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Will There Be a Changing of the Guard?

13,964 fans were at Barclays Center on April 21 to witness what might someday be looked upon as a step toward boxing’s changing of the guard.

Three fights – Gervonta Davis vs. Jesus Cuellar, Jermall Charlo vs. Hugo Centeno

Thomas Hauser




13,964 fans were at Barclays Center on April 21 to witness what might someday be looked upon as a step toward boxing’s changing of the guard.

Three fights – Gervonta Davis vs. Jesus Cuellar, Jermall Charlo vs. Hugo Centeno, and Adrien Broner vs. Jesse Vargas – headlined the show.

Davis age 23, has a wealth of talent. He briefly held the IBF 130-pound belt before surrendering it on the scales just prior to his last outing. Cuellar, a 7-to-1 underdog whose previous losses were by decision to Oscar Escandon and Abner Mares, was moving up in weight from 126 pounds.

Gervonta (pictured) has quick hands and good power. He started fast on Saturday night, dropping Cuellar with a straight left to the body in round two and a brutal body shot in round three. Then he pummeled Jesus some more while referee Benjy Esteves waited for an unnecessary third knockdown before stopping the slaughter at 2:45 of the third stanza. The fight had the feel of target practice with a Magnum .357.

Jermall Charlo won an IBF 154-pound belt with a 2015 stoppage of 42-year-old Cornelius Bundradge. He relinquished his title last year to campaign at 160 pounds but fought only once in 2017 (a victory over Jorge Sebastian Heiland, who came into the bout with a damaged left knee).

Like the Klitschko brothers in the early years of their career, Jermall and his twin brother, Jermell, have suffered in terms of their marketability because there are two of them. Jermall’s response has been to say, “Twin power is better. If you don’t like the Charlos, stay out of our lane and keep the hate down.”

Centeno is the sort of opponent one expects to find as the non-threatening adversary for a house fighter doing battle for a WBC “interim” middleweight championship.

In the build-up to the fight, Charlo expended as much energy on his fellow headliners as on Centeno.

In a March 24 Instagram video, Jermall declared, “Y’all mother******* coming to see me fight. Ain’t nobody coming to see Adrien Broner fight. I didn’t want to be on that f******. You think I wanted to be on that f****** card? No. I’m being real. I didn’t want to be on Adrien Broner’s card again. Every time I’m on his f****** card, he lose. Then its Hispanic vs. Black, and I fight a Hispanic. I still do what I gotta do, but this motherf***** don’t do what he gotta do. The main event look like sh**. The event don’t get no recognition. No, I don’t want to be on f****** Adrien Broner’s card. I’m sorry, I’m just speaking facts.”

Then Charlo turned his attention to Davis, proclaiming, “Tank, that little nigga ain’t fought nobody. He with Mayweather and ain’t fought nobody. This little fat Tank mother******, he think he Mayweather. I read the tweets and the comments [from Gervonta]. He’s mad because they moved me to the card. I’m sorry, nigga, that my opponent got a broken rib. I gotta fight him on your card, so that means your TV time is cut short. Stop playing with me, nigga, because every time I see you, you ain’t really about that sh**, you dumb slow stuttering motherf*****.”

Charlo was a 20-to-1 favorite over Centeno. The fight didn’t last long. Round one saw Jermall stalking his man while Centano stayed as far away as possible and held when Charlo got in close. Then, forty seconds into round two, Jermall landed a punishing right hand as the opening salvo in a four-punch combination that ended with a vicious left hook to the jaw that dropped Hugo for the count and then some. It’s unclear why referee Steve Willis bothered to count since Centano had zero chance of getting up.

That set the stage for Broner-Vargas.

Broner has prodigious talent that has been undermined by a notable lack of discipline in and out of the ring. He has stepped up in class to fight a world-class opponent on three occasions. Each time (against Marcos Maidana, Shawn Porter, and Mikey Garcia), he lost.

It has been said that trouble follows Broner wherever he goes. An equally valid hypothesis might be that Broner follows trouble.

TMZ reports that Broner has fathered seven children with six different women which, to Adrien’s way of thinking, might evince a commitment of sorts to one of the women.

