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Bob Arum Takes Another Dip Into The Heavyweight Pond

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longevity

The secret of Bob Arum’s incredible longevity in boxing, a voracious, cannibalistic sport that tends to devour its young and weak and casually gnaw on the remnants of its old and infirm, is the 85-year-old’s ability to recognize and take advantage of coming changes before they happen, almost before anyone else knows those changes are needed.

It is that remarkable sense of intuition, perhaps more than anything else, that has enabled Arum – a Harvard Law School graduate and former member of U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy’s Justice Department in the 1960s – to outsmart and outlast a couple of generations of promotional competitors who made the mistake of assuming this old, or at least aging, dog was incapable of learning new tricks.

“Everybody looks for the easy money and the easy way out, including myself,” the Top Rank founder and chairman said in the spring of 2007, when he still was a relatively spry pup of 75. “But I find it doesn’t work anymore. You have to fish where the fish are.”

This Saturday night, with the pond in Lincoln, Neb., stocked with trout eager to be hooked by another in-state appearance by Nebraska’s own Terence Crawford, that particular bit of Arumesque sagacity again will be certified. Crawford (31-0, 22 KOs), the WBC and WBO super lightweight champion, will attempt to fully unify the 140-pound title against IBF and WBA ruler Julius Indongo (22-0, 11 KOs), and he figures to do so before a raucous, pro-Crawford sellout crowd of 15,500 in the Pinnacle Bank Arena. That the favored Crawford figures to make an even stronger case for himself as a superstar attraction with a TV audience in the millions, thanks to the scheduled 12-round bout being shown on basic-cable ESPN instead of HBO, is another testament to Arum’s master plan of going back to the future. From 1980 to ’95, 767 of the 2,000-plus fight cards staged by Arum’s company were televised via Top Rank Boxing on ESPN, which served to make any number of his client-fighters primed and ready to graduate to premium-cable and pay-per-view.

But it is the presence of a non-televised, eight-round heavyweight bout on the undercard that signals another potentially bold move into a different but still somehow familiar direction by Arum, whose promotional career began with arguably the greatest of all heavyweights, Muhammad Ali, and featured a nice run with comebacking elder statesman George Foreman. While he has taken occasional fliers on other heavyweights (Ray Mercer, Hasim Rahman), Arum otherwise has been mostly known for his showcasing of fighters in lower weight classes (Sugar Ray Leonard, Manny Pacquiao, Thomas Hearns, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Michael Carbajal, among others). In recent years, the Top Rank lineup has been primarily dotted with Hispanic fighters, an acknowledgment of Arum’s belief that that fan base is the deepest and most ardent in boxing.

No one is ready to pronounce the return to action, after a 20-month period of inactivity, of Arum’s recent signee, Bryant Jennings, as a cannonball splash into the deep end of the heavyweight pool by a promoter who occasionally makes impetuous statements but does virtually nothing else without first assessing the risk-reward factor and possible down-the-road ramifications. Indeed, Arum isn’t even Jennings’ sole promoter; the 32-year-old Philadelphian, who is coming off two consecutive losses in addition to the long layoff, is co-promoted by Antonio Leonard. But should Jennings (19-2, 10 KOs) look good in dispatching journeyman Daniel Martz (15-4-1, 12 KOs), and follows that up with another tuneup victory in November or December … well, who knows? Arum also co-promotes (with Dean Lonergan and David Higgins of Duco Events) Joseph Parker (23-0, 18 KOs), the New Zealander who defends his WBO belt against Hughie Fury (20-0, 10 KOs) on Sept. 23 in Manchester, England.

It is no great stretch of the imagination to foresee a title bout between Parker and a resuscitated Jennings in the spring of 2018, or possibly even a rematch between Parker and Andy Ruiz Jr. (29-1, 19 KOs), an American of Mexican descent and third member of Top Rank’s heavyweight troika who lost a majority decision for the vacant WBO crown on Dec. 10, 2016.

“You would think so,” Jennings said of the possibility that a matchup of he and Parker could be done with minimum muss and fuss, barring the stubbing of a toe by either somewhere along the way. “Making that fight, to me, is very possible. Don’t be surprised if you see that fight in the next six months to a year.”

