What: Anthony Dirrell vs. Avni Yildirim, Super MiddleweightsWhen: Feb. 23
How to Watch: Fox Sports 1, 10:00 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: In April of 2018, Anthony Dirrell said that all he wanted before he retired was one last title shot. On Saturday, he gets it.
Whether he acknowledges it or not, Anthony Dirrell is looking for an exit. While this week, he vowed he would continue boxing after this bout no matter whether he wins or loses, it is clear that Andre Dirrell has no desire to try and become the next Bernard Hopkins, boxing well into late middle age. But, there is nothing that keeps over the hill boxers fighting longer than the idea that they’re on the brink of winning a world title. If Andre Dirrell loses this fight, he’ll likely keep fighting for years, convinced he’s a few good wins away from another title shot, a title shot he won’t squander again. Let’s hope the 34-year-old gets the title he’s looking for this weekend instead.
Luckily for us, he should. Turkey’s Avni “Mr. Robot” Yildirim is 21-1 as a professional but was knocked out by Christopher Eubank Jr. back in 2017. With only 12 knockouts in 21 wins, his power shouldn’t scare Dirrell, and while his record is good on paper a lot of those wins were to subpar European opponents.
Anthony Dirrell wants to win one more title before calling it a career. If he doesn’t win it on Saturday night, while he’ll undoubtedly keep trying, he likely never will.
What: Jamal James vs. Janer Gonzalez, WelterweightsWhen: Feb. 23
How to Watch: Fox Sports 1, 10:00 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Because all Jamal James can do to try and get his title shot is keep winning.
Jamal “Shango” James is 24-1 as a professional, with his sole loss coming to Yordenis Ugas back in 2016. But the man from Minnesota whose nickname means “African God of Thunder” has never gotten a shot at a world title. Unfortunately for James, the reason has nothing to do with boxing ability, it has to do with the current state of the boxing business.
Jamal James trains out of, and trains kids at the aptly named “Circle of Discipline” Gym, while fighting smart, training hard and winning. He has explained his promotional style by saying “I’m not about to be out here looking foolish on TV just to get a bunch of views on social media sites because the circle of discipline doesn’t teach us that. The most confident person really ain’t got to say nothing at all, the way I was taught. If I know I could do something to you, then I just know it and I’ll show you.”
Unfortunately for James, in the current sports landscape that attitude doesn’t get you much attention, and without attention you’re going to struggle to get a big fight. There’s a reason consistently underwhelming if not embarrassing, but very well-known fighters like Adrien Broner are getting All Access shows and PPV matchups against guys like Manny Pacquiao. They sell. And while winning enough will eventually get you a fanbase, it’s a much harder road and a slower climb than getting famous from twitter beefs and nonsense YouTube videos. The increasingly fewer and fewer fighters that take that, increasingly less travelled path, deserve praise.
So, on Saturday night, Jamal James will come out, fight hard, and try to keep winning in hopes he’ll eventually get a marquee matchup. It’s how they do things at the circle of discipline. It’s all he can do.
What: James DeGale vs. Chris Eubank Jr., Super MiddleweightsWhen: Feb. 23
How to Watch: Showtime 3:45 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Because it’s an all British “Retirement Bout” pitting family legacies against unfulfilled potential.
James Degale considers this fight a “retirement bout”, while Christopher Eubank acknowledges that if he loses there’s nowhere for his career to go as he would essentially be stuck in boxing no man’s land. That makes the fight important, but it is both men’s backgrounds that make it pivotal.
James Degale won the gold medal at middleweight in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After that, he became a British sensation who everyone assumed would be a future hall of famer. Unfortunately for Dirrell, so far the closest any member of his family has come to boxing’s elite of the elite was when Floyd Mayweather hit on his sister. Yes, with wins over Andre Dirrell and Lucian Bute, but losses to George Groves and Caleb Truax, Degale has had a good, but not great career highlighted by winning the IBF Super Middleweight Title.
Christopher Eubank Jr. is the son of the charismatic British middleweight legend, and longtime UK celebrity. The always braggadocious “Simply the Best”, turned his bravado towards his son’s career, but Eubank Jr. has so far failed to live up to the hype. He has lost to George Groves as well and was outboxed by Billy Joe Saunders. While those aren’t bad losses, keep in mind Marvis Frazier is often mocked for not being anywhere near as good as his father and believed to be a hype job living off his father’s name. Marvis Frazier only lost to Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes over the course of a 21-fight career.
James Degale has yet to live up to the promise he put on himself when he won Olympic Gold, and Chris Eubank Jr. has yet to live up to the hype his family name carries. The loser of this fight never will.
What: Joe Joyce vs. Bermane Stiverne, HeavyweightsWhen: Feb. 23
How to Watch: Showtime 3:45 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Joe Joyce is making a huge mistake fighting a veteran like Stiverne in only his eighth professional fight.
Joe Joyce has a perfect record; he has knocked out all seven opponents he has faced as a professional, despite facing solid competition. Yes, the British 2016 Olympic silver medalist has faced seven opponents with a combined record of 126-27-4 at the time they fought. But while a guy like Vasyl Lomachenko has accelerated his career because 31 is old for a lightweight, Joyce is 33 years old, which is far from ancient as a heavyweight. No, Joe Joyce is being fast-tracked because his promoter, Richard Schaeffer believes he’s the best heavyweight in the world, and openly compares him to George Foreman. In fact, Joyce’s team is disappointed with having to face Bermane Stiverne; they wanted their man to get a shot at Luis Ortiz.
Bermane Stiverne has only to two men as a professional, a fluke TKO to journeyman Demetrise King, as well as a decision loss, and a KO loss to Deontay Wilder. Outside of those three fights, Stiverne has won 25 fights and stopped 21 opponents. He is a difficult to beat, incredibly difficult to stop, veteran of professional boxing.
If Joe Joyce is the Foreman-esque world beater his promoter’s think he is, he will stop Stiverne and announce himself as the future of the division on Showtime. If he’s not ready, his promoter will have done him no favors in either their hyping of him, or their matchmaking.
What: Brandon Rios vs. Humberto Soto, Junior MiddleweightsWhen: Feb. 23
How to Watch: DAZN 9:00 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Because at some point Rios and Soto will realize this fight is about pride, and pride only.
Humberto Soto and Brandon Rios are fighting in the first ever DAZN show from Mexico. Soto is an incredible 68-9-2, as a professional with wins over guys like Rocky Juarez and John Molina, while Rios is 35-4-1 with wins over Mike Alvarado and Ramon Alvarez. But it’s not the wins that define both men, it’s the losses. Together, these men have faced such elite fighters as Manny Pacquiao, Tim Bradley, and Lucas Matthyse, and were far from an easy out for any of these men.
Now, far from their primes they face each other. No matter what they think (Rios is convinced he’s getting a title shot with a win) or how much name recognition they have, neither of these men will get another chance at a world title, Soto is 38 and Rios is a rough 32, with many years on his body due to his head first, all action style. At some point these men will realize this fight is all about pride.
On Saturday we’ll watch two proud warriors face off in Mexico to see who the better man is. That’s what this fight is all about. That’s what every fight should be about.
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