THE smart thing about announcing a show headlined by a pay-per-view star but telling the world it is not a pay-per-view event – despite the fact they will, as DAZN subscribers, still have to pay money to watch it – is that you organically lower expectations, relieve some pressure and can say, if ever questioned about its overall quality, ‘Well, it’s a non-pay-per-view show, so what did you expect?’
In the case of Anthony Joshua’s April 1 heavyweight fight against Jermaine Franklin, we can expect a decent if not great matchup, which is exactly what it is on paper, and we can also likely say the same for the undercard.
On that front so far, as confirmed on Thursday (February 9), we have a light-heavyweight bout between Craig Richards and Ricards Bolotniks, as well as a European middleweight title fight between champion Matteo Signani and Felix Cash.
Both those fights, which will take place at The O2 before Joshua and Franklin enter the ring, are solid enough and carry with them British interest, with Richards living in Crystal Palace and Cash born in Chertsey. They perhaps won’t have fans salivating as they wait for Joshua and Franklin, but, as a start, and in the context of – once again – a “non-pay-per-view show”, it’s all right.
Interestingly, Richards was due to face Bolotniks on a previous event headlined by Jermaine Franklin last November, only the fight fell apart when Richards, 17-3-1 (10), was forced to withdraw on account of an illness he experienced during fight week.
Known as “Spider”, Richards has, for better or worse, become a boxer more celebrated for the fights he has lost than the fights he has won and could do with now putting together a run of victories that will, in time, deliver him a big fight more on his terms than on previous occasions. On those previous occasions he has performed admirably, of course, losing on points to both Dmitry Bivol and Joshua Buatsi, yet both times Richards gave the impression of a nearly man, someone who will always push the best fighters in the division but, alas, fall short of beating them.
He needs to now change that impression and the first step to doing so will come against Bolotniks, a better opponent than any of the previous men he has beaten, including Shakan Pitters, Andre Sterling and Jake Ball. Maybe a tad past his best, the man from Latvia, now 32, has on prior trips to the UK managed to upset Steven Ward (TKO 1 in 2019) and Serge Michel (TKO 10 in 2020), and has also beaten Hosea Burton (UD 10) and Sergei Ekimov (UD 12), two other opponents he wasn’t supposed to beat.
More recently Bolotniks appeared in Britain against Joshua Buatsi, who, as it turned out, was a step too far for the man from Riga. Spirited and as game as ever, he was nevertheless stopped by Buatsi in 11 rounds and, while competitive, never looked like troubling the Londoner at any stage.
Since then, Bolotniks has responded well from that loss, beating Hrvoje Sep over eight rounds last time out in Spain. As usual with Bolotniks, Sep was an opponent whose unbeaten record (11-0) he was able to tarnish with a combination of hard work, seasoning and toughness, and the only recent negative as far as Bolotniks is concerned is that he wasn’t able to capitalise on that win because of Richards’ illness last year. Now, because of this, by the time he faces Richards in London an entire year will have passed, which is never ideal for a fighter like Bolotniks, 19-6-1 (8).
Richards, also, has not seen action since losing against Buatsi in May, though one senses he is the fresher of the two and the one expected to use this opportunity to relaunch his career.
“I’m expecting a great fight with Bolotniks,” he said. “He is a good fighter and a lot of people know that which will allow me to showcase how good a fighter I am. I’m excited to be on this card. It’s ironic it’s the return of (Anthony) Joshua because I feel like it’s my return too. A win against Bolotniks puts me heavily in the mix with the big boys and looking to push on to big things.”
In the other confirmed undercard fight, Italian Matteo Signani, 32-6-3 (12), will be boxing in Britain for the very first time as a pro. Even more incredibly, he will be doing so at the ripe old age of 43.
Mostly competing in his homeland to date, Signani is no stranger to European title fights, having boxed in six of them, and will bring his belt to Britain with every intention of hanging on to it, even if both age and the odds are against him.
Indeed, Signani fought for the belt for the first time back in 2016, when losing a split decision against Emanuele Blandamura, and immediately then made it his mission to get the title that eluded him that night. He completed this mission three years later in 2019, when again he was involved in a split decision, only this time the decision fell in his favour rather than the way of his opponent, Gevorg Khatchikian. From there, with the belt at last his, Signani went on to defend it twice, stopping Maxime Beaussire inside two rounds in 2020 before outpointing Ruben Diaz the following year.
Last year, meanwhile, proved to be an eventful one for the Italian. That was the year he ventured to France and lost his belt to Frenchman Anderson Prestot on a technical decision (after five rounds) in June and then won the belt back in November with a seventh-round stoppage of Prestot at home in Italy.
Now, with the belt still his but time running out, Signani, a late bloomer and a pro since 2007, meets Felix Cash, someone who, at 16-0 (10), represents the most dangerous foe he has faced as a pro.
In need of a fight like this, Cash last year outpointed Magomed Madiev over 10 rounds and Celso Neves over eight, but has, in truth, not yet matched the scintillating display he produced when stopping Denzel Bentley in three rounds to win the British middleweight title in 2021.
“2022 was a tough one for me personally but I’m determined to make this my year,” Cash said. “In 2023 I’m coming for all the belts and want the biggest fights possible, starting with the European title at The O2. The work I’ve been putting in in the gym with Tony Sims (coach) has been fantastic and I’ve never felt better. Come April 1 everyone is going to see that I’m the real deal.”