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Deontay Wilder’s New Nuances Almost as Startling as His Trademark Right Hand

Bernard Fernandez

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Wilder

How much improvement can a fighter, any fighter, demonstrate in only 137 seconds? How many sandpaper-rough stylistic edges can be smoothed in that comparatively brief snippet of time?

Before WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder entered the ring at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn Saturday night, the one thing everyone knew he had was a booming right hand that had accounted for virtually all of his previous 39 knockout victories, 19 of which were one-round quickies. At first glance it appeared another case of the same devastating stuff when Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs) landed his signature shot with less than a minute remaining in the opening round. Semi-conscious challenger Dominic Breazeale (20-2, 18 KOs) crashed onto his back, his arms and legs outstretched as if he were being spread-eagled, with referee Harvey Dock going through the formality of counting him out after an elapsed time of 2 minutes, 17 seconds.

But it was in those two-plus minutes prior to an ending that everyone in the live turnout of 13,181 and a Showtime audience should have expected that Wilder, at the relatively advanced age of 33, revealed that he might be more than a one-trick pony. This Wilder didn’t just use his boarding-house-reach of a jab as a range finder; he snapped it out with some authority. He threw and landed an early left hook to the body, notable because the Wilder with whom fight fans were familiar was almost exclusively a headhunter. And, most telling of all, the two big right hands that did find the mark – he got Breazeale’s attention prior to the putaway blow with one that didn’t quite land flush – weren’t his typical roundhouses.

“The quickest point from A to B is always that straight line, that right hand straight down the middle,” color analyst Paulie Malignaggi said of what would appear to be a new and improved version of Wilder’s weapon of choice.

“I’m an intelligent fighter. I’m very smart in the ring with the way I set these guys up,” Wilder said at the post-fight press conference. But if that were so, these additional wrinkles or nuances would have been unveiled earlier in a career that hasn’t always been as appreciated as it might have been. He is still trained by Jay Deas and Mark Breland, so the logical conclusion is that what they likely have been telling him all along in the gym must finally have sunk in. If that is indeed the case, then Wilder, whose startling power when unleashed in any form made him an omnipresent threat, had in those 137 seconds transformed himself into an even more dangerous dude.

They say history has a way of repeating itself. Another large heavyweight of considerable renown, Lennox Lewis, fought much like the unpolished Wilder in the formative stages of his Hall of Fame career. But after Lewis relinquished his WBC title to seemingly no-hope challenger Oliver McCall, who dropped and then stopped him in the second round on May 13, 1995, in London, he fired trainer Pepe Correa and replaced him with Emanuel Steward, who had worked McCall’s corner the night “The Lion” became an ex-champ. Steward, a brilliant tactician, radically retooled Lewis, especially his jab, which was upgraded from pawing range-finder to the instrument that made the big Briton’s overhand right even more effective. Following perfunctory TKOs of Lionel Butler and Justin Fortune in his next two bouts, the best of Lewis was revealed on Oct. 7, 1995, in Atlantic City, N.J., when he floored a bloodied Tommy Morrison four times en route to winning via a sixth-round stoppage.

“I really feel like I have one of the superior jabs in the heavyweight division right now,” a beaming Lewis said after that fight, in which he showcased not only his spiffy new jab but a left hook that the pre-Steward version seldom dared to employ. “I wanted to see how Tommy Morrison would contend with it. The first couple of rounds, he contended with it. But as the rounds went by, I found my jab started to get to him.”

Is Wilder going to continue to utilize more of the tools in what would appear to be an expanded tool box? Difficult to predict. As sample sizes go, 137 seconds isn’t much. Even his destruction of the limited Breazeale may not be conclusive proof that he has matched or supplanted Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs) atop the heavyweight heap. The Englishman has three bejeweled championship belts (IBF, WBA, WBO) to Wilder’s one, and he is a wide favorite to retain them when he takes on late substitute challenger Andy Ruiz Jr. (32-1, 21 KOs) in Joshua’s U.S. debut June 1 in Madison Square Garden. There also are those who are convinced lineal champ Tyson Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs) is superior to Wilder, despite the fact Wilder dropped him twice in their Dec. 1 bout last year that ended in a split draw.  Unless or until Wilder again faces Fury, or Joshua, he will be obliged to continue convincing however many doubters remain unswayed by his string of exclamation-point knockouts.

“I display greatness when I step in the ring,” Wilder said. “I put fear in any man. I know I have tremendous power. That’s no secret. At this point I think I’ve proved myself, with the record that I have and many a body that done hit the canvas.”

Truth be told, it is becoming more and more difficult to dismiss Wilder as a crude, wild-swinging brawler who was absent the day fundamental boxing skills were being taught. You want to say that some of the nine title defenses he’s made were against fringe contenders that didn’t exactly constitute a Murderer’s Row? Fine, but he went toe-to-toe with Luis Ortiz and weathered a few sticky moments before winning on a 10th-round stoppage, and he came ever so close to knocking out Fury in the 12th round, a rare late bolt of lightning that likely preserved his undefeated record. Oh, and don’t forget that he was willing to go to Moscow to defend his title against Russia’s Alexander Povetkin, a bout which was scrapped when Povetkin tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

“Deontay will fight anyone,” said his co-manager, Shelly Finkel, who previously worked with, among others, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson. “He was willing to fight Joshua for very little comparative to what he was worth. When someone wants to make a fight, they make it. When we wanted to get Fury, we overpaid him. We gave him anything he wanted in order to make the fight.”

There almost certainly will be more concessions made by Team Wilder to procure a date with Joshua, not the least of which will be the requirement to travel to the United Kingdom, where Joshua sells out soccer stadiums. Joshua, who had handed Breazeale his only previous defeat, by seventh-round TKO on June 26, 2016, had publicly stated that he hoped Breazeale would last at least until the eighth round against Wilder, if only to keep up appearances.

Maybe he isn’t the least flawed of heavyweights, but with his ninth consecutive heavyweight title defense – matching the number for sixth place all time shared by Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Vitali Klitschko, Lewis and Tyson – he has entered the conversation for being one of the hardest-punching of big men. It is not yet where he wants to be, but as a launching pad for bigger and better things, it ain’t half-bad.

The Real Godzilla is 5-foot-5 and 118 pounds

As impressive as the bomb Wilder detonated on Breazeale’s jaw, the top performance of the day came half a world away, in Glasgow, Scotland, where Japan’s Naoya Inoue (18-0, 16 KOs), whose nickname is “The Monster,” looked like the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world with his second-round knockout of Puerto Rico’s Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-1, 12 KOs), the IBF bantamweight champion, in the semifinals of the World Boxing Super Series. Until Inoue floored him three times with left hooks Joe Frazier would have been proud of, Rodriguez, his face contorted in agony on each trip to the canvas, had never been knocked down as a professional.

Inoue’s victory moves him into the WBSS 118-pound final against veteran Nonito Donaire (40-5, 26 KOs), the WBA and WBC Diamond titlist who also has a pretty good left hook.

So dominant has the 26-year-old Inoue been that there were immediate suggestions he move up – way up – in the pound-for-pound ratings, maybe far enough up to supplant Vasiliy Lomachenko or Terence Crawford at No. 1, depending on which list you choose to believe. It’s a reason for legitimate discussion, because Inoue really is that good. Maybe he already has done enough to rise above the great Hall of Famer Fighting Harada as the best ever from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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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 it.”

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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