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Team Maidana 2.0: Argentine Boxing Poised to Make a Comeback 

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The lush history of Argentine boxing has been replete with almost uninterrupted achievements since the early ’70s, but there is a noticeable group of blank pages in very recent memory, at least in the male championship scene.

It seems like it was yesterday that Sergio Martinez was among the top three pound-for-pound fighters in the world and that Marcos Maidana was facing the best fighter in the world twice within a year in two lucrative and highly anticipated bouts. With Lucas Matthysse, poised to make a big jump, and Jesus Cuellar and Cesar Cuenca lurking in the background with titles in hand, Argentine boxing seemed to have enough talent to uphold its boxing tradition for many years to come.

But then it all came to a screeching halt.

Martinez’s predictable retirement after losing to Miguel Cotto, Maidana’s not-so-expected retirement after a long period of suspense, and Matthysse’s unforeseen long hiatus after his loss to Viktor Postol left a void and the losses of both Cuellar and Cuenca abroad only added to the general feeling of despairTo this we must add the virtual disappearance of Diego Chaves, a tough and talented welterweight who ended up being inactive for a long period of time after holding Timothy Bradley to a draw in Las Vegas.

Jorge Sebastian Heiland’s hollow performance vs. Jarmall Charlo at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on July 29 was salt in the wound, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel and for this Argentine fight fans can thank Marcos “Chino“ Maidana and his advisor Sebastian Contursi. Maidana left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of boxing fans worldwide and now carries the banner for another group of fighters with serious chances of adding new achievements to the country’s already profuse trophy case.

Chaves (26-2-1, 22 KOs) had reasons to stay away from boxing while he worked out his contractual problems with his previous promoters, but now that he is liberated from those shackles he is getting ready to charge once again towards territories once considered conquered, but which he will now have to regain inch by inch, this time under the banner Team Maidana.

And it is under that impression left by Maidana in his last few bouts that Team Maidana gets ready to give Argentina another group of fighters with serious chances of adding new achievements to the country’s already profuse trophy case.

“Evidently, Maidana has been the symbol of this team, because of his achievements and his fighting philosophy,” says Contursi from his home in Los Angeles, where he has settled to continue handling his fighters in the US. “‘Chino’ is our reference, and he is an advisor too. Soon enough he may be promoting cards as well.”

This “fighting philosophy” that gave his followers so many reasons to rejoice and that earned him an extraordinary win over Adrien Broner as well as two back-to-back fights against Mayweather is what constitutes the founding principle of a team that hopes to continue his legacy as well as benefit from the image that Maidana has left behind.

As an ex-writer for ESPN.com and thanks to his close relationship with the WBA’s Gilberto Mendoza Jr., Contursi is quite familiar with the difficult path that leads a fighter towards his dream championship bout, and it was thanks to his knowledge of boxing politics that he was able to get close to Maidana back in the day in order to offer him a better road ahead, abandoning his career as a writer in order to guide Maidana’s career, with considerable success.

To the name of Jesus Cuellar, the now former WBA featherweight titlist who reached championship status under Contursi’s guidance, we can also add the name of recently crowned super welterweight titlist Brian Castaño, once one of the most promising talents out of the Argentine national team and the WSB’s Condors, who was coming off a severe dehydration that threatened his career and even his life.

But under the tutelage of Team Maidana, Castaño (pictured) restarted his career in the US and notched a trio of important victories in televised cards, to then return to his homeland to be crowned WBA interim world champion after defeating Puerto Rico’s Emmanuel De Jesus and defending that belt recently against Ivory Coast native Michel Soro in France.

Castaño’s signing and his move to the US in order to further his career there generated criticism among fans and press alike, who always prefer to witness the development of a fighter closer to home, but it turned out being the right move at the right time for the fighter, who found the challenges he needed to make a jump in quality against more experienced fighters, and the results are evident. With only 12 fights under his belt, Castaño is already holding a modest bargaining chip in his interim belt, which, as worthless as it may be, will put his name on more than a few negotiation tables.

According to Contursi, the strategy used with Castaño is not cast in stone.

