The opening bell: Immediate rematch or nah?
Light heavyweight world champion Adonis Stevenson retained his title for the ninth time when he and former two-division titlist Badou Jack fought to an intense draw Saturday in Toronto in an outstanding fight.
So the question is, should there be an immediate rematch? Stevenson (29-1-1, 24 KOs), 40, of Montreal, said he is willing to do it again, and Jack (21-1-4, 13 KOs), 34, said he wants the rematch, but with the caveat that it take place in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas. If that's a deal-breaker, there likely won't be a sequel because Stevenson's past criminal conviction does not allow him to obtain a work visa to fight in the United States.
The fight certainly was fan-friendly, and a rematch would probably be another good one. Stevenson was in control for most of the first half, with Jack coming on very strong in the second half to produce a majority draw -- 114-114 on two cards and 115-113 for Jack. Few could quarrel with that scoring, though the rounds Jack won seemed to be by far bigger margins than those won by Stevenson, a southpaw.
There were several momentum shifts in the fight, including in the 10th round when Stevenson landed a brutal right hand to the body that badly hurt Jack and nearly dropped him. But Jack came back and pushed an exhausted Stevenson hard, hurting him in the final round.
I'm torn about an immediate rematch. It was a good fight that does deserve another chapter. But I don't necessarily think it needs to be the next fight.
There is the issue of Stevenson's inability to fight in the U.S. There is also the fact that he is obligated to make a mandatory defense against interim titlist Oleksandr Gvozdyk, and it has been (for a variety of reasons) almost five years since he has made a mandatory. Gvozdyk (15-0, 12 KOs) has been ruled next by the WBC, although side deals are always possible.
I also look at the division and see many quality fighters who could make good fights with either Stevenson or Jack, be it the winner of the fight between WBO titleholder Sergey Kovalev and Eleider Alvarez, or titleholders Dmitry Bivol (WBA) and Artur Beterbiev (IBF). I'm usually down for a new fight before a rematch unless the fight was truly special. Stevenson-Jack was excellent, so if there's a rematch, cool. But if not, that's also OK by me.
Welcome back: Gary Russell Jr.
Featherweight world titlist Gary Russell Jr. is as talented as any fighter in boxing, probably has the fastest hands in the business and is fun to watch. The only complaint is that we don't get to see him fight enough, as he has fought only four times since 2015, when he won his belt.
But Russell (29-1, 17 KOs), 29, of Capitol Heights, Maryland, ended another one-year layoff on Saturday for his third defense, which took place in Oxon Hill, Maryland, just 15 minutes from his home. He made a mandatory defense against fellow southpaw Joseph Diaz Jr. (26-1, 14 KOs), 25, of South El Monte, California, and reminded us all that he is a special talent.
Russell lit up Diaz with wildly quick combinations and a relentless body attack even after hurting his right hand early in the fight. Diaz was game, tried hard and also pounded the body, but in the end the more talented fighter got the job done, as Russell won 117-111, 117-111 and a way-too-close 115-113. The question now is, will we see Russell fight again before the end of the year? Hopefully.
The next step: If Russell's hand is OK and he does lace 'em up once more this year, the ideal fight -- and the one Russell says he wants -- will be a unification fight with the winner of the June 9 rematch between titlist Leo Santa Cruz (whom Russell beat in the amateurs) and secondary titlist Abner Mares. Theoretically, it should be an easy fight to make, given that all three fighters are with adviser Al Haymon and fight on Showtime.
Breakout performance: Josh Warrington
Though Josh Warrington (27-0, 6 KOs), 27, was fighting at Elland Road Football Ground, the outdoor soccer stadium in his hometown of Leeds, England, he was the underdog against featherweight world titlist Lee Selby (26-2, 9 KOs), 31, of Wales, on Saturday.
But though Warrington doesn't have much pop, he's a good boxer with endless determination, which he put to good use as he ended Selby's reign in his fifth title defense. The fight was made available in the United States for free on Showtime's various social media platforms.
Officially, the verdict was a split decision, 116-112 and 115-113 for Warrington and 115-113 for Selby, but it should have been a clear win for Warrington, who took control from the outset and maintained it throughout the bout. Warrington was also aided by an accidental head butt in the second round that opened a bad cut over Selby's left eye. It bled for the rest of the fight, as did a cut over his right eye from another accidental butt a few rounds later. Selby showed heart to hang in the fight despite the bloodshed, but this was Warrington's night in the fight of his life.
"I can't put into words how I feel. I got into the ring tonight with the expectation of the city on my shoulders," Warrington said. "I outboxed the boxer tonight. I'm overcome with emotion. We worked on game plans, but that all went out of the window and it was sheer grit and determination, and this crowd got me through tonight."
The next step: Well, it's probably not the next fight, but perhaps after one defense there's a good chance we'll see a major showdown between Warrington and Northern Ireland star and former titlist Carl Frampton. As for Selby, he plans to move up to junior lightweight.
Fights you may have missed
Saturday at Mulvane, Kansas
Flyweight Nico Hernandez (5-0, 4 KOs) KO1 Szilveszter Kanalas (14-8, 9 KOs).
Hernandez, 22, a 2016 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist, was in his first scheduled 12-round bout and didn't need much of it. He thrilled his hometown fans from nearby Wichita, Kansas, with a quick destruction of Kanalas, 19, of Hungary, who was knocked out for the seventh time in eight defeats. Hernandez hurt Kanalas with a right hand followed by a left to the body that dropped him. He barely beat the count and went down again moments later after eating a pair of jabs. Referee Steve Smoger counted him out at 2 minutes, 52 seconds.
Saturday at Durango, Mexico
Middleweight Jose Carlos Paz (22-7-1, 12 KOs) W10 Omar Chavez (36-5-1, 24 KOs), scores: 98-93, 97-94 (twice).
Paz, 27, of Argentina, came to Chavez's home country and scored a mild upset in a clear decision win over one of the fighting sons of the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. Returning to the ring off a nine-month layoff, Omar Chavez, 28, barely threw any punches and held a lot as he lost his second 10-round decision in a row. The more aggressive Paz rebounded nicely from his last fight, a third-round knockout loss in February to Jaime Munguia, who went on to win a junior middleweight world title on March 12.