Nolan Arenado Helps Lead Team USA to World Baseball Classic Win Over Great Britain

Nolan Arenado is proving to be Team USA’s not-so-secret weapon…

After helping the U.S. win the tournament in 2017, the 31-year-old Puerto Rican and Cuban American professional baseball player had three hits and several highlight-reel defensive plays in Team USA’s opening-round World Baseball Classic win, a 6-2 victory over Great Britain on Saturday night. He set the tone after the U.S. got down 1-0.

Nolan Arenado“The intensity with which he works pregame is, honestly — I’m not sugarcoating it — like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Team USA manager Mark DeRosa said after the game. “He’s intense in ground balls. He’s intense in his cage work.”

Arenado’s pregame routine was actually thrown off because of the length of the previous contest Saturday between Colombia and Mexico. It’s one of the things he learned while playing in the tournament in 2017. You have to be able to adjust on the fly.

“We were taking ground balls in the outfield today,” Arenado said. “I haven’t taken ground balls in the outfield since I was in Little League. While I was doing it, I made sure to focus and do it the right way. It prepared me. I was ready to go.”

The same can be said of Arenado at the plate, after the team wasn’t able to take batting practice on the field. He adjusted his routine again, then a couple of hours later, he doubled home the tying run in the second inning before scoring the go-ahead run a few moments later.

He added another double and a single and also made several on-the-run throws across his body to first base.

“I’ve played with some great fielders,” said Adam Wainwright, Arenado’s Cardinals teammate and Saturday’s starter. “I don’t know if I’ve ever played with somebody behind me like that. I’ve played with the best defensive catcher of all time and I had Scott Rolen at third base. Not a shot at him, but Nolan Arenado is just a special, special player that I don’t know if you can compare him.”

Even with Arenado’s heroics, it was a tight game until Kyle Schwarber launched a ball into the right-field stands for a three-run home run in the fourth inning. It ignited a pro-U.S. crowd as Schwarber gave it a salute while rounding the bases.

“That’s going to be our little celebration for us this year,” Schwarber said. “Get back to a little salute to our men and women, too.”

DeRosa admitted his players needed to settle in a little with many playing in their first WBC game. They quickly found their footing, proving they’re the favorites to come out of the preliminary round games in Arizona.

The U.S. takes on Mexico on Sunday after it was upset by Colombia.

“Just a great first day,” DeRosa said. “I just think for a lot of us, and the coaches included, was a chance for us to — I don’t want to say knock the cobwebs off — but a chance for us to kind of experience it (the intensity) ourselves.”

Nick Martinez to Replace Clayton Kershaw on USA’s World Baseball Classic Roster

Nick Martinez is heading to the classic…

The 32-year-old Latino professional baseball player, a pitcher for the San Diego Padres, will replace Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw on the 30-man roster for the United States for the World Baseball Classic, according to Major League Baseball officials.

Nick MartinezMartinez went 4-4 with a 3.47 ERA in 47 games for San Diego last season, making 10 starts and collecting eight saves.

He finalized a $26 million, three-year contract with the Padres in November.

Kershaw announced Friday that he wouldn’t be able to participate in the WBC. The three-time Cy Young Award winner didn’t specify the reasons that would prevent him from participating.

Mauricio Lara Defeats Leigh Wood to Win WBA World Featherweight Title

Mauricio Lara is a world champion…

The 24-year-old Mexican professional boxer demonstrated his clinical finishing-punch power by stopping Leigh Wood in the seventh round to win the WBA world featherweight title in England on Saturday.

Mauricio LaraLara silenced Wood’s hometown fans at the Nottingham Arena when he floored the champion with a crunching left hook, and when Wood got to his feet, the English boxer’s trainer, Ben Davison, threw in the towel to stop the fight.

Wood had established control in an exciting fight at the time of the stoppage, before Lara’s stunning finish, and was unhappy with Davison’s decision to pull him out of the fight.

“I feel very happy for this championship. It’s what I’ve dreamed of since I was 8 years old,” Lara said. “I definitely felt Leigh’s punches, but they didn’t hurt me. He hits hard and is a good champion.”

