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Burning Questions (And Speculative Answers) For 2012…RASKIN

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MayweatherOrtiz Hogan52In a sport with as many moving pieces, individual interests, and BS agendas as there are in boxing, nothing is ever entirely predictable. But as 2012 dawns, the year ahead feels even more unpredictable than usual. The HBO boxing department has a new leader, and he used to be the head of the Showtime boxing department. Consequently, the Showtime boxing department has a new leader, and he used to be an employee of Golden Boy Promotions. Over at ESPN, both the main man in front of the camera and the main man behind the scenes have stepped down. And switching from the guys in suits to the guys in trunks, my pound-for-pound number one, Floyd Mayweather, takes up residence at the Clark County Detention Center this Friday, my pound-for-pound number two, Manny Pacquiao, might just be in decline, and my pound-for-pound number three, Sergio Martinez, basically told HBO to suck it last week.

2012 is probably going to be a lot different than 2011 and 2010. (Except for one thing: 2010 was “the year Mayweather and Pacquiao didn’t fight each other,” 2011 was also “the year Mayweather and Pacquiao didn’t fight each other,” and 2012 just might be shaping up as “the year Mayweather and Pacquiao didn’t fight each other.”)

With this much uncertainty surrounding the sport of boxing as the calendar turns over, it’s a perfect time to ask and answer all of the burning questions on fight fans’ minds regarding the 12 months to come. We’ll start with the question we just can’t seem to get away from, and move on from there:

Will Mayweather and Pacquiao fight each other?

Not in the first half of the year. But could it happen on one of those traditional pay-per-view blockbuster dates in September or November? It’s highly possible that Floyd—seeing a slipping Pacquiao and hearing a ticking clock—will want it, highly possible that Bob Arum will recognize that the end of the Pacquiao era is nigh and begrudgingly pursue it, and a near-certainty that the fearless and fan-friendly Pacquiao will want it. I think the biggest X-factor is what happens with Pacquiao’s fight in the spring. My guess is that he’ll fight Juan Manuel Marquez for a fourth time. (I’m not buying the idea of less marketable fights against Tim Bradley or Lamont Peterson, and I think Miguel Cotto is too smart to want a rematch with Pac.) And as we all know now, any fight against Marquez is a fight Pac-Man can lose. If he does lose, Pacquiao-Mayweather becomes pointless. If he wins—especially if he does so without controversy—Pacquiao-Mayweather is red hot again. The final guess here: Pacquiao fights Marquez, defeats him narrowly, and all parties are ready to cash in with Pacquiao-Mayweather in the fall, to the tune of 2.8 million PPV buys.

Will anything happen at heavyweight to make anyone in America care?

Only two things can move the needle at this point: a Klitschko losing or a serious new American contender emerging. The former ain’t happening (although I wouldn’t mind seeing a healthy Odlanier Solis get a rematch against Vitali; he has the skill to be less than a 10-1 underdog, which probably isn’t true of any other potential challenger). So we need an American up-and-comer to get excited about, and Seth Mitchell, who performed as impressively as anyone could have hoped in his HBO debut in December, is the only guy with an outside chance. Unfortunately, I see the media’s need to find the next great heavyweight and the fact that the pressure can’t be spread among numerous hopefuls as a formula for Mitchell to disappoint. He’ll struggle to an underwhelming decision win against a veteran contender to start the year, then he’ll take heat for dialing back the competition to someone sub-Timor-Ibragimov the next time out. He’ll escape 2012 still unbeaten and a legit top-10 contender (in a division that goes only two deep, it should be noted), but the buzz on December 31 won’t be what it was on January 1.

What impact will Ken Hershman and Stephen Espinoza have?

From the looks of things, Hershman’s job at HBO is going to be even more challenging than he probably expected, with Golden Boy having a built-in relationship with the new Showtime boss, with Victor Ortiz-Andre Berto II already jumping networks, with Sergio Martinez announcing that his next fight won’t be on HBO, and with Mayweather out of the mix for the first half of the year. It sure looks like the stage is set for Showtime to challenge HBO’s supremacy, even if they remain at a budgetary disadvantage. Then again, Hershman didn’t earn the HBO job by being an ambition-less dummy. Sort of like how the peak of the WWF-WCW war from around 1996-’99 saw both companies pushing each other to reach new levels of entertainment, I suspect the HBO/Showtime shakeups will work out to the great benefit of boxing fans once the slow first month of 2012 has passed. (And I feel at least 63 percent confident in predicting that we won’t see Gary Russell Jr. in a four-rounder on either network at any time in 2012.)

