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Could Being Good Be Bad For Manny Pacquiao?

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Pacquiao breaks camp 120604 003aReligion isn't my thing. I grew up Catholic, not because I wanted to, but because my parents set it up that way. I attended church, but was bored by it. I drifted off mentally when at mass, thought about the next Little League game, scanned for the cute girls in attendance. I found the customs involved in the whole deal strange–men in sci-fi garb, and such– and that much stranger as I got older, and read stories in the newspapers of cases involving priests' misdeeds.

I found it hard to conceive that any human being could successfully pledge their full-allegiance to an unseen deity, and rebuff internal urges to procreate, or fornicate. Year after year, I sipped the Kool Aid dutifully, trying to develop a taste for the Godstuff…and periodically, I will still try a thimble full here or there, whisper a prayer while lying in bed. But all in all, it ain't for me.

I try to keep an open mind for those who are believers; after all, knowing what we know about the world, anything that works as a salve, as long as it isn't a self-destructive substance, people should have access to it. And bless 'em if they find something that works.

But in many cases–maybe it's the journalist in me, the part of me that searches for the contradictions, the elements that can be fixed, for the betterment of the masses, not the uppermost classes–I tend towards the mildly jaded and cynical when it comes to those who worship overtly. Quiet reverence is one thing; a grandma who goes about her business, but pops into church every AM for some contemplation and devotion time, as she sends hopeful messages to a higher power, so that her grandkids lead a full and healthy life, and her sciatica disappears and her friend Bertha's cancer is removed, who the hell am I to say anything about? But those that worship, and proselytize, who feel a need to spread the good word, incessantly, in any context, well, the cynic in me often silently judges. Why the need to testify and try to sway wayward souls into the flock? I'm an each to his own guy, again, as long as your behavior doesn't affect others. You want to build an altar in your living room, and sip grape juice and pretend it's the blood of someone or another, really, that's your business. But if you're out and about, as a public figure, and you spend a bunch of your time extolling the virtues of your movement, and work like the dickens to sell us on that movement, a movement which I believe, all due respect, condones sexism and bigotry, against women and homosexuals…then I got a bit of a problem with that. Even if you are a person who seemingly believes fully and deeply that what you are spouting is the truth. Even if I sense that you aren't one of these folks who uses the “word of God” as a weapon, who uses your religious beliefs as a salve but also as a weapon, as a rationale to justify your views on same-sex marriage, or birth-control, or abortion, or other matters which are in my mind purely no one's business but your own, and certainly not the business of an elected government official to impact, or a church leader to influence.

Over the years, when coming across stories that hinted, or outright stated that Manny Pacquiao was a man of severe contradictions, that his humble, affable public persona hid another side, one that gave in temptation, and behaviors which impacted his loved ones negatively, I found myself looking past them. I found myself justifying them, glossing over them. When I heard about drinking, gambling, cockfighting, and so many “where there's smoke there's got to be fire” rumors about marital infidelity, I found myself looking past them. When Floyd and company alleged that many got help via PEDs, I frankly dismissed that grenade out of hand. Rightly, I think, because we've seen no proof of that, but wrongly, perhaps, because I took a shine to his personality. Manny doesn't come off as someone who would cheat, I thought to myself. I think regular readers know that I've been trying to come to grips with that of late, that I've tried to hash out in my brain if we, the press, have treated Pacquiao, because of that humility and affability, more favorably than, say, a less humble person, like Floyd Mayweather.

With Pacquiao's recent full-on immersion into his religion, his almost Born Again status, I have found myself looking at him with a new set of eyes. Or, perhaps, a new bias. Because of my personal belief that religion is too often a misused opiate of the masses, too often used as a tool of destruction, rather than what it could and should be, a means to achieve a measure of serenity and contentment that is difficult to attain, and a blueprint to aid man in overcoming his inherent selfishness, and move towards selflessness, I have looked and listened as Manny preached with a sense of detachment and even slight skepticism. When the Pacquiao-Ampong same-sex marriage flap erupted, I admit, my view of the Congressman took a slight dive. I see marriage as an issue of love, not gender, and dismiss the viewpoint that sees it as anything but as a biased one. I believe–and please get back to me in 20 years on this–that history will bear out my stance in coming decades, just as it did on the subject of the right of women and blacks to vote, for instance. Yet, I didn't scorn Manny because of his biases the same way I do some of the US politicians who portray themselves as good Christians..and then vote to reduce food stamps to needy children, or deny the right of two people who love each other to get married. Why? I guess because I sensed his faith, his recent immersion, was genuine. But…I don't know if it is. Nobody really does except for Manny. After all, before recent fights over the years, we heard about how he was in the best shape of his life, that he was training as hard as could be. Now, we learn that he was sometimes up all night partying, and showing up to the gym as fresh as Charlie Sheen mid-bender. Yes, yes, I know that the boxing business is one where promotion is instrumental in success. But sue me; I tend to believe, oftentimes, people at face value. When a boxer says he is coming to the ring looking to do damage, and then like David Haye fights like a scared Golden Glover, I feel cheated. That's naivete, you could argue. I don't fight it, because it shows I haven't tipped towards full-on veteran reporter cynical.

I am still trying to hash out how I feel about the new Pacquiao. Part of me feels duped, like I was sold some BS about the old Manny. But that is my issue, and, frankly, more germane to me personally, and my attempts to figure out my existence and the ways of the world, than it is to TSS. What is germane to TSS, though, is how Manny's conversion will affect him in the ring on Saturday night, against Timothy Bradley. Colleague Ron Borges wrote about how Bradley is something of a skeptic on “new Manny.”

