One of the toughest things for a young fighter nearing a big fight is dealing with keeping the same energy for your eventual foe. Alexis Rocha (22-1, 14 Kos) prepares to defend his NABO welterweight title on Saturday night against Atlantic City’s Anthony Young in the main event, and he'll do his best to block out the reminder that he won't be fighting for the WBO world title in his next outing.
It was announced this week, and several other weeks previously, that Crawford-Spence will finally share a ring in late July. With all of the excitement disguised as groans the announcement has brought, it is important to remember that this matchup to unify all the belts at welter left some casualties in its wake.
Jostling Around Errol Spence vs Terence Crawford Has Caused Bruises
Aside from the two UFC stars (Poirier-Gaethje) that occupy the same July 29th PPV date as Crawford-Spence, there are also two fighters that may have been used as pawns in the pursuit of welterweight supremacy.
First, there’s Keith Thurman, a fighter with one career loss against Manny Pacquiao back in 2019.
When talks broke down between Crawford and Spence late last year, it opened the door for Crawford to take a December fight against David Avanesyan with the hopes of restarting negotiations with Spence at the start of the new year.
However, when it seemed likely that Spence would make a puzzling defense of his WBC welterweight title outside the welterweight limit against the aforementioned Thurman before fighting Crawford, it prompted Crawford to explore his opinions.
Alexis Rocha Has Been Wanting Crawford Fight
Alexis Rocha is and has been the mandatory for Crawford’s WBO belt, and when talks to unify broke down the WBO ordered the fight and even went as far as issuing a deadline for Golden Boy, Rocha’s promoter, and “Bud” to strike a deal. The deadline was set for March 19th.
Crawford even made headlines when he met with Oscar De La Hoya at Golden Boy HQ. It started to seem very likely that Crawford-Rocha would be next. That deadline came and went, however. We all now know how things unfolded, but the why of it all is still a mystery.
Whether unintentional or (very) intentional, Alexis Rocha and GB were used as bargaining chips. Crawford made a move on Spence/Haymon/PBC by threatening to partner up with a rival competitor with whom PBC shares a complicated history.
Did this force Haymon and company to ditch the planned Spence-Thurman super junior middle welterweight title fight in order to keep another hand out of the cookie jar?
Politics and Such Aside, Rocha Has Business At Hand
Rocha and his team handled things as well as they could have by taking over the narrative and announcing that they had moved on from the Crawford fight in a story written by Jake Donovan of BoxingScene. That declaration was made in early April with the subsequent announcement of Anthony ‘Juice’ Young as Rocha’s next opponent.
Young (24-2, 8KOs) was originally scheduled to face Rocha back in January, but Young had to withdraw after suffering an injury in camp— he was replaced by George Ashie of Ghana on less than a week’s notice.
The southpaw Rocha stopped his opponent in the 7th round that night in front of a hometown-ish crowd. Our Gayle Falkenthal summed it up.
It was his 6thwin in a row since suffering his lone career defeat to Rashidi Ellis, and he has four stoppage victories in that streak, including taking Blair Cobbs’ “0” from his record in March of last year.
The 25-year old from Irvine, California, by way of Santa Ana, proved he has a reliable fan base and a style that can close a show, so he’ll get his chance to further cement his headline status this weekend on DAZN.
There will be competition this weekend on the streaming platform as the highly anticipated rematch between Mauricio Lara and Leigh Wood is also occurring.
The competition will not be for fan’s eyes as the Lara-Wood card takes place earlier in the day for U.S. audiences, but Alexis Rocha will have to win in spectacular fashion in order to compete for fans’ memory of the weekend, especially if Lara-Wood is as much of a bar burner as the first fight.
Anthony Young Has Done the Upset Thing Before
Young is showing up to play the roll of spoiler— something he has managed to do on a past Golden Boy card.
On the May 2019 undercard for Canelo-Jacobs, Young managed to stop former 154lb champion Sadam Ali. While this was the biggest win of his career, Young would be forced into a two-year layoff— a situation predicated on the start of the pandemic and the inherent risk coupled with his lack of profile.
Young’s style doesn’t mirror that of Ellis’ all that much, but the approach that Ellis used in specific moments against Alexis Rocha could be telling. Rocha had issues trying to close the gap, and Ellis was able to potshot his opponent successfully. Young is capable of frustrating opponents with his selective nature.
Young has 10 decision wins in his 13 fight win streak dating back to 2016 when he suffered his second career defeat.
Alexis Rocha Is A Passenger On the Spence-Crawford Train
If Alexis Rocha wants to win the fight and the weekend, he needs to go into the fight with the same intent he found in round 10 against Ellis. That is not to say that a blitzkrieg coming out of round 1 is advisable, but he cannot allow the momentum to tip in his opponent’s favor, otherwise he risks falling into the style of fight that suits Young.
There might not be a more important NABO title defense than Rocha’s. It was thought that his team would petition for an interim WBO belt, but as it stands he is at least fighting to keep his place in line. The NABO is an unwitting ‘Money in the Bank’ briefcase that represents Rocha’s future world title hopes.
Crawford-Spence is expected to produce a sequel before the year ends, with a possible 3rd fight if wins are split, so Alexis Rocha will unfortunately have to navigate this situation until at least 2024.
But he’s doing the right thing, he’s taking over his narrative and creating his own path— something that may have served both Crawford and Spence over the past few years instead of chasing a Pacquiao fight that neither would end up getting.