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Three Punch Combo: Cruiserweights Take Center Stage, A PPV show in Miami and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — The eyes of the boxing world will be on the big cruiserweight title fight on Saturday between unified champion Oleksandr Usyk (15-0, 11 KO’s) and Tony Bellew (30-2-1, 20 KO’s) in Manchester, England. But there’s another cruiserweight fight taking place later in the day that I think steals the spotlight from an entertainment standpoint.

First off, I completely understand why the Usyk-Bellew fight has come to fruition. Usyk has already defeated most of the viable contenders at cruiserweight. Bellew is a big name in the UK. He is coming off two big wins against heavyweight David Haye. Usyk needs some new competition and Bellew has momentum going in his career. Plus, he can sell tickets in the UK. So the fight makes total sense.

However, in my eyes Bellew is a step down for Usyk from most of the recent competition he has faced. And in most of those fights, Usyk proved levels above his opposition. Simply put, it is difficult to envision Bellew being competitive. As such, it is difficult for me to get excited about this fight.

Also this weekend, the second season of the cruiserweight tournament in the World Boxing Super Series continues from the UIC Pavilion in Chicago. Mairis Briedis (24-1, 18 KO’s) takes on Noel Mikaelian (23-1, 10 KO’s) in one quarterfinal with Krzysztof Glowacki (30-1, 19 KO’s) taking on Maksim Vlasov (42-2, 25 KO’s) in the other quarterfinal. While I think Briedis easily takes care of business against Mikaelian, formerly known as Noel Gevor, the Glowacki-Vlasov contest should prove to be an entertaining competitive scrap.

Glowacki (pictured) burst on the scene in 2015 with a knockout of then cruiserweight kingpin Marco Huck in a fight that many considered the fight of the year. A year later, Glowacki would lose for the only time in his career by decision to the above mentioned Usyk. Since that loss, he’s rattled off four straight wins. He is an aggressive skilled southpaw who is not afraid to mix it up and exchange with his opposition.

Vlasov seems like he has been around forever. The veteran pro has only lost twice by decision in 44 career fights and is riding a 12 fight winning streak since losing in January of 2015 to now super middleweight title holder Gilberto Ramirez. Vlasov likes to throw power punches in combination behind the left jab from his orthodox stance. He is more than willing to lead and get off first with his punches, but in doing so he is vulnerable to getting countered and often stands straight up in front of his opponent, making him an easy target.

Glowacki-Vlasov should be a very competitive fight and given the styles I think we see plenty of good exchanges. While Usyk-Bellew will command the most attention, the Glowacki-Vlasov contest should not be overlooked.

Better Late Than Never: Gamboa vs. Lopez in 2019

This Saturday night, Yuriorkis Gamboa (28-2, 17 KO’s) and Juan Manuel Lopez (35-6, 32 KO’s) fight in separate contests on a PPV card (suggested retail: $24.95) in Miami, FL. If each is victorious, then the plan is for the two to finally meet in the ring in 2019. It is a fight that has always seemed inevitable and one that I admit still draws my interest.

It is hard to think back but many years ago both Gamboa and Lopez were considered to be future stars in the sport. And I just don’t mean being world champions. They were each thought to be destined for greatness. The talent that each displayed on the way up was simply eye popping.

Gamboa just had this special set of athletic qualities rarely seen in prizefighters. His hand speed was dazzling. With his quick hands, he started to become a masterful counterpuncher. And then there was the power. Gamboa scored some highlight reel knockouts on his rise.

Lopez was an aggressive southpaw with thunderous power in both hands. He was drawing comparisons very early in his career to the great Felix Trinidad and it was easy to see why. The knockout ability along with his natural athleticism made Lopez quite a force.

With both Lopez and Gamboa competing around the featherweight division, a matchup between the two was a fight fans dream. We all know the story from here. Top Rank wanted to build the bout into a mega-fight. They thought the bout needed to be “marinated.” In their eyes, it needed to be built into something like De La Hoya-Trinidad.

