Boxing’s lack of major events in the first quarter of 2023 hasn’t meant doing without entertaining fights. 

While the postponed Tyson Fury-Oleksandr Usyk remained conspicuous by its absence on Saturday, so does the absence of almost every major star in the sport to start the year. We have been treated to some serious championship fire and have got two more logs for the blaze on Friday night. 

The best fight of the weekend, on paper, lived up to its potential. Four months ago the undefeated South African Sivenathi Nontshinga was stopped with a single right hand in the second round by Mexico’s Adrian Curiel, whose four career knockouts prior to the first fight suggested no such threat. It would have been understandable for Nontshinga to take some time, maybe a different fight or two, before stepping right back to scratch with Curiel.

Instead, Nontshinga got in the gym, came up with a game plan, and executed it perfectly to regain the IBF title at junior flyweight with a 10th-round stoppage.

Viewers could be forgiven if it looked at first like the game plan was all wrong. After a closely contested first round, Curiel appeared to be securing round after round. Pinning the challenger to the ropes, he landed short uppercuts and a high volume of body shots. Nontshinga was always firing back but he struggled to find space and his left hand was pinned so high and tight to his head it left one to wonder if he was fighting the ghosts of the first fight as much as the man in front of him. A point deduction for a headbutt in the seventh made the prospect of winning a decision dire, especially in Mexico.

Around that same seventh round Curiel then looked a little less fiery – his punches came with less frequency. Nontshinga then had his best round so far in the eighth, getting off the ropes often enough to fight the shorter-armed Curiel at range. He was landing more, and landing harder, than he had all night. His approach continued to deliver in the ninth, with Curiel visibly hurt as the bell sounded to end the frame.

In the 10th, Nontshinga completed his reversal of fortune, battering Curiel badly enough to force a standing eight from the referee Mark Calo-oy. Curiel tried to survive but a fusillade of leather forced the stoppage. Nontshinga weathered the storm, waiting for his moment, and seized back his crown.

Futures: After two dramatic battles, we have a rivalry tied at one apiece. Unlike Curiel’s one-punch win, this was a punishing affair for both men so don’t expect to see them again in another four months. It was Curiel’s first stoppage loss, and seeing if he can make his own adjustments in a rubber match is a worthy question. It would be worth a logical wait. 

Nontshinga could have other immediate pathways for profit. Promoter Eddie Hearn suggested a showdown with former flyweight titlist Sunny Edwards, indicating a move down in weight for Edwards. That would seem an easy fight to make in-house at Matchroom. Nontshinga could also target Kenshiro Teraji – if the unified, lineal junior flyweight king sticks around at 108lbs – and pursue an undisputed cap to his run. As the victor, Nontshinga has options and can once again call himself champion.

Another champion retained his title in his own dramatic fashion on Friday night.

Foster’s knockdown secures victory

Super featherweight O’Shaquie Foster has come into his own. His win over the previously undefeated featherweight titlist Rey Vargas in 2023 announced him as truly world-class and snared the vacant WBC belt at 130lbs. In his next fight, he engaged in arguably the best round of the year and stopped a game Eduardo Hernandez when he was losing badly.

On Friday he showed a champion’s character in the late rounds. Had Foster lost the 12th but stayed afoot he retains his title against Abraham Nova via split draw. Given the early lead Nova appeared to build that could have coloured the outcome in controversy. Instead, Foster scored a dramatic knockdown to demand the final frame. It was still a split decision. Foster won on the card of Kevin Morgan even without the 12th round, but on the card of Mark Consentino there were only six rounds secured after 11.

Nova survived the round but victory was clear and safe for the champion. It wasn't as good a scrap as their smaller brethren provided but it was plenty good enough.

Futures: Nova probably got himself more quality work in defeat but he’s lost to the two best fighters he’s been in the ring with  – Foster and Robeisy Ramirez, who stopped him in 2022. Another crack at a title might take some time.

For Foster, there is a quandary. He’s clearly large for the weight class – frankly, both men were, looking more junior middle than junior light in the ring – and it’s not certain what there is for him in his weight class. He can keep defending but his fellow titlist Emanuel Navarrete is already off to chase a vacant belt at lightweight and the other two titlists are under competing umbrellas. 

A couple of years from now we might be talking about Naoya Inoue having risen to win titles at featherweight and looking for a strap in his sixth weight class. That conversation hasn’t started yet. Foster’s most lucrative option might be a move to lightweight where he could pursue Navarrette, the winner of Vasyl Lomachenko-George Kambosos Jr, or WBC lightweight titlist Shakur Stevenson. Those are all options in the Top Rank tent and Foster has proven he’s ready to see if he can turn a big-name opponent into a platform. 

Cliff’s Notes…

“Shu Shu” Carrington has the sort of eye-popping talent that doesn’t come along every day. His frame and age suggest a short stay at featherweight but if he can catch as well as he pitches, he is going to be a star…Jaron Ennis will make violent work of Cody Crowley. It’s a shame the structure of boxing can’t get Ennis to the Terence Crawford fight when he’s ready for it…It’s always admirable when a fighter is willing to work through a broken jaw but the injury Israel Picazo suffered against Ramon Cardenas in their junior featherweight battle wasn’t worth the risk. Picazo’s face was among the most swollen and disfigured broken jaws one will see. It was a reminder just how hurtful the hurt business can be. 

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at