Will we get Andre Ward vs. Lucian Bute?

Ward has already earned the right to call himself The Man at 168 pounds, but if he wants to be The Undisputed Man, he does still need to take care of business against Bute. And I suspect he intends to. Ward’s apparent disinterest in the Romanian-Canadian immediately following his Super Six finals victory over Carl Froch struck me as a negotiating ploy. Ward knows the fight belongs north of the border and if he’s going to concede home-ring advantage, he wants to at least hardball his way to the larger purse. Plus, Ward’s last five fights have come against Mikkel Kessler, Allan Green, Sakio Bika, Arthur Abraham, and Froch, lasting an average of 11.8 rounds; he’s entitled to a tuneup. So in the spring expect Bute vs. Froch and Ward vs. someone he can knock out, and then in the fall expect Ward vs. Bute if Froch doesn’t upset that plan.

Who will be the new Friday Night Fights studio host?

I assume we’ll get this answer any day now, since, you know, there’s an FNF broadcast scheduled for this Friday. But in the meantime, my quick prediction: Bernardo Osuna. He’s a part of the ESPN family already, he’s polished in front of the camera, he knows boxing, and he’s bilingual, which is handy when it comes to interviewing certain guests or even translating from a distance for Joe and Teddy. I have no inside information on this, other than me talking to Osuna in Las Vegas in November and him saying he didn’t know anything yet, but if you find out in a day or two that he got the gig, you heard it here first.

Whose opposition will piss fans off more, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. or Saul Alvarez?

Before I answer the question, allow me to follow my Ring Theory co-host Bill Dettloff’s lead and note that I will henceforth cease to refer to JCC Jr. as a “Chavez” because he’s unworthy of that surname, and instead refer to him as Julio Cesar Salad. Honestly, Salad and Canelo are being moved with near-equal calculated carefulness, but Salad is 4½ years older, so Canelo gets more of a pass if he spends another year fighting safe opposition. That said, Marco Antonio Rubio is a credible challenge for Salad, assuming Top Rank doesn’t drug Rubio in the dressing room. So if Alvarez fights a total patsy in April, he might exceed Salad in terms of his heat index. This is a tough call, but I’ll go with Chavez as the greater whipping boy of the fans by year’s end. The only thing I know for sure is this: Salad will not fight Sergio Martinez in 2012 and Alvarez will not fight Miguel Cotto in 2012, and yet both fringe contenders will insist on calling themselves “champions.”

Which American former middleweight champion will have a greater impact in the boxing ring, Jermain Taylor or Kelly Pavlik?

This is a modified version of a question I asked Dettloff last week on Ring Theory, and I’m asking it again because it’s fascinating that Taylor might be in a position to make a little noise again while his two-time conqueror, Pavlik, appears to have unraveled so severely in his personal life that his career might never resume. But I’m going to go against the grain and select Pavlik as the answer to this question. If Pavlik fights in 2012—a major “if,” I realize—the tabloid-ish attention surrounding his first fight will guarantee that his impact exceeds Taylor’s. I think as long as Cameron Dunkin and company can haul Pavlik the hell outta Youngstown and get him into Robert Garcia’s gym in southern California, there’s a good chance “The Ghost” will be in line for 2012’s Comeback of the Year.

What are the three most horrifying things Jose Sulaiman will say this year?

1. “The WBC proudly supports Jerry Sandusky.”

2. “Did you see the way that bee-otch was dressed? She was asking for it!”

3. “I am pleased to announce I have been re-elected president of the WBC by a unanimous vote of the board of directors.”

Eric Raskin can be contacted at RaskinBoxing@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin and listen to new episodes of his podcast, Ring Theory, at http://ringtheory.podbean.com.

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Erick Ituarte Wins Featherweight Battle in Ontario, Calif.

David A. Avila

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ONTARIO, CALIF.-Looking to make waves as a featherweight, Santa Ana’s Erick Ituarte battled Tijuana’s Jose Estrella evenly before pulling away in the last third of the fight to win by decision on Friday.

Ituarte (21-1-1, 3 KOs) lacks the big punch but has the long arms that enabled him to keep distance and out-point the shorter Estrella (20-16-1, 14 KOs) in their 10-round bout at the Doubletree Hotel. Thompson Boxing Promotions staged the fight card that saw about 500 fans at the event.

