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The Boys of November: The Bowe-Holyfield Trilogy

Bernard Fernandez



When most people think of November, they think of Thanksgiving. During the 1990s, the next-to-last month of the calendar year came to mean something else to fight fans, a reason in triplicate to give thanks for a heavyweight trilogy that ranks just below the Holy Trinity that was Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier.

Yes, Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield was that exhilarating, that special. Oh, there have been other notable ring trilogies since then – Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward comes to mind – but in terms of the elite quality of the participants, and the fierce, unrelenting competitiveness of all three bouts, Bowe-Holyfield was a smorgasbord of pugilistic delights that, as much as anything, is the cornerstone of each champion’s professional legacy.

Remember, then, what was and hope that the heavyweight division someday soon can offer up more of the same superb stuff involving big men possessed of the same level of talent, heart and willingness to lay it all on the line.

*November 13, 1992, the Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas: In a spirited scrap that earned Fight of the Year recognition from The Ring magazine, despite the relatively wide scores (117-110 twice, 115-112 for the winner), Bowe came away with the unanimous decision and Holyfield’s lineal, WBA, WBC and IBF titles.

*November 6, 1993, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas: Whether the unexpected, out-of-the-sky appearance of paraglider James Miller, who came to be known as “Fan Man,” affected the outcome – there was a 20-minute delay in the seventh round to extract and remove Miller, who became ensnarled in the ring ropes – will forever be a matter of conjecture. When the bout resumed, Holyfield took charge down the stretch to eke out a 12-round majority decisions (115-113, 115-114, 114-114) and reclaim the WBA and IBF belts.

*November 4, 1995, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas: No widely recognized world title was on the line, and there was creeping suspicion that neither the 33-year-old Holyfield nor the 29-year-old Bowe was at their peak, but remember, the same was said of Ali and Frazier prior to the third act of their ongoing passion play, the “Thrilla in Manila.” Squaring off for pride and the so-called “People’s Championship” in their rubber match, Bowe – who went into the eighth round trailing, 66-65, on all three official cards – promptly floored Holyfield twice, prompting referee Joe Cortez to step in and award him the technical knockout victory.

It can be argued that Holyfield and Bowe weren’t the two finest heavyweights of the division’s most recent “golden era,” sharing as they did top billing with Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, but it is beyond dispute that, together, they made magic on three occasions. And maybe that is enough to gain additional consideration when it is time to put together any kind of best-of-the-best pecking order.

“Bowe brings out the best in me, and I think I bring out the best in him,” Holyfield said before their third fight. “We bring out the best in each other.”

With Act III approaching, someone asked Bowe if, were the bout to end in a draw, a fourth matchup might be in the offing.

“Last year I felt a little out of place when November rolled around because I had gotten so accustomed to fighting Evander Holyfield at that time,” Bowe said. “Me and Evander beating up on each other in November has become, you know, sort of habit-forming.

“And as far as a fourth fight between us … man, I don’t even want to think about (what would happen if there were) a draw. As hard as Evander Holyfield fights, if this one is a draw, he can fight the next one by himself.”

Although the more anxiously anticipated pairing no doubt involved Holyfield and Tyson, that megafight was delayed for five years, the result of, first, a thumb injury to Tyson that forced the cancellation of their scheduled bout in November 1991 and then Tyson’s rape conviction that landed him in prison for three-plus years. The post-incarceration Tyson was a pale imitation of his ferocious youth, and in his two meetings with Holyfield, he was knocked out in 11 rounds on Nov. 9, 1996 – another historic date in November — and then was disqualified for chewing off a piece of Evander’s right ear in the infamous “Bite Fight” of June 28, 1997.

With Tyson unavailable, it was almost inevitable that Holyfield and Bowe gravitate toward each other. Then again, a fight between them probably was bound to happen in any case. They had a shared history long before they squared off for anything of consequence, having been frequent sparring partners in the mid-1980s, when Evander was a young pro who hadn’t yet won his first world title and Bowe was a teenage amateur phenomenon.

