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SPECIAL FOR TSS: The Crown Fits, by David Linden

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“ You start a fighter in kindergarten, and hope that one day, if they’ve got the ability, heart and desire, they’ll graduate with a master’s degree—a championship.”
–Manager and trainer, Angelo Dundee

On an autumn evening more than 30 years ago, Sugar Ray Leonard won the World Boxing Council world welterweight championship by lifting the crown from defending champion Wilfred Benitez with a technical knockout at 2:54 of the fifteenth and final round before a capacity crowd of 4,589 and a national television audience at Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada.

With the champion trapped along the ropes after suffering his second knockdown of the fight, and Leonard on the attack with both fists, referee, Carlos Padilla Jr., called a halt to the hostilities with six seconds remaining in the bout to spare Benitez further punishment and awarded the undefeated challenger his 26th consecutive victory and 17th by knockout.

At the time of the stoppage, Leonard wheeled around, sprinted across the ring, and vaulted upon the second tier of ropes in a neutral corner—arms raised high above his head in victory. The elated new champion then jumped to the floor and sprang into the arms of his co-trainer and advisor, Janks Morton.

“And there is a new world welterweight champion!” long-time boxing commentator, the late Howard Cosell, declared with gusto to a television audience estimated at some 55 million viewers tuned into the fight live on the ABC television network.

“First of all, I made a million dollars (and) I was in a different tax bracket,” said Leonard in recalling his triumphant leap onto the ropes.

“I mean, the fight was huge.  It was Las Vegas. It was at Caesars Palace—it was like, ‘Wow!’

“I think I just out-hustled (Benitez), I out-fought him. My hand speed—I think I was a little faster than he was, but he was just so slick. It took every ounce of me to beat him. He had the experience, but I had the heart and determination, and I think that’s why I prevailed.”

For Leonard, the title-winning effort capped a busy 1979 in which the Palmer Park, Maryland welterweight fought and won nine times while registering eight knockouts in being honored as “Fighter of the Year” by The Ring magazine.

Change in plans:

Ironically, after punctuating an outstanding amateur career with a gold medal in the 139-pound light-welterweight division at the XXI Olympiad at Montreal, Canada, in 1976, the then-20-year-old future world champion never intended on a professional boxing career.  After winning the Olympic title, Leonard believed that a college degree from the University of Maryland was in his future until family health issues forced a change in plans.

“Being in the Olympics in ’76 was truly an incredible accomplishment, and going for the gold medal was awesome, it was incredible,” said Leonard. “To have made it that far and then be just one fight from bringing home a gold medal was just unbelievable.”

After recording decisions over Ulf Carlson of Sweden, Valery Limasov of the Soviet Union, Clinton McKenzie of Great Britain, Ulrich Beyer of East Germany, and Kazimier Szczerba of Poland, Leonard was matched against the heavy-punching Andres Aldama of Cuba for the gold medal on July 31, 1976.

The American pounded out a unanimous 5-0 verdict to become an Olympic champion and closed out his amateur career with a record of 145-5.

“I was somewhat the underdog because Andres Aldama had just annihilated everybody,” Leonard remembered. “He was so dominant. He wouldn’t just knock guys out; he would knock guys senseless. He put guys on their back; he was such a powerful puncher—a tall, southpaw.

“Even one of my local papers at home in D.C. predicted that I would lose, that I had no chance of winning. But I beat the guy; I beat the guy with hand speed and with foot movement. It was a big win.

“My mom and dad were there, my family was there. My dad was sick at the time and to have him sitting ringside was just so inspirational.”

With his father suffering from spinal meningitis and tuberculosis, the Olympic titlist felt obligated to put plans for higher education aside and explore the monetary potential of the professional ring.

“I had no intention of turning professional,” Leonard explained. “I had received a scholarship to the University of Maryland, so I was going to college. The only reason I turned pro was because of my dad’s illness. He went into a coma once we got home (from Canada). I just felt I was the only one in the family that could bring in some quick money to pay off the hospital bills and I did just that—that was my intention. So I turned pro, and made a couple dollars, paid off the bills, my dad regained his health, and I said, ‘You know what? This is not a bad job,’ and I continued.”

