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A Note on Rodriguez-Wolak…HAUSER

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pawel_wolak-eyeThe best of boxing was on display Friday night, by this man, Pawel Wolak, and his foe Delvin Rodriguez. No, not technical superiority, or flashy showmanship. Miles and miles of heart were on display Friday night.

Pawel Wolak sat on a chair in a small dressing room on the second floor of Roseland Ballroom in New York. The entire right side of his face from his mouth to his hairline was grotesquely misshapen and swollen. His right eye was completely shut and looked like Sylvester Stallone’s after Rocky Balboa’s first fight against Apollo Creed. It was as though someone had shoved a tennis ball beneath the skin and painted the entire area purple.

“I wasn’t hurt,” Wolak said. “I just couldn’t see out of my eye. I don’t let people hit me on purpose. But this is boxing, so you’re gonna get hit. The doctor asked me a couple of times if I could see. How could I see? But I’m a fighter, so I said yes.”

“Have you seen your face yet?” Wolak was asked.

“Not yet. I imagine it looks pretty bad.”

We live in an era when the fundamental assumptions that underlie boxing are sorely tested. The “do-or-die” attitude that once illuminated the sport often seems like fantasy. David Haye punked out against Wladimir Klitschko because (he says) he hurt his little toe three weeks before the fight. Shane Mosley and Devon Alexander disappointed in multi-million-dollar outings.

Wolak had just fought Delvin Rodriguez with each man receiving a purse of $15,000. In an era of overhyped, overpaid, manufactured-story-line encounters, they’d reminded people of what boxing is about.

Rodriguez-Wolak was a crossroads fight for both men. Rodriguez is a boxer-puncher, who came into the bout with a 25-5-2 ledger, but had gone 2-3-2 in his last seven fights. The prevailing view was that he’d been jobbed by the judges several times. But he was perilously close to becoming an opponent.

Wolak is a brawler with a good chin and the ability to absorb punishment. Prior to facing Rodriguez, he’d compiled a 29-and-1 record against mostly club-fight-level opposition and was moving toward a title shot. Pawel’s way of dealing with an adversary’s punches is to walk through them. He’s a pressure fighter who unloads like a non-stop threshing machine and beats opponents down with his forearms, shoulders, and every other available body part. But he’s not a power puncher and is too squared up when he fights, which makes him a large target.

One day after Rodriguez-Wolak, write-ups would describe the fight as “awesome . . . incredible . . . breathtaking . . . thrilling . . .”

It was all of that. Everyone who was at Roseland Ballroom on July 15th will remember the battle.

There was no feeling out process. Rodriguez started well, staying in the pocket, predicating his defense on getting off first rather than moving in and out of range with his legs. He landed the sharper harder punches in the early going, doing damage with a stream of left hooks and uppercuts. There were virtually no jabs from either man.

By the end of round three, Wolak’s right eye was starting to swell. But Rodriguez was the naturally smaller man, having moved up from 147 to 154 pounds to face Pawel. After four rounds, Delvin appeared to be tiring from the rough-house trench-warfare pace. After six, the fight was dead even.

Then Wolak started to tire. Getting whacked in the head again and again will do that to a fighter. Rodriguez said “I’m still here” with his punches. And by the end of round seven, Pawel’s right eye was useless. The only function it served was to make his head a bigger target for Delvin and add to the drama of the moment.

The last three rounds, everyone in attendance understood that they were watching a time-capsule fight. Wolak was fighting for every second of every round and Rodriguez engaged him. The action was non-stop and brutal.

Wolak was getting hit by left hooks on his damaged right eye that everybody in the arena except Pawel could see coming. His left eye was closing too. But he refused to surrender, fighting by the maxim, “If this guy is close enough to hit me, then he’s close enough for me to hit him back.”

When it was over, most observers at ringside (including this writer) gave Rodriguez a slight edge. Virtually no one thought that Wolak had won. Tom Schreck scored the bout 97-93 for Delvin. But he was overruled by Julie Lederman and Steve Weisfeld, who called the fight a draw.

Rodriguez was relaxed and happy in his dressing room after the fight. There was some moderate swelling and bruising on his face, but he had the aura of a winner about him.

“I knew it was going to be a tough fight,” Delvin said. “That’s the way Wolak is. He doesn’t hit that hard. But whatever you do, he keeps coming.”

“How do you feel about the decision?

“A draw is discouraging,” Delvin answered. “But it’s better than a loss, which is what I’ve gotten in some fights that I know I won. And I’d rather have my face tomorrow morning than his.”

That was in keeping with the overall sentiment that, yes, Rodriguez deserved the win; but Wolak had fought with such courage and the fight was so thrilling that it was hard to begrudge Pawel the draw.

The larger question is whether the fight should have been allowed to continue. The damage to Wolak’s eye gave the bout incredible drama, but it also endangered Pawel’s longterm physical wellbeing.

Wolak came into the fight with a lot of scar tissue above his right eye. He’d been cut there in six previous outings. A more serious problem might be permanent damage to the soft tissue underneath the skin.

Danny Milano (one of the foremost cutmen in boxing) worked Rodriguez’s corner. He had a good view of the carnage as Rodriguez-Wolak unfolded.

“The way it swelled up, it looked to me like the eye socket might have been damaged,” Milano said after the fight. “I wasn’t in Pawel’s corner. There were people who had a closer look at the eye than I did. But I think they should have stopped it. Pawel was still in the fight and he’s a warrior. But he took a horrible pounding on that eye. He might never be the same after tonight.”

There’s a chance that, from now on, every time Wolak enters the ring, he will be an impaired fighter.

Meanwhile, let it be said that, in an age of phony championships and incompetent corrupt power brokers, Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez dignified boxing. They showed why many people, myself included, believe that boxing at its best is the greatest sport of all.

 

 

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His next book (

 

 

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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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