James “Jazza” Dickens and Nathaniel May will be fighting to move to the brink of a world title shot when they clash at the Eventim Olympia in Liverpool, England on Friday (ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET).
It is a potentially career-changing, 10-round encounter for the fringe IBF European belt with the winner moving closer to an IBF world title shot against English rival Josh Warrington.
Beating Australia’s May, who is ranked at No. 8 with the IBF, would be a big boost to Dickens’ hopes of facing Warrington.
Dickens (26-3, 11 KOs), 28, has made recent moves he hopes will help him advance his career. The English boxer spent some time training in the U.S. last year and has enlisted the help of former cruiserweight world titleholder Tony Bellew as manager.
Dickens is also in form after knocking out Nasibu Ramadhani in the fifth round in a Commonwealth title eliminator in Liverpool in April. That followed a period training in Miami at the iconic 5th St. Gym, as well a win in the Dominican Republic in November (a TKO victory in Round 1 over Miguel Encarnacion).
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Friday, 7 a.m. ET on ESPN+: Robert Brant vs. Ryota Murata, rematch, 12 rounds, for Brant’s WBA “regular” middleweight title.
Friday, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN+: Jazza Dickens vs. Nathaniel May in a 10-round featherweight bout.
Saturday, 2:45 p.m. ET on ESPN+: Daniel Dubois vs. Nathan Gorman, 12 rounds, for vacant British heavyweight title and Joe Joyce vs. Bryant Jennings, 12 rounds, heavyweights.
Dickens is best known for his brief and painful taste of world-title level when he faced Cuba’s Miami-based Guillermo Rigondeaux three years ago in Cardiff, Wales. Dickens was a big outsider, a surprise matchup for Rigondeaux who at the time was among the world’s best pound-for-pound boxers and reigning lineal and WBA junior featherweight champion. The fight was stopped at the end of Round 2 after Dickens suffered a broken jaw.
Dickens, a southpaw who has compiled four consecutive wins since a technical decision loss to Thomas Patrick Ward two years ago, is a devout Catholic who developed his boxing after building his own boxing gym in a room above a shop.
“Religion is very important to me, and God took me from my old life,” Dickens told ESPN before facing Rigondeaux.
“I was living an adult life very young as a kid. My life was a lot different to how it is now. I had a troubled life, but then I started boxing [at 12] and it has all led to this, a world title fight. If I can give hope to kids, then great, because I needed a push in the right direction and they can achieve anything they want to.”
For May (21-1, 12 KOs), 23, from Bunbury, it will be his third fight in a row boxing away from home after wins in Tijuana, Mexico (a KO in Round 1 over Jose Miguel Tamayo), only last month and in Belfast, Northern Ireland, last October (a points victory over Ruslan Berchuk).
May has prepared at trainer Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Club in Los Angeles, California, and can expect a hostile reception in front of Dickens’ home city fans in Liverpool.
Also on the card are two former world titleholders in Martin Murray and Terry Flanagan.
Murray (37-5-1, 17 KOs), 36, from nearby St Helens, will face Kim Poulsen (28-5, 7 KOs), 32, of Denmark, in a 10-round super-middleweight fight and the English boxer’s first since a majority decision loss to former middleweight titlist Hassan N’Dam in December. Murray is once again trying to revive a career that has seen him challenge the best of his era at middleweight and super middleweight (against Sergio Martinez, Gennady Golovkin and Arthur Abraham), and seen him lose three world title fights as well as a controversial draw in another world title shot (a split decision against Felix Sturm).
Flanagan (33-2, 13 KOs), 30, from Manchester, will attempt to end a two-fight losing streak against Tanzania’s Jonas Segu (19-8-2, 6 KOs) over eight rounds.
“I’ve not boxed since before Christmas,” Flanagan said.
“There’s still so much left in the tank and I’ll be looking to show that against a tough fighter. I’ll prove I’m as good as I’ve always been — if not better.
“I believe I’m a world-level fighter. It’s where I’ve boxed for three or four years now. I’m in that class and I believe with one or two good wins, I’ll be back boxing for another world title.”
Former WBO world lightweight champion Flanagan is returning to the 135-pound division following two losses in a row at junior welterweight. Flanagan moved up in weight to face American Maurice Hooker for the vacant WBO world title last June but lost a split decision. Flanagan then lost by a unanimous decision to Regis Prograis in October.
The show was initially going to feature a third former world champion.
Rocky Fielding (27-2, 15 KOs), who lost the WBA “regular” super middleweight title in a stoppage defeat to Canelo Alvarez in December, was scratched from the card after suffering a toe injury last month.
Also in action will be 2012 Olympian Natasha Jonas and John Quigley.