World junior lightweight titleholder Jamel Herring, lightweight titlist Devin Haney and super middleweight beltholder Billy Joe Saunders all retained their belts in their first title defenses on Saturday night. Herring was in the best of the three fights, Haney won in the most dominant fashion and Saunders struggled before a late knockout win. After their bouts, they looked ahead to future fights, calling out fellow titleholders to step up. So, how did they look in their defenses and how would they do in the bouts they’re asking for? I am here to tell you.
Herring and mandatory challenger Lamont Roach Jr. put on a good show — at least during the second half of the fight because it took so long for Roach to find any rhythm — in the ESPN+ main event at Chukchansi Park in Fresno, Calif. Herring (21-2, 10 KOs), 34, a 2012 U.S. Olympian from Coram, New York, won by scores of 117-111, 117-111 and 115-113.
They fought outdoors at a minor league baseball stadium, offering up quite a unique scene. Those who turned out, or tuned in, saw Herring, a Marine veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq fighting on Veterans Day weekend and the Marine Corps birthday weekend, make an epic ring entrance as he rode in a Humvee with 265 Marines walking in front of him.
Herring wants a big fight or unification next. He mentioned unifications with either Miguel Berchelt or Andrew Cancio or a showdown with Carl Frampton.
Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, who promotes Herring, Berchelt and Frampton, told ESPN he will try to accommodate Herring.
“Berchelt is certainly available and we also have Frampton, so that’s another big fight,” Arum said. “Cancio, that’s no problem. We made [Herring-Roach] with Golden Boy and we can make a deal with them for Cancio as well. I want to get [Herring] a big fight. He’s such a lovely kid and a real pleasure to work with. So those are all big fights. Hopefully, well be able to do something in the first quarter of next year.”
How would the fights play out?
Berchelt: Mexico’s Berchelt (37-1, 33 KOs) is the class of the 130-pound division. He’s defended his belt six times, including a dominating fourth-round knockout of Jason Sosa on Nov. 2. All respect to Herring, who surprised many by getting this far and has performed well since losses in 2016 and 2017, but Berchelt, who has faced solid opposition, is rough, physical and can crack. I’d have to pick Berchelt, but Herring has been an underdog his entire career and look what he’s done.
Cancio: Cancio (21-4-2, 16 KOs) has been an underdog just like Herring throughout his career. But he pulled two knockout upsets of Alberto Machado to win a title in February and then retain it in the June rematch. Cancio defends against mandatory challenger Rene Alvarado on Nov. 23 and if he wins and Top Rank is serious about approaching Golden Boy for the fight, it would be a good one. They’re evenly matched I view it is a toss-up fight.
Frampton: Frampton (26-2, 15 KOs) has won titles at featherweight and junior featherweight and faces Herring’s pal Tyler McCreary on Nov. 30 in Frampton’s junior lightweight debut. It remains to be seen what Frampton, who is in the twilight of an excellent career, will look like at the new weight, but from what I’ve seen in recent fights, I’d probably make Herring a slight favorite.
Las Vegas’ Haney (24-0, 15 KOs), boxing’s youngest titleholder at age 20, retained his lightweight belt for the first time in a shutout of Alfredo Santiago (12-1, 4 KOs), 25, of the Dominican Republic, in the co-feature of the KSI-Logan Paul bout.
Monday through Friday, host Mina Kimes brings you an inside look at the most interesting stories at ESPN, as told by the top reporters and insiders on the planet. Listen
Although Haney dropped Santiago in the fifth round and won 120-107 on all three scorecards, it was not the kind of dazzling performance Haney had hoped for in front of so many new fans who are not accustomed to watching boxing but tuned in because of the unusual main event. Haney said he dislocated his right shoulder in the fight, which would certainly be a reason he didn’t look great, and he should get credit for persevering through it.
I’m a big Haney fan and I think he will someday be a pound-for-pound level fighter. But bum shoulder or not, he’s not there yet. He has a title but it was gifted to him when the WBC made Vasiliy Lomachenko a nonsensical “franchise champion” and elevated Haney from his interim titleholder status. It’s unfortunate that Haney got his title by email rather than in the ring with a real win.
Haney has been calling out Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs), No. 1 pound-for-pound in the ESPN poll, and he and his team have absurdly claimed Lomachenko is ducking him. Haney also mentioned the prospect of a showdown with 21-year-old up-and-comer Ryan Garcia (19-0, 16 KOs), who was ringside working on the DAZN broadcast.
How would the fights play out?
Lomachenko: After seeing Haney against Santiago, one astute boxing lifer opined to me that Haney was “nowhere close to being ready for Lomachenko.” I agree 100 percent. He will be someday, but just not yet. Right now, Lomachenko would take the young man to school. Haney is a tremendous talent and I can appreciate his confidence, but he needs a bit more experience against better opponents before the name Lomachenko should ever come out of his mouth.
Garcia: Asked about the prospect of a Garcia fight after the win, Haney said, “I think that’s a big fight. Boxing fans would love to see that fight. Hope we can make it happen in 2020 or 2021. I’m ready to make that sooner rather than later.” This would be a terrific fight between two of the best young fighters in boxing. I will be surprised if it happens next year, but count me as somebody very interested in seeing it. Garcia probably still needs a little more experience to be ready for that kind of fight — and, frankly, from the business side of things, it does need some time to grow — but it could be a blockbuster someday and a good one. If it happens in 2020, I’d have to heavily favor Haney. Further down the road, it could be a more even fight.
Billy Joe Saunders
Saunders (29-0, 14 KOs), 30, a southpaw from England, looked awful in what was supposed to be a showcase fight in his United States debut and first fight since signing with Hearn.
Saunders, a former middleweight titlist, won a vacant super middleweight belt by dreary decision over the unknown Shefat Isufi in May. His 11th-round stoppage of Marcelo Coceres (28-1-1, 15 KOs), 28, of Argentina, in his first defense on Saturday night was even more lackluster until the knockout at 1 minute, 59 seconds.
On the big stage of the KSI-Paul undercard, Saunders likely did not make a single new fan and probably turned off some he already had with a sleep-inducing performance against an unknown opponent until he dropped him three times in the 11th round. Saunders had hoped to make the case that he was worthy of a big fight against the likes of Canelo Alvarez or even Daniel Jacobs, who is scheduled to debut in the division against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on Dec. 20.
Saunders at least was honest in his assessment of the miserable performance.
“There’s no excuses. The performance was not worthy Canelo or Jacobs, but I came here five days before. I knew in my head I had to get him out of here,” he said. “My timing was off my, movement was off, everything was off. I wanted to impress the crowd. Hopefully you enjoyed the KO. I had a chest [cold] and cough, but no excuses.
“Canelo if you want to become four-weight champion, take me now because this is the time to make it happen. I want Canelo. I respect you; you’ve done big things for the sport.”
How would a fight against Canelo play out?
Alvarez has already won belts in four divisions if you count the secondary title he holds at super middleweight, but Saunders is certainly a bigger name than Rocky Fielding, whom Alvarez knocked out to win it. At this point, many (myself included) regard Alvarez as the pound-for-pound No. 1. There is no reason to give Saunders much of a shot against Alvarez, who has dealt with a variety of styles in his career, including southpaws. Alvarez is the class of boxing. Saunders is a good fighter. Alvarez would be a huge favorite and would beat Saunders rather handily.