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Andre Ward Is Pound for Pound No. 1

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WardDawson TJHogan3Here is Ward negating the Dawson jab, just one of the brilliant strategies and tactics and tricks he used in his dominant win Saturday. (Hogan)

It's been a long time coming. Sixteen years to be exact, but it looks like we're going to have to wait awhile longer. The last time it happened, he was just 12 years-old. It's never come close to happening since. In a sport where styles are paramount, Andre Ward's uncanny ability to adapt to any given situation showed yet again why he has to be considered the world's most unbeatable fighter at the moment, and why the last time he lost, he didn't even shave.

Chad Dawson –an athletic, fast, six-foot two inch southpaw– was no slouch. But on Saturday night in Las vegas, he was no match.

The opening two rounds saw little much happen. One could make the case Dawson took them both. However, everything changed for good in the third. Ward landed a straight right, left hook combination that sent the light heavyweight champion down to the canvas. Dawson rose to beat the count, his confidence didn't. He never recovered.

Twice more Dawson tasted the canvas, the third and final time in the tenth. That was enough for Dawson, “No mas” he told referee Steve Smoger. A systematic beating drew them out, not embarrassment. But Chad Dawson need not feel ashamed or embarrassed. He lost to a special fighter who had just painted his masterpiece. Still the light-heavyweight champion of the world, Dawson would likely be a betting favourite against every other light-heavyweight in the world. We mustn't forget neither, that it was HE who took the bigger risk here by choosing to fight in his opponent's home town as well as at his opponent's desired and optimum weight.

Let's be honest though. Would it have really made that much difference had this fight took place in any other domain? Chad Dawson came across a fighter Saturday night who not only has the potential to be great, but an all-time great.

The best light-heavyweight in the world was soundly beaten by the best super-middleweight in the world. I don't think seven pounds north or south for either fighter would have changed the outcome that much. Styles make fights, and Ward's capacity to tailor his, in order to neutralize his opponent's, was the real reason why Chad Dawson was deconstructed on Saturday night. Ward was clearly the better man when it came to strategy. Every battle throughout history will have had a plan of attack laid out prior to it taking place. Boxing is no different. Both Ward and Dawson had, what they believed to be, the blueprint on how to solve each other's styles. Here's the difference. Ward carried his blueprint to the ring so that he could make adjustments as the battle was unfolding. Just when an opponent seems comfortable with what's going on,Ward transforms and does something different. Most of the time, it's just a subtle change, but it's enough to disrupt what his opponent is doing. Andre Ward is a kaleidoscope. Trying to prepare for his multi-dimensional approach to boxing is nigh on impossible for his opponents.

Here is what I thought Andre Ward did really well Saturday night.

#1. Unorthodox movement:

When an orthodox fighter faces a southpaw, he's usually looking to get his lead foot outside of the southpaw's lead foot, by moving to his left and away from the southpaw's power left. Dawson, a converted southpaw, carries his power in his right hand, his dominant hand. This lead to Ward's unconventional movement for an orthodox fighter against a southpaw. By stepping to his right, and inside of Dawson's right hand, Ward had nullified Dawson's dominant hand threat. For Dawson to have any chance of winning the fight, he had to get his jab working. It was no coincidence that he barely threw it. Ward's intelligent footwork and ring smarts enabled him to get on the inside of Dawson's right hand. If you look at the knockdown in the fourth round, you'll see Ward in what is generally a bad position against the southpaw. But because Ward knew that Dawson is right handed, and doesn't really throw the straight left as say, Manny Pacquiao does, he could afford to move onto Dawson's left shoulder because he knew that there wasn't any real danger there. This is what resulted in Ward being a marksman from strange angles with the left hook all night long.

#2. Eliminating the jab.

