Weigh-In Recap and Slideshow | “Hopefully, We’ll See Some Blood”: Braekhus and Shields Prepare to Take Their Places on Historic Stage

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

CARSON, CA. – Seven months ago, Cecilia Braekhus made history.

When her hand was raised in victory at the end of a hard-fought decision over Kali Reis at the StubHub Center in May, on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin’s demolition of Vanes Martirosyan, she became the first female boxer ever to win a fight on HBO.

A little more than half a year later, she will make history again. Her clash this Saturday night (10:20 PM ET/PT) with Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopes will be the HBO main event – which for female fighters is unprecedented, and will also be forever unmatched, as theirs will be the last fight of any kind to be aired on the network.

Braekhus, while acknowledging the significance of the event, chooses not to dwell on it, at least not yet. “You know what? When I’m old and retired, I can look back and I can really, really say that I made history.” For now, she is fixing her attention on Magdziak-Lopes, fully aware that her foe is made of stern stuff.

“I have to be focused on my fight,” she said after the final pre-fight press conference this week. “I have a tough competitor, and I need to be 100 percent focused on her, and I cannot allow myself right now to take in the historical event that this is for boxing. The most important thing is that I have to produce my best performance ever.”

That said, on the three previous occasions that Magdziak-Lopes has challenged for a world title belt, she has fallen just short. Braekhus can expect another tough night but will anticipate it ending with her in position to move on to one of the higher-profile challenges that await.

Perhaps that challenge will be in the form of MMA star Cris Cyborg, who has long coveted a bout with the Norwegian, who was ringside when Braekhus fought Reis, and who will be present again on Saturday – and who will in fact be walking to the ring with another possible future Braekhus opponent, Claressa Shields, who opens the HBO broadcast against Femke Hermans.

Shields’ presence on the card – and indeed, her fame and status as the only American Olympian to win back-to-back boxing golds (in 2012 and 2016) – is testament to a rise in the attention being given to women’s boxing in the United States. Such increased attention is exemplified by the fact that, by the end of the broadcast on Saturday, the number of women’s bouts on HBO will have risen from zero in 45 years to four in seven months. (Heather Hardy defeated Shelly Vincent at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in October, in the second female bout on the network.)

“I think what’s happening now in the States is extremely beautiful to watch,” said Braekhus, who has fought most of her career in Germany, where women’s boxing has long had a higher profile – to the extent that she has headlined pay-per-views. “I just hope that this will continue.”

(It is not just women’s boxing that has long battled for the spotlight. Lower-weight male fighters have also traditionally been given short shrift, but the flyweight and super-flyweight divisions have received a shot in the arm over the last couple of years, a consequence of a remarkable concentration of talent in their upper reaches. Roman Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai may be the cream of that particular crop, but Juan Francisco Estrada, who has lost close decisions to both men, is right behind them, and has perhaps been the biggest beneficiary of his division’s moment in the sun. The only fighter to appear on all three iterations of the “Superfly” franchise, he steps in for an injured Gonzalez and takes on Victor Mendez in the middle bout of Saturday’s triple-header.)

For Shields – who is facing Hermans just three weeks after defeating Hannah Rankin to run her professional record to 7-0 – Saturday night is an unexpected opportunity to realize a lifelong dream.

“Growing up in the amateurs, I watched HBO, and I told myself, ‘I want to fight on HBO.’ And then I thought my chance was gone, but boom! Here we are. I’m just so happy that HBO thought of me and gave me the chance.”

At the end of the day, however, boxing is boxing, whoever is filming or calling the action, and what matters most is what happens when the combatants enter the ring. Asked to predict how events will unfold on Saturday night, Shields underlined that when that happens, issues of history, weight class and gender are largely irrelevant, and the attractions that keep people tuning in to watch boxing are fundamental and simple to articulate.

“I’m going to break down her body. I’m going to punch her in the face. And hopefully we’ll see some blood.”

