Lem’s Corner: Harrison, Rabchenko fighting for pecking order in key 154-pound clash

When Tony Harrison meets Sergey Rabchenko on July 30 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, their 154-pound eliminator bout will be as much about division relevance as a title shot.

Tony Harrison

Tony Harrison rocks Cecil McCalla with a right hand during his unanimous decision victory on Halloween. Harrison returns to action July 30 against Sergey Rabchenko in a critical 154-pound bout for both fighters. (Josh Jordan/Premier Boxing Champions)

Both fighters are trying to remain in the championship conversation in a weight class featuring titleholders Jermall Charlo (24-0, 18 KOs), Jermell Charlo (28-0, 13 KOs), Erislandy Lara (23-2-2, 13 KOs) and Liam Smith (23-0-1 13 KOs), as well as former champion Demetrius Andrade (23-0, 16 KOs) and top-ranked contenders Julian Williams (20-0-1, 14 KOs), Erickson Lubin (15-0, 11 KOs) and Jarrett Hurd (18-0, 12 KOs).

The winner of Harrison-Rabchenko will move into the No. 2 mandatory position behind world champion Jermall Charlo and No. 1 contender Williams.

“Tony Harrison and Sergey Rabchenko are two huge punchers,” said Lou DiBella, promoter of the July 30 card. “But as good as they are, they’re in a very talented 154-pound division that has a major spotlight on it.”

Harrison-Rabchenko is part of a deep undercard to the 126-pound main event in which three-division champion Leo Santa Cruz (32-0-1, 18 KOs) of Los Angeles will make the second defense of his crown against former 122-pound titleholder Carl Frampton (22-0, 14 KOs) of Northern Ireland (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. ET).

In his most recent bout in March, Tony Harrison (23-1, 19 KOs) scored two knockdowns during a sixth-round knockout of former title challenger Fernando Guerrero. Prior to that, Harrison scored a 10-round unanimous decision over Cecil McCalla on Halloween to rebound from his lone defeat, a ninth-round stoppage against Willie Nelson in July 2015.

In Sergey Rabchenko (27-1, 20 KOs), Harrison will face a 30-year-old Belarusian who has stopped two opponents since falling by split decision to former champion Anthony Mundine in November 2014.

“In my last fight against Guerrero, I think I showed that I’m an exciting fighter who takes risks and who knows how to produce and perform,” said Harrison, a 25-year-old Detroit native. “I see all of the pressure being on [Rabchenko] as far as who he is and what he can do.

“But I’m on a mission, and I’ve been grinding for this opportunity to make a statement in another steppingstone for where I need to be in this division and in life.”

Carl Frampton and Alejandro Gonzalez Jr.

Carl Frampton (left) will make his 126-pound debut against world champion Leo Santa Cruz on July 30 in what is expected to be a brawl loaded with sweat-spraying action. (Lucas Noonan/Premier Boxing Champions)

SANTA CRUZ-FRAMPTON ANOTHER THURMAN-PORTER?

The last time Barclays Center hosted a world championship fight, fans in the arena and on national television were treated to a Fight of the Year-caliber headliner as Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter slugged it out for 12 furious rounds, with Thurman retaining his 147-pound title by unanimous decision.

While Santa Cruz-Frampton lacks the national buzz of Thurman-Porter, it has the potential to be just as exciting. That’s because the two combatants—just like Thurman and Porter—love to throw blows.

“They’re smaller guys, but this fight is every bit in the same kind of category as Keith Thurman-Shawn Porter,” DiBella said. “Leo Santa Cruz is a whirlwind of action, blood-and-guts warrior from the West Coast in his first major fight in New York where there’s a large Mexican fan base. Frampton is a superstar in Ireland who is a throw-down warrior and a boxer-puncher.

“It’s the best of the best with everything at stake.”

Making the main event all the more intriguing is the fact it’s supported by one of the best undercards of the year to date. In addition to Harrison-Rabchenko, former two-division champion Paulie Malignaggi (35-7, 7 KOs) will rumble with Gabriel Bracero (24-2, 5 KOs) in a 147-pound battle for Brooklyn bragging rights, while 135-pound prospect Ivan Redkach (19-1-1, 15 KOs) will face Tevin Farmer (21-4-1, 5 KOs).

Then there’s the co-main, in which another former two-division champion—Mikey Garcia (34-0, 28 KOs)—will make his long-awaited return to the ring against ex-126-pound titleholder Elio Rojas (24-2, 14 KOs) in a sub-140-pound bout.

Garcia, 28, held world titles at 126 and 130 pounds, and will be fighting for the first time since January 2014, when he won a unanimous decision over Juan Carlos Burgos at Madison Square Garden. Rojas, 33, will end a lengthy layoff as well, having last fought in August 2014 when he won an eight-round unanimous decision over Robert Osiobe.

Paulie Malignaggi

Former two-division world champ Paulie Malignaggi will work overtime July 30, first battling fellow Brooklyn native Gabriel Bracero, then sitting ringside to call the action for the rest of the Showtime broadcast. (Ryan Greene/Premier Boxing Champions)

‘MAGIC MAN’ READY TO ONCE AGAIN PULL DOUBLE DUTY

Malignaggi will be back in the ring for the first time in nearly eight months when he takes on Bracero. And when he’s done—win or lose—the 35-year-old Brooklyn native will shower, slip on a suit and return ringside, where he’ll work as an analyst for the main Showtime card.

As his fighting career has been winding down, Malignaggi has built himself into one of the top ringside analysts in the game. While many other boxers have successfully made the transition from punching heads to talking heads, few if any have worn the gloves and held a mic on the same night.

For Malignaggi, this will be his second time pulling such double duty. In his last fight on December 12, Malignaggi earned a lopsided, 12-round unanimous decision over Antonio Moscatiello in London, then did color commentary for two bouts, including future heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua’s seventh-round stoppage of Dillian Whyte.

“I’m going to fight Gabriel Bracero on Showtime Extreme, go and take a shower, and then work the main broadcast and the main event,” said Malignaggi, a former world titleholder at 140 and 147 pounds who has won his last two fights since consecutive TKO losses to Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter.

Lem’s corner is published each Wednesday at PremierBoxingChampions.com.

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