Continuing on from point #1, by moving to his right, and diagonally away from Dawson, Ward had forced Dawson into becoming the aggressor, something that the British announcers failed to pick up on. They also failed to see what had stymied Dawson's jab. If you have a chance to look at the fight again, you'll see that in the first two rounds, many minutes went by with Ward seemingly pawing with the jab. This was an illusion. What Ward was really doing was taking away the southpaw jab of Dawson. With both fighter's lead hands lined up with one another, Ward was able to perform a kind of parry, preventing the jab from even being thrown. Dawson couldn't seem to figure out why Ward was never in position to be hit with the southpaw jab. Ward's unconventional movement, along with his lead hand out in front and in line with Dawson's lead hand, was the answer.

#3. From the outside.

For me, this was the key to Ward's success Saturday night. If any of you read my pre-fight breakdown, you'll notice that I mentioned the Chad Dawson-Jean Pascal fight. What Pascal was able to expose in Dawson was a flaw in the way he defends himself. If a fighter in right in front of Dawson, throwing conventional punches, then Dawson sees everything and his defense becomes almost impenetrable. If a fighter is out of range before coming in with unorthodox power leads like straight rights and left hooks, then Dawson becomes touchable, as I feel he's unable to defend whilst being the attacker. Dawson is similar to Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto, in that he defends with his feet planted, using upper body movement. Dawson will dip and bend at the waist in order to avoid blows. It's not often you see him taking a step back. This is what really hurt him Saturday night. Look at the shots that Mosley hurt Mayweather with, that Pacquiao scored the first knockdown of Cotto with, that Roy Jones peppered James Toney with, what Jean Pascal occupied Chad Dawson with and what Andre Ward knocked down Dawson in the third round with. They all look the same –power shots thrown low then high, forcing the opponent into adjusting their guard. Ward's right leads and left hooks, thrown in alternating patterns, downstairs and up, completely negated Dawson's defense. What was worse for Dawson though, was by being the aggressor and then having to defend, he found himself walking onto Ward's shots. Chad Dawson, a counter puncher, had no answer for Andre Ward's attacks on Saturday as he was advancing.

Dawson struggles to blend defense and attack if he's made to be the aggressor. This was the reason Ward always appeared to get off first, which in turn, lead to Dawson being on the defensive all night long. Dawson's dreadful punchstat numbers reflect this perfectly.

#4. On the inside.

Ward's in-fighting skills are well documented. We know he's very strong and very physical, but he's also extremely skilled at this range. If you look at the occasions when the fight took place on the inside, you'll see exactly what I mean. Notice how Ward was always able to lock an arm up, while having his left hand free. Ward's hooks and uppercuts with the left hand last really took a lot out of Dawson. Also, look how Ward was always conscious of a Dawson punch getting through in close. Ward kept his glove held high and tight to his head as he was throwing away with his free hand. Notice how you never see Ward bombing away wildly with both hands on the inside. Ward always remains defensively responsible at close quarters. Also, look at Ward's uppercuts and hooks in close. His ability to throw them so short and with so little back lift really is of the highest order.

#5. The feint.

Ward's ability to feint his opponent out of position or into a defensive position, is one of the ways in which he always appears to be one step ahead of his opponent. Dawson was constantly being off set by Ward's and head and shoulder feints. I was reminded of Roberto Duran's feinting masterclass against Carlos Palomino, in that both Palomino and Dawson had no idea what was coming next.By mastering the art of feinting, a fighter doesn't have to search for too long to find openings. Again, it's one of the reasons Ward is so accurate with his punches. He knows exactly where his shots are going to be placed because he's aware of how different fighters react to different feints. Dawson, a defensive Philly shell style counter-puncher, was predictable on defense.

I don't want to take anything away from Andre Ward and neither should anyone else. Yes, Dawson's weight loss may have been a factor, but as was mentioned here earlier, Ward's versatility was what really dominated the fight. As was the case in the Carl Froch fight, we saw just about every single boxing nuance one can think of –out-fighting, in-fighting, combination punching, body punching, defense, — performed at an extremely high level from Ward. How many fighters can you think of that are able to do so many things as well as Ward can? With each passing fight, it's becoming increasingly difficult to argue against Andre Ward being the best fighter, pound for pound in the world. I for one am sick of finding reasons to say that he isn't.

