The Hottest Boxing Storylines for the Week of May 26
We have a lot to unpack from last week before jumping into the big week of boxing ahead.
Adonis Stevenson successfully defended his light heavyweight championship on Saturday night, but it was much harder than anticipated. Was he overlooking his foe? Or was this struggle a sign of rough seas ahead for the power-punching 175-pound champion?
HBO will televise two big world championship fights from around the world on Satuday night, and we'll take a look at Froch vs. Groves II and Nonito Donaire's attempt to capture a world title in a fourth weight division.
Finally, what's a week in boxing without more debate about whether or not a superfight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will ever happen. We assess the latest on Pacquiao's new promotional deal and Mayweather's future fight plans.
All that and more in the hottest boxing storylines for the week of May 26.
Did Adonis Stevenson Dodge a Bullet?
Stevenson, the WBC light heavyweight champion, has had a very interesting first half of 2014.
In February, Lem Satterfield of The Ring reported that he signed with powerful adviser Al Haymon. Shortly thereafter, Stevenson took his show on the road, jettisoning HBO for a more lucrative deal with rival Showtime. The purpose of that move—other than the money—was, presumably, to match Stevenson in a unification bout against the ageless Bernard Hopkins sometime later in the year.
Hopkins took care of business, easily outpointing Beibut Shumenov in March to add the WBA to his IBF 175-pound title. So it seemed that the only thing standing in the way of that fight entering Saturday night—Sergey Kovalev and Main Events’ lawsuit notwithstanding—was a highly-ranked, but lightly-regarded, challenger named Andrzej Fonfara.
Stevenson turned back the challenge of Fonfara, dropping him in the first and fifth rounds, getting knocked down himself in the ninth and having to survive the fight of his life down the stretch to retain his title and chance at a big-money unification bout.
As far as expectations go, this was a home run for Fonfara. He was viewed as little more than a bump in the road but very nearly turned into a gaping sinkhole for Stevenson and his benefactors.
The challenger just kept coming, and he had Stevenson in very serious trouble after knocking him down in Round 9.
But, to his credit, Stevenson rallied like a champion down the stretch, holding Fonfara off with a gutsy effort in a grueling fight.
As always seems to happen, this night raised more questions than it answered. Did Stevenson overlook Fonfara? Or is the 26-year-old just better than advertised?
One thing is for certain, after this performance, Fonfara will be a factor at 175 pounds moving forward.
You also have to wonder if this adds credence to the idea that Stevenson made the right call in passing on the Kovalev fight to pursue Hopkins.
Fonfara can punch. But he isn’t a puncher, and he nearly had Stevenson out of there.
So was it a bad night? An overlooked foe? A sign of things to come?
To be determined.
Will It Be Repeat or Revenge for Froch and Groves?
A packed Wembley Stadium will be the scene on Saturday night, as IBF super middleweight champion Carl Froch faces George Groves in a rematch so anticipated that Paul Henderson of GQ is calling it "The biggest fight in British boxing history."
Froch defeated Groves under highly controversial circumstances in November, sparking an outcry over questionable officiating and demands for a rematch.
Groves entered their first contest as a significant underdog and with the crowd against him. But he made a statement early, dropping Froch in Round 1 and proceeding to give him fits in the first half of the fight.
Froch got on more level ground around the midway point, and he had Groves in some significant trouble in Round 9 when referee Howard Foster intervened to stop the contest. Many in the crowd, who had lustily booed Groves on his way to the ring, decried the decision, expressing their displeasure at the quick stoppage.
Groves was ahead on all three judges scorecards when the fight was stopped.
So the stage is set for the epic rematch on Saturday in London.
Froch was completely dismissive of Groves the first time out. He didn’t give him a shred of credit—personally or professionally—and that will definitely need to change this time around. Underestimating him a second time would be more than a bad idea, and it could cost him the fight and his title.
Groves needs to sustain the same pace and tempo that he fought for the first six rounds in November. If he can do that again, and stay out of trouble, he could become the next British star.
The best part of this fight?
Nobody knows what’s going to happen. It’s a coin-flip fight.
And it can’t get here soon enough.
Can Nonito Donaire Capture a World Title in a Fourth Division?
