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Rob Brant is the New WBA Middleweight Champion

David A. Avila

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LAS VEGAS, Nevada- In a major upset that saw a mega fight disappear, Rob Brant took the WBA middleweight title from Japan’s Ryota Murata with a lot of hustle and a heck of a chin to the surprise of many on Saturday.

Murata (14-2,11KOs) was expected to fight Gennady “GGG” Golovkin if he won, but the dress rehearsal turned into a nightmare as Brant (24-1, 16 KOs) attacked and attacked while out-punching the Japanese fighter nearly two to one in front of a stunned audience of more than 2700 at the Park Theater at the MGM.

“This was one of the best moments of my life, said Brant. “I wasn’t thinking of punch output. I was thinking about winning.”

With many planning their trips to Tokyo for an expected showdown between Murata and Golovkin, the Las Vegas based Brant put a stick into the spokes of their travel plans.

Brant started quickly with combination punching and moving in and out of range during the first three rounds of the middleweight bout. Murata smiled throughout the incoming blows from the upstart Brant.

“It’s easy to smile, but his eyes were swollen and he had blood on his mouthpiece,” said Brant.

It wasn’t until the fourth round that Murata found life while attacking the body.

The body punches opened up the lead right cross for Murata, who began targeting Brant’s head. But the Minnesota native was able to absorb the big blows and kept firing back. Though Brant was landing more shots, Murata’s punches were clearly harder and landed with a thud.

The crowd got into the fight early as cheers of “USA! USA!” were shouted sporadically throughout the fight. It probably had an effect on the judges.

It seemed Murata was landing the more effective blows in the middle rounds, especially when he targeted the body, then switched to the head. But though they were hard punches, Brant moved backward and kept returning fire.

The action was measured, but constant, with no slow rounds after round three. At times it looked like Murata was about to score a knockout but it never came. Brant proved resilient. More than that, he convinced the three judges he was the winner 119-109(2x) and 118-110.

Only the widespread scores were surprising. It seemed like a much closer fight.

Dudashev prevails

Maxim Dudashev (12-0, 10 KOs) tried to blast it out with Mexico’s Antonio DeMarco (33-7-1, 24 KOs), but after taking heavy incoming fire, the undefeated super lightweight changed tactics and out-boxed the former world champion to win by unanimous decision.

Dudashev moved around just enough and used quick short combinations to out-score the long-armed Tijuana fighter after the midway point of the 10-round affair. Though DeMarco was able to score with heavy body shots  and lead lefts to the head, Dudashev managed to fire off combinations that kept winning rounds in the second half of the fight. The judges scored the fight 97-93, 96-94, 98-92 for Dudashev. TheSweetScience.com scored it 96-94 for Dudashev, who keeps the NABF super lightweight title.

“This was a great learning experience for me,” said Dudashev. “DeMarco is a true champion, and he fought with great heart and determination.”

Falcao and other bouts

Brazil’s Esquiva Falcao (22-0, 15 KOs) showcased his various boxing skills against Argentina’s Guido Pitto (25-6-2, 8 KOs) who lost by unanimous decision but forced the undefeated fighter into various situations. In the first four rounds, Falcao fought from the outside with impunity as Pitto was unable to touch the Brazilian. But when the Argentine boxer took the fight inside, he found more success and forced Falcao to utilize his inside boxing skills. The fighting was intense but Falcao was just too strong and slightly quicker in winning every round in the 10 round middleweight fight. Pitto’s best moments came during the fifth round when he forced his way inside. All three judges saw it 100-90 for Falcao.

Ireland’s Michael Conlan (9-0, 6 KOs) battered Nicola Cipolletta (14-7-2) every round with rights to the body and head. The Italian boxer rarely fired back and after several unanswered blows by Cipolletta the referee Russell Mora stopped the featherweight fight @1:55 of round seven. Cipolletta protested the stoppage but never truly engaged Conlan, who must have connected on more than 60 percent of his punches thrown. It was a whitewash for the former Irish Olympian.

