Sherdog’s Weekend Boxing Preview

By James Kinneen Oct 11, 2019


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WHAT: Jay Harris vs. Paddy Barnes, Flyweights
WHEN: Oct. 11
HOW TO WATCH: ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: To see if Barnes should have retired like he said he would two fights ago, or if he can teach a young, undefeated fighter some tricks he picked up over the course of three Olympic appearances.

Why is Barnes still fighting? While we often talk about ex-champions staying in the sport too long, Barnes’ career is more of a failure to launch situation than a has-been who refuses to give up on reclaiming his former glory. See, Barnes was a three-time Olympian and two-time Olympic bronze medalist while representing Ireland. Starting his professional career at 29, Barnes rattled off four straight wins before he took on Cristofer Rosales for the WBC flyweight title. Unfortunately for Barnes, Rosales knocked him out in the fourth round with a right hand to the body.

In his next fight, Barnes moved to bantamweight and lost a decision to middling American Oscar Mojica. After that fight, a disparate Barnes told reporters, “To be honest, I don’t know how the judges scored it close, because I thought he won every round. I’m too small for bantamweight, but to be honest with you, I’ll probably retire now. Is there any point in boxing on after a fight like that?” However, Barnes did not retire. He moved back down to flyweight and beat Nicaragua’s Joel Sanchez, who is 0-8 since 2016. Barnes’ next opponent will be a far tougher one, as he takes on Harris. The undefeated Welshman at 16-0 does not have the amateur pedigree Barnes possesses, but he does have good bloodlines. His father was a flyweight journeyman in the 1980s and now co-trains his son. With the fight taking place in Belfast, Harris figures to be confronted with the hostile crowd. However, the two combatants have sparred together, so there should be some familiarity on which to lean.

Just one fight ago, Barnes was talking about retirement. After beating a tomato can, he now steps in the ring with a young and hungry opponent looking to make a name for himself in Barnes’ home country. Was Barnes right to come back, or should he have followed his instincts and called it a career?

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WHAT: Josh Warrington vs. Sofiane Takoucht, Featherweights
WHEN: Oct. 12
HOW TO WATCH: ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Because Warrington has looked past bigger fights than this one, and it almost cost him. Will he smarten up against a largely unheralded Frenchman or fall into the same trap?

Against Kid Galahad, Warrington admitted that he overlooked his opponent, cut corners in training, got complacent and got caught looking ahead to unification bouts. While he still won the fight, the IBF featherweight champion struggled in what he called a “cuddling contest,” ultimately losing the fight on one judge’s scorecard but closely winning it on the other two. Galahad was undefeated at 26-0 and trained by the legendary Brendan Ingle, and there was some bad blood heading into the all-British battle. If that was a fight Warrington looked past, how can we believe he will not do the same against Takoucht? He has three losses -- two against Alexander Miskirtchian and another to Guillaume Frenois) -- and he has only fought outside of his native France three times; this fight will take place in Warrington’s hometown of Leeds. Moreover, this will be Takoucht’s first-ever title shot. On the plus side, he is on an eight-fight winning streak and fights southpaw.

Warrington is undefeated, holds wins over guys like Lee Selby and Carl Frampton and should win this fight easily, but if he fully admits he overlooked a more dangerous opponent with more personal skin in the game, he could make the same mistake again. Might it cost him his perfect record this time?

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WHAT: Oleksandr Usyk Usyk vs. Chazz Witherspoon, Heavyweights
WHEN: Oct. 12
HOW TO WATCH: Dazn 7 p.m. ET
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: To see how Usyk looks at heavyweight against a guy he absolutely cannot look anything but stellar against.

There are not many ways you can spin this fight into a competitive one when considering the fact that Usyk, the former undisputed cruiserweight champion, is a fighter some think will prove to be too good for guys like Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. Meanwhile, Witherspoon has not fought anybody of note since a 2012 loss to Seth Mitchell. Tellingly, Witherspoon’s Wikipedia page stops his boxing record at that fight, ignoring the eight bouts he has had since. While he is the second cousin of former WBA and WBC heavyweight champion Tim Witherspoon, he does not seem to use the famed Witherspoon cross-arm defense. He has not lost since the Mitchell fight, going 8-0 with seven knockouts against largely unheralded opposition. In his prime, Witherspoon was a decorated amateur and Olympic alternate, but he never did anything special as a professional. He has lost to most of the recognizable names on his resume, including Tony Thompson and Chris Areola. In this case, the best ability the 38-year-old brings to the table is availability.

Usyk was supposed to fight former kickboxing champion Tyrone Spong in what would have been an entertaining confrontation. However, Spong’s VADA test had an “adverse finding” and led to his being taken off the card. Fans were hoping for a better replacement opponent, and it remains unclear what happened with a potential bout against Joey. “Tank” is famous for reportedly knocking out Anthony Joshua in sparring ahead of the Andy Ruiz fight. He put on social media that he signed a contract Usyk’s team sent him, only to see Witherspoon suddenly get the fight. That matchup would have been better than this one, but here we are.

While looking good is an incredibly subjective scale on which to judge, Usyk losing one round or getting hit with some good shots will immediately lead to the Ukrainian gold medalist being declared a bust at heavyweight, followed by journalists and fans alike calling for him to abandon his quest for the heavyweight title and move back to cruiserweight. While he would obviously ignore those comments, it would hamper his marketing campaign and might give better heavyweights a plausible excuse for not fighting him. He would obviously like to keep that from happening.

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WHAT: Dmitry Bivol vs. Lenin Castillo, Light Heavyweights
WHEN: Oct. 12
HOW TO WATCH: Dazn, 7 p.m. ET
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: To see if Castillo can become something more than just the guy willing to fight Bivol when nobody else would.

Usually in boxing, when a champion is fighting a subpar opponent, the promoters will tell you they reached out to all the top contenders and nobody was willing to take the fight. This is often a lie, and boxer’s social media profiles will be full of posts disputing the idea or claiming the offer they received was too low to be considered a valid one. However, in the case of Bivol’s fight with Castillo, the Russian’s people literally went person by person with ESPN to talk about why Bivol is not fighting anyone in the Top 15 of the light heavyweight division. With answers ranging from Bivol already having beaten him and two ex-Soviet nation fighters not selling well in Chicago to shoulder surgeries and mandatory rematches, we are now left with Bivol defending his WBA title against Castillo.

Who is Castillo and why is he getting so little respect? A 2008 Olympian who represented the Dominican Republic, Castillo is 20-2 as a professional, with losses to Marcus Browne and Joseph Williams. Against Browne, Castillo landed a knockdown in the fifth round but went onto lose a wide decision. In this fight, it will be up to him to make something happen, because he will not be able to outbox someone as slick as Bivol.

Bivol wants the winner of Canelo Alvarez-Sergey Kovalev, but that seems unlikely. Alvarez is supposed to be headed back down to 160 pounds after the bout, and Kovalev should retire on a high note if he wins. However, you may be providing enough bulletin-board material to spring an upset by looking at an opponent and essentially asking the world, “What do you want from us? This is the best we could do.”

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