Opening Bell: Off to a good start
When Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn and executives from DAZN scheduled the first American-based card of Hearn's eight-year, $1 billion deal with the new sports subscription streaming service for Saturday night in Chicago, little did they know the competition they would be facing.
As it turned out, the card would compete head-to-head with the Khabib Nurmagomedov-Conor McGregor UFC 229 pay-per-view megafight. That, combined with the fact that Hearn's card had little star power (though it did boast several quality fighters), a low-key promotion and a broadcaster that launched only last month and is virtually unknown, meant there were likely very few viewers.
However, those who have subscribed to DAZN and took the time to watch the fights were richly rewarded with a highly entertaining show from start to finish.
The main event was far better than I figured it would be, as welterweight contenders Jessie Vargas (24-3-1, 16 KOs), 29, of Las Vegas, and Thomas Dulorme (24-3-1, 16 KOs), 28, of Puerto Rico, put on a helluva show in an action-packed fight in which Dulorme was dropped in the 10th round and Vargas in the 12th. It was exciting all the way, and you could flip a coin as to who won.
As it turned out, it was a legitimate draw, with two judges scoring it 113-113 and one going 115-111 for Vargas, who cost himself the win when he got knocked down with 15 seconds left by a right hand -- literally, the final punch of the fight.
If ever a draw was satisfying, this was it. But it wasn't just the main event that was entertaining. The other three bouts on the main card were, as well. The co-feature, in which 317-pound heavyweight contender Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller (with a 90-pound weight advantage) destroyed faded former two-division titlist Tomasz Adamek in the second round, was an obvious mismatch. But at least Miller (22-0-1, 19 KOs), 30, of Brooklyn, New York, did what he was supposed to do and did it impressively, as he likely sent Polish hero Adamek (53-6, 31 KOs), 41, into retirement with a right uppercut.
The best undercard fight was light heavyweight world titlist Artur Beterbiev (13-0, 13 KOs), 33, a Russian native fighting out of Montreal, stopping mandatory challenger Callum Johnson (17-1, 12 KOs), 33, of England, in the fourth round of a slugfest. Beterbiev, in his first defense, got off the floor in the second round to knock Johnson out in the fourth round. It was shootout that showed that the massive-punching Beterbiev is vulnerable and that Johnson can compete at the top of the division.
Junior featherweight Danny Roman (26-2-1, 10 KOs), 28, of Los Angeles, retained his world title for the third time by knocking out Gavin McDonnell (20-2-2, 5 KOs), 32, of England, in the 10th round of another exciting fight that erased the thoughts of his previous defense in June, a horrendous fight against unwilling Moises Flores. This time, Roman had a dance partner who would mix it up, and they made it a fan-friendly fight.
In just a few months, Hearn has done a solid job of signing several quality fighters to populate his U.S. shows, but he still has a long way to go to bring on bigger names. Like everyone, he's chasing after broadcast free agent and middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez, which would be a huge coup if he could add his services to that of unified heavyweight titlist and megastar Anthony Joshua, who fights in England, but whose fights are also streamed on DAZN in the U.S.
But while Hearn, who relishes the competition of the business as much as any promoter I've ever met, is ready to mix it up in the fight for talent, he's not going to put together an all-star stable overnight. What he can continue to do until he can land some top names -- and I believe he will eventually -- is to keep doing what he did on Saturday, which is put on a quality night of fights he can be proud of and that fans will enjoy.
KO of the weekend: Naoya Inoue
If anyone was curious as to why Japan's Naoya Inoue is nicknamed "The Monster," let his violent first-round destruction of Juan Carlos Payano on Sunday in Yokohama, Japan, in the quarterfinals of the second season of the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament serve as a fine illustration.
Inoue (17-0, 15 KOs), 25, who has won world titles in three divisions, won a secondary bantamweight belt by massive first-round knockout of Jamie McDonnell on May 25, and he made his first defense against former titlist Payano (20-2, 9 KOs), 34, of the Dominican Republic, in a similarly overwhelming manner. It was over in 70 seconds, as Inoue flattened Payano, landing a jab followed by a right hand down the middle that caught him on the chin and ruined him.
