Deontay Wilder headlines, but it’s a junior middleweight title fight you want to see.
Deontay Wilder vs Gerald Washington
Record: 37-0 (36 KO) … Streak: W9 … Last 5: 5-0 … Last 10: 10-0 … Stance: Orthodox … Height/Reach: 6’7″ / 83″ … Age: 31
Thoughts: Deontay Wilder is always going to have doubters, but he’s got as much claim to being the world’s best active heavyweight as anyone does, what with Tyson Fury’s career on hold at best, perhaps over at worst. The 31-year-old Alabamian’s résumé isn’t particularly deep, but wins over Chris Arreola, Artur Szpilka, Bermane Stiverne, Eric Molina, and Johann Duhaupas in his last five are the equal of what Anthony Joshua has done. Joshua gets more credit for doing it quicker, but he was also more polished coming into the pro ranks. (Before you think I’m letting Wilder pass too easily, I was as big a critic of some of his early career fights as anyone, especially the time he fought a retired ex-middleweight.)
Wilder has developed his game, sharpened his tools, and become a solid fighter. He’s not going to make anyone forget Muhammad Ali or George Foreman or anything, and I don’t think he’ll ever be elite elite — as in, he’ll never stand out as among the best pound-for-pound in the sport — but he’s certainly a credible top heavyweight in today’s field, which for all the talk in 2015 of a resurgent division, pretty much sank again in 2016 with Tyson Fury’s absence and the way Wilder and Joshua pretty much were left to tread water, especially with Wilder’s fight against Alexander Povetkin falling apart due to Povetkin’s drug test issues.
This matchup was supposed to see Wilder face Andrzej Wawrzyk, who would have been overmatched. Instead, it’s Gerald Washington, who will be overmatched.
Record: 18-0-1 (12 KO) … Streak: W2 … Last 5: 4-0-1 … Last 10: 9-0-1 … Stance: Orthodox … Height/Reach: 6’6″ / 82″ … Age: 34
Thoughts: More project than prospect, and that’s always been the case. Washington is a former tight end/defensive end from the University of Southern California, and a former practice squad member of the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills. He also served in the United States Navy, and is nicknamed “El Gallo Negro.”
Now that the trivia’s out of the way, let’s put it like it is: Washington is most likely in well over his head against Wilder, who was once more project than prospect himself, but has developed into a good pro fighter and has shocking power. If you watch the two fight back-to-back, you see a learned comfort in Wilder’s style that you’re not going to find in Washington, who is still a little rough around the edges, and frankly that’s just how it is.
His most notable fights have been wins over veteran knockaround guys Travis Walker, Nagy Aguilera, Jason Gavern, and Eddie Chambers, with Chambers well past his best days when he was something of a contender. Last year, he beat Chambers and a very washed-up Ray Austin. Those fights followed a draw against Amir Mansour in 2015, a fight where Washington was very lucky to get out without a loss.
Matchup Grade: D. I’ll save it from the F rating because both guys are big and can bang, but that’s about all this one has going for it, apart from Wilder’s natural appeal as a charismatic power puncher. It’s not competitive on paper, even with Wilder having spent some time out due to injury.
Tony Harrison vs Jarrett Hurd
Record: 24-1 (20 KO) … Streak: W3 … Last 5: 4-1 … Last 10: 9-1 … Stance: Orthodox … Height/Reach: 6’1″ / 76½” … Age: 26
Thoughts: Being more noble blogsmith than srs jrnlst, I am OK with admitting that I like and root for Tony Harrison. Being a Michigan native, I naturally cheer for Michigan fighters, and I’m a sucker for those Kronk colors. I also like his fighting style, and I think he’s a personable, charming person, a guy who does his best to give back to his community and make his corner of the world a better place.
But I won’t tell you I think he’s a flawless fighter by any means. Harrison should really be undefeated, but he got ahead of himself back in July 2015, when he fought Willie Nelson, and he paid the price for it, stopped with three seconds left in the ninth of a scheduled 10 rounds. In his next outing, he looked a little tentative in a win over Cecil McCalla.
The real key, though, was he didn’t spend time brooding over the loss. Three and a half months later, he was back in the ring to face McCalla. And he seemed to shake the cobwebs off after that fight, going back to what’s served him well in wins over Fernando Guerrero and Siarhei Rabchanka in 2016, both stoppages.
Harrison is a flashy puncher, an offense-first fighter who defends second if much at all. It has gotten him through thus far, but we also know he can be hurt and stopped if he makes too many mistakes, just like anyone. Jarrett Hurd is a dangerous fighter, and Harrison has to be on his game in this one if he’s going to hand his opponent the first loss of his career.
Record: 19-0 (13 KO) … Streak: W19 … Last 5: 5-0 … Last 10: 10-0 … Stance: Orthodox … Height/Reach: 6’1″ / 76½” … Age: 26
Thoughts: Hurd has sort of sprung onto the scene in the last year and change, starting with his TKO-6 win over unbeaten Frank Galarza in November 2015, and last year he knocked off another unbeaten prospect, Oscar Molina (TKO-10) and veteran former welterweight title challenger Jo Jo Dan (TKO-6).
Hurd, from Accokeek, Maryland, hasn’t necessarily been groomed for the spotlight, but he’s shown he’s as ready as he’s going to get to take his first serious stab at it. With a vacant world title on the line, this fight means even more now, and you can expect serious effort from Hurd, as well as Harrison.
There’s not a lot else to say yet. His career is still a little show, as this is just his 20th pro fight, but what we’ve seen in his last three is a very promising fighter on the rise.
Matchup Grade: B+. Same dimensions, same age, coming together at the right time for a significant fight at 154 pounds. It’s not a big enough deal or SUCH a guaranteed slugfest or whatever that I can bump it into the A-range, but there’s nothing I don’t like about this fight. Two young guys on the way up, hungry, both can punch, both come to fight, world title on the line (even if vacant, even if a paper title) — this is a good matchup.
Also on the card
Dominic Breazeale (17-1, 15 KO) will take on Izuagbe Ugonoh (17-0, 14 KO) in a battle of heavyweight sluggers. Breazeale’s lone loss as a pro came to Anthony Joshua, but that honestly says more about his skills than is really deserved. Like Washington, he’s a former football player turned pro fighter, and it shows in every step he takes on the canvas. Ugonoh is an interesting prospect, potentially — he’s stormed through Poland and Australia, and this is his U.S. debut. If he’s close to the real deal, he should win handsomely. If he’s not, Breazeale has enough pop and toughness to expose him, even if he does so in defeat.