The boxing events have trickled through in 2019 but the floodgates are finally opening this Saturday – we have six massive fights, five for world titles, four boxers are competing in the World Boxing Super Series semi-finals, in three separate events, two ‘O’s’ have got to go, and one priceless heavyweight crown is up for grabs.
AT GLASGOW’S SSE HYDRO
It’s not been a good year for British boxing at the very top level but Josh Taylor can reverse those fortunes. The irrepressible Ivan Baranchyk has packed his belt and his perfect record, and he’s coming to bonnie Scotland to fight for a place in the WBSS final.
Prestonpan’s Taylor may only be 14 bouts deep into his professional career but he’s already notched up comprehensive wins against former champ’s Viktor Pistol and Miguel Vasquez, and he’s dealt with a couple of rival unbeaten prospects.
Both boxers have made names for themselves as aggressive fighters – but where the Belarusian super lightweight has a swarming, hook-heavy style, GB’s 2016 Olympian picks his big shots from the front foot.
If Baranchyk is ridiculously tough and can walk through Taylor’s bombs then the second half of the fight will be very rough for the Scot. But the champ showed a chink in his armour when he was dropped in 2017 and I think Taylor will take him apart.
There won’t be many occasions Naoya Inoue fights outside of Japan, so if you have the chance to get to The Hydro I suggest you take it. The three-weight champ is a massive star at home because, while he looks like a choirboy, he punches like a mule.
Since moving up to bantamweight Inoue has blasted out both Britain’s Jamie McDonnell and former champ Juan Carlos Payano inside a round. But Emmanuel Rodriguez is no mug – he’s bettered some world class professionals and he was a stand-out amateur.
Both boxers have titles at 118lbs, both are unbeaten and both are 26 – and Rodriguez is great value to win at 6/1. Manny might be the best opponent Inoue has faced and we are yet to see how the Japanese adapts to the Scottish cuisine, but you can’t back against ‘The Monster’.
AT STEVENAGE FC’S LAMEX STADIUM
After a disastrous 2018 Billy Joe Saunders found himself in tricky situation – no belt and bunch of 160lb champions who would rather avoid a super slick southpaw. Luckily for Saunders, the WBO’s 168lb title became vacant and the governing body gave favour to the Brit.
The opponent is far less deserving of the opportunity than even Saunders – Serbia’s Shefat Isufi is on a run of 10 victories but he hasn’t got a win against a recognisable name on his record. With basic skills at best, Isufi is set to suffer the fourth defeat of his career this weekend.
Three KOs in his last 12 bouts puts Saunders dangerously close to the ‘powder-puff puncher’ category. This is the biggest bout in Isufi’s career and I can see the away fighter hanging in there until the final bell.
We’re used to seeing giants slug it out in sci-fi epics but there will be two real life ogres taking swipes at each other on Stevenage’s hallowed turf on Saturday. 42 year old former contender Alexander Ustinov is past his best but he’s still a good test for Britain’s 2016 Olympic Silver medallist Joe Joyce.
Six-foot-six Joe has been accused of having slow hands but Ustinov is even bigger and slower. The Russian has only been stopped twice in his career, but the ‘Juggernaut’ will be relentless from the first bell. Go large on Joyce to win inside the distance.
AT NEW YORK’S BARCLAYS CENTER
Deontay Wilder isn’t getting much credit for facing former Anthony Joshua victim Dominic Breazeale and there isn’t much hype either, but I am expecting the best heavyweight action of 2019. Everybody expects the champ to win early but big Dom will absorb some serious punishment to land his own shots.
Breazeale will be the hardest hitting opponent Wilder has faced, and there’s also some proper needle between the pair after an altercation in a hotel lobby two years ago. Breazeale has Olympic pedigree, although he didn’t get close to Wilder’s achievement of bronze in 2008.
‘The Bronze Bomber’s’ hand speed is miles quicker than Breazeale’s but I can see ‘Trouble’ landing on Wilder. I like the 13/2 for both fighters to be knocked down but I think Wilder will come through a torrid affair.
Gary Russell Jr might be one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world but he seems to always have fringe-level dance partners. This weekend’s challenger doesn’t break the mould – Kiko Martinez is a former champ but in recent years he’s lost to Carl Frampton, Scott Quigg and Leo Santa Cruz.
The Spaniard is too one-dimensional to cause Russell problems, and at 33 he past his bulldozing best. The American featherweight boss isn’t a massive puncher but he’ll be able to land enough to get the job done in quick time.
*All odds correct at time of posting