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WOODSY’S ROAD TO AC Travelogue, Part 2

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Bernard Hopkins has throughly entertained me, getting into a nasty rumble with Karo Murat. You half expected on Saturday night for Murat to whip out a foreign object at the Boardwalk Hall AC, and go into full heel mode against B-Hop. In this second part of my Atlantic City travelogue–here is Part 1 if you missed it–I share my experiences post-fight, which includes a visit to a fabled AC watering hole, where I was welcomed with more warmth and generosity than I’d ever previously experienced.

1:22 AM I did a little tidying up in the press room, and chatted with my man Carlos Suarez, of Boricua Boxing, and also Showtime shooter Tom Casino. His grind isn’t near done; he’ll be culling images he’s shot of the Hopkins-Murat (as seen in above Hogan photo), Quillin-Rosado and Wilder-Firtha fights, into a compelling gallery, which Showtime will put out in the early AM. This is a 24/7 business, we agree, and you’ve got to give the people ie the readers and the bosses… what they want in this day and age. Is what it is…

Carlos says he won’t be long, but after 25 minutes, I tell him I’d like to jet. He laughs and basically admits he’ll be there for a spell more. (At 4:30 AM, I get a Tweet from him, admitting that he’s glad he didn’t ask me to wait, as he’s still in the press room, working on photos and videos for his websites.) So me and Mitch Abramson head to my Zipcar, parked inside the building in an immense hangar, and head to The Irish Pub. That’s where Zach Levin, a common friend, and sometimes contributor to TSS, is hanging, with a crew. That crew includes Benn Schulberg, a writer whose father Budd was fabled for his contributions to the silver screen (he wrote the 1957 Academy Award-winner “On the Waterfront” script) and the fight game (he wrote a bunch of superior books on the pug scene). His name will be familiar to disciples of the late George Kimball, the former Boston Herald and then TheSweetScience.com columnist. Kimball was pals with heavy hitters, like Schulberg, and investigative ace Jack Newfield, and Pete Hamill, and would occasionally delight readers with anecdotes from the days when some of these lions prowled and pounced with severe vigor and top-tier wordsmithery.

1:43 AC is a bit of a trip. There is a bit of a lawless vibe to it, an aura that makes you wonder what the ratio of good guys to bad guys is, especially after midnight. We see a gal leaning against a pole, smoking a cigarette. Is she advertising something? Herself? Or waiting for a bus or something? We turn right onto Saint James Place, drive down a lonely road, and see a couple rooming houses. Mitch jokes that he will be residing in one of these establishments in about 30 years. We don’t see another soul, but we do see the sign for the Pub. We find parking, always a marvel to NYC people used to crawling around, looking for open real estate. Parking lots, how ’bout that!

Inside, the mood is super relaxed. Zach greets us, and it’s clear he’s in love with the Pub. The memorabilia on the wall is a trip, and the proprietor, he tells us is a doll, and a character to boot. Cathy Burke is her name, and she owns the joint with her hubby Richard. I meet Cathy after a couple minutes, and she takes a seat at the table, along with Zach, Mitch, Benn, another guy name Mike, and Krystyna Rodriguez. We shoot the breeze, and I grab a wing that is in a basket, after Zach tells me and Mitch to help ourselves. Stories begin to be swapped. Cathy says that Joe DiMaggio spent a lot of time here, in the 80s, as the Pub is beneath hotel rooms which are available during warm weather months.

1:56 Burke, it is clear, is a throwback sort in a good way. She endears herself to me forever when she points at me and Mitch and Zach and excitedly, delightedly refers to us as the new guard, in the tradition of the Schulbergs and Kimballs and Bert Sugars and such, who were regulars at The Irish Pub. I do an aw shucks, and mean it, but she says no, You guys are the next wave of talent. Mitch and I whisper that we’ve never had such a fabulous assault of affirmation in our lives.

