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The Marksman Q n A Special: Kenny Bayless

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Even though he is one of the more respected referees in the game of boxing, Kenny Bayless is the first to admit that he has made some mistakes in the ring.

Bayless attends at least six referee seminars a year and loves to educate boxing fans about the sweet science.

But do not expect Bayless to apologize for his performance on Saturday night during the rematch between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana.

Bayless gives himself an “A plus” for that effort, he informed me during a recent chat. It was, I think we can agree, one of the more difficult fights to officiate for any referee in recent memory.

In our discussion, Bayless gives us a breakdown of why he did what he did on the night Mayweather was victorious. Some fans think Bayless played a major role in Mayweather winning a unanimous decision.

Bayless says he was just doing his job, which was controlling the fight.

Bayless also had some choice words for some of the boxing media. Bayless says many in the media “do not engulf themselves in the sport.”

Bayless continues by explaining why we have a problem in boxing when a commentator with an untrained eye has so much influence on the public, and so much more.

RM: Let’s jump into the big fight between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana this past Saturday. Tell me about your preparation… Did you prepare any differently for this fight?

KB: Well, as far as physical preparation, I trained for it the same way. I have a treadmill at my house. I get on it on a regular basis to keep my cardio up, I also workout with elastic bands. I just do enough to stay in shape on a regular basis. Now, I probably prepared more mentally as opposed to physically. The main thing for me or any other referee is not losing control of (any) fight. After watching the first fight and seeing how physical it was, I needed to make sure the fight didn’t get out of hand. I needed to make sure I didn’t lose control.

RM: OK. So, what were things that you did to make sure the fight did not get out of control?

KB: One of the things I picked up on from the first fight was whenever Mayweather went to the ropes, which made it easier for Maidana to score, a lot of the punches thrown by Maidana were roundhouse punches and several of the punches were rabbit punches. They were hitting Mayweather on the back of the head. Another thing was that Maidana has an aggressive style and he tends to lead with his head. And if you noticed in the first fight, there was an accidental head-butt. Mayweather was on the receiving end of that head-butt. And also some of the punches went a little low. All these things were happening in the first fight. It was my job to correct that. I wanted to make sure it didn’t happen in the second fight because tempers can flare. I always say, in the heat of the moment, a fighter can do anything. There might be fouls that are intentional or unintentional. My job is to keep the fight even, safe, and fair on both sides.

RM: When you referee a rematch do you think of it as a rematch or try to separate the two fights?

KB: Well, I do look at the first fight and critique it, then decide what I have to do to make (the rematch) a better fight. And what a lot of fans don’t understand is that sometimes referees have to take a difficult fight, or an uneventful fight and turn around and make it an enjoyable fight for the fans to watch.

RM: But why is it your job to make the fight enjoyable?

KB: I’ll give you an example. I happened to referee a fight couple of years ago, which was a rematch, just like Saturday night. It was between Sugar Shane Mosley and Fernando Vargas. In the first fight there was an accidental head-butt. Mosley’s camp said it was accidental. Vargas’ camp said it was intentional. And I don’t know if you remember, but Fernando Vargas… the side of his head started to swell up and ultimately the fight had to be stopped. Well, I did the rematch for that fight. And I had to study the first fight well. The main thing for me was to hopefully not allow that (another head-butt) to happen. Both sides had their issues about the heads and other issues that I had to address. Again, the main thing for me is to make sure the fight is clean on both sides.

RM: I see. So, what types of things were said in the dressing room when you were talking to Mayweather and Maidana before the fight?

KB: Well there wasn’t a lot said. First I went to Maidana’s dressing room. The first thing I said was that I want both fighters and the camps to be professionals. I told them that my job is to keep a level playing field. And then I went into the rules. And then I told them to hold all of their questions until after I went over the rules because a lot of times I answer the questions while I am stating the rules. When I was done, there weren’t many questions asked. I believe Mr. Garcia Sr. asked a question. But it was pretty much standard. Then I went to Mayweather’s room. I started out the same way about being professional. Floyd Sr. was not in the dressing room at the time because he had a fighter at ringside. Roger Mayweather was there. I went over all the rules. Floyd didn’t have any questions. I said good luck to Floyd Mayweather just like I said good luck to Marcos Maidana. And the next time I saw them was in the ring.

RM: Now take me through the fight. Was the fight just as physical as you expected?

