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Is Deontay Wilder The Future of the Heavyweight Division?

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WilderHayes Hogan5Remember, Wilder started boxing very late, at age 21. Seen through that frame, his progress is truly impressive. (Hogan)

Casually bring up undefeated heavyweight prospect and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Deontay Wilder in your favorite boxing discussion forum, and you’re sure to elicit one of two responses.

For some, he invokes all the gloriousness of America’s brilliant heavyweight history. He’s yesterday’s heavyweight hero, today. He’s the victorious amateur competitor who represented his country well on the world’s grandest stage, and he’s a surefire lock to be the next great heavyweight.

For others, he’s everything wrong with the sport of boxing. He’s too protected. He takes things too slow. He’s a carefully managed prop whose handlers are making the most of his Olympic fame until it’s time to cash out.

The 6’7” heavyweight prodigy from Alabama, whose much ballyhooed Olympic exploits came only three years after he first stepped into a boxing gym, is well aware of all that, too.

“Everybody has their own opinion,” the gregarious contender told me by phone earlier this week. “When you go with the good, you’ve got to go with the bad. I don’t really take any of it personal.”

It’s easy to see what people like about him as a fighter. Wilder has a pristine record. From a statistical point of view, you really can’t ask for anything more. He’s had twenty-five fights in his four-year professional career thus far, and he’s won every single one of them by knockout.

Still, his opposition has been less than stellar thus far, so fight fans have become increasingly anxious to see him fight against more worthy competition.

When I first talked to Wilder’s manager, Jay Deas, over a year and a half ago, he told me he and co-manager, Shelly Finkel were doing everything in their power to get their fighter as many rounds as possible. Deas told me his fighter’s total ring time up to that point, including his thirty or so amateur fights, had actually totaled only about four hours.

“I’m still trying to get him rounds!” Deas told me again this week. “He just got back today from Audley Harrison’s camp for the David Price fight.”

Yep, from the very beginning, Deas told me the idea was to take their time with Wilder’s progression. Slow and steady wins the race. While Wilder enjoyed brilliant success in his brief amateur career, he wasn’t necessarily as far along as your typical boxing prospect, someone who traditionally starts boxing at a very young age.

“Lot of people criticized me back then, too,” Wilder recalled. “They said I was too late. They said I was too green. I’m always playing catch-up! I was in there fighting guys that started when they were five and six years old, and here I am, a guy that started when he was twenty-one.”

Wilder believes in himself. You can hear it in his voice. He did back then, too, when he became perhaps the most inexperienced boxer to ever medal in the Olympic Games before, and he does so now that he’s set on becoming heavyweight champion of the world.

“I believe through hard work, anything is possible,” he said. “Just like my professional career now, I was hungry back then. I had a big heart. That’s the one you can’t measure – a guy’s heart. You can’t measure the intensity he has, the drive and the hunger.”

He said the last part emphatically.

“When I set my mind to something, there is nothing that is going to get in the way of what I’ve got to do.”

Say what you want about his level of opposition, he’s knocked out every single one of them and that’s no easy feat. We see it all the time in boxing: some palooka no one has ever heard of goes the distance with a world class fighter.

While we don’t know if Wilder is a world class fighter yet, we do know that no one has even come close to going the distance with him.

Wilder said the knockout streak isn’t really something he worries about. He knows it’s there in the back of his mind, but it doesn’t dictate what he tries to get done.

“I just go in there and basically just try to work on what I have been working on in the gym,” he said. “I try to be perfect in there, because we train for perfection.”

His record is perfect so far, but he’s not quite perfect as a fighter. Like any young prizefighter with limited experience, Wilder has some flaws. He tends to leave his power hand out in front of him too long after delivering a punch, and he’s yet to put together the type of consistent jab that, with his size and quickness, would help make him closer to invincible.

Deas and company have him on the right track, though. If you watch Wilder’s progression, you can see definite and consistent improvement in his footwork and movement as he’s moved through the ranks. Moreover, he’s gone from being borderline wild to increasingly patient. And, there’s the power, of course, which is the one thing you just have to be born with.

