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Clancy’s One Strategic Miscalculation “Reinventing Foreman To Face Ali Again”

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clancyGil Clancy was the trainer of many world champions and is probably best known for guiding the hall-of-fame careers of Emile Griffith and Rodrigo Valdes during the sixties and seventies. Ironically, both Griffith and Valdes fought middleweight champion Carlos Monzon twice each during his reign as champ circa 1970-77. Griffith, after being stopped by Monzon during their first fight in 1971, lost a disputed decision to him in their rematch 21 months later. Valdes was the only fighter to drop Monzon as champ when he turned the trick during the second round of their July 1977 rematch. So it should come as no surprise that one of the greatest middleweight champs of all-time was given two of the toughest fights during his reign as champ by fighters trained by Gil Clancy.

With Clancy’s passing last week the accolades have been pouring in. Gil loved to talk boxing and I remember having him on my ESPN 1490 radio show in the late nineties after George Foreman lost a controversial decision to Shannon Briggs in what turned out to be George’s last fight. We discussed how terrible the decision was in that bout, which led us to talking about the careers of both Foreman and Gerry Cooney. Gil intimated that Gerry Cooney could’ve been a great heavyweight had he only believed it himself. He also went into how if Foreman could punch as fundamentally correctly as Jerry Quarry, he would’ve never lost to anyone.

During the conversation regarding Foreman’s physical strength and career, Gil went on about how a trainer should never change a fighter from being who he really is as a fighter. And that Angelo Dundee’s greatest asset to Muhammad Ali was the fact that despite immense pressure, he never attempted to convert Muhammad Ali into a by the book boxer/fighter. That took me back a little because if there ever was one miscalculation that Clancy did strategically to a fighter, it was him changing George Foreman’s style from a catch-an-kill aggressor into a wait and react counter-puncher after he lost his undisputed heavyweight title to Muhammad Ali in “The Rumble In The Jungle.”

As everyone knows, Foreman dismissed his trainer Dick Saddler after he lost to Ali. At that time Foreman was blaming everyone but himself after the fight. George was embarrassed that he punched himself out against Ali and thought he should’ve been better prepared for Ali’s rope-a-dope style. This was a strategy that failed miserably against “Smokin” Joe Frazier in the “Fight Of The Century” three years earlier. Enter Gil Clancy, who was hired by Foreman to replace Saddler and help him prepare for an impending rematch with Ali.

The first fight Clancy worked with Foreman was his comeback bout against the underrated boxer and big punching Ron Lyle. Foreman, under Clancy, fought more in a more measured fashion and didn’t go all out and attack Lyle. The thought was George would conserve his energy and have more stamina for later in the fight if he didn’t get the early knockout. The only problem with that was – Lyle almost took Foreman’s head off in the process. Finally, out of desperation, Foreman reverted back to the pre-Zaire version of himself and knocked Lyle out in the fifth round. In his subsequent fights against Joe Frazier, Scott LeDoux, Dino Dennis and Pedro Agosto, the measured Foreman looked like a more finished fighter. However, what was hidden in the victories over Frazier, LeDoux, Dennis and Agosto was, Foreman could easily jab their heads off from the outside without really having to push the fight. And if by chance they’d try to change things up and bring the fight to him, it only sped up the inevitable and got them knocked out sooner. In those fights between Lyle and Agosto, the supposed new George Foreman looked like he was ready to dethrone the aging and physically declining champ, Muhammad Ali.

In March of 1977, after beating five consecutive contenders by stoppage, Foreman met third ranked Jimmy Young. If George could beat Young, Ali would have to make his next title defense against the top ranked heavyweight in the world, George Foreman. Young, a slick boxer, was thought to be the perfect tune-up fight to help get Foreman ready for Ali’s style. Against Young, Foreman wouldn’t attack. Instead he’d fight at a measured pace  (under Clancy’s instruction) and hope to draw Young to him and nail him with big counters. Only Young didn’t go for it. For the first five rounds while Foreman was laying back and looking to conserve his stamina and land the perfect shot, Young peppered George with straight lefts and rights while he was winning the rounds. In the seventh round a desperate and tiring Foreman caught Young with a big left-hook that knocked Jimmy across the ring. Foreman tried to finish Young in a somewhat measured fashion because Clancy embedded it into his head that he shouldn’t go all out. And because of that Young survived the round and his confidence escalated.

In the other corner, Foreman appeared concerned and caught in-between styles. For the last five rounds of the fight Foreman fought just hard enough not to punch himself out, but not hard enough to prevent Young from picking his spots and flurrying in spurts and winning the rounds. The fight went the distance and Young won a deserved unanimous decision. Six months later Earnie Shavers, not Foreman, challenged Ali for the title at Madison Square Garden. Shavers gave Ali a tough fight, but Muhammad eventually prevailed and would make what turned out to be the last successful title defense of his career. Had Clancy not changed Foreman’s style, more than likely there’s Ali-Foreman II.

In the years since the Foreman-Young bout, it has been speculated by many what would’ve happened if George fought Ali a second time. Well, there shouldn’t be any speculation what so ever about how it would’ve turned out. If a measured and counter-punching Foreman couldn’t beat Jimmy Young, he would have never defeated Ali fighting that style. Clancy changing Foreman’s style looked as if it initially worked, and at the time Gil was receiving plenty of praise for re-inventing George Foreman. The only problem was, the fighter Clancy was brought in to help George beat ended up being the beneficiary of his new wait and react style. Had Foreman not changed his style and tore into Young like he did the first forty opponents of his career, Jimmy Young wouldn’t have got out of the third round with him – and Ali would’ve met Foreman in a rematch in September of 1977 instead of Earnie Shavers.

The bottom line is, Foreman was an attacker. If you make him box and taper his aggression, he’s no longer George Foreman. The only way George was going to beat Young and have a chance to beat Ali in a rematch was to go after them and be driven by his strength and punching power. Foreman didn’t lose to Ali because of his style. He lost to Ali because Muhammad had one of the greatest bodies and chins in heavyweight history. It wasn’t like Ali was out-boxing George and Foreman couldn’t get to him. It was purely the case of Ali being durable enough to take his Sunday punch. And had that not been the case, Muhammad Ali would’ve been stopped during the “Rumble In The Jungle.” So there was no need to try and re-invent George Foreman. His style worked for him, and only Ali could’ve survived the wrecking machine version of Foreman. The last way in the world you’d ever advise Foreman to fight Ali would be to go at him in a measured way and then react to what he does. Because of Ali’s reach and speed the fight would’ve been like Muhammad and George playing tag. And George would’ve been “it” the whole fight and lost.

Sure, when Foreman made his comeback 10 years after losing to Young, he had success fighting at a slower pace. But that pace wasn’t by design, it was more because George was older, slower and less powerful in his late thirties opposed to his mid to late twenties. And he was out-boxed by Evander Holyfield and Tommy Morrison fighting at a measured pace and not going for the kill during his second career.

Gil Clancy was a great boxing trainer. That’s part of history and has been well documented over the last 50 years. However, Clancy made a monumental miscalculation strategically when he took over for Dick Saddler and began training Foreman after he lost to Ali. The thing Gil admired most about Angelo Dundee was that he didn’t change Ali from who he was as a fighter, which is the exact opposite of how he approached Foreman with the intent being to defeat Ali in a proposed rematch.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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