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Three Myths Explored On The 40th Anniversary Of Foreman vs. Ali

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It’s been 40 years since Muhammad Ali 44-2 (31) upset the boxing world as a 3-1 underdog and knocked out undisputed heavyweight champion George Foreman 40-0 (37) in the eighth round to become only the second fighter in history to reclaim the heavyweight title. Today, Ali, 72 and Foreman, 65, are America’s guest whenever they appear in public. With all the years and the passage of time, most have forgotten just how big of an event and fight Foreman-Ali was back on Oct. 29, 1974. Through the years there’s been so much discussed pertaining to the fight that it’s impossible to reveal anything that hasn’t already been hashed over ad-nauseum.

The fight took place in Kinshasa Zaire and was fought at the 20th of May Stadium. It was former Cleveland racketeer Don King’s first venture into big time boxing as a promoter and he titled it “The Rumble In The Jungle.” King used his gift of gab to coax all within his voice’s reach that the coming together of Foreman and Ali was symbolic. “The prodigal sons will be returning to Africa,” was his theme during the months leading up to the fight.

September 25th was the original scheduled date of the bout, but it was pushed back to October 29th when sparring partner Bill McMurray cut George over his right eye during a training session on September 16th. When the bout was postponed both Foreman and Ali were forced to remain in Zaire despite the fact that they both wanted to come back to the United States. However, the fast- thinking Ali turned the tables on Foreman and embraced staying there and roamed with the people of Zaire once word leaked out that George wanted to leave the country. In a short time Ali became a man of the people and by fight night Foreman felt as if an entire country was against him.

The fight started at four in the morning on Wednesday October 30th, 1974 in Zaire to accommodate audiences in the United States at ten in the evening Tuesday night October 29th. At the time George Foreman was thought to be the most unbeatable and invincible heavyweight champion in history. He demolished “Smokin” Joe Frazier in two rounds to capture the undisputed title in January of 1973. This was the same Frazier that Ali had to fight twice before he could claim a victory over him. In his second defense of the title Foreman mutilated Ken Norton in less than two full rounds in March of 1974, and yes, Ali needed to fight Norton twice before he could say he beat him. So the back-story for the “Rumble In The Jungle” was this: the only two fighters who ever defeated Ali just so happened to be two of Foreman’s easiest and most impressive victories. Foreman was often quoted saying in the weeks before the fight, “I hit a guy and it’s like magic. You see him crumbling to the floor. It is a gift from God.” And there were many astute boxing observers who saw Ali being the victim of the same fate. In fact it led George to believe that there was no way he could lose to Ali and it probably wouldn’t even be his toughest fight. If ever there was a supremely confident fighter before an historic bout, it was George Foreman before he fought Muhammad Ali.

The documentary “When We Were Kings” pretty much covered what transpired leading up to, during and after the “The Rumble In The Jungle.” However, there are three popular myths regarding the fight that neither the film nor anyone has ever really touched on or addressed. We start with the ring size, Foreman’s lack of a backup plan when the fight began to slip away from him, and the myth of Ali introducing the “Rope a Dope” strategy during the bout.

The Ring Size:

Much has been made about the loose ring ropes for the Foreman-Ali bout over the years. And yes they did have slightly more give than the ropes usually have around a boxing ring. And the reason for that was because the ropes were for a 19-foot ring. Before the fight Ali stressed he wanted a 20-foot ring and Foreman wanted a 19-foot ring. What they got in Zaire was a 16-foot ring. This is documented by the October 29, 1974 edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel, and countless interviews that referee Zack Clayton gave over the years after the fight. In fact this was discussed between me and Mr. Clayton when I mentioned it to him at the post fight press conference after Michael Spinks stopped Murray Sutherland in the eighth round on 4-11-82 to retain his WBA light heavyweight title in Atlantic City N.J. And Mr. Clayton confirmed to me that Foreman and Ali fought in a 16 foot ring in over 80 degree heat. He then added that he was somewhat surprised that, “Ali agreed to fight Foreman in a phone booth with ropes.”

