IT might have a different title these days but the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Cailfornia is still playing host to main event fights befitting its famous “War Grounds” nickname. Known more commonly among boxing fans as the StubHub, the outdoor venue was given the moniker by Timothy Bradley after his 2013 barnburner with Ruslan Provodnikov, while a series of other fighters have served up plenty of battles ever since. And if there was ever a fight which looked tailor-made for that spot in particular it is this Saturday’s (November 2) WBC super-featherweight title showdown between champion Miguel Berchelt and his latest challenger Jason Sosa, live on ESPN.
In what will be the sixth defence of his title, Berchelt is vying to demonstrate exactly why he is beginning to sneak into many people’s pound-for-pound top 10. At 36-1 with 32 inside the distance, the 27-year-old is certainly one of the sport’s most over-looked champions, but that is starting to change. The solitary defeat on his record came back in March 2014 when he was stunned in the first round by Luis Eduardo Florez. He has surged back to prominence since then, winning 15 on the spin, most recently a second inside-schedule victory over Francisco Vargas in May.
On the face of it, Sosa, 23-3-4 (16), should represent a reasonably straightforward defence for Berchelt before he attempts to secure a unification fight in the first quarter of next year. But the 31-year-old New Jersey native put himself right back in the title picture with an arguably career-best win over Haskell Lydell Rhodes last time out in August. Sosa dropped the 27-3-1 Rhodes three times en route to a seventh-round stoppage, which suggested he has now put his pair of 2017 defeats to Vasyl Lomachenko and Yuriorkis Gamboa firmly behind him.
He drew with Nicholas Walters in December 2015 and then claimed a secondary WBA belt in June 2016, climbing off the floor to stop Javier Fortuna in the 11th. After successfully defending against Stephen Smith five months later (ud 12), he then vacated in order to face Lomachenko. That was his only shot at a full world title so far, but he will fancy his chances far more this time around.
Sosa remains an underdog against Berchelt, yet his all-action style will give the Cancun-born star problems throughout. Indeed, it is that style which could make Berchelt-Sosa the sort of contest which ends up in the Fight of the Year debates. Top Rank Vice President Carl Moretti has described the encounter as a “can’t-miss fight” and it’s hard to disagree.
The showdown was initially in play for a spot on the Las Vegas undercard of Tyson Fury’s bloody battle with Otto Wallin on September 14, but it was reported that Berchelt intimated he would need more time to make the 130lb limit. He has now whipped himself into superb shape for the challenge of Sosa. Moretti has already mentioned the possibility of the winner taking on another of Top Rank’s fan-friendly super-featherweights in Oscar Valdez, and victory over Sosa would be the perfect preparation for such a clash. Again, the “War Grounds” would make the perfect venue.
“There’s a lot of talk about a fight against Valdez and I certainly want that fight,” Berchelt said. “But the first thing is to beat Sosa. We’re always aiming higher. We want to clean out the division and go to lightweight for Lomachenko.”
Whatever comes next, Berchelt should be just too powerful for Sosa, who will have his moments but could spend too long in the pocket to survive all 12 rounds. A late stoppage by the champion looks like the smart bet.
And it could be a similar story in the chief support when IBF super-flyweight king Jerwin Ancajas defends against emerging Mexican puncher Jonathan Javier Rodriguez. The 27-year-old Filipino is now into the third year of his reign, which began when he outpointed McJoe Arroyo, making him the division’s longest-serving titlist. He has successfully defended the belt seven times, with six wins and a draw. He is widely expected to make that eight against Rodriguez, who is making a clear step up in quality by facing such an established champion in his first crack at a world title.
The only defeat on the challenger’s 22-fight record came via split decision against Jose Martin Estrada Garcia in March last year. He has rebuilt with five wins since, with four of those early, but the come-forward 24-year-old seems to lack the seasoning required to dethrone Ancajas in what will be his first fight outside of his native Mexico.
Southpaw Ancajas has been linked with unification clashes with the division’s other champions like Kal Yafai and Kazuto Ioka, and he should stay on course for those by dispatching Rodriguez somewhere around the midpoint of the fight. Before that, there is a comeback fight for Mexican-American super-lightweight Alex Saucedo, 28-1 (18), who is in action for the first time since he was halted by Maurice Hooker in a November WBO title tilt. In the aftermath of what was his first defeat, Saucedo split from trainer Abel Sanchez. His eight-rounder against Pennsylvanian Rod Salka, 24-5 (4) – a former Danny Garcia victim – will be his debut under new coach Pedro Neme.
The Verdict Another action-packed fight is anticipated at Carson’s combat zone.