By Jake Donovan
Cognizant of its placement on the eve of Super Bowl Sunday, the Top Rank staff have made significant additions to its super Saturday night of boxing.
A February 2 date long reserved for the light heavyweight title fight rematch between Eleider Alvarez and Sergey Kovalev has now turned into a live quadrupleheader spanning ESPN and its streaming platform ESPN+.
Alvarez-Kovalev II will now headline the ESPN+ portion of the evening (12:00am ET). That portion of the loaded card from The Star in Frisco, Texas will be accompanied by the quick return of unbeaten lightweight Teofimo Lopez, who is fresh off of a highlight reel 1st round knockout of Mason Menard earlier this month in New York City.
An opponent has yet to be announced for Lopez. Sources with knowledge of the show have informed BoxingInsider.com that it will be a step up in class, as the 2016 Honduras Olympian and fast-moving prospect is eager to transition to rising contender.
“I took over my last show, and I am going to do it again,” Lopez (11-0, 9KOs) said. “‘The Takeover’ is coming to Texas, and I can’t wait to get back in the ring.”
Preceding the livestream will be the awaited ring return of unbeaten featherweight Oscar Valdez. Sidelined while recovering from injuries sustained in an ESPN-aired 12-round win over Scott Quigg in March, the two-time Olympian for Mexico returns in a title defense versus unbeaten Carmine Tommasone, who represented Italy in the 2016 Rio Olymnpics.
The bout will headline a live doubleheader on ESPN (10:00pm ET). In chief support to Valdez’ return comes a vacant lightweight title fight between Ghana’s Richard Commey and Russia’s Isa Chaniev.
Moving the Alvarez-Kovalev rematch to ESPN’s live-streaming service was undoubtedly motivated by a desire to boost subscriptions. Top Rank and ESPN continue to search for the proper balance in what will air live on ESPN’s flagship network and what to dedicate exclusively to its subscription-based streaming service.
This particular show will actually provide the best of both worlds. With the ESPN linear platform preceded by ESPN+ live coverage of the preliminary undercard action (7:00 pm-10:00pm ET), boxing fans will get seven hours of live boxing between the services, including three title fights and the latest step in the career of a blue-chip prospect.
“It’s Super Saturday, and by syncing the ESPN linear and ESPN+ platforms for one night, fans have an incredible opportunity to watch a stacked show with many of the world’s best fighters and rising superstars,” said Todd duBoef, president of Top Rank in a statement released through the company’s press office in announcing the full show on Wednesday.
The addition of Valdez (24-0, 19KOs) comes in the wake of the decision to forego a planned January 12 showcase in his adopted hometown of Tucson, Arizona. He was originally due to face Spain’s Andoni Gago, but issues in getting a travel visa in time along with other unbuttoned issues with the remaining undercard prompted an outright cancellation.
It gives Valdez an additional three weeks to further enhance his craft under new trainer Eddy Reynoso, while also providing an upgrade in competition.
“The fans can expect the same Oscar Valdez as far as being an aggressive and exciting fighter,” said Valdez, who looks to make the fifth defense of his featherweight title. “They are also going to see a different side that nobody has seen, which is the boxing skills that I also have and that I’m perfecting and learning with my new trainer, Eddy Reynoso.”
Tommasone (19-0, 5KOs) has yet to make his full mark in the pro ranks. However, the unbeaten featherweight is in the history books as becoming the first pro boxer to participate in—and win—an Olympic boxing match, doing so in 2016 while representing his native Italy.
The 2016 Rio Olympics marked the first year in which pro boxers were able to participate in competition previously limited to amateur boxers. Tommasone joined former flyweight titlist Amnat Ruenroeng (Thailand) and Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam (representing his native Cameroon, but who lives in France) as the three to break ground, winning his opening round bout before being sent home in the Round of 16 by Cuba’s Lazaro Alvarez, who went on to capture the Bronze medal.
Tomassone—who was 15-0 prior to his 2016 Rio tour—has since won four bouts in his return to pro competition. All have come versus non-descript competition, as he steps way up in class while fighting outside of Italy as a pro for the first time in his eight-year career.
Still, he comes with greater appeal than Valdez’ originally selected opponent—not to mention it’s a great opportunity for Top Rank to showcase one of its brightest young stars for the third time on ESPN, the latest coming on a busy sports weekend.
“It will be great to see our little warrior, Oscar Valdez, back in action on Feb. 2 after his full recovery from a broken jaw and a courageous victory over Quigg,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “Oscar always brings thrills and excitement to his fights.”
The ESPN-televised co-feature figures to serve as the perfect primer.
Ghana’s Commey (27-2, 24 KOs) has patiently waited for his crack at a lightweight title, which he originally believed would come versus Mikey Garcia. Those plans fell apart, however, after the unbeaten pound-for-pound entrant vacated his title in favor of a high-profile showdown versus unbeaten welterweight titlist Errol Spence.
The move left Commey as the highest-rated contender in his pursuit of winning a title on his second try. His previous effort came in a hard-fought split decision loss to Robert Easter Jr. in their Sept. ’16 vacant title fight, which was followed by an equally heartbreaking narrow defeat at the hands of Denis Shafikov just three months later.
Three straight wins have followed, including a six-round destruction of previously unbeaten Alejandro Luna this past March to earn his place as the mandatory challenger.
“When I started working with Richard in September 2016, our plan was to give him another chance to fulfill his dream of becoming a world champion,”said Lou DiBella , Commey’s promoter. “While Chaniev is a very tough Russian fighter, I’m confident that Richard has the skills, punching power and the mental toughness to come out victorious.”
DiBella’s efforts have not at all been lost on his lightweight client.
“I know how hard it is for Ghanaian fighters to get promoted by the top promoters, but Lou has consistently shown that if he thinks you’re the man, then he will be the man for you,” said Commey, who last fought in August in a 2nd round knockout of journeyman Yardley Cruz in Long Island, New York. “He has shown this by the investment DiBella Entertainment has put in me and by getting me this shot at the title and securing it in the United States.”
While it won’t be Commey’s first stateside appearance, his opponent stamps his passport for his first world title fight.
Chaniev (13-1, 6 KOs) has fought exclusively in Eastern Europe as he travels to the U.S. for the first time as a pro. The 26-year old Russian lightweight earned his place in the title mix after a strong showing in his career-best win, outpointing former titlist Ismael Barroso in his most recent bout this past May.
“I have the biggest motivation ever to win, and there is no other result that will satisfy me,” Chaniev said. “On Feb. 2, I will demonstrate all my skills and hard preparation. Some people don’t think I will win, but they will be shocked.”
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