Opening bell: Super middleweight shuffle
The super middleweights took center stage with two fights of major significance on Saturday, and when they were over there was a bit of shakeup in the division, with one outcome definitive (Chris Eubank Jr.'s victory over James DeGale) and the other, well, not so much (Anthony Dirrell's victory over Avni Yildirim).
At the O2 Arena in London, Eubank scored by far his biggest victory as he clearly outpointed former two-time world titlist and bitter rival DeGale in a performance far more dominant than the scores -- 117-109, 115-112 and 114-112 -- indicated.
The reality was that Eubank dominated. The son of British boxing legend and two-division titleholder Chris Eubank Sr. outboxed DeGale and also scored two knockdowns. He floored DeGale with a right hand in the second round and with a left hook that forced DeGale to touch the mat in the 10th round.
Eubank (28-2, 21 KOs), 29, of England, had failed in his two previous fights with top opponents, losing a split decision to Billy Joe Saunders for the European middleweight title in 2014 and a clear unanimous decision to George Groves for a super middleweight world title last February.
But against DeGale, he put it all together in a fight for which, for the first time, he was working with a full-time trainer in Nate Vasquez. In the past, he had essentially trained himself with advice from his father. He should have had a real trainer years ago.
Dirrell wins on cards after bad cut
Anthony Dirrell wins the WBC world super middleweight title after winning a technical decision due to the fight being stopped in the 10th round of his bout with Avni Yildirim.
Eubank looked as good as he ever has, although part of the reason was because of the obvious degradation in DeGale's game. DeGale (25-3-1, 15 KOs), 33, of England, has had an excellent career following his 2008 gold medal in the Olympics, but he's been on the decline for the past few years.
Being frank, DeGale, a southpaw, hasn't been the same since a physically destructive draw with Badou Jack in a January 2017 unification fight in which DeGale suffered various injuries. DeGale is 2-2 since, including an upset loss to Caleb Truax that cost him his belt, a shaky decision over Truax to reclaim the belt and a meaningless third-round knockout of Fidel Monterrosa in a September tune-up that was so low-level it wasn't televised or streamed. DeGale said after the loss to Eubank that he needs to think about what he wants to do next, but retirement is a consideration.
As for Eubank, he's now in the thick of the title hunt and would match up well with titleholder Callum Smith (a huge fight in the United Kingdom) or even in a rematch with Saunders, who is now in the division and about to fight for a belt. Perhaps Eubank might also be able to lure Dirrell to the U.K. to defend his title against him. It's possible given their associations with Premier Boxing Champions.
A few hours after Eubank's triumph, Dirrell (33-1-1, 24 KOs), of Flint, Michigan, became a two-time super middleweight titlist when he got a bit of a controversial technical split decision over Yildirim (21-2, 12 KOs), 27, of Turkey, in Minneapolis to win a vacant belt. Their exciting bout was stopped in the 10th round and sent to the scorecards because Dirrell was deemed unable to continue because of a terrible cut he suffered from an accidental head butt over his left eye in the seventh round.
The cut had gotten worse by the 10th round, and the ringside doctor recommended the fight be halted. In the end, Dirrell won 96-94 on two scorecards and Yildirim was ahead 98-92 on the third. It was a close fight with an unsatisfying ending that will have Yildirim's team seeking a rematch while Dirrell, if he doesn't retire as he said he might, likely will look for the biggest money possible. That would mean either a unification fight with Caleb Plant, a fight with former titlist David Benavidez (who was stripped of the title for a failed drug test, making it possible for Dirrell-Yildirim to fight for it) or perhaps even a trip to the U.K. to defend against Eubank.
Whatever happens with Dirrell or Eubank, they're both in line for bigger fights in a super middleweight division that just became more interesting after Saturday's fights.
Fight of the weekend: Soto-Rios
When the junior middleweight fight between Humberto Soto and Brandon "Bam Bam" Rios, both former lightweight titleholders way past their best days, was made, the reaction was essentially universal: They'll slug it out in an action-packed fight. That is exactly what they did on Saturday night in Tijuana, Mexico, where Soto lives.
