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Ward Trainer Virgil Hunter Talks Kessler, Bute and Going to 175..MARKARIAN

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WardAbrahamPrePC Hogan100Only the endless bickering of Republican Presidential candidates can rival the arguments spewed between some of boxing’s best. Because whether they are trying to gain a title or defend one, fighters always need an opponent. And after beating Carl Froch last month to win the Super Six Tournament, super middleweight champion Andre Ward has yet to find his next foe. Worthy contenders Mikkel Kessler and Lucian Bute await a shot at the undefeated Ward.

In the spirit of debate, TSS enters the mind of perpetual boxing wisdom of Ward’s trainer Virgil Hunter. With Hunter, Ward has risen up the pound for pound boxing rankings. Hunter gives thoughts on potential fights with Bute and Kessler, and from the generally recognized 2011 trainer of the year we received an education on boxing business.

In our discussion, Hunter tells us copious reasons why Andre Ward will choose his next opponent. Check out what else he has to say.

RM: What do you gather from everything you hear about fights with either Mikkel Kessler or Lucian Bute? What is your opinion?

VH: We made it clear about Bute. We just got out of a long tournament. We are just asking him to fight somebody along the same caliber that we fought. You got a lot of Super Six fighters out there that he could fight. He could fight Dirrell. Kessler looks like he is ready. We are not asking him to fight each one of them. But at least fight one of them. You know, and it is better for both of us.

RM: So if Bute beats Carl Froch, or knocks him out, then we are going to see Ward vs. Bute?

VH: If he fights Froch and stops him, the call for Ward and Bute goes higher and louder. Bute will sway the masses that say, ‘Hey Ward decisioned Froch, but Bute stopped Froch.’ If Bute stops Froch it will automatically grow a Ward vs. Bute fight proportionally. And we could both capitalize on a fight of that magnitude. I think Bute fighting Froch or anyone in the Super Six would help both parties.

RM: But do you feel like you are in the place to make this type of decision for Lucian Bute?

VH: Well, first of all we are humble people. Whatever position we are in right now we earned it. We did not talk our way into that position. We fought our way to that position. And I think what we have requested is not unreasonable at all. I think it is very reasonable considering where Lucian Bute’s and Andre’s careers have gone in the last three years. Bute and his team are genuine people. I don’t think they have any problems with it.

RM: Now talking about Kessler. It seems like Kessler has a sense of entitlement through all of this. I mean, he lost to Ward, beat Carl Froch, and then basically disappeared. Now he is back in the talks to fight Andre again. How do you feel about that?  

VH: Well first of all, there has been no indication that Mikkel Kessler wants to fight Andre. Before we fought Froch, they (Kessler’s team) put out a ten million dollar offer for the winner of the Super Six to fight Mikkel Kessler.

RM: When did you hear that?

VH: I heard this maybe three weeks before the Super Six final. Sauerland (Kessler’s promoter) put out a huge statement. It is in writing. They were supposedly willing to pay each fighter ten million dollars to fight them in Denmark, regardless of who won. On the week of the (Ward vs. Froch) fight, they made it clear that they were pulling for Carl Froch to win. I believe that if Carl Froch won, that offer would still be on the table. That offer would still be talked about right now. But for some reason, we don’t hear anything about it after we won the fight. From that sense I am very disappointed in Sauerland promotions and I am very disappointed in Mikkel Kessler.

RM: So at the end of the day Kessler does not want to fight Andre Ward?

VH: Well, I am not going to question a man’s heart. Mikkel is a courageous guy. He doesn’t have to prove that he is courageous. But outside of being courageous he is contradicting himself. I heard an interview by Steve Bunce from BBC boxing. Mikkel was giving all kinds of excuses about his loss to Andre and all were untrue. He literally said I made him take his hand wraps off which is not true. They never even started wrapping his hands. Then he said we subjected him to the cold weather at the press conference. I don’t understand that one. When he left his hotel he should have had a good indication of how cold it was outside. Somebody should have told him to go back in and get a warm jacket and warm gloves. He also indicated that they forced him to leave his dressing room forty-five minutes before the bout. That is definitely untrue because it was a television fight. And he said everything we did to him caused him to lose the fight. Then he warned Carl Froch about it. Thank goodness Carl Froch is a good sport, a strong man, and a dignified man. After the fight was over, Froch said ‘Andre Ward beat me fair and square. I have nothing more to say. He beat me. No excuses.’ That is a good blueprint for Mikkel Kessler. I think Froch, after crying about his loss in Denmark, grew up. He changed for the better of his sport and his division. We just hope Mikkel Kessler would do the same. But we would love to give him an opportunity to redeem himself particularly if there is ten million dollars on the table. I want to know why all of a sudden we are not talking about it.

