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Top Line 105lb Clash Fails to Satisfy as Niyomtrong Edges Rojas

Matt McGrain

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Niyomtrong v Rojas

While the usual hysteria surrounds the forthcoming match between the second and third best heavyweights in the world, a meeting between the second and third best minimumweight fighters passed with considerably less fanfare in Chonburi, Thailand today, as Thai Thammanoon Niyomtrong (also known, understandably, by the catchier name “Knockout CP Freshmart”) defeated Byron Rojas, out of Nicaragua over twelve rounds in a rematch of their unsatisfactory 2016 encounter.

Unsatisfactory only in that it featured numerous clinches instigated by Niyomtrong in a poorly refereed contest that saw an ABC strap pass from the Nicaraguan to the Thai in circumstances which, if not quite objectionable, were questionable.

The intervening years had seen an abuse of the bauble Niyomtrong carried as obscene as anything observed at the higher weights; in five defenses the Thai matched only one fighter who could arguably have been named among the best ten fighters in the world in his weight class, his 2018 defense against Chinaman Chaozhong Xiong, who could, at an absolute stretch, be seen as elite.

That fight aside, Niyomtrong has happily tread water and absorbed currency.

Rojas, meanwhile, has fared little or no better, his two round defeat of 15-14 journeyman Eddy Castro likely as low as either man has stooped in protecting status and engineering a rematch that remained of interest.

That interest was drawn because it would settle the claimant for the #2 spot behind the clear world’s best at the 105lb limit, Wanheng Menayothin, who famously overhauled Floyd Mayweather’s 50-0. Menayothin is now wielding the paper record of 52-0 with his most recent victory over a fighter named Mekiston Marganti who boasts a ledger of 2-10-1 by BoxRec.

Minimumweight is a more complex disaster than almost every other division.

Niyomtrong, then, has supplied some much needed clarity with a twelve round decision over Rojas and this time it is likely indisputable that he deserved the victory.

The Thai’s big problem in his last contest with Rojas was his slow start and the impression that this slow start only wavered when Rojas began to struggle for fitness. Fresh from a victory over the legitimate Hekkie Budler, Rojas was favored to win that fight, so when Niyomtrong  began to close the gap as the rounds elapsed, stamina was a handy alibi, and one not without merit. In truth though, Niyomtrong  is a difficult fighter to box. Powerful if not as concussive as his now inexplicable moniker of “Knockout” seems, he is rough, expert on the inside, and qualified in slowing a fight to the desired pace. Add, yes, his almost perpetual home-advantage and you have a recipe for dominance at the poundage.

So it proved for Rojas, who was able to recreate portions of his fast early start from their first contest but who appeared to succumb both to an inherent inability to sustain a fast pace that he himself sets and who also remains vulnerable to Niyomtrong’s vicious body-attack which was perhaps the outstanding feature of the first third of the fight.

Come the fourth, the clinches began, and with them, Niyomtrong’s dominance. Rojas’ superiority, brief and such as it was, was fed by space. Niyomtrong denied it and with a sense of inevitability that made his absence of panic in the first two rounds more understandable. Niyomtrong  knew where he was headed and it was exactly where he had been in their first contest.

While it would be an exaggeration to call his edge irresistible, it was consistently enough for him to edge narrow rounds throughout the central part of the contest; however, Niyomtrong faded dramatically in the final two rounds, faded fast enough that it seemed a bizarre and unearned victory. The Nicaraguan bombed and surged his way through those final two rounds, while Niyomtrong  gave ground and tried for clinical counterpunches that his heart was no longer behind. The final bell was a clear relief to him in what had been a hotly contested and rambunctious if untidy contest.

The judges rendered the bout 116-112, 115-113 and 117-111 for Niyomotrong.

The result leaves Niyomtrong  and Menayothin the clear top two in the division.  One might imagine this would make for an easy showdown at the lightest of all the weight limits, two Thais meeting for superiority in a weight class they traditionally hold sway in.  Unfortunately this is not the case.  Menayothin has literally no preference as to who he faces, allowing a promoter keen to milk all the cash he can from his charge to make all fistic decisions; Niyomtrong, too, seems content to minimize risk, his clashes with Rojas, for all that they are meaningful, the single glaring exception to a rule he has held to for a number of years.

