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Wilder Puts ‘Irrelevant’ Joshua on the Back Burner Until Further Notice

Bernard Fernandez

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Wilder vs Fury

It’s funny what a devastating 12th-round knockdown, a Lazarus-like rising from that knockdown and a controversial split draw can do to alter the current landscape of the heavyweight division, or at least some people’s perception of it.

Until late Saturday night – or very early Sunday morning for Showtime Pay Per View subscribers on the East Coast – WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua was the pivotal figure in heavyweight boxing, holder of three of the four widely recognized alphabet titles, the biggest box-office draw and the guy all the wannabe poachers of what Joshua possesses hoped to fight for pride, popularity and profit.

But that was before the mesmerizing standoff at Los Angeles’ Staples Center that changed everything, at least for the moment. A strident minority of on-site spectators and Showtime viewers came away believing that WBC champion Deontay Wilder, who registered the fight’s only two knockdowns, including the one in the final round that has become the stuff of instant legend, had done enough to come away with a come-from-behind victory. A just-as-argumentative majority supporting challenger and still-lineal-champ Tyson Fury is convinced that the massive Briton had built enough of a lead through the early and middle rounds to be rewarded with the decision. (Respondents to a Showtime viewer poll favored Fury by 65 percent to 35 percent.) But regardless of which side of the dividing line fans are on, apparently all of them, as well as the principals, now demand a final resolution to a conflict that produced no winner, but a raging tsunami of dispute.

An outcome that could and maybe should have been determined by the judges (Alejandro Rochin favored Wilder by 115-111, Robert Tapper had Fury by 114-112 and swing judge Phil Edwards saw it at 113-113) ultimately hinged on referee Jack Reiss’ allowing Fury, on the wrong end of that devastating 12th-round knockdown, to fight on after he somehow made it to his feet at the count of nine, seemingly with enough time remaining for the bull-rushing Wilder to finish him off. But Fury, amazingly, not only evaded the champion’s follow-up assault, but launched an improbable counter-attack that blunted Wilder’s momentum and had him holding on at the final bell.

It all made for high drama, as well as raising several questions. Was Reiss – a veteran whose work throughout the bout was praised by the Showtime broadcast crew – a bit slow on his count, as Wilder contends? And even if he wasn’t, would he have been justified in stopping a bout which more than a few other refs would have called then and there, what with a semi-conscious Fury laying on his back, unmoving, seemingly more in need of an ambulance than a reprieve?

“I don’t know how this man got up,” an incredulous Wilder said during a teleconference with the media on Tuesday. “(Fury) don’t even know how he got up. I feel that God got this man up, for the rematch.”

References to Lazarus and The Undertaker – that would be the WWE headliner, not a mortician, known for his dramatic rallies from the specter of imminent defeat – were rife from all concerned during the 50-minute session with the media, during which it was made clear that Wilder-Fury II will happen next, sometime in the spring of 2019 or possibly early summer, with Wilder-Joshua or Fury-Joshua, depending on the survivor of the rematch, moving to the back burner until further notice. Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), who seemingly had been holding a pat hand, would seem to have been dealt out of any immediate discussions involving highly lucrative matchups with Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs) or Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs). To Wilder, making Joshua wait constitutes justice of a sort, a penalty for arrogance that salves the disappointment of having had to settle for a draw, which usually leaves no one satisfied.

“I haven’t even thought about Joshua,” Wilder said when asked about the 800-pound gorilla in the room that apparently has been shunted to a corner. “They’re (Joshua and his promoter, Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn) getting what they deserve. They felt like they were the only people in the heavyweight division that people cared about. They felt like they were running this sport. We had to show them they’re not the only ones. Me and Fury came together to show the world what it looks like for the best to fight the best. Look at the outcome. No one has talked about Joshua in I don’t know how long. And we plan on keeping it that way.

“They had the opportunity. For four months they had their opportunity (to negotiate a full-unification showdown with Wilder). They led people on. It could have been me and Joshua to have this excitement going on. He could have had (Luis) Ortiz, he could have had Fury, he could have had me. But their egos got the best of them. So let them continue to fight the second-tier fighters. Who knows? We don’t care about them no more.”

To be fair, Joshua hasn’t spent 2018 sifting through the discard bin of possible opponents. His first fight this year was a unification with then-WBO champ Joseph Parker, whose title Joshua claimed on a 12-round unanimous decision on March 31 in Cardiff, Wales. He followed that up with a seventh-round stoppage of highly regarded Russian Alexander Povetkin on Sept. 22 in London. But with Wilder and Fury both seemingly unavailable for now, Joshua might have to settle on Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller (23-0-1, 20 KOs) as his first opponent of 2019. It’ll draw a big crowd somewhere in the United Kingdom, to be sure, but it won’t be as significant as Joshua-Wilder or Joshua-Fury would have been, or Wilder-Fury II will be.

