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The Vegas Fight Week Experience From A To Z (Part I)

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MayweatherOrtizFinalPC_Blevins4I hate the alphabet groups in boxing. But I have nothing against the alphabet itself. So, on the heels of my five days and five nights spent experiencing fight week in Las Vegas, this week’s column will lean on the alphabet as a narrative-structuring device. I’ll offer my insights on the Floyd Mayweather vs. Victor Ortiz hoopla from A to Z, sharing my opinions on the various happenings that the fight world is now buzzing about and going behind the scenes with some of the things I saw, heard, and did that I couldn’t have seen, heard, or done from the comfort of my living room:

A is for Action

I’m using “action” to mean two different things here. Primarily, I’m talking about a pay-per-view card that was as action-packed from top to bottom as any I can remember in recent years. Jessie Vargas vs. Josesito Lopez was the close, hard-fought affair I expected it to be. Erik Morales vs. Pablo Cesar Cano was 10 times the bloody, dramatic battle that anyone expected it to be. Saul Alvarez vs. Alfonso Gomez teased us with the possibility of a massive upset before delivering a sudden (perhaps too sudden) finish. And Mayweather vs. Ortiz, whatever you thought of the conclusion, produced the most memorable action of any Mayweather fight since his first clash with Jose Luis Castillo nine years ago.

But “action” also applies to gambling action, and I got an added kick out of silently rooting for the one outcome nobody else in the arena wanted to see: a draw. At 35-1 odds at the MGM Grand sports book, and with any kind of a fluky technical draw getting me paid, I couldn’t help but plunk down $20 for the opportunity to win $700. Oh, how enjoyable it would have been to pull a Mayweather and tweet a picture of my winning ticket, as well as a picture of me holding a phat stack of seven C-notes. (And perhaps using them as a flip phone on which to call my buddy 50 Cent.) But alas, it wasn’t to be. I need to stick to what I do best: acting like I know what’s going to happen in fights without actually putting any money behind my predictions.

B is for Boos

The boos rained down at the Grand Garden Arena both early and late in Saturday’s card. They echoed when Vargas was given a split decision over Lopez in the opening bout of the pay-per-view. (For the record, I had Lopez winning by a point, but this was no robbery; the fight could have gone either way.) And they reverberated again when Mayweather-Ortiz ended abruptly on a less-than-sporting (but 100-percent legal) two-punch combination that Joe Cortez learned about via the magic of instant replay. On the whole, though, we heard a lot more cheering than booing over the course of this action-packed (callback to the letter A!) night of boxing.

C is for Cano

This wasn’t quite Azumah Nelson announcing his arrival with a competitive loss to a prime Salvador Sanchez, but Cano earned my approval with one hell of a mature, gutsy performance for an untested 21-year-old kid facing a Hall-of-Fame-bound legend. And he bled like the girl scout who tried to sell Larry David cookies this year on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Who would have guessed that Lucas Matthysse dropping out of this show would turn out to be a good thing?

D is for Dynamic

As in, the dynamic prepared-statement reading of Leonard Ellerbe. In the midst of the interminable drone-fest that is the final prefight press conference (we need more guys in suits thanking other guys in suits while the fighters sit there playing with their iPhones!), the CEO of Mayweather Promotions/head sycophant attempted to address the media. I say “attempted” because Ellerbe is to public speaking as Victor Ortiz is to beard growing. I especially enjoyed the moment where Ellerbe built and built toward finally bringing Mayweather to the microphone … only it was Ortiz’s turn to speak next, so Ellerbe had to sheepishly hand it off to Oscar De La Hoya instead so that Oscar could introduce his fighter. Good times.

E is for El Terrible

I’ve covered the young man, Cano. How about the old man, Morales? Sure, he looked a little closer to shot than he did last time out, against Marcos Maidana. But he added another thriller to a career absolutely loaded with them. Seriously, Arturo Gatti is revered as the most exciting fighter of his generation, but Morales’ resume of major and minor classics is creeping up on Gatti’s. The guy is simply never in a bad fight, never escapes one without his face looking like it’s gone through a food processor, and even if watching him fight now means watching his love handles jiggle round after round, that’s a small price to pay. It truly was an honor to be there live to see the legendary El Terrible do his thing.