Arum, who sounded a bit under the weather during a telephone conversation last weekend, said between coughs that a Parker-Jennings pairing is or fairly soon could be on the drawing board.

“We were doing a fight in New York and Antonio and James Prince (who co-manages Jennings along with attorney Josh Dubin) brought Jennings to see me,” Arum related. “I really took a liking to him. He’s a very intelligent guy, a clean-living guy. We think that if he goes back on the board, he can develop into a real threat. There’s four titles out there. We can make a run with Jennings in the short term for one of those titles.

“Of course, for (Parker-Jennings) to happen, Parker has to get past Hughie Fury. But if we’re successful with Parker, and successful with Bryant, I would match them in the spring on ESPN.”

One has to wonder if Top Rank’s expanded foray back into the big-boy weight class (it should be noted that TR has promoted Ruiz for the duration of his eight-year pro career) owes, at least in part, to the Aug. 2 retirement announcement by 41-year-old Wladimir Klitschko, who joins older sibling Vitali on the sideline after 14 nearly unbroken years of their vise grip on the division. When Wlad was upset on a unanimous decision against Tyson Fury (Hughie’s older brother) to end his second title reign, which had lasted a decade, on Nov. 28, 2015, one smart-alecky boxing writer (uh, that would be me) suggested that the barbarians no longer were pounding in frustration upon the gate, they had at last broken through to the throne room.

Sometimes palaces are just like an ordinary Joe’s apartment in that a new look can be invigorating, even if it involves nothing more than moving the same furniture around. With the Klitschkos gone – the suspicion here is that they’ll be more appreciated as time goes by – the immediate effect is to provide a jolt of energy and hope to a heavyweight division that always had been characterized as the locomotive that powered boxing’s train.

“Maybe,” Arum said when asked if the new heavyweight reality will be better than the one just past, and particularly for Top Rank. “It depends on the fighters we have. We’re not adverse to promoting heavyweights.

“The center has moved from Europe and Germany with the Klitschkos to around the world – London with Anthony Joshua and into the United States and other English-speaking countries, like New Zealand. It’s becoming more relevant and a lot easier to sell in those countries. There’s also the difference in time. An English fighter like Joshua – who’s still fighting exclusively in Europe, obviously, although he’s supposed to do some fights here in the U.S. – is more accessible because the language is the same and the English have a tradition of accommodating American television.

“It’s good to have some Americans out there (most notably WBC champion Deontay Wilder, but also Jennings, rising prospect Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller and several possibly recycled Klitschko victims). But, obviously, our best American (potential) heavyweights are playing in the NFL and the NBA.”

Antonio Leonard, Jennings’ co-promoter, understands why Arum could view the onetime high school football star as a lottery ticket that just might pay off. Leonard considers the heavyweight division to now be “wide-open,” and, well, you can’t win if you don’t play.

“It was a collaboration with all of them,” he said of Top Rank’s decision to climb aboard the Jennings bandwagon, a consensus that involved not only Arum but TR president Todd duBoef, executive Carl Moretti and matchmaker Bruce Trampler. “With as little experience as he had (17 amateur bouts and 19 in the pros), Bryant was able to go the distance with (Wladimir) Klitschko and give a good account of himself. And Klitschko was on the verge of knocking Joshua out. That tells me Joshua can be beaten. They all can. I don’t see any reason why Bryant can’t win twice before the year is out. He’s always in shape. He’s a hell of an athlete, maybe the best athlete in the division.”

And if the current heavyweight experiment flops? Make no mistake, Arum, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999, has taken the requisite steps to ensure that the company he founded in 1973 survives in the long term. He has stayed ahead of the technological curve, for one thing (the Jennings-Martz bout will be streamed live via the Top Rank app) and he has delegated authority as the need arose to trusted and capable lieutenants, the failure to do so being a root cause for the decaying empire of his longtime arch-rival, Don King, whose rise and fall was marked by seat-of-the-pants immediacy. Arum still has an enemies’ list – more recent irritants include Al Haymon and Richard Schaefer, and he remains insistent that fighters who are their own promoters serve neither their athletic nor business best-interests – but he has done it his way throughout a now-51-year promotional journey (the first fight he staged was Ali’s wide, 15-round heavyweight title defense against rugged challenger George Chuvalo on March 29, 1966, in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens).

