Andrade set for first defense of middleweight title at MSG

Combined Shape

NEW YORK (AP) — Demetrius Andrade is just a few months from winning a middleweight title but perhaps still far away from fights with the division’s biggest names.

Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs are the headliners at 160 pounds, and while one or more of them could someday be in Andrade’s future, it doesn’t appear to be the near future.

Andrade isn’t about to sit around waiting. He’s done too much of that already.

So he gets right back into action Friday night, making the first defense of his WBO belt against Russian Artur Akavov in the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

“It’s great to be back in the ring,” Andrade said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been this active and so like I said before, every opportunity that comes my way I’m going to take.”

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Andrade (26-0, 16 KOs) is a former 154-pound champion who won a middleweight belt on Oct. 20 in Boston, dropping Walter Kautondokwa four times and cruising to a lopsided unanimous decision. Andrade had been scheduled to face champion Billy Joe Saunders, but Saunders tested positive for a banned stimulant and was stripped of his belt.

“We always knew he was going to win that world championship because now he’s a three-time, two-weight world champion, and the fights that are ahead for him in the 160-pound division are breathtaking,” promoter Eddie Hearn said.

Alvarez and Jacobs will meet May 4 in a unification bout. Both fighters, like Andrade, are aligned with DAZN, which will stream Friday’s card, so perhaps there’s a route to a fight with one or both of them eventually. Jacobs, the IBF champion, is also promoted by Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing USA, so that could help lead to another opportunity.

But after sitting out for a year before winning his title, the former U.S. Olympian from Providence, Rhode Island wants to stay busy until one of those fights emerges.

“I believe I am the greatest talent out there at the 154, 60 and maybe even 68 weight class division, but right now in front of me I’ve got to take care of business come Friday,” Andrade said.

That comes against Akavov (19-2, 8 KOs), who is getting his second shot at a title. He lost a decision to Saunders in December 2016.

“I respect him as a champion,” Akavov said of Andrade, “but I came here only for the victory. This is my dream, this is my goal.”

On the undercard, Jorge Linares (45-4, 28 KOs), now fighting at 140 pounds after losing his lightweight title to Vasyl Lomachenko last year, faces Pablo Cesar Cano (31-7-1, 21 KOs), and former 140-pound champion Chris Algieri (22-3, 8 KOs) continues his comeback against fellow New Yorker Danny Gonzalez (17-1-1, 7 KOs).

Also, Amanda Serrano (35-1-1, 26 KOs) looks for a title in a seventh weight class — this time dropping down to 115 pounds after fighting at 140 in her last bout — against Austrian champion Eva Voraberger (24-5, 11 KOs).

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Then it’s Andrade, whom Hearn called the “sleeping giant” of the middleweight division whose slick southpaw skills hindered his ability to draw big bouts in the past.

“But now he can’t be ignored anymore because he’s a world champion in one of the most attractive, lucrative divisions in the sport,” Hearn said.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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