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What We Learned in 2011…NGUYEN

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TSS LOGO!Amir Khan is Good…But Not Great

There was a lot of talk as to whether Amir Khan’s pairing with Freddie Roach would prove to be the first step toward true greatness.

The verdict appears to be in: no.

Sure, against fighters who allow him to be a combination-punching prodigy, Khan can really look impressive, as he demonstrated against Malignaggi and Judah.  But against fighters who are unwilling to be accomplices, Khan doesn’t look anything like an all-time great.  Marcos Maidana made him look pretty vulnerable, and Lamont Peterson made him look pretty ordinary.

A great fighter shouldn’t get walked down as easily as Khan can be.  A great fighter shouldn’t hit the panic button when Plan A stops working.

Maybe I’m wrong, and perhaps the youthful Khan will learn and develop, but it’s hard to see a guy who might not be the best in his division end up being one of the best who ever did it.

Andre Ward Will Eventually Be Pound-for-Pound #1, but Will Never Be a Crossover Star

The consensus choice for Fighter of the Year, Andre Ward, has proven himself to be a special fighter throughout the Super Six Boxing Classic.  By the end of the tournament, the question wasn’t really whether Ward would win, but whether he would make the type of grand statement a superstar tends to make in that type of situation.

The statement he ended up making was beautifully articulate, albeit softly spoken, which doesn’t bode well for Ward’s crossover appeal.

Let’s examine, for a moment, the blueprint for the two biggest crossover stars boxing has produced in the past generation: Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather.

For Pacquiao, the blueprint to stardom was simple:  fight like a maniac, and eventually people will notice.  Couple with that a G-rated personality and understated charm, and the final product is a lucrative one.

For Mayweather, the mock-up was a bit different.  He isn’t the same high-contact fighter that Pacquiao is, so he didn’t achieve his status with blood and guts.  Mayweather, though, is a genius of charisma.  He realizes that controversy pays, and he’s been more than willing to embroil himself in scandalous situations.  Sure he’s been booed, but he’s also converted those boos into a lot of green.

This creates quite a quandary for Andre Ward.  He’s not a blood-and-guts fighter like Pacquiao; he’s a brilliantly talented technician.  He’s not a comic book villain like Mayweather; he’s the epitome of a gentleman. 

To put it in acting terms, Ward is the boxing equivalent of a brilliant character actor.  He has the skills to play any role in any film to critical acclaim.  But he’s not an action hero who does his own stunts.  He’s not a controversial Hollywood star who’s always in the tabloid headlines.  His type of craft and personality just doesn’t lend itself to the causal fan’s appreciation.

Don’t get me wrong; I love watching Andre Ward fight.  You probably do, too.  But I’m not a causal boxing fan.  If you’re still reading this, you aren’t either.  Crossover fighters manage to draw viewers who wouldn’t ordinarily watch a fight.  They get recognized by people who aren’t sports fans.

Unfortunately, Andre Ward will never be able to do that.

Sergio Martinez May Never Get a Defining Fight

At 36-years old, Martinez is running out of time to land a career-defining fight.  He’s bordering on delusional if he thinks he’ll get Pacquiao or Mayweather in the ring with him, and Miguel Cotto has nothing to gain by stepping in with him.  Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. is still too pose the type of challenge on which Martinez can build a legacy.  Smoking an unimpressive crop of middleweights does little to enhance his image.  Martinez is in a very tight spot, and the urgency is showing; the usually gentlemanly Martinez has taken to trash talk to goad a big-name opponent to step up to the plate.

It might be that Martinez’ greatest opponent will be the only undefeated, undisputed champ in all weight classes: Father Time.

In His Advancing Age, Floyd Mayweather Can Actually Make for a Fun Fight

The knock on Mayweather (and it’s hard to find faults in his nearly flawless skillset) is that he almost never makes for exciting fights.  Aside from a handful of mismatches (Corrales, N’dou, Gatti), Mayweather’s fights can sometimes be as exciting as watching Gary Kasparov pick apart the high school chess club champ.  Mayweather’s surgical precision is supremely impressive even if not awe-inspiring.

However, that’s changed a bit in his last two fights.  Against Mosley, Mayweather provided some unexpected excitement by getting drilled and very nearly KO’d in the second round.  Mayweather, much to his credit, steadied the ship quickly and established his dominance for every remaining second of the fight.  What gets forgotten is that Mayweather tattooed Mosley with numerous hard shots throughout the rest of those twelve rounds.  Maybe Mosley couldn’t pull the trigger anymore, but he also had a good reason for being reluctant.  Had Mayweather gone against his instincts and really pressed Mosley, it’s not unthinkable that he could’ve pulled a stoppage.

In Mayweather’s fight with Victor Ortiz, Mayweather was not reluctant to engage with the freakishly big Ortiz.  He planted his feet and drilled the bigger man and created maybe the most exciting four rounds of his career.  Sure, Ortiz’ pressure created the perfect storm for excitement, but Mayweather’s willingness to do battle was another key component.