Arum is still having fun re-inventing the wheel. When some of his mainstays exited their respective primes or retired, and when De La Hoya and Mayweather bolted, he simply plugged in a Cotto or a Pacquiao and kept rolling. If that wheel that keeps going round and round again has come around to another go with heavyweights, so be it. It won’t – can’t — be like the good old days with the young Ali and the ancient Foreman, but so what?

The future always has belonged to the adventurous, even if the adventurer is an octogenarian.

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Lemieux vs. O’Sullivan: There Will Be Blood

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There is not much to dislike about Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan. The bald and mustachioed O’Sullivan looks like his name and fights like an Irishman named “Spike.” He rarely backs up and just keeps coming and coming until he wears out his opponent. And he is willing to take two to give one as he did against Antoine Douglass (22-0-1 coming in) in December 2017. The Douglass win, a KO, gave Spike a regional title, but more importantly put him squarely in the mix of top contenders. In fact, he has joined the growing chorus of those who want to fight Gennady Golovkin—and the early retirement payday that could follow. If he beats David Lemieux on the undercard of the Canelo -GGG mega fight on September 15 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, he just might get his chance, but that’s a big “if.”

Thus far, Spike’s only two losses have been to Chris Eubank Jr in 2015 and slick and tough Billy Joe Saunders in 2013. Since the Eubank loss, Spike (28-2) has won six straight, the last five by stoppage. When he KOd Melvin Betancourt in May 2015 in Boston, MA, the Dominican middleweight was 29-1. Today he is 29-6. Pleasing local Irish fans (and this writer), O’Sullivan has fought nine times in the Greater Boston area, bringing back memories of another tough Irish fighter by the name of Stevie Collins.

Lemieux

David Lemieux was also outboxed and shut down by Billy Joe Saunders in a clash of styles that favored Saunders. This time, the styles virtually guarantee a thriller for as long as it lasts. Lemieux (39-4) has 33 stoppage wins compared to Spike’s 20. His KO of Curtis Stevens still resonates as one of the more chilling one’s ever seen.

Unlike the globetrotting O’Sullivan, The popular Canadian fighter has done most of his work in Montreal but is 4-1 outside Canada losing his title to GGG at Madison Square Garden in October 2015. At stake in this one were the IBF, WBA, and interim WBC World Middleweight Titles. David was badly bloodied by Golovkin (then 33-0) but did not disgrace himself as he fought to win.

David is a tremendously powerful puncher with either hand and begins the stalk as soon as the bell rings. But Spike also generally moves forward at the opening bell. Something has to give here and it just might give early on. Spike is no BJS and moving away and slipping punches is not his strong suit. But it’s not in Lemieux’s DNA either. This is almost guaranteed to be a spine tingling, all action thriller. Fans had better stay glued to the telecast.

Chocolatito

In addition to Lemieux-O’Sullivan, it appears that all-action fighter Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (46-2) will also appear on the GGG/Canelo undercard, opposing Moises Fuentes (25-5-1). If so, this one will be over sooner rather than later. In fact, the promoters better have some solid fill-in fights on tap before the main event.

This is about as good as it gets; this is a boxing fan’s dream. Don’t miss it!

Ted Sares is one of the oldest active full power lifters and recently won the Maine State Champions in his class. 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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Why Fury’s Bout with Pianeta is Bigger than Ever Imagined

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Artur Szpilka

Back in January of 2016, Tyson Fury got into the ring and upstaged him on live TV after he struggled with and eventually stopped Artur Szpilka in the ninth round. Now it’s being conveyed that WBC titlist Deontay Wilder will be ringside for Tyson Fury’s second comeback fight against Francesco Pianeta in Belfast Saturday night, and it’s expected that he’ll pay Fury back and get in the ring and upstage him and call him out.

Wilder quickly accepted Fury’s challenge on that night in Brooklyn, but Fury went away and in his own words overindulged with food, alcohol and drugs. And with that, the talk of Wilder vs. Fury died.

