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Maybe Bivol-Pascal Can Make For One More Legendary Night of Boxing on HBO

Bernard Fernandez

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Movie people have their “wrap parties,” partly festive but also partly somber, to mark the end of filming for a shared undertaking that might or might not become a box-office smash and meet with critical acclaim. But while many of the actors and crew can be expected to move on to another project, for some workers in an industry that offers no lifetime guarantees there is always the nagging doubt that maybe this might be the dropping of a final curtain, a farewell to the glamor and excitement of something that had become such a major part of their lives.

Technically, Saturday night’s HBO-televised matchup of WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol (14-0, 11 KOs) and former WBC 175-pound titlist Jean Pascal (33-5-1, 20 KOs) at Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is not the premium-cable company’s farewell to boxing, a sport with which it has been affiliated for 45-plus mostly glorious years. HBO, which for so long advised fight fans that it was the “heart and soul of boxing,” has one more date on its 2018 calendar, Dec. 8 from Carson, Calif., a Boxing After Dark telecast which will be marked by its very late nod toward women’s boxing, with bouts pitting undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus (34-0, 9 KOs) of Norway vs. Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopez (18-4-3, 1 KO) of Poland and two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields (7-0, 2 KOs), holder of three middleweight title belts, taking on WBO super middleweight champ Femke Hermans (9-1, 3 KOs) of Belgium. But for boxing purists who have been with HBO since its dramatic entry into boxing, in which George Foreman knocked down heavyweight champion Joe Frazier six times en route to a second-round TKO victory on Jan. 22, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica, Bivol-Pascal undoubtedly will have the feel of the somber side of a wrap party.

HBO publicists are advising inquiring media minds that Jim Lampley, the longtime blow-by-blow voice of HBO World Championship Boxing, will not be taking questions about the curtain that is dropping and will thus mark the end of an era. Even the 36-year-old Pascal seems to have one foot out the door, with the fight against Pascal described in some quarters as being part of his “farewell tour,” although a return to his best form and an upset of Bivol, 27, a native of Kyrgyzstan who now resides in St. Petersburg, Russia, might extend his long goodbye in the manner of Cher, whose own farewell concert tour seemingly has been going on for 20 years.

But for every ending there must be a beginning, just as every death is counterbalanced by a birth elsewhere. Boxing on HBO and possibly Pascal, should he lose as anticipated, might be heading toward the exit but Bivol and his promoter, Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, profess to be excited by the first marquee bout showcasing a champion who has yet to fully grab the world’s attention. If there are to be no “legendary nights” for HBO in boxing in 2019 – that was the 2003 working title for 12-hour-long celebrations of great fights which had been televised by the network and helped cement its status as the sport’s primary outlet — maybe Bivol can create one for himself in as electric a way as Foreman introduced himself to a wider audience by dousing “Smokin’ Joe’s” fire in Jamaica.

“The next big step in Dmitry’s career, moving up to the main event for the first time,” Duva said in assessing the opportunity being afforded the new headliner of her promotional stable. “Nobody ever became a star on the undercard. This is the beginning of a journey.”

With or without HBO having skin in the game, Bivol and scads of other elite or mostly so practitioners of the pugilistic arts will not lack for opportunities to demonstrate their wares. TV boxing is busting out all over, with well-financed and committed joiners to the party serving to further diminish the HBO brand which had been in decline for several years.

Since August, blockbuster deals to provide boxing content were announced by British promoter Eddie Hearn, who has a $1 billion war chest to televise fights over the next eight years over DAZN (pronounced Da Zone), a new digital platform; Top Rank founder Bob Arum, who reached an agreement with ESPN to televise 54 fight cards on its various outlets over the next seven years, and Fox Sports, which is coming aboard for four years in partnership with Premier Boxing Champions. And Showtime, for so long cast as the second banana to HBO in premium-cable boxing, remains a player at the highest levels, with 22 shows in 2018 and the expressed intention to build on that number in the year ahead.

