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Kovalev Seeks Rare Chance at Redemption against Alvarez

Four of the most iconic fighters in boxing history had to do it and they did. Joe Louis’ career hinged on it, Sugar Ray Robinson

Frank Lotierzo

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Four of the most iconic fighters in boxing history had to do it and they did. Joe Louis’ career hinged on it, Sugar Ray Robinson did it against his career rival and so did Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, and that’s exact revenge over the first fighter to beat them. Had Louis not defeated Max Schmeling, had Robinson lost again to Jake LaMotta, had Ali  tripped again over Joe Frazier’s left hook and had Leonard not boxed smartly instead of brawling with Roberto Duran in their rematch, their legacies would be entirely diminished and different today for obvious reasons.

Seldom do fighters fail in the rematch against the first fighter to beat them and then get a chance to revitalize their career if they can beat the second man to defeat them. Well, that’s exactly what former two-time light heavyweight title holder Sergey Kovalev 32-3-1 (28) will be confronted with when he meets up again with Eleider Alvarez 24-0 (12). As widely reported, Kovalev will be exercising the clause in his contract that stipulated if he lost to Alvarez when they met on August 4th, he had the right to an immediate rematch. Kovalev-Alvarez II is tentatively scheduled for this coming February.

Kovalev was up on all three judges’ cards (58-56 and 59-55 twice) going into the seventh round when he was dropped three times and stopped at the 2:45 mark, suffering his third career setback to only the second fighter to defeat him. It seems almost a lifetime ago when Kovalev was often listed among the top five pound for pound fighters in boxing heading into his showdown with another pound for pound stalwart, Andre Ward. That was back in November of 2016 and the clash with Ward was seen pretty much by all as a pick’em going in. The bout went the distance and Kovalev lost a somewhat controversial unanimous decision (I had Kovalev winning by a single point) and since then the wheels seem to have come off regarding his career. When they met seven months later Ward was better and adjusted his attack, working Sergey’s body and rough housing him, and in the eyes of many he exposed a fatal flaw in Kovalev, namely that he seems to come unglued when things turn against him and he must fight through adversity.

Ward stopped Kovalev in the eighth round of the rematch with Ward up slightly on two of the cards with the third favoring Kovalev by a point. Instead of disappearing, Kovalev fought five months later and won a regional belt stopping Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in the second round and followed that up four months later stopping Igor Mikhalkin in the seventh round to win the WBO light heavyweight title. In his first defense, he risked his title against Alvarez.

Favored at odds as high as 6/1, Kovalev started slowly but came on starting in the third and had a big fourth that had Eleider covering up in retreat. During the fifth and sixth rounds, in spite of not looking like the killer he was pre-Ward, he seemed to hit his stride and was controlling the fight….however, Alvarez was occasionally beating him to the punch with his accurately placed one-twos. Then in the seventh round Alvarez dropped Kovalev with a big right to the temple over Kovalev’s low left. Kovalev took the mandatory eight-count and was quickly dropped again with a left-hook to the face. Again he beat the count but was on unsteady legs and as soon as he resumed fighting Alvarez cuffed him with a right and short left hook combo that had him down again and the bout was correctly stopped.

Kovalev no doubt rationalizes the loss as just getting caught like so many other fighters of his caliber before him. He’ll no doubt focus on the fact he was winning and that in boxing anyone can get caught, but it isn’t quite that simple. And in Sergey’s case the mental aspect is every bit as much a factor as the physical part.

After realizing by the end of their first fight that Andre Ward wasn’t intimidated by him and then actually being bullied by Ward in the rematch, Kovalev’s mental cloak of invincibility was shattered. We saw that happen with Mike Tyson after Buster Douglas and with Roy Jones after being knocked out by Antonio Tarver in their rematch. In Kovalev’s case, he appeared to be on the right track in his two bouts after his second defeat to Ward, but then again he wasn’t fighting elite opposition.

Against Alvarez he took a few clean shots early but again settled into fighting his fight. But when he couldn’t really put any hurt on Eleider during the fourth and into the fifth round, he seemed to lose a step and whenever Alvarez landed clean, you could see Sergey was trying to shield that he was bothered by it and felt it wasn’t happening by accident or luck. And once he was dropped by the first big right hand you knew he’d never survive. And having experienced that, the mountain will be tougher to scale in the rematch. Gone is the myth he forced on himself after the second Ward clash that it was a quick stoppage and the referee was against him. He knows Alvarez beat him and he can’t lie to himself about it.

