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Tony Bellew’s Mission Impossible

Matt McGrain

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It is my opinion that boxers who insist they are going to “take his soul” when discussing a forthcoming opponent can be placed in one of two categories: group A, which is formed exclusively of Bernard Hopkins; group B which is formed entirely of people who don’t understand what it is they are saying.

So Tony Bellew seems bound to join either the former, very exclusive group, or find himself among the unknowing and which way the nut turns depends on his contest with no less a figure than Oleksandr Usyk, a Ukrainian genius pound-for-pounder with a record of 15-0 and the undisputed cruiserweight champion of the world, whose soul Bellew has promised to capture.

“The man’s the biggest monster in boxing, second only to Lomachenko,” Bellew states, but also believes that he will “break his heart.”

It is reasonable for Bellew (30-2-1) to back himself in this way, not least because he is a professional fighter. More than that though, he is on a very decent run across the cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions.

Bellew was beaten thoroughly by Adonis Stevenson back in 2013, struggling with the weight as a light-heavyweight and apparently with his best behind him. Even his best had seen him ranked no higher than seventh by the TBRB.

So many were surprised when Bellew embarked upon a ten fight winning streak that has yet to be ended, not least because after much celebrated back to back stoppages of David Haye the lugubrious Liverpool man retired and turned his gig as a broadcaster for a British sports television company from part time to full time. Bellew, who had achieved a legitimate ranking as a heavyweight behind these two wins, walked away at what was arguably the absolute peak of his career.

That was until he tuned in to watch Usyk’s fight with Murat Gassiev, a fight which was to crown the undisputed #1 cruiserweight in the world and which was, on paper, a close contest. Usyk out-classed Gassiev in a non-competitive one-sided rout and when he had a microphone pushed in front of his face he did what fighters do and called a prospective opponent out.

“I was retired,” as Bellew put it. “Then he said my name.”

Usyk’s selection of Bellew as a prospective opponent made total sense to me at the time. As Bellew put it, “I’ve got what he wants, a name in the UK.” This is a good read from Bellew. Usyk not only called out a British fighter, he signed with a British promoter in Eddie Hearn. Hearn is perhaps the shrewdest operator in promotion today and signing Usyk must be seen in the light of Hearn’s association with world heavyweight kingpin Anthony Joshua. Usyk has been clear for the past two years that when he comes to heavyweight he wants Joshua and he thinks he can beat him. What did Eddie’s signature of Usyk mean for the heavyweight division? Was be being signed to keep him out of Joshua’s ring, a move as old as boxing? Or was he being brought in to ease the matchmaking between the two; was Usyk getting exactly what he wanted?

Before any of that could be properly addressed, a complication emerged.

Bellew-Usyk wasn’t being made at heavyweight. It was being made at cruiserweight.

“He wanted it at heavyweight,” says Bellew. “I gave him a flat no…I’ve got what he wants, a name in the UK, he’s got what I want, them four belts.”

Bellew got his way. Whether it’s because of his existing relationship with Eddie Hearn, or because of Bellew’s name recognition in the British market (the fight is to take place this Saturday in Manchester), the fight was made at cruiserweight rather than heavyweight. There would be no exploratory contest with a small heavyweight for Usyk. He was instead to defend his cruiserweight belts.

Bellew, who had nearly 240lbs sitting on him when negotiations began, has already lost most of them.  As of this week he is three pounds above 200lbs and barring disaster is set to make weight comfortably – probably. Occasionally an older fighter, as Sweet Science readers will know full well, can hurt themselves during weight-making and not realize the disaster that has occurred until the bell. Bellew is thirty-five, and although he’s no punching bag, he’s been through it.

Usyk, of course, has been fighting fit at 200lbs for years, having never weighed in at more than 206lbs for a professional contest. This is just the latest and possibly greatest advantage that Usyk enjoys. He is faster, more fluid, more technically assured, he is better balanced, has better footwork and more variety. Stacked against this is Bellew’s greater experience (balanced by Usyk’s amateur pedigree), power, home support, and, according to the man himself at least, heart.