RM: So you would go to Denmark to fight Mikkel Kessler for ten million dollars?

VH: Let me just say this. I am not saying we’ll go. I am not saying we won’t go. But I am sure we will find a way to fight for ten million dollars. You see?

RM: OK, I see. Well, Kessler lost two fights in his career. Do see it as a sign of disrespect that Kessler only complains about his loss to Ward, not his loss to Joe Calzaghe?  

VH: Well, that goes back to the entitlement statement that you made.

RM: Right.

VH: He just never thought that Andre Ward could beat him. He hasn’t accepted that loss yet. It had a psychological effect on him. Look, that loss had a tremendous effect on him. It was much worse than the Calzaghe fight. Mikkel was in that fight. Calzaghe pulled it out in the last few rounds. He was never close against Andre Ward. So it is a harder loss to deal with. And if all of the excuses he was giving were true then why would he fire his coach? The same guy he has been working with for twenty years. How does the coach fit in the equation, you see what I’m saying?

RM: Yeah.

VH: If he said the hand wraps, weather, and the time was the reason then why did poor Richard Olsen who has been with you for twenty years, been with you from day one, and started you off as a kid when you were fighting for trophies, why was he the scapegoat? He is the one that ended up getting fired. That is what I don’t understand. So it has got to be deeper than the excuses that he is giving. What he needs to do is come to grips with the loss and redeem himself.

RM: Well, if all he does is make excuses, then why even go after Kessler again? There have been plenty of guys making excuses to fight you again, right?  

VH: No. Nobody has ever asked for a rematch.

RM: Kessler is the only one?

VH: He hasn’t asked for a rematch either.

RM: OK.

VH: There is not one person that has asked for a rematch with Andre Ward. That is what people need to realize. And you know what, I don’t want to come out and put words in Mikkel’s mouth. I haven’t heard him say he would or wouldn’t fight Andre again. But his promotional company is saying it. All I heard from Mikkel is excuses.

RM: OK.

VH: Mikkel is champion emeritus. Showtime gave him that position. Showtime said he will have a shot at the winner of the tournament. And I think he should take advantage of that. It is not just for pride or redemption. He is just a great fighter. And great fighters fight. And it is good for the sport and it is good for the division. It is good for Andre Ward and it is good for Mikkel Kessler. However it turns out, I still have respect for him and his company. He is a great champion and doesn’t have to prove anything along those lines. All I am saying is that a second fight would be a great fight.

RM:  So with Bute, you are happy with the fact that he is willing to prove himself against Carl Froch or another member of the Super Six. You guys don’t really want to fight him at the moment, is that correct?

VH: No, I don’t want to say we don’t want to fight him at the moment. We want to fight him at the right moment. There is a difference between the two. We feel entitled to fight at the right moment. And we also feel that it is good for him to fight at the right moment. I mean, come on, and think about it, if he beats Carl Froch in a dominating manner our fight will get really hot. We have validated ourselves to a certain level. All we ask is for him to validate himself to a certain level by taking on the competition. 

RM: So, all of these guys are fighting each other. What’s the next move for you?

VH: Well, we haven’t sat down. We want to take one thing at a time. We want to get the injured hand back in fighting action. There is no sense in talking about the next move until we got things up and running. It is really a time of relaxation and recuperation for Andre Ward. People don’t realize the preparation for all of these fights has been going on for two and a half years. Regardless of what anybody says when you fight Edison Miranda, Mikkel Kessler, Allan Green, Sakio Bika, Arthur Abraham, and Carl Froch that is a gauntlet. A lot of people like to put emphasis in who Froch has fought. Well guess what, we are right there along with him. There is no difference. I don’t see anybody calling out Sakio Bika. And Allan Green is a threat to anybody he gets in the ring with.