What makes his task so monumental this time is the same thing he had to overcome against Ward for their rematch, and that is stylistically Kovalev can only fight one way and he can’t change that and making things worse is that Alvarez knows it. In order to deliver his power, Sergey must dictate the fight, pushing the action forward. Ward used that against him and there’s no doubt Alvarez will too the second time around.

Kovalev’s problem is one that all attackers have when they finally run into an opponent who makes them pay too big a price for their aggression. Sergey’s lack of good head and upper-body movement and refusal to clinch makes him an easy target – couple that with Alvarez’s clearly faster hands and it unfolds with Sergey getting hit too much and too cleanly on the way in. And once he processes that he’ll have to come in more measured, that’s when Alvarez, no longer being under duress, can really sit down on his shots and unload on Kovalev.

Whenever an attacker faces a fighter who makes the price of getting inside too steep, and the attacker can’t change things up, the rematch is usually a rerun of the first encounter. As I often say, all the attacker can do is bring more of what didn’t work the first time. And now Alvarez knows he can change the fight with one shot and Kovalev knows he couldn’t end it when Alvarez was in trouble during the fourth round of their last fight. Also, there’s the question of Kovalev’s discipline and training habits and they may have already taken their toll and depleted him physically at age 35.

Unlike Louis, Robinson, Ali and Leonard, Kovalev lacks stylistic versatility. Alvarez is a better technician than Kovalev, and when the better technician wins the first time, seldom can the perceived puncher adjust and be a different beast in the rematch.

With Kovalev’s confidence eroded and him not being able to adjust to Alvarez’s style, it’s hard to paint a positive scenario for him. If he were to pull it off against an even more confident Alvarez in the rematch, he will have redeemed himself and his career lives on. But if he can’t, his legacy of being one of the more feared fighters of his era will most likely be forgotten….if it hasn’t been already.

Sergey Kovalev is in a tough spot. This is a fight he had no choice but to take. He’s run out of other chances; it’s not worth Kathy Duva’s while to give him any more confidence-builders. His marketability is shot and the only way to restore it is with a solid win over Alvarez.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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Angel Rodriguez and Adelaida Ruiz Stay Unbeaten in Pico Rivera

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(By special correspondent Tarrah Zeal) PICO RIVERA, Ca.-A large fight card saw Angel Rodriguez and rapidly rising female star Adelaida “La Cobra” Ruiz in co-main events on a cool Saturday summer evening at the outdoor Pico Rivera Sports Arena. Dubbed “Path 2 Glory,” the Red Boxing Promotions show featured two bouts with strong female contenders who left the crowd fully entertained.

Local fighter Angel Rodriguez (3-0) of Pico Rivera used his athleticism and speed to derail any hopes of James Stewart gaining a foothold in their lightweight clash and won by majority decision after four rounds.

Despite Rodriguez’s many offensive and defensive weapons Pomona’s Stewart did not allow the fight to be a run away and maintained a steady course of retaliation in their lightweight clash. It was toe-to-toe action that left the judges in a quandary. Though one judge scored it a draw, the two others saw Rodriguez the winner.

A super bantamweight clash saw South Gate’s Anthony Casillas (8-1) out-bludgeon Northern California’s Ivan Varela (3-2) to win by a unanimous decision that was much closer than the scores might indicate. Casillas and Varela never waned in throwing punches. It was a fight that had fans cheering lustily with each side thinking they had won.

After four rounds all three judges deemed Casillas the winner 39-37.

The first female fight of the night was an exciting match that had two light flyweight women coming back into the ring with hopes to go home a winner after recent losses on both of their records.

Twenty-three-year-old, Lorraine Vilalobos (3-2) of Whittier, CA. who trains at Grampa’s boxing gym in Orange County, was scheduled for four rounds with twenty-four-year-old Danielle Saldanha (2-3) of Fort Collins, CO.

During the early rounds, Villalobos was the aggressor. Saldanha showed her skill by landing a few punches and smooth defense. With Saldanha moving around the ring a lot, Villalobos kept the pressure and stayed technical amidst the constant clashes between the two.

Connecting jabs and overhand rights were setting Villalobos up for what would have been a clear decision that the judges would’ve given to the stronger fighter of the two, Villalobos. But the fight never got to the scorecards as Villalobos landed a clean left hook to the chin of Saldanha which sent her flat on the canvas.

