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All That Glitters Might Not Be Gold



History tells us that North America’s two great gold rushes – one was when the precious metal was discovered, in impressive quantities, near Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, Calif., on Jan. 24, 1848; the other was when a similar find in 1896, northwest Canada’s Yukon territory, triggered another stampede of prospectors and land speculators hoping to strike it big.

Only a fortunate few of the hundreds of thousands of get-rich-quick dreamers found their figurative pots of gold in the soil, streams and mountains, but their successes kept well-heeled, bling-bling-craving consumers of their day adorned in shiny rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Those successes also inspired generations that followed to seek a way to take the fast route from having almost nothing to posh residences on Easy Street.

The boxing equivalent of those famous gold rushes came in 1984, at the Los Angeles Olympics, when attorney Dan Duva – president of a Totowa, N.J.-based boxing company, Main Events, which ran mostly mid-level shows at a local ice rink – convinced six Olympic medalists to sign on the dotted line. Not all of the new members of the Main Events stable won gold medals (Evander Holyfield settled for bronze, but was denied a shot at a likely gold due to a controversial referee’s call in the semifinals, while Virgil Hill took a silver), but four others did. Between them, Pernell  Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, Mark Breland, Holyfield and Hill won multiple world championships as professionals (Tyrell Biggs never made it all the way to the top, losing his only shot at a heavyweight title when he taken out in seven rounds by Mike Tyson on Oct. 16, 1987) and earned themselves, and the company for whom they fought, tens of millions of dollars. Almost instantly, Main Events became a major player in the promotional wars, muscling its way into the uppermost tier alongside longtime power brokers Bob Arum and Don King.

Dan Duva passed away far too soon, at 44, on Jan. 30, 1996, from a brain tumor. His death caused a split among squabbling family factions, and ultimately a loss of influence for the company. Main Events, with its role in NBC Sports’ reinvolvement in boxing, has assumed an important if somewhat lesser prominence that it once enjoyed, with Kathy Duva, Dan’s widow, as its CEO. But the lessons – both positive and negative – from that 1984 Olympic bonanza continue to resonate.

Top Rank founder Arum, who turns 82 on Dec. 8, has pulled several pages from the dusty Main Events playbook with his hoarding of the top performers at the 2012 London Olympics. The four most notable all scored gold medals – that would be Vasyl Lomachenko (pictured above, in pro debut, photo by Hogan Photos), Zou Shiming, Egor Mekhontsev and Ryota Murata – and are the faces of Top Rank’s new direction, but Arum and his stepson, Todd duBoef, also have high hopes for non-medal-winning Olympians Felix Verdejo, Jose Ramirez and Oscar Valdez.

If there’s a significant difference between what Main Events did in 1984, and what Top Rank is doing now, it is this: None of the highly regarded Olympic fighters snared by Arum are Americans; all of Duva’s Olympic acquisitions were from and represented the United States.

“It’s not necessarily a global strategy, but I guess it is to some extent,” Arum said of the additions upon whom so much of Top Rank’s future will hinge. “You have to remember that the gold medalists in London were not Americans, because no Americans came close to winning any medals, much less gold medals.

“We could have continued doing what we had been doing, which is to put fights on in the United States with primarily American and Mexican fighters. And indeed, we will continue to do that. But then I saw the opportunity to expand our reach all over the world, particularly with the Chinese fighters. (Shiming, a two-time gold medalist, is the marquee attraction, but three of his non-Olympic countrymen also turned pro under the Top Rank banner.) There is a hunger for our product in places like China, especially with Chinese fighters.

“We’re attracting tremendous turnouts in Macau, at the Venetian. Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios will be our third card there, and our biggest by far. We’re doing unbelievable business.”

And while Macau is morphing into boxing’s latest preferred destination – Arum noted that the gaming palaces in the gleaming Chinese city rake in nearly nine times the money of all the casinos in Nevada, making it “Las Vegas on steroids” – there are also profits to be mined in Japan, where Murata holds virtual rock-star status, and Eastern Europe, which is the region of the world from which two-time gold medalist Lomachenko (Ukraine) and Mekhontsev (Russia) emerged.

“Ukraine and Russia already have a tremendous interest in boxing,” said Arum, who pointed out that the Olympians sought him out at first, not the other way around. “Ukraine, thanks to the Klitschko brothers – one of whom (Vitali) is even going to run for president! – has shown itself to be an important market for boxing. And the popularity of boxing in Russia is going up as high as President (Vladimir) Putin’s approval rating.”

Curiously, all four members of Top Rank’s touted crop of golden boys have relocated to the U.S., where they can train under the watchful eyes of their employer. Lomachenko, Mekhontsev and Shiming have taken up residence in California, while Murata is training at the Top Rank gym in Las Vegas. It is possible that all or some could become headliners in this country, as did Panama’s Roberto Duran and the Philippines’ Pacquiao, but the plan for now is to showcase them in or close to their home countries, where they already are household names.