To be fair, this is not a short list and fighters have done more with less; nevertheless it is a fact that the last TBRB ranked contender Bellew dispatched was Ilunga Makabu, who was the world’s #7 cruiserweight back in May 2016. In the intervening thirty months Usyk has by contrast defeated Krzysztof Glowacki (2), Marco Huck (3), Mairis Briedis (6) and Gassiev (2), all in their own boxing homes.

Probably it’s fair to scratch “home support” and “experience” from Bellew’s list of advantages then. This leaves him with power and an alleged superiority in heart. To be fair to him, Bellew has the more proven heart of the two but the fact that a litany of high class opposition has failed even to test Usyk’s tells its own story.

The Ukrainian then, is an overwhelming favorite. When trying to establish just how big an upset a given victory would be I always ask myself what would be said if the underdog won; what volume of internet geniuses would be saying “I told you so!” and more importantly, why?

The only chink in the armor of Usyk in this respect is the Briedis contest. Briedis, who boxes Noel Mikaelian (aka Noel Gevor) at the top of an interesting card in Chicago this weekend, “succeeded in making every round close” but that “Usyk was the clear winner in the great majority of them” according to my coverage of that fight. Most people who want to make Bellew’s chances real point to that contest as the one most in support of their position.

But Briedis troubled Usyk – and the fight was rendered a split decision in Briedis’s native Riga, so whatever my card says, “troubled” is a reasonable word – not by way of pressure and heart (though he showed great bravery) and certainly not by power-punching; rather he tried and failed to out-touch Usyk, to take advantage of Usyk’s perceived lack of power by dialing back the weight of his own shots and trying to out-pop and out-work him.

The idea that Bellew will throw more shots than Usyk in this fight is ridiculous. The idea that he can outland the Ukrainian is preposterous.

And I don’t think he’ll try. Bellew will take the pain while keeping the pressure on and looking to land big hard punches, probably to the body. He may even have some success. But I think a responsible corner would end up pulling Bellew after nine or ten. David Coldwell, who handles Bellew, is an excellent cornerman but he may succumb to Bellew’s ultra macho attitude and “never give up” brand. It’s probable and it is worrying to me that Bellew quitting two rounds before his media career becomes permanent is absolutely impossible due to wider considerations. It may fall to a reluctant referee, then, to pull the injured party late. Barring that I think we are looking at a wide unanimous decision for Oleksandr Usyk.

Because in the end, Bellew may be right: Usyk really may be the second best fighter in the entire world.

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Abel Sanchez Candidly Shares His Feelings About GGG and Andy Ruiz

Arne K. Lang

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The noted trainer Abel Sanchez has taken his lumps lately, but he was as congenial as ever as he conversed with this reporter during a lull in the action on last Saturday’s show at the MGM Grand Garden. Earlier in the evening, one of Sanchez’s newest proteges, Guido Vianello, had advanced his record to 4-0 with a second round stoppage of sacrificial lamb Keenan Hickmon. A six-foot-six heavyweight from Italy, Vianello was “awarded a scholarship” to Sanchez’s boxing academy by Bob Arum after signing with Arum’s Top Rank organization in November of last year.

Our talk inevitably turned to his fractured relationship with Gennady Golovkin. When we visited “The Summit,” the name of Sanchez’s training facility in Big Bear, California, in March of 2016, the fighter from Kazakhstan and his Mexican-American coach appeared to have an unbreakable bond. When in training, GGG resided in the compound that Sanchez built as a combination dormitory and training facility, a 5,200 square foot complex with a gym in the lower level. Sanchez spoke highly of GGG back then, not just as a boxer but as a person. Despite his growing fame, said Sanchez, GGG was as unspoiled as the day they first met in March of 2010.

In his first fight under Sanchez’s tutelage, Golovkin went to Panama City and won the WBA middleweight title with a 58-second blowout of Milton Nunez. He would go on to unify the title while tying Bernard Hopkins’ record for successful middleweight title defenses (20).

In April, GGG severed the relationship. This came shortly after he signed a three-year, six-fight deal with DAZN worth a reported $100 million. He subsequently hooked up with Johnathon Banks, a protégé of Emanuel Steward. Banks was in GGG’s corner not quite two weeks ago when GGG bombed out overmatched Steve Rolls.