Maybe the extended time off has allowed his notoriously brittle hands to heal.  Maybe, as a fighter in his mid-thirties, Mayweather now has to be more offensively focused.  Regardless of the reasons, Floyd is now a more crowd-pleasing fighter.   We all win when that’s the case.

Manny Pacquiao Will Never Beat Floyd Mayweather

Please follow the logic carefully:

Manny Pacquiao + Precision Counterpuncher (e.g. Juan Manuel Marquez) = Lots of trouble for Manny

Floyd Mayweather = Elusive counterpuncher of unparalleled virtuosity

Manny Pacquiao + Floyd Mayweather = A style mismatch of epic proportions

Antonio Margarito Has Been a B-Level Fighter Since the Handwrap Scandal

 

Take that any way you want it.

You Can’t Make a Bad Fight at Junior Middleweight

Consider, for a moment, the marquee names at 154:  Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez, James Kirkland, Alfredo Angulo. 

Add in lesser-known gems like Erislandy Lara and Carlos Molina.  Toss in some exciting shopworn names like Paul Williams, Antonio Margarito, and Ricardo Mayorga.

Combine ingredients and stir.  Await combustion.

Erik Morales is the Mexican Clint Eastwood

Not too long ago, Erik Morales was considered to be well past his expiration date as a relevant fighter.  After dropping four straight fights, and looking increasingly shopworn in each, Morales looked done.

So when Morales came back after retiring, it seemed ill-advised even if it was less than surprising.  When Morales signed on to fight Argentinian toughguy Marcos Maidana, many pundits were genuinely concerned about whether Morales would emerge from the fight intact.

Morales not only emerged intact, but he gave Maidana the fight of his life.  You had the feeling that if Clint Eastwood was watching that fight, he’d be nodding his head in sneering approval of a fellow elderly tough guy.  Even though Morales lost a razor-thin decision, it was an instance where the moral victory meant just as much as the decision victory would have.

In his most recent fight against Pablo Cesar Cano, Morales outlasted and beat down a younger, fresher foe.  Erik Morales will never regain his past glory, but he is living proof that a fighter can retire, but a tough guy never really goes away.

No Boxing Fan Has Endured as Much as the British Fight Fan

At one time it was Frank Bruno on whom British hearts were dashed.  More recently, it was Ricky Hatton.

With heartbreaks aplenty this year, 2011 was far from a banner year for our neighbors across the pond.

Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray were both hosed against Felix Sturm.  After some of the best trash talk in years, David Haye turned in a non-effort against Wladimir Klitschko.  Dereck Chisora was victim of maybe the worst decision of the year against Robert Helenius.  John Murray might have earned the award for most facial discoloration during a fight in getting lumped up by Brandon Rios.  Most recently, Amir Khan was on the short end of a highly controversial decision against Lamont Peterson.

Maybe 2012 will be a better year for high-profile British boxing.  Until then, God save the queen.

Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. Might Actually Become a Pretty Good Fighter

Count me among the innumerable skeptics who saw Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. as an opportunistic brat who was aiming to cash in on his old man’s name.  As the wins kept stacking up against tomato cans, I thought it would be a matter of time until he had his head handed to him.

Which is why I was quite surprised to see Chavez’ noticeable improvements against Peter Manfredo.  Rather than employing his usual high impact, marginal skill level approach, Chavez fought intelligently, maintained appropriate distance, and won on guile rather than grit.

I’m not saying he’ll eclipse his dad, or that he’ll even come close.  But Chavez might prove to be an elite level fighter in his own right.

Victor Ortiz is the New Terry Norris

In the 1990s, there weren’t too many fighters who were more physically talented than “Terrible” Terry Norris.  He was a smooth boxing, hard punching, athletically gifted fighter.  He holds victories over a who’s who of big names from the 80s and 90s: John Mugabi, Sugar Ray Leonard, Donald Curry, Maurice Blocker, Meldrick Taylor, Simon Brown.  Norris’ credentials were enough to land him in Canestota as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.  To go with his fistic aptitude, Norris was charming, well-spoken, and good-looking, making him, pretty much, any promoter’s dream.  Don King hit the jackpot when he signed (and then criminally underpromoted) Terry Norris.

But why was Norris never the crossover superstar that he promised to be at so many moments during his career?  Because during the moments when he was on the verge of becoming known outside the boxing faithful, one of two things failed him: his chin or his nerves.

Sound like someone in 2011?

Now, I’ll go ahead and concede that it’s more than a stretch to compare Hall of Famer Terry Norris with Victor Ortiz; the latter has a heck of a lot to prove before he’s even in a discussion of being HOF worthy.  Still, the underlying parallels between the two are intriguing.  (Note: Terry Norris accompanied Ortiz into the ring prior to his high-profile showdown with Floyd Mayweather.)

Norris’ chin was probably his greatest foe during his career.  He was KO’d in his first world title attempt against Julian Jackson, which is forgivable considering Jackson might be one of the biggest single-shot punchers ever in the game.  Another of Norris’ stoppage losses, against Laurent Boudouani in what would be his final pro fight, was also pardonable since Norris was far-removed from his prime. Still, Norris was stopped by fighters against whom he was the superior fighter: Simon Brown and Keith Mullings.  Combine those with shaky moments against the likes of Troy Waters, and the verdict is simple: Norris had one of the most vulnerable chins of any Hall of Famer.