The size of the ring was a definite benefit for Foreman because he knew the less room that Ali had to move and box the larger the advantage for him. The conventional wisdom before the fight was this: Ali would look to circle and box George from the outside, utilizing his superior hand and foot speed the way he did when he fought Sonny Liston and George Chuvalo the first time he fought them. Ali also circled and boxed and used the entire ring 20-foot ring for seven or eight rounds of his rematch with Joe Frazier in his last bout before challenging Foreman. As witnessed by re-watching the fight, Foreman easily crowds Ali after taking only three or four steps to either side in the smaller ring. One of the things Foreman worked on and stressed before the fight was his ability to cut the ring off and how that would force Ali to have to mix it up and trade punches with him. That was considered ring suicide against Foreman circa 1973-74. Aside from forcing Ali to wear cement boxing shoes during the fight, Foreman couldn’t have been blessed with a better advantage than fighting Ali in a 16 foot ring. The ropes may have been a little loose during the bout, but the size of the ring was a bigger issue and a huge plus for Foreman.

Foreman’s corner and strategy:

On the night that he defended his title against Muhammad Ali, George Foreman’s corner consisted of all-time boxing greats Sandy Saddler and Archie Moore, along with trainer Dick Saddler. Before the fight it was assumed in order for Foreman to beat Ali, all that it would take was for him to be turned loose when the bell rang. As long as George didn’t hit the referee he’d enjoy clear sailing and win the fight in a spectacular fashion. Back then Foreman was boasting about his two famous punches: the “anywhere punch,” as in, anywhere it lands it does damage and the “deep sleep” in the other hand. At the time the prevailing thought was, Ali isn’t strong enough nor is he young enough at age 32 to hold off Foreman, age 25, or dance and use his legs to avoid George’s two handed rampage. The thought that Foreman would need a plan “B” or have to adjust to what Ali did during the fight wasn’t even a consideration to anyone before the bout.

The dynamic of the fight changed towards the end of the first round when Foreman managed to blast Muhammad to the head and body, and Ali openly talked to and mocked George after getting hit flush. The thought that Ali wouldn’t crumble once George caught him good wasn’t even a remote possibility before the fight in Foreman’s mind. And as George has said countless times over the years, Ali drew from his ability to take his punch and became more confident, and conversely, George began to lose confidence in his ability to hurt or defeat Ali as the fight progressed. Yes, Ali used the “Rope a Dope” strategy during the fight, but in a 16 foot ring, it’s not like his legs and lateral movement would’ve been all that effective in neutralizing Foreman’s power and aggression. In essence, because of the small ring, Ali had no choice other than to fight Foreman the way he did.

Archie Moore stated that everything they did with George in training for the Ali fight was to get Muhammad to the ropes, to cut the ring and maneuver him against the ropes. What they didn’t work on was what to do once George got him there and for some unforeseen reason Ali was able to take George’s punch. What they overlooked, along with the rest of the experts was, Ali’s body and ring strength were equal to George’s even though he wasn’t as big of a puncher. As the fight proceeded it was obvious because of Foreman being the same height as Ali, his punches to the head were wide and from outside, making them easier for Ali to see, anticipate and pick off or parry. As opposed to, say, Joe Frazier who started his tighter shots from down low and came up with them, making it more difficult for Ali to see and defend.

