As the fall boxing schedule rounds into shape, Top Rank formally unveiled four of its upcoming main events at a news conference on Friday at the MGM Grand, on the eve of its Tyson Fury-Otto Wallin ESPN+ event.
Each is a world title bout that will air on an ESPN platform over four consecutive weeks.
First up will be the highly anticipated light heavyweight title unification fight between Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Artur Beterbiev on Oct. 18 at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia. On Oct. 26, at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, in Reno, Nevada, Shakur Stevenson and Joet Gonzalez will clash for the featherweight belt left vacant when Oscar Valdez declared his intention to move up in weight.
Junior lightweight world titlist Miguel Berchelt will take on former secondary titlist Jason Sosa on Nov. 2 at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. And on Nov. 9, junior lightweight titlist Jamel Herring will make his first defense when he squares off with Lamont Roach Jr. at Chukchansi Park, a baseball stadium in Fresno, California, that serves as the home of the Fresno Grizzlies, the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.
Dan Rafael and Steve Kim offer the lowdown on each fight:
Oleksandr Gvozdyk vs. Artur Beterbiev
Why is this fight being made?: Top Rank is deep with talent in the light heavyweight division and Gvozdyk and Beterbiev are arguably the two best at 175 pounds. Top Rank wanted a cornerstone fight for its fall schedule and with Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KOs), who claimed his belt and the lineal title in December by knocking out Adonis Stevenson, and Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KOs) wanting to unify titles, this one made all the sense in the world. Both fighters are in their 30s and even though neither has many pro fights, they are experienced and want a major fight. This was the biggest one available to either, with titleholder Sergey Kovalev, by far the best known name in the weight class, otherwise occupied. -- Rafael
What's at stake?: First and foremost, another world title belt for the winner to add to his collection. Fighters love to unify titles and this is a huge aspect of this match. While neither man is close to a household name, the winner of the fight will certainly elevate himself with a win in this high-stakes showdown.
Also, there is some element of a "repeat or revenge" storyline at work. The Russian countrymen, both former Olympians, fought as amateurs in 2009 with Beterbiev getting the victory. Gvozdyk says he remembers their amateur bout and that he is motivated to avenge the defeat. Beterbiev, meanwhile, would love nothing more than to go 2-0 against him. -- Rafael
What's the intrigue?: Right now there are four highly regarded belt-holders at 175, and this bout will be the first unification bout among this quartet (which also includes Kovalev and Dmitry Bivol). Gvozdyk is currently rated No. 1 by ESPN in the division, while Beterbiev is fourth. "The Nail" is the better all-around boxer, who uses an educated left hand and deft movement to get in and out of punching range. Beterbiev is one of the hardest punchers in the sport but he is a bit of a plodder. For long stretches of this fight you can envision Govzdyk outboxing Beterbiev, but how does Gvozdyk take Beterbiev's punch? Thus far, all 14 of his previous opponents have succumbed to his power. A tactical game of chess will favor Gvozdyk, while a physical game of chess will be to the liking of Beterbiev. -- Kim
Shakur Stevenson vs. Joet Gonzalez
Why is this fight being made?: The reason for making this fight is very simple: It was mandated by the WBO to fill the 126-pound title Oscar Valdez vacated to go up in weight. Stevenson (12-0, 7 KOs) was Valdez's mandatory challenger and with the title now vacant, Gonzalez (23-0, 14 KOs), the next leading available contender, was next in line to fight for it. Top Rank, which promotes Stevenson, and Golden Boy, which represents Gonzalez, have at times been bitter rivals. But they have gotten along pretty well in the past few years and they were able to work this one out quite easily without the need for a purse bid. -- Rafael
What's at stake?: Besides a world title belt, this is a chance for Stevenson, the decorated amateur, 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist and hot-shot rising contender, to stamp himself a major player in boxing. He was expected to win a world title from the day he turned pro and this is that opportunity. Gonzalez has not had nearly the expectations, but he has been brought along steadily to this point and a win over Stevenson would be a career-making upset. -- Rafael
What's the intrigue?: This is the classic matchup between boxer vs. puncher. Stevenson is the classic slick, southpaw stylist, who was moved quickly up the ranks by Top Rank. He has begun to develop his physical strength and is now scoring some early stoppages. But is this about adroit matchmaking or is Stevenson at 22 becoming a more stout puncher? Gonzalez is the consummate pressure fighter, whose offense is based on volume and activity. How will the precocious Stevenson deal with this onslaught? For both boxers, they are facing the highest caliber foes of their young careers. Who will rise to the occasion? -- Kim
Miguel Berchelt vs. Jason Sosa
Why is this fight being made?: A look around the deep 130-pound weight class will show that even though there is talent, some of the best fights are tough to make. But not this fight.
