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British Boxing 2018 In Review

Matt McGrain

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British Boxing

BBC boxing correspondent Mike Costello this week called British boxing “the envy of the world” to the vocal approval of his sidekick Steve Bunce. A touch jingoistic, perhaps, but far from an unreasonable position for all that.

Britain currently boasts three of the five best heavyweights in the world, the best super middleweight, two of the five best featherweights and more than ten percent of the fighters currently ranked among the TBRB rankings.

Anthony Joshua has even crept on to one or two pound-for-pound lists.

It’s been one hell of a year for the British fight game whichever way you cut it and that’s been reflected in enormous paydays and even bigger crowds. Below, we look at the British scene specifically, naming the British Fighter of the Year, the British Fight of the Year and the British Trainer of the Year, among others. Making selections in every area was difficult. That’s a sign of a sport in ruddy health and with many of the winners triumphing in performances they turned in at the very end of the year it is likely to get healthier in 2019.

That, as the man once said, is in the cut.

Here’s what’s in the book.

 British Fighter of the Year: Josh Warrington

“The problem with Josh Warringon,” wrote Forbes.com in previewing his match with Lee Selby this past March, “is he fights like a guy with an 8.5 percent KO ratio…I have Lee Selby winning by unanimous decision and setting up a meeting with Carl Frampton later this year.”

Warrington has stood as the underdog for as long as he can remember, only his rabid and unflinchingly loyal fanbase in Leeds, England seeming to consistently believe in him.

“Before I fought Joel Brunker people were saying “Brunker will have him out of their in five.”  Then,” he told Boxing News before this month’s meeting with Frampton, “they said Hisashi Amagasa was going to blast me out.  Then they said Kiko Martinez was going to blast me out.  It didn’t make me angry but…I just didn’t understand why.”

Selby was ranked the #4 featherweight in the world at the time of his meeting with Warrington, who was then ranked #9. The result of the fight was not debatable, despite the odd split-decision victory rendered for Warrington on the night. Selby did good work in the middle rounds with a sharp body-attack but Warrington continued to press.  Selby’s vaunted jab was almost worthless, like throwing paper darts at a tiger.

Warrington had derailed a British superfight in Selby-Frampton but the British boxing press and public seemed satisfied that Warrington-Frampton would make for a reasonable substitution, a good fight that would see Frampton restore the natural order.

Warrington didn’t get the memo.

Instead, he out-fought and out-thought a fighter who was supposed to be a level above him, too good to lose, a marked favorite. The first round was the fight in microcosm. Warrington stood ring center throwing punches which, if not quite wild, were uncontrolled, out-hitting Frampton, who stood his ground. But Warrington didn’t just fly in and start swinging. He feinted, threatening right hand shots by coming square, before quickly moving back into an orthodox stance, scampered forwards on quick feet, led with a technically sound jab which helped partially neutralize Frampton’s supposedly superior jab, and then, when he’d done all the hard work and forced a disorganized retreat, he let rip. It was thrilling, brilliant, and he had the chin and the engine to make it work.  He was faster, stronger, had a superior fight plan, and most of all, he was better. Given Frampton’s pedigree and one-time pound-for-pound status, that is enormously impressive

When the referee lifted the underdog’s hand once more at the end of twelve scintillating rounds, the argument as to who was the British fighter of the year was over.

British Fight of the Year: Dillian Whyte KO11 Dereck Chisora

On the same night as Warrington was anointed the best of British in Manchester, Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora were staging an even better fight in London.

It was the fight Chisora most wanted, a rematch of his desperately narrow and brutal points defeat in their fight of the year candidate from December 2016. The rematch broke the mold in that it was even better than the first.

Chisora, who defines his style of pressure and brawl as “rolling thunder” (though he also compared himself to laxative pills in the build-up), rolled out of his corner throwing meathook right hands to the body; Whyte dialed in his counter right-hand. Battle-lines were drawn in mere seconds and they would be savagely contested throughout.

The difference between this and their first fight was Chisora’s conditioning. Happy to nestle on the ropes and duke it out in some of his recent contests, Chisora was pushing, pushing, pushing his man while Whyte looked to out-box and out-slug the man driving him back. Whyte’s defensive deficiencies combined with Chisora’s face-first pursuit saw each man swallow and hold bombs while they roughed each other up inside, heads, low-blows and two deducted points for Chisora.