Soto and Rios have both been in many rough, tough fights, and this one was no different. They banged each other around throughout the bout, but it was Soto (69-9-2, 37 KOs), 38, who got the better of the action in almost every round as he soundly defeated Rios (35-5-1, 26 KOs), 32, of Oxnard, California, by scores of 119-111, 118-112 and 118-112. Although they both landed a lot of leather, Soto, who has won titles in three divisions, moved just enough to avoid some of Rios' bigger punches and also consistently beat him to the punch.
The next step: Soto and Rios both showed their big hearts, but neither is at a level where he will seriously compete with the best. Soto, who has won four fights in a row, will get another payday after a win like this, but he needs to think about his life after boxing. Rios hoped a win would push him toward another title opportunity, but he's 2-3 in his last five and realistically there is no chance for that kind of fight. He really needs to go back into retirement. He's at the end and has taken extreme punishment, where he needs to think about the prospect of problems later in life because of it.
Prospect of the weekend: Joe Joyce
Heavyweight Joe Joyce is 33, which is a bit old for a prospect, but that's what he is given his late start in pro boxing. He claimed the Olympic super heavyweight silver medal for Great Britain in the 2016 Olympics before turning pro past his 30th birthday.
Joyce (8-0, 8 KOs) is trying to make up for that late pro start by moving quickly, and he took a step up in competition against former world titlist Bermane Stiverne (25-4-1, 21 KOs), 40, of Las Vegas and destroyed him in a six-round beatdown on the Eubank Jr.-DeGale Showtime card.
Joyce took it to Stiverne -- a career-heavy 273 pounds -- from the outset and pasted him with punches nonstop. Joyce took a few solid shots but walked through them and dropped Stiverne with a right hand in the third round. Stiverne, who hadn't fought since being annihilated by Deontay Wilder challenging for his world title in November 2017, showed heart to continue but took a beating.
As Joyce teed off against a basically defenseless Stiverne, referee Howard Foster stepped in to stop it at 2 minutes, 26 seconds of the sixth round.
The next step: Joyce, at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, has great size and power but his punches are slow and he remains a work in progress. Trainer Abel Sanchez, with him for the second fight, is working on things. But Joyce still wants to move quickly and could fight for a secondary title later this year. As for Stiverne, if he wasn't finished by Wilder, he's done now. He came in in awful shape and had nothing going for him but heart.
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at London
Lightweight Lee Selby (27-2, 9 KOs) W12 Omar Douglas (19-3, 13 KOs), scores: 116-112 (twice), 115-114.
After losing his featherweight world title to Josh Warrington by decision in May, Selby, 32, of Wales, moved up two weight classes to look for another title and got the ball rolling at lightweight with a solid victory over Douglas, 28, of Wilmington, Delaware. While Selby pounded out the win, it was no easy task because, for the second fight in a row, he had to fight through a cut from an accidental head clash. Against Warrington, he got cut over his right eye early in the fight. Against Douglas, he suffered a bad cut over his left eye when they banged heads in the second round. Selby had rocked Douglas earlier in the second round before suffering the nasty cut. It was a mess for the rest of the fight and, to make matters worse, he suffered a smaller cut over his right eye in the eighth round. But Selby stayed poised and used his superior skills to box his way to the well-deserved decision.
Saturday at Tijuana, Mexico
Junior bantamweight Joselito Velasquez (8-0, 7 KOs) TKO5 Kevin Villanueva (10-2-3, 9 KOs).
Velasquez, 25, a 2016 Mexican Olympian and top prospect, notched his most notable win so far as he broke down Villanueva, 18, of Mexico, in a patient and professional manner on the Soto-Rios DAZN card. Velasquez relied heavily on his jab and was credited with a knockdown in the third round when a right hand knocked Villanueva into the ropes, which held him up. In the fifth round, as Velazquez was pounding on his fading foe, Villanueva's corner threw in the towel and referee Fernando Renteria waved off the fight at 1:46.