Sports

Can Gennadiy Golovkin KO Ryota Murata? Will Mikaela Mayer pass her toughest test?

The weekend brings four major main events and some entertaining undercard bouts from California to Texas to Japan.

Middleweight champion Gennadiy Golovkin faces fellow champion Ryota Murata in a highly anticipated fight in Saitama, Japan. A GGG victory will put him in position to face Canelo Alvarez in a trilogy fight, this time at super middleweight, if Alvarez defeats light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol on May 7.

While it looks that Golovkin is the favorite to defeat Murata, both fighters are coming off long layoffs and anything could happen.

Junior lightweight unified champion Mikaela Mayer headlines a Top Rank on ESPN card in Costa Mesa, California, against former featherweight champion Jennifer Han. Mayer, who’s been building her résumé with impressive wins, can’t afford a slip if she wants to accomplish greater success.

The fight that may be flying under the radar is a non-title fight between young junior middleweight contenders Erickson Lubin and Sebastian Fundora. The winner could open the door toa bout for the undisputed championship next. Given the stage of both fighter’s careers, the loser may be able to secure a very big fight as well.

Mike Coppinger, Michael Rothstein, Nick Parkinson and Ben Baby answer these questions and more.


Is the Gennadiy Golovkin-Ryota Murata fight going to be a lot closer than many expect?

Coppinger: If Golovkin, who turns 40 on April 8, is anywhere approaching his peak, he should make easy work of Murata. Golovkin was one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world during his impressive run as middleweight champion, and there’s an argument he won more rounds than Canelo Alvarez during their two fights.

But when you add up a few factors, there’s legitimate reason to doubt which Golovkin will show up in Japan. Besides his age, Golovkin was lucky to come away with the win against Sergiy Derevyanchenko and didn’t look great in a TKO win over Kamil Szeremeta in his most recent fight in December 2020. GGG also will be ending a 16-month layoff.

However, GGG was sick all fight week leading into the Derevyanchenko bout and likely wasn’t motivated by a fight against a fringe contender like Szeremeta. With a third fight with Alvarez on the line, Golovkin will be at his best, and I believe he scores the knockout of Murata in a lopsided bout.

Murata is an Olympic gold medalist and middleweight titleholder, but he’s tailor-made for Golovkin. Murata isn’t fleet of foot and will surely stand and trade with GGG. He’s a power-puncher whose best win is a KO of Rob Brant in a rematch, but Golovkin owns one of the best chins in the sport. He’s never been knocked down in 393 fights, including 43 pro bouts and another 350 as an amateur, en route to an Olympic silver medal.

Murata just turned 36 and his ring inactivity is bigger than Golovkin’s: He hasn’t competed since December 2019. Add it all up and Golovkin makes sense as a nearly 6-1 favorite.


What are the stakes in Mikaela Mayer’s next fight?

Rothstein: On some levels, it’s pretty simple. There is the fact that in boxing, whenever you step into a ring there’s a chance you will lose. One punch — as we’ve seen over and over — can change careers. And when Mayer steps in the ring to defend her WBO and IBF junior lightweight titles, she will have an opponent in Jennifer Han, who is on the back end of her career but one who still presents a challenge as a former IBF featherweight champion.

Beyond just putting her titles on the line, there’s also the reality of what is in the future for Mayer — whether it is continuing to unify the junior lightweight division against either WBC titleholder Alycia Baumgardner or WBA champion Hyun Mi Choi, or moving up to lightweight to face undisputed champion Katie Taylor, or perhaps even a fight (that could happen at multiple divisions) with Amanda Serrano, depending what happens in the April 30 Serrano-Taylor megafight.

The best way for Mayer to keep building her own brand is to keep taking challenging fights — for instance, Han’s last fight was a unanimous decision loss to Taylor — and winning. So the stakes remain the same for Mayer, especially in a main event. Following her dominant decision win over Maiva Hamadouche with another impressive showing against Han will help grow her potential. If she doesn’t win, that could hurt, especially considering how her popularity has grown overseas.


Is this a career-defining fight for Erickson Lubin and Sebastian Fundora?

