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Erislandy Lara Was Born To Fight

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Lara media day 121107 002aLara gets advice from trainer Shields leading up to his scrap with Martirosyan. (Chris Farina)

It is training day.

Over in the corner of the expansive Plex fitness center, where athletes of all shapes and sizes travel from far and wide to hone their skills, sits a boxing ring. The blue floor remembers men who’ve already dared to grace it in its short life (Plex Boxing has only existed since summertime), and they are some of the very best fighters in the world.

This is Ronnie Shields’ gym, and Ronnie only trains the best.

Today, a slender but sturdy figure is sitting in a chair in front of him. Shields has wrapped the hands of some of the very best champions the sport has seen, men like Evander Holyfield and Pernell Whitaker. Today is no different, even if people don’t yet recognize it.

Shields works slowly. The hands he wraps appear strong, but he cares for them carefully. He’s a surgeon, meticulously caring for his patient. It is a solemn affair. When one dares enter such a scene, he should be happy to be but glanced upon. It is a silent ritual.

Erislandy Lara waits patiently.

I snag pictures of the two as they work. It must be strange for them, a grown man sitting on the floor of the gym taking pictures of something they do every day, but I seem to go unnoticed. Lara’s eyes seem to drift…

***

There he lay, in the middle of the ocean. He is on a boat with twenty strangers. He is property of smugglers now, and soon they will realize who he is and how much more he is worth than the fifteen thousand dollars they first asked for.

For now, though, Lara waits.

The boat rocks back and forth. There are many ways to drift in the ocean and today the seas are choppy. The six-hour trip from Cuba to Mexico takes eleven more when trying to go unnoticed, partly because the travelers must wait for the safety of night. They must not be seen. They must not be caught. He must not be caught. Not again. Not this time. Not today. Today, he will escape Cuba. Today, he will be free.

***

Lara and Shields are up now. The two head over to the ring, and I’m waved over by Shields. It is time to shadowbox. Shields squares up to Lara, and the two begin a rhythmic dance across the floor. Lara stabs his strong southpaw jab out towards his trainer and follows it up with a short cross.

Back and forth, the two men go. Sometimes, Shields plays the aggressor, coming forward as Lara moves away effortlessly with counters.Sometimes, Shields is in retreat. Lara moves steadily in and out of range all the while. His wide stance would give tremendous power to his punches should this be more than just a dance, but he’s quick and nimble nonetheless.

He’s at his peak, this Erislandy Lara. At twenty-nine, his body is as fast and strong as it will ever be, and his skill level is as good as any competitor in the sport today. He’s been fighting all his life and it shows. He’s the real deal.

***

Lara was born in 1983, a product of one of the poorest areas of Guantánamo, Cuba. It is there he learned he’d have to fight for his life, one way or another. He never met his father. His mother, Marisol, struggled with alcoholism which left Grandmother Silvia with everything else. She did her best to keep tabs on young Lara and his sister, but she worked all day to try and make ends meet so the kids were often left to fend for themselves.

Such is life for the impoverished in Cuba.

On his own Lara learned to do what the other kids did. He’d brawl on the street, sometimes mimicking his country’s national heroes, sometimes out of sheer necessity. Often times, it was a bit of both.

When Grandmother Silvia died, Lara was just eleven years old, but knew he had to make a change in his life.

“She was my favorite person,” Lara told Tim Elfrink of miaminewtimes.com. “When she was gone, I had to do something different to cope with it.”

What was different was boxing. Yes, boxing is fighting, and to the untrained eye it may seem similar, but boxing is different. It takes the same kind of courage, but it also takes science and skill. It is a craft; a trade. The best boxers in the world treat the hammers of their fists with the scientific exactitude of a scalpel.

Lara began boxing in Cuba’s youth competitions, where his quick hands and natural instincts served him well long enough for old fashioned grit and determination to do the rest. Before he knew it, he was a teenager moving up the ranks and vying for Olympic spots on the best boxing team in the world.

Soon enough, Lara was captain of the Cuban national team and poised to become a national hero. He might have been considered one already, but no matter – soon enough he’d be ready to leave. Soon enough, he’d be labeled a traitor.

***

After three rounds of boxing shadows, Lara is ready to punch something real. Shields grabs two padded mitts and the two are back at it. Lara lets out grunts with each hard shot. Booms reverberate fiercely through the room as each punch makes its mark.

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Three men stand near the corner, two nodding in improvement. One is Lara’s manager, Luis Decubas, Jr., who’s guided Lara’s professional career from near the beginning. The other is Lara’s strength and condition coach, Edward Jackson. Both men seem pleased with what their fighter is doing.

The other person in the corner is me, and I’m just trying to stay out of the way. Fight week is fast approaching.

“Everything is going as planned,” Decubas tells me. “We’ve been with Ronnie for three years now. It’s our tenth fight with him. We’re just doing what we do.”

Jackson concurs. Standing in the middle of one of the more impressive fitness centers the world has to offer (a place where elite NFL, MLB and NBA athletes surround us as we are speaking), Jackson remains unmoved. He’s an old school man training an old school fighter.

“A gym is a gym,” he says. “We’ve got what we need here. We need bags and a ring. We get the same work wherever we are. We could be out there on that football field. What we do is what we do.”