But he took hardly a step back. Over and over again Whyte rattled him with a big punch but Chisora’s force of will brought him straight back, armed with that thunder.

After every round it seemed the pace must slow or a man must wilt. Even when the end came it was no breach of heart or conviction but rather a sudden disconnection of Chisora from body by a single punch that left him under a deep blanket of darkness on the canvas. It was as dramatic an ending to a fight as can be imagined and it is the reason there is no separate knockout of the year category.

The brilliance of a fight can often be defined in the testimony of the winner for the loser. Despite a prickly personality and a tendency to speak the worst of his foes, victorious and defeated, Whyte was effusive.

“Chisora is a fighting man. He’s not a boxer, he’s not a technician he’s a fighting man. He’s a black Viking, he’ll hit you with anything. The more you hit him, the more he keeps coming.

“Dereck’s a tough dude, man.”

British Breakthrough Fighter of the Year: Charlie Edwards

In September of 2016 English flyweight champion Charlie Edwards stepped up to take on the world’s #2 at 112lbs, John Riel Casimero, then coming off a four round stoppage of Amnat Ruenroeng. It was an ambitious and a questionable move and most people expected to see him brutalized.  He was, in ten brave rounds.

Six fights later, having strung together consecutive wins against non-elite opposition and helped nurse his mother through a life threatening illness, Edwards landed another title shot this December against the best flyweight in the world: Cristofer Rosales.

The same Cristofer Rosales who looked so lethal in stopping Daigo Higa, who had knocked out every one of his fifteen opponents going into that fight; who looked outright frightening butchering a fighter who likely would have been a favorite over Edwards himself, elite prospect Paddy Barnes. Edwards was expected once again to show bravery while suffering pain before inevitably succumbing.

Instead, the 25 year old Surrey man turned in a performance of such high quality it took me some time to understand what it was I was seeing. His use of footwork to control the space was that of a much more seasoned fighter; his patience and understanding of the rhythm of the fight was a picture of maturity, his timing beautiful, his management of his punches – here quick and sharp, there more stinging – was quite extraordinary.

All of this against a man who has fought more top-ten ranked opposition than Edwards has been scheduled to fight ten rounds.

It was not an exciting fight, just a stunning one. Had Edwards eked out a narrow, disputed decision I would have been quite surprised; to see him out-box Rosales and win clearly was almost surreal.

Edwards put both the flyweights and the super-flyweights on notice and there are some challenging fights on his horizon for 2019, but win, lose or draw he has already exceed the expectations of everyone but himself, his team, and his family.

In other words, the only people who matter.

British Prospect of the Year: Dean Sutherland

My kilt may be showing a little with this selection but I’ve gone for twenty-year old Scotsman and light-welterweight Dean Sutherland as my British Prospect of the Year for 2019. Currently 4-0 as a professional fighter, Sutherland may seem a little premature but it’s worth noting that he has the ambition to match my selection, talking openly of a British or European title shot by the end of the New Year. If this seems ridiculous it’s worth noting that Sutherland brings a wealth of combat experience from the ranks of kickboxing, where he gained multiple titles including the 67kg ISKA Full Contact Title; this means little more to me than it probably does to you, but I’m told it’s an impressive feat.

For decades, Muay Thai has been providing cross-over stars in the western discipline, men like Saensak Muangsurin who won a title in his fifth professional contest, Samart Payakaroon who  fought for one in his twelfth, or Yokthai Sithoar who managed it in his eleventh.  The point is, full contact ring experience counts for plenty across disciplines and for all that kick-boxing is less successful at providing champions in the professional boxing ranks, it has happened.

Whether or not that is Sutherland’s destiny is a question that will only be answered at the end of a hundred miles of bad road; kickboxing is well and good but we all know the special questions posed of a chin by professional boxing. His heart, too, will no doubt be more tested than that of fighters with similar records.

What we do know is that he is a swift, assured and accurate puncher armed with speed and composure.  He’s out twice before March; coming to a television near you by December.

British Trainer of the Year: Ben Davison

Ben Davison was no doubt somewhat bemused when an obese, alcoholic, suicidal and depressed Tyson Fury gate-crashed the workout he was holding for other fighters and, in his own inimitable style, took over.

