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2017 Latino Boxing Round-Up: The Good, the Bad and the Rest

The year of 2017 is gone, and it has been a bittersweet one for Latino fighters across the world. We’ve gone from having a Nicaraguan flyweight at the very top

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bittersweet

The year of 2017 is gone, and it has been a bittersweet one for Latino fighters across the world. We’ve gone from having a Nicaraguan flyweight at the very top of the pound-for-pound ranks to seeing some of the biggest names in boxing in decades retire without affording us the pleasure of one last epic battle to watch. Sure, the future looks as bright as ever, but 2017 will be remembered as one of those “change of guard” years in which everything we took for granted is gone and the entire field is on rebuilding mode from day one – for better or worse. Here are some of the highlights of this year’s activity in the Spanish-speaking portion of the world of boxing:

Gonzalez Hits Rock Bottom: Estrada and Cuadras Lurk Behind the Throne

The lower weight divisions continue giving us the best possible Latino fighters out there, as usual, but this year was special. With the advent of HBO’s “Superfly” card back in September, not only did we get a star-studded lineup of great Latino fighters that used to be buried in undercards and late-night, weekday events, we got a lineup of bona fide superstars getting a spotlight of their own. Too bad it started with the beginning of the end of former pound-for-pound king’s Roman Gonzalez’s career at the hands of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, but the superb performances by Juan Francisco Estrada and Carlos Cuadras in their closely disputed co-main event suggests that Rungvisai’s crown will not rest on his head for too long. Along with Zolani Tete and the still relevant Brian Viloria and Omar Narvaez, among others, the super flyweight division will give us some of the best fights our money can buy in 2018, and both Cuadras and Estrada will be up there rumbling with the best – and hopefully coming out on top of the pack.

Canelo Got the Wins, Not the Credit

If you’re told that you only have to beat two fighters to solidify your claim as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, and you do that, you’re done, right? You’re instantly respected and acknowledged as a force to be reckoned with. Well, not for everyone. Mexican superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez did just that, beating his countryman Julio Cesar Chavez decisively in May and then fighting to a disputed draw that many people (including some of his most vocal detractors) saw him win against Gennady Golovkin. And yet, no cigar at the end. Are Mexican fans the only ones badly biased against the Freckled Boy Wonder, or is it a worldwide disease that blurs the vision of boxing fans of all persuasions who refuse to give Canelo his due?

Marquez Retired Without Throwing a Punch

He may have been known as a volume puncher, but that doesn’t mean he had to continue punching beyond the call of duty. After searching for viable foes and venues for his farewell bout for the better part of the year, the legendary Juan Manuel Marquez simply announced his retirement with no fanfare at all. And who can blame him? Marquez learned a hard lesson during his long fighting years: regardless of how many punches you throw and land in a fight, if the judges feel “inclined” towards the other guy, you’re going home with no W. And as the wiser, most patient fighter in his generation, he waited for the perfect moment to retire with the same poise with which he patiently waited for Manny to charge forward before landing his picture-perfect Cross Heard ‘Round the World. With a job as a sportscaster already in full flight, the choice was already made.

Cotto Retired With a Loss

Here’s the living lesson of Marquez’s cautionary tale: if you are not ready for another fight, why risk your legacy in a meaningless final bout? As the pre-ordained Savior of Puerto Rican that he always was (whether he liked it or not), Cotto has carried the weight of being the biggest star in a boxing-crazy island with some reluctance through the years, and when he made the decision to call it quits he also decided to unburden himself from the crown he inherited from Tito Trinidad and so many others in an official ceremony, with no heir to the throne in sight. The result was not the one his fans expected, as they packed the Madison Square Garden to see their idol unceremoniously losing to a solid contender in Sadam Ali while also demonstrating that, win or lose, Cotto had simply overstayed his welcome at the sport that made him a star. His honesty and forthcoming attitude inside and outside the ring will be sorely missed, but they would have been missed just as much without this pointless final appearance.