“I knew sooner or later all the distractions would catch up with him,’’ Bradley said of Pacquiao’s chaotic public and private lives to Borges. “He’s here. He’s there. He’s fornicating. Now he’s got his religion in place? I want to finish the job.’’

Good for Bradley, for articulating what too many of us are afraid, or unwilling, for whatever reasons, to voice. He is questioning the veracity of Manny's newfound faith. He's thinking that it only came about, to this degree of devotion, because it was forced upon him. Bradley, or so it has appeared as we've watched him these last two months, seems to possess a genuine faith in a higher power, and seems to actually walk the walk in his personal life as well. Unless it emerges later that we've been conned, it seems to me that he is reverent towards his wife Monica and kids, and doesn't need to fill any vacuums with drinking or screwing around or massive gambling. So, I'm left to wonder, will that true-blue devotion and seeming serenity manifest itself in the ring, and propel Bradley to an upset win on Saturday over Pacquiao?

I asked Pacquiao about the faith issue before the Ampong thing popped up. I wanted to know if the newly bolstered faith would impact him as a boxer. Why, I asked, did you indulge in untoward activities?

“I read the Bible, it's my manual for life,” Pacquiao told me. “Before (my conversion) I pray, I always pray. I believed in God's dream to follow,” he said, but that he wasn't sure how exactly to follow the directions to be “good.” That, he said, is why he indulged in “gambling and girls” and the like. “I read the bible now to follow the commandments of God.”

I asked Manny what Bible verses in particular spoke to him. Matthew 5:48, he said, is favorite: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Another is John 8:47, Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” I admit, that second especially throws me, as it seems to be a diss on those who don't follow God as Manny and members of his particular flock see him. If a person is good, and does good acts, I frankly don't give a hoot if he belong to the Church of the Potted Plant. He's doing good, being a benefit to society, and that's all that matters, to me. But I digress…

So, will the heavy duty faith keep you from trying to knock Bradley's head off?

“In the ring I get to entertain people,” Pacquiao told me. “I want the people to be happy.”

Trainer Freddie Roach also told me that the new faith level won't diminish his skills as a boxer. “Manny gave up all distractions, now it's just one distraction,” he said. “It's not too hard reading the Bible. Now, he's not going away, not going to cockfights or casino. He hasn't drank in over a year. He's given up all that's bad for him. He realized his mistakes, him and his wife are getting along great. His life is less confusing for him and all of us.”

Me, I'm of the Freddie school on religion, I think. (I bet he grew up a Massachusetts Catholic, as I did, lol.) But I wondered, has Manny yanked him into the flock?

“Manny hasn't invited me yet to Bible study. I'm waiting for that to happen. I'm not a religious person, but it won't kill me.”

So, will Manny still go for the kill, or feel pity for the fool, if he gets Bradley buzzed?

“I worried at first,” Roach told me. “I wanted to see his work ethic. He still beats the s–t out of me. He says “sorry,” and hits me again. I was a little worried about that, not wanting to hurt people, but it's the oldest sport in the world. Maybe God was into boxing too. I'm not worried at all about him being soft, he's the same fighter, just no more distractions and vices… except for Bible, and that's a pretty good vice in my book.”

You might recall George Foreman went through a conversion himself. He lost to Jimmy Young in Puerto Rico on March 17, 1977 (UD12). He went to his dressing room and was reborn. “I died in the dressing room and had my vision of Jesus Christ being crucified,” he said after. “God wanted me to lose that fight so that I could lose my life. That's not an excuse; that's the truth…I walked out of that dressing room with peace of mind for the first time in my life.” Foreman left the sport, became a preacher, and then re-entered the ring a decade later. His faith held steady, to this day. I reached out to Big George, to help get a better sense of the Pacquiao conversion, and ask if the infusion of faith will help or hurt the Filipino in the ring.

Has he been following the Pacquiao-is-reborn storyline?

“I've been kind of watching it,” Foreman told me. “It seems to be sincere. That's what you want.”

Foreman said he met Pacquiao at the birthday bash for Muhammad Ali in January. “We sat and talked religion,” the ex heavyweight champion said. “He is sincere.” Foreman said being the man is hard, that there is nobody surrounding you when you are out and about to tell you no, that isn't a good idea. “I was right and rich,” he said of his pre-conversion days, “and who's going to tell me I can't say or do that?”

I did for the benefit of disclosure admit to Foreman my own stance on religion, by the way, so he could know where I was coming from. And, interestingly, without me mentioning Pacquiao's same-sex marriage flap, he touched on the issue of religious figures judging others and using Bible passages to justify it. “Just because you find religion,” Foreman said, “you shouldn't shut the door on thinking. The Bible is the truest love letter.” Foreman said we should give Pacquiao time, let him grow into the faith, and we will see if his actions match his words. “Like Mother Theresa, she went out and demonstrated her beliefs. You can't get tangled up in deeds. Show me how religious you are by the deeds you do. Those people that do the Meals on Wheels, I'd rather see that than preaching on the street or praying for five hours. If Manny has extra money, he can donate it to the Meal on Wheels program. That's full-time Holy Ghost religion.”

Foreman agrees with Roach, that the new religiosity won't affect Pacman's ability to finish a foe. But he might be stung, Foreman said, if the cheers turn to boos. “If you're religious, and you get hit, and they go crazy, it's the most lonely feeling in the world,” he said. “Pacquiao will have to deal with that.”

All in all, Foreman stresses that we should be patient with Pacquiao. “We never wait and see. It will take time. It took me thirty years to figure out that I was not called to preach against anyone and anything, but to tell people how great God is. Because once you say it out of church, it's no longer religious, it's politics.”

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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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