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Boxing’s ‘Cold War’ Continues, With Different Combatants

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Two press conferences on the same day, in the same town, illustrated just how intense boxing’s “Cold War,” circa 2013, continues to rage. And there is no sign that the distrust, apprehension and outright hostility that separate the warring factions is going to end with a peace treaty that might or might not be to the mutual benefit of the combatants, but surely would to frustrated fight fans who are continually asked to choose sides.

The first media gathering was held at 6:30 p.m. in a side room at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, a few hours before IBF light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins defended his title on a rousing unanimous decision over German challenger Karo Murat, the main event of a Showtime-televised tripleheader. The principals were Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports and Event Programming, and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer (seen in photo courtesy of Jayson Colon/Fight Images). They sat at a rectangular folding table to inform reporters of two big boxing cards that would be televised by Showtime on back-to-back Saturday dates, Dec. 7 and Dec. 14. The first, from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., would be headlined by the all-Brooklyn matchup of Zab Judah and Paulie Malignaggi; the second, from the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, is topped by the pairing of WBA welterweight champ Adrien Broner and Argentina’s Marcos Maidana. Each card would include four televised bouts, six of which would be for world titles.

“There was a rumor that Showtime was out of money and we had put all our best talent already on pay-per-view and we didn’t have anybody meaningful to fight for the rest of the year,”said Espinoza, who described the two cards, on regular Showtime, as an “early holiday gift” for boxing buffs. “I was aware of those rumors and speculation, and I know what the source was.”

Not that Espinoza would spoil his and Schaefer’s self-congratulatory announcement by mentioning the naysayer’s identity, but there was a strong suspicion among the assembled media types was that he is a former member of the late Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department who once was described as the “master of trickeration” by another promotional arch-rival.

Espinoza joked that the funds to finance the blockbuster cards meant that Showtime had “canceled our Christmas party for the year” and that “we’re just happy we could find enough quarters in the couches” to put the cards together at such late dates on the fiscal calendar. He also stressed that the money would come from Showtime’s 2013 budget and not mark an early withdrawal from the one for 2014.

Toward the end of the 20-minute session, someone asked Schaefer if it was true that Canelo Alvarez, a Golden Boy and Showtime fighter, would make his first post-Floyd Mayweather Jr. ring appearance against Miguel Cotto, who is with Top Rank and HBO, and if officials from the other side of boxing’s widest divide would sit in on any negotiations for such a bout.

“No,” Schaefer flatly said of the possibility that his company would offer a tentative olive branch to Bob Arum, with whom he has been embroiled in a nasty, ongoing verbal spat that easily outstrips any rancor that once existed between Arum and Don King. “There’s nobody with Top Rank that’s going to be sitting in that meeting. If Miguel Cotto wants to fight (on Showtime and against Alvarez), no problem. But it will have to be without Top Rank.”

Meanwhile, in the Philippines where Arum was with Filipino national hero Manny Pacquiao, who will take on Brandon Rios on Nov. 23 in Macau, China, a fight which will be televised via HBO Pay-Per-View, was just as disdainful of Schaefer, Golden Boy president (and former Top Rank headliner) Oscar De La Hoya and, presumably, Espinoza for choosing to do business with such presumed low-lifes as the GBP honchos.

“I dislike Schaefer and De La Hoya intensely,” Arum said a few days earlier. “God knows King and I, when we were real bitter rivals, we always found time to do big fights together. But I will not forgive these two bums defaming Manny Pacquiao,” which Arum said Schaefer had done in telling Filipino reporter Ronnie Nathanielsz that Pacquiao had used performance-enhancing drugs.

Although Schaefer refrained from returning verbal fire at Arum, at least on this occasion, he hasn’t always been so shy on the subject of his discontent. During an interview with Boxingscene.com’s Rick Reeno, Schaefer depicted Arum as a back-stabber who would resort to any dirty trick to advance his own agenda.

“The Showtime CEO, Les Moonves, was a personal friend of (Arum’s),” Schaefer said. “They used to go on vacations together. But Arum is not capable of having relationships. He bleeped his own buddy. Arum brought Pacquiao (to Showtime, for his Nov. 14, 2009, bout with Miguel Cotto) and Showtime did a terrific job. The single biggest pay-per-view of Pacquiao’s career was on Showtime. And then (Arum) takes him back to HBO and basically bleeps his own friend. As a result, he became persona non grata on Showtime.”

If you an optimistic sort who dares to believe this Hatfields-McCoys feud might be resolved any time soon, listen to what Hopkins said at his postfight press conference after he had dispatched Murat, approximately six hours after Espinoza and Schaefer had told the media about the wonderful events they would be bringing to the public in December.

Asked if he was serious about a possible catch weight fight with Mayweather, which seems highly unlikely, Hopkins said he’d rather gather up the rest of the 175-pound championship belts, as he did in becoming the undisputed middleweight ruler in 2001.