“I realized at the time that we might wind up fighting someday,” Holyfield said in August 1992, after the contracts for their first bout were signed. “He wasn’t that much younger than me, and he was very gifted. I knew he wasn’t going to sit around and wait for me to get out of boxing before he made his move.

“I don’t think our situation is that unusual. Ali and Larry Holmes sparred when Ali was on top and Larry was coming up. I think maybe they knew they were going to fight for real one day. The guy who’s your sparring partner today might be your opponent tomorrow.”

Truth be told, Holyfield might have made the mistake of still thinking of Bowe – who had something of a reputation, and deservedly so, of a talented slacker who ate too much and trained too little – as that sparring partner of a decade earlier. His failure to push himself to peak efficiency, as he so frequently had and would do so in the future, might have cost him his titles.

“You couldn’t get him to do anything,” Holyfield’s trainer, George Benton, said of “The Real Deal’s” uninspired preparation for the first Bowe bout. “Some days he refused to work at all. Every day he had a different ache or pain.”

For his part, Bowe, who had a penchant for dramatic weight increases between fights, had given Team Holyfield at least a little reason to be confident. He had come in at a then-career-high 245 pounds for his most recent ring appearance, a seventh-round stoppage of Pierre Coetzer. Taking a poke at the soft midsection Bowe displayed that night, Lou Duva, Holyfield’s co-manager, presented the challenger with a pair of fancy, size-42 trunks at an August media gathering in New York. Bowe’s trunks had split down the back against Coetzer, revealing more of himself to an HBO audience then he would have preferred.

“Either your trunks are too small or you butt is too big,” Duva chided Bowe. “With these on, at least you’ll look good when they carry you out of the ring.”

But Bowe came in fit and ready, and when it became apparent that he would be no soft touch for the favored champion, the toughest, most resilient part of Holyfield’s inner self was activated. Bowe jolted Holyfield with a right uppercut early in the 10th round and seemingly was poised to score a knockout, but the exhausted Holyfield, after going down along the ropes, rose and fought back with a fury.

Color analyst Al Bernstein shouted to the pay-per-view audience, “That was one of the greatest rounds in heavyweight history! Ever! Period!” Boxing historian Bert Sugar later would compare that round to Round 15 of the Larry Holmes-Ken Norton war, Round 14 of Ali-Frazier III and Round 1 of Jack Dempsey-Luis Firpo, which featured seven knockdowns by Dempsey and two by Firpo.

Act II, of course, is especially notable not only for more of the kind of action that had marked Act I, but for Fan Man’s drop-in from the night sky and the tumult that set off. There probably always will be debate as to what would have happened had there not been a delay, which some believe benefited Holyfield and others feel was of assistance to Bowe, had had gone into training at around 300 pounds before paring down to an weigh-in weight of 246.

“I felt at that particular point that I had Evander right where I wanted him,” Bowe said. “I had the impression his back was giving him trouble. I felt that if the fight had continued, he would have quit.

“Then, when I saw what happened with my wife (Judy, who was pregnant, fainted and had to be carried out on a stretcher), I considered leaving the ring. I didn’t know what was going on. I was bewildered. But I knew enough to understand that if I left, they would have said I was quitting. So I waited until the fight resumed and tried to pick up where I left off. But by then I had gotten cold. I never did get warm again, and that’s what cost me my title. Holyfield didn’t beat me; Fan Man did.”

Holyfield, not unexpectedly, had a different take on what had transpired.

“Bowe and I fought two different six-round fights tonight,” he said shortly after his majority decision victory was announced. “In the first one, I was just getting ready to go toe-to-toe with him when that guy dropped in. I was in a rhythm, and I felt like I could outgun him. I started to get upset (during the delay), but then I realized it was the same for both of us. With that cleared from my mind, I just went out and got my rhythm back.”

