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Canelo Mania Is Here

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Canelo Alvares

Last Thursday, Canelo Alvarez and Austin Trout visited Houston, Texas as part of their three-city, two-day press tour to promote their WBC and WBA Super Welterweight World Championship Unification bout. The highly anticipated encounter is set for Saturday, April 20 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas and will be televised live on Showtime.

An eight-piece mariachi band strums gallant war hymns in anticipation of his arrival. Some of Mexico’s finest and most recognizable music fills the air, as anxious onlookers line the specially brought in barrier gates hoping to catch a glimpse of the fair-skinned, redheaded fighter called Canelo.

The PlazAmericas mall has become the frequent home of such boxing related events as of late. Press tours, weigh-ins, fan events—PlazAmericas is Houston’s de facto home of pre-fight proceedings. Many have appeared here. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. has strolled through these halls at least twice already, toting with him Mexican legend and father, Chavez Sr. The old man almost always brings telecast partner Marco Antonio Barrera along, who in any other tandem would stand a chance at being the most recognizable Mexican in the building. Erik Morales stepped on the scales here in 2012, before his first valiant effort against rising force Danny Garcia. Jorge Arce and Nonito Donaire stood on this very same stage back in November, a makeshift encampment sandwiched between some escalators and the food court.

Yes, fight fans flocked in droves to see these men, but no one — no one– packed them in the way Canelo Alvarez did last week.

“Viva Mexico!” an admirer screams at him, as the undefeated junior middleweight strides in with unassuming confidence just as the band triumphantly finishes its final song.

The obvious is apparent. At the tender age of 22, Canelo Alvarez (seen in above photo by Rachel McCarson) is already Mexico’s biggest boxing star. More than that, though, he’s also one of the country’s most recognizable pop celebrities. In fact, Paul Magno, editor of The Boxing Tribune, told me Canelo was as big as a celebrity can get in Mexico.

“How big is Canelo here? Mention boxing to any mainstream, casual fan and Canelo is the name you'll immediately hear,” said Magno, a U.S. expatriate who now calls Mexico home.

Even in Texas, Magno’s words rang true. When the 23-year-old walked onto the stage, many of the women in attendance blushed and gushed over his cinnamon-colored hair and fair, freckled face as if Brad Pitt had just walked into the room. The men were no better, only more interested in what he does with his fists than his boyish charms. He was adored by everyone in attendance and he seemed to know it.

Canelo is calm and relaxed on the stage. He doesn’t even turn his head when his opponent, Austin Trout, enters the fray. The man who just went into hell and beat the devil (as Paulie Malignaggi described fighting Miguel Cotto at MSG) seems different than Canelo. He’s nervous, even agitated at times. Sometimes, he just stares off into space smiling. Other times, he’s distracted by the colored pixels on the slick little device he carries around in his pocket.

Both men are stylishly dressed, each carrying a far away intensity in their eyes, but the photographers in attendance only seem interested in capturing the Mexican’s. Canelo is stoic. His green WBC belt rests in front of him as he sits with a slight slouch next to Golden Boy Promotions’ head honcho and namesake, Oscar de la Hoya. Trout is on the other side, the podium acting as a barricade to the men who will intend much harm to each other April 20th in San Antonio. Trout’s WBA strap is conspicuously absent, but no matter. Those in attendance know the fight means more than those trivial titles can offer. Each man is top of his class, primed and ready for the pinnacle of their careers.

The crowd has quieted a bit now, perhaps in awe of the spectacle. San Antonio’s mayor pro tem, Ed Gonzalez, is here. He has made the 200-mile trip over to represent the host city. He steps to the center of the stage and admonishes the fans for being subdued. They respond in full force with chants of CA-NE-LO, CA-NE-LO, CA-NE-LO.

Their fervor heightens as De La Hoya takes the mic.

“We have a very special event between Austin Trout and Canelo Alvarez,” says De La Hoya. “Not in Las Vegas…not on PPV…it will be a memorable event in Texas!”

De La Hoya tells the crowd what they already know. It’s a great matchup between two young, undefeated titlists at the top of their games. It’s the kind of fight that gets made way less often than it should in boxing.

“The future is right here,” says Oscar. “Boxing is alive and well. Boxing is strong!”

San Antonio’s top promotional team, Mike Battah and Jesse James Leija, agree. Leija-Battah Promotions is a fast rising force in the state of Texas, where more and more fights seem to get made every year. Over the past two years, the company has become the premier local promotional company of the Lone Star state.

“We pushed to have it in Texas,” says Battah. “We fought for it! This is where the fight fans are!”

“We’ve been fighting so hard to bring a big time fight to Texas,” Leija confirms. Then, with a mischievous smile he adds: “I told Oscar to bring a big event to Texas or else we’re going to get back in the ring for a rematch!”

Austin Trout is the first of the combatants to come to the podium. He is greeted by a polite applause.

“That song that was playing when I came up,” Trout says. “Drake said it best: started from the bottom now we’re here…started from the bottom, now my whole team is here!”

Trout calls Alvarez a true champion. He thanks him for taking the fight and says boxing is in such a state today that Alvarez could have easily taken any fight he wanted. He didn’t have to take the toughest fight he could find, but did. The two men nod in respect as he speaks.

“They think boxing is dying,” he says to the fans. “But it’s never going to be dead when we have fans like ya’ll!”

The crowd is pleased.

Next comes their star, Canelo. The roar of the crowd is deafening. The chanting begins again. It is Canelo mania in full force. CA-NE-LO! CA-NE-LO! CA-NE-LO! The crowd is screaming and chanting. CA-NE-LO!! CA-NE-LO!! CA-NE-LO!!  It is louder than ever. The throng of onlookers pushes forward now. Even the writers and media members are bumping elbows now.

There is a gleam in his eye. These people love him. Love. And his smile says he may very well love them, too. He’s trying to quiet them down so he can talk, but he can’t seem to help himself. He soaks as much of it in as he can before getting out but out a few words in his native Spanish.

“I am very well prepared. It will be a difficult fight but I’m ready,” he says in Spanish with a smile. “I’m ready.”

And so, it would seem, were the people in Houston last Thursday. We are ready, they say, for a great fight on April 20, ready to witness yet another of their rising Herculean labors, ready to bask in the glory of the presence of the next great Mexican boxing champion. He is here, they say within their hearts. He is here. Our hero has arrived. Canelo Alvarez is here.

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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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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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