Saturday brings four major boxing cards with some long-awaited returns, close matchups and opportunities for fighters to test their level before engaging in bigger and better things.
In what looks on paper to be a 50-50 fight, junior middleweight contenders Erickson Lubin and Sebastian Fundora will meet in Atlanta with a chance to get closer to a title fight (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET). At stake is a bout against the winner of the Brian Castano-Jermell Charlo bout for the 154-pound undisputed championship, scheduled for May 14. Lubin is the better fighter, but Fundora has height and reach advantages and an uppercut that can end the fight at any moment.
In Japan, Gennadiy Golovkin returns after a 16-month layoff to face Ryota Murata in a middleweight unification bout (DAZN, 5 a.m. ET). Murata last fought in December 2019, but he’ll be competing at home with more than 30,000 fans at the Super Arena in Saitama. A win for Golovkin will guarantee him a trilogy fight against Canelo Alvarez, if Alvarez does his part by beating Dmitry Bivol on May 7. The fight against Murata provides Golovkin with an opportunity to get ready for what could be the biggest fight of his career.
Another title fight will occur in Costa Mesa, California, when unified junior lightweight champion Mikaela Mayer defends her belts against former featherweight champ Jennifer Han in the main event of a Top Rank card (ESPN/ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET). Mayer is coming off the best win of her career against Maiva Hamadouche, and a victory this weekend can set up more unification fights before she moves up to the 135-pound division, where the two best women fighters in the world, Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano, reside. While Han is the more experienced fighter, can she derail Mayer’s trajectory to the top?
Lastly, the long overdue return of lightweight sensation Ryan Garcia is finally here (DAZN, 9 p.m. ET). And while his opponent, Emmanuel Tagoe, is not a top-level fighter, this bout will be a good test for Garcia in his first outing since defeating Luke Campbell in January 2021. He has taken time off to address his mental health and recover from surgery on his right hand. Is Garcia still the fast, powerful and exciting fighter who earned the title of ESPN’s fighter of the year in 2017?
Let’s take a look at the four main events this weekend.
Erickson Lubin vs. Sebastian Fundora, junior middleweight
The matchup: This fight can go either way. If you look at Lubin’s history, he’s been knocked out before, in the first round against Jermell Charlo in ’17. We’ve seen him get hurt in several fights. We’ve seen him get hurt with the jab; we’ve seen him get hurt with punches that he doesn’t see. And Fundora is super big for the weight class. He can box, but he chooses to fight most of the time. He’s a tough southpaw with an 80-inch reach.
Lubin is definitely better technically. He is the sharper fighter and a great counterpuncher. He’s left-handed, and his lead hand, his jab and his right hook are strong. He goes well to the body and he can slow the pace to where he’s comfortable, using his feet to create angles and space. This fight is interesting because it is the biggest test in Fundora’s career. I think he’s been lightly matched against low-level guys, but this fight can be his coming-out bout. If he can beat Lubin, that will push him to near the top of the division.
To beat Lubin, you’ve got to fight him in spots. Box, box, box, use your reach, use your height, frustrate Lubin and then take the fight to him after a few rounds. Because if you let a guy like Lubin think — if you give him time to set up his offense and set traps — it can be very difficult to beat him. But if Fundora takes the space away with pressure and makes Lubin fight at a pace he’s not comfortable with, Fundora can win.
Fundora is tall, long, can fight from the outside, can fight on the inside — he can do it all. And he’s tough. I don’t think people realize how tough this guy is. He’s training in Coachella in Southern California, sparring with tough guys, and he was giving everybody hell when I had a chance to see him train. He has that powerful right uppercut, a punch that is hard to see coming. Lubin gets hit with punches that he doesn’t see and he gets rocked at times. All Fundora has to do is land one of those uppercuts and the fight can be over.
The result: Fundora sometimes fights out of balance, out of position and he gives free shots, taking chances when he doesn’t have to. I think it has to do with how he tactically approaches fights — he just likes to fight! I think he needs to understand when to fight as supposed to fighting for the hell of it. That’s the problem that I have with Fundora. He can make his fights so much easier, but he likes them to be hard. I don’t know why, but he does, he likes to engage and fight. And you don’t want to give a sharpshooter such as Lubin a chance to hit you back when you make a mistake, when you are launching forward out of position and throwing lazy jabs. That’s why Lubin can win this fight.
But at the same time, if Fundora doesn’t make those mistakes and comes forward and gets in the face of Lubin, taking the space away from him, he has a chance. Typically when a southpaw pressures another southpaw, the one that’s coming forward is the one that is going to win the majority of times. And I see Lubin having problems dealing with the reach of Fundora.
This is a toss-up fight, in my opinion. But if I have to pick one guy to win … (long pause) … I have to go with Lubin.
Mikaela Mayer vs. Jennifer Han, junior lightweight title
The matchup: Han has tons of experience. I would say she has more experience than most women currently in boxing. She has great timing and punch placement. She’s also pretty fluid on her feet. She’s calculated and is good at getting in and out, managing distance. That’s what she excels at — making her opponents fall short with their punches, changing the rhythm and attacking. And when Han attacks, she does it with combinations, mainly the one-two from an orthodox stance. Because she’s shorter than Mayer, she will depend heavily on the jab. And when she jabs, she keeps her head off the center line, which is good. But if she becomes predictable, the right hand of Mayer will start doing damage.
