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Still No Consensus on Rocky Marciano’s Place in Boxing History

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Aug. 31 marks the 45th anniversary of the day when Rocky Marciano died in the crash of a small plane in an Iowa cornfield. The only heavyweight champion to quit the ring while undefeated — he was 49-0, with 43 knockouts, following his final bout, a ninth-round knockout of the great Archie Moore on Sept. 21, 1955 — Marciano was on his way to a celebration of his 46th birthday the following day, Sept. 1, in Des Moines, but he and the Cessna 172’s other two occupants, both of whom also perished, never got there.

More than four decades later, boxing historians and fight fans of a certain age who actually saw Marciano bludgeon his way to the top are still divided as to whether the “Brockton Blockbuster,” just 32 when he announced his retirement on April 27, 1956, is truly among the best of the best, or an inelegant but sturdy brawler who was fortunate enough to come along during a fallow period in the heavyweight division that fell between the more regal reigns of Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali.

Opinions as to Marciano’s place in the all-time heavyweight pecking order are as strongly stated, and as widely diverse, as any that can be found in the fight game. His crushing overhand right, which he had dubbed the “Suzie Q,” has to rate as one of the most potent weapons in the arsenal of any fighter. But, some critics sniped, that big right hand, as well as Marciano’s relentless determination to succeed and seeming imperviousness to pain, were the only real assets of a short (5-10¼) and short-armed man (his reach of 68 inches is 4 inches shorter than welterweight Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s) whose original goal was to become a catcher in baseball’s big leagues. That dream died when Marciano, a decent hitter with a bat in his hands, was sent home without a contract from a Chicago Cubs tryout camp in Fayetteville, N.C., in 1947 because of – get this – a weak throwing arm.

Even when he won, Marciano was sometimes targeted for barbs that stung his pride as much as the punches he received from gloved opponents. In writing of Marciano’s emphatic stoppage of Moore, the 175-pound champion who was moving up in weight, Nat Fleischer, founder of The Ring, noted that the winner was “crude, wild-swinging, awkward and missed heavily.”

After his eighth-round TKO of a 37-year-old Joe Louis on Oct. 26, 1952, in Madison Square Garden, Arthur Daley was almost contemptuous in his dismissal of the then-29-year-old Marciano as a worthy heir to the twice-removed crown of the faded “Brown Bomber.”

“The Louis of 10 years ago would have felled Rocky with one punch,” Daley wrote. “Louis losing is more important than Marciano winning.”

Even Marciano’s very astute trainer, Charley Goldman, had to admit that his man had rough edges that could never be completely sanded smooth by any chief second, no matter how much time and effort was put into the attempt. Marciano had only taken up boxing in the Army to get out of kitchen duty and other less-than-desirable assignments, and although he won the 1946 Armed Forces boxing tournament, he was just 8-4 as an amateur, getting by almost solely on crude, raw power.

In recalling his first glimpse of “prospect” Marciano, Goldman jotted down all his negatives into a notebook: wild punches, poor balance, legs too far apart, stride too long, non-existent defense, over-reliance on his right hand and a disinclination to throw combinations, among other things. But when the kid connected, he somehow made magic.

“Marciano was so awkward we just stood there and laughed,” Golden was quoted as saying in author Bert Randolph Sugar’s 2005 book, “Boxing’s Greatest Fighters.” “He didn’t stand right, he didn’t throw a punch right. He didn’t do anything right.”

Later on, as Marciano continued to knock everyone stiff, Goldman, who had previously been the manager-trainer of middleweight titlist Al McCoy, allowed that “I got a guy who’s short, stoop-shouldered and balding with two left feet. (Rocky’s victims) all look better than he does as far as moves are concerned, but they don’t look so good (laying) on the canvas.”

So what is the most accurate assessment of what Rocky was, or wasn’t?

