Showtime Championship Boxing starts its 2021 with a 122-pound showcase with WBO championship bout Leo vs. Fulton, plus an explosive matchup between unbeaten foes Aleem vs. Pasillas
Mayweather Promotions’ Rolando Romero faces late-replacement Avery Sparrow in the opening bout of a card presented by Premier Boxing Champions
Showtime Championship Boxing delivers the year’s first big time card to linear TV in tonight’s WBO Super Bantamweight championship featuring Angelo Leo making his first title defense against Stephen Fulton.
The card is a Premier Boxing Champions event set to air live from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The venue served as Showtime’s quarantined site for its bouts over the second half of 2020. The card is promoted by Mayweather Promotions and TGB Promotions.
Showtime currently doesn’t have the PBC’s collection of Welterweights to bolster its annual schedule. However, this void presents the opportunity for the premium cable network to introduce fans to a deep exciting group of lesser-known young, talented pugilists at 122-pounds.
Unified champion Murojdon Akhmadaliev rose to prominence by lifting his IBF and WBA titles off of former champion Daniel Roman last January in Miami. Luis Nery (31-0, 24 KOs) defeated Aaron Alameda by unanimous decision to win the vacant WBC title on the undercard of Showtime’s September Pay Per View headlined by champions Jermall and Jermell Charlo.
The PBC can move towards unification bouts post-Leo vs Fulton, or look for intriguing matchups for the winner of tonight’s co-main which features WBA Top 10-ranked Super Bantamweights Vic Pasillas (16-0, 9 KOs) and Ra’eese Aleem (17-0, 11 KOs). The co-main bout is a battle for the interim WBA Super Bantamweight title. Additionally, Brandon Figueroa (21-0-1, 16 KOs) is another rising contender who currently holds the WBA’s regular championship.
We can’t quite cross those bridges until we learn the victors of tonight’s bouts. So, let’s take a look at the matchups in Leo-Fulton, Pasillas-Aleem and the evening’s new opener Rolando Romero vs Avery Sparrow. Sparrow replaces the previously scheduled Justin Pauldo who was several pounds overweight, but after scaling at 136 pounds won’t be able to fight for Romero’s interim WBA Lightweight title.
Angelo Leo vs Stephen Fulton
Defending champion Leo (20-0, 9 KOs) and Fulton (18-0, 8 KOs) may not provide the night’s biggest fireworks. The champion is the underdog, but he’s aware the oddmakers have favored the Philadelphia native the first two times this matchup was scheduled.
Leo, one of Mayweather Promotions’ only two champions, soundly defeated replacement Tramaine Williams to win the WBO title back in August. He comes into tonight’s bout with the familiarity of the crowd-free environment inside the Mohegan Sun Arena. Fulton hasn’t fought in the awkward pandemic environment, and he’s been out of the ring 363 days. Leo’s penchant to attack his opponent’s body bolsters his chances to be effective all night. Fulton’s not heavy-handed enough to totally alter the champion’s favorite attack.
Fulton’s movement, reflexes, hand speed and slickness present problems. He’s also versatile and capable of fighting at all three levels. The champion’s indicated he looks forward to showing dimensions he’s yet to showcase in the ring. Leo should use his jab to enter the pocket, and consistently win the moments where he corners Fulton or has the challenger on the ropes. Lastly, Leo needs to take advantage of any early ring rust and capitalize on late dips in Fulton’s work rate. The Philadelphia native revealed that he experienced some significant COVID-19 related symptoms when he missed the August fight.
Fulton should be highly motivated at this second chance that he admitted he cried over. He’s also previously defeated eight undefeated opponents. He can do it all, but his KO ratio suggests he’s an average puncher. Expect for him to fight with an excellent Ring IQ, pepper the champion with his jab, box extremely well and adjust to Leo’s adjustments in a timely manner. One glaring issue is, Fulton shared that his game plan remains the same as if he had faced Leo in August. He might want to consider those plans as expired.
Fulton’s skill set and athletic advantages have him regarded as the favorite. His ring generalship will allow him to fight through any potential fatigue in the fight’s second half. Barring any knockdowns, Fulton should at least be even with the champion going into the second rounds, and he’s crafty enough figure out solutions to a late charge by Leo – if that’s what a victory requires.
