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Riding the Rough Road: Nick Casal Back in Action

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Following Google directions to Casal’s Boxing Gym on the post-industrial northern edge of Niagara Falls takes you down a dirt road riddled with enormous potholes and labeled by road signs with the rather obvious message: “Rough Road.”

This Thursday, Nick Casal will wage his first professional fight in his hometown of Niagara Falls, NY, and his first fight since his career, let alone his life, was threatened by a brutal attack nearly two years ago.

It’s fitting for Nick Casal, whose career path has been bumpy to say the least, that the eponymous boxing gym established by his father, appears on the left almost as soon as the bad road yields to smooth pavement.

On a recent Monday afternoon, the Casals’ airplane hangar-type gym was a hive of activity, with Nick oscillating between sparring, mitt and heavy bag work, and helping Ray lead the boxing classes. Ages and ring condition ranged the gamut from seven years old to beer gut. Fight posters lined the walls, the most prominent of which advertised the one that got away: a scheduled ESPN-televised showdown against the relatively unheralded Siberian Ruslan Provodnikov.

The fight never happened because Casal was assaulted in an attack to his head so vicious that the internet image search “Nick Casal” is enough to turn the stomach.

From there, their paths diverged sharply. Provodnikov earned his place in boxing lore with the 2013 Fight of the Year against Timothy Bradley and then went on to win the light-welterweight championship from Mike Alvarado six months later.

Meanwhile, Casal’s assailant was apprehended and prosecuted and he was back in the gym about a month after the attack, but he’s been unable to land a fight. He’s been stuck at a crossroads that has grown all too familiar as the rest of the boxing world motors by.

“Oh yeah, I watch his fights,” Casal said about Provodnikov, “good for him. He took his opportunity, obviously, it hurts from my end.”

It was obvious that Casal regards the poster with some degree of ambivalence, “he's where I wanted to be. He's there now, so that gives me motivation that I'll get there too. That could be me.”

But to his credit, Casal stays positive and still sees himself among the company he battled with in amateurs that included Bradley, Victor Ortiz, Devon Alexander, Lamont Peterson, and Vanes Martirosyan.  “I fought with all these guys in 2004, we all turned pro together. I see myself with these guys. Just gotta get back on track.”

And he honest with himself about where it went wrong for him and right for the other guys: “They won the big fights. I didn't. I fell short a few times. I thought I won one of those, but wasn't given the decision. I thought I beat DeMarco . . . I wanna prove to everybody that I'm back. A little accident isn't going to stop me from getting my title shot hopefully eventually.”

It may still be a while before Casal can earn such a fight. It’s clear that other people in boxing don’t think he’s worth the risk. His combination of knock-out power and his volatility in and outside of the ring has made him a hard match to make.

But like a true warrior, Casal keeps coming forward. He admits to having bad habits a younger pro, “I was a little lazier in my younger career, but more focused now. Take that extra hour in the gym.  No matter what, I'm here [in the gym].”

First up on Casal’s rebound trail is Thursday night’s six rounder against Shakha Moore, a journeyman who has won only two of his previous fights. It’s an obvious tune-up fight, but Casal knows better to tell anyone that. “No fight's a tune-up fight,” Casal cautioned. “I know this guy comes to fight, he's a good fighter. So I don't underestimate anybody. I'm preparing for this fight like it's a championship fight.”

Ten years into his pro career but still only 28 years old, Casal is trying to revive the status he enjoyed as an amateur and get his car off the rough road.

Rounding out the card in Niagara Falls is six round cruiserweight showdown between prospects Greg Brady (4-1, 4 KOs) and Joel Shojgreen (8-0, 7 KOs); light-welterweight prospect Emanuel Colon (3-0, 3 KOs) and Andre Byrd (2-0); Milos Pantelic vs. Mike Bissett, 6 rounds, cruiserweights; Aleem Whitfield vs. Phil Rose, 4 rounds, super middleweights; Brandon Williams vs. TBA, 4 rounds, featherweights; Jake Ventry vs. Jesus Gonzalez, 4 rounds, featherweights; Michael Jackson vs. Carl Davis, 4 rounds, junior lightweights; Michelle Cook vs. Ivana Coleman, 4 rounds, female junior bantamweights; Jennifer Woodward vs. Kylie Fallis, 4 rounds, female lightweights.

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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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