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Why ‘The Old Mongoose’ Means So Much To Me

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The framed poster, from a fight card staged on Aug. 18, 1944, in San Diego, Calif., had yet to be picked up by its owner from the custom frame shop in the leafy Philadelphia suburb of Bryn Mawr, Pa. It was lying against a wall behind the counter when Philly-based promoter J Russell Peltz, an avid collector of vintage boxing memorabilia, saw it and decided it would make a nice addition. So he asked the proprietor, who did all of Peltz’s framing, to whom the poster in question belonged.

As it turned out, I was that owner. Ironically, it had been Peltz who, in response to a question I had posed to him several days earlier, had suggested I bring a boxing item that was near and dear to me to that particular shop.

“I’ll give you $300 for that poster,” Peltz told me the next time we spoke. I presume his offer was in addition to the cost of the framing, which was a bit pricier than what you might expect at a shopping-mall frame shop.

“Not for $300,” I told him. “And not for $3,000.”

Probably not for $30,000, either, although in these difficult economic times, I might have had to consider an offer so exorbitant that no memorabilia collector in his right mind, unless he was Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or George Steinbrenner, would have made. But this poster was special to me, and not just because the main event, in large block print, hyped a main event in which evolving legend Archie Moore was to take on Jimmie Hayden.

It was a name, in smaller print, listed below “The Old Mongoose’s” that set this poster apart for me from so many others made distinguished by the Hall of Fame-level fighters at the top of the card. Two bouts – listed by promoter Onyx Roach as “Double Semi-Final –Each 6 Rounds” — advised would-be attendees that Bill Campbell was be swap punches with Kid Hermsilla, and that Jack Fernandez was paired with Jimmy Hatmaker.

Jack Fernandez’s given name was, in fact, Bernard J. Fernandez. The eighth of eight children born to Lillie Fernandez and her husband Emile Fernandez Sr., Jack’s lengthy and quite accomplished amateur career was forged in large part during the Great Depression, as was the case with so many fighters in those days. His nickname was conferred upon him by observers who thought his crouching, attacking style was somewhat reminiscent of Jack Dempsey’s, and his many friends continued to call him Jack until his death, at 74, on March 4, 1994. For purposes of this story, let it be noted that the fighter’s full name underwent a slight renovation when he became Bernard J. Fernandez Sr., after his only child, a son, was born amidst the howling winds and flooding storm surge of a hurricane (the National Weather Service had yet to begin naming them) that struck Jack’s hometown of New Orleans, La., on Sept. 21, 1947.

That poster is not the only memento I have of my father’s brief professional boxing career, but it is the most treasured and now something of a family heirloom, to be passed down to one of my two sons after I, too, receive the eternal 10-count. There also is a belt buckle with Jack’s name engraved on it, for winning an amateur tournament of some importance in New Orleans, and a raft of yellowing newspaper clippings that have had to serve as the only portals I have into his boxing past, as there are, to the best of my knowledge, no tapes or film clips existing of his six pro bouts (final record: 4-1-1, with one knockout victory). One clipping tells the tale of Jack, then in the Navy and in training in Corpus Christi, Texas, for his World War II sea duties, scoring an electrifying knockout victory over a local fighter, Manny Gonzales.

“Fernandez, fighting in a crouch, literally won the fight with the first punch he threw – a stunning left hook to the jaw – which sent his opponent crashing to the floor for the count of nine,” the story recounted. “Fernandez’s sharp left hooks and powerful rights found their mark repeatedly the remainder of the first round and only the sheer gameness enabled the Corpus Christi idol to last the round.

“Early in the second round Fernandez floored his foe again with a hard right to the left ear. Gonzalez staggered up at the nine count, but the New Orleans slugger tore in for the kill and finished the fight with a right smack flush on his opponent’s jaw.”

