A week that began seemingly with an announcement that digital sports streaming network DAZN would be the official global broadcaster for the upcoming Undisputed Heavyweight championship bout between undefeated world champions Tyson Fury and Olekaandr Usyk, saw a twist emerge almost as quickly as that announcement in Fury suffering a deep gash over his right eye as a result of an accidental elbow in one of his final sparring sessions in preparation for the scheduled February 17th bout, resulting in a postponement, gave way to a fighter beginning the month of February and his first bout of 2024, looking to continue his comeback following a suspension and legal battle between himself and the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) in an effort to get reinstated. The fighter this observer is referring to is undefeated Welterweight contender Connor Benn.
As most know, Benn was to have met two-time IBO Super-Middleweight world champion Chris Eubank Jr., in a highly anticipated battle in 2022 and a renewal of one of Boxing's best rivalries with the sons of Hall of Famers picking up where their fathers left off over three decades ago, was derailed only days before the fight when it was revealed that Benn had tested positive for a banned substance. Benn, who has never admitted to such use has continued to plead his case and was ultimately granted the option to fight by the Association of Boxing Commissions, which has resulted in him being able to continue his career outside of the United Kingdom where his fight to regain his Boxing license remains ongoing.
The Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas served as the setting for Benn’s second fight in the United States since those issues with the BBBofC began, on February 3rd when he took on Pete Dobson in a bout scheduled for twelve rounds. In some ways, the setting as well as the fact that it took place on a Saturday afternoon here in the United States reminded yours truly of many weekends in my youth of watching Boxing cards on free television, sometimes on both Saturdays and Sundays, most notably on ABC, NBC, or CBS, which were held in numerous locations including Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and in the United Kingdom. While this bout was broadcast globally on DAZN, it did nevertheless bring back memories of many years ago, where one might also argue that the sport as a whole was more accessible and thus in better shape than it is in present day.
Outside of the memories of this observer, the story of this fight was simple, could Benn continue his winning ways against a relatively unknown opponent, who had a respectable record of 16-0, with 9 Knockouts coming into the bout, but none of those previous sixteen opponents having been household names. The pattern of this fight consisted of Benn immediately coming forward and pressuring Dobson, looking to land power punches and clearly intent on trying to end the fight early.
It was this approach, which forced Dobson into a defensive shell for several rounds as he appeared reluctant to let his hands go. Although this did not necessarily equate to an entertaining fight to watch for several rounds, perhaps Dobson's reluctance was in part strategic as the intention seemed to be to get through the early rounds, hope for Benn to fatigue, and gradually step up his output, which is essentially what he was able to do periodically throughout. While Dobson's notable successes throughout this fight came largely when he was able to land right hands on Benn, and his output made things seem more competitive in the later rounds of the fight, the consistent pattern of the fight never changed with Benn initiating the fight and forcing the action, which ultimately led him to winning a lopsided twelve round unanimous decision.
Ultimately, this could be described as a workmanlike performance for Benn where he simply did what he needed to do and got another victory, the twenty-third of his career and his first time going a twelve round distance, there will be some criticism coming out of this fight. The primary criticism will be that he could not stop Dobson within the distance. Although some may feel that the criticism is warranted, despite being unknown, Pete Dobson proved to be a more difficult opponent than some might have expected and while the wide scorecards do not reflect Dobson's effort over the second half of the fight, some may argue, it may have been closer in terms of scoring if Dobson were able to be more active over the first half of the fight where he was mostly on defense.
While the Boxing world waits to see what's next for Connor Benn and where he will be in the ring next, the focus remains in Las Vegas where WBO Jr. Welterweight world champion Teofimo Lopez will make the first defense of his title on Thursday, February 8th at the Mandalay Bay Events Center against current WBO number ten rated contender Jermaine Ortiz. A twelve round world championship fight that can be seen here in the United States on digital subscription sports streaming network ESPN+.
The epicenter of the sports world for the first full week of February is focused on Las Vegas as the week will continue on February 11th when the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers meet in the NFL’s SuperBowl 58 at nearby Allegiant Stadium, which is one reason why this fight is taking place on a Thursday evening as opposed to the Friday or Saturday night that many Boxing fans at least over the last several decades have become accustomed to seeing fights like this held.
This will be Lopez’ first defense of the title he won in June of last year with a twelve round unanimous decision over Josh Taylor. What followed was an announcement of retirement, which was always met with skepticism and questioned for it's legitimacy. In the interest of both time and not wanting to go further into detail about the history of what often turns out to be false retirements, which at least in the context of this column does not fit well into the equation, what I will say is Lopez was not the first and will not be the last fighter to claim a retirement only to fight on.
Moving on, Lopez with a record of 19-1, with 13 Knockouts is already a two-division world champion having previously unified the Lightweight division, and at twenty-six years of age, still has plenty of lucrative fights ahead of him. The question that the champion will have to answer is whether he will be committed to his career going forward if he wants to secure those paydays, assuming of course he's able to continue winning and hold onto his Jr. Welterweight crown.
In Jermaine Ortiz, Lopez will face a fighter with experience and a similar record of 17-1-1, with 8 Knockouts. The one loss on Ortiz’ record came against Vasyl Lomachenko, the man who Lopez defeated via unanimous decision in October 2020 to unify the Lightweight division. Ortiz dropped a twelve round unanimous decision to Lomachenko when they fought in October of last year, but was competitive throughout the fight.
What this fight is, is an encounter between two boxer/punchers that can do a little of everything. Lopez for a time in his career established himself for an ability to score sudden and often brutal knockouts. As time has gone on however, he has shown an evolving skillset that has proven to provide a difficult puzzle for recent opponents to solve, with the one exception of George Kambosos, who took the Lightweight championship from him in November 2021 in a fight where Lopez was dropped twice in losing a twelve round unanimous decision.
Ortiz is not known for his punching power, but what those knockdowns Kambosos scored against Lopez came as a result of was not necessarily punching power, but rather timing in being able to catch Lopez either coming in with a counter punch or catching him off balance. Perhaps Ortiz will attempt to implement a similar approach in this fight. It is crucial, despite Lopez not showing his attribute of power in recent fights, for the challenger to remember that he does indeed have power and Ortiz must be aware at all times even if it might appear he is having success and may be ahead on the official judges scorecards. Given the new wrinkles the champion has shown in his skills recently, it is also important for Ortiz to try and keep Lopez from being able to find his rhythm as the fight progresses.
While recent times have had some questioning the long-term future as it relates to the in ring career of Teofimo Lopez, if he can win this fight there may be several options for him to either try to fully unify the Jr. Welterweight division or potentially move up to the 147lb. Welterweight division. First comes the business of defending his world championship against a fighter who has a golden opportunity. Whether Jermaine Ortiz can take advantage of it remains to be seen.
“And That's The Boxing Truth.”
Lopez vs. Ortiz takes place on Thursday, February 8th at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, NV. The fight, as well as its full undercard can be seen in the United States on digital subscription sports streaming network ESPN+ beginning at 6:25PM ET/3:25PM PT.
(*Card and Start Time Subject To Change.*)
(Check your local listings Internationally.)
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