‘Tis the season for giving combat sports fans all of the tantalizing fights they can handle.
It somewhat started in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, when boxer Tyson Fury climbed into the WWE ring and defeated Braun Strowman. Fury’s sabbatical from scripted entertainment is officially over for the foreseeable future, but the same can’t be said for a slew of fighters who’ll compete in real matches as the calendar turns to 2020.
On Saturday, boxing and MMA will go head-to-head with arguably the biggest night of dueling events ever, offering fans of flying fisticuffs pick ‘em cards. Sure, there are always competing shows on any given weekend, but rarely have they made viewers seriously consider a second screen as much as they’ll do this weekend.
In MMA, Nate Diaz, the cantankerous anti-hero of the UFC, will take on the resurgent Jorge Masvidal for the inaugural and R-rated BMF (“Baddest ... ") title (ESPN pay per view). The UFC 244 co-feature between Kelvin Gastelum and Darren Till has the makings of being a headliner on its own, but it too will unfold in New York.
“My job is to put on the fights that fans want to see. Sometimes it might not make sense of what we traditionally do,” UFC head Dana White said of his counter-progammed event. “I have a good feeling when something is going to pop, and that’s how I feel about this card.”
On the boxing side of the street, Canelo Alvarez makes his light heavyweight debut and attempts to win a title in a fourth division against Sergey Kovalev in Las Vegas, while his training partner, friend and touted prospect Ryan Garcia will look to show his true value as chief support (DAZN).
“When we first started working with Canelo over a decade ago, we knew he was destined to be great,” said Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya. “I think we are all aware now that we are witnessing greatness in the making. With Kovalev’s strength and power, he can end the fight at any moment.”
To boot, there is a Top Rank card in Carson at the Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday featuring a clash between World Boxing Council junior lightweight champion Miguel Berchelt taking on Jason Sosa (ESPN and ESPN Plus), and a women’s title fight between Katie Taylor and Christina Linardatou overseas earlier in the day (DAZN).
The fight train chugs along next week in a different variety as the sport of boxing turns into spectacle when YouTubers Logan Paul and KSI make their pro debuts and attempt to leverage their clout and social status to sell out Staples Center.
“I’m interested to see if they can expand the sport and capture a new audience,” said Matchroom Boxing head Eddie Hearn. “People say that [fans who] jump on board will not stay. Well, that’s our job to make them stay. Boxing needs to showcase itself to the Gen Z audience. It’s very difficult to attract them via contemporaries methods. These fighters will be bringing built-in audiences.”
Boxing will return to world-class levels immediately after the influencer sideshow when the heavyweight division undergoes further chaos and unpredictability, highlighted by brawls between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz on Nov. 23, and Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz on Dec. 7 in Saudi Arabia.
On Dec. 14, UFC 245 will showcase champions Kamaru Usman, Max Holloway and Amanda Nunes in separate title fights on the same night in Sin City, while boxing pound-for-pound great Terence Crawford looks to cap off another undefeated year at Madison Square Garden, wishing for the present of a more palatable opponent in 2020.
Can’t-miss star and former Olympian Teofimo Lopez will look to capture his first world title as Crawford’s co-headliner, while arguably boxing’s best prospect Vergil Ortiz Jr. will look to impress again in Indio the night before.
The next two months will stage some of the most intriguing fights of the year, and the marquee matchups throughout the holiday season will mark a rare occasion when combat sports didn’t stuff stockings with fights that felt like lumps of coal.