Victor Ortiz’ chin is perhaps a bit more reliable than Norris’, but his durability cost him dearly in his much-scrutinized loss to Marcos Maidana, and nearly cost him against Andre Berto.  For a high-contact boxer like Ortiz, it isn’t too much of a stretch to see his jaw becoming a factor again in his career.

Along with questionable durability, another similarity Ortiz has with Norris has to do with self-control.  One of the many things that separates a prizefighter from a bar-fighter is the ability to keep a cool head.  During three moments in his career, Terry Norris was unable to keep his nerves in check.  He was disqualified three times against fighters who he should have dusted easily.  Whether it was drilling Joe Walker in the back of the head after he went down, blasting Luis Santana after the bell, or rabbit punching Santana, or (in a rematch of his previous DQ loss), Terry Norris was the classic non-example when discussing composure in the ring.

That is, until Victor Ortiz came along.

Early in Ortiz’ career, he was disqualified for hitting journeyman Corey Alarcon on a break (although replays showed that Alarcon made the most of the foul with some well-executed, agonized writhing).  Maybe we could give Ortiz a break for making a dumb, immature error in the heat of the moment, but it proved not to be an isolated incident.  Against Floyd Mayweather, in Ortiz’ biggest chance to shine, he came apart again when he committed the mother of all stupid fouls when he tried to rearrange Mayweather’s dental work with a flagrant headbutt to the mush (the culmination of several earlier headbutt attempts).  The even more maddening part was that the headbutt punctuated what had been Ortiz’ best offensive rally of the fight, one which made Mayweather look visibly uncomfortable.  Controversial ending aside, Ortiz did himself in the moment he decided to unleash the foul.

Clearly, Ortiz has a lot to prove before the comparison with Terry Norris comes full circle, but his penchant for vulnerability and chaotic in-ring behavior still makes it an interesting one.  Like Norris, though, Ortiz has all the ingredients necessary to be a crossover star; that’s why Golden Boy signed him, after all.  The problem is, he also has a couple of flaws that could permanently keep him from realizing that potential.  Regardless, Ortiz has proven to be must-see-TV, even if it isn’t always for the reasons he’d like.

Roy Jones is the New Evander Holyfield

Lying on his back, staring at the ceiling of Moscow’s Sport Complex Krylatskoe, Roy Jones was unaware of what was taking place around him.

He was unaware of the wildly celebratory crowd.

He was unaware that his opponent, Denis Lebedev, stood across the ring, basking in what amounted to a meaningless conquest against a once great, but now shot fighter.

He was unaware that referee Steve Smoger was waving off the contest with just seconds remaining in the fight.

It was evident that in those frightening moments following Lebedev’s fight-ending right hand that Roy Jones was oblivious to the world around him. 

Jones’ comments in the post-fight press conference indicated his lacking comprehension of what just took place.

“Sorry I didn’t get the victory, but Denis is a very tough competitor,” Jones said.

It wasn’t that Jones came up short.  It wasn’t that he didn’t come up with the victory.  He either didn’t understand or didn’t want to acknowledge the frightful scene that had just taken place.

Jones’ post-fight statement was the type of anesthetized, reflexive answer a fighter offers when he doesn’t know what else to say.  Truthfully, for supporters of Roy Jones, there is little else that needs saying.  The image of him helplessly stretched out on the canvas, for the fourth time in seven years, was brutally articulate.

Which is why Jones’ comments since that distressingly violent ending all the more troubling.  Jones has designs on challenging for a cruiserweight title, claiming maybe the only title that has eluded him during his magnificent career.  It was a career that saw him reach unimaginable heights, claiming titles at middleweight, super-middleweight, light heavyweight, and, at perhaps the apex of his career, heavyweight. 

Then the bottom dropped out.

It wasn’t even as though Superman had been exposed to kryptonite.  It was like he had it surgically implanted in his chest cavity, was receiving it intravenously, and was being fed it for breakfast.  The accelerated implosion of the once-invincible Roy Jones was unlike anything the sport had ever seen.  Even for Jones’ detractors, this was not the ending anyone saw coming.

Jones’ painful disintegration is not unlike that of another great fighter:  Evander Holyfield. 

Holyfield himself has experienced a couple of career resurrections in his career.  Many wrote him off after his first professional loss in a war with Riddick Bowe.  Others thought he was finished after he was diagnosed with a serious heart condition after dropping a decision to Michael Moorer.  Still others thought he was washed up after losing the rubber match to Bowe.  Those people grossly underestimated the greatness of The Real Deal.  Evander Holyfield had yet to achieve the greatest heights of his career.

In hindsight, maybe those comebacks were curses in disguise for Holyfield.  When it was evident that he no longer had the abilities that had made him an all-time great, Holyfield refused to call it a day.  A strong believer that divine intervention led to his past accomplishments, Holyfield called upon the same power to help him regain the undisputed heavyweight title, a crusade Holyfield vowed to continue before he would retire.  It is a crusade that the 49-year old Holyfield continues today.