Managed by Angelo Dundee, and trained by Dave Jacobs, Morton and Jose ‘Pepe’ Correa, the former Olympic gold medallist received a then-record $ 42,500 debut purse for his CBS-televised professional baptism on February 5, 1977 –a unanimous six-round decision against 8-11-2 Luis ‘The Bull’ Vega in Baltimore, Maryland.

During his first 33 months as a professional leading to the title bout with Benitez, Leonard fought on the major television networks of ABC, CBS and NBC as well as cable television’s HBO to help the boxer record, according to one estimate, approximately three million dollars in professional ring earnings prior to challenging for the world title.

Different level:

When asked if there was a bout in which he realized that he could be champion, Leonard pointed to his second professional fight held in Baltimore on May 14, 1977—a unanimous six-round decision against the 10-1 Willie ‘Fireball’ Rodriguez.

“I think that one fight that really taught me that (professional boxing) is a whole different level than amateur boxing was my second professional fight. (Rodriguez) not only introduced me to the fact that if you get a tooth knocked out, you can get cosmetic surgery to have it fixed, he nearly knocked me out.”

“It was an uppercut,” Leonard said in recalling the punch that Rodriguez delivered to put him in serious trouble. “A big, vicious uppercut and I remember that like it was yesterday.

“He had the experience, but I had the hand speed, I had the determination and I think that was what pulled me through.”

The bout with Rodriguez also showed Leonard that he would be better suited to the heavier 147-pound welterweight division rather than the lighter 140-pound junior welterweight classification.

“I think that fight also indicated that fighting at 140 was just a bit too much because I was getting bigger and trying to make 140 was senseless because it was taking away the fun of training and the joy and the pleasures of getting in shape because I was so concerned about making the 140 weight limit.”

Championship dreams:

In the fall of 1979, Leonard, rated as the world’s number-one welterweight contender by The Ring magazine, boasted a record of 25-0 with 16 knockouts, and was ready to challenge for the WBC world championship.

The 15-round Benitez-Leonard title bout marked the first time in boxing history that fighters outside of the heavyweight division would earn purses of seven figures.

Leonard’s payday for challenging the 21-year-old, undefeated champion was a reported one million dollars.

For his first professional fight as a 15-year-old in 1973, WBC welterweight champion Wilfred Benitez received a purse of $50 dollars for his one-round knockout of Hiram Santiago in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

On March 6, 1976, Benitez became the youngest champion in professional boxing history when, as a 17 year-old teenager, he took a 25-0 record into the ring in San Juan and captured a 15-round split-decision and the World Boxing Association junior welterweight title from the highly respected, 30-year-old defending champion, Antonio ‘Kid Pambele’ Cervantes, a fighter who held a record of 73-9-3 and was making his 11th title defense.

After successfully defending the WBA 140-pound crown three times, Benitez moved up in weight and added a second world championship to his resume when he won the WBC welterweight championship from titlist, Carlos Palomino, on a 15-round split verdict in San Juan on January 14, 1979.

The Bronx, New York-born title-holder, sporting a record of 38-0-1 with 25 knockouts and fighting out of San Just, Puerto Rico, earned a reported $140,000 for his first successful defense of the WBC crown, a 15-round unanimous decision over Harold Weston on March 25, 1979, and would now receive $ 1.2 million in compensation for risking the title against the 23-year old Leonard.

“I’m not scared of nobody,” the champ was quoted as saying before the bout by the Associated Press. “I’m the champion. That’s why I fight the greatest. I beat Pambele and Palomino and when I beat Leonard I’ll fight (former world lightweight king and welterweight contender) Roberto Duran,” said Benitez who would be elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996.