Faced with shrinking viewership at a time when a host of competitors were initiating or ramping up their boxing coverage, HBO, unlike, say, one of its longtime boxing anchors, the late, great Arturo Gatti, decided to quit on its stool rather than to buckle down and fight harder. In his Sept. 27 announcement that HBO would cease coverage of boxing in 2019, HBO Sports president 37-year-old Peter Nelson, who was nearly a decade away from being born the night that Foreman demolished Frazier, acknowledged that the low and getting lower ratings for boxing no longer justified the company’s continued involvement.

“This is not a subjective decision,” Nelson said. “Our audience research informs us that boxing is no longer a determinant factor for subscribers to HBO.”

Some years back, when HBO had only 15 million or so subscribers, it regularly featured such superstars of the ring as Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., Alexis Arguello, Aaron Pryor, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe and Foreman. It was not unusual for bouts involving fighters of that magnitude to be watched by up to a third of the network’s subscribers. Now with 40 million subscribers, HBO boxing telecasts were averaging only 820,000 viewers, or about 2 percent of the total audience.

In an article in the New York Times, Nelson cited these depressing numbers as justification for HBO pulling the plug on boxing. Although Bivol-Pascal and the women’s twin bill were later added, the final HBO boxing telecast was to have been Daniel Jacobs’ 12-round split decision over Sergiy Derevyanchenko for the vacant IBF middleweight title at Madison Square Garden. No disrespect to Jacobs, Shields or Braekhus, but none qualify as the sort of can’t-miss TV as represented by some of the aforementioned household names who drew in viewers like metal objects to a strong magnet.

It has been theorized that the downfall of HBO boxing began with the departure of key executives Seth Abraham and Lou DiBella. Perhaps it was the slashing of HBO’s budget for boxing, making for fewer telecasts and less gifted, less popular fighters on the shows that were staged. Maybe it’s several factors that came into play in a witch’s brew of preordained calamity, no single one in and of itself capable of bringing down a giant but lethal when combined.

Larry Merchant, 87, the erudite former newspaperman who served as a commentator for HBO Boxing for 35 years until his retirement in December 2012, cited the natural progression and regression of a longtime fighter as a parallel to what is taking place with his former employer.

“I’m sad,” Merchant said from his home in Santa Monica, Calif. “But I was part of something that worked out well for me for 35 years. The way I put it, we were a good-looking prospect, then a challenger, a champion, a great champion, a long-time champion. Then we were an ex-champion, a has-been and, finally, retired. All I can say is so long.”

It is a given that Bivol-Pascal can’t possibly approach the drama of Foreman-Frazier I so many years ago, but it would be fitting and proper if they rooted around inside themselves to find the right stuff to help HBO to the kind of sendoff its rich history merits. The possibility for a good fight certainly exists, and each man has something of value he hopes to come away with.

For Bivol, who claimed the WBA crown when he knocked out Australia’s Trent Broadhurst on Feb. 23, 2017, in Monte Carlo, it is the chance for the quiet Russian to possibly announce himself as the best light heavyweight presently on the scene, what with Andre Ward retired and countryman Sergey Kovalev coming off a devastating seventh-round knockout loss to Eleider Alvarez on Aug. 4, also at the Hard Rock. (WBC champ Adonis Stevenson is still around, of course, but he’s 41 and notoriously judicious in his selection of opponents.)

Bivol also appeared on that HBO-televised Kovalev-Alvarez undercard, but in a supporting role, scoring a 12-round unanimous decision over South Africa’s Isaac Chilemba.

“Of course I am glad (to be in the main event),” Bivol said. “It means I am on the right way in my career. But every time I went into the ring I feel that I should show all my skills, all my best. It doesn’t matter now that it is my first (time atop the card). Every time I feel that responsibility. I want to prove to everybody with every fight that I am one of the best in my division.”