But as history would show, Gamboa and Lopez had their weaknesses. They were so naturally gifted that those weaknesses at first were not apparent as they could get away with a lot inside the ring. First, it was Lopez whose defensive issues got exposed. Later, Gamboa’s own defensive shortcomings, along with management missteps derailed his once promising career. The fight never happened.

Here we are now eight or nine years after the bout should have happened. By now, people have lost interest and many in boxing want to see both retire. And though I too was a skeptic at first, as I think about it more, I do want to see how this contest will play out.

Who was the better fighter? One last hurdle to cross for both on Saturday and then we may finally get the answer.

Thomas Hearns vs. Jay Snyder – You Never Know What Can Happen In Boxing

November 6th will mark the 20th anniversary of the Thomas Hearns-Jay Snyder bout that took place at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, MI. The contest, which marked a return to the ring for the legendary Hearns after nearly a two year layoff, has long been forgotten, but something very rarely seen in boxing occurred that night in Detroit.

The plan for Hearns at this point in his career was to have a final farewell tour. He was, of course, beloved by his hometown fans in Detroit and could sell tickets there regardless of the opponent. So for the first fight of what was supposed to be the last leg of his career, a very safe opponent was selected named Jay Snyder.

Snyder, 37, entered the fight with a record of 19-5 but had never defeated anyone who had a winning record. Moreover, all five of Snyder’s losses were by knockout and all those knockout losses occurred within four rounds. He was known as a crude brawler who lacked speed and defense who’d bring the fight to Hearns but in doing so expose his weak chin. On paper he was the perfect opponent for Hearns at this stage of Hearns’ career.

Hearns entered the ring weighing a career high 190 pounds but still appeared in much better shape than Snyder who tipped the scales at 185. Hearns, who also had somewhere around an 11-inch reach advantage, looked to work behind the jab when the opening bell rang as Snyder pressed forward.

About a minute into the round, Snyder threw a well-timed left jab that caught Hearns coming in just as Hearns was unloading a right hand of his own. Snyder’s jab landed first but Hearns right hand also found a home and both men fell to the canvas. It was a double knockdown!

Hearns popped up quickly and appeared more embarrassed than anything about having fallen to the canvas. Snyder, on the other hand, was not getting up anytime soon and was counted out.

The double knockdown is a rarely seen occurrence, but every now and then it happens. And when it does, it always seem to happen in the most unlikely of scenarios like on November 6th, 1998, in the long forgotten bout between Thomas Hearns and Jay Snyder.

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Tyson Fury is the 2018 TSS Comeback Fighter of the Year

Arne K. Lang

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Tyson Fury

When the TSS year-end award season rolls around, some choices are no-brainers and others are head-scratchers because there are so many worthy candidates. Selecting Tyson Fury as our 2018 Comeback Fighter of the Year was a no-brainer.

When Fury left the sport for what would ultimately be a 31-month layoff, it soon became evident that we might never see him again. It wasn’t just that his heart was no longer in the game. He fell to pieces, letting his weight balloon to almost 400 pounds.

We would learn that there was more to the story. Fury was abusing cocaine and alcohol and had mental health issues that he readily acknowledged. He told reporters that he was seeing a psychiatrist who had diagnosed him as bipolar and manic depressive.

But Fury pulled himself together and gradually worked his way back to where he was fit to fight again. He returned to the ring on June 9 in Manchester in a supporting bout to Terry Flanagan’s140-pound title defense against Maurice Hooker. In the opposite corner was Sefer Seferi, a 39-year-old puffed-up cruiserweight.

The fight was a travesty. Fury, 11 inches taller and 66 pounds heavier, hardly worked up a sweat and the same could be said of his Albanian opponent who quit after four rounds.