“The bigger weight guys (Lomachenko is a featherweight, Meihontsev a light heavyweight and Murata a super middleweight) came in as professional-ready fighters. I think their styles will translate well to the United States when they fight in the United States, but their (possible success) here will not be the be-all and end-all,” Arum continued. “Look at (Gennady) Golovkin. People in America want to watch him because he’s a tremendous fighter, a very entertaining fighter. Ruslan Provodnikov, Artie Pelullo’s fighter, same thing. These Eastern European kids are real warriors. People everywhere just love to watch them fight.

“That’s not especially true for Zou Shiming just yet. He was taught for so long to do what it took to score points in the amateur system. His trainer, the great Freddie Roach, has been working to get him to sit down on his punches and so forth. Right now, he’s more of a project than the other three. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that he’s already hugely popular in China.”

But Kathy Duva, who has been down this path before, sounds a note of caution. Oh, sure, her husband struck the mother lode in those ’84 Olympians – well, at least some of them – but she said it would be a mistake for any promoter to presume that a gold medal automatically transforms an amateur phenom into a pro with vast earning potential. Besides, she said, many of the most highly regarded amateurs have developed a sense of entitlement that sometimes proves to be more trouble than they’re worth.

“We have evolved so far from the way things used to be,” Duva said. “Back then, before we signed those guys, we used to invest a fortune in them even though we had no right to sign them. Main Events and (manager) Shelly Finkel sank a fortune into certain fighters, even before the Olympics, to bring them into pro camps so they could train with the pros and to learn under good managers. It’s part of the reason they were so freakin’ good.

“Pernell Whitaker was in our camps years before we signed him. So was Mark Breland. There was a time when Riddick Bowe was in our camps. Evander and Meldrick Taylor, on the other hand, were people we first encountered at the Olympics.

“We used to bring these fighters in almost as a public service, to move them along and teach them what they needed to learn to succeed in the Olympics and beyond. At the Olympic Box-offs, Whitaker lost his first fight at Caesars Palace. That night he went into a ballroom with my father-in-law (Hall of Fame trainer Lou Duva),who shadowboxed him through what he was going to have to do to beat the same kid the next day and thus lock up his place on the team. To this day, Pernell attributes his victory in that fight to Lou showing him what to do.”

But there’s always a “but,” isn’t there? And Kathy Duva said gratitude on a fighter’s part can only take a promoter so far when someone else shows up waving a more lucrative contract.

“The world was different then,” she sighed. “We put a lot of money up. We didn’t get a lot of it back. We had to be wildly successful to reap the benefits of those investments. We were with Whitaker. We were not with Tyrell Biggs and Mark Breland. Holyfield turned out to be the guy we made the most money with, and we invested nothing in him prior to his turning pro, although we gave all of them big signing bonuses.

“One guy … Shelly even paid for his mother’s funeral, not to mention unbelievable amounts of training expenses and all kinds of other things. We put well into six figures in him. It was a lot of money. Then, when it came time for him to turn pro, the guy said, `Well, if you give me a million-dollar signing bonus, I’ll sign with you. If not, I’ll sign with these other guys who are offering me a million.’ I’ll never forget that my husband and Shelly fell out about this in a big way. My husband said … well, I’d rather not repeat what he said. His position was we had already put a half-million dollars into this kid, now we have to pay the same amount as somebody else?

“Really, I don’t think the old system was particularly good. If it hadn’t been for Evander Holyfield, that whole deal would have been a total bust for us.”

It’s a lesson which taught Kathy Duva never again to go all-in too soon on any Olympic hero.

“For years we have not signed an Olympic kid directly out of the amateurs since 2000,” she said. “I will never do it again. Golden Boy as well as Top Rank is playing into that world, but without the benefit of years of bad experiences. The thing is, you can’t sign up these kids forever. Whoever wants to make a big investment that early, God bless ’em.”

So who will be Top Rank’s Holyfield equivalent? There might be several gold medal winners to slide easily into pro superstardom, or there might be none. The only thing that’s ever certain in boxing’s big crap shoot is, well, uncertainty. You place your bet and take your chances, and hope that those old bones being rolled don’t come up snake-eyes.

Teddy Atlas doesn’t have a horse in this race, but, as a boxing commentator for NBC during its coverage of the past four Olympiads, he has observed Lomachenko, Mekhontsev, Shiming and Murata fairly closely.  He believes Top Rank’s gambit could pay off handsomely, even if he is not a fan – that’s putting it mildly — of what Olympic boxing has become.

“It’s a joke,” he said of the perceived miscarriages of justice that frequently have called into question the fairness of the scoring. “Take Shiming, for example. I don’t think he deserved the gold medal in London. I’m not alone in thinking that. I’m not so sure about the gold he got in Beijing (in 2008) either, but there was nothing to prevent him from getting a gold in Beijing, and probably not in London. A lot of what’s involving in the scoring of Olympic boxing is, let’s face it, political. AIBA is not an honest organization. Their body of work speaks for itself.

