Playing the Odds: Garcia vs. Redkach and Fulton vs. Khegai
Showtime is in the midst of a run of eight boxing events in the span of 10 weeks; it continues Saturday featuring former The Ring Magazine champion Danny García, plus an intriguing clash of junior featherweight prospects attempting to graduate to contender status. The match-up between Stephen Fulton and Arnold Khegai promises the best two-way action, in terms of betting and boxing, with neither likely to concede his undefeated record easily. At the final press conference, Danny Garcia left no room for excuses, “We did everything we were supposed to do. We covered everything we needed and we’re ready to go. I’m glad I had a safe camp with no injuries because you should see the best Danny Garcia on Saturday night.” Also on the card is comebacking Jarrett Hurd but is not part of the prognostications as his bout with Francisco Santana is the least competitive on paper.
At Barclays Center, New York City, New York
Danny Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) vs. Ivan Redkach (23-4-1, 18 KOs)
Stephen Fulton (17-0, 8 KOs) vs. Arnold Khegai (16-0-1, 10 KOs)
Arnold Khegai (Odds +800) – Fighting out of Odessa, Ukraine, but training for this fight in Los Angeles, Khegai lists the familiar name of Mike Tyson as his boxing inspiration. His physique, on a much smaller scale, and style are similar, though lacking the finesse and raw power of the Hall-of-Famer. Born to Korean parents (he was constantly bullied as an ethnic minority) in Ukraine, Khegai’s father died in a car accident when Arnold was three years old, beginning the forging of a hard mentality. Took up Thai and regular kickboxing to defend himself, only fully dedicating himself to boxing in 2015. A straight-ahead banger, Khegai employs an unrelenting forward press targeting any opening with hooks before jabs. Lack of elite hand speed is compensated for with volume but his defense is average and preference for direct steps sees Khegai squaring up too often. Absorbs punches well, which is an asset, given his preference for fighting on the inside. Eleven of his first 12 bouts took place in Moscow but Khegai made noise in America with a couple appearances on the tough “ShoBox” series defeating fellow prospect Adam Lopez and Jorge Diaz. A fully mature 27, Khegai has wisely taken on trainer Joe Goossen to compliment his corner. Described himself to The Ring Magazine’s Michael Woods, “My style is very explosive. I like boxing in the exchanges because I feel comfortable there. Follow me and I hope, in a short time, I will be the world champion. I want to win the American public!”
Stephen Fulton (-1400) – This 25-year-old has made big strides up the junior featherweight ranks behind superb boxing skills and ambition bred from an impoverished upbringing. Quick hands and educated feet keep Fulton in continual contact with his target, able to comfortably switch stances to exert pressure on opponents whom wear down as quick mentally as physically under the strain. I would not qualify Fulton as a strong puncher with a 47% KO ratio but his punches land with sudden authority. More slick than punishing, Fulton is trained by Hamza Muhammad at the James Shuler Boxing Gym, earning amateur titles at the Silver and National Golden Gloves. Though Philly through and through, Fulton seeks challenges everywhere, such as flying to England to be lead sparring partner for two-division titlist Carl Frampton. That may have led to Fulton upping his dedication to body work, dipping into aggressive shots behind forward momentum. Not babied by Premier Boxing Champions, dominating five undefeated prospects and besting mature operator Paulus Ambunda (an Olympian and former WBO bantamweight beltholder). Uses a considerable 5-foot-7 frame, with 67-inch reach, to maximum effect with a snaking jab that uncoils through tight guards. Fulton says he is ready for anyone, “I’m not a rookie. Fans should expect a wonderful and intelligent boxing game plan. I don’t ever go into a fight looking for the knockout but if I see the opening, I’ll take the shot. Khegai is coming to rumble. He thinks he’s stronger than me but he’s not stronger or smarter than me. No one in my weight class will out-think me.”
