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The Beast of Stillman's Gym, Part 5…TOLEDO

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beast 6Holyoke Valley Arena, 1940s

PART 5:  IN THE MADHOUSE

The uneven borders of Holyoke, Massachusetts appear on a map as a near-perfect fist with the middle finger sticking up.

Abandoned factories and textile mills looming over man-made canals remind locals that their city was once an industrial giant. Their city now has nearly three times as much violent crime as the national average and its median household income is only about half the state average. Irish Catholics built Holyoke though only 17% of their descendents are left. Over 44% of the folks today are Hispanic; still Catholic, still tough. Old mill towns seem to insist on both.

The Great Depression sent the mills spiraling into bankruptcy. That left working men with idle hands and a lot of testosterone looking for something to do. Boxing was big in Holyoke, even during the lean years -–especially during the lean years. On Monday nights, roughneck fathers would take roughneck sons over to the Valley Arena on South Bridge Street. It was an education. Monday night was fight night.

The arena was originally a gas house until Homer Rainault converted it in 1926. It was rebuilt after two fires in ’43 and ’52 and lasted until 1960 when it went up in flames so high they licked the sky. The Rainaults put on boxing shows popular enough –-and at 40 cents a ticket, cheap enough to warm 2,000 seats on the floor and two balconies. Golden era fighters would come in by way of New York and take a room over Kelly’s Lobster House, which was only a five-minute walk from the arena.

THE SMOKE

Holyoke knew Cocoa Kid well. He had made a career storming around the continental United States and stopped off at the Valley Arena nineteen times. His first appearance was on September 19th 1932. He “made a hit,” according to the Holyoke Transcript-Telegram and “proved himself a superior boxer with a stinging left and nasty right hook.” His last appearance was on March 25th 1946. It was Bert Lytell who made a hit that night. Cocoa Kid made a target.

Bert hammered the sentimental favorite, knocking him down twice; a left hook in the third sat him down in the middle of the ring for a nine-count and then a right in the fourth sent him flying for another nine-count. Fans were “amazed,” said the Transcript-Telegram, “as Lytell weaved in front of him, protruded his chin and dared him to swing.” It was “the worst shellacking” of his long career though his pride never let him flinch from it. Bert knew that this reeling figure, his former mentor at Stillman’s Gym, was once as fast as he was and mercifully slowed down. Spectators closest to the action said that he seemed to be pulling his punches at the end.

Four months later Bert flew down to Puerto Rico with Tiny Patterson and defeated him again on his native soil. In July 1947, the pair met for the third time in New Orleans. Battered into semi-consciousness, Cocoa Kid was saved from himself by his corner before round seven. It was an act of mercy cheered by the thousands in attendance.

THE MECHANIC

By the summer of 1945 it had been almost a decade since Holman Williams and Cocoa Kid first swapped leather. Williams was outmaneuvered over thirteen engagements, but had just defeated the aging phenomenon in May. Charley Burley was Williams’ other great rival. Those two fought for the seventh and last time in July, and Williams won. A long-termer in the madhouse that was Murderers’ Row, Williams would eventually meet every member a total of 36 times. He was also one of history’s great road warriors: Between August 1944 and August 1945 he fought 17 times in seven states and chalked up a travel estimate of 22,196 miles.

Williams may have wondered about this fighter that old-timers were calling the second coming of Tiger Flowers. As he measured him from across the Coliseum ring he may have noted a stronger resemblance to Battling Siki. The young man’s arms extended well past his robe’s sleeves and his jaw looked like something salvaged from a scrap heap and attached with a dog bone wrench.

Oddsmakers in “The Big Easy” made Williams a slight favorite over Bert Lytell despite the reports that he had big problems with southpaws. This one proved to be the toughest he ever met. The affair was described as torrid, with Bert burning up the ring and maximizing confusion by boxing at long range. Williams stopped digging in his own toolbox and reached for Jake LaMotta’s: “Equalize the fight by keeping on top [of him] because then you don’t know the difference between a southpaw and a right-handed fighter,” LaMotta said, “that’s how you make it even.” And that is precisely what happened. Williams took over on the inside and fought him to a draw.

Bert said he was nursing a fever. A twelve-round rematch was set for two weeks later and he was feeling mean. “Williams is such a local favorite that he is allowed to get away with unfair tricks. The surest way is to knock him out, or at least down several times. That’s what I am going to do Friday night,” he snarled to the Times-Picayune, “I’m going after him and unless I beat him decisively or knock him out I don’t want the decision.”