Best for boxing would have been a Rojas victory.  But bitterness is unreasonable given that boxing’s ills are self inflicted.  Both Menayothin and Niyomtrong, somehow, are allowed to call themselves champions.  Why risk diminished earnings by setting that status on the line against a live opponent?

Still, hope springs eternal, and promotional rivalries do not last forever.  That a great fight can be made is the first requirement for a great fight and these two Thais fulfill that requirement, if nothing else.  Seeing them in a ring together is unlikely, but it is not impossible.

In the meantime these two potentially great rivals must, somehow, content themselves with treading water in exact proximity to one another.

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Jim Gray, To His Discredit, is Too Often ‘The Story’

Ted Sares

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Showtime’s widely-connected Jim Gray is the ultimate networker, insider, and friend to the stars (from Jack Nicholson to Kobe Bryant to LeBron James to Tom Brady and everyone in between—or almost everyone). He has won more awards than Carter has pills, a list that includes 12 National Emmy Awards, and he even has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was named as one of the 50 Greatest Sports Broadcasters of All-Time by David Halberstam and last year he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

For an interesting read about Jim and his complex but important interconnections, see “The Zelig of Sports,” by Bryan Curtiss, dated June 24, 2016. https://www.theringer.com/2016/6/24/16043100/jim-gray-is-looking-for-his-next-exclusive-fc23ceb544e

However, as noted by “Sports Media Watch” writer and editor Paulsen (no first name) and others, Gray has become The Story on too many occasions and that’s a no-no in his line of work.

In boxing, Gray’s condescending and confrontational style was on display as far back as 2001 when he interviewed Kostya Tszyu in the ring following Tszyu’s defeat of Oktay Urkal at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut. As Gray was beginning his routine, the “Thunder From Down Under” grabbed the mic and quickly told Gray “Do not be rude to me.”

Many years later, after Juan Manuel Lopez had just been knocked silly by Orlando “Siri” Salido, a bizarre post-fight interview ensued during which Lopez accused referee Roberto Ramirez and his son Roberto Ramirez Jr (who was the third man for the first Salido-Lopez fight) of having gambling problems.

Lopez was arguably still on Queer Street, but that didn’t stop Gray. Eager to catch someone off guard, as is his wont, Gray managed to get “Juanma” to say more than enough to get himself suspended while Gray went on to induction into the IBHOF

There have been many other incidents including James Toney dominating Gray in an interview after the Holyfield-Toney fight. Jim never had a chance. “Don’t come up here and try to give me no badass questions,” James warned Gray.before knocking the mic out of Gray’s hands..

The fact is Gray had built up a litany of edgy if not downright embarrassing moments. His most infamous came in 1999 during game two of the World Series.

During the game, Pete Rose, barred from baseball but still a fan favorite, was introduced as a member of the Major League All-Century Team as the crowd went wild. Then the ever-opportunistic Gray launched a series of questions regarding allegations that Rose’s had gambled on major league baseball games.

Gray was unrelenting. Finally, Pete cut it off, saying, “This is a prosecutor’s brief, not an interview, and I’m very surprised at you. I am, really.” Later on, New York Yankee outfielder Chad Curtis, who won Game 3 with a walk off homer, refused Gray’s request for an interview as a show of unity with Rose. (Jim Gray’s complete interview with Pete Rose can be found in Gray’s Wikipedia entry. Gray was somewhat vindicated in 2004 when Rose came clean and admitted that he had bet on baseball.)

Fast Forward

After the scintillating Wilder-Breazeale fight this past week in Brooklyn’s Barclay Center, Luis Ortiz bounded into the ring during the post-fight interviews and Gray shoved the mic in his face without so much as a hello and shouted “when do you want to fight Wilder?” Ortiz wanted to focus on what had just occurred in the ring, but he never had a chance. Gary continued to badger him about future fights and thus the fans did not get to hear what Ortiz had to say about the fight.

