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Saturday Boxing Preview: Keith Thurman ends hiatus, Claressa Shields also returns to action

The first real major boxing weekend of 2022 is here.

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Keith Thurman poses for a photo at the weigh-ins for his 2019 fight vs. Manny Pacquiao.
Keith Thurman poses for a photo at the weigh-ins for his 2019 fight vs. Manny Pacquiao.
Photo credit should read JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP via Getty Images

It’s been a quiet start to boxing’s 2022, with things not really expected to ramp up until March-April. In the meantime, we have three major boxing shows on February 5th to look forward to. One is a $75 pay-per-view, another one is $30 if you’re outside the United Kingdom, and another one is on DAZN. I know it’s pricey but so is everything else these days.

Let’s get to the preview!


Biggest Event: Keith Thurman vs. Mario Barrios (9 PM ET, FOX PPV - $75)

Former WBA welterweight champion Keith Thurman (29-1-1 NC, 22 KOs) has not fought since he suffered a split decision loss to the legendary Manny Pacquiao all the way back in July 2019. He’s finally making his comeback against Mario Barrios (26-1, 17 KOs).

Thurman holds wins over Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia, and Robert Guerrero but has otherwise scarcely competed over the last five years. After beating Garcia in March 2017 he missed the rest of the year and all of 2018 recovering from injury, and he did not want to take on Errol Spence Jr or rematch with Shawn Porter in his return. By the time he did return in January 2019, he survived a massive 7th round scare and eked out a decision win over a game Josesito Lopez. The Pacquiao fight happened a few months later, and he was dropped in the opening round, but what ensued was one of the best fights of the year.

Keith’s unbeaten record came to an end against Pac-man, and another inactive spell continued.

As for Barrios, he also is coming off a first career defeat in the form of an 11th round TKO against Gervonta Davis last June. Now it’s worth noting that while Thurman is a career welterweight, Barrios has fought mostly a junior welterweight and began his career at 122 lbs back in 2013. He won a secondary WBA 140 lbs title with a close if not disputed decision over Batyr Akhmedov, then followed that up with a successful defense against action fighter Ryan ‘Cowboy’ Karl. Davis swooped in and took his title away in a thriller, but Barrios could not deal with Gervonta’s power.

Thurman is a good counterpuncher and while his power isn’t anything special, it’s something that Barrios should respect given he’s not defensively sound. With that said, considering how long he’s been out I think Barrios has a legit shot to win this. Barrios has a better workrate and he really digs down to the body, where Thurman has been vulnerable before (and where Barrios himself succumbed against Davis). This shouldn’t be a boring fight I can tell you that much.

The idea of this as a pay-per-view is laughable, but the card as a whole is not awful. Leo Santa Cruz gets a tune-up fight against Keenan Carbajal, which admittedly is a complete waste of a co-feature spot. For the better action, former 122 lbs champion Luis Nery against Carlos Castro is far and away the best undercard fight and should be a slugfest. Abel Ramos is an exciting welterweight who will take on Lucas Santamaria, filling in for Josesito Lopez. No doubt that Ramos vs. Lopez would’ve been more fun, but Ramos vs. Santamaria may still be worthwhile.

Best Fight: Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez vs. Carlos Cuadras (8 PM ET, DAZN)

Typically in boxing when a major fight gets cancelled, the replacement fight isn’t that good. We were supposed to get Srisaket Sor Rungvisai’s rematch with Carlos Cuadras (39-4-1, 27 KOs) in Saturday’s main event in Arizona, but COVID struck that down. In steps high-flying contender Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez (14-1, 10 KOs), who normally competes at 108 lbs and was scheduled for the undercard, for a world title shot up at 115 lbs.

Cuadras is one of the super-flyweight mainstays who’s fought and beaten Sor Rungvisai but lost to Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez and twice to Juan Francisco Estrada. The rematch with Estrada was an epic battle that saw Cuadras nearly pull off the upset before eventually getting TKO’d in the penultimate round.

Rodriguez is coming off a stoppage of Jose Alejandro Burgos on the Mikey Garcia vs. Sandor Marin undercard. ‘Bam’ was a high-level amateur who only turned pro in 2017. He has slick footwork, fast hands, and good power.

Cuadras is a real veteran of the sport and his experience (which isn’t a euphemism for “old” in this instance) may prove problematic for Jesse given the circumstances of this fight being put together. Cuadras has had some up-and-down performances even in some of his wins, and he suffered an outright upset against McWilliams Arroyo, so if he’s not on his game and the 22-year-old Rodriguez lives up to his potential, we could be in for an upset.

This should be the best fight of the evening and the one I’m looking forward to the most.

Biggest Stakes: Claressa Shields vs. Ema Kozin (3 PM ET, FITE PPV - $30)

After a 1-1 start to her MMA career, Claressa Shields (11-0, 2 KOs) is back in her familiar territory. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and unified middleweight champ is up against Slovenia’s Ema Kozin (21-0-1, 11 KOs).

Shields has not boxed since a decision over Marie-Eve Dicaire in March 2021 in her hometown of Flint, Michigan. She’s bested Christina Hammer, Femke Hermans, and Ivana Habazin over the years and has rarely been in any trouble as a pro. What Shields lacks in punching power she makes up for with superior boxing skill over her peers.

Kozin is undefeated but doesn’t exactly have a ton of notable wins on her record. On a few occasions she’s had rematches of fights she clearly won, but it’s just a different environment when dealing with women’s boxing and especially in the heavier weight classes. On skill level, she looks like she’s one of the best middleweights in the world, and this is her chance to show she’s #1.

Shields is a massive favorite and unless she does fall victim to Kozin’s power, this is her fight to lose. And the big aspect of this matchup is that if Shields wins and Savannah Marshall wins her next bout against Femke Hermans in March, we should get Shields vs. Marshall later in the year for the undisputed title. Marshall has not just found big success as a pro but she defeated Shields in the amateurs, so plenty of intrigue there.

Honorable mention is that this isn’t even the main event; Chris Eubank Jr (31-2, 23 KOs) looks to state his case for a title shot against fellow Brit Liam Williams (23-3-1, 18 KOs), who lost a relatively spirited decision to WBO champ Demetrius Andrade last year. Eubank is the favorite but I think Williams has a good shot at the upset.