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DEONTAY WILDER AND THE PHYSIOLOGY OF POWER-PUNCHING

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Repeat after me: Power punchers are born, not made. Power punchers are born, not made. Power punchers are born, not made …

There is no specific body type, musculature or ring style that is the prototype for special punchers, the kind who elicit cold, stark fear in opponents. Oh, sure, there are training methods and exercise regimens that can marginally improve a fighter’s knockout ratio, but the force with which a punch is delivered is contingent on factors that seem to come naturally to some and not to others. The great Thomas Hearns was tall for a welterweight, a bit spindly and decidedly skinny-legged. It sometimes seemed like a stiff breeze might lift him airborne, like a kite. Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson were human fire hydrants, short and squatty with low centers of gravity. Earnie Shavers looked as if he had been carved out of granite. And George Foreman, particularly the older incarnation, was thick as a brick; his fortysomething physique lacked the sculpted definition of a Ken Norton or an Evander Holyfield. But if Big George in either phase of his career nailed you flush, as was the case with the aforementioned heavy hitters, it was off to la-la land for a 10-count nap.

WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, 6-7 and surprisingly sleek at 228 or so pounds (veteran fight writer Norm Frauenheim once opined that he “looks like a big Tommy Hearns”), is in no way a prototype of the young Tyson who terrorized the heavyweight division on his rise to superstardom. It is hardly a certainty that the Tuscaloosa, Ala., native will eventually be cloaked in that sort of transcendent aura. But it is the quality, not necessarily the quantity, of many of his knockouts that have stamped Wilder (33-0, 32 KOs), who defends his title against 50-1 longshot Eric Molina (23-2, 17 KOs) Saturday night in Birmingham, Ala., as the possessor of something that lies at the primal core of boxing. It is the same thing that separates baseball’s biggest boppers from slap hitters who consistently bat .300 but seldom go yard. They say chicks dig the long ball and, truth be told, guys do, too.

Wilder’s first ring appearance as the WBC champ will be televised by Showtime Championship Boxing.

“I don’t go in there trying for the knockout,” Wilder, 29, said of the 32-bout KO streak he pieced together at the outset of his professional career before it came to an end with a workmanlike, 12-round unanimous decision over then-WBC champ Bermane Stiverne on Jan. 17. “I let my hands go and if I get the knockout, I get it.

“I would prefer the knockout, of course. This is the heavyweight division. It’s all based on power. When people get dressed up and come out at night to a fight, they come to see knockouts.”

Should Wilder begin a new streak of swift, emphatic finishes against Molina – whose two previous defeats came on first-round blitzes– it won’t do much to move the needle on what the public already believes. But if “The Bronze Bomber” demonstrates he can continue to win while taking out a higher grade of opponents, the perception of him as a manufactured creation with no real bona fides will begin to change. There is a still-sizable group of skeptics who believe that Wilder has made his reputation by whacking out has-beens and never-weres, that his title is of the paper variety, that he will be exposed as fraudulent when he comes up against someone who is capable of truly fighting back and isn’t cowed by the his reputation as a dangerous dude.

Molina, the lottery-sized odds against him notwithstanding, believes he’s the fighter who will take Wilder to that place where the comfortable becomes the uncomfortable, where tables are turned and the hunter becomes the hunted.

“The pressure’s all on him,” Molina said of his perceived assignment of designated victim. “It’s not on me. Everybody in the world thinks I’m going to get blasted. So, he has to go in there and blast me, right? If he does, so what? It’s just what was expected. It’s his state, his commission, his everything. I got nothing to lose, and I’m coming in stronger than ever.

“Other than Stiverne, everybody Wilder has fought went in there thinking mostly that they didn’t want to get knocked out. It was almost like they were afraid to try to hurt him. I’m going to try to hurt him, and I know I can. I’ve hurt everybody I’ve fought, even in the two fights I lost. Wilder hasn’t dealt with anyone with the mentality I’m coming with. I’m going to put pressure on him. I’m going to try to knock him out. How will he react when he gets hurt? We don’t know. It hasn’t happened yet.”

