What: Rob Brant vs. Khasan Baysangurov, MiddleweightsWhen: Feb. 15
How to Watch: ESPN 9 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Rob Brant remembers what it was like to be an unknown meant to lose to a future star, but does he remember it enough to avoid the same fate?
Minnesota’s Rob Brant wasn’t supposed to beat thought to be future Japanese superstar Ryota Murato in October. Brant wasn’t very well known outside of the great lake’s region, and Murata was being spoken of as a potential GGG opponent. But Brant dominated the fight on way to a clear unanimous decision and is now being given a main event showcase on ESPN against Khasan Baysangurov. That means, Brant is suddenly the guy with everything to lose, and Brant has become the one with the target on his back.
This week, Brant told Boxingscene all about how he remembers what it was like watching Murato get all the accolades, the hype and the promotion, all while knowing he could beat him. He said, “I still have clear memories of watching Ryota Murata fight long before we were ever supposed to fight, I remember watching him and always told myself, ‘I know that I can beat him. That remains fresh in my head because now I know that I’m that fighter, I’m that same target for these other contenders that I was always watching before getting here.”
That sounds good on paper, the question is whether he actually believes it.
Khasan Baysangurov has never fought outside of Eastern Europe, but he’s also never lost a fight. At 17-0 with 17 knockouts, the tall fighter has gotten so little media coverage that he’s hugely unknown outside of the former Soviet Bloc. But nobody knew Rob Brant before last October. He says he remembers what that was like, Friday night we’ll see if he remembers well enough.
What: Joshua Greer vs. Giovanni Escaner, BantamweightsWhen: Feb. 15
How to Watch: ESPN 9 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Joshua Greer gets to use his pillow as a promotional tool, or to rest his unconscious head against.
Joshua Greer has a pillow with the words “night night” written on it, that he pulls out in celebration of a knockout victory. He’s so committed to this pillow schtick, that he upgraded the pillow from its original Sharpie on white pillowcase look, to a much classier embroidered leather red. But the 19-1 fighter from Chicago isn’t all fun and WWE-style marketing ploys, he is a survivor that fights to teach kids that boxing can provide a way out of Chicago’s infamous violence. Greer outran a drive-by shooting at fifteen years old, then had a gun pulled on him at age 20, but the gunman never pulled the trigger. At 21, he had a kid, gained focus and devoted himself to boxing. Now, he thinks the best way for Chicago kids to see that they can follow his path is to win a world championship.
Giovanni “The Little Giant” Escaner is a five-foot four-inch Filipino riding an eight-fight win streak going back to 2014. He’s never fought outside of Asia and was last seen becoming the first man to stop Rene Dacquel.
Joshua Greer found a purpose, focused his life and hasn’t lost since 2015, while Giovanni Escaner hasn’t lost since 2014 against inferior competition. On Friday, we’ll see if Joshua Greer gets to inspire the youth of Chicago by pulling out his pillow again, or if a little-known Filipino can make him need it himself.
What: Shohjahon Ergashev vs. Mykal Fox, Junior WelterweightsWhen: Feb. 15
How to Watch: Showtime or UFC Fight Pass 10 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Mykal fox’s late improvements are enough to survive against a monster puncher like Shohjahon Ergashev’s lifelong devotion.
Shohjahon Ergashev is 15-0 with 14 knockouts, while Mykal “The Professor” Fox is 19-0 with five knockouts. That means, this fight is as pure a boxer-puncher matchup as you’re going to find and should be exciting for the entirety of the bout if Mykal Fox has improved as much as he thinks he has.
Fox, a six foot four inch Southpaw Scorpio comes from a fighting family. His brother, Alantez Fox is 24-1 as a middleweight. But what makes Mykal Fox such a prized prospect is how good he could become. Fox admits he didn’t take the sport all that seriously until he graduated from high school, a fact that explains why his amateur pedigree isn’t as vaunted as it might have been given his abilities. Now a professional, he believes he is growing as a fighter and can finally live up to his full potential.