“For now, most of our fighters train in Argentina, and sometimes they put the finishing touches in the US. But at some point we may choose to train in the US,” said Contursi, who once managed to recruit Freddie Roach to train Cuellar in California, and who has routinely been engaged in hiring new trainers for his fighters – sometimes a bit too often.

The case of Diego Chaves, who is not officially part of Team Maidana, is quite illustrative. The interest on him by the big American networks is still there after his excellent bouts against boxers such as Keith Thurman, Timothy Bradley and Brandon Rios, but the San Miguel native is still trying to find his path, and it will not be unthinkable to expect that certain circumstances may bring him closer to Team Maidana in the near future.

A lot has been speculated about Chaves’ appearances in a few shows promoted by The Rodriguez Team, another Argentine company that has been putting together a few decent cards with young local prospects as well as other local veterans. The presence of several Team Maidana members in these cards is an indication of a strategic alliance between the companies.

“Fighters such as Chaves are always in high demand, and logically we would love to work with guys like him,” said Contursi. “Inexplicably, in the best moment of his career, Chaves became inactive for almost two years, which led to the cancellation of his contract with his former handlers. This opened the posibility for him to start fighting again and he has demonstrated that he continues fighting at the best level. For now, I understand that he is a free agent, and I hope one day he’ll be able to work with us.”

Besides Castano, there is one fighter who stands out, not only because of his talent but also because of his heart and desire. It could also be said that this fighter is destined to give new meaning to the very name of Team Maidana.

“Fabian has a lot of potential. He is an intelligent fighter, very cerebral, very accurate in his punches,” said Contursi, referring to Fabian “TNT” Maidana, Marcos’ unbeaten younger brother and the one indicated by many as the best pure boxer in his family. “He also carries the Maidana mantle on him, and because of this, a lot of people rush to compare him with his brother. But people need to understand that Fabian is only taking his first steps as a professional. And on the other hand, even though he had a sucessful amateur run, this experience was brief.”

This and other reasons are given by Contursi to try to lower expectations of fans and press alike, but it is difficult not to feel optimistic when seeing Fabian (currently 13-0) take the ring and show an aggressive and refined brand of boxing, mixing the best qualities that made his brother famous with a very polished technical work that will potentially make him easy to sell abroad.

“We are not talking about one of those fighters who turn pro after 200 or 250 fights as amateurs. So, obviously, there is a cycle that needs to be completed, step by step,” insists Contursi. “Fabian has also said that he wants to start alternating fights in the States and in Argentina, and that’s what we’re doing for him. In the long run, the plan is the same for all of our fighters: to get to the top under the best possible conditions.”

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The BWAA Shames Veteran Referee Laurence Cole and Two Nebraska Judges

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In an unprecedented development, the Boxing Writers Association of America has started a “watch list” to lift the curtain on ring officials who have “screwed up.” Veteran Texas referee Laurence Cole and Nebraska judges Mike Contreras and Jeff Sinnett have the unwelcome distinction of being the first “honorees.”

“Boxing is a sport where judges and referees are rarely held accountable for poor performances that unfairly change the course of a fighter’s career and, in some instances, endanger lives,” says the BWAA in a preamble to the new feature. Hence the watch list, which is designed to “call attention to ‘egregious’ errors in scoring by judges and unacceptable conduct by referees.”

Contreras and Sinnett, residents of Omaha, were singled out for their scorecards in the match between lightweights Thomas Mattice and Zhora Hamazaryan, an eight round contest staged at the WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa on July 20. They both scored the fight 76-75 for Mattice, enabling the Ohio fighter to keep his undefeated record intact via a split decision.

Although Mattice vs. Hamazaryan was a supporting bout, it aired live on ShoBox. Analyst Steve Farhood, who was been with ShoBox since the inception of the series in 2001, called it one of the worst decisions he had ever seen. Lead announcer Barry Tompkins went further, calling it the worst decision he has seen in his 40 years of covering the sport.

Laurence Cole (pictured alongside his father) was singled out for his behavior as the third man in the ring for the fight between Regis Prograis and Juan Jose Velasco at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on July 14. The bout was televised live on ESPN.