Immediately after the fight Foreman’s corner was wrongly excoriated and unfairly criticized by many fans and media for not instructing George on what he should do because their “catch ‘n kill” style of attack wasn’t working. Ali was handling Foreman’s power and aggression and in the midst George was walking into Ali’s lead rights and lefts. However, there was nothing they could’ve instructed Foreman to do in the middle of the fight that would’ve altered the result. By the time Team Foreman realized that George wasn’t going to get the anticipated early knockout, the fight was four rounds old and Foreman was starting to tire from throwing the kitchen sink at Muhammad. Aside from urging Foreman to stop head hunting, there’s not much else they could’ve instructed him to do differently. Foreman’s biggest advantage over Ali was his overload of punching power, and if Ali could withstand his Sunday punches, which he did, Foreman wasn’t going to beat him. He certainly didn’t stand a chance of beating the faster hand and footed Ali by trying to out-box him or out point him from center ring.

Had Foreman eased up and not been so aggressive, he would’ve been throwing away his only path to victory in the fight. Foreman minus his aggression would’ve been a sitting duck for Ali’s fast hands and combinations. Had Foreman chose to box and fight more in a more measured way instead of going after Ali, Muhammad would’ve peppered him at will from outside the way he did George Chuvalo, Ernie Terrell and Mac Foster. If you remember, after George lost to Ali he returned to the ring 15 months later a more measured fighter under new trainer Gil Clancy. And he looked good against contenders like Ron Lyle, Joe Frazier, Scott LeDoux and Dino Dennis, fighters who had no means to get away from him while fighting on the move. Then he fought Jimmy Young. Against Young, Foreman fought much more measured than he did against Ali, hoping to conserve his energy and stamina. And what happened? Young peppered Foreman and won a decision over him because he never had to cope with the out of control wrecking machine that Ali had to confront. Jimmy never really had to address Foreman’s overwhelming power and strength because for most of the bout, George kept it under wraps looking to conserve his stamina and energy.

Try to imagine Foreman switching in the middle of the bout with Ali and fighting him like he did Jimmy Young. Ali was quicker, threw faster and harder combinations and had better legs than Young. Not to mention he was physically bigger and stronger. Had Foreman’s corner implored George to back off and pick his shots against Ali, sure, he might’ve lasted longer or even perhaps gone the distance – but he would’ve lost every minute of every round along with the fight.

So the reality is, Foreman’s corner shouldn’t be faulted for not having a plan “B” for George the night he fought Ali. The simple truth is, if Foreman couldn’t knock out Ali by forcing the fight and trying to make Muhammad fight and trade with him, he’s wasn’t going to beat him. There was nothing that Archie Moore, Sandy Saddler or Dick Saddler could’ve instructed Foreman to do in the middle of the bout, simply because there was no plausible plan “B” that they could’ve implemented to salvage the fight. As we learned, Foreman just didn’t match up with Ali.

The Introduction of “Rope A Dope” is a Myth:

Over the last 40 years since Ali defeated Foreman, the “Rope A Dope” strategy has been hailed as being some stroke of genius on Ali’s part that he invented on the fly during the fight. The “rope a dope” strategy was implemented by Ali during the second round of the fight. The strategy saw Ali go to the ropes and cover up with his guard high, thus allowing Foreman to punch at him. Sometimes Ali would get off a few quick one-twos in between Foreman’s already launched incoming bombs, hitting George squarely as he was coming in. And then George would reload and start the process all over again. Foreman used up a lot of his energy throwing looping punches at Ali looking to take his head off. Many of them grazed Ali and the ones that did get through, he took. Ali also out-wrestled Foreman in the clinches and held his head down by pushing on the back of his neck so George couldn’t get a good shot at him. This tired Foreman, along with Ali’s taunts of telling him to punch harder and calling him a big sissy. Finally in the eighth round Ali got off a beautiful combination that ended with a hard right hand to Foreman’s face and he went down. Foreman rose but didn’t beat the count and referee Zach Clayton waved the fight over.