“For us, the overriding priority is the health of the fighters,” Stephen Espinoza, president of Showtime Sports, said when asked for a possible date for the do-over. “That was a tough, tough fight. So we’re not going to rush anything to fit anything into a specific timetable. Both of those guys earned a long rest.

“May would be great. June would be great. April sounds a little quick to me. But it will happen, and it will happen at its natural time.”

Truth be told, Wilder-Fury was not without its faults. First and foremost was Wilder’s unshakable belief that he could blast Fury out of there as he had blasted almost everyone else out of there previously. As round after round tolled by, with Fury putting them into his account the way squirrels store acorns in preparation for winter, the “Bronze Bomber” seemed oblivious to the entreaties of trainers Mark Breland and Jay Deas to compose himself and diversify his one-note tactics.

“I definitely got overanxious to knock Tyson Fury out,” Wilder said. “I said I would do it, and I got very anxious to see the response and know I had the world’s attention. I didn’t know what to expect. This was my first time on pay-per-view. I know I had a lot of stuff going on. This was the moment and it got the best of me. I wanted to end it on a great note. I wanted to end it on a devastating knockout, and I pressed too much. I think I applied more pressure on myself than anything and it allowed me to get out of character, to just abandon the game plan.

“I was fighting against Tyson Fury and I was fighting against myself.”

Wilder broke through Fury’s commendable defense and his own obstinance in the ninth round, when he landed a chopping right hand to the back of the ear to floor the challenger for a nine-count. Fury regrouped to win the 10th and 11th rounds, setting the stage for the 12th round drama that elevated what had been a good heavyweight fight into something more meaningful and special. That pulverizing right hand landed first, augmented by a follow-up left hook, with the hulking Fury – all 6-foot-9 and 256½ pounds of him – falling hard, with the force of Wilder’s 1-2 supplemented by the way the back of Fury’s head struck the canvas. At that moment, Wilder had every reason to believe he had done exactly what he had been attempting to do all along, only later than he expected.

But Fury, the “Gypsy King,” made it to his feet before Reiss had completed the 10-count, maybe the most stunning turnaround from such an emphatic knockdown since Larry Holmes arose after having been decked by Earnie Shavers in the seventh round of their WBC heavyweight title fight on Sept. 28, 1979. Holmes went on to retain his title on an 11th-round stoppage.

“I’ve been having a recurring thought in my head since Saturday night about the commercials for the next fight,” said Wilder’s promoter, Lou DiBella, who also was on the call. “You know, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. A giant 6-foot-9 man went down like a tree and slammed into the canvas. And then popped up like The Undertaker! The look on Deontay’s face at that moment was like one of those scripted looks that you’d see in a WWE Wrestlemania match. He just saw a guy get up, and had no idea how that was possible. That’s a million buys for the next pay-per-view.”

The lead-up to Wilder-Fury II presumably will feature less trash-talking and more mutual respect, but the quotes should still be entertaining. Both men have outsized personalities that make for nifty sound bites and Internet click-bait. Wilder’s back story as an outcast Irish Traveller who rose to the top of his profession, plunged to the bottom in a morass of gluttony, cocaine bingeing and mental issues before righting himself, is as compelling as ever. And now we have both guys seeking to prove what they contended in the first place, that each is better than the other and only a definitive ending can bring the kind of closure that no draw ever can.

“We are the best in the division,” Wilder said of himself and Fury. “We wanted to prove to each other who is the best in the heavyweight division. We did that, and it was amazing. I’m ready to do it again. The fact that he did survive makes it better for the rematch. It’s an even playing ground. When I do knock him out the next time, then I want my full credit.

“Who knows? We might even have a trilogy.”

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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Did Jennings’ Loss Mark Arum’s Last Hope to Again Taste Heavyweight Glory?

Bernard Fernandez

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For someone who promotes two fighters who are widely considered to be the world’s pound-for-pound best, what took place Friday night at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, N.Y., had to be a somewhat bitter pill for Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum to swallow.

The good news for the 87-year-old Arum is that his fast-rising featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson (10-0, 6 KOs), a silver medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, took another long stride toward possible superstardom with an impressive fourth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jessie Cris Rosales (22-2-1, 10 KOs) in the co-featured bout televised via ESPN+.

