Dan Rafael: Al Haymon

Since mid-January, adviser/manager Al Haymon has been unveiling his new time-buy TV deals that will carry his “Premier Boxing Champions” series.

First, it was a deal with NBC and NBC Sports Net, which kicks off the first of 20 PBC shows this year with a prime-time card headlined by welterweight titleholder Keith Thurman defending against Robert Guerrero on Saturday night (NBC, 8:30 ET) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Then came the announcement of a deal for monthly cards on Spike TV, which kicks off March 13 with former welterweight titlist Andre Berto facing Josesito Lopez at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif.

Next up came word of a deal with CBS, which will air its first PBC card on April 4 from Quebec City’s Pepsi Coliseum, where light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson will defend against former super middleweight titleholder Sakio Bika.

Haymon, however, was not done, and not by a long shot. On Monday the next deal was announced. He has purchased time on Bounce TV, a network he helped found in 2011 that caters to an African-American audience, to televise monthly cards beginning in July.

Bounce TV, which is available on many cable systems but also free over the air in many markets, announced the agreement as a multi-year deal for a series called “Premier Boxing Champions: The Next Round.” The two-hour live shows will feature prospects from Haymon’s expansive stable of more than 180 fighters.

The first date and the particulars of the card have not been set yet, Bounce TV said in its announcement.

The network bills itself as “the fastest-growing African-American network on television and has become the No. 2 most-watched among all African-American networks. It has grown to be available in more than 85 million homes.” Besides Haymon, the network’s founders include Martin Luther King III and Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta, Georgia congressman and ambassador to the United Nations.

“This series provides future stars of boxing frequent nationwide exposure on over-the-air television, and will benefit the African-American audience, who I believe miss watching this great sport on free TV,” King said in a statement.

In 2012, Bounce TV did one fight card, which was headlined by a junior welterweight title bout between Khabib Allakhverdiev and Joan Guzman.

NBC rounds out PBC broadcast team

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
NBC Sports rounded out its broadcast teams for the “Premier Boxing Champions” series, which it will televise on both the regular NBC network and NBCSN, beginning with the debut card on March 7 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas with welterweight titlist Keith Thurman defending against Robert Guerrero.

Joining the team for the NBC Sports Net fights is retired women’s boxing great Laila Ali. Cruiserweight B.J. Flores, Kenny Rice and Chris Mannix, all of whom were part of the NBC Sports Net broadcast team for the Main Events-promoted “Fight Night” series before it was canceled in favor of manager/adviser Al Haymon’s time-buy PBC series, will remain with the network.

Ali and Flores will serve as what NBC termed “corner reporters.” Mannix and Rice will be ringside reporters and Rice will also serve as an interviewer and the blow-by-blow announcer on select cards.

Rice was the top blow-by-blow announcer on the “Fight Night” series. They join main blow-by-blow announcer Kenny Albert and analyst Sugar Ray Leonard.

The cards on NBC will be hosted by Al Michaels, with Marv Albert handling blow-by-blow duties and Leonard also serving as the analyst.

Tarver, Smith join Spike TV's crew

February, 19, 2015
Feb 19
Spike TV rounded out its broadcast team for the monthly “Premier Boxing Champions” series that adviser/manager Al Haymon has bought time on the network for.

Former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, a Haymon client now campaigning as a heavyweight, and Jimmy Smith, known to the Spike TV audience as a commentator for the network’s coverage of Bellator mixed martial arts, will join host Dana Jacobson and blow-by-blow announcer Scott Hanson. Jacobson and Hanson were previously announced for the series.

The first Spike TV card is scheduled for March 13 (9 p.m. ET) at the Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario, California, and will be headlined by former welterweight titlist Andre Berto against Josesito Lopez, with former welterweight titleholder Shawn Porter taking on Robert Garcia in the co-feature. It is the first of nine cards this year, with 12 more on tap for each of the next two years.

