By Rachel Aylett

Top Rank promotes its latest show this Saturday in Tucson, Arizona and headlines its card with two excellent championship fights. There is intrigue involved as both fights are rematches and, on paper at least, we look likely to get plenty of action. The card will be televised in the U.S. on ESPN and in the U.K. on BoxNation.

The all-Mexican battle which tops the card cannot help but be exciting. WBC super-featherweight champion Miguel Berchelt, 35-1 (31 kos), defends his belt for the fifth time against fellow countryman Francisco Vargas, 25-1-2 (18). Of course, this is a rematch of the fight in which Berchelt won the belt in January 2017. That was a fight of the year candidate and, indeed, both boxers have been involved in some of the most exciting fights in recent memory.

There was little to choose between them for much of their first battle, with fortunes fluctuating as both took furious turns at assaulting each other. For the most part it was the volume punching of Vargas against the less frequent but more damaging, harder punches of Berchelt. After eight rounds the fight was level on the cards and it seemed as though Vargas, the champion at the time, was the one coming on. However, he had sustained a lot of facial damage around the eyes and he rather fell apart under the constant jab of Berchelt which was closing both his eyes. In the end, the referee stepped between them in the eleventh with Vargas still punching back but looking a sorry sight, with both eyes nearly closed.

Challenger Vargas has only fought twice in the nearly two and a half years since the first fight, winning against Stephen Smith and Rod Salka, both inside the distance. In a way, this lack of action may have done him good as he had been involved in three brutal fights in a row prior to that. By way of contrast, during that period Berchelt has successfully defended his title on four occasions. Last time out he defeated another Mexican, Micky Roman, and gave him a savage beating before the referee stopped it in the ninth round after Roman had been down three times.

In fact, it may be that Berchelt is still improving. At 27 years of age he is somewhat of a monster in this weight class. Not only does he outfight his opponents, he is also very capable boxing on the back foot and has an outstanding left jab. In the last two years he has firmly established himself as a real force in the division, rivalled only by Gervonta Davis at the top. For Vargas, at 34, this would appear to be his final shot at championship glory again. His best was not good enough to beat Berchelt two years ago and Berchelt has improved a good deal since then. I would imagine Berchelt will repeat his stoppage victory of last time, perhaps a tad earlier though.

The second championship rematch is an immediate one at super-bantamweight, with Mexican Emanuel Navarrete, 26-1 (22 kos), defending his newly won belt against Isaac Dogboe of Ghana, 20-1 (14 kos). Navarrete caused a big upset when taking Dogboe’s belt in December and the little African is desperate to wreak revenge and regain the title.

Prior to being upset, Dogboe looked as though he might be the man to dominate the super-bantamweight division. His title-winning victory over Jessie Magdaleno was highly unexpected, particularly by the latter’s promoters Top Rank, who had big plans for Magdaleno. So impressive was Dogboe that night however that Top Rank added him to their team and he looked set for a long reign. He had a one-round blowout over a Japanese challenger, but then came the hiccup against Navarrete.

Reviewing their match in December, the first thing that must be pointed out is the size difference between the two. Navarette is massive for super-bantamweight, towering over the 5’2 Dogboe. Despite this, Navarrete did not use his height and reach advantage to win the fight, he went at Dogboe and threw punches, and then more and more punches. In fact, he was a non-stop punching machine that night. He had Dogboe hurt on at least three occasions and in the end Dogboe did well to last the distance. He finished the fight with his face badly swollen and eyes closing. Two of the scorecards read 116-112 and the other 115-113 for the Mexican. These were generous to Dogboe – my own card read 117-111, which was closer to reality.

In the post-fight interview, Dogboe admitted that he may have underestimated Navarrete and had not trained properly. He has subsequently apologised to his fans for his performance. It is really unforgivable in this sport to be so over-confident. There are so many hungry challengers around just waiting for the opportunity to nab their own piece of the pie. This is what happened in December. Dogboe promises that he will be at his very best in the rematch on Saturday night. He will certainly need to be.

The only time that Dogboe was able to get a small foothold in the first fight was in rounds seven and eight when he at last managed to raise some offence and push Navarrete onto the back foot. Navarrete looked distinctly uncomfortable when being pushed back and this has to be the ploy for Dogboe in the rematch. Of course, his strength to date has been his vaunted body attack and if he can get this going hard and early he may be able to discourage the new champion.

Navarrette is still somewhat of an unknown at this level. Was the first fight just an anomaly? Was it down to Dogboe’s complacency and did Navarrete perhaps have one of those nights where everything went right? Here lies the intrigue of this fight. Dogboe is taking a big risk in having an immediate rematch. Were he to lose again, his credibility at top level would be shot. I believe he can win this fight. I also believe his attitude in contriving to lose the belt in the first place, and the difficulty of turning around such a comprehensive defeat so soon afterwards, means Navarrete will get the better of him again, perhaps via close decision.

Look out for Fazliddin Gaibnazarov in supporting action against Mykal Fox. I have already named the Uzbek Olympic gold medallist as my prospect of the week in a previous piece. He will surely defeat Fox but it is important that he looks good in doing so. Colombian featherweight Miguel Marriaga also gets a run-out. The former three time world title challenger looked as good as ever last time out in November and, in fellow Colombian Ruben Cervera, has little to beat on Saturday night.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s