IT IS two against three in the light-heavyweight division atop an impressive card which marks Eddie Hearn and Matchroom’s first official foray into Abu Dhabi this weekend.
The Essex resident has already taken his stable from America to Saudi, via his back garden, and currently promotes in Mexico, Spain and Italy and a number of other territories. And, as of this weekend, you can add Abu Dhabi to the list when this curious show is done.
Dmitry Bivol, the Canelo conqueror, is second only to the fearsome Artur Beterbiev in the world rankings after amassing a 20-0 (11) record. With more than twice as many victories, the similarly undefeated Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, 44-0 (30), is one spot below him.
The 31-year-old from Mazatlan, has had a strange career. One might assume a Mexican man with that kind of record would be a pay-per-view superstar but he has never really crossed over, despite a lengthy spell as one of the best super-middleweights on the planet.
His first fight up at 175lbs was back in April 2019, when he stopped Tommy Karpency inside four, but he has boxed just four times in the three and a half years since. Bivol, too, has had periods of inactivity during his career but he has built up a head of steam with Matchroom and made a mockery of the bookmakers’ odds in his last outing, when he beat Saul Alvarez via unanimous decision in May.
With that form it is hard to pick against Bivol in this one, although, unlike against the other Mexican in Vegas earlier this year, he will not enjoy such a significant size advantage. In fact, despite his step up from super-middleweight, Ramirez looks like the much bigger man of the two. The southpaw can also punch and has never had to go the distance as a light-heavyweight.
However, all things considered, Bivol is the pick here although he may have to come through some periods of real trouble to win a decision on the cards at the Etihad Arena and retain his WBA belt.
Aside from the main event, Hearn has packed the card full of British interest. In the chief support, late call-up Zelfa Barrett has stepped in to fight Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov after Joe Cordina was forced to withdraw from a clash with the Tajikistani man due to a hand injury.
Manchester’s 28-1 Barrett has therefore had little notice for this fight but did not think twice about taking the chance against the 16-0-1 (13) “Shere Khan”, who is currently ranked at four in the super-featherweight rankings and holds the IBF strap.
“I’m ready,” he said. “I’m more than ready. This is my time. For all my life this is what I’ve dreamed of since I was a young boy. Life is about timing and you can’t predict life. You just have to take these opportunities with both hands.”
Barrett, 29, tragically lost his mother, Sonia, in June 2021 and says he will be driven to victory by her memory. “She’d be so proud of me,” he added. “Just the way I’ve been dealing with the situation of her dying. I’m still working hard. I’ve been telling my uncle [trainer Patt Barrett] how I’ve just wanted to do it for them. But he said ‘no, do it for you, we are proud of you, and your mum would be proud of you’.
“I’ve had to deal with the deaths of my brother, my mum, my cousin and just dealing with so many things in my life, it is all for this moment. It is a life changing opportunity but I won’t let this change me as a person.”
There is no denying he is up against it here and unsurprisingly he is the betting underdog at around 12/5 with most bookmakers. Rakhimov looks formidable at the weight and the only slight blemish on his record is the 12-round majority draw against the overweight Jo Jo Diaz in February 2021.
He has, however, boxed just once in the 20 months since, a two-round retirement of 4-4 Sardor Muzaffarov. Perhaps this is a good time for Barrett to face the 28-year-old southpaw, who had been preparing for Cordina. If he can stay on his feet, Barrett has the requisite skills to nick this on points, but that’s a big if, especially on what may have been a shortened camp.
Rakhimov victory has to be the pick but expect Barrett to give every ounce in the pursuit of victory.
It is also a huge – and dangerous – night for Chantelle Cameron, who faces Chicago puncher Jessica McCaskill over 10-twos for all four belts at super-lightweight. Cameron, from Northampton has not put a foot wrong on her journey to 16-0 (8) but in McCaskill, a former champion at welterweight, she faces one of the very best fighters in all of women’s boxing. This has the makings of a terrific scrap and could be the best on the whole card.
Since losing to Katie Taylor at York Hall in 2017, McCaskill has racked up seven straight wins including back-to-back victories over Norwegian icon Cecilia Braekhus. Her last two fights have been stoppages against Kandi Wyatt and Alma Ibarra so she will arrive in Abu Dhabi oozing confidence.
So too will Cameron and this looks like a fight which could rival the classics we’ve seen served up by Taylor and Amanda Serrano or Savannah Marshall and Claressa Shields during 2022. In fact, both women know that victory here will push them up the queue for a crack at Taylor in what will be a money-spinning outdoor event at Croke Park next year. This is another hard one to call but Cameron has been waiting for her chance to really break out and this could be the night she dazzles. Cameron on points, if she can resist the urge to get sucked into a war.
Completing the five-fight card are two of the Yafai brothers, Kal and Galal – the first time the pair have ever boxed on the same bill. The former has not boxed since he was beaten by Roman Gonzalez in February 2020 and returns over 10 against Jerald Paclar. His younger brother Galal, meanwhile, takes on Mexico’s Gohan Garcia, all over 10 threes. Both will win inside the distance.
THE VERDICT: Excellent bill with some to- notch matchmaking.