“We are thrilled to add two dynamic and knowledgeable voices who each possess their own unique perspectives of combat sports,” said Spike TV senior vice president Jon Slusser. “Antonio delivers a huge personality with a championship pedigree, and Jimmy will bring his incredible insight and energy that he has for MMA to boxing.”

Tarver earned a reputation as one of boxing’s best color commentators while working as an analyst on Showtime, but the network fired him in 2012 after he tested positive for steroids following a Showtime-televised cruiserweight fight against Lateef Kayode. The dirty drug test also cost Tarver his analyst job with NBC, which had hired him to work on the network’s boxing coverage at the 2012 London Olympics.

“I’m blessed to be doing what I love,” Tarver said.

Besides his work as the color analyst for Spike TV’s Bellator coverage, Smith was an MMA fighter, turning pro in 2003. He went 5-1 before retiring in 2006 to focus on a television career. He joined Bellator in 2010 and has served as its lead color analyst since.

Kenny Albert to call fights on NBCSN

February, 18, 2015
Feb 18
Boxing will be a family affair, at least when it comes to the broadcasters, at NBC.

Kenny Albert will serve as the blow-by-blow announcer on the nine “Premier Boxing Champions” cards this year on NBC Sports Net, NBC Sports announced on Wednesday. Last week, NBC announced that famed broadcaster Marv Albert, Kenny’s father, would serve as the blow-by-blow announcer for the 11 PBC cards on NBC this year.

International Boxing Hall of Famer Sugar Ray Leonard was previously announced as the analyst for all 20 of the PBC cards on NBC and NBC Sports Net.

Kenny Albert, who has done national play-by-play on football, basketball, baseball and hockey, will be doing boxing for the first time.

“I am extremely fortunate to call games in the four major professional sports and look forward to adding boxing to my lineup,” he said. “I'm thrilled to share a ringside seat with one of the greatest boxers of all time.”

Said NBC Sports and NBC Sports Net executive producer Sam Flood, “As a play-by-play voice of the NHL on NBC, we are excited to have Kenny calling even more hard-hitting action on our networks. With Kenny’s father Marv handling the blow-by-blow for NBC shows, we have cornered the market on Alberts ringside.”

Kenny Albert calls regular-season and postseason NHL games for NBC Sports Group and has served as a hockey play-by-play commentator for NBC’s Olympics coverage four times, including the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Albert is also in his 19th season as the radio play-by-play voice of the New York Rangers.

He has served as play-by-play commentator for the NFL on Fox since the network’s inaugural season in 1994 and has also done major college football games for the network. He has also called MLB games on Fox since 2001 and occasionally handles play-by-play for the New York Knicks on MSG Network.

The first PBC card on NBC will take place on March 7 (8:30 p.m. ET) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Welterweight titlist Keith Thurman (24-0, 21 KOs) will be making his first defense when he meets Robert Guerrero (32-2-1, 18 KOs) in the main event and former three-division titlist Adrien Broner (29-1, 22 KOs) will be facing John Molina Jr. (27-5, 22 KOs) in the junior welterweight co-feature.

The first NBC Sports Net card has not yet been announced.

Campillo, K. Martinez sign with Haymon

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
The stable of adviser/manager Al Haymon continues to grow and grow. It is now at more than 170 fighters, including two former world titleholders who signed with him on Thursday.

Light heavyweight Gabriel Campillo and junior featherweight Kiko Martinez, both of Spain, signed with Haymon, who has been buying time on networks to put on his "Premier Boxing Champions" series that figures to dominate the landscape of American televised boxing soon with fights scheduled on NBC, NBC Sports Net and Spike with more in the works for outlets that could include ESPN, CBS Sports Net, BET and Telemundo.

Campillo and Martinez are both with promoter Sampson Lewkowicz, who has been doing a lot of business with Haymon.

Campillo (25-6-1, 12 KOs), 36, rejuvenated his career with an upset fifth-round knockout over Haymon client Thomas Williams Jr. in August. Campillo has won three fights in a row, each by knockout. Campillo held a world title from 2009 to 2010.

