Boxing is back: Three takeaways and highlights from the sport’s return in Las Vegas

After months with the sport all but completely on pause because of the global coronavirus pandemic, boxing returned in Las Vegas this week with a pair of events promoted by Top Rank. The two cards featured everything boxing is known for, good and bad. There were mismatches, drama-filled wars, big knockouts and some foul-fueled chaos.

The look and feel of the shows was different with fans not in attendance due to the COVID-19 protocols. Those same protocols derailed Tuesday night’s co-feature when Mikaela Mayer tested positive and was forced off the card — she later claimed this was the result of a “false positive.” But fans were treated to this look at the “new normal,” and we’ve identified three main takeaways from the two nights of action.

Matchmaking is everything

Coming into the week, there weren’t many fights on the schedule that promised competitive action. Shakur Stevenson was a gigantic favorite against Felix Caraballo in the Tuesday night main event and things played out as expected, with the only real drama Stevenson seeming to hurt his hand en route to a sixth-round TKO. The rest of the card wasn’t much better and seemed to make very little case for boxing to be “back.” But Thursday brought more interesting action. Specifically, the co-feature bout between Adam Lopez and Louie Coria. The two opened the Thursday broadcast with a thriller that may — in large part due to months without boxing — be the leading contender for Fight of the Year.

On paper, Lopez vs. Coria was already the best fight of the week and it played out accordingly. In addition, there was a small treat tucked away on Thursday’s undercard with undefeated prospects Eric Mondragon and Mike Sanchez battling to a draw in a four rounder. Both men were dropped in the first round but gutted their way through three more competitive rounds. It’s a simple recipe: evenly matched opponents make compelling fights, mismatches make for bad TV.

Boxing produces unique levels of weird

For all the good on Thursday’s card, the main event between Jessie Magdaleno and Yenifel Vicente read like another mismatch. Vicente has power, but he has failed in prior step-up fights. What looked like a blowout on paper turned into a showcase of boxing’s unique ability to deliver bizarre spectacles.

Vicente knew he was outmatched early, getting dropped in the opening round of the fight. His response was to adjust his gameplan to an attack of near-constant fouls. Vicente landed a brutal low blow in Round 4, and with referee Robert Byrd slow to break the action as Magdaleno reacted to the foul, Vicente landed a crushing right hand that seemed to knock Magdaleno out. Magdaleno eventually got to his feet and was allowed to fight on with Vicente docked two points. Vicente responded with another low blow moments later for a third point deduction in the round. Vicente was dropped again in the fifth round and continued to go low, with Byrd allowing the action to continue until the final round when Vicente was docked another point, went low again and was finally disqualified. It all fit in perfectly with boxing’s history of weird fights, something no other sport does as spectacularly.

No harm done

Stevenson and Magdaleno were in the featured spots on the card because Top Rank has big plans for both. Magdaleno is looking for an opportunity to win another world title after moving up in weight. His win over Vicente was weird, and not how you’d draw it up, but it was a win. And scoring multiple knockdowns against a fighter who had never been stopped was a good look. Had he not been dealing with a constant barrage of low blows, he may have even scored the knockout.

The hype is big behind Stevenson, and for good reason as the 22-year-old is drawing Floyd Mayweather comparisons. Caraballo was never going to be anything more than a speed bump for Stevenson, but he delivered a performance that was as dominant as you’d hope looking at the fight on paper. There was a scare with him seeming to hurt his hand during the fight, but on Thursday’s broadcast, it was confirmed that the issue was just soreness and there was no actual injury. That keeps Stevenson on track for bigger fights later in 2020.

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