Boxing has turned to Los Angeles as it tries to inject some youth into the sport.
A packed card is coming to Staples Center on Saturday, highlighted by the welterweight unification bout between IBF title holder Errol Spence (25-0, 21 knockouts) and WBC champion Shawn Porter (30-2-1, 17 KOs).
The pay-per-view showdown on Fox will be the evening’s headliner, but if you look past the main event, there will be a handful of rising stars, as well as a few familiar faces, fighting to keep themselves in the frame.
In the co-feature bout, David Benavidez (21-0, 18 KOs) wants to make WBC super middleweight champion Anthony Dirrell (33-1-1, 24 KOs) pay for his mistakes much like he learned from his.
Benavidez, 22, will be fighting for the belt he once owned after squandering it away because of a substance abuse issue and a subsequent suspension. Benavidez was stripped of his title last year, and in stepped Dirrell and scooped it up with a February win. It was the second time he’s won the 168-pound WBC title.
“Whatever happened was a blessing in disguise. It’s given me more motivation. I felt humbled,” Benavidez said. “I realized that other than boxing, I have nothing in my life that gives me satisfaction and worth. I’m going to stay dedicated and be the best.”
Win, lose or draw, Dirrell, 34, will go home after this fight and seriously consider the state of his career. The cancer survivor wants to spend more time with his wife and children instead of toiling too much at gyms. He moved to Las Vegas and trained at UFC headquarters with hopes of fending off a fighter 12 years his junior.
“I have to see how it plays out, but age is just a number,” Dirrell said. “Experience is definitely a big key in this fight. I think that he has holes in his game and I’m going to expose it.”
San Antonio sensation Mario Barrios (24-0, 16 KOs) will look to provide his city a world championship away from the hardwood and the first in boxing in nearly two decades when he battles Batyr Akhmedov (7-0, 6 KOs).
Barrios looks to follow in the footsteps of brothers Mike and Tony Ayala Jr. and the likes of Jesse James Leija, Robert Quiroga and John Michael Johnson, the Alamo City’s last titleholder in 2001.
“Winning this fight would mean everything to me,” said Barrios, 24. “This has been a long road and I’ve been very patient. My opportunity is finally here and I’m not letting it slip by.”
Akhmedov said that he’s “been doubted my whole career. People have always said that I was moving too fast in the pros. I’ll prove everyone wrong again.”
Josesito Lopez (36-8, 19 KOs), whose known as “The Riverside Rocky,” will take on Covina’s John Molina Jr. (30-8, 24 KOs) in a crossroads fight that has the ingredients to be an entertaining clash.
Lopez, 35, and Molina, 36, both have forward-charging styles and knockout power.
“It’s going to be action and violence,” said Lopez. “I’m excited for it. I’m in this sport to be in marquee fights like this. This is going to be a fight everyone remembers.”
“I know this is no easy fight,” added Molina. “It’s going to be spontaneous combustion. It’s instant fight, just add water.”
Former three-time champion Robert Guerrero (35-6-1, 20 KOs) will look to reinvent himself at the age of 36 with hopes of making one more run at a title. Gerald Thomas (14-1-1, 8 KOs) will be the adversary looking to spoil the plans in the welterweight affair.
The former Floyd Mayweather foe is also trying to be a champion outside of the ring. He will donate a portion of his purse to the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival mass shooting in his hometown on July 28 that resulted in four deaths, including the gunman, and more than a dozen other injuries.
“I just love this sport. When you’re a junkyard dog that’s what you are,” Guerrero said. “There’s a stacked welterweight division and it continues on Saturday night. This fight puts me right back in line.”