KB: Yes, Basically I wanted to be in control initially. I wanted to keep control so it didn’t get out of hand. And believe it or not, fouls will occur when fighters are in a clinch. And before the fight I told both fighters, I will give you an opportunity to fight out of a clinch. But if you don’t fight out of the clinch I am I going to stop the action. That’s when the fouls start, the rabbit punches and the possible low blows. So when they got into a clinch and I didn’t see hardly any action, I stopped it immediately. I separated them and let the fight continue.

RM: I noticed Maidana complaining about having a free hand during the clinch. Even the Showtime broadcast team said something about it. What did you think?

KB: Well, he might have had a free hand but you have to fight out of the clinch. I have to determine if it is a hard clinch or a soft clinch. Usually if it is a soft clinch or soft hold then I will let them fight out. But if it is a hard clinch or a hard hold then I have to step in and separate the fighters.

RM: Floyd was holding pretty hard and that’s why you broke them up, right?

KB: Yes. But it is neutral in a sense. When both fighters have a glove under the arm and I see they are trying to work out of it, then I will step back. As a matter of fact, there were a couple of times they did work out. Couple of times I was so close one of the fighters, I think it was Maidana, almost backed into me. But the key thing is to determine the difference between the hard hold versus the soft hold. I had to make my decision on the spot. Right then and right now. And knowing what happened in the first fight, as far as rabbit punches, accidental head-butts, and low blows. My intent was to not get a repeat of that. So I got in as quick as I could to prevent any fouls from happening.

RM: So, how do you respond to the criticism afterwards? I’m sure you heard some of the comments made all over the boxing world.

KB: Well, I’ve had some calls from friends that told me some of the comments the sports announcers said about me getting involved, and not allowing Maidana to fight out. Apparently in the first fight he was able to score mostly on the ropes. The announcers said I wasn’t allowing him to score or fight because I was getting in there too fast. Their comments aren’t accurate. I had to keep the fight under control. Between the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Bob Bennett and the commissioners and my colleagues, the officials and judges, they said I did a great job in refereeing a tough fight. So the comments I hear don’t bother me at all. I have been refereeing for over 23 years. I wouldn’t be in the position I am in now if it wasn’t for the fact that I do a clean job. I am unbiased. If I don’t perform well, we have the executive director and commission sitting at ringside; they will without question let me know that I wasn’t on my A game. So, I have to bring my A game for every assignment. Whether it’s a four round fight or six round fight or a championship fight because we get critiqued after every fight card.

RM: What would you grade yourself for Saturday?

KB: I would give myself an A+.

RM: Why?

KB: It is because of my ability to move around the ring. I had to stay consistent to see everything that happened. That’s another thing that fight fans and people don’t understand. You have to be in great shape to move around in that ring. You have to be in position at all times to see what happens. We have to be in position to make the right call. You know, I’ll tell you Ray, our work is not easy. It is very difficult. Saturday night was no walk through the park.

RM: Was it because of all the movement?

KB: The movement. Exactly.

RM: What exactly happened during the bite incident?

KB: Well, Maidana’s head was down. Every once in a while, you will get that type of hold. It usually happens when a fighter comes in and misses a punch. As I separated the two fighters, Floyd stepped back and indicated that he got bit.

RM: Right.

KB: And he just said, “He bit me. He bit me.” I called timeout, told Maidana to go to a neutral corner. I looked at Floyd’s glove and I didn’t see anything. But Floyd kept indicating that he got bit. This was a situation where I had to make some decisions. And, Floyd Sr. gets up on the ring apron. And he is upset and mad. He is talking about what he wants to do… Now, I have to defuse the situation. It can get out of hand.

RM: Right.

KB: I got Floyd Sr. to go back down the stairs and I asked the doctor to come up. I specifically asked for the doctor to come up to give some time for things to settle down.

RM: OK.

KB: I knew the doctor was going to see what I did. Whatever happened was on the inside of the glove. It wasn’t like his glove was bleeding or anything. There was nothing. The doctor came up, he saw what I saw, and he didn’t see anything. So, I sent the doctor back down. Again, I was just buying time to defuse the situation. Then at that point, I told Floyd there is nothing that I could see. The fight has to continue.

RM: Interesting. So, you were just buying time?

KB: Yeah. I was buying time to calm things down. Usually when a fighter gets fouled and nothing is done about it, he has a reason to retaliate. I’m not saying Floyd was going to foul him back. But I addressed the incident and hoped that he wouldn’t retaliate. And he didn’t retaliate.