But Shohjahon Ergashev has been taking boxing seriously his whole life. As an amateur, Ergashev won the Uzbeki National championship four times, was 202-14, and spent the last three years of his amateur career undefeated having knocked out every opponent he faced. As a professional, he has stopped every opponent but one, and due to his power is being compared to a Southpaw GGG or Sergey Kovalev.
Mykal Fox has become fully dedicated to boxing after playing around with it in high school. The question is, whether that’s enough to beat an Uzbeki knockout artist that’s been devoted to the sport the whole time.
What: Leo Santa Cruz vs. Rafael Rivera, FeatherweightsWhen: Feb. 16
How to Watch: Fox 8 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Because Leo Santa Cruz is in a trap fight not many people are talking about.
Last weekend, everybody was disappointed that Gervonta Davis wasn’t going to be fighting Abner Mares, thinking Mares could give us a barometer of how good “Tank” really is. Mares would have been moving up a weight class after losing to Leo Santa Cruz in June 2018, in what was his second loss to Santa Cruz as a professional. That’s how good Leo Santa Cruz is.
Santa Cruz is the WBA super featherweight champion of the world, 37-1 as a professional with a lone loss coming by decision to Carl Frampton, a loss he immediately avenged in his next fight. The Mexican fighter is also a big draw, which is why every fighter in his weight class is vying for a shot against him. On Saturday night, Rafael Rivera will get his chance.
Rivera is 26-2, with his lone losses coming by decision to Joseph Diaz, who has only lost to Gary Russell Jr. and Joet Gonzalez, who is undefeated as a professional. The fact that Rivera has never been knocked out was not lost on Santa Cruz, who is looking to make a statement so fans will demand a unification fight between him and Gary Russell Jr.
This could be a trap fight for Santa Cruz. Although he claims that he always “trains like a challenger,” Rafael Rivera is a good enough fighter that he could create problems if Santa Cruz is overlooking him, and this is a fight that has snuck up on a lot of fans on a weekend that doesn’t have many marquee sporting events outside of NBA All Star Weekend. Santa Cruz was originally going to face Miguel Flores, but Flores twisted an ankle in sparring and had to pull out.
Leo Santa Cruz needs to be careful. This fight could be a trap, and he has far bigger things ahead of him to get bogged down with an unexpected loss.
What: Omar Figueroa Jr. vs. John Molina Jr., WelterweightsWhen: Feb. 16
How to Watch: Fox 8 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if Omar Figueroa’s extended layoffs can give John Molina one of the career reviving wins he’s pulled off before.
Yes, John Molina is still fighting. And yes, Omar Figueroa Jr. will actually step into the ring this weekend.
Both of those statements encapsulate the essence of this fight. John Molina has fought as a professional since 2006, having faced guys like Terence “Bud” Crawford, Adrien Broner and Lucas Matthysse. Omar Figueroa Jr. is coming off of a nineteen-month layoff after fighting Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero in July of 2017; a fight he took coming off another nineteen-month layoff. So, while Figueroa was once a prized prospect, and maybe should still be considered an elite fighter, when he steps into the ring on Saturday boxing fan’s will likely wonder “where’s he been?”
For John Molina, his career has been marked by a refusal to give up and a series of surprising victories. While Molina has never beaten an elite fighter, and has never looked like one himself, just when you think he needs to quit boxing altogether he tends to pull off a surprise victory. After losing fights to Antonio Demarco and Andrey Klimov, he surprised everyone by beating then undefeated Mickey Bey. And, after losing three fights in a row to Humberto Soto, Matthyse and Adrien Broner, he pulled of a victory over the always tough “Russian Rocky” Ruslan Provodnikov. Now, after getting stopped by Terence Crawford back in December of 2016, Molina needs another surprising win to keep his career alive and stop the calls for him to retire.
Omar Figureroa should win this fight. But with his extended time off and John Molina’s need to pull off another career saving victory, that is far from certain.
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