FOTY ALERT: Luis Nery and Azat Hovhannisyan Put On a Show, Mauricio Lara Stakes His Claim to Top Spot at 126
Luis Nery and Azat Hovhannisyan put on one of the more exciting and passionate performances that boxing has seen in some time, a fight with all the makings of a classic rivalry. Two genuine contenders at the top of their division taking each other on when there are more lucrative and notable opponents they could have waited to face. But instead, they took on each other in an attempt to solidify their place at 122 pounds not with social media following or fame, but with in-ring achievement. Unless there is another extremely special and exciting fight this year, this is likely fight of the year.
This fight had a lot of similarities to Lucas Matthyse’s classic win over Ruslan Provodnikov back in 2015. Nery, in this case playing the role of Matthysse, with the more sophisticated boxing skills but mentality and willingness of a brawler. Hovhannisyan, playing Provodnikov, the rough, physical, relentless pressure fighter with no give in his will and the ability to survive an early onslaught in order to come on later in the fight. Unfortunately for the fans, Matthyse and Provodnikov never had a rematch and probably took a lot out of each other waging a war like this in the later part of their careers. It was in fact Matthyse’s last notable victory and Provonikov’s final classic performance. My hope is that Nery and Hovhannisyan have more left in the tank than they did and will face each other again someday. But what could be next for each of them?
Hovhannisyan (21-4, 17 ko) despite losing only cements himself as one of the most exciting action fighters in boxing with an unbreakable will, giving him a chance against ANYONE at 122 pounds. It was ultimately the incredible punching power of Nery that bailed him out of a fight that was moving in the direction Hovhannisyan wanted it to, and a lesser puncher may have just been overwhelmed. Nery, perhaps the best puncher at 122 outside of Inoue, dropped Azat in the 10th and finished him in the 11th, but had lost rounds 7-9 and seemed to be tiring. Crazy A is still very much in play.
For Nery (34-1, 26 ko), now ranked #2 on boxrec at jr. featherweight, he becomes the WBC mandatory, a belt held by Stephen Fulton who has been rumored to be fighting Naoya Inoue next, but no formal announcement has been made. If that fight (which is one of the best matchups in boxing) cannot be made for whatever reason, Nery makes for an incredibly charismatic and skilled challenger for Fulton, and though he has his flaws and would not be the favorite against either man, he would be a great next opponent for the winner of that unification matchup. A fight with unified champion Murodjan Akhmadaliev would also be exciting, two dynamic boxers with explosive punching power and plenty of ring personality. With wins over Carlos Castro (then unbeaten), two stoppages over long time champion Shinsuke Yamanka in a changing of the guard, and now Hovhannisyan, Nery has some of the best wins in the division particularly in light of Brandon Figueroa, the only man to beat Nery, moving up to featherweight. Nery has now won three straight in quality performances and absolutely deserves a big fight.
There will be those who don’t like how Nery holds himself in the ring, the way he dances and talks and seems to be in his own world. There will be those that feel that he makes fights harder on himself than he needs to, having such dynamic boxing skills but at times choosing to brawl. But many of the most exciting boxers in history have had that quality, be it Arturo Gatti, Erik Morales, or even Zab Judah at times. But in modern boxing, which is so sanitized by promoters and social media, Nery is an old school fighter who is not seeking your approval, he is seeking a victory, and does it in a very entertaining way with a willingness to fight anybody. He should be rewarded for this.
Also this past weekend, rugged Mexican champion Mauricio Lara (26-2-1, 19 ko) stopped the beloved come from behind champion Leigh Wood (26-3, 16 ko) in the seventh round of a back and forth affair that Wood was winning on all three judges scores. Lara dropped and hurt Wood badly at the end of the 7th with roughly 20 seconds remaining in the round, and though Wood got the his feet in time, he was badly hurt and his legs were barely under him, forcing coach Ben Davidson to throw in the towel.
Though Lara is very flawed, he has consistently won these kinds of fights and cannot be counted out at any point of the fight, even if he is losing. There are more skilled boxers in the division in my opinion; Robeisy Ramirez, Rey Vargas, perhaps Luis Alberto Lopez and Michael Conlan. But Lara is making a case for being the top dog at featherweight at the moment, twice upsetting Josh Warrington and now beating Leigh Wood, and what he lacks in skill he makes up for in power, durability and relentlessness. Like Nery, Lara makes for a tough out against anyone in his division, and can’t be counted out against any of them.