Khabib versus Conor in the UFC will dominate fight sports column inches this week but boxing is responding with a flurry of fights worthy of your attention, and the great thing is you won’t have to choose one over the other.
Throwing the first punches of the night are the boxers in Leicester. The best bout is the scrap between British rivals Jack Catterall and Ohara Davies, huge prospect Daniel Dubious takes on American veteran Kevin Johnson, and amateur star Nicola Adams vies for her first title.
In Chicago there are world title fights for Brits Callum Johnson and Gavin McDonnell, who take on established champions Artur Beterbiev and Daniel Roman respectively.
The weekend is rounded off by the start of season II of the World Boxing Super Series from Japan, where Naoya Inoue faces Juan Carlos Payano and Kiryl Relikh meets Eduard Troyanovsky.
BETERBIEV v JOHNSON
The recent trend of Eastern Europeans leaving the amateur scene and turning pro has resulted in the reigns of dominant champs Gennady Golovkin and Sergey Kovalev, and the latest boxer in that mould is light heavyweight Beterbiev.
The Russian beat Kovalev in the vested code and as a professional he’s won every one of his 12 bouts by KO, picking up a vacant title last year. Unsurprisingly the champ is a clear favourite.
Both Beterbiev and Johnson have had stop-start careers for a number of reasons and that means neither has a glittering record. Johnson’s biggest win was a one round obliteration of Frank Buglioni for the British title, while Beterbiev holds a stoppage victory over former champ Gabriel Campillo.
The way Beterbiev has been developed so slowly as a pro and protected from any dangerous punchers makes me think that the flash knock down he suffered early in his career might be part of a bigger problem.
The title-holder pours on wave after wave of pressure but I feel that he can be caught and Johnson can pull off the shock of 2018.
Bet of the bout: Johnson to win by KO at 15/2
ROMAN v McDONNELL
The other title fight coming from Chicago is Roman’s third defence on his super bantamweight strap. The American has recovered from a shaky start to his career and since 2013 he has won 17 on the spin.
McDonnell’s single career defeat came in his only world championship challenge to date. The rangy volume puncher has put together four impressive wins since that loss and he’s shown that he’s added to his game.
Both men have solid chins and both could do more damage with sponges than their fists – this fight is destined to go the distance. 3/1 for McDonnell to win the belt via the judges cards is tempting but I think Roman can match McDonnell for output and the fight will end with a very close score.
Bet of the bout: Draw at 20/1
Headlining the action in the less traditional fight city of Leicester is the super lightweight contest for world ranking positions between Catterall and Davies. Catterall – Paddy’s favourite and definitely the fans favourite – is unbeaten but without a stand-out name on his CV.
Ohara on the other hand, has faced a few names and, although he came up short against the world class Josh Taylor, the Londoner has proper pedigree. I think ‘Two Tanks’ will have too much for southpaw Catterall and you can back Davies to win at Evens.
Everybody wants to find out how good Dubois is and this bout with Johnson will be a great yardstick.
In AJ’s 13th fight he sparked out the American in two rounds and now Dubois has the chance to go one better in his ninth outing.
Johnson has lost twice this year already but he turned in solid journeyman performances. I am avoiding the short odds on a really early KO win for Dubois because ‘Kingpin Kev’ is a crafty veteran, and instead I am going for Dubois to win in rounds 5-6 at 4/1.
Adams can confirm her status as a flyweight contender with a win against experienced Mexican Isabel Millan this weekend. Get behind the Leeds lass to win in rounds 6-10.
THE FIGHTS IN JAPAN
Inoue was a world champion aged 20, a two-weight title-holder aged 21 and won a belt in his third division aged 25 earlier this year. The unbeaten Japanese is appropriately nicknamed the ‘Monster’ and he’s on odds-on to win the eight-man bantamweight WBSS tournament.
Facing the impossible task is Payano, who is a world class fighter but has shown a worrying weakness around the whiskers. I fancy Inoue to get the finish in rounds 5-8 at 15/8.
The other WBSS quarter final taking place in Yokohama is Relikh versus Troyanovsky. Both super lightweights come to attack but you have to go for the bigger, younger man and that’s Relikh. Back the Belarussian to win in rounds 1-6 at 21/10.