“Benitez was one of those rare fighters that’s so gifted, it’s sickening,” Leonard said. “So elusive, great hand-eye coordination. He’d slip a punch just by a millimeter. A pretty solid puncher. Not really a knockout puncher, but he still could hurt you. Just a smart, technical fighter. Benitez had no weak points, he had no weak areas. As much as we watched tapes, there were no weak points. You had to catch him (and) you had to make that happen.”

Preparation:

“I trained very, very hard for the fight,” said Leonard who had never fought past ten rounds prior to the title match.

“When I trained, I (sparred) five-minute rounds sometimes with 30-seconds of rest. Going down the stretch, (of a fight) I had the ability to become rejuvenated. I had great recuperative powers, and I could bounce back—and going down the stretch, really engage in some (effective punching) combinations.”

The challenger, a 3 ½ -1 betting favorite to take Benitez’ crown, felt no need to increase his regular daily roadwork mileage for the demanding 15-round championship distance.

“I always felt, ‘What’s the difference between running ten miles or running five miles?’ You won’t go any more rounds than I. If I run five miles a day and you run 15 miles a day, does that mean you can go 20 rounds? No. It’s just a way of training.

“I would run like I’m fighting. Every now and then I’d sprint, jog a little bit, slow down, run backwards, run sideways—and I got that from Muhammad Ali, he gave me that advice. ‘Run like you fight’,” said Leonard in crediting the former three-time world heavyweight champion.

Fight night:

For his second title defense, the 5’10” Benitez weighed in at 144 ½ pounds while the 5’10” challenger came in at an even 146.

After entering the 19’6” x 19’6” ring, both welterweights participated in psychological warfare as they engaged in a face-to-face stare-down prior to the opening bell.
“I think there was such a mental intensity in that fight when we stared each other down. I was pissed, (Benitez) had fun,” said Leonard in recalling the moment. “I learned so much from that fight—that you’ve got to be calm. Always be calm. My first big championship fight, I’m almost gnawing through my mouthpiece, but (Benitez) was so ‘Cool-hand-Luke’ and that’s what made him such a great fighter—his breathing patterns, his poise, his coolness.”

The first big moment of the evening came late in the third round, when a left jab from the challenger deposited the champion on the seat of his trunks.

“It was more of a flash-flood knockdown,” Leonard said. “He wasn’t really hurt; I think I just caught him at the perfect time with the perfect punch. It wasn’t a big punch per se, but it was a punch that just caught him right on the button and put him down.”

In Round 6, an accidental collision of heads resulted in a welt on Leonard’s forehead and left Benitez with a gash that oozed blood down the champion’s forehead and face.

“It happened so quickly,” Leonard said. “It startled me because when you collide with your head, that’s pretty traumatizing. I was shaken up a little bit. Thank God I wasn’t cut, but I looked at him and he had like a little gash in the middle of his forehead. He smiled it off.”

Leonard praised the effectiveness of the champion’s defensive skills.

“When I was fighting him, it was like a mirror. I’ve never missed that many punches. So that told me that he had that elusiveness. It’s like a mirage—one time he’s there, the next time he’s not. So slick, so talented. It was just so difficult to land combinations with him. But the good thing about it, when I threw combinations, I may miss two, three punches, but the fourth punch would come in and catch him.”

Round 11 saw a left hook, followed by a right hand that knocked Benitez’ mouthpiece out as Leonard had the champion in trouble along the ropes.

“I think my hand speed and the number of punches we threw; I think I just wore him down. Because it’s 15 rounds of just punches and punches. I tried left hook, uppercut, I tried everything in the book. Whatever landed, I tried.”

With one round remaining, the challenger enjoyed a clear lead on all three official ringside scorecards. Judge Harry Gibbs scored the contest 136-134; judge Ray Solis saw the fight 137-133, and judge Art Lurie’s card read 137-130, meaning that Benitez would have to knock Leonard out in order to retain the title.

“I was totally exhausted, just spent,” Leonard remembered about heading into the final stanza. “Just so physically tired. I knew it was the last round and I was giving it all I had. (Benitez) was giving it all he had. I ended up catching him with some combinations and the referee jumped in.”

