Boxing's big night: Six fights you need to keep an eye on this Saturday

Mikaela Mayer, above, defends her WBO and IBF junior lightweight world titles against Jennifer Han. Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

When Jennifer Han got the call in 2021, she knew this was not going to be easy. Not even close. The opponent -- undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor -- was very talented. There was also her own situation.

Han had given birth to her second child, Nolan, months before. She said she gained 75 pounds during her pregnancy. To fight Taylor, she'd need to lose 55.

"It was awful," Han said of losing that weight. "I do not recommend anybody to lose that kind of weight that fast. That's just too much."

She tried diets that sapped her energy and hampered her training. When she lost to Taylor on Sept. 4 by unanimous decision, she wasn't totally herself. Her instincts and reactions weren't quite there.

Saturday provides another chance -- a more balanced chance for the 38-year-old -- when she faces WBO and IBF junior lightweight champion Mikaela Mayer. Han has been able to train normally, feeling more like the former IBF featherweight champion who defended her title four times before giving birth to her first child.

And while she wishes she could have had these bigger, televised opportunities earlier in her career, at least they are coming now. Part of why Mayer and Taylor are where they are now -- signed to promotional deals and owning the main event slot on televised broadcasts -- is because of the work Han and other standout women before them put in.

"When I started boxing, a lot of women were not boxing," Han said. "So definitely, I was in the generation of pioneers for women's boxing."

Han turned to boxing for the same reason why some female boxers have looked to mixed martial arts -- opportunity. She was a kickboxer and couldn't find fights. So boxing, despite its relative nascent nature at the time, gave her more of a chance.

She turned pro in 2009 and lost her debut to Melissa St. Vil. Promoters, on the whole, weren't typically signing female fighters when she made the decision to turn pro. They didn't for a while after, either. Televised women's fights weren't happening. But now, she's in a main event against Mayer on ESPN.

It's a long way from when Han was part of the United States national boxing team at the first AIBA women's world championships in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 2001. She was 18 years old then. Fights like Saturday's didn't exist.

"There were women on the [national] team that were 34," Han said. "And we had battled our whole lives just to get this kind of opportunity. And I knew then that this was basically historical. So for Mikaela Mayer and I to be fighting on ESPN as a headliner, I mean, this is the second time she's been a headliner, but ESPN, this is amazing.

"And I know I'm going to be making, you know, my children be proud of their mother. This is a struggle, and I'm glad to be part of it."

But that's not the only great fight to watch on Saturday. Let's take a look at five other bouts, their entertainment value and what's at stake for the fighters.

No. 1 Gennadiy Golovkin vs. Ryota Murata (DAZN, 5 a.m. ET)

Why you should watch: Even at age 40 (he turns 40 the day before the fight) Golovkin is one of the best fighters in the world. Murata should at least give him a test. Golovkin (41-1-1, 36 KO) last fought Dec. 18, 2020 in a win over Kamil Szeremeta -- and this should be his toughest opponent since the two Canelo Alvarez fights.

Murata's last eight wins have come by knockout or retirement. When his fights have went to a decision, he lost a split decision to Hassan N'Dam and a unanimous decision to Rob Brant. He avenged both in stoppages.

What's at stake: For Golovkin, the IBF champion, it's making sure no luster is taken off of the potential third fight with Alvarez. A loss against Murata, the WBA "super" champ, would all but kill the buzz for the fight -- exciting as the first two were -- both because of Alvarez's continued dominance and the fact Golovkin will be 40, and that age can catch up to anyone.

Murata (16-2, 13 KO) has a chance to put himself in a different class within the division -- and maybe put himself in line for a fight against Demetrius Andrade or Jermall Charlo if he were to win.

No. 2 Ryan Garcia vs. Emmanuel Tagoe (DAZN, 9 p.m. ET)

Why you should watch: It's been a long road back for Garcia since he beat Luke Campbell on Jan. 2, 2021. Garcia took time off to address his mental health and opened up about his experience publicly. He was going to return on Nov. 27 in a fight against Joseph Diaz, but injured his right hand and needed surgery.

Garcia (21-0, 18 KO) is a show every time he steps into the ring. The 23-year-old lightweight remains one of the most popular figures in the sport, but how he looks against Tagoe is perhaps the most interesting thing, period, on this busy day of boxing.

