What: Teofimo Lopez Jr. vs. Masayoshi Nakatani, LightweightsWhen: July 19
How to Watch: ESPN+ 10 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Because Teofimo Lopez’s takeover plans are all lined up, he just needs three wins to make them happen.
In modern boxing, no matter how good or marketable you are the path to fighting certain champions, or to earning a title shot of any kind really, is rarely clear. So, it is pretty unique that Fortnite dancing, 13-0 with 11-KO-having Brooklynite Lopez has a straight, linear path to the man he’s been both trash talking and choosing opponents to prepare for, pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Yes, barring a sudden radical shift in the type of opponents Gervonta Davis is willing to face, or Mikey Garcia deciding he can still make lightweight and wants to reassume his status as head of the weight class, Lopez is two wins away from a shot at Lomachenko and the stardom that would provide. Beat Masayoshi Nakatani and you get a fight with Richard Commey for his IBF belt. Beat Commey, and you get both Lomachenko and a chance to complete the #takeover he’s constantly tweeting about.
But as any sports fan will tell you, the “clear path” doesn’t guarantee anything. Time and time again we lose out on the compelling championship matchups we want to see when an early round upset means we don’t get to watch the best play the best.
Can Nakatani pull that upset? Well, he is undefeated at 18-0 with 12 knockouts, but this will be his first fight outside of Japan and the only guys he’s fought have been Asian fighters (Filipinos, Thais and Japanese mostly). His best win is probably a stoppage of Amphol Suriyo, though he has stopped seven of his last eight opponents.
This fight is essentially a quarterfinal, with the championship game coming against Lomachenko. But we’ve seen plenty of lesser teams ruin the championship plans we all hoped for. On Friday, we’ll see if Nakatani can dig deep, pull off the upset and deprive us of the Lomachenko-Lopez we’re all dying for.
What: Keith Thurman vs. Manny Pacquiao, WelterweightsWhen: July 20
How to Watch: Fox PPV 9 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if the post-Horn resurgence of Manny Pacquiao is real, or a creation myth crafted through careful matchmaking.
After Manny Pacquiao lost to Jeff Horn, the consensus was that while the decision was bogus and Pacquiao deserved to win, Manny was shot and nobody wanted to see him fight anymore. SI’s Chris Mannix tweeted “Time to call it quits,” while ESPN’s Steve Kim wrote “what I really took away was that Manny is old and his once stout legs are fading” and “Manny Pacquiao is now Michael Jordan as a Washington Wizard.” It’s kind of surprising that they haven’t deleted those tweets yet, because two years and two wins later the “Manny Pacquiao is shot” narrative has been abolished and replaced with the “resurgence of Manny Pacquiao” concept. The mainstream consensus now seems to be, while not quite as good as before, Manny is almost as good as ever.
But how sure are we that Manny isn’t shot? And, if everyone thought he was done after the Horn fight what has he done to so thoroughly debunk that theory?
That’s where things get interesting. After the Horn loss, Pacquiao stopped his first opponent since 2012 with a TKO victory over Lucas Matthysse, then followed up that victory with a decision win over Adrien Broner. Matthysse had power, but he was a plodding fighter that recognized he was shot himself and retired after the loss. And as for Broner, for all his money and fame, has he ever beaten an elite opponent and his commitment to boxing has always been questionable at best.
This isn’t to knock Matthysse or Broner; just to question that if you were so sure Manny was shot after the Horn fight, is beating Lucas Matthysse and Adrien Broner impressive enough to completely reverse course on that theory?
Probably not but beating Keith “One Time” Thurman sure would be. While nowhere near as famous as Pacquiao, Thurman is the WBA Welterweight Champion of the World, and has beaten guys like Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter and Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero. The biggest issues with Thurman have been inactivity: he didn’t fight between March 5, 2017 and Jan. 25, 2019 due to various injuries, and injuries cost him the WBC welterweight title he once held. The other issue for Thurman is that he’s the forgotten man due to the dominance of Terence Crawford and Errol Spence. For him, a win over Manny Pacquiao (especially a first round knockout; which he’s supposedly betting money on himself to deliver) on a big stage may make the big two of Spence and Crawford into a big three.
Were people right that Manny has been shot since 2017, but careful matchmaking has protected him and pulled the wool over boxing media’s eyes? Or, is he really (at 40 years old) nearly as good as he used to be? A fight with Keith Thurman will sort the matter out definitively, one way or the other.
What: Yordenis Ugas vs. Omar Figueroa Jr., WelterweightsWhen: July 20
How to Watch: Fox PPV 9 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Because this fight is both Omar Figueroa’s chance to become what people thought he’d be, and Yordenis Ugas’ chance to capitalize on the clout his fight with Porter gave him.
Omar Figueroa Jr. should be bigger. Having won a world title at 23, and with wins over guys like Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero and Abner Cotto (as well as an amateur win over Errol Spence Jr.), at 29 years old Figueroa should be a star. But, despite still being undefeated Figueroa doesn’t’ hold any titles and if you ask anything but the most hardcore boxing fan the best response you could hope for is “oh yeah, what happened to that guy?”
What happened? He shot himself in the foot, multiple times. In 2012, he was stripped of the WBC belt with the incredibly vague explanation that it would "allow him to take the necessary time to heal and to begin training without any time pressure" of a mandatory title defense.
