One of the biggest nights of boxing so far this year is finally upon us, with three major events taking place in locations from Stevenage to Brooklyn. WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder puts his title on the line in New York against Dominic Breazeale, while Billy Joe Saunders aims to become a two-weight world champion in Stevenage when he battles Shefat Ifufi for the vacant WBO super middleweight crown.
Meanwhile, in Glasgow, hugely exciting British prospect Josh Taylor vies for his first world title against Ivan Baranchyk, while Naoya Inoue, one of the greatest fighters on the planet, makes his British debut against Emmanuel Rodriguez.
While the fights are all intriguing for different reasons, the question on what to watch tonight from a moral level has never been more important. Both Deontay Wilder and Billy Joe Saunders have made comments and moments over the past year that go beyond controversy and into pure idiocy, and fans need to decide whether their time is worth the effort of supporting such stupidness.
Although still undefeated following his contentious draw with Tyson Fury last December, Wilder has looked like the lost man of heavyweight boxing ever since that famous night. Lacking Anthony Joshua’s mainstream popularity and Fury’s wit and guile, Wilder’s reputation has taken a huge hit over the last six months, with many questioning whether he has the desire, let alone the inclination, to truly test himself at the top of the heavyweight division.
When people feel like they’re losing relevancy, they say dumb things, but Wilder’s comments earlier this week about his fight tonight turned dumb into the overstatement of the year.
Wilder claimed that he was "trying to get a body on my record" against Breazeale. "This is the only sport where you can kill a man and get paid for it at the same time," he continued. "It's legal.
"[Breazeale's] life is on the line for this fight and I do mean his life. I am still trying to get me a body on my record. Dominic Breazeale asked for this. I didn't go seek him. He [sought] me. So if it comes it comes. This is a brutal sport. This is not a gentleman sport.
"We don't ask to hit each other in the face but we do anyway. And you can ask any doctor around the world, he will tell you, your head is not meant to be hit.
"On this particular time we have bad blood against each other. This is the only sport where you can kill a man and get paid for it at the same time. It's legal. So why not use my right to do so?"
Re-read those comments again if you can stomach the words and then try and maintain a simmer of enthusiasm to watch this man fight. Whether he means what he’s saying or not is irrelevant, the words are enough to set boxing back decades. Too many boxers have died in the ring, or suffered life-altering injuries following a fight. Wilder’s comments are pissing on the graves of fighters before him, fighters he’s sparred with and fighters he is friends with.
Boxing is the most dangerous of all sports from a mental and physical perspective. For a man holding one of the most famous titles in the sport to say such vulgar things shows that he shouldn’t be boxing tonight, and perhaps not ever again. The reaction from the boxing community has been similar, with even those who use the term snowflake liberally astounded at the idiocy of Wilder.
Trash talk is great, it can make a boring fight relevant and brighten up a dull build-up, but thoughtless, dangerous words like Wilder’s should be met with severe punishment. Win or lose tonight, he should not be WBC champion again because he’s proven he’s not a boxer, he’s a villain.
The same could be said of Saunders who returns from the wilderness tonight in Stevenage against Shefat Ifufi. Saunders looked to be approaching the world's best after his superb win over David Lemieux in 2017, but the 29-year-old former middleweight champion has spent the last 18 months acting like teenage delinquent.
He was fined £100,000 by the British Boxing Board of Control last year after unveiling a video where he offered a woman drugs and asked her to punch a passer-by on the street, while he was stripped of his world title after failing a drug test for a banned substance. Saunders has spent his entire career slagging down other fighters and pointing out their weaknesses, but after the 18 months he’s had and the millions of pounds he’s missed out on, the real fool has been him.
That’s why - and with all respect to Stevenage - he’s fighting at a League Two stadium tonight rather than a major arena in England or America. Yes, he’s likely to beat Ifufi and become a two-weight world champion, but then what? Inactivity has frequently stalled his 11-year professional career, and he’s one defeat away from irrelevancy. Saunders has world class boxing skills and an undefeated record. But if the latter goes, the former becomes irrelevant, because he’s only appealing to fight if he hasn’t been beaten before.
More ridiculous decisions and one lapse of concentration in the ring and he could be in the running for the most wasted career in British boxing history, while Taylor, who competes for his first world title tonight in Glasgow, is on the cusp of becoming Britain’s most exciting fighter of all.
After just 14 professional fights, Taylor has established a deserved reputation as a sensational boxer who has proven he can deal with important moments already.
Significant victories over the likes of Viktor Postol, Miguel Vasquez and Ohara Davies are among the best results of any modern British boxer, and it’s the way Taylor wins that is most impressive. Taylor’s fundamentals are excellent, and he combines a wide range of punches and excellent movement with game-changing power which can alter the course of his fights.
He will have the toughest fight of his life against the undefeated Baranchyk, who carries fearsome power of his own and has an awkward style that could prove troublesome for Taylor in the first half of the fight. With the winner taking home the IBF super lightweight title and a shot at Regis Prograis in the final of the World Boxing Super Series, this is a pivotal moment for both in what will surely be the most engrossing of the evening.
Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue features on the undercard in Glasgow, with the undefeated star facing the similarly unbeaten Emmanuel Rodriguez. Inoue has destroyed all he has faced so far in his career, but could face his biggest challenge against the tough Rodriguez.