RM: OK, so basically you have gone through the pit and fought the best. It is time for these other guys to go through the pit right?

VH: Well, I think it is sound business. I think we have to treat boxing like a business because it is a business. There is no need to rush. We have to make sound decisions. Right now I can’t tell you when we are going to fight and who we are going to fight. But we are anxious to fight again.

RM: Andre was talking about moving up to light heavyweight. How do you feel about that?

VH: For the right fight, I think moving up in weight is a great option. If it is a fight the fans want to see, particularly a reputable opponent, that move could be made in the near future.

RM: The Kessler fight makes sense for the right money. But besides Bute, there is no one left for you to fight at 168 in my opinion. So the natural move would be to move up to 175, right?

VH: There are plenty of challenges for Andre at 168. You know Ray, rematches are always in order. Why fight Kessler? Because he is saying it’s a fluke. And a lot of his fans are saying it’s a fluke. That is why you fight him again. So if he thinks it was a fluke, we will give him an opportunity to prove it was a fluke. His doubt only gives that rematch merit. The fact that he is saying ‘you are not better than me, and the reason why you beat me is because of this’ makes us want to prove him wrong. We think it’s a great fight.

RM: OK.

VH: Sauerland and all those guys need to back up that proposition. Put that ten million back on the table. If not, I’d like to know why you retracted it. Ten million dollars is a good reason to fight, I don’t care who it is.

RM: Alright. Any last words you’d like to share Mr. Hunter?

VH: Well, I’d like to thank all the fans that have supported us. I hope that Andre has proven a lot to people, fighting a fight with a broken hand against a formidable opponent Carl Froch, and coming out of that in a dominant manner. And first and foremost, the boxing world has to realize that they have a great man in Andre Ward. He is a man of principle and a man of integrity. He is not somebody that you should ignore. I know a lot of people don’t understand his style of fighting. But true fight fans understand greatness. And there is greatness in Andre Ward.

RM: Hey, I forgot to ask, how you feel about being recognized as the trainer of the year in 2011?

VH: I am humbled. That is a great feeling. There are a lot of great coaches out there. A lot of people are deserving of being trainer of the year. I leave it up to the boxing writers. I think I did get ESPN trainer of the year. And I am very grateful for that. I am in the coaching fraternity. I know what they go through. I am happy for anybody who gets that award. 

Follow Ray on Twitter @RayMarkarian

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Three Punch Combo: Jacobs-Derevyanchenko on HBO, Baranchyk-Yigit and More

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This Saturday, Daniel Jacobs (34-2, 29 KO’s) takes on Sergiy Derevyanchenko (12-0, 10 KO’s) for the vacant IBF middleweight title. The fight, which headlines an HBO World Championship Boxing tripleheader, is highly anticipated in boxing circles as on paper it is an evenly matched contest with a wide range of potential outcomes. The fight also bears an eerie resemblance to another middleweight title fight from more than twenty years ago.

On March 16th, 1996, then IBF middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins (28-2-1, 21 KO’s) faced off against the IBF’s number one ranked contender in Joe Lipsey (25-0, 20 KO’s). Opinions were split as to who would come out as the victor. It was televised live in the United States on ABC in the afternoon and served as a precursor for that evening’s big pay-per-view event between Mike Tyson and Frank Bruno.

Hopkins, 31 at the time, had fought much better opposition and those who favored him thought his experience along with his better athleticism would lead him to victory. Lipsey, who was 29, had a burgeoning reputation in the fight game and was known for his relentless pressure style. In addition, he had displayed devastating one punch knockout power in both hands that had many thinking he had a bright future in the sport.

It was the experience and ring savviness of Hopkins versus the untapped raw potential of Lipsey.

As it played out, Hopkins’ skill proved too much for Lipsey. After effectively out-boxing and neutralizing the aggression of Lipsey for three rounds, Hopkins landed a perfectly placed counter right uppercut using Lipsey’s forward momentum against him that instantly ended matters. It was a statement making performance for Hopkins.

Jacobs, 31, is in a similar spot to that of Hopkins when he faced Lipsey. With two losses on his ledger, Jacobs is in need of a statement making victory. One of those losses was to Gennady Golovkin and, of course, Hopkins entered the Lipsey contest with one of his losses to all-time great Roy Jones Jr.

