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Billion Dollar Daddy

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Billion Dollar  Daddy  – At the long-awaited first official press conference to announce one of the most anticipated fights in boxing history, a dark figure emerges from the back of the stage to photobomb the customary final group picture of the main protagonists. He sneaks into the frame almost unnoticed, seeking the unearned attention of photographers, media and fans, smiling casually as he inserts himself in the moment while everyone asks what did he actually do to deserve that spot in a scene in which he hardly belongs.

We’re obviously talking about the obnoxious and unnerving presence of teen pop star and bad boy wannabee Justin Bieber, one of the most inexplicable figures in Floyd Mayweather’s entourage, in the final group photograph of the Mayweather-Pacquiao presser in Los Angeles on March 11th at the Nokia Theater. But we might as well be talking about an equally intrusive presence in that lineup, a largely irrelevant silhouette awkwardly pasted onto a press shot for a mega-bout that he did so much to keep from happening.

We are talking, of course, of Top Rank’s big boss, none other than 83-year old Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum, a man who has spent a significant amount of time in his career putting together some of the most significant boxing matchups of all time, and who worked almost equally as hard to keep the most profitable and most desirable bout of his era from actually coming to fruition, whether on purpose or not.

Think of it as Hemingway’s fictional old man in the sea trying to actually fend off that giant marlin away from him and keeping it from actually jumping onto his canoe. Or just dragging it around just to allow sharks to tear it to pieces.

In all honesty, perhaps Arum’s intention was to mirror Hemingway’s tale in every possible way. After all, Santiago, the fictional fisherman, was trying to catch his elusive big prey after going 84 days without a catch. Perhaps Arum was waiting to finally become 84 years old in early December to finally hoist that heavy sea creature onto his vessel and thus make my brilliant analogy work. But the truth about Arum’s role in keeping this (and other fights) from coming to fruition may lay beyond this assumption.

Timing is what makes the difference between a clash of titans in their prime and a punch-drunk waltz between two has-beens. And as the world’s leading supplier of overblown main events with non-descript undercards filled with matches between young contenders and no-hopers, Arum knows that this game is all about the main event. And there is no bigger main event (possibly in history) than Pacquiao-Mayweather. Did he intentionally wanted to be remembered as the guy who stood in the way?

Maybe that’s just the case. Because maybe, just maybe, Arum’s diminished sense of timing is to blame for his childish obsession with delaying the negotiations and/or blatantly overpricing this bout in every possible way, some of them more active than others, with the excuse of having plotted a better revenue scenario for later. And even though some other reasons may have indeed been in play for the fight not to happen earlier, it is clear that Arum’s erratic behavior in the weeks leading to the impending mega-fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao constitute a revealing indication of his loss of one of the most valuable assets a promoter should have.

It ain’t business, Manny. It’s strictly personal

Ever since he got his start as a boxing promoter after looking at the numbers in certain tax documents related to a Muhammad Ali fight back in the late ‘60s thanks to his job in the Justice Department in New York and deciding that his time would be more wisely invested in that particular field (in which he had almost no prior interest), Arum grew in giant strides thanks to his ability to allow the best fighters of his era fight each other in their prime.

Three examples are enough to reaffirm Arum’s claim to greatness: Ali-Frazier I, Leonard-Hagler, and De La Hoya-Trinidad. Even for the most casual of boxing fans, these are more than enough to prove the value of Arum’s work as a promoter.

But just as those fights could not have been made with only one fighter in the ring, Arum did not produce those bouts on his own. For most of his most important promotions, he was forced to engage in oftentimes brutal negotiations with rival promoters, most notably his sworn enemy and fellow mega-promoter Don King. If anything, Arum’s ability to deal with King’s flamboyant personality and unorthodox business practices only enhanced Arum’s credentials as a top promoter.

But as time progressed, the once-savvy businessman found himself running a virtual monopoly at the very top of the boxing game he once fought so hard to break into. His work with superstar pay-per-view darling Oscar De La Hoya put him in the driver’s seat in the post-Tyson era of boxing, in which the once-dominant heavyweight division took a back seat to a thriving welter-middle-ish weight region. Arum’s business acumen, as well as the lack of competent competitors in the scene, led him to a dominant position in the boxing landscape that extended during a good portion of the ‘90s and early 2000s.

