Boxing Insider Notebook: Crawford, Khan, Stevenson, Vazquez, Bivol, Smith, and more…
Compiled By: William Holmes
The following is the Boxing Insider notebook for the week of February 26th to March 5th; covering the comings and goings in the sport of boxing that you might have missed.
Crawford vs. Khan Undercard Announced, to Feature Lopez, Stevenson, and Verdejo
Before pound-for-pound king Terence “Bud” Crawford enters the ring to defend his WBO welterweight world title against Amir “King” Khan, a pair of 21-year-old wunderkinds — Teofimo Lopez and Shakur Stevenson — will look to steal the show in their respective co-feature bouts on ESPN PPV Saturday, April 20 at Madison Square Garden.
Stevenson, the 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist, will tangle with former 130-pound world title challenger Christopher “Pitufo” Diaz in a 10-round featherweight bout. Lopez, the consensus 2018 Prospect of the Year and top lightweight contender, will face two-time European lightweight champion and former world title challenger Edis Tatli in a 10-rounder. Tatli is ranked No. 3 by the IBF and No. 10 by the WBC.
And, in a special attraction that will open the broadcast, Puerto Rican star Felix “El Diamante” Verdejo will fight former two-time interim super featherweight world champion Bryan Vasquez in a 10-round lightweight bout that will thrust the winner into the world title picture.
Tickets priced at $606, $406, $306, $206, $106, $81, and $56 (including facility fees) are on sale now and can be purchased at the Madison Square Garden Box Office, all Ticketmaster outlets, Ticketmaster charge by phone (866-858-0008) and online at www.ticketmaster.com and www.msg.com.
Details on how fans will be able to access the pay-per-view broadcast, which will begin at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT, will be announced at a later date.
The entire undercard will stream live beginning at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN+, the new multi-sport, direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service from The Walt Disney Company’s Direct-to-Consumer & International segment in conjunction with ESPN.
“This terrific undercard accompanying the Crawford-Khan main event will be extremely entertaining and exciting,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “Shakur Stevenson and Teofimo Lopez are two of the brightest young lights in boxing and are facing seasoned opponents in Diaz and Tatli. Felix Verdejo is on the comeback trail, and Bryan Vasquez is a tough veteran who won’t give in.”
Lopez (12-0, 10 KOs) catapulted from prospect to contender in 2018 and early 2019 with a slew of headline-grabbing wins, including sensational knockout victories over Mason Menard and Diego Magdaleno in his last two fights. A 2016 Olympian for his parents’ native Honduras, the Brooklyn-born puncher last fought at Madison Square Garden’s big arena on May 12 of last year, punctuating his first-round knockout of Vitor Jones Freitas with a Fortnite dance that went viral. Tatli (31-2, 10 KOs) has never been stopped as a pro and has wins over current European lightweight champion Francesco Patera, top contender Yvan Mendy and former 130-pound world champion Mzonke Fana. A celebrity in his native Finland, Tatli recently took home the first prize on “Tanssii tähtien kanss,” the Finnish version of the popular BBC program, “Strictly Come Dancing.”
“Every time I fight in my hometown, I take over the show, and that’s what I plan on doing again,” Lopez said. “This is the year I become a world champion, and whoever stands in my way is going to get knocked out. If you think you’ve seen the best version of Teofimo Lopez, think again. The Takeover is coming to Madison Square Garden and ESPN pay-per-view.
“One thing I know for sure: Tatli will be dancing with the real star of The Takeover on April 20. This ain’t reality TV. This is a real fight.”
“This is a great matchup, and I can’t wait to get the job done,” Tatli said. “Lopez is a skilled fighter, and he is in for a real treat on April 20. My goal has been clear for a long time — to win a world title — and Lopez is not going to stop me reaching it.”
Stevenson (10-0, 6 KOs) followed up a 5-0 campaign in 2018 with a spectacular fourth-round TKO over Jessie Cris Rosales on Jan. 18 in Verona, N.Y. A native of Newark, N.J. — a short train ride from Madison Square Garden — Stevenson hopes to move closer to a world title opportunity in front of his home fans. Diaz (24-1, 16 KOs), from Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, moved down to featherweight following his July 2018 decision loss to Masayuki Ito for the vacant WBO junior lightweight world title. He knocked out David Berna in the first round on Nov. 24 to set up the Stevenson showdown.