The only certainty is that “Fan Man” – Miller, who would commit suicide, hanging himself from a tree in a remote part of Alaska in 2002 – is the one who came out the worst for wear. Intending to land in the middle of the ring, his chute became tangled in the overhead lights, causing him to land on the top strand of ropes, after which he tumbled awkwardly into a group of startled spectators. It spoke much as to the jinxed nature of Miller’s life that the ringside seats he toppled into were filled by Minister Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam security detail, who were none too pleased to have an unidentified white guy unexpectedly arrive in their midst. The intruder was beaten unconscious by big, burly dudes brandishing walkie-talkies as makeshift clubs.

“It was a heavyweight fight,” a well-bruised Miller said afterward, “and I was the only guy who got knocked out.”

Fast-forward to Act III, which was to have shared the TV and local Las Vegas audience with another high-profile boxing event, Mike Tyson’s bout with Buster Mathis Jr., scheduled to take place on the same night just down the Strip at the MGM Grand. But that bout was postponed a few days earlier because of a fractured thumb on Tyson’s right hand. It eventually took place the following month, on Dec. 16 in Philadelphia, with Tyson winning on a third-round knockout. Not that Holyfield was overly concerned about what a rusted Iron Mike, whose only fight after leaving prison was a first-round disqualification win over the oafish Peter McNeeley on Aug. 19, 1995, was up to.

“At my best, I am the best,” Holyfield said. “Everybody in boxing is supposed to have that `champion’ attitude, which means that you fight the best to prove you’re the best. There was not one day when I was the champion of the world that I didn’t want to prove I was the best. The way I look at it, Bowe and I are the best heavyweights out there.

“Who is Mike Tyson in this day and era? He’s not the same champion he was when he was 20, 21 years old. That’s in the past. If you talk about who the best fighters are today, that’s Bowe and myself. We’re going to get it on. If Tyson wants to fight one of us, fine. But I can’t see why everyone puts so much (emphasis) on someone who has fought only once in four years.”

Muhammad Ali’s biographer, Thomas Hauser, once noted that Ali and Frazier “were fighting for something more important than the heavyweight championship of the world” in the Thrilla in Manila. “They were fighting for the championship of one another.” And so, in a way, were Holyfield and Bowe in the final act of their remarkable rivalry.

Holyfield held the early edge in another humdinger of a battle, knocking Bowe down for the first time in the younger, larger man’s career in the sixth round, and he seemed to be in control when momentum took a sudden turn only seconds into Round 8. An overhand right dropped Holyfield, hard, and he arose at the count of nine on unsteady legs. That drew a long look from referee Joe Cortez, who signaled the fighters to come forward and engage. Making the most of his opportunity to close the show, Bowe delivered a pair of rights to the head that sent Holyfield to his knees and obliged Cortez to wave a halt to the proceedings.

“When he stayed down for that long of a time (after the first knockdown), I knew I would get him,” said Bowe, who went off as a 3-1 favorite. “I knew, if I maintained my composure, I would get him.”

There would be more exclamation-point moments for Holyfield, who would go on to fight for nearly 16 more years and win a version of the heavyweight championship twice more, giving him a record four division titles, the most obvious successes being his pair of conquests of Tyson. Bowe, despite posting a final record of 43-1 with 33 KOs, would not fare as well in his professional dotage. He was badly beaten up in his two bouts with the “Foul Pole,” Andrew Golota, who still found a way to screw things up en route to bookend DQ losses for repeated low blows. Eight years after the second “victory” over Golota, Bowe made a comeback in 2004, winning three bouts against third-tier opponents, the last of which, at 40, was an eight-round unanimous decision over someone named Gene Pukall on Dec. 13, 2008.

The lives of the Boys of November have been marked by disappointment and turmoil outside the ropes. Holyfield, for so long perceived as boxing’s St. George equivalent, a knight in shining armor who dashed around the countryside slaying dragons and righting wrongs, endured three divorces and the embarrassment of foreclosure on his 109-room mansion in Fairburn, Ga. Bowe, a two-time champion, has had an even rockier time of it. He was served 30 days in prison after pleading guilty to a domestic violence charge, which was part of a plea bargain involving the kidnapping of his first wife, Judy (who later divorced him) and the couple’s five children; arrested for assaulting his second wife, Terri, and he washed out of Marine Corps boot camp after only three days of actual training.