With approximately 30 seconds left in the bout, both fighters exchanged uppercuts on the inside. Leonard missed with a chopping right but followed with a left hook that caught Benitez high on the head and dropped the champion to one knee.

With crimson leaking from his forehead, Benitez rose and walked to a neutral corner while taking an eight-count. When the fight resumed, the challenger pounced on his foe and forced Padilla to intervene.

“I stayed on top of him, in the corner,” Leonard remembered. “And the referee was seeing that he wasn’t really punching back, and jumped in.”

In the aftermath of the stoppage, Benitez walked over to Leonard and embraced his conqueror in the crowded ring.

“(Leonard) won good,” Benitez told the press following the fight. “I don’t have any question. No excuse. This tremendous champion—he won the fight.”

“I’ve always respected him, he always respected me. There was mutual respect,” Leonard said. “He was a true, true champion.”

Recovery:

“After the fight I got back to my room (at Caesars).  I was just so exhausted. It took that much out of me to beat Benitez. I went to my room and unfortunately they put me in a tub of hot water and I dehydrated and I had to be rushed to the hospital.

“You don’t put a man who went 15 rounds in a tub of hot water. Your body is already overheated. So (if) you put yourself in hot water, you are going to start to draw out the little bit of fluids in your body.”

The new champion received intravenous fluid treatment during his hospital stay.

“It was just to hydrate myself. I was there in the hospital for like an hour or two. No big deal.”

With a portion of the purse from his first title fight, Leonard purchased some new transportation and had a gift for his parents.

“I think I bought a Mercedes, (and) I bought my mom and dad a new house too. That was my treat (to myself).”

Leonard, who finished his professional career with a mark of 36-3-1, would be elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997, having won professional world championships in the welterweight, junior middleweight, middleweight, super-middleweight and light-heavyweight divisions.

When asked where his title-winning effort against Wilfred Benitez ranks among his boxing accomplishments, the champion said: “That’s up there. That (victory) started me, with my confidence and with the experience I got from fighting Benitez, to capture many more titles. So that (bout) ranks very high up there.”


Bibliography:

1.    Interview with Ray Leonard. December 2008.
2.    Goldstein, Alan 1981. A Fistful of Sugar: The Sugar Ray Leonard Story P. 119.
3.    David Condon, Chicago Tribune 2, December 1979. World Champ Sugar Ray Quiets Skeptics.
4.    Associated Press Report, Wisconsin State Journal, 30, November 1979. Champion Benitez Must Prove Ability In Bout With Sugar Ray.
5.    Ross Newhan, Los Angeles Times 1, December 1979. Another Sugar Ray Rules Welterweights.
6.    Michael Katz, New York Times 1, December 1979. Leonard Stops Benitez In 15 To Win Welterweight Title.
7.    Red Smith, New York Times 30, November 1979. Appeal of Sugar Ray Leonard The Greatest Thing Since Ali.
8.    Gary Deeb, Chicago Tribune 14, December 1979. Surprise KO: Boxing Still Attractive Prime-time Draw.
9.    The Ring magazine: June/December 1979/ March 1980.
10.    Video: Original telecast of the Wilfred Benitez-Ray Leonard WBC world welterweight championship title fight: Aired Friday, November 30th 1979 by the American Broadcasting Company.
11.    Roberts, B.James and Skutt, Alexander G. 2006 The Boxing Register: International Boxing Hall of Fame Record Book: 4th Edition PP. 295, 343-344.
12.    Website of the International Boxing Hall of Fame: IBHOF.com
13.    Website: Boxrec.com
14.    Website: Sports Reference.com: Olympic Sports.

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In Dismantling Povetkin, Joshua Recaptured His Swag among the Heavyweights

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He was in against a very crafty and experienced opponent in former WBA titlist Alexander Povetkin 34-2 (24). And although he was troubled by the dangerous Russian fighting small as he tried to inch his way in and time him, AJ adjusted well and started to take the initiative and dropped and stopped Povetkin in the seventh round, retaining his WBA, WBO, and IBF heavyweight titles and thus becoming the first fighter to ever stop Povetkin, something Wladimir Klitschko failed to do.