Martinez (32-5, 24 KOs), 28, won a world title by knocking out Jhonatan Romero in the sixth round in upset fashion in August 2013. Martinez made two defenses before losing the belt by decision in a rematch with Carl Frampton in September. Then Martinez dropped down to bantamweight and won his return fight on Dec. 12.

While Martinez's next bout is not set yet, Campillo will take on fast-rising Montreal-based Russian prospect Artur Beterbiev (7-0, 7 KOs) in a 12-rounder on April 4 in Quebec City. The fight is due to take place on the undercard of light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson's next defense against an opponent to be determined.

Spike TV targets Hanson to call fights

February, 10, 2015
Feb 10
The deal has not yet been signed but Spike TV is in the process of finalizing its deal with broadcaster Scott Hanson to handle the blow-by-blow duties on its monthly Friday night telecasts of Al Haymon’s “Premier Boxing Champions” series, a source with knowledge of the agreement told ESPN.com.

[+] EnlargeScott Hanson
John Storey/AP ImagesNFL Network host Scott Hanson could handle the blow-by-blow duties for the PBC on Spike TV.
Hanson, 43, is best known for his work as a host on the NFL Network and the popular "Sunday NFL Red Zone." This will be Hanson’s first boxing assignment. A Spike TV spokesman declined to comment.

Prior to his start at the NFL Network, Hanson, a Syracuse University graduate, spent two years with Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia and four years at Comcast’s Mid-Atlantic regional sports network.

Last week, Spike TV announced that former ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor Dana Jacobson would serve as the host for the series. The analyst roles have not yet been determined.

Spike TV’s first boxing card is March 13 at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California. The welterweight doubleheader will feature former titlist Andre Berto (29-3, 22 KOs) against Josesito Lopez (33-6, 19 KOs) in the main event with former titleholder Shawn Porter (24-1-1, 15 KOs) facing Roberto Garcia (36-3, 23 KOs) in the co-feature.

Spike TV and Haymon have a deal for nine cards this year and 12 apiece in 2016 and 2017.

Dana Jacobson to host PBC on Spike TV

February, 5, 2015
Feb 5
A few notes from around the boxing world:

• Although there have been no announcements yet on the broadcast team for Spike TV’s telecasts of Al Haymon’s “Premier Boxing Champions” series, the host of the monthly cards will be Dana Jacobson, according to multiple sources with knowledge of her hiring. Female broadcasters in high-profile positions in boxing are rare. But Jacobson is an experienced broadcaster. She spent 10 years at ESPN working as a “SportsCenter” anchor and co-host of “First Take.” Jacobson currently works at CBS Sports Network on college football, basketball and the NFL and also worked the NFL playoffs for CBS.

Spike TV’s first boxing card is March 13 at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California. The welterweight doubleheader will feature former titlist Andre Berto (29-3, 22 KOs) against Josesito Lopez (33-6, 19 KOs) in the main event with former titleholder Shawn Porter (24-1-1, 15 KOs) facing Roberto Garcia (36-3, 23 KOs) in the co-feature.

• Heralded junior middleweight prospect Erickson Lubin (8-0, 6 KOs) of Orlando, Florida, was slated to face Rodolfo Quintanilla (14-4-3, 11 KOs) of Mexico in the eight-round co-feature on this week’s “Friday Night Fights” (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, 9 ET) until Quintanilla was ruled out of the fight on Thursday when he failed his blood test. According to a source, he tested positive for hepatitis. The new plan is for Lubin to face Michael Finney (12-1-1, 10 KOs), who agreed to the fight and was on his way to the site, although he had not yet signed a contract. Finney had been training for another fight in a few weeks. To accommodate Finney taking the fight on short notice the weight limit was adjusted to 157 pounds. Middleweight contender Sergio Mora (27-3-2, 9 KOs) faces Abie Han (23-1, 14 KOs) in the main event.