In addition to a string of juvenile arrests, Broner has been charged with robbery, aggravated robbery, felonious assault, battery, illegal possession of a weapon, domestic violence, and intimidation of a witness. On February 13 of this year, he added to his rap sheet with a charge of misdemeanor sexual battery after a woman accused him of groping her in an Atlanta shopping mall. The woman, Kaila Crews, is now suing him in a civil lawsuit for sexual battery.

Originally, Broner was slated to fight Omar Figueroa at Barclays Center to determine a mandatory challenger for the WBC 140-pound title. But Figueroa fell out after being arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated, Vargas was substituted, and the bout was changed to a catchweight of 144 pounds.

At the final pre-fight press conference on April 19, Broner called Vargas a “puto” (Spanish for whore) and Leonard Ellerbe (CEO of Mayweather Promotions, which was co-promoting the fight card) a “bitch-ass nigger.” But by then, it was clear that Adrien’s insults might lead to consequences more serious than discord within the promotion.

More specifically, Broner and Tekashi69 were engaged in a social media dispute that began when the rapper called Adrien a “clown” on Instagram. That led Broner to respond, “Ey 6ix9ine, don’t be commenting no f*** sh*** under my pictures, boy. Talkin’ bout clown, nigga. I’m about to pull up on you, nigga. I ain’t one of these rap niggas you be trollin’ with, nigga, quit playin’ with me, nigga.”

Tekashi69 then countered by calling Broner a “pussy” before suggesting in solid capital letters, “CHECK IN WHEN YOU GET TO BROOKLYN TOO. KING OF MY CITY.”

Thereafter, an April 18 open media workout was canceled as a security precaution and the final pre-fight press conference (previously scheduled for the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan) was moved to Barclays Center, where there was heightened security. It was also decreed that the Friday weigh-in would be closed to the public. At the weigh-in, Broner floated the idea of asking Tekashi69 to walk him to the ring on fight night. But that was quickly vetoed by the promotion.

When fight night came, there was a heavy police presence at Barclays Center: uniformed cops, plainclothes cops, gang units. Even then, a temporary lockdown was necessary when a gun was fired in the building.

Details are vague at the present time. But it appears as though there has been bad blood between Tekaski69 and Brooklyn rapper Casanova. On fight night, the two men and their associates confronted each other in a hallway near a VIP lounge in Barclays Center. A shot was fired and the perpetrator ran from the building. TMZ later reported that a .32 caliber shell casing was recovered by the police. It’s unclear how a man with a gun was able to evade what were supposed to be heightened security precautions.

As for the fight; Broner had been listed as an 11-to-10 favorite over Vargas, but the odds flipped during fight week. Adrien was the more physically-gifted fighter. However, as always, there were questions as to where his head was at. Jessie had lost by decision decision to Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao. But he was a credible opponent with a ninth-round knockout of Sadam Ali to his credit.

After a cautious first round with little aggression from either man, Vargas began throwing with both hands in the second stanza, mixing punches well to the head and body. The action continued in round three with Broner stepping up his own effort and going low often enough that it didn’t seem accidental.

At the midway point, Vargas had a substantial lead on the judges’ scorecards but appeared to be tiring. Then Broner began landing sharp effective punches. By round nine, Adrien was unloading and it seemed clear that he could hurt Jessie more than Jessie could hurt him.

But Broner, for all his talk, is a safety-first fighter. He’s more effective when fighting aggressively but rarely wants to take that risk. Despite being in control of the fight in the late rounds, he never put his foot to the pedal in an effort to knock Vargas out. Then, in an act of foolishness, Adrien took round twelve off.

That cost Broner the fight. Judge Julie Lederman gave the nod to Adrien by a 115-113 margin. But she was overruled by Eric Marlinski and Kevin Morgan, each of whom scored the bout a 114-114 draw.

In the ring after the fight, Broner confronted Vargas while Jessie was being interviewed by Showtime’s Jim Gray. Their exchange unfolded as follows:

Broner: Hey man, f*** all that. Let me see the mic. I beat your ass. Look at his face. It looks like I beat him with what they beat Martin Luther King with [it’s likely that Broner meant Rodney King].

Vargas: I’m gonna be honest. I’m an honest man. We went at it for twelve rounds.

Broner: We didn’t go at it. That’s gay.

Vargas: We can do it again.

Broner: I beat your ass like you stole something. I beat your ass like you were suspended from school. I beat your ass like you stole my bicycle, nigga.

Vargas: You can get some more if you want.

Broner: You’re bruised up.