For his second comeback fight, Fury chose a man nearer his own size, former sparring partner Francesco Pianeta. They met on August 18 in Belfast on a show headlined by hometown hero Carl Frampton. Fury won the contest easily in the eyes of the referee who awarded him all 10 rounds, but he wasn’t impressive. Indeed, the fight had no indelible moments.

In the post-fight press conference following the Pianeta fight, Fury’s promoter Frank Warren announced that the self-styled Gypsy King would fight WBC champion Deontay Wilder next and that the fight would materialize in late November in Las Vegas. As it turned out, the match came to fruition in Los Angeles at the Staples Center on Dec. 1.

It was widely assumed that Warren was blowing smoke. Surely Fury needed more rounds to shake off all the rust after his long spell of inactivity and self-abuse. But to some it made perfect sense that Fury would take on such a daunting assignment at this juncture. The cynics holding this view said that Fury was a certified loon and the longer the wait before he was thrust into a big money fight, the greater the chance that he would do something stupid and it would all fall apart.

The oddsmakers made Wilder a 7/5 favorite. In Las Vegas, there was late money on Wilder. At one large property, the odds shot up to 11/5 on the day of the fight.

After 40 pro fights, Deontay Wilder was still rough around the edges. Fury, it was widely understood, was the better boxer. But Wilder could take a man out with one punch and it figured that he would clock the Gypsy King who figured to tire in the late rounds if he could last that long.

By now every serious boxing fan is familiar with the details of the Wilder-Fury fight. Suffice it to say that Wilder did clock him in the late rounds, not once but twice, the second compliments of a left hook that knocked a staggering Fury down hard in the final round. The punch, wrote London Guardian scribe Kevin Mitchell, would have anaesthetized a horse.

The punch pulled the fight out of the fire for Deontay Wilder. For five long seconds as he lay prone on the canvas, Tyson Fury looked dead as a mackerel.

But hold the phone.

By some miracle, Fury was able to beat the count – just barely – and, more astoundingly, he got the best of the milling during the remainder of the round.

When the decision was announced – it went into the books as a draw – Fury didn’t bellyache. He had a look of satisfaction on his face as referee Jack Reiss simultaneously raised his hand and the hand of his opponent. Afterwards, he would say that he was certain that he had won enough rounds to earn the decision, but that if he had ranted and raved it might have started a riot. Indeed, whenever there is an especially large delegation of British boxing fans there is a hooligan element. And the Wilder-Fury fight played out before a large delegation of Brits who left the premises justifiably disgruntled but orderly.

At the post-fight press conference, the Gypsy King did something charming. He burst into song, leading the media in a rendition of Don McLean’s “American Pie.” Yes, over the years, to his everlasting discredit, Fury has hurt people with words that were misogynistic, homophobic, and even anti-Semitic. But at moments like these the big galoot is so cuddly that it’s hard not to love him.

As comebacks go, Fury’s was strange. He wasn’t coming off a loss and he didn’t win. But he emerged from a very dark place and gave a performance that was not only redemptive but inspirational.

The 2018 TSS Comeback Fighter of the Year was a no-brainer.

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Eleider Alvarez Forged the 2018 TSS Upset of the Year

Jeffrey Freeman

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Alvarez

HBO World Championship Boxing called it quits in 2018 but not before airing the Sweet Science (TSS) Upset of the Year: Eleider “Storm” Alvarez’s jaw dropping seventh round knockout of Sergey Kovalev to win the WBO light heavyweight title at Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, formerly President Trump’s Taj Mahal.

The legendary cable network that broadcast the Douglas-Tyson shocker in February of 1990 retained its reputation as a theatre of the totally unexpected on that Saturday, August 4. It was supposed to be a return to elite form for the Russian Kovalev (now 32-3-1 with 28 knockouts) and a chance for promoters to make boardwalk boxing great again.

For the 34-year-old Colombian Alvarez, successfully transplanted to Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 2009 by Groupe Yvon Michel, it was the realization of a bold prediction that fell upon mostly deaf ears: “Kovalev will be a very difficult fight but I will be the new WBO champion of the world.”