But that’s when disaster began to strike. His personal relationship with De La Hoya (now a promoter in his own right) deteriorated to a point in which they stopped talking to each other, and their stables began suffering the consequences of that rift. Soon enough, the sub-plot of their personal rivalry took center stage, and the chances of certain fights being made or not was directly linked to the name of the fighter’s promoters instead of their own.

And the worst was yet to come.

Arum’s new cash cow after De La Hoya’s departure was another former Olympian he had managed to snatch away at the last minute from the hands of another promoter. That young fellow happened to be as ambitious as the young Oscar was, and soon enough he began asking for the attention and the money that he believed he deserved.

Soon enough, he would get both, and in large amounts, but only after leaving his old promoter behind.

Back in those days, Floyd Mayweather (the young rising star in question, in case you’re still asking) insisted on requesting $20 million dollars to face Oscar De La Hoya. For Arum, the time wasn’t right and the payout was too low. But it wouldn’t be the last time he would be wrong in his prognosis.

Having grown impatient with Arum’s unwillingness to produce the big fights he craved, Mayweather finally found a way to cancel his contract with Top Rank for a ridiculous sum of money (less than a million dollars) and soon enough he was on his way to face Oscar under his newly minted promotional banner.

His take for the mega-fight? A cool $25 million.

A pattern was set. A new force in boxing business was born. And a personal feud between Arum and Mayweather had arisen. A feud that, despite their occasional polite exchanges, runs deep still after all these years, and which was the driving force for not allowing the Mayweather-Pacquiao bout to materialize even in the face of an unbelievable amount of pressure from fans, media, TV networks and fighters themselves.

Soon enough, what could have been an isolated incident became the norm at Top Rank. Some of the most eagerly anticipated and long-awaited matchups in recent years failed to become a reality because of Arum’s suddenly flawed sense of ripeness.

A potentially very lucrative and phenomenally attractive fight between Cuba’s Yuriorkis Gamboa and Puerto Rico’s Juan Manuel Lopez was put off indefinitely based on the assumption that Arum would be able to pinpoint the perfect moment in time as if on a mandate from a higher power.

Fast-forward a few years, and both fighters are on their way to becoming stepping stones for younger contenders, a few steps closer to retirement and at least a couple of million dollars none the richer thanks to their belief in a promise of a larger payday down the road.

At around the same time, the presence of two young and tough Mexican middleweights galvanized the attention of their country every time they stepped into the ring. One had the looks, the other one had the name, and they both had the style and the punching power to turn their fight into one of the most eagerly awaited rivalries in Mexico’s storied boxing history.

But in Arum’s mind, the fight was not going to just make money. It was going to make money rain from the sky. The huge Aztec Stadium in Mexico City was going to be filled to the rafters for the most lucrative and exciting all-Mexican fight of all times. The bout was so insistently discussed online that this scribe had to ban the very question of “when will Canelo and Junior finally fight?” from his weekly chat with the fans.

And yet, here we are only a few years later, with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. finally released from Arum’s grip and having lost by stoppage as a light-heavyweight, and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez still fighting at the super welterweight-ish level and on his way to become a superstar under the guidance of Oscar De La Hoya, and with millions of Mexican fans still holding their neatly folded dollar bills in their hands and waiting in line to buy a ticket for a fight for pride and country that will never happen.

But even though Arum’s now diminished sense of momentum is to blame for those bragging rights to go unclaimed and for at least those two bouts not happening, the reason for the five-year delay in making the Mayweather-Pacquiao bout can be attributed also to Arum’s unwillingness to acknowledge Mayweather not only as a fighter, but also as the rival promoter that he has become after creating his own promotional brand in The Money Team, also known as Mayweather Promotions. By placing the blame on Mayweather’s controversial handler Al Haymon, Arum created a personal chasm between himself and Mayweather that soon transcended the business realm to become a personal matter.

Soon enough, Arum was comparing Mayweather with Hitler and attacking him relentlessly in the press, while Mayweather retaliated by openly calling for banishing Arum from the sport of boxing. They both publicly swore to never allow the other to pocket as much as a penny from each other’s efforts.

And just when all hope was seemingly lost, a new plan popped up in Arum’s mind. Another giant marlin to be hooked out of the ocean in one last heroic move to save the day, and to help him etch his name even deeper in the marbles of the pantheon of pugilism.

And the minor fact that it involved the untested drawing power of a virtually unknown fighter with only 5 or 6 professional fights hailing from a country with absolutely no boxing tradition was not going to stand in Arum’s way.