As Joe Louis and Mike Tyson demonstrated, as have so many other former champs, fame does not necessarily evaporate like morning dew, but wealth (Holyfield earned an estimated $250 million in purses) can and does. It’s difficult to climb that figurative mountain, but even more difficult to remain at its summit.

No matter what, though, Holyfield and Bowe gave us three electrifying nights for the ages. For that, fight fans should forever be grateful.


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`Big Baby’ Proves Again That Heavyweights Need Not Have Ripped Physiques

Bernard Fernandez



If we were to rate heavyweight champions on the basis of six-pack abs and overall confirmation, it’s a pretty safe bet that the magnificently ripped physiques of Evander Holyfield and Ken Norton would place them at or pretty close to the top of the list of pugilism’s most impressive big-man bodies. Also drawing consideration for a high slot would be Mike “Hercules” Weaver, who briefly held an alphabet title, but, his massive muscles notwithstanding, Weaver is hardly anyone’s idea of a truly great heavyweight.

The old saying – “looks like Tarzan, fights like Jane” – doesn’t come close to applying to Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), the IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight champ who defends those titles against Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller (23-0-1, 20 KOs) on June 1 in Madison Square Garden. Although the 6-foot-6 Joshua has fought as low as 229 pounds and as high as 254, at those weights and everything in-between he looks the part of a scary-good Tarzan who can and almost always pulverizes the guy selected to serve as his designated victim.

Which brings us to the 6-foot-4 “Big Baby” Miller, the well-fed Brooklyn, N.Y., native who has shown he can scrap a lot more like Tarzan than Jane, but at first glance is a closer physical approximation to Norm Peterson, the chubby guy on the end bar stool in Cheers so memorably played by George Wendt, winner of six Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actor. Although Miller has averaged a semi-reasonable 265.7 pounds per ring appearance over the course of his professional boxing career, with a low of 242, he has come in at 300-plus for each of his last three bouts and it seems a safe bet he’ll officially come in anywhere from 40 to 70 pounds heavier than Joshua when they square off three-plus months hence.

All of which raises a question of how much is too much when it comes to a corpulent heavyweight’s scale reading? Talent comes in all shapes and sizes, and there are reasons why seemingly fat fighters are, well, seemingly fat fighters. It could be genetics (it’s so convenient to blame mom or dad when you have to shop for pants with a larger waist size), a slow metabolism or simply a fondness for unhealthy fast food, second and third helpings at the dinner table and an insatiable sweet tooth.

George Foreman’s body looked a lot like Joshua’s does now in the earlier phase of his Hall of Fame career. No, the glowering Foreman that laid waste to Joe Frazier and Ken Norton didn’t sport the six-pack abs of a male underwear model, but he had a thick – not overly thick – frame and could deliver battering-ram punches with either fist. It wasn’t until he came off his 10-year retirement from boxing that Big George, now a smiling, playful jokester at press conferences, poked fun at his enlarged self, the one that came in at a career-high 267 pounds after paring down from 300-plus for his first comeback fight, against Steve Zouski. Foreman cracked wise about being on a “seafood” diet, telling media types that what he meant was he ate all the food he saw.

Other than Foreman, the best of the fight game’s (too-)big men is Riddick Bowe, another Hall of Famer whose appetite for high-calorie fare was matched only by his top-tier skill set. The aptly nicknamed “Big Daddy” was terrific for a time and might have remained so for even longer had he been more diligent in heeding the dietary and training dictums of his strength-and-conditioning coach, Mackie Shilstone, and legendary trainer Eddie Futch, both of whom became understandably frustrated when Bowe would allow himself to blow up 40 to 50 pounds above his optimal fighting weight between bouts.