The victory opens up the possibility of a title unification fight for Lara against one of the other world champions at 126 pounds — Rey Vargas (WBC) and Luis Alberto Lopez (IBF) — who are also both from Mexico.

But a rematch with Wood seems the more likely next move for Lara, ESPN‘s No. 1-ranked featherweight.

“I want the trilogy fight [with Josh Warrington] and, of course, I want more belts — it’s up to [promoter] Eddie Hearn to make it,” Lara said.

England is a happy hunting ground for Lara, who announced himself on the big stage when he stopped Warrington — the No. 1 featherweight in the world at the time — in the ninth round two years ago.

A rematch ended in frustration, when Lara suffered a nasty cut above his left eye in the second round, caused by a clash of heads, and the fight ended in a technical draw.

But Lara (26-2-1, 19 KOs), 24, known as “Bronco” and from Mexico City, produced two third-round knockouts last year and continued that lethal form to win his first world title, as a heartbroken Wood lost the belt in a second title defense.

Wood (26-4, 16 KOs), 34, had produced two dramatic, last-round knockouts in his previous two fights, against Xu Can to win the belt in July 2021 and then against Michael Conlan — in ESPN’s fight of the year — almost a year ago.

This time Wood was on the receiving end, but he seemed unhappy with the decision of his trainer to stop the fight.

“I’m a fighter — I’m not going to say anything more,” Wood said.

“I made a mistake and I paid for it. Absolutely I want the rematch.”

Wood suffered a setback early on when he was cut near his left eye, caused by a clash of heads in the opening round.

However, Wood started the second round full of fire, landing heavy shots, including a thudding left hook.

But Lara finished the second on top, after he shook Wood with a right to the temple and then had the champion in trouble in the final few seconds of the round.

An excellent encounter swung back in favor of the champion in the third round, with Wood continually threading his right hand through Lara’s guard.

Both landed big left hooks in the fourth, but Wood was more accurate — especially with his right hand — in the fifth round.

Wood, who has transformed his fortunes late in his career, controlled the sixth round as Lara looked subdued and missed with his punches.

Wood had the momentum, but when both went to throw left hooks at the same time, it was Lara’s that landed with such destruction in the seventh round.

Wood was left flat on his back for a count, and when he got to his feet, he was on legs of jelly, prompting Wood’s trainer to throw in the towel with just six seconds left in the round.

Wood was left in tears by Davison’s intervention.

David Benavidez to Fight Caleb Plant in Las Vegas This March

David Benavidez is heading back to the ring in March…

The 26-year-old Mexican and Ecuadorian American professional boxer, a two-time WBC super middleweight champion, will meet Caleb Plant in a long-awaited fight on March 25 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, according to ESPN.

David BenavidezThe 168-pound bout will be a PBC on Showtime PPV.

Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) and Plant (22-1, 13 KOs) both announced in November that they struck a deal for the grudge match. They’ve traded plenty of barbs in both directions, and it all leads to a fascinating clash of styles.

Benavidez is a volume-punching pressure fighter who’s been among boxing’s most avoided fighters.

Plant, 30, is a stick-and-move boxer whose only defeat came last November in an 11th-round TKO loss to Canelo Alvarez, the undisputed super middleweight champion. But after Alvarez, Benavidez and Plant are widely considered the two best fighters who campaign at 168 pounds (Benavidez is ESPN’s No. 2 super middleweight; Plant is No. 3).

“You can’t hide from me anymore, I’ll see you soon,” Benavidez wrote on Instagram in November.

“I went and made it happen,” Plant wrote. “Contract signed. See you early next year.”

Benavidez was slated to meet Jose Uzcategui in January before the fight was scrapped. The Phoenix-born boxer twice held a super middleweight title but both times lost his belt outside the ring.

First, a positive test for cocaine in 2018 led to him being stripped. Benavidez regained the title with a ninth-round KO of Anthony Dirrell in 2019 but was forced to relinquish his belt the following year when he failed to make weight.

Most recently, Benavidez scored a third-round TKO of former middleweight titleholder David Lemieux in May.

