What: Oscar Valdez vs. Jason Sanchez, FeatherweightsWhen: June 8
How to Watch: ESPN 10 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Jason Sanchez can justify his replacement fighter status over a far better, but drained Oscar Valdez.
Oscar Valdez was supposed to be fighting Erick Ituarte, a 21-1, 24-year-old Mexican fighter. But, because the WBO didn’t have him ranked, they refused to let the bout be for Valdez’s WBO title. Rather than go ahead with a non-title bout, Valdez’s team replaced Ituarte with 24-year-old Jason Sanchez, who the WBO had as the 11th best featherweight in their rankings.
Most people didn’t see Sanchez as any great improvement over Ituarte. Hailing from Albuquerque, New Mexico, “El Alacrancito” (the Little Scorpion) is undefeated as a professional at 14-0 with seven knockouts. His competition was atrocious until an October 2018 victory over then-undefeated Panamanian fighter Jean Carlos Rivera. He will be the heavy underdog in this fight, because Oscar Valdez is simply a far better fighter than him.
But Sanchez does have one thing going for him: Valdez is admittedly struggling to make the featherweight limit. A two-time Mexican Olympian, Valdez is 35-0 with 20 knockouts, with wins over guys like Miguel "The Scorpion" Marriaga and Scott Quigg, whom he beat despite breaking his jaw in the fight. That fight caused him to switch trainers, moving to longtime Canelo Alvarez trainer Eddy Reynoso in hopes of becoming a better defensive fighter.
But all this week, the 28-year-old was telling anyone who’d listen that he’s getting too big for featherweight and needs to move up a weight class, likely by the end of the year, unless a huge name presents itself for a fight. So, while he’s likely too good for Jason Sanchez at 100 percent, the question becomes whether Valdez can be 100 percent, while admitting he’s struggling to make the weight and is going to need to move to 130 sooner rather than later.
Jason Sanchez is either going to validate the WBO’s decision over a literally hungry Oscar Valdez, or Erick Ituarte is going to be furious he didn’t get his chance at the drained superstar.
What: Gabriel Flores Jr. vs. Salvador Briceno, LightweightsWhen: June 8
How to Watch: ESPN 10 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Gabe Flores Jr. can land another clean left hook and develop a shiny new marketing gimmick.
In his last fight, then 18-year-old Gabriel Flores Jr. knocked out Brazil’s Eduardo Pereira dos Reis with one clean left hook on the chin. Why does that matter? Well, in one of the few fights of Briceno’s career that are available on YouTube, you can see him get knocked out by Antonio Moran (who just got viciously KO’d by Devin Haney), via a couple of clean left hooks on the chin (go to 8:40 of the video).
Now, Gabe Flores isn’t Joe Frazier. But, considering how the sole marketing concept his team has come up with is to focus on the incredibly sad story about his mom dying in a drive-by shooting, and how he’s doing his best to try and help his decrepit hometown of Stockton, California, it would be nice if he had a less depressing gimmick for his team to push. In an era where Ryan Garcia is an Instagram teen heartthrob, and Teofimo Lopez is doing Fortnite dances in the ring, it seems like young and fun, not gritty and hard, is the go-to trend in boxing promotion.
Salvador Briceno is 15-3 with nine knockouts and has been stopped twice as a professional already. While he has won his last two fights since the Moran loss, those opponents had a combined record of 12-49. He’s very likely headed for a KO loss, to move Flores to 14-0 with seven knockouts.
It would just be cool if Flores could have a signature punch to do it with, and a more fan-friendly marketing tool to promote himself.
What: Gennadiy Golovkin vs. Steve Rolls, Super MiddleweightsWhen: June 8
How to Watch: Dazn 7 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To get a glimpse of the new look GGG before he gets his third shot at Canelo.
GGG has a new way to spell his first name, a new trainer, a full time nutritionist for the first time ever, and is fighting in a new weight class -- 164 pound catchweight -- but one thing remains the same: he is chasing a fight with Canelo Alvarez. Luckily for him, he said this week that he’s 99-percent sure he’ll get that fight in September, and this time, he’s smart enough to try to get it somewhere other than Las Vegas, where Canelo brings in millions of dollars, giving the city a strong incentive to gift him decision victories.
GGG did well in two fights against Canelo, and many people will argue he deserved two wins, not a draw and a decision loss. But, for whatever reason (lots of personal drama and rumored financial disputes) he has opted to leave Abel Sanchez, and move to training with Emanuel Steward disciple/former Wladimir Klitschko trainer Jonathan Banks. With just one camp under his belt, it is unlikely Banks could completely revamp the 37-year-old Golovkin’s style, and it’s just as unlikely that he would want to, but there’s no question that a new trainer is going to in some way change Golovkin from the fighter we’ve watched for all these years.
Steve Rolls is an undefeated 35-year-old Canadian with a professional record of 19-0 with 10 knockouts. By day, he works as a personal trainer and with no real big-name opponents on his resume, has the chance to change his life with a victory over GGG. While never coming close to dealing with the spotlight a GGG fight will thrust him into, he has fought on Showtime’s “ShoBox” series a couple of times so it’s not as if the TV cameras will scare him. Still, he’s a huge underdog and would be accused of having no shot by every boxing writer in America had Andy Ruiz not made everyone gun-shy to make those types of statements. (This fight is also at MSG.)
We might not have needed a new GGG, but that’s what we’re getting. On Saturday night, we’ll see just what that looks like, and if it looks like enough to finally beat Canelo.
What: Ali Akhmedov vs. Marcus McDaniel, Super MiddleweightsWhen: June 8
How to Watch: Dazn 7 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Marcus McDaniel can pull off the huge upset of the off-brand version of GGG.
Several months ago, Marcus McDaniel got shot three times. His last fight was in a converted warehouse that held 300 people. Now, he’s fighting in Madison Square Garden on the undercard of a GGG fight. That’s a crazy turn of events for the undefeated 35-year-old from Louisiana, who at one point took three years off from boxing. He has only stopped two opponents in his career (with combined records of 11-39), and the most notable name on his record is a decision win over what little is left of the 3-9 in his last twelve fights Brian Vera. He is going to need to keep Ali Akhmedov off him somehow, but that seems unlikely.
Ali Akhmedov is going to get compared to GGG for a wide variety of reasons. He is from Kazakhstan, he used to train with Abel Sanchez and now appears to be training with Jonathan Banks, and he is a hard, bludgeoning puncher. Akhmedov has stopped six of his last eight opponents, and ten of his fourteen opponents overall. Now fighting at 168, he has fought as high as 190 pounds.
If Steve Rolls can’t pull of the huge upset of GGG, it will be up to Marcus McDaniel to knock off GGG-lite. With a naturally bigger, a decade younger, and far harder-punching opponent walking him down months after surviving a shooting, that will be a tough task.