The ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic has caused and continues to cause several issues throughout day-to-day life as well as in the world of sports. It was one such complication that has led to something somewhat unique in the current landscape in which we are in, in the sport of Boxing. Two well-publicized pay-per-view Boxing cards taking place on the same day.
Those who have followed the work of this observer over the years know that I have long been a critic of the pay-per-view model. To be more specific, I am critical of inflated price points as well as more often than not, only a fraction of a full Boxing card being made available to the consumer for what are often price points that begin at $60 or above. On February 5th, there will be two different price points that will be interesting to see what attracts consumers more as one is reasonably priced, while the other is in line with what has unfortunately become the industry's standard for pay-per-view events. First, the card which has led to this unique double offering of Boxing cards is one that was rescheduled from it’s original January 29th date due to the British Boxing Board of Control choosing to suspend all combat sports events in the United Kingdom and Ireland during the month of January due to the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the latest Omicron variant of the virus. This observer is referring to the pay-per-view card that will take place in Cardiff, Wales where undefeated multi-division world champion Claressa Shields will defend her unified WBC/IBF/WBA Middleweight world championship against undefeated top contender Ema Kozin in a scheduled ten round bout.
The bout, which will co-headline a pay-per-view event will be available on digital combat sports streaming network and pay-per-view platform FITE in the United States and several international countries for a price of $29.99. For Shields, this will be her return to the Boxing ring after losing a three round split decision in her second Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) bout in October of last year to Abigail Montes in a bout promoted by the Professional Fighters League (PFL) MMA promotion. While Shields took some criticism from some fans online following that loss, the reality is the sport of MMA is one that is still fairly new to her in that Boxing is her primary combat sports discipline and she is certainly not the first boxer to step into fighting under an MMA format with mixed results.
While Shields’ MMA record stands at 1-1 and it is logical that she will likely continue to pursue her MMA career, in the Boxing ring, she remains undefeated as a professional and between the two combat sports, she has only lost two fights with the one Boxing loss occurring as an amateur prior to her winning two consecutive Olympic Gold medals in the 2012 and2016 games respectively. The one Boxing loss was to fellow Middleweight world champion Savannah Marshall, who like Shields is unbeaten as a professional. Perhaps not coincidentally, Shields and Marshall appear to be on a collision course for a potential unification bout later this year if Shields is able to retain her unified portion of the Women’s World Middleweight championship against Kozin.
In Ema Kozin, Shields will face a fighter who is unbeaten in twenty-two professional fights and will have a slight professional experience edge over the more accomplished Shields. Kozin is also recognized as a world champion by the World Boxing Federation (WBF) in the Middleweight division and while some may not recognize the WBF as a world sanctioning organization, that world championship will also be at stake in this bout in addition to the three world titles that Shields currently holds.
The key to this fight in this observer's eyes will be whether or not Kozin will be able to get the respect of Shields early. At her best, Shields is a compact offensive-minded fighter that has a good mix of hand speed and punching power in being able to either out work opponents to win rounds or score knockouts should the opportunity arise. It will boil down to whether or not Kozin will be able to establish and control the pace. For her part, Kozin has good hooks with either hand and has shown in her career to have an effective attack to an opponent's body. Kozin has yet to face a fighter that fights at a fast pace as Shields typically does and whether or not Kozin will be able to implement an attack that is based on both counter punching as well as being able to take advantage of openings an opponent might leave her, remains to be seen.
There is always the possibility given that Shields has split her time between Boxing and her MMA career that burn out could also be a factor. As of yet, there has not been any indication that this could happen as between her two MMA bouts, Shields has continued to be dominant in the Boxing ring. Nevertheless, the possibility of burn out as well as physical fatigue from significant training exists in addition to the potential of Shields possibly looking ahead towards a bout with Savannah Marshall.
Also on the card in Cardiff, Wales, will be an intriguing Middleweight bout between former IBO world champion Chris Eubank Jr. and top contender and former world title challenger Liam Williams. A bout that uniquely is being marketed as being the main event of the card in the United Kingdom whereas the Shields-Kozin bout has received top billing here in the United States. The differences in the marketing of this card notwithstanding, the Eubank-Williams bout one might argue is a crossroads encounter in a 160lb. Middleweight division that could be heading towards a period of transition with several top players in the division including Demetrius Andrade, the two-division world champion and most recently the former WBO Middleweight world champion potentially seeking more lucrative opportunities in the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division where current Undisputed world champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez sits atop the division and as the top marquee draw in the sport has the ability to make any fight he is involved in very lucrative for those who will be sharing the ring with him. With several top fighters in the Middleweight division looking at the possibility of moving up to challenge Alvarez, providing that Alvarez stays in the division, there is obviously the potential for contenders like Eubank and Williams to maneuver into possibly fighting for a Middleweight world championship.