Jacobs holds a significant experience edge in the pro game compared to that of Derevyanchenko. Jacobs is also the more athletic fighter. Similar to that of Hopkins against Lipsey, Jacobs will look to play the role of the boxer-puncher and use his experience along with athleticism to dictate the tempo of the fight.

Derevyanchenko, 32, comes in highly touted. Similar to Joe Lipsey in 1996, he enters with an undefeated record along with a glossy knockout percentage and many in the sport see a fighter with raw untapped potential.

The similarities between Jacobs-Derevyanchenko and Hopkins-Lipsey are striking. Will history repeat itself or will Derevyanchenko be able to rise to the occasion?

Baranchyk-Yigit

The World Boxing Super Series 140-pound tournament resumes this week with a pair of fights in New Orleans. While the fans will be mostly showing up to watch the main event between hometown rising star Regis Prograis (22-0, 19 KO’s) and Terry Flanagan (33-1, 13 KO’s), it is the other WBSS fight, pitting Ivan Baranchyk against Anthony Yigit for the vacant IBF title that piques my interest.

Baranchyk (18-0, 11 KOs) is well known to US fight fans from his multiple appearances on the ShoBox series on Showtime on which he has scored some highlight reel knockouts. He is an aggressive pressure fighter with heavy handed power. He has been showing signs of improved boxing skills of late and is coming off a career best performance in knocking out former world title challenger Petr Petrov.

Yigit (21-0-1, 7 KOs) is a former decorated amateur who participated in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. A southpaw with quick feet and good hand speed, Yigit is an excellent counterpuncher who is adept at using feints to bait his opponents to throw to set up counter opportunities. He is also very slick and uses good head movement, making him not an easy target to hit.

This is a classic matchup of an aggressive pressure fighter against a skilled slick boxer. Baranchyk has the buzz and will be favored, but Yigit’s style and skill could present a major challenge for him. It’s a very compelling fight,.

The Journey of Yuandale Evans

On April 24th, 2010 I hit the road to attend a club show in a suburb of Cleveland. I wanted to get a firsthand look at a local fighter named Yuandale Evans who was headlining the 6-fight card. The venue was a small indoor soccer complex and tickets were only $20. There was no assigned seating and I had no problem finding a ringside seat for the evening’s festivities.

Evans did not disappoint. Fighting in front of the sparse audience, he dispatched an opponent named Reymundo Hernandez in the first round. I liked what I saw from Evans and thought he had a bright future in boxing.

A year later, Evans found himself on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fight Series in a step-up fight against veteran Emmanuel Lucero. This was a coming out party for Evans as he impressively took apart the former world title challenger. There was speed, athleticism and power in his game and many took notice.

Nine months later, Evans found himself in a significant fight. It was another date on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fight Series but this time against a fellow undefeated fighter in Javier Fortuna. Fortuna had been getting a lot of buzz and if Evans could defeat him then he’d find himself on the brink of a world title opportunity.

But the Fortuna fight did not go well for Evans. As a matter of fact, it was disastrous.  Fortuna scored a vicious, highlight reel first round knockout, the kind of knockout loss that many fighters never recover from.

It appeared for a while that Evans would not get back in the game. Out for three years, he finally returned in 2015 with two wins against less than stellar competition. These wins were needed confidence boosters.

After those bounce back wins, it took another 17 months for Evans to return to the ring. This time, in his first major test since the Fortuna loss, he faced Billel Dib. Brought in as the “B” side, Evans was supposed to be a name on the resume for Dib, but he flipped the script, scoring a clear ten round unanimous decision.

The win against Dib, which took place in the 130-pound division, put Evans back on the radar. But it was his next performance that put him into contention. Dropping down to featherweight and again coming in as the underdog, he scored a rousing split decision win against Louis Rosa in November of 2017 in a fiercely fought contest that received Fight of the Year consideration. Evans fought with passion and determination to secure the best win of his career.

Evans, now 20-1 with 14 KO’s, will challenge undefeated 130-pound world title holder Alberto Machado next week. Evans is once again an underdog. Not many are giving him much of a chance. But if Evans fights like he did against Rosa and can stay inside on Machado, applying constant pressure, we could be in for another surprise.