But what was far worse was when Dominic Breazeale waved Gray away as the commentator walked towards the badly beaten fighter. Gray was stopped by a member of Breazeale’s camp and he quickly got the message that he was persona non grata in the Breazeale corner. Previously, and within Dominic’s earshot, Gray had said to Wilder “the public does not want to see you fight people like Breazeale, the public does not want to see Joshua fight Ruiz, the public does not want to see whoever this guy is fighting Tyson Fury.”

There may be truth in what Jim said, but there was a better way to say it and a better place to say it. The man just got knocked senseless in front of his family and friends, Jim, show him some respect!

Photo credit: Tom Casino / SHOWTIME

Ted Sares is a member of Ring 8, 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). He is an active power lifter and Strongman competitor in the Grand Master class and is competing in 2019.

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More Heavyweight Boxing On Tap This Weekend (Odds Review)

Miguel Iturrate

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heavyweights

The heavyweights are out there bucking for position as the weight class has more possibilities than we have seen in years. Three heavyweight fights have gotten attention at the sports books for this coming Saturday, May 26.

Manchester hosts the return of Tyson Fury’s cousin Hughie Fury (21-2). Fury (shown displaying his Lonsdale belt) is smaller, less technical and less interesting than his bombastic cousin, but at 24 years old there is still plenty of time for him to become a player.

September of 2017 saw Hughie Fury lure WBO world champion Joseph Parker to Manchester. Fury was coming off a 17 month layoff and lost a majority decision where one judge called the fight a draw. Fury went 1-1 in 2018, losing an October outing to Bulgarian contender Kubrat Pulev in Sofia. Having gone 1-2 in his last three outings puts Fury in the “dire need of a win” category and from the look of the odds for this fight, the matchmakers have not made a mistake in choosing an opponent.

Providing the opposition is Canada’s Chris Norrad who is 17-0 but is stepping up onto a much bigger stage than he is used to. Norrad has never fought outside of regional shows in central Canada, and with just 8 KO’s, he doesn’t seem to pose much of a threat. There are levels to this game and Fury and his training level and partners are enough reason to count Norrad out. The odds are below.

Victoria Warehouse – Manchester, England – Saturday, May 25, 2019

Heavyweight 12 rounds –
Chris Norrad  +2000
Hughie Fury  -5000

DAZN is at the MGM in Oxon Hill, Maryland and two heavyweight 10-rounders on that card are also worth keeping an eye on despite the odds indicating complete crush matches.

Former cruiserweight contender Michael Hunter (16-1) gets his fifth bout in as a heavyweight when he faces 26-2 Brazilian Fabio Maldonado.

Hunter’s name emerged as one of the front runners to replace Jarrell Miller against Anthony Joshua on June 1st, but Joshua and company opted to face Andy Ruiz Jr instead.

Maldonado built his record up to 26-0 before dropping his last two. The Brazilian workhorse also has a 26-13 record in MMA and UFC fans may remember the gritty Maldonado as a guy who always gave his all and wound up bloody. He last fought MMA in December of 2018, so he still qualifies as a two sport athlete, but as he approaches 40 with a lot of wear and tear on his body, he appears to just be grabbing paydays at this point in both sports.

MGM National Harbor – Oxon Hill, Maryland – Saturday, May 25, 2019

Heavyweight 10 rounds –
Fabio Maldonado  +1600
Michael Hunter  -4000

Also scheduled for a 10-round bout is Croatia’s 26-year-old prospect Filip Hrgovic (7-0), who faces 15-1 Gregory Corbin of the USA. Hrgovic won an Olympic Bronze Medal at the 2016 games in Rio and he boasts an amateur background of nearly 100 fights. A good sign that he is trying to fast track his career is the fact that he has never faced a fighter with a losing record as his opponents are a combined 147-34-3.

Corbin’s lone loss came this past March when he was DQ’d for hitting Charles Martin with too many low blows. Prior to that, the Texan had faced largely regional competition and the books have made him a huge underdog against Hrgovic.