Plant, who fights out of Las Vegas, won the IBF super middleweight title in 2019 with a unanimous decision victory over Uzcategui. He made three successful defenses before he lost the belt in the undisputed championship fight against Alvarez.

Plant rebounded last month with a spectacular ninth-round KO of Dirrell.

Brandon Figueroa Finalizing Deal to Fight Mark Magsayo in Featherweight Bout

Brandon Figueroa is thisclose to locking in his next opponent…

The 26-year-old Mexican American professional boxer, nicknamed “The Heartbreaker,” and Mark Magsayo are finalizing a deal for a March 4 featherweight bout in the U.S., according to ESPN.

Brandon Figueroa The PBC on Showtime bout would feature two of ESPN’s top 10 boxers at 126 pounds (Magsayo is No. 6 while Figueroa is No. 10).

Figueroa (23-1-1, 18 KOs) was in talks to meet Stephen Fulton in a rematch after the WBC ordered the matchup for its interim featherweight title. But with Fulton in talks to meet Naoya Inoue in Japan at 122 pounds, Figueroa is now slated to fight Magsayo in a battle of former champions that is shaping up to be a slugfest.

Figueroa, a volume-puncher from Weslaco, Texas, lost his 122-pound title via majority decision in a unification bout against Fulton that was one of the best action fights of 2021. He moved up to 126 pounds afterward with a sixth-round TKO of Carlos Castro in June.

Magsayo (24-1, 16 KOs) won his first title in January with a major upset, a majority-decision victory over longtime featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. Magsayo lost the 126-pound title in July to Rey Vargas via split decision in a grueling fight (he floored Vargas in Round 9.)

The 27-year-old Filipino is promoted by countryman Manny Pacquiao, one of boxing’s all-time greats.

Jessica Nery Plata Defeats Kim Clavel to Unify WBA/WBC Junior Flyweight Titles

Jessica Nery Plata is a unified champion…

In the first major women’s bout of the new year, the 28-year-old Mexican professional boxer – who entered Friday’s fight as the WBA junior flyweight champion – is the unified champion after beating WBC titleholder Kim Clavel by unanimous decision.

Jessica Nery PlataTwo judges scored it 97-93 and a third had it 96-94 after a fast-paced fight that had urgency in all 10 rounds.

Nery Plata (29-2, 3 KO) showed early on in Place Bell in Laval, Canada, that she would be willing to stand in and trade punches with Clavel. And it was her punches that did the most damage throughout the fight.

Nery Plata forced bleeding from Clavel’s nose in the fifth round and continued to reopen the bleeding on Clavel’s face throughout the latter half of the fight. Clavel’s face was swollen by the end of the fight. Nery Plata landed the more effective body shots as well.

Clavel (16-1, 3 KO) kept almost every round close, but Nery Plata seemed to often close each round with the stronger and more effective combinations, particularly using her right jab to set up everything else she was attempting to throw.

Nery Plata consistently caused more issues, including in the final round, when it looked like Nery Plata might have stunned Clavel as the two were exchanging punches in the center of the ring.

It was the eighth straight win for Nery Plata and first defense of the WBA title she won in March 2022, when she defeated Yesica Yolanda Bopp in Panama. It’s also the second straight fight Nery Plata has fought outside of her native Mexico, where she fought the first 29 fights of her professional career.

Nery Plata is the only current titleholder in the division; the WBO and IBF titles won by Yokasta Valle in November when she beat Evelin Bermudez have been vacated.

It was the first professional loss for Clavel, 32, who was making the first defense of her WBC title she won by defeating Yesenia Gomez last July.

Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez to Fight Cristian Gonzalez for Vacant WBO Flyweight Title

Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez will be battling for another belt…

The 22-year-old Mexican American boxer will meet Cristian Gonzalez for the WBO‘s vacant flyweight title on April 8 in San Antonio, according to ESPN.

Jesse "Bam" RodriguezRodriguez is ESPN’s No. 3 boxer at 115 pounds but revealed plans to move down one weight class following his September victory over Israel Gonzalez.

At 112 pounds, Rodriguez will chase his first full-fledged world title. He was the WBC titleholder at 115 pounds after Juan Francisco Estrada, the organization’s longtime champion, was bestowed franchise champion status.