In Tagoe (32-1, 15 KO), he is taking on a fighter he should beat. The 33-year-old hasn't lost since his professional debut in 2004, but he also has never fought someone the caliber of Garcia. So this is a good fight to get a sense of where Garcia is coming off a long layoff.

What's at stake: The lightweight division has changed a lot since Garcia last fought. Teofimo Lopez is no longer on top and it's now George Kambosos Jr. who everyone is chasing. The line to the top continues to be crowded -- Devin Haney, Gervonta Davis and Vasiliy Lomachenko continue to be in Garcia's way. An impressive performance from Garcia keeps him in the immediate conversation. If that doesn't happen, then perhaps he takes a step back for a minute. The good news for him is, either way, he's just 23 so there's a long career ahead of him.

No. 3 Erickson Lubin vs. Sebastian Fundora (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET)

Why you should watch: Want to see the future of the junior middleweight division? The 26-year-old Lubin (24-1, 17 KO) and 24-year-old Fundora (18-0-1, 12 KO) are Nos. 3 and 5 in ESPN's rankings in the division and two of the more intriguing up-and-comers in boxing.

Lubin's only loss came to Jermell Charlo by first round knockout in 2017 -- but he's worked his way back since, including a sixth round knockout of Jeison Rosario last October. Fundora doesn't have the résumé Lubin does, but he's one of the most intriguing fighters in boxing, standing tall at 6-foot-5½. He's a matchup confusion for any opponent and will be in a real test here.

What's at stake: A real title shot, perhaps, against the winner of Jermell Charlo and Brian Castano for the undisputed junior middleweight championship on May 14. And one that would be deserved -- although Tim Tszyu could be in the way there, too.

No. 4 Marlen Esparza vs. Naoko Fujioka (DAZN, 9 p.m. ET)

Why you should watch: Esparza is a female fighter who often doesn't get the attention many of her peers have, but the 32-year-old is a technically impressive fighter. Her only loss came against Seniesa Estrada in 2019 in one of the best women's fights of the past few years.

Her opponent, Fujioka, shouldn't be taken lightly even if she isn't as well known in the United States. This is her ninth straight fight either holding a belt or with a belt on the line -- dating back to 2015 against Hee Jung Yuh, when she won the WBO bantamweight title. It may be on the undercard of Garcia-Tagoe, but this could be the fight of the night at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

What's at stake: There are multiple belts on the line in this unification bout. Esparza (11-1, 1 KO) will defend her WBC flyweight title for the first time while Fujioka (19-2-1, 7 KO) defends her WBA title for the fourth time. The winner will have the chance to put herself in a better position to continue to take over the division.

No. 5 Mikaela Mayer vs. Jennifer Han (ESPN/ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET)

Why you should watch: This isn't necessarily the fight Mayer wanted -- she's long talked about a unification title bout -- and this won't bring her closer to that. The 31-year-old Mayer (16-0, 5 KO), who is defending her WBO and IBF junior lightweight titles, took a big step up when she beat Maiva Hamadouche for the IBF title last November. Han (18-4-1, 1 KO) doesn't present the same challenge, but it's a chance to see where her progression has continued.

What's at stake: For Han, it's the next shot for a chance at a belt. For Mayer, it's keeping her career trajectory -- and a potential undisputed fight at 130 pounds against either Alycia Baumgardner or Hyun Mi Choi -- on track.

No. 6 Tony Harrison vs. Sergio Garcia (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET)

Why you should watch: The 31-year-old Harrison (28-3-1, 21 KO) hasn't won a fight since beating Jermell Charlo in 2018. Since then, he's lost to Charlo -- and his WBC junior middleweight belt in the process -- and drew against Bryant Perrella. Now he's taking on the 29-year-old Garcia (33-1, 14 KO), whose only loss came to Fundora last December.

What's at stake: It's a fight between two guys trying to resurrect their careers in a division becoming more and more crowded and a chance to keep pace and be in the conversation just below Charlo, Tszyu, the winner of Lubin-Fundora and possibly Castano in the division.

Best of the rest:

  • Dina Thorslund vs. Niorkis Carreno for Thorslund's WBO women's bantamweight title

  • Junto Nakatani vs. Ryota Yamauchi for Nakatani's WBO flyweight title

  • Maribel Ramirez vs. Daniela Asenjo for Ramirez's WBA women's junior bantamweight title

  • Giovani Santillan vs. Jeovanis Barraza, welterweights, 10 rounds