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Avila’s Las Vegas Fight Journal: May Day 2013

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MayweathervictoryIMG5-15-2013Springtime in Southern California can be the best time of the year. With temperatures in the 80s and a brisk wind blowing through the Cajon Pass, we breezed up the mountain freeway toward Las Vegas in speedy fashion with the wind at our backs.

Of course, we had to look out for the Highway Patrol.

It was Thursday morning and after a three hour drive or less, we motored right up to the 50 Cent Boxing Gym on the west side of the Las Vegas Strip. A group of cars including a sterling looking Bentley were parked in front of the spanking new boxing facility.

Media types roamed outside of the gym so we looked for a doorway and walked right through. The place was packed with reporters and boxers. In one of the boxing rings a fighter was getting his hands wrapped. On the corner was Roy Jones Jr. who looked our way. As I scoured the gym I spotted Muhammad Mubarak, a boxing journalist and artist who waved me over.

Mubarak showed us around the brand new gym including the sauna, lunch room, weight room and treadmills. The inside of the spacious boxing gym was designed with red, white and some black. And on the west corner of the gym was an artist rendering of “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali.

“I did that,” said Mubarak, who has produced some great artwork over the years.

Over all, the boxing gym was very impressive, including the art work.

Finally the boxer’s hands were fully wrapped and he began to do mitt work. Once I saw the boxer’s face I realized it was Canada’s light heavyweight Jean Pascal. He was in the middle of preparations for his clash with fellow Canadian Lucian Bute. A few days later the fight would be canceled because of an injury suffered by Bute.

Pascal looked over toward me as if trying to figure out who I was. So did Roy Jones Jr. Maybe I’ve changed a bit. Or maybe they recognized me but can’t remember from where. Pascal hit the mitts but kept dropping his hands after connections. It seemed like a bad habit forming right before my eyes. Nobody said anything.

Later on, Yuri Gamboa showed up and was standing up on the ring watching Pascal do his mitt work. A few other fighters are mulling around the media guys with cameras, recorders and notebooks.

After an hour I and photographer Al Applerose decided we had seen enough and headed toward our hotel that we booked for the weekend.

We killed time waiting to meet with a boxer and trainer at a designated time. During our wait we received a phone call from a very good friend. We decide to change course and meet with our friend at an Italian deli. Meanwhile, the trainer and boxer couldn’t make the appointment so things worked out fine. After a few deli sandwiches we headed out to a comedy club inside the Plaza Hotel. It’s called The Guidos of Comedy at the Bonkerz Club. We all had some laughs from the three comics and head out toward another section of Las Vegas. This time we’re going to see a new movie, Iron Man 3. It’s in 3D. It starts at midnight. I’m falling asleep during the commercials and previews then the movie started and I definitely can say that the film was never boring. Around 3:30 a.m. we all go our separate ways. By the time I sleep it’s already 4:30 a.m.

Friday

I can’t really sleep past 8 a.m. so I head to a Starbucks to grab a cup of Joe. It doesn’t really taste good. But I start receiving phone calls from the boxing trainer we missed the previous evening and make an appointment to meet in North Las Vegas.

We meet at Nevada Partners where a boxing gym used to be located. Now it’s more of a community center and we eat at the cafeteria with two trainers and a conditioning coach. These are really good people that I’ve known for just a few years but it seems I’ve known them for longer. They’re real boxing people who know the sport and though they don’t need it in their lives, they still are big contributors in their own ways. After a great breakfast and good conversation we leave our separate ways.

After a short drive we reach the MGM Grand and park in its monstrous parking structure. I’ve heard of people getting lost in there for hours. We find an open space right near the stairwell and close to the casino itself. I feel like George Costanza in “Seinfeld” who keeps talking about the great parking spot he found like some conquering hero. “Can you believe that parking space I got? Is that a great spot or what!”

We walk a short way to get our press credentials. I notice that security has been beefed up quite a bit. It’s a sign of the times. The weigh-ins are going to start in a few hours and we file our way through the crowd already gathering. I’m about 20 feet from the media center when I spot a familiar face and she spots me at the same time. It’s Brandy Badry, a female prizefighter from Canada that I met several years ago in Palm Springs. She’s a tall brunette with striking looks and numerous tattoos. She loves the fight game and always has enthusiasm about anything related to prizefighting. We talk a short while and she introduces her friends and I introduce her to photographer Al Applerose, then we part ways. She promises to let me know when she fights again.

