That is me IRL above, because I am writing the boxing schedule from a beach in Mexico (OK, so it’s really Shannon Briggs being a goose, but you get the idea). Also worth celebrating is the fact that it’s a huge week of boxing, the last of the year. There are some seriously big names in action, including (but not limited to) the names in the headline. Let’s just jump right into it, because I know you don’t really want to see my holiday slideshow.
- Austin Trout vs. Luis Grajeda, Thursday, ESPN2, Temecula Calif. The big week doesn’t exactly start with a bang, but this is a potentially interesting fight. Trout (27-2, 14 KO) was a big name at junior middleweight after beating Miguel Cotto, but dropped a pair of decisions to Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara, before a shaky comeback win over Daniel Dawson in which he tasted the canvas twice. Grajeda will never be a top contender but if Trout fights like he did against Dawson, the Mexican will be in with a chance. He has a certain sticktoitiveness and mixed it up with Willie Nelson in August, a guy who’s as tall as, if not as skilled as, Trout. On the undercard, erstwhile Wladimir Klitschko trainer and strange speller of Jonathan Johnathan Banks (29-2-1, 19 KO) faces Antonio Tarver (30-6, 21 KO) at heavyweight. Tarver, one of the best higher-weight fighters of the last two decades (positive drug test notwithstanding), is fighting out of his natural weight class and was born when Lyndon B. Johnson was president. He hasn’t fought in a year and has never faced an even halfway good heavyweight, which Banks is, despite a his size and a few patchy performances. All of that stuff is going to catch up to Tarver, probably in a bad way.
- Erislandy Lara vs. Ishe Smith, Friday, Showtime, San Antonio. If you believe in the weird false dichotomy between “average boxing fans” and “purists”, this junior middleweight bout is one for the purists. Lara (19-2-2, 12 KO) is a Cuban stylist, while Smith (26-6, 12 KO) is a boxer who does his best to never live up to fans’ (extremely low) expectations. Unless Lara comes out trying to prove a point after his loss to Canelo, this will likely be a very low contact affair.
- Devon Alexander vs. Amir Khan, Saturday, Showtime, Las Vegas. I can’t even picture how this welterweight fight between top contenders will play out. Both men are boxers, though Alexander (26-2, 14 KO) is more confident in close, while Khan (29-3, 19 KO) is at his best when up on his toes. If I had to guess, I’d say Khan’s height, reach and trackwork will force Alexander into the role of aggressor. That’s when the Saint Louis native is at his best, at least from fans’ perspective. Khan’s glass jaw is always a wildcard and it’s more than worth noting that he hasn’t faced any truly top flight fighters since being brutally knocked out by Danny Garcia two years ago (and has struggled even with some lower order types). On the undercard, dynamic welterweight puncher Keith Thurman (23-0, 21 KO) faces Italian Leonard Bundu (31-0-2, 11 KO) in a high risk, low reward type of fight. Unless he really impresses (which, to be fair, he has managed to do in every outing up to this point), he’ll make few fans against the awkward Bundu. That’s a shame, because he has the makings of a future star. As with Lara vs. Smith, I don’t really understand the logic behind the matchmaking. Bantamweight sensation turned featherweight flop Abner Mares (27-1-1, 14 KO) is also on the card, against the tough but probably overmatched Jose Ramirez (25-4, 15 KO). Mares is in no way a huge puncher at 126 lb, though, so it could be a bit of fun. That Victor Ortiz guy is also fighting, along with terribly named twins Jermell and Jermall Charlo.
- Timothy Bradley Jr. vs. Diego Chaves, Saturday, HBO, Las Vegas. Bradley (31-1, 12 KO), one of the best fighters in the world at any weight, comes back after losing his do-over with Manny Pacquiao in April against mean-spirited Argentine welterweight Chaves (23-2, 19 KO). Bradley isn’t exactly a shrinking violet himself, and with his tendency to headbutt this could be ugly and rough. That said, I reckon the Palm Springs native is just going to be way too good and will overwhelm Chaves on the way to a unanimous decision. Also fighting is middleweight Andy Lee (33-2, 23 KO), who takes on up-and-coming Russian Matt Korobov (24-0, 14 KO). Lee always seems to manage to get in a brawl, despite his bona fides as a lengthy stick-and-mover. Can he hang with Korobov if that’s what happens? I have no idea, but I’m looking forward to finding out. Rounding out the televised card is welterweight prospect Jose Benavidez, Jr. (21-0, 15 KO), who’s taking a huge step up in class against Mauricio Herrera (21-4, 7 KO). I reckon it’ll be a step too far, and Herrera’s consummate skills will trump Benavidez’s size and youth.
- Felix Verdejo vs. Karim El Ouazghari, Saturday, UniMas, Philadelphia. Puerto Rico’s great hope for the future, Verdejo (15-0, 11 KO) continues his ascent as a pro, fighting Spain’s El Ouazghari (16-5-2, 4 KO), who has been bused in especially for the occasion of his own knockout.
- Johnriel Casimero vs. Armando Santos, Saturday, Fox Deportes, Pesqueria Mexico. The world’s #3 junior flyweight, Casimero (20-2, 12 KO), steps up to flyweight to take on Mexico’s Santos (14-3-1, 8 KO), who’s lost every time he’s stepped up (admittedly against some pretty tough competition in Carlos Cuadras and Toshiyuki Igarashi).
- The Rest. Ukrainian Olympic standout Oleksandr Usyk continues on his professional way at cruiserweight on Saturday against Danie Venter in Kiev… Three-time American Olympian Rau’Shee Warren does much the same off TV in Chicago against Javier Gallo at bantamweight on Friday… Thursday sees Russians in action in Russia (makes sense). Super middleweight Fedor Chudinov faces undefeated Aussie Ben McCulloch and Alexander Ustinov stays busy against longtime journeyman Chauncy “The Dorky Fat White Guy” Welliver.