Estrella used his guts and guile to keep the fight close in the first four rounds of the fight. Back and forth they went trading momentum, Ituarte was effective attacking the body and Estrella was good at connecting with big blows to the head.

It wasn’t until the seventh round that Ituarte began utilizing his reach and mobility to make Estrella chase and run into pot shots. From that moment on Ituarte was in control of the fight. No knockdowns were scored with one judge scoring it 98-92 and two others 100-89 for Ituarte. Each round was very competitive.

Other bouts

Corona’s Luis Lopez (5-0, 3 KOs) powered his way to victory by unanimous decision over Mexico’s Daniel Perales (10-17-2, 5 KOs) after four rounds in a welterweight match. Though Lopez won every round with sharper punches he was never able to hurt the super tough Mexican fighter from Monterrey. He recognized that early and used crisp combinations to win each round though Perales had his moments too. All three judges scored it 40-36 for Lopez.

A heavyweight fight saw local fighter Oscar Torres (5-0, 2 KOs) run his record to five wins with a fourth round stoppage over Houston’s Thomas Hawkins (4-4) after a barrage of punches. The fight was stopped twice in the fourth round and a final barrage of blows prompted referee Tony Crebs to halt the fight at 1:20 of the round. Torres fights out of Rialto, California and is trained by Henry Ramirez.

Lightweights Davonte McCowen (0-0-1) and Chris Crowley (0-0-1) fought to a majority draw after four torrid rounds. Both were making their pro debuts. McCowen started faster and slowed in the last two rounds that allowed Britain’s Crowley to mount a rally in the last two rounds. It was a spirited fight between the two newcomers.

Photo credit: Alonzo Coston

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Introducing Australia’s Bilal Akkawy who steps in for David Lemieux on May 4

Arne K. Lang

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Akkawy

“Big Announcement Coming – Stay Tuned” wrote Bilal Akkawy late yesterday (April 18) on his twitter page. And then the Nevada Athletic Commission went and stole his thunder.

Later that day, the commission released its agenda for its forthcoming meeting on April 24. Among the items on the docket will be the selection of officials for Akkawy’s fight with England’s John Ryder. The 12-round contest for a “Vacant WBA Interim Super Middleweight Title” is penciled in as the chief undercard bout on the big May 4 show at the T-Mobile Arena topped by the match between Canelo Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs.

John Ryder’s original opponent, David Lemieux, was forced to pull out when he suffered a hand injury in training.

Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, the undefeated Akkawy (20-0-1, 16 KOs) has been Canelo Alvarez’s chief sparring partner. Canelo’s trainer, Eddy Reynoso, hired Akkawy based on a video that Akkary sent him as he was preparing to set up Canelo’s camp for the 2018 Cinco de Mayo rematch with Gennady Golovkin.

Two days before Canelo-Golovkin II, which was pushed back until September, Akkawy made his U.S. debut at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, scoring an 8-round decision over Christian Olivas. He appeared on the Canelo-Fielding card this past December in New York, scoring a 7th round stoppage over Victor Fonseca, and has had one fight since then, a stay-busy fight buried on a small show in Tamazula, Mexico, in which he didn’t stay very busy, dismissing his hopelessly overmatched opponent in the opening round.

Akkawy comes from a fighting family. His father Mahmoud “Mick” Akkawy and two of Mick’s brothers were good amateurs. Mick Akkawy was 2-0 as a pro when his career was cut short by a serious car accident. Mick and his brother Ahmad “Al” Akkawy now run a boxing club.

The elder Akkawy, whose roots are in Tripoli, was tutored by Johnny Lewis. To this day, Lewis, now 75 years old, insists that Mick Akkawy was the hardest puncher that he ever coached. Bilal Akkawy, says Lewis, inherited his old man’s genes. Lewis rates Bilal the hardest puncher, pound-for-pound, in Australia today.

That’s high praise. Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017, Johnny Lewis has worked with six world title-holders, most notably Jeff Fenech and Kostya Tsyzu.

Bilal Akkawy’s power was on display on Oct. 30, 2016 when he stopped fellow Aussie Kerry Hope in the seventh round. Akkawy shattered Hope’s jaw – two operations were necessary – and dislodged four of his teeth. His best win since then was a wide 10-round decision over Italian veteran Giovanni De Carolis who had briefly held the WBA world super middleweight title.