Later, and inevitably, in a bar, Davison thought the huge heavyweight was joking when he told him:

“If you can get numbers of each one of those girls, I’ll let you train me.”

Game, Ben gave it a whirl and was astonished when, upon producing two phone numbers, Tyson stayed true to his word.

“It’s all about confidence,” Tyson would say breezily when recalling the selection process for the key member of his camp. “If he’s not confident enough to approach them two girls, how can he handle me?”

For many, it was a bad joke. Davison had no experience at such a lofty level and was in no way qualified to handle such a brilliant yet delicate asset. But Davison unlocked the key to motivating Tyson in a matter of days. He kept it fun and non-adversarial. The fallout between Tyson and his uncle, Peter Fury, was unpleasant and apparently for keeps. The chemistry between Ben and Tyson was there for all to see from the very start.

But, press repeatedly asked anyone but Tyson and Ben, what was it that would happen when the crucial moment came in the corner of a big fight? How would Ben, with so little experience, find the answer much less the words? It was all well and good taking a series of weight loss classes and having a giggle but what about when it came to the crunch?

Those questions were answered much more quickly than we could have supposed. Tyson and Ben seemed to have jumped the shark when they took a fight with Deontay Wilder so soon after their return to action, but Fury didn’t just look good; he seemed entirely to outclass his befuddled opponent. When Wilder eventually landed a meaningful punch and Tyson visited the canvas, we were treated to the sight of Ben Davison standing between hall of fame trainer Freddie Roach and first ballot hall of fame fighter Ricky Hatton, calmly dominating the corner with sage advice.

It has been suggested in one or two corners that he has done nothing but wax a Porsche; often the people doing the suggesting are the same ones who said that Tyson would look lost without former trainer Peter Fury.

The fact is that with Ben Davison in his corner, Tyson Fury has looked better.

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Ralph `Tiger’ Jones, Conqueror of Sugar Ray Robinson, was the Ultimate Gatekeeper

Bernard Fernandez

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Ralph "Tiger" Jones

Being a gatekeeper, especially in boxing, can be a lonely and underappreciated function. And in the 1950s, a golden age for the sport, that might have been especially true for a highly competent but not-quite-elite middleweight named Ralph “Tiger” Jones, who fought so often on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports’ Friday Night Fights that he came to be known as “Mr. Television,” a sobriquet he shared with another frequent face of the relatively new medium, comedian Milton Berle.

Jones, who was 66 when he passed away on July 17, 1994, is not enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The Brooklyn-born, Yonkers, N.Y.-based scrapper has never even appeared on the IBHOF ballot. Then again, why should he have been? His career record of 52-32-5, with only 13 victories inside the distance, isn’t particularly impressive, unless you take a closer look at the who’s who list of guys with whom he shared the ring. He holds victories over, among others, IBHOF Hall of Famers Sugar Ray Robinson, Joey Giardello and Kid Gavilan (Giardello and Gavilan each defeated him twice), and he gave such capable and even world-class fighters as Gene Fullmer (twice), Laszlo Papp, Bobo Olson, Johnny Saxton (twice), Joey Giambra (twice), Rocky Castellani (twice), Paul Pender, Johnny Bratton, Rory Calhoun (twice), Joe DeNucci (thrice), Bobby Dykes, Chico Vejar, Charlie Humez (twice), Victor Salazar, Ernie Durando and Del Flanagan all they could handle.

Given the high level of competition he so routinely faced, it is remarkable that the Tiger was stopped only once, and even that was a bit of an outlier, a one-round TKO against someone named Henry Burroughs on Jan. 13, 1951. Burroughs, who went 3-4 in an abbreviated professional career, quickly vanished from the fight scene, but for Jones, who had come in 9-0, the shocking defeat might have had the effect of instantly downgrading him from hot prospect to “opponent” and, ultimately, gatekeeper of a loaded 160-pound weight class. Interestingly, Jones had virtually toyed with Burroughs in winning a four-round unanimous decision only two months earlier.

