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The Fifty Greatest Middleweights of All Time Part Four: 20-11

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I have to take you back now.

In the top ten we will find a handful of men who box in colour. You can guess their names if you are giving to guessing – here though, in Part Four, we are looking at the middleweights of time past exclusively. The most ancient of these warriors turned professional in 1883 and the most modern retired in 1948. Sometimes, people want to complain about bias to old-timers. There is no bias. But it is true that the criteria I have selected to judge fighters by lends itself to the busier contenders and champions of eras that unfortunately displayed less care for the physical health of the boxers involved.

That being said, two of their more modern cousins rank above their ancestors on this list and the likes of Lennox Lewis and Muhammad Ali populated the upper reaches of my heavyweight list; Bob Foster, Matthew Saad Muhammad and Michael Spinks all made the top ten at light-heavyweight.

Inclusion in the upper echelons of fistic greatness for the modern counterparts of those we are about to reveal is not just possible, it is inevitable. You see, it’s not the criteria that make a fighter great.

It’s the fighter.

#20 – TIGER FLOWERS (117-15-7)

Making sense of Tiger Flowers under strict criteria is a genuinely perplexing task. Here is a fighter who treated the boxing scene of the 1920s like a roller coaster, hoping from one fight at 158lbs to the next at 170, taking on a light-heavyweight in the first instance and a heavyweight in the second. Almost as likely to be knocked out by a journeyman as he was to out-point a legend, Flowers is the antithesis of a modern career with its ordered progression and sense of identity. He was the very definition of a jobbing African-American contender, forced to compromise himself for his piece of the pie.

But middleweight was likely where he belonged, although his legacy hinges for the most part upon three of the most controversial decisions in the history of the middleweight division.

The first of these was against middleweight don Harry Greb, who had defeated Flowers in a light-heavyweight contest in 1924. Their second fight, fought in February of 1926, was for Greb’s middleweight title and it was a raucous, sloppy affair between a slipping champion and a coming contender. Flowers opened, or re-opened, a cut over Harry’s one remaining good eye early giving him an enormous advantage over the already half-blind Greb; worse, an injury to Greb’s left rendered him one-handed as well as one-eyed.

Flowers seemed to have fought in counter-rushes and it was a style that made him extremely difficult to defeat on points and in a fight populated by clinches, missed punches and a severe lack of expected championship excellence, fifteen completed rounds resulted in the passage of the title from Greb to Flowers. The majority of ringside reports seem to indicate a desperately narrow Flowers victory that many saw as unsatisfactorily close to crown a new champion. A rematch was called for, but it settled little; indeed, it is generally held to be even more controversial, with such luminaries as William Muldoon, Gene Tunney and referee Jim Crowley all of the opinion that Greb was the true winner. Thumbing, wrestling (at one point Greb appears to have fixed a choke-hold on the champion), slipping and incessant holding on the part of Flowers decorated the fight.

In general, the second meeting has been held to have been something of a robbery, but in fact it appears that it was more the case that it was difficult to score and once again, rather dissatisfactory with Greb biographer SL Compton summarising that general agreement in the day-after newspaper reports make it “clear that Flowers won a close but deserved victory.”

Greb was clearly past his best, but his ability was still such that Allentown Joe Gans and Jimmy Delaney were unable to take advantage of him in the way that the deeply devout but ruthlessly determined Flowers had. He showed great determination too in his first defence, against Mickey Walker, another all-time great at the weight. “According to many ringsiders,” wrote Maurice Mermey in The Evening Independent, “Mickey Walker had won only two rounds” but was nevertheless handed the middleweight title on a widely criticised decision which was also roundly booed by the ten-thousand in attendance.

In truth, Tiger Flowers’ wider resume at the weight is nothing very special. He spent far too much time boxing at light-heavyweight to build one. But wins over Greb and an almost certain victory over Walker, stolen from him by corrupt officiating, are more than enough to earn him a berth in the top twenty and one wonders where he might have ended up had Walker got what he deserved rather than the middleweight title when the two met. Successful defences would certainly have elevated Flowers .

#19 – JACK DILLON (94-8-15; Newspaper Decisions 93-19-17)

Jack Dillon’s middleweight career is hard to unpick from his wider resume, which is, frankly, astonishing. An excellent heavyweight and light-heavyweight, middleweight probably represents his most natural poundage but it may not be the one in which he most astonished. Nevertheless, he did extraordinary work there. He stepped up from a short apprenticeship at welterweight around 1910 struggling at first with Eddie McGoorty, whom he eventually bested by ten round newspaper decision – but only after he had been confirmed a contender with a victory over the same distance against the veteran Jimmy Gardner. Gardner had once been considered one of the more lethal middleweights of a stacked era but had begun to slip, although not so far that he could be prevented from taking a twelve round decision against Frank Klaus the year before. Nevertheless, Dillon pursued Gardner relentlessly in their first fight, over ten, and while Gardner remained brilliant enough to keep Dillon out early, he eventually succumbed, letting Dillon inside where the man they nicknamed “Bearcat” went to work, dropping the veteran for a no-count in the seventh. By the time of their second contest fought just a few months later, Gardner wasn’t even fighting to win. Rather, he contented himself with a defensive display, boxing to avoid the violence Dillon sought to inflict on each and every one of his opponents.

