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Three Punch Combo: Which of These Damaged Goods Will Be the Next Rob Brant?

Matt Andrzejewski

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Brant

THREE PUNCH COMBO — Rob Brant was once considered a top prospect. He was a decorated amateur and put on some early performances in his pro career that had many thinking he’d be a future world champion. In July of 2017, Brant was 22-0 and accepted an invitation to enter the World Boxing Super Series super middleweight tournament.

There were several solid names in the eight man tournament but many thought Brant (pictured) had the tools and talent to win this prestigious event. However, in his quarterfinal match in Germany against veteran Juergen Braehmer, Brant brought nothing to the table and lost a wide 12-round unanimous decision. Brant was not only out of the tournament but many in boxing wrote him off following this disappointing  performance.

A year later, Brant would move back into contention into his more natural division at middleweight and this time face highly touted WBA world title holder Ryota Murata. Brant was a considerable underdog in this contest in part due to his performance a year earlier against Braehmer, but he stepped up to the occasion and put on a dazzling performance in winning a clear cut unanimous decision.  This Friday on ESPN, Brant, who is now 24-1 with 16 KO’s, will make his first defense against Khasan Baysangurov (17-0, 7 KO’s) at the Grand Casino in Hinckley in his home state of Minnesota.

The story of Rob Brant is not uncommon. A big time prospect suffers a bad defeat but learns from that loss to bounce back and live up to the high expectations that he once carried.

So who could be the next Rob Brant? Here are three possibilities, fighters whose career paths have followed a similar road to that of Brant and could be the next to emerge after disappointing setbacks.

Ryan Martin (22-1, 12 KO’s)

Ryan Martin was a highly decorated US amateur with reportedly over 200 wins in the unpaid ranks. Almost instantly after turning pro, he began appearing on top prospects lists and many thought the sky was the limit for him.

Blessed with natural athletic ability, Martin showcased his talent early in his career putting on some eye popping performances that reinforced the thought that he’d be a future star. He not only had natural talent and athletic ability but had developed seasoned skills from his amateur days.

On September 16th, 2017 Martin received a coveted showcase on the undercard of Canelo-Golovkin I against tough veteran Francisco Rojo. And though he was not as dominant as he was in earlier fights, Martin found a way with his speed to defeat a very capable opponent to move from prospect to contender in the 140-pound division.

Similar to Brant, Martin’s next big step would be entering the World Boxing Super Series which was now in its second season. And like Rob Brant, Martin was packed off to Europe. In Scotland, he was pitted against another bright young 140-pound prospect in Josh Taylor.

Martin was a sizable underdog, but many thought he’d give Taylor a tough test at the very least with an upset not out of the question, notwithstanding the fact that the fight would be contested on Taylor’s turf . But Martin fizzled out big time. Looking like a deer caught in headlights, he was stopped in round seven in a one-sided contest.

Two months later, it came out that Martin had failed a VADA administered drug test. (Martin has disputed the results and the matter is still pending.)

Martin has some things to sort out in his career, namely the failed VADA test, but there is no disputing his talent. His natural athletic ability and blazing hand speed cannot be taught in the gym. Did the moment get to Martin? It is entirely possible and just as entirely possible that Martin learns from this setback to come out a better fighter. The loss to Taylor could ultimately be a blessing in disguise for Martin as he enters the next stage of his professional career.

Antonio Orozco (27-1, 17 KO’s)

Orozco can best be described as a skilled pressure fighter. Early in his career, he overwhelmed opponents with his relentless pressure and heavy hands. But as his career progressed, Orozco developed good boxing skills and became a well-rounded fighter.

Those well-rounded skills were on display in two superb performances in 2015 against Emmanuel Taylor and Humberto Soto. Orozco applied pressure in spots but also worked effectively behind the jab in winning unanimous decisions in both of those 10-round fights. A world title shot seemed to be just around the corner.

But Orozco’s career stalled following those wins. He struggled a year later against journeyman Abner Lopez in a fight in which his defensive liabilities were exposed. There were also issues at the scale and Orozco lost opportunities at a pair of big fights when he failed to make the contracted weight.

However, last September Orozco finally got his world title shot against Jose Ramirez. Orozco fought admirably but once again defensive inefficiencies proved his downfall as he dropped a wide decision.

Up until the Ramirez fight, Orozco had gotten away with his defensive flaws. If he can get some of these flaws tightened up, he can still make some noise. It is way too early to write him off. Odds are he will find himself with another opportunity sooner rather than later. If Orozco can learn from this loss, he could easily turn that next opportunity into something special.

Felix Verdejo (24-1, 16 KO’s)

Before he had his first pro fight, Felix Verdejo was already being hailed as the next great fighter from Puerto Rico and a future pay-per-view star. And when he was knocked out by Antonio Lozada last year, many wrote him off as just another prospect who will never pan out.

There is no question Verdejo is blessed with amazing natural talent. He can not only punch but has fast hands and is incredibly athletic. But there were red flags leading up to the Lozada loss. As Verdejo stepped up in class against better fighters, his performances seemed sluggish. He didn’t seem to be developing. There were questions about his training habits and how serious he was taking the sport.

Sometimes a humbling experience like the one Verdejo experienced against Lozada can be the catalyst for major changes. How bad does Verdejo want it and will being humbled cause him to make the necessary changes to live up to his potential?

It is way too early to write off Verdejo. The natural talent that got everyone excited still exists. It is the proper dedication to the sport that was clearly missing. If he commits himself to boxing, Verdejo can bounce back and turn the negative experience of the loss into a positive one for his career.

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The Gypsy King: Enjoy Him While You Can

Ted Sares

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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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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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