But while Stevenson could become a world champion in the 126-pound weight class as early as 2020, the reality is that the highly skilled little lefthander is not and never will be a heavyweight. Neither will lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko or welterweight champion Terence Crawford, the current headliners of the Top Rank stable who already have outgrown a couple of lower-weight divisions but can never be heavyweights except in terms of their prodigious talent. Many knowledgable observers consider Lomachenko and Crawford, in whichever order, to be first and second among all fighters regardless of poundage, and certainly no worse than somewhere in the top three or four.

All of which means that the 12th-round technical knockout of Bryant “By-By” Jennings (24-3, 14 KOs) by underdog Oscar Rivas (26-0, 18 KOs) in the main event could eliminate any chance, however slim it might have been, of Arum having another heavyweight champion before he retires. Jennings, a relatively recent addition (in the summer of 2017) to the Top Rank stable who went in ranked No. 2 by the WBO, No. 7 by the WBA and No. 8 by the IBF, likely will fall out of the top 10 of all three sanctioning bodies. That might have been the case even had Jennings not fallen victim to Rivas’ final-round surge. Although it appeared to the ESPN+ broadcast crew that the Philadelphian should have been comfortably ahead on points, he was on the wrong end of two of the three judges’ scorecards and would have lost anyway if he somehow made it to the final bell.

Although Jennings  gave a credible account of himself in his only shot at a world title, losing a unanimous decision to IBF/WBA/WBO champion Wladimir Klitschko on April 25, 2015, his age is only one factor working against him now. There are simply too many hungry contenders standing between him and another shot at boxing’s biggest prize.

Prior to Jennings’ most recent bout before his meeting with Rivas, a ninth-round TKO of Russia’s Alexander Dimitrenko last Aug. 18 in Atlantic City, N.J., his trainer, John David Jackson, offered his opinion as to why the Top Rank honcho would ride the “By-By” train as far as it would go before it derailed.

“I think Bob wants one more heavyweight champion,” Jackson offered. “Yeah, he has a lot of great fighters, but if you have the heavyweight king, you rule boxing. It’s still the most prestigious and marketable division in the sport. That’s just how it works. And Bryant represents the last, best opportunity for Bob to get there before he retires.”

Arum, a former member of U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy’s Justice Department in the early 1960s, has been promoting boxing matches – more than 2,000, and counting — for 52 years, and while some of his greatest successes have come with fighters from featherweight to middleweight, his promotional debut involved a heavyweight who was the biggest of them all. Introduced to Muhammad Ali by football great Jim Brown, Arum started at the very top, staging Ali’s winning title defense against rugged Canadian George Chuvalo on March 29, 1966, at Toronto’s Maple Leafs Garden. He would go on to promote 26 Ali fights, his most with any heavyweight.

“I didn’t know boxing,” Arum once said of his almost-accidental introduction to what would become his life’s work. “I didn’t even really know about divisions other than heavyweight. I only knew there were heavyweights. Then people started contacting me about promoting fighters in other divisions and believe me, it was a good four or five years after I started with Ali.”

After Arum’s long and fruitful association with Ali ended, he continued to build his company by showcasing such celebrated non-heavyweights as Carlos Monzon, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Julio Cesar Chavez, James Toney, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Miguel Cotto and, of course, Lomachenko and Crawford. But Arum pined for another thrill ride with a heavyweight attraction as compelling as had been his heyday with Ali, or as close an approximation to that as possible.

He found it in the unlikely person of George Foreman, who had been retired for 10 years. Arum took a flier on the old and plump Foreman as his improbable comeback gathered momentum, although initially doubting that he and the presumably cheerier version of Big George would click.

“I was not enthusiastic, realizing what a horrid person he had been,” Arum said of his expectation that Foreman’s personality makeover was false and contrived. “After spending an hour with him I said, `This is the greatest con man in history,’ because he was so different from what he had been before. But it wasn’t a con. He had really changed.”

It was one of Arum’s, and Top Rank’s, grandest moments when the 45-year-old Foreman, far behind on points, regained the heavyweight title he had relinquished to Ali so many years earlier with a one-punch, bolt-from-the-blue 10th-round knockout of Michael Moorer on Nov. 11, 1994. But Foreman took a pounding in getting a gift nod over Axel Schulz in his next outing, and he retired again after losing a controversial majority decision to Shannon Briggs on Nov. 22, 1997. Arum’s dips into the heavyweight pool since then have been infrequent and generally less than satisfying. He has tried his hand to generate some of that old big-man magic with former champs Hasim Rahman and Ray Mercer, to no avail.