PODCAST: Bivol-Pascal Postfight (Ep 282)

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney analyze Dmitry Bivol's dominant but somewhat unsatisfying win over Jean Pascal and Murodjon Akhmadaliev's TKO victory over Isaac Zarate in his HBO debut.

PODCAST: Bivol-Pascal Preview (Ep 281)

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney preview Saturday night's light heavyweight bout in Atlantic City between undefeated rising star Dmitry Bivol and former world champion Jean Pascal.

PODCAST: Jacobs-Derevyanchenko Postfight (Episode 280)

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney reflect on Saturday night's HBO World Championship Boxing tripleheader, featuring Daniel Jacobs' hard-fought win over Sergiy Derevyanchenko, Alberto Machado's explosive first-round knockout of Yuandale Evans, and Heather Hardy's grudge match victory over Shelly Vincent.

Weigh In Preview and Slideshow: Jacobs and Derevyanchenko Are All Business Ahead of Saturday’s Main Event

By Kieran Mulvaney

NEW YORK – Sometimes, it’s personal.

It was always personal for Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, who loathed each other for a variety of reasons before they exchanged a solitary punch and detested each other ever more with each blow they swapped. It was personal for Oscar De La Hoya and Fernando Vargas, for reasons that years later still seem oddly trivial and petty. If it wasn’t personal between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez the first time around, it certainly was during the build-up to their second meeting, a boiling geyser of resentment, anger and accusation. 

Sometimes, though, it is not.

Most of the time, in fact, personal antipathy is not part of the equation. Hard as it may be for lesser mortals to truly comprehend, professional boxers rarely enter the ring with any deep-seated animus toward the person in the opposite corner. Even as they seek to remove their opponents from consciousness, they see them not as hated enemies but merely as rivals: obstacles who must be overcome on the road to success. 

It isn’t personal, in other words. It’s business.

It’s the phrase that’s uttered more frequently at pre-fight press conferences than any other except, “Camp was great,” “I’m in the best shape of my life,” and “I’d like to thank [insert promoter/manager/TV network/deity].”

“This isn’t personal. It’s just business.”

Rarely has that aphorism been more appropriate than for Saturday night’s main event, when Daniel Jacobs takes on Sergiy Derevyanchenko in middleweight action from the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden (HBO, 10 PM ET/PT). When Ukraine’s Derevyanchenko came to the United States and elected to base himself out of New York, he was introduced to Andre Rozier and Gary Stark, who train fighters together out of a small basement gym in Brooklyn. Among the boxers who had long been a part of that setup was Jacobs. The two men have sparred 300 or so rounds, by Jacobs’ reckoning, and as they both moved up the middleweight rankings, they knew that the day may come when they had to face each other. 

That day will come on Saturday, and once it became clear that it would, trainers and fighters had a decision to make. The decision was that Rozier would stick with Jacobs, whom he’s known since the boxer was 14; and that Stark would work the corner of Derevyanchenko. Rozier has made no effort to hide the awkwardness of the situation, confiding that he speaks to Stark most days and that he has, on occasion, confessed to Derevyanchenko that, “You know I don’t like this, right?”

As if to discourage any concerns that the contest might devolve into a lovefest, Jacobs has emphasized that his relationship with Derevyanchenko is primarily professional – that, in his words, “We’re not friends, exactly.”

But if such concerns do exist, they are misplaced. The ability of boxers to compartmentalize their emotions is borderline superhuman; the risks inherent in their business are substantial, and opportunities to be at the top of the tree come by far too infrequently to allow any relaxation or dropping of the guard. Even friendship has rarely prevented pugilists from beating each other to a pulp.

After all, few uttered the “It’s not personal, it’s business” line more frequently than Manny Pacquiao, who would smile benevolently at his opponent, giggle at the fake antagonism during the ritual face-off, and then leave that same opponent poleaxed, with senses scrambled, on the ring canvas. Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti did not become the best of buddies until their trilogy was completed, but they were friendly even as they battered each other.

