This Saturday night HBO will air a two fight card promoted by Golden Boy Promotions emanating from Boardwalk Hall (“The House that Thunder Built”) in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Originally slated to open the broadcast was a heavyweight rematch between prospect/suspect Seth Mitchell and Kronk fighter/Klitschko trainer Jonathan Banks. However, Banks broke a thumb and the bout has been postponed. In its place, HBO will air a super middleweight title eliminator between Sakio Bika (30-5-2) of Cameroon and Nikola Sjekloca (25-0) of Serbia. Calling this bout a “super middleweight title eliminator” is a misnomer. While the winner will be the mandatory challenger for WBC/WBA/Ring Magazine Champion Andre Ward, the chances of that fight actually happening are slim. For one, Ward has already defeated Bika by unanimous decision and the fight was not exciting at all. Additionally, a win over the unknown Sjekloca will not do much to raise his profile. On the other hand, Sjekloca has a chance to raise his profile but a win over Bika will not be enough to move him past other more notable challengers for Ward’s title such as the Carl Froch – Mikkel Kessler II winner.
I could not find a line on the Bika-Sjekloca fight on-line. For sure, Bika is favored over the undefeated Serbian. Bika is a tough awkward fighter whose only losses have come to the top level (Ward, Joe Calzaghe and Lucian Bute), have been avenged (Sam Soliman) or were a total fluke (Jean Paul Mendy). Additionally, he has a very good chin and can punch well for a 168 pounder. Sjekloca is not a puncher as he only has 7 knock outs in 25 fights. His best win is a close decision over Khoren Gevor who was more soundly beaten by notable fighters such as Arthur Abraham, Felix Sturm and Robert Stieglitz. Most notably, this is the first fight outside of Europe for Sjekloca. Unless Bika has really lost it, which is possible considering his inactivity, Bika should win this one.
The main event of the card features a potential superstar and WBC Lightweight titlist Adrien “The Problem” Broner (25-0) taking on a former junior welterweight titlist from the UK, Gavin Rees (37-1-1). Broner, if you buy the hype, is on the cusp of stardom. He has fast hands, good power, excellent defense, strength, great boxing skills and finishing skills. Those skills were apparent in wipeout knockout victories over Jason Litzau, Vicente Rodriguez, Eloy Perez, Vicente Escobedo and Antonio DeMarco. Over the course of those victories, Broner picked up 2 titles in as many weight classes. Broner also has a personality much bigger than his lightweight frame; he walks to the ring either rapping his own songs or accompanied by hip-hop stars and he usually does some kind of comedy routine during his post fight interviews. Those that don’t buy the hype, though, will note that before Broner was lucky to get a decision over the smaller Daniel Ponce de Leon, all of his notable wins are over smaller fighters and he unprofessionally didn’t even try to make weight the bout with Escobedo. They would also argue that Broner’s former division, junior lightweight, and his current home at 135 pounds are void of any notable challengers and, thus, it may be a year or so before he moves up to 140 pounds and faces someone perceived as having a good chance to defeat him.
So, has Rees been brought in to prove if Broner can live up to hype? On pure numbers, it looks like it as he may be Broner’s first opponent to match him in size, he is a former titlist and he has only lost one fight. The loss, via knockout, was to Andriy Kotelnyk, a fighter with a win over Marcos Maidana, a disputed loss to Devon Alexander and a close loss to Amir Khan. That said, Rees’ notable wins are not that notable: Souleymane M’baye (in Rees’ hometown) and undefeated Andy Murray. Rees’ knockout percentage is under 50%. And frankly, Rees talent, both athletically and as a boxer, are not in Broner’s league. Even more frankly, according to multiple boxing writers including Dan Rafael of ESPN and Steve Kim of Maxboxing, Broner, through his uber-influential manager, Al Haymon, is negotiating a long-term, exclusive contract with HBO. With that in mind, there is no way Haymon or the folks at HBO would risk the future before that contract is signed.
I’ve heard that the line on this fight is as high as 80-1 or 40-1 and www.sportbet.com lists Broner as a -3500 favorite (Rees is +1750). If you are familiar with the term “bridge-jumper bet,” I would suggest that is appropriate here. If you are not familiar with the term, I will make it clearer: Rees has no chance.
Lastly, for those attending the card in person, Escobedo will return to action in a 130 pound bout against Edner Cherry. Both guys are usually in exciting fights so although Escobedo is a class above Cherry, this should be a fun fight. It certainly will be better than the showcases for Demetrius Hopkins and three time US Olympian and Broner buddy Rau’shee Warren that are also on the undercard.