Opening Bell: Busy, fun boxing weekend
There were no megafights this past weekend, but it was certainly a busy one that offered up a little bit of everything for boxing fans. Here's my view of the weekend:
Best long fight: Jamal James-Antonio DeMarco
Welterweight Jamal James, who is a solid contender in boxing's best weight class, reeled off his sixth win in a row in an action-packed battle with former lightweight titlist Antonio DeMarco on Saturday night in Minneapolis. It was the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card in front of James' hometown crowd at The Armory.
For 10 rounds they went back and forth, delivering an excellent fight. James maintained control, for the most part, on his way to winning 98-92 on all three scorecards. But DeMarco (22-8-1, 24 KOs), 33, a southpaw from Mexico, had his moments, including in the second round, when a right hand rocked James and had him in trouble. It was an explosive round in which James (26-1, 12 KOs), 30, rallied to help produce a thrilling three minutes. Overall, it was a very entertaining scrap that also included a toe-to-toe seventh round.
The next step: James has earned the opportunity to fight for a belt or at least to face one of the division's better names. He's entertaining, he's with PBC (which is loaded in the division) and he has a big fan base at home, so get this man a big fight.
Best short fight: Ryota Murata-Rob Brant II
Middleweight Ryota Murata, the Japanese national hero and 2012 Olympic gold medalist, regained his secondary belt in explosive fashion in a sensational two-round shootout with Rob Brant, who had taken the belt from him in Las Vegas in October by one-sided decision.
In the rematch on Friday in Osaka, Japan, they slugged their way through a Hagler-Hearns-ish first round, a candidate for round of the year, before Murata (15-2, 12 KOs), 33, hurt Brant (25-2, 17 KOs), 28, of Dallas, with a right hand early in the second round and continued to pound away. He dropped Brant midway through the round and was pounding him relentlessly until referee Luis Pabon stopped it at 2 minutes, 34 seconds.
The next step: Top Rank promoter Bob Arum proclaimed that Murata is ready to face unified champion Canelo Alvarez. He's unlikely to get that fight, but Murata, who generates big money in Japan, put himself back in the mix for something significant in a loaded division.
Best knockout: Gerald Washington-Robert Helenius
Former heavyweight title challenger Gerald Washington (20-3-1, 13 KOs), whose three defeats came by knockout to titlist Deontay Wilder, Jarrell Miller and Adam Kownacki, scored perhaps his most impressive knockout as he starched fringe contender Robert Helenius (28-3, 17 KOs), 35, of Finland, in the eighth round of their fight on the James-DeMarco undercard.
Washington, 37, of Vallejo, California, rocked Helenius with a right hand in the eighth round, causing him to hold on, then unleashed another right hand that flattened him. Helenius came to rest with his head on the bottom rope and was counted out by referee Gary Miezwa at 2:32.
The next step: Heavyweight is a hot division, and while Washington isn't an elite contender, he a tough out and just scored a great knockout. So surely he'll get another opportunity against a decent name.
Best prospect 1: Shakur Stevenson
Featherweight Shakur Stevenson, 22, a 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist, looked fantastic in his first pro fight in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey, on Saturday night, as he pummeled late replacement (and two-time bantamweight title challenger) Alberto Guevara in a third-round knockout win.
Stevenson (12-0, 7 KOs) has a tremendous skill set, and as he gains physical maturity he is also becoming a better puncher, as evidenced by his dropping Mexico's Guevara (27-5, 12 KOs) twice in the second round and scoring a highlight-reel knockout with a four-punch combination in the fourth.
The next step: Stevenson is in a mandatory position, so he's likely to fight for a world title by the end of the year, perhaps against Oscar Valdez or for a vacant belt if Valdez vacates to move up in weight, as is quite possible.
Best prospect 2: Daniel Dubois
British heavyweight Daniel Dubois (12-0, 11 KOs), 21, took a step up in competition against fellow up-and-comer and countryman Nathan Gorman (16-1, 11 KOs), 23, and notched his biggest win, an impressive fifth-round knockout on Saturday in London.
Dubois, who is 6-foot-5 and a solid 239 pounds, looks like the future of the division. He cut Gorman (Tyson Fury's cousin) over the eye and dropped the Ricky Hatton-trained man in the third round. In the fifth, Dubois dropped him for the count with a big right hand at 2:41 to win the vacant British title.
The next step: Expect a couple of British title defenses as Dubois gains experience. He is young, and there shouldn't be any rush. Soon enough he will be ready to tangle with the best of the division.
Junior featherweight world titlist Rey Vargas (34-0, 22 KOs), 28, of Mexico, made his fifth defense and remained undefeated with a decision over former titlist Tomoki Kameda (36-3, 20 KOs), 28, of Japan, but it was an unwatchable fight. Vargas may have won 117-110 on all three scorecards (Kameda lost a point for hitting on the break in the 12th round), but it left the crowd -- which was pro-Vargas -- booing because it was the more aggressive Kameda who made what little of a fight it was.
The next step: Vargas called for a unification fight with two-belt titlist Daniel Roman (27-2-1, 10 KOs), a Mexican American from Los Angeles. It's possible, since both are in need of a notable opponent and both fight on DAZN.