There was a look of mixed feelings of excitement and shock as Villalobos watched Saldanha struggling to get up, she didn’t know how to correctly react to her opponent being laid out, “this was my first knock out in my career.”

Villalobos most recent loss was a corner stoppage against Australia’s tough pugilist Louisa “Bang Bang Lulu” Hawton (in a scheduled 10-round bout that only lasted five at the StubHub Center in Carson, CA.).

Female co-main

Los Angeles native Adelaida “La Cobra” Ruiz (8-0, 4 KO) continued her undefeated record with a unanimous decision over a strong-willed southpaw, Myrka Aguayo (2-1) from Tijuana, Mexico.

In the scheduled six-round super flyweight contest, Ruiz did what she had always done and that was dominate her opponents with her great technical style and powerful hooks to the body.

Getting too close proved to be a big mistake for Aguayo as she was met with a flurry of body punches every time. But, she wouldn’t give up too easily as she set herself up for more of a beating from the “La Cobra” throughout the rounds.

Ruiz used her distance and vicious hooks to the body as the crowd chanted “Cobra, Cobra”. The crowd was all too familiar with this fan favorite and her style to never disappoint. The Tijuana’s pugilist had a hard time keeping her mouthpiece in.

Even though her last bout was nearly seven months ago, “La Cobra” showed no mercy in finding perfect openings to lay multiple body shots and hooks punishing her opponent as if she never took a day off. Even an elbow to the head of Ruiz’ had her right eye slowly closing in the final rounds but, that didn’t slow down the constant attacks.

After six rounds of pure punishment, all three judges scored the bout 60-54 for “La Cobra.”

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Three Punch Combo: Looking Ahead to the 2020 IBHOF Class and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — Last weekend, the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY, held its annual induction ceremony. Julian Jackson, Donald Curry and James “Buddy” McGirt were enshrined in the modern category. With the 2019 induction weekend now complete, it is now time to look forward to the 2020 class in the modern category.

For those not familiar with the process, each year three boxers are elected in the modern category. No more and no less. The modern category is comprised of fighters who had their last bout no earlier than 1989 and have been retired from the sport for five years. So to be considered for the 2020 ballot, the boxer’s last fight would need to be no later than 2014.

Last year’s class was dominated by holdovers who weren’t elected to the IBHOF the first time they were eligible and appeared on the ballot multiple times before finally getting inducted. We also saw something similar in 2016. But for the class of 2020, we have a strong list of first time eligible candidates and given the current voting criteria it is probable that the class of 2020 will be comprised of fighters from this list.

The five notable first time eligible candidates are Juan Manuel Marquez (56-7-1, 40 KO’s), Sergio Martinez (51-3-2, 28 KO’s), Carl Froch (33-2, 24 KO’s), Jorge Arce (64-8-2, 49 KO’s) and Marcos Maidana (35-5, 31 KO’s).

Of the five, I think Arce and Maidana can safely be eliminated from serious consideration for the class of 2020. They don’t have near the resumes of the other three.

Juan Manuel Marquez (pictured) would seem to be a lock. He is a former multi-division champion who fought in some of the most prominent fights of his era and holds wins against some of the best fighters of his generation. This includes wins over Hall of Famer Marco Antonio Barrera and future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao.

Sergio Martinez is also a lock. The Argentine may have been a late bloomer but he had a dominant four-year middleweight title reign after defeating Kelly Pavlik in 2010 for the title. During this reign he scored an emphatic second round knockout of Paul Williams which avenged a previous loss and won a decisive 12-round decision over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

I sense there will be some debate regarding Froch but I think he will get the nod his first time around. He is a former 168-pound champion and has an incredibly deep resume that includes wins against many of the best in the division of his era. Of his two losses, one was avenged to Mikkel Kessler and the other was to future first ballot Hall of Famer Andre Ward. The resume just speaks for itself and should be more than enough to earn Froch enshrinement on his first go-around.

Of the holdovers, the two most likely to push Froch for the third and final spot are Rafael Marquez (41-9, 37 KO’s) and Vinny Paz (50-10, 30 KO’s). Marquez garnered a lot of support in his first year of eligibility last year and a lot were surprised when he did not make the final cut. With his brother likely getting inducted this coming year, there could be a push to put the brothers in together. As for Paz, he also picked up some steam last year and seemed to sway more voters to his side.

