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Will Adamek-Cunningham II Float As Network TV Test Balloon?

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Adamek is a 4 to 1 favorite, as the oddsmakers figure he is more natural at heavyweight than Cunningham is. Readers, who do you like in this rumble? (photo by Kubikfoto)

Boxing on free, over-the-air network television is going back to the future for the second consecutive weekend. This past Saturday afternoon, CBS floated a 235¼ -pound test balloon – that would be the combined weights of IBF bantamweight champion Leo Santa Cruz and challenger Alberto Guevara, who duked it out in the Los Angeles Sports Arena — with Santa Cruz retaining his title on a wide unanimous decision.

This Saturday afternoon, at the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pa., heavyweights Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham collectively are a 430-pound balloon attempting to lift off in what might be an even more consequential experiment to see if fights and fighters still have a place in the non-cable and non-satellite sports universe.

If the NBC ratings are reasonably favorable – and they just might be, if Adamek and Cunningham generate anything close to the heat of their scintillating Dec. 11, 2008, slugfest, in which Adamek claimed Cunningham’s IBF cruiserweight title on a split decision — boxing on Saturday afternoons may again be revived after long years of being almost exclusively consigned to cable, premium cable and pay-per-view.

Not that anyone would care to admit it, but the future of an increasingly marginalized sport could well hinge on whether those potentially larger audiences have their appetites whetted by the sight of gloved boxers pounding away at one another on a roped-off swatch of canvas.

“It’s a great matchup,” co-promoter Kathy Duva, CEO of Main Events, said of Adamek-Cunningham II. “When their first fight (which was staged at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., and televised by Versus) ended, I remember saying, `We just promoted the two best cruiserweight bouts of all time,’ the other, in her opinion, being the first meeting of Evander Holyfield and Dwight Muhammad Qawi, in which Holyfield claimed Qawi’s WBA crown on a rousing split decision on July 12, 1986, in Atlanta.

Any list of all-time great cruiser wars would have to include the April 26, 2003, pairing of Vassiliy Jirov and James Toney in Mashantucket, Conn., in which Toney wrested Jirov’s IBF strap on a unanimous decision – but Duva’s point is basically well taken. It wouldn’t just be a good thing if Adamek and Cunningham recreate some of the magic they made four years earlier; it is almost essential if the seed they, Santa Cruz and Guevara planted is to grow and flourish.

“This fight, we hope, is a bridge from the NBC Sports Network cable series to regular NBC dates,” Duva continued. “It’s a natural progression. Hopefully, it’ll be the first of many such shows. There are 129 million TV homes in the United States that can get NBC. You can’t say that about anything that’s on the cable systems. HBO is in about – and forgive me if I’m a little off on the numbers – 25 to 30 million homes. Showtime is in 22 million homes. Even ESPN, which has the widest distribution of any cable network that does boxing, is only in about 90 million U.S. homes.

“We have an opportunity here to reach almost everyone in the country. There are a lot of people who can’t watch boxing because they don’t have cable or don’t subscribe to HBO or Showtime. For those people, it’s like the sport doesn’t even exist. That’s why we chose (Adamek-Cunningham II) – because it figures to be all-action, like the last one. When people are flipping through the channels on Saturday afternoon, we want them to stop when they come across this fight. We want them to keep watching and to get excited about what they’re seeing. Not to overstate the case or anything, but we can build a new generation of fans if this catches on like I think it can.”

While Duva’s assessment might be dismissed as typical public-relations hype – she started out in the boxing business as a flack for Main Events in the early 1980s when her now-deceased husband, Dan Duva, was the company’s CEO – it is more or less seconded by legions of increasingly disenchanted fight fans who remember the way it used to be, when big names like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and others helped build their reputations and immense followings with Saturday afternoon network appearances.

On theboxingpalace.forumotion.com, a web site which allows John Q. Public to respond to boxing-related questions, one such query wondered which as-of-yet-unmade fights might benefit from the sort of over-the-air network exposure provided to Santa Cruz-Guevara and Adamek-Cunningham II.

One poster wrote: What boxing matches on Network TV would succeed? Promoters lost track of the fact that you need to build an audience before people will care enough to buy a major fight on PPV. So, the level of what’s considered a “major” fight is so diluted that anything better than all right is buried on PPV where casual and potential new fans will never see it.

So you, the fight-loving everyman, have spoken, and the powers-that-be, those with the wherewithal to effect meaningful change, are listening, or so it would seem.

In an interview with RingTV.com’s Joseph Santoliquito, Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and the NBC Sports Network, ruminated on the long absence of boxing from the broadcast networks. Santa Cruz-Guevara, with a Showtime boxing crew calling the action (CBS and Showtime both are owned by Viacom), was the first fight on CBS since Bernard Hopkins retained his IBF middleweight championship on an 11th-round stoppage of Glen Johnson on July 20, 1997, in Indio Springs, Calif.