Truth be told, it was Bivol’s hope that he would instead be facing Kovalev in a unification matchup that would be of more obvious consequence than the fight with Pascal, whose best days might be behind him. But Kovalev relinquished his WBO belt to Alvarez, necessitating a change in plans.

“It was a little unfortunate because we know each other and have common friends,” Bivol said of his anticipation of the possible go at Kovalev that went by the boards. “We’ve boxed before. It is not pleasant to see someone you know, an acquaintance, go down like that. I thought he was going to win the fight. There was talk of us possibly fighting next, so that kind of fell apart. I was a little disappointed.”

Pascal wants to refute any notion that he is no longer a factor, even as he acknowledges that the end of his career might be coming sooner rather than later.

“I know that they picked me because they think they can beat me,” he said. “But it’s okay,  it’s part of the sport. This is the story of my life, to be the underdog. I was the underdog when I faced Chad Dawson. I won that fight. So I know what I have to do and what I’m capable of doing.”

First bell at the Hard Rock is at 6 p.m. The HBO telecast begins at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.

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Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia Wins in LA (is Manny Next?) and Undercard Results

David A. Avila

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Garcia

CARSON, Calif.-Former two division champion Danny “Swift” Garcia had too much firepower for Adrian Granados and simply overwhelmed the gritty fighter from Chicago before winning by knockout on Saturday.

No world title was at stake but future prizes were.

Philly fighter Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) had predicted he would mow through Granados (20-7-2) who was moving up in weight again for this fight and was just too heavy handed before a crowd of more than 6,000 at the Dignity Health Sports Park. The PBC card was televised by FOX.

After a casual exchange of punches in the first round Garcia started bringing the thunder in the second round and connected with a double left hook to the body and a left hook to the head of Granados. The blows resounded throughout the arena and drew oohs from the crowd. Then Garcia caught Granados with a counter left hook that sent Granados sprawling across the ring. He got up and beat the count. Another exchange saw Garcia land a counter right cross and down went the Chicago fighter. He beat the count again but looked hurt. He survived the end of the round.

Garcia stalked Granados who moved more cautiously for the next two rounds but was still catching rights.

In the fifth round a straight right floored Granados while he was against the ropes. He survived the round again.

Granados tried every move he could think to change the momentum but nothing seemed to work. In the sixth both fought inside but Garcia soon began pummeling Granados with the referee looking closely. He allowed the fight to continue into the seventh round but checked with the corner twice.

With the crowd murmuring, Garcia gave chase to Granados and caught him near the ropes with a lead right and another right before unleashing a four-punch barrage. Referee Tom Taylor jumped in and stopped the beating at 1:33 of the seventh round to give Garcia the win by knockout.

Philadelphia’s Garcia had won in Southern California once again. He had beaten Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero by decision three years ago in Los Angeles.

“This is what makes Danny Garcia one of the best fighters in the world,” said Garcia. “I had to be the first man to stop him and I did that today.”

The win puts Garcia as a strong candidate to face multi-divisional world champion Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao who now holds the WBO welterweight world title.

“I hope I didn’t scare him away. Frankly I would love that fight or Keith Thurman or Errol Spence,” Garcia said.

Other Bouts

Brandon Figueroa (19-0) of Texas rumbled to a knockout win over Venezuela’s Yonfrez Parejo (22-4-1) to win the interim WBA super bantamweight title. The battle was fought mostly inside, forehead to forehead, but surprisingly, neither fighter suffered cuts from butts.

Figueroa and Parejo slugged it out inside until the sixth round when Parejo took the fight outside and scored well from distance. But Figueroa kept hunting him down and digging to the body and head. Finally, in the eighth round Figueroa began catching the moving Parejo with digging shots that seemed to affect the Venezuelan boxer. At the end of the round Parejo signaled he had enough.

Figueroa was deemed the winner by knockout.

“Honestly I thought I was going to finish him the next round,” said Figueroa.