Now Jones, who turns 43 in January, finds himself embarking on a no-less unlikely task to become a cruiserweight titlist.  Jones no doubt bases his dogged determination on his peerless past brilliance, on the flashes of that brilliance that remain even in his advanced age, and on his own stubborn determination to do this his own way, which he has always done since the start of his career.

When Jones made a sad return this month to win a decision against clubfighter Max Alexander, he claimed that it was the start of bigger things.  Of course he did.  What else is he supposed to say?

Now, away from the pulverizing fists of a relentless opponent, away from the bright lights and television cameras, away from the demanding reporters asking questions for which he has few answers, Roy Jones is probably in the most dangerous situation a fighter can be.

I say probably because I don’t know Roy Jones personally.  I have not been with him as he has tried to make sense of what his career has become.  I have not seen firsthand the effects of what it does to a man to lose what is essentially his identity as a fighter.  I won’t be with him in the days and weeks ahead as he ponders what’s next.  And I certainly don’t know what the future holds for him.

But what I do know is the mentality of a prizefighter.  Fighters aren’t known to be content with circumstance.  Fighters don’t go quietly into the night.  Fighters don’t walk away from struggles, no matter how insurmountable the obstacles or improbable the odds.  There is always one more battle to fight, and one more point to prove.

This mindset so prevalent among fighters is why we love boxing.  It is a more graphic, visceral demonstration of courage than is displayed in any other sport.  There is a point, however, that bravery turns to foolishness, and ambition turns to delusion.

Yes, Roy Jones is in the terribly treacherous position of being a fighter with something to prove, even if the point he is trying to prove rests only in his own mind.  If Jones were to walk away from boxing today, he would be remembered as one of the very best to ever lace up a pair of gloves.  He would have nothing to be ashamed of or apologize for. 

It’s doubtless that some, perhaps most, close to Jones have shared this with him, suggesting that his boxing career should have reached the end of the line.  Logic would indicate that his skills are not what they used to be, and that the ravages of boxing have aged his body to the point that he is no longer able to compete at the elite level.

Equally doubtless, though, is the likelihood that the prizefighter mentality has planted itself firmly in the back of Roy Jones’ mind.  The only question is which impulse will prove stronger, which will be more convincing.  For the sake of Jones and those who hold him dear, let’s hope logic overtakes instinct.

Contrary to boxing wisdom, it isn’t speed that kills.  What does is the deadly combination of a fighter with a consuming passion to prove something, but is no longer capable of proving it.  If I get only one wish for 2012, it’s that Roy Jones will no longer be an ingredient in a recipe for disaster.

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AJ Needs to Look Good Against Povetkin, but the Russian Won’t be a Free Ride

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Golovkin broadcast

During the Canelo-Golovkin broadcast last weekend, it was mentioned that the two biggest star fighters in boxing were Canelo Alvarez and WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua. Canelo, the newly crowned middleweight champion, was in need of a signature win over a marque opponent to strengthen his claim and Joshua is in the same position heading into his title defense against former WBA title holder Alexander Povetkin at Wembley Stadium Saturday night.

This time last year, being roughly two months out from his title defense against Carlos Takam, Joshua, 28, was the perceived alpha fighter in the heavyweight division. AJ had won all his fights by knockout and, other than a Wladimir Klitschko right hand that dropped him in the sixth round, looked as if he were a sure thing to be the future of the division. But then he looked average stopping Takam, a late replacement for Kubrat Pulev. Joshua cut Takam, dropped him in the fourth round and stopped him in the 10th, but the stoppage was a little bit of a quick hook in the eyes of most observers and it dulled the win.

Five months later Joshua fought undefeated WBO titlist Joseph Parker. Three weeks prior to this fight, Joshua rival and WBC title-holder Deontay Wilder, after nearly being stopped in the seventh round, knocked out the most avoided fighter in the division in Luis Ortiz to score the signature win of his career. So the pressure was on Joshua to win impressively.

Unknown to anyone, Parker showed up only interested in becoming the first fighter Joshua couldn’t stop. And AJ didn’t endear himself to any newly conformed fans when he fought with little urgency, content to win a lopsided decision. Relying almost exclusively on his jab, he made no real attempt to get Parker out of there. Compounding the shrinking perception of AJ, Takam, in his next bout, was beaten more definitively by Dereck Chisora than he was by Joshua.

When you take into account that Wilder scored an impressive KO in his last fight over the most formidable opponent he’s fought and Joshua only scored one knockdown in his last two fights combined, it’s easy to glean why Wilder has narrowed the gap regarding the public perception of them. What’s been missed about Joshua’s last two bouts, however, is that he was utterly dominant. It’s hard to find three rounds he lost of the 22 he was in the ring. But yet, the thing that is most remembered is that AJ didn’t look like the doctor of destruction that his physicality and ring record projected him as being.

When an elite fighter like Anthony Joshua is seen as being a knockout artist and then goes a few fights in a row without delivering a memorable KO, critics and fans begin to find things about their game that are suddenly alarming. And that’s why it’s imperative for Joshua not just to beat Povetkin; he must become the first fighter to stop him. That will get the attention of the right people and at the same time gain back some of the cachet he ceded to Wilder since March of this year.

