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Pascal-Hopkins Face Off: The Bonus Commentary Track

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amd_max-kellermanTwo months ago, Max Kellerman appeared on my podcast, Ring Theory, and was buzzing with his uniquely Kellermanian energy about an episode of the HBO prefight program “Face Off With Max Kellerman” that he’d recently shot. The combatants for this verbal joust were Jean Pascal and Bernard Hopkins. “I can not wait for people to see this Face Off,” Max insisted, saying it was the best episode they’d ever done.

As Kellerman elaborated for several minutes, it began to reach the point where the actual show couldn’t possibly live up to his hype. And Kellerman sensed that he was flirting with setting the bar too high. “Now that I built it up, it’ll disappoint,” he backtracked.

Fear not, Max. The final edit of the episode began airing this month (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7llp_L-riVM), and it did NOT disappoint. In 12 minutes of talking, we got more action and entertainment than 12 rounds of fighting frequently provides.

It was as advertised: Tempers flaring, scabs picked at, Hopkins running his mouth as only Hopkins can, and Pascal putting in a damned admirable effort to keep up with an all-time-great trash-talker. Both fighters heard an imaginary bell ring while the makeup was still being applied, Kellerman had to interrupt them just to intro the show, and then Pascal and Hopkins went at it for the next two hours. The final cut was a nonstop barrage of insults, indignation, and intimidation tactics.

There was name-calling: Pascal labeled Hopkins a baby and then swung the other way on the age spectrum and called him a stubborn old man; Hopkins dubbed Pascal a coward, a fool, and a four-round fighter. B-Hop should have brought an egg and a frying pan as props because he busted out “this is your brain on drugs” to describe his rival. Pascal stood up and performed an impression of Hopkins’ defensive technique that brought to mind a man whose inability to swim is topped only by his inability to hug. And all the while, the steel table between the two men showed a hell of a chin.

That steel table, and the steel chairs, and the Face Off concept, are the brainchild of director David Roofthooft, who pitched Kellerman on the idea back in ’09. Max recognized instantly that it was a can’t-miss.

“David said, ‘Listen, I have this in mind for you, this is what the concept is, would you be interested in something like this?’” Kellerman recalled. “And I thought, This is brilliant. It’s a steel table with two steel chairs and the fighters facing each other. With that setup, if they want to avoid the tension, they have to actively try to avoid it. Otherwise, they’re staring at each other. So the tension is building organically.”

Still, Kellerman acknowledged that for many Face Offs, teeth need pulling. The fighters are not always natural trash talkers, or natural talkers at all, and it’s the host’s duty to instigate.

With Hopkins and Pascal, there was no need. It was all Kellerman could do sometimes to get a few words in. Taking TSS readers behind the scenes of this particular Face Off taping, Kellerman said he didn’t remember specific moments that ended up on the proverbial cutting-room floor, but that he knows a lot of what got edited out involved Hopkins’ mouth motoring.

“My impression after we finished the shoot was that they were going to have to edit a lot of Hopkins to make sure that Pascal has something close to half the air time,” Kellerman said. “It’s not like we can show you a 15-minute piece, and 14 minutes of it is Hopkins talking. They had it edit it enough so you could hear from Pascal. Hopkins was dominant, because he speaks English—and because he knows how to talk in any language. I was impressed that Pascal was able to fend Hopkins off as well as he did, considering the disadvantage of English not being his native language. Of course, even if they’d spoken the same language as kids, Hopkins would be at an advantage.”

I asked Kellerman if he thought at any time that the confrontation was becoming so heated that it might turn physical.

“No, I did not,” Max said bluntly. “These guys aren’t fighting for free.”

Maybe not, but they have been known to put their hands on each other at press conferences from time to time. Still, Kellerman was right in between them, feeling the vibe of the room, and if he says it never seemed as if it was going to get violent, I believe him.

I suspect that when it does get violent this Saturday night in Montreal, it will be Hopkins’ goal to draw out that same emotion that his opponent showed during the Face Off. I think B-Hop wants Pascal fighting mad. He wants Pascal throwing punches designed to knock him out—punches that can either be countered by Hopkins or that will deplete the energy supply of a man dubbed a four-round fighter by B-Hop.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the anger and frustration Pascal felt in March will still be there two months later, just like there’s no guarantee the words “Take the test!” will still be ringing Hopkins’ ears at the opening bell. Prefight buildup is often nothing more than prefight buildup. It’s just for show.

But what a show the Pascal-Hopkins Face Off was. And according to Kellerman, though it was the best episode yet at the time it was taped, it isn’t anymore. That’s right, Max says the Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye Face Off, which will air in June, surpassed it.

“The one I just did with Haye and Klitschko will blow your mind,” he insisted. “They topped Hopkins-Pascal, not for histrionics, but in terms of the actual tension, and the actual dynamic and interplay of their personalities. This one will have to be edited, actually, to hear from Haye. Haye is the native speaker of English, and Klitschko needs time to filter his thoughts through another language, so it takes longer. Klitschko filibusters. It’s like, if you kept track of time of possession, Klitschko was way ahead of Haye in that statistic. But Haye had great stuff to say.”

Kellerman said Haye was genuinely funny when cracking wise at Klitschko’s expense, which put Kellerman in a tough spot as the host.

“You don’t want to be sitting there laughing at Wladimir Klitschko, the heavyweight champion of the world. But Haye is being really funny. So you can acknowledge the humor in the remark, but you have to do it without laughing at the other guy. That’s a line you have to walk.”

When the Klitschko-Haye Face Off airs, we’ll have fun watching Kellerman try to walk that line—and watching the two fighters trade barbs in advance of the biggest heavyweight fight in nearly a decade.

Until then, we can keep re-watching the Pascal-Hopkins edition. Their first fight was surprisingly entertaining. Their Face Off was all you could ask for and more. Can this Saturday’s showdown make them three-for-three on exceeding expectations?

If we get an “old man” against a “four-round fighter,” probably not. But if both men fight with the passion with which they spoke a couple of months ago, those makeup-dusted faces we saw on Face Off could be unrecognizable by the time it’s over.

Eric Raskin can be contacted at RaskinBoxing@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin and listen to new episodes of his podcast, Ring Theory, at http://ringtheory.podbean.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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