 and bout must take place within 90 days. The winner would become one of the mandatory challengers for unified champion George Kambosos Jr.
Junior lightweight Gabriel Flores Jr. (20-1, 7 KOs), 21, of Stockton, California, will face Abraham Montoya (20-2-1, 14 KOs), 27, of Mexico, in a 10-rounder on the Jose Ramirez-Jose Pedraza undercard on March 4 (ESPN+) at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California, Top Rank announced. The fight will be Flores’ first since he took a bad beating in a near-shutout 10-round decision loss to Luis Lopez on Sept. 10. “The mission I’m on is personal, and I will be a world champion,” Flores said. “I am more motivated than ever, and I will have answers for whatever Montoya brings.”
The mandated fight between junior flyweight titlist Hiroto Kyoguchi (15-0, 10 KOs), 28, of Japan, and secondary titlist Esteban Bermudez (14-3-2 10 KOs), 26, of Mexico, which did not yet have a date but was ordered as part of the WBA’s title reduction plan, is off for now because Kyoguchi is sidelined with an injury, according to the WBA, which was supposed to hold a purse bid for the bout via video conference on Friday. With Kyoguchi sidelined, the WBA approved Bermudez to face Carlos Canizales in a rematch. In his last fight, Bermudez knocked out Canizales in the sixth round to win the secondary 108-pound belt in May 2021. The Bermudez-Canizales II winner must face Kyoguchi next. If the fight is a draw, the mandated fight is still Kyoguchi-Bermudez.
The rematch between WBC strawweight titlist Panya Pradabsri (37-1, 23 KOs) and former long-reigning titlist and Thai countryman Wanheng Menayothin (55-1, 19 KOs), 36, which was initially due to take place on Jan. 25, has been rescheduled for March 1 in their home country of Thailand, according to the WBC. Pradabsri won a close decision to end Menayothin’s reign in November 2020. He held the title from 2014 to 2021 and made 14 successful defenses before Pradabsri notched the upset.
Boxxer announced undercard bouts for the Amir Khan-Kell Brook fight on Feb. 19 (ESPN+ in U.S., Sky Sports Box Office in U.K.) at Ao Arena in Manchester, England. In the most notable bout, England’s Natasha Jonas (10-2-1, 7 KOs), 37, will face Poland’s Ewa Piatkowska (16-1-1, 4 KOs), 37, for the vacant WBO women’s junior middleweight title. Jonas will be moving up two divisions from junior welterweight and Piatkowska is moving up from welterweight.
Probellum’s March 18 card at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium in Dubai will be headlined by women’s lightweight Estelle Mossely (9-0, 1 KO), 29, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist from France and wife of heavyweight contender Tony Yoka, against Yanina del Carmen Lescano (10-1, 2 KOs), 25, of Argentina. Former junior lightweight title challenger Jono Carroll (21-2-1, 6 KOs), 29, of Ireland, will face a foe to be named on the undercard. Probellum previously announced a card at the same location on March 19 that includes flyweight titlist Sunny Edwards against Muhammad Waseem and former junior welterweight titlist Regis Prograis versus Tyrone McKenna.
Show and tell
In the early 2010s, the two best junior welterweights in the world were Timothy Bradley Jr. and Devon Alexander. They had world titles, good resumes and were undefeated. Bradley was 26-0 and Alexander was 21-0, and they were both signed to HBO, which thought it could match them and have a blockbuster unification fight. The rare unification bout between undefeated Americans got a lot of hype and several boxing writers traveled for it, but it unfortunately failed to deliver.
I covered the fight at ringside at the Pontiac Silverdome, a 95,000-seat dump in Pontiac, Michigan, outside of Detroit, for a fight that was set up for a tiny fraction of that. The fight drew only 6,247. The ring was situated near one of the end zones and the area was curtained off from the rest of the cavernous stadium. More memorable than the fight was the bitter cold and snowy weather for a match in which neither participant had any regional connection. But promoters Don King and Gary Shaw went there because for some absurd reason the stadium owner paid them a large site fee. Also memorable was that what should have been maybe a 10-minute drive (max) from the fight hotel to the stadium turned into something like a 45-minute odyssey because the van driver — whose sole job was to bring a group of people from the hotel to the stadium — had no idea where he was going and got lost. You can’t make this stuff up. The building was demolished in 2017 but I’ll always have the memories of covering a terrible fight in as miserable a location as I’ve ever covered one.
The fight lacked action, but it was competitive. Ultimately, Bradley unified two belts via 10th-round technical decision because Alexander, who had gotten the worst of a series of accidental head butts in a fight filled with them, was ruled unable to continue after taking another one in the 10th round. The fight was on Jan. 29, 2011 — 11 years ago on Saturday. As bad as the fight was, the one redeeming aspect of it was that I returned home having secured a tremendously rare site poster for my collection.
Lopez photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing; Conceicao-Martinez photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank; Makabu-Mchunu photo: David Martin-Warr/DKP
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