Lara comes over to the corner between rounds. He swishes water in and out his mouth and spits it into a big, rusty bucket. He’s working hard today.

***

Lara’s first attempt to defect from Cuba happened during the 2007 Pan American Games in Brazil. One fateful evening, he and teammate Guillermo Rigondeaux slipped quietly past the guards (tasked with keeping them from doing such things) for a night on the town. Once out, they were met by German boxing promoter, Ahmet Oner, who had perhaps-not-so-coincidentally helped Yuriorkis Gamboa and Yan Barthelemy defect from Cuba a short time earlier.

After having a few drinks together and deciding to make their move to Germany that very night, the two would-be defectors were hidden away by Oner in a safehouse until they could be smuggled safely out of the country.

It was more difficult to escape than they thought.

The two languished for three weeks, fugitives in a strange land. Cuba worked diligently with Brazilian authorities to search for the missing boxers. In the end and contrary to popular belief, Lara and Rigondeaux decided to turn themselves in (they were never caught). What had seemed like a good plan turned to ruins in an instant alongside their careers as boxers for their home country of Cuba. Castro would not be pleased.

Upon their return, the two were branded traitors. Lara was stripped of his team captainship and placed on indefinite suspension (i.e., forever).The men were then confined to their homes, and earning enough money for even simple family necessities became more difficult than ever.

Being no longer allowed to participate in the sport he had mastered had its consequences, none of which more revealing than Lara being forced to sell the remnants of his 2005 World Championship run. What good is a boxing medal if you can’t eat?

“It was a pointless existence,” Lara later told Gerhard Pfeil.

***

He works out for around two hours today, but everything seems to move by so fast. After his ring work, Lara climbs through the ropes and heads over to the mat. He smiles and laughs with Decubas before reaffirming his scowl. There is still work to do. Now it is time for some stretching and core strengthening.

Decubas asks Jackson about how many crunches Lara does per day. Another fighter of his was asking, he says, and Decubas had never really thought about it.

Oh, I don’t know,” Jackson says. “Probably like six or seven hundred.”

The two keep talking and then I make a joke about how I did thirty or so myself yesterday at my local gym. Everyone laughs but Lara who is on the floor doing his routine at a fevered pace. He’s been doing crunches the whole time, likely meditating on his opponent’s promise to break his ribs come fight night.

***

Four months after Brazil, Lara was back at it. After making contact again with Oner and company, Lara decided he’d give it another go. This time, he said to himself, he’d make it no matter what. He’d do anything. He’d make it even if he had to do it alone. He’d make it even if he had to leave his family behind for now. He’d travel rough and choppy seas with twenty strangers under the cover of night if he had to, and he’d even pay the smugglers ten times the amount they had previously agreed upon to take him, but he’d make it.

“It was a very difficult decision to leave Cuba which is why it took me so long to leave, but I did it for the right reasons,” he told me after his six or seven hundred stomach exercises. “I did it to better my life and better my family’s life and that is what I’ve done. I came here to work hard and fight and obviously my ultimate goal is to move my family in Cuba over here to the United States.

Lara has four children. Two of his children remain in Cuba to this day, along with his mother who he keeps in contact with and hopes to have come to live with him now in the United States. His other two children are with him in Houston, where Lara now lives with his wife. The two met during Lara’s two-year, two-fight stint in Germany under the management of Oner. Lara says the two didn’t see eye to eye on important matters, so he signed with Decubas afterwards, who was then working with longtime fight manager Shelly Finkel, and moved to the United States. He lived and trained in Miami for a bit, but ultimately wanted to move to Houston so he could work with Shields more and have his family in a more hospitable environment.

Fight fans know the rest. He’s essentially undefeated, having only a draw versus the crafty Carlos Molina in what was Lara’s sixteenth professional fight paired with a disputed decision loss to Paul Williams that subsequently earned the judges of the bout unprecedented suspensions by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board.

***

Lara is finished with his work for the day. I am motioned over by Decubas who tells Lara in Spanish who I am and why I am here today. We talk about a lot of things. He’s getting ready to take on undefeated prospect Vanes Martirosyan in the headliner bout of an HBO Boxing After Dark telecast scheduled for November 10 so there are no shortage of questions about it. How’s camp? What do you think of your opponent? Who do you want to fight next?

To finish things up though, I ask Lara about America: is it everything he thought it’d be especially in comparison to all he did to get here? The rough and choppy seas…the hours and hours of waiting…the smugglers and the strangers….was it all worth it?

“Yes, yes, yes,” he says without hesitation. “No question…it is more than I expected. It is the American dream. In this country, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. In America, we have freedom and opportunity.”

Lara is about ready to leave. He makes it a point to shake my hand not once but twice so I use my freedom and opportunity to ask him what it was like on that boat that and how it shapes his life today. Lara’s eyes drift again but this time he looks thankful.

“Being on the sea, not knowing whether you are going to live or die—whether I’d make it or not,” he says. “I’m grateful to God I was able to pass that stage of my life and now that is why I work so hard in this country to make the most out of my life. I believe that God put every human being on this planet for a reason.”

And after being at the gym with him for just a couple hours and listening to his story, I do think I agree because one way or another, Erislandy Lara was born to fight.

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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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