There are those who insist that Jones’ most shining moment inside the ropes came when he stopped Dykes (career record: 120-23-8, with 57 KOs) on March 8, 1954, in Brooklyn when, well behind on points, he rallied to register two emphatic, outcome-shifting knockdowns in the 10th and final round. But even that keepsake triumph pales in comparison to what took place in Chicago Stadium on Jan. 19, 1955, when he presumably was served up as a sacrificial offering to the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson. Sugar Ray, then 33, was in the early stages of a comeback after he failed to make it big as a tap dancer on a tour of Europe. Fighting for the first time in 2½ years, Robinson had stopped journeyman Joe Rindone in six rounds on Jan. 5, 1955, in Detroit, and the bout against Jones, an 8-1 underdog, was widely viewed as merely another step forward in the former welterweight and middleweight champion’s graduated path back to the superstar status he once held and almost everyone believed he would soon reclaim.

But the outcome that was anticipated by the in-house turnout of 7,282 and a national TV audience underwent a quick rewrite when Jones, who had lost his previous five bouts, was the aggressor in the opening stanza of the scheduled 10-rounder, which ended with the great Sugar Ray — who had come in with an incredible 132-3-2 record — bleeding from a cut to his nose. It was more of the same in round two, Jones adding to Robinson’s seepage when the living legend went back to his corner with another cut, to his right eyelid.

It should have been apparent to everyone, even then, that this was not going to be Sugar Ray’s night, and it wasn’t. Referee Frank Sikora submitted a scorecard favoring Jones by a 99-94 margin, with judges Ed Hintz and Howard Walsh seeing it as an even bigger rout for Jones, at 100-88 and 98-89. Years later, the punch-counters for CompuBox reviewed tape of the fight and determined that Tiger had connected on 322 of 407 (57 percent) to just 176 of 514 (34 percent) for Robinson.

But as is often the case when a legendary fighter is made to look something less than superhuman, the big story was not that Ralph “Tiger” Jones had won, but that a humbled Sugar Ray Robinson was now on his last legs, his nimble feet and fast hands left behind somewhere on nightclub stages in a far-away continent.

New York Journal American columnist Jimmy Cannon for all intents and purposes authored Sugar Ray’s boxing obituary in his paper’s Jan. 20 editions, opining that “There is no language spoken on the face of the earth in which you can be kind when you tell a man he is old and should stop pretending he is young … Old fighters, who go beyond the limits of their age, resent it when you tell them they’re through … what he had is gone. The pride isn’t. The gameness isn’t. The insolent faith in himself is still there … but the pride and the gameness and that insolent faith get in his way … He was marvelous, but he isn’t anymore.”

And this, from The Associated Press report of the fight: “The former welterweight and middleweight titleholder … who started his comeback after 30 months as a song-and-dance entertainer by kayoing Joe Rindone two weeks ago, was handed the worst beating of his career by Jones … Time and again Tiger drove Robinson into the ropes and mauled him pitifully.”

But as was the case with the false rumor in 1897 that novelist/humorist Samuel Clemens – better known by his pen name, Mark Twain — had passed away, any suggestion that Sugar Ray Robinson was finished as a top-tier fighter proved to be premature. The Sugar man held the middleweight championship five times in all, three of his title reigns coming after Cannon advised him in print that he was washed up.

“I never figure to win them all,” the battered Robinson said after taking his licking from Jones. “You’ve got to figure you’ll get beat somewhere along the line. I don’t want to quit. This was a test. Like my manager said, it was just too tough for a second fight on a comeback.”

And Jones?

He continued to get regular TV gigs because he was more skilled than many, doggedly determined to put on a good show and no day at the beach for any of the six world champions he fought on 10 different occasions. But he never got a shot at a world title, a cruel twist of fate for someone who not only had paid his membership dues in the school of hard knocks, but continued to pay them right up to the end, a 10-round, unanimous-decision loss to IBHOF Hall of Famer and three-time Olympic gold medalist Laszlo Papp of Hungary on March 21, 1962. Tiger was floored in three separate rounds, but true to his unyielding code of honor, he gutted it out to the final bell. His pride would not allow him to do otherwise.