In his rationale for calling out Cole, BWAA prexy Joseph Santoliquito leaned heavily on Thomas Hauser’s critique of Cole’s performance in The Sweet Science. “Velasco fought courageously and as well as he could,” noted Hauser. “But at the end of round seven he was a thoroughly beaten fighter.”

His chief second bullied him into coming out for another round. Forty-five seconds into round eight, after being knocked down for a third time, Velasco spit out his mouthpiece and indicated to Cole that he was finished. But Cole insisted that the match continue and then, after another knockdown that he ruled a slip, let it continue for another 35 seconds before Velasco’s corner mercifully threw in the towel.

Controversy has dogged Laurence Cole for well over a decade.

Cole was the third man in the ring for the Nov. 25, 2006 bout in Hildalgo, Texas, between Juan Manuel Marquez and Jimrex Jaca. In the fifth round, Marquez sustained a cut on his forehead from an accidental head butt. In round eight, another accidental head butt widened and deepened the gash. As Marquez was being examined by the ring doctor, Cole informed Marquez that he was ahead on the scorecards, volunteering this information while holding his hand over his HBO wireless mike. The inference was that Marquez was free to quit right then without tarnishing his record. (Marquez elected to continue and stopped Jaca in the next round.)

This was improper. For this indiscretion, Cole was prohibited from working a significant fight in Texas for the next six months.

More recently, Cole worked the 2014 fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and Orlando Salido at the San Antonio Alamodome. During the fight, Salido made a mockery of the Queensberry rules for which he received no point deductions and only one warning. Cole’s performance, said Matt McGrain, was “astonishingly bad,” an opinion echoed by many other boxing writers. And one could site numerous other incidents where Cole’s performance came under scrutiny.

Laurence Cole is the son of Richard “Dickie” Cole. The elder Cole, now 87 years old, served 21 years as head of the Texas Department of Combat Sports Regulation before stepping down on April 30, 2014. At various times during his tenure, Dickie Cole held high executive posts with the World Boxing Council and North American Boxing Federation. He was the first and only inductee into the inaugural class of the Texas Boxing Hall of Fame, an organization founded by El Paso promoter Lester Bedford in 2015.

From an administrative standpoint, boxing in Texas during the reign of Dickie Cole was frequently described in terms befitting a banana republic. Whenever there was a big fight in the Lone Star State, his son was the favorite to draw the coveted refereeing assignment.

Boxing is a sideline for Laurence Cole who runs an independent insurance agency in Dallas. By law in Texas (and in most other states), a boxing promoter must purchase insurance to cover medical costs in the event that one or more of the fighters on his show is seriously injured. Cole’s agency is purportedly in the top two nationally in writing these policies. Make of that what you will.

Complaints of ineptitude, says the WBAA, will be evaluated by a “rotating committee of select BWAA members and respected boxing experts.” In subsequent years, says the press release, the watch list will be published quarterly in the months of April, August, and December (must be the new math).

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Popo vs. “La Hiena”: Blast From the Past – Episode Two

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Freitas

When WBA/WBO super featherweight champion Acelino “Popo” Freitas met Jorge Rodrigo “Il Hiena” Barrios in Miami on August 8, 2003, there was more on the line than just the titles. This was a roughhousing 39-1-1 Argentinian fighting an equally tough 33-0 Brazilian. The crowd was divided between Brazilian fans and those from Argentina. To them this was a Mega-Fight; this was BIG.

When Acelino Freitas turned professional in 1995, he streaked from the gate with 29 straight KOs, one of the longest knockout win streaks in boxing history. He was fan-friendly and idolized in Brazil. Barrios turned professional in 1996 and went 14-0 before a DQ loss after which he went 25-0-1 with 1 no decision.

The Fight

The wild swinging “Hyena” literally turned into one as he attacked from the beginning and did not let up until the last second of the eleventh round. Barrios wanted to turn the fight into a street fight and was reasonably successful with that strategy. It became a case of brawler vs. boxer/puncher and when the brawler caught the more athletic Popo—who could slip and duck skillfully—and decked him with a straight left in the eighth, the title suddenly was up for grabs.