Not all of Akkawy’s performances were glowing, however. The draw on his ledger is an ugly smudge, notwithstanding the fact that it came in a 4-round bout. His opponent was Joe Rea, a British slug who is currently 11-37-5 after losing 24 of his last 25 fights. Moreover, although he won every round in his U.S. debut vs. Christian Olivas, we were unimpressed. Akkawy had Olivas down in the second frame but was unable to apply the finisher.

Although Akkawy is a second-generation prizefighter, his father discouraged him from pursuing a career in the ring and he entered the pro ranks without the benefit of a single amateur bout. By contrast, John Ryder had 35 amateur fights before turning pro in September of 2010.

Ryder (27-5-1, 15 KOs) is no slouch. A southpaw, the Londoner has won three straight inside the distance since losing a split decision to Rocky Fielding. At age 30, he’s five years older than Akkawy and has far more experience, answering the bell as a pro for 187 rounds compared to only 84 for the Aussie.

Akkawy vs. Ryder won’t get the juices flowing in the United States where both are obscure. However, it’s an intriguing match. It will be interesting to see how the bookmakers price it.

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The Avila Perspective, Chap. 43: Welterweight Wars Coast to Coast and More

David A. Avila

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Granados

In a twisted development a couple of East Coast guys are headed to Los Angeles to battle while another pair of West Coast guys are headed to New York City.

Makes sense I guess.

Former two-division world champion Danny “Swift” Garcia of Philadelphia faces Adrian Granados of Chicago at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California on Saturday April 20. The PBC card will be televised by FOX.

Dignity Health is the new name attached to the complex formerly known as the StubHub Center and before that it was the Home Depot Center. Ironically, Dignity Health owns most of the cemeteries in Southern California.

Is that an omen?

Garcia (34-2, 20 KOs) is a counter-punching Puerto Rican who needs someone to fight that’s always on attack mode in order for him to shine. When he’s matched with another counter-puncher the crowd goes to sleep.

That’s where Chicago Mexican Granados (20-6-2, 14 KOs) fits in.

Granados (pictured) has never fought in a snoozer in his life. He probably kicked his way out when he was born. In fights against slow developers like Adrien Broner and Felix Diaz he made them fight for their lives. If this were ancient Roman times he would be fighting in the main event armed with a tooth pick against a lion. Blindfolded.

But he’s weary of being labeled as merely an entertaining fighter.

“I’m tired of it,” Granados, 29, said. “I want the title or I’m out of here.”

World titles are something Garcia knows about. He’s held the WBC and WBA super lightweight titles and the WBC welterweight title. In unification clash with Shawn Porter last September he lost by a razor close decision. He feels naked without a strap around his waist.

“I’m going to make a statement,” said Garcia about his pending battle with Granados. “I definitely want a rematch with Shawn Porter or Keith Thurman.”

Granados eyes Garcia with slight envy whenever they’re in the same room.

“I’m trying to cash in baby,” said Granados. “I just got to go in there and do my thing.”

Another interesting bout on the PBC card includes undefeated Brandon Figueroa (18-0, 13 KOs) a southpaw super bantamweight fighting Venezuela’s Yonfrez Parejo (22-3-1) for the interim WBA title. The actual titleholder is Los Angeles fighter Danny Roman who fights next week at the Inglewood Forum.

Other fighters of interest are Andy Ruiz, Alfredo Angulo, Omar Juarez and Carlos Balderas. It’s an extremely long card and begins at 3 p.m.

Friday is Thompson Boxing

Headlining a boxing card at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, California is featherweight Erick Ituarte (20-1-1) versus Jose Estrella (20-15-1) in a 10-round main event. Ituarte is the stablemate of WBA champion Danny Roman. Estrella hails from Tijuana and has fought some tough customers like Miguel Marriaga and Christopher Diaz.

The Thompson Boxing Promotions event also features a solid looking welterweight Richard Brewart (4-0) against Vincent Morales (2-2-2) in a four round bout. Another interesting fight showcases Uzbekistan’s Murodjon Akhmadaliev (5-0) a southpaw slugger trained by Joel and Antonio Diaz in Indio. The lefty faces former world title contender Carlos Carlson (23-5) in a super bantamweight clash.

Thompson Boxing always delivers solid boxing cards and you never know which new boxing jewel will be discovered by them. They have a 20 year history of finding outstanding talent. You can also watch it streamed on Thompson Boxing’s page on Facebook.com.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For more information call (714) 935-0900.