Nobody suffered more at his hand than the world champion George Chip. Dillon met Chip on twelve separate occasions and Chip managed only a single victory and not until after Dillon had begun to slip. Bob Moha, Eddie McGoorty, Leo Houck, Jack and Mike Sullivan, Gus Christie, Frank Mantell, Buck Crouse, Tony Caponi, Hugo Kelly – Dillon out-fought and out-thought a whole generation of middleweights before making way for Harry Greb and Mike Gibbons. He struggled, always, with Frank Klaus, who bettered him in a four fight series, and that, for me, always makes uncomfortable reading – Dillon was a fighter not dissimilar to Klaus with the caveat that he seems to have had a better defence. That Dillon may have been beaten by a fighter of a similar type, for all that it was an excellent one, is a limiting factor upon his all-time ranking, as is his inability to beat either Greb or Gibbons despite his being afforded multiple opportunities.

#18 – MICKEY WALKER (94-19-4)

Mickey Walker is one of the greatest fighters to have ever lived. Pound-for-pound, I rank him above Willie Pep, Barney Ross and Archie Moore. But his greatness lies not in his achievement at middleweight nor at any single poundage but rather his fearless swagger through so many weights; from welterweight all the way to heavyweight, his contribution to every single one of them was meaningful. His contribution at middleweight, too, was meaningful – just not as meaningful as has been painted by generations of boxing history buffs.

Two things jolt Walker up short of the top ten for me. The first is that he was so unbound by the divisional rules that defined other fighters that he never really knuckled down to a dominating middleweight run. He made his first impressions upon the division while in possession of the welterweight title, and welterweight was where his heart apparently lay. Later, when in possession of the middleweight title, he spent an inordinate amount of time battling light-heavyweights, and later, heavyweights.

So superb was Walker that this did not prevent him from cobbling together one of the longest title reigns in middleweight history; nor was he beaten but rather vacated the title. Tempering this is the fact that he only defended his title against three different men and that none of them were the very top contenders of his era, men such as Len Harvey, Dave Shade, Rene DeVos and, most of all, the man who was unquestionably his number one contender immediately after his victory for the title, Tiger Flowers.

As discussed above, Walker won the title in what was almost certainly one of the era’s most grotesque robberies; following that, for one reason and another, he failed to meet his top contenders and he didn’t defend his middleweight title nearly often enough to justify the many months he held it.

He was also thrashed to the point of embarrassment by Harry Greb.

Nevertheless, he was a lethal swarmer who dispatched a hatful of good contenders and in Ace Hudkins, against whom he showed good variety in his style, a superb one. Walker shouldn’t appear in the top ten at the weight, not when achievement at that weight is the defining factor, but it is hard to imagine a top twenty without him.

#17 TEDDY YAROSZ (106-18-3)

Teddy Yarosz, one of the very few men on this list to assemble one-hundred or more victories, does not come across as hugely impressive on film relative to his status; a superb and sudden left hand and good feet seem to be the makings of his split decision victory over belt-holder Vince Dundee in September of 1934 but perhaps isn’t quite enough to explain all those victories, including several over great fighters. Then you notice, perhaps, that he is still boxing on his toes after fifteen fast, rough rounds against a pressure fighter who brought a savage body-attack to bear against him. Then he looks a little more than impressive. He had a superb engine and it kept him working across three different decades and for the most part in the middleweight division.

Turning professional in 1929, he defeated every single fighter he met between that date and 1937, avenging both middleweight losses to Young Terry and Babe Risko. Risko actually defeated Yarosz twice, but in their first contest Yarosz fractured his kneecap in the very first round, lasting until the seventh when he fell trying to put his weight on it and was pulled by his corner. Bizarrely, he re-injured the same knee in the fourth round of a rematch eight months later and lost that fight in fifteen rounds; after an operation to repair the knee a healthy Yarosz out-pointed Risko over ten close rounds.

Then Yarosz ran into a youthful Billy Conn.

Their first fight, a bad tempered affair fought over twelve in the summer of 1937, was close but despite the fact that it was fought in Conn’s Pittsburgh back yard, an hour of protest followed the decision with “chair flying through the air” as a vocal and seeming majority howled their discontent at the decision in Conn’s favour. The rematch, fought over fifteen just months later, seemed Yarosz’s fight to lose as he dominated the first twelve rounds, bamboozling Conn completely by some sources before that engine, so reliable for so many years, seemed to abandon him and he spent the final three rounds being punched around the ring by a rampant Conn. Conn’s biographer, Andrew O’Toole wrote that “by every manner of scoring, Yarosz easily won the fight”, but the decision went to Conn.

Yarosz eventually extracted revenge on Conn up at light-heavyweight but the work he did even before these losses would have been enough to get him into the top fifty, Solly Krieger, Jimmy Smith and, most especially, Ken Overlin the highlights of his excellent resume pre-Conn. Post-Conn and post-knee operation, he had definitely slipped but was still able to add a second win over Overlin, not to mention a victory over a middleweight Archie Moore.