Vladimir Nikitin (2-0) won by unanimous decision over Louisiana’s Clay Burns (5-5-2) in a featherweight fight that was much closer than the scores given. Burns started out fast and easily won the first two rounds. Then the battle got much closer as Nikitin’s overhand rights began scoring. Burns switched to southpaw and switched back and forth and that gave Nikitin pause. The last two rounds were very close especially the final round. But all three judges scored it 59-55 for Nikitin, thus only giving Burns one round. It was much closer in reality.

A battle between undefeated Puerto Rican lightweights saw Joseph Adorno (10-0, 9 KOs) drop Kevin Cruz (8-1, 5 KOs) twice in winning by unanimous decision. Though Adorno’s knockout streak was snapped, he engaged in a spirited battle against left-handed Cruz who let loose in the sixth and final round. A counter left hook by Adorno floored Cruz the second time during a furious exchange. Cruz beat the count and tried his best to go for the knockout; Adorno scooted away until the final bell. Scores of 59-53(2x) and 58-54 for Adorno.

Adam Lopez (11-1, 5 KOs) won by knockout over Hector Ambriz (12-8-2) in a featherweight match. The end came @1:29 of the eighth and final round of the fight when Lopez fired a four punch combination that forced referee Tony Weeks to halt the fight though Ambriz was still standing.

Uzbekistan’s Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (6-0, 3 KOs) stopped veteran Wilberth Lopez (23-10, 15 KOs) with a series of body blows @2:13 of round two in a super lightweight contest between lefties.

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Oleksandr Usyk TSS’ 2018 Fighter of Year

Bernard Fernandez

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Usyk

The best advertisement for a newly released movie – any product, actually – is not television commercials or print ads in newspapers and magazines. It is favorable word of mouth. People see or use something, they like it, and they tell their friends and neighbors they should give it a try as well. There is no better endorsement of a restaurant’s quality than to peek inside and see a full dining room.

And so it is for undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk, The Sweet Science’s 2018 Fighter of the Year. The 31-year-old Ukrainian southpaw’s publicists and handlers don’t have to try very hard to sell his worthiness as a fighter whose time is now and maybe well into the future; his vanquished opponents are doing a fine job of that as it is. Who better to spread by word of mouth of any fighter’s star quality than laudatory comments uttered by the men he has beaten up?

After Usyk (now 16-0, 12 KOs) fully unified the cruiserweight title with a wide unanimous decision over Russia’s formidable Murat Gassiev on July 21 of this year in Moscow, adding Gassiev’s WBA and IBF 200-pound belts to the WBC and WBO ones Usyk already possessed, the losing fighter was so complimentary toward the man who had just given him a boxing lesson that he felt compelled to pass out more compliments than the punches he had thrown but was unable to land.

“He’s the best opponent in my professional career,” gushed Gassiev, who lost for the first time as a professional after winning his first 26 fights, including 19 inside the distance. “How on earth do you beat this guy?”

How, indeed? Despite performing before a hostile, pro-Gassiev crowd that might have influenced the judges had the match been even reasonably close, Usyk won by yawning margins of 120-108 and 119-109 (twice). For those of you keeping track at home, Usyk won 34 of 36 rounds on the official scorecards. That’s a level of domination seldom seen at such a high level of competition.

Nor is Gassiev the only vanquished opponent who is flinging verbal rose petals at the feet of Oleksandr the Great. In his third and final ring appearance of the year, Usyk traveled to Manchester, England – unfriendly turf once more – to defend his four titles against popular Briton Tony Bellew, a two-time former cruiserweight champ who, at 35, had announced his retirement beforehand, thus making the 35-year-old even more of a sentimental favorite than he otherwise would have been. Bellew fought courageously and even led by a point on two of the three official cards, with the third even after seven rounds.  However, he was nailed with a jolting left hand, went down, and ultimately was stopped in the eighth in the Nov. 10 bout that has helped fuel Usyk’s continued rise toward superstardom and in the pound-for-pound ratings.