Right on both counts.

Alvarez (booked as a +400 underdog) appeared to gain an early advantage with impressively aggressive boxing skills but Kovalev wasn’t going anywhere without a fight and he pummeled Alvarez in the fourth round with his long jab and solid power punches—outlanding him 3 to 1.

Alvarez returned to his corner down on the scorecards.

Max Kellerman may have been able to see what Alvarez was doing to win the first three rounds but ringside judges Carter, Pasquale and Ortiz did not. Regardless, Alvarez pumped his fist in celebration, well aware he’d just taken the best of ‘The Krusher’ without being too badly hurt by any of it. “I wanted to show him I have a good chin,” he said after the fight of the assault.

The fifth and sixth were fiercely competitive with both rounds being won legitimately by Kovalev who presently began showing signs of fatigue while Alvarez (24-0 with 12 knockouts) recovered from the fourth round drubbing he’d proudly endured; his left cheek bloodied. If Kovalev’s plan was to outbox Alvarez and win a decision, he lacked the stamina needed to go six more rounds.

Alvarez answered the bell for the seventh ready to make good on his stormy forecast calling for rain on Kovalev’s parade. With a minute and twenty seconds left in the frame, Alvarez feinted a left jab to the body; following up full-speed with a looping right hand to the side of Kovalev’s unprotected head. Kovalev wobbled backwards onto the seat of his pants, decked by a jabby boxer assumed to be a light hitter with a trio of surgically repaired right knuckles.

Up fast at the count of “four” from American referee David Fields, Kovalev was in the eye of the storm now. Alvarez went for the kill with poise and precision. A right uppercut rocked Kovalev’s head back. A left jab had a similar effect. A right cross strafed his face. With 40 seconds left in the round, Alvarez connected with a ferocious left-right combination and Kovalev fell again. And again—Kovalev got up quickly but this time in no condition to continue and he could no longer protect himself. Alvarez walked straight in and landed a clubbing right around Kovalev’s guard. Kovalev collapsed onto all fours and Fields immediately waved it off as Alvarez celebrated.

A new light heavyweight star was being born.

Asked if he wanted to face HBO undercard winner Dmitry Bivol in a WBO/WBA unification match-up, Alvarez indicated a willingness to face all comers. “I’ve been waiting five years to fight the best in the division. I’m now among the best at 175. Whatever comes, I’m ready.”

It won’t be a long overdue confrontation with promotional stablemate Adonis Stevenson. The 41 year-old “Superman” was beaten into a medically induced coma by new WBC champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk on December 1 in Quebec City. What’s coming instead is an immediate rematch with Kovalev, scheduled for February 2, 2019 in Frisco, Texas—streaming live on ESPN. Alvarez probably needs another KO to retain his new title. The three official judges in the first fight did him no favors and Texas is infamous for dodgy officiating and sketchy scoring.

Believing that he needs to be in better shape if he hopes to avenge his latest defeat, Kovalev is fielding yet another new trainer, new International Boxing Hall of Famer, James “Buddy” McGirt. Says Krusher of this ‘last chance’ sequel: “I’ll be ready [this time] and I will take back my title.”

Time will tell.

Despite taking an ambulance ride to the hospital after getting his ass officially kicked, Kovalev went on record claiming Alvarez was “lucky” to get the knockout victory. Kovalev’s loyal promoter Kathy Duva may have convinced her guy it was a fluke but a result like that is surely no accident. “Sergey was clearly winning when he just got caught,” she casually explains. “It happens.”

No Kathy, it happened. It happened. The Sweet Science 2018 Upset of the Year. My Alvarez-Kovalev II prediction: It happens again. Alvarez TKO in nine, Kovalev calls it quits.