People are trying to gain entrance to the media room but security guards are vigilant. They wave us through. One of them recognizes me and says “I’m not ignoring you, it’s just these people are trying to get in.”

Inside there must be over 100 reporters sitting, standing or mulling around with their heads pointed down as they look at their cell phones. We head toward the front of the room that is less crowded and I spot some open tables and outlets to sit down. Along the way I shake hands with LA Times’ Lance Pugmire, BoxingScene.com’s Rick Reeno reaches out, as does Norm Frauheim of the Phoenix newspaper Arizona Republic. I end up finding a space near Ryan Maquinana, a young talented sportswriter. I see Mia St. John who is being questioned or interviewed by a couple of people. We wave at each other. She’s wearing red. She’s dressed to kill. She’s always dressed to kill.

Once I sit a few of my friends drop over and we discuss the fights. Everyone wants to know who is picking who. I usually don’t reveal my picks because it causes discord with the fighters especially if I don’t pick them to win. So I usually refrain. Press agents get upset by this but they don’t know our end. They just want to publish in their press releases which reporters are picking which fighters. I’d rather piss off a press agent than a fighter. Years back, I lost touch with Fernando Vargas because of a pick. For years I couldn’t get an interview with the “Ferocious” one. Things are cool now, but back then I had to improvise. Since then I rarely give predictions on record.

Around 2:30 p.m. most of the reporters and photographers run toward the arena to record the weigh-ins. Floyd Mayweather’s team and Robert Guerrero’s team are already in the arena awaiting their turn to stand and pose.

I stay behind and watch the whole thing in the media room. It’s being televised on a big screen and it’s more comfortable to sit back and watch and type out a report if necessary. Nothing much happens.

After the proceedings the reporters begin filing back into the media center. One of the people that walk up to me is Mia St. John so we talk a while about this and that. I’ve known Mia for about 15 years now. She hasn’t changed in appearance much. She still dazzles. Later, Sue Bird of the WBC walks over and we all chat. Women’s boxing is the topic and later a few more women’s boxing advocates walk over too. Everyone has a theory on women’s boxing and why it hasn’t succeeded so far. It’s obvious, but most do not see the obvious. They point toward other more ridiculous reasons. Those that know women’s boxing understand its all about exposure. Female boxing is rarely televised. You can count the number of times female boxing has been shown on TV by the number of total eclipses that take place. It’s rare. Most people don’t understand that simple fact.

Around 4:30 p.m. we began gathering our equipment to head toward the Cosmopolitan Resort nearby on the Strip. It’s a swanky hotel casino with an incredible chandelier in the main room and has been a hot spot for every well-dressed 20 to 40-year old since it opened. I’ve yet to watch a boxing match in its confines so I’m a little curious. We go through a maze of configurations trying to locate the ballroom where the fight card is going to take place. On the fourth floor we’re guiding to a desk where a kind woman checks the list and gives our credentials to us. Inside there are many journalists and boxing fans waiting to get inside. A few boxing people ask me where to pick up credentials. I run into an old boxing fan who I hadn’t seen in many years. He was an avid reader of mine and lets me know that he has moved to Lancaster and can’t read my stories any more. He doesn’t have Internet so he relies on newspapers. He complains that La Opinion doesn’t cover boxing as much as La Prensa in the Inland Empire or Riverside Press-Enterprise. But here he is alone, anxious to watch boxing. He says his friends all like soccer instead. So he comes to the fights alone. We talk awhile until its time for media to take their seats.

As we walk inside I’m caught by surprise at the enormity of the ballroom. On the far side is a slew of blackjack tables with dealers. On the other side is a food cafeteria. I spot Paul Malignaggi but decide not to bother greeting him, he’s busy covering the fight card for Showtime. I also see a number of fighters in street clothes who are there to watch the fights and be seen. Jesus Soto Karass, Andre Berto, Gamboa, Ana Julaton, Artemio Reyes Jr., Andre Dirrell and rap artist and promoter 50 Cent are all there.