2:01 I look to my left and see a guy I know. Don’t know his name, he’s dark skinned, in his late 50s maybe, sturdy. Boxing guy, gotta be, I think to myself. Turns out the dude is a Heartbreaker, as in, one of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. That’s drummer Steve Ferrone, and he’s leaving the pub with two pals. He’s a mongo fight fan, someone tells me. I can’t let that pass, I hustle out the door, and catch Ferrone on the street, headed to his car.

2:04 The drummer tells me he’s a mega fight fan; he is 63, lives in Cali, and works out at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. He grew up in Brighton, England, and has been doing the boxing workout for three years. Ferrone and two pals came to AC to watch the Hopkins-Murat/Golden Boy card. “Hopkins is enthusiastic and powerful, and loves what he does, clearly” Ferrone said. “He’s not out there fighting some hack, he’s fighting good fighters.” He was in NYC doing some recording work, and finished early, and snuck over to AC. I try and lure him and the Heartbreakers to play Barclays Center, near my house and then thank him and his pals, for indulging me in the chat. One of Ferrone’s pals is Massachusetts guy, Mike, and he roars when I do my profane Norman Stone imitation. Another night’s highlight….

Back inside, Cathy says that the salt of the earth manner of Schulberg and Kimball and company was something she always treasured. It is crystal clear that this is a lady for whom honor and loyalty and decency are utmost imperatives. She recalls that author Richard Ben Cramer came in, looking for info on Joe DiMaggio, who he heard stayed at the Pub. “I’ve talked to a lot of his friends,” the writer told Burke. “Mr. Cramer, all due respect, but those people, if they talked to you on the record, they weren’t his friends,” she replied. No, she said politely, when Cramer asked for some material on Joe D for his book, “Joe DiMaggio: A Hero’s Life.”

“And I think Cramer was a great writer,” she adds, making clear her principles don’t sit in an acid bath of malice.

2:11 Burke asks me what I want to drink. “Just a ginger ale,” I said. Her eyes indicate she’s mildly mystified by the request. “I retired, in ’95,” I say. “Ohhh, that’s great,” she says. Kimball too put a cork in the jug, we recall. “When the guys used to come in, and order, I’d get George ice cream. Peach ice cream,” she said of the author, who died on July 6, 2011, not long after writing me an email telling me to wait for a new story, as he wasn’t yet ready to hang up the gloves. “Don’t give up on me,” he wrote. We all remark that peach ice cream isn’t easy to find, but, Cathy says, she had a guy.

3:17 Zach apologizes to me, asks for my forgiveness, wonders if I will still be his friend? Great God, what did he do? The egregious offense turns out to be…I ordered a slice of apple pie, and it was sitting waiting for me while I chatted with Cathy, after she twisted my arm, and wouldn’t allow me to pay for two The Irish Pub t-shirts. “I ate your pie,” Zach tells me. I forgive, forget, and order another slice.

4:15 Bout time to roll out. I’d love to stay, the joint is open 24 hours, but with this delicate constitution, I need to get some sleep, or I will get a cold. I scoop up Mitch, say goodbye to the gang, give Cathy a hug and promise to be back, as I have NEVER been treated with more warmth in an eatery as I have on this night…and scoop up Mitch and drive off.

I bring him to Ballys, and then drive seven miles to my bargain motel, a Best Western. I saved more than $100, and I then sent $100 to the family of fallen fighter Frankie Leal, so I’m happy with my choice of frugality. (I don’t say this to brag, or prove what a mensch I am. No, I ask that you follow me, and the other folks who have sent money to help Frankie’s wife and son make ends meet in the future, and donate.)

4:44 This is ridiculous, and fabulous. I have the radio on “scan” and it picks up a station playing Christmas tunes. Too early for that? Nonsense I say. Give the people what they want. I hum along to “Holly, Jolly Christmas.”