As a child growing up in New Orleans and the son of police captain Jack Fernandez (career record: 4-1-1, 1 KO), a former welterweight of scant pro accomplishment whom I idolized as if he had been a world champion, it seemed to me that, if Tiger Jones didn’t appear every week on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, he was in the featured bout at least every month or so. The best of the gatekeepers from that glorious era deserve at least some reflected glory for hanging in with their betters, and Jones holds a special place in my recollections along with, among others, Florentino Fernandez (I liked to pretend we were somehow related), Holly Mims and “Hammerin’” Henry Hank, the Detroit middleweight and light heavyweight who fought so often in New Orleans (18 times) that I chose to believe he was almost as local as Willie Pastrano, Ralph Dupas, Percy Pugh and Jerry Pellegrini. Hank, who was 62-30-4 with 40 KOs in a career that spanned from 1953 to ’72, was a virtual replica of the never-say-die Jones, never fighting for a widely recognized world title (he did drop a 15-round decision to Eddie Cotton for the Michigan version of the light heavyweight championship) and losing just once inside the distance, on a ninth-round stoppage by Bob Foster on Dec. 11, 1964, in Norfolk, Va.

Yeah, that would be the same Bob Foster who would go on to become one of the most accomplished 175-pound champions ever and was inducted into the IBHOF in 1990.

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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The Avila Perspective Chap. 30: A Day in L.A., Plant, Pacquiao, and More

David A. Avila

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L.A.

Every time it rains in L.A. I think about the Doors song “Riders in the Storm.”

On Sunday a brief window of dryness blanketed as I drove to downtown L.A. on freeways that were slightly emptier than normal with the L.A. Chargers playing the New England Patriots. I guess some people stayed home to watch it.

Freeway traffic plays a big part in any Californian’s life. But it’s rare that a boxing event is held on a Sunday. My destination that day was LA Live across the street from the Staples Center.

LA Live has a skating rink in the middle of the courtyard and people were milling around an hour before the boxing card was to begin at Microsoft Theater. The theater is a swanky building across the skating rink from the ESPN structure.

A guy resembling my nephew Giovanni is talking to a few people next to the Starbucks. As I walk closer the person is gone. Later, I would see that the same kid resembling my nephew is actually fighting on the large boxing card. About a dozen fights are listed on the boxing bout sheet.

The Microsoft Theater has gone through a name change since it was first opened in 2007. It used to be called the Nokia Theater. The large theater hosts the ESPYs, EMMYs, Grammys and American Music Awards. But it’s no stranger to boxing events. A few fight cards have been held in its confine.

Crowds gathered early for the Premier Boxing Champions boxing card and by 5 p.m. it filled up pretty good.

One of the earliest boxing champions to arrive as a viewer was Mikey Garcia with several other young boxers and their entourages. The four division world champ has a date with Errol Spence Jr. in a couple of months. Spence arrived to watch the LA fight card a little later.

Title Fight

The main event featured Caleb Plant challenging the dangerous IBF super middleweight titlist Jose Uzcategui.

Plant has always shown he had skills and athleticism inside the boxing ring. But you can have all the tools in the world and it doesn’t mean a thing. What it really comes down to is can you take a punch from a puncher? Uzcategui can punch.

The Tennessee native has a pretty hefty following and they were loud in support of the slick fighting Plant. During the first six rounds it was like watching a concert with girls standing and cheering. But when the tide turned and Uzcategui began finding the antidote for Plant’s slickness, the same crowd was deadly quiet.

Plant is an entertainer. He can’t help himself. But he’s a classy kind of guy and fans genuinely like him. He can also fight.

Despite an undefeated record Plant had never truly established he belonged on the A list. He has A list skills but had never beaten an elite fighter until Sunday. He beat a good one and fans were thoroughly engrossed.

After their entertaining bloody clash you would have thought the two warriors would be red hot with anger. But instead, the two were like old chums and gracious after their 12-round battle. It kind of reminded me of long ago when two late greats Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello battled twice in the early 1980s. Those two great warriors became great friends and propelled the sport of boxing to greater heights and awareness. Later, Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward did the same in the early 2000s. It’s the beauty of boxing.

In the locker room Plant told Uzcategui they ought to share some Modelos soon. That got a big laugh and hug from the Venezuelan fighter who trains in Mexico. There were no hard feelings, just a lot of bruises and cuts.

Super middleweights may be the new showcase division.