During the fight AJ was forced back. He had to adapt to Povetkin making him punch down and that caused him to be a little tentative, especially after being bloodied from a broken nose in the first round. And early on, AJ was a little confused and busy trying to keep Povetkin occupied from outside so he couldn’t get in on him. His most effective weapon in doing such was his left jab, delivered to the head or body, although the fight really turned when he began putting his one-two together. Then after a fairly evenly-paced bout, AJ slowed some with the hope it would lure Povetkin to close in a little harder, and he did.

As Povetkin, who came to fight, became more assertive, he became more vulnerable. AJ found the openings for his big right hand and left hook. With the first really solid right hand that bounced off his chin, Povetkin buckled and instinctively went back. Joshua pursued him and then, with near Joe Louis-like accuracy, put his right hands and hooks together, along with a beautiful right to the body in the middle of the assault and finished his game opponent.

Once again it was shown that trading with AJ is almost certain suicide. Povetkin was in great shape and would’ve been a handful for any other heavyweight in the world because he no doubt brought his A-game. Sometimes it takes AJ a little while to get going, and if you don’t do anything to bother him or wake him up, he doesn’t fight with the urgency of a “Smokin” Joe Frazier. However, when you wake him up and force him to cut loose, he’s so dangerous that he doesn’t need too many clean shots to end it. And making Joshua more lethal is that he has both short and inside power in both hands.

After months of hearing how Povetkin was the most serious threat to Joshua, that’s now finished business. Prior to the bout The Ring magazine rated the top six heavyweights in the world as follows…..Joshua, Wilder, Povetkin, Ortiz, Whyte and Parker, in that order. Now Joshua is 3-0 (2) versus Povetkin, Whyte and Parker which squashes the narrative that he has fought weaker opposition than WBC title holder Deontay Wilder 40-0 (39) who has only faced Ortiz among the top six.

Today, the most widely levied criticism of any elite fighter is that he didn’t fight the best man or men in his division. Fighters can’t control who their contemporaries are but they can control fighting the best of their era. Rocky Marciano’s era wasn’t stellar, but he fought every top fighter who was in line to challenge him. Floyd Mayweather fought in a stout era – the difference is an overwhelming majority of his bouts with big name opponents were strategically manipulated so that he faced them on the downside of their career – and that’s a fact, not a theory.

Forty years after his last victory in a title fight, Muhammad Ali is respected and revered as a fighter even by those who don’t claim to be a fan of his. Why? He wasn’t the most fundamental boxer in heavyweight history nor was he the biggest puncher, and not all of his fights were edge of your seat exciting. The thing that’s often cited as to why he was a marvel is that he fought the best of the best during one of the deepest eras in heavyweight history. There were a few times between 1975-77 that he held a win over every fighter ranked among The Ring magazine’s top-10. Sure he fought a few Brian London’s and Jean Pierre Coopman’s, but London was encompassed by Sonny Liston and Ernie Terrell during the 1960s and Coopman by Joe Frazier and Ken Norton during the 1970s.

Anthony Joshua hasn’t yet sniffed the greatness of Ali on many levels, but he is on the same trajectory in regards to meeting and defeating the best of his generation. By the end of this month, the WBC heavyweight title fight between Deontay Wilder and former champ Tyson Fury will likely become official with them meeting in early December. And regardless of who wins, Joshua, if he really wants to etch a great legacy, must pressure the winner to meet him in their next bout. In addition to that, he must tell his brain, aka Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn, to forget about winning the purse war if it is the only stumbling block. If the winner of Wilder-Fury is impressive, he will have earned a 50-50 split.

During the faux negotiations between the Joshua and Wilder camps this past summer the purse split was the focal point. And prior to the prospect of Wilder and Fury meeting, Joshua clearly held the better hand based on his resume and owning three titles to Wilder’s single title.  But the Wilder-Fury winner will have closed the gap and Joshua needs to be next while the fighters are at or near their prime. The fact is Joshua versus the Wilder/Fury winner will be the most widely anticipated fight in the heavyweight division since Lewis-Tyson and maybe even since Tyson-Holyfield I. The onus is on the fighters to make it happen and they both have the clout to make sure it does, especially Joshua.

