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Poolside Pugilism at Cosmopolitan Las Vegas

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cosmoboxingNevada's involvement with the sport of boxing dates back more than a century.  At a time when prizefighting was illegal in most of the country, Governor Reinhold Sadler signed a bill regulating it into law and the state hosted its first championship bout—James J. Corbett vs. Bob Fitzsimmons—at the Carson City Racetrack in early 1897.  In 1960, the city of Las Vegas hosted the first of its many championship fights when welterweights Benny Paret and Don Jordan squared off at the recently opened convention center.  Las Vegas has since laid claim to the title 'fight capital of the world' and has seen countless classic fights and championship battles.

Despite this extensive boxing legacy, the 'Silver State' had never before seen anything quite like the fight card at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino on Friday, April 29.  The second of the casino's series of boxing events was held not in the usual ballroom setting but on the deck of the Cosmo's Boulevard Pool overlooking the Las Vegas strip.  The 'poolside' fight card was all business, however, with Carlos Molina defeating Allen Conyers in the main event which  was broadcast on ESPN 2's 'Friday Night Fights' (though the broadcast was tape delayed until Saturday due to NFL draft coverage).   In the other bout shown on ESPN 2, Hylon Williams Jr. remained undefeated with a lopsided unanimous decision victory over a game but outmatched Marcos Herrera.  

It was readily apparent that the setting was the focal point of the event and it made for a slightly bizarre experience watching the fights.  In a fight held indoors, all of the crowd energy is focused in a somewhat symmetrical fashion—the ring is in the middle of the venue and the spectators radiate outward in a uniform manner.  In the Cosmopolitan's poolside setup, that wasn't the case—there were seats set up around the ring but most of the crowd chose instead to 'circulate' and watch the fights from whatever vantage point they happened to be at.  This created a strange dynamic where the boxing didn't really feel like the 'center of attention' but rather just part of 'the show' at a large cocktail party.  It was difficult to watch the action closely—let alone try to score it—with all of the activity including socializing fans, the Cosmo's bikini clad cocktail waitresses and an assortment of boxing VIP's.

This isn't to suggest that the crowd was ignorant of or indifferent toward the sport of boxing and the action in the ring; to the contrary it was a very 'boxing savvy' audience that was very appreciative of the fighters and their efforts and well versed in the nuance of 'the sweet science'.  They were often distracted, but that's perfectly understandable given the setting amid the sensory overload of the Las Vegas Strip.  A purist would complain that it's unfair to the fighters and beneath the dignity of the sport to put them in a situation where they're reduced to the status of caged go-go girls in a nightclub.

Those caveats notwithstanding, the event was very enjoyable and felt like a 'big deal' in a way that a card held in a garden variety convention hall or ballroom does not.  The energy was different than the usual boxing vibe, but overall a very positive and upbeat environment for fighters and fans alike.  Of particular note was the intimacy and lack of 'social stratification'.  At most boxing events the 'rank and file' fans and the VIP's are kept apart but on the Cosmopolitan Pool Deck those barriers didn't exist—fighters, VIPs, high rollers, media and average fight fans intermingled and peacefully coexisted adding to the 'party' atmosphere of the event.
Even in Las Vegas, however, the 'house doesn't always win' and the Cosmopolitan was dealt a 'bad hand' in the form of a brutal wind that gusted up to 45 MPH and detracted from an otherwise picture perfect sunny spring afternoon.  At the beginning of the card, it was breezy though not unpleasant.  Conditions went downhill quickly, and as the sun descended behind the Planet Hollywood tower across the street the wind picked up and it began to get overbearing and slightly chilly.  The sight of gale warning flags posted on the replica of Lake Como next door at the Bellagio wouldn't have come as a surprise by that point.

The fighters didn't seem overly fazed by the wind, though it did get involved in the action during the main event.  Early in the fight, Carlos Molina was slightly off balance after an exchange and a 40+ MPH gust of wind caught him.  He instinctively put his glove to the canvas to steady himself, which prompted veteran referee Tony Weeks to rule a knockdown.  He seemed to hesitate before making the call, probably trying to figure out if there way a provision in the rules that would allow him to rule that the fighter had been 'blown over'.  Since Molina didn't touch his glove to the canvas in reaction to a punch a knockdown might not have been the right call but, then again, it wasn't technically a 'slip' either.  

Overall, the Cosmopolitan 'Poolside Boxing' event looks like a winner—especially in the hot summer months to come.  Obviously the setting presents a unique challenge for the fighters involved, but on balance it has to be a better experience than fighting before a half full hotel ballroom.  It's the sort of event that is great for a serious fight fan but something that a 'boxing newbie' would enjoy as well.  Sports are always trying to come up with ways to attract new fans, and events like this are made to order to get casual fans and non-fans hooked on 'the sweet science'.  Bikini clad cocktail servers, a sociable crowd of boxing enthusiasts and great fight action in a spectacular setting on a hot summer night in Las Vegas will get them in the door, and some will leave as more devoted fight fans.

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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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