According to The Ring magazine’s latest ratings…the top six heavyweights, in order, are Joshua, Wilder, Povetkin, Ortiz, Whyte and Parker. So of those ranked 3-6, Povetkin is the only one who hasn’t yet faced Joshua or Wilder. Many well-known observers who cover boxing also see Povetkin 34-1 (24) as the third best fighter in the division. In fact, the new narrative regarding this fight is that Povetkin is really dangerous. With his power, extensive experience and toughness, he’s not an automatic win or free ride for AJ this weekend.

Yes, that’s what they’re saying before they get into the ring – so let’s remember that after the bout, because if Joshua 21-0 (20) looks impressive and stops Povetkin, we’ll more than likely hear how Povetkin was washed up, having turned 39 earlier this month and having lost to the best fighter he ever touched gloves with in Wladimir Klitschko. In one night, Povetkin will go from being a real test for Joshua to an old man who couldn’t beat anybody in the top 10. Conversely, if Povetkin goes the distance and is competitive with Joshua, then, in a knee-jerk reaction and overstatement, many will label AJ a fraud and a sure loser when he faces Wilder.

The reality is a stoppage win by Joshua will be impressive because Povetkin has never been close to being stopped. Even after going down four times against Klitschko he never looked as if he wanted out and Wladimir was a single shot bigger banger than Joshua is with either hand (with the difference being Joshua gets off more freely and puts his punches together in combination, opposed to Klitschko who force-fed his opponents one-twos. Also, Joshua is quicker handed than Klitschko and that should enable him to land some big shots in succession on the presumably attacking Povetkin).

Povetkin most likely needs to be inside against Joshua. There’s only two ways to do it, either by pressing AJ or moving away and timing him, and the method he chooses will illustrate just how much AJ’s power is or isn’t too much for him to chance moving in on. If Povetkin pulls a Parker and the fight goes the distance, Joshua shouldn’t be excoriated because it’s hard to stop a fighter who is only looking to survive. At the same time Joshua will have to let his hands go and fight with more urgency and passion than he showed against Parker, because if he doesn’t that will raise my red flag.

When Joshua crashed the top-10 heavyweight rankings I thought, having watched him closely, that he had the potential of former champ Lennox Lewis. That hasn’t changed, but I’m beginning to see Lewis as being more of a natural fighter and AJ as the better athlete. On paper it’s close when comparing them, but Lewis, especially under the late Emanuel Steward, kept improving whereas Joshua, after looking so good and well-rounded stopping Klitschko, seems to have plateaued.

Alexander Povetkin is AJ’s twenty-second bout. In Lennox Lewis’s twenty-second bout, he fought Donovan “Razor” Ruddock.

Ruddock (27-3-1) was a 6’3”, 231-pound, well-built fighter with power in his left hand but limited skills. Povetkin is 6’2” and weighed in at 229 for his last bout. Ruddock’s left-hook/uppercut was probably a bigger single shot than anything in Povetkin’s arsenal but that’s about the only check Razor gets in his column over Povetkin. The Russian fighter has a much higher boxing IQ than Ruddock and is the more technically sound fighter with better structure and form.

Lewis destroyed Ruddock in two rounds in what was the signature performance of his career at the time. Joshua has already delivered a signature performance, his stoppage of Klitschko after knocking him down three times, but critics and fans have short memories so Joshua needs to deliver another eye opening performance. As was the case for Ruddock when he fought Lewis, Povetkin looks made to order for AJ to look good against. However, Povetkin, unlike Ruddock before he confronted Lewis, has never been stopped and is known for his durability and ruggedness.

Joshua says he is motivated for Povetkin and isn’t looking past him. He says he fears losing, and I don’t need him to confirm he has a gigantic ego and cannot be happy about some of the pageantry and attention that Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury have stolen from him. As for Povetkin, this is no doubt his last title shot and he certainly knows this is the fight he needs to put everything together…which should translate into him coming to win which means he’s going to fight instead of hoping for pats on the back for showing up. And if Povetkin comes to fight, Joshua should get some great opportunities to shine and post another signature win.

This is the ideal fight and opponent for AJ to show just what he has and to stay on the same trajectory that Lennox Lewis did after stopping Razor Ruddock.

Between 1977 and 1982, Frank Lotierzo had over 50 fights in the middleweight division. He trained at Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia under the tutelage of the legendary George Benton. Before joining The Sweet Science his work appeared in several prominent newsstand and digital boxing magazines and he hosted “Toe-to-Toe” on ESPN Radio. Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@gmail.com

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Avila Perspective, Chapter 15: Las Vegas Boxing Journal

Usually the world of boxing has two massive fight weekends, but this year it was down to one. All of that pent-up energy had to be released

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Usually the world of boxing has two massive fight weekends, but this year it was down to one. All of that pent-up energy had to be released and this past weekend, for Mexican Independence Day, it all came pouring out.

Las Vegas was my destination once again.