Heavyweight 10 rounds. –
Gregory Corbin  +2000
Filip Hrgovic  -5000

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Looking at the Heavyweight Calendar (Odds Review)

Miguel Iturrate

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Joshua vs Ruiz

This past Saturday night saw Deontay Wilder’s WBC world heavyweight title defense against Dominic Breazeale go down on Showtime. The fight lasted just 137 seconds as Wilder floored Breazeale with a cannonball of a right hand to end the night early.

With Wilder out of the way, Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr is up next. They meet June 1st at Madison Square Garden. Two weeks later, on the 15th of June, ESPN+ will deliver Tyson Fury vs Tom Schwarz, so fight fans will get a look at all three members of the “Big Three” all in a month’s time.

Wilder’s erasure of Breazeale this past weekend sent a message to the rest of the division as well as giving him a highlight reel to show during upcoming negotiations. Wilder entered a strong -1000 favorite at the sportsbooks for this fight.

Check out our pre-fight review of the Wilder vs Breazeale odds right here at TSS –

http://tss.ib.tv/boxing/featured-articles/57588-wilder-vs-breazeale-odds-review

Looking forward, the odds posted for Joshua and Fury’s upcoming tussles are even less competitive. Let’s take a look at what the books are giving us as we await the two big Brits fighting in the USA.

Madison Square Garden – New York City – Saturday, June 1, 2019

Heavyweight 12 rounds –

Andy Ruiz Jr +1500 Over 6½ +100

Anthony Joshua -3000 Under 6½ -130

Ruiz Jr is 32-1 overall with his lone loss coming at the hands of Joseph Parker in a failed WBO world title bid. That same WBO belt is now in the hands of Joshua as are the WBA and IBF belts.

Joshua was a big favorite over Jarrell Miller, his original opponent, who was denied a license in New York after testing positive for a buffet of steroids. Ruiz Jr took the fight with less than a full training camp, but you have to believe that he is going to come in highly motivated. Ruiz Jr has been caught at a different type of buffet, the all-you-can-eat kind, but even when in the best of shape his body type isn’t “poster boy material.” Miller was big and bulky as well, but he was a near 300 pounder whereas Ruiz Jr will come in between 250 and 260 pounds, which is right around Joshua’s size. Rather than slaying a 300-pound giant, he is facing a guy who is shorter and fatter than him, making it very hard for Joshua to look great on paper.

At +1500 will people bite on Ruiz Jr? He is more experienced than Miller and he is probably a better fighter overall and though he is facing a formidable champion, Joshua is not a finished product. Perhaps Joshua will be chasing an early finish, feeling the pressure of Wilder’s performance, and if so will he make a mistake that Ruiz can exploit? We are roughly 10 days from finding out.

MGM Grand Garden – Las Vegas, Nevada – Saturday, June 15, 2019

Heavyweight 12 rounds –

Tom Schwarz +1800 Over 9½ -105

Tyson Fury -3600 Under 9½ -125

Tyson Fury closes out the run of top heavyweights with a very deliberately chosen showcase fight against Tom Schwarz. Schwarz is 24 years old and 24-0 but he is a fighter who has come up on the regional German scene and as the old boxing cliche goes, there are levels to this game.

Former contender David Haye mounted a 2016 comeback, booking fights against Mark De Mori (30-1-2) and Arnold Gjergjaj (29-0). It took Haye precisely 6:42 to dispose of both of them, and though Fury is a completely different beast than Haye, the level difference between he and Schwarz may be even as striking.

Wilder has gotten through his “challenge” and if Fury and Joshua also emerge as winners as expected, it will leave several open questions –

– Will Fury vs Wilder 2 happen first, or will Wilder vs Joshua go down first? Could Joshua and Fury meet and freeze Wilder out?

And….

– Will we see any of these fights take place in 2019?

If Joshua or Fury stumble, it will only add to the chaos in the heavyweight division. But if the professional oddsmakers know anything, it isn’t likely to happen.

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