With no footage available of Teddy’s fights with Billy, overturning the result in even the second fight seems rather rash, but it was probably that knee injury rather than that undeserved loss or pair of losses that prevents him climbing higher here.

#16 – FRED APOSTOLI (61-10-1)

What cements Fred Apostoli to the top twenty is his January 1938 victory over Freddie Steele. Steele’s run in at middleweight was not auspicious, his status as a scalp severely reduced by a broken breastbone that would leave him a diminished fighter. Apostoli’s victory over Steel e remains significant, however, a nine round brutalisation over a man who was at that time completely unbeaten at the weight. Indeed, he had only lost two fights in a hundred, both at welterweight, both avenged, his paper record standing at 120-2-11 at bell. The relatively green Apostoli was just 27-2, but he beat Steele to the punch from the first, out-landing him from the outside with straighter, quicker punches, beating him heartily when they came together ring-centre. His victory was clouded somewhat by the accidental low blow he landed in the seventh which preceded a titanic beating in the eighth, with Apostoli landing around fifty power-punches to the mangled Steele’s head.

But Apostoli’s resume is so deep that it is far from defined by this single excellent win. Fighting in an era in which the title was hopelessly fractured behind the abdication of Mickey Walker, Apostoli had succeeded in defeating America’s number one strapholder – but in a non-title fight. Deepening this irony was the fact that he had also thrashed the champion as recognised by Europe and Ring Magazine in similar circumstances, having beaten Marcel Thil by TKO stoppage via a hideous cut that impeded the Frenchman badly. Apostoli had defeated the holders of both shards of the title but held no gold.

Babe Risko, Solly Krieger, Georgie Abrams and Young Corbett III were among the other titlists he defeated in his career, with only this last throwing up a belt. Apostoli lost this belt in his first defence versus Ceferino Garcia, one of several fights he lost that one might feel he perhaps should not have.

A higher ranking can be justified but his lack of championship credentials makes me more comfortable with this one.

#15 – JACK DEMPSEY (52-4-11)

Jack Dempsey, the Nonpareil, was the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of his day. That day stretched from the third of September 1883, the date of his pro debut, to the fourteenth of January 1891, the day of the terrible beating administered to him by Bob Fitzsimmons. Between these dates he was almost invulnerable, a mix of superb generalship and much admired skill combining with near-limitless stamina and a superb defence to see him all-but unbeaten between his debut and 1889. The two blips were a four round “loss” to the 180lb Billy Baker who was rendered the victor only by his ability to go the four round distance with the middleweight legend, as agreed by the fight contract. Dempsey’s only true defeat during this core run was to former victim George LaBlanche.

Their first meeting was regarded as the greatest middleweight battle on record by more than one newspaper reporting from the site of the fight, the New York-Connecticut border where the two made war at seven in the morning with just forty big-spending spectators in attendance, in keeping with the shadowy legality boxing enjoyed in the period. LaBlanche hunted the body and throat; Dempsey gave ground and retreated into his boxing, which soon drew blood from his aggressive foe. LaBlanche was literally spitting teeth before the fight was even old and by the twelfth Dempsey was hitting him almost at will with the most celebrated left-hand of the era. Repeatedly, heavyweight king James J Corbett is named “the grandfather of boxing” but if such a title can ever really be laid at one man’s door, that man is Dempsey. LaBlanche refused to quit but when he fell helplessly into his opponent’s arms in the thirteenth, the fight was called.

The rematch between the two was fought just over two years later and once again it was a fight to the finish – it was also one of the most peculiar fights in the history of the weight division and one that remains something of a mystery to me even today. The pace was slower and this led to an elongation of the battle. By the twentieth, Dempsey was taking control with vigorous counter-punching but he couldn’t put his man away. “By far the fresher of the two” in the thirty-second round, Dempsey put the pressure on but suddenly was face down on the canvas “blood spurting out onto the floor” of the ring. Accounts of the damaging punch vary, some going so far as claiming that LaBlanche shut his eyes and swung wildly back and forth with his right-hand, landing but out of sheer luck. Others just describe a sudden punch. The more dramatic accounts, as always, are the ones that have generally held and history has robbed LaBlanche of the victory to some degree, perhaps unfairly. A knockout, is, after all, a knockout and is treated as such for the purposes of this list.

Although a detailed look into the accountancy of the fight can’t produce a definitive statement as regards the finish, what it does do is help uncover the high regard LaBlanche, “The Marine”, was held in. This is true of many Dempsey opponents, whose anaemic paper records as they are reported today are more a matter of their incompleteness than the standing of the fighter in question. Billy McCarthy, who Dempsey disposed of in twenty-eight rounds in 1890, was viewed as strong, fearless and experienced, a real threat to the title. Nor can the extremity of the conditions Dempsey fought in be exaggerated. In 1887 he matched the savage John Reagan in a finish fight and was cut literally “to the bone” of his left leg by his opponent’s spiked shoes. Dempsey’s corner claimed that not only was the foul so bad that their man couldn’t continue but that furthermore it had been deliberate. The referee ruled against him and the fight, incredibly, continued. When the ring, pitched on the shore of Long Island, New York, began to flood they simply moved it and continued the fight. At the end of an absurd forty-five rounds of combat, Dempsey finally stopped his game foe.