Donaire came out of 2012 with many observers believing he could one day top boxing’s mythical pound-for-pound list. The “Filipino Flash” won four bouts, two world championships in the super bantamweight division and Fighter of the Year honors from The Ring Magazine.
Everything seemed to be going his way.
Until he ran into Guillermo Rigondeaux at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
The 33-year-old Cuban dominated Donaire, toying with him and making him look amateurish on the way to a ridiculously close unanimous decision that didn’t reflect the action in the ring. Short of a flash knockdown in Round 11, Donaire was never really in the fight.
The loss seemed to zap quite a bit of his confidence, and he struggled mightily in his return to the ring against old foe Vic Darchinyan in November.
Donaire, then little-known, had spectacularly stopped Darchinyan to win his first world title in 2007. But in the rematch he looked to be a shell of himself.
Darchinyan wasn’t just in the fight, he was well ahead on two judges scorecards when Donaire, looking gun-shy and unwilling to let his hands go, pulled one from the fire and scored a stoppage victory.
He returns to the ring on Saturday night at The Venetian in Macau, and he’ll attempt to capture a world title in a fourth weight division when he faces WBA featherweight champion Simpiwe Vetyeka.
Vetyeka captured his title by battering and stopping long-reigning champion Chris John in December. That victory put to rest a reign that had gone on for nearly a decade, and it’s landed him in this high-profile fight.
Donaire is the big favorite here, and if he’s anything close to the form he showed pre-Rigondeaux, he should win. But if he is diminished and can’t find his form—if he looks like he did against Darchinyan—all bets are off.
Does Manny Pacquiao's Extension with Top Rank End Talk of a Mayweather Fight?
Pacquiao made boxing’s worst-kept secret a reality earlier last week, signing an extension with his promoters Top Rank that lasts through the end of 2016. The move came as no surprise, given the Filipino’s known loyalty to the company which helped make him one of boxing’s biggest stars.
In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, the Internet was abuzz about the final death of a potential superfight between Pacquiao and pound-for-pound king Mayweather.
Mayweather has long said that the involvement of Bob Arum—the Top Rank CEO who had a very acrimonious split with Mayweather some years back—was a fight killer. Putting it in the simplest terms possible, Mayweather just won’t do business with him.
Even Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, who has long held out hope that a bout would eventually be made, lamented the possibly final passage of what could have been boxing's richest attraction and most high-profile fight.
It’s true that the odds of Mayweather and Pacquiao stepping through the ropes to face one another are slim at best. It’s also true that both men shoulder a share of the blame for that. There were times when both were intransigent, refusing to make the tough choices and sacrifices necessary to make a fight between the sport’s No. 1 and No. 2 attractions.
That’s the real shame of this situation.
But there’s nothing surprising here. Pacquiao was never leaving Top Rank, and if you didn’t know that, you weren't paying attention.
Does it kill the chances of a fight?
But they were probably already dead anyway.
Mayweather Has a Date but Still Needs a Place and Opponent.
Mayweather, the sport’s pound-for-pound king, who recently escaped with a closer-than-expected majority decision over Marcos Maidana, has announced the date of his next fight.
According to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, Mayweather will be returning to the ring, as expected, on September 13 at a venue to be determined. The MGM Grand in Las Vegas has hosted his last nine fights and—barring another big-money play from the Barclays Center—will likely host this one as well.
What we don’t yet know is who he’ll face.
Maidana seems the most-likely option. He gave Mayweather his toughest fight in years earlier this month, using a high-volume attack and roughhouse tactics to create the perception of a fight that could have gone either way.
But that’s not entirely accurate. It was close, yes, but the right verdict was reached by the judges. After a few troubling early rounds, Mayweather figured Maidana out and dominated the second half to get a deserved victory.
Even so, Maidana has certainly earned another bite at the apple, especially given the lack of more attractive available options.
Amir Khan lobbied hard for the fight, again, but he’s not available in September due to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan falling over the summer, according to David Mayo of MLive.
So unless he chooses to pull a rabbit out of his hat and call up someone like Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter or Keith Thurman, it would seem that Maidana is the best—and maybe only—option.
But if there’s one thing you should know about Mayweather, it’s that you never know until you know.
And right now, we don't know.