The opening bell: Fights with no conflicts
When there are two major U.S. boxing cards on a Saturday night, they inevitably conflict, forcing fans to watch one live and DVR the other. That risks spoilers if they can't resist social media or if one network gives away the other network's results (which inexcusably has happened).
This past Saturday was a wonderful exception to the rule, because there were two major cards -- both of which ended up having exciting main events -- and they didn't conflict.
There was a Top Rank ESPN tripleheader in Philadelphia on which junior featherweights Isaac Dogboe and Jessie Magdaleno engaged in a thrilling slugfest that included both fighters getting knocked down. Dogboe (19-0, 13 KOs), 23, the interim titlist from Ghana, was down in the first round but rallied to drop Magdaleno (25-1, 18 KOs), a 26-year-old southpaw from Las Vegas, in the fifth round and twice more in the 11th to win the title in sensational fashion. It was one of the best fights so far in a year that has seen several tremendous battles.
The ESPN card was over by 10 p.m. ET, which was when the action began on HBO. Its doubleheader in Brooklyn, New York, featured former secondary middleweight titlist Daniel Jacobs (34-2, 29 KOs), 31, of Brooklyn, positioning himself for an eventual rematch with unified champion Gennady Golovkin by winning a hard-fought title eliminator against Poland's tough Maciej Sulecki (26-1, 10 KOs), 28. Jacobs got the nod 117-110 (too wide), 116-111 and 115-112, putting a bow on the win with a clean knockdown on a right hand in the 12th round.
It was nice to not have major shows conflict, and there's more good news: It will also be the case on May 12 when ESPN has the Jorge Linares-Vasiliy Lomachenko card and it will be off the air before HBO's Sadam Ali-Jaime Munguia card begins.
Hart TKOs Nicholson
Jesse Hart sends Demond Nicholson to the canvas in the seventh round and the referee counts before eventually stopping the bout.
Awful performance of the weekend: Shawn Clark
Former super middleweight title challenger Jesse Hart (23-1, 19 KOs), 28, of Philadelphia, scored a convincing seventh-round stoppage of Demond Nicholson (18-3-1, 17 KOs), 25, of Laurel, Maryland, in the Top Rank ESPN co-feature in Philadelphia on Saturday. But he had no help from referee Shawn Clark, who turned in an unacceptable performance.
In the seventh round, Hart scored a clear knockdown, hammering Nicholson with a right hand that made him squat and clearly put both gloves on the mat to steady himself. That is a knockdown, but Clark missed it. OK, that happens. It's not good, but he's human.
But what happened next was inexcusable. Hart continued to attack Nicholson and dropped him to all fours with a heavy flurry seconds later. This time Clark called the knockdown and began counting. He got to eight and then, well, who knows what he was thinking? Instead of continuing to 10, he stopped and said to Nicholson, "Put your hands up, come on, get up." He motioned to Nicholson to rise and again said, "Get up."
Nicholson lingered on the mat for what would have been a count of at least 16. When he rose, Clark wiped off his gloves, took another couple of seconds and then stopped the fight at 2:26.
Hart got the KO he deserved, but boxing deserved a competent referee.
KO of the weekend: Claudio Marrero
In the opener of the PBC on Fox tripleheader Saturday in El Paso, Texas, featherweight Jorge Lara (29-1-2, 21 KOs), 27, a Mexican southpaw who had destroyed former three-division titlist Fernando Montiel in the first round in a 2016 shocker, was on the other end of such a situation.
He was fighting for the first time in 11 months but favored to beat Claudio Marrero (23-2, 16 KOs), 29, a southpaw from the Dominican Republic who was coming off a seventh-round KO loss to Jesus Rojas for an interim featherweight title in September. Instead, Marrero took Lara out in 33 seconds, landing a clean left hand on the chin that dropped Lara hard. He was badly discombobulated, and each time he tried to get up, he fell down again, a la Trevor Berbick against Mike Tyson, causing referee Rocky Burke to stop it.
The next step: It was such an impressive performance against a good opponent that Marrero should be able to parlay the win into a bigger fight in one of boxing's deepest divisions, where most of the top guys are affiliated with PBC, meaning the fights are relatively easy to make.
Heavyweight happenings: Miller, Jennings
Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller (21-0-1, 18 KOs), 29, of Brooklyn, New York, weighing a career-high 304¼ pounds, couldn't get the KO he wanted over ex-title challenger Johann Duhaupas (37-5, 24 KOs), 37, of France, but put a beating on him in a lopsided title eliminator scored 119-109 (twice), 117-111 on the Jacobs-Sulecki card.
The next step: This was an audition to challenge unified titlist Anthony Joshua later this year, assuming there's no Joshua-Deontay Wilder unification fight and Joshua comes to New York to fight, as is possible. Miller did what he needed to, and the title fight could happen in August.
Bryant Jennings (23-2, 13 KOs), 33, won the all-Philadelphia battle against Joey Dawejko (19-5-4, 11 KOs), 27, in convincing fashion (98-92 three times) Saturday in their hometown on the Top Rank ESPN card. Jennings handily outboxed and outpunched Dawejko to win his fourth fight in eight months.