Other accomplished big guys who were able to overcome the burden of too many excess pounds are future first-ballot Hall of Famer James Toney, who fought as low as 157 pounds and won widely recognized world championships at middleweight and super middleweight before gorging himself up to the heavyweight ranks where he defeated, among others, Holyfield, Fres Oquendo and Dominick Guinn; “Two-Ton” Tony Galento, a veritable fireplug  of a man who shockingly knocked down seemingly invincible heavyweight champ Joe Louis before falling himself, and Buster Mathis Sr., the dancing bear whose jiggly love handles didn’t prevent him from going the distance with Muhammad Ali and Jerry Quarry.

When it comes to almost unfathomable heft, however, special mention must be made to Eric “Butterbean” Esch, the erstwhile “King of the Four-Rounders,” who despite being only 5-11½ logged 90 of his 91 pro bouts (77-10-4, 58 KOs) at 300 or more pounds, including three at 400-plus pounds. All right, so The Bean’s list of opponents for the most part was hardly a Murderer’s Row. It should be noted, however, that he defeated Louis Monaco, who defeated Kevin McBride, who defeated Mike Tyson, who defeated Larry Holmes, who defeated Muhammad Ali.

Honorable mention, if you want to call it that, is reserved for Gabe “Big G” Brown, who managed to compile a winning record (18-17-4, 12 KOs) despite weighing 300 or more pounds for 33 bouts, with a high of 367; Dustin “Worm” Nichols (5-12, 5 KOs), who came in at 400 or more four times and the rest at 300-plus, with all 12 of his losses by knockout; Alonzo “Big Zo” Butler (31-3-2, 24 KOs), who is still active and might yet evolve, considering his three most recent bouts were at 300-plus pounds, into an updated version of “Big Baby” Miller.

If you want to tick off “Bronco” Billy Wright (43-4, 34 KOs), he of the seven bouts at 300 or more pounds, try comparing him to Butterbean. “If you think I’m a bum or a joke, try saying that to my face. I guarantee you won’t be laughing for long,” the now-retired Bronco Billy, 54, said in 2015, when he was the WBC’s 20th-ranked heavyweight. “I can knock out anybody on the planet, with either hand. I can knock them cold.”

In retrospect, a matchup of Butterbean and Bronco Billy now rates among my all-time matchups that never happened, but should have. Whoever went down would cause a vibration that I’d like to think could have been registered on the Richter Scale.

Boxing, of course, is not the only sport where gifted but gluttonous athletes overcame, if briefly, their inclination to succumb to the more vexing temptations of food. Remember the time that third baseman Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval’s belt buckle snapped and his pants nearly slid down when he took a particularly vicious swing that missed? Basketball had the man with two nicknames, former University of Kentucky center Melvin Turpin, who alternately went by “Turp the Burp” and “Lard of the Rims”, and no one will ever forget the sight of blimpish quarterback Jared Lorenzen, dubbed the “Pillsbury Throwboy,” who could fire lefthanded lasers but ate himself out of the NFL, where he once received a Super Bowl ring as the backup to starter Eli Manning for the New York Giants’ SB XLII victory over the New England Patriots.

It’s a longshot that Big Baby Miller could pull off the upset of Anthony Joshua, but if he did it would serve as an inspiration to couch potatoes everywhere that athletic glory just might be theirs if they put aside the potato chips and beer, at least for a little while. After all, it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog that matters, right? Even if the dog in question is as large as a Clydesdale.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Fast Results from Minnesota: Rob Brant Retains His Title via TKO 11



Rob Brant

Rob Brant returned to his home state of Minnesota for the first defense of the WBA middleweight belt he won in Las Vegas with an upset of Ryota Murata. In the opposite corner was a 21-year-old Ukrainian making his U.S. debut, Khasan Baysangurov.

Baysangurov, who came in undefeated (17-0), had good boxing skills but fell behind early and lacked the power to reverse the momentum. Brant, who was the far busier fighter, knocked him down in the third round with a clubbing right hand that landed behind his left ear and finished him off in the 11th.