In the last four years the Nevada gambling capital has seen fewer and fewer boxing cards as other destinations like New York, Texas and California have gobbled up fight dates. What used to be almost a monthly journey has been whittled down to twice a year.

When it comes to staging a mega event, you just can’t beat Las Vegas. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez meeting Gennady “GGG” Golovkin for the second time definitely qualifies.

I was supposed to drive up Thursday morning with photographer Al Applerose but we could not coordinate our schedules. It was important to leave early to reach the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino where the Golden Boy Promotions card featuring Maricela Cornejo versus Franchon Crews for a world title was being held. Starting time for the fight card was 2 p.m. because of ESPN.

By the time I checked into my hotel and drove over to the Hard Rock, it was already 3 p.m. Surprisingly, a decent crowd was there mostly to see Cornejo vs. Crews. ESPN televised the event and despite the early start time fans and celebrities were in the house.

It had been 14 years since that network had televised a female world championship bout. I remember because I saw that fight in 2004 and it was a doozy.

Finally, another female world title fight and it was great to see two female warriors finally get their day under the spotlight. After 10 rounds Crews won by majority decision and the green WBC belt was wrapped around her waist. Watching the joy on her face was priceless.

If you have followed me as a reader then you know female boxing has been a favorite passion. I truly believe it will rival male prizefighting one day, maybe soon. The world of MMA has proven it can be done as Ronda Rousey so emphatically showed.

Women prizefighters will get their day.

After the fight we headed to the Pink Taco mainly because they serve decent margaritas. I’m kind of a connoisseur of the drink. The first one I received was passable, but that second one was pretty good. Our group consisted of two reporters from Japan and Applerose, the photographer. Tacos and margaritas for everyone.

Friday

No fights were scheduled for Friday but the weigh-ins and press conferences were stacked together. I moved from my hotel and drove to Summerlin where a friend of mine has a place. He had invited me to stay and was insistent.

My friend is known as “Mr. Las Vegas.” It’s a name given to him the great Fernando “El Feroz” Vargas who now lives in Vegas. He gave him this nickname because no one knows Las Vegas like this guy (that I won’t name unless he gives approval). This 40-something year old gentleman was born and raised in the casino city and has been involved in boxing, MMA and personally knows the high rollers and political powers of the city and state.

Mr. Las Vegas invited me months ago but he’s always on the go and sometimes it slips his mind so I booked a room just in case. But, he was adamant about me staying with him and we go back a ways.

He’s also a big proponent of women’s boxing.

I headed back to the Strip to the MGM media center where a press conference for Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell was taking place. The media was in force. Easily 200 were already in the David Copperfield Theater at 10 a.m.

Maybe it was the free breakfast that enticed reporters and photographers to get up early. It was amazing to see so many media members on a Friday morning. It was a mad scramble.

The theater is fairly large and from a distance I could spot many friends and colleagues. During the face-off Liddell and Ortiz squared off and Oscar De La Hoya looked like a midget between the two. They will be fighting at the Inglewood Forum on Nov. 24. Golden Boy Promotions is the promoter for the pay-per-view event. It will be the third time the MMA stars clash.

So while Dana White delves into boxing, De La Hoya delves into MMA. Strange happenings.

Later that Friday a press conference for Yuri Gamboa was staged by the Cuban fighter himself at Gonzalez Gonzalez restaurant in the New York, New York Hotel and Casino.

Gamboa briefly had a contract with Golden Boy, and had been connected to Top Rank and Fifty Cent. The slick southpaw (is there any other kind of lefty?) seeks another chance to hit a jackpot in the boxing ring.

About two dozen reporters met at the Mexican restaurant eatery. Gamboa was busy speaking to each reporter one-by-one and helped by a small group of publicists including New York sharp Ed Keenan. Food and drinks were great.

Last year Gamboa was quite busy and had four prizefights. His lone loss was against Mexico’s extremely dangerous Robinson Castellanos who stopped the Cuban at the end of the seventh round in Las Vegas.

So far this year, no fights. It’s a primary reason he’s doing it himself on a risky pay-per-view show.

“I can’t depend on anyone else,” said Gamboa. “If I want to advance. I feel I should do it myself. I have experience and knowledge in professional boxing.”

Gamboa, 36, will fight Mexico’s Miguel Beltran on Nov. 20, in Miami, Florida. He will be the main event. The co-main event will be Puerto Rico’s Juan Manuel Lopez meeting Jesse Rodriguez. If all goes well, the two former world champions will meet each other sometime next year.

“I still have goals to accomplish,” said Gamboa.

Super Lightweight Title Clash

While sitting around eating and drinking at the Mexican restaurant, the ESPN fight card featured Jose Carlos Ramirez and Antonio Orozco fighting for the WBC super lightweight world title. It was body puncher versus body puncher and that means fireworks.

Ramirez had not faced anyone who could match punch output with him until that Friday night. I expected Orozco to fire all his guns and that’s exactly what he did.

For 12 volatile rounds the two 140-pounders fought at 100 miles an hour and though Ramirez won the majority of the rounds according to the judges, each round in itself was a battle.