The Chinaman is the issue here, Bob

“Zou Shiming is the driving force for taking pay-per-view into China,” said Arum about the 34-year old flyweight contender and former Olympic star who has been showcased regularly in Top Rank’s promotions in China in recent years. “They idolize him. Combine his appeal with Pacquiao-Mayweather and we are looking at numbers undreamed of before.”

After turning down several offers and having some of his own offers scoffed by Mayweather’s team through the years, Arum plotted a larger-than-life scenario in which the fight would collect a billion dollars. Yes, that’s one thousand million dollars, most of them coming from a nation with no boxing tradition and no tested PPV structure for an event of that magnitude.

In Arum’s mind, the marlin du jour could weigh as much as an elephant and still be hooked right out of the water if everyone followed his delirious master plan, which involved an elaborate architecture combining several sources of income.

Arum proposed a $5 Pay-Per-View for China, imagining that at least 10 percent of the entire population would purchase the fight to produce a staggering $650 million dollars to watch a boxing match while eating breakfast. Add to that the $300 million he aimed to make in the US at $95 for each PPV. Throw in the site fee and the large television fees from around the globe, the live gate, sponsors, merchandising and other revenue streams, and you got yourself the first billion dollar fight in boxing history.

It does sound like an idea straight out of Rocky XXV (Billions, Rocky! Think o’that! Listen to Paulie for once, will ya?), but it was an actual business proposal by one of boxing’s top promoters of all time. And if it did have any effect at all, it was the rippling effect throughout the boxing industry clamoring for a voice of reason to put a stop to this insanity.

And of course, Zou Shiming did his part by being defeated in his first title challenge, which came in his 7th professional bout. The stage was set for a major change in the dynamics of the negotiation. But no one could even imagine how would the whole mess would be finally untangled.

Let’s just say that, even though it did not involve the presence of lawyers or judges, the matter was solved in court.

Halfway meeting at halftime

At the not-particularly-anticipated matchup between the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA in Miami’s American Airlines Arena, two figures emerge from opposite courtside seats to meet in the middle of the court for an impromptu chat and a rare photo opportunity. They clash head-on in uncharacteristically friendly terms, immediately earning the attention of photographers, media and fans, smiling casually and engaging in a conversation captured by a picture that instantly becomes a viral internet sensation.

Call it a hail-Mary sky-hook right on the buzzer with the game on the line. Call it destiny, fate, or Mayweather’s final rite of passage as the consummate self promoter he claims to be. But the truth is that the combined business knowledge of a dozen TV executives and boxing promoters was nowhere in sight when the “Fight of the Century” finally took its first baby step into life.

All it took was a halfway meeting of the most literal nature to make the fight happen, with both fighters finally coming to the realization that the fight was literally in their hands. Borrowing a page from his own history book, Mayweather took matters out of Arum’s hands and into his own again and carried his proposal directly to Pacquiao in a meeting that was anything but casual.

Both men have been known for their devotion for the NBA, with Mayweather flying his personal jet to wherever there is a good game on, and Pacquiao turning his own passion for hoops up a notch by purchasing his own team in the Philippines and appointing himself as the unlikely Jackie Moon-esque point guard. Pacquiao’s presence in that game was anticipated by Mayweather, who then flew specially to Miami for the occasion, and the rest is history.

Soon enough, CBS chief Leslie Moonves began unilaterally pulling the strings to bring the less relevant group of protagonists together, at the behest of none other than his usual waiter at his favorite restaurant. He invited Mayweather’s advisor Al Haymon and Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum to his house to iron out the details of a deal that had already been concocted in broad strokes by the principals themselves during a meeting after the aforementioned game in Pacquiao’s hotel room, with an ironing board nearby standing as the sole witness of the event (no, seriously, who in the world set up this meeting in that place? Where is the large exotic wood table, the designer chairs, the excessive pastry and the jug of tepid tap water? C’mon, people!!).

As for Arum, everything went pretty much downhill for him after that situation. Which, if we compare to Arum’s previous line of work, was like watching Arum barging into a courtroom appointment an hour late only to find out that plaintiff and defendant had already solved their matters without any outside help, and with the honorable judge Moonves simply waiting for Arum to sign off on the plea to get things going.

After that, Arum was summarily demoted to glorified mandatory chaperone of the Pacquiao entourage, trying to give the image of being calm and relevant in every event related to the fight, when it was clear that he was anything but that.