The Nonpareil was made of bricks.

#14 – BOB FITZSIMMONS

Bricks or no, Jack Dempsey’s placement in the top twenty is forever anchored by Bob Fitzsimmons. “Fitz” is most famous as a heavyweight but he first came by honours at middleweight, out-fighting and out-generalling a faded and possibly unwell Dempsey completely and utterly over thirteen one-sided rounds in January of 1891. Fitzsimmons never defended his title – a four round 1893 KO of Jim Hall was billed as a middleweight title fight but Hall weighed 168lbs – but in his run to the title he accrued some significant scalps and in scintillating and dominant fashion.

Immediately prior to his title-tilt was Arthur Upham, destroyed in five one-sided rounds (not the nine reported on Boxrec), finally dispatched after being driven repeatedly to the canvas with an assortment of punches, then taken out with a right-hand so devastating that it rendered Upham cold. Fitzsimmons actually caught his newly unconscious opponent and eased him to the canvas.

Prior to that, Fitz had obliterated the admired Billy McCarthy, in nine. McCarthy used trickery and shifts to gain the inside where he liked to work but against Fitzsimmons he was all at sea. Fitzsimmons had an unparalleled control of range that made McCarthy all but ineffective and as he would with Upham, Fitz spared McCarthy the crash, not just the canvas but through the ropes and to the floor, hauling him back to safety.

The Australian fight scene that bore him offered a little more competition pre-prime in the form of Jim Hall, who took the losing end of a split series 3-2-0-1 with the Cornishman in controversial circumstances.

What strikes about Bob’s time at middleweight is its dominance. Once he hit his stride, nobody really tested him at all.

#13 – DICK TIGER (60-19-3)

I suspect that the fighter capable of attacking Dick Tiger during his savage prime and defeating him has yet to be born. I don’t think that Walker could do it, I don’t think that Dillon could do it and I don’t think that Flowers could do it; I don’t think that Bob Fitzsimmons or Jake LaMotta could do it and I don’t think anyone in the top ten could do it. In a fire-fight, he could beat any fighter of the poundage, alive or dead.

Tiger proved this with a string of wins over some of the most savage brawlers in middleweight history. Florentino Fernandez, the lethal Cuban hooker, tried his luck with a pounding pressure style in 1962. Fernandez was coming off a narrow decision loss against Gene Fullmer and had had the monstrous Fullmer in serious trouble in the late rounds. You can see Dick Tiger beat the crap out of a man with forty-three knockouts in fifty victories on YouTube. Not that this was the record timing for the defeat of Fernandez; the terrifying Ruben Carter had managed to stop him in a round. A round was perhaps what Carter managed to win when he tried to bulldoze Tiger in May of 1965. Tiger hooked him viciously and repeatedly to the canvas, was so destructive in fact that Carter suffered the rare humiliation of mounting a retreat. It is said that Carter had to move house because Sonny Liston boxed at his local gym and he found it impossible to back down from sparring sessions with the world’s most deadly heavyweight – but he went on the run when Tiger got after him.

Most of all he tormented the slate-faced Gene Fullmer. Fullmer and Tiger met three times and at no time did Fullmer best him. Tiger, in fact, had so little difficulty mastering Fullmer physically that he once threw the monumentally strong middleweight champion directly to the floor when Fullmer made the mistake of trying to test the Biafran bull for strength. Needless to say he became the latest in a long line to change tactics.

But Tiger had a certain vulnerability to boxing movers and this leaves him inconsistent; Joey Archer boxed his way to an unpopular decision over him in 1964 – Joey Giardello went 2-2 with Tiger by boxing him and as described in Part Three and Emile Griffith grabbed the title from him by mixing strategies accordingly. Overall though, Tiger is arguably overqualified for the #13 spot. He is 5-3-1 against men on this list (at middleweight), 3-2-1 in middleweight title fights and was the two-time champion of the world.

#12 – JAKE LAMOTTA (83-19-4)

Jake LaMotta, the Bronx Bull, is the first man we encounter who has, at some point, ranked among the top ten in an earlier draft on this list. We have been knee deep in true greatness for some time now, but LaMotta represents a new height; he is a gatekeeper, at the very least, for the very greatest of the great middleweights.

“Jake never stopped coming, never stopped throwing punches and never stopped talking,” offered Sugar Ray Robinson, who defeated him 5-1 in perhaps the most celebrated middleweight series in boxing history. “You hit the guy with everything and he would just act like you were crazy.”

It’s as succinct and complete a description of LaMotta as a man and a fighter as you are likely to read. The Italian-American was a monster of durability, stopped just once in a long middleweight career by Robinson, who was in absolute top gear in forcing the referee’s intervention in the thirteenth round of their masterpiece from 1951, their sixth and final fight now known as “The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.” This aside, LaMotta surged inexorably forwards, the ultimate middleweight tank, not devoid of skill (his jab is his best punch), but his real strength lay in the hellish pressure he brought to bear upon a generation of middleweights, most of whom folded to him in one way or another. Key among them are Robinson, Holman Williams, Robert Villemain, Marcel Cerdan and Laurent Dauthuille.