Evans has come a long way since I first saw him fight at a small indoor soccer venue in Ohio and I for one do not discount his chances to lift Machado’s world title belt.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

 

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Andrade Grabs Vacant WBO Middleweight Belt in Boston

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TD GARDEN​​ — It’s a good thing Eddie Hearn didn’t listen to the people who told him not to promote prizefighting in Boston. With all four major American sports in full swing in the city, Matchroom Boxing absolutely rocked the house as an equitable fan attraction in New England.The media was out in full force and so were the fans. At the final fight week press conference, Hearn introduced ESPN’s Dan Rafael before he even barked for his boxers. “You know it’s a big card when Dan Rafael shows up,” he said of the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer award winner for career excellence in journalism. Hearn knows it’s about building hype and that’s what he’s doing.

Sugar Ray Leonard was on the mic for DAZN. Paulie Malignaggi was doing the same for Sky Sports. I saw Micky Ward and Conor McGregor seated at ringside. Mike Tyson conqueror Kevin “The Clones Colossus” McBride was also spotted in the mix throughout the night.

“We did about five thousand in Chicago,” Hearn told me of his first Matchoom USA show October 6 on DAZN. Hearn expected about seven thousand for Boston, hoping for a good walk-up crowd. “I’m pleased with ticket sales. I’m pleased with the venue. If the fans are happy and enjoy a great night at the fights and if they want us back, we’d love to return,” he said.

Hearn’s originally scheduled main event fell apart in September when Billy Joe Saunders controversially failed VADA drug testing for the banned stimulant oxilofrine. “Unfortunately Billy Joe failed a drug test. I don’t think the Massachusetts Commission had any choice in denying him a license,” Hearn told me during the final fight week press conference at Fenway Park.

Saunders was to defend the WBO middleweight title against Providence, Rhode Island’s Demetrius Andrade. Instead, Saunders was stripped of his strap and unknown African champ Walter ​Kautondokwa stepped in to face Andrade for the vacant WBO 160 pound title. “I’m too old to fight nobodies now,” said the 30 year-old Andrade without a trace of irony. In fact, Andrade’s whole pro career has been carefully built on soft touches and vacant ABC championships.

Hearn’s undercard also suffered a hit when popular local junior welterweight Danny “BHOY” O’Connor pulled out of his bout against Tommy Coyle, citing injury. According to Hearn, “​O’Connor was working very hard in camp but I don’t think it was going particularly well.”

The live crowd in attendance at the Garden was loud and enthusiastic. In a full sized entertainment venue that seats close to twenty thousand fans and with promotional aspirations optimistically set at half that number (official attendance was listed at 6,874), your best chance to have seen these fights for yourself was on the emerging and effective streaming app DAZN.

For Brits stuck back home it was on Sky Sports.  For everybody else, I’m here to ringside report.

In the Main Event for the vacant WBO middleweight championship, Providence, Rhode Island’s Demetrius “Boo Boo” Andrade, 30, 160, 26-0 (16) dominated Namibian import Walter Kautondokwa, 33, 17-1 (16). ​A stablemate of former super lightweight champ Julius Indongo, Kautondokwa drew inspiration from his countryman’s international accomplishments in boxing. Indongo parlayed the WBO African title into an eventual unification showdown with Terence Crawford in Nebraska. “He’s definitely not stopping this train,” promised Andrade at the weigh-in.

He was right.

In the first round, ​Kautondokwa slipped to the canvas and Andrade hit him on the chin while he was on all fours. Referee Steve Willis ruled it a knockdown, rather than reacting to the foul. Kautondokwa pushed the action in the second but Andrade scored with the cleaner punches. In the third, Andrade scored a clean knockdown with a flush left hand to the chin. The challenger rose and answered the bell for the fourth down by two extra points. Kautondokwa went down again twice more in the fourth leaving Andrade with a look like, “What more do I have to do?”

As the rounds wore on and on, Andrade found the answer to be elusive, even if Kautondokwa wasn’t terribly so. His best power punches were either missing or being blocked, and Kautondokwa was proving durable. By the championship rounds, it was clear that Andrade wouldn’t be able to stop the train that was Kautondokwa. The energy in the live crowd suffered accordingly. Michael Buffer announced what was already known, that Andrade won a virtual shutout on the cards.  Scores were 120-104 twice and 119-105.

