Top Rank schedule update: Vasiliy Lomachenko, Artur Beterbiev, Josh Taylor and more
Top Rank, which recently completed 13 ESPN-televised shows over seven consecutive weeks inside the coronavirus pandemic-necessitated bubble of the conference center at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June and July, is gearing up for another nine shows in eight weeks, with six in the bubble and three overseas.
Some cards have already been announced, some have not, but The Ring, via multiple sources with knowledge of the schedule, has the lowdown on what to expect on each show between August 15 and October 13.
It’s a schedule that will include a vacant junior featherweight world title bout between Emanuel Navarrete and Jessie Magdaleno, the Top Rank debuts of newly signed heavyweight prospect Efe Ajagba and unified junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor in his mandatory defense and the return of unified lightweight world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko.
The three August cards have already been announced:
— August 15 is an ESPN-televised afternoon doubleheader from London that will see junior lightweight contender Carl Frampton (27-2, 15 knockouts), a former two-division world titleholder, and featherweight contender Michael Conlan (13-0, 7 KOs), both from Belfast, Northern Ireland, in separate 10-round bouts.
— August 22 will be on ESPN+ and headlined by the light heavyweight world title elimination bout between former world titlist Eleider “Storm” Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and former world title challenger Joe Smith Jr. (25-3, 20 KOs). This fight was supposed to headline the July 16 ESPN card but was postponed when Alvarez suffered a right shoulder injury in training.
In the co-feature, which has not yet been announced, middleweight contender Rob Brant (25-2, 17 KOs) will return to face an opponent to be determined. Brant has been out of action since getting stopped in the second round by Ryota Murata in a 160-pound rematch 13 months ago. Brant was scheduled to fight Habib “Wild Hurricane” Ahmed on January 11 in an ESPN-televised co-feature but withdrew because of a torn biceps.
— August 29 will see unified junior welterweight titlist Jose Ramirez (25-0, 17 KOs) face former titleholder and mandatory challenger Viktor Postol (31-2, 12 KOs) on ESPN+ in a fight on its third date because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the co-feature, junior welterweight Arnold Barboza Jr. (23-0, 10 KOs) will take on Tony Luis (29-3, 10 KOs).
Here’s a look at the September slate:
— September 5 will feature junior lightweight titlist Jamel Herring (21-2, 10 KOs) making his second defense when he takes on Jonathan Oquendo (31-6, 19 KOs) in an ESPN fight now scheduled for the third time. It had been set for July 2 and again for July 14 but Herring twice tested positive for COVID-19.
— September 12 on ESPN will be headlined by a welterweight fight between “Mean Machine” Egidijus Kavaliauskas (21-1-1, 17 KOs), who is coming off a ninth-round knockout loss to world titleholder Terence Crawford, and Mikael Zewski (34-1, 23 KOs), who will be coming off a 10-month layoff.
Initially, Top Rank hoped to match Kavaliauskas with former junior welterweight title challenger Amir Imam, but during the talks Imam suffered an eye injury in a sparring session and, according to a source with knowledge of the injury, will require surgery and be sidelined for several months.
In the featherweight co-feature, former world title challengers Miguel Marriaga and Golden Boy fighter Joet Gonzalez will square off. Marriaga (29-3, 25 KOs) has had two fights in a row canceled and has not boxed since December. He was due to challenge then-featherweight titlist Shakur Stevenson on March 7 before that show became the first boxing event canceled due to the coronavirus. He was then slated to fight Mark John Yap on July 16 but that match was called off at the weigh-in because Yap came in at 136.7, almost nine pounds over the contract limit.
In another fight on the show, but likely on the ESPN+ portion of preliminary action, junior lightweight contender Andrew Cancio (21-5-2, 16 KOs) is due to make his Top Rank debut since losing by seventh-round knockout to Rene Alvarado in November and getting released by Golden Boy. Cancio is due to face onetime hot prospect Saul “Neno” Rodriguez (24-1-1, 18 KOs).
— September 19 is the target date for former junior featherweight world titleholders Navarrete (31-1, 27 KOs) and Magdaleno (28-1, 18 KOs) to clash on ESPN for the featherweight world title that Stevenson recently relinquished in order to move up to junior lightweight. The fight could also take place September 26, multiple sources with knowledge of the plans told The Ring.
On Thursday, the WBO ordered a purse bid for the fight, though that likely won’t be needed since both fighters are with Top Rank. Nonetheless, if a purse bid is necessary, it is scheduled to take place via a Zoom video conference on August 11 at 5 p.m. ET with $150,000 the minimum acceptable bid.
Whether Navarrete-Magdaleno takes place September 19 or September 26, heavyweight Ajagba (13-0, 11 KOs) is due to face an opponent to be determined in the co-feature.
The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Ajagba, who was a 2016 Nigerian Olympian, signed with Top Rank on Wednesday. That move finished a total overhaul to Ajagba’s team as he also has signed with manager James Prince and is now being trained by Kay Koroma. According to sources, Ajagba bought out his promotional contract with Ringstar Sports promoter Richard Schaefer and manager Shelly Finkel, cut ties with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions and parted ways with career-long trainer Ronnie Shields.
— September 25 is the date for the mandatory fight between unified light heavyweight world champion Artur Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KOs) and Chinese southpaw Meng Fanlong (16-0, 10), who are due to meet in Ekaterinburg, Russia – Beterbiev’s native country — in a fight that likely would be on ESPN+. That bout was initially scheduled to headline an ESPN show on March 28 at Videotron Centre in Quebec City, Canada, which is not far from Beterbiev’s adopted hometown of Montreal, but it was canceled due to the coronavirus.
Beterbiev, who will be making his fourth title defense, unified two titles October 18 in Philadelphia, where he knocked out then-undefeated Oleksandr Gvozdyk in the 10th round of an action-packed fight.
— September 26 could see two shows on the same day if Navarrete-Magdaleno lands on this date. Even if it doesn’t, Taylor (16-0, 12 KOs) is due to make his mandatory defense against Thai challenger Apinun Khongsong (16-0, 13 KOs) in the U.K. in a fight that would air in the afternoon on ESPN or ESPN+. The fight was originally planned for May 2 in Glasgow, Scotland, Taylor’s home country, before it had to be postponed due to the coronavirus.
— October 3 is the date on which Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs) is next supposed to defend his lightweight titles, though the platform – ESPN, ESPN+ or ESPN PPV – has not been determined.
Top Rank has been working to finalize a much-discussed title unification fight between Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez Jr. (15-0, 12 KOs), but while Lomachenko has agreed to terms the promotional company and Lopez are far apart on the money, putting the bout in jeopardy.
If the fight with Lopez can’t be finalized, multiple sources told The Ring that Lomachenko could face Puerto Rican contender Felix Verdejo (27-1, 17 KOs), who notched his fourth win in a row on July 16 when he drilled Will Madera in the first round inside the bubble. If Lomachenko and Verdejo meet it would be a rematch of Lomachenko’s decision win over him in the 2012 London Olympics.