British promoter Eddie Hearn announced the first three fights for a massive UK show at London’s O2 Arena on Sky Sports News HQ this Thursday and didn’t disappoint in naming his mouth-watering treble.
Two world title fights have already been secured as Kevin Mitchell and Lee Selby step up for their defining nights as they face stellar champions Jorge Linares and Evgeny Gradovich for the WBC lightweight and IBF featherweight titles respectively.
Add to the another step-up for all-conquering heavyweight Anthony Joshua into the mix, and tongues are already wagging as to which other bouts will grace the bill, which will take place almost a year to the day from the immense Wembley rematch between domestic rivals Carl Froch and George Groves.
A mass of 80,000 fans packed into to England’s national stadium for the biggest boxing event witnessed in the British Isles as Froch stopped Groves for a second time to cement his place as the most accomplished fighter from his shores.
Although Matchroom are unable to recreate such a one-off event as Froch v Groves 2, Hearn is obviously going out of his way to give his charges maximum exposure and clearly wants them to be tested against the best champions out there.
Londoner Mitchell seems to have the toughest job on paper against battle-hardened Venezuelan Jorge Linares after earning his chance with five straight knockouts against some of the better fringe contenders at 130lbs. Memories of the loss to Michael Katsidis at his beloved Upton Park five years ago will surely flood back to Mitchell when he makes his ring entrance in another capital city world title clash and his task isn’t made much easier against the tough Linares.
The 29 year-old Japan-based title holder had already been a recognised champion at featherweight and super featherweight before his name went fully up in lights in defeat against Antonio DeMarco back in 2011. Linares and DeMarco engaged in a bloody war at the Staples Center on the Chad Dawson v Bernard Hopkins undercard for the then vacant green belt ‘El Nino’ de Oro’ (The Golden Boy/Child) now possesses.
With Linares way out in front through the first six rounds, a facial injury began to worsen in the later rounds until the fight was eventually stopped in the eleventh round by experienced referee Raul Caiz Sr. Although some complaints were made at the time, Linares looked to be in a shocking state at the end and took a long time to recover from the defeat despite being ahead by wide margins on all three of the judges’ scorecards.
Coming back from that, some might say a little too soon against Sergio Thompson five months later, Linares was apparently being eased back against a super featherweight he could handle, but was duly knocked out in two rounds as the mental scars of the DeMarco loss re-opened.
Since then, and after taking a good seven-month break from boxing, Linares has gone on to record a standout seven-fight winning streak and looks in perfect shape to wow the London crowds in what looks on paper to be a barnstormer with Mitchell.
At featherweight, Russian Evgeny Gradovich also makes his British debut as he faces mandatory Welshman Lee Selby in his fourth defence of the title. Hearn fought tooth and nail to gain the slick Selby home advantage for the contest and it’s now up to ‘The Welsh Mayweather’ to follow through and become what his promoter believes he can.
Selby could be getting Gradovich at the right time on the back of the champion’s draw with Jayson Velez in November, although ‘El Ruso Mexicano’ has all the pedigree to make the night an awkward one for the under-rated challenger.
Moving up to heavyweight and Olympic gold medallist Anthony Joshua will no doubt be an overwhelming favourite to overcome American journeyman Kevin Johnson, although that wasn’t in question when Hearn put the bout together, in my mind. The real test is to see if Joshua can keep up his 100% KO record through 10 outings and stop Johnson, something a seasoned Vitali Klitschko, and up and comers Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora failed to do in twelve round victories over the ‘Kingpin’ in the last six years.
So far, it all makes for an entertaining evening, which is potentially heading to Sky Sports Box Office in just over two months’ time, and Hearn may well have a couple more rabbits to pull of his hat before Matchroom’s biggest card of the year so far is completely finalised.