Since then, Wilder has established himself more as a title holder and, in the opinion of most, is thought to be the second best heavyweight in the world, ranking behind only Anthony Joshua. Two months ago in June, Fury made his awaited ring return and stopped a non-entity in Sefer Seferi. Throughout the spring and summer the talk of a showdown between Joshua and Wilder remained one of the foremost stories in boxing. Every time it looked close to becoming a reality it fell through, due mostly to how the purse split should be divided with each side blaming the other and avid fans of both fighters siding with their man. While arrows were being slung back and forth between Team Joshua and Team Wilder, the shrewd Fury slung arrows at both of them.

Tyson Fury is one of the greatest salesmen in boxing history and nobody uses social media better than he does. Seeing how hard Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn is to deal with, a light went off in Fury’s head and he began to shy away from AJ and began turning his attention towards Wilder, who has been riding a high since stopping Luis Ortiz in his last fight. Tyson, fully understanding that Wilder has never earned huge money for any of his bouts, understood that a match between him and Wilder could rival nearly any bout Hearn/Joshua could make, excluding one involving himself or Wilder. With that, someone must’ve got in Wilder’s ear and outlined the monumental upside it would be for him to face Fury and what beating him would do as far as helping him negotiate the anticipated fight with Joshua. Not to mention he wouldn’t be facing Fury at his best.

With Fury having lost a lot of the weight he gained during his exile, an impressive showing this weekend versus Franceso Pianeta would go a long way to help boost the interest in a Wilder-Fury bout. The Fury-Pianeta clash has been picked up by Showtime and that says a lot in regards to the way Fury can attract attention. With Wilder having committed to attend the bout, is there a morsel of doubt that he’ll be a big part of the broadcast?

The mere fact that Wilder will be there has increased the credibility among fans in that Wilder-Fury is no longer a press grab and it very well might just come to fruition. And to help increase the profile of a future bout between Wilder and Fury, it’s impossible not to believe Wilder won’t get into the ring after Fury wins and publicly challenge him. If Wilder does that, hopefully he’ll script what he says and not adlib because exchanging adlibs with Fury would be a losing battle for Deontay….even Muhammad Ali might be the underdog doing so because Fury is such a good talker and so quick-witted.

And if there’s any doubt about Fury being able to sling verbally and hype a fight between he and Wilder, I present his recent words….

“I’m just sat here thinking, isn’t it marvelous that the world’s biggest fight, Fury vs Wilder is going to happen and that smug little t****r Eddie Hearn has nothing to do with it at all.”

“He has nothing to do with the world’s biggest fight — or his little puppet on the string the fighter he’s got [Joshua].”

“They’re not involved in the biggest fight the world has ever seen, between the two biggest heavyweights on the planet.”

“The two most controversial — most outspoken heavyweights out there — both over 6ft 6, both talkers, one Brit. one American.”

“Isn’t it marvelous that this fight is going to happen and little Eddie ain’t got nothing to do with it.”

At the moment Fury is killing Hearn and Joshua on social media while at the same time convincing everyone within earshot that he and Wilder is the biggest fight in boxing and the authentic heavyweight championship. Along with that, Wilder and Fury are both going to earn their blockbuster payday facing each other and without fighting Joshua. The winner will easily be able to get a 50-50 purse split when he meets AJ, and there will be nothing Hearn can do about it….because Team Joshua knows that for AJ to be recognized as the true undisputed champ, he must beat the winner of Wilder versus Fury.

Another testament to the Fury factor is found in the odds. Earlier this week, a friend emailed me the pending Vegas odds on Wilder vs. Joshua and Fury vs. Joshua. In a proposed fight with Wilder, Joshua was listed a 2-1 favorite. However, if he were to face Fury, he’d only be an 8-5 favorite, signifying that Fury, with only two fights under his belt after a nearly two-and-a-half year layoff, is considered by the betting public to be the bigger threat to Joshua.

At this time it looks as though only a loss to Pianeta 35-4-1 (21), who’s never ranked among the top-10, can derail Wilder-Fury from becoming a reality, and even against a rusty Fury that looks doubtful. In Pianeta’s only title shot he entered the bout undefeated and was still bounced around the ring by Wladimir Klitschko as if he were a Spalding basketball. He had the advantage of being one of Klitschko’s sparring partners for a year prior to them meeting and yet he still couldn’t make it out of the sixth round.