What kept him that bare smidge from the top ten are the asterisks that are scattered among those key results. Holman Williams was still dangerous when LaMotta edged him in 1946 but was unquestionably slipping and although probably sound, the decision was booed by some sections of the crowd. His determination to meet Williams and the other inhabitants of the Murderer’s Row marked him out as special but rarely went according to plan; he was soundly beaten by Lloyd Marshall and probably very fortunate to take a decision versus a green Bert Lytell.

Robert Villemain, a superb contender but certainly not a fighter under consideration for this list, split a pair with LaMotta and Jake’s winning effort seems to have been anything but with ringsiders almost unanimous in seeing Villemain as having been robbed. Villemain’s fellow Frenchman Laurent Dauthuile also went 1-1 with LaMotta, meeting first him over ten in 1949 in a thrilling fight that saw both cut and Dauthuile triumph on the cards. He came within seconds of taking the title in their 1950 rematch, ahead on points when LaMotta staged the most incredible rally in the history of the division to score a fifteenth round knockout and protect his championship.

Cerdan was the man LaMotta took the title from and he is fully credited for that thrilling victory – but it should be noted that Cerdan was injured in the course of the fight and certainly entitled to the rematch that fate interceded to prevent.

Nevertheless, LaMotta butchered numerous contenders in an action style. Had he a punch to match his chin, he would likely inhabit a spot in the top five.

#11 – FREDDIE STEELE (123-5-11)

Freddie Steele, possibly the most underrated middleweight ever to draw breath, moved up to the division in 1934 and spent the next three years and slightly less than fifty contests undefeated. Consider in the light of that fact the media cacophony that has accompanied Floyd Mayweather’s similar undefeated streak.

Not as storied as Mayweather in term of titles (he held a strap but never the lineal crown), nor is it likely that Steele defeated competition as excellent as Mayweather but he certainly did severe damage to the middleweight division from his Washington stronghold. Of his early middleweight displays (Steele had already done damage down at welterweight in his youth), his destruction of the creaking Vince Dundee is probably the most impressive. Feinting Dundee out of position, he was brutal in his aggressive rushing of the older fighter and very nearly destroyed him in the first with a flashing left hook that left Dundee sagging on the ropes; he barely beat the count and perhaps should not have bothered as Steele proceeded to batter him around the ring for three rounds until he was quite rightly rescued from his own diamond-cut determination.

Steele was a little over-exuberant once he had Dundee hurt and this caused him to miss often, rather compromising his excellent power, wonderful boxing and superb footwork (watch him repeatedly spin a bewildered Dundee off the ropes) but by 1936 he was in possession of a belt and had evolved into a much more deadly beast. Matching top fifty all-time light-heavyweight Gus Lesnevich he again he dropped his man with a pulverising left-hook in the first, but this time he did not forget his boxing as he closed and Lesnevich was brutalised, horrifically, pulled before the end of the second.

Fred Apostoli, Solly Kreiger, Ken Overline and Babe Risko were among the other top men to fall to him and while readily available film is limited, he looks, to me, as good in the ring as just about any middleweight that ever boxed.

So why no higher? After all, when he finally began to lose it was only after having his breastbone broken, past-prime, against top-drawer opposition. Well, to my eye, Steele, also not unlike Mayweather, was often a little lucky in the timing of his fights with some of the big names he dispatched. Apostoli was a raw-green 6-0 when Steele defeated him; Solly Krieger was highly ranked at the time of their meeting but had just been beaten by the three-fight losing streak Glen Lee; Babe Risko was 3-3 in his last six; even Lesnevich was a number of years from his best wins. Ken Overlin may be his best victory, but even his form was a little patchy going in.

Steele has an argument for the top ten but it doesn’t quite find purchase here. He heralds monsters.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

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AJ Needs to Look Good Against Povetkin, but the Russian Won’t be a Free Ride

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Golovkin broadcast

During the Canelo-Golovkin broadcast last weekend, it was mentioned that the two biggest star fighters in boxing were Canelo Alvarez and WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua. Canelo, the newly crowned middleweight champion, was in need of a signature win over a marque opponent to strengthen his claim and Joshua is in the same position heading into his title defense against former WBA title holder Alexander Povetkin at Wembley Stadium Saturday night.

This time last year, being roughly two months out from his title defense against Carlos Takam, Joshua, 28, was the perceived alpha fighter in the heavyweight division. AJ had won all his fights by knockout and, other than a Wladimir Klitschko right hand that dropped him in the sixth round, looked as if he were a sure thing to be the future of the division. But then he looked average stopping Takam, a late replacement for Kubrat Pulev. Joshua cut Takam, dropped him in the fourth round and stopped him in the 10th, but the stoppage was a little bit of a quick hook in the eyes of most observers and it dulled the win.

Five months later Joshua fought undefeated WBO titlist Joseph Parker. Three weeks prior to this fight, Joshua rival and WBC title-holder Deontay Wilder, after nearly being stopped in the seventh round, knocked out the most avoided fighter in the division in Luis Ortiz to score the signature win of his career. So the pressure was on Joshua to win impressively.