RM: Why did you take a point away from Maidana in the fight?

KB: I told both fighters in the dressing room, two wrongs don’t make a right. If you deliberately commit a foul, I can take up to two points from your score. Maidana threw a forearm in Floyd’s face then he threw him to the ground. How deliberate is that? And this comes after the possibility that he bit him? I couldn’t tell if he bit him then he comes back two rounds later and throws him to the ground?

RM: Yeah.

KB: For me, remember, taking control of the fight is the main thing. I felt it was appropriate at that time to take a point, to slow Maidana down because Floyd Mayweather has a way of frustrating his opponents simply because they can’t hit him. I refereed the Mayweather/Canelo Alvarez fight. Canelo Alvarez couldn’t hit him and he (Canelo) did some stuff that I had to give him some very hard warnings about. I was very close to taking points from him. Fighters get frustrated because they can’t hit Floyd. Maidana hit Mayweather with a great shot. I believe it was at the end of the third round, right at the bell. That was his best punch of the fight. But he was not able to follow up. So that is something I have to be alert to. I have to know where the fight is going as far as Fighter A and Fighter B.

RM: You have to be in tuned with the fight?

KB: Yep. I have to be in tuned with all that is happening. We get a forearm to the face and a throw down. So I took a point. And there was no argument when the round ended. And I went over to the Maidana corner to warn him to keep the fight clean. Robert Garcia said that he didn’t see the foul. But that’s OK. I don’t know how he didn’t see it. When fans or trainers see their fighter do something wrong it’s ok with them because they want to win the fight. In the following round Floyd hit Maidana with a low blow. I believe it was unintentional. I gave Maidana time to recover. But it was low. That was just simple mechanics.

RM: One big misconception for the fans or even some of the media is that we don’t get to hear the stuff you say to the fighters in the dressing room. You said that you deducted the point from Maidana because you warned him about infractions before the fight… You said that you warned both fighters about breaking the rules. Maybe fans get upset because we don’t see you tell the fighters these rules.

KB: Well I was surprised Ray. Usually Showtime or HBO will come in the dressing room and film my instructions. They usually give the fans every aspect. The reason why I don’t have a problem taking the interview with you is because I like to educate the fans. The fans are the least educated as far as what referees do when we are in the ring. It is difficult for fans because when I step in the ring, I have to be unbiased. When fans step in the arena they already know in their mind who they want to win.

RM: That’s a good point.

KB: Look Ray, if I had a criticism about the sports announcers and the boxing media making the comments like they do – A lot of these commentators don’t engulf themselves into the sport. They don’t go to referee seminars. They don’t learn how we are thinking. They don’t know what we are doing in the ring. I have been to four seminars this year. And I will go to two more seminars before this year is out. Sometimes I will host the seminars. I continue to critique my status as an official. I work hard for the fighters’ fans and for myself. These sportswriters and sports fans, they don’t go to any of the seminars to see how we work on our craft. They can just make comments about us and the fans can just engulf what they say. And that’s the sad part. If one commentator says, “Why doesn’t Kenny do this or that?” that’s enough for at least 10,000 fans watching at home on PPV to think I am favoring Mayweather. But I am just doing my job. I call it the way I see it. I can’t call it the way the fans see it, or the way the sports announcers see it. I have to call it the way I see it.

RM: So is there a misconception because many of the sports writers and commentators are uneducated?

KB: Well, a lot of them have been around the business for many years. I am not saying they are uneducated. But I know of only one sports announcer that has attended seminars. His name is Colonel Bob Sheridan. Him and me have talked about it. He always says, “I don’t know why these other sports announcers don’t attend these seminars.” They should attend the seminars. So they can at least have a vision of what the referee is looking at. The fight isn’t about what they are looking at. I officiate based on what I am looking at. If anyone cannot see that control was my main objective, then they need to start attending some seminars. They need to start educating themselves. There is more in boxing than what they think they know. There is so much more a referee has to deal during a fight. Like I said earlier, one of the calls I got was about one of the sports announcers at ringside. He (the announcer) was hitting me hard about how fast I was breaking the fighters. And another one of the commentators corrected him. I think it was Paulie Malignaggi but I don’t know for certain. I think it was Paulie that said, ‘Kenny has to break them fast because if he doesn’t then the fouls occur.’ Paulie would know being a fighter. He would know. He sees what I was doing. A lot of these commentators don’t know. They don’t engulf themselves in the sport. They don’t learn what we do in the ring.