A flurry of punches, the last of which caught only air, knocked Baysangurov to his knees. He beat the count but was clearly hurt and when Brant snapped his head back with a straight right hand, referee Mark Nelson properly intervened. Brant improved to 25-1 with his 16th knockout. He is one of two middleweight champions recognized by the contemptible WBA, the other being Canelo Alvarez.

In a spirited 8-round affair in the junior lightweight division, 2016 U.S. Olympian Mikaela Mayer improved to 10-0 with a unanimous decision over spunky 20-year-old Yareli Larios (13-2-1). The scores were 80-72, 79-73, and 78-74. Mayer, who had a 5-inch height advantage, was too physical for Larios, the daughter of former WBC junior featherweight champion Oscar Larios, who worked her corner.

In the first TV bout, Chicago’s Joshua Greer, a rising bantamweight contender, improved to 20-1-1 (12) with an eighth round stoppage of Giovanni Escaner (19-4) of the Philippines. The knockout punch was a short right hand to the pit of the stomach. Greer was down himself earlier in the fight, felled after walking into a short right hand in round three.

Other Bouts

 In an 8-round middleweight contest Tyler Howard improved to 17-0 with a split decision over spunky Christian Olivas who declined to 16-4. Howard, who hails from Crossville, Tennessee, has been attracting some buzz but tonight he didn’t perform as advertised in what was nonetheless an entertaining bout.

In a crossroads fight between two 30-something super middleweights, both southpaws, Lennox Allen (22-0-1) won a unanimous decision over Derrick Webster (28-2). The scores were 97-92 and 98-91 twice. Allen, originally from Guyana, scored the bout’s lone knockdown, decking Webster with a sweeping right hand a millisecond before the bell ending the third round. Webster, from Glassboro, NJ, had won nine straight going in.

 Former U.S. Army veteran Steven Nelson, who defeated Rob Brant as an amateur, won a unanimous decision over Felipe Romero in an 8-round light heavyweight contest. Nelson, based in Omaha, was cheered on by stablemate Terence Crawford. Romero (20-17-1) was once recognized as the cruiserweight champion of Mexico, but has degenerated into an “opponent.” This was his ninth loss in his last 10 starts. Nelson advanced to 13-0 (10).

 In an 8-round lightweight contest, Ismail Muwendo, from Minneapolis via Uganda, scored a unanimous decision over Columbia’s Hevinson Herrera (24-16-1). The scores were 60-54 across the board.

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LA Area Fighters Leo Santa Cruz and John Molina Still Swinging

David A. Avila




Two Southern California based prizefighters known for their longtime preference for slugging over slickness, will take center stage.

Both have withstood years of punishment with their battering styles and surprisingly remain staunchly relevant in the fight game despite the years of punishment endured in some of the most brutal fights in the past decade.

WBA featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs) defends against Rafael Rivera (26-2-2, 17 KOs) and welterweight John Molina (30-7, 24 KOs) meets undefeated Omar Figueroa (27-0-1, 19 KOs) at the Microsoft Theater in downtown L.A. Fox will televise the PBC fight card.

The two Los Angeles area prizefighters are not the only pugilists who use aggressiveness over slickness, but they are among the few who still manage to go to war with a fighting style that requires toughness, grit and resilience after so many years.

Santa Cruz, 30, comes from a fighting family whose brothers Jose Armando, Antonio and Roberto all put on the gloves.

The East Los Angeles native has been fighting since 2006 with his nonstop punching mode that has enabled him to win world titles as a bantamweight, super bantamweight and twice as a featherweight.

Even before his professional debut Santa Cruz was engaging in wars inside gyms with older, bigger boxers on a daily basis. They’re the kind of sparring battles that can sap the strength out of the strongest men both physically and mentally. Punishment like this can debilitate even the best over time like a hammer chiseling away the hardest granite.

But despite all the hammering Santa Cruz has endured in sparring sessions and prize fights, the rail thin featherweight with the jet black hair remains at the top of the pile in his weight division.