For seven rounds, he got mean all right. Holman was “almost hopelessly beaten” as Bert crowded him and concentrated his attack on the body. Pete Baird was ringside and saw strategy forming even then –-Holman, he surmised, “figured that sooner or later Lytell would weaken from the fast pace he was setting.” The eighth round was the turning point. As Bert started to sputter, Williams had a light bulb moment and starting throwing left hooks to his ribs. These allowed him to slip under Bert’s right hands and debilitate what was left of him at the same time. With William’s cheering section ringing in his ears, Bert barely survived the last two rounds and lost the referee’s decision.

The beast fled north to lick his wounds. He returned to Holyoke to outclass a triple champion from Cuba before heading to Baltimore to face another member of Murderers’ Row. Aaron “Tiger” Wade was treated to both faces of Bert Lytell –-one “constantly on the move” and the other tattooed to his chest. This time the referee voted in Bert’s favor, though the two judges at ringside gave the duke to Wade. The Baltimore Sun reported that Wade “failed to live up to his nickname” and “won by the barest whisker.”

Madison Square Garden sponsored Williams-Lytell III in Valley Arena. Williams was guaranteed $2,000 for the fight. Modest though it was for a professional of his caliber, the matchmaker claimed that it was “the biggest pay-off to any single fighter by the arena in 12, yes, 15 or even more years.” Williams had earned a decent purse. Since their last battle, he had rallied and climbed to the number-two spot in the rankings. The local press souped things up by referring to him as “the uncrowned king of the middleweights” and charging that Sugar Ray Robinson, LaMotta, and middleweight champion Tony Zale were avoiding him.

The truth was he had over 150 professional fights by then and his body was breaking down. 

He entered the ring a 2½ to 1 favorite with a weight advantage of six pounds. But Bert was on a rampage. Williams was assailed from three ranges, outboxed as well as outpunched. He could do nothing to fend off the southpaw; even the lug wrench that used to be his right hand was in pieces. Before the bell to begin the eighth round Bert was seen bounding up and down in his corner. This victory would launch him up the middleweight ladder. “He beat me in New Orleans,” he said in the dressing room afterwards, “yes he beat me fairly and squarely, but I wanted to win that one tonight.”

Williams was practically wheezing when the time came to declare the winner of the 1-1-1 series in 1947. It was a main event at Pelican Stadium in New Orleans, “an all-Negro July 4 ring show” with seats reserved for white fans and a brass band playing at intermission. Bert intended to retire his rival. “Those who saw what he did to Cocoa Kid,” said the Times-Picayune “realize Holman is in for it.” They weren’t wrong. At the end of the fourth, Williams misjudged a hook whistling in from the wrong angle and crashed to the canvas. As the referee reached the count of “nine” the bell rang. Williams was still lying there “out cold, flat on his back” when his seconds came rushing out to help him to his corner and revive him. Only a second-to-none skill set pulled him through the next eight rounds.

Before the verdict was announced, Williams walked over to Bert and lifted his glove.

“THE KING OF ‘EM ALL”

Charley Burley was at the peak of his powers in August 1946. He was the second-ranked middleweight in the world and probably could have thrashed the sitting champion and the first contender. When he met Bert in Millvale, Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quipped that Burley would not only have to take on a “formidable foe,” he would also “be forced to come up with a defense for a woman’s wiles.” Tiny Patterson was there and heads were turning when that short and shapely frame swiveled by.

Bert forced the action while Burley seemed distracted, content to counterpunch and peck at a cut that opened under the southpaw’s right eye. When Bert surged in the fourth and tenth rounds, Burley slowed him down with a debilitating hook to the stomach. The fight was anything but dramatic. One newspaper began its coverage with a cry of “Ho-hum!”

Bobby Lippi, a friend of Burley, claimed that there was plenty of drama before and after the bout. He said that they were playing cards the night before and every half hour the phone would ring. When Burley picked up the receiver, he was abused by whoever was on the other end. They suspected these calls came from someone in the Lytell camp. Lippi also claimed that Bert absorbed a beating that the press somehow missed, that he showered after the bout, got dressed, and sat shell-shocked on a bench with “no idea where he was.”