“He is an exceptional champ,” Bellew, as gracious in defeat as Gassiev had been, said in complimenting Usyk. “He is everything I have feared. He is the best I ever fought. He is probably the best cruiserweight that ever lived.”

On a more ominous note to the biggest boppers in the heavyweight division, which Usyk now appears ready to enter, Bellew, who holds two victories over former WBA heavyweight champion David Haye, issued a warning that they had better not sleep on Usyk, who is 6-foot-3 and, according to Usyk’s manager, Egis Klimas, is already a genuine heavyweight at 215 pounds, which is 2½ pounds more than WBC titlist Deontay Wilder came in at for his controversial split draw with lineal champ Tyson Fury on Dec. 1.

“I don’t think there’s anybody else for him to fight in the cruiserweight division,” said Klimas. “Well, maybe there would be if (former super middleweight and light heavyweight ruler) Andre Ward comes out of retirement and moves up, which is something I’ve been hearing. But if he doesn’t, we probably will go to heavyweight.”

If it really is a done deal that Usyk is through with the cruisers, acknowledgment should be rendered to his incredible body of work in 2018. It might be a matter of opinion as to whether Usyk is the finest cruiserweight ever, a designation that arguably could go to the late 1980s version of future four-division heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, but there is no disputing that the polished Ukrainian’s three-victory run through the year that is about to end surpasses anything ever seen in the division over a 365-day period. Although he entered the cruiserweight portion of the eight-participant World Boxing Super Series as the nominal favorite and reigning WBO champion, the way Usyk separated himself from the pack of highly regarded 200-pounders was something to behold. He began the tournament on Sept. 9, 2017, with an impressive 10th-round stoppage of Germany’s Marco Huck before kicking it into overdrive in 2018, beginning with his majority-decision unification victory over previously undefeated WBC champion Mairis Breidis in Breidis’ hometown of Riga, Latvia, on Jan. 27. After adding Gassiev’s two titles in the WBSS finale, his TKO of Bellew made it three up, three down in 2018 against opponents who were a collective 79-2-1 with 57 knockouts at the time they faced him.

It is one thing to win a Fighter of the Year award, and quite another to possibly be recognized as 2018’s best among all athletes. Usyk is one of four finalists for the BBC World Sport Star of 2018 Award, where his competition will come from U.S. gymnast Simone Biles, winter sports athlete Esther Ledecka of the Czech Republic and Italian golfer Francesco Molinari.

However that vote goes, it is interesting to note that Usyk is TSS’ Fighter of the Year the year after the same honor went to fellow Ukrainian Vasiliy Lomachenko, who, like Usyk, was a gold medalist at the 2012 London Olympics and, like Usyk, is trained by Loma’s father, Anatoly Lomachenko. It has been said that Usyk is, for all intents and purposes, a virtual replication of Lomachenko, only larger. That is high praise indeed, what with Vasiliy Lomachenko widely considered to be the world’s finest pound-for-pound practitioner of the pugilistic arts.

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, however. Before the launch of the WBSS tourney in September 2017, one writer, Gleb Kuzin, opined that “the reality is Usyk is not and never will be a producer of highlights like Vasyl Lomachenko. Usyk is a blue-collar technician. His work is subtle. The comparisons to Lomachenko or any other fighter are ill-informed. Usyk isn’t a highlight-reel machine. He’s out to make his opponents feel hopeless.”

Some would say that making quality opponents feel hopeless is by definition highlight-reel stuff. But either as his own man or a stylistic match for his buddy Vasiliy Lomachenko, 2018 was the year of years in the boxing journey of Oleksandr Usyk. Until, of course, he possibly tops it as a heavyweight.

