Editor's note: Thursday's main event between Jose Pedraza and Mikkel LesPierre was cancelled due to LesPierre's manager testing positive for COVID-19. The story has been updated with that information.
Boxing's first week back is in the books. It began with Shakur Stevenson taking care of Felix Caraballo in six rounds and was capped off with a 10th-round disqualification victory for Jessie Magdaleno. The back-and-forth battle between young featherweights Adam Lopez and Luis Coria, which saw Lopez earn a majority decision, opened some eyes.
Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum was one of the few inside the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas to watch all of these bouts live. For him, it was one of the most unusual fight atmospheres he's ever been a part of.
"We all sort of liked it," Arum said. "I was sitting on one end of a bench, Carl [Moretti, VP of boxing operations for Top Rank] on the other, about 7 feet away; 6 feet in back of us was [Stevenson's manager] James Prince and [Stevenson's co-promoter] Antonio Leonard. We were able to converse, but from a distance."
Arum added that as the night went on, everyone got acclimated to their setting.
"Once you got used to it, it was OK," said Arum. "Particularly me -- I had a monitor next to me, so I could see what they were doing on TV."
For now, this is the new normal, and it continues into Top Rank's second week of fights. After highly touted bantamweight Joshua Greer was upset by Mike Plania on Tuesday, and Gabriel Flores Jr. dominated in his first career main event there's one more card on tap Saturday night in Mexico City.
From Mexico City, reigning WBO junior featherweight belt holder Emanuel Navarrete (31-1, 27 KOs) faces Uriel Lopez (13-13-1, 6 KOs) in a non-title bout at featherweight. It's not clear how long Navarette, who has been one of the most active world titlists since winning his belt from Isaac Dogboe in December 2018, will be a 122-pounder.
"We are thinking about maybe fighting this year at 122, then in 2021, going to 126," said Navarrete through a translator. "As each fight passes, I feel that it's getting more and more difficult for me to make 122, because I'm still developing and growing physically.
"So yeah, it's becoming more difficult to make the weight. My body is asking me to move up."
But there is one particular thing that would keep him at junior featherweight -- a fight against bantamweight king Naoya Inoue, if Inoue moves up.
"In reality, that's one of the fights that I think would keep me at 122, but it has to be soon," Navarrete said "I cannot be waiting around to see if he's going to come up to 122 or not. If not, I will seriously consider moving up to 126 pounds."
The full card:
Emanuel Navarrete vs. Uriel Lopez, 10 rounds, junior featherweights
Carlos Ornelas vs. Edwin Palomares, 10 rounds, featherweights
Sergio Chirino Sanchez vs. Gustavo Alan Pina, 8 rounds, featherweights
Ivan Armando Garcia vs. Roberto Palomares, 6 rounds, flyweights
Navarrete-Lopez: This is a classic stay-busy/tuneup bout. Navarette, who has a world title at 122, is engaging in a non-title bout against a .500 fighter in Lopez, who comes in on a three-bout losing streak. A victory by Lopez would be a monumental upset. Navarrete by mid-round KO.
Editor's note: this portion of the preview was published ahead of Tuesday's Top Rank Boxing card.
The week kicks off with a card headlined by bantamweight contender Joshua Greer Jr. (22-2-1, 12 KOs) taking on Mike Plania (23-1, 12 KOs).
Mark Kriegel takes us through how Joshua Greer Jr. survived his childhood in a crime-filled neighborhood in Chicago and built a name for himself in boxing.
Greer hails from Chicago and is certainly well aware of the current world events and civil unrest that has taken place throughout the country. But he says it hasn't been difficult to focus on his upcoming assignment.
"I'm a person that tries to adapt to any situation that I'm in," Greer said. "People are fed up; the pandemic put a lot of people into depression -- it took away jobs. It has people financially unstable, on top of the things that happened against African Americans.
"In the midst of everything, I continued to stay focused, do what I've got to do because I believe the way I can help my [community] is through success," he explained. "I've got a mission, and I'm going to do that, so I can be a help to my people and not just talk."
Greer's past two bouts have been close affairs versus Nikolai Potapov (which he won by majority decision) and Antonio Nieves (which he won by unanimous decision). While he came out victorious, those two fights offered a bit of a reality check for Greer, who had knocked out his previous seven opponents.
"I learned a lot," Greer said. "I watched those fights over and over. I listened to the commentators. I listened to what Tim Bradley had to say, I listened to what Andre Ward had to say, and I learned from those things. A lot of it was very true -- they had key points that I needed to work on, and I worked on developing those things.
"Not everyone is going to say everything in a nice way; I didn't even grow up like that. My family didn't talk to me in a nice way, so I have no problem with that," Greer continued. "I have to humble myself and take the lesson out of what they're saying."
