Sherdog’s Weekend Boxing Preview

By James Kinneen Aug 16, 2019
WHAT: Emanuel Navarrete vs. Francisco De Vaca, Junior Featherweights
WHEN: Aug. 17
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: To see if Navarrete’s first time in the spotlight as a heavy favorite results in his stumbling against someone he should easily roll past.

Navarrete is the WBO super bantamweight champion and will be defending his belt for the second time on ESPN. However, this is the first time he will do so as a heavy favorite and the unquestionable star of the show. Navarrete fought Isaac Dogboe and took the title away from the Ghanan-Englishmen with a legitimate royal background and huge star potential. ESPN preferred having Dogboe be its star and booked an immediate rematch. The second fight played out virtually the same as the first, and Navarrete retained his title. Navarrete was then placed in the co-main event spot, with Jose Benavidez-Luis Collazo taking top billing. Benavidez got hurt, so Navarrete is now the biggest name on the marquee.

Forced to admit Navarrete is the fighter in which it should have invested, ESPN is now airing the 24-year-old Mexican’s second title defense against De Vaca as its main event. Make no mistake, this fight is supposed to be a showcase for Navarrete. While undefeated at 20-0, De Vaca has only stopped six of his not-especially-notable opponents and will face an almost seven-inch reach disadvantage going into the fight. Not surprisingly, he is a huge underdog, though the fact that Top Rank did not bother to fill out a biography for him on its website may speak more to the unlikely nature of an upset than Las Vegas oddsmakers can.

Still, Navarrete has never been the star of the show, so while this is supposed to be his coming-out party, we are also going to see how he deals with the unique pressure that brings with it. Will Navarrete trip up with the spotlight completely on him?

* * *

WHAT: Jessie Magdaleno vs. Rafael Rivera, Featherweights
WHEN: Aug. 17
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: To see if Rivera can do more than earn respect against a former world champion looking to work his way back to the belt.

Why did everyone think Isaac Dogboe was such a surefire superstar? It was in large part because he knocked out Magdaleno in the 11th round of a fight he was dominating. Magdaleno had been hailed as one of boxing’s hottest prospects -- ESPN listed him alongside fighters like Errol Spence and Deontay Wilder as “Prospects of the Year” in 2014 -- and held the WBO super bantamweight championship after beating Nonito Donaire, so all was going according to plan -- until the Dogboe loss. Since that stoppage, Magdaleno bounced back with a decision win over Rico Ramos.

Now, he faces Rivera, a veteran who has been in the ring with guys like Leo Santa Cruz, Joseph Diaz and Joet Gonzalez; and in each of those fights, he earned respect. Yes, Rivera went 0-3 against the three elite fighters he has faced as a professional but gave a good account of himself in all three decision losses. However, at some point, Rivera wants to beat a world-class fighter.

Will Magdaleno prove he is too slick a southpaw for Rivera and right his promising career again, or will Rivera prove he is good enough to take on an elite fighter and win something more than respect.

* * *

WHAT: Charles Foster vs. Denis Grachev, Light Heavyweights
WHEN: Aug. 17
HOW TO WATCH: UFC Fight Pass, 3 p.m. ET
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Because while Grachev has faced much better competition, Foster fights for the memory of his longtime friend.

Why would a fighter in the same division as monster punchers like Anthony Yarde and Sergey Kovalev, who has only knocked out half of his 18 opponents -- his resume comprised of mostly limited New England competition -- wear shorts with the statement “the KO King Lives” on them? Foster is not the “KO King” and never will be, but he and a few other boxers from the same stable wear the message on their shots so people will remember the late Luis Rosa, aka the true “KO King.”

Foster and Rosa were friends -- until the latter died in a 2018 car crash. Because boxing was Rosa’s life and his family’s passion, Foster wanted to make sure his friend would never be forgotten. Thus, the trunks. He next meets Grachev, a 16-7 fighter who has faced fighters like Lucian Bute, Isaac Chilemba and Edwin Rodriguez. That represents far better competition than Foster has met, though Grachev has not beaten an opponent with a better than .500 record in over two years.

Foster is fighting for his friend’s memory as much as for himself. Will that be enough to propel him to victory against an opponent who has seen what elite fighters look like inside the ring.

* * *

WHAT: Niall Kennedy vs. Devin Vargas, Heavyweights
WHEN: Aug. 17
HOW TO WATCH: UFC Fight Pass, 3 p.m. ET
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: To see if Vargas can live up to his onetime Olympic potential against a guy who admits he is not even the best boxer from his housing development.

Kennedy does not think he is the best boxer from Ireland. He does not think he is the best boxer from his hometown. He does not even think he is the best boxer from his housing estate. In large part, he attributes this to being lazy with his career and it not “clicking” until recently. Yet, he is 13-0 with eight knockouts and looking to make a statement against Vargas.

Vargas knows what it feels like to fight the best. He was knocked out by Andy Ruiz in one of the five stoppage losses in his 25-fight career. Vargas also represented the United States at the 2004 Summer Olympics. Still, anytime he has faced somebody good, his suspect chin has failed him and resulted in his getting knocked out. Kevin Johnson, Dominic Breazale, Andrzej Wawrzyk and Jason Bergman all stopped him, and the 37-year-old now works at a Jeep factory in Toledo, Ohio.

Vargas used to be considered something special. Now, he is just another guy. Kennedy was always just another guy, but now he thinks he could become something special. Will Vargas show that, while he failed to live up to his potential, he is still too good to lose to a guy like Kennedy? Or will Kennedy prove he is better than even he realizes?


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