Julaton, who is working as a journalist that night, asks to sit next to me. The seat is vacant. Doug Fischer is on the other side of me and we all exchange boxing conversation until the fight card begins. Fischer is the best boxing writer in the world in my estimation and not just for his writing skills, but for his overall knowledge about the sport. It’s the kind of knowledge that most so-called boxing journalists do not have simply because they seldom visit boxing gyms. Fischer visits them constantly. Other journalists merely visit gyms on media day and only know about the sport from watching it on television. Boxing writers from other eras must be kicking in their graves at most boxing writers today. They used to literally camp out in boxing gyms like the Main Street Gym in Los Angeles or other places around the country.

There are very few true boxing writers today like Fischer. I’ve known him for about 14 years and he knows his craft. A few others like Gabe Montoya, Joe Miranda, Francisco Salazar, Elie Seckbach and Igor Frank are journalists that actually visit various gyms and see the new kids being groomed for the big time. They know who’s good long before the so-called experts on television declare them as newly discovered talent.

A few of the guys I’ve been watching for years are fighting on the Cosmo card like Antonio Orozco against Jose Reynoso. It’s the main reason I’m attending this card. These guys have battled in sparring and now it’s for real. In the end Orozco ends it with a knockout win over southpaw Reynoso. It’s a good fight and sad at the same time for someone like me who has seen the Riverside fighter as an amateur and climb to main event status. I also saw Orozco as an amateur and here he is too.

Another fighter of interest is Anthony Dirrell, who had been out of action for more than a year because of a motorcycle accident. His opponent Don Mouton is a tough cookie that I’ve seen before. They walloped each other mercilessly trying to prove who was tougher. After the beating they hugged and shook each other for giving such a great show. People were impressed. Dirrell won the decision but Mouton won the hearts of the fans with his effort. It’s a tough sport.

Recent U.S. Olympians Joseph Diaz Jr. and Errol Spence Jr. both won their respective fights by knockout. They looked very good, probably the best I’ve seen them since they turned professional. Another Olympian heavyweight, Dominic Breazeale, also won by knockout.

Between fights female prizefighter Julaton gave a few of her opinions on the fights and proved insightful and intelligent. No surprise. She’s a former world champion and has experienced the good and bad of the sport. She’s looking for another world title bid, but in the meanwhile, Julaton is working as a journalist. She says she can appreciate the other side of boxing now.

After I file my story I looked around to see who was still around. Nobody. I’m last man standing. Photographer Applerose is waiting for me and we head to our hotel. It’s 12:30 p.m. but in the main casino area the Cosmopolitan is flooded with girls walking hand in hand through the glitzy hotel. It’s late.

Saturday

At 7 a.m. I awake and grab coffee downstairs instead of at Starbucks. The coffee at the hotel is much better. I walk to the sports book to see what transpired the night before and discover that my favorite team the L.A. Clippers got trounced again. The Clippers have been my favorite team since Bill Walton joined them in the mid-80s. I used to have season tickets that I paid only $180 for because nobody wanted to see them play. They were mostly bad all of these decades until the last two years. But they lost. So did the Lakers earlier in the week. Oh well.

After showering and dressing I head out toward an auto parts store to get some fluid for my steering column. It’s making noise and we can’t take a chance waiting to get back to Southern California. I get a number of phone calls as we drive to the MGM Grand for a press conference at 10:30 a.m.

I grab my media credential outside the arena and literally run into Gabe Rosado who is fighting later in the day. We both go through the guard rail and I head up an escalator for the media center.

To my surprise there are a couple of hundred reporters at the morning press conference for Paul Malignaggi and Adrian Broner. They’re scheduled to fight on June 22 at Barclays Center Arena in Brooklyn. It’s going to be good.

Broner speaks first and starts ranting about some supposed ex-girlfriend of Malignaggi that now likes “the Problem.” It gets chuckles from his group of followers all dressed in red but not too much from the press. It’s kind of like an inside joke I guess. He then talks about his willingness to move up in weight and challenge Malignaggi, a true welterweight and holder of the WBA welterweight world title. It’s good stuff. Broner is talented and has the ability to make the jump.

Malignaggi gets his turn and rebuts several of Broner’s comments including the so-called ex-girlfriend. By the time the Brooklyn speedster finished both he and Broner are exchanging remarks and quips at machine gun pace. This is Malignaggi’s pace. He’s whip quick with the verbal exchanges. It gets x-rated at times but everyone is a grown up in the media center. I see a couple of women wince during the verbal warfare. It doesn’t bother me. It all rolls off my East L.A. bred-back like dry leaves.

