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Where Goeth the World Boxing Super Series?

Arne K. Lang

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World Boxing Super Series

The first edition of the World Boxing Super Series was a mixed bag. Season Two appears to be hanging on by a thread.

The inaugural World Boxing Super Series (henceforth WBSS) consisted of two eight-man single elimination tournaments featuring boxers in the super middleweight and cruiserweight divisions. The nuts-and-bolts of the tournament were laid out at a hastily arranged press conference in New York in March of 2017. The kick-off event was a glitzy gala in Monaco on July 8 of that year. All 16 participants were present.

Historically, pro boxing tournaments never play out as planned; something always goes wrong. The WBSS 168-pound tournament, to no great surprise, was messy. Nor was the cruiserweight tourney free of hiccups.

German veteran Juergen Braehmer looked good in dispatching Rob Brant in his quarterfinal match in the 168-pound competition. That boosted him into a fight with top seed Callum Smith, but Braehmer was a late scratch, reportedly suffering from a severe case of the flu. That opened the door to an obscure Dutch fighter named Neiky Holzen when both of the alternates – Germany’s Vincent Feigenbutz and Denmark’s Patrick Nielsen — were unavailable.

Holzen lasted the distance with Smith but was widely outpointed in a humdrum fight.

The other semifinal matched George Groves against Chris Eubank Jr. In a mild upset, Groves outclassed Eubank. But during the fight he dislocated his shoulder. That pushed back his fight with Callum Smith. It didn’t come off until Sept. 28, by which time it was something of an afterthought. The tournament, as initially scoped out, was supposed to have concluded in May.

The cruiserweight tournament was an artistic success. The organizers succeeded in boating all four of the significant title-holders. The finale between #1 seed Oleksandr Usyk and #2 seed Murat Gassiev was arguably the most eagerly anticipated cruiserweight fight since Evander Holyfield fought Dwight Muhammad Qawi in 1986. The fight didn’t live up to its billing — Gassiev, a fierce puncher, had difficulty laying a glove on the slick Usyk — but produced the first unified cruiserweight champion in the four-belt era.

It was an artistic success, yes, but was it an economic success? The organizers had difficulty locking in venues (the match between Yunier Dorticos, a Miami-based Cuban, and Russia’s Dmitry Kudryashov was planted in San Antonio, of all places), with the consequence that the cruiserweight tournament also ran late, concluding on July 21.

More damaging from a bottom line standpoint, the organizers were unable to secure a U.S. TV partner. The cruiserweight finale between Usyk and Gassiev eventually aired in the U.S. on KloudTV, a fledgling live-streaming subscription service based in Alexandria, Virginia.

The money behind the WBSS comes from Comosa AG, a subsidiary of a larger entertainment company based in Switzerland. Kalle Sauerland and Richard Schaefer hold key executive positions. Sauerland oversees the boxing division of German powerhouse Sauerland Event, the firm founded by his father Wilfried Sauerland, a 2010 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Schaefer, a Swiss national with a background in investment banking, founded Ringstar Sports in 2016 and was formerly the CEO of Golden Boy Promotions.

The WBSS backers purportedly ponied up enough money to ensure that the WBSS would have at least a three-year run. They added a third tournament for the 2018/19 season, seemingly a statement that everything was hunky-dory. The new 140-pound tourney is especially strong. It’s a weight class brimming with good young talent with Regis Prograis and Scotland’s Josh Taylor leading the pack. But cracks have appeared in the WBSS armor and there’s concern that the entire shebang may implode.

In the 140-pound tourney, Prograis, Taylor, Ivan Baranchyk, and Kiryl Relikh advanced. The matchups for the semis are Prograis vs. Relikh and Taylor vs. Baranchyk. But Prograis and Baranchyk are threatening to pull out.

Both are frustrated with the slow pace of the tournament but there is more involved. Prograis advanced to the semis and a date with Kiryl Relikh when he outpointed Liverpool’s Terry Flanagan at New Orleans on Oct. 27. That fight, held in Prograis’s hometown, reportedly drew only 2,000 paid, roughly half as many as turned out at the same venue to see his previous fight against a lesser opponent, Argentina’s Juan Jose Velasco. Top Rank was the lead promoter for his bout with Velasco. Prograis feels that the WBSS did a poor job of promoting his match with Flanagan.

The WBSS is reportedly trying to make the Prograis-Relikh fight for New Orleans on May 18, but that’s still three months away. Winning the Muhammad Ali Trophy that goes to the victor of a WBSS tournament would be a nice feather in his cap, but Prograis is anxious to get on with his career. There are other lucrative matches out there for him, especially if he is willing to move up to 147.

David McWater, the manager of Ivan Baranchyk, says his fighter will drop out unless the WBSS gets its finances in order. In a tournament match, both fighters are paid the same with the winner receiving a bonus. McWater says that Baranchyk had to wait two months to receive the bonus that was owed him. But that hasn’t stopped the WBSS from ballyhooing the Baranchyk-Taylor fight on their web site. They say it will come off in Glasgow on May 18 with the bantamweight semi-final between Naoya Inoue and Emmanuel Rodriguez serving as the co-feature.

