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Pacquiao Must Deal With the Mother of All Distractions

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For a lot of people – too many, probably – the worst natural disasters are viewed with a certain sense of detachment. Maybe that’s because it’s difficult for the less compassionate among us to wrap their minds around the sudden deaths of thousands, or even tens of thousands, of other human beings because the scope of it all is just too unimaginable to grasp. Maybe it’s because it’s difficult for individuals numbed by a succession of such events to feel much sympathy for deceased strangers in a different part of their own country, much less in some far-off land.

Tragedy is often a matter of perspective. We feel the pain most acutely when it is personal, when that especially destructive earthquake, hurricane or flood affects us and ours, when the death of a loved one, or the sudden loss of all of his or her earthly possessions, is more keenly felt that the televised sight of collapsed buildings and rows of stacked bodies elsewhere.

If someone is fortunate enough never to have felt the capricious wrath of nature’s fury, it perhaps is possible to remain at least somewhat unmoved by such catastrophes as the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004 (death toll: 230,000); Hurricane Katrina (U.S. landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, with a death toll of 1,833, mostly in Louisiana and Mississippi, and property damage estimated at $81 billion); the Haiti earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010 (death toll: anywhere from 100,000 to 316,000, depending upon which figure you choose to believe); the Japan earthquake of March 11, 2011 (death toll: 15,883), and Superstorm Sandy (death toll: 286, and property damage of $65 billion in the U.S.).

In relation to the terrible toll exacted by some of the aforementioned weather-related disasters, Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the northern Philippines on Nov. 7, was, in boxing terms, almost qualifies as a flash knockdown. The death toll currently stands around 5,000, but could climb higher when the bodies of many of the missing persons presumed to be dead are found and added to the list. Hundreds of thousands of survivors, fortunate to still be alive, were left homeless, hungry and desperate.

Against this backdrop of national misery, the Philippines’ greatest sports hero, former eight-weight-class world champion Manny Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KOs), heads into this weekend’s scheduled 12-rounder with Brandon Rios (31-1-1, 22 KOs) in Macao, China – first bell rings Saturday night in the United States, in late morning on Sunday China time – facing the mother of all distractions. Pacquiao, one of 289 members of the Philippine congress who someday hopes to run for his homeland’s presidency, not only must try to affirm his continued relevancy as a boxer following back-to-back defeats to Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez, but he shoulders the potentially crushing responsibility of providing his countrymen a glimmer of hope, with an especially impressive victory, that all again can be right in their world.

It is a fine line that Pacquiao, who trained for the Rios fight in his hometown of General Santos City, 466 miles from the area hardest-hit by Typhoon Haiyan, must tread. There will be those who will say he should have immediately broken off training, traveled to the devastated areas of the Philippine archipelago and provided whatever assistance he could to the more bereft of the country’s 98 million citizens, a vast majority of whom have come to regard him as the most visible embodiment of their own national pride. Others will say, with justification, that Typhoon Haiyan struck too close to the date of the fight, that Pacquiao – who turns 35 on Dec. 17 – had no choice but to continue with his preparations to vanquish the dangerous Rios because to do otherwise would have an even more debilitating effect on an already reeling populace.

“I really want to visit the area and personally do what I can to help our countrymen who have suffered so much in this terrible tragedy,” Pacquiao said in a prepared statement. “But I am deep in training for this crucial fight, so I regret that I cannot go.”

Pacquiao’s adviser, Canadian Michael Koncz, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview last week that Pacquiao intended to personally view the wreckage and talk to displaced orphans of the storm on the morning of Nov. 24, hopefully as the bearer of glad tidings.

But Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, realizes that even a return to dominance by his fighter – who has hinted at retirement if he loses for the third time in succession – can’t be a panacea for all the hardships Filipinos are enduring, and will continue to face in the weeks and months ahead.

“That’s probably small comfort to people going without food and water,” Roach said of the effects a Pacquiao triumph would have on a half-million souls now deprived of many of life’s basic necessities.

Top Rank, Pacquiao’s promotional company, isn’t glossing over what Typhoon Haiyan has wrought upon a poor but proud nation. Standard boxing considerations don’t really apply to this fight, as noted by several legendary fighters who took part in what Top Rank billed as the “greatest teleconference in boxing history.”

“If there is anyone that has the ability to come back, both physically and psychologically, it’s Manny Pacquiao,” said Sugar Ray Leonard, who was joined on the conference call with the media by Roberto Duran, George Foreman, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Marco Antonio Barrera, Timothy Bradley and Mike Alvarado. “I’m picking Manny because he is Manny Pacquiao. He can – and he will have to – black out everything and have tunnel vision going into the ring against Brandon Rios.”

Foreman said he “was distracted” by a cut he incurred in sparring, which led to a delay of several weeks in the staging of his “Rumble in the Jungle” showdown with Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa, Zaire, and “that’s why I lost.” The fact that nearly all Zaireans were so demonstrably for Ali might have had something to do with it, too.

But Foreman also claims to have risen above other distractions, which come more frequently than the public sometimes realizes. “Just before I fought Michael Moorer there was a big, tragic flood right here in the Houston area and I had to wade through waist-deep water to rescue my family,” Big George recalled. “There were many deaths. But when it came time to put on the boxing trunks, it all disappeared.”

Barrera, who twice was defeated by Pacquiao (an 11th-round TKO in 2003, a 12-round, unanimous decision in 2007), even went so far as to mathematically calculate the mental effect Typhoon Haiyan might have on “Pac-Man.”