The Brazilian fans urged their hero on but to no avail as Barrios rendered a pure beat down on Popo during virtually the entirety of the 11th round—one of the most exciting in boxing history. Freitas went down early from a straight right. He was hurt, and at this point it looked like it might be over. Barrios was like a madman pounding Popo with a variety of wild shots, but with exactly one half of one second to go before the bell ending the round, Freitas caught La Hiena with a monster right hand that caused the Hyena to do the South American version of the chicken dance before he went down with his face horribly bloodied. When he got up, he had no idea where he was but his corner worked furiously to get him ready for the final round. All he had to do was hang in there and the title would change hands on points.

The anonymous architect of “In Boxing We Trust,” a web site that went dormant in 2010, wrote this description:

“Near the end of round 11, about a milli-second before the bell rang, Freitas landed a ROCK HARD right hand shot flush on Barrios’ chin. Barrios stood dazed for a moment, frozen in time, and then down he went, WOW WOW WOW!!!! Barrios got up at the count of 4, he didn’t know where he was as he looked around towards the crowd like a kid separated from his family at a theme park, but Barrios turned to the ref at the count of 8 and signaled that he was okay, SAVED BY THE BELL. It was panic time in the Barrios corner, as the blood continued to flow like lava, and he was bleeding from his ear (due to a ruptured ear drum). In the beginning of round 12, Freitas was able to score an early knockdown, and as Barrios stood up on wobbly legs and Freitas went straight at him and with a couple more shots, Barrios was clearly in bad shape and badly discombobulated and the fight was stopped. Freitas had won a TKO victory in round 12, amazing!!!!”

Later, Freitas tarnished his image with a “No Mas” against Diego Corrales, but he had gone down three times and knew there was no way out. He went on to claim the WBO world lightweight title with a split decision over Zahir Raheem, but that fight was a snoozefest and he lost the title in his first defense against Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz.

Freitas looked out of shape coming in to the Diaz fight and that proved to be the case as he was so gassed at the end of the eighth round that he quit on his stool. This was yet another shocker, but others (including Kostya Tszyu, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and even Ali) had done so and the criticism this time seemed disproportionate.

Popo had grown old. It happens. Yet, against Barrios, he had proven without a doubt that he possessed the heart of a warrior.

The Brazilian boxing hero retired in 2007, but came back in 2012 and schooled and KOd the cocky Michael “The Brazilian Rocky” Oliveira. He won another fight in 2015 and though by now he was visibly paunchy, he still managed to go 10 rounds to beat Gabriel Martinez in 2017 with occasional flashes of his old explosive volleys. These later wins, though against lower level opposition, somewhat softened the memories of the Corrales and Diaz fights, both of which this writer attended at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut. They would be his only defeats in 43 pro bouts.

Like Manny Pacquiao, Freitas had a difficult childhood but was determined to make a better life for himself and his family. And, like Manny, he did and he also pursued a career in politics. Whether he makes it into the Hall will depend on how much a ‘No Mas’ can count against one, but he warrants serious consideration when he becomes eligible.

As for the Hyena, on April 8, 2005, he won the WBO junior lightweight title with a fourth round stoppage of undefeated but overweight Mike Anchondo. In January 2010 he was involved in a hit and run accident in which a 20-year-old pregnant woman was killed. On April 4, 2012 Barrios was declared guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced to four years in prison. He served 27 months and never fought again, retiring with a record of 50-4-1.

Ted Sares is one of the oldest active full power lifters in the world. A member of Ring 10, and Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he was recently cited by Hannibal Boxing as one of three “Must-Read” boxing writers.

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The Avila Perspective Chapter 6: Munguia, Cruiserweights and Pacman

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Adjoining states

Adjoining states in the west host a number of boxing cards including a world title contest that features a newcomer who, before knocking out a world champion, was erroneously categorized by a Nevada official as unworthy of a title challenge.

