Miguel Berchelt looks to get back on track
Fate has led February 10 to be a blip in the first quarter of this year’s boxing schedule but, even after having two canceled opponents ahead of this Saturday night, Miguel “El Alacran” Berchelt will make his ring return in Cancun, Mexico, where, at the Plaza de Toros, he looks for his second defense of the WBC junior lightweight title versus unknown challenger Maxwell Awuku.
The fight will be broadcast live on Azteca TV in Mexico, and on beIN Sports Español (11:00 p.m. ET/ 8 p.m. PT) in the United States. Barring a major upset, Berchelt can start cementing his place in a 130-pound class with many moving parts.
Berchelt, 32-1 (28), is coming off a seven-month layoff, thanks to a hand injury that canceled his December date with Orlando “Siri” Salido. The setback martyred a breakout 2017 for the 26-year-old out of Cancun, a year in which, when talking about the “Fighter of the Year” honors, didn’t really have an obvious recipient.
Around this time last year, Berchelt won the WBC junior lightweight title from Francisco “El Bandido” Vargas, after bludgeoning his fellow countryman enough to warrant an 11th round stoppage. Being his debut on American television, Berchelt’s impressive win couldn’t have come at a better time (it was also his first title shot) and the success resulted in another HBO main event slot for his first defense over the summer, in which he beat Japan’s Takashi Miura via unanimous decision. In the sixth round of that fight is when Berchelt, an orthodox boxer-puncher, reportedly damaged the thumb of his right hand. Although it didn’t need surgery, it was thought to be healed enough to announce an HBO date in December for the Salido match. Quickly Berchelt had to pull out of that date, once aggravating the injury early, in training camp, and it allowed someone else to take advantage of facing an fan-friendly fighter at the end of his rope.
Miguel “Mickey” Roman faced Salido instead last December and, in an unsurprising action fight, proceeded to knock Siri out in the ninth to breath new life into an aged career that spans 15 years and 70 fights. In the other corner that night, it seemed as though the 62 fights over the course of 21 years finally caught up with Salido, and it’s fair to assume Berchelt would’ve been able to do the same. Given the chance, Berchelt could’ve, at least, been in the conversation for 2017’s Fighter of the Year but, instead, that designation was given to a fellow titleholder in the 130-pound class – Vasyl Lomachenko – by THE RING Magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America.
To shed light on how down a year it was for that category, Lomachenko, who currently holds the WBO title, got the honor by beating Jason Sosa (a former 130-pound beltholder), Miguel Marriaga (a career featherweight), and Guillermo Rigondeaux (a titleholder at 122 pounds) in 2017 but, with the help of the American promoting machine pushing him, the Ukrainian phenom’s sheer dominance over the past year was enough to win over those handing out their formal impressions.
Regardless of all that, Berchelt was certainly forgotten a bit while being shelved, especially when it came to trying to determine the best junior lightweight in the world. With Lomachenko reigning supreme without much question, or need to prove it among the other titlists in the division, it was really a race for second place but that will soon be no longer be the case, once Lomachenko goes ahead with his plan to seek a challenge at 135 pounds. (Maybe then, the top at 130 can get a crack at him). Two titles exchanged hands in Berchelt’s absence: American Gervonta Davis lost his IBF belt on the scale in August and Kenichi Ogawa won it by edging Tevin Farmer in December but the latter result is now in limbo after the Japanese fighter failed a post-fight drug test. In October, Puerto Rico’s Alberto Machado knocked out Jezreel Corrales to win the WBA junior lightweight title.
Considering the landscape, Berchelt can start a campaign in 2018 to prove he is the best at junior lightweight but you’ll be hard-pressed to believe it after his fight this weekend.
Originally Cristian Mijares, the WBC’s No. 5 ranked contender, was slated to face Berchelt on Saturday and it would’ve been a fantastic domestic fight for his return but it ultimately fell through once Mijares wasn’t happy with his end of the deal. Then last week, unranked Carlo Magali was called in as a late replacement but was deemed ineligible to fight by the Philippine Games and Amusement Board, after fighting on January 13, a 10th round TKO win over Masatoshi Kotani in Japan. The WBC would’ve allowed Magali to challenge Berchelt, of course, and, with that in mind, it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the back-up to the back-up opponent won’t be found in the WBC junior lightweight rankings.
Awuku, 44-3-1 (30), has built up a fine record in his home country of Ghana but two of his three most recent defeats were his only steps up in competition, not to mention, they were also the only bouts fought outside of Africa. On Saturday night, he will fight in North America for the first time and perhaps him being a mystery for most will be somewhat of an advantage. Sporting average size and a knack for getting most of his opponents out of there before the final bell, Awuku, a southpaw, gets his first world title shot by luck but he’ll also be going into the fight with nothing to lose. Sometimes even that can be an advantage. Not in the eyes of those who make the odds, however, as Berchelt (-4500) is rightfully a massive favorite against Awuku (+1500) in the titlist’s hometown of Cancun, where he hasn’t fought since being a young prospect in 2011.
It’s a fight that isn’t hard to look past and, when thinking of Berchelt’s next foe, you won’t have to go far to look. Also on Saturday night, in Mexico, Roman, 58-12 (45), who holds the No. 1 WBC ranking, at junior lightweight, will fight for a vacant WBC junior lightweight regional trinket against Colombian Aristides Perez, 31-10-2 (17) and, like Berchelt, Mickey is expected win. Mexican star and former featherweight champion Jhonny Gonzalez is in the midst of a late resurgence in his career and could also conjure up interest, along with Mijares still hanging around. Vargas, who is currently ranked No. 2 (WBC), would surely like to get his revenge too, leaving Berchelt a marked man in Mexico. Not necessarily a bad thing in prizefighting.