“Distractions can play a big deal for many in Manny’s situation,” Barrera said. “If you train 100 percent, distractions could take away 40 percent of all the work that you put in. Manny has to concentrate on one thing, and that’s boxing. He does have responsibilities with the typhoon and everything, which makes it harder, but he can’t separate himself from being a boxer. If he tries to be a politician and a boxer at the same time, he’s going to be in trouble.”

Much of the speculation being bandied about by observers and pundits is just that, but there are at least a couple of boxing writers who can keenly relate to the particulars of what Pacquiao is feeling, albeit on a much lesser public scale. Hurricanes and typhoons are indiscriminate victimizers, cutting across all social and economic distinctions.

For me, a native of New Orleans with numerous family members and friends still living in the city and area, the gut punch was delivered when Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, with entire neighborhoods in my old hometown washed or blown away. For a time, Katrina transformed the heavily damaged Superdome into a refugee camp and international symbol of misery and despair.

The floodwaters covered the home of the youngest of my three brothers-in-law to its roof; it later was determined to be unsalvageable and bulldozed. But the worst of it was when another brother-in-law, who was living with my wife and me in suburban Philadelphia, suffered a stroke the night Katrina struck, the coverage of which he had watched all day, in shock, on TV. Rushed to a nearby hospital, he soon lapsed into a coma and died a week later. To this day, I remain convinced Katrina played at least a part in his too-early demise, at 47. And if all that weren’t enough, my elderly mother, whom we had brought north to live with us several months prior to the hurricane, was scheduled to undergo cancer surgery the day after Katrina, on Aug. 30. She never left the hospital following the operation and died on Oct. 20.

For months, it was a struggle for me to perform even the simplest daily functions. I probably was clinically depressed, and there was no joy or satisfaction in my covering boxing matches and other sports for my employer, the Philadelphia Daily News. In comparison to life-and-death issues, what does it really matter who wins or loses a prizefight or a ballgame? But, fortunately, I eventually found my way back to who and what I had been before.

A similar story is told by my friend and successor as president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, Jack Hirsch, whose Rockaway Park, N.Y., home was flooded by seven feet of water during Superstorm Sandy.

“One of the local mailmen I knew drowned in his basement,” said Jack, whose property losses included such treasured boxing memorabilia as gloves signed by Willie Pep, Kid Gavilan and Archie Moore. “And he wasn’t the only one. The water came in with a quick surge and some people couldn’t get out.

“We evacuated early, but we took a big hit. In the weeks after the storm, I would go back to the house very early in the morning to try to clean up as best I could. The neighborhood was just empty. It was like civilization had yet to start again. What few people were around didn’t have electricity, and food was hard to get. We were eating a lot of what I called space food (prepackaged RTEs, or “ready-to-eat” meals).

“Believe me, I did not want to talk or even think about boxing during that time. The hurricane was still too fresh in everyone’s minds. Out of necessity, though, I had to snap out of it because five weeks later, we had our BWAA East Coast business meeting. It was either step down or step up. I had to force myself to put my game face back on.”

Jack said it probably is impossible to gauge what effect Typhoon Haiyan will have on Pacquiao until fight night, when he, too, will have to step down or step up at the moment of truth. “Who knows?” Jack asked, rhetorically. “It could motive him more. It could be an insurmountable distraction. Everyone deals with these things differently.”

The closest sports analogy I can come up with, of an individual or a team having endured what Pacquiao has and rising above it, is the New Orleans Saints-Philadelphia Eagles playoff game on Jan. 13, 2007, in the Superdome, just 16 months after Katrina had dealt a near-death blow to the city of my birth. The Saints had gone 3-13 in the 2005 season, playing “home” games in Baton Rouge, La., and San Antonio, Texas, but somehow had rebounded to go 10-6 and reach the postseason thanks in large part to the magical passing arm of the team’s prized free-agent acquisition, Drew Brees. This is how I described it:

This game is about so much more than which team takes another step toward Super Bowl XLI. It is about hope and survival, and humanity’s refusal to be beaten into submission.

If the residents of New Orleans can fight back from near-ruination to something approaching normalcy, so, too, can the people of the Philippines. It’s no wonder they have so latched onto Pacquiao, a devout Roman Catholic whose given first name – Emmanuel – means, appropriately given the situation, “God is with us” in Hebrew. The country’s chosen one was so poor as a child that the family dog became dinner when an already sparse food supply ran out. But it isn’t just that Pacquiao, a multimillionaire, has busted free of the shackles of poverty that makes him such an inspirational figure and role model. He could have become even wealthier by moving to the United States to decrease his tax liabilities and increase his endorsement opportunities, but he chose not to do so because he is first, last and always a native son.

In the April 2010 issue of GQ, Pacquiao was described by one former Philippine congressman as the country’s “most important source of social welfare.” It is reasonable to presume that a significant chunk of his eight-figure purse for the Rios fight will go to typhoon relief efforts because, well, he always has funneled much of his financial good fortune back into the nation that spawned him.

It is not out of the question that some of that well-intentioned money will even go toward improved barriers against the typhoons that visit the Philippines all too regularly. But no man – not even Pacquiao – can erect walls high enough to keep the worst storms totally out. We all exist within the parameters of human fragility, as Haiyan again demonstrated.

“If mountain ranges and oceans can be overcome,” Gen. George S. Patton, played by Academy Award winner George C. Scott, says in the great 1970 war movie, Patton, “anything made by man can be overcome.”

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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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