On the Vargas-Kameda undercard, junior featherweight Ronny Rios (31-3, 15 KOs), 29, a former world title challenger from Santa Ana, California, scored a notable upset by stopping Diego De La Hoya (21-1, 10 KOs), 24, of Mexico, in the sixth round.
De La Hoya, the first cousin of Oscar De La Hoya, has had plenty of hype and was unbeaten going into the fight with Rios, who was considered yesterday's news. But a rededicated Rios dropped De La Hoya to a knee with a right uppercut in the sixth round, and although he beat the count, he told referee Rudy Barrragan that he did not want to continue at 1:17.
The next step: New life for Rios' career, and back to the drawing board for De La Hoya, who has had well-chronicled trouble making 122 pounds and might be best served going up to 126.
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at Antibes, France
Heavyweight Tony Yoka (6-0, 5 KOs) TKO3 Alexander Dimitrenko (41-6, 26 KOs).
France's Yoka, 27, the 2016 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist, returned from a 13-month layoff due to a suspension for missing three French Anti-Doping Agency drug tests between July 2016 and July 2017. Yoka, who is trained by Virgil Hunter, took a step-up fight against onetime contender Dimitrenko, 36, and handed the Russian his third straight knockout loss. Dimitrenko was previously dispatched by Andy Ruiz Jr. and Bryant Jennings.
After two tactical rounds, Yoka suddenly connected with a three-punch combination -- right, right uppercut and a left -- in the third round to send Dimitrenko to his knees. He barely beat the count, and when Yoka nailed him with a right hand that nearly sent him out of the ring over the top rope, referee Stephane Nicolo stopped it at 1:27.
Good return win for Yoka, an excellent prospect. Now he just needs to make sure he shows up for his drug tests.
Saturday at Minneapolis
Heavyweight Charles Martin (27-2-1, 24 KOs) TKO4 Daniel Martz (18-7-1, 15 KOs).
On the James-DeMarco undercard, former heavyweight titlist Martin won his second fight in a row as he took apart journeyman Martz, 28, of Clarksburg, West Virginia. Martin, 33, a southpaw fighting out of Carson, California, who lost his belt by knockout to Anthony Joshua in 2016, swelled Martz's right eye and dropped him with a left to the head and a right to the body in the opening seconds of the fourth round. Later in the round, he landed a wide-open left to the pit of the gut that dropped Martz to a knee. He beat the count but did not want to continue, and referee Celestino Ruiz stopped it at 2:03.
Friday at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Welterweight Amir Khan (34-5, 21 KOs) TKO4 Billy Dib (45-6, 26 KOs).
Three months after former unified junior welterweight titlist Khan, 32, of England, was dominated in a fourth-round stoppage loss to welterweight titlist Terence Crawford, Khan returned to win a massive mismatch against late replacement (and good friend) Dib, 33, of Australia, a former featherweight world titlist and much smaller man moving up two weight classes to fill in for India's Neeraj Goyat (another mismatch) following his car accident.
Khan, in his first fight with a new training team of former world titlist Clarence "Bones" Adams and Alex Ariza, dominated as expected. He dropped Dib with a left hook in the second round, and when he hammered Dib with a five-punch combination to the head and body to heavily floor him in the fourth round, Dib's corner threw in the towel and referee Ian John Lewis waved it off at 1:06.
Khan hopes his next fight will come against Manny Pacquiao if Pacquiao defeats Keith Thurman on July 20.
Heavyweight Hughie Fury (23-2, 13 KOs) TKO7 Samuel Peter (38-8, 31 KOs).
Former world title challenger Fury, 24, of England, a first cousin of lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, won his second fight in a row when long-faded world titleholder Peter, 38, of Nigeria, who hadn't shown much in the fight, quit during the seventh round claiming a left shoulder injury.
Friday at Tacoma, Washington
Heavyweight Jermaine Franklin (19-0, 13 KOs) W10 Jerry Forrest (25-3, 19 KOs), scores: 97-93 (twice) Franklin, 96-95 Forrest.
Woeful decision alert! Franklin, 25, of Saginaw, Michigan, who has been hailed by some as the best American heavyweight prospect, once again disappointed in an appearance on Showtime's "ShoBox" in a fight that Forrest, 31, of Newport News, Virginia, deserved to win.
It seemed pretty obvious who controlled the fight. The crowd booed the decision, and the Showtime announcers ripped the decision, as it deserved to be. Showtime's Barry Tompkins and Steve Farhood both had Forrest winning 97-93, and Raul Marquez had him up 98-92.
Franklin, who was in much better shape than Forrest, was a little busier than Forrest but not nearly as effective. Forrest, whose only previous losses were to former title challenger Gerald Washington and contender Michael Hunter, undeservedly had an 18-fight winning streak snapped.
In the opener, junior lightweight Giovanni Cabrera Mioletti (17-0, 7 KOs), 24, a southpaw from Chicago, outpointed Brooklyn, New York-based Luis Porozo (14-1, 7 KOs), 29, a former Olympian from Ecuador, 98-92, 98-92 and 97-93.