Other Notable 2018 Upsets: Roberto “Rifle” Ramirez’s second round beat down of Dejan Zlaticanin in June, Francis Chua’s split decision over Kye McKenzie on the Horn-Mundine undercard Down Under, Emanuel Navarrete’s victory against Isaac Dogboe for the WBO 122 lb. title on the Lomachenko-Pedraza undercard at MSG, and as written about by TSS’s own Matt Andrzejewski, Hassan Mwakinyo’s shocking TKO of Sam Eggington in the United Kingdom.

UPSET PICK POSTSCRIPT

It’s funny how “boxing experts” often claim to have picked the surprise winner of a prize fight only after said fight is over. At a packed press conference in New York City to announce the summer title bout between Kovalev and Alvarez, I couldn’t find a single media member or industry insider willing to entertain the notion of an upset, much less an Alvarez knockout.

Face-to-face with Kovalev, Alvarez looked and sounded like a sure-fire winner to me. Where Alvarez appeared fit and ready to fight that day if need be, Kovalev struck me as a little too fat and happy for his own good. After Kovalev was knocked down and out on HBO, social media was full of ‘I told you so’ tweets from ex post facto smart alecks and keyboard warriors.

What I observed in the lead-up to the fight led me to conclude the 35 year-old Kovalev was not taking his relatively unknown opponent as seriously as he should have been. Kovalev’s middle finger morphed into a peace symbol. He actually said it wasn’t his goal to knock Alvarez out!

Ultimately, I was the only reporter out there who could read the writing on the wall, noting last May what a “high risk, low reward” fight this was for Kovalev; one with the potential to “go all wrong” for him. I couldn’t have been more right. While most (if not all) fans and media regarded the result as a foregone conclusion, I wrote that Kovalev would be UPSET by Eleider Alvarez.

He told me, I told you.

It happened.

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Filip Hrgovic is the TSS 2018 Prospect of the Year

Matt McGrain

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Filip Hrgovic

So awash is boxing with prospects currently that picking just one has proved so excruciating that I floated a different idea with The Sweet Science’s fearless editor.

“What about selecting a prospect from each division?”

“Egad,” he literally replied.  “I wouldn’t go that far…would be a good story though. But for now we need to recognize just one fighter for historical continuity.”

He’s right of course; the Prospect of the Year for The Sweet Science goes back a bit and it’s an honor to pitch in. As for that divisional breakdown? I’ll have 17 nominees for you in January.  Watch this space.

As for today, I offer you the 6’6 Croatian, “el Animal”, 7-0, 233lbs, 26-year-old, Filip Hrgovic.

This is something of a controversial pick, I think. I don’t lean towards potentiality in heavyweights as a rule. They’re slower, generally less organized, less compact and a questionable chin is a fiercer impediment to a heavyweight of class than the equivalent in any other division. In short, the heavyweight division is a place of hammers and anvils, and if you are shy the latter, journeymen will find you out.

I’m wary, too, of relying upon a fighter’s amateur achievements to protect them from professional doubts. Too many times Audley Harrison; too many times David Price. Hrgovic drew the eye in 2010 though, beating up Tony Yoka and Joseph Parker on his way to winning the World Youth Championships. Times have changed too in that the World Series of Boxing offers an amateur/professional crossover, a nursery for the paid ranks and one in which Hrgovic excelled.

That is the past, however.  What of the future?

Trainer Pedro Diaz is clear: “Filip is ready for a title fight,” he offered in the build up to his last fight with Kevin “Kingpin” Johnson, “right now.  You can all see it.”

Diaz, a late 2018 addition to the Hrgovic camp, is an inspired choice. An eastern European and a tall one, Hrgovic is already being tarred with the “robotic” brush unearned by Vitali Klitschko and questionable even in relation to Wladimir Klitschko, but his fluidity is limited to the jab right-hand. Diaz, a veteran of the Cuban amateur system who has worked with the likes of Miguel Cotto, Guillermo Rigondeaux and the legendary Felix Savon, is the right man to de-program any mechanical tendencies in a charge young and hungry enough to learn. Hrgovic will never be Eusebio Pedroza but already he punches to the body more smoothly than was the case a year ago.