• Although nothing came of it, middleweight champion Miguel Cotto recently engaged in talks with Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports about a possible deal, according to multiple sources. Cotto, although proclaiming loyalty to Top Rank, is a promotional free agent and a sought-after one as well given his stature in the sport. Cotto (39-4, 32 KOs) knocked out Sergio Martinez in the 10th round to win the middleweight title last June and has not fought since. His next move is unclear, but a proposed May fight with Canelo Alvarez fell apart. Cotto has also been prominently discussed as a possible Floyd Mayweather Jr. opponent in a rematch should the talks for a Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight in May fall apart yet again.
Leo Santa Cruz Al Bello/Getty ImagesLeo Santa Cruz's contract with Golden Boy Promotions was sold to Al Haymon.

Add one more name to the list of the many Al Haymon clients no longer associated with Golden Boy Promotions: junior featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz.

Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya, frustrated by his inability to convince Haymon to bless a unification fight between Santa Cruz and 122-pound champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, has allowed Haymon to buy out Santa Cruz’s contract for an undisclosed amount, thus making Santa Cruz a free agent like most of Haymon’s clients, according to a source with knowledge of the deal.

“Oscar has been telling everybody possible that he wants Leo to fight Rigondeaux," the source said. "Clearly, that’s not on the agenda for Al and Leo. Al wouldn’t make the fight. Oscar wants to work with fighters and managers who want to put the best against the best and make the kind of fights that the fans want to see.”

A Golden Boy spokesman declined to comment, as did De La Hoya. Haymon does not speak to the media.

Santa Cruz was unlike the dozens of top fighters Haymon manages and advises who were being promoted by Golden Boy despite not having formal promotional contracts. As part of De La Hoya’s settlement with former CEO Richard Schaefer last month in which Golden Boy received a hefty payment and cut ties to the Haymon fighters, Santa Cruz and a few others Haymon fighters were still under promotional contracts.

According to a source with knowledge of Santa Cruz’s promotional agreement he was still under contract to Golden Boy through July 2016.

De La Hoya had hoped to match Santa Cruz with Rigondeaux (15-0, 10 KOs) in a big-time three-belt junior featherweight unification fight. Although Santa Cruz (29-0-1, 17 KOs) is one of top 122-pounders in the world and a fan favorite, Haymon has steered him away from meaningful fights over the past couple of years. Instead, Santa Cruz has been given high-profile platforms (such as on a Floyd Mayweather Jr. undercard or the Showtime co-feature slot under the Deontay Wilder-Bermane Stiverne heavyweight title fight last month) and defended his title against poor opposition that he beat easily.

De La Hoya was tired of those kinds of fights and wanted Santa Cruz to face a A-level opponent. Rigondeaux has been very public about how much he wanted to fight Santa Cruz, who also said he was interested in the fight.

Last month, De La Hoya told ESPN.com he had begun negotiations with Rigondeaux’s team to match them in May or June.

“I’m pretty optimistic,” De La Hoya said at the time. “Talks have begun. Leo wants the fight. Golden Boy wants the fight, Rigo, his promoter and his manager want the fight. I’m not sure if Al would want the fight but the promoters and fighters want the fight. Leo is at a point where he should be fighting the best of the best. At this point I’m not going to promote a fight with Leo if it’s not the best opponent for him and for the fans to watch. One thing about Leo is he wants to fight the best.”

If Santa Cruz does eventually face the best it will, however, be without Golden Boy behind him.

Santa Cruz could instead be headed for a featherweight title bout. Haymon is trying to complete a deal with titleholder Jhonny Gonzalez under which he would face Gary Russell Jr. in late March or April with the winner going against Abner Mares in the early summer, assuming Mares wins a tune-up fight March 7 on the Keith Thurman-Robert Guerrero undercard.

Whoever emerges with the belt from among Gonzalez, Russell and Mares may wind up facing Santa Cruz late this year, be it on Showtime or on Haymon’s new NBC series that debuts with the Thurman-Guerrero card.

DeGale expects to face Dirrell

February, 3, 2015
Feb 3
DeGaleAP Photo/Peter ByrneJames DeGale, right, expects to fight for the super middleweight title Carl Froch vacated.

Super middleweight contender James DeGale is pumped up to be getting a shot at a world title, even if it is not the big fight he hoped for against British countryman Carl Froch.