Sugar, always opinionated and frequently controversial, had Marciano at No. 14 on his list of the 100 greatest fighters of all time, and the fifth-best heavyweight, behind Louis (4), Ali (7), Jack Dempsey (9), Jack Johnson (10) and Gene Tunney (13). Other renowned big men who fell in behind The Rock were Sam Langford (16), Ezzard Charles (24), George Foreman (31), Joe Frazier (37), Evander Holyfield (42), Larry Holmes (45), John L. Sullivan (54), Bob Fitzsimmons (66), Jim Corbett (69), Sonny Liston (73), Jersey Joe Walcott (79), Peter Jackson (80), James J. Jeffries (84) and – obviously, a lot of fight fans will dispute back-of-the-line status – Mike Tyson (100).

“As indestructible as any fighter in history, Marciano walked into, and through, thousands of hard, clean jolting shots in the manner of a human steamroller, wrecking his opponents with baseball-bat swings to the arms, the midsection, the head, and just about anything else within reach,” Sugar wrote. “Always ready to give two or three punches to land one, the determined Marciano melted down the guards of his opponents, and with the shortest arms of any champion in the history of the heavyweight division, hewed them down to size.”

Moore, who was on a 21-bout winning streak when he challenged Marciano, wasn’t about to dispute Sugar’s assessment. “The Mongoose” holds the all-time professional record with 131 knockout victories, so he knows a thing or two about what it feels like to deliver and to be on the wrong end of a takeout shot. And Marciano, he marveled, rose above all the big bangers of his acquaintance.

“Marciano is far and away the strongest man I’ve ever encountered in almost 20 years of fighting,” Moore said in an article that appeared in the New York Times the day after the bout. “And believe me, I’ve met some tough ones.”

The Rocky Marciano story is pure Americana, regardless of where the so-called experts are apt to place him on their best-of lists. The grandson of Italian immigrants, the young Rocky – whose birth name was Rocco Marchegiano; it was changed by his manager, Al Weill, because Weill thought the shortened version was easier to pronounce and to fit in newspaper headlines – grew up knowing only that he didn’t want to work in the shoe factory where his father, Pierino, worked long hours for short wages under dismal conditions.

Perhaps Marciano’s burgeoning popularity owed in part to the exciting nature of his no-frills, all-thrills style; he was involved in The Ring’s Fight of the Year in three consecutive years, from 1952 through ’54, scoring knockouts of Jersey Joe Walcott, Roland La Starza and Ezzard Charles (the last two were rematches). Maybe it was because he was seen in some quarters as a “White Hope,” the man who would end a 17-year domination of the heavyweight division by black fighters that had begun with Louis and extended on to Charles and then Walcott. There also was the constant expectation of sudden lightning, a thunderbolt in the late going of bouts Marciano was trailing on the scorecards, with his undefeated record further endangered with each passing round.

Such was the case in his challenge of Walcott, who had wrested the championship from Charles on a seventh-round knockout on July 18, 1951, in Pittsburgh, the putaway blow a perfectly timed, walk-in left hook that was and still remains one of the most aesthetically perfect punches in boxing history. For all the world, it looked as if Jersey Joe was headed to an even more significant triumph, increasing his points lead over the bull-strong Marciano as the fight, scheduled for 15 rounds on Sept. 23, 1952, in Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium, headed into the 13th. Marciano clearly needed a knockout to claim the title, and he knew it. So, you would have thought, did Walcott.

But Walcott wanted to chisel boulder that had been The Rock down to a pebble, and he attempted to put an exclamation point to his seemingly imminent success in that fateful stanza by stepping up the pace even more. Instead he was sent down and out by what might have been the most spectacular one-punch knockout ever, a short – maybe six inches – right to the jaw that landed with the force of a meteor slamming into the earth. Walcott, whose face was distorted into that of an anguished gargoyle at the point of impact, was unconscious as he slid down the ropes. Referee Charlie Daggett went through with the formality of a count, but he could have tolled to 100 and Walcott wouldn’t have risen in time.

After vanquishing Moore, however, the inner fire that had always burned so hot into Marciano began to cool. His retirement stuck after he defeated Moore, who had decked him in Round 2, although Rocky was sorely tempted to go for win No. 50 after Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson lifted the heavyweight title from Floyd Patterson on a third-round TKO on June 26, 1959, in Yankee Stadium.

