Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Previewing Matchroom Fight Camp Season 2 Week 1

 One of the biggest things that came as a result of the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic when it began impacting everyday life including the day to day operation of sports around the world in 2020 was the necessity for all sports to adapt to the changing environment created by the COVID-19 virus.  Following a lengthy pause that lasted in some cases over three months, Boxing was one of the sports that sort of laid out a blueprint of sorts for other sports, particularly in the combat sports space to follow as the process of trying to resume normal day to day activities began. While some promoters are still struggling over a year into the epidemic to resume their schedules, some promoters who because of their standing in the sport had the financial resources and the benefit of lucrative agreements with television and streaming networks to not only resume activity, but also essentially take residency at venues around the world in environments that did not feature spectators.


One of the most notable for a period of time was the move by Matchroom Boxing promoter and now Chairman of Matchroom Sport to stage cards at the private residence of the Hearn family estate dubbed Matchroom Headquarters in Brentwood, England. This unique decision saw cards held outdoors on the spacious grounds of the Hearn estate, a beautiful setting for Boxing that likely would not have come to fruition had it not been for the unforeseen circumstances of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. While this was initially thought up out of necessity to resume activity, it laid the groundwork for what may become an annual tradition on the Matchroom calendar as beginning on July 31st, the Matchroom stable will return to the grounds of the Hearn estate for three cards over three consecutive weeks dubbed “Matchroom Fight Camp Season 2.”


Much as was the case when this concept debuted last year, the world remains in uncertain times as the COVID-19 epidemic continues. There are however, two notable differences that are occurring this time around. The first is that beginning with the first of the three cards, all the action will be available to Boxing fans in the United Kingdom and Ireland as well as globally on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN as Matchroom recently announced an extension of its existing agreement with the network to cover the United Kingdom as well as its existing agreement to broadcast all Matchroom Boxing events internationally including here in the United States. This marked the end of a decades-long run for Matchroom Boxing on Sky Sports and also a demonstration of Hearn’s commitment to the subscription-based streaming model and away from the pay-per-view model.


Given the level of Boxing’s popularity and sizable audience in the United Kingdom, this is likely to be a smart move by Hearn that other promoters throughout the sport are likely to notice and follow. As Hearn along with DAZN have really established themselves on a global level in the sport and have become one of the top players in it, fans may wonder what is in store.


For the second season of Matchroom Fight Camp there is no shortage of what on paper should be competitive bouts. In the main event of week one, unbeaten Welterweight contender Conor Benn will face a stern test in the form of longtime contender Adrian Granados. Benn, the son of former two-division world champion Nigel Benn, is undefeated in eighteen professional bouts having scored knockouts in twelve of those fights registering a career knockout percentage of nearly 67%. Much like his father before him, Benn has power in both hands and is capable of ending a fight quickly should the opportunity present itself. In his last fight in April of this year, Benn scored a first round knockout over veteran Samual Vargas. Now Benn looks to take the next step towards a world title shot by facing Adrian Granados.


Granados, a veteran of thirty-three professional fights is similar to Vargas in terms of experience having fought several top fighters in and around the 147lb. Welterweight division including former two-division world champion Danny Garcia. The question going into this fight is what type of challenge can Granados provide Benn and more specifically, can he provide a level of resistance that Benn’s previous to opponents Vargas and Sebastian Formella were unable to provide. If Benn is looking beyond Granados, Granados does have the skillset and experience to make it a difficult fight for him.


Also on this card, European Cruiserweight champion Tommy McCarthy will make the second defense of his European crown against rising prospect Chris Billiam-Smith in a fight where the vacant British Cruiserweight championship will also be on the line. McCarthy, who is currently rated in the top ten in the WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO ratings in the Cruiserweight division appears to be nearing a possible world title shot in 2022 if he can continue winning. In his last outing, McCarthy scored a sixth round knockout over a very “Game” Alexandru Jur in May of this year in his first defense of the European Cruiserweight championship. 


McCarthy will face what could be an interesting task in the form of Chris Billiam-Smith. Smith, who will enter the fight with a record of 12-1, with 10 Knockouts will come into this encounter riding a three fight winning streak since dropping a decision to undefeated former British Cruiserweight champion Richard Riakporhe in July 2019. This fight appears to be one where the fighters have similar styles, but one might argue that the champion McCarthy  might have an edge both in terms of experience as well as hand speed. When it comes to fights where there are similarities in styles, it is always interesting to see who will be able to establish the tempo of the fight and whether or not that fighter will be able to maintain that tempo throughout the bout. It is certainly not out of the realm of possibility that this could be a tactical battle for much of the early rounds and whomever is able to get an advantage just might emerge from this fight victorious.


The final of the three headline bouts that will take place on week one of season two of Matchroom Fight Camp will be a battle in the 126lb. Featherweight division as top contender Can Xu faces WBA number twelve rated Featherweight contender Leigh Wood. Xu, who has a record of 18-2, with 3 Knockouts currently holds an interim/regular championship designation in the WBA’s Featherweight ratings. Although not known for his punching power, Xu is a highly skilled boxer that knows how to win rounds and has shown no issue in being able to go twelve rounds if required. In Leigh Wood, Xu will face a fighter who will come into the bout with a record of 24-2, with 14 Knockouts who has won four of his last five fights and will have an edge in activity having last fought in February of last year compared to  Xu, who has been out of action for nearly two years most likely due to the circumstances of COVID-19 .


Xu is known for his ability to outwork his opponents and it is logical to think that Wood will look to pressure him early to take advantage of any possible ring rust that Xu might have from being inactive. In simple terms, Wood needs to be consistent in this fight and make it difficult for Xu to get into a rhythm in order to have success in this fight.


These three bouts, which will headline a six bout card at Matchroom Headquarters should continue the momentum that was established last year during what can now be referred to as the inaugural season of Matchroom Fight Camp in providing fights that have all the appearance of being highly competitive. In addition to the new broadcast agreement as far as the United Kingdom and Ireland are concerned there is one more crucial difference that will be taking place this year as compared to season one. A limited number of fans will be allowed to attend the three cards on the grounds of the Hearn family estate. As the world continues to deal with the circumstances and effects of the COVID-19 crisis the fact that a select number of fans will be able to experience Boxing in a truly unique and intimate atmosphere is refreshing after the circumstances in which the “Matchroom Fight Camp” concept came to be initially. If the addition of spectators can add to the action in the ring, it may not be a bad idea for Eddie Hearn and his team to start strategizing for Fight Camp Season 3.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


Matchroom Fight Camp: Benn vs. Granados takes place on Saturday, July 31st at Matchroom Headquarters in Brentwood, England. The full card can be seen globally on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN beginning at 12PM ET/9AM PT (U.S. Times.) For more information about DAZN, including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices/platforms/Smart TVs, availability around the world, start times in your area, and to subscribe please visit: www.DAZN.com.


We will have a preview of week two of Matchroom Fight Camp here on the website next week.


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