Promoter Nisse Sauerland, too, thinks that Filip is in for “a big 2019.” Croatia Week after discussions with the heavyweight prospect claim that a title fight is possible as early as next year.

That seems ridiculous for two reasons, which I’ll get to momentarily, but first, what does the man himself say about it?

“I go really, really fast,” he told press in his vastly improved English this December.  “They put me in the fast track.”  A smile, then: “I enjoy it.”

“In 2019,” he adds, “I am coming for all the belts.”

In 2018, Hrgovic ran 5-0 and there was a discernible step up in his two most recent contests.  First he met Amir Mansour, the New Jersey fringe contender who had lost just twice, once on a freak cut (Mansour bit his tongue while beating up Dominic Breazeale and could not continue due to breathing difficulties) and once in being out-pointed by the skilled Steve Cunningham over ten rounds. Hrgovic stopped him in less than nine minutes. As I wrote at the time covering that fight “Hrgovic looked nothing less than a natural fighter and a special one. He cracked an elite jaw and solved a singular puzzle with no more effort than if he had been sparring a straight-backed amateur.”

Next up was Johnson, and again Hrgovic impressed but this time he did not dazzle. Variety is not a strong point and Diaz will know now that his man needs work on his left hook and serious work on his feinting, which is almost non-existent.

Hrgovic likes one plane of attack, one-two, at distance. This combination is highly evolved, however. He goes up and down, he has a short cross, a wild looking overhand right in the style of Deontay Wilder and a straight right-hand down the pipe behind that busy jab. People have derided this final punch as “slow”. This is not entirely accurate and while his hand speed is not dizzying, his mechanics are excellent and therefore the right hand is heading in as near behind the jab as is technically possible. This is important because it barracks his greatest asset: his accuracy.

Hrgovic is already wasting very little. Johnson is no longer the fighter that extended Vitali Klitschko the full distance back in 2009 but equally, Hrgovic was clearly landing at a higher rate than the deadly Vitali. Hrgovic hardly missed Johnson with a serious punch. The fighters who were his equal in this attribute after seven professional fights who are currently active are also both on the pound-for-pound list.

Stylistically, he’s going to struggle with someone really good at closing the distance to mid-range, say a Luis Ortiz type, and he is fortunate that modern interpretation of the rules has all but eliminated the great in-fighter, but anyone who remains at his preferred range, outside, is going to be in for a tough night. The very best would be able to outbox him though, and the very best are in possession of the titles and the top contender spots.

This is the big problem with Hrgovic’s “I’m coming for all the belts” statement.  His ambition is to be admired and by December 2019 he could be 10-0 and ranked among the ten best heavyweight on the planet; indeed, he has already started to pop up on some of the less reputable ABC rankings. But however many times he fights next year the heavyweight timeline for 2019 basically looks like Wilder-Fury II and Joshua against the winner of Whyte-Chisora in the first part of the year, with the winners from those fights squaring off in London around November.

Whatever kind of 2019 Hrgovic has, he’s beginning it behind both Oleksandr Usyk and Jarrell Miller and, when the dust settles, is likely to remain so given the way Eddie Hearn continues to corner the market.

So a title shot in 2019 is not just premature physically – Hrgovic needs to work on the left hand, defense and feinting as well as stamina, never having gone past the eighth – but politically.  March 2020 is the earliest he could hope to visit a title ring and even then probably only if Wilder emerges on top of the pile.

What Hrgovic should be gunning for by the end of 2019 is the loser of Chisora-Whyte, perhaps on a London undercard.  If he prefers the United States, his eventual target should be Jarrell Miller and that would be obtainable come the end of next year.

The main reason I make Hrgovic the one to watch however, is that in 2019 we are going to find out about him. It might not be “his year”, it really might not be, but, it will be the year we find out if he can take a punch.

If he has the heart to carry him to the top.

If he’s real.

And that’s a prospect I’m rather looking forward to.

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