“I don’t want to be remembered as a beaten champion,” said Marciano, who understood how great the difference was between 49-0 and 49-1, for the purpose of retaining the unique legacy he had consecrated with his blood. And so he walked away from a seven-figure payday that would have added a bundle to the $4 million or so in career earnings he had amassed at a time when a million dollars went a hell of a lot further than it does now.

There would be one more moment of semi-glory for Marciano, however. A Miami-based entrepreneur named Murry Woroner in 1967 came up with the idea of a “fantasy boxing tournament” to determine the best heavyweight of all time, the results of which would be spit out by something called the NCR 315 computer. The data on 16 all-time greats fed into the gadget, admittedly primitive by today’s standards, and in the final Marciano emerged as the winner via 13th-round knockout of Jack Dempsey.

Muhammad Ali – who was in the midst of his three-year suspension from boxing for refusing to be inducted into the Army and whom the computer had deemed a quarterfinals loser to James J. Jeffries – filed a $1 million lawsuit against Woroner for defamation. Ali claimed that Woromer had, in effect, stolen his good name by rigging the computer to have him lost to someone he claims he could have beaten a hundred times in a hundred tries.

Woroner slipped the legal punch by offering Ali a filmed fantasy fight against Marciano, who was 45 and had not fought in 13 years. Both men signed on, and the filming took place in early 1969 with a flabby Ali nearly 40 pounds over his best fighting weight and Marciano, wearing a toupee for vanity’s sake, 45 pounds lighter thanks to a crash diet. Seventy one-minute rounds were filmed, including seven different endings. Neither Ali nor Marciano, it was said, was told beforehand which outcome would used in the telecast, to be shown in some 1,500 closed-circuit locations around the world.

A Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, Arnold Davis, told Ali – who was cash-strapped and who reportedly accepted Woroner’s offer of $9,999 to participate – that he was crazy if he thought the final cut would have him winning.

“The end is supposed to be a mystery? To whom?” Davis asked Ali. “Marciano will beat you bloody. And it will sell like hell in South Africa, to say nothing of Indiana and Alabama.”

As Davis had predicted, Marciano did win, coming from behind to win by a knockout in the 13th round, just as he had done in his title-winning bout with Walcott. An unusually gracious Ali, speaking to Howard Cosell on ABC’s Wide World of Sports in 1976, said, “I think on my best day and his best day I would have beaten him, (but) probably not knocked him out. I think he was better than Joe Frazier, and you know what Joe Frazier did to me.”

Three months after the Ali-Marciano “fight” became a cause celebre, Rocky’s plane crashed in that Iowa cornfield and his legend was forever set, no longer susceptible to the alteration of ongoing events.

So, again, the question must be asked: How good was The Rock? Better than his detractors insist, or worse than his admirers claim?

Given Marciano’s squatty build and comparative lack of heft – his highest weight for any fight was 192½ pounds – his most obvious reference points are Frazier and Tyson, similarly constructed close-to-the-ground power punchers.

Boxing writer Monte D. Cox said transposing Frazier’s opponents with Marciano’s tells you all you need to know. “Is there one person that Marciano beat that Joe Frazier would not beat?” he asked. “The answer is clearly no. Joe Frazier would have little trouble with Marciano’s opponents and would easily have gone 49-0 against them … Had the two all-time greats switched eras, Frazier would have been 49-0 and Marciano would likely have had losses to Ali and Foreman on his record.”

But the floating of hypotheticals is easy. It is human nature to remember what we care to remember, to believe what we want to believe, and we will furiously forward our point of view with those holding a contradictory position. So let Peter Marciano, whom I interviewed in 2006, offer his thoughts on his older brother in response to all the Monte Coxes who would cast aspersions upon Rocky’s memory.

“Any fighter you might mention – and I like to believe I’m not being prejudiced – could not have beaten Rocky,” Peter said. “I honestly believe that. The only way I can ever imagine him losing is on an accidental head-butt, a head cut or something like that. Forget size. Rocky was tremendously strong. His strength was, and I hate to use the word, but it was almost superhuman. Big guys were made for him. The bigger they were, the easier it was for Rocky to tire them out and then to knock them out.