His usual business-like demeanor gave way to a cranky, oftentimes childish behavior tinged with a bitter mixture of jealousy and spite for the entire event. His dull and grandiose speech during the first press conference at the Nokia Theater, with a long and unnecessary presence at the podium, was the first sign of what loomed as one of the most awkward promotions ever put together by Top Rank.

His similarly obnoxious behavior at the last press conference on Wednesday, April 29th in Las Vegas was just another sign of his uncomfortable stance on the whole promotion. Arum also arranged for Pacquiao not to participate in the massive meet-and-greet with the fans in the lobby of the MGM Grand on the Tuesday before the fight, preferring to stage a more private event elsewhere. And obviously there was the Teleconference-Gate, where Arum ended a conference call abruptly with a profanity-laced performance at the phone, depriving the media from around the world from one of the few chances to speak with Pacquiao ahead of the most important fight of his career.

It could be said that the guilt of pricing Manny out of this fight for such a long time finally turned back on Arum to haunt him, but the truth is that the role of the promoter in these cases is as clear as Arum’s refusal to abide by it, and going to such lengths to express his discontent is only going to hurt his fighter and his future business.

That, of course, is if Arum thinks there is a future for him in this business, which at the age of 83 is not easy to assure. With the promotion of the most profitable fight in history having him as the “odd man in” continuously sabotaging press events with his self-centered antics, it is unlikely that a potential rematch could have him anywhere near the driver’s seat now that the true protagonists of the show know that a fruitful negotiation is just one casual meeting away, in the comfort of their favorite laundry room at their favorite hotel.

But if history has taught us something, is that ruling Arum out is never a good idea. Especially when he smells blood in the water.

Grandpa’s gone fishing

In the months leading to the fight, Arum endured a sustained attack from all sides regarding his role as more of a roadblock than a mediator in the making of this fight.

He began by brandishing a unilaterally signed agreement in a vain attempt to challenge Mayweather to sign for a fight under his own terms, in a delusional move that even Don King would have ruled out as excessively extortive. He was bluntly offered a lump sum to the tune of $10 million dollars by the Mayweather camp to step aside and allow Pacquiao to negotiate on his own. He was politely asked to release Pacquiao from his contract by the fighter’s own attorney in the Philippines. The desire of a lowly waiter in a restaurant somewhere weighed more than his own drive to success in the making of this event. And to top things off, he forced a simple yet important promotional tool as a worldwide conference call to join boxing’s illustrious list of what-ifs and what-wouldabeens. His painful admission, a mere 9 days before the bout, that he had no idea of why tickets had not been put up for sale, was just the icing on the cake.

Bang-up job so far. And after a final self-complacent performance at the podium in the last presser of the event, in which he exchanged smirks with MGM honcho Richard Sturm (no, he was not the keyboard player for REO Speedwagon, regardless of what his hairdo might suggest) when he decided that lashing out his rage at the hosting facilities would be a lovely idea to kickstart the event, his role as big-time promoter (in the truest sense of the word) is definitely up for review.

Those situations are indeed going to play a role in his future involvement in a potential rematch. If the fight ends up being as big as everyone predicts it to be, and the rest of the main characters in this production deem Arum as more of a nuisance than anything else, his role in the eventual second part will be forced to be limited to a minimum, if anything.

But that doesn’t stop Arum from believing that he can pull off an even bigger event the second time around, especially if his man wins. Even though his role in the capture of boxing’s biggest marlin in history is still in dispute, Captain Arum wants to make boxing to boldly go where no other promoter has taken it before.

Whether he can do that, after having a very limited role in the first fight and with no rematch clause on the contract, remains to be seen. The age of both fighters rules out the possibility of another long negotiation, and pricing Manny out of the eventual rematch would be the final blow in Arum’s ongoing bout with Father Timing.

Indeed, the promise of a gazillion dollar extravaganza rematch may not be enough to revive his once-glorious career, but that will not keep Arum from believing that he can pull it off.

And yet, even in the face of the overwhelming proof that maybe, just maybe, it’s time for Arum to let that last one marlin swim free towards the sunset.

Diego Morilla, a bilingual boxing writer since 1995, is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He served as boxing writer for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com, and is now a regular contributor to RingTV.com and HBO.com, as well as the resident boxing writer for XNSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @MorillaBoxing

 / Billion Dollar  Daddy

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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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