California’s Andy “the Destroyer” Ruiz (32-1) won by knockout over Germany’s much taller Alexander Dimitrenko (41-5) in a heavyweight fight set for 10 rounds. Despite the size disparity Ruiz was the aggressor throughout and attacked the body with punishing blows. In the third round Ruiz almost ended the fight when Dimitrenko was severely hurt. After the end of the fifth round Dimitrenko’s cornered signaled the fight was over and referee Ray Corona waved it off. Ruiz wins by knockout as the crowd cheered loudly.

Ruiz was recently signed by PBC and may have found a home more suited for his weight division. It was his first fight under the PBC banner.

“I’m ready for the next one, I kind of seen that coming,” said Ruiz who admitted to eating a Snickers for energy. “The game plan was dropping the body down.”

Alfredo “El Perro” Angulo (25-7, 21 KOs) used the trusty knockout to win for the first time in four years. The victim was Evert Bravo (24-10-1) a super middleweight from Colombia who had his own losing streak like Angulo.

Both punished each other with hard combinations the first round, but in the second frame Angulo found his rhythm and fired a barrage of blows that left Bravo slumped along the ropes. Referee Rudy Barragan stopped the fight at 1:23 of the second round to give Angulo his first victory since he defeated Hector Munoz at the Staples Center on August 2015. He now trains with Abel Sanchez in Big Bear.

“I found a good coach,” said Angulo.

More than 1,000 fans remained to see Angulo perform long after the Garcia-Granado’s main event. He’s still a draw, especially in Southern California.

Former US Olympian Carlos Balderas (8-0, 7 KOs) stopped Luis May (21-14-1) with a barrage of blows in the fourth round of their lightweight clash. Balderas knocked down May several times but the crafty May used every means to survive including multiple low blows. Finally, at 1:07 of round four, Balderas unleashed several blows that saw May go down and a towel was thrown from his corner. Referee Ray Corona stopped the fight.

Fontana, California’s Raymond Muratalla (7-0) floored Mexico’s Jose Cen Torres (13-12) three times in the third round to win by knockout at 2:58 of the round in a super lightweight bout. Muratalla dropped Torres with a short right uppercut for the first knockdown. A right to the body sent Torres down a second time. A double right cross delivered Torres down a final time as referee Ray Corona immediately stopped the fight.

Las Vegas fighter Rolando Romero (9-0, 8 KOs) knocked out Colombia’s Andres Figueroa (9-5, 5 KOs) with a left hook during an exchange of blows at 1:27 of the fourth round in their lightweight scrap. Figueroa landed with a thud and was unconscious for several minutes and sent to the hospital.

Denver’s Shon Mondragon (2-0) battered Mexico’s Hugo Rodriguez (0-4) in the third round forcing referee Eddie Hernandez to end the fight at 1:55 of round three in a super bantamweight match.

Nelson Hampton (5-2) of Texas beat Phillip Bounds (0-3) by decision after lightweight fight.

Other winners were Jeison Rosario by split decision over Jorge Cota in a super welterweight fight. Omar Juarez beat Dwayne Bonds by decision in a super lightweight bout. Featherweights Ricky Lopez and Joe Perez fought to a draw after 10 rounds.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Fast Results From NYC: Crawford TKOs Khan but not Without Controversy

Arne K. Lang

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Crawford vs Khan

Amir Khan, who doesn’t shy away from tough assignments, was in New York tonight opposing WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford, a man who is on everyone’s short list of boxing’s top pound-for-pound fighters. The general assumption was that Khan had the slickness to win a few rounds but that his chin would ultimately betray him.

Khan won one round at the most — and that’s being generous – before the bout was stopped after 47 seconds of the sixth frame with Khan in pain from a low blow. Referee David Fields stopped the action to allow Khan to recover and then stopped the fight on the advice of the ring doctor with the apparent encouragement of Khan’s trainer Virgil Hunter. Because the low blow was accidental, Crawford was declared the winner by TKO.