“Muhammad Ali was terrific, but it wasn’t just his speed and mobility that made him a great champion. It was his mental strength. He believed, as Rocky did, that he could not be beaten. The difference between them is that Ali told everyone how good he was and Rocky, who was a very humble man, did not feel he had to come out and say it. It was enough that he knew it.

“The other difference, of course, is that Rocky was never beaten.”

Which brings us back to that 49-0 record which remains the unassailable summit that all other heavyweight champions have endeavored to scale without success. Larry Holmes came closest, getting to 48-0 before he was dethroned on a close but unanimous 15-round decision to Michael Spinks on Sept. 21, 1985, in Las Vegas – ironically, but not coincidentally, the 30th anniversary of Marciano’s 49th and farewell win against Moore.

At the postfight press conference, a miffed Holmes said, “Rocky Marciano couldn’t carry my jockstrap,” a rather indelicate statement considering the fact that Peter Marciano was on hand to offer a congratulatory handshake he really didn’t want to extend, and now didn’t have to.

“Quite honestly, I never want to see Rocky’s record broken,” Peter said. “As a boxing fan, if someone is good enough to ever do it, I would tip my cap to him. But I think the chances of that happening is almost non-existent given the current landscape. The best fighters don’t fight more than two or three times a year once they achieve pay-per-view status. That makes it difficult for the elite guys to even have 50 fights, much less to win them all.”

Marciano’s sheen of perfection is not entirely resistant to the shadow of doubt. In his first fight with La Starza, who was 37-0 at the time, The Rock won a decision that was more than a little disputed. And if title fights went 12 rounds in his day, instead of 15, he would never have gotten the chance to starch Walcott in Round 13. As another Rocky – that would be Graziano – once said, “Somebody up there likes me.” And that may well have been the case for Marciano, who didn’t get to 49-0 easily, but got there nonetheless.

The fight game is primordial, and that is reason enough to have an affinity toward the Marcianos and the Fraziers and the Tysons, who give it all that they have for as long as they have it. They strike a chord within us, the sound of a wolf howl, reminding us that at our core we perhaps aren’t really as prim and proper as genteel society might prefer.

“Rocky is not in there to outpoint anybody with an exhibition of boxing skill,” Ed Fitzgerald, one of the top sports writers of the Marciano era, observed. “He is a primitive fighter who stalks his prey until he can belt him with that frightening right-hand crusher. He is one of the easiest fighters in the ring to hit. You can, as with an enraged grizzly bear, slow him down and make him shake his head if you hit him hard enough to wound him, but you can’t make him back up. Slowly, relentlessly, he moves in on you. Sooner or later, he clubs you down.”

Rest in peace, Mr. Marciano, and know that a little bit of you lives on in certain select fighters who know that even the sweet science sometimes needs an infusion of sweet savagery.

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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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How Much Is Left for Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez?

I first wrote about Roman Gonzalez in 2010. He was a baby-faced 105lb shotgun then, but was not widely known. I predicted that he would be the world’s number

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I first wrote about Roman Gonzalez in 2010. He was a baby-faced 105lb shotgun then, but was not widely known. I predicted that he would be the world’s number one fighter one day and also that when he eventually came undone, it would be against a southpaw.

I also predicted that, for Gonzalez, there would be no second act. Once undone, he would stay undone. Gonzalez was no Jake LaMotta, no sponge for acid, and to describe him as face first would be to do a disservice to the high guard and sleek slippage of punches that, even as a minimumweight, he was already exhibiting. I felt, however, that the purity of the violence he dealt in required a commitment that a hurtful defeat might undo. I also felt that super-flyweight would be his roof and that when he landed there he might find himself tangling with various immovable objects, where once give had been guaranteed.

So I was not surprised when southpaw superflyweight deluxe thug Srisaket Sor Rungvisai dropped him like a stone down a well late last year. I did have a bad feeling as regarded his comeback this weekend though.