A few possible opponents were in the crowd including David Benavidez, the current WBC titlist. A match with Plant or even a rematch with Uzcategui would bring an even bigger crowd. The super middleweights are heating up. There’s a lot of talent now in the 168-pound division including James DeGale, Callum Smith and George Groves in the United Kingdom and Gilberto Ramirez of Mexico. Hey, it’s even possible to see Gennady “GGG” Golovkin in the super middleweight division if the money is right.

I can’t wait to see the next super middleweight world title matchup.

El Cholos

When the fight card was over we walked across Figueroa Avenue to the Mexican restaurant famous for its margaritas. El Cholos has been around since the 1920s and has expanded to almost a dozen eateries in Southern California. I wish they had one in Las Vegas which does not have a good sit down Mexican restaurant.

El Cholos has become a favorite destination for me following boxing cards in L.A. After the fights several boxing reporters joined me for dinner including Muhammad Mubarak, Anthony Saldana and his wife Cynthia Saldana, Nancy Rodriguez from Supreme Boxing and Daniel who works with them and others. Usually my good friends from the Japanese press join us and long-time photographer Al Applerose, but not on this occasion. Still, we spent a couple of hours there and even ran into an old friend, Liz Quevedo Parr. As an amateur fighter she dominated two divisions for Team USA and now owns a gym in Long Beach called Guv’Nors Boxing Club. She recently had a cover page write up in OC Weekly.

At El Cholos we talked about Plant, Spence, Garcia and Benavidez. We also talked about women’s boxing especially Maricela Cornejo who is managed by Nancy Rodriguez. Both have movie star looks. Cornejo will be fighting in about 12 days in Hollywood at the Avalon Theater. Another female we discussed is Kenia Enriquez who fights out of Tijuana, Mexico. She’s very good.

The Lakers were playing across the street and I expected a rush of fans following the game. But the Lakers lost that night so fans must have been disgruntled and left quickly to their respective homes. Rain was threatening too. We can’t drive in the rain.

Eating and drinking with other journalists is one of the joys of being a fight reporter. Who better to talk about boxing than people that actually know the sport? Only in L.A., New York or Philadelphia can you find plenty of fans that actually know boxing and its politics. Over the years I’ve met some truly knowledgeable fight fans throughout Southern California.

Pacman and Broner

We’re heading to Las Vegas on Thursday, first to see Layla McCarter headline a Mayweather Promotions card that night at the MGM Grand. Tickets are free and it’s a hefty boxing card featuring many fighters from Floyd Mayweather’s stable.

McCarter is the best female fighter in the world pound for pound. Nobody has beaten her in 11 years and she’s fought in numerous countries around the world. Do you know how hard that is to accomplish? Ask any fighter.

Friday is a weigh-in for the Showtime pay-per-view card and I’m curious to see how many fans show up.

It’s been a while since Manny Pacquiao last fought in Las Vegas. Back on November 2016 he battled Jessie Vargas at the Thomas & Mack Center. On Saturday, Pacquiao will face Adrien Broner for the WBA welterweight world title at the MGM Grand. Showtime will have it on pay-per-view.

Every time I see Pacquiao I remember first watching him at the Wild Card gym almost 20 years ago. Freddie Roach kept telling a few of us to watch out for the lefty Filipino kid. Right from the start he proved to be deadly accurate. Pacquiao, now 40, has exceeded all my expectations and out-lasted everyone from that era.

I remember years ago in 2003 talking outside on the parking lot of the Olympic Auditorium. It was still light outside on a summer night and Freddie saw me and a couple of reporters and walked up to talk about his first experience in the Philippines training Pacquiao. He was still overwhelmed by the experience. Later that night Pacquiao would obliterate Emmanuel Lucero in the third round with a vicious uppercut. Even though I knew Pacman was very good I would have never predicted his longevity in a sport that usually spits out good fighters in 10 years.

On Saturday we will see how much the Filipino super star still has left in his legs. Hopefully on the drive to Las Vegas it won’t rain or snow.

Photo credit: Luis Mejia / TCB Promotions

Fights to watch

Fri. 5 p.m. PT DAZN – Jorge Linares vs Pablo Cano; Amanda Serrano vs Eva Voraberger; Demetrius Andrade vs Artur Akavov.

Fri. 6:30 p.m. PT/9:30 PM ET ESPN* Bryant Jennings (24-2) vs Oscar Rivas (25-0).