DeGale was one of Froch’s mandatory challengers, but with Froch suffering an injury and unable to make the defense by the deadline -- and looking for a bigger fight later this year against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. or Bernard Hopkins anyway -- Froch vacated one of his belts on Tuesday.

Froch’s decision leaves DeGale to face Andre Dirrell for the vacant title.

DeGale promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing said he has already been in touch with Dirrell’s camp -- he is with adviser Al Haymon -- to try to negotiate the bout.

While a fight with Froch would be big in England, DeGale said he doesn’t care whom he has to face for a chance to win a world title.

“All I want to do is win the world title,” said DeGale, who turned 29 Tuesday. “It doesn't matter to me who I have to beat to do it. When I first turned pro, that was the aim. I now have that chance and I am going to take it with both hands. It's been a long time, but I can make history and I am looking forward to it.”

DeGale (20-1, 14 KOs) has won 10 fights in a row since suffering his only defeat, a majority decision to rival George Groves for the British and Commonwealth 168-pound titles in 2011. Two fights ago, DeGale, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist, knocked out American Brandon Gonzales in the fourth round on the undercard of Froch’s rematch with Groves to become the mandatory challenger.

Dirrell (24-1, 16 KOs), a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist out of Flint, Michigan, suffered his only loss via disputed split decision to Froch in a 2009 world title bout in Froch’s hometown.

“Dirrell is a very good fighter, a tricky southpaw and it would be an awkward fight, but anyone you face for a world title is going to be tough,” said DeGale, who is also a left-hander. “That's why I will be putting in 12 weeks of hard work to make the night easy. He does the rounds well and he's technically good, but I could see myself stopping him later in the fight. I am capable of getting in and stopping anyone.”

Hearn said he hoped to finalize DeGale-Dirrell for April 25 at the O2 Arena in London, although it remains to be seen what Dirrell’s side is proposing.

“It's very early,” Hearn said. “This has all happened in the last 24 hours. We will continue negotiations with his team to try to get that fight made. With a sold-out arena in the O2 and Sky Sports behind us, I think it would be difficult for them to get James to America. If that has to happen, not a problem, we'll go over there. But we're pushing for that fight to take place on April 25 in London, and if Dirrell doesn't want the fight then, it goes down the list to the next available contender, which is Gilberto Ramirez. There's lots of work to do in the next few days, but I am confident that James will fight for the world title at the O2 on April 25.”

If DeGale and Dirrell, 31, don’t make a deal by March 5, the IBF will order a purse bid.
A few notes from around the boxing world:

• Top Rank’s Bob Arum, who hopes to match featherweight titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko and Nicholas Walters in a unification fight later this year, after each has one more fight, told ESPN.com he has talked to HBO about the possibility of Lomachenko making a defense on the undercard of fellow Ukrainian and heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko’s defense against Bryant Jennings on April 25 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Arum said Walters could land on the HBO undercard of lightweight champion Terence Crawford’s next fight, which likely will be in April or May (and will probably mark Crawford’s move up to junior welterweight).

• Although Top Rank controls featherweight titleholder Lomachenko, Walters and Evgeny Gradovich, adviser Al Haymon handles former titlist Abner Mares and contender Gary Russell, who lost to Lomachenko a decision for a vacant belt last year. Mares is slated to fight an opponent to be determined March 7 on the Keith Thurman-Robert Guerrero undercard at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Haymon is also trying to put together a fight in which Russell would challenge titlist Jhonny Gonzalez on March 28 on his new “Premier Boxing Champions” series with the idea that Mares, should he win March 7, would face the winner of the proposed Gonzalez-Russell fight in June.

• The reason you didn’t see Brian Kenny hosting Showtime’s Deontay Wilder-Bermane Stiverne card two weeks ago is his contract with the network expired at the end of 2014. According to Showtime, Kenny was offered a new contract but is “weighing his options.” Kenny, according to broadcast industry sources, might become involved in broadcasting Haymon’s “Premier Boxing Champions” series, which will air on NBC, NBC Sports Net and Spike TV beginning in March with other broadcast outlets also likely to be added. Industry sources said Haymon is planning similar time buys for the cards on CBS Sports Net and BET to put on fights involving his vast stable of more than 150 fighters.