An earlier aborted attempt at a return to action seemed to have been caused by the most disappointing of reasons, his perceived inability to make the 115lb limit in time. Once a fighter has decided to eat himself into the divisions above it’s rare to see him back at his old trim; the nightmarish vision of Gonzalez trying to compete with Naoya Inoue and Zolani Tete reared its ugly head momentarily, but Gonzalez set to work and made the grade, like he so often has.

A fight with Moises Fuentes at 115lbs was his reward.

Quantifying this opponent is important. Fuentes had, at one time, been ranked among the very best light-flyweights in the world. He exited that division after winning a crackling match with perennial warmonger Francisco Rodriguez and then losing by knockout to Kosoei Tanaka. After straying dangerously close to 120lbs and splitting a pair with Ulises Lara, he struggled back down to 112lbs only to be brutalized by Japanese prospect Daigo Higa in a single round. The word “shot” started to be muttered in connection with Fuentes in the wake of this result.

Gonzalez meanwhile was being marooned on the wrong side of history in his native Nicaragua as the country fell down around his ears. The political disaster wrought upon his people left him in an isolated position politically and, undoubtedly, with severe personal financial problems of his own.

So there were two desperate men sharing the ring on the undercard of Golovkin-Alvarez contest but to my eye, Gonzalez-Fuentes was far and away the most interesting match.

Gonzalez looked old and dry during the referee’s instructions, his expression hangdog, new folds of expression on his once smooth features. He looked down, not unusual, but he radiated a sliver of defeat where once there had been only surety.

Until the bell rang.

Gonzalez, in his prime, was among the best combination punches of the modern era. This has always been his stated mode of expression, eight to twelve punches his declared and terrifying target and he has proven himself capable of landing at the lower end of this range. Nor are these the “mixing” punches of, say, Joe Calzaghe, who cuffed and slapped and looked to land a meaningful punch in among the a stream of less hurtful shots. Gonzalez meant business.

As business boomed and he became the lineal flyweight champion of the world, he continued to add layers. By the time of his flyweight reign he had developed one of the most dangerous right hands in the world. He shaped it in all ways, he threw it at all ranges, he targeted head, body, chest, and such was his balance and stance that he did all of this without selling the punch. When Gonzalez dipped his left shoulder to throw a left-hook or uppercut, he could instead transplant that punch with a straight right.

Certainly not all of the above was confirmed against Fuentes. He wasn’t buying the space like he used to, developing strange angles to begin the withering barrages that we saw in his prime, but we did see him throw the same explosive and unexpected combinations, sometimes leading with the left-uppercut, a suicide punch for many fighters. And we saw him use that right hand.

We saw him feint with it to open up for the left and we saw him use it as a prop punch for a hook or uppercut, and we finally saw him unleash it, on the button, for what may be the knockout of the year.  Gonzalez rounded the brave Fuentes up, cornered him, and then knocked him unconscious with a punch that traveled through the target and “frightened” Gonzalez into thinking that he had legitimately hurt the Mexican.

His relief when Fuentes returned to us, cross-eyed and confounded, but unharmed, was palpable.

My pre-fight wish was that Gonzalez would look very bad and be forced to consider retirement, or very good, thereby hoping that my final prediction would be denied and “Chocolatito” could be declared back in the title hunt.

Though what we got is certainly more the latter than the former, in truth it is neither.

Gonzalez’s speed of foot had begun to betray him even before Rungvisai pole-axed him and although he looked sprightly at times here, he’s not going to be as quick at 115lbs as he was at 108. More, he landed a lot of punches on Fuentes and Fuentes stood up to them. When Gonzalez hit that kind of stride at 112lbs, even burning heart warriors like Akira Yaegashi wilted; Fuentes was able to rally several times which was good for the contest but makes clear that Gonzalez left his truly destructive power behind when he left his flyweight title behind. Murderous in landing the perfect shot, clubbing super-flyweight foes into submission is going to remain extremely challenging.

So when he comes up against a meaningful challenger, he will have to defeat him with craft, guile, and what remains one of the most fluid offenses in the sport. Many of his potential opponents will be faster than him and some will be able to hit as hard or harder.

