Richard Riakporhe will hope to fulfill his potential in what could be a career-defining year.
For someone who first joined a Boxing gym at 19-years-old and only turned professional four years ago, Riakporhe (11-0, 8 KOs) has made impressive progress and has put himself within touching distance of a maiden world title shot.
The undefeated Londoner headlined his first show, claiming the British Cruiserweight crown with a points win over Jack Massey in December 2019, but his career has stalled since, primarily as a result of a hand injury which has hampered his plans.
The 31-year-old defeated four domestic foes in Sam Hyde, Tommy McCarthy, Chris Billam-Smith and the aforementioned Massey and has since relinquished the Lonsdale belt, which will be contested for by Billam-Smith and Deion Jumah on March 20 and also switched trainers, leaving Mark Tibbs to join Anthony Joshua’s coach Angel Fernandez.
The Dillian Whyte-managed bruiser was part of a crop of prominent fighters not to feature in a pandemic-stricken 2020, although the former British champion does believe that his rehabilitation will prove vital for him in his comeback trail.
“Take our time, make sure I heal properly,” Riakporhe told Sky Sports in April.
“I can then come back to the ring and punch like I should be.
“I’ve just been working on using my lead hand, working on my jabs, uppercuts and body shots.
“I believe I’ve been punching at 50 per cent, from last year, but now my hand is fixed and I can actually feel the strength now in it. I reckon it will probably be back up to 80 per cent, 90 per cent.
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“Once everybody sees my next fight, they are going to see me land, and there will definitely be a difference.”
With top 15 rankings in all four governing bodies, it appears that 2021 will see Riakporhe on the verge of a world title shot and with power in abundance and providing a full recovery, the Brit could be a real threat.
Here are some of the potential options he could face:
An all-British showdown between arguably the two biggest punchers domestically seems inevitable.
Riakporhe and Okolie (15-0, 12 KOs) have seemingly been on a collision course for a while and with the latter finally facing Krzysztof Glowacki for the vacant WBO world title on March 20, the fight would become more lucrative and appealing should ’The Sauce’ prevail.
Riakporhe was reportedly offered a late-notice showdown with his British rival, when Glowacki was forced to pull out of their proposed December 12 date with COVID-19.
Okolie has gone on record insisting he is willing to face his compatriot in the future.
“It’s a very likely fight, because there’s definitely interest there,” the 28-year-old told Pro Boxing Fans in April.
“People will always be interested in watching two strong guys come together and have a punch up, so yeah why not?”
With Riakporhe ranked #3 by the WBA, it would seem to make more sense if both had a world title, but regardless a big, domestic clash is always there.
With Riakporhe chasing world honours, a clash with Kevin Lerena would be a natural WBA eliminator.
Lerena (26-1, 13 KOs), the IBO Cruiserweight champion is ranked just above Riakporhe, who holds the Inter-Continental belt at third by the WBA and would be certainly no push over, with 15 wins in succession since a sole defeat in 2014 and some solid names on his resume.
The 28-year-old defeated former Tyson Fury foe Sefer Seferi in three rounds in September 2019 and was out most recently in December, claiming a fifth round stoppage over Patrick Ferguson.
‘Two Guns’ has also overcome veteran former world champion, Firat Arslan and former interim WBA titlist Youri Kalenga and would likely be considered the favourite heading in.
The first WBC bridgerweight (224lbs) fight is Kevin Lerena vs Bilal Laggoune on March 13th for the WBC ‘silver’ belt. Mauricio Sulaiman has said the winner will either be mandatory or will take part in the fight for the first bridgerweight world title. [@BehindTheGloves]
— Michael Benson (@MichaelBensonn) January 15, 2021
With Ryan Merhy elevated from interim to ‘Regular’ champion and set to face Yuniel Dorticos and with Arsen Goulamirian holding the full title, a bout seems viable.
Ya F*** this is pretty much how I feel 🥴 Disappointed that I won’t be fighting in March here in SA or internationally ! Covid is really throwing in some curve balls but we working on it and I’m hoping to get back into the ring in April or May for a big one🥊 #ChampionMindset pic.twitter.com/VD05Cxc25J
— Kevin Lerena (@Kevin_Ko_Lerena) February 9, 2021
Lerena is not short options, however, ranked at #3 by the newly formed WBC Bridgerweight division and was reportedly set to face Bilal Laggoune on March 13th for the WBC ‘silver’ belt, although he confirmed on social media he would no longer be fighting in March, opening the door to a potential clash with the Brit.
If Riakporhe opts to pursue another route, then a meeting with Andrew Tabiti would represent an enticing alternative.
Former world title challenger, Tabiti (17-1, 13 KOs) is ranked #5 by the WBC in the running for champion, Ilunga Makabu’s belt, despite having not fought since a 10th round knockout defeat to Yuniel Dorticos in the World Boxing Super Series semi-final in June 2019.
The 31-year-old has expressed his desire for a rematch with WBC #4 ranked, Dorticos and outlined his plans to move up to Heavyweight in the near future and thus may look to force a shot with a higher rated fighter, with Riakporhe at #10 in the standings.
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‘The Beast’, who trains out of the Mayweather Gym brings more experience to the table having challenged for a world title and was the last man to face and beat Steve Cunningham in 2017.
Tabiti has a bigger profile than some of the other names in the division, from a UK standpoint and with both men having been inactive recently, it would mark an intriguing crossroads fight and a clash of powerful hitters.