After the loss to Burley, Bert would have six more fights before the year was out, four of them against light heavyweights who outweighed him by ten pounds. His first bout in 1947 was against a light heavyweight who outweighed him by eleven pounds. That was easy –-The Ring Record Book missed his last bout in 1946 where Sammy Aaronson said he took on half the police precinct in Brooklyn. The Holyoke Transcript-Telegram corroborated Aaronson’s story when it mentioned “some fine embroidery on his scalp” and described it as a “criss-cross” scar that Bert suffered after “a dance hall melee.”

A middleweight who requires a riot squad to subdue him and beats up light heavyweights for fun was tough enough for Willie Schulkin of The Boxing News to dare Burley to fight him again. Burley, the so-called “king of ‘em all,” accepted the challenge.

Lytell-Burley II was held the same night Curtis “Hatchet Man” Sheppard met Jimmy Bivins at Philadelphia. Both bouts were important ones: Sheppard was being considered to challenge for Joe Louis’s crown while Burley was penciled in for a shot at Gus Lesnevich’s light heavyweight crown. Several weeks earlier, Burley contracted pleurisy and the original date of the rematch was rescheduled so that he could recover; whether or not that was a factor in the rematch is anyone’s guess. Either way, Bert staggered Burley twice in the early rounds and was “pushing him all over the Coliseum ring” while the crowd sat in stunned silence.

After getting even with the most dangerous member of Murderers’ Row, Bert returned to the garage on King’s Highway in Brooklyn where he used to work –-and bought it.

 

 

 

 

____________________________

The Row was willing, but champions weren’t and Bert Lytell was beginning to feel like the ugly girl at the dance. More idols totter as our man is forced to find larger prey in PART 6 OF “THE BEAST OF STILLMAN’S GYM.”

The graphic of the Holyoke Valley Arena appears with courtesy of imagemuseum.smugmug.com.

Information regarding Holyoke and the Valley Arena found in city-data.com, creatingholyoke.org, and Boxrec Boxing Encyclopedia. “The Smoke”: Reading Eagle 2/11/46, Holyoke Transcript-Telegram, 9/20/32, 3/21,25,26,27/46 and 4/9/46, Times-Picayune 5/19/47; Passenger manifest, Pan American Airways, inc, 8/1/46 San Juan to NYC; “The Mechanic”: Miami News 4/27/46, Times-Picayune 8/16, 17, 18/45; 7/4,5/47, Holyoke Transcript-Telegram 4/13,16/45; “Tiger Wade”: Baltimore Sun 10/1,2,3/45. “The King of ‘Em All”: Daily Times 8/3/46, contracts pleurisy, AP 7/17/46, The Sun 2/17,18/47, Boxrec encyclopedia, and Harry Otty’s Charley Burley and the Black Murderers’ Row, p. 275, 277-8. Lytell’s purchase of King’s Highway Garage is mentioned in The Berkshire Evening Eagle, 9/4/1947.

Springs Toledo can be contacted at scalinatella@hotmail.com“>scalinatella@hotmail.com.

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Three Punch Combo: A Bouquet for “ShoBox” and More

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — We are embarking into a new age in boxing. There are new television contracts and digital platforms available that are making the sport more visible than ever before to the masses. But with all these new deals and platforms, it is important not to forget some of the consistent programming that has been around for some time. There is no better example of this than the ShoBox series on Showtime.

ShoBox, more formally ShoBox: The New Generation, began with a simple premise of matching young prospects in with tough opposition. To get their fighters on this series, promoters would have to find credible opponents who could potentially test and maybe even upset their prized prospect. This premise has led to consistently competitive and entertaining fights in the more than 200 broadcasts since the inception of the series in 2001.

This past Friday, we saw just how this premise works once again. There was a four fight card that featured competitive fights on paper in all the matches. However, in two of those matches there did seem to be clear favorites though each of the respective fighters was being matched with their toughest foe to date.

James Wilkins and Misael Lopez opened the telecast in a 130-pound contest. Wilkins was featured in a documentary that aired on Showtime just prior to the card and was expected to make a smashing television debut. He was a knockout artist and the thought was that he would put on a show to open the telecast. But instead, Wilkins got a boxing lesson from Lopez who was busier from the outside and managed to mostly avoid the power of Wilkins throughout the contest in winning an eight round unanimous decision.