It appeared that this fight would end in a hurry. In the opening round, Crawford decked Khan with an overhand right. Khan got to his feet but was in distress and for a moment it didn’t appear that he would last out the round. But Crawford did not press his advantage in round two and Khan regained his composure.

Crawford was in complete control when the fight ended, having raked Khan with combinations and a series of body punches in the fourth and fifth stanzas. Although the final punch of the fight was way south of the border, Khan’s refusal to continue was widely seen as an act of surrender. After the bout, Crawford called out Errol Spence.

PPV Undercard

Lightweight Teofimo Lopez, whose highlight reel knockouts and brash demeanor have made him arguably the most exciting young prospect in boxing, found a new way to conclude a fight tonight, collapsing Edis Tatli in the fifth round with a body punch. Lopez, who was born in Brooklyn and raised in a suburb of Miami (his parents are from Honduras and Spain), improved to 13-0 with his 11th knockout. Tatli, a Kosovo-born Finn making his U.S. debut, suffered his third loss in 34 starts. A two-time European lightweight champion, Tatli hadn’t previously been stopped.

Fast rising featherweight contender Shakur Stevenson, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Newark, simply outclassed former world title challenger Christopher Diaz, winning the 10-round bout on scores of 100-90, 99-91, and 98-82. The 21-year-old southpaw, now 11-0, was too fast and too busy for his Puerto Rican adversary who fell to 24-2.

In the first of the four PPV bouts, lightweight Felix Verdejo won a unanimous 10-round decision over Bryan Vasquez. Verdejo, a 2012 Olympian for Puerto Rico once touted as the island’s next Felix Trinidad, was returning to the site where he suffered his lone defeat, succumbing to heavy underdog Antonio Lozada whose unrelenting aggression ultimately wore him down, resulting in a 10th round stoppage.

Vasquez appeared to injure his left shoulder near the midpoint of the battle, an advantage to Verdejo, now 25-1, who started slowly but outworked Vasquez down the stretch, winning by scores of 98-92 and 97-93 twice. Costa Rica’s Vasquez, the husband of prominent boxer Hanna Gabriels, falls to 37-4.

Other Bouts

 Super welterweight Carlos Adames, who hails from the Dominican Republic but has been training with Robert Garcia in Riverside, California, made a strong impression with a 4th round stoppage of Brooklyn’s Frank Galarza. The undefeated Adames, now 17-0 (14 KOs), knocked Galarza (20-3-2) to the canvas with a hard left hook and then went for the kill, pinning Galarza against the ropes with a series of unanswered punches that compelled referee Benjy Estevez to intervene. The official time was 1:07.

 Super welterweight Edgar Berlanga, a 21-year-old New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, needed only 46 seconds to dismiss 38-year-old Brazilian trail horse Samir dos Santos. Berlanga, who began his pro career in Mexico, has now knocked out all 10 of his opponents in the opening round.

Super welterweight Vikas Krishan, a two-time Olympian, improved to 2-0 with a 6-round unanimous decision over Noah Kidd (3-2-1). The scores were 59-55 and 60-54 twice.

A 27-year-old southpaw who as a job waiting for him as a police officer, Krishan is the second notable boxer to emerge from India, following on the footsteps of Top Rank stablemate Vijender Singh.

Bantamweight Lawrence Newton, a Floridian who has been training at Terence Crawford’s gym in Omaha, won his 12th straight without a loss with a 6-round unanimous decision over Jonathan Garza (7-3). The scores were 60-54 and 59-55 twice.

In a 6-round junior welterweight match that was one-sided but yet entertaining, Lawrence Fryers won a unanimous decision over Dakota Polley. Fryers, wh is from Ireland but resides in New York, improved to 10-1. The 20-year-old Polley, from St. Joseph, Missouri, fell to 5-3.