Mayer is versatile — she can do a little bit of everything. She’s well-schooled, with three trainers on her team: Kay Koroma, Manny Robles and Al Mitchell. They have done a great job in building her to the level she’s at today. Because Mayer is taller than Han, she can fight on the outside. And because Mayer has short arms, she’s able to fight inside, exchange in the pocket, against shorter opponents. She also has good movement, making her able to get away quickly and then attack from the outside.
One of Han’s biggest flaws is that when she throws combinations, she keeps her head directly on the center line. She comes straight down the middle, leaving herself open for the right hand, one of Mayer’s best punches. I think that’s going to be Han’s downfall in this fight.
The result: I see this fight going to Mayer because Han doesn’t hit hard enough. What Han does well, Mayer does better — especially with combinations. I think Mayer will apply pressure and hunt Han down. Han is a boxer who uses her jab and moves away, but Mikaela is just at a different level. Her fight against Hamadouche helped her gain confidence, because it was a pressure fight. And now against Han, a fighter who doesn’t bring much pressure and doesn’t have much power, everything’s in Mayer’s favor. Mayer has the size advantage and more power. She shouldn’t have trouble defeating Han. I see a clear victory for Mayer.
Gennadiy Golovkin vs. Ryota Murata, middleweight title unification
The matchup: This is a really good fight. Both fighters have similar styles. One guy is an Olympic gold medalist (Murata in 2012) and the other won silver (Golovkin in 2004). Murata likes to come forward and use the high guard when he attacks. So does GGG. Golovkin relies heavily on his jab and left hook. He has a good right hand, but his left hook is his bread and butter. For Murata, his right hand is his bread and butter.
I understand that the third fight between GGG and Canelo Alvarez is already agreed to, has a date and everything, and everybody thinks Golovkin will get past Murata. But for Murata to win this fight, here’s what I think he needs to do: No. 1, be aggressive, but know when to be and when not to; and No. 2, move away from that left hand of Golovkin. Murata should move to his left as often as possible, and every chance he gets, he should punch the body of GGG. Golovkin is the older fighter (40), so you want to do everything possible to weaken him and test his conditioning. That might give Murata a chance later in the fight.
But I don’t think Murata has the versatility to beat Golovkin. GGG can do a little bit of everything. He can box off his back foot, if he needs to, and change angles. He can also press forward and dominate inside the pocket. Murata is a fighter who moves straight forward, and he’s going to put himself in harm’s way if he’s not careful.
I don’t think Golovkin is going to overlook Murata, considering he has the Canelo fight already set. He’s not that type of fighter. He’s been a one-fight-at-a-time kind of fighter all during his career, never looking ahead, always in the present. He knows Murata has heavy hands. He knows who he’s up against and knows the fight is in Murata’s home country in front of an expected 35,000 fans. Going into hostile territory, GGG knows he must be 100% ready, and I’m sure he will be.
The result: Golovkin has been away from the ring for a long time, and you don’t want to be the older fighter coming off a long layoff. But Murata is no spring chicken either, at 36. Golovkin has had 43 fights and been in the ring with some of the best fighters in the world. Murata hasn’t had that same level of competition, so I’m gonna go with the experience. For GGG, all the experience he has gained over the years is still in him. He can always go to that reservoir.
It will be a very entertaining fight in the first half, but once GGG catches Murata clean, he will stop him in the early part of the second half.
Ryan Garcia vs. Emmanuel Tagoe, lightweight
The matchup: Tagoe is a free-will type of fighter, very loose inside the ring, very relaxed. He has ring control and positioning awareness, but he drops his hands. He reminds me of Emanuel Augustus, whose nickname was “The Drunken Master” because of his loose style. Tagoe uses angles and is very creative with both offense and defense. But because of that, Tagoe breaks tons of fundamental rules, and I think that could be detrimental for him. He doesn’t punch hard enough to earn the respect of a guy who can punch as well as Garcia. I think Garcia is extremely dangerous. Speed and timing are what make this kid so damn good. He has the strike of a cobra, and all it takes is one shot on the chin for him to hurt his opponent and turn the lights out.
I think this is going to be a very good fight until Tagoe gets caught. If he doesn’t get caught, I think he can go the distance. Tagoe will be able to land some shots; he likes to double and triple his shots in combinations. He will throw triple right hands, something you don’t do against a left hook artist such as Garcia.
I like where Garcia is right now, mentally. I’m glad he took the necessary time to address his mental health, and I like his trainer switch, which will allow him to try new things since Joe Goossen is an old-school type of trainer.
Everything Garcia learned from Eddy Reynoso is still in him, and all the new wrinkles that Goossen is going to teach him — that maybe Reynoso didn’t know — will add to his arsenal. The biggest benefit of having Goossen in his corner is that Goossen doesn’t have a lot of fighters to train, so he has the time and energy to work with Garcia, build his confidence up and earn his trust. They already knew each other, so they have some chemistry, and Goossen’s style is more offensive, which is good for Garcia, who has a high-power offense to begin with. One area Garcia should tighten up is his defense, because we have seen him go down. He got up and performed like a champion, but he does have some defensive flaws that could get him in trouble when he steps up in competition. But I don’t know if Tagoe is a guy who can give him trouble.
The result: I think this is a good comeback fight for Garcia, a good test. But talent-wise, Garcia is too talented, too gifted, too fast, too accurate with his shots, and I think he’s going to dominate Tagoe and stop him, probably late in the fight. Tagoe is crafty, so it’s going to take some time for Garcia to get acclimated after the long layoff. So I would say any time after the fourth round, Garcia will start putting his punches together and will get the stoppage. Tagoe will put up a fight as long as it lasts. And the longer Tagoe is in the fight, the more interesting it gets.