Brant-Alimkhanuly added to Lomachenko-Nakatani undercard

Janibek Alimkhanuly, the middleweight phenom who once ruled the amateur ranks, is ready to bring his patented “Qazaq Style” to Las Vegas. Alimkhanuly, an unbeaten 28-year-old, will step up against former middleweight world champion Rob “Bravo” Brant in a 10-round showdown Saturday, June 26 at The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.

Brant-Alimkhanuly will serve as the co-feature to the 12-round lightweight main event between former pound-for-pound king Vasiliy “Loma” Lomachenko and Japanese contender Masayoshi Nakatani.

Lomachenko-Nakatani and Brant-Alimkhanuly will stream live and exclusively on ESPN+ (English and Spanish) at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.

“This is a fantastic doubleheader featuring a living legend in Lomachenko and a pair of middleweights who are closing in on a world title opportunity,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “Janibek is relatively young in the pro ranks, but he has long wanted to fight the best available opposition. Rob Brant didn’t hesitate when offered this fight.”

Brant (26-2, 18 KOs) won the WBA middleweight belt in October 2018 with a one-sided decision over Ryota Murata, but in their rematch less than nine months later, Murata stopped Brant in a two-round barnburner. Brant returned last August and stopped Vitaliy Kopylenko in five rounds. Alimkhanuly (9-0, 7 KOs) dominated the field en route to winning the 2013 World Championships and represented Kazakhstan at the 2016 Olympics, where he advanced to the quarterfinals. A five-year pro, Alimkhanuly made his Top Rank debut in 2018 and most recently knocked out Gonzalo Coria in two rounds last October inside the MGM Grand Las Vegas Bubble.

“I am very excited to be back in the ring under the Top Rank banner against a formidable opponent in Janibek,” Brant said. “I am excited to showcase all the hard work I have put in with a victory on a stacked card.”

Alimkhanuly said, “For the fans who don’t know about me, you will be introduced to ‘Qazaq Style’ on June 26. Rob Brant is a former world champion who demands respect, but I am coming to Las Vegas to put on a spectacular show. My time has come. I will beat any of the middleweight champions. You will see it soon.”

Smith: ‘I wanted to prove I’m not just a knockout guy’

Joe “The Beast” Smith Jr. once again lived up to his moniker. The Long Island native, nearly four years since he knocked Bernard Hopkins through the ropes, knocked out Eleider “Storm” Alvarez in the ninth round of a WBO light heavyweight world title eliminator.

A right-left combination sent Alvarez (25-2, 13 KOs) through the ropes, and he could not beat the count.

Smith (26-3, 21 KOs), who was leading on all three judges’ cards (80-72 and 79-73 2X) at time of the stoppage, has won two in a row since losing to WBA world champion Dmitry Bivol via decision.

Smith said, “Coming into this camp, I knew I had to work on my boxing. I wanted to be sharp, throw a lot of straight punches. I watched his fight with {Sergey} Kovalev, and Kovalev kind of set the way to beat him. So we watched that and worked off of it. I knew coming in today I had to box a little more because he’s got that great right hand. He caught me with it a couple times, but I can take a punch, too.

“Every time he hit me, I wanted to come and stop him in his tracks, and I did that. I stuck to my game plan, and it was a great fight.

“I feel this one is a big one. I really needed it. I wanted to prove I’m not just a knockout guy. I proved my boxing ability, too, and I showed that tonight.”

Brant is Back

Former middleweight world champion Rob “Bravo” Brant returned from a layoff of more than a year to knock out Vitaliy Kopylenko (28-3, 16 KOs), who remained on his still following the conclusion of the fifth round. Brant (26-2, 18 KOs) suffered a torn biceps in training late last year, which came off the heels of his shocking knockout loss to Ryota Murata in July 2019.

This was Brant’s first fight with head trainer Brian McIntyre.

Brant said, “My punch output was high, but I felt like I threw a lot of quality shots, especially with a veteran like Vitaliy. I’m not going to try and pronounce his last name out of respect, but he’s a crafty veteran. He’s been around for a long time.