Top Rank’s relatively low-risk co-promotional signings of Jennings and then-WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker, who promptly lost his unification matchup with Anthony Joshua, again have failed to produce the desired results. Last month Arum worked out a co-promotional deal with the management of Bulgarian veteran Kubrat Pulev. More recently he inked a new heavyweight hope in Sonny Conto, a 22-year-old from South Philadelphia who was the silver medalist at the 2018 National Golden Gloves. The 6-foot-4 Conto, who turns pro against the ever-popular opponent to be named on Feb. 8, is being called “a superstar in the making” by his manager, David McWater, and maybe he might turn out to be just that. But it takes time for a newly minted pro to work his way up to champion or even contender status, and by the time Conto gets there – if he gets there at all – it is hardly a given that an already octogenarian Arum will be around to savor the moment.

Until then, we’ll all have to imagine what it might be like if there was a machine that could enlarge Lomachenko and Crawford by six or seven inches in height and a hundred pounds of heft.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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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Ringside at Turning Stone: Rivas TKOs Jennings; Stevenson Wins Impressively

Matt Andrzejewski

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Rivas

VERONA, NY — In the main event at Turning Stone Resort & Casino, Oscar Rivas (26-0, 18 KO’s) scored a mild upset in stopping Bryant Jennings (24-3, 14 KO’s) in the twelfth and final round of their heavyweight bout.

The fight was largely a tactical contest. Rivas was the aggressor pressing forward with Jennings circling and fighting off his back foot. Neither was throwing a high volume of punches.

In the first five rounds, Rivas’ aggression seemed to be getting to Jennings. Rivas landed some solid eye catching combinations retreating Jennings, while Jennings was largely holding back on his own offense.

But in round six, Jennings started moving his hands more and began to seize control of the contest. He seemed to control the next few rounds by simply moving his hands, landing the left jab at will and following that up with combinations.

Rivas stemmed Jennings momentum in the eleventh by upping his aggression and letting go with more combinations. He seemed to realize the fight could be close and something dramatic could be needed on his end.

And that something dramatic came in round twelve. Rivas came out throwing and landed a thudding left hook on Jennings’ chin that sent Jennings reeling backwards. Rivas quickly followed up on his advantage and after landing several power shots put Jennings down on the canvas. Jennings made it to his feet but was met quickly with a fusillade of punches from Rivas. With Jennings unable to protect himself, referee Gary Rosato waived the fight off.

Interestingly, Rivas was ahead on two cards by scores of 105-104 and 106-103 entering the twelfth round. The other card was in favor of Jennings by a margin of 106-103.

In the co-feature, featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson (10-0, 6 KO’s) displayed all the skills that make him one of boxing’s best prospects in dispatching of Jessie Cris Rosales (22-2-1, 10 KO’s) in round four of their scheduled ten round fight.

Rosales was considered to be a significant step up in class for Stevenson, but from the opening bell it was apparent that Rosales had no answer for Stevenson’s speed. Stevenson, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist, came out pumping an effective sharp right jab from his southpaw stance. He then worked some blistering combinations behind that jab.

As the fight progressed into round three, Stevenson mixed in some flashy short quick uppercuts on the inside along with some thudding body shots that seemed to be wearing down the tough Rosales.

Early in round four, Rosales connected with a looping right that made Stevenson flash a quick grin. Shortly after, Stevenson let his hands go, landing some eye-popping combination that put Rosales in trouble along the ropes. A quick short left hand then planted Rosales on the canvas and though he beat the count referee Charlie Fitch wisely waived a halt to the contest.

Afterwards, Stevenson called out IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington.

2016 Olympic gold medalist Robson Conceicao (11-0, 5 KO’s) coasted to an easy unanimous eight round decision win against Hector Ambriz (12-9-2, 6 KO’s) in a 130-pound contest. This marked the third straight eight round decision win for Conceicao.

Veteran 130-pound contender Jason Sosa (22-3-4, 15 KO’s) survived a second round knockdown and scored a ten round unanimous decision win against Moises Delgadillo (17-19-2, 9 KO’s). After some early struggles, Sosa rallied to control the second half of the fight including scoring a knockdown of his own in round seven to secure the hard fought victory.

Two-time Olympian Vikas Krishan (1-0, 1 KO) made a successful debut stopping Steven Andrade in the second round (3-4, 2 KO’s) of their 154-pound contest. Krishan, from India, scored a knockdown with a left to the body in round two and then battered Andrade forcing referee Benjy Esteves to stop the bout.

Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (7-0, 4 KO’s), a 2016 Olympic gold medalist, scored a TKO win against Ricardo Garcia (14-5-1, 9 KO’s) when Garcia failed to answer the bell to start round five. Gaibnazarov, who competes in the 140-pound division, dominated the bout from the opening bell including scoring a knockdown in round three before the contest was called to an end.

In the opening bout of the night, Carlos Adames (16-0, 13 KO’s) stopped Juan Ruiz (21-4, 13 KO’S) with a right hook to the body in the third round of their junior middleweight contest.

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Fast Results From New York City: Andrade TKOs Akavov; Cano Shocks Linares

Arne K. Lang

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DAZN

Eddie Hearn, the head of the boxing division of the U.K. sports conglomerate founded by his father, continued his invasion of the United States tonight with a nine-bout show in the Hulu Theater of Madison Square Garden. The featured bouts were live-streamed across the globe on DAZN and shown on SKY Sports Arena in the United Kingdom. Topping the bill was the WBO world middleweight title match between Demetrius Andrade and challenger Artur Akavov.

Andrade-Akavov

Andrade, a 2008 Olympian from Providence, R.I., successfully defended his title and advanced his record to 27-0 (17) with a 12th round stoppage of his game but outclassed Russian opponent. Akavov  (19-3) was on his feet when the referee ordered a halt with 24 seconds remaining in the bout. Akavov, who ate a steady helping of jabs, wasn’t badly hurt but was hopelessly behind on the cards.

Cano-Linares

The co-feature, a junior welterweight attraction, produced a shocking upset when Mexico’s Pablo Cesar Cano (38-7-1) walked right through former three-division title-holder Jorge Linares (45-5), taking the globetrotting Venezuelan out in the very first round. Linares, who was considered a borderline Hall of Famer going in, was knocked to the canvas 20 seconds into the fight and was on the deck three times before the referee called a halt at the 2:45 mark.

Doheny

In the first defense of his IBF world 122-pound title, TJ Doheny was fed a softie in Yokohama schoolteacher Ryohei Takahashi. A massive favorite, Doheny (20-0, 15 KOs) was comfortably ahead on points when the referee intervened in round 11 to keep the Japanese import (16-4-1) from taking a worse beating. Doheny’s next match, according to Eddie Hearn, will be a unification fight against WBA counterpart Danny Roman.

Other Bouts

In a 10-round match contested at 140 pounds, Chris Algieri, briefly a title-holder in this weight division, scored his second win on the comeback trail with a unanimous decision over former sparring partner Daniel Gonzalez. The scores were 98-92, 97-93, and 96-94. Algieri (24-3) faded late and left the ring to a chorus of boos. Gonzalez slipped to 17-2-1.

Amanda Serrano made short work of her Austrian opponent, Eva Voraberger, taking her out in the opening round to gather in the vacant WBO world female super flyweight title. Serrano improved her ledger to 36-1-1 with her 27th knockout. She came in at 114 ½ pounds, having previously weighed as high as 130, and was seeking to become a title-holder in a seventh weight class.

Serrano knocked Voraberger (24-6) to her knees with a right-left combo and Voraberger, who was in severe pain, made no attempt rise. Forget those seven title belts; this young Brooklyn-based Puerto Rican can really fight.

In a welterweight match slated for six rounds, Julian Sosa, who has a large fan base in Brooklyn’s Mexican-American community, stopped Congolese import Deiumerci Nzau who retired on his stool after three frames. Sosa improves to 13-0-1 (5), Nzau falls to 11-7.

Heavyweight Nkosi Solomon evened his record at 1-1 and rebounded from a dismal performance in his pro debut with a 4-round unanimous decision over Rodriguez Cade (2-4). Solomon dropped his puffy opponent in the third round and won by scores of 40-35 on all three cards.

Staten Island’s Reshat Mati (3-0) needed only 66 seconds to turn back Ghana’s Benjamin Borteye (4-4). Mati came out smoking and scored a fast knockdown. Borteye beat the count but was on unsteady legs when the referee intervened. You will be hearing a lot more of the 20-year-old Mati, nicknamed the Albanian Bear, who was a teenage prodigy in multiple combat sports.

In the opening bout of the evening, a welterweight affair, Cornell Hines improved to 4-0 with a 4-round unanimous decision over Salt Lake City’s Farhad Fatulla (1-3).

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