Since losing to Wladimir in 2013, Pianeta has gone 7-3 (6) and in his last bout lost a 10-round unanimous decision to Petar Milas, who was fighting for only the 12th time as a pro. Fury looks in good shape based on his recent pictures on social media, and is one of the most difficult heavyweights to fight and look good against since Vitali Klitschko was at his best. True, Fury isn’t a devastating puncher and sometimes fighters who aren’t in his league can go rounds with him, but with so much on the line and Wilder observing from ringside, it’s nearly impossible to envision him losing.

The prospect of a Wilder-Fury confrontation has escalated the interest in Fury’s second comeback fight this weekend. It’s unlikely the actual fight between Fury and Pianeta will be fan-friendly, but the thought of Wilder being there to help launch their fight makes it worthwhile to see. Don’t be surprised if Wilder vs. Fury is announced in the ring after Fury’s bout concludes. And if that’s the case, or when it is announced, for the first time as the alpha heavyweight in the world, Anthony Joshua won’t own the headlines nor will he be the sole focus pertaining to the heavyweight division.

Like him or loathe him, Tyson Fury’s return has provided the division with an infusion of anticipation. And Joshua will ultimately benefit financially as a fight between him and the Fury-Wilder winner becomes that much bigger and lucrative for all the parties involved.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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What Are You Up To, Paddy Barnes?

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Paddy Barnes

For all the hullabaloo about Tyson Fury and his victim elect Francesco Pianeta in Belfast, Northern Ireland this weekend; for all the “Irish Eyes Are Smiling” rhetoric surrounding the return of Carl Frampton to Windsor Park, where he, too, will defeat an overmatched opponent in Luke Jackson; for all that and the barely concealed excitement with which writers and promoters crane their necks at the futures of both these men – for all that, the most intriguing and competitive fight on this Saturday Night’s big “Norn Iron” card is the rampantly ambitious attempt by Paddy Barnes to win a title-strap against Cristofer Rosales (27-3) in just his sixth contest.

This might not be quite Vasily Lomachenko taking on Orlando Salido in his second fight but Rosales, just twenty-three years old and fighting out of Nicaragua, will not be visiting Northern Irish shores to lose. In fact, the TBRB rank him as the worlds #2 flyweight, second only to veteran Donnie Nietes. Flyweight’s radiance may be on the wane but becoming the second best fighter at 112lbs is no small matter, no matter the drain being inflicted upon the division by super-flyweight, the new home of the fashionable small man. Rosales earned the right, and Barnes will have to take it from him.

Like Lomachenko, Barnes is a storied amateur, a two-time Commonwealth gold medalist and two-time Olympic bronze medalist.  Prior to his third swipe at Olympic glory, Barnes turned in a sterling performance in the World Series of Boxing, once controversial for straddling the amateur and professional codes so comfortably, now  seen as nothing more (nor less) than a nursery for top-class amateurs who are ready to mount an assault on the professional ranks.

Barnes began his assault on the professional ranks in the traditional way, beating up overmatched, underfed opposition with losing records.  In 2017 he staged his fifth fight, his fourth in Belfast, against Elie Quezada (21-6-3) who represented something of a step up, though to nothing like world-level where many were sure Barnes was headed.

Even against his taller, heavier, more experienced, switch-hitting opponent, Barnes looked good that night, feinting with the jab behind organized pressure-footwork, opening up shots to the body with jabs, outs-squabbling his rangy opponent when Quezada decided to throw. In the second, investment in the body paid early dividends as a withering short right-hand to the torso married earlier work done with the left hook to achieve a knockdown and nine-count. A ten count at the very end of the sixth was earned with a left-uppercut to the by then tenderized body of an overmatched opponent.

In between the two knockdowns there were naturally issues, the kind experienced by all raw prospects. For that’s what Barnes is, at thirty-one years of age and carrying an armful of amateur medals; professional fighting is different.

So it should be noted that Barnes repeatedly strayed low, and was so paranoid about his inability to keep his punches north of the borderline he apologized to the referee on one occasion without being warned. He hit Quezada when he was down after the first knockdown. He has issues with temperament that need fights to iron out.

