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Today I’m Telling the Truth About Ivan Najera

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Ivan NajeraOne of the most fascinating aspects of covering fights live from ringside is being privy to the happenings on the untelevised portions of the undercard. It may very well be the best thing about being a boxing writer.Sure, boxing writers get access to promoters, fighters and ringside seats for the main events, but in reality all that is to serve our function.While being up close for the big fight of the night is great, it’s not the same as being there as a fan just to enjoy the fight or kicking back from the comfort of your living room couch with your pals to watch it on TV.

No, boxing writers are there to report what happens that night and to try and give those who can’t be there some semblance of what it was like.It’s a job – a cool job, but a job.

Undercard fighters are the unsung heroes of the promotion. These guys and gals do their work in front of no (or a very limited) television/streaming audience and even fewer actual live bodies, as people who actually bought tickets that night to the arena often inexplicably choose to skip the undercard.

But the night is incomplete without them and, better yet, it’s one of the best places to find young up-and-coming talent – guys like Ivan Najera.

Promoters often sign fighters they believe can be something special when they’re young, then hide them on undercards to let them cut their teeth.There, it’s sink or swim time. If they sink, very few people ever notice, but if they swim they graduate to the larger viewing audience.

Last November, during fight week of the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr-Peter Manfredo Jr card in Houston, Bob Arum introduced lightweight prospect Ivan Najera to the press as someone worth watching out for. He went on and on about what a great young fighter the kid was and how he believed the nineteen-year-old had such a bright future in the sport. In short, he proclaimed Najera to be the next world champion out of the kid’s hometown of San Antonio.

Honestly, it’s a promoter’s job to do just that – promote. So fight writers, like me, seldom really take heed of such praise.After all, isn’t Bob Arum famous for once telling reporters “yesterday I was lying but today I’m telling the truth”?

Najera didn’t fight that night, but he was on the card at the next big Top Rank show in Texas in February in San Antonio where he ran roughshod over David Castillo in just two rounds.That night he really did look like a fighter you could see really growing into a world champion someday. He was aggressive but not reckless, and he showed the ability to fight both going forwards and backwards. He threw combinations but accurately and with menace, and seemed to do so enthused but under control – that is to say he didn’t look like it was only his sixth professional fight.

Maybe Bob Arum was telling the truth that day, or maybe Najera was just born to fight. Or maybe it was a little of both.

“I picked it up pretty quick,” he told me when I asked why he started boxing when he was thirteen. “I started sparring and I just loved it. I loved getting in the ring and fighting.”

In his next fight, just a month later, Najera was the bout preceding the main event of the Azteca America/Top Rank Live Frankie Leal vs. Evgeny Dragovich showcase. His obliteration and highlight-reel-style knockout of James Lester at the very end of round number one was yet more evidence of Najera being the real deal.In just three minutes, Najera displayed skill, poise and education. He threw hard shots but took none, and the knockout blow was a well-placed uppercut thrown perfectly.

Najera’s style didn’t breed much success in the amateur game, but he said he did benefit from the experience he garnered from taking on the wide variety of styles found there. Moreover, he said he learned that Olympic-style point-based boxing wasn’t his cup of tea. Najera comes to get people, and amateur boxing he found to be more about “1-2-3, run.”

Najera remained undeterred.

“I was sparring pros at the time, and I was doing as well as them so I knew boxing would take me somewhere,” he said.“So I just stuck with it.”

Like another famous Top Rank fighter from Texas, Najera comes to the ring with the nickname “Bam Bam” embroidered on his robe, but he reminds me more of his longtime boxing idol Miguel Cotto than Brandon Rios. He’s even talked about working in the gym on the devastating hook to the body Cotto helped make famous.

“I’ve always looked up to Miguel Cotto,” Najera told me. “Even before I started boxing, I liked Miguel Cotto. He’s my idol, basically – the fighter I want to be like.”

Next up for Najera will be a May 5 showcase fight in front of his hometown fans in San Antonio.In just their second show, the San Antonio promotional team of former world champion Jesse James Leija and businessman Mike Battah are taking an innovative approach to reviving the Alamo city boxing scene: the Cinco de Mayo fight card will be filled with up-and-coming local prospects and headlined by perhaps the best of them in Najera. After the live main event, the promoters will show that evening’s PPV main event attractions of Alvarez-Mosley and Mayweather-Cotto on the big screen.

Najera is excited to say the least, and takes a particular amount of pleasure in helping revive the local boxing scene.

“It’s my first fight that I’ll be headlining,” said Najera. “Boxing kind of slowed down here [in San Antonio] but it’s coming back…more and more people are getting interested.”

Fighters like Najera can only bolster that interest, which seems to be ever expanding in not just San Antonio, but the entire state of Texas.Indeed, should he win as expected in May, he’ll be set to fight again in Texas on the Chavez Jr-Lee card June 16 and again on the Juan Manual Marquez date set for July. His busy schedule should help build his resume as well as keep him active while he trains for his march down to the featherweight division which he hopes to be fighting at by the end of next year.

Those are big stages, but Najera has big plans.

“I want to be the next world champion out of San Antonio,” he told me, and while I’m sure Bob Arum told me the very same thing about the kid back in November, this time I think I believe it.

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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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