5:05 I drive around a gal holding up a puking man in the Best Western lot, and then give the puke puddle a wide berth as I walk to the desk, to get a room key. The room is quite clean, and I don’t feel the need to inspect for bed bugs. Being a ludicrous type, I open up my laptop, and post Bernard Fernandez’ story on the Hopkins and Quillin fights to TSS.

5:17 Teeth are brushed, bladder is emptied, I crawl into bed. Don’t fall asleep right away, as some leftover adrenaline keeps my brain buzzing. But then I drift off, thinking of what a marvel Hopkins in, and the lovely compliments and apple pie at The Irish Pub. It’s like Ferrone said about Hopkins; I too enjoy the hell out of what I do. I drift off, humming “Holly, Jolly Christmas.”

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The Ali-Shavers Fight and the Ever-Present Open Scoring Debate

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Saturday, Sept. 29, marks the 41st anniversary of Muhammad Ali’s last successful title defense. The 35-year-old Ali defended his WBA and WBC belts against Earnie Shavers, a devastating puncher, but otherwise limited, in Madison Square Garden. Those tuning in to the Thursday night fight on NBC, an estimated 70 million, were able to track the round-by-round scoring. And therein lies an interesting tale.

A bit of background. Technically, the first instance of open scoring, at least as it pertained to television, was to have been implemented by Ted Nathanson, producer for NBC Sports, which televised the May 11, 1977, heavyweight bout pitting Ken Norton against Duane Bobick in Madison Square Garden. Although on-site spectators would not have been privy to round-by-round scoring, the TV audience would have had such access. The grand experiment proved dead on arrival, however, when Norton needed only 58 seconds of the first round to blast out Bobick.

Nathanson was nothing if not determined, however, and he successfully lobbied for the same format to be used for the Ali-Shavers fight. As was the case for Norton-Bobick, spectators in the arena would not have the same access to the round-by-round scoring as would NBC viewers. The New York State Athletic Commission, then headed by former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, signed off on the arrangement with NBC with some hesitation.

John F.X. Condon, vice president of Garden Boxing, said he originally had planned to show the round-by-round scoring on the huge overhead screen to the 14,613 on-site spectators, but he decided against it. “We didn’t think it was wise,” Condon concluded. “Personally, I think it also detracts from the pleasure of watching at home. Fight fans like to get involved. They like the uncertainty of waiting for the final decision.”

Even more adamant in his opposition to open scoring, in any form, was legendary Garden matchmaker Teddy Brenner, who said he would do everything in his power to ensure that the NBC experiment would be a one-and-done, at least if he had anything to say about it. “I am against it,” Brenner stressed. “We at the Garden plan to do something about it.”

Unlike Norton-Bobick, Ali-Shavers would go the 15-round distance, with scoring on a round basis instead of the 10-point-must system now in place. Ali won by 9-5-1 on the card submitted by referee Johnny LoBianco and by 9-6 on the cards turned in by judges Tony Castellano and Eva Shain, the latter of who made history as the first woman ever to work a big-time fight. It was Ali’s 19th victorious title defense.

Garden officials were embarrassed, however, when a question of fairness was raised. The NBC telecast was shown in Ali’s dressing room, and a runner was assigned to keep Ali trainer Angelo Dundee informed of the judges’ evolving scores. The Shavers dressing room did not have similar access, which led his manager, Frank Luca, to complain of preferential treatment being granted to Ali. He said the NYSAC even attempted to obligate the fighters to use 10-ounce gloves instead of eight-ouncers, a change which was not approved but would have been detrimental to the harder-hitting challenger.

When informed of a playing field seemingly tilted to favor Ali, Patterson said the NYSAC never again would consent to open scoring at any venue in the state, be it for on-site spectators or just TV. “That will be stopped,” Patterson said. “I understand Angelo Dundee had someone running back to get him information and the other corner didn’t. That’s not fair. It could influence a fight, affect gambling in the arena with cheaters. It was not a success and it will never happen again.”