Because of various issues, this will be only his fourth fight since 2015. And, worst of all, he was going to fight Adrien Broner in what would have been a star-making performance last year, but got injured (though Broner claims he knew he wasn’t going to make weight), while simultaneously dealing with DUI issues. Overall there was a consensus he hadn’t been taking boxing seriously, but now he claims he has stopped partying, sold his BMW motorcycle and is ready to become the fighter everyone thought he would be.
A great way to get the media and fans to remember you is to look good on a Manny Pacquiao undercard. Such is the opportunity he will have on Saturday, when he faces Yordenis Ugas.
Ugas, on the other hand has the chance to simultaneously bounce back from a tough loss and capitalize on his sudden name recognition. Boxing fans will remember that in his last fight, Ugas gave Shawn Porter all sorts of problems, won the fight on one judge’s scorecard, and had some fans arguing he was robbed. While Figueroa was supposed to be the superstar, the truth is, at the moment it is Ugas that most boxing fans know. On Saturday, he can simultaneously bounce back from the Porter loss and grow his name even more on a big stage.
Will Omar Figueroa use the Pacquiao stage to vault himself back into the boxing conversation, or will Yordenis Ugas remind the world that he’s the guy who gave Shawn Porter all sorts of problems? There’s only one way to find out.
What: Caleb Plant vs. Mike Lee, Super MiddleweightsWhen: July 20
How to Watch: Fox 7 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Mike Lee can justify his promotion almost ten years since his privileged background thrust him into the national spotlight, or if Caleb Plant can show he was always a pampered hype job never cut out for boxing greatness.
“Who put Mike Lee in a Subway commercial and why?”
Between 2011 and 2013, at a time when fears of the UFC’s rise had the mainstream media promoting the tired “boxing is dead” narrative, Subway decided that Mike Lee was the boxer they would put in their commercials alongside guys like Ndamakong Suh, Ryan Howard and RG3. Boxing fans went insane at the idea and noted all the pound for pound greats that were much more deserving of the national spotlight. While Subway claimed it was because Lee had mentioned the sub brand as part of his training routine, but most people understood the unfortunate truth: Lee was white, educated at Notre Dame and extremely marketable. For reference as to the outrage, I would point to this 2013 Deadspin article titled “Boxing’s great White Hope Problem; Or, Why the F--- was Mike Lee in a Subway Commercial?”
Almost ten years (and one scandal that obviously overshadowed the controversy of having Mike Lee as Subway spokesman) later, at 32 years old Lee is undefeated at 21-0 but hasn’t fought anybody of note. For years everyone has waited to see if Lee could justify his promotion, but he’s never fought anybody that could answer the question.
Caleb Plant will answer it. The 27-year-old is the IBF Super Middleweight Champion and holds a record of 18-0 with ten knockouts. Plant is white as well, but his story I hugely different from Lee. Unlike the Notre Dame finance graduate, Plant was raised in poverty in Ashland Tennessee. He was so poor, when he was a baby the family had him sleeping in a dresser draw because they couldn’t afford a crib. As a teenager, he had to sell drugs for his mom. And, this year his mother was shot by the police after she allegedly rushed them with a knife. Caleb Plant has scratched his way up from poverty into boxing relevancy, Mike Lee had it handed to him.
Lee has fought the majority of his career at light heavyweight, so he should be the naturally bigger man. But, Plant has fought much higher competition both in the professional and amateur rankings (he was an Olympic alternate in 2012, while Lee won Notre Dame’s school boxing tournament and boasts about it on his website). You’ll recall that boxer/football player Tom Zbikowski didn’t compete in these school bouts, because he knew he would have seriously hurt someone.
Mike Lee has a chance to make every doubter eat his words by winning a legitimate world title almost a decade after his Subway commercial caused a fuss in the boxing community. But Caleb Plant has been through too much(though this week an awful story about Plant’s life as a father emerged that cast a negative shadow on how much he focused on boxing) to let a college boy that boxes for fun when he could be working on Wall Street take the title, he’s dedicated his life to winning.
What: Dillian Whyte vs. Oscar Rivas, HeavyweightsWhen: July 20
How to Watch: Dazn 1 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Because Dillian Whyte wanted big heavyweight fights. Instead, he’s facing a much tougher fighter than the general public realizes.
Dillian Whyte has only lost to Anthony Joshua. He’s a big name in the UK, he’s on a nine-fight win streak, and now he’s fighting… Oscar Rivas?
Whyte doesn’t want to be fighting a little-known Colombian that fights out of Canada like Rivas, but he hasn’t been able to secure a fight against one of the better heavyweights in the world so that’s where he finds himself, whether he likes it or not. Luckily for him, a win over Rivas makes him the mandatory challenger to the winner of Wilder-Fury 2, so as long as he beats Rivas he will get the fights he’s been looking for, for years.
But Rivas is a trickier opponent than he (and many other people) may realize. As a professional, Rivas is 26-0 with eighteen knockouts, and fresh off a win over Bryant Jennings. More importantly, as an amateur he beat both Kubrat Pulev and Andy Ruiz. Oscar Rivas is not the fighter Dillian Whyte wanted to face, but he is no joke. And while Whyte wanted bigger names in the heavyweight division, he’s facing a little-known fighter with some big-name notches on his belt.
Did DIllian Whyte make a mistake not holding out for a bigger name, and can Oscar Rivas show he’s the heavyweight everybody should be talking about? We’ll find out on Saturday.
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