Salido Came and Went and Came Back Again

Since we’re talking about retirement, let’s discuss Orlando Salido’s unique exiting strategy, also known as “the backstroke.” A forward-charging fighter if there ever was one, Salido has always been, for better or worse, a runaway train inside the ring, and since he holds an upset win over top pound-for-pound entrant and boxing connoisseur darling Vasyl Lomachenko, he figured that all he needed in order to keep his chances of another crack at facing the Ukranian boy wonder was to stay busy and wait for the right offer to come along. Well, he got busy with the wrong businessman, evidently, as Miguel Roman dismantled him in a ten-rounder in December to send him into retirement – however temporarily. Sensing that the chance of his dream rematch with Loma was now even closer after a defeat against a credible opponent, Salido announced his unretirement (or unannounced his retirement?) and put his name back up on the board for the 2018 Lomachenko Sweepstakes. Not sure whether he’ll get it or not, but that has not stopped Salido from this final display of un-classiness.

Berchelt is on an Unstoppable Surge

Yes, the lower weights are Latino-Southeast Asian territory. But anything above 130 is fair play for anyone, anywhere. The junior lightweight division may belong to Vasyl Lomachenko, but the threats are palpable, and his self-imposed, half-jokingly title of “No Mas Chenko” will be put to the test by a few fighters who are anything but quitters. And if he can stay at 130 for much longer, I’d say that Miguel Berchelt is the leader of the pack. The 26-year-old Mexican WBC titlist is as close to his peak as he will ever be, fresh from two FOTY performances in 2017 and getting ready to take on veteran Cristian Mijares in February. If it ever happens, it will be a mega-fight for November-ish or beyond, but it will definitely be worth the wait.

Linares is Poised for Big Things – but Mikey is Taking the Crown

One step above, things get really interesting for the new boy wonder of boxing. Lomachenko is definitely moving up to 135 someday soon, and the prospect of a bout against Jorge Linares is enough to make me hold my breath in anticipation (yes, I still think Linares can rise to the occasion and become one of the best Latino fighters of his generation, and maybe more). But it is at 140 where all eyes are centered as Mikey Garcia makes his bid not only to hold his ground as the best junior welterweight in the world, but also as a man poised to climb the pound-for-pound lists in unstoppable fashion. Only a handful of matchups in his natural division could help him accomplish this, and a jump to 147 will be in order for him to capture greater respect. But the talent is there, and the world is watching.

Cuellar Disappeared, as did Verdejo

Amidst the explosion of young talent around the Latin American portion of the world, two notorious disappearances have baffled experts and casual fans alike. Squandering what looked like a still promising opportunity to become his country’s “other” current champion (at the end of 2017, Brian Castaño’s 154-pound title was the only one), Argentina’s Jesus Cuellar simply took an entire year off for absolutely no apparent reason. Injuries, delays and cancellations may have played a part in his disappearance, but being a fighter with almost no following of his own, relocated and fully committed to training in Southern California, and being part of a booming division should have been enough to make Cuellar come out of his shell to start taking on anybody with a pulse. And what can be said about former-future superstar Felix Verdejo, who overextended the “build-up” part of his career so much that we’re starting to think he was just a bunch of unfinished bricks that, paradoxically, would probably break in two upon impact when being punched with enough power. 2018 will tell us whether these two still valuable players are capable of soaring back to the heights they promised us to reach.

Is this the Year of Ortiz?

With rare exceptions (most of them hailing from Cuba), the world of Latino boxing rarely produces someone worth noticing above 168 pounds. But this time there is a legitimate threat in the most prestigious division in boxing, and it is hard not to feel excited about it. Sure, Luis Ortiz is not young and his career has been marred by suspensions and other setbacks, but those are the things that also conspire to give the towering Cuban heavyweight a sense of urgency in his quest for the biggest prize in sports. Will he be able to achieve what other Cuban greats such as Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon were unable to even try due to their country’s restrictive policies on professional sports? His strengths are many, and his potential foes’ weaknesses are tailor-made for him. All he appears to need is a chance to fight for a legitimate, linear, undisputed version of the heavyweight belt, and this could end up being the Year of Ortiz, indeed. If he manages to stay out of trouble and focuses on the prize, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen.

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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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