DAZN was the first major broadcaster to announce its schedule for the first quarter of 2022, and it set the bar fairly high with a few surprising matchups plus a bout that could end up being the best of the entire year.
The schedule outlines shows in February and March, both of which are set to be busy months for the streaming service. First up is a super-welterweight clash between Jessie Vargas and Liam Smith, who have been circling each other for a while now.
Both have found success at world level in the past and both adopt a fan-friendly style of fighting, so this clash is likely to be a lot of fun.
A week later John Ryder gets his deserved crack at an established international name when he takes on Daniel Jacobs at Alexandra Palace in London. To have home advantage is a big win for Ryder, and Ally Pally is a great venue for boxing, though it’s obviously best known for hosting the darts.
February is scheduled to close out with what is, on paper, a fairly underwhelming run out for Lawrence Okolie. The Londoner, who now operates at world level and has designs on clearing out the cruiserweight division, will face Poland’s Michal Cieslak.
In purely competitive terms, the fight isn’t too bad; Cieslak holds stoppage wins over Youri Kalenga and Olanrewaju Durodola, and went the distance with Ilunga Makabu back in 2020. However, that loss to Makabu is the only time he has fought outside of Poland and, even to the most hardcore boxing fans, Cieslak is not much of a name.
Okolie himself is extremely marketable and looks to have the tools to go far in the sport; he now needs the appropriate challenges to prove this. According to those who handle his career he’s hard to match, despite his lofty positioning in the 200lb division. If he comes through Cieslak unscathed, let’s hope there are big fights awaiting “The Sauce” later on in 2022.
March kicks off with what is easily the best fight to be confirmed so far for this year; the trilogy bout between Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman Gonzalez. Now super-flyweights, the pair first met as light-flyweights in 2012, with Gonzalez prevailing in an all-time great tussle.
They resumed hostilities last year, Estrada just pipping ‘Chocolatito’ on the cards to gain revenge in another modern classic. This third meeting not only all but ensures breathtaking action, it also once again matches up two of the most accomplished fighters in the sport.
The remainder of March rounds out a strong month for DAZN. Leigh Wood and Michael Conlan will meet in Nottingham, while Michael McKinson will travel to the US to take on Vergil Ortiz Jnr. Finishing the month is a rematch between Kiko Martinez and Josh Warrington.
They’re all interesting matchups in their own right and will have important ramifications for their respective divisions. DAZN may have upped its price last year but it’s entering 2022 with value for money.
Plus, there’s the chance that Anthony Joshua’s rematch with Oleksandr Usyk – slated for April – could land on DAZN in the UK and Canelo Alvarez’s next fight, likely in May, could do the same. If that happens, the broadcaster would have a schedule that its competitors would find incredibly hard to top.
Last year, we seemed to be able to compartmentalise the actions of YouTuber Jake Paul, who had three bouts against former UFC fighters, winning them all. Though these events gathered a lot of attention (and derision), we were able to label them as a sideshow.
Paul, though clearly passionate about the sport, is yet to fight an actual boxer and until he does so we don’t need to concern ourselves too much with his progression. When I say “we”, I am apparently not including ESPN Ringside or Sports Illustrated.
ESPN named Paul’s second win over Tyron Woodley their knockout of the year. It was a brutal one-punch victory, but these things need to be put into context. Woodley was in his second professional boxing match (the first also being against Paul) and was leaving himself wide open for what was a telegraphed right hand.
The fight itself had no consequence outside of the echo chamber of Paul’s events. When you compare this to the likes of Tyson Fury’s dramatic knockout of Deontay Wilder earlier in the year, it’s impossible to see how Paul’s could be chosen instead.
Sports Illustrated named Paul the ‘breakout boxer of the year’. Chris Mannix wrote the accompanying article to explain why, and he offered up nothing of value. In fact, his main argument seemed to be that Paul deserves the award because he refuses to fight actual boxers.
In the grand scheme of things these accolades don’t mean all that much but they smack of these publications and outlets pandering to what they feel will generate the most traffic to their sites. There were plenty of other boxers more deserving of recognition from these mainstream outlets.
Speaking of which, Usyk was interviewed by Forbes at the end of 2021, and while the conversation with writer Josh Katzowitz didn’t reveal much we didn’t already know about the Ukrainian, it further highlighted Usyk’s bulletproof mentality.
He was asked about how life has changed since he beat Joshua last year, and how he views his own standing in the sport. Based on his answers, Usyk isn’t wholly concerned with anything that doesn’t directly relate to his goal of proving himself the best in the world.
Compare that to Andy Ruiz after he stunned Joshua, and it’s clear ‘AJ’ will not be facing a distracted Usyk in their eventual rematch.