“Newark is going to be in the building on April 20 as I show Christopher Diaz what I’m all about,” Stevenson said. “After I get done with him, Diaz will wish he’d stayed at 130 pounds. Soon enough, the featherweight division is going to run through me.”
“I feel super motivated and focused as always for another big fight in another big event,” Diaz said. “I like these kinds of challenges. I’m fighting against a silver medalist of the 2016 Rio Olympics who is also a great prospect with a lot of potential. He needs to demonstrate that he has what nobody can teach him. He needs to show that he has heart and gallantry. We’ll see on April 20 when he faces his first real tough test. I will come prepared as I always do. On that night, he will understand that you can’t teach cojones and that I was born with very big ones.”
Verdejo (24-1, 16 KOs), a former amateur superstar for his native Puerto Rico, hopes to graduate to contender status with a victory over Vasquez. He suffered his first loss last March via 10th-round stoppage to Antonio Lozada Jr. in a fight he was leading. Verdejo was victorious in his comeback bout on Nov. 10 in Puerto Rico, knocking out Yardley Armenta Cruz in the second round. Vasquez (37-3, 20 KOs) has won two in a row since a tight majority decision loss to Ray Beltran in August 2017.
“I’m going into this new challenge ready to demonstrate my skills against a world-class fighter,” Verdejo said. “I hope that this fight will open the doors to big fights. I want to bring a world championship to Puerto Rico, and this is the year.”
“In order for me to lose to Verdejo, he’s going to have to kill me,” Vasquez said. “In order for him to kill me, he’s going to have to be willing to die with me. And he’s already shown that he’s not willing to die in there.”
Use the hashtag #CrawfordKhan to join the conversation on social media.
Bivol: I Know Smith Will Come and Fight
DMITRY BIVOL knows that JOE SMITH JR. is coming to rip his title away from him – and the WBA World Light-Heavyweight king says that will make for a great fight when he defends his belt at TURNING STONE RESORT & CASINO in Verona, NY on Saturday March 9, live on DAZN in the US and on Sky Sports in the UK.
TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW PRICED FROM $49 VIA TICKETMASTER.COM
Bivol (15-0 11 KOs) puts his strap on the line for the fifth time and it’s been smooth sailing since he destroyed Trent Broadhurst inside a round in his first defense in November 2017.
The Russian has put Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba and Jean Pascal to the sword since that win in Monaco, and now the hard-hitting Russian goes head to head with Smith Jr (24-2 20KOs).
The Long Island man fights for his first World title against Bivol, and the 29 year old has vowed to pour everything out of himself to land the crown – and the defending champ believes that their styles will gel for a great clash.
“He’s a strong guy,” said Bivol. “I saw his fight against Bernard Hopkins, and he’s really strong. He has the same age like me, he’s young. But he has some minus points like many fighters that I will use to my advantage for my win. He moves forward a lot. This is a good challenge for me, to stop him.”
“I saw in his eyes when I met him, he wanted my belt. And I’m glad, because only that way it can make a good fight.”
“We are both of different styles. When two guys meet in the ring with different styles in boxing, it usually makes a good fight. I think it will be a good fight for boxing fans.”
“To be honest, I don’t think about the belt. I just think about who my opponent is, and what he can show me in the ring. All I think about is how I should beat him. In my sight, I feel like I should just beat him. Of course, the belt is good for history, but I only think about my opponent.”
Bivol’s clash with Smith Jr. is part of a huge night of action at Turning Stone Resort Casino with a second mouthwatering World title fight on the bill in the shape of Maurice Hooker (25-0-3 17 KOs) defending his WBO World Super-Lightweight title against Brooklyn’s Mikkel LesPierre (21-0-1 10KOs).
Callum Johnson (17-1-0 12KOs) and Sean Monaghan (29-2-0 17KOs) will both have a keen eye on Bivol’s clash as they battle in a crunch fight in the 175lbs division, World-ranked heavyweight contender Sergey Kuzmin, (14-0 11 KOs), of St. Petersburg, Russia will battle Philadelphia based veteran Joey Dawejko, (19-6-4 11 KOs) and Otha Jones III makes his pro debut on the card.
