Miguel Berchelt and Takashi Miura ready to produce candidate for fight of the year


Junior lightweight world titleholder Miguel Berchelt and former titlist Takashi Miura have been on a brief collision course and they are about to run into each other, undoubtedly at full blast.

On the same Jan. 28 card, Berchelt and Miura both won rough battles. In the main event, Berchelt inflicted severe cuts on Francisco Vargas and stopped him in the 11th round to win a 130-pound belt and Miura outslugged Miguel “Mickey” Roman in the co-feature en route to a 12th-round knockout victory in a world title eliminator bout to earn a shot at the belt Berchelt won.

Six months later, with those big wins in the rearview mirror, the Berchelt-Miura showdown is here and likely to be a bruising fight when they meet in the main event of a “Boxing After Dark” tripleheader Saturday (HBO, 9:50 p.m. ET/PT) at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Fans are in store for a potential fight of the year candidate.

“We saw what Miguel Berchelt is capable from his slugfest earlier this year against the rugged Francisco Vargas, and that level of action is what fans should expect to see when he takes on former world champion Takashi Miura,” Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya said.

Berchelt (31-1, 28 KOs), 25, of Mexico, is the younger, fresher fighter, but a win over a vastly experienced warrior such as Miura would go a long way to enhancing his reputation, and he knows it.

“I consider myself a world champion, and fighting Takashi Miura is a way to prove that I am the best in my class,” said Berchelt, who has won 10 fights in a row, all by knockout. “Some of my advantages include my height, the fact that I haven’t been in many wars and my youth.

“I have a youthful hunger that makes the difference between the two of us. It’s cool to know that I am facing the best in my division. I was able to get through Francisco Vargas, so I know that I can take on Miura.”

Most view titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko as the No. 1 junior lightweight, but Berchelt and Miura are among the best and they are also among the most exciting. Berchelt showed he can be a crowd-pleaser in the Vargas fight and it sounds like he plans on doing that again.

“This by no means will be an easy fight. Miura has gone to war many times in his career and I am expecting nothing less in this fight,” Berchelt said. “I want to prove that winning this belt was no fluke, and defending it against a warrior like Miura is the perfect opportunity to do that.”

Miura (31-3-2, 24 KOs), a 33-year-old Japanese southpaw, has proven his entertainment value multiple times. Besides the win over Roman, Miura, who won a world title in 2013 and defended it four times, was in the 2015 fight of the year. That was when Vargas made a huge comeback to stop Miura in the ninth round of an epic fight on the Canelo Alvarez-Miguel Cotto undercard. Since then, Miura has won both of his bouts, including the barnburner with Roman.

“After my last loss (to Vargas), I became depressed for a couple of months,” Miura said. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to come back to the level that I once was. However, boxing is everything to me, and I couldn’t just walk away.

“I have more heart than Berchelt,” he continued. “I want this more than I want anything. I am expecting a war because I know he won’t want to give up his belt that easy. But I want it back. I am preparing myself for a tough fight. I am looking forward to being on HBO again and putting on an exciting fight for the boxing fans. Our division is known for a lot of wars.”

The winner of the fight could be in line for a title unification fight with the winner of the co-feature, in which Jezreel Corrales (21-1, 8 KOs), a 26-year-old southpaw from Panama, will have his first fight since signing with Golden Boy earlier this year.

Corrales will make his second defense in his U.S. debut against upset specialist Robinson Castellanos (24-12, 14 KOs), 35, of Mexico, who has pulled upsets against Ronny Rios and Rocky Juarez and, most recently, scored a huge one when he dominated and knocked out former unified featherweight titleholder Yuriorkis Gamboa on May 5.

“I’m going up against a boxer who doesn’t like to waste his punches. I know that he has also watched my fights and that he has studied me well,” Corrales said. “I know that he will come forward to attack me, and to look for opportunities. He will try to overwhelm me, and he will try to throw punches to knock me out but that’s why they call me ‘El Invisible’ (‘The Invisible’). I won’t let him catch me.”

Castellanos is aiming for yet another unexpected victory.

“We have been working with several left-handed sparring partners to fine-tune the strategy,” he said. “I know that Jezreel is surely doing his part to win, and I hope it turns out an attractive fight for fans and HBO for both him and me. This fight opens doors for me.”

Joe Smith Jr. reacts after punching Bernard Hopkins out of the ring for an eighth round TKO to win the WBC International Light Heavyweight title at The Forum on December 17, 2016 Harry How/Getty Images

Smith-Barrera showdown

In the opener, light heavyweight contenders Joe Smith Jr. (23-1, 19 KOs) and Sullivan Barrera (19-1, 14 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder.

Smith, 27, a popular fighter from New York’s Long Island, will return to the site of his greatest victory in December, when he knocked the great Bernard Hopkins out of the ring in the eighth round and sent the future Hall of Famer into retirement.

“Since my last fight, everyone recognizes me more,” said Smith, who is also a construction worker. “I’ve been working on continuing my journey towards becoming a world champion. I’m in great shape and ready to put on a tremendous performance against Sullivan Barrera. It’s not like fighting at home but I’m looking forward to fighting at The Forum again. I was treated very well there and it’s a tremendous and legendary venue.

“This fight is a huge challenge to me as he’s got a lot of experience but I’ll be ready. I’d still like to fight (world champion) Adonis Stevenson. I was ready this year, and I’ll be ready at any time but now my focus is solely on this fight.”

Barrera, 35, a former Cuban amateur standout fighting out of Miami, has won two fights in a row by knockout since a lopsided decision loss in March 2016 to Andre Ward, who went on to claim three world title belts by outpointing Sergey Kovalev in November.

“When I come out victorious, it should either give me a shot at the title or get me one step closer to fighting for a title,” Barrera said.

Barrera is also motivated by having his father, Rafael Barrera, in town for the fight to see him fight. He and his father have been separated for eight years since Sullivan defected from Cuba. Thanks to the loosening of travel rules from Cuba, Rafael was allowed to visit the U.S. and he and his son were recently reunited.

“This fight is special because it is the first time my father will see me fight professionally,” Barrera said. “It has been eight years since I have seen my father. It is very important for me that he is here for this fight, for my mind and for everything. I want to get for him the victory. I am very excited.”


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