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Larry Merchant: Spence Should Look Upward to Canelo

Bernard Fernandez

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Retired HBO boxing commentator Larry Merchant, like a lot of people, took a keen interest in IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr.’s dismantling of Mikey Garcia, whose decision to move up two weight classes and take on the naturally larger man proved to be ill-advised.

But that doesn’t mean that Spence, for whom Merchant has a burgeoning admiration, can’t succeed where Garcia didn’t. To hear Merchant tell it, the matchup all fans should demand, if not now then sometime in the not-too-distant future, is a bulked-up Spence against WBC/WBA middleweight titlist Canelo Alvarez.

What about Spence (25-0, 21 KOs) in a unification showdown with WBO welterweight champ Terence Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs), the most appealing pairing that can be made at 147 pounds? Both fighters are in the pound-for-pound discussion and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the oddsmakers made the bout a pick ’em proposition when – if – it happens. Shouldn’t that fight be atop everyone’s wish list for both men? And if more marination is required, shouldn’t these terrific champions make full unification of their present division a priority?

Well, yes. Probably. But Merchant, 88, believes the 5-foot-9½ Spence doesn’t need some sort of tournament to establish himself as the true king of the welters, even if Crawford is lurking on the horizon. He also thinks it is inevitable that Spence’s body will fill out to a point where it eventually will be necessary that he look upward, to middleweight, and the Mexican superstar who would present him with the sternest possible test, as well as the most intriguing and profitable.

“To me, it’s a natural progression,” said Merchant, who thinks Spence would “wreck” not only anyone he might face at welterweight, but also at super welterweight. “To me, the biggest fight that can be made at some point is Spence and Canelo. Virtually all the great welterweights eventually moved up to middleweight, which is a more glamorous division. That’s what great fighters did back in the day, whether it was looking for better competition or for bigger paydays.

“I think it’s fair to say Oscar De La Hoya went up too far when he fought Bernard Hopkins, but he took the shot. Carmen Basilio went up to middleweight to fight Sugar Ray Robinson. I covered both of their fights.

“There are many other examples. Emile Griffith fought many good middleweights, including Carlos Monzon twice and Dick Tiger. But that was a time when you could lose a fight and nobody would think you’re damaged goods. You could still come back. There’s a different economic model now. Everybody says they want big events, but they’re more impressed by unbeaten records and so forth.”

It should be noted that Spence has had 13 bouts at 147-plus pounds, and was a career-high 156½ pounds, for all intents and purposes a middleweight, when he stopped Chris van Heerden in eight rounds on Sept. 11, 2015. Alvarez (51-1-2, 35 KOs), on the other hand, is 5-foot-8 and has a 70½-inch reach, an inch and a half less than Spence. He also turned pro at 139 pounds and had 21 fights at 147 pounds or less before he won his first world title, as a super welterweight.

“Canelo is not a big middleweight,” Merchant said. “If Spence does move up, he might want to test his strength at super welterweight, which would put him in a good spot to get a fight with Canelo.”

In addition to the examples cited by Merchant, other welterweights who moved up to middleweight for dare-to-be-great (or greater) fights were Sugar Ray Leonard against Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Jose Napoles against Monzon, Amir Khan against Alvarez and Marlon Starling against Michael Nunn.

“Maybe it’s just me, but I think Spence (who’s 29) and Canelo (28) could be a gigantic fight someday,” Merchant said. “But don’t wait too long to make it.”

What say you, TSS Nation?

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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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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