New York Card

If you plan on staying home on Saturday night a solid fight card at Madison Square Garden features a welterweight world title fight between WBO titlist Terence Crawford and former two-division champion Amir Khan. It will be shown on ESPN pay-per-view at $59.95.

It’s a loaded card with Top Rank unfurling its best. Of course the best is Crawford who in my opinion is the top fighter pound for pound. And I was a late convert.

Nebraska’s Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs) is based in the Midwest and heads east to fight England’s Khan (33-4, 20 KOs) who trains in California. They’re fighting for the WBO title and it should be a very good fight.

Khan has always been a favorite of mine. He’s blessed with speed and agility and also has a lot of guts. Not just because he fought Saul “Canelo” Alvarez at middleweight, but because he’s a true prizefighter looking for the biggest fights in the world. He’s been criticized by his own countrymen for not fighting some of his fellow Brits, but Khan looks at everything globally, not nationally. He especially wants fights that Americans want to see. They want to see this fight.

“I wanted this fight because I wanted to fight the best. Terence Crawford presented the greatest challenge to me at this point in my career. Listen, the Kell Brook fight was there, but fighting Terence gives me the opportunity to show I am a pound-for-pound fighter,” said Khan.

Of course thousands of Brits will be flying across the Atlantic Ocean for a glimpse of this showdown. First because it’s New York, second because it’s boxing and Brits love boxing. Gotta love them Brits.

Crawford, like Khan, is blessed with speed and agility too. And he also has several ways to attack. He’s not a one-dimensional fighter. He’s like a jazz musician; he can take it wherever it needs to go. Whether its hip hop or improvisational he can easily slip into another tempo. That’s his magic.

“Amir Khan is undefeated as a welterweight and can’t be underestimated. He has great hand speed, movement, and some power as well,” said Crawford. “I want to showcase all of my talents in this fight.”

Keep your eyes open in this fight.

Other bouts on this high quality fight card:

Top Rank has a couple of their prospects jumping up to face contenders. First you have Shakur Stevenson (10-0) meeting former world title challenger Christopher Diaz (24-1) of Puerto Rico in a 10-round featherweight clash. If it were any other prospect I might say the kid is moving too fast. But Shakur has eye-popping talent.

Another prospect going against a contender is Brooklyn’s Teofimo Lopez (12-0) meeting Finland’s Edis Tatli (31-2, 10 KOs) in a lightweight match. Lopez, 21, already has fought in three 10-round fights and has the NABF and USBA lightweight belts. Tatli has the EBU lightweight belt. Whose belt means more in this fight?

Puerto Rico’s highly touted Felix Verdejo (24-1,16 KOs) lost a year ago to Mexico’s Ines Lozada Torres by knockout. Then he returned to win by knockout last November. Now he’s back against a tough customer in Bryan Vasquez. It’s not an easy fight for either fighter.

Verdejo was Top Rank’s golden child a couple of years ago and ran into some personal problems before running into Lozada’s fists. Now he has Vasquez, a slick fighting Costa Rican who arguably could have won a world title had he been given the decision after fighting Raymundo Beltran two years ago. Beltran won by majority decision that night in August 2017, then proceeded to win the WBO lightweight title against Paulus Moses. That could have been Vasquez’s title.

It’s a strong boxing card.

Lights Out

Next Thursday on April 25, former middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight, cruiserweight and heavyweight world champion James “Lights Out” Toney will be the honored guest at the Golden Boy Promotions boxing card at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif.

Toney spent the last 25 years in Southern California where he first trained at the Wild Card Boxing gym in Hollywood. Over the years he became one of the most popular prizefighters by fans who loved his aggressive style and off-the-charts boxing skills. The Michigan native had more than 90 fights as a professional against some of the best to ever put on gloves.

Many boxing writers, including myself, consider Toney one of the best, if not the best prizefighter in the last 60 years. He’s beaten some of the best in the business and performed at a high level for decades in classic fights. Among the gems were his knockout wins against Michael Nunn, Tim Littles, Vassiliy Jirov, and Evander Holyfield.

Toney, 50, will be available to sign autographs and take photos with fans. Be sure to be there and meet the great multi-division champion.

One of the featured fights is Oscar Negrete (18-1-1) in a rematch against Joshua Franco (14-1-1) who fought to a draw last October. It was one of the best fights of the year. The NABF bantamweight title is the prize.

For tickets or information call (800) 827-2946.

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