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Burning Questions (And Speculative Answers) For 2012…RASKIN

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MayweatherOrtiz Hogan52In a sport with as many moving pieces, individual interests, and BS agendas as there are in boxing, nothing is ever entirely predictable. But as 2012 dawns, the year ahead feels even more unpredictable than usual. The HBO boxing department has a new leader, and he used to be the head of the Showtime boxing department. Consequently, the Showtime boxing department has a new leader, and he used to be an employee of Golden Boy Promotions. Over at ESPN, both the main man in front of the camera and the main man behind the scenes have stepped down. And switching from the guys in suits to the guys in trunks, my pound-for-pound number one, Floyd Mayweather, takes up residence at the Clark County Detention Center this Friday, my pound-for-pound number two, Manny Pacquiao, might just be in decline, and my pound-for-pound number three, Sergio Martinez, basically told HBO to suck it last week.

2012 is probably going to be a lot different than 2011 and 2010. (Except for one thing: 2010 was “the year Mayweather and Pacquiao didn’t fight each other,” 2011 was also “the year Mayweather and Pacquiao didn’t fight each other,” and 2012 just might be shaping up as “the year Mayweather and Pacquiao didn’t fight each other.”)

With this much uncertainty surrounding the sport of boxing as the calendar turns over, it’s a perfect time to ask and answer all of the burning questions on fight fans’ minds regarding the 12 months to come. We’ll start with the question we just can’t seem to get away from, and move on from there:

Will Mayweather and Pacquiao fight each other?

Not in the first half of the year. But could it happen on one of those traditional pay-per-view blockbuster dates in September or November? It’s highly possible that Floyd—seeing a slipping Pacquiao and hearing a ticking clock—will want it, highly possible that Bob Arum will recognize that the end of the Pacquiao era is nigh and begrudgingly pursue it, and a near-certainty that the fearless and fan-friendly Pacquiao will want it. I think the biggest X-factor is what happens with Pacquiao’s fight in the spring. My guess is that he’ll fight Juan Manuel Marquez for a fourth time. (I’m not buying the idea of less marketable fights against Tim Bradley or Lamont Peterson, and I think Miguel Cotto is too smart to want a rematch with Pac.) And as we all know now, any fight against Marquez is a fight Pac-Man can lose. If he does lose, Pacquiao-Mayweather becomes pointless. If he wins—especially if he does so without controversy—Pacquiao-Mayweather is red hot again. The final guess here: Pacquiao fights Marquez, defeats him narrowly, and all parties are ready to cash in with Pacquiao-Mayweather in the fall, to the tune of 2.8 million PPV buys.

Will anything happen at heavyweight to make anyone in America care?

Only two things can move the needle at this point: a Klitschko losing or a serious new American contender emerging. The former ain’t happening (although I wouldn’t mind seeing a healthy Odlanier Solis get a rematch against Vitali; he has the skill to be less than a 10-1 underdog, which probably isn’t true of any other potential challenger). So we need an American up-and-comer to get excited about, and Seth Mitchell, who performed as impressively as anyone could have hoped in his HBO debut in December, is the only guy with an outside chance. Unfortunately, I see the media’s need to find the next great heavyweight and the fact that the pressure can’t be spread among numerous hopefuls as a formula for Mitchell to disappoint. He’ll struggle to an underwhelming decision win against a veteran contender to start the year, then he’ll take heat for dialing back the competition to someone sub-Timor-Ibragimov the next time out. He’ll escape 2012 still unbeaten and a legit top-10 contender (in a division that goes only two deep, it should be noted), but the buzz on December 31 won’t be what it was on January 1.

What impact will Ken Hershman and Stephen Espinoza have?