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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Anatoly Lomachenko, a Genuine Innovator, is TSS’ Trainer of the Year

Bernard Fernandez

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Anatoly Lomachenko

The most daring ideas of genuine innovators are almost never met with early and widespread acceptance. People might still be traveling by horse-drawn conveyances were it not for Frank Duryea, a 24-year-old inventor who along with his brother Charles in 1869 developed the prototype for something they called the Duryea Motor Wagon, one of the first gasoline-powered vehicles in the United States. The Duryeas’ vision of the future met with much skepticism, but 24 years later it was Frank who drove a semi-operational car 600 yards down the street in Springfield, Mass. Two years after that, on Thanksgiving Day in 1895, Frank won this country’s first automobile race, from Chicago to Evanston, Ill., and back, traveling 50 miles – in a snowstorm! – in a little over 10 hours.

The name of Frank Duryea has mostly been lost in the haze of history, eclipsed by Henry Ford and his mass-produced Model-T that irreversibly changed America’s travel habits in 1908. It remains to be determined whether the foresight of a visionary named Anatoly Lomachenko, now 53, someday will be a footnote in the annals of boxing or a continuing subject of intense scrutiny and fawning imitation. But in the here and now, one thing seems certain: Anatoly Lomachenko, trainer of two of the four or five best pound-for-pound fighters in the world — his son Vasiliy, the WBO and WBA lightweight champion, and undisputed cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk – is increasingly recognized as a superb coach and true original. The Sweet Science’s 2018 Trainer of the Year, “Papachenko,” as he is known to the few members of his star pupils’ tight inner circle, has imagined into reality a number of unconventional training exercises which Vasiliy and Usyk cite as instrumental to their rise to the top of their profession.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of great trainers in this business, but I happen to think Anatoly is one of the few that are,” said Teddy Atlas, a noted trainer of champions in his own right who on Dec. 8 was the chief second for Oleksandr Gvozdyk as he wrested the WBC light heavyweight title from Adonis Stevenson in an 11th-round knockout in Quebec City. As was the case with Vasiliy Lomachenko and Usyk, who took gold medals, Gvozdyk, a bronze medalist, was a member of Ukraine’s highly successful boxing team at the 2012 London Olympics which was coached by, natch, the elder Lomachenko.

“I have nothing but respect for that man as a person and as a teacher,” Atlas continued. “He is an example of the proper way that you should conduct yourself professionally and personally. Anatoly is one of the few individuals that I know who is a credit not only to the business of boxing, but any business.”

Anatoly is only slightly more visible and vocal than, say, Al Haymon, the boss man of Premier Boxing Champions who is seldom seen and almost never heard. But Papachenko, who rarely grants interviews and even then does so reluctantly, did not suddenly come by his seemingly radical notions as how to best construct the perfect fighting machine. He placed tiny boxing gloves on the hands of Vasiliy when the infant was only three days old, a clear indication of what was to become his life’s mission. But this would not be another case of a father trying to live his athletic dreams through his son, which often puts too much pressure on the child and eventually results in burnout. That cautionary tale was played out by dad Marv Marinovich and son Todd, who was raised from birth to become a flawless quarterback. Although Todd Marinovich was drafted by the then-Los Angeles Raiders out of the University of Southern California in the first round in 1991, he shriveled under the pressure of attempting to justify the hype and was out of the NFL after two underwhelming seasons.

Although Vasiliy, 30, widely hailed as perhaps the top pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, is pushed to the limit and sometimes beyond by Anatoly’s severe and unorthodox training regimen, he and Usyk, 31, are happily dedicated to the program, in no small part because they can see the benefits that accrue from strict adherence.

“For Vasiliy, his father is like a god,” said Egis Klimas, the Oxnard, Calif.-based fellow Ukrainian who manages the younger Lomachenko and Usyk. “He respects him a lot. He loves him a lot. They have a great relationship.”