Interviewed in the ring after dispatching Povetkin, AJ said it didn’t matter to him who he fought next as long as it’s Wilder or Fury, but it was obvious that he preferred Wilder. A lot depends on how Wilder fares with Fury, but until then, here’s what we know…..Alexander Povetkin and Luis Ortiz are about on the same level; having never faced each other, it’s a tossup as to who’d win. Both Joshua and Wilder scored impressive stoppages over Povetkin and Ortiz respectively…AJ needed seven rounds and Deontay needed ten rounds. During his bout with Ortiz, Wilder was knocked around the ring and had to endure a few big exchanges, some of which he came out second-best. Wilder was also nearly stopped in the seventh round but battled back, summoning great courage and reserve to win a fight he was losing. Against Povetkin, Joshua was more troubled than he was beaten up. And once he found his range and pace and began putting his punches together, the fight ultimately ended when AJ got off with his best stuff. In essence, Joshua was more impressive against Povetkin and had fewer close calls than did Wilder against Ortiz.

Between now and the time Wilder fights Tyson Fury, it’ll be debated as to who was more impressive – Joshua against Povetkin or Wilder against Ortiz; the answer is clearly Joshua for the reasons stated. Moreover, when analyzing a fight, A + B doesn’t equal C. Joshua will be favored over either Wilder or Fury, but probably along the line of 7-5 and nothing will change that.

The thing that emerged from Joshua dismantling Povetkin is that AJ recaptured some of the limelight and swag he ceded to Wilder this past March. AJ is again the fighter to beat in the heavyweight division and will probably get the bigger purse split regardless of whether he faces Wilder and Fury.

That said, he better not let the fight fall through over it!

Between 1977 and 1982, Frank Lotierzo had over 50 fights in the middleweight division. He trained at Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia under the tutelage of the legendary George Benton. Before joining The Sweet Science his work appeared in several prominent newsstand and digital boxing magazines and he hosted “Toe-to-Toe” on ESPN Radio. Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@gmail.com

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Tanaka vs. Kimora: A Monday Morning Treat For Serious Fight Fans

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Kosei Tanaka was just 4-0 the first time he was appraised on The Sweet Science back in 2015; the question then was, is Tanaka the world’s brightest boxing prospect? The question now is whether or not Tanaka is about to add a strap at a third weight to an already glittering career that has seen him annex belts at 105 and 108lbs in just his first eight fights.

Now 11-0 with seven knockouts he prepares, this coming Monday, to duel Sho Kimura in Nagoya, Japan and with a lot more than just the WBO trinket on the line.

Hearts and minds, as always, translate into dollars and yen. The winner of this all-Japanese contest will find himself buoyed in fame, glory and gold in his home country, which also happens to be one of the few places on the planet where a boxer can collect a small fortune without ever leaving his native shores. Should the winner dare to dream a wider dream, then that too can be facilitated by the win.  Even fistic denizens of boxing strongholds in Japan and Britain feel a shiver run down their spines when the words “Las Vegas headliner” are whispered into their ear.

The favored man among the hardcore in the west is Tanaka. He is still very young at just twenty-three years old and is slick and quick, what the west expects of a Japanese force. Interestingly enough, however, the Japanese seem to be leaning towards Kimura: older, at twenty-nine, armed with a superb work-rate, good power, limited technique but the conqueror of Chinese superstar Shiming Zou who he stopped in the summer of 2017. Zou may have had his bubble burst by the Thai brawler Amnat Ruenroeng in 2015, but it was Kimura who sent him stumbling into retirement and at a time when the talk was of China stealing Japan’s thunder as boxing’s home in the east.