Prograis and Baranchyk aren’t the only boxers with a gripe against the WBSS. Nonito Donaire is penciled in against Zolani Tete in a semi-final match in the bantamweight tournament, but the date and venue are as yet undecided. The cruiserweight semifinal between Yunier Dorticos and Andrew Tabiti is likewise in limbo.

Will season two of the World Boxing Super Series make it to the finish line? Your guess is as good as mine.

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Jonathan Esquivel Remains Unbeaten and Raquel Miller Wins NABF Title

David A. Avila

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HAWAIIAN GARDENS, Calif.-Undefeated Jonathan Esquivel attracted a large and lively crowd and they weren’t disappointed in his knockout win over Tavoris Teague on Saturday.

Esquivel (10-0, 9 KOs) showed the large contingent of fans that sold out the Hawaiian Gardens Casino that the tricky Teague (6-27-4) could not compete for four full rounds in their super middleweight clash.

The fight ended at 2:11 of the fourth when Teague was overwhelmed by Esquivel but remained standing up as referee Zachary Young ended the fight.

Esquivel, who lives in nearby Santa Ana, California, brought more than 200 fans and they saw him struggle a bit with Teague, but after two flat rounds, the southpaw began finding the range and unleashed a barrage of punches that Teague could not avoid. The end came suddenly but the Orange County fighter remains with an unblemished record.

NABF Female Title

Female middleweight contenders headed the main event and former Olympic alternate Raquel “Pretty Beast” Miller (9-0, 4 KOs) showed her professional game is intact with a knockout win over veteran Erin Toughill (7-5-1) to win the vacant NABF middleweight title.

Miller didn’t waste time and knocked Toughill down in the first exchange with a short right cross that dropped the veteran fighter who had nearly toppled middleweight contender Maricela Cornejo in her last ring appearance.

Speed was her greatest asset and Miller used it to full advantage as she jabbed her way through Toughill’s guard and landed quick three-punch combinations. For the first three rounds Miller was in full control.

Around the fourth round Miller seemed in cruise mode when Toughill rammed several rights against her foe and followed up with more right crosses. All seemed to land flush and Miller was moved backwards with the blows. Though Toughill did not land more punches than Miller, the solid blows were enough to win her first round.

In the fifth round Toughill seemed confident that she had discovered the remedy for Miller’s speedy punches and kept ramming rights through the guard. Again Toughill seemed to be able to land the more effective blows, but though they landed they didn’t seem to hurt Miller, but rather perplexed her.

Miller seemed more intent to reverse the momentum and launched a quick solid three-punch combination on Toughill who seemed surprised by the blows. After absorbing a Miller right Toughill retaliated with a left hook and another left hook. The change of pace seemed to keep Miller off balance but toward the end of the sixth round a screaming left jab connected followed by a solid one-two combination. Miller had quickly regained the momentum.

The seventh round saw both fighters race toward each other with Miller connecting with a lead right that snapped Toughill’s head back. Miller followed up quickly with a snapping jab, jab and left hook that caught Toughill perfectly and dropped her immediately to the floor. She beat the count but when referee Zachary Young asked her to put her hands up:

“She gave me a strange look and I had to end it,” said Young of Toughill’s response.

When asked what punch caused the knockout Miller was unsure.

“I don’t remember what punch I used, I’m just excited to win the title,” said Miller who won by knockout at 1:01 of the seventh round.

Miller wins the NABF middleweight title and becomes an automatic contender for the WBC version of the middleweight world title. Claressa Shields is the undisputed middleweight world champion and holds the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO world titles.

“I’m all about smooth boxing but I can bang if I have to,” said Miller.

Yes she can.

Other Bout

Super middleweights Kenny Quach (0-1-1) and Johnny Cisneros (0-0-1) ended in a draw after four closely fought rounds. Cisneros fights out of Riverside and was making his pro debut. Quach fights out of Santa Ana, Calif.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Fast Results from Brooklyn: Wilder Knocks Out Breazeale

Arne K. Lang

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Wilder Knocks Out Breazeale

Deontay Wilder vs. Dominic Breazeale figures to be entertaining for as long as it lasts said one pundit and he could not have been more prescient. Entertaining it was although if you were distracted you likely missed it. It was all over in 137 seconds

Wilder, making the ninth defense of his WBC world heavyweight title, stunned Breazeale with a big right hand early in the contest but then walked into a wild right hand by Breazeale and was himself momentarily stunned. He had enough presence of mind, however, to keep his cannon of a right hand unholstered and a few moments later he unleashed it again, leaving poor Breazeale flat on his back. Breazeale made it to his feet, seemingly as referee Harvey Dock reached the count of “10,” but he was in dire straits and the bout was waived it off.

This was the same Dominic Breazeale who lasted into the seventh round with Anthony Joshua not quite two years ago. As for Wilder, he remains undefeated with his 40th knockout in 42 pro starts and a match between him and Joshua or a rematch with Tyson Fury looms bigger than ever.

