Even with a COVID postponement of the lightweight title clash between Teofimo Lopez and George Kambosos, June 19, 2021 is as high volume a day as boxing has had in recent memory. ESPN, DAZN, and Showtime all have cards along with Fite.TV streaming an independent pay-per-view offering of the exhibition variety.
It’s a lot to take in without really being all that much on paper.
This is the quantity over quality day.
While upsets are always possible, none look particularly probable this Saturday. On Showtime (9 PM EST), Jermall Charlo is expected to get some work in on the way to the winner’s circle over Juan Macias Montiel. DAZN (3:30 PM EST) has Jaime Munguia against recent Gennady Golovkin title challenger Kamil Szeremata in what might amount to a nice showcase fight for Munguia.
On ESPN (10 PM EST), unified WBA/IBF and Ring Magazine bantamweight titlist Naoya Inoue (20-0, 17 KO) makes his sixth start in the division with a mandatory defense against Michael Dasmarinas (30-2-1, 20 KO). While the IBF has deemed Dasmarinas the leading contender, it will mark Inoue’s first bantamweight fight against a fighter rated outside the top ten of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board or Ring Magazine.
It doesn’t mean Dasmarinas can’t win. The 28-year old Filipino southpaw has some pop in his left with a lone stoppage loss almost a decade ago. Still, it would be a monster upset, pun intended.
Inoue has been highly regarded almost his entire career and his esteem has grown at bantamweight where he appears to have hit his full potential. Just past his 28th birthday, Inoue might be in a different place right now without a pandemic. In April of 2020, Inoue was slated to follow up his World Boxing Super Series unification win over Nonito Donaire with another unification clash against WBO titlist John Riel Casimero.
The fight didn’t happen and wasn’t rescheduled for the fall. A win Saturday could open the door for it to be revisited.
Casimero (30-4, 21 KO) is scheduled to defend his bantamweight belt against (yes, still, and until he says he isn’t) reigning lineal Jr. featherweight king Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-1, 13 KO) in August. Following Nonito Donaire’s riveting knockout of WBC titlist Nordine Oubaali on the last weekend in May, Casimero-Rigondeaux is all that stands between an undisputed claim on the bantamweight crown for Inoue in every way but semantics.
Some might argue religiously for a set number of belts for the honor. In this case, it’s a foolish argument. Inoue already won a unification fight with Donaire, and Inoue won it with breathing room on the cards, albeit in a sensational battle. An Inoue-Donaire rematch would carry intrigue. It’s not a necessary fight right now to clear up the top of 118 lbs.
Whether an Inoue win this weekend leads to the winner of Casimero-Rigondeaux or not, a unique situation will remain. Unification fever seems to have spread in the last year or two. Heading into this weekend, it impacts seven weight classes and three particular fighters in a way we don’t see very often.
Inoue, Jr. welterweight champion Josh Taylor, and welterweight titlist Errol Spence all have at least two of the four ‘major’ belts in their divisions. Taylor has the whole quartet and the beginning of a new lineage at 140 lbs. That’s excellent in its own right but there is something extra occurring on the scale besides their individual accomplishments.
All three are surrounded by men who have or recently had at least two straps of their own one class above and below them.
For Taylor and Spence, there is a nice four-division concentric circle one could draw around them. One division below Taylor, Teofimo Lopez has three belts, a WBC franchise tag, and the lineal rights to the lightweight class. Spence is getting ready for Manny Pacquiao one division above Taylor while one more division above Spence we are just weeks from a four-belt clash between Jermell Charlo and Brian Castano at Jr. middleweight.
This glut of fighters doing more than winning a belt and just hanging on for dear life should be exciting for fans, firing the imagination about what might really be possible.
Given promotional alignments, Taylor-Lopez feels within the range of the possible sooner than later if Taylor doesn’t move to welterweight to chase promotional stablemate Terrence Crawford. Spence and Charlo share a trainer and may not be a likely future. However, if Spence defeats Pacquiao in August and Castano upsets Charlo in July, could Spence resist the urge to pack on a few pounds?
The stars have aligned here to create an environment where guys facing champions from below or moving up to chase more feels more classically accomplished than is the case often these days when scale maneuvers are too easily manufactured. Consolidation limits chances and raises the bar.
Inoue is in a similar, if technically not exactly the same, position. One division below, Juan Francisco Estrada unified two belts earlier this year with a debated decision against Roman Gonzalez. Estrada has given up one of the belts to pursue a third lucrative fight with Gonzalez, rather than a third with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, but the accomplishment is still less than six months old. Estrada is firmly the lineal king of the class for now and there is every reason to think more unification is coming during this golden era at 115 lbs.
One division above Inoue, Murodjon Akhmadaliev (9-0, 7 KO) holds the IBF and WBA belts at Jr. featherweight. WBO titlist Stephen Fulton (19-0, 8 KO) and WBC titlist Brandon Figueroa (22-0-1, 17 KO) will narrow the field further in an October clash. Fulton has used interviews and social media to make two things clear: Fulton wants every strap at Jr. featherweight and he wants to see Inoue one day. Boxing would be less if the Fulton-Figueroa winner doesn’t face Akhmadaliev in 2022.
The one thing missing right now from Inoue’s resume is any action with the most notable names of the Jr. bantamweight class he passed through for several years. If Inoue can finish his claim on the bantamweight division, whoever has emerged from the mix at Jr. bantamweight could close that loop. Further, if Inoue keeps winning, there could be a world champion in the best, truest sense of the distinction waiting for him four pound north. Given the depth and quality of Jr. featherweight right now, if and when we get there it could be a special, generational clash.
Inoue has business to take care of this weekend just like Charlo, Castano, and Spence do later this summer. Taylor has decisions to make.
And boxing fans might have a hell of a lot more to look forward to then they’ve even stopped to think about.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org