Unknown to anyone, Parker showed up only interested in becoming the first fighter Joshua couldn’t stop. And AJ didn’t endear himself to any newly conformed fans when he fought with little urgency, content to win a lopsided decision. Relying almost exclusively on his jab, he made no real attempt to get Parker out of there. Compounding the shrinking perception of AJ, Takam, in his next bout, was beaten more definitively by Dereck Chisora than he was by Joshua.

When you take into account that Wilder scored an impressive KO in his last fight over the most formidable opponent he’s fought and Joshua only scored one knockdown in his last two fights combined, it’s easy to glean why Wilder has narrowed the gap regarding the public perception of them. What’s been missed about Joshua’s last two bouts, however, is that he was utterly dominant. It’s hard to find three rounds he lost of the 22 he was in the ring. But yet, the thing that is most remembered is that AJ didn’t look like the doctor of destruction that his physicality and ring record projected him as being.

When an elite fighter like Anthony Joshua is seen as being a knockout artist and then goes a few fights in a row without delivering a memorable KO, critics and fans begin to find things about their game that are suddenly alarming. And that’s why it’s imperative for Joshua not just to beat Povetkin; he must become the first fighter to stop him. That will get the attention of the right people and at the same time gain back some of the cachet he ceded to Wilder since March of this year.

According to The Ring magazine’s latest ratings…the top six heavyweights, in order, are Joshua, Wilder, Povetkin, Ortiz, Whyte and Parker. So of those ranked 3-6, Povetkin is the only one who hasn’t yet faced Joshua or Wilder. Many well-known observers who cover boxing also see Povetkin 34-1 (24) as the third best fighter in the division. In fact, the new narrative regarding this fight is that Povetkin is really dangerous. With his power, extensive experience and toughness, he’s not an automatic win or free ride for AJ this weekend.

Yes, that’s what they’re saying before they get into the ring – so let’s remember that after the bout, because if Joshua 21-0 (20) looks impressive and stops Povetkin, we’ll more than likely hear how Povetkin was washed up, having turned 39 earlier this month and having lost to the best fighter he ever touched gloves with in Wladimir Klitschko. In one night, Povetkin will go from being a real test for Joshua to an old man who couldn’t beat anybody in the top 10. Conversely, if Povetkin goes the distance and is competitive with Joshua, then, in a knee-jerk reaction and overstatement, many will label AJ a fraud and a sure loser when he faces Wilder.

The reality is a stoppage win by Joshua will be impressive because Povetkin has never been close to being stopped. Even after going down four times against Klitschko he never looked as if he wanted out and Wladimir was a single shot bigger banger than Joshua is with either hand (with the difference being Joshua gets off more freely and puts his punches together in combination, opposed to Klitschko who force-fed his opponents one-twos. Also, Joshua is quicker handed than Klitschko and that should enable him to land some big shots in succession on the presumably attacking Povetkin).

Povetkin most likely needs to be inside against Joshua. There’s only two ways to do it, either by pressing AJ or moving away and timing him, and the method he chooses will illustrate just how much AJ’s power is or isn’t too much for him to chance moving in on. If Povetkin pulls a Parker and the fight goes the distance, Joshua shouldn’t be excoriated because it’s hard to stop a fighter who is only looking to survive. At the same time Joshua will have to let his hands go and fight with more urgency and passion than he showed against Parker, because if he doesn’t that will raise my red flag.

When Joshua crashed the top-10 heavyweight rankings I thought, having watched him closely, that he had the potential of former champ Lennox Lewis. That hasn’t changed, but I’m beginning to see Lewis as being more of a natural fighter and AJ as the better athlete. On paper it’s close when comparing them, but Lewis, especially under the late Emanuel Steward, kept improving whereas Joshua, after looking so good and well-rounded stopping Klitschko, seems to have plateaued.

Alexander Povetkin is AJ’s twenty-second bout. In Lennox Lewis’s twenty-second bout, he fought Donovan “Razor” Ruddock.

Ruddock (27-3-1) was a 6’3”, 231-pound, well-built fighter with power in his left hand but limited skills. Povetkin is 6’2” and weighed in at 229 for his last bout. Ruddock’s left-hook/uppercut was probably a bigger single shot than anything in Povetkin’s arsenal but that’s about the only check Razor gets in his column over Povetkin. The Russian fighter has a much higher boxing IQ than Ruddock and is the more technically sound fighter with better structure and form.

Lewis destroyed Ruddock in two rounds in what was the signature performance of his career at the time. Joshua has already delivered a signature performance, his stoppage of Klitschko after knocking him down three times, but critics and fans have short memories so Joshua needs to deliver another eye opening performance. As was the case for Ruddock when he fought Lewis, Povetkin looks made to order for AJ to look good against. However, Povetkin, unlike Ruddock before he confronted Lewis, has never been stopped and is known for his durability and ruggedness.