The next step: Given his activity and that he gave then-champion Wladimir Klitschko a solid fight in a 2015 title shot, Jennings is in position for a bigger fight. Jennings is with Top Rank, which also has ex-title challenger Andy Ruiz and co-promotes former titlist Joseph Parker. A fight with either seems the obvious way to go.
Junior middleweight Erickson Lubin (19-1, 14 KOs), 22, a southpaw from Orlando, Florida, was the 2016 ESPN.com prospect of the year but moved too quickly into a fight against Jermell Charlo, who KO'd him in the first round in October. Lubin returned Saturday on the PBC on Fox card in El Paso and scored a resounding fourth-round knockout of Silverio Ortiz (37-22, 18 KOs), 25, of Mexico.
Featherweight Shakur Stevenson (6-0, 3 KOs), 20, a southpaw from Newark, New Jersey, who was a 2016 Olympic silver medalist, looked as good as he has as a pro Saturday on the Top Rank ESPN card, scoring an impressive second-round KO of Patrick Riley (12-1, 6 KOs), 30, of Dallas, Georgia. Stevenson is sitting down on his punches and beginning to fight with a more professional style than an amateur one.
Junior middleweight Daniyar Yeleussinov (1-0, 1 KOs), 27, a southpaw from Kazakhstan and a two-time Olympian who won a 2016 gold medal, turned pro on the Jacobs-Sulecki card and stopped Noah Kidd (3-1-1, 2 KOs), 22, of Jefferson, Missouri, in the third, dropping him twice in that round.
Fights you may have missed
Saturday at El Paso, Texas
Welterweight Josesito Lopez (36-7, 19 KOs) W10 Miguel Cruz (17-1, 11 KOs), scores: 99-89 (twice), 98-90.
In the PBC on Fox main event, Lopez, 33, of Riverside, California, now working with trainer Robert Garcia, fought for the first time in one year and scored a surprisingly easy win. It was a minor upset over Cruz, 27, of Lake Mary, Florida, who had a point deducted in the fifth round and another in the sixth, both for low blows.
Super middleweight Anthony Dirrell (32-1, 24 KOs) W10 Abraham Han (26-4-1, 16 KOs), scores: 100-89, 99-90 (twice).
Former titlist Dirrell, 33, of Flint, Michigan, dropped Han, 33, of El Paso, in the first round and cruised to an easy win, his fifth in a row since losing his belt to Badou Jack in 2015. Dirrell said he plans to fight only one more time before retiring and hopes to challenge for a title.
Saturday at Offenburg, Germany
Super middleweight Arthur Abraham (47-6, 30 KOs) W12 Patrick Nielsen (29-3, 14 KOs), scores: 116-111 (twice) Abraham, 114-113 Nielsen.
Former super middleweight and middleweight titlist Abraham, 38, of Germany, came off a points loss to Chris Eubank Jr. in July to outpoint Nielsen, 27, a southpaw from Denmark. It was a debatable call that came down to the judges preferring Abraham's stalking style and harder shots to Nielsen's greater activity. Abraham got credit for a questionable 12th-round knockdown when the fighters got tangled in a corner and Nielsen appeared to slip.
Saturday at New York
Lightweight Katie Taylor (9-0, 4 KOs) W10 Victoria Bustos (18-5, 0 KOs), unifying two women's titles, 99-91 (twice), 98-92.
Taylor, 31, a two-time Irish Olympian and 2012 Olympic gold medalist, outclassed Bustos, 29, of Argentina, in a fast-paced romp on the Jacobs-Sulecki card. Taylor's goal is to unify all four belts by the end of the year.
Friday at Louisville, Kentucky
It was disappointing no U.S. TV network opted to air the quarterfinals of the Jose Sulaiman World Invitational, an eight-man welterweight tournament put on by Evander Holyfield's Real Deal Boxing in conjunction with the WBC. They used five judges, open scoring and replay, and there was a live stream and a major upset.
No. 8 seed Francisco Santana (27-6-1, 12 KOs), 31, of Santa Barbara, California, an alternate pressed into action, outpointed No. 1 Felix Diaz (19-3, 9 KOs), 34, a former junior welterweight world title challenger and 2008 Olympic gold medalist from the Dominican Republic. The more aggressive Santana got the majority decision, 98-92 (three times), 96-94 and 95-95.
No. 2 Chris van Heerden (26-2-1, 12 KOs), 30, a southpaw from South Africa, outpointed No. 7 Timo Schwarzkopf (18-2, 10 KOs), 26, of Germany, 98-92, 98-92, 98-92, 97-93 and 97-93.
No. 3 Fredrick Lawson (27-1, 21 KOs), 28, of Ghana, outpointed No. 6 Baishanbo Nasiywula (13-1-1, 6 KOs), 23, of China, 99-91, 98-92, 97-93, 97-93 and 96-94.
No. 4 Brad Solomon (28-2, 9 KOs), 34, of Douglasville, Georgia, outpointed Paddy Gallagher (13-4, 8 KOs), 29, of Northern Ireland. Gallagher dropped Solomon in the first round, but Solomon rallied for the split decision, 97-93, 96-94, 95-94, 95-94 Solomon, 96-93 Gallagher.