“I did what I had to do. I could see that he was tough. It was good to get those twelve rounds in because I’ve been inactive,” said Andrade at the post-fight press conference. He also spoke of a fight week injury to his left shoulder that affected his performance and prevented a knockout. To be perfectly honest, it sounded like an excuse for not finishing off a badly hurt fighter.

In her de facto Irish Homecoming, Katie Taylor, 32, Bray, 11-0 (5) successfully defended her WBA/IBF female lightweight titles against the very experienced Cindy Serrano, 36, Brooklyn, 27-6-3 (10), over ten two-minute rounds. Serrano was moving up in weight to challenge Taylor, who’s already made two title defenses this year in London and in Brooklyn. Serrano was never in danger of being hurt or knocked out and Taylor was never in any danger of losing the fight.  Taylor won every round on all three cards 100-90.  “Cindy was just in there to survive,” said a disappointed Taylor.  Some fans jeered the “action” but it didn’t bother Serrano. “Eddie Hearn believes in female fighting. Hopefully he can turn it around and we can get a couple more promoters just like him.”

To make the first defense of his newly won IBF super featherweight championship, Philly southpaw Tevin “American Idol” Farmer, 27-4-1 (6), stopped Belfast KRONK’s James Tennyson, 22-3 (18) in five. During promotion for the title bout, it looked for all to see that Farmer was overlooking Tennyson with his focus squarely on a big money grudge match with Gervonta Davis. ​“I’m not overlooking James but I want to fight Tank Davis. I have to have that fight and it’s got to happen. Let’s leave the streets on the streets and fight in the ring. We’ve talked enough.”

In the ring, Farmer looked at his opponent and punched right through him. In the fourth frame, Farmer dropped Tennyson with a solid left hook to the body. It got no better for the Belfast native. The next round, Arthur Mercante stopped it when Tennyson fell again from body shots. ​In accepting the fight, Farmer’s promoter Lou DiBella didn’t want to deny his fighter the opportunity to appear on such a high profile card so he willingly worked with Hearn to make it happen.  Time of the TKO was @1:44 of the round 5.

In an IBF featherweight elimination bout scheduled for twelve, Evander Holyfield’s Toka Kahn Clary, Providence, R.I., 25-3 (17), dropped a pedestrian UD to Ingle Gym’s Kid Galahad, Sheffield, 25-0 (15). At the press conference in August to announce the match-up, there was bad blood in the air. “Toka is a bum,” a chippy Galahad told me at Boston’s Faneuil Hall. “He didn’t want this fight. He was talking trash so I called him a wanker and it got a little out of hand.”

“I’m gonna beat him,” Galahad promised.

At the final press conference, Galahad was demonstrably more peaceful. During the media face-off with Kahn, he offered his hand to shake but Toka just left it hanging there. “I’ve calmed down,” Kid told me. “Nothing personal, just business.” ​Is Toka a bum?​ “You can’t call him a bum.” ​You did Kid.​ “I might have gone over the top. Any fighter that gets in the ring you gotta have some respect for. Toka is gonna show up and my job is to make sure I do a job on him.”  Job well done, Kid.  Final scores were 118-110 twice and 115-113.

In an entertaining ten round junior welterweight scrap, Tommy “Boom Boom” Coyle, Hull, Yorkshire, U.K., 25-4 (12), outpointed Ryan Kielczweski, Quincy, Mass, 29-4 (11) over the distance. Unanimous scores were 99-90, 98-91 and 96-93. The “Polish Prince” substituted for Danny O’Connor against Coyle, a fighter TSS’s own Ted Sares expected Ryan to have had his hands full with in a knockout loss; describing Coyle as a “load” in the ring. In the seventh round, Kielczweski was felled by a massive right hand to the body and a vicious follow up left hook to the head. He took a long nine count but got up to then stalk a fading Coyle down the stretch.  “This is the most ready I’ve been for any fight,” Kielczweski told me before the bout. “I fought in September. A week later I got a call for this one so it’s like I’m on a ten week training camp.”

Coyle is a pressure fighter and an interesting character. Kielczweski struggled to keep him at bay but landed with several quality power shots of his own, many coming in the last three rounds—after the knockdown. Calling this his “American Dream” come true, Coyle grew up in England loving ROCKY movies and Irish Micky Ward fights. Tonight, he was almost in one.