Orozco, 30, is a very mild-mannered gentleman outside the ropes, but inside he’s one of the most fierce body punchers in the business. He has fought for Golden Boy Promotions for a number of years and may have passed his peak two years ago.

Ramirez, 26, was making his second defense of the world title he won almost a year ago and fights under the Top Rank banner. Whenever these two promotion companies go against each other it’s like the Dodgers and the Giants. No mercy.

The titleholder Ramirez was fighting in front of the adopted hometown of Fresno and floored Orozco twice with body shots and head shots. You would have expected Orozco to wilt but every time he was dropped he came back with a ferocious attack.

It was a gripping fight to watch.

As I sat at the bar in the Mexican restaurant with photographer Applerose, we couldn’t help but admire the spirit that both fighters showed for 12 rounds. Crowds gathered around the bar to watch the final three or four rounds. A few had noticed us watching and stopped to see what had us glued to the television screen perched above the various liquors.

We had a few beers after that incredible title fight.

Ramirez won the fight and retained the world title but Orozco had won the hearts of everyone watching with his tremendous heart. Both fighters congratulated each other and showed sincere respect. If you haven’t seen it, watch the replay. You won’t be sorry.

Saturday

The schedule for Saturday started early with two press conferences staged in the morning.

WBC super featherweight titlist Miguel Berchelt and challenger Mickey Roman met with media at Wolfgang Puck at 12 noon to talk about their pending clash on HBO. It’s another meeting between a Top Rank affiliated fighter and Golden Boy affiliated fighter.

Can it match Ramirez-Orozco?

Berchelt is a heavy-hitting but skilled fighter from the Yucatan area. Roman is a hard-nosed heavy hitter from Juarez, Mexico. Its North versus South in this Mexican battle that takes place on Nov. 3 in El Paso, Texas.

This could be extremely explosive.

Immediately after the Top Rank press conference, and a few feet away, another media luncheon took place for interim WBC super lightweight titlist Regis Prograis.

Prograis, 29, is an interesting cat.

Raised in New Orleans and Houston, the extremely strong Prograis will participate in the World Boxing Super Series that begins in late October. He faces former lightweight world champion Terry Flanagan of England.

“I chose to fight Terry Flanagan because he’s a former world champion,” said Prograis whose last fight was a knockout win over Argentina’s Juan Jose Velasco in New Orleans. “I’m trying to prove I’m the best. I don’t want an easy fight. It’s a waste of time.”

Of course he would love a match with current WBC titlist Jose Carlos Ramirez but he can wait.

“We’ll meet one day in the ring,” Prograis said.

The Rematch

After the pair of press luncheons we headed to the T-Mobile Arena for the Alvarez-Golovkin mega fight. It was an early 2 p.m. start so we missed a couple of early fights. I always try to watch every bout. It’s my duty as a reporter to cover all the fights that take place. Not just the headliners, but the afternoon press conferences held me up.

The best of the undercard saw Vergil Ortiz Jr. annihilate his former sparring partner Roberto Ortiz in two rounds.

Vergil Ortiz trains in Riverside, Calif. with Robert Garcia. He formerly was based in Indio, Calif. with Joel Diaz. Both trainers have excellent troops.

Ortiz, 20, has long limbs and fights long too. He’s buzzed through 11 straight opponents and kind of resembles late actor Jack Palance in the movie Shane. Vergil is a likeable guy who seems nothing like a feared monster in a boxing ring.

Golden Boy keeps stepping up the competition a notch and he keeps rendering them unconscious. The promoter doesn’t want to overstep the process with Ortiz so they are doing things de-li-cate-ly.

So far Ortiz has treated everyone who steps in the ring with him like fragile china. He touches them and they fall to pieces. Technically he is very sound. But the Golden Boy crew sees something very special in the kid from Dallas. He is one to watch.

Boycott?

After several fights including the main event that saw Alvarez win by majority decision, it’s important to note that the entire “ringside” media group was placed more than 50 yards away from the boxing ring. No one from the media had a sufficient view to analyze the fight that has been very disputed by fans and others.

But my question is: why did the promoters place the media a ridiculous 50 yards away?

Sadly, it’s a move that says to the media “we don’t need you.”

Maybe it’s time to organize.

Regis Prograis photo by Al Applerose

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An Unofficial Judge Scored 9 Rounds for Canelo; Feel Free to Hoot and Holler

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auxiliary press

The auxiliary press section at the T-Mobile Arena is quite a distance from the boxing ring. I’ve been in auxiliary press sections before, but never one that was up so high. It was here that I found myself on Saturday night, peering down on the ring far below and like everyone else checking out the big screen between rounds for a closer look at key moments.

From this vantage point, the ring is both smaller and bigger. It’s bigger in the sense that it opens things up a bit. Your eyes see more space between the fighters and you are better able to judge which fighter is controlling the distance. Think of the picture from the overhead cam in a football game. Looking straight down, the playing field doesn’t look as congested. The holes that open for a North-South running back bursting into the secondary get wider and from this panorama you are better able to judge the work of the offensive line.