“I spent a lot of time in camp with them. It’s been a three-month camp with them. Between the advice they have given me and being around Terence Crawford and Jamel Herring, it teaches you to relax a little more.”

— Julian “Hammer Hands” Rodriguez (20-0, 13 KOs) notched the most significant win of his career, knocking out the previously undefeated Anthony Laureano (13-1, 4 KOs) in the opening round of a scheduled 10-round junior welterweight bout.

Rodriguez returned in 2019 from a shoulder injury, which kept him out of action for nearly two years.

“Previous to the shoulder injury, I was more of a brawler,” Rodriguez said. “I was coming in with bigger shots, but once I noticed the arm wasn’t holding up in that way, it forced me to focus more on my footwork, using my jab, and more of a different style. Now I feel like I have all the tools.”

— The Clay Collard train continues to roll on. The one-time UFC fighter improved to 5-0 on the year with a second-round TKO over Maurice Williams (7-2, 3 KOs). Collard (9-2-3, 4 KOs) started the year with three wins over previously undefeated prospects and has now won two in a row by knockout. Boxing’s newest folk hero is making his case to be the 2020 Prospect of the Year.

“I’m just a fighter. I like getting out there as often as possible and entertaining the fans. I appreciate all the love and support from the fans, and I enjoy putting on a show for them,” Collard said. “Listen, I’ll fight as often as possible. I love fighting on these Top Rank shows, and I look forward to the next one. This has been quite the ride.”

— Featherweight Duke Ragan’s professional debut was flawless, as the Cincinnati native knocked out Luis Alvarado (1-2) with a single right hand in the opening round. Alvarado rose to this feet, but he was in no position to continue, and referee Jay Nady stopped the contest.

— Bantamweight prospect Robert “Biggie” Rodriguez (9-0-1, 5 KOs) made quick work of Abel Soriano (10-1, 7 KOs), dropping the Nebraska native three times before referee Russell Mora called off the bout at 2:59 of the opening round.

— In a six-round battle of unbeaten junior welterweights, Israel Mercado (8-0, 7 KOs) defeated Adrian Valdovinos (5-1-1, 4 KOs) by unanimous decision (60-54 2x and 59-55).

— Wendy “Haitian Fire”Toussaint (12-0, 5 KOs) bested Detroit native Isiah “Loco” Jones (9-3, 3 KOs) via unanimous decision in an eight-round middleweight bout. The judges scored it 80-72 and 79-73 2x.

Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Boxing

Brant-Kopylenko headlines Alvarez-Smith undercard

Former middleweight world champion Rob “Bravo” Brant’s comeback begins in a Las Vegas “Bubble.” Brant, who lost his belt to Ryota Murata last July and had a January return scrapped due to a torn biceps, will fight Vitaliy Kopylenko in a 10-round middleweight tilt Saturday, August 22 from the MGM Grand Conference Center.

Brant-Kopylenko will serve as the co-feature to the Eleider-Alvarez-Joe Smith Jr. light heavyweight world title eliminator live and exclusively on ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET).

The undercard stream (ESPN+, 7:30 p.m. ET) features the return of boxing’s newest cult hero, “Cassius” Clay Collard, the former UFC fighter who is the leading contender for 2020 Prospect of the Year.

“We have a can’t-miss main event and the highly anticipated returns of Rob Brant and Clay Collard. What a night at the fights inside the ‘Bubble,’” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “Rob is rejuvenated and ready to begin his ascent towards another world title. As for Clay, whenever he fights, he delivers.”

Brant (25-2, 17 KOs) upset the odds in October 2018, defeating Murata by unanimous decision to win the WBA world title nearly one year removed from his loss to Jürgen Brähmer. He defended his world title once, then traveled to Murata’s home country of Japan intent on repeating the deed. Instead, Murata turned the tables, knocking out Brant in the second round of a slugfest that saw 354 punches thrown in 334 seconds of action. Following the Murata defeat, Brant hired a new trainer in Brian McIntyre, who is best known for his work with pound-for-pound king Terence “Bud” Crawford and WBO junior lightweight world champion Jamel “Semper Fi” Herring.

