Boxing's strong year continues on Saturday with a trans-Atlantic double-header. Two major titles will be at stake as firstly Lee Selby puts his IBF featherweight belt on the line against Josh Warrington in Leeds, England before we cross to Toronto, Canada for Adonis Stevenson's WBC light-heavyweight title defence against Badou Jack.
Both fights have interesting aspects to consider and their outcomes will shape what happens moving forward in both weight classes. Two champions will be defending their long held titles; one will enjoy boxing at home whereas the other faces a raucous reception on the road. Time for a closer look at both main events.
Selby vs. Warrington
Josh Warrington (26-0-0, 6KOs) will enjoy something relatively rare for a world title challenger – home advantage. The 27-year-old from Leeds, England will be roared on by a crowd in excess of 25,000 at Elland Road Stadium, the home of Leeds United Football Club. Warrington is hugely popular in his home city and past efforts selling out locations in the area have been rewarded with a world title opportunity in front of huge numbers of his supporters.
Lee Selby (26-1-0, 9KOs) has been the IBF featherweight title holder since May 2015 – he is an established and stylish champion. Hailing from Barry, Wales, Selby will be making the fifth defence of his crown. His style of boxing has seen him nicknamed “The Welsh Mayweather” by some observers and he may need to demonstrate some of Floyd's arrogance during the contest in the white hot pro-Warrington atmosphere.
It won't be for the faint of heart but, looking beyond the football chants and abuse that will be directed at the champion, the style clash between Warrington and Selby makes it an intriguing encounter. Warrington is a well known pressure fighter who likes to swarm all over his opponents. His high punch output and relentless come forward aggression has served him well in 26 outings so far, but can it work against a cultured boxer like Selby?
The Welshman has all the boxing fundamentals mastered and the prevailing opinion is that there is nothing Warrington can do to prevent the champion from running away with a wide decision victory on the scorecards.
I also subscribe to this point of view and expect Selby, after an initial onslaught from the hungry challenger, to compose himself and box masterfully en route to a unanimous decision. I will refer back to Warrington's home advantage as a word of warning though – if Selby lowers his counter punching output or if he can't discourage Warrington for constantly attacking him then the cheers of the crowd could influence the judges – we've seen it before in boxing.
The winner of this fight looks to be in line to face Carl Frampton in another stadium occasion. Windsor Park in Belfast has been booked for Frampton on August 18. With Oscar Valdez not expected back from injury until closer to the end of the year, Saturday's victor is expected to be Frampton's summer opponent. That alone is well worth fighting for, the title is an added bonus.
A few hours after business has concluded in Leeds our attention will divert to Air Canada Centre in Toronto for the 175lb showdown between Adonis Stevenson and Badou Jack.
Stevenson vs. Jack
Adonis Stevenson (29-1-0, 24KOs) is the WBC light-heavyweight champion and one of the hardest punchers operating in the sport today. His 2013 round one KO of Chad Dawson…
..regarded as something of an upset at the time, won him his piece of hardware. The knock against Stevenson from most boxing fans and commentators concerns his lack of activity and perceived avoidance of the other dangerous fighters in his division. Stevenson will have home court at Toronto's Air Canada Centre but due to the way he has orchestrated his campaign since winning his title it would come as no surprise to this observer if there are loud shouts of encouragement for Badou Jack from the locals.
Badou Jack (22-1-2, 13KOs) will be contesting his second fight at 175lbs after a successful campaign at super-middleweight. Jack, who was born in Sweden, is a fighter whose star has been on the rise for the last several years. Taking on all comers, his recent record stands up to scrutiny and, if he isn't already there then a win over Stevenson will surely see him included on most pound-for-pound top ten lists. As boxing fans most of us demand that fighters challenge themselves on a fight by fight basis. Jack ticks that box, Stevenson does not.
In saying that the now 40-year-old Stevenson remains a formidable opponent and is slightly favoured to beat Jack. The Canadian, by way of Haiti, has remained fresh by not fighting too often in the last 36 months. The last mandatory opponent he met was Tony Bellew in 2013 and he has paid step-aside money to long time mandatory challenger Eleider Alvarez on countless occasions. Another opponent who Stevenson has seemed reluctant to face is fellow long time belt holder in the division Sergey Kovalev. It has disappointed boxing fans that Stevenson and Kovalev never did tango but there is some irony in the fact that Kovalev and Alvarez have now signed to face one another on August 4. This time though Stevenson may have wasted his step aside money. Badou Jack represents a far tougher challenge than Dmitry Sukhotskiy, Tommy Karpency or a washed Andrzej Fonfara – the not so murderers row of names Stevenson gloved up against instead of taking on Alvarez or unifying against Kovalev.
Although Stevenson possesses game-changing power out of the southpaw stance, I can see his inactivity and lack of testing fights recently working against him. The younger, battle-hardened and still improving Jack…
…looks primed to capture this piece of the light-heavyweight pie. A defeat may convince Stevenson to move from his current status of part-time boxer to full-time retired boxer.
Provided Badou can withstand Stevenson's early power then he should put himself in a position to take advantage of Stevenson's predictable attacks and more ragged work as the contest progresses. Jack has dangerous power of his own and puts his shots together in a way that will make Stevenson pine for a weight-drained Tony Bellew in the opposite corner. Instead he will be facing a fighter growing into his optimum weight class who will definitely outwork him to leave with the title via a conclusive stoppage in the final quarter of the fight.
One champion will defend and another will be dethroned on a memorable night for boxing on both sides of the pond. The venues may be more traditionally associated with other sports, and otherwise never mentioned in the same sentence, but on Saturday Elland Road Stadium and Air Canada Centre will be linked by having the focus of the boxing world on them. Two quality boxing events are imminent, make sure you free up enough time to catch them both.
** Showtime will stream Selby vs. Warrington via their Facebook and Youtube channels. UK fans can catch it on BT Sport.
**Showtime is where to find Stevenson vs. Jack in America. Sky Sports will do the honours for the UK audience for that one.