“I think network boxing disappeared because the promoters, and quite honestly, the fighters, were more concerned about a payday than growing their fights and growing their sport,” Miller told Santoliquito. “Boxing just migrated to cable from there, then eventually to pay cable, choking off any kind of development for a good, young fighter to build a fan base.”

Miller had reason to be at least a bit skeptical that his company’s most recent foray into the fight game would be any more successful than the last. Adamek-Cunningham II is the first boxing match on NBC since 2004, and the first hint at anything resembling regular dates since the sport began being phased out in the late 1990s for the reasons Miller has already outlined. Even the first smaller test balloon tossed up by the fledgling NBC Sports Network nearly a year ago was blown a bit off-course by the unfavorable winds of change that can come out of nowhere, and frequently do.

The NBC Sports Group had acquired the ratings-poor Versus and 12 of Comcast’s regional sports networks when the decision was made, with a goal of helping fill all those programming hours, to launch the four-bout “Fight Night” series on the former Versus, now renamed NBC Sports Network. The first main event, on Jan. 21, 2012, was to have been an attractive matchup of heavyweight contender Eddie Chambers and former WBO heavyweight champion Sergei Liakhovich at the Asylum Arena in South Philadelphia.

But Chambers pulled out on short notice with an injury, and Liakhovich also withdrew, leaving Kathy Duva and matchmaker J Russell Peltz scrambling to come up with at least a semi-attractive bout to headline. What they finagled was an all-Philly showdown of undefeated but below-the-radar young heavyweights Bryant Jennings and Maurice Byarm, which, on paper, didn’t appear to be nearly as appealing as Chambers-Liakhovich.

What could have proved a disaster turned out to be an unexpected gem when Jennings outpointed Byarm in a crowd-pleaser. Jennings then stopped Liakhovich, also on the NBC Sports Network, and on the strength of three more victories – the most recent a fifth-round, one-punch knockout of Bowie Tupou on Dec. 8, which, natch, was televised by the NBC Sports Network – he has moved up to No. 5 in the IBF heavyweight ratings. Five-time Boxing Writers Association of America Trainer of the Year Freddie Roach, who has ties to Jennings, went so far as to proclaim the onetime standout high school defensive end as this country’s top heavyweight prospect.

Hey, when presented with lemons, the resourceful person makes lemonade. And Duva is nothing if not resourceful.

Which brings us back to Adamek-Cunningham II, and the differences between where they were then and where they are now. It is a tale of opportunities presented and capitalized upon, which is, after all, the basis for virtually every boxing success story.

“I’m not going to underestimate him this time,” Cunningham said of how he expects this second go-round to transpire. “I didn’t underestimate him a lot in the first fight, but my trainer at the time, Anthony Chase (his chief second is now Naazim Richardson), thought he saw things we could turn to our advantage. We didn’t think he could outbox us, and I do think for the most part we won the boxing end of it. But Adamek was durable – more durable than we thought. We didn’t realize he’s as strong as he is, and that he had such a good chin.

“I made mistakes. I know that now. One was that I wanted to be a star. I wanted to put on a big splash. I wanted to put a big hurt on the dude. When Adamek knocked me down the first time, my strategy went out the window. I just fought harder. A lot of people applauded my heart, but what else was I going to do? Lay down and quit?”

What’s different this time is that Adamek (47-2, 29 KOs) and Cunningham (25-4, 12 KOs) are heavyweights, toiling in the most traditional glamor division, instead of on the cruiserweight back streets. That seemingly is to the disadvantage of Cunningham, who was a taut and trim 207 pounds for his only previous bout as a heavy, and isn’t expected to be much higher when he enters the ring on Saturday. Adamek, on the other hand, has come in as high as 225 pounds, with 10 outings as a heavyweight, including a 10th-round TKO loss to WBC champ Vitali Klitschko on Sept. 10, 2011. He has a size, strength and experience advantage in the division over Cunningham, which helps explain why he’s a 4-1 favorite.

But Duva, who now has a promotional interest in both fighters, believes a lot of that magic from 2008 will carry over. That might be a case of wishful thinking, but who could blame her for feeling that way? So much is on the line this time around, not only for the fighters but maybe for the sport of boxing itself.

“So much in our business rides on what the heavyweights do,” Duva acknowledged. “That’s always been so. Part of our mission on the NBC Sports Network, and now on NBC, is to exhibit the heavyweights.

“I can’t predict the number of eyeballs that are going to watch this fight, but it will be exponentially higher than the first time. I will be very pleased if we get something equal or close to what we got from these guys before. The electricity that night was incredible. We need more of that. Boxing needs more of that.”

 

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

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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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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar

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Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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