In a super featherweight comeback bout, former super bantamweight and featherweight champion Scott Quigg, 30, Bury, U.K., 35-2-2 (26) made a successful return against journeyman Mexican Mario Briones, 29-8-2 (21), stopping him in two rounds with an unanswered three punch combination along the ropes. Trained by Freddie Roach, Quigg was defeated last March by WBO featherweight champion Oscar Valdez in a bruising non-title bout. Quigg suffered multiple facial laceration and a broken nose in the unanimous decision loss. “I want a rematch with Valdez and with Carl Frampton because I want to avenge my losses. If I’d be happy not fighting them again, I’d be in the wrong game,” a candid Quigg told me. “The work Freddie’s had me doing and the sparring I’m on, I feel like I’m a ten times better fighter now.”

In a junior middleweight rematch, Murphys Boxing U.S. Marine Mark “Bazooka” DeLuca, Whitman, Mass, 22-1 (13) outgunned Walter “2 Guns” Wright 37, Seattle, Washington 17-5 (8) to defeat the only man to have beaten him as a pro, winning 97-93, and 96-94 twice. From ringside I scored it 6-4 in rounds for DeLuca who scored well early with left hooks. Wright did well in the middle rounds on the inside when DeLuca was tiring but it wasn’t enough. Though his promoter Ken Casey questioned the outcome of the first fight last June in N.H., DeLuca told me it was tight. “But he got me,” he admitted. Wright didn’t understand the manufactured controversy. “I won. To come across the country, fight the local guy, and beat him, I should think I’d get my props for winning. My performance should outweigh politics.” On this night, Wright’s good but not good enough performance earned him an appropriately scored unanimous decision loss.

There was no protest from Wright with the verdict.

UNDERCARD RESULTS:

In the show opener, super lightweight southpaw Sean McComb from Belfast improved to 4-0 (3), outclassing 37 year-old Peruvian Carlos Galindo, 1-6. Galindo’s only win came against Maine’s Brandon Berry last June in N.H. This was McComb’s first appearance outside the U.K. Galindo took a body beating and the fight was stopped in the third after a pair of knockdowns.

Accompanied to the ring by middleweight corker Spike O’Sullivan, Murphys Boxing’s Gorey, Ireland heavyweight Niall Kennedy 221.6, 12-0-1 (7) took a few to give a few against New Jersey’s Brendan Barrett 238, 7-1-2 (5), including a hip-toss and a headlock. The 6’3” Kennedy used his good left jab and strong right cross to earn a unanimous six round decision, dropping the stocky Barrett in the fifth with a brutal right hand. Official scores: 60-53 twice and 58-55.

Kazakh Olympic Gold medalist welterweight prospect Daniyar Yeleussinov improved to 4-0 (2) against Salem, Mass “Mantis” Matt Doherty, 8-6-1 (4). Doherty wore a J.D. Martinez Red Sox jersey to the ring but he was outgunned. The 27 year-old southpaw finished Doherty off with a barrage of unanswered punches in the first round and referee Arthur Mercante waved a halt.

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Rob Brant is the New WBA Middleweight Champion

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LAS VEGAS, Nevada- In a major upset that saw a mega fight disappear, Rob Brant took the WBA middleweight title from Japan’s Ryota Murata with a lot of hustle and a heck of a chin to the surprise of many on Saturday.

Murata (14-2,11KOs) was expected to fight Gennady “GGG” Golovkin if he won, but the dress rehearsal turned into a nightmare as Brant (24-1, 16 KOs) attacked and attacked while out-punching the Japanese fighter nearly two to one in front of a stunned audience of more than 2700 at the Park Theater at the MGM.

“This was one of the best moments of my life, said Brant. “I wasn’t thinking of punch output. I was thinking about winning.”

With many planning their trips to Tokyo for an expected showdown between Murata and Golovkin, the Las Vegas based Brant put a stick into the spokes of their travel plans.

Brant started quickly with combination punching and moving in and out of range during the first three rounds of the middleweight bout. Murata smiled throughout the incoming blows from the upstart Brant.

“It’s easy to smile, but his eyes were swollen and he had blood on his mouthpiece,” said Brant.

It wasn’t until the fourth round that Murata found life while attacking the body.