After the conference Mia St. John and I discussed her retirement and also talked about the challenges of quitting the game. She recently was stopped by welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus but received a hefty payday. It took place in Denmark and St. John said the Danes treated her first class. She plans to attend the fight and I tell her I will look for her inside as we part.

We had missed the breakfast set up for the media so Applerose and I decide to grab something to eat. Wolfgang Puck sounds good. As we leave Bernard Hopkins is about to be interviewed by Jerry Hoffman on radio. All you need is one opening question and Hopkins will take over the show. Two hours later I return from eating lunch and picking up my wife and Hopkins is still talking. He’s the great orator, believe it. Plus, he’s one of the few master boxers of the 21st century.

Around 2 p.m. I walk outside to meet fellow reporter Katherine Rodriguez who is covering the fight card too. It’s been awhile since we saw each other so we talk awhile. She has come to Vegas with her boyfriend and we converse a little about the fight card.

It’s already fight time so I scurry inside and find out I missed two fights. I hate missing fights because a lot of these young fighters depend on us journalists to cover them. Many of them will never be on televised bouts so this is their moment. It turns out Badou Jack won by third round knockout in a light heavyweight bout and Lanell Bellows scored a knockout in the fourth round of a super middleweight match.

By the time I enter the arena DonYil Livingston is fighting undefeated Luis Arias in a six round battle of 168-pounders. It’s a good even match that ends with Arias winning by majority decision. A draw seemed like a better call.

Other winners on the night were Ronald Gavril by knockout. Leo Santa Cruz moved up to junior featherweight and knocked out Alexander Munoz. And in a good scrap J’Leon Love beat Gabriel Rosado. 

Probably the most entertaining fight took place between Abner Mares a former bantamweight and junior featherweight world champion moving up in weight to challenge friend and WBC featherweight champion Daniel Ponce de Leon. They really are friends and both are managed by Frank Espinoza one of the best boxing managers in the world. It was a fight proposed by Golden Boy Promotions and neither fighter nixed it so it went through. Mares and Ponce de Leon are also former Mexican Olympians and they also have the city of Montebello as yet another connection. Ponce de Leon has his gym located in that suburban town and Mares lives in Montebello, which borders East L.A.

Friends cannot exist in the boxing ring once the bell rings. To prove that point Mares floors Ponce de Leon in the second round with a vicious left hook-right cross combination. The champion had a look of shock as he got up off the floor as if surprised by Mares’ power. Ponce de Leon rallied a bit during the next few rounds and it looked like he might return the favor. Instead, in rounds seven through nine Mares began finding the range again. In the ninth round especially Mares hit Ponce de Leon with a right hand that dropped him in a heap. He beat the count but Mares cornered him and fired at least eight more right hands through Ponce’s guard. After one of the blows connects, Ponce’s eyes rolled back a la Jose Luis Castillo when Diego Corrales belted him in their most famous fight. Referee Jay Nady stops this fight.

“It hurt me,” said Mares after he knocked down Ponce de Leon. “He’s a friend.”

Espinoza, who manages both fighters, said it was one of the strangest feelings he ever experienced in boxing.

“It was an awkward situation,” said Espinoza who formerly managed Israel Vazquez, Martin Castillo and Yonnhy Perez. “On one side it was a great feeling but on the other it was heart breaking.”

The main event was the reason many of the nearly sold out crowd came in person to witness.

Was Floyd Mayweather going to be able to ward off the younger southpaw power-boxer Robert Guerrero?

Based in his previous fight against Miguel Cotto which saw Mayweather get beat up quite a bit using the shoulder roll defense, I was convinced he could not beat “The Ghost.” Apparently Mayweather realized that too and allowed his father Big Floyd Mayweather to train him for this fight. It worked out perfectly. Big Floyd taught Little Floyd how to fight like Old Floyd and use his legs to move around like skates. It was the only way he could beat Guerrero and he did it with smoothness and a lot less punishment than against Cotto.

“The less you get hit the longer you can last,” is what Mayweather said his father told him.

Great advice.

We arrived home at 4 a.m. in Southern California.

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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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experienced opponent

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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