The main event featured Jon Fernandez facing O’Shaquie Foster in another 130-pound contest. Fernandez had been getting a lot of buzz and many in the sport considered the Spaniard a future star. This was supposed to be a test for Fernandez as Foster (pictured on the right) represented a step up in class, but nonetheless many expected Fernandez to pass the test with flying colors. Instead, the power punching Fernandez was clearly out-boxed by Foster for ten rounds in an entertaining fight.

These two fights showed once again that when young fighters are matched tough we often get better than expected fights that can sometimes deliver surprises. This coming Friday, the series returns with highly touted lightweight prospect Devin Haney (19-0, 13 KO’s) in the main event taking on former world title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos (33-2-2, 21 KO’s). This is a fight in which Haney is favored but one in which he is facing the toughest challenge of his young career. At the very least, this should be a test for the highly touted 19-year-old Haney and I am certain we get a compelling fight.

ShoBox is boxing’s most consistent series and one that just continues to provide fight fans with high caliber, competitive fights.

10 Percent or 10 Pounds – How To Combat Fighters Who Blow Up In Weight

It is time to address the issue of fighters gaining an absurd amount of weight following the weigh-in. There is a reason why we have weight classes in boxing. If one fighter enters the ring weighing significantly more than his opponent, it gives the bigger fighter a big advantage. This can make for not only non-competitive fights but potentially dangerous situations. I have a simple solution that I think can combat this problem.

In past articles, I have touched on the issue of fighters who miss the contracted weight. My argument has always been to implement a system with stiff financial penalties. So in a similar aspect, I think stiff financial penalties can combat the continued problem of fighters blowing up in weight after the official weigh-in.

What I propose is second day weigh-ins where fighters would not be permitted to put on more than ten pounds or 10 percent (whichever is more) of the contracted weight limit. If they are over, the fight still goes on but the fighter who misses the second day weight limit pays a substantial fine. This simple adjunct can be easily administered by the various state commissions in the United States (or any other commissions worldwide).

Here is an example:  Let’s say we have a fight contracted at 130 pounds and each fighter weighs in at 129 pounds. The second day limit would be 10 percent of 130 pounds which was the contracted weight. So each fighter could come in at a maximum of 143 pounds. Now let’s say one fighter comes in at 146 pounds. The penalty I propose would be 20 percent of that fighter’s purse per pound over the weight. And this money goes directly to their opponent. Under this example, the fighter over weight would lose 60 percent of his purse.

Zero Shouldn’t Mean That Much

We are in an era, largely due to The Floyd Mayweather Jr. Factor, where fighters are often overly protected to keep that precious zero in the loss column. But to do so, they are frequently matched with soft opposition and learn little from dismantling their overmatched foes. There is little to no growth in their career during this period and though the record may get glossy, the development of the fighter may be stunted.

Setbacks can humble fighters and make them see what needs to be done so as not to experience that feeling again. They become better overall fighters and put themselves in a better long term position in their career.

This past weekend, we saw two once promising prospects bounce back with career defining wins after suffering an early unexpected defeat. They are both now in prime position to have their respective careers blossom which may not have otherwise been the case.

Earlier I mentioned O’Shaquie Foster’s upset win against Jon Fernandez. Three years ago, Foster was a highly touted prospect. He had a good amateur background and was blessed athletically with dynamic speed. After building up an 8-0 record against less than formidable opposition, he lost in a dreadful performance to Samuel Teah. Another loss would follow several months later to Rolando Chinea. But Foster clearly learned from his mistakes in these fights and bounced back, layering his natural athletic ability with much improved skills in frankly outclassing Fernandez. Foster’s losses made him take a step back and re-evaluate what needed to be done inside the ring. He is now in prime position to become a contender in the 130-pound weight division.

Luke Campbell was a 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist and considered a can’t-miss future star in boxing. But in his 13th pro fight, in a rather shocking development, he was put on the canvas and lost a split decision to veteran Yvan Mendy. Another loss followed two years later against Jorge Linares but Campbell performed well while losing a split decision and flashed signs of improvement from the Mendy setback.

The rematch with Mendy for Campbell took place this past weekend and Campbell did what many expected him to do in their first encounter. He boxed effectively from the outside and mixed in precision combination punching to easily avenge the defeat. It was a dynamic performance by Campbell and put him in line for a big fight at lightweight.

Luke Campbell is a vastly different fighter from the one who lost to Mendy three years earlier and appears primed to potentially live up to the once high expectations. He is in a better spot today in his career due to what he learned from that first loss to Mendy.

Photo credit: Dave Mandel / SHOWTIME

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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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