Shavers, who went into the Ali fight with a 54-5-1 record that included 52 wins inside the distance, said he might have fought differently – yeah, right – had he been apprised of the round-by-round scoring. “My corner told me I was ahead,” he lamented. “I didn’t go for the knockout. I would have put more pressure on him, taken more chances.”

Promoter Don King pushed for open scoring on May 5, 1994, at a Las Vegas press conference to hype the pay-per-view card two nights later at the MGM Grand headlined by WBC super lightweight champion Frankie Randall’s rematch with Julio Cesar Chavez, whom he had controversially outpointed nearly four months earlier.

“Progress can’t be stopped,” King said with his trademark bluster and hyperventilation. “It’s time for a change. Bring boxing out of the dark and into the light. People who go to football and basketball games know what the score is at all times. Why should boxing be the only sport where judges pass little scraps of paper back and forth and nobody else knows who’s winning until the end?”

King said he had been “excoriated and vilified” for having promoted two bouts during the previous eight months that ended in questionable decisions, and that open scoring could eliminate or reduce the problem.

“If anything controversial happens, people will be calling for (WBC president) Jose Sulaiman and me to be ridden out of town on a rail,” King continued. “One little controversy and these four great (rematches, the others being Simon Brown vs. Terry Norris, Gerald McClellan vs. Julian Jackson and Azumah Nelson vs. Jesse James Leija) suddenly become secondary. I don’t want that to happen.”

His Hairness indisputably was on target in noting that the two referenced bouts, in which Pernell Whitaker retained his WBC welterweight title on a majority draw against Chavez on Sept. 10, 1993, and Randall nipped Chavez on a split decision in large part because JCC had been docked two penalty points by referee Richard Steele, were controversial. Most ringside observers had Whitaker winning eight to 10 of the 12 rounds in San Antonio, Texas, and were it not for the two penalty points Chavez would have won a split decision instead of losing by the same margin.

Although King advocated for open scoring to be instituted immediately, he had to know that the wheels of change do not move that swiftly in Nevada or any other jurisdiction. But Marc Ratner, the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, while expressing his own doubts as to the usefulness of open scoring, said such a proposal at least merited further scrutiny.

“For this particular card, there will be no open scoring,” Ratner said. “But we’re not ostriches. We don’t have our heads in the sand. This is an issue that should be studied.”

Studied and almost certainly likely to be rejected, as it later was by the NSAC, for reasons that to Ratner were even more glaringly obvious than those offered by King for the other course of action.

“What if two fighters accidentally butt heads in the fourth round and one of them suffers a cut?” hypothesized Ratner. “If the bleeding fighter is ahead on the scorecards, his corner might be tempted not to close the cut, thereby prompting the bout’s premature conclusion and a decision victory.”

An even more compelling reason to forever squash the notion of full-blown open scoring holds that a fighter, if he knows he is sufficiently ahead entering the late rounds to be uncatchable on the scorecards, would get on his bicycle and pedal around the ring to eliminate or at least reduce the risk of being knocked out. Such a safety-first approach would drain whatever measure of hope still existed for the losing fighter banking on a puncher’s-chance turnaround.

We haven’t heard the last of the open scoring debate. The subject came up again in the aftermath of the Golovkin-Alvarez rematch, a tightly contested bout which Alvarez won by majority decision, much to the displeasure of Golovkin and his supporters. But for now, fight fans must continue to live with the occasional scorecard that defies credulity. And while too much controversy is never a good thing, some of it helps sell the sport and keeps interest high up to and even beyond the final bell. The alternative is the elimination of uncertainty, and with it the magic that sometimes is produced when two fighters believe success hinges on giving maximum effort to the very last punch.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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George Groves and Callum Smith Finally Meet in the WBSS Capstone

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The 168-pound tournament of the inaugural World Boxing Super Series, an 8-man invitational, kicked off on Sept. 16 of last year with a match between Callum Smith and Erik Skoglund at Liverpool, England. Tournaments of this nature in boxing almost never play out as planned and this tourney was no exception. But on Friday we will finally crown a winner when Smith meets George Groves at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, of all places. At stake will be the coveted Muhammad Ali Trophy and the bundle of cash that comes with it and Groves’ WBA “super” world super middleweight title.