Gonzalez will no doubt be in pursuit of a strap. This leaves him with three choices.

Rungvisai, the legitimate champion, we know about. Gonzalez may want a third fight and given the weakness of the matches on the most recent HBO Superfly card, it is far from impossible that it can be made. If it was made next, Rungvisai must be considered a heavy favorite.

The wonderful Filipino Jerwin Ancajas, too, holds a strap at the weight and he, too, should be avoided unless Gonzalez is determined to undertake an all-or-nothing swoop at a fighter entering his prime. This contest is not unwinnable for Gonzalez, but all things considered, it would arguably be the very best victory of his career if he were to pull it off.

Finally, there is Englishman Khalid Yafai.

Yafai is the right man. He is the type of fighter that Gonzalez has specialized in breaking since he turned pro; a fleet-footed, clever boxer short on dig and high on flurries. Yafai is definitely good enough to stay ahead for spells, he might even be good enough to win seven rounds, but he is not going to brutalize Gonzalez while he does it.    Here is a fight for a strap that Gonzalez would be favored to win.

Alas, promotional vagaries also make it the most difficult to make. But perhaps Gonzalez will bide his time. There are other meaningful contests to be made in a sprightly division undergoing yet another quality iteration.  Perhaps Gonzalez will seek a rematch with old foe Juan Francisco Estrada, still dangerous but underwhelming in his most recent contest. Perhaps a battle of the veterans can be sold to HBO and Gonzalez can tangle with Donnie Nietes. Or maybe power-brokers would be more excited to see him in with another mysterious old man from foreign shores and Gonzalez-Kazuto Ioka can be made.

These are all exciting fights and most of them can be made with a minimum of fuss.

So it’s Roman Gonzalez then, perhaps not quite back, but certainly warming up in the wings. And if the division isn’t quite trembling, it can at least be said to have thrown a quick look over its shoulder into the gathering gloom.

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A Tactical Change Paid Dividends for Canelo Alvarez vs. GGG

This past Saturday night Canelo Alvarez 50-1-2 (34) won a majority decision (114-114 and 115-113 twice) over Gennady Golovkin 38-1-1 (33) to capture Golovkin’s

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night Canelo

This past Saturday night Canelo Alvarez 50-1-2 (34) won a majority decision (114-114 and 115-113 twice) over Gennady Golovkin 38-1-1 (33) to capture Golovkin’s three middleweight title belts at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. And like their first fight last September that ended in a majority draw, the decision has provoked controversy.

The amazing thing about Canelo and GGG is how evenly they’re matched and difficult their fights are to score. I scored the rematch 6-5-1 Canelo, (after seeing the first meeting 8-4 GGG) but it was so close that it could as easily gone to Golovkin by a point. But let’s get one thing clear: This fight was too close to be considered a robbery regardless of who had their hand raised. And when you take into account that Canelo forced Golovkin to fight in retreat, landed the more eye-catching shots, worked his body from the onset, and that Golovkin’s face was much more puffed up and lumpy at the end (although Canelo was cut), no way was the decision in favor of Canelo an injustice.

Stylistically, GGG is an attacker and Canelo is a counter-puncher. However, Canelo answered Golovkin’s trainer Abel Sanchez’s call and didn’t run. No, he didn’t run in the first fight either, but in this fight, unlike the first, Canelo moved forward and initiated the exchanges. Golovkin’s jab, which is always reliable, worked overtime and kept Canelo from owning the exchanges, but like most attackers, GGG can’t hit as hard or be as effective if forced back. And because of that Canelo had no reservation in regards to forcing the fight. So when looking at what stood out the most, it was Canelo’s more imaginative offense and body punching, thus forcing Golovkin to go away from what he’s done best and in every other fight of his career, and that no doubt influenced the judges. Moreover, Golovkin noticeably flinched a few times at feints and was unwilling to pay the price of going to the body entailed to win.

