Ranking this weekend's fights: 'Chocolatito,' 'Boots' Ennis and Alimkhanuly

From the return of former pound-for-pound king Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, to title defenses by Janibek Alimkhanuly, Skye Nicolson and Jaron “Boots” Ennis, there are some big fights around the world this weekend.

Gonzalez, now testing the waters at bantamweight, is a future Hall of Famer trying to set up a title fight in a fifth weight class. Alimkhanuly is unquestionably the best active middleweight fighter in boxing, and with little competition in the division, a decisive victory could help him in a future move to 168 pounds, where names like Canelo Alvarez, David Morrell and Christian Mbilli await.

Nicolson has been busy, (six fights since February 2023), fighting all over the world — U.S., Mexico, England and Ireland. Ennis, will be making the first defense of his welterweight belt since he was elevated to full titleholder by the IBF.

Here’s a list of the most entertaining fights to watch this weekend, in terms of matchups, importance and excitement.

1. Title fight: Jaron Ennis vs. David Avanesyan, 12 rounds, for Ennis’ IBF welterweight title
July 13 in Philadelphia (DAZN)

Ennis is exciting to watch, having won four of his last five fights by KO. After signing with promoter Matchroom Boxing and being upgraded to world champion by the IBF, his career potentially is about to take off.

With Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. now eying moves to junior middleweight, Ennis (ESPN’s No. 3 at welterweight) will be promoted to top spot if he keeps winning.

Ennis (31-0, 28 KOs) will be eager to put on a show in a first title defense in front of his home city fans and recent form suggests “Boots” will deliver. In his last outing a year ago, Ennis knocked out Roiman Villa and Avanesyan (30-4-1, 18 KOs) has only fought once since being KO’d by Crawford in 2022. Avanesyan replaces Cody Crowley, who pulled out with an eye injury in June.

2. Raymond Muratalla vs. Tevin Farmer, 10 rounds, lightweights
July 13 in Las Vegas (ESPN/ESPN+)

Muratalla is great to watch. He’s won four of his last five fights by KO and will take a big step towards a world title shot if he beats Farmer, a former junior lightweight champion.

Muratalla (20-0, 16 KOs), from California, is closing in on Shakur Stevenson and Denis Berinchyk with the possibility of big fights against William Zepeda and Keyshawn Davis over the next 18 months. Zepeda and Davis both won their fights last Saturday.

Farmer (33-5-1, 8 KOs), of Philadelphia, didn’t fight for 3½ years after a January 2020 junior lightweight title loss to Joseph Diaz Jr., but he has compiled three wins over the last year. This could be the most competitive fight of the weekend as it has all the ingredients of an entertaining matchup.

3. Roman Gonzalez vs. Rober Barrera, 10 rounds, bantamweights
July 12 in Managua, Nicaragua (ESPN+)

The 37-year-old Gonzalez sees this as an opportunity to reboot his career rather than a farewell fight in front of his home nation’s fans.

“Chocolatito” hopes a victory in his first fight back in Nicaragua since 2015 sets up an opportunity to win a world title in a fifth weight class in Japan at the end of the year. The four bantamweight titles are all in the hands of Japanese boxers: Junto Nakatani (WBC), Takuma Inoue (WBA), Ryosuke Nishida (IBF) and Yoshiki Takei (WBO).

Gonzalez, though, needs a strong performance as he has not fought since his epic encounter with Juan Francisco Estrada in December 2022, which he lost by majority decision. Recently, Gonzalez (51-4, 41 KOs) sparred with Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez, who knocked out Estrada for his WBC junior bantamweight title on June 29.

After Gonzalez beat Estrada in their first of three fights, he stopped Ronald Barrera in May 2013. Barrera (27-5, 17 KOs) is looking to avenge his elder brother’s loss from 11 years ago and scupper Gonzalez’s plans for a world title shot.

4. Title fight: Janibek Alimkhanuly vs. Andrei Mikhailovich, 12 rounds, for Alimkhanuly’s WBO and IBF middleweight titles
July 13 in Las Vegas (ESPN/ESPN+)

Alimkhanuly is ESPN’s No. 1 ranked middleweight, and he will aim to produce a standout win that helps set up bigger fights in the future.

The trouble is, there aren’t the names at middleweight for Alimkhanuly (15-0, 10 KOs) to cash in. Like his Kazakh compatriot Gennadiy “GGG” Golovkin during his middleweight reign, Alimkhanuly appears to be on a different level than the rest and can highlight his grip on the division in this fight.

Mikhailovich (21-0, 13 KOs), from New Zealand, has not competed anywhere near Alimkhanuly’s level and the champion is expected to win inside the distance.

5. Ruben Villa vs. Sulaiman Segawa, 10 rounds, featherweights
July 13 in Las Vegas (ESPN/ESPN+)

Villa, the No. 1 contender with the WBC, cannot afford to slip up with a title opportunity within reach. A victory over Segawa will surely secure his shot at champion Rey Vargas, if the Mexican stays at featherweight. A fight against Brandon Figueroa, who recently won the WBC interim belt, is also possible, should Villa stay on track.

Villa (22-1, 7 KOs) has rebuilt his career since suffering a damaging unanimous decision defeat to Emanuel Navarrete challenging for the WBO title in October 2020. He didn’t fight for 18 months but has since put together four impressive wins and looks too much for Segawa (16-4-1, 6 KOs), who lost his last fight by unanimous decision to Mirco Cuello back in March.

6. Title fight: Skye Nicolson vs. Dyana Vargas, 10 rounds, for Nicolson’s WBC women’s featherweight title
July 13 in Philadelphia

Nicolson looks set to become one of the next big names in women’s boxing. The likes of Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano are at the advanced stage of their careers, while Claressa Shields is juggling boxing with MMA. There is room for new stars.

Nicolson (10-0, 1 KO), of Australia, already has one of the bigger profiles of the champions in women’s professional boxing and the best fight available to her is surely against New York-based Puerto Rican Serrano (46-2, 30 KOs), who holds the other three world titles at featherweight. However, Serrano is first scheduled to face Stevie Morgan on July 20, and then faces Taylor in a rematch on Nov. 15, so Nicolson has some time to develop more. And she is expected to overcome Vargas (19-1, 12 KOs) without problems to stay in contention for bigger fights.

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