Kimura was indeed impressive that night in Shanghai. He maintained pressure with wonderful variety, eschewing the jab, perhaps, for spells, but filling those gaps with an assortment of wonderful punches, most of all his body attack, which was persistent, withering, and apparently went unscored by two of the three judges who somehow had the Chinese ahead at the time of the eleventh round stoppage. Zou had shown a skill for flurrying while fleeing and Kimura had shown him how to fight.

Now a strapholder at 112lbs, Kimura staged two defenses in the following twelve months. The first was against Toshiyuki Igarashi, the man who beat Sonny Boy Jaro, the man who had beaten the superb champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam before a softer fight against Froilan Saludar. He won both by stoppage.

Kimura, then, rather came from nowhere but made the most of his arrival. What he displayed in all three of these fights was a determination to offer pressure and footwork educated enough to do it while taking many fewer steps than his harried opponent. A tad overrated as a puncher, I suspect, he places himself in hitting position often enough that his default fight plan – chase, harass, throw – makes him capable of hurting his opponents by way of persistence and pressure.

He left Zou, Igarashi and Saludar, broken in his wake.

In short, he is the type of opponent Kosei Tanaka has been waiting for.

There have been calls for Tanaka to be considered a pound-for-pound talent should he overcome Kimura this Monday. I understand the impulse. Tanaka, were he to triumph, would become a three-weight world champion and he hails from a boxing territory which has little direct control over the meaningful pound-for-pound lists, if such a statement is not a contradiction in terms.

In short, it is felt he would be undervalued.

Tempering these calls is the fact that he has never beaten a divisional number one and that Kimura would be, by far, the best opponent he would have bested, and the most proven. Some Tanaka opponents have come good after he defeated them, some were ranked in the lower reaches of their respective divisional top tens when he matched them, but none are scalps as impressive as those dangled by the likes of Errol Spence or Anthony Joshua, who populate the nine, ten and eleven spots in reputable lists.

But this is neither here nor there; the key is not what Kimura does not represent, it is what he does represent. He is the best that Tanaka has met and, I would argue, the first truly elite fighter that Tanaka has met. He is the litmus test and he is one with a stylistic advantage.

Tanaka can punch. Here we will find out whether or not he punches hard enough to keep Kimura off him. Personally, I doubt it and that means that Kimura is going to hand him a serious gut check.

Interestingly, it will not be Tanaka’s first. The first time I wrote about him I stressed that his chin was essentially untested. That is no longer true. Tanaka, who is reasonably sound defensively, can be lazy in minding himself and foolish in pursuing the attack.

Thai puncher Rangsan Chayanram checked him in 2017, delivering a serious eye injury among other ignominies before succumbing in nine; puncher Angel Acosta, a ranked fighter if not a great one, hit and hurt Tanaka repeatedly late in their 2017 contest. If Tanaka has been learning these lessons, expectations concerning his potential may be realized. If he is not, he will fall short. Kimura is the man to test him.

Kimura’s experience and seemingly limitless twelve-round stamina are to be pitted against Tanaka’s skill, proven heart and taut footwork. It sees a superior technician – Tanaka – who has shown a propensity for being drawn into a cruder fighter’s wheelhouse matching an aggressive stalker – Kimura – who specializes in drawing technically superior foes into knockdown-drag-out scraps.

It is framed both as a fight that is likely to finish a future pound-for-pounder’s education and a fight where a young pretender is found out by a grizzled veteran.

Best of all, it is a fight that fight fans can watch for free, simply by clicking here.  The Asian Boxing website has secured exclusive international rights to the fight and will broadcasting it, free of charge, to anyone with an internet connection. As can be seen here, the fight is due to start at 4pm Japanese time.

All the reader has to do is find out what that means for timing in their own corner of the globe and a potential fight of the year will unfold before his or her eyes free of charge.

World class boxing being broadcast for free and including two of the best below 115lbs; a stylistic crossroads contest that opens up the on-ramp to pound-for-pound recognition for at least one of the combatants – on a Monday.  All facts worth keeping in mind the next time that someone tells you boxing’s prime was any number of decades ago.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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