In terms of what one can look for in this fight, this will be an interesting clash of styles. Liam Williams is coming into this fight off of a failed world championship challenge to then WBO world champion Andrade in his last fight. Despite being knocked down in the second round of that fight, Williams, a former British Middleweight champion was very “Game” in going the distance with Andrade in losing a twelve round unanimous decision. In his twenty-seven career bouts, Williams has a record of 23-3-1, with 18 Knockouts. Those three losses however, came to arguably the two best fighters that Williams has fought thus far in his career. The most recent loss to Andrade as well as two losses to former Jr. Middleweight world champion Liam Smith in 2017.
Williams however, has good punching power and has shown that he is capable of scoring quick knockouts should the opportunity arise. This seems at least on paper to create a scenario of what could be an exciting bout as Williams’ opponent Chris Eubank Jr. is also someone who likes to come forward, has twenty-three knockouts in his thirty-one career wins registering a near 70% career knockout percentage compared to Williams’ near 67%. With both fighters having come forward styles that look to bring the fight to their opponent, this might be a scenario that it may come down to who is able to land the first significant power punch.
The pay-per-view doubleheader in Cardiff, Wales will not be the only pay-per-view offering on February 5th as later that evening former WBA Welterweight world champion Keith Thurman will return to the ring for the first time in nearly two years by facing top Jr. Welterweight contender Mario Barrios at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, NV that will headline a four bout pay-per-view card broadcast by Fox Sports Pay-Per-View here in the United States for $74.99 that will also be available on FITE as well as the Fox Sports app and traditional cable/satellite providers.
In the interest of honesty with the reader, I would not be doing my job as a Boxing journalist/historian if I did not at least mention the fact that this fight being sold as a pay-per-view event and more specifically the inflated price point has drawn significant criticism from Boxing fans. This is due in large part to Fox Sports doing a pay-per-view on new year’s day, which was headlined by former Heavyweight world champion Charles Martin and former world title challenger Luis Ortiz, being marketed heavily as being economically priced at $39.99. Despite the more reasonable price point, some estimates that have been reported by a variety of Boxing media outlets have claimed that the event, which was held at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, FL only generated 25,000 buys on pay-per-view between traditional providers and streaming platforms/networks like Fox’s own sports app and FITE.
Keeping in mind that this observer has long been critical of those in the sport both promoters and television networks for their continued reliance on the pay-per-view model, despite the success of digital subscription-based streaming networks like DAZN and ESPN+, which have shown that there is a viable alternative not just for the consumer in a subscription-based streaming model, but also a revenue source for promoters and fighters who have yet to embrace the benefits of such a model, I do not have access to the numbers of what the Martin-Ortiz event actually drew on pay-per-view, which is why the term estimates is being used here.
With that said, if the event truly underperformed to that degree, it is highly questionable why the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) group of promoters, who also promoted Martin-Ortiz and Fox Sports would think that a card, that has pretty much the same premise of the main event being a crossroads fight, would do better in terms of buys at an inflated price point, which unfortunately has become the standard for what this observer has called the “Hold Outs” that have yet to embrace the benefits subscription-based options could have for their events and for their networks. The criticism of yours truly, which I stand by, notwithstanding, the Thurman-Barrios bout is intriguing.
What makes this fight intriguing? It is the first fight for Keith Thurman since he lost his WBA Welterweight world championship to Manny Pacquiao in July 2019. The question going into this fight is fairly obvious. What kind of condition will Thurman be in after such a lengthy layoff. Although Thurman’s loss to Pacquiao came via split decision, it was a fight where the opinion of many felt Pacquiao out boxed Thurman over the twelve round world championship bout. Rather than trying to quickly re-establish himself following the loss and the global epidemic of COVID-19 that followed and unfortunately continues, Thurman has chosen to stay inactive until now. While a lengthy rest likely helped Thurman to recover from nagging injuries that all fighters deal with, one does have to wonder what Thurman will look like nearly two years removed from his last fight.
Although the length of Thurman’s inactivity was likely influenced in part by the uncertainty of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, an old-school perspective from this observer is that more often than not, the best way for a fighter to remain in fighting shape and avoid what is known as “Ring Rust” is to not only be in the gym training, but more importantly by being active in competition. Opinions can obviously differ, but I have always held the belief that the more active a fighter can be, the better that fighter’s odds of being prepared if a lucrative fight and/or an opportunity to fight for a world championship comes along. This is why many veteran fighters opt to stay as active as possible regardless of the caliber of opposition.
Of course, it is difficult to expect every fighter to have that approach, particularly when fighters at the highest level of the sport as Thurman had been for several years prior to his layoff earn millions of dollars each time they step into the ring to compete. As such, some might argue that the incentive to remain active is not as strong at least from a financial standpoint. While all fighters who enter the ring to compete deserve to make as much as they can, while they can because after all each and every fighter is risking their lives each time the enter the ring to compete, there has been evidence that fighters who compete on a limited basis whether it be once or twice a year, or even long stretches of inactivity between fights eventually suffer from eroded skills at some point in their careers.
At his best, Keith Thurman is a come forward fighter who has been more than willing to engage with his opponents with a good mix of hand speed and punching power. It will be interesting to see if the inactivity has benefited Thurman not only in terms of physically, but in terms of during a fight if the inactivity will have had an effect on his reaction time, reflexes, and his ability to take a punch. The answer to those questions will likely come early in this fight against Mario Barrios.