Sat. 6 p.m. PT Showtime pay-per-view – Manny Pacquiao vs Adrien Broner; Badou Jack vs. Marcus Browne; Rau’shee Warren vs Nordine Oubaali; Jhack Tepora vs Hugo Ruiz.

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Terence Crawford vs. Amir Khan on April 20th…Let the Hype Begin

Arne K. Lang

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Crawford vs Khan

Co-promoters Bob Arum and Eddie Hearn staged a press conference today (Tuesday, Jan. 15) at London’s elegant Landmark Hotel to announce that Terence Crawford will defend his WBO welterweight title on April 20 against Amir Khan. The timing was rather odd as the venue is unsettled — Madison Square Garden and the MGM Grand are the frontrunners – but as Arum would likely tell you, it’s never too early to marinate the hype. The bout will mark ESPN’s initial foray into the world of solo event pay-per-view.

Amir Khan first came to the fore at the 2004 Beijing Olympics where at the tender age of 17 he advanced to the gold medal round in the lightweight division. In the finals he met Mario Kindelan, a 33-year-old Cuban who was described by the British coach Terry Edwards as “the best pound for pound fighter in the world, maybe amateur and professional.”

Khan was outpointed but that didn’t diminish his stature. “Britain has lost its tether over him,” wrote Mark Whicker in the Orange County Register who noted that the Khan-Kindelan match was shown on the big screen at Trafalgar Square under a sign that read Amir-zing.

Khan went on to defeat Kindelan twice in amateur bouts before turning pro amidst great fanfare in July of 2005. Two years later, almost to the day, he climbed off the deck to wrest the British Empire lightweight title from Scotland’s Willie Limond.

Needless to say, Khan, who is of Pakistani descent, has had his ups and downs since that moment. The first thud came in September of 2008 in Manchester when Columbia’s unheralded Breidis Prescott (who by the way has lost seven of his last eight) knocked him out in the first round. Khan was knocked down hard 30 seconds into the fight and it was all over in 54 seconds.

The fight, wrote Tom Cary in the London Telegraph, “confirmed the suspicion that the most hyped boxer in Britain since Prince Naseem Hamed cannot take a punch….This defeat was an accident waiting to happen.”

Khan rebounded nicely. He won the WBA 140-pound title with a 76-second blowout of Dmitriy Salita and defended it four times before losing the belt on a controversial decision to Lamont Peterson. But since the Peterson fight he has been stopped twice, first by Danny Garcia and then Canelo Alvarez.

The Kahn-Canelo fight, contested at the catchweight of 155 pounds, was the first boxing event at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena. And it played out as many expected with Khan having his moments before he was betrayed by a soft beard. Canelo, the bigger man although both came in at the same weight, lowered the boom in round six with a devastating right hand, a classic one-punch knockout that left Khan on the canvas for several minutes before he was removed to a hospital as a precaution.

Khan took 23 months off after this setback and during this hiatus he became even more famous in England. He hired a publicist who booked him on the TV show “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here,” a British version of the TV show “Survivor,” and fed the tabloids and gossip magazines a steady stream of folderol regarding Amir’s supposedly tempestuous relationship with his attractive Brooklyn-born wife, the former Faryal Makhdoom. Khan’s conservative Muslim parents were horrified by Faryal’s westernized ways and both accused the other of infidelity. They toned it down when Faryal became pregnant with their second child, a daughter born in April of last year.

That same month, Khan returned to the ring with a 33-second knockout of Toronto’s overmatched Phil Lo Greco. In September he took on another Toronto-based fighter, Samuel Vargas, against whom he won a wide 12-round decision. Those wins pumped up his record to 33-4 (20).

Unlike Amir Khan, it’s doubtful that Terence Crawford will ever transcend his sport, but you don’t have to sell Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs) to knowledgeable boxing fans who recognize that he is something special, arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport today.

This fight will be a nice payday for Khan who lives lavishly and we suspect it will be an interesting fight for as long as it lasts. Against Canelo Alvarez, Khan was ahead in the eyes of most ringsiders and in the eyes of one of the judges through the five completed rounds. But the operative phrase here is “as long as it lasts.”

Let the hype begin.

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