Having said that, this is really no place to adequately judge a boxing match, so I can be forgiven for scoring the fight 9-3 for Canelo. For what it’s worth, however, the fellow on my right had it the same. The fellow on my left had it somewhat tighter, but also scored it for Canelo. And for the record, neither of these guys were Hispanic so they weren’t blinded by tribal loyalty.

At the T-Mobile, when the main event ends, the scribes in the auxiliary press section are literally held hostage. They are prevented from going down to the post-fight press conference until the arena has thinned out.

This reporter couldn’t get his laptop to function properly and had no patience. I’m not comfortable working on my cellphone, so it was imperative that I get home in a jiff and be there when David Avila’s ringside report turned up in my e-mail. On a fight of this magnitude, the boss wants the bread-and-butter post-fight story up on the site in a hurry.

Aware of the hostage situation, and my own technological limitations, I had the foresight to scope out the arena for an escape route just in case I needed to get away fast. And so, before a hostage-taker could rope me in, I was off and running, scurrying down a little used staircase. I had my car parked in the right spot for a quick getaway, traffic was light, and I was home at my work desk in less than 30 minutes.

I didn’t wait around to hear the scores. To me it was a foregone conclusion that Canelo would have his hand raised. Heading home, I had the car radio tuned to an all-sports station. And when the scores came across the radio, I thought to myself, well, I was wrong and I was right. I thought GGG would win and I was wrong about that, but I was right, I thought to myself, that the judges would be disposed to give GGG the close rounds. In my mind, the scores (114-114 and 115-113 twice) gave GGG the best of it. Granted, several rounds were tough to score, but yet the fight wasn’t that close.

Au contraire !

To my amazement, the vast majority of those seated in the ringside press section scored the fight a draw or had it shaded toward Triple-G. In fact, according to one survey, which included those in the building and a select few watching at home or in a TV studio, only two of the 59 people that were polled had it for Canelo with 17 scoring it even. The most cantankerous of the GGG faction was ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas who apparently had it 117-112 and labeled the decision a robbery.

No I won’t defend my scoring. Let me see the fight on TV (and with the sound off, natch), and I’ll get back to you. But I’m still flabbergasted that my score was so out of whack with the consensus.

Odds and Ends

Although the fight was announced as a sellout, there were empty seats scattered around the arena. The announced attendance was 21,965, roughly 1,400 less than for the first encounter last September.

The first Canelo-GGG bout set the attendance record for an indoor fight in Nevada and came in third all-time in gate receipts, surpassed only by Mayweather-Pacquiao in 2015 and Mayweather-McGregor in August of last year. But that’s a distant third to the leader. The gross gate for Canelo-GGG I ($27,059,850) was far below Mayweather-Pacquiao which raked in an astounding $72,198,500.

Although there’s more money in circulation each year and more fat cats willing to pay an enormous sum to attend a mega-fight, I doubt the Mayweather-Pacquiao record for gate receipts will be broken any time soon.

The crowd, needless to say, was skewed heavily toward Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. And while it’s often said that members of this ethnic group are true fight fans, the reality is that when they come to Las Vegas they act just like the Anglo high rollers, which is to say that they arrive at a big fight fashionably late.

When the first of the four PPV fights started, the arena was not more than 15 percent full. When the semi-main started, the arena was perhaps one-third full, notwithstanding the fact that it was a title fight featuring a boxer from Tijuana.

The old outdoor fights at Caesars Palace were thick with celebrities who were acknowledged by the ring announcer. Saturday’s fight at the T-Mobile was something of a throwback. The roll call included movie stars Denzel Washington, Will Smith, and Mark Wahlberg, comedians Dave Chappelle and Cedric the Entertainer, and sports personalities Lebron James, Charles Barkley, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Triple H – to name just a few.

Standing in the ring as GGG and Canelo made their way from their dressing rooms was a fashionably dressed woman wearing a dress that one would associate with a Latin country. I assumed she was there to sing the Mexican National Anthem. In my younger days, the Mexican National Anthem was sung so often at big fights in Las Vegas that I could eventually mouth the words.

But no, there was no National Anthem whatsoever, neither U.S., nor Mexican, nor Kazakhstani. I was told that they did do anthems before the first of the preliminary fights. This would have been about 3:00 in the afternoon when there were not more than a few hundred people in the joint.

Was this a reaction to the brouhaha set in motion by Colin Kaepernick? That’s a fair assumption.

Not only were the anthems missing, but so also was Michael Buffer, a fixture at HBO shows for decades. I’m told that he now works exclusively for Eddie Hearn. He’ll be back on the job this coming Saturday at Wembley Stadium in London.

Joe Martinez, Buffer’s replacement, did a solid job, as did referee Benjy Estevez who was working his first big fight in Nevada. Of course, Canelo and GGG made it easy for him. No matter your opinion of the scoring, I think we can all agree that these two great warriors engaged in a very clean fight.

By all accounts, this was a very good fight for the bookies. The expectation that there would be late Canelo money in Las Vegas on Mexican Independence Day weekend wasn’t born out. At one establishment, the odds favoring GGG rose from 7/5 to 9/5 (minus-180) in the last few hours of betting. I’m told that it nicked above 2/1 at a few places offshore.

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