So what's next for both fighters?

Chad Dawson, now 32-2 {17} will surely travel back up to light-heavyweight where decent challenges await. Personally, I think Mikkel Kessler would make for a compelling fight. As for Andre Ward, now 26-0 {14} a rematch with Dawson at light-heavyweight to me seems pointless. No matter how you slice it, Ward was simply too physical, too smart and too good for Chad Dawson. My own feelings are that Ward will continue at 168 pounds for the time being. Sergio Martinez has already voiced that middleweight is as high as he'll go, while Chavez Jr will be lucky if he's on the receiving end of anything other than a comprehensive beating by the same man next weekend. Gennady Golovkin would probably jump at the chance to face Ward, but realistically, he's a lot smaller than Ward, who is actually one of the bigger men at 168 pounds. I can't see anyone below 168 pounds being good enough to threaten Ward's undefeated streak, can you? Andre Dirrell is a fighter who may ask some questions, with his athleticism and speed, but I don't see how he will be able to hang with Ward on the inside. Ward's strength would be far too much for Dirrell by my estimation.

Who knows what the future may hold? Andre Ward has had his opponents laid out for him for quite some time now, what with the Super Six tournament and Dawson's public challenge, so it will be interesting to see just what his next intentions are. One thing's for certain. Whoever it is, they will be faced with the unenviable task of trying to come up with a gameplan for a fighter whose strategical capabilities are limitless. Thinking back, I can't think of another fighter who has managed to win with the same level of dominance as Ward, other than Roy Jones when he was on top back in the nineties. And let's face it, Ward is currently doing it against sterner opposition too. While we're on the subject of Jones, who eventually went on to claim a portion of the heavyweight title after dominating at 168 pounds, I'll leave you with this:

With his ring smarts, quickness and ability to get inside and know what to do there, Andre Ward would have produced a better effort against Vitali Klitschko than what Manuel Charr managed on Saturday. And that readers, is a fact. The Klitschkos won't be around for too much longer….maybe down the road a crack at a smaller heavyweight champion is plausible?

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Chris Arreola is Back!

Ted Sares

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Chris Arreola

Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola is an emotional and very likable guy. Over the course of his career, there have been ups and downs providing the grist for a compelling story if one were inclined to write it. He’ll kiss a beaten opponent (Joey Abell) or cry if beaten (Vitali Klitschko) and his language during a post-fight interview is, well it’s special.

After his corner stopped the fight following the 10th round with Klitschko, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, he thanked the fans (as is his wont) and later, while being interviewed in the ring, said  “F–k that, I’m coming back.”

It was his first loss after 26 straight wins out of the professional gate. For that “terrible” indiscretion, he was punished by the selectively politically correct World Boxing Council. WBC president José Sulaimán proposed a six months ban for vulgar language and the ban was approved by the WBC Board of Governors.

Arreola, who rarely uses filters, was brutally candid again after his first round KO over Erik Molina in 2012. The Nightmare cut loose on Don King, Molina’s promoter, calling him a “f—ing a–hole and a racist,” causing Showtime’s Jim Gray to  terminate the post-fight interview forthwith. “Honestly Don King called me a wetback, and other Mexicans,” Arreola told Fightnews.com. “That’s a strong word. It’s like me dropping N bombs. You don’t say things like that.”

No ban this time.

Arreola’s weight varies but when he is fit and ready (and under 250), he is a very dangerous heavyweight, especially in the early rounds. Once he has his opponent hurt, there are few boxers who can close as well as this Southern California Mexican American tough guy who was an accomplished amateur fighter and knows his way around the ring.