• British promoter Frank Warren announced he will not renew his management and promotional contracts with British and Commonwealth welterweight champion Frankie Gavin (21-1, 13 KOs), the 29-year-old former world amateur champion. Warren signed Gavin, one of boxing’s top prospects when he entered the pro ranks, in 2008 and has promoted him throughout his career. No reason was given for the decision.

Lee-Quillin in the works

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
A deal for middleweight titleholder Andy Lee to face former titlist "Kid Chocolate" Peter Quillin is in the works and close to being completed.

[+] EnlargeAndy Lee, Matt Korobov
Chris Farina/Top RankAndy Lee could see the first defense of his middleweight title come against former titlist Peter Quillin in April.
It would be ironic if they fight. Quillin gave up the belt last fall -- because manager Al Haymon did not want him to face mandatory challenger Matt Korobov on a Roc Nation Sports card after Roc Nation won the purse bid for nearly $2 million -- and then on Dec. 6 in Las Vegas, Lee won the vacant belt by coming from behind to knock out Korobov in the sixth round.

"It's in discussions and a significant possibility and it will resolve itself very soon," said Lou DiBella, Lee's promoter.

Lee (34-2, 24 KOs) has a mandatory defense due against England's Billy Joe Saunders (21-0, 11 KOs), so there are discussions going on about whether Lee can get an exception or whether Saunders will step aside.

It remains to be seen what will happen, but if there is no deal with the sanctioning body or the Saunders camp, it is possible that Lee would vacate the belt and fight Quillin (31-0, 22 KOs) in a nontitle fight since there is likely a lot more money for him in that fight than against Saunders. Still, whether it's for a belt or not, Lee-Quillin is a very attractive fight.

If Lee-Quillin happens it likely would land as the co-feature on NBC on April 11 on the same card as the Danny Garcia-Lamont Peterson fight. The site is not set but the card likely will be at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, with Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, also mentioned as a possibility. Certainly if the fight is at the Barclays Center, Lee-Quillin makes a lot of sense given that Lee is from Ireland -- and there is a strong Irish community in New York known for supporting Irish fighters -- and Quillin is a New Yorker.

Notes: Bute signs with Haymon

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
A few notes from around the boxing world:

• Former super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute (31-2, 24 KOs) has signed with Al Haymon, who adds Bute to his vast stable of more than 150 fighters. InterBox, Bute's promoter, announced that the "promotion of Lucian Bute's career will remain unchanged. It is a pleasure for InterBox to work jointly with Al Haymon and his team in the organization of future fights for Lucian. The first fight is planned for the end of this spring." There was some discussion that perhaps Bute would make his ring return on the Sergey Kovalev-Jean Pascal undercard on March 14 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Bute's hometown. However, Bute won't be ready, InterBox promoter Jean Bedard said. Bute was scheduled to fight on Dec. 6 at the Bell Centre, but withdrew after suffering a back injury about two weeks before the fight and he is continuing to recover.

• All-action welterweight Sammy Vasquez (17-0, 13 KOs) will face Ghana native Emmanuel Lartey (16-2-1, 7 KOs) on Feb. 20 (Showtime) in a "ShoBox: The New Generation" at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Vasquez's home region. Lartey easily outpointed long-faded Steve Forbes in June to rebound from back-to-back eight-round decision losses to top prospects Felix Diaz (a 2008 Olympic gold medalist) and 2012 U.S. Olympian Errol Spence Jr.

