Top Rank was the first major boxing entity to resume fights in the United States, creating “The Bubble” in Las Vegas and giving fans a number of its top fighters in action.
However, not many superfights were held in Top Rank’s ring. Given the current pandemic, it is hard to make big fights nowadays for a myriad of reasons. Still, that didn’t stop Top Rank from announcing a number of attractive fights on paper, all taking place in the month of October on both ESPN and ESPN+.
Names such as Vasiliy Lomachenko, Naoya Inoue and Teofimo Lopez are set to fight next month. With that, it is time to examine all five dates that Top Rank announced.
October 3 (ESPN+): Jose Zepeda vs. Ivan Baranchyk
Although there’s no tangible title opportunity on the line, this exciting junior welterweight matchup will put the winner in position to potentially get a title shot in 2021. The winner of the fight will be ranked No. 1 by the WBC at 140 pounds.
However it does not guarantee a shot at Jose Ramirez’s title time any time soon. Ramirez, who also holds the WBO title, just finished a title defense against Viktor Postol, the WBC’s mandatory challenger and so the WBC won’t be ordering Ramirez to fight the Zepeda vs. Baranchyk anytime soon.
Zepeda, one of the junior welterweight division’s top contenders, is looking to get a rematch against Ramirez after Zepeda lost to him back in February 2019 by majority decision. Since then, Zepeda picked up solid wins against former world champion Jose Pedraza and young contender Kendo Castaneda.
Baranchyk, on the other hand, is looking to become a world champion once again. Baranchyk once held the IBF title but dropped the belt to Josh Taylor in the semifinals of the World Boxing Super Series tournament. Since then, Baranchyk has fought just once, but still remains one of the division’s best contenders.
October 9 (ESPN): Emanuel Navarrete vs. Ruben Villa: Vacant WBO Featherweight Title
This fight comes fresh off the aftermath of Shakur Stevenson announcing that he is moving up to super featherweight and vacating his WBO featherweight title. Navarrete was going to be getting a title shot, but the question was who would be standing opposite Navarrete in the ring.
At first, Jessie Magdaleno was going to be Navarrete’s opponent, but after talks fell through, the title shot went to Villa. Although Villa isn’t a dynamic knockout artist (only 5 KO wins in 18 career wins), he’s become a great counter-puncher and one of the best young featherweights today in terms of fundamentals.
Navarrete gained a reputation as the WBO super bantamweight champion for being the most active champion in the sport. But more often than not, he was going up against over-matched opposition in fights Navarrete was heavily favored in. Villa would be Navarrete’s toughest fight since Navarrete’s two fights against Isaac Dogboe some time ago. Even if it’s against weaker opposition, Navarrete developed a reputation for having great power in both hands as a super bantamweight fighter.
The winner joins a current roster of featherweight champions, all at different points in their respective careers. WBC champion Gary Russell Jr. is a mostly inactive fighter, fighting once a year at this point. WBA featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz hasn’t defended that title since February 2019 and is moving up different weight classes since his last featherweight bout. IBF champion Josh Warrington doesn’t have a fight officially set, although he’s been rumored to have a fight against Xu Can, who holds the WBA’s “Regular” (World) featherweight title.
👀 JUST 😮 ANNOUNCED 🤯
TR on ESPN & ESPN+ in October includes …
… what else really needs to be said? pic.twitter.com/Vd7qiC08Kw
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) September 8, 2020
October 17 (ESPN): Vasiliy Lomachenko vs. Teofimo Lopez: WBA, WBO and IBF Lightweight Title Unification
This is by far the biggest fight on this schedule and the biggest not taking place on pay-per-view since the pandemic. This fight pits what many consider the two best lightweights in the world against each other for the unified WBA, WBO and IBF titles.
Lomachenko has long been considered a top pound-for-pound star, quickly winning titles at featherweight, super featherweight and lightweight. Lomachenko arguably possesses the best skill set in the sport, combined with excellent footwork, and quickly became one of the sport’s top names.