His level of opposition has been stiff. In fact, his five losses have been to fighters who have held world titles at one time or another. Bermane Stiverne had Chris’s number and beat him twice—the second time by way of a nasty knockout. However, he has a number of solid wins over the likes of Malcom Tann, Chazz Witherspoon, Travis Walker, Jameel McCline, Brian Minto, Curtis Harper –yes, that Curtis Harper who gave Chris all he could handle — and many others who came in with fine records. His first round blowout of once promising Seth Mitchell was quintessential Arreola. Mitchell retired after the fight.

In July 2016, The Nightmare was stopped by Deontay Wilder in yet another title bid but he did not disgrace himself. He then took off for over two years to assess whether he wanted to continue. Boxing fans pretty much forgot about him. Few took notice when he came back to stop the very stoppable Maurenzo Smith on the Wilder-Fury undercard on Dec. 1 of last year.

Fast Forward

Last weekend, on the undercard of the huge Errol Spence Jr. vs. Mikey Garcia PPV fight in Dallas, “The Nightmare” was matched against unbeaten but unheralded Jean Pierre Augustin (17-0-1).

Chris, now 38, came in at a svelte 237 pounds and looked fit and ready to go. The weary look on Augustin’s face during the announcement said it all. True to form, Arreola was in blowout mode and stopped the Haitian who simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Arreola wobbled Augustin with a brutally hard jab that connected flush to his face in the third round. After more heavy shots, a bloodied Augustin went down and upon getting up, was battered until the referee halted matters. Chris closed things like he had done on so many other occasions and in front of millions of fans tuning in around the world.

With a female interviewer, the elated “Nightmare” was polite during the post-fight ceremonies and, holding his daughter, signaled that he is BACK! That’s good news for boxing fans because when Chris Arreola is fit and focused, he is entertaining and very competitive.

With a current record of 38-5-1 with 2 ND (the “no-contests” resulting from Chris‘s apparent affinity for non-medicinal marijuana), a fight with someone like Adam Kownacki would be a boxing fan’s dream.

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors and plans to compete in at least three events in 2019. He is a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA).

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Nobody Wants to Fight Dillian Whyte

Kelsey McCarson

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Dillian Whyte

Dillian Whyte is one of the most dangerous fighters in the world. The 30-year-old is a former British heavyweight titleholder, a former kickboxing prodigy and an undefeated mixed martial artist. Overall, Whyte’s professional fighting record is a sterling 46-2. He’s 25-1 as a boxer, 20-1 as a K1 kickboxer and 1-0 as an MMA fighter.

So while the battle rages on between various television networks and streaming platforms over securing the top talent in the heavyweight division, one that includes Tyson Fury signing a multi-fight deal with ESPN and Deontay Wilder reportedly mulling over his future with PBC, perhaps something just as important right now is that the single most dangerous and deserved heavyweight contender in the world remains without a dance partner for his next fight.

Never mind Whyte being the No. 1 ranked contender by the World Boxing Council. That sanctioning body instead deemed Dominic Breazeale the mandatory challenger to Wilder’s WBC title after the potential rematch between Wilder and Fury fell by the wayside.

Here’s all that needs to be said about that grift. Breazeale only had to defeat Eric Molina to get his mandatory title shot while the WBC wanted Whyte to face Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz, one of the top heavyweights in the sport.

And nobody seems to care that Whyte gave unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua the toughest test of his career (this side of Wladimir Klitschko anyway), when the two squared off in 2015 for the British and Commonwealth titles. Despite the obvious talent gap between the two fighters, Whyte gave the young Joshua just about all the former Olympic champion could handle in a seven-round war.

To hear Whyte tell the story, promoter Eddie Hearn must have intentionally lowballed Whyte for the proposed 2019 rematch in order to ensure Joshua could invade America on June 1 against the likely less dangerous Jarrell Miller. That makes sense for Joshua from a monetary perspective, but it doesn’t do the same in terms of true competitiveness.

