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LOTIERZO'S LOWDOWN Sonny Liston: The Most Underrated Heavyweight Champ In History

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0212 largeFor a couple years before he fought Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston was thought of by some boxing insiders as being if not greater than Joe Louis, at the worst, the greatest heavyweight since Louis. Sonny destroyed everything across the ring from him on his way to his title shot against Floyd Patterson in September of 1962. And once Liston had Patterson in the ring he only needed two minutes to relieve him of his title. Then in July of 1963 he repeated the feat needing only four more seconds to dispatch a better strategically prepared Patterson. And in reality, Liston was probably three years past his prime by the time he challenged Floyd for the title.

Then Cassius Clay came along and as a 7-1 underdog and upset Sonny and the rest became history. Today, fifty years after Liston took the title from Patterson, his legacy is all but forgotten and Clay, who became Muhammad Ali after beating Liston, is regarded as the greatest heavyweight champion in history. And yes, a lot of that is based on him beating the invincible and unbeatable Liston.

As most fans know, there's a lot of speculation that Liston dumped both fights against Ali. I'm not going to go into that. Personally, despite being told different by those who were around Liston at that time, I believe an ill trained and eroded Liston lost to Clay legitimately the first time, and went into the tank for the rematch against Ali 15 months later. Also, based on their styles and physicality, Liston, who may have demolished Ali foe “Smokin” Joe Frazier and also handled the human wrecking machine George Foreman, didn't match up with Ali. Muhammad had the style, size, speed, strength, chin and mental constitution to beat Liston if both were at their best.

So in essence it's the two fights with Ali that tarnished Liston's perception and reputation. And that's wrong. For the record, Liston is one of the top five greatest heavyweight champs in history, regardless of whether you use his record and resume or you concentrate on what he brought to the ring as a professional fighter.

As a fighter, Liston could box, cut off the ring, slip the jab, parry the right and hit with both hands. He was strong as a bull, punched effortlessly and had a cast iron chin. No doubt Sonny was a born fighter. He never got wild or spaghetti armed, and he kept the pressure on. Fighters who tried to box him either lost every round or didn't survive to hear the final bell. And those who tried to take it to him, like Cleveland Williams, Nino Valdez and Mike DeJohn, were taken apart and knocked out.

Liston was also a tremendous boxer who was fundamentally sound and hard to hit. Sonny had a great left jab that he used both offensively and defensively. Everything he did started with his jab. He pressured his opponents from behind it and forced them to deal with his 84 inch reach. His jab came out straight and even when he missed, which was seldom, his usually retreating opponent was out of position to launch a counter attack. Sonny's high guard and partially extended left hand covered his center beautifully and therefore his opponents were forced to punch around his left hand when they felt the gumption to go on the attack, which made it easy for Sonny to redirect their jab and punch inside of it. And unlike every other big puncher and aggressive heavyweight, Liston had no problem moving backward when he need to.

Another Liston tactic was to hook off the jab, which usually forced his opponents into his right hand. He was also able to get close and work his iron-fisted uppercuts from both sides on the inside. And because he held his guard tight and his elbows close to his body, he was hard to hold and move around, simply because there wasn't any body part to grab. And if you opened your arms and tried to wrap him up, he could take your head off coming up the middle.

Think about all the great heavyweight champs from John L. Sullivan up to the Klitschko brothers. How many can it be said about that they were both a great boxer and puncher? I would say after Joe Louis, is Liston, and a tier below them are Lennox Lewis along with Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko. And in all fairness, Lennox Lewis was a good boxer, but he could be forced to fight with his back to the ropes and then be held or he'd look for the referee to break the action. As for the Klitschkos, they're more than adequate boxers, but they rely more on their size and length to stymie their opponents, and offensively, they aren't very imaginative. What they do, they do well, but it's more driven by not making any mistakes and taking what's being given to them.

The only thing unimaginative about Sonny Liston was his pace. Sonny was aggressive, but he was measured in the way he pressed. He applied just enough pressure to where he forced his opponents to react, but not too fast to where he couldn't see every escape route they had.

Liston 50-4 (39), who stood a shade under 6'1″ and weighed between 215-218 in his prime, is one of the top five greatest heavyweight champs in history. He would've mutilated swarmers who brought the fight to him, like Dempsey, Marciano, Frazier and Tyson. He was too polished and refined for punchers/sluggers the likes of Max Baer, James Jeffries and maybe even George Foreman. As for boxer-punchers like Lennox Lewis and Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, I could see him beating them using whatever style they chose to fight him. If they tried to box him, he'd force them to fight – and if they went at him, he'd force them back to trying to box him or they'd get beaten up or stopped in the process. In reality, only Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes present Liston with a match-up problem.

And, finally, there's the issue of intimidation. Foreman and Tyson got a lot of mileage out of it, but Sonny was its undisputed champion. He didn’t try to be intimidating: he was intimidating. Even a genuine tough guy like Chuck Wepner was candid about being undone by Sonny before their fight (and this was the ancient version of the former champion). When he felt the first punch, matters only got worse.

Because I think that Liston dumped the second Ali fight, it’s worth taking a moment to look at the three fights that I believe Sonny lost legitimately. The first was against Marty Marshall, who got him to laugh, then broke his jaw. Sonny lost a split decision, then beat Marshall twice decisively. As an old man, he ran out of gas against the talented Leotis Martin, after beating Martin up for most of the fight. He got knocked out with a great shot. That leaves the first Ali fight. History has distorted some facts about the fight. Lost in the myth about it is the fact that, at the time of the stoppage, the fight was even on the scorecards. So think about it this way: an older than advertised, badly trained, and too confident Liston lost to a prime version of the greatest (and certainly the fastest) champion the division has ever had. It’s hard to speculate on what might have happened if a younger, more motivated Sonny had had a chance against the same Ali. I won’t say Liston would have won. But I won’t say it's a given he would have lost either.

Other than that, Liston went through everyone he ever fought. And he fought everyone willing to fight him. He destroyed all the contenders who Floyd Patterson avoided; his ascension to a title shot came from there being literally no one he hadn’t beaten. But Liston came up at the wrong time. There was simply no place for him. In today’s market of bad guy notoriety, he’d be a superstar—the most emulated fighter on earth. Boxing could desperately use a Sonny Liston today. But there’ll never be another heavyweight anywhere close.

Frank Lotierzo can be reached 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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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

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

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Michael Dutchover

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

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

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

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

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

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

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

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

Other bouts

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

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

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

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

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

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