The break-up was over money. When GGG signed his lucrative deal with DAZN, his German advisors decided that henceforth Sanchez would receive a flat rate instead of his customary percentage. “Take it or leave it,” they told Abel. He left it.

“Money (often) corrupts character and values,” said Sanchez, who was deeply wounded when GGG turned his back on him. And although we didn’t delve into it, he likely had flashbacks to 1992 when the very same thing had happened to him with Terry Norris.

Terry Norris was Abel’s first prominent fighter. He trained Terry and his older brother Orlin Norris, a budding word cruiserweight champion, for the late Joe Sayatovich at Sayatovich’s training facility on a 30-acre ranch in the high desert community of Campo, California, five miles from the Mexican border. Sayatovich owned a construction company, as did Sanchez, a second generation California home builder.

In July of 1989, Terry Norris was bombed out in two rounds by Julian Jackson in Atlantic City in a bid for Jackson’s WBA 154-pound title. But Sanchez orchestrated a rebound and Norris went on to carve out a Hall of Fame career, preceding Julian Jackson into the International Boxing Hall of Fame by 14 years.

Norris was a world champion, but yet one of the lesser known champions until winning a lopsided 12-round decision over Sugar Ray Leonard on Feb. 9, 1991, at Madison Square Garden, plunging Sugar Ray into a six-year retirement. That increased Norris’s marketability enormously and spelled the beginning of the end of the Norris-Sanchez partnership. In November of the following year, Sanchez received a letter co-signed by Sayatovich and Norris (whose signature was apparently forged) telling him that he had been dismissed.

A story in the San Diego Union-Tribune quoted Sayatovich as saying that Abel had to go because he had become “too greedy,” balking at taking a smaller percentage of Terry Norris’s purses now that the fighter had punched his way into the upper echelon of wage earners. But the break-up did not disturb Sanchez’s relationship with Orlin Norris, or with the father and official co-trainer of the Norris brothers, both of whom jumped to Abel’s defense, saying he had remained loyal to Sayatovich and that Sayatovich ought to have reciprocated that loyalty.

There’s an old saying in boxing that a trainer or manager should never become too emotionally attached to a fighter as that fighter will break his heart someday. Abel Sanchez knows the feeling.

Terry Norris, detached from Sanchez, lost his WBC diadem in his 11th title defense when he suffered a fourth round stoppage at the hands of Simon Brown in Puebla, Mexico. A win over Brown would have propelled Norris into a match with Pernell Whitaker, and had he succeeded in beating Whitaker, he would have been the runaway pick for the top spot on the pound-for-pound lists.

Abel Sanchez wasn’t surprised that Norris was upended by Simon Brown, a huge underdog. “We watch him in the gym and he’s gotten away from basic fundamentals,” he told LA Times writer Tim Kawakami. “He’s going out there winging and trying to bomb everyone out. And when you do that you’re going to get hit.”

We mean no disrespect to Johnathan Banks, a fine trainer, but we can’t help but wonder if Gennady Golovkin’s career will take the same turn.

ANDY RUIZ

Abel Sanchez first met Andy Ruiz when Ruiz, an aspiring Olympian, was 17 years old. Ruiz’s father brought Andy to Abel’s gym. When they put the boy on the scale, he weighed 307 pounds. Ten years later, Sanchez would train Ruiz for Ruiz’s match with Joseph Parker in Auckland, New Zealand. Several fights later, Ruiz bought out his contract with Top Rank, signed with Premier Boxing Champions, and acquired a new trainer, Manny Robles.

We wondered what went through Abel’s mind as Andy Ruiz was chewing up Anthony Joshua and then rapturously celebrating with his cornermen in an unforgettable scene at Madison Square Garden. Did Abel think to himself, “well, darn, if I had played my cards right, that could have been me.”

To the contrary, Sanchez thought it was wonderful. “It was good for boxing,” he said, “I’m so happy for Andy and Manny.”

Sanchez agreed with our assessment that the quick turnaround after his bout with six-foot-seven, 260-pound behemoth Alexander Dimitrenko was actually a blessing in disguise. “On paper,” said Sanchez, “he had only five weeks to prepare but it was more like 14 weeks. Andy didn’t have time to go out and party.”