According to various reports, Whyte is currently considering a multi-fight deal to appear on ESPN, a move that would give the British battler a path to facing Fury who some consider the lineal heavyweight champion. Fury recently signed a multi-fight deal to be co-promoted by Bob Arum for appearances on the U.S.-based television network ESPN. It’s the move that shelved a potential Wilder rematch and also opened up a huge can of worms in regards to what kinds of fights Fury might actually be able to secure. Currently, the Top Rank-promoted stable of heavyweights is best characterized by fighters who don’t really move the needle in regards to title challenges, fighters like Oscar Rivas, Bryant Jennings and Kubrat Pulev.

Overall, though, the main problem about the heavyweight landscape is that there are three heavyweights who all have a claim to being heavyweight champion. IBF, WBA and WBO champion Joshua is promoted by Hearn and exclusive to DAZN. WBC champ Wilder is attached to the PBC whose television partnerships include Showtime and Fox. Fury is set to embark on his own ESPN crusade. Long story short, these guys probably aren’t fighting each other anytime soon.

Worse is that while all three men are in desperate need of viable opponents, none have seemed all that interested in tussling with Whyte.

It’s no wonder. As good as Whyte has been over the course of his 7-year professional boxing career, the scariest thing about the fighter is that he always seems to be getting better. In his last two fights, Whyte outfought talented former titleholder Joseph Parker and knocked out gritty UK heavyweight Dereck Chisora. In defeating Parker, Whyte was facing someone absolutely in need of a win to maintain his status among heavyweight contenders. In beating Chisora, Whyte was in tough against an opponent he had only defeated by split-decision two years prior. Both wins illustrate just how far Whyte has come as a professional prizefighter.

As it stands, Whyte is the clear top contender among all heavyweights, especially among those who have not yet been granted a shot at a world title. He’s ranked No. 4 behind Joshua, Fury and Wilder by The Ring magazine and the same by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

The only question that remains is which title claimant will prove the toughest holdout. Whyte’s ultimate choice, in whether to stick with promoter Hearn on DAZN, link up with Arum and ESPN or continue playing the WBC shell game, will probably end up being tied to which path gets him the title shot that he so desperately craves first.

And it absolutely should happen. It’s one thing to crave title opportunities and another to have earned them. Whyte’s done both now, and it’s time for boxing fans and the media to take notice. Better yet, it’s time for Joshua, Fury and Wilder to pit themselves against their most dangerous competition. Since they’re not facing each other, Whyte become the next logical choice for any or all of them.

Because Dillian Whyte is one of the best heavyweight boxers in the world, and he’s done enough by now to warrant the chance to prove it.

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The Hauser Report: St. Patrick’s Day at Madison Square Garden

Thomas Hauser

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Conlan

Boxing’s three “major leagues” showed their respective wares this past weekend. On Friday night, DAZN presented a nine-bout card in conjunction with Matchroom USA. On Saturday, Fox and Premier Boxing champions teamed up for the Errol Spence vs. Mikey Garcia pay-per-view event. Then, on Sunday, ESPN and Top Rank had their turn in the form of a St. Patrick’s Day card at Madison Square Garden headed by Belfast native and former Olympian Michael Conlan.

The star of the show was St. Patrick, the fifth-century saint widely credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. In his honor, there were three Irishmen on the card: Conlan, flyweight Paddy Barnes, and welterweight Lee Reeves. That said; there was a Hispanic flavor to the proceedings. The sixteen combatants included Eduardo Torres, Victor Rosas, Juan Tapia, Ricardo Maldonado, Adriano Ramirez, Oscar Mojica, Joseph Adorno, John Bauza, Luis Collazo, Ruben Garcia Hernandez, and two Vargases (Josue and Samuel).

Irish-Americans have a record of supporting Irish fighters, particularly on St. Patrick’s Day. This was no exception. The announced crowd of 3,712 arrived early. During the final pre-fight press conference, Top Rank president Todd duBoef had paid homage to the fans, although he did voice the view that, on St. Patrick’s Day, “Their cognitive behavior is manipulated by the beer.”

