What: Miguel Berchelt vs. Francisco Vargas, Junior LightweightsWhen: May 11
How to Watch: ESPN 10 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Because it doesn’t need to be as good as the first one to still be a great fight.
In 2017, Vargas and Berchelt met in Indio, California, with Vargas holding the WBC super featherweight title. In what was a great, back-and-forth fight, Berchelt would take Vargas’ belt and hand him his first ever loss via 11th round TKO. Boxing fans want to know if this one can be just as good as that one was, and there are signs pointing both ways.
On the one hand, Vargas is getting old. He will be 34 going into this fight, a bad sign considering he faded during the later rounds of the first matchup. While his last two fights have been easy the three before that were wars with Berchelt, Orlando Salido and Takashi Miura so who knows what those battles have taken out of him? Berchelt is only 27 years old, undefeated since 2014 and has stopped 31 of his 36 opponents. If you don’t think this fight will be very good, it’s likely that you believe Berchelt is too young, too strong and too good, just like he was last time.
If you do think it could be just as good if not better, you’re probably focusing on Vargas’ cuts. Vargas was cut three separate times in the first matchup, twice by punches and once by an accidental headbutt. He blamed the loss on those cuts, which were above his left eye, right eye, and on the bridge of his nose. This is not a rewriting of history; immediately after the fight Vargas was complaining that he only lost because he couldn’t see.
Whether Vargas can avoid getting cut and win back his title or Berchelt will prove the first fight was no fluke, it doesn’t really matter if the rematch is as good as the first fight. A battle half as good as the original would still be a more than worthy way to spend your Saturday night.
What: Emanuel Navarrete vs. Isaac Dogboe, Junior FeatherweightsWhen: May 11
How to Watch: ESPN 10 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Isaac Dogboe has made the necessary changes to get his title back, or if ESPN needs to make their own changes in recognition of how good Navarrete is.
Last December, ESPN was pushing Isaac Dogboe as their next superstar. He had the WBO belt, and a compelling background as Ghanaian royalty. He was well spoken, having been educated in England, and was coming off of a first-round knockout of the previously un-knockout-able Hidenori Otake. So the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” gave Dogboe the main event slot on one of their cards, the overwhelming majority of pre-fight promotion and a unique entrance complete with African drummers.
Then they watched him got destroyed.
Emanuel Navarrete, a 24-year-old Mexican fighter who was largely unheralded despite a record of 25-1 with 22 knockouts, proved superior to Dogboe from the beginning of the match. He was much bigger, much stronger, and all the “Neho” (Dogboe’s Ghanan battle cry) in the world couldn’t help the African star get past his reach. Dogboe got battered, his eye was grossly swollen, and he lost his belt via a unanimous -- and kinder to Dogboe than it should have been -- 116-112, 116-112, 115-113 decision.
Perhaps because they had no idea what to do with Navarrete as champion, on Saturday ESPN is running the fight back. While they undoubtedly would still like to see Dogboe become a star, it will be interesting to see if they focus more of their promotion on Navarrete this time. Boxing fans will remember that HBO wanted Paul Williams to be their star, but smartly pivoted to focusing on Sergio Martinez after his close decision loss to “The Punisher,” then his famous KO win. For years, Martinez became one of the network’s biggest stars.
Other than a toning down of Dogboe hype from ESPN, what will be different about this matchup? According to Dogboe’s dad, everything. In an interview with Ringnews24.com he blamed the loss in the first matchup to, in order: underestimating Navarrete, sparring with family members instead of professionals, making too many media appearances, Isaac being in the hospital with allergies, a bad weight cut and Isaac deciding what university to attend before the fight.
Maybe all those things were the problem, but it’s hard to see this fight going any differently than it did five months ago. Isaac Dogboe better have some serious in-ring adjustments ready for this rematch, or else the best adjustment fans see on Saturday will be when ESPN decides to push Navarrete instead.