Now Santa Cruz faces Rivera, a dangerous Tijuana fighter who replaces Miguel Flores the original opponent felled by injury. Entering his 13th year as a pro the featherweight champion has bludgeoned his way to the top and remains king of the mountain.

“Leo is just gifted. He wears you down. Certain fighters are given this type of ability. Guys like Sugar Shane Mosley, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao they are just born with these gifts,” said Rudy Hernandez who worked with two Santa Cruz brothers as a trainer and cut man.

On Saturday, Leo Santa Cruz makes the third defense of the WBA title since reclaiming it from England’s Carl Frampton in January 2017. Before that, he held it for one defense after beating Abner Mares for the first of two times.

“We were getting ready for Miguel Flores, but in the gym you have to always be ready for any kind of style. We had been already been working with sparring partners who brawl, and that’s what we expect from Rafael Rivera,” said Santa Cruz in Los Angeles on Thursday. “He can take punches, so we’re ready for 12 rounds. We’re going to be smart in this fight because we know what Rivera can do.”

Rivera has already built a reputation as not just a brawler but someone with enough talent and power to upend the future aspirations of Santa Cruz. In his last fight in downtown L.A. he nearly toppled undefeated Joet Gonzalez. He’s not an easy mark.

“I knew immediately that Rivera was a good opponent,” professed Santa Cruz.


In the welterweight clash local slugger John Molina Jr. meets yet another foe in Omar Figueroa who’s expected to defeat him. He relishes being the underdog.

“I’ve been down this road before. I was never given lofty expectations. There’s no pressure here. I think Omar’s style will accommodate mine and make it a fun fight for the fans,” said Molina.

Molina, 36, has never been a model for how to look and fight with finesse and grace. Instead he’s like a human battering ram you point in a direction and see how long it takes to blast the door down.

He started late in the boxing business at 23 years old. He was about 22 when he had a few amateur fights and was immediately sent into the pros. Balance was never a problem for Molina who had been a wrestler in high school. Power was never a problem either.

Molina was given the rudiments of boxing quickly by boxing guru Ben Lira then sent into the ring wars. Quickly he learned he could be losing a fight on points and eliminate his mistakes with one punch.

Several fighters realized this but far too late.

Back in July 2013, Mickey Bey was winning their fight and was in the last round when he decided to taunt Molina. One punch later he was counted out with 59 seconds left before the final bell.

A year ago Ivan Redkach had knocked down Molina and was eagerly looking to end the fight when he ran into a blow he didn’t see. Down he went and got up groggily. The next round he was finished off by Molina.

That’s how quickly a Molina fight can turn.

And if you think he can’t box, well Molina has that trick up his sleeve as well. When he fought the dangerous Ruslan Provodnikov and used a box and move style to outpoint the heavy-handed Russian fighter, people were amazed.

“You can’t count out John,” said his father John Molina Sr. “Look what he did with Ruslan. Nobody gave my son a chance.”

Figueroa has never been defeated in a boxing ring, but he’s always had problems with the scale. The former lightweight world titlist only had one title defense when he was unable to make 135 pounds and moved up in weight. Against Antonio DeMarco three years ago Figueroa couldn’t make 147 pounds and the fight was held at super welterweight. Though he won the fight, barely, he’s battled the scale for the last four years.

“Training camp went great. I’ve made a lot of changes in my lifestyle and I’m dedicated 100 percent to boxing. Things have never been better,” said Figueroa, 29 who hails from Weslaco, Texas. “Given our styles, there’s no way this is going to go the distance. I think this is going to be an early night and I’m planning on having my hand raised.”

Molina’s ears perk up when he hears words like that.

“Talk is cheap. On Saturday night, we’ll get down,” said Molina at the press conference in L.A. “I’ve been down this road before. I was never given lofty expectations. There’s no pressure here. I think Omar’s style will accommodate mine and make it a fun fight for the fans.”

Fans can expect the expected when it comes to both Santa Cruz and Molina in their respective fights: a lot of punching and a lot of bruises. It’s prizefighting.

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