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Grading Matchroom Boxing on DAZN’s 2022 Q1 schedule

On January 7, Matchroom Boxing officially announced eight fights across seven cards in the United States and United Kingdom featuring a number of big names, title fights and rematches, all streaming on DAZN.

The schedule announcement drew plenty of attention on social media with many praising the solid number of fights announced and many detracting for not having all or most of Matchroom’s superstars on hand for the first quarter of 2022. With a lot of fights to go through, here is a a quick rundown of the fights announced plus a grade on how good the fight is on paper and as a main event.

Saturday, February 05, Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona (Jessie Vargas vs. Liam Smith/Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs. Carlos Cuadras II for the WBC Super Flyweight Title):

Jessie Vargas and Liam Smith’s careers are at a bit of a crossroads. Vargas hasn’t fought since February 2020 when he lost to Mikey Garcia and is 3-3-2 in his last eight fights dating to 2015, but has always been regarded as a quality fighter even at this stage of his career. Smith bounced back from a loss to Magomed Kurbarov last year with a solid win over Anthony Fowler, keeping his name in the mix for big fights at junior middleweight that aren’t title fights.

The real prize of the card is the rematch between Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Carlos Cuadras for the vacant WBC super flyweight title. Sor Rungvisai hasn’t had a chance to fight in the United States since losing his WBC title to Juan Francisco Estrada in a very good rematch to their excellent 2018 bout, rattling off three straight wins in Thailand. Sor Rungvisai has looked sharp after the loss to Estrada even if it was against lesser opposition. He and Cuadras make up a phenomenal quartet of super flyweights along with Estrada and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, which have given fans some of the greatest fights of the last decade. Cuadras is fourth on that list, but is still just as dangerous, pushing Estrada to his limit in 2020. In fact, Cuadras owns a win over Sor Rungvisai back in 2014. Given both fighters’ fan-friendly styles, this has the making for an early “Fight of the Year” contender.

Vargas vs. Smith is a good fight, but the crux of the card will be the Sor Rungvisai vs. Cuadras rematch with many tuning in to watch that with more anticipation than the main event.

Grade: A

Saturday, February 12, Alexandra Palace in London (Daniel Jacobs vs. John Ryder):

Daniel Jacobs may have scored a win against Gabriel Rosado in his last fight in November 2020, but that fight was such a stinker that no one can truly say they won. Since losing to Canelo Alvarez in 2019, there has not been a fight one can point and say Jacobs looked spectacular. Whether that’s due to bad luck or him being past his prime has yet to be seen. At the same time, it’s safe to assume (or hope) that Jacobs is still better than what we have seen lately and can deliver fun fights.

Similarly, John Ryder hasn’t had a chance to truly showcase himself after a loss to Callum Smith back in 2019. However, unlike Jacobs’ loss to Canelo that year, Ryder had a legitimate case that he should have gotten the win on the scorecards. Ryder’s career would have drastically changed had he won that fight and captured his first world title. Ryder is 2-0 after that loss, but hasn’t faced a real contender since.

With plenty of uncertainty facing the super middleweight division possibly at the end of the year, expect both Jacobs and Ryder to be putting forth a good-enough of a fight to the point these two earn their main event slot on this show.

Grade: B-

Sunday, February 27, Location TBA (Lawrence Okolie vs. Michal Cieslak for the WBO Cruiserweight Title):

Okolie finally captured his first world title last year with a very impressive outing against former world champion Krzysztof Glowacki in March. Possessing superior strength, athletic ability, and an ever-growing boxing acumen, Okolie has what it takes to be the consensus top cruiserweight in the world. Which makes the fact that Okolie will not be facing a fellow cruiserweight champion for the second straight time all the more infuriating. It is within reason to think that Okolie won’t spend his entire career at cruiserweight and each title defense that isn’t a title unification becomes the slightest bit more tiresome.

That’s not to say Michal Cieslak is not a good fighter. Far from it, Cieslak is a top 10 cruiserweight who gave WBC champion Ilunga Makabu some trouble in some portions of their title fight in 2020. Since then, Cieslak has looked pretty good in beating journeyman Taylor Mabika and contender Yury Kashinsky, winning both fights by KO/TKO. Cieslak will give Okolie more trouble than Dilan Prasovic (Okolie’s last opponent and first title defense) ever did, but Okolie is still a big early favorite.

Grade: B

Saturday, March 05, Pechanga Arena San Diego in San Diego, California (Juan Francisco Estrada vs. Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez III for the WBA and Ring Magazine Super Flyweight Titles):

The highly-anticipated rubber match between these two future Hall of Famers has arrived. Their first fight in 2012 was excellent, but last year’s rematch was historically great, elevating this from a great chapter in the Estrada/Gonzalez/Sor Rungvisai/Cuadras storyline to a legendary rivalry all on its own.

Words cannot explain how incredible their title bout last year was. It was one of those “see it to believe it” fights where every moment was action-packed. The only negative from that fight was the controversial scorecards that resulted in Estrada avenging his 2012 loss to Gonzalez. The silver lining here is that demand for a third fight went through the roof to the point Matchroom Boxing had to get this third fight done.