“So why did Top Rank sign Shiming? Because there’s a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow in China. There’s a pot of gold at the beginning of the rainbow, too. They love the guy in China and Top Rank saw him as a way to tap into that huge market, that virgin market. They’re going to reap the benefits whether he throws wide punches or not, or even whether he can really fight or not. Top Rank has the resources to pick the right opponents for Shiming and keep him moving on down the road.”

But if Shiming is a question mark, Atlas sees Lomachenko as an exclamation point.

“He’s the most interesting of them all because he’s the best of them all,” Atlas said of the 25-year-old southpaw, who posted a 396-1-1 record as an amateur that, at first glance, almost appears to be a misprint. “He’s a versatile fighter, but most importantly, he’s a real fighter. He’s a fighter in every way.”

Arum evidently also believes that Lomachenko is special. Coached by his father, Anatoly, he is 1-0 as a pro, having knocked out a tough Mexican, Jose Ramirez, in four rounds on the undercard of the Timothy Bradley-Juan Manuel Marquez fight in Las Vegas on Oct. 12. Ramirez entered that bout with a 25-3 record that included 15 victories inside the distance, and had never previously been stopped.

No fighter ever has won a professional world title in his pro debut, and the only man ever to make the attempt was Pete Rademacher, the1956 Olympic gold medalist in Melbourne, Australia, who lasted four rounds with heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson on Aug. 22, 1957. Lomachenko, in what would be only his second pro bout, is likely to challenge WBO 126-pound champion Orlando Salido (40-12-2, 28 KOs) in January, and after that he wants to test himself against another former Olympic gold medalist, Cuban defector Guillermo Rigondeaux (12-0, 8 KOs), who holds the WBA and WBO super bantamweight straps.

“I have it in my mind that Lomachenko is going to knock Salido out,” Atlas offered. “Lomachenko can fight inside, he can fight outside, he can box, he can use his legs, he can counter a little bit. He’s intelligent in the ring. And he has that supreme confidence that he can be and will be the best.”

Said Arum: “I’d heard for years that Lomachenko was the best amateur in the world, but I’d also heard that it would be nearly impossible to sign him because he wanted millions of dollars to turn pro. But that wasn’t true. He came to me and we made a deal in short order. All he asked is that we move him quickly, not with the usual four- and six-rounders.

“I tried to get Lomachenko a title fight for his pro debut, but these organizations, particularly the WBO, said, `Bob, we can’t do it. He’s got to fight some contender first.’ That’s why he fought Ramirez.

“All right, so I couldn’t get him a title fight for his pro debut, but I told him I could do that for his second fight and that’s what we’re doing.”

Maybe the real question is, regardless of how the Top Rank Olympic champs fare, whether there ever again will be the sort of gold rush that paid major dividends to Dan Duva in 1984 and possibly to Arum moving forward.

“We’re not producing fighters like we used to,” Arum said of the medal shutout for U.S. boxers in London, the first time that has ever happened in any Olympics. “There’s been a tremendous fallout. Just look at the guys who represented us in 2012. The only one we were really interested in was Jose Ramirez, who we signed. Verdejo (from Puerto Rico) might turn out to be the most outstanding of our Olympic guys. Lomachenko told me Verdejo was the toughest fight that he ever had in the amateurs, and Verdejo was just 19 at the time.

“Apart from the talent shortage, there’s also a bias against U.S. fighters. They know they’re going to get cheated in international matches. The people who run amateur boxing in the United States don’t stand up to these AIBA bums. You see the results.

“We have a kid, Jesse Magdaleno, who definitely has world-class potential. We told him to stay in the amateurs, to try to go to the Olympics and maybe win a medal. He held off on signing him. He went downstairs and about five minutes later he came back. He said, `Nah, I don’t want to put up with all that amateur crap. I want to go pro.’ He’s been fighting for us since he was 18. He’s undefeated, a junior featherweight and a tremendous talent.

“There’s a lot of guys like that. Look, I was in Atlanta (in 1996) when Floyd Mayweather got out-and-out screwed in the semifinals. He won that fight easy. If they can cheat a Floyd Mayweather out of a gold medal, or a Roy Jones, they can cheat anybody.”

But you have to wonder: If the pool of Olympic wannabes in America is drying up, what about the rest of the world? If Olympic boxing dies, is it even possible for a Lomachenko or a Mekhontsev or a Murata to rise up and become pro attractions? The NFL and NBA have colleges serving as their feeder system. The Olympics have been the launching pad for many outstanding pro careers, but what if some day viewers tune in to the quadrennial sports festival and find only synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics?

That is a question for another time. For now, Top Rank has staked its claim to a potential gold mine that it hopes will yield large nuggets of the real thing and not just a load of iron pyrite.


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



Ali defended

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




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



new television

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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