By J.B. Smithers
Even in these heady times of sell out stadiums, monstrous pay-per-views and a host of channels clamouring to show boxing in the UK, there remain critics of the manner with which this demand is created and served.
Increasingly, to the fringes of the swell of goodwill on which Anthony Joshua rides, there remain voices who point to a weakness in the undercards on these Matchroom events and the sense hype, and the desire to feed the ‘event-crowd’ beast, is overwhelming the need for value and legitimate supporting match-ups.
In short, if Joshua is on, the hipster hardcore – they used to be called anoraks when the world was inside a forum rather than on social media – believe too many viewers are interested only in Joshua knocking someone over and are not unduly concerned by the merits of a featherweight clash at 6.25pm. Hardcore fans don’t like that type of ‘casual’ fandom you see. Sometimes, I wonder if they like boxing at all. Certainly, whether they like that so many others like it too. Hardcore fans would, if boxing were a band, always prefer the ‘earlier acoustic stuff’.
I digress. Despite my cynicism, it is refreshing, particularly given Eddie Hearn’s sense that it was necessary to over pay Joseph Parker relative to his true commercial appeal, to contemplate a much stronger selection of undercard features for the event on March 31st in Cardiff.
Alexander Povetkin v David Price
Chief among the supporting card to the Joshua v Parker fight is Russian veteran Alexander Povetkin defending his WBA intercontinental and WBO international heavyweight championships against Liverpool’s David Price. Whatever those two straps actually mean.
Although a former Commonwealth Games Gold medallist and an Olympic Bronze medalist to boot, 34-year-old Price (22-3-1, 18 knockouts) is an outsider to overcome the marauding Povetkin (33-1, 23 knockouts) in Cardiff because of the gulf in class between their recent opposition. Only Wladimir Klitchsko has beaten Povetkin, 38, in his pro career.
As a result, Povetkin is a strong favourite with bookmakers to keep hold of his ‘titles’ as he prepares for his 35th fight in the paid ranks. Price lost his penultimate bout against Romania’s Christian Hammer, but beat, if unimpressively, Polish pugilist and trial horse Kamil Sokolowski on points last time out.
Punters have already sided with Povetkin in the boxing betting on this fight, however, and he’s a solid betting proposition to make it 34 wins from 35 fights. Though, those looking for a good return may consider a free bet like Paddy Power’s £20 risk-free offer on Price, whose odds are more attractive.
Much of the narrative around this fight is focussed on performing enhancing drugs and Povetkin’s two failed tests and the natural counter point of David Price’s two defeats to fighters who would later be proven to be drugs cheats. It offers needle, if you’ll pardon the expression, where otherwise there may not be any. Both fighters will be fully motivated and presumably particularly focussed in training with the view their bout holds the unofficial status as first reserve should Joseph Parker injure himself before the fight. Either could yet get the call to save the show. Unlikely though that is, there is history in Joshua’s last fight when Carlos Takam stepped from the shadows following Kubrat Pulev’s withdrawal.
For the adventurous, Price seems hell-bent on loosening the shackles and leaving everything he has left, at 34, in the ring. This represents a short cut back to a big time he’s seemed a long way from since his back-to-back defeats to Tony Thompson. One could surmise it also represents a chance for vengeance, of sorts, over a fighter who is a beacon for of all that is wrong with the policing of professional boxing. It is the type of storyline that could tempt those betting instinctively or in line with their moral compass.
Ryan Burnett v Yonfrez Parejo
Northern Ireland’s Ryan Burnett makes his first defence of the WBA (Super) bantamweight belt against Venezuela’s Yonfrez Parejo. The Super prefix reflective of his custody of both the IBF and WBA belts in advance of this contest.
Winning half of his 18 pro fights to date by knockout, 25-year-old Burnett had previously won the IBF bantamweight title from fellow British boxer Lee Haskins before that strap became vacant in February. An unbeaten record coming into the Parejo clash means Burnett looks a worthy favourite for victory.
On a form line through recent shared opponent Zhanat Zhakiyanov, it is hard to see how Parejo can defeat the Belfast native. Parejo lost to the Kazakhstani competitor by split decision back in 2015, yet Burnett beat him for this title when last in action.
For all his experience, Parejo looks up against it with a professional career record of 21 wins (10 knockouts), two losses and a draw. Burnett has the added advantage of Adam Booth in his corner, a superb tactician and a very calm and intuitive trainer in the heat of the action too. He will help Ryan fill any gaps in experience that may materialise.
Josh Kelly v Carlos Molina
Sunderland’s 2015 European Games bronze medallist Josh Kelly has an outstanding chance of a first major title since turning professional as he faces Mexican fighter Carlos Molina for the vacant WBA international welterweight belt.
Kelly, 24, also competed in this weight class at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero but bowed out in the round of 16. He is unbeaten in five subsequent pro bouts, winning four consecutive fights by knockout after a points victory on debut.
Molina, 34, has much more experience than his British opponent, but the former IBF light middleweight champion comes into this contest off the back of consecutive defeats. The Mexican’s pro record is somewhat chequered with 28 wins (eight by knockout), seven losses and two draws. The two draws are particularly notable, as they both represented the first blemishes on the records of Julio Cesar Chavez Junior and Erislandy Lara. He also holds very credible victories at Light-Middleweight against Kermit Cintron, Cory Spinks and Ishe Smith. Good match making is about timing and this has the appearance of bold, but calculated thinking.
With Kelly long odds-on in the betting and Molina a big price to cause an upset, this looks a golden opportunity for an up and coming youngster to give his pro career a major boost. But don’t rule out Molina, he has overcome bigger men, elusive fighters, awkward southpaws and those with a big reputation coming into the fight before.
If Molina has plenty left, and Kelly still wins, it will say much about the eventual horizons of the Sunderland man.