Welcome to the world of Mexico’s Jaime Munguia (29-0, 25 KOs) the WBO super welterweight world titlist who meets England’s Liam Smith (26-1-1, 14 KOs) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 21. HBO will televise

Back in April when middleweight titan Gennady “GGG” Golovkin was seeking an opponent to replace Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who was facing suspension for performance enhancement drug use, it was the 21-year-old from Tijuana who volunteered his services for a May 5th date in Las Vegas.

Bob Bennett, the Executive Director for Nevada State Athletic Commission, denied allowing Munguia an opportunity to fight Golovkin for the middleweight titles. Bennett claimed that the slender Mexican fighter had not proven worthy of contesting for the championship though the tall Mexican wielded an undefeated record of 28 wins with 24 coming by knockout.

To be fair, Bennett has seen many fighters in the past with undefeated records who were not up to challenges, especially against the likes of Golovkin. But on the other hand, how can an official involved in prizefighting deny any fighter the right to make a million dollar payday if both parties are willing?

That is the bigger question.

Munguia stopped by Los Angeles to meet with the media last week and spoke about Bennett and his upcoming first world title defense. He admitted to being in the middle of a whirlwind that is spinning beyond his expectations. But he likes it.

“I’ve never won any kind of award before in my life,” said Munguia at the Westside Boxing Club in the western portion of Los Angeles. “I’ve always wanted to be a world champion since I was old enough to fight.”

When asked how he felt about Nevada’s denying him an attempt to fight Golovkin, a wide grin appeared on the Mexican youngster.

“I would like to thank him,” said Munguia about Bennett’s refusal to allow him to fight Golovkin. “Everything happens for a reason.”

That reason is clear now.

Two months ago Munguia put on a frightening display of raw power in knocking down then WBO super welterweight titlist Sadam Ali numerous times in front of New York fans. It reminded me of George Foreman’s obliteration of Joe Frazier back in the 1970s. World champions are not supposed get battered like that but when someone packs that kind of power those can be the terrifying results.

Still beaming over his newfound recognition, Munguia has grand plans for his future including challenging all of the other champions in his weight category and the next weight division.

“I want to be a great champion,” said Munguia. “I want to make history.”

The first step toward history begins on Saturday when he faces former world champion Smith who was dethroned by another Mexican named Canelo.

Cruiserweight championship

It’s not getting a large amount of attention in my neighborhood but this unification clash between WBA and IBF cruiserweight titlist Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs) and WBC and WBO cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) has historic ramifications tagged all over it.

The first time I ever saw Russia’s 24-year-old Gassiev was three years ago when he made his American debut at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello. It’s a small venue near East L.A. and the fight was attended by numerous boxing celebrities such as James “Lights Out” Toney, Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. One entire section was filled by Russian supporters and Gassiev did not disappoint in winning by stoppage that night. His opponent hung on for dear life.

Ukraine’s Usyk, 31, made his American debut in late 2016 on a Golden Boy Promotions card that staged boxing great Bernard Hopkins’ final prizefight. That night the cruiserweight southpaw Usyk bored audiences with his slap happy style until lowering the boom on South Africa’s Thabiso Mchunu in round nine at the Inglewood Forum. The sudden result stunned the audience.

Now it’s Gassiev versus Usyk and four world titles are at stake. The unification fight takes place in Moscow, Russia and will be streamed via Klowd TV at 12 p.m. PT/ 3 p.m. ET.

Seldom are cruiserweight matchups as enticing to watch as this one.

Another Look

A couple of significant fights took place last weekend, but Manny Pacquiao’s knockout win over Lucas Matthysse for the WBO welterweight world title heads the list.

Neither fighter looked good in their fight in Malaysia but when Pacquiao floored Matthysse several times during the fight, it raised some red flags.

The last time Pacquiao knocked out a welterweight was in 2009 against Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas. Since then he had not stopped an opponent. What changed?

In this age of PEDs there was no mention of testing for the Pacquiao/Matthysse fight. For the curiosity of the media and the fans, someone should come forward with proof of testing. Otherwise any future fights for the Philippine great will not be forthcoming.

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