F is for Free Food

As a guy who does a lot of one-day trips to Atlantic City for fights and rarely does these five-day trips to Vegas, most of my media feeding experience involves the college-cafeteria-quality media room buffet at Boardwalk Hall. I wasn’t fully prepared for the majesty of media food in Vegas—with the highlight coming at a Thursday night media dinner at a restaurant called Fiamma, a smorgasbord of fine foods the likes of which I don’t quite experience at home when finishing my kids’ partially eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Golden Boy isn’t sending me any freelance checks anymore, so I may as well at least let them foot the bill for some grub. Speaking of which …

G is for Golden Boy Promotions

As pretty much everyone knows by now, GBP recently gutted the staff of The Ring magazine, firing people who did the job with passion and integrity and expertise in magazine production in favor of … well, other people. I’m not happy about this. I got mildly nauseous at the prefight press conference, watching Richard Schaefer and De La Hoya greet each other on the dais with a big ol’ back-slappy hug. And the nausea just kept bubbling to the surface all week long. Look, there are plenty of employees of Golden Boy against whom I harbor no ill will. But the people who played a hand in the firing of people I respect and care about—while potentially destroying the magazine I’ve spent my entire career proudly representing—made the bile rise inside me throughout the week. I took the most professional path I could: not saying a word to any of them, since I didn’t have anything nice to say.

H is for HBO.com

Editor Steve Marzolf and company are the ones who brought me out to Vegas for the week so I could author the HBO.com blog, and it was a pleasure working with them. In case you missed any of it, you can check out my work for them here http://www.insidehboboxing.com/, and I particularly recommend my fun back-and-forth discussion with fellow scribe Kieran Mulvaney (http://tinyurl.com/3ej6q4j) and my three seconds of fame in this video (http://tinyurl.com/3ep6c8n). Okay, end of commercial interruption, back to our regularly scheduled column …

I is for Indoors

Would you believe I only left the MGM Grand once in the entire five days I was there? I walked 10 minutes to Planet Hollywood on Friday to meet a friend and former business associate for lunch, and otherwise, I breathed recycled casino air for roughly 154 consecutive hours. I guess when I call this column the “Vegas experience,” I should really call it the “MGM Grand experience.” I didn’t actually experience Vegas at all. But I’ve experienced Vegas plenty of times before, so this trip was about ease, convenience, and getting work done. And that meant never seeing the sun. My sources tell me the weather was rather nice.

J is for Jones

In the best undercard fight you didn’t see from the comfort of your home, frequent ESPN2 and ShoBox competitor Carson Jones scored a mild upset of the generally overrated Said Ouali, closing his right eye and forcing his corner to stop the fight after the seventh round. At various points in the fight. I had flashbacks to the first time I saw Ouali fight in person, when he was boxing well before falling apart in the fifth round against the then-unknown Kermit Cintron. When Ouali’s corner threw in the towel on Saturday night, Jones turned toward the crowd, thrust both arms in the air, and yelled, “Yes!” (And because the arena was 96 percent empty throughout the undercard, I was able to hear his voice clearly from seven rows back in the press section.) It was a great moment of triumph for a journeyman fighter still looking to make something of himself, and hopefully he’ll get a TV date out of this entertaining win.

K is for Kyrone Butler

In a far less compelling undercard fight between two guys making their pro debuts, Butler scored a four-round shutout over … wait for it … Cassius Clay. I flew to Vegas to see Cassius Clay handed his first professional loss. I feel like I’m a part of history now.

L is for Larry Merchant

We couldn’t hear it in the arena, but you’d better believe I watched it on YouTube later that night, when HBO’s feisty old color man screamed at Mayweather, “I wish I was 50 years younger and I’d kick your ass!” Some have suggested Merchant went over the line. In my view, sure, it was unprofessional, but it was completely warranted. When Mayweather said Merchant needed to be fired, that’s the kind of threatening statement that causes a man with a backbone to stand up for himself. So Larry did. And it gave us this (http://bit.ly/n5fueo). Everybody wins.

M is for Money Mayweather

Ortiz is a lover. Mayweather is a fighter. He operated within the rules when he decked an opponent who failed to protect himself while the fight was going on, and even if many other fighters wouldn’t have taken advantage of that opening the way Mayweather did, there is no real fault to be found in his actions. And for four rounds leading up to the controversial finish, Floyd was his usual brilliant self. Maybe his resume isn’t as great as he thinks it is. Maybe he’s overrating his place in history. But the man is one heck of a special talent. And the fact that he found a way to both win and perpetuate his bad-guy image means demand for a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight won’t cool off one bit. Now it’s up to Mayweather to capitalize on that sometime before both fighters are in their 40s.

(Check back tomorrow for Part II, as we go from N to Z. Admit it, you’re dying to see what liberties I take with the rules in order to use the letter X.)


Eric Raskin can be contacted at RaskinBoxing@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin and listen to new episodes of his podcast, Ring Theory, at http://ringtheory.podbean.com.

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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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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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