Vic Pasillas vs Ra’eese Aleem
Tonight’s co-main may be tomorrow’s major headline. All the details are present to create a beautiful battle. Pasillas is an extremely versatile 28-year old undefeated southpaw with an outstanding amateur pedigree who also punches with power. Aleem originally hails from Muskegon, Mich., but lives and trains in Las Vegas, Nevada. He has a two and one-half inch reach advantage, a one-inch height advantage and a twitchier type of quickness with good power as well.
The interim title fight is an excellent contrast of styles that will ultimately come down to the fighter capable of the sharper execution and likely will. Both fighters are capable of creating the opening to drop the other man, so somebody will likely have to get up off the canvas and figure out a way to compose themself quickly in order to continue. This fight could end by stoppage, or come down to a suspenseful decision.
Pasillas can lead, counter, fight with angles and fights in a relaxed manner that allows him to seamlessly go from defense to offense. Due to his experience, he’ll be able to adjust to right approach versus Aleem, and capitalize on any mistakes. The East Los Angeles native has grown more vocal as fight night has arrived, but he sounds confident, and continues to say all of the right things.
“I don’t want to give up my game plan but best believe I’m going to do whatever it takes to win this fight. If he wants to bang, then we’ll bang, if he wants to box, we’ll box. I’ve seen so many different styles in the amateurs, there is nothing that he brings that I haven’t seen. My power is what he’s going to have to deal with.”
Aleem possesses all of the tools to prevail. He appears to be peaking in terms of his confidence and performance, looking at his stoppage wins in his last two bouts. Prior to his one-sided 10th round technical knockout of Marcus Bates in August, Aleem hadn’t been past the fifth round since a wide decision win over Bates in April 2018.
The Michigan native seems to be a fast starter, and doing so against Pasillas is key to getting into the second half of the fight with a chance to win. Aleem’s confidence bodes well for a solid showing in a tough matchup, and he’s also sent the right message (to Pasillas and the division) leading up to the fight.
“Fighting an undefeated fighter like Pasillas is what great fighters do. I want to fight the best now, and Pasillas is one of the best fighters in the division. I’m not ducking or dodging anyone. I’m going to be a world champion by all means necessary. Once I beat Pasillas, I’m coming for [Murodjon] Akhmadaliev, then all the other champions.
Pasillas appears to have an edge in his number of ways to a victory. With fewer options, Aleem could quickly put together the right elements for his formula to get his hand raised. Regardless of the winner, fans will get a glimpse of who to really watch for as the loaded division moves forward in 2021.
Rolando Romero vs Avery Sparrow
For the opener, the words of Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe says it all in looking at Romero vs Sparrow.
“We open the telecast with Mayweather Promotions’ own Rolando Romero. ‘Rolly’ is coming off a less than impressive performance when he won the interim title, so he’ll be looking to make a big statement for fans.”
Back in August, Romero struggled to convince observers he possesses all-around boxing skills with his performance against Jackson Marinez. He remained undefeated and picked up the WBA interim Lightweight title as the recipient of a very questionable decision. His record of 12 wins with 10 knockouts suggests that he can bang, and Sparrow’s words sound like he intends to fight Romero on his own terms.
“I am going to step to Rolly Romero and definitely try to knock him out. I am going out there looking for the knockout. Philly is going to have a big night between me and Stephen Fulton.”
Sparrow continues his recent streak of less than ideal arrivals to fight week. He just became the opponent Friday when Justin Pauldo lost the fight after reportedly being five pounds overweight. Sparrow said he was already in camp when contacted three weeks ago, and advised to be ready in case he’s needed as an opponent. However, with just three knockouts in his 10 wins, he’ll play into Romero’s hands if he opts to freely engage in exchanges from the first bell.
Expect Sparrow to resemble how he fought against Abraham Nova in June. His movement and defense likely staves off any early explosive moments by the big swinging Romero. Maybe the 25-year old knockout seeker puts together some set-up shots to deliver his power and can catch Sparrow after the 12-round fight’s midpoint.
Any victory by Romero allows him to stay positioned for a meaningful fight against any of the division’s young marquee names. A legit decision could indicate growth as a boxer, and make him more appealing as an opponent in one of boxing’s brightest divisions.
This is a make or break fight for Sparrow, and he is capable of boxing his way to winning seven rounds. He’ll need to accept some risk in order to get it done convincingly enough to his name announced as the victor.
The first Showtime Championship Boxing telecast of 2021 begins at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT, and it will undoubtedly kick the network’s schedule off in excellent fashion.
All photos by Amanda Westcott/Showtime