Payano was flat on his back in the center of the ring with his legs twitching, and Inoue knew it was over, walking to the neutral corner with his right hand raised. Payano rolled over on his front, but he was gone, and referee Pinit Prayadsab stopped his count and waved it over. It was a sensational knockout.
The next step: Inoue, viewed as the tournament favorite by many, advanced to the semifinals. He will take on the winner of quarterfinal between titlist Emmanuel Rodriguez and mandatory challenger Jason Moloney, which is scheduled for Oct. 20 in Orlando, Florida.
Fights you might have missed
Sunday at Yokohama, Japan
Junior welterweight Kiryl Relikh (23-2, 19 KOs) W12 Eduard Troyanovsky (27-2, 24 KOs), retains a world title, scores: 115-113 (three times).
In the quarterfinals of the second season of the World Boxing Super Series eight-man 140-pound tournament, Relikh, 28, of Belarus, retained his title for the first time in a close affair with mandatory challenger and former titlist Troyanovsky, 38, of Russia, who had won two bouts in a row since losing his belt by first-round knockout to Julius Indongo in December 2016. He went 12 rounds for the first time. Relikh, the more aggressive man, appeared to win by a wider margin in an uneventful fight as he advanced to the semifinals, where he will face the winner of the Regis Prograis-Terry Flanagan bout, which will take place Oct. 20 in New Orleans.
Junior flyweight Ken Shiro (14-0, 8 KOs) TKO7 Milan Melindo (37-4, 13 KOs), retains a world title.
Shiro, 26, of Japan, retained his 108-pound belt for the fourth time in dominant fashion against former titlist Melindo, 30, of the Philippines. Melindo lost a decision to Ryoichi Taguchi in a December unification fight, then returned to face Shiro, who dominated him with his jab and opened a cut over his eye in the sixth round. In the seventh, Shiro continued to attack until time was called for the ring doctor to check the cut. The doctor felt it was too bad for Melindo to go on, and referee Laurence Cole stopped the fight at 2 minutes, 47 seconds. Shiro was ahead 59-55 on all three scorecards.
Saturday at Tijuana, Mexico
Bantamweight Luis Nery (27-0, 21 KOs) TKO3 Jason Canoy (27-9-2, 19 KOs).
Former world titlist Nery, a 23-year-old southpaw from Mexico fighting in his hometown, fought for the first time since March. That is when he badly missed the 118-pound weight limit -- coming in at 121 pounds -- and got stripped of his belt before a rematch with Shinsuke Yamanaka in Tokyo. Nery stopped Yamanaka in the second round and was later suspended for missing weight by the WBC before being allowed to return against Canoy, 28, of the Philippines. Canoy lost his second fight in a row and third of his past four (but was stopped for the first time). Nery, who was 118 pounds, bulldozed Canoy in a brutal display. He dropped him with a left hook 30 seconds into the fight and battered him in the round. In the third round, Nery floored him again with an accumulation of punishment. Moments later, as Nery continued to pound him relentlessly in the corner, referee Jesus Becerra stopped it at 2:44.
Saturday at Mexico City
Junior lightweight Tomas Rojas (50-16-1, 33 KOs) W12 Jhonny Gonzalez (66-11, 54 KOs), scores: 116-112, 114-113, 114-114.
In an all-Mexican fight, former junior bantamweight world titlist Rojas, 38, a southpaw, pulled the upset against former bantamweight and featherweight world titlist Gonzalez, 37, and ended his eight-fight winning streak. Rojas outboxed the aggressive power puncher and likely derailed Gonzalez's path to a junior lightweight title shot. At last week's WBC convention, Gonzalez was ordered to face Shavkat Rahkimov in an eliminator, but it would seem unlikely it will move forward given the defeat will knock him out of position.