• "Friday Night Fights" fan favorite Delvin Rodriguez will be back on the show on Feb. 27 when he will face Eliezer Gonzalez (14-1, 9 KOs) at the Paramount in Huntington, New York. Rodriguez (28-7-4, 16 KOs) will be fighting for the first time since a 10-round split draw with former world titlist Joachim Alcine on FNF last May. In his previous fight, Rodriguez got a big opportunity on HBO and got knocked out by Miguel Cotto in the third round in October 2013. Rodriguez-Gonzalez will open the card headlined by junior welterweight brawler Cletus Seldin (15-0, 12 KOs) against Johnny Garcia (19-2-1, 11 KOs).

• Former unified strawweight titlist Francisco Rodriguez Jr. (16-2-1, 11 KOs), who fought to a split draw with Jomar Fajardo in November in Fajardo's native Philippines, will meet him in a junior flyweight rematch on Jan. 31 (UniMas) in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico. Rodriguez, 21, of Mexico, eyeing a junior flyweight title shot, outpointed Katsunari Takayama of Japan in August in the 2014 ESPN.com fight of the year. Rodriguez then gave up the belts he unified and moved up in weight and fought to the draw with Fajardo (14-5-2, 7 KOs), 22, in his next bout.

"I have this thorn in my side with Fajardo," Rodriguez said through a translator. "It was a bad night, a lot of things were happening which resulted in a draw. Jan. 31, things will be different and there's no question I will win that fight, I have trained for that."

Garcia-Peterson a nontitle bout

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
When NBC and Haymon Boxing announced the new “Premier Boxing Champions” series at a news conference last week in New York, the long-awaited fight between junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia and titleholder Lamont Peterson was made official for the second card of the new show: April 11 on NBC in prime time.

The assumption by most was that Garcia would be putting his two belts on the line as well as his status as the lineal 140-pound champion and that Peterson would have his belt also at stake.

But that will not be the case. As it turns out, the fight (which likely will be at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York) will be a nontitle bout at a maximum weight of 143 pounds.

Now I have never been one to care all that much about alphabet belts, but I do think it’s a little disappointing that they are not fighting for the lineal championship at 140, not to mention that if fighters have belts they should defend them when they face elite opponents as has been the case throughout the history of boxing.

We’ve waited for this fight for a while and suffered through their abysmal tuneup fights in August when they both blew out no-hopers in mismatches. The explanation for that card was that the unification fight -- and more important, the battle for 140-pound supremacy -- would be next.

“Yes, we're fighting at 143,” Peterson told ESPN.com. “I'm not sure why but it was brought to me at that weight so I agreed.”

When Peterson (33-2-1, 17 KOs) faced Lucas Matthysse and got knocked out in the third round in May 2013, it was also a nontitle fight because Matthysse didn’t want to risk his mandatory position for a fight with Garcia. So even though Peterson lost to Matthysse, he kept his belt.

Now, Peterson, who looked very good in his next fight last January in a mandatory defense against Dierry Jean, is in a similar situation of having a marquee fight knowing that win or lose he will keep his belt because Garcia (29-0, 17 KOs) prefers to fight him above 140 pounds.

“I'm slowly making my way up to welterweight,” Garcia told ESPN.com. “I feel a lot fresher and stronger. At the end of the day this is a fight the fans want to see no matter what weight.”

That point is well taken, and I agree. But then why not just give up the belts?

This will be Garcia’s second nontitle bout in a row. He has not defended since a questionable majority decision win against Mauricio Herrera last March, after which Garcia said he was having trouble making weight.

So while Garcia-Peterson is still a quality matchup -- and one I have been anxious to see -- it is a little disappointing that it won’t be for all the marbles at 140.

Weeks to ref Stiverne-Wilder

January, 12, 2015
Jan 12
The Nevada State Athletic Commission on Monday unanimously selected the officials for the two world title fights on Saturday night (Showtime, 10 ET) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Picked to referee the bout between heavyweight titleholder Bermane Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KOs) and mandatory challenger Deontay Wilder (32-0, 32 KOs) was Tony Weeks, who has worked one previous Stiverne bout and no Wilder bouts.

The judges will be Adalaide Byrd and Jerry Roth, both of Nevada, and Craig Metcalfe of Canada.

