The 2017 calendar year had some fantastic boxing action, including the crazy superfight between UFC Champion Conor McGregor and Floyd “Money” Mayweather. Whether McGregor sets foot in a boxing ring this year is highly debatable, but whether he does or not, it appears boxing is re-gaining some of the popularity it used to enjoy in America, especially amongst the younger crowd.
The fights on the slate for 2018 should continue that momentum, attracting both new and old fans, alike. Numerous marquee matches have already been confirmed for this year, and there are two fights that are well worth some early betting action.
Last September, junior bantamweight world champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and now-mandatory challenger Juan Francisco Estrada both won their respective bouts at “Superfly,” an event that showcased the best the super flyweight division has to offer. This February, they will meet at “Superfly 2” in one of the most anticipated matches of the year.
Before that, Oleksandr Usyk will meet Mairis Briedis for the WBC cruiserweight title in January. The two combatants have been a big part of making a success of the World Boxing Super Series, which unfortunately hasn’t found a home on American television. Hopefully, it finds one soon, as this is a fight that shouldn’t be missed.
Below, I break down both fights, analyze the odds, and predict the winners. Unfortunately, the Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs. Juan Francisco Estrada bout does not have a moneyline yet. Once it does, we will update accordingly.
WBC Cruiserweight Title: Oleksandr Usyk (-750) vs. Mairis Briedis (c) (+550)
Saturday, January 27, 2018 (Arēna Rīga, Latvia)
Usyk (13-0, 11 KO) may not have that amazing highlight reel to his name yet, but he’s one hell of a boxer. He’s not only highly skilled, he’s also savvy and slick with the power to boot. In my mind, Usyk is the number one cruiserweight in the world and he reminded us of that last September when he stopped Marco Huck in the 10th round.
Usyk will be going to the champ Mairis Briedis’ (23-0, 18 KO) home turn in Riga, Latvia. He should be instilled with the confidence that he is the better fighter, but he must be careful not to get too confident. Briedis is one tough Latvian on a really good run, with wins over Olanrewaju Durodola, Marco Huck, and Mike Perez in his last four fights. When he beat Huck in April, he won the vacant WBC title and defended against Perez in September.
Usyk’s biggest strengths lie in his size and power, yet the 6’3 Ukrainian (with a 78-inch reach) has ample speed and fluid movement for a man of his stature. He bobs and weaves like boxers half his size, then hits you with powershots that pop like a heavyweight. There has been a ton of hype surrounding him and this is his chance to prove that he is the future of the division and one of the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighters.
Briedis is no slouch in the power department, either. He has 23 wins with 18 of those coming the way of the knockout. The 32-year-old is 6’1 with an 80-inch reach and has an orthodox stance. He is also one of the best cruiserweights in the world and thus why this matchup is so intriguing.
Briedis complements his power with patience. He doesn’t brawl, but picks his opponents apart over time, and actually outpointed his last two opponents in decision victories.
Both fighters are undefeated and you could make a case for either winning. Ultimately, Usyk’s combination of size, speed, power, and combinations should frustrate Briedis and earn him the win, potentially by decision.
Predicted Winner: Oleksandr Usyk (-750) via decision
WBC Super Flyweight Title: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (c) vs Juan Francisco Estrada
Saturday, February 24, 2018 (The Forum, Inglewood, CA)
At heart, this will be a matchup of Srisaket’s style and power versus Estrada’s resilience and skill.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (44-4-1, 40 KO) has a left hand that has put many opponents to sleep … 40 to be exact. It’s quite jaw-dropping, both literally and figuratively, how much power can be generated by the 31-year-old southpaw, who stands 5’3 with a 63-inch reach.
Standing in the other corner will be Juan Francisco Estrada (36-2, 25 KO), who is riding a 10-fight winning streak and coming off a dominant victory over Carlos Cuadras last September. The 27-year-old Mexican stands at 5’4, has a 66-inch reach, and an orthodox stance.
Sor Rungvisai loves to push the pace and work the body to open up the headshot. Estrada also has an affinity for shots to the body and if you want to brawl with him, he’ll happily oblige. Don’t underestimate the 27-year-old’s power, just ask Giovani Segura, who was surprisingly KOed by some of that Mexican heat.
Estrada is technically proficient and probably the better pure boxer between the two, but that means very little here. If he gets clipped by one of Srisaket’s power shots, the fight could be over in a flash. We have seen Estrada get knocked down before by fighters who don’t possess nearly the same kind of power.
Estrada does have a size advantage in this fight and an impressive number of KOs himself. If he can frustrate Sor Rungvisai enough, he might force the champ to make a careless mistake. We have seen him get frustrated before and have it cost him, with reckless headbutts leading to point deductions.
The champ has two wins over Chocolatito, an opponent Estrada lost a one-sided decision to. As good as Estrada is, I just don’t see how he will be able to avoid Sor Rungvisai’s power shots. Even if he takes this fight into the later rounds, we will be waiting for the inevitable knockout.
Predicted Winner: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai via KO