Verdict – My betting mantra is “Speed over power” and, in this case, that advantage falls to Fulton… as does my pick. Secondly Fulton’s superior boxing background allows him to use his feet and exploit range, whereas Khegai used to employ his feet to kick, only concentrating on boxing full-time for the last five years. While never sparring, the duo is aware of each other since Khegai fought in Philadelphia and used local gyms for final preparations. Look for Fulton to deftly sidestep Khegai’s charges but like his city brethren Julian “J Rock” Williams, the question is whether Fulton can consistently avoid the thudding power of Khegai. I believe he will, winning a wide decision on the cards (eight out of 10 rounds) but suffer sore ribs, arms and shoulders in the aftermath, given Khegai’s wide punches.
Ivan Redkach (Odds +1200) – I never bought into the image-making of Redkach as another Gennadiy Golovkin (a Eastern European boxer who fights Mexican style), as he lacked the boxing acumen of his Kazakh cousin, despite engaging in 300 amateur bouts. The Ukraine-bred hard man relies on a high punch volume, pushing forward, seeking engagement, which is not often the case with southpaws sporting Redkach’s amateur pedigree. Lacked a “Plan B” when an equal physical force halted his forward momentum, like in duels with John Molina (both men hit the canvas) or Dejan Zlaticanin, in which Redkach was stopped, nor could Redkach match foot speed with Tevin Farmer or Argenis Mendez, who outpointed him. However, credit where due, Redkach has rebounded with three straight victories, including a stoppage of former two-division titlist Devon Alexander in his most recent outing seven months ago. Redkach has only lost to top 10 performers but also never bested a boxer of top 10 caliber. Always comes in shape, at age 33, still a physical weapon hardening his edge in Southern California gyms, and enters with notable three-inch reach and height advantages over Danny Garcia. Redkach thinks size will play a role, “Like a lot of fighters, I’m usually in training camp focusing on cutting weight. Fighting at welterweight, I don’t have to do that. I feel strong and I’m going to put on a strong performance.”
Danny Garcia (Odds -2500) – I am in the minority that believes this Philadelphia-bred boxer-puncher should be a more popular figure or at least better appreciated, given Garcia boasts 11 victories over world champions. (He has faced 13.) Never ducked a challenge, in two weight classes, winning lineal titles as well as The Ring Magazine junior welterweight championship. However his bombastic father/trainer Angel has done Garcia no favors with churlish and demeaning statements about opponents. A close look shows a complete boxer willing to go toe-to-toe when necessary but prefers a well thought-out victory. Garcia’s boxing skills were instilled at the amateur level, with a 107-13 record, winning a National Golden Gloves and topping out as an Olympic alternate. As champion, scythed through the junior welterweight division, two-year reign as a unified champion, casting aside champions like Erik Morales, Zab Judah, Paul Malignaggi, Amir Khan, Lamont Peterson and hard-hitting Lucas Matthysse. Moved up a weight class in 2016, besting Robert Guerrero, but suffered his first defeat via split decision to Keith Thurman in another unification match followed by a similarly disputed setback to Shawn Porter. Showed strong mental makeup and eagerness in both losses and it can be argued that Garcia actually won both fights. Showed a power surge with the addition of a strength-and-conditioning coach and focused on that aspect of the game during his nine-month absence. At 31, is a viable and dangerous challenge to anyone, and is being pushed as a possible pay-per-view opponent for Errol Spence Jr. or Manny Pacquiao. However currently fixated on Ivan Redkach, saying, “January 25 is tax season, so I’m going to have to tax him and pay him with a reality check.”
Verdict – A victory in this title eliminator puts Garcia in line for big-money pay-per-view fight but he has to be weary of getting dragged into a brawl against the bigger Redkach. This would be of Garcia’s own volition, given his wealth of experience against more elite boxers. Redkach was like a locomotive against Devon Alexander but Garcia’s nimble movement and countering blows won’t allow Redkach to stay a straight course or become comfortable moving forward. Garcia’s speed and reflexes allow him to evade while landing fierce counters, which leads to a referee or corner stoppage before the ninth round.
You can follow Marty Mulcahey on Twitter @MartinMulcahey.
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