How unique are Anatoly’s deviations from standard boxing training? Well, years ago he plotted to have Vasiliy improve his endurance by regularly holding his breath underwater for as long as possible. It is an occupational tool mostly useful to pearl divers, but Vasiliy’s personal record is now up to 4½ minutes and it does appear that he never tires in the later rounds of bouts, no matter how frenetic his punch rate. Vasiliy also intersperses street skating, juggling, handstands and tennis, which Loma often plays solo, sprinting around the net to return his own lobs, into the equation. Vasiliy’s impressive footwork is partly the result of his training in Ukrainian folk dance, and in a nod to modern science, every punch he throws in camp is recorded and calibrated through the computer chips in his hand wraps.

The Papachenko blueprint is somewhat reminiscent of that employed by four-time former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, a persistent tinkerer who was determined to explore a wide variety of seemingly odd methods to help him maximize his abilities. At various times Holyfield worked with a ballet instructor, conditioning specialist, weight trainer and computer analysts, sometimes to the befuddlement of his by-the-book traditionalist of a lead trainer, George Benton.

“You don’t want no damn robot in there,” said Benton, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame as a trainer in 2001 and was 78 when he passed away in 2011. “A big part of being a good trainer is the ability to listen. The fighter can bring something to the drawing board just as easily as I can. The smart man can learn something new every day. I’m trying to be as smart as I can.”

Klimas said Anatoly’s influence is already being seen elsewhere, with other trainers attempting to incorporate aspects of the program followed by his son and Usyk into the workout schedules of their fighters.

“It is obvious,” Klimas said of the imitators hoping to develop their own strain of that Team Loma magic. “But to copycat a trainer is like copycatting a fighter. Take Muhammad Ali. There was only one. Others tried to be like him, but it could never be the same for them.  It is the same with trainers. There is only one Teddy Atlas, one Freddie Roach. And there is only one Anatoly Lomachenko.”

Atlas wholeheartedly agrees with Klimas’ assessment.  “It’s not going to work,” he said of those who already are trying to steal pages from the Papachenko playbook and others who are sure to follow suit. “You can look at something and think you’re copying it, but the originals understand why it means what it does. The copycats don’t understand the essentials, and never will.”

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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A Boxing Aficionado’s Christmas Wish List

Ted Sares

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aficionado

It’s cold outside and there’s a deep cover of white snow on the ground. This aficionado is mulling over what he would want boxing-wise in 2019, while partaking in a warm eggnog mixed with Jameson and lighting up a Tenth Anniversary Perdomo. The background music includes Mile Davis’s’ legendary tribute to Jack Johnson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8TdZFVj6tA  It’s time to type in the list as follows:

A speedy and full recovery for Adonis “Superman” Stevenson.

For Roc Nation Sports to help Daniel Franco with his medical bills.

For Jermain Taylor to receive the help he so badly needs.

A third match between GGG and Canelo to settle the issue once and for all.

A second match between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, but this time in London at Wembley. Winner fights Anthony Joshua.

Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller vs. Luis “The Real King Kong” Ortiz with the winner facing the winner of Dereck Chisora vs. Dillian Whyte.

A match between Vasily Lomachenko and Gervonta Davis sooner rather than later, but not until Davis grows up.

Loma’s opponents coming down in weight rather than Loma going up.

Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence Jr.

Gary Russell Jr. vs. Leo Santa Cruz.

Naoya Inoue vs. Luis Nery.

A continuing successful comeback by Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.

For Andre Ward to come out of retirement and face a title holder.

For Joe Smith Jr.to avoid having his jaw broken and getting back into the mix by fighting Sean Monaghan for Irish and Long Island honors.

More exposure for Claressa Shields so that she is not lost in the shuffle of too many other female fights that lack her fan-friendly style

More televised action for Regis Prograis, Maurice Hooker, Teofimo Lopez, and Jaime Munguia.

For Mason Menard to retire. Too many bad stoppage losses.

Letting Manny Pacquiao retire in dignity by keeping him away from young lions like Crawford, Spence, etc.

The total and complete disappearance of Conor McGregor, Stephen A. Smith, and Shannon Briggs.

Now let’s get it on!

P.S. — What about your wishes for 2019? Please let us know.

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors. 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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