“Andy would not be denied,” said Sanchez who hopes that Ruiz brings the same mindset to the rematch. “I hope that his victory over Joshua doesn’t come to be seen as a fluke,” he said, “because Andy can really fight.” He doesn’t pack the biggest punch, noted Sanchez, but he can stop an opponent in his tracks with four- and five-punch combinations, a rare attribute in a heavyweight.

As what to expect in the rematch, Sanchez said, “Andy Ruiz will have to be even better than the first time around.”

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hogan photos / Golden Boy Promotions

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The Gypsy King: Enjoy Him While You Can

Ted Sares

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Gypsy King

Tyson Fury —The Gypsy King– possesses a sharp Irish wit. True, he’s putting everybody on half the time, but that’s what blarney is all about. He’s a born showman and is rarely at a loss for words or afraid to throw stuff out there. Heavyweight boxing hasn’t had this type in a long time—maybe not since Ali.

Curiously, the forgoing was written before he went into the deep depths of hell brought about by depression and substance abuse. He was pretty much written off as a one-off phenom. In fact, things got so bad that David Haye once said, in response to Fury’s homophobic tweets,: “It seems @Tyson_Fury needs to ease up on his ‘Medication’ or seek an Exorcist, or he’ll get sectioned at this rate #StraightJacketRequired”

Fast Forward

But lo and behold, that was then and this is now and he has made one of the greatest comebacks in sports history (with a nod to George Foreman and Tiger Woods) showing a will and determination rarely seen anywhere. This should not be downplayed. When combined with his ability to get up from Deontay Wilder’s best shot in the final round of their fight, that determination—that will, borders on the surreal.

And he is an entirely different person. This is not the same person who told reporters they can s**k his balls. No, this Fury donated his entire purse from the Wilder fight to several UK charities that specialize in providing housing for recovering addicts and alcoholics. Said Fury, “I did give away my last purse, but I don’t do charity work for a pat on the back…I do it to help people, but I do not want praise for it, I don’t want to be called a do-gooder.”

This is not a Nikolai Valuev or a Primo Canera. The new Fury is fast, fights backwards, forwards, orthodox, southpaw, and has great upper body movement. He fights in a relaxed and fluid manner, but is a ruthless closer. This Fury enjoys what he does unlike fellow-Brit Anthony Joshua who seemed visibly uncomfortable in New York City recently. Heck, Fury is made for The Big Apple.

Anyone who is 6’9” and can switch stances and slip seven punches in a row much like Pernell Whitaker was able to do and then immediately come back with a deadly volley to initiate the beginning of a ruthless end (with Schwarz bloodied and under brutal attack, the bout was waved off), warrants the attention of every serious boxing fan.

After referee Kenny Bayless finished his count, Fury came across the ring after the poor German like something out of a horror movie as he closed the show. It bears a second and third look.

“I got a big man out of there by switching it up. He caught me with a couple but you can’t go swimming and not get wet.” said Fury (now 28-0-1). As an aside, the Gypsy King went to Schwarz’s locker room to console him after the fight.

“He needed to make a statement tonight. When he walks to that ring, he becomes someone else. All that he has in the back of his head, is Deontay Wilder. He wants that revenge. He showed strength, power, determination and that killer instinct.” — Tyson’s father John Fury.

He made that statement.

The Future

Now attention turns to his next fight with Kubrat Pulev, his IBF mandatory, his most like likely opponent. (Of course, Pulev must refrain from kissing his female interviewers.) Such a matchup would be more competitive and even risky. As Caryn Tate of Boxing.com says, “The sooner Fury and the rest of the heavyweights at the top of the division fight each other, the better. The plethora of tune-ups in this sport have got to stop.”

In a sport/business that overwhelms us with nonstop legal bickering and suspected/real use of PEDs, this affable and candid giant is a breath of badly needed fresh air.

“I was in the car on the way with my wife and I said ‘I think we’ve made it Paris’. She said why and I said ‘We’re headlining in Vegas! This is it!’” — Tyson Fury

Later, he said, I came here to have fun and enjoy myself. I don’t take it too seriously. I thought I put on a good show and the fans got what they paid for.”

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.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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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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