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When The “O” Goes: Baker Says Loss Will Motivate Him More

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“Craig Baker is an undefeated fighter and I have to take that away from him.”Edwin “La Bomba” Rodriguez

“Being undefeated makes you a commodity but it’s one of those things that can be snatched from you at any time.” Craig “El Gato Negro” Baker

Like one’s youth, once it’s taken, it’s gone for good and you can’t ever get it back.

All professional fighters start out with it intact. Many go to great lengths to protect it. Most lose it by force. Bernard Hopkins lost it when he lost his first pro bout. Of course, I’m talking about an undefeated record, that prized “0” that must inevitably go when defeat can no longer be prevented or avoided. Rare is the world class boxer who never loses a fight.

At 49-0, Rocky Marciano was the exception, not the rule. Boxing’s biggest current star, Floyd Mayweather Jr., is now 48-0 after a recent win against Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas. Mayweather’s protection of himself, and of his unbeaten record, is legendary. More so than anything but perhaps his economic namesake, that all-important zero in the loss column is what defines “Money May” as a prizefighter.

Nicknamed for an actual black cat that he encountered in 2007 during an amateur boxing tournament in California, light heavyweight Craig “El Gato Negro” Baker was 16-0 going into the biggest fight of his young career last month when he faced power punching Edwin Rodriguez in Boston at the Agganis Arena on NBC.

Renowned talent scout Sampson Lewkowicz saw something special in the amicable Baker when they crossed paths through Baker’s trainer Juan Lopez, ultimately signing the prospect to a promotional contract in 2014. Lewkowicz is best known for his “discovery” of boxing icon Manny Pacquiao and former world middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. “Baker happened to be the same age, 30 years old, as when I found Martinez so why can’t he be another Sergio?” said Lewkowicz of his latest lucky find.

After turning pro in 2008, the Baytown, Texas native racked up sixteen wins without a loss and found himself on the big stage after upsetting Cuban amateur standout Umberto Savigne on ShoBox in February of 2015. Three months later, on a lazy Saturday afternoon during Memorial Day Weekend, before a television audience of approximately one million people, Baker lost the Rodriguez fight, and his undefeated record, in the third round when one unanswered punch from “La Bomba” turned into two, then five, and then a few more just for good measure. With Rodriguez doing all the pitching and Baker doing all the catching, Boston based referee Bob Benoit stepped in and declared Rodriguez victorious by technical knockout. For the winner, it was his third consecutive victory since giving up his own undefeated record to Andre Ward in 2013. For Baker, in the context of his promoter’s comparison of him to the now retired Martinez, it was akin to Sergio’s 2000 TKO loss to Antonio Margarito, his first failure as a pro.

The referee’s decision to stop the Rodriguez-Baker fight when he did was met with mixed reviews. Baker wore an unmistakable look of disgust and confusion on his face as it happened in the ring.

You have to punch back when you’re hurt and show these referees something, right Craig?

“I was rolling with the punches,” claims Baker in his own defense.

Boxing fans around the world who tuned in to the PBC on NBC broadcast saw a game “out of towner” lose his undefeated record to the more experienced “home town” fighter. That’s a common dynamic in boxing and this particular result was not terribly unexpected. What fans couldn’t have possibly been too sure about, however, is whether or not Baker’s first loss was suffered under fair and equitable circumstances inside that squared circle.

“Perspective is everything,” Baker told me of the whole situation. “How people perceive what took place is just that. How I perceived it, was me fighting. I admit I wasn’t as active as I could have been at that particular moment to make a more fair case on my part but I was fighting. I had all my wits about me.”

Three weeks after the loss that Baker doesn’t think of as a loss, I caught up with the Texan by telephone. Has Baker’s stance on the stoppage softened now that he’s had a chance to review the tape? Not at all.

“It was a horrible call in my opinion,” he told me after a long day at the gym. “Everyone I know who’s a boxing fan felt it was stopped prematurely,” said Baker of Benoit’s decision. “It would have been different had I been put on the canvas or beaten into submission,” he told me. “There was nothing like that.”

Reporting live from press row for The Sweet Science, I saw a fighter under fire, one who stopped punching back but also one who was still defending himself intelligently—if not effectively. “How many clean punches really landed?” Baker asks me as if he already knows the answer. Social media exploded in protest with many Tweeting what a terrible stoppage it was and how Baker deserved better in Boston.

The Premier Boxing Champions on NBC TV announcing crew immediately knocked Benoit’s call and newly enshrined Hall of Fame referee Steve “Don’t Stop It Until He’s Dead” Smoger expressed his very public disapproval. There were even some boos from the small but partisan live crowd there to see Rodriguez, a local fan favorite from nearby Worcester, Massachusetts.

What did Baker learn from the experience and where does he go from here? “To the top,” he tells me without any hesitation. “A loss may affect another guy to the point where he might want to fold or question his ability but not me. I’m a fighter. You have to accept it for what it is and move on,” he concludes. “Now that I have a loss, it’s just more motivation to work harder and keep it at just that one.”

That same attitude carried Sergio Martinez all the way to the World Middleweight Championship. Craig Baker hopes it will someday carry him to the World Light Heavyweight Championship.

Credentialed boxing writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts. A member of the RingTV expert prediction panel for three years, the author also serves as Editor-in-Chief of the popular boxing website WWW.KODigest.TV where he is affectionately known as “KO” by his many friends and readers in the boxing community.

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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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