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Allen (KO 3) and Chisora (UD 10) Victorious in Heavyweight Action in London

Arne K. Lang

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Heavyweights Allen & Chisora win

A pair of heavyweight battles topped the card at London’s 02 Arena. Both favorites won, but neither bout played out as expected.

Fan favorite David Allen, a 27-year-old Yorkshireman, continued his ascent from the lower depths of the boxing firmament with a one-punch knockout of Australia’s  heavily-tattooed Lucas Browne. Allen caved in Browne with a body punch in the third round that brought a sudden end to a bout that the Aussie appeared to be winning.

Browne, who turned 40 this month, made history when he became the first Australian to win a world heavyweight title (WBA version) when he scored a 10th round stoppage of Ruslan Chagaev in Russia. But, in hindsight, that win was a fluke. A gassed-out Chagaev was widely ahead on the cards when his roof fell in. Browne’s tenure was brief. He was stripped of the belt after testing positive for clenbuterol.

Allen, nicknamed the White Rhino, has now won four straight beginning with an upset of previously undefeated Nick Webb. His reputation is that of a common brawler, a fighter willing to take two punches to land one, but, regardless, he positioned himself for a nice payday or two going forward. Browne lost his second straight after opening his career 28-0.

The maddeningly inconsistent Dereck Chisora, who engaged in two barnburners with Dillian Whyte, snoozed his way to a 10-round unanimous decision over milquetoast Senad Gashi. The 35-year-old Chisora, a Zinbabwe-born Londoner, improved to 30-9 but did nothing to improve his stock. The well-traveled Gashi, born in Kosovo and now residing in Spain, declined to 17-3 while acquiring the patina of a trial horse.

Other Bouts

Welterweight Josh Kelly, a 2016 Olympian, won a lopsided 10-round decision over stubborn Przemysla Runowski. Kelly (9-0, 6 KOs) had Runowski on the canvas in rounds two, nine, and 10, but the previously undefeated Pole (now 17-1, 3 KOs) stayed the course. Kelly appeared to hurt his hand early in the fight. That may knock him off the Joshua-TBA card on June 1 at Madison Square Garden.

Joe Cordina, a Welshman, now holds the British and Commonwealth lightweight titles after scoring a 6th round stoppage of Yorkshireman Andy Townend (22-5). Cordina started slowly but gradually picked up the pace and scored three knockdowns before the referee waived it off. A 2016 Olympian, Cordina (9-0, 7 KOs) was a heavy favorite despite a dearth of pro experience.

Conor Benn the 22-year-old son of Nigel Benn, was extended the distance for the third time in his last four fights but had little difficulty advancing his record to 14-0 (9) at the expense of Josef Zahradnik (10-3) of the Czech Republic. The referee awarded Benn every round in this 8-round welterweight affair.

Middleweight Nikita Ababiy, a hot prospect with a big upside, was extended into the second round for the first time in his young pro career but eliminated Dmitri Faltin after only 26 seconds of round two. A 20-year-old Brooklynite of Russian extraction, nicknamed White Chocolate, Ababiy (4-0) excelled in all manner of combat sports as teenager. In the ring he doesn’t pussyfoot around. He won his pro debut in 28 seconds. Faltin, a 37-year-old Finn, fell to 2-4-1.

John Harding Jr., a 34-year-old middleweight, improved to 7-0-1 with a one-sided 6-round decision over Miroslav Juna (1-2). A protégé of Dillian Whyte, Harding started his pro career late after serving several stints in prison.

Cruiserweight Sam Hyde (14-1-1, 7 KOs) rebounded from his first defeat in fine fashion, blowing out Slovakia’s Josef Jurko (5-2) in the opening round.

Super bantamweight Sam Cox (4-0) won a 4-round decision over Bulgaria’s Georgi Georgiev.

In a woman’s fight, British bantamweight Shannon Courtenay (2-0) outpointed Bulgaria’s Roz Mari Silyanova (1-5-1). The ref gave Courtenay all four rounds.

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