The Case For Yaqui Lopez

Every year I like to touch upon some fighters who I feel have gone overlooked by IBHOF voters. In past years for example, I have made cases for both Kevin Kelley and Junior Jones. This year, I wanted to go back a little further to a different era and point out a fighter who I think deserves serious consideration in Yaqui Lopez (61-15, 39 KO’s).

Lopez never won a world title and I am quickly reminded of that whenever I bring up his candidacy. He fought in an era that not only did not have an abundance of title belts but also featured some of the all-time greats of the light heavyweight division. Lopez lost two close decisions in world title bids to Hall of Famer Victor Galindez. Lopez also was competitive on two occasions in challenging Matthew Saad Muhammad for his light heavyweight title. Their second fight in 1980 was the Ring Magazine Fight of the Year. And Lopez also gave future Hall of Famer Michael Spinks a test before being stopped in the seventh round.

The losses were competitive to these all-time greats. In any other era Lopez would have been a world champion. But there are yet many good wins on his resume, most notably a sixth round stoppage of Mike Rossman in March of 1978. Six months later, Rossman would knock out the aforementioned Galindez to become the light heavyweight champion.

There is another side to the argument for Lopez. Some people hate when I mention this but entertainment matters when considering candidates qualifications. The floodgates were opened by voters in this regard with the elections of Arturo Gatti and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and there is no going back. Lopez was not only a very accomplished fighter but one of the most exciting fighters of his era, he was involved in many memorable wars. Add this fact to his resume and Lopez more than meets all the criteria to be inducted into the IBHOF.

Under The Radar Fight

 ShoBox returns on Friday from the WinnaVegas Casino & Resort in Sloan, Iowa with a tripleheader featuring six fighters with a combined record of 91-1. Though I am very interested in all the fights, I am especially interested in the main event, a 154-pound contest between fast rising prospect Sebastian Fundora (12-0, 8 KO’s) and Hector Manuel Zepeda (17-0, 4 KO’s).

Fundora stands 6’7” tall and is appropriately nicknamed “The Towering Inferno.” For a man who stands that tall, he is incredibly athletic and fluid inside the ring. Working from a southpaw stance, Fundora likes to use his height to pepper his opponents from the outside with a sharp right jab. He will work very fluid, heavy handed combinations behind that jab and makes his opposition pay a heavy toll when they attempt to close the distance. And if opponents do manage to get inside, Fundora has shown himself to be a very accomplished fighter at close range.

Defensively, Fundora has some things to clean up. He tends to get involved in exchanges and when he does so will stand straight up with his chin exposed. He’s been clipped clean on a few occasions and that will need to be corrected as he moves up in caliber of competition.

There is not a lot of video available on Zepeda but from what I have seen he is a technically astute fighter. He is a boxer puncher by trade who will use frequent lateral movement working behind the left jab from the orthodox stance. Zepeda likes to be first instead of looking for counters and from the fights I have seen has shown to be a volume puncher. As the record indicates, however, he is not a big puncher.

If Zepeda fights the way that I have seen on video, I think we are going to get a fast paced, good action fight. Fundora is clearly the “A” side here and is supposed to win. But make no mistake, Zepeda can fight and this is a step up in class for Fundora.

This is a classic ShoBox fight in which the “A” side could get pushed and I am very interested to see this one on Friday.

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Will a Canelo Alvarez Trilogy Turn ‘Triple G’ into a Mexican Style Piñata?

Jeffrey Freeman

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We’ve all seen the birthday video of some poor kid swingin’ for a strung-up stuffed toy but getting back in the face something other than the expected bounty of candies and treats. Dizzy from being spun around in circles and blindfolded against a moving target, a child is beaten by paper mache. Score one for the much-abused piñata. It can only take so much punishment.

Before it opens up—explodes!

Perhaps that’s 37-year-old Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin now in his single-minded desire to fight world middleweight champion Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez, 28, for a third time following a successful comeback KO of Steve Rolls at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Maybe he’ll bust Canelo’s belly open. Or maybe this time he’ll get busted up? Three strikes in this game; sorry Buster.

“I’m ready. Bring on Canelo,” Golovkin told DAZN’s Chris Mannix after improving to 39-1-1 with 35 big knockouts. “A third fight is more interesting because we both have experience against each other. I come to open up, he comes to open up…the next fight will be amazing for us.”

