BOXING

Wilder, Cotto and Broner Headline in February

For Deontay Wilder, Miguel Cotto and Adrien Broner, this February will be a month in which they try to start this new year off better than last year turned out to be for them.

Wilder had the biggest fight of his career called off and soon spent the remainder of 2016 sidelined by injury. Cotto didn’t fight at all. Broner dropped his world title on the scales, then dealt with legal trouble and an apparent bout of depression.

They are the biggest names fighting in February. They are not the only ones. We also will see a good mix of titleholders and contenders — and, for the morbidly curious, Roy Jones Jr. will fight once again.

Here are some of the highlights:

Feb. 18 — Broner Seeks to Steady Himself Yet Again

On the surface, Adrien Broner is highly accomplished. He’s won world titles in four weight classes, after all — 130, 135, 147 and, most recently, 140 — and earned millions of dollars along the way.

Examine deeper and you’ll recognize that his most notable wins were over Paulie Malignaggi, never a top welterweight, and Antonio DeMarco, arguably one of the better lightweights in what was otherwise a shallow division at the time. Broner’s come up short both times he’s fought at something closer to the top level, dropping decisions to Marcos Maidana and Shawn Porter.

He still has a lot to prove. Part of that is because Broner has been his own worst enemy, someone who appears to have talent and gifts in the ring but who struggles when it comes to his discipline and behavior outside of it. He’s had problems with weight and trouble with the law.

Last year, Broner came in overweight for his first title defense at junior welterweight, refusing to try to drop the final half a pound for a fight with Ashley Theophane last April. Broner dispatched his overmatched opponent and then said he was going to need to move back up to 147.

He didn’t fight again — there was a court case over a robbery charge, since dropped, followed by posts on social media that had Broner’s fans and friends worried about his mental health. He’ll be staying at 140 for a bout with Adrian Granados in what will be Broner’s first appearance in 10 months.

Broner (32-2, 24 KOs) is physically superior, but he’ll still need to be mentally there in order to fend off what will likely be a determined challenge from Granados.

Granados (18-4-2, 12 KOs) suffered a few of those losses to recognizable prospects: Frankie Gomez, Felix Diaz and Brad Solomon. All were close on the scorecards, majority and split decisions. Granados continued to improve, and in late 2015 he shocked a rising junior-welterweight name, battering Amir Imam en route to an eighth-round technical knockout.

“Granados is no pushover,” Broner said. “He’s not an opponent that anybody can just pick up a win. I knew Adrian Granados will bring the best out of Adrien Broner.”

 

Feb. 25 — Wilder Seeks Breakout Year After Tough Breaks

Deontay Wilder wanted 2016 to be the year he hushed his doubters. He was willing to go a long way to do that — all the way to Russia to take on his mandatory challenger and toughest opponent to date, Alexander Povetkin.

But that fight never happened. Povetkin tested positive for a banned substance. The fight was called off. Wilder instead stayed busy by defending his world title against Chris Arreola. As expected, he beat Arreola up en route to an eighth-round stoppage. Unfortunately, he broke his hand badly and tore his bicep. That was last July. The rest of the year was dedicated to surgeries and then to recovery.

Wilder’s first fight back is merely meant to help him shake the rust off. Unfortunately, intended foe Andrzej Wawrzyk has reportedly tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Wilder’s team was working to find a replacement opponent.

The heavyweight division has kept moving in his absence. Lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury vacated his world titles while struggling with mental issues and drug use. Anthony Joshua will face former champ Wladimir Klitschko in April for a fight with two belts on the line.

Wilder (37-0, 36 KOs) will want the winner. His first fight or two this year will have to serve as a reminder to the rest of the heavyweight division that there’s another big man they need to go through in order to prove that they’re the best. Similarly, Wilder will need to beat at least one of them in order to say the same thing about himself.

 

Feb. 25 — Miguel Cotto Begins His Goodbye With Kirkland Fight

It’s confounding that Miguel Cotto vs. James Kirkland is being broadcast on pay-per-view. But Cotto’s team believes that his fans are willing to shell out in order to see him again, especially as they may not be able to see him for much longer.

Cotto turned pro 16 years ago following a run in the 2000 Olympics. He’s accomplished plenty in the time since, winning world titles at 140, 147 and 154 and becoming the lineal champion at 160 with his drubbing of middleweight champ Sergio Martinez in 2014. Cotto (40-5, 33 KOs) lost that championship to Canelo Alvarez in November 2015 and hasn’t fought since.

“I rested a lot. I healed. And now I am ready to fight,” Cotto said.