Jay Deas, who along with former WBA welterweight champion Mark Breland is honing and refining Wilder’s skill-set, is cognizant of the thin line that sometimes separates acceptance and doubt. He insists that the path being followed by his fighter isn’t that all that different from the one trod by the young, emerging Tyson, with the exception, of course, of an obvious physical disparity and the vicissitudes of the times in which they rose to prominence.

“Deontay’s opponents are every bit as good as Mike Tyson’s opponents were at that stage, person-for-person and record-for-record, all the way up the chain,” Deas insisted. “Deontay has fought a very good level of competition coming up. People just didn’t want to believe it.”

Make that people with word processors and Smart phones who have the ability to influence public opinion, and are more prone to find fault than was the case when boy-wonder Tyson presumably didn’t face nearly as harsh a level of capricious scrutiny.

“I think the main difference between Deontay and that Tyson is in the eras they came up in,” Deas continued. “Back then, you actually had to have credentials to be a writer. You had to have gone to school, passed the courses, gotten the degree and had somebody think you were worthy of hiring before you could go and report on the fights. There was a level of vetting that is not so common these days. Anybody with a phone and a keyboard can call themselves a writer. They don’t need to have any training whatsoever. They can invent something called `badlefthooktotheliver.com’ or whatever, and all of a sudden they’re a reporter. But they’re probably living in their mom’s basement and typing away in their underwear.

“I had to deal with a lot of that stuff early in Deontay’s career. I was like a fish swimming upstream. I couldn’t get anybody to believe how good he is. But I was right, and I knew I was right.”

Without question, there has been a proliferation of social media, and often what is authored tends to be gossip, innuendo and speculation. But that doesn’t necessarily make the punditry inaccurate or unfair. It does bother Deas, however, when it is reported as fact that Wilder has made his reputation solely against a string of fall-down guys.

“Most punchers are born, but you can improve anybody with proper technique, timing, snap and an understanding of distance,” Deas said. “Those are things that can accentuate what’s already there.

“Deontay came to the table with remarkable power, no question about that. He’s always been able to punch. But it comes down to finding the right moment for the right punch at the right situation. That’s what he’s learned to do really well.”

There is another significant difference between Wilder and the young Tyson: the intent to scare the hell out of opponents who are mentally destroyed even before the first punch is thrown. The late-1980s Tyson spoke of driving nose bones into fighters’ brains, of taking their hearts and their manhood, of the satisfaction he derived from hearing them whimper like a little girl after they’d been hit to the body.

“You can see apprehension on some of their faces,” Deas said when asked if Wilder generated that sort of terror in the other corner prior to the opening bell. “But intimidation is not as big a thing as it used to be when Tyson was coming up. Guys now are, like, `I don’t care who you are. I’m bringing it.’

“I mean, so much of Tyson’s persona was about being a bully. Like a lot of bullies, once somebody stood up to them, and didn’t back down, you saw chinks in his armor. Deontay is not a bully. He’s a good guy and a smart fighter. He sees what’s happening in the ring and adjusts to it.”

One more difference between Wilder and the early Tyson: that Tyson could starch anybody with either hand; Wilder, for the most part, has relied on the overhand right, a devastating weapon that not only put former WBO heavyweight titlist Siarhei Liakhovich down and out in their fight on Aug. 9, 2013, but had his left leg twitching uncontrollably, like a hooked fish flopping on the deck of a boat.

Asked about Wilder’s less-dominant hand, Deas said, “He has no left hand at all. We’ve tried, but it is completely useless. No, just kidding.

“We actually hope people think that because Deontay is very gifted with his left hand. A lot of times he just hasn’t had the opportunity to show it off, like he did against Stiverne with his jab. But he has a tremendous left hook and a tremendous left uppercut. When the time is right, somebody is going to find that out.”

Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp/SHOWTIME®

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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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