DraftKings Delivers Knockout Gaming Experience in Collaboration with Showtime Sports
DraftKings Inc. and SHOWTIME Sports today announced a collaboration that will combine forces to immerse boxing fans in the sport they love through a custom Pick ‘Em style game exclusive to SHOWTIME Sports that debuts with this Saturday’s SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING event on March 2nd.
This new Pick ‘Em style game asks players to choose the winner of each televised fight, determine the method of victory and predict when the bout will end for all SHOWTIME boxing events including SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING®, ShoBox: The New Generation®, SHOWTIME Boxing: Special Edition and SHOWTIME PPV®. Players will be awarded points based on the number of correct predictions in each boxing match. Prizing for individual fight cards includes $5,000 in winnings with each of the top-five finalists receiving a SHOWTIME Boxing prize pack. Additionally, the overall 2019 Pick ‘Em winner will be awarded a free trip to every 2020 SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING® event.
To view and play the DraftKings and SHOWTIME Sports Pick ‘Em game please visit www.draftkings.com/showtime
“Our alignment with SHOWTIME Sports is another prime example of our endless efforts to innovate and satisfy our customers with the most comprehensive sports offerings possible,” said Ezra Kucharz, Chief Business Officer at DraftKings. “Boxing draws edge-of-the-seat fans with incredible passion and engagement with the sport, and this collaboration will further our ability to best connect with our burgeoning player community.”
“This unique collaboration with DraftKings delivers an entertaining companion experience for viewers and provides a year-long connection to all SHOWTIME boxing events,” said Stephen Espinoza, President Sports & Event Programming, Showtime Networks Inc. “We’re excited to align with a leading sports-tech entertainment brand in the U.S. as SHOWTIME Sports continues to deliver fresh and innovative ways for fans to enjoy the best that boxing has to offer.”
Boxing is among the most storied and popular sports in the world with a passionate fan base, both domestically and internationally. Viewership trends for televised combat sports spectacles have been consistently impressive in recent years, with boxing accounting for the top selling pay-per-view television events in history. To serve this large and growing fanbase, DraftKings and SHOWTIME Sports are reshaping the fan sports entertainment experience through a creative collaboration, which will include custom fantasy games and other gaming innovations.
This Saturday’s SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING event will be the first opportunity for fans to play this Pick ‘Em style game. Saturday’s three-fight telecast is headlined by former world champion Erislandy Lara challenging undefeated WBA Super Welterweight Champion Brian Castaño plus the return of heavyweight contender Luis Ortiz.
Damien Vazquez Training Camp Quotes
Unbeaten bantamweight Damien Vazquez will take on the toughest test of his career in former world champion Juan Carlos Payano in Premier Boxing Champions Prelims on FS1 this Saturday from Dignity Health Sports Park, formerly StubHub Center, in Carson, California.
Prelims begin at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and lead into a PBC on FOX and FOX Deportes show that’s headlined by WBC Welterweight World Champion Shawn Porter making his first title defense in primetime against mandatory challenger Yordenis Ugas.
Tickets for the live event, which is promoted by TGB Promotions, are on sale now. Tickets can be purchased at AXS.com.
Here is what Vazquez, who is the younger brother of former three-time world champion Israel Vazquez, had to say about training, his matchup and more:
On his recent training camp:
“I’ve had a phenomenal training camp going into this fight. Bones Adams and Joel Casamayor are two of the best boxing minds in the sport. I’m soaking up everything they’re showing me. I’ve also been sparring with Isaac ‘Canelito’ Avelar, a big strong featherweight who brings it every day. I’m confident and victory is on my mind.”
On his upcoming matchup with Payano:
“This is a big step up for me. Payano is a former world champion who is very dangerous, but I’m confident in myself, in my talent, and I’m going to leave everything in the ring. After March 9, the world will know who I am and what I’m about. There is no doubt in my mind, I’m coming out on top!”
On making his nationally televised debut on FS1:
“Fighting on FS1 is going to be a huge blessing for my career, because the whole world will be able to watch me perform. I’m very grateful for this opportunity. Boxing fans tuning in will see two warriors going for the kill.”
On what a victory will do for his career:
“Beating a former world champion like Payano will get me closer to that world title shot I’m seeking. I’m the future of the bantamweight division and it’s my time to shine.”