“I keep telling everybody, I still don’t know the measurement of my power,” he told me. “It kind of scares me. Even sparring at some of these camps, I’ve licked some of these guys up pretty good and they tell me the same, you know.”

Wilder has been in camp with some of the very best heavyweights in the world, guys like David Haye and Tomasz Adamek, so if that’s indeed the case then it bodes quite well for his future in the division.

But fight fans are ready to see something now, not later.

When I talked to Deas this week, he told me he was excited about an upcoming opportunity he believed Wilder was about to have to with Showtime in December. Sure enough, reports have recently surfaced that Wilder will be the showcase fighter for Showtime’s December 15th date. Deas says when he saw Wilder’s promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, sign a promotional deal earlier this year with six of the 2012 men’s U.S. Olympic team members, he immediately thought it’d be a great idea to have Deontay as the headliner for some of their early cards. After all, he told me, Wilder remains the last man to actually medal at the Olympics.

It appears that will come to pass now, and Wilder couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to show his skills to a larger audience.  While he’s been featured on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights as well as some Fox Sports shows, this will be his first appearance on a major boxing network’s broadcast and could help position him as one of Golden Boy Promotions’ premier fighters.

“Everybody gets an opportunity to really prove themselves, and I feel like my opportunity is just around the corner,” Wilder said.

An opponent hasn’t been announced yet, but Deas mentioned a level of competition fight fans could really get excited about. He said he wants Wilder in there with someone who can make him work, and that they’ve tried that in the past but Wilder has just knocked everyone out so it’s time to up the ante.

Wilder says he’s ready.

If you follow him on twitter, you know he’s vocal about who he wants to fight (everyone) and how he believes he will beat any fighter he faces. He’s even mentioned the Klitschko brothers as possible competition despite never even having faced someone ranked in the top ten.

This last week, he got into a heated twitter battle with another American heavyweight prospect, Bryant Jennings. Wilder told me he’d be glad to fight Jennings, but that he has to let his management team do their job. Still, he understands the mentality of fight fans who might not understand why the fight wasn’t made.

“Fans just want to see the fight,” he said. “They don’t care if it’s for one dollar – they just want the fight. I know that.”

I asked him specifically about the dust-up with Jennings. While their back and forth was heated at times, it also seemed good natured in a way, like some sort of verbal sparring competition.

“I have nothing personal against the guy,” he told me. “I wish him well. I’m sure he feels the same way.”

Wilder told me that he likes to come back at people just as strong as they come at him whether their fighters or fans. He’s competitive that way. It’s all good natured though, and he wishes them well at the end of it.

All in all, maybe the best thing about Wilder is something you can really only get a sense of when interacting with him. It’s not really identifiable in YouTube clips of his knockout wins, and I’ve yet to really read about it anywhere else either. He simply has a tremendous attitude. He absolutely beams with excitement about his life as a fighter, and he genuinely seems to look forward to accomplishing his goals no matter how long it takes him.

“I think about it all the time,” he told me when I asked him about working to become heavyweight champion of the world. “I can’t wait. I can’t wait for my opportunity.”

Wilder said he was being patient. He said whoever takes over for the Klitschko brothers will have to be special, and he believes he can be that guy. We ended our conversation looking ahead to what he hopes to be his future, and why maybe everyone might someday be wild about Deontay Wilder.

“I want to be the one that takes both of the [Klitschko] brothers out of this game,” he said, at once both brash and affable. “When I beat them, I want them to be happy they are out of the game they’ve been holding down the whole time, and I want them to say ‘Deontay Wilder took us out, and we wouldn’t be more proud of anyone to hold our titles while we are retired and gone than him’”.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar

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Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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A Kaleidoscope of Boxers Guaranteed to Provide Action: Past and Present

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Marvelous Marvin

To set the tone for this article, one needs only to watch the way in which Thomas Hearns came out in the first round against Marvelous Marvin Hagler. He was ready to rock and roll as was his fearsome looking opponent. The ensuing unmitigated savagery was the quintessential illustration of full-tilt boogie.