On fight night, the in-arena music was chosen accordingly. What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor? was played twice over the Hulu Theater sound system.

There was also green lighting.

Lee Reeves (2-0, 2 KOs) of Limerick, Ireland, opened the show with a four-round decision over Edward Torres.

In the third bout of the evening, Vladimir Nikitin (2-0, 0 KOs) won a majority decision over Juan Tapia. Nikitin defeated Conlan in the quarter-finals at the 2016 Olympics. Presumably, they’ll fight again at a time of maximum opportunity for Conlan.

Flyweight Paddy Barnes (5-1, 1 KO) of Belfast was a teammate of Conlan’s at the 2016 Olympics but lost in the first round to Spain’s Samuel Carmona. On St. Patrick’s Day, Barnes was matched against Oscar Mojica (11-5-1), who had one career knockout and had gone 3-5-1 in his previous nine outings.

Mojica broke Barnes’s nose in round one and knocked him down with a body shot in the second stanza (although to the mystification of those in the press section, referee Danny Schiavone waved off the knockdown). It was a spirited outing in which both men were too easy to hit for their own good. Barnes rallied nicely in the second half of the bout and arguably did enough to win the decision. But two of the three judges thought otherwise, leading to a 58-56, 58-56, 56-58 verdict in Mojica’s favor.

In the next-to-last fight of the evening, Luis Collazo (38-7, 20 KOs) took on Samuel Vargas (30-4-2, 14 KOs).

Collazo now 37 years old, reigned briefly as WBA welterweight champion twelve years ago. Since then, he had cobbled together twelve victories (an average of one per year) against six losses in eighteen fights. Vargas had one win in his previous three outings and has never been able to get the “W” against a name opponent.

It was a phone booth fight, which worked to Collazo’s advantage because Luis’s legs aren’t what they once were. The decision could have gone either way. Two judges scored the bout 96-94; one for Collazo and the other for Vargas. Frank Lombardi turned in a wide-of-the-mark 98-92 scorecard in Collazo’s favor.

Then it was time for the main event.

Conlan (10-0, 6 KOs) is best known to boxing fans for having given the finger (two middle fingers, actually) to the judges after coming out on the short end of a decision in the second round of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. His skill set is better suited to the amateur than professional ranks. But his Irish heritage is a significant marketing plus. And Top Rank specializes in both savvy matchmaking and building narratives.

This was the third consecutive year that Conlan, now a featherweight, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day weekend by fighting at Madison Square Garden. His ringwalk was marked by Irish-themed pageantry. And Ruben Garcia Hernandez, his opponent, was tailor-made for him.

Conlon controlled the fight with his jab. Nothing much else happened. “Mick” emerged victorious 100-90 on all three judges’ scorecards. And the fans went home happy because their man won.

*     *     *

The sad news that New York Mets pitching great Tom Seaver is suffering from dementia and will retire from public life is a reminder that all people from all walks of life are susceptible to the condition, not just fighters.

Seaver was on the list of A+ athletes who rose to prominence in the 1960s when advances in television were redefining the sports experience. Muhammad Ali was at the top of that list. Years ago, sportswriter Dick Schaap told me about an evening he spent with Ali and Seaver.

“In 1969, the year the Mets won their first World Series,”Schaap reminisced, “I spent the last few days of the regular season with the team in Chicago. Ali was living there at the time. I was writing a book with Tom Seaver, and the three of us went out to dinner together. We met at a restaurant called The Red Carpet. I made the introductions. And of course, this was the year that Tom Seaver was Mr. Baseball, maybe even Mr. America. Ali and Tom got along fine. They really hit it off together. And after about half an hour, Ali in all seriousness turned to Seaver and said, ‘You know, you’re a nice fellow. Which paper do you write for?’”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Protect Yourself at All Times – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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