Barrios, who will be moving up seven pounds in weight from the 140lb. Jr. Welterweight division to the 147lb. Welterweight division is, like Thurman a boxer/puncher, who likes to come forward and engage with his opponents. Mario Barrios is coming into this fight off of his only career defeat in being stopped in his last bout by Gervonta Davis in eleven rounds in June of last year. In what was a very competitive bout where he held his own against the betting favorite Davis, Barrios nearly pulled off what some might have called an upset before he was caught and stopped late in the eleventh round.
Coming into this fight, Barrios has what might be seen as an advantage simply because he has been the more active of the two fighters. The question that will surround Barrios going into this bout will be how he will respond to fighting as a Welterweight against the naturally bigger Thurman. It will also be interesting to see if Barrios will look to test Thurman early given the issue of his inactivity or if he will be cautious and respectful of Thurman’s punching power. Barrios must keep in mind however, that he was caught in his last fight against Davis and that led to him being stopped. With this in mind, it is probably wise to assume that Barrios will be tactical in his approach even if he does test Thurman early.
While this fight is between two notable fighters, one a former world champion and the other a top contender moving up in weight for this fight, it is difficult at least for the moment to say where the winner of this bout might figure into the equation of the Welterweight division given that both Thurman and Barrios are coming off losses in their last bouts and the depth of the division that is largely in a state of flux due to issues occurring outside of the ring in terms of the top of the division. Nevertheless, the winner will likely find himself with some room to maneuver to at the very least get another bout against a top contender if an opportunity against one of the current world champions in the division is not available in the foreseeable future.
On the undercard of Thurman-Barrios former three-division world champion Leo Santa Cruz will return to action for the first time since Halloween night 2020 when he faces Keenan Carbajal in a Featherweight bout scheduled for ten rounds. Similar to Mario Barrios, Santa Cruz is coming off of a knockout loss to Gervonta Davis. In what was an exciting fight that was quite competitive, the bout came to a sudden conclusion when an uppercut from Davis ended the night for Santa Cruz. Although Santa Cruz’ loss to Davis was a one punch knockout, the effects from it have kept him out of competition for over a year. Santa Cruz now looks to get back on track in this fight against Keenan Carbajal. Carbajal, the nephew of former four-time world champion and Hall of Famer Michael Carbajal, will enter this fight with a record of 23-2-1, with 15 Knockouts and has been unbeaten since 2015. This however, will be a step up in caliber of opposition for Carbajal, who will be giving up significant experience to Santa Cruz, who will enter with a record of 37-2-1, with 19 Knockouts.
While Carbajal may be unknown to some going into this bout, it is important to remember that Santa Cruz is coming off of a knockout loss that was severe in how it occurred. It is logical to assume that Carbajal will look to test Santa Cruz early. At his best, Santa Cruz is a fighter with an entertaining style that has been more than willing to engage with his opponents over the years. After suffering the first knockout of his career however, an obvious question that will probably be asked among some Boxing fans is whether or not he will be as willing to engage in exchanges of offense as he was before he was caught by Gervonta Davis.
Although Keenan Carbajal has an eighteen fight winning streak coming into this bout, he has fought several fighters that are not known and who some would describe by a term that this observer personally dislikes “Journeymen.” As much as the story of this fight will center around what effect did the knockout Leo Santa Cruz suffered had on him, the other plot line here will be what will Carbajal bring to the table in what is clearly the biggest fight of his career and a chance to instantly establish himself amongst the best in the 126lb. Featherweight division should he turn in a good performance win or lose. While there is a clear temptation to label this as simply a “Comeback Fight” for Santa Cruz, the reality is, it may be best to view things with the mindset of one fight at a time at this stage of his career and what path his career takes going forward could be influenced in part by what happens in this fight against Carbajal.
The concept of two pay-per-view Boxing cards taking place in the span of one day is something that is indeed not new as Boxing has flirted with it on an occasional basis going back to the early 2000’s prior to the advent of streaming technology and the often more sensible subscription-based streaming model. With four fights, the four headline bouts on these two pay-per-view cards having been previewed in this column, it would be a shame given the stories leading into each bout if the main story in the weeks that follow these two cards concerns strictly the estimates of pay-per-view buys each event generates, which has unfortunately been as much of the story of recent pay-per-view events as the fights themselves.
Although it is tempting to take a negative view having seen the decline of the pay-per-view model and the thus far unwillingness to adapt by some promoters and networks to a more economically reasonable model that will not in essence price out many consumers, yours truly will take an optimistic stance and say simply that I am looking forward to what occurs inside the ring between these two separate cards. The other factors that be in regard to the business of Boxing and the paywall structure can be discussed at a later time. For now, let these fighters do what they do best, compete. We’ll see who emerges victorious from these two events on Saturday, February 5th.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
We will have weigh-in and broadcast information for these two cards available here on The Boxing Truth® on Friday, February 4th. Stay Tuned.
The Boxing Truth® is a registered trademark of Beau Denison All Rights Reserved.
Follow Beau Denison on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Beau_Denison