Golden Contract, a new eight-man elimination tournament, begins with its featherweight quarterfinals at the atmospheric York Hall in East London on Friday and will be streamed live on ESPN+ in association with Top Rank (3 p.m. ET).
There are no world titles on the line in Golden Contract’s first series. Instead, the eight hopefuls will be trying to win a five-fight contract with a top promoter.
No world titleholders are among the tournaments announced so far (tournaments also happening at junior welterweight and light heavyweight), but the prize on offer is substantial and career-changing.
According to the competition’s organizers, UK-based MTK Global, the winner of each tournament will land a two-year deal that guarantees six-figure purses for every fight along with global exposure.
The semifinals are due early next year, and the final in May/June.
Competitors will not know their opponents in the quarterfinals and semifinals until the week of the fight when the draw is made.
Minor and domestic titles will be on the line in the 10-round bouts, with knockout bonuses an added incentive. There are two reserves for each tournament — Razaq Najib and Jacob Robinson will flip a coin to decide who steps in to replace an injured boxer in the featherweight tournament. If there is no injury, organizers say the two reserve fighters will face each other on Oct. 4.
Here’s a guide to the featherweight competitors.
Ryan Walsh (24-2-2, 11 KOs)
Walsh, 33, starts the tournament as one of the favorites having reigned as British featherweight champion for four years. His two defeats have been against good opposition — future world champion Lee Selby in 2013, and to Dennis Ceylan for the European title on a split decision three years ago. Walsh earned a split decision victory over Lewis Paulin in the summer in a sixth defense of his domestic title and is often in close fights. In fact, four of his last five fights have ended in split decisions. Walsh, from Norfolk, England, made history when he and his twin brother, Liam, held British titles — in different weight classes — at the same time. Liam was stopped by Gervonta Davis fighting for the IBF world junior featherweight title two years ago. Ryan’s older brother, Michae,l was also a professional boxer.
Jazza Dickens (27-3, 11 KOs)
Dickens, 28, of England, is best known for his brief and painful taste of world title level when he faced Cuba’s Guillermo Rigondeaux three years ago in Cardiff. Dickens was unable to continue beyond the second round due to a broken jaw in the WBA world junior featherweight title fight. But the Liverpool boxer has recently been in impressive form and is one of those fancied to win this eight-man tournament. He has won five successive wins.
David Oliver Joyce (11-0, 8 KOs)
Joyce, 32, from Mullingar, Ireland won three European gold medals in a successful amateur career which saw him compete at the 2016 Olympics. The Irishman enters the tournament with an unbeaten record and impressively stopped England’s Stephen Tiffney in April.
Tyrone McCullagh (13-0, 6 KOs)
McCullagh, 29, from Derry, Northern Ireland, is stepping up from junior featherweight after describing his last win — a unanimous points decision over Spain’s Alvaro Rodriguez in May — as “an average performance”. The southpaw has been limited to one fight in the last year after turning professional in 2015.
Leigh Wood (22-1, 12 KOs)
Wood, 31, from Nottinghamshire, England, is the reigning Commonwealth featherweight champion and enters the tournament after two stunning knockout wins. Wood stopped Abraham Osei Bonsu to win the belt in March, then halted Ryan Doyle in the tenth round in May. Such form and activity marks out Wood as one to watch. His only defeat came five years ago when he was stopped by Gavin McDonnell for the British super-bantamweight title.
Hairon Socarras (22-0-3, 14 KOs)
Socarras, 26, fights in England for the first time as a professional after having most of his paid fights in the United States. The Miami-based Cuban is ranked No. 7 by the WBA governing body, and recorded wins over Jesus Martinez and Carlos Ruiz earlier this year. He will be unknown to his opponents, which makes him dangerous.
Carlos Araujo (15-1, 12 KOs)
Mexico’s Araujo, 24, has never fought outside of his home nation and will also be unknown to his rivals. He ended an exile of more than two years in April but such inactivity leaves question marks over how long he can go in the tournament.
Carlos Ramos (11-1, 7 KOs)
Ecuador-born but based in Spain, Ramos, 24, holds the secondary European featherweight title after earning a unanimous decision over Razaq Najib in June. In November last year, Ramos stopped Ibon Larrinaga, who six months earlier had taken Irish contender Michael Conlan the eight round distance. In-form Spanish champion Ramos’ only blemish on his record was a unanimous decision loss to Irvin Gonzalez in the US last year, but since then he has looked good with two straight wins.