Prior to the rematch it was said in this space how two things would unfold when they met the second time. Quoting from the June 20th TSS preview:

Based on the strategic options for both, Canelo has more room to be better and change things up to level the fight. And then there’s the business side of the equation and I’ve been around too long to fathom that if it’s closer this time GGG will get the decision. A Canelo win sets the rubber match up perfectly because in the eyes of boxing fans and PPV buyers they’ll view them as being 1-1. For the reasons stated above, as much as I’d like to be wrong (and there’s no fun pouring cold water on something so widely anticipated), I don’t think that will be the case. It’s a monumental reach for me to think GGG can win a decision unless he beats Canelo beyond recognition – which I don’t believe he can. Therefore Canelo-GGG goes the distance and Alvarez, being more competitive this time, gets the decision and that sets up the rubber match for Cinco De Mayo weekend 2019.

The fact is, Canelo being the more versatile fighter completely flipped the script after fighting mostly in retreat and with his back to the ropes during most of their first encounter. His aggression and willingness to stand his ground the way GGG did the first time, projected that Canelo was the more willing fighter and he was obviously rewarded for that. Granted, Golovkin really dug down and showed his strong constitution during the second half of the fight after being told by his corner he was losing. He fought a terrific fight, as did Canelo, but it wasn’t enough for GGG because he left too many rounds up for grabs, which was suicide with Canelo forcing the fight.

The result shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone, especially since the fight was so close and could come down to whose style you liked better or who you were rooting for. There was no definitive winner of this fight. Sure, a draw would’ve been a fair call. The problem with that, however, is that Team Golovkin knew they had to be more assertive and erase any semblance of doubt this time, due to GGG being excoriated in some circles for not getting off enough in the last bout and never slamming the door to prevent Canelo from tightening the fight with a rally, the way he did down the stretch. This time GGG got off a little more, but that was because he was mostly fighting to prevent Canelo from overwhelming him with his aggression. In a way it’s ironic how Canelo accepted the challenge and fought Golovkin in a more macho way and it knocked Golovkin off his game.

One tries not to be redundant, but like the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB…..boxing is a business and is star driven. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is a superstar fighter in the eyes of the boxing establishment and many fans. There’s no guesswork needed to grasp that it’s good for business for him to keep winning. His determination, skill and toughness exhibited against a monster like Golovkin might endear him to fans more than ever. Canelo fought a better fight than the first time and put to rest the rumor that he was aided by PEDS.

The net result is exactly what the boxing establishment, not the fans, needed. And that was a win for Canelo in a fight where it was tough to pick the winner with Canelo acting as more the predator than the prey. By forcing GGG to break more exchanges, working both the body and head, along with never appearing tired or overwhelmed, it was just enough to win the borderline rounds in the eyes of the judges and tilt the fight in his favor. In fact, Golovkin, over Canelo’s protest, had Dave Moretti as a judge for the fight. He was the only judge who scored the first clash for Gennady. And this time he scored it for Canelo and may have tipped his hand when he gave the 12th round to Canelo, perhaps knowing it could swing the fight in his favor….and it did.

This decision cannot be lambasted like others we’ve seen. GGG didn’t suffer a loss of esteem in losing and Canelo finally has a statement win over a marque fighter. They’ll fight a third time and it will be perceived as a rubber match. Golovkin will be almost another year older and less than what he was this past weekend and Canelo will win more conclusively while avoiding the young lions nipping at his heels named Charlo, Saunders and Andrade.

Because boxing is and always has been star driven, Gennady just can’t put enough separation between he and Canelo to get the decision. Their rematch is one of the few fights I’ve seen that really could’ve gone either way – it’s just that a push usually goes to the combatant who is better for business.

The next time there’s a real close fight on paper, and it’s unlikely to end in a knockout or stoppage, you must ask what result better sets up the next big bout. The formula isn’t fool proof. De La Hoya-Trinidad and Pacquiao-Bradley I are glaring exceptions, but more often than not you’ll cash your ticket. In this case a Canelo win sets up fight three more than a Golovkin win would’ve….and knowing GGG won’t walk away from the fortune at stake, he’ll go for it.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hoganphotos / Golden Boy Promotions

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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