Another article, written for a New Orleans newspaper by the paper’s future sports editor, Art Burke, who also was serving in the Navy, read, in part:

“We had a monthly `smoker’ here at the gymnasium (in San Diego) Wednesday (which opened with the returns of the Conn-Louis fight) and one of our New Orleans Reservists, Jack Fernandez, fought on the eight-bout boxing program and scored the only clean-cut knockout of the night. You may remember this boy since he reached the semifinals of the Sugar Bowl boxing tournament in 1940. His victory was all the more thrilling by the fact that the boy he kayoed in the second round was Utah state champion for three straight years and had not been knocked out in 75 fights.”

Perhaps, had he not spent the better part of four years in a desperate fight to avoid being killed by the Japanese Imperial Navy during World War II, Jack might have had more than the few pro bouts he accepted when his damaged ship, a destroyer escort, was in San Diego and being refitted for combat. Perhaps he might have fulfilled the ring promise so many believed he had until the bombing at Pearl Harbor changed everything for millions of Americans.

Then again, my dad was a realist. His window of opportunity as a fighter had closed, or at least was closing, and, besides, his fiancee – that would be my mother – didn’t want him to expose himself to further danger, as would be posed by opponents’ gloved fists. So upon his return from WWII Jack promised her that he would give up boxing and take up a safer pursuit, which turned out to be a 27-year career with the New Orleans Police Department, where he might – and did – occasionally come up against armed felons. Go figure.

I always think of my father – well, at least more than usual – in March, around the anniversary of his death, as well as in June, when the annual International Boxing Hall of Fame induction weekend is staged, and in December, because that is a month that has special significance to me because of his link, however tenuous, to the great Archie Moore. They appeared on the same card just that once, Archie knocking out Hayden in three rounds while my dad – in his final pro bout — and Hatmaker had to settle for a one-round technical draw after an inadvertent clash of heads left both men with nasty gashes that left them unable to continue, at least in the eyes of the ring physician or the referee, as the case may be.

As a child who worshipped his father, and came to love boxing because he loved it so, I remember asking him if he knew Archie Moore, given a moment in time when they shared the same stage at more or less the same time. Jack said no, that the Mongoose was probably having his hands wrapped when he and Hatmaker were butting heads like frisky mountain goats. But I always chose to believe that Archie had slipped out of his dressing room to catch a glimpse of the left-hooking sailor from New Orleans who, in my mind, surely was winning his bout with Hatmaker until the inopportune butt deprived him of the victory to which he surely headed.

Many years later, when Moore was training George Foreman in the second stage of Big George’s remarkable career, I might have had the opportunity to query him about that long-ago August night in San Diego. But those interviews were always in group sessions, with other reporters present, and I thought it unseemly to take up part of the available time with so personal a question. Then again, it could be I just preferred to preserve my own wishful version of what had or hadn’t happened. And in that version, Archie Moore was as big a fan of Jack Fernandez as Jack Fernandez was of Archie Moore.

Until the day he died (more on that a bit later), my father always contended that I had achieved more in boxing that he ever had. It was, of course, a crock. He made his mark with blood and sweat and the kind of courage all fighters have to find within themselves when the going gets tough, while I typed away on a portable word processor, crafting stories about individuals who risked so much more than I ever had, or ever could. Jack was my hero, my role model, and a better man than I was then, or am now.

To repay the debt I always believed I owed him, for basically giving me my career as a boxing writer born of together watching so many “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports” TV fights on Friday nights on our little black-and-white home screen, I flew dad to London, his only trip to Europe, for the Lennox Lewis-Razor Ruddock fight on Oct. 31, 1992. He also accompanied me to Las Vegas, for the rematch of Mike Tyson and Razor Ruddock on June 28, 1991. They were the kind of big fights, on brightly lit stages, that I suspect he always hoped would have been his destiny under different circumstances.

