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Three Punch Combo: Logical Options for Andre Ward if he Returns and More

Squared circle and this week Andre Ward made some statements on Twitter that seemed to indicate he was seriously contemplating a comeback.

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Comeback

THREE PUNCH COMBO — In 2017 we saw a slew of high profile retirements in the sport of boxing. Big names such as Floyd Mayweather Jr., Miguel Cotto, Wladimir Klitschko, Timothy Bradley and Andre Ward all announced that they were stepping away from the ring. As we all know, retirements in boxing can be short-lived. Some of the aforementioned will undoubtedly compete again inside the squared circle and this week Andre Ward made some statements on Twitter that seemed to indicate he was seriously contemplating a comeback.

So if Ward does return, the question then becomes who would he be targeting? In his post on Twitter, Ward indicated that he weighed 199 pounds. Also, Ward has indicated in the past that he may one day fight as a heavyweight. With that stated, here are three strong possibilities should he return to the sport.

The Winner of Tony Bellew-David Haye II

Facing the winner of Bellew-Haye II makes sense logically and financially. If Ward makes a move to heavyweight, he will likely target a smaller heavyweight to test the waters. Neither Bellew (pictured on the right) nor Haye are big heavyweights and both began their respective careers in a lower weight class. Also, both are big names in the UK. Thus, if Ward fights the winner in the UK the fight will sell big and will garner Ward a sizable payday. Ward is also faster, more athletically gifted and has less ring wear than either Bellew (with whom he appeared in the movie “Creed”) or Haye.  So Ward would be facing a smallish heavyweight for a big purse in front of a large audience in a fight that he would conceivably hold many physical advantages.

Bryant Jennings

If Ward wants to stay in the US, Bryant Jennings could be someone he targets. Though Jennings is a natural heavyweight, he is not a big heavyweight. He is a name with whom many boxing fans are familiar, but has enough flaws that someone like Ward, on paper, should handle. Jennings is also with Top Rank which has an output deal with ESPN and this would be the type of fight they want to put on the network. It would give Ward much more exposure than fighting on premium cable. If Ward does not want to go overseas and can accept a smaller purse fighting Jennings, this would be a logical move.

BJ Flores

Flores, who has fought a good part of his career as a cruiserweight, would be a step down from Jennings, but is a small heavyweight with some name recognition. He cannot come close to matching the speed or athleticism of Ward, so this would be sort of a tune-up fight for Andre similar to his contest with Paul Smith in 2015 which was designed to shake off the ring rust and test the waters at a higher weight division.

Why Is There No U.S. Television For The WBSS?

U.S. fight fans were left scrambling this past weekend trying to find a way to watch the highly anticipated World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight semi-final between Oleksandr Usyk and Mairis Briedis. There was no U.S. television, nor was there a legal online live stream for fans in the U.S. to catch this fight. Why so? Consider these points:

Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza was in attendance at the initial press conference detailing plans for the WBSS last March. Espinoza had worked closely in the past with one of the tournament’s organizers, Richard Schaefer, and thus many in the industry felt Showtime would be the U.S. television broadcast partner for the tournament. But no deal ever emerged.

One reason could date back to the Super Six World Boxing Classic broadcast by Showtime from 2009-2011. Andre Ward, who won the tournament, became a bona fide star but would not fight on Showtime again. Likewise, Carl Froch rose to prominence in part because of the tournament but would not appear on Showtime’s air after the tournament concluded. Showtime may have been concerned that the WBSS would also turn into a springboard for the participants to gain valuable exposure and then have their talents showcased on rival networks.

Another reason could be the cost relevant to other broadcast opportunities for Showtime. Since the initial announcement of the WBSS, the PBC has brought most of their fighters back to Showtime. And Showtime has taken a strong interest in the career of budding heavyweight star Anthony Joshua. Espinoza may have simply determined that the use of their dollars would be better spent on the above and not the WBSS.

As for HBO, well Schaefer burned some bridges with the network several years ago and things do not appear to have mended. Nothing is ever out of the question, but for now HBO does not appear ready to do business with Schaefer again.

The PBC Effect:

The other issue why the WBSS has had a difficult time finding a U.S. television outlet relates to the PBC and their effect on the boxing industry in the United States. In 2015, PBC cut deals with several networks where they bought time to showcase boxing cards. It became a widespread industry practice and smaller promoters were also forced into such buy-time agreements to get their cards air time.

So when the WBSS went searching for a U.S. TV partner, networks may have initially been eager to take them on board thinking this was another buy-time arrangement. However, when the WBSS insisted on a license fee, many networks probably shied away because so many other recent boxing events were done on a buy-time deal. Why would a network consider buying boxing now when just recently they and others were getting paid for the right to put a boxing show on television?

Whatever the case, there is no U.S. television deal in place at the moment for the remaining fights in the WBSS tournaments. Unless something suddenly changes, U.S. boxing fans will be left in the dark, unable to see some high level fights scheduled for the first half of 2018.

Could Lucas Matthysse’s Performance Help Thaw Boxing’s Political Divide?

In a performance that can best be described as lackluster, Lucas Matthysse (39-4, 36 KO’s) knocked out Thailand’s Tewa Kiram (38-1, 28 KO’s) in the eighth round to capture a version of the welterweight title. Matthysse looked sluggish for most of the contest and may have started to show signs of an aging fighter despite the knockout victory. The performance will probably lead his team into seeking out a big fight next otherwise risk losing the opportunity to fight one of the many big names at 147. To do so, political boundaries in the sport will need to be crossed.

Taking a look at the big names in a stacked 147-pound weight division, most like Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter, and Danny Garcia are affiliated with PBC. Some, like Manny Pacquiao and soon-to-be 147- pounder Terence Crawford, are with Top Rank. Due to frosty relationships, Golden Boy has rarely matched its fighters in recent years with fighters from PBC or Top Rank. And HBO, which televises Golden Boy’s bigger fights, recently saw Top Rank take its stable to ESPN and has not really opened its door to PBC.

Matthysse is a name and now has a belt at 147. He also looks vulnerable. Many of the big names at 147 will probably be lining up to fight him next. Shawn Porter, for example, may see Matthysse as a way to earn a nice check and move a step closer to garnering a rematch with Keith Thurman. Likewise for Danny Garcia. Or Manny Pacquiao may want to fight a title-holder with a name later this year, but one he’d feel confident he’d have a big edge. That’d be Matthysse.

Big names at 147 are going to put pressure on those with whom they are affiliated to get the Matthysse fight. Matthysse’s team will have options but all those will involve crossing a political line that is rarely crossed. However, they will have no choice if they are to get Matthysse a big money fight. In an odd way, Lucas Matthysse may have just opened lines of communication that may thaw the longstanding political divide amongst various factions in the sport.

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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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