Berchelt and Sosa (23-3-4, 16 KOs) are both with Top Rank. With the company unable to make a fight between Berchelt (36-1, 32 KOs) and Valdez for Valdez's debut in the division, Sosa was the next-best candidate, especially after he looked so good dismantling Haskell Lydell Rhodes in a seventh-round knockout victory on Aug. 10. This figures to be an exciting fight given the all-out styles of both men, and fans are likely to get an entertaining scrap. -- Rafael
What's at stake?: Other than the title, this is an opportunity for the winner to move into an even more significant fight. Berchelt has talked openly about going up to the lightweight division, where he would love a shot at unified champion and pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko, who used to hold a junior lightweight title. For Sosa it's a chance to win a more legitimate title than the secondary one he used to hold, and to make a six-figure payday.
Sosa won't get a shot at Lomachenko with a win as he already has been beaten by Loma, but other fights of note also loom for the winner, such as a possible lucrative defense against former featherweight titlist Valdez or a unification fight with the Top Rank-promoted Jamel Herring. -- Rafael
What's the intrigue?: With Lomachenko in the process of unifying the lightweight division, it's Berchelt as the most highly regarded at 130, after Gervonta Davis decided to give up his world title to go up in weight. Berchelt is a big, strong, punching machine, who uses his size and activity to swarm his opponents. Sosa is a solid fighter who has competed at the world-class level at 130 the past few years. He shouldn't be intimidated by Berchelt given that he has shared the ring with the likes of Javier Fortuna, Lomachenko and Yuriorkis Gamboa, with varying degrees of success. If you're truly an elite fighter, a guy like Sosa is someone you beat. For Sosa, this is most likely his last chance to prove he belongs at the top of the division. -- Kim
Jamel Herring vs. Lamont Roach Jr.
Why is this fight being made?: Herring must make his first defense against his mandatory challenger. That happens to be Roach (19-0-1, 7 KOs). That is the one and only reason Top Rank and Golden Boy put the fight together -- either Herring fights Roach or he would be stripped of the title. -- Rafael
What's at stake?: Herring (20-2, 10 KOs) pulled the mild upset when he won a world title by unanimous decision over Masayuki Ito in May. A win over a skilled boxer such as Roach, after defeating an aggressive fighter in Ito, would show that Herring is not a flash in the pan. Roach has slowly and steadily been brought along as a pro and now it's his moment of truth to show that he is undefeated for a reason. -- Rafael
What's the intrigue?: Since joining the training camp of welterweight champion Terence Crawford, Herring has become a much improved boxer. "The Fighting Marine" has come a long way since his defeats to Denis Shafikov and Ladarius Miller. A tall (5-foot-10) angular southpaw, Herring has honed his boxing skills. Roach, got this opportunity by becoming the WBO mandatory challenger, and while he is undefeated, his lack of intensity and focus in draws with Orlando Cruz and in his most recent victory over Johnathan Oquendo, has been alarming.
Oftentimes in this game, it's not if you win, but how you do so. And in recent fights, while he hasn't lost, he hasn't exactly won over observers with his rather casual pace inside the ring. Can he ramp that up versus a boxer who is coming in with great momentum and confidence? -- Kim