Wednesday, April 17, 2024  |



Kovalev-Ward undercard to showcase hungry young guns

Darmani Rock (Throne Boxing)
Fighters Network


LAS VEGAS — Darmani Rock admits that he has to get a little used to this. The promising heavyweight is a little caught up in the swirl of a major fight, which happens to be probably the premier fight of 2016, when Sergey Kovalev takes on Andre Ward in a light heavyweight tilt at the T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night.

Rock (5-0, 4 knockouts) highlights an undercard filled with young, potential stars who are looking to catch some of the shine off the main event.

Rock will be joined by two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields, who will be making her pro debut, undefeated junior welterweight Sonny Frederickson (14-0, 9 KOs), undefeated featherweight Tyler McCreary (11-0, 6 KOs), undefeated light heavyweight Oleksandr Gvozdyk (11-0, 9 KOs) and undefeated middleweight Bakhram Murtazaliev (6-0, 4 KOs).

“This is the biggest stage I’ve ever fought on and I’m getting to the crowd and my name getting out there,” Rock said. “This is a great opportunity that I don’t want to waste. I don’t know anything about (Brice Ritani-Coe, his opponent, who is 4-4-1, with 3 KOs), but I’ll be ready. I’m going in there with a game plan, and I haven’t gone over it yet, but I will follow it. I’m preparing myself and I’m ready for this. I feel good. I’m around 242, that’s what I weighed when I left the gym on Tuesday to come out here to Vegas.”

This is a big boon for Roc Nation, and its president and chief of branding and strategy, Michael Yormark.

“I love Darmani and this is a big platform for him and all of the young fighters we represent, and for them to have an opportunity for the biggest fight of the year – and I keep on saying arguably the biggest fight of the last decade when you think about the quality of the matchup is unbelievable,” Yormark said. “These young fighters get to witness a big fight, get to interact with the media and to get exposure on this type of platform. This is gigantic for them.”

One of the more interesting matchups on the undercard is the light heavyweight feature between Gvozdyk and Isaac Chilemba (24-4-2, 10 KOs), who gave Kovalev all kinds of trouble when they fought in July in Russia. Chilemba became only the second fighter to go the distance with Kovalev in a world title bout, after the incomparable Bernard Hopkins.

“The idea was to make a relevant fight at light heavyweight, and Oleksandr’s fight with Isaac is a really good fight,” said Main Events president Kathy Duva. “Isaac wants to prove that he’s the second-best light heavyweight in the world. “We split it up, the undercard, with Roc Nation and I think it’s a really nice undercard. Roc Nation took all of their young fighters and Sergey’s fighter is Murtazaliev.”

Claressa Shields (L) with Maurice Hooker (photo: Tom Hogan/Hoganphotos)

Claressa Shields (L) with Maurice Hooker (photo: Tom Hogan/Hoganphotos)

One of the more dynamic fighters on the undercard is Frederickson. He’s fighting Gabriel Duluc (11-1, 2 KOs), who has won his last three fights.

“I don’t know much about Duluc,” Frederickson admitted. “I just watched a few videos of him. But this is a great opportunity to fight on a super fight like this. You really never know who is watching. This is my chance to showcase my talent in front of the biggest audience I’ve fought before. I feel good. Right now, I’m not nervous. I’m ready. The way I see it is that this is just another day, just another fight. But it’s important that I look good. This opportunity to showcase my talent before the networks may lead to other things. Who knows? I’m looking at it as a good door opener for other opportunities down the line.”

Perhaps the biggest curiosity of the undercard is Shields. She’s fighting former amateur foe Franchon Crews, who is also making her pro debut. Shields is getting a good push with former HBO pay-per-view chief Mark Taffet behind her.

Shields’ one big problem is who will fight her.

If she were a mixed martial arts fighter, her choices would be deep. But in the shallow pool of women’s professional boxing, Shields will have to look and hope that someone emerges to make her fights, which will surely look lopsided, into anything intriguing.

“The way I see it, all of us young guns are getting our chance and we better take advantage of it while we can,” Rock said. “I plan on looking good. I’m sure all of the other young fighters in this card feel the same way.”