TSS readers know that I sometimes write about the anniversary dates of certain fights that should be remembered regardless of how much time has passed since they occurred. In recent months I have authored pieces on Rocky Marciano and the Spinks brothers, among others. It is perhaps a concession to my senior-citizen status that I more cherish the memory of classic bouts in my rear-view mirror than some that will or might happen in the future. When I sat down to write this piece, it was to have been about watershed events that took place in December during Archie Moore’s long march into boxing history: His death on Dec. 9, 1998, in San Diego; his 11th-round knockout of Yvon Durelle in Montreal on Dec. 10, 1958, an electrifying rally in which the Mongoose weathered four knockdowns before turning the tide, and his long-delayed winning of the light heavyweight title, after 16 years as a pro, on Dec. 17, 1952, when he outpointed Joey Maxim over 15 rounds in St. Louis, Mo.

Then I looked up at the poster hanging in my home office, and my approach changed, something akin to Muhammad Ali deciding on his own that what later came to be known as the “rope-a-dope” might work better against the heavily favored George Foreman in Zaire than the presumably more sensible stick-and-move strategy that had been laid out by trainer Angelo Dundee.

The International Boxing Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015 was announced on Thursday, which also has special significance to me because there wouldn’t even be an IBHOF in Canastota, N.Y., were it not for the fact that that central New York village’s favorite son is the late, great Carmen Basilio, who happened to be Jack’s favorite fighter in the 1950s. It stood to reason that Basilio was my favorite fighter, too, during my early grade-school years, with Jack and I cheering him from the semi-comfort of our cramped living room whenever the “Onion Farmer” was appearing on those Friday Night Fights telecasts.

Canastota also was a favored destination of my dear friend Angelo Dundee, who was to the IBHOF what the Pied Piper of Hamelin was to the children who were so drawn to the sounds of his magic flute. Every time Angelo, who died on Feb. 1, 2012, returned for IBHOF induction weekend, fight fans surrounded him, in part because of who he was and what he meant to boxing, but also because even in a minute of pleasant conversation he could make everyone he encountered feel like a friend of long-standing.

Jack had his own moment with Angelo, which actually was an hour and a half in duration. During the trip my dad and I made to London for Lewis-Ruddock, we came down for breakfast at the White House Hotel in the Kensington section and ran into Angelo, who was also staying there. The three of us shared a table, ate a little and talked a lot, with Jack and Angelo exchanging tales, as fight people are wont to do. Angelo’s two most famous pupils, Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, were topics of discussion, but not as much as Basilio and two champion fighters from New Orleans Ange had also worked with, Ralph Dupas and Willie Pastrano. It was the happiest I had seen my dad during that trip; by then his legs were giving him trouble, he tired easily and he either couldn’t complete or begged out of standard sightseeing ventures to the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

Whenever I’d speak to Angelo thereafter, he inquired after Jack. One day in 1994, however, I had to tell him that my father had passed away, during the last and worst of his several hospitalizations for cardiac problems. My mom, Alice, had called to say that I needed to get to New Orleans as quickly as I could, that this one was serious. The emergency trip from Philadelphia lasted the better part of six hours before I made it to East Jefferson General for what would prove to be the last hour of Jack’s life. It was then that I was informed that my father, in terrible pain, had refused medication that would have eased his suffering because he didn’t want to be unconscious or unresponsive when his son made it to his bedside. To this day I am convinced he held on in those figurative championship rounds until I got there.

As I recounted the particulars of Jack’s most heroic battle, which he lost only on the ultimate judge’s scorecard, the usually upbeat Angelo turned serious. “I’m not surprised,” he told me. “Your dad was a fighter.”

So it doesn’t matter much whether Archie Moore and Jack Fernandez actually met. They probably didn’t, and I know for sure Jack and Carmen Basilio never spoke. To me, they, and Angelo, are all part of a broader mosaic that comprises the fabric of my life. As far as visitors to the IBHOF are concerned, only Archie, Carmen and Angelo are Hall of Famers. Most wouldn’t have a clue that a fighter named Jack Fernandez ever existed.

But a plaque on a wall shouldn’t be all there is to certify a Hall of Fame life. As I look upon the framed poster that is at once my proudest possession and the standard of personal conduct to which I constantly aspire, I understand that some memories can’t, and shouldn’t, come with an attached price tag.

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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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