From the looks of things, Hershman’s job at HBO is going to be even more challenging than he probably expected, with Golden Boy having a built-in relationship with the new Showtime boss, with Victor Ortiz-Andre Berto II already jumping networks, with Sergio Martinez announcing that his next fight won’t be on HBO, and with Mayweather out of the mix for the first half of the year. It sure looks like the stage is set for Showtime to challenge HBO’s supremacy, even if they remain at a budgetary disadvantage. Then again, Hershman didn’t earn the HBO job by being an ambition-less dummy. Sort of like how the peak of the WWF-WCW war from around 1996-’99 saw both companies pushing each other to reach new levels of entertainment, I suspect the HBO/Showtime shakeups will work out to the great benefit of boxing fans once the slow first month of 2012 has passed. (And I feel at least 63 percent confident in predicting that we won’t see Gary Russell Jr. in a four-rounder on either network at any time in 2012.)

Will we get Andre Ward vs. Lucian Bute?

Ward has already earned the right to call himself The Man at 168 pounds, but if he wants to be The Undisputed Man, he does still need to take care of business against Bute. And I suspect he intends to. Ward’s apparent disinterest in the Romanian-Canadian immediately following his Super Six finals victory over Carl Froch struck me as a negotiating ploy. Ward knows the fight belongs north of the border and if he’s going to concede home-ring advantage, he wants to at least hardball his way to the larger purse. Plus, Ward’s last five fights have come against Mikkel Kessler, Allan Green, Sakio Bika, Arthur Abraham, and Froch, lasting an average of 11.8 rounds; he’s entitled to a tuneup. So in the spring expect Bute vs. Froch and Ward vs. someone he can knock out, and then in the fall expect Ward vs. Bute if Froch doesn’t upset that plan.

Who will be the new Friday Night Fights studio host?

I assume we’ll get this answer any day now, since, you know, there’s an FNF broadcast scheduled for this Friday. But in the meantime, my quick prediction: Bernardo Osuna. He’s a part of the ESPN family already, he’s polished in front of the camera, he knows boxing, and he’s bilingual, which is handy when it comes to interviewing certain guests or even translating from a distance for Joe and Teddy. I have no inside information on this, other than me talking to Osuna in Las Vegas in November and him saying he didn’t know anything yet, but if you find out in a day or two that he got the gig, you heard it here first.

Whose opposition will piss fans off more, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. or Saul Alvarez?

Before I answer the question, allow me to follow my Ring Theory co-host Bill Dettloff’s lead and note that I will henceforth cease to refer to JCC Jr. as a “Chavez” because he’s unworthy of that surname, and instead refer to him as Julio Cesar Salad. Honestly, Salad and Canelo are being moved with near-equal calculated carefulness, but Salad is 4½ years older, so Canelo gets more of a pass if he spends another year fighting safe opposition. That said, Marco Antonio Rubio is a credible challenge for Salad, assuming Top Rank doesn’t drug Rubio in the dressing room. So if Alvarez fights a total patsy in April, he might exceed Salad in terms of his heat index. This is a tough call, but I’ll go with Chavez as the greater whipping boy of the fans by year’s end. The only thing I know for sure is this: Salad will not fight Sergio Martinez in 2012 and Alvarez will not fight Miguel Cotto in 2012, and yet both fringe contenders will insist on calling themselves “champions.”

Which American former middleweight champion will have a greater impact in the boxing ring, Jermain Taylor or Kelly Pavlik?

This is a modified version of a question I asked Dettloff last week on Ring Theory, and I’m asking it again because it’s fascinating that Taylor might be in a position to make a little noise again while his two-time conqueror, Pavlik, appears to have unraveled so severely in his personal life that his career might never resume. But I’m going to go against the grain and select Pavlik as the answer to this question. If Pavlik fights in 2012—a major “if,” I realize—the tabloid-ish attention surrounding his first fight will guarantee that his impact exceeds Taylor’s. I think as long as Cameron Dunkin and company can haul Pavlik the hell outta Youngstown and get him into Robert Garcia’s gym in southern California, there’s a good chance “The Ghost” will be in line for 2012’s Comeback of the Year.

What are the three most horrifying things Jose Sulaiman will say this year?

1. “The WBC proudly supports Jerry Sandusky.”

2. “Did you see the way that bee-otch was dressed? She was asking for it!”

3. “I am pleased to announce I have been re-elected president of the WBC by a unanimous vote of the board of directors.”

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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