Kopylenko (28-2, 16 KOs), from Vasylkiv, Ukraine hopes to rebound from a May 2019 split decision loss to Steven Butler. Prior to the Butler loss, he’d won six consecutive bouts. A 12-year pro, Kopylenko advanced to the semifinals of the 2014 “Boxcino” middleweight tournament, which aired as part of the ESPN “Friday Night Fights” series.

“I have worked extremely hard, even though the current climate through the pandemic has been a bit hectic,” Brant said. “After physical therapy, I stayed focused on my nutrition, thanks to my wonderful wife, Tiffany, and began doing a lot of distance running until I was cleared to start punching again. I have been in camp for close to three months now and feel very strong and confident. Kopylenko is talented with a great body attack. I am very confident, but I respect his skill set and will prepare like this is a world title bout. I’m back!”

Collard (8-2-3, 3 KOs) will face Maurice Williams in a middleweight bout scheduled for eight or six rounds, his third “Bubble” appearance since June 18. Collard is 4-0 in 2020, including three victories over previously undefeated prospects. Williams (7-1, 3 KOs) has won five in a row since a fifth-round TKO loss to Dennis Knifechief in November 2016. He has since avenged his loss to Knifechief twice, including a third-round TKO victory.

“I just look at this as another fight. Nothing’s really changed other than the attention I’m getting,” Collard said. “I’m loving all of this. I’m just training and getting ready to do what I love.

“I didn’t know how I’d like fighting without fans and being quarantined, but I enjoy fighting for Top Rank in the ‘Bubble.’ I’m just blessed to be part of this experience.”

In other undercard action:

  • In a 10-round duel of unbeaten junior welterweights, Julian “Hammer Hands” Rodriguez (19-0, 12 KOs) will take on “Action” Anthony Laureano (13-0, 4 KOs). Rodriguez, a seven-year pro from Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., went 3-0 in 2019 following a nearly two-year layoff.

  • Star Boxing-promoted prospect Wendy Toussaint (11-0, 5 KOs) will take on “Bubble” veteran Isiah Jones (9-2, 3 KOs) in a middleweight fight scheduled for eight or six rounds. Jones, who went 1-1 inside the “Bubble” in June, is coming off a majority decision victory June 30 over the previously unbeaten Donte Stubbs.

  • In scheduled six-round contests, Robert Rodriguez (8-0-1, 4 KOs) will fight Abel Soriano (10-0, 7 KOs) at bantamweight, while knockout artist Israel Mercado (7-0, 7 KOs) will battle fellow California native Adrian Valdovinos (5-0-1, 4 KOs) at junior welterweight.

  • Former U.S. amateur star Duke Ragan, from Cincinnati, will make his long-awaited professional debut against Luis Alvarado (1-1) in a four-rounder at featherweight.

Rob Brant on Canelo: ‘I’d love a fight with him’

Rob “Bravo” Brant crashed the world boxing scene last October with a dominant decision over Ryota Murata to win the WBA middleweight title. For title defense number one, he returned to his home state and sent the partisan crowd home happy.

Brant (25-1, 16 KOs) cruised to an 11th-round TKO over Khasan Baysangurov (17-1, 7 KOs) Friday evening at the Grand Casino Hinckley, a short drive from Brant’s hometown of St. Paul.

A sold-out crowd of 2,225 watched as Brant overwhelmed Baysangurov with consistent, effective pressure. In the 11th, Baysangurov, who was knocked down in the second round, could not keep Brant at bay. A knockdown and a follow-up attack, punctuated by a right hand, forced referee Mark Nelson to stop the fight.

This is what Brant had to say in the ring after he retained the title.

“Today, I feel like a true champion. I was happy with my performance. I had some cramps later in the fight, but this shows I can carry my power later in fights.”

“Middleweight is one of the deepest divisions in boxing. There are fights to be made. We just have to keep pushing forward. Canelo Alvarez is recognized by many as the champion at middleweight, and I’d love a fight with him down the road.”

“{Baysangurov} had a good jab. I started a little sloppy, and my trainer (Eddie Mustafa Muhammad) told me in the corner to relax. I waited for the opportunity to come, and it came in the 11th round.”

Photo: Top Rank/Mikey Williams