Very few fighters have been able to make the jump from prospect to contender to champion in such an impressive and dazzling fashion in the span of 12 months quite like Lopez. Starting in December 2018, Lopez made headlines with an incredible 44-second knockout win over Mason Menard. After wins over Diego Magdaleno, Edis Tatli and Masayoshi Nakatani, Lopez captured the IBF lightweight title with a dominant win over Richard Commey, a fight that didn’t even reach 90 seconds into the second round.
The fight between these two will undoubtedly reveal who the division’s best lightweight today is with fighters such as Devin Haney and Gervonta Davis also waiting in the wings.
What is also significant about this fight is that it is being aired on ESPN television and not on pay-per-view as it was first thought back when the two were close to securing a fight against each other back in the spring.
Lomachenko has often been a big ratings machine for Top Rank and ESPN, especially in his two fights at Madison Square Garden on the same night as the Heisman Trophy Presentation, which usually aired right before Lomachenko’s fights.
Boxing ratings during the COVID-19 era have not been great across all channels, with no broadcast reaching a million viewers on average. Lomachenko vs. Lopez stands perhaps the best chance of reaching that number as both guys are not only supremely talented, but also stars in their own right.
October 23 (ESPN): Artur Beterbiev vs. Adam Deines: Unified WBC/IBF Light Heavyweight Titles
It’s been almost a year since Beterbiev defeated Oleksandr Gvozdyk to unify the WBC and IBF titles and become the light heavyweight division’s top dog.
Beterbiev was supposed to fight mandatory challenger Meng Fanlong, the man who beat Deines in a title eliminator at the IBF’s annual convention in 2019. Fanlong was unable to secure a trip to Russia, where the fight is taking place, and out in a timely manner leaving the door open for Deines.
Beterbiev’s run as world champion began in 2017 when he picked up the IBF title just months after Andre Ward retired from the sport. Since then, he’s been on a big run full of knockout wins from Callum Johnson to Radivoje Kalajdzic to Gvozdyk.
In addition to the main event, it was announced that Umar Salamov and Maxim Vlasov will face off in a WBO light heavyweight title eliminator. The winner faces Joe Smith Jr. for the vacant WBO title down the line. Regardless of who wins between Salamov and Vlasov, Top Rank will pretty much be in control of the promotional side of things for the title bout. Both fighters are promoted by Top Rank and Smith has been a part of Top Rank’s events in his last couple of bouts.
October 31 (ESPN+): Naoya Inoue vs. Jason Moloney: Unified WBA/IBF Bantamweight Titles
Closing out the month will be the Japanese superstar defending his unified titles against Moloney, who is widely regarded as one of the best bantamweight fighters today who currently don’t hold a title.
Originally, Inoue was slated to fight WBO champion John Riel Casimero in a three-belt unification, but the fight fell through. Still, given Top Rank’s list of contenders at bantamweight, it wasn’t tough securing a replacement for Casimero.
Inoue’s run at bantamweight is anything short of incredible. After highlight-reel knockout and stoppage wins against Juan Carlos Payano, Emmanuel Rodriguez and Jamie McDonnell, Inoue won the World Boxing Super Series with an all-time great bantamweight fight against Nonito Donaire. That run alone has some already placing Inoue at the top of their respective pound-for-pound rankings.
Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney Twins, has worked his way back to the top of the contenders list after he narrowly lost a split decision to Rodriguez in the first round of the World Boxing Super Series. Since that loss, Moloney has been able to win all four of his fights inside the distance, including earlier this summer in Top Rank’s bubble.
A win for Inoue keeps his status as the top bantamweight alive, but a Moloney win would be a massive upset and likely making a massive shift in the division, much in the same way Andy Ruiz’s win over Anthony Joshua in 2019 changed the landscape of the heavyweight division for several months.