Their first two title bouts were amazing for fans but they lacked a sense of finality. Neither boxer was ever visibly hurt and there were no knockdowns registered. In two fights, only six points divided the combatants and that includes the despicable 118-110 score from Adalaide Byrd in favor of Canelo in the first meeting. In the rematch, Alvarez was superior—but not by much.

The piñata is still in play.

In his many swings in two HBO-PPV tries against Alvarez, Golovkin came up short of bursting the economic bubble that surrounds Canelo and appears to protect him at all times. Their 2017 contest was ruled a split draw and their 2018 rematch was won by Canelo via majority decision. If Golovkin was cloaked in an aura of invincibility, it was Alvarez who stripped him naked but helped fund a brand-new wardrobe by providing Golovkin with his two biggest paydays by far.

Golovkin’s ability to knock out ordinary fighters and second-tier contenders like Vanes Martirosyan remains intact. The offense looks good. Punches still fly like hatchets. However, GGG’s defense looked third-rate against Rolls and he’s back to taking punches in the face in order to connect with harder punches of his own to end matters early as a “gift” for fans.

New trainer Johnathon Banks wasn’t impressed.

As a student of the late trainer Emanuel Steward and caretaker of his KRONK legacy, ‘Mister Banks’ is a fine human being and an honest man in an industry full of lies told to sell fights.

“It was very uncomfortable for me,” said Banks at the post-fight press conference of having to watch Golovkin, now without Abel Sanchez, take shots he shouldn’t be taking. On the other hand, Canelo’s Golden Boy Promotions promoter Oscar De La Hoya had to like what he saw.

The TSS Truth: The Golovkin who beat Rolls didn’t look ready at all for the Canelo who beat Jacobs. And if you listened carefully to the post-fight breakdown by Banks, the trainer knows it’s true. What’s also true is that as Canelo approaches his peak, Golovkin is approaching age 40.

Can Banks teach Golovkin to correct his mistakes and be better than Alvarez in September—in three months? “If we can grow day to day as trainer and fighter, that can change the outcome.”

I’m not so sure.

THE BANK STATEMENT

After getting his head bobbled around by Rolls before dropping the boom in the fourth, GGG didn’t sound too interested in a New York rematch with Danny Jacobs or a shot at Providence, Rhode Island’s Demetrius Andrade for Boo-Boo’s new WBO trinket—and who can blame him at this point? The only big money fight out there for GGG is still against Canelo Alvarez.

It’s all about his legacy now. Uno mas en Las Vegas. Third times a charm?

As Golovkin gets another year older, his red-headed target grows another year wiser. Canelo’s 24 rounds of experience in the ring with GGG have taught him how to do what nobody else before him could do which was beat Golovkin back and take his unified middleweight titles.

Ask Canelo, as DAZN’s Mannix did, and he’ll say a third fight with Golovkin is unnecessary. “For me, we are done, but if the people want to see it, we can do it again. And I’ll beat him again.”

But can Alvarez finish the job and be the first to finish off Golovkin inside the distance? If he wants to get the critics off his back who insist he received two gifts against Golovkin, he’ll want to. It worked for Andre Ward against Sergey Kovalev but even then fans cried foul over the TKO.

Can Alvarez make GGG quit?

The way Golovkin got hit by Steve Rolls has me wondering if the counterpunching Canelo has been setting him up all along for a trilogy winning knockout of some sort. Is the rock-solid chin of Golovkin finally ready to burst after years of getting whacked at by eager-fisted title challengers?

Canelo is by no means a knockout puncher against fully fleshed out middleweights but he has grown into the 160-pound division very well over time. His recent unanimous decision victory over Danny Jacobs didn’t feature any knockdowns but his win over the ‘Miracle Man’ was more conclusive than was Golovkin’s in 2017. Nobody was claiming afterwards that Jacobs deserved the decision while some still insist that Danny actually beat GGG. If Golovkin is right and both of them open up more in a third fight, Canelo-Golovkin III could exceed expectations.

We’ve all heard the saying: Be careful what you wish for. Because you just might get it!

There wouldn’t be a bigger Big Drama Show in all of boxing than to see the once seemingly invincible Gennady Golovkin dropped and/or stopped by the Mexican Style of Canelo Alvarez.

Boxing Writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts from 1973 to 1987, during the Marvelous career of Marvin Hagler. JFree then lived in Lowell, Mass during the best years of Irish Micky Ward’s illustrious career. A new member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a Bernie Award Winner in the Category of Feature Under 1500 Words, Freeman covers boxing for The Sweet Science in New England.

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