Joshua says he is motivated for Povetkin and isn’t looking past him. He says he fears losing, and I don’t need him to confirm he has a gigantic ego and cannot be happy about some of the pageantry and attention that Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury have stolen from him. As for Povetkin, this is no doubt his last title shot and he certainly knows this is the fight he needs to put everything together…which should translate into him coming to win which means he’s going to fight instead of hoping for pats on the back for showing up. And if Povetkin comes to fight, Joshua should get some great opportunities to shine and post another signature win.

This is the ideal fight and opponent for AJ to show just what he has and to stay on the same trajectory that Lennox Lewis did after stopping Razor Ruddock.

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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Avila Perspective, Chapter 15: Las Vegas Boxing Journal

Usually the world of boxing has two massive fight weekends, but this year it was down to one. All of that pent-up energy had to be released

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Usually the world of boxing has two massive fight weekends, but this year it was down to one. All of that pent-up energy had to be released and this past weekend, for Mexican Independence Day, it all came pouring out.

Las Vegas was my destination once again.

In the last four years the Nevada gambling capital has seen fewer and fewer boxing cards as other destinations like New York, Texas and California have gobbled up fight dates. What used to be almost a monthly journey has been whittled down to twice a year.

When it comes to staging a mega event, you just can’t beat Las Vegas. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez meeting Gennady “GGG” Golovkin for the second time definitely qualifies.

I was supposed to drive up Thursday morning with photographer Al Applerose but we could not coordinate our schedules. It was important to leave early to reach the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino where the Golden Boy Promotions card featuring Maricela Cornejo versus Franchon Crews for a world title was being held. Starting time for the fight card was 2 p.m. because of ESPN.

By the time I checked into my hotel and drove over to the Hard Rock, it was already 3 p.m. Surprisingly, a decent crowd was there mostly to see Cornejo vs. Crews. ESPN televised the event and despite the early start time fans and celebrities were in the house.

It had been 14 years since that network had televised a female world championship bout. I remember because I saw that fight in 2004 and it was a doozy.

Finally, another female world title fight and it was great to see two female warriors finally get their day under the spotlight. After 10 rounds Crews won by majority decision and the green WBC belt was wrapped around her waist. Watching the joy on her face was priceless.

If you have followed me as a reader then you know female boxing has been a favorite passion. I truly believe it will rival male prizefighting one day, maybe soon. The world of MMA has proven it can be done as Ronda Rousey so emphatically showed.

Women prizefighters will get their day.

After the fight we headed to the Pink Taco mainly because they serve decent margaritas. I’m kind of a connoisseur of the drink. The first one I received was passable, but that second one was pretty good. Our group consisted of two reporters from Japan and Applerose, the photographer. Tacos and margaritas for everyone.

Friday

No fights were scheduled for Friday but the weigh-ins and press conferences were stacked together. I moved from my hotel and drove to Summerlin where a friend of mine has a place. He had invited me to stay and was insistent.

My friend is known as “Mr. Las Vegas.” It’s a name given to him the great Fernando “El Feroz” Vargas who now lives in Vegas. He gave him this nickname because no one knows Las Vegas like this guy (that I won’t name unless he gives approval). This 40-something year old gentleman was born and raised in the casino city and has been involved in boxing, MMA and personally knows the high rollers and political powers of the city and state.

Mr. Las Vegas invited me months ago but he’s always on the go and sometimes it slips his mind so I booked a room just in case. But, he was adamant about me staying with him and we go back a ways.

He’s also a big proponent of women’s boxing.

I headed back to the Strip to the MGM media center where a press conference for Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell was taking place. The media was in force. Easily 200 were already in the David Copperfield Theater at 10 a.m.

Maybe it was the free breakfast that enticed reporters and photographers to get up early. It was amazing to see so many media members on a Friday morning. It was a mad scramble.

The theater is fairly large and from a distance I could spot many friends and colleagues. During the face-off Liddell and Ortiz squared off and Oscar De La Hoya looked like a midget between the two. They will be fighting at the Inglewood Forum on Nov. 24. Golden Boy Promotions is the promoter for the pay-per-view event. It will be the third time the MMA stars clash.

So while Dana White delves into boxing, De La Hoya delves into MMA. Strange happenings.

Later that Friday a press conference for Yuri Gamboa was staged by the Cuban fighter himself at Gonzalez Gonzalez restaurant in the New York, New York Hotel and Casino.

Gamboa briefly had a contract with Golden Boy, and had been connected to Top Rank and Fifty Cent. The slick southpaw (is there any other kind of lefty?) seeks another chance to hit a jackpot in the boxing ring.

About two dozen reporters met at the Mexican restaurant eatery. Gamboa was busy speaking to each reporter one-by-one and helped by a small group of publicists including New York sharp Ed Keenan. Food and drinks were great.

Last year Gamboa was quite busy and had four prizefights. His lone loss was against Mexico’s extremely dangerous Robinson Castellanos who stopped the Cuban at the end of the seventh round in Las Vegas.

So far this year, no fights. It’s a primary reason he’s doing it himself on a risky pay-per-view show.

“I can’t depend on anyone else,” said Gamboa. “If I want to advance. I feel I should do it myself. I have experience and knowledge in professional boxing.”