For most boxing fans, the anticipation of an all-out action bout gets the chills running down spines faster than anything else. But not all, as some prefer a tactical or clinical fight that someone like Mikey Garcia can orchestrate and others –but not many—enjoy a defensive gem via a Willie Pep, Nicolino Locche, or Pernell Whitaker. A few love a genuine blood fest that a Gabe Rosado-type can provide, and who doesn’t like seeing something special as in Sugar Ray Leonard, Kostya Tszyu, Terence Crawford or Vasiliy Lomachenko?

Chill-or-be-chilled types like Bob Satterfield and Tommy Morrison were super exciting. In this connection—a certain cadre of warriors, past and present, would come out charging and stalking as soon as the bell rang. Many demonstrated a marked disdain for defense and used a non-stop, no let-up pressure that discouraged their opponents, especially in the late rounds. The anticipation from the crowd was palpable because it sensed some form of destruction was on its way. The cheering would start during the instructions and sometimes did not let up until the concussive end.

This cadre included Rocky Marciano, Tony Ayala, Vicious Victor Galindez, Jeff Fenech, Roberto Duran, and Julio Cesar Chavez (who sapped the spirit of his opponents by ripping away at their mid-section). Also, Carl “The Cat”  Thompson , chill-or-be-chilled Ricardo “Pajarito” Moreno (60-12-1 with 59 KOs),  Ron Lyle, the ultra-violent Edwin Valero, the appropriately nicknamed JulianMr KO” Letterlough, James “The Outlaw” Hughes and his mindboggling ability to snatch victory from certain defeat, Thai stalking monster Khaosai Galaxy (47-1),  the first version of George Foreman (pictured with the aforementioned Lyle), Ji-Hoon “Volcano” Kim, Ruslan  Provodnikov, Orlando “Siri” Salido, Marcos Maidana, Lenny Z, Alfredo “Perro” Angulo, Mike Alvarado, Brandon Rios, and Mickey Roman (the later four are still fighting but past their primes).

Others who presently incite the anticipation of something special include (but are not limited to) Naoya “Monster” Inoue (16-0), Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr (24-0), Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (46-4-1), Alex Saucedo (27-0), and, of course, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (38-1-1) who now has become slightly more tactical like his nemesis, Canelo Alvarez (50-1-1).

These stand out as representative.

Past

A prime Mike Tyson—and the emphasis is on prime– was the epitome of a boxer who guaranteed action. One simply would not leave his or her seat when “Iron Mike” was doing his highlight reel thing, and his blowout of Michael Spinks punctuated his standing at the top of all-action type fighters, even if the action was usually non-mutual.

Joe Frazier came out smokin’ and would not let up until either he or his opponent were done. For the most part, decisions were not in Joe’s DNA and his left hook was as malicious as a hook can be. With Joe, you just sat back and enjoyed the action. Frazier, wrote boxing historian Tracy Callis,  “was a strong, ‘swarmer’ style boxer who applied great pressure on his opponent and dealt out tremendous punishment with a relentless attack of lefts and rights; His left hook was especially stiff and quick when delivered during his bob-and-weave perpetual attack; he fought three minutes per round and never seemed to tire.”

Carlos “Escopeta” (Shotgun) Monzon (87-3-9) was a powerful and rangy Argentinean killing machine, built like an iron rod. Some said he pushed his punches. Well if he did, he pushed 87 opponents to defeat. He also became only the second man to stop former three-time world champion Emile Griffith, turning the trick in the 14th round. Blessed with great and deceptive stamina and a solid chin, he seemingly was an irresistible force. He was unbeaten over the last 81 bouts of his career, a span of 13 years, and defended his title 14 times. “One would need to write a book in order to do justice to comparing a fighter of Carlos Monzon’s calibre to his fellow all-time greats,” wrote Mike Casey.