Now, Rodriguez (17-0, 11 KOs) will set up shop in a familiar weight class when he takes on Gonzalez, who has lost only once but has never competed outside his native Mexico.

Rodriguez, who is from San Antonio, broke out last year in a big way. He began his 2022 campaign with a decision victory over former champion Carlos Cuadras in February.

He followed up with an even more impressive victory, an eight-round TKO of longtime former champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Rungvisai owns wins over future Hall of Famers Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Estrada, and Rodriguez was able to pick him apart in a star-making performance.

After that victory, Rodriguez signed a long-term extension with promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing and returned with a decision win over Israel Gonzalez on the Canelo AlvarezGennadiy Golovkin 3 undercard.

Hearn hoped to match Rodriguez with Estrada and perhaps Chocolatito in 2023, but those plans are on hold for now while he campaigns at 112 pounds. (Rodriguez’s brother, Joshua Franco, retained his 115-pound title following a draw with Kazuto Ioka on December 31.)

The 23-year-old Gonzalez (15-1, 5 KOs) has never faced an opponent of significance.

Seniesa Estrada to Fight Tina Rupprecht in March

Seniesa Estrada is headed back to the ring…

The 30-year-old Mexican American professional boxer and WBA strawweight champion will make her first appearance of 2023 when she fights in a unification bout against WBC champion Tina Rupprecht, according to ESPN.

Seniesa EstradaThe fight is expected to take place in the United States with a targeted date of March 25 as a co-feature fight, according to ESPN.

It will be Estrada’s second fight for promoter Top Rank after splitting with Golden Boy Promotions last year. She last fought in November — after an 11-month layoff — beating Jazmin Gala Villarino by unanimous decision.

Estrada (23-0, 9 KOs) will be making the third defense of her WBA strawweight title, which she won by defeating Anabel Ortiz in March 2021. Estrada, ESPN’s No. 8 pound-for-pound fighter and No. 1 strawweight, has also held the WBO junior flyweight title and the WBA interim flyweight title.

Rupprecht (12-0-1, 3 KOs) defeated Rocio Gaspar by unanimous decision on December 10. She has held the WBC title since 2018, and before that, the interim WBC crown. This will be the fifth defense of her non-interim world title.

Rupprecht’s best win came against current IBF and WBO strawweight titleholder Yokasta Valle by unanimous decision for the interim WBC title in 2018.

This would be the second time Rupprecht has fought outside her native Germany as a pro and the first time in the United States. She defeated Yana Denisova in Russia in 2016.

Amanda Serrano to Face Erika Cruz in Undisputed Featherweight Title Bout

Amanda Serrano will be fighting for undisputed status in February…

The 34-year-old Puerto Rican professional boxer, mixed martial artist and professional wrestler, the current IBF, WBC and WBO featherweight titleholder, will face WBA champion Erika Cruz in an undisputed featherweight title fight, according to ESPN.

Amanda SerranoThe fight between Serrano and Cruz will headline a card on February 4 at the Hulu Theater in New York City.

If Serrano wins, it will be the first time the seven-division titleholder would be an undisputed champion in a division, and she would be the first Puerto Rican undisputed champ, male or female.

Serrano (43-2-1, 30 KO) was last in the ring in September, when she beat Sarah Mahfoud by unanimous decision to win the IBF featherweight title. Serrano is ESPN’s No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter.

She fought twice last year, against Mahfoud and Katie Taylor, a split-decision loss at the big room of Madison Square Garden in what was named ESPN‘s women’s fight of the year in 2022.

Cruz (15-1, 3 KO), 35, won the WBA belt in April, 2021, when she beat Jelena Mrdjenovich by technical decision.

She since defended the title twice, beating Melissa Esquivel by split decision in 2021 and Mrdjenovich by unanimous decision in a rematch in September. Cruz suffered her only loss in 2016, a majority decision loss to Alondra Gonzalez Flores in a four-round fight in Cruz’s second career fight.

For all of Serrano’s accomplishments – and there have been many since she began fighting professionally in 2009 – she has never become an undisputed four-belt champion, something she would become should she beat Cruz.