Co-Feature

WBC world featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. successfully defended his title and completed the hat trick for the Russell Brothers with a fifth round stoppage of Spain’s Kiko Martinez. Russell (30-1, 18 KOs) was just too fast for the Spaniard and was on his way to a comfortable win on points when the fight was waived off at the suggestion of the ring physician because of a bad cut over Martinez’s left eye. A former IBF 122-pound champion, Martinez (37-9-2) is now 1-4 in world title fights.

Undercard

In the first of the TV fights, North Las Vegas junior welterweight Juan Heraldez remained unbeaten but barely as he was held to a draw by former IBF 130-pound world title-holder Argenis Mendez. One judge had it 97-73 for Mendez but the others had it even. Heraldez (16-0-1) was one of four Mayweather Promotions fighters on the card. Mendez, from Yonkers, New York, via the Dominican Republic, was held to a draw in a second straight fight, bringing his record to 25-5-3.

A previous draw ensued in an 8-round contest between 30-something heavyweights, Robert Alfonso (18-0-1) and Iago Kiladze (26-4-1). Alfonso, a Cuban defector and ex-Olympian who trains with Wilder in Tuscaloosa, weighed in at 254, giving him a 35-pound weight advantage. He had Kiladze fighting off his back foot for much of the contest, but the LA-based fighter from the Republic of Georgia snuck in enough punches to stem a 3-fight losing streak.

Bantamweight Gary Antonio Russell moved to 14-0 with a six-round technical decision over Tijuana’s Saul Hernandez (13-13-1). A clash of heads in the sixth round left the Mexican disoriented and the bout went to the cards where Antonio won by scores of 59-55 and 60-54 twice. Hernandez didn’t figure to go the distance. In his last three fights, he fattened up his record against opponents who were a combined 0-30.

In a fight slated for eight rounds, junior welterweight Gary Antuanne Russell improved to 9-0 (9) with a fourth round stoppage of Nicaragua’s Marcos Mojica (16-4-2) who had the misfortune of being thrust against a former Olympian in a second straight bout. Mojica was on the canvas twice before the referee intervened. He lasted longer than any of Russell’s previous opponents, none of whom lasted beyond three frames.

Brooklyn-born Richardson Hitchins, who represented Haiti in the 2016 Olympics, improved to 9-0 (5) when Columbia’s Alejandro Munero (4-2-3) was unable to answer the bell for round four. The 21-year-old Hitchins was making his eighth appearance at Barclays.

Dylan Price, a 20-year-old bantamweight from Sicklerville, NJ, improved to 8-0 when the corner of Mexico’s Manuel Manzo (4-7-2) stopped the one-sided beatdown midway through the sixth round.

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The Tartan Tornado and the Monster Advance in the World Boxing Super Series

Arne K. Lang

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World Boxing Super Series

Semifinal matchups in the 118- and 140-pound tournaments of the World Boxing Super Series played out today, May 18, at the SSE Hydro Arena in Glasgow, Scotland. All four participants entered the day undefeated.

In the main go, junior welterweight Josh Taylor, the Tartan Tornado, delighted the home folks by winning a unanimous decision over Ivan “The Beast” Baranchyk. Fighting in the same arena where he won Commonwealth Gold in 2014, Taylor outpointed Baranchyk on scores of 117-109 and 115-111 twice.

Taylor had an anxious moment in the fifth round when Baranchyk landed three unanswered punches that momentarily left Taylor on shaky legs. But in the very next frame, Taylor came up big, knocking Baranchyk to the canvas twice, first with a right hook and then a left to the head followed by a left to the body.

Baranchyk, who pepped for this fight at Freddie Roach’s gym in Hollywood, recuperated nicely. Taylor could have played it safe by going on his bicycle in the final round, but he elected to trade with Baranchyk who finished strong, although clearly behind on the cards.

With the victory, Josh Taylor improved to 15-0 and moves on to a contest with Regis Prograis, a bout that will likely land in Glasgow and, if so, will be the biggest fight ever in Scotland. Baranchyk, who was born in Russia but has been residing in Oklahoma, declined to 19-1

The Monster

In the co-feature, Yokohama’s baby-faced Naoya “The Monster” Inoue (18-0, 16 KOs) showed that he belongs on everyone’s pound-for-pound list with a second round blast-out of Puerto Rico’s previously undefeated Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-1). After a fairly even first round, Inoue lowered the boom in the second, decking Rodriguez three times to force an intervention. At stake were the IBF and WBA bantamweight titles. With the win, Inoue earned a date with Filipino veteran Nonito Donaire who was in the building.

Inoue scored his first knockdown with a left hook and that spelled the beginning of the end for Rodriguez. In his previous two bouts, Inoue demolished title-holders Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano in the opening round. If he gets past Donaire – and he will be heavily favored – he will be the odds-on choice to be named the 2019 Fighter of the Year.

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