“To be honest with you, I’d rather unify the titles,” Hopkins said. “I’d rather be the guy that has all the titles, like I proved in the middleweight division. But there’s a Cold War going on, and that Cold War going on is that HBO don’t want to do business with my family, and my family is Golden Boy Promotions. I ride and die with people that ride and die with me.”

None of the comments being offered suggests that there will be peace in our time insofar as premium-cable boxing is involved. There is no one like President Ronald Reagan, speaking in Berlin on June 12, 1987, and telling his Soviet counterpart, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Two and a half years later, the Berlin Wall did in fact come down. But, hey, that was only international politics. Boxing squabbles frequently are more bitter and enduring than lightweight scraps like capitalism vs. communism, and the Schaefer/Showtime vs. Arum/HBO one increasingly looks like it will go the distance, and then some.

It wasn’t always so. When it served their purposes, Arum and King – who, in a moment of inspiration, coined that “master of trickeration” phrase to describe the Top Rank founder — would smile for the cameras, shake hands and pretend to make nice, so long as each made a healthy profit from calling a temporary cease-fire. Just two examples of such uneasy truces were the Sept. 18, 1999, megafight between Arum’s De La Hoya (oh, the irony) and King’s Felix Trinidad, and the June 9, 2007, bout between Arum’s Cotto and King’s Zab Judah.

Even more astounding, the June 8, 2002, showdown between WBC/WBO/IBO heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and former champ Mike Tyson in Memphis, Tenn., was televised by both pay-per-view arms of HBO and Showtime. Lewis, an HBO fighter, stopped Tyson, who was then with Showtime after a long run on HBO, in eight rounds.

So why can’t a page or two from days gone by be torn from a dated playbook that suggested that co-existence was possible, as least in theory? Well, there are several reasons. For one, although Arum and King might have loathed each other, their relationship was almost cuddly-warm in comparison to the utter hatred in which Arum and Schaefer hold one another. For another, Showtime seemed at least a bit more willing to bend when it was dealing from a less favorable position, an acknowledgment that HBO had much deeper financial resources and a far more extensive volume of subscribers. But that gap has narrowed considerably during Espinoza’s two-year stewardship, and Showtime – in part because of its huge commitment to Mayweather, the sport’s biggest and most bankable star – is feisty enough to stand toe-to-toe with HBO, which haughtily still proclaims itself as the “Heart and Soul of Boxing,” instead of settling for stick-and-move tactics.

Hopkins might crave the opportunity to gather up those light heavyweight straps that belong to other fighters, but trying to do so in the present climate seemingly is as far-fetched a possibility as Lindsay Lohan becoming a nun. It wouldn’t appear be that difficult to pair B-Hop with WBA champ Beibut Shumenov, who is now part of the Golden Boy stable, but WBO champ Sergey Kovalev (who is promoted by Main Events) and WBC titlist Adonis Stevenson (Yvon Michel) have been getting good-paying HBO gigs, and it is reasonable to conclude that HBO Sports boss Ken Hershman – the former boxing head of Showtime, another irony — would let either escape to Showtime to swap punches with Hopkins.

But if Shumenov is the only unification option open to Hopkins, upon further reflection the ageless wonder isn’t sure if he wouldn’t rather take a more lucrative detour.

“I don’t think anybody really knows Shumenov,” Hopkins said. “I want a big, super fight. Shumenov is not a super fight.”

Too many super fights, or fights that might be perceived as such, remain dreamy notions to the public so long as Schaefer/Showtime and Arum/HBO are entrenched in their determination to withhold their attractions from any interaction with the enemy. Cold War? Oh, yes. Frigid, even. These mine-is-bigger-than-yours battles are won or lost in corporate headquarters, without a single punch being thrown by champions who are obliged to pledge total allegiance to one side or the other.

King, contacted by TSS, actually hesitated to weigh in on this updated version of his legendary staredowns with Arum. Maybe the fact that His Hairness requested time to offer a definitive opinion, instead of firing from the lip, might be the biggest upset of all.

“I’d have to put some thought into that,” King said. “It would be tantamount to treachery for me to say something stupid. The game has taken on a different kind of life. Let me think about that and get back to you on that.”

But King, being King, did offer a bit of insight before sitting down to more fully assess the situation.

“It all reverts back to the networks,” he allowed. “That would be the beginning point of what I say and how I say it, so I have to be careful.

“Ross Greenburg would still be at HBO if it weren’t for Bob,” King continued, a reference to Greenburg’s forced exit as HBO Sports president after Arum took the Pacquiao-Cotto fight to Showtime, much to the dismay of Greenburg’s bosses. “Bob still has a lot of influence because he has a superstar (in Pacquiao), so you have to say that he has done his job.”

So has Schaefer, for that matter. And part of his and Arum’s job descriptions, it would seem, is to denigrate the other as often and as crassly as possible. If Joe Fan gets splattered by some mud in the crossfire, just chalk it up as boxing’s new reality, or at least a variation of an old one.

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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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