Gamboa, 36, will fight Mexico’s Miguel Beltran on Nov. 20, in Miami, Florida. He will be the main event. The co-main event will be Puerto Rico’s Juan Manuel Lopez meeting Jesse Rodriguez. If all goes well, the two former world champions will meet each other sometime next year.

“I still have goals to accomplish,” said Gamboa.

Super Lightweight Title Clash

While sitting around eating and drinking at the Mexican restaurant, the ESPN fight card featured Jose Carlos Ramirez and Antonio Orozco fighting for the WBC super lightweight world title. It was body puncher versus body puncher and that means fireworks.

Ramirez had not faced anyone who could match punch output with him until that Friday night. I expected Orozco to fire all his guns and that’s exactly what he did.

For 12 volatile rounds the two 140-pounders fought at 100 miles an hour and though Ramirez won the majority of the rounds according to the judges, each round in itself was a battle.

Orozco, 30, is a very mild-mannered gentleman outside the ropes, but inside he’s one of the most fierce body punchers in the business. He has fought for Golden Boy Promotions for a number of years and may have passed his peak two years ago.

Ramirez, 26, was making his second defense of the world title he won almost a year ago and fights under the Top Rank banner. Whenever these two promotion companies go against each other it’s like the Dodgers and the Giants. No mercy.

The titleholder Ramirez was fighting in front of the adopted hometown of Fresno and floored Orozco twice with body shots and head shots. You would have expected Orozco to wilt but every time he was dropped he came back with a ferocious attack.

It was a gripping fight to watch.

As I sat at the bar in the Mexican restaurant with photographer Applerose, we couldn’t help but admire the spirit that both fighters showed for 12 rounds. Crowds gathered around the bar to watch the final three or four rounds. A few had noticed us watching and stopped to see what had us glued to the television screen perched above the various liquors.

We had a few beers after that incredible title fight.

Ramirez won the fight and retained the world title but Orozco had won the hearts of everyone watching with his tremendous heart. Both fighters congratulated each other and showed sincere respect. If you haven’t seen it, watch the replay. You won’t be sorry.

Saturday

The schedule for Saturday started early with two press conferences staged in the morning.

WBC super featherweight titlist Miguel Berchelt and challenger Mickey Roman met with media at Wolfgang Puck at 12 noon to talk about their pending clash on HBO. It’s another meeting between a Top Rank affiliated fighter and Golden Boy affiliated fighter.

Can it match Ramirez-Orozco?

Berchelt is a heavy-hitting but skilled fighter from the Yucatan area. Roman is a hard-nosed heavy hitter from Juarez, Mexico. Its North versus South in this Mexican battle that takes place on Nov. 3 in El Paso, Texas.

This could be extremely explosive.

Immediately after the Top Rank press conference, and a few feet away, another media luncheon took place for interim WBC super lightweight titlist Regis Prograis.

Prograis, 29, is an interesting cat.

Raised in New Orleans and Houston, the extremely strong Prograis will participate in the World Boxing Super Series that begins in late October. He faces former lightweight world champion Terry Flanagan of England.

“I chose to fight Terry Flanagan because he’s a former world champion,” said Prograis whose last fight was a knockout win over Argentina’s Juan Jose Velasco in New Orleans. “I’m trying to prove I’m the best. I don’t want an easy fight. It’s a waste of time.”

Of course he would love a match with current WBC titlist Jose Carlos Ramirez but he can wait.

“We’ll meet one day in the ring,” Prograis said.

The Rematch

After the pair of press luncheons we headed to the T-Mobile Arena for the Alvarez-Golovkin mega fight. It was an early 2 p.m. start so we missed a couple of early fights. I always try to watch every bout. It’s my duty as a reporter to cover all the fights that take place. Not just the headliners, but the afternoon press conferences held me up.

The best of the undercard saw Vergil Ortiz Jr. annihilate his former sparring partner Roberto Ortiz in two rounds.

Vergil Ortiz trains in Riverside, Calif. with Robert Garcia. He formerly was based in Indio, Calif. with Joel Diaz. Both trainers have excellent troops.

Ortiz, 20, has long limbs and fights long too. He’s buzzed through 11 straight opponents and kind of resembles late actor Jack Palance in the movie Shane. Vergil is a likeable guy who seems nothing like a feared monster in a boxing ring.

Golden Boy keeps stepping up the competition a notch and he keeps rendering them unconscious. The promoter doesn’t want to overstep the process with Ortiz so they are doing things de-li-cate-ly.

So far Ortiz has treated everyone who steps in the ring with him like fragile china. He touches them and they fall to pieces. Technically he is very sound. But the Golden Boy crew sees something very special in the kid from Dallas. He is one to watch.

Boycott?

After several fights including the main event that saw Alvarez win by majority decision, it’s important to note that the entire “ringside” media group was placed more than 50 yards away from the boxing ring. No one from the media had a sufficient view to analyze the fight that has been very disputed by fans and others.

But my question is: why did the promoters place the media a ridiculous 50 yards away?

Sadly, it’s a move that says to the media “we don’t need you.”

Maybe it’s time to organize.

Regis Prograis photo by Al Applerose

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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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