Despite the odd location, this is a domestic affair. Groves, the top seed, and Smith, the #2 seed, are both Englishmen. And if the fight were on British soil, it would have certainly drawn well. In the UK, Groves is enormously popular. His second fight with Carl Froch attracted a crowd of 80,000 at Wembley Stadium, a British post-war record eventually broken by Joshua-Klitschko.

Groves (28-3, 20 KOs) suffered his lone defeats at the hands of Froch, who defeated him twice, and Badou Jack, and there’s no shame there. Carl Froch, in the minds of many, has a plaque waiting for him at the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Jack, a title-holder in two weight classes, is currently ranked #1 as a light heavyweight by the WBA and WBC.

Although both fights with Froch ended inside the distance, both were nip-and-tuck until Froch closed the curtain. Badou Jack defeated Groves by split decision in Las Vegas.

Groves has a high boxing IQ as he demonstrated on Feb 17 in Manchester where he scored a 12-round unanimous decision over Chris Eubank Jr. Groves, observed ringside reporter Gareth Davies, “was just a step too far, too strong and ultimately too technical and experienced in the championship rounds.” Eubank’s father and trainer Chris Eubank Sr. saluted Groves for fighting the perfect fight.

The victory was bittersweet as Groves dislocated his left shoulder in the final round. It required surgery, pushing back the finale until this Friday, a full two months after the conclusion of the other WBSS tourney, for cruiserweights, the finale of which was also pushed back from the originally scheduled date. For a time the promoters seriously considered bumping Eubank into the finals in place of the incapacitated Groves but eventually thought better of it. (Eubank will appear on the undercard in a stay-busy fight against Ireland’s J.J. McDonagh.)

Callum Smith (24-0, 18 KOs) is the youngest of four fighting brothers, each of whom captured one or more regional titles. In the family, the relationship between talent and birth order is inverse, which is to say that Paul Smith, the oldest of the foursome, wasn’t as good as his younger brother Stephen and Stephen wasn’t as good as younger brother Liam.

Liam “Beefy” Smith accomplished what his two older brothers could not, winning a world title. He won the WBO 154-pound diadem in his twenty-second fight and successfully defended the belt twice before it was sheared from him by Canelo Alvarez who knocked him out in the ninth round.

If Callum Smith wins on Friday, he will be recognized by hardcore fans as a more legitimate champion than was the case with his brother Liam. That’s because Callum, who stands six-foot-three (none of his brothers is taller than 5’11”), was touted from the very onset of his career as the most gifted of the fighting Smith brothers. He solidified that opinion in November of 2015 when he knocked out Liverpool rival Rocky Fielding in the opening round. Fielding went on to win the “regular” version of the WBA 168-pound title and that remains the only blemish on his record.

In recent bouts, however, Smith hasn’t looked that sharp. His last two opponents, the aforementioned Skoglund and Neiky Holzken, lasted the full 12 rounds. The obscure Holzken, a converted kickboxer from the Netherlands, was a late sub for Juergen Braehmer who was forced to bow out of the tournament with an illness.

George Groves was a slight underdog to Eubank. On Friday, the odds favor him, but only slightly. At last look it was 13/10 which portends a very close fight. Groves has the edge in experience and in ring savvy and has fought tougher opposition, but Smith will have a three-and-a-half inch height advantage and is judged to be the harder puncher.

Fight fans in the U.S. can access the fight on the new DAZN app. Keep in mind that Saudi Arabia is seven hours ahead of New York and other precincts in the Eastern Time Zone and adjust accordingly.

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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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