RM: I think what you are pointing out here is the accountability factor. Commentators, media, I mean, I am probably guilty of it as well, we can say some things about the professional referees and fighters and people will accept it because there is a platform.

KB: That’s exactly right, Ray. People are very opinionated in this country.

RM: That’s true.

KB: The Twitters and the Facebooks. Everybody’s got a comment about something.

RM: Globalized media. We all have a voice.

KB: People that are making comments are not even educated in the sport. They have a platform to voice their opinion. But as I said in the HBO piece, (HBO Cornered) we referees have to train our mind to call what we see right then and right now. And I will be the first one to tell you Ray I have made mistakes in the ring. We are not perfect. But we try to be as close to perfect as we can. We know the opinionated sports writers and sports announcers are going to be very critical if we make mistakes. I gave myself an A+, Ray, because with the bite and all of the movement, and the fouls, etc. etc. I have a very high standard for myself. I don’t care if it’s a four round fight or a ten round fight. I gave myself the highest grade, Ray. It’s easy to get in there and the fighters are listening to everything you are saying. I could give a verbal break and they’ll break. If I use voice command and everything goes well. That’s like a dream fight for a referee. As opposed to moving, getting in position, physically breaking them, making sure they hear your voice commands over the loudness of the crowd.

RM: Man, there was a lot of movement in that fight.

KB: There was a lot of movement.

RM: OK. Do you want to discuss anything else about the fight?

KB: Well, a lot of people don’t know this but the last time I refereed Marcos Maidana, he fought a kid by the name of Soto Karass. In that fight, I took away two points from Marcos Maidana. I took away points because of the illegal stuff he was doing. I also took one point away from his opponent. That’s where control becomes an issue. In my entire career I have never taken a point from both fighters at the same time until I did it in that fight between, Soto Karass and Marcos Maidana. I took points for all the roughhousing and not listening to my commands. And then about a round or two later I took another point from Maidana for hitting on the break.

RM: I see.

KB: So, am I supposed to forget that? No. I will keep it in the back of my head. I didn’t go in the dressing room and say, “You know Marcos, I have taken two points from you before.” I didn’t say that. I didn’t even mention it. Even after Mayweather was saying all those things before the fight about him (Maidana) being dirty, I remembered I took two points from him in a previous fight, but I still said nothing. Then Saturday night, first there was the bite, then the forearm and the throw down. So you have to look at the full picture.

RM: So, you studied the previous fights you refereed with both fighters and used it as a reference?

KB: Yeah. But every fight is different. But is Marcos Maidana capable of infraction? Well, I refereed him two times now. And in two fights have taken three points away from him.

RM: How did you get selected to referee this fight? Is there a selection process?

KB: Yes. There is a selection process. The executive director makes his recommendations to the commissioners, and the commissioners will vote on it. The executive director has us on rotation. The rotation dictates the order you come up. Sometimes the commission gives the camps an opportunity to express how they feel about the referee that is doing the fight. And when my name was mentioned to Marcos Maidana’s camp they had no problem with me refereeing this fight. We got the same thing from the Mayweather camp. I accepted the assignment, knowing I had to be in tiptop shape. I did what I had to do to prepare and keep the fight clean and fair.

RM: Hey, what did you think of the HBO show – Cornered?

KB: Well, I thought it went very well. Believe it or not, the show was shot back in 2012. We shot it right around the time it was announced that I was going to work the fourth fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. It was originally supposed to air in February but apparently HBO had different plans. They just finally aired it last week. It’s still all good because I thought it was an excellent piece.

RM: I’m sure you were eager to see it after almost two years.

KB: Yeah. I just had a lot of people eager to see it. But other than that everything went well.

RM: Great. Can you tell me about the WBC Cares program that you will attend next month?

KB: Yes. WBC Cares program is ran by a lady named Jill Diamond. She reaches out to the community and works with the individuals in bringing fighters to the local Boys and Girls clubs. The last convention was in Las Vegas about two or three years ago. We went to the local Boys and Girls club and got about three hundred kids. Some of the kids were from Richard Steele’s boxing gym. Fighters like Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, and Larry Holmes were there giving autographs to the kids. I am going to Stockton to reach out to the community and work with some trainers that have been in the sport for many years. The WBC wants to recognize them. So personally I will fly to the Bay Area and be a part of that event. It is just something that is really great. It is well worth the time and effort that we put into it.

You can email Ray at Raymond.Markarian@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: @raymarkarian

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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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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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