Let it be noted that had any other fighter tried to beat Foreman using the “rope a dope” tactic that Ali employed against him, they would probably be beaten to death. The strategy worked for Ali because Muhammad was blessed with a concrete body and a cast iron chin. That, along with his very underrated mental toughness and constitution. The only fighter who could’ve beat George Foreman by allowing George to work him over, did. It would be suicide for any other “boxer” to try and duplicate what Ali did against the undefeated raging Foreman who didn’t believe anyone could stand up to his punch or beat him. The “rope a dope” worked against George Foreman and enabled Ali to regain the undisputed heavyweight title seven years after being stripped of it.

The myth of the “rope a dope” strategy is that Ali had used it unsuccessfully twice before he fought Foreman, only he didn’t name it. Ali tried to “rope a dope” Joe Frazier from the sixth round on during the “Fight Of The Century.” Only it didn’t work because Frazier’s shorter punches and everlasting stamina piled up points and won rounds. Frazier’s lower center allowed him to be in the perfect position to work Ali over to the body, and at the same time, stay low and slip many of Ali’s return shots to the head. Punching down and missing Frazier actually drained Muhammad’s stamina. Ali sought a quick knockout against Frazier, who was a slow starter. When he failed to get the quick execution, he realized that in order for him to finish the fight, he was going to have to pace himself and see if at the same time Frazier would punch himself out. Only Joe never slowed down and his body work against a stationary Ali against the ropes sapped Muhammad’s stamina. So the “rope a dope” strategy failed Ali the first time he tried it.

Ali also tried to “rope a dope” Ken Norton the first time they fought two years after he lost to Frazier. Ali didn’t think much of Norton as a contender and was in terrible shape for the bout. Ali thought he could toy with Norton and stop him whenever he wanted. Once he realized that that wasn’t going to happen and the fight was probably going to go the distance, he went to the ropes and tried to get Norton to punch himself out so he could come on late in the fight. In the process Ali suffered a broken jaw. Again, he fought off the ropes and tried to pick his spots, but like Frazier, Norton had built up a head of steam and never slowed down.

You’ll notice that after the “rope a dope” failed against Frazier and Norton the first time he fought them, Ali abandoned it for the rematches with both men. What he did was get himself into great shape and down to 212 pounds for both rematches. Ali was never that low in weight before or after his rematches with Frazier and Norton during his comeback in the 70s. And before both rematches he promised not to lay against the ropes and give away rounds. He promised to dance and use his legs and not be the stationary target he was the first time he fought Joe and Ken. And in both fights Ali boxed and danced beautifully for the first half of the fight and banked those rounds. He eventually came down off his toes for a few rounds, but just when Frazier and Norton started to get back into the fight, he started circling and moving again because he was in great shape. Down the stretch his movement and his ability to fight effectively in retreat, something he was great at, enabled him to even the score with the only two men who ever beat him.

Let it be said for the record that Muhammad Ali used his famous “rope a dope” strategy twice before he fought George Foreman, and it failed both times. The only difference is, Ali didn’t coin it the “rope a dope” after if failed against Frazier and Norton. What he said was, he needed to lay against the ropes and rest against Frazier and Norton because he was coming off a long layoff when he fought Frazier – and he wasn’t in top condition when he fought Norton.

It wasn’t until the “rope a dope” strategy finally prevailed for Ali against George Foreman that he smartly gave it a catchy name. That’s part of the genius of Muhammad Ali.

In closing, Ali used the “rope a dope’ strategy once after he fought Foreman, and that was during his first fight with Leon Spinks, a fight he lost. Guess what he said after fighting Spinks? He said I underestimated him and wasn’t in top condition, that’s why I laid back against the ropes and rested, hoping the inexperienced Spinks would tire. For the rematch a determined Ali was in great shape and danced and boxed for 11 of the 15 rounds the fight went. Ali won an overwhelming decision victory and became the first fighter in history to win the world heavyweight boxing title three times.

In hindsight the “rope a dope” strategy didn’t serve Muhammad Ali well. He was 1-3 in fights when he used it. However, the one time it worked for him just so happens to be the signature win of his stellar career And that was 40 years ago. We are getting old!

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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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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