BOXING heads to Texas on Saturday for the first in a series of back-to-back weekends of world title action both with genuine pound-for-pound status implications.
Seven days before Canelo Alvarez challenges Liverpool’s Callum Smith for all the spoils at 168lb (more on that next week), Danny Garcia aims to capitalise on Errol Spence’s recent tribulations to throw a spanner in the works at the top of the welterweight division.
Defending WBC and IBF champion Spence has realistic claims on top spot at 147lb, ahead of WBO champion Terence Crawford and WBA ruler Manny Pacquiao. But 14 months ago, the slick 27-0 southpaw flipped his Ferrari at near 3am in the morning following a night out.
Spence escaped serious injury, but the accident put his career on hold and the road back has been arduous. Unification fights with Crawford and Pacquiao have been shelved and instead his PBC stablemate Garcia steps into the fray.
Prior to the accident, a matchup with the former light-welterweight world champion would have felt like a backwards step. But after he cheated death by his own foolish actions – Spence was later charged with drink driving – his outlook on life and his career may have changed.
Boxing is not a sport you can go into half-hearted. If Spence’s desire to fight and commitment to the ring has in any way diminished, he will get found out. Which is why his backers have decided on returning against Garcia rather than Crawford or Pacquiao. Keep the belt in house either way.
Garcia, 32, is a world class fighter. He stopped Amir Khan in four rounds to become a double world champion at 10-stone and this will be his 10th world title fight. One of his two career defeats in 38 fights was a controversial split decision loss to Keith Thurman in 2017.
However, Garcia’s first reign as a world champion, which includes that victory over Khan plus wins against Erik Morales and Zab Judah, was way back in 2012.
The Philadelphian is a smart counter-puncher rather than an aggressive puncher, which is why he has been selected for Spence’s rehab fight. His style means he’s unlikely to jump on Spence and make the going tough in the early rounds. That should allow the champion to feel his way back into the business and put any demons behind him.
Expect it to be close for the first four rounds, before Spence gets back into the old groove to stage a bit of a masterclass and win handily on points. Spence is 7/10 to win via decision.
Add value to that 12-round bet by doubling it up with Billy Joe Saunders winning by a similar margin. The WBO super-middleweight champion makes the second defence of his world title at Wembley Arena against British rival Martin Murray, in a fight that was scheduled twice in 2018 but never happended. Saunders is 4/11 to win via decision.
Two years on, Murray is 38 now and while he’s as tough as they come, likely knows this is his last fight. He won’t go down easily, but Saunders should have too much in the tank for it to be close. Billy Joe is a fighter that struggles for motivation though and is well accustomed to 12-round runouts.