Greer is rated No. 1 by the WBO, whose titleholder is John Riel Casimero. Greer also is ranked second by the IBF, whose belt is held by Naoya Inoue. Inoue and Casimero are expected to meet in a unification bout -- which was initially scheduled for April -- but everything about fighting and matchmaking is complicated by the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
"Casimero's in Vegas, right now, he's waiting on Inoue. We don't know how the world's going to work. I feel like waiting around -- it's pointless," Greer said. "Right after this fight, me and Casimero should fight for the title.
"But I understand what [Casimero's advisor] Sean Gibbons and his team are thinking. If they're going to take a risk, they're going to take a risk for a bigger fight -- and for more money. They're holding out hope for Inoue, or whatever, but if he wants it, let's get it on."
Catching up with: Giovani Santillan
The co-feature on Tuesday has undefeated welterweight Giovani Santillan (25-0, 15 KOs) facing Antonio DeMarco (33-8-1, 24 KOs) in a 10-rounder. For Santillan, a southpaw from San Diego, this is his first fight under his new co-promotional agreement with Top Rank and Thompson Boxing.
Santillan is a well-rounded fighter with solid fundamentals and above-average power. He hopes to make a statement versus DeMarco, who has faced some of boxing's best and has proven to be incredibly durable. Only Adrien Broner and Edwin Valero have stopped him. In DeMarco's last fight, he went the distance against Jamal James, who, like Santillan, is a young contender at 147.
"This is a chance for me to start something new," Santillan said. "I'm happy for this opportunity -- the sky's the limit. I think the goal for us is to show that we deserve to be there."
Santillan stayed in shape during the quarantine by setting up a heavy bag in his backyard. He also had enough space to do mitt work and shadow box with his coach. Now 28 and at his physical apex, he hopes to land a title shot at 147 as soon as possible. He has no preference on whom he faces for a belt.
"I think it would be amazing to fight any one of them. It would be a great opportunity. I think I'm ready to show the world that I'm there."
The full card:
Bantamweight: Mike Plania def. Joshua Greer Jr. by majority decision (96-92, 97-91, 94-94)
Welterweight: Giovani Santillan def. Antonio DeMarco by majority decision (96-94, 96-94, 95-95)
Supper middleweight: Nikoloz Sekhniashvili def. Isiah Jones by unanimous decision (60-54, 60-54, 59-55)
Welterweight: Bobirzhan Mominov def. Cameron Krael by unanimous decision (58-55, 58-55, 57-56)
Heavyweight: Hector Perez def. Juan Torres by unanimous decision (60-54, 59-55, 59-55)
Editor's note: this portion of the preview was published ahead of Thursday's Top Rank Boxing card.
It was going to be a "must-win situation," for former two-time champion Jose Pedraza on Thursday as he was scheduled to face Mikkel LesPierre, but due to the positive COVID-19 test of LesPierre's manager Josie Taveras, that fight is now off.
Instead it will be undefeated prospect Gabe Flores Jr. (17-0, 6 KOs) in the main event slot, facing Josec Ruiz (21-2-3 ,14 KOs) in the main event in a fight that should showcase Flores' potential as a future star in the sport.
The city of Stockton, California, is near and dear to the heart of Flores Jr. (17-0, 6 KOs) and his father. It's their hometown, and it's part of their core identity. When light heavyweight Artur Beterbiev and junior bantamweight Jerwin Ancajas -- two world champions -- were the headliners at the Stockton Arena last May, Flores was the real attraction to that audience.
However the Flores family moved to Las Vegas in February. The reasoning was simple: They didn't want to be big fish in a small pond. While it was difficult to get quality sparring in Stockton, there's a much deeper talent pool in Vegas.
"I miss it, but to be great you have to make certain sacrifices," Flores Jr. said. "All my family is out there, but those are sacrifices you have to make -- I recognized that. So I was willing to move, and I can already see it's going to help me."
Originally, the elder Flores wanted to make the trek back in 2017, but his son wasn't quite ready to leave home just yet.
"Gabe's going to get good work out here, for sure, great work," said the elder Flores, who trains Gabe Jr. "The altitude, the heat, everything. It's perfect for what he needs to accomplish."
Mark Kriegel details the journey of Gabriel Flores Jr. and how Flores' father and late mother have supported and inspired him.
Flores Jr. was just 17 when he turned pro in 2017 (at the time, he was the youngest fighter ever signed by Top Rank). At this stage, he is still looking to grow and mature physically. He has above-average speed and has a good boxing IQ. What's missing is pop on his punches, which could come in time.
"This is his first 10-rounder," his father pointed out. "We want that world title shot, soon. So we've got to work."
The full card:
Lightweight: Gabriel Flores Jr. def. Josec Ruiz by unanimous decision (100-89, 100-89, 100-89)
Super middleweight: Clay Collard def. David Kaminsky by split decision (58-56, 58-56, 56-58)
Super featherweight: Frevian Gonzalez def. Jose Martinez by unanimous decision (40-36, 39-37, 39-37)
Bantamweight: Robert Rodriguez def. Adrian Servin by second-round TKO
Super lightweight: Victor Rodriguez def. Justin Horsley by unanimous decision (40-36, 40-36, 40-36)