The winner of this fight could very well face the winner of Sor Rungvisai vs. Cuadras 2 taking place a month prior. Regardless of who wins the two fights, the winners facing each other will make for a mouth-watering and tantalizing bout, perhaps finally closing the book on what has been a string of fantastic boxing fights between these four.

Grade: A+

Saturday, March 12, Motorpoint Arena Nottingham in Nottingham, England (Leigh Wood vs. Michael Conlan for the WBA “Regular” Featherweight Title):

As part of the WBA’s plan to reduce the number of world titles per division, the WBA ordered Leigh Wood, the WBA’s “Regular” featherweight titleholder, to fight Michael Conlan, previously the WBA’s interim beltholder.

Both of them are coming off tremendous wins last year. Wood dominated fan favorite Xu Can to win his version of the WBA featherweight title in July and asserted himself as a dangerous boxer in the division. Meanwhile, Conlan silenced plenty of critics with an impressive win against TJ Doheny in what was Conlan’s most exciting fight as a pro. While that hasn’t answered the question as to whether or not Conlan can be an elite fighter at the pros, beating Wood will go a long way in answering that question.

What makes this fight interesting is the momentum both guys carry at this moment and both looked great in their last bouts. Though this has the potential to be a bit of a messy fight to watch, it also has the ability to become a hidden gem when it is all said and done.

Grade: B+

Saturday, March 19, Location TBA (Vergil Ortiz Jr. vs. Michael McKinson):

After a phenomenal 2021 that saw Vergil Ortiz Jr. score KO/TKO wins against Maurice Hooker and Egidijus Kavaliauskas, Ortiz returns with a fight against another fellow unbeaten young welterweight in Michael McKinson. Ortiz has long shed the prospect label off of him and is more than ready to face the best welterweights in the world. The problem for Ortiz is that he doesn’t have a lot of leverage when it comes to making those big fights a reality.

In the meantime, Ortiz will have to settle for McKinson, who has been a regular on Matchroom shows across the pond in recent years. His biggest win to date was against Chris Kongo last March and although it wasn’t that great of a fight in terms of action, McKinson’s style makes for an interesting test against Ortiz.

Ortiz hasn’t faced many young welterweights who are also solid in terms of technical prowess. That alone would make this a fight worth watching and Ortiz’s offensive output could force McKinson to adapt and slug away at Ortiz as well.

This event is more Golden Boy Promotions-focused given that Ortiz, a Golden Boy fighter, is the A side in this main event. If Golden Boy Promotions is handling the majority of the matchmaking for the undercard, there’s a good chance the card itself will be a must-see. Golden Boy had a great 2020 when it comes to putting together quality undercards and they rarely miss the mark in that department.

Grade: B

Saturday, March 26, First Direct Arena in Leeds, England (Kiko Martinez vs. Josh Warrington II for the IBF Featherweight Title):

Who would have expected Kiko Martinez and Josh Warrington to face again, this time for a world title in 2022, but Martinez would be the IBF featherweight champion and not Warrington?

To say that Warrington had a dreadful 2021 inside the ring would be a massive understatement. He willingly dropped his IBF featherweight title for a poorly-planned effort to fight either Can or Gary Russell Jr. In the meantime, Warrington took what was a stay-busy fight against Mauricio Lara and was the recipient for one of the biggest upsets boxing had in 2021. This all took place within a short few weeks. They would go on to rematch seven months later only for that fight to end in a technical draw after two rounds due to a cut over Lara’s left eye.

Warrington’s fall from grace has been astonishingly bad, but now has the chance to redeem himself and become a two-time champion.

On the other hand, Martinez delivered not just an “Upset of the Year” contender but also a “Knockout of the Year” contender when he stopped Kid Galahad in Galahad’s own hometown of Sheffield, England last November. Martinez made an incredible comeback after what was a dreadful first four rounds for him and became a world champion at 35 years old, almost a decade after his run as world champion.

It was a great image seeing Martinez hoist a world title after many wrote him off for several years and did so in fantastic fashion, reminding fans that anything can happen in boxing.

The issue with this fight is the great uncertainty of how Warrington will look. The last time he looked great in a fight was all the way back in 2019 and he’s coming into the fight with no momentum on his side while Martinez has all of it. It’s an interesting role reversal from what one would have expected a 2022 matchup between these two would look like. But it is also a bit deflating that Martinez isn’t facing Galahad in an immediate rematch over even Lara, who technically won the 2021 rivalry against Warrington going 1-0-1 in the two fights.

No doubt the undercard will be solid, but right now, the main event doesn’t look as great on paper as the rest of this list.

Grade: C+

Q1 Schedule Announcement Overall Grade: B

While the schedule itself is not bad and there are plenty of fights to look forward to, with more to be announced later, there are a few things that prevented this schedule release from reaching that coveted A grade. The most glaring omission from this schedule is the lack of Oleksandr Usyk vs. Anthony Joshua II as well as Katie Taylor vs. Amanda Serrano. Although neither fight can be said to be set in stone, knowing how close fans could be from watching this fight does make their omission sting a little bit. Those two fights could very well happen later in the year, but some folks were hoping to have it announced sooner rather than later.

We can expect a lot of good fights to be announced in the coming weeks and some might be even better than the advertised main events. But for now, this is what fans have to look forward to and the regularity in which DAZN will be streaming quality boxing cards in the next couple of months is encouraging.

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