For Jacobs and Derevyanchenko, the stakes are too high for either to be less than fully committed to being as effectively violent as possible: possible matchups with Golovkin or Alvarez, or any number of high-profile, lucrative and career-defining fights in the upper echelons of the middleweight division. Jacobs underlined as much at the final pre-fight press conference, even as he acknowledged the unusual circumstances of the matchup.

“To see these guys on the opposite side of the ring come fight night, it’s going to be bittersweet,” he conceded. “We all knew each other for a very, very long time, so it’s almost like we’re family. But this is why we do it. For the love of the sport: for you guys, and your entertainment. You’re not going to want to miss this fight. It’s going to be a stellar fight.” 

Weights from New York City:

Daniel Jacobs: 159.6 pounds

Sergiy Derevyanchenko: 159.4 pounds 

Alberto Machado: 130.0 pounds

Yuandale Evans: 129.4 pounds

Heather Hardy: 124.6 pounds

Shelly Vincent: 125.4 pounds

PODCAST: Jacobs-Derevyanchenko Preview (Ep 279)

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney preview Saturday's middleweight showdown between Daniel Jacobs and Sergiy Derevyanchenko, the headline bout of a World Championship Boxing tripleheader from Madison Square Garden.

PODCAST: Canelo-GGG 2 Radio Row Day 2 (Ep 276)

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney are live from Radio Row in Las Vegas for their final day of GGG-Canelo 2 prefight podcasting, welcoming trainer Abel Sanchez, HBO expert analyst Roy Jones, and boxing journalist Gordon Marino, and also covering the weigh-in and breaking down the betting odds.

Weigh-in Recap and Slideshow: Alvarez and Golovkin Go Head-to-Head Before Rematch

By Kieran Mulvaney

LAS VEGAS - And so, finally, twelve months after Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez battled to a hard-fought and controversial draw; four months after they were initially scheduled to meet in a rematch; and seven months after that rematch was jeopardized and ultimately postponed by Alvarez testing positive for clenbuterol, the two men are just hours away from going toe-to-toe again.

The road from initial bout to rematch began and will end at the T-Mobile Arena, but it has been a long, winding, contentious and ill-tempered one. Neither man was satisfied with the verdict rendered by the three ringside judges last September; by the time they agreed to terms for a do-over, they had already grown weary of and irritated by each other. Their moods have not improved since then: Golovkin was incensed by Canelo’s positive test, Canelo was infuriated by Golovkin’s repeated characterization of him as a drugs cheat, Golovkin was irritated by Canelo’s sense of grievance, and meanwhile, the two men’s respective trainers sniped at each other from the sidelines. So high did the tension ratchet that not until Friday’s weigh-in did the two men stand face-to-face, the first time they had looked each other in the eye since a promotional event in February, when they seemed set to face off on May 5, in the good old days when their mutual antipathy revolved around events inside the ring rather than outside it.

And when they did meet, the tensions that had been simmering for months immediately boiled over. After the two men had stepped on the scale, Alvarez marched directly toward Golovkin, pushing his forehead onto his rival’s. Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez, immediately stepped in between the fighters, and Golovkin stared impassively before turning his back as Canelo’s trainers Chepo and Eddie Reynoso shouted angrily at him and Sanchez.

“I got excited by seeing all the people in the crowd,” said Alvarez afterward, by way of explanation of his actions. “It motivated me.”

“He is like a clown,” sniffed Golovkin.

“I defeated him at the weigh-in and I’ll defeat him tomorrow night,” insisted Canelo.

“I want to knock him out,” said Golovkin.

Twenty-four hours from now, each man will have the chance to prove himself right, and to bring a year of venom and spite to a definitive conclusion.

Weights from Las Vegas:

Canelo Alvarez 159.4 pounds.

Gennady Golovkin 159.6 pounds.

Jaime Munguia 154 pounds.

Brandon Cook 153.2 pounds.

David Lemieux 160 pounds.

Spike O’Sullivan 159.2 pounds.

Chocolatito Gonzalez 114.8 pounds.

Moises Fuentes 116 pounds.