He’s returning, but says that he’ll also soon be retiring.

Kirkland (32-2, 28 KOs) also hasn’t been in the ring in seemingly forever. He, too, was last seen against Canelo, getting taken out in three rounds back in May 2015. It’s not the most compelling match on paper, never mind on pay-per-view, though at least the styles of both men mean that the fight could be entertaining while it lasts.

After this, Cotto still wants a rematch with Canelo.

“I’m here for the best fights and the best fighters out there, so if Canelo Alvarez wants to fight, to clear what happened November 2015, they know where to find me,” Cotto said. “It was close. We orchestrated the plan in a perfect way and we believe that we were the winners of the fight.”

 

Also in February:

– Feb. 10: A doubleheader features Robert Easter Jr. and Rau’shee Warren making defenses of their world titles. Easter (18-0, 14 KOs) won his belt at 135 pounds last year in a close, enjoyable scrap with Richard Commey. He faces Luis Cruz, who is 22-4-1 (16 KOs) and whose four defeats have come in his last eight fights. Warren (14-1, 4 KOs) is a three-time Olympian who won a world title at 118 pounds last year with a close decision over Juan Carlos Payano. He faces Zhanat Zhakiyanov (26-1, 18 KOs), a contender who has won 21 straight since suffering his lone loss early in his career.

 

– Feb. 17: Roy Jones’ best years are long behind him. But he keeps fighting on, even as the years fly by (he’s now 48 years old), even as the losses mount, and even as those losses come against lesser foes, like his sad knockout loss to Enzo Maccarinelli at the end of 2015. He’s now 64-9 with 46 KOs. This fight isn’t so bad, at least. It comes against cruiserweight Bobby Gunn, a limited former bare-knuckle boxer who also fought under the Queensberry Rules, getting taken out in one round by Maccarinelli a decade ago, and losing to Tomasz Adamek and old versions of James Toney and Glen Johnson. Gunn is 43 years old and is 21-6-1 (18 KOs). This, too, is on pay-per-view for some reason.

 

– Feb 18: The undercard to Broner-Granados features two fights of significance. Welterweight contender David Avanesyan will face Lamont Peterson, and light heavyweight prospect Marcus Browne will meet Thomas Williams Jr. Avanesyan (22-1-1, 11 KOs) is coming off a decision over the ancient Shane Mosley, while Peterson (34-3-1, 17 KOs) was last seen taking a controversial decision over Felix Diaz back in late 2015. Browne (18-0, 13 KOs) won an even more controversial one, somehow getting the nod in a split decision over Radivoje Kalajdzic last April. He’s in for a tough test in Williams, a brawler who knocked out Edwin Rodriguez and then was knocked out by 175-pound champ Adonis Stevenson last year, both of which were entertaining wars.

 

– Feb. 24: Speaking of Stevenson, his mandatory challenger will be the winner of a fight between Eleider Alvarez and Lucian Bute. Alvarez (21-0, 10 KOs) has been in position since his 2015 victory over Isaac Chilemba and has been staying busy since. Bute (32-3-1, 25 KOs) is coming off a loss to super middleweight titleholder James DeGale, a disputed draw with now-former 168-pound titleholder Badou Jack, and a positive drug test following the fight with Jack.

 

– Feb 25: Longtime 122-pound champ Guillermo Rigondeaux has been largely unseen and unheard since his 2013 victories over Nonito Donaire and Joseph Agbeko, thanks to a reputation of not being friendly on the eyes. He’s fought, but not in the highest-profile of settings given someone with his skills. Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KOs) will fight on the Cotto-Kirkland undercard against Moises Flores (25-0, 17 KOs), a contender with victories over Oscar Escandon and Paulus Ambunda.

 

– Feb. 25: The undercard to Wilder’s heavyweight title fight, meanwhile, will feature rising 154-pound prospect Jarrett Hurd against once-beaten Tony Harrison. Hurd (19-0, 13 KOs) has shown the goods so far in his development, taking out Frank Galarza, Oscar Molina and Jo Jo Dan in his past three fights. Harrison (24-1, 20 KOs) was once in Hurd’s position himself — until he was stopped in nine rounds by Willie Nelson back in 2015. Harrison has won three straight since and needs this one to get fully back on track.

David Greisman
About the Author:

David Greisman.

David Greisman is an award-winning boxing writer based out of Washington, D.C., who has covered the sport since 2004. He is the senior staff writer and “Fighting Words” columnist for BoxingScene.com and a reporter for The Ring magazine. Greisman is the author of the book “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing.”
Follow on Twitter @fightingwords2

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