More pertinently he was hit, often, by an opponent who was not afraid to trade with him.  Barnes is not a puncher. Quick and accurate, he’s very capable of hurting his opponents but not of turning them away or, as a rule, concussing them. This is problematic and demands careful attention by style, but Barnes does not box like a man who can seek but cannot destroy. He brings speedy pressure, using his quickness and natural balance to unseat an opponent and turn him, all while throwing fast combinations which tantalize between slickness and indeterminate.   Like Rocky Marciano, Barnes has a “land and it’ll do” rule of combat, unlike Rocky Marciano he’s not breaking any bones while he does it.

How is Rosales, a legitimately world class opponent, going to handle all this?

A possible clue lies in another fight Quezada lost. Also a Nicaraguan, last March he met Rosales over ten rounds in their shared hometown of Managua. Rosales won in a fun, bruising fight but was unable to stop his countryman despite throwing and landing a large volume of punches; the judges, a little unkindly I thought, awarded only a split decision but it was interesting that Barnes was able to get Quezada out of there and Rosales was not.

Nevertheless, Rosales was at a more advanced stage of his career and was rewarded (only after defeating the unbeaten Italian Mohammed Obbadi in Italy) with a shot at the strap held by the latest Japanese wonderkid, Daigo Higa. 15-0 with fifteen consecutive knockouts, Higa was favored to win that fight but after struggling with the weight was badly beaten by a vicious Rosales.

Much of this was put off on to Higa’s indiscipline on the scales, but Rosales was exceptional that night in Yokohama. Aggressive and direct, he is a big, big flyweight, pushing 5’7 and sporting a reach of nearly 71” by BoxRec. Rosales does little to favor this reach advantage. He is loose with his selected leads, booming over trailing right hands from outside and sometimes shortening up his own jab by stepping in; on the other hand he loves and administers serious punishment on the inside. Rosales is delightfully old-fashioned in his attitude to his physical advantages and is adapt with both hook and uppercut.

He used both of these to his advantage against Higa, positively bullying him in the eighth, before brutalizing him with his left hand in the ninth.  His corner pulled him after little more than a minute of that round.

Reviewing this footage, the right pick is absolutely clear: it’s Rosales. Bigger, he is probably the puncher in the fight, certainly the more experienced of the two, and he was equal to the relentless body assault Higa mounted early in their fight; but there’s more.

Rosales does not have a spotless record in the UK. One year before his defeat of Higa, he was being out-boxed by the less talented of the two Selby brothers, Andrew. Andrew Selby weathered a dramatic and forceful storm from the Nicaraguan late, but my impression was that he was good for his points win. Two years previous to this, Khalid Yafai, who holds a strap up at 115lbs, defeated him over eight rounds in another tough scrap.

Rosales travels well but not to the UK, and my impression while checking in with friends who follow the smaller men was that his reputation was firmer abroad than upon these shores.

What to make of this web of intrigue?  Has Barnes overstepped in agreeing to fight Rosales so soon based upon a week British rep? Or has Rosales falsely enhanced his status by beating up a weight-drained, crestfallen Higa? Is Rosales too big for Barnes? Or is his propensity for letting wasp-like, whip-crack fighters like Barnes inside a disaster of a style-matchup and one which Barnes, who has slightly faster hands, is primed to take advantage of?

Here’s the truth: I don’t know. I’ve had this fight under the microscope all last week and can’t pick a winner. Just when I think some crucial aspect has been revealed to me it is counter-balanced by some snippet of information from the other camp, or spied on the often single-camera video that spills out of Nicaragua.

I suspect the fight itself will be a thriller though. Both are busy, both have proven punch resistance, both come to fight, both want to mix it up close. The hand that is raised may be the one that is most tempered, the one most ready to shy away from what is natural. Can Rosales spear Barnes on the outside, making him pay for every step? Can Barnes resist the temptation to rush and use his superior speed to close the reach and height gap by staging a sometime counter-punching offense?

With all due love and respect to Tyson Fury, perhaps my favorite active fighter, and Carl Frampton, the man of the moment for the rampant Belfast fans, finding the answer to the above questions is the main reason I’ll be tuning in.

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