Vargas: I’m ready to fight right now, fool.

Broner: C’mon man. You need peroxide and alcohol.

Vargas: You need to settle down.

Broner then turned his attention to Gray and asked, “Was you watching? You got cataracts? Are your eyes all f***** up? Did you see?”

Broner is more bark than bite. The expectation is that he will continue to fall short of what he might have been as a fighter.

Meanwhile, Gervonta Davis and Jermall Charlo attack like pitbulls. The open issue on each man’s resume is that neither has fought a world-class opponent. But that could change.

Davis says he wants to fight Vasyl Lomachenko next. Whether he really wants to is probably irrelevant because Top Rank (Lomachenko’s promoter) is likely to say that Gervonta isn’t a big enough draw yet and the fight needs more time to “marinate.” Davis versus Mikey Garcia would also be an attractive offering.

Charlo says he wants to fight Gennady Golovkin and seems to mean it. But after Golovkin disposes of Vanes Martirosyan on May 5, he’d like to pursue fights against Canelo Alvarez, Billy Joe Saunders, Danny Jacobs, and Sergiy Derevyanchenko before going anywhere near Charlo.

That will create an interesting scenario because Jermall is now the WBC’s “interim” middleweight champion and Golovkin’s next “mandatory” challenger. Look for the WBC to jump through hoops in an effort to maximize sanctioning fees in this situation.

*     *     *

Barclays Center was teeming with law enforcement personnel on Saturday night. But that didn’t keep a robbery from taking place. A young woman named Iranda Paola Torres was robbed. Thousands of New Yorkers witnessed the event.

Torres, like many Mexicans, journeyed to the United States in search of a better way of life. She was here to fight Heather Hardy, the Brooklyn native whose 21-0 ring record doesn’t reflect the times that opponents have been robbed in the past.

Torres entered the ring with a 12-2-1 ledger, but those numbers were deceiving. Her last six wins were against women who have a composite ring record of 3 wins and 29 losses.

Thus, Iranda was considered a “safe” opponent for Hardy. But the way Heather has been fighting lately, no opponent is safe. Hardy looked out of shape. She tired early, got hit a lot, and ran for most of the night. When the judges’ scores were announced (79-73, 78-74, and 78-74), they seemed to be on the mark. Then Heather was proclaimed as the winner.

The pro-Hardy crowd vociferously booed the decision, which brought to mind an email that I received from a reader years ago after an egregious decision went in favor of a Top Rank fighter.

“Did Bob Arum supply girls for the judges,” the reader inquired, “or did he perform the favors himself?”

Hardy bears responsibility for her poor performance. But the atrocious scoring isn’t her fault. The blame for that falls squarely on the New York State Athletic Commission.

The NYSAC needs to train a new generation of judges and other commission personnel. But it’s so mired in petty politics that incompetence and worse have become the accepted standard.

*     *     *

Too often, undercard fights fail to give fans their money’s worth. But the opening bout on Saturday night’s card at Barclays Center took things to a new level. Heavyweights George Arias and Tyrell Wright fought a sluggish eight rounds with Arias winning a close decision. However, the fight started before the arena was open to the public. That meant anyone who bought a ticket in the hope of seeing Arias vs. Wright couldn’t see the fight. So much for respecting the ticket-buying public.

*     *     *

A word of remembrance regarding Bill Nack, who died on April 13 at age 77 after a battle with lung cancer.

Nack is best known for his literary output during a 23-year sojourn at Sports Illustrated and a 1975 book that remains the definitive study of Secretariat, horse racing’s greatest champion.

The horses were Nack’s first love. But he was a talented wordsmith who could write well about anything. He didn’t turn his attention to boxing often. But when he did, it was worth reading.

Among the articles Nack wrote about the sweet science (collected in a 2003 book entitled My Turf) were a portrait of “Young Cassius” that celebrated Muhammad Ali’s fiftieth birthday; a ground-breaking exploration of the dark side of Rocky Marciano; a study of the lasting enmity that Joe Frazier felt for Ali (written on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Ali-Frazier I); an insightful look back at the Dempsey-Tunney “long count” fight; and a piece that humanized Sonny Liston.

Nack’s work was always well-researched and beautifully written. He was a good writer and a nice man.

Photo credit: Janer Bigio / Mayweather Promotions

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at His most recent book – There Will Always Be Boxing – 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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`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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