There will be eyes on Friday’s ESPN+ main event and not for the right reasons.
WBC super featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez tested positive for a substance banned under VADA protocols. As VADA is the administering agency for the WBC’s Clean Boxing Program, it should have all been cut and dry.
This is boxing so it wasn’t.
Arguments about whether the substance, a diuretic, should be allowed or not, in competition versus out, WADA standards versus VADA…it all might be valid. It should have been hashed out before someone failed a test. Valdez’s defense against Robinson Conceicao will go on and it all stinks to high hell.
It overshadows a card that should have been a net positive for boxing fans, including one of the better undercard matches ESPN has presented this year.
23-year old WBO flyweight titlist Junto Nakatani (21-0, 16 KO) of Japan makes his US debut against 30-year old former WBO light flyweight champion Angel Acosta (22-2, 21 KO) of Puerto Rico.
It will be the long-limbed Nakatani’s first defense after winning the vacant belt against Giemel Magramo last November. The Magramo win came after an eye opening stoppage of former titlist Milan Melindo. For Nakatani, it’s an opportunity to capture American attention earlier than is the norm for most of the title holders from Japan.
Hardcore fans in recent decades have followed the careers of men like Hozumi Hasegawa, Shinsuke Yamanaka, Kazuto Ioka, and Naoya Inoue but their pentration of the US market has been limited. Most of Japan’s best don’t travel when still in their prime, if ever. Inoue is doing it now but only after several years building his bona fides near home.
It makes sense. As a global sport, boxing’s markets for talent vary. Size is also an issue. All the names listed above topped out at bantamweight. The US market can be tough to break through for anyone below featherweight so the economic risk of leaving home can be prohibitive.
But there are opportunities right now and Nakatani may be putting himself in a position early to take advantage. Inoue has expanded his base. Jr. bantamweight has been as visible as any time in its history. Acosta is an excellent foe to debut against.
The lanky Acosta has been stopped only once, in the final round of his 108 lb. title defense against Elwin Soto. Acosta has rebounded with two wins and presents a real threat. Acosta can punch and he’s durable, having been the distance in his only other loss against Japan’s Kosei Tanaka.
Acosta also presents a chance for Nakatani to shine. Acosta looks for offense and can be wide open. Nakatani is taller and has longer arms than most flyweights which could mean a lot of chances to start and finish exchanges.
What should make this fun for fans is neither man has what can be described as impregnable defense. There should be plenty of shots fired from a distance and fun exchanges whether it ends early or late.
Regardless of who wins, it’s the sort of style match that can please hardcore fans, something that an ESPN+ Friday card is more likely to attract. Could it also open up more business at flyweight? After a fun run through the first half of the 2010’s, the division has settled into a reshuffling period. The pieces are there for more.
The UK’s Sunny Edwards (16-0, 4 KO) and Mexico’s Julio Cesar Martinez (18-1, 14 KO) hold the IBF and WBC belts and are just 25 and 26 respectively. Martinez has made his desire for a unification bout known. Fighters making a name in more than one market is a big step to breaking down the geographic limits that played a role in decades without unification matches at flyweight and bantamweight in particular.
A fight that makes fans want to see the winner again this Friday can only help. Nakatani and Acosta could provide just that.
Edwards is one of the latest to be hit by what must be a hex cast on the sport in 2021. His title defense against Jayson Mama is off for now due to an ankle injury suffered in training…It comes with news that Stephen Fulton-Brandon Figueroa and Juan Francisco Estrada-Roman Gonzalez III are delayed due to COVID…At least we can all be certain Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder III will come off next month without a hitch…Seriously though, someone have Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk put rabbit’s feet under their pillows for the rest of camp…Bryan Danielson and Adam Cole: that was cool…Claressa Shields new management moves open the door for a showdown with Savannah Marshall down the road. If women’s boxing can find a way to pair those two, and pair Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano, it will be doing everything it can in the next year or so. Both of those are fights to circle the calendar for.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.