Arturo Gatti and Irish Micky Ward were the quintessential action fighters. One is gone amidst controversy, and hopefully the other will not pay a price for his many ring wars. With these two, just count up the Fights-of-the-Year and the rest is history. Suffice it to say that Gatti and Ward will be forever linked in boxing lore.

Until his fateful fight with Nigel Benn (another all-action fighter), Gerald McClellan was absolutely, positively, a stalking monster with dynamite in his gloves. It was ferocity and fury at its highest level and it was something to behold. Sadly, his fight with Benn left him permanently disabled; his story remains a dark stain on boxing. As Ian McNeilly notes, “one man’s finest hour was the end of another man’s life as he knew it.”

Michael “The Great” Katsidis’s all-action style made thrilling fights a lock. The Kat” was willing to take three to deliver one. It was blood and guts to the last drop. Whether he too exacted a heavy price for this style remains to be seen.

Lucia Rijker, AKA “The Dutch Destroyer,” lived up to her moniker and destroyed everyone in her path. Again, it wasn’t “if,” it was “when.”

Christy Martin (49-7-3) put female boxing on the map in the ‘90s and she did it by going undefeated in 36 straight encounters, running roughshod over her opponents as evidenced by her 25 wins by stoppage during this run. She also managed to steal the show from a Mike Tyson main event in 1996 during her memorable and bloody battle with Deirdre Gogarty.

Present

Deontay Wilder, aka “The Bronze Bomber,” has a record of 40-0.  With 39 wins coming by KO—many in spectacular fashion, The “Bomber” brings with him that same sense of anticipation that Tyson did. It’s not if; it’s when and “when” can occur at any time. But unlike Tyson, there is a vulnerability that Luis Ortiz exposed that makes the excitement index go even higher.

Dillian Whyte (24-1) has seldom been in a dull affair. His vulnerability combined with his mode of attack ensures thrilling action and the possibility of a stoppage at any time. Unlike Dereck “Del-Boy” Chisora, Whyte is consistently aggressive and dangerous.

Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2) has slowed down considerably but his recent stoppage win over Lucas Matthysse offers hope that he can still conjure up his exciting whirlwind style of fast in-an-out movements that allowed him to win multiple titles over several future Hall of Fame opponents between 2005 and 2011. A rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr., if rumors are true, would allow Pac Man an opportunity to accomplish a number of extraordinary things including avenging a prior defeat and ruining Mayweather’s undefeated record. Time will tell.

Though he appears to have shot his wad, a prime Antonio Margarito was the classic stalk, stun, and kill fighter. Heck, he belonged on the Discovery Channel. His two blowouts of Kermit Cintron showed the “Tijuana Tornado” at his most brutal. His come-from-behind demolition of Miguel Cotto stands out for its drama and bloodletting—and subsequent speculative controversy.

David Lemieux (39-4) always brings the heat. His fights seldom end as scheduled. With KO power in both hands and a propensity to rehydrate by 20 pounds, he is the essence of danger and attendant excitement. “With the sheer power he carries, Lemieux will always have a shot at beating any middleweight, and he is almost always involved in good action fights,” says James Slater.

Amanda Serrano (35-1-1) is the only women’s boxer to win world titles in six divisions. The “Real Deal” is unique in that she has a high KO percentage (74 percent) which is rare for female boxers. Amanda is 120 seconds of guaranteed action for each round.

                                                         **********

While Iron Mike Tyson is THE MAN, Matthew Saad Muhammad also warrants special billing as he embodied what this article is all about. Steve Farhood summed up the essence of Saad Muhammad with an observation that would be appropriate for his tombstone: “Eddie Gregory (Mustafa Muhammad) has a better jab, Marvin Johnson wields more power, James Scott does more sit ups. But, Muhammad’s heart is the size of a turnbuckle, and it anchors his title reign.”

Who did I leave out? Whose name or names would you add to this list?

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