The body punches opened up the lead right cross for Murata, who began targeting Brant’s head. But the Minnesota native was able to absorb the big blows and kept firing back. Though Brant was landing more shots, Murata’s punches were clearly harder and landed with a thud.

The crowd got into the fight early as cheers of “USA! USA!” were shouted sporadically throughout the fight. It probably had an effect on the judges.

It seemed Murata was landing the more effective blows in the middle rounds, especially when he targeted the body, then switched to the head. But though they were hard punches, Brant moved backward and kept returning fire.

The action was measured, but constant, with no slow rounds after round three. At times it looked like Murata was about to score a knockout but it never came. Brant proved resilient. More than that, he convinced the three judges he was the winner 119-109(2x) and 118-110.

Only the widespread scores were surprising. It seemed like a much closer fight.

Dudashev prevails

Maxim Dudashev (12-0, 10 KOs) tried to blast it out with Mexico’s Antonio DeMarco (33-7-1, 24 KOs), but after taking heavy incoming fire, the undefeated super lightweight changed tactics and out-boxed the former world champion to win by unanimous decision.

Dudashev moved around just enough and used quick short combinations to out-score the long-armed Tijuana fighter after the midway point of the 10-round affair. Though DeMarco was able to score with heavy body shots  and lead lefts to the head, Dudashev managed to fire off combinations that kept winning rounds in the second half of the fight. The judges scored the fight 97-93, 96-94, 98-92 for Dudashev. TheSweetScience.com scored it 96-94 for Dudashev, who keeps the NABF super lightweight title.

“This was a great learning experience for me,” said Dudashev. “DeMarco is a true champion, and he fought with great heart and determination.”

Falcao and other bouts

Brazil’s Esquiva Falcao (22-0, 15 KOs) showcased his various boxing skills against Argentina’s Guido Pitto (25-6-2, 8 KOs) who lost by unanimous decision but forced the undefeated fighter into various situations. In the first four rounds, Falcao fought from the outside with impunity as Pitto was unable to touch the Brazilian. But when the Argentine boxer took the fight inside, he found more success and forced Falcao to utilize his inside boxing skills. The fighting was intense but Falcao was just too strong and slightly quicker in winning every round in the 10 round middleweight fight. Pitto’s best moments came during the fifth round when he forced his way inside. All three judges saw it 100-90 for Falcao.

Ireland’s Michael Conlan (9-0, 6 KOs) battered Nicola Cipolletta (14-7-2) every round with rights to the body and head. The Italian boxer rarely fired back and after several unanswered blows by Cipolletta the referee Russell Mora stopped the featherweight fight @1:55 of round seven. Cipolletta protested the stoppage but never truly engaged Conlan, who must have connected on more than 60 percent of his punches thrown. It was a whitewash for the former Irish Olympian.

Vladimir Nikitin (2-0) won by unanimous decision over Louisiana’s Clay Burns (5-5-2) in a featherweight fight that was much closer than the scores given. Burns started out fast and easily won the first two rounds. Then the battle got much closer as Nikitin’s overhand rights began scoring. Burns switched to southpaw and switched back and forth and that gave Nikitin pause. The last two rounds were very close especially the final round. But all three judges scored it 59-55 for Nikitin, thus only giving Burns one round. It was much closer in reality.

A battle between undefeated Puerto Rican lightweights saw Joseph Adorno (10-0, 9 KOs) drop Kevin Cruz (8-1, 5 KOs) twice in winning by unanimous decision. Though Adorno’s knockout streak was snapped, he engaged in a spirited battle against left-handed Cruz who let loose in the sixth and final round. A counter left hook by Adorno floored Cruz the second time during a furious exchange. Cruz beat the count and tried his best to go for the knockout; Adorno scooted away until the final bell. Scores of 59-53(2x) and 58-54 for Adorno.

Adam Lopez (11-1, 5 KOs) won by knockout over Hector Ambriz (12-8-2) in a featherweight match. The end came @1:29 of the eighth and final round of the fight when Lopez fired a four punch combination that forced referee Tony Weeks to halt the fight though Ambriz was still standing.

Uzbekistan’s Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (6-0, 3 KOs) stopped veteran Wilberth Lopez (23-10, 15 KOs) with a series of body blows @2:13 of round two in a super lightweight contest between lefties.

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