What: Jarrett Hurd vs. Julian “J-Rock” Williams, Junior MiddleweightsWhen: May 11
How to Watch: Fox 8 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Jarrett Hurd can stake his pound for pound claim in his own backyard, or if Julian Williams has enough tricks up his sleeve to go home with a win.
Hurd is undefeated at 23-0 with 16 knockouts, and holds the IBO, IBF and WBA Super 154-pound titles. Julian “J-Rock’ Williams is 26-1 with 16 knockouts and has lost only to undefeated middleweight Jermall Charlo. The other 154-pound champions in boxing are Tony Harrison and Jaime Munguia. Hurd stopped Harrison in 2017 and Munguia looked so bad against Dennis Hogan that he’s likely abandoning 154 for 160, and his team is bringing in Erik Morales to try and figure out what’s the problem. The point being, the winner of this fight is the king at 154 pounds.
For Hurd, the fight will be essentially in his backyard since he’s from Washington, DC and the fight is in the DC suburb of Fairfax, Virginia. He is the betting favorite, and as many have pointed out is incredibly large for the 154 pound weight class (here he mocks Erislandy Lara by doing the classic tall guy, I’m-looking-over-you pose). He is known for overpowering his smaller opponents en route to stoppage victories, but his slow starts are something Shawn Porter noted Williams could potentially take advantage of.
Williams has been stopped before. Jermall Charlo knocked him down three times before stopping him in the fifth round. Since then, he has won four fights in a row, which landed him this title shot. Williams is known for his craftiness; the question is whether he can be crafty enough.
Hurd wants to be talked about as one of the pound for pound best in the world, and declared the unquestionable king at 154 pounds. To do that, he needs to beat Williams, preferably by stoppage. But Williams is a crafty, tricky guy to fight. Does Williams have enough tricks in his bag to keep from getting stopped like he did against Charlo? Does he have enough tricks to actually beat Hurd in what is essentially his hometown? On Saturday, we’ll find out.
What: Mario Barrios vs. Juan Jose Velasco, Junior WelterweightsWhen: May 11
How to Watch: Fox 8 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Because Mario Barrios could one-up “Rougarou” and make a claim for a title shot, squeak out a win and continue advancing his career, or take a loss that would end any thoughts of future greatness.
San Antonio’s Mario “El Azteca” Barrios is 23-0 with 15 knockouts at just 23 years old and has knocked out his last seven opponents. Argentina’s Juan Jose Velasco is 32 years old, 20-1 with 12 knockouts, but is coming off a stoppage loss to Regis “Rougarou” Prograis.
Trained by Virgil Hunter, Barrios is huge for 140 pounds at 6 feet, 1 inch tall -- for reference, here he is looking every bit as big as 168 pound champion Caleb Plant. He is known as a physical specimen -- though his decision to work with Victor Conte will inevitably lead to questions about that claim -- and is carefully working his way towards a title shot.
Prograis is the man at 140 and will likely be the WBA and IBF champion by the time the WBSS tournament concludes. So while Barrios would like everyone to believe he’s ready for a title shot and destined to be the new king of 140 pounds, on Saturday the easiest way to prove it will be standing right in front of him.
Prograis stopped Juan Jose Velasco in eight rounds after dropping him three separate times with bodyshots. If Barrios could one-up Prograis against Velasco, the world would take notice. For Barrios the options are clear: One-up “Rougarou” and you’re an instant star at 140. Beat Velasco by decision or a later stoppage and people will say you might get there one day. Lose to him and you’re out of the 140-pound discussion for years to come.
And one not to watch…
On Friday in Hollywood, Florida, 54-year-old heavyweight Oliver McCall will be fighting 45-year-old Elieser Castillo. McCall is best known for his bizarre 1997 performance that saw him crying and disinterestedly shuffling around the ring against Lennox Lewis (whom he had knocked out in 1994) until a confused Mills Lane stopped the fight. For a point of reference as to his age: McCall lost to Buster Douglas the fight before Douglas beat Tyson. Castillo is old himself so it’s not that bad, but there’s a reason there’s no senior division in boxing. Oliver McCall doesn’t need to be fighting in 2019.