This could be the beginning of a big year for Serrano, who has said she would like to face Katie Taylor in a rematch of an April fight that saw Taylor win a split decision over Serrano for Taylor’s undisputed lightweight titles.

But first, Serrano said, she knew she wanted to fight Cruz.

“After Cruz,” Serrano told ESPN recently. “It’s a great storyline. Undisputed versus undisputed champion, and of course it’s a different weight class, but it is what it is. The first fight was great, and I think the second fight would be even better.”

Serrano said she would go up to lightweight to fight Taylor a second time should that fight happen.

ESPN previously reported Ramla Ali is also expected to fight on the February 4 card.

Juan Francisco Estrada Defeats Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez to Retain 115-Pound Title

Juan Francisco Estrada is keeping his title…

The 32-year-old Mexican professional boxer defeated Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez via majority decision in their third fight on Saturday in Glendale, Arizona, to retain his lineal 115-pound championship.

Juan Francisco Estrada But after three bouts and 36 rounds between two future Hall of Fame boxers, the rivalry between them still isn’t quite settled.

One judge scored it even but was overruled by scores of 115-113 and 116-112 in favor of Estrada.

ESPN scored the bout 114-114.

Estrada, who also captured the vacant WBC junior bantamweight title, controlled the first half of the fight by boxing from the outside. He regularly timed Gonzalez with a crisp left hand to the body that disrupted his rhythm and surely contributed to his slow start.

Estrada was able to walk Gonzalez into counter shots while he swept the first five rounds on two scorecards. But after a sluggish start, Gonzalez suddenly found his footing in Round 6.

Gonzalez cranked up the volume and swarmed Estrada, who was repeatedly pinned on the ropes by the increased output. Gonzalez continued to come forward and poured punches on Estrada, who couldn’t match his older foe shot for shot. Gonzalez swept Rounds 6 through 10 on two scorecards.

The championship rounds were the difference. Estrada won Rounds 11 and 12 on two scorecards to avoid the draw and closed strong with a clear final frame in which he connected on 26 punches, his best of the fight.

“I do believe that Roman deserves a fourth fight,” Estrada (44-3, 28 KOs) said in Spanish in translated comments. “I think we left the result clear about who the winner was, and if he wants the fourth fight, we can do it.

Estrada added: “He’s a future Hall of Famer. I won today out of my own merit. It doesn’t take anything away from him. I won because I was better prepared. I think that he still has a lot ahead of him in his career.”

That’s if Gonzalez (51-4, 41 KOs), a 35-year-old native of Nicaragua, chooses to continue with his boxing career.

“I don’t know yet. I’m going to talk about it with my family,” Gonzalez said in remarks translated from Spanish. “All fights are different and all fights are difficult, and I think this is the most difficult one.”

However, Gonzalez said he would fight Estrada a fourth time “as long as they pay well.”

Saturday’s fight was entertaining during the second half, but it was a far cry from their first two battles, which were instant classics. Gonzalez won the first meeting via unanimous decision to retain his 108-pound title in 2012.

The rematch didn’t materialize until nearly nine years later, with Estrada taking a controversial split decision in March 2021. Somehow, they topped their epic first fight with a total of 2,529 punches in the return bout.

They twice were scheduled to fight a third time, but those plans were postponed by positive COVID-19 tests, first by Gonzalez and then by Estrada. Gonzalez fought Julio Cesar Martinez on short notice in March and picked him apart en route to a lopsided decision win. In September, Estrada defeated Argi Cortes in a tougher-than-expected challenge.

On Saturday, Estrada and Gonzalez combined for 1,610 punches in a more tactical battle to determine supremacy at 115 pounds.

But there was no clarity in the end, as the fight truly could have gone either way. A fourth bout would surely be welcomed by boxing fans, but there should be plenty of other options for both men. Chief among them could be the winner — and perhaps loser too — of the New Year’s Eve title unification fight in Tokyo between Kazuto Ioka and Joshua Franco.

No matter which path each boxer takes going forward, one thing is certain: Estrada and Gonzalez will forever be linked to each other.