Kenny Bayless will referee the fight between junior featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz (28-0-1, 16 KOs) and Jesus Ruiz (33-5-5, 22 KOs). Bayless was the referee for Santa Cruz’s lopsided decision win against Cristian Mijares in March. Bayless has never worked a Ruiz bout.

The judges, all from Nevada, will be Eric Cheek, Burt Clements and Dave Moretti.

The commission also approved dates for three cards, although the bouts have not been determined.

Goossen Promotions is planning a card for March 7 at the MGM Grand. It is likely a show on the new Al Haymon-controlled series on NBC and NBC Sports Network.

The commission also approved March 28 for a card co-promoted by Goossen Promotions and Warriors Boxing to take place at the Grand Ballroom at the MGM Grand. That could also be a card on the new Haymon series, which will be announced Wednesday at a news conference in New York.

Also for March 28, the commission approved Big Knockout Boxing for its next pay-per-view event at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Stevenson due back in April

December, 22, 2014

Light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson’s fourth title defense against Dmitry Sukhotsky on Friday night in Quebec City proved little other than to reinforce what we already know -- Stevenson, a southpaw, has awesome power in his left hand.

He used it to score four knockdowns in a one-sided fifth-round blowout to finish his forgettable year, which consisted of wins against big underdog Andrzej Fonfara, against whom he got dropped and struggled mightily to a decision win, and the destruction of no-hoper Sukhotsky.

It wasn’t exactly what Stevenson’s breakout 2013 campaign was like, when he was a big-time fighter of the year contender thanks to four knockout victories as he avenged his only loss against Darnell Boone, scored a 76-second demolition of Chad Dawson to win the world title and notched impressive stoppages of former titlist Tavoris Cloud and mandatory challenger Tony Bellew in his first two defenses.

In 2014, Stevenson (25-1, 21 KOs) was a disappointment, mainly because of the opposition he faced, especially when significant fights were on the table: unification bouts with Sergey Kovalev and Bernard Hopkins and an all-Montreal showdown with former champ Jean Pascal.

It does not look to get much better, at least out of the gate for 2015. Although the WBC made the unusual move of appointing the March 14 Kovalev-Pascal winner (who will have three belts) as Stevenson’s mandatory challenger -- organizations do not rank titleholders from other alphabet bodies -- I wouldn’t take the match to the bank no matter how much Stevenson claims to want to fight the winner. Of course, he had ample opportunity to face either guy in 2014 and for a lot of money.

Even if the fight was to get made, it would not be until the second half of the year because the Kovalev-Pascal winner is obligated to make a mandatory against Nadjib Mohammedi (36-3, 22 KOs) next.

So with that in mind, Stevenson promoter Yvon Michel (perhaps with input from Stevenson adviser Al Haymon) is planning for Stevenson’s next fight to take place on April 4.

Just don’t expect a big name. One possibility is a rematch with Fonfara (26-3, 15 KOs), who signed with Haymon after Stevenson beat him in May.

“Fonfara is a very tough fighter. [He] would be a very good opponent,” Michel told ESPN.com.

Leon Margules, Fonfara’s promoter, said there have been no discussions about it, but it’s a fight he would like to make.

“My fighter’s goal is to get the rematch. He would love a rematch,” Margules said. “I think he would win. He’s a better fighter now. He learned from the fight in May. It was a great experience for him. I don’t think he’s gonna be worse. It’s a very compelling fight. He’s been the only one who has handled Stevenson’s power since he knocked out Dawson. Nobody else has come close to handling Stevenson. We just ran out of rounds.”

Michel said another fighter he would like to match Stevenson with is Nadjib Mohammedi.

“If I had my way, we would be fighting Nadjib Mohammedi for the next fight if he was game enough,” Michel said. “He qualified himself for a world title against Kovalev, so he would be granted one, and that way it would clear the path for the winner between Kovalev versus Pascal to fight the winner of Stevenson versus Mohammedi without unnecessary delays. This is me. I have not spoken to Adonis, Al or the people controlling the Frenchman [Main Events], but I will bring that up. This is my wish and my proposal.”