Rothstein: Career-defining might be a bit overstated since Erickson Lubin is 26 years old and Sebastian Fundora is just 24 years old. So they are barely scratching the start of their primes and should have years — if not a decade — of potential career-changing fights ahead of them. If anything, depending on how the fight unfolds it could be the start of a great junior middleweight rivalry.

For the winner, it could mean a title shot next against the winner of Jermell Charlo-Brian Castano rematch for the undisputed championship. That should be the immediate aftermath of the fight between two of ESPN’s top 5 fighters in the division — Lubin is rated third in the division by ESPN; Fundora fifth. For the loser, depending on what occurs during the fight, it could be a longer wait to get a real shot, although perhaps he could face the Charlo-Castano loser in a get-back fight. It could make for interesting times in the division.

But for this to be that big of a defining fight, there would have to be a devastating, career-altering knockout or something else incredibly memorable to happen.


What’s the best fight on the undercards of April 9?

Coppinger: The four shows on April 9 leave much to be desired when you consider the chief-support bouts, but there is one intriguing bout that stands above the rest: the 154-pound bout between Tony Harrison and Sergio Garcia.

It amounts to a crossroads matchup between two boxers trying to remain relevant in the top-heavy yet deep junior middleweight division.

Harrison won the unified championship with a controversial decision over Jermell Charlo in December 2018 but hasn’t won since. The 31-year-old was ahead on one scorecard in the rematch when Charlo scored an 11th-round KO victory. Following a 16-month layoff, Harrison returned in April 2021 and was shockingly held to a draw against fringe-contender Bryant Perrella.

Garcia, 29, fought exclusively in Spain before he made his U.S. debut against top contender Sebastian Fundora in December. Garcia gave a good account of himself and had successful moments early in the fight against the 6-foot-5½ Fundora but dropped a unanimous decision.

The winner of the PBC on Showtime bout could position himself for a future title shot while the loser will drop out of contention.


Can Probellum emerge as a serious player on the boxing promotional landscape in 2022?

Parkinson: Richard Schaefer, president of Probellum, believes the new promotional outfit is poised to make some big steps towards becoming a major power in global boxing.

Probellum was only established in September 2021 but is moving fast as it signs boxers and secures TV deals around the world. Schaefer, who for years steered the ship at Golden Boy Promotions as its CEO, is now at the helm for Probellum which recently announced a multi-fight broadcast agreement with Discovery Sports for Europe. Discovery will show the April 22 world bantamweight title fight between WBO champion John Riel Casimero, of the Philippines, and Paul Butler, of England.

Schaefer told ESPN recently that Probellum is close to securing a television deal for the United States and expanding its stable of fighters which already includes former junior welterweight world champion Regis Prograis, WBC bantamweight world champion Nonito Donaire and Sunny Edwards, the reigning IBF flyweight world champion.

“The U.S. and U.K. markets are the most important markets in boxing but other markets are also important and we have so far been focused on partnerships and TV deals there,” he said. “We anticipate in the next two to three months we will announce who our TV partners in the U.S. will be.

“I put together the best stable of fighters of all time at Golden Boy and that’s what we can do here. Regis Prograis is a top ten pound-for-pound fighter, Jack Catterall is another world class fighter and so is Nonito Donaire. Estelle Mossely is the last woman to have beaten Katie Taylor, so we want her to fight the winner of Taylor-Amanda Serrano. Pat and Luke McCormack were the most sought-after young fighters in the world before we signed them and we are really looking forward to working with them.”

Schaefer is boldly predicting that Probellum will soon be rivaling Top Rank and Matchroom — two of boxing’s biggest promoters — in making the biggest fights. Schaefer would not confirm who else Probellum is speaking to, but said the company hopes to announce major signings in the forthcoming months.

“This will be the greatest boxing company that ever existed because I see all the fighters that want to come and work with us,” Schaefer told ESPN. “We are talking to a lot of different fighters, current world champions and former world champions, any fighter that is a free agent that relates to our strategy.”

Schaefer noted that he wants Prograis to fight for a world title next, whether that’s a rematch with Josh Taylor or even a fight against Catterall or Ramirez which may be for a vacant title.

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