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What’s The Superior Super Six Scenario?….RASKIN

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003_IMG_9272Carl Froch has come a long way from the opening round of the Super Six World Boxing Classic, when Showtime analyst Antonio Tarver was tripping over his name and calling him “Crotch.” To the American boxing public, the then-unbeaten “Cobra” was regarded less for his venomous bite than for his serpent’s tongue. Froch was brash enough to claim Joe Calzaghe was avoiding him but lacked the resume to fully back up his tough talk, and the general opinion, at least on the southpaw side of the Atlantic Ocean, was that the Nottingham native was the fifth most likely combatant to win the Super Six. The number-six spot went to Jermain Taylor, whom Froch had defeated via come-from-behind 12th-round knockout in his previous fight. But the other four contestants were all given better chances of winning, either because they’d proven themselves more or because their ceilings were perceived to be higher.

Nineteen months have passed since the tournament began, and Froch is regarded in an entirely different light now. According to the online sports books, he’s about a 4-1 favorite to reach the Super Six finals. It’s amazing what added exposure and a series of impressive performances against top competition will do for you. Even though he suffered his first loss during this tourney (a could-have-gone-either-way decision to pre-tournament favorite Mikkel Kessler), when you view his last five fights as a whole, you can’t help but give the man his due. He decisioned Jean Pascal, who later went on to become the light heavyweight champion of the world. He knocked out a still viable Taylor. He won a split decision over Andre Dirrell. He lost to Kessler. And he dominated Arthur Abraham in every conceivable way. To go 4-1 running that gauntlet, you have to be an elite fighter. Fact is, just about every pound-for-pound list that stretches to a top 20 now includes the erstwhile Mr. Crotch.

Froch’s run to a favored role in the Super Six semis is a fantastic and unlikely success story.

And yet it’s trumped completely by that of his next opponent.

Glen Johnson WAS afforded all of the respect Froch wasn’t two years ago, but Johnson’s Super Six success is fantastic and unlikely because he wasn’t in the Super Six when it began. And he wasn’t the first or second alternate lined up. He wasn’t a super middleweight at all, actually. Johnson, who meets Froch this Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City for the right to face Andre Ward in the tournament finals, was a 40-year-old light heavyweight contender who was in between losses to Chad Dawson when the Super Six began. When he got the call to enter the tourney in the final fight of the round-robin portion, he was coming off another defeat to Tavoris Cloud. But he knocked out Allan Green last November. He earned the number-three seed with one punch. Now, at 42, Johnson has a chance to be the coolest of party guests: the last to arrive, the last to go home.

When the Super Six began, the “smart” money said Kessler or Abraham, or quite possibly both of them, would be in the finals. Instead, the final fight will be either Ward vs. Froch or Ward vs. Johnson. Clearly, the business of making predictions is overrated. So the point of this column is not to tell you who’s going to win on Saturday night.

It’s to tell you which outcome is better for boxing and for the Super Six.

Let’s start with the most superficial element: Froch’s nearly pristine record vs. Johnson’s banged-up old jalopy of a record. “As far as I’m concerned,” Froch said last week, “I still consider myself unbeaten.” Indeed, Froch’s one defeat to Kessler was debatable. But then again, so was his win over Dirrell. So let’s call it square and say his record is what it should be, 27-1 (20 KOs). If he beats Johnson, he’s 28-1. That looks pretty on the marquee next to Ward’s mark of 24-0 (13).

It damned sure looks prettier than 52-14-2, Johnson’s record entering the finals if he defeats Froch.

Again, it’s a purely superficial point of discussion. But this Super Six tournament, as much as boxing fans have buzzed about it for the past two years, has struggled to get beyond the fringes of mainstream attention in America. And those web and print editors and sports talk show producers out there who can only name about a half-dozen active boxers are nothing if not superficial when it comes to the fight game. So it’s probably a good thing for the tournament, promotion-wise and exposure-wise, if the two fighters in the finals have one loss between them.

On the other hand, all those defeats help make Johnson the better human-interest story, which is the other thing that mainstreamers are willing to latch onto. And the ugly record is only part of his underdog appeal. There’s also the fact every single man, woman, baby, and puppy on the planet likes Johnson on a personal level. (How could you not like a guy who, when asked what advantages he holds over Froch, answered, “My advantage is being Glen Johnson”?) And there’s his age. Fans love watching old athletes triumph, as a certain 46-year-old light heavyweight who spent much of his career being rooted against reminded us last week. The lovable 42-year-old with double-digit defeats on his record reaching the finals of the Super Six is a hard hook to resist.

However, there is some devil’s advocate to be played with regard to the age issue. Ward is 27 and seems to be in his prime. Froch is 33 and seems to be in his prime. There’s something to be said for a finals match that features two fighters at the peak of their respective games. And if you have an eye on the future, certainly it’s better for boxing to see a 33-year-old emerge as a star than a 42-year-old who, theoretically, shouldn’t have too many more good years in the game.

Or does Johnson have more good years left than we think because he’s finally fighting at the correct weight?

“I wish I would have listened to my manager a long time ago and gone down there [to super middleweight] sooner,” Johnson said last week. “The main reason is that I didn’t think I would be able to maintain that weight. I always felt like super middleweight wasn’t who I was and I didn’t want to put the strain on to make that weight.”

As it turned out, Johnson appeared strong and healthy at 168 pounds against Green—at least as good as he’s looked at light heavy at any point in the last five years. It’s hard to say based on one fight, but maybe super middle is the right weight for Johnson at this point in his career and he’s a bigger threat to Froch and Ward than most people realize.

Of course, the question of who’s a bigger threat to Ward, who has to be regarded as the current overall favorite to win the Super Six, is a crucial one to this discussion. It’s important for boxing that we get as competitive a final fight as possible. It’s also important that we get an entertaining style matchup in the finals. I’d give Froch the edge on probability of defeating Ward (he’s more versatile than Johnson and can come closer to matching Ward’s speed), but I’d give Johnson the edge on probability of making a fun fight against Ward (Johnson will apply pressure; Froch and Ward might mesh awkwardly and feature more missed punches).

The ultimate argument in favor of Froch is this: It’s better for the integrity of this ambitious tournament of two of the original six fighters make the finals. If it’s Ward vs. Froch, it’s easier to say the Super Six was a success and both fighters had to take lengthy and demanding roads to the end. “The final person to hold the Super Six Cup will have withstood the test of time,” Froch claimed. That’s true if that person is Froch or Ward. If that person is Johnson, he will have withstood the test of Father Time but he won’t have been time tested in the Super Six.

In the end, just as often happens when trying to pick the winner in a fight, the head and the heart say two different things with regard to which final I’d rather see. The heart is pulling for Ward-Johnson. The head is pulling for Ward-Froch.

And both them are pulling for an entertaining fight this Saturday. And, oh yeah, they’re pulling for a fight that doesn’t end in a draw.

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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