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'Hurricane' Carter's Death Still Brings No Closure

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“Based on a true story.”

Hollywood packages many of its biographical movies in such a manner, but my experiences in covering the controversial aftermath of a 1999 flick, The Hurricane, about the life and times of incarcerated former middleweight contender Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, taught me that separating truth from fiction is frequently a matter of individual perception. For whatever reason, most people choose to believe what they want to believe. Maybe that’s because human beings are prone to react subjectively, on the basis of their own personal emotions and biases, rather than on a dispassionate review of factual matters.

As Norman Jewison, director of The Hurricane, said after a lawsuit brought by former middleweight champion Joey Giardello, whose winning defense of his title in a Dec. 14, 1964, bout against Carter in Philadelphia was severely distorted in the film (and on this point there can be no doubt), observed after Giardello’s suit was settled out of court, “The truth is a moving target, I found. When you make a film about real people, about something that really happened, you’ll never get it right because there’s always somebody who’s going to disagree with you.”

The announcement of Carter’s death on Easter Sunday, at age 76 and after a long bout with prostate cancer, brought back a flood of memories of how difficult it sometimes is to pronounce anything as the incontrovertible truth, because, as Mr. Jewison correctly noted, truth is almost always slippery to pin down to everyone’s satisfaction. And that’s especially the case when the movie people decide to take what is or what was real and twist it, like a pile of Silly Putty, into a story line that fits a particular director’s or screenwriter’s agenda.

All the news stories I’ve read about Carter’s death state, unequivocally, that he was a black man wrongfully convicted of the murder of three white patrons of a Paterson, N.J., bar in 1966. That verdict, arrived at by an all-white jury, resulted in Carter spending 22 years behind bars. But is “not guilty” the equivalent of “innocent”? There are still people familiar with the case who insist that a judge’s eventual overturning of Carter’s conviction was based on procedural matters –namely, prosecutorial errors – rather than on evidentiary ones. The only way anyone can say with any degree of certainty that Rubin Carter was or wasn’t a murderer was to have been in that bar the night those three people were killed, in which case the observer either would have wound up as another corpse or, had he or she survived, could have testified that it was or wasn’t someone other than the boxer who pulled the trigger.

It is not my intention to speculate about the larger and more prevalent theme of The Hurricane, which is the senseless killing of three people and one man’s possibly unjust two-decades-plus spent behind bars in retribution for those deaths. But there is a key three-minute sequence in Jewison’s otherwise well-made, well-received film that casts a dark shadow about the authenticity of the entire finished product, and how that depiction played fast and loose with something indisputably true. That sequence deals with Carter’s bout with Giardello (whose real name was Carmine Tilelli), an honest workman who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.

In the movie, Giardello is shown taking a horrific beating from Carter in the 15th and final round. After a delay in the tabulation of the judges’ scorecards, the champion is proclaimed the winner by unanimous decision, an announcement greeted with boos and catcalls from the audience in the Philadelphia Civic Center. An unnamed blow-by-blow commentator for the telecast is also aghast at the injustice perpetrated against the challenger.

“I’ve seen a lot of things in my time, but it’s taken 35 minutes to tell us what this hometown crowd (Giardello, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., trained in South Philly and was a longtime resident of the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, N.J.) already knows,” Jewison’s fictionalized broadcaster says in the film. “Joey Giardello is about to lose the crown to Rubin `Hurricane’ Carter.

“They (the judges) must have been watching a different fight, because the one we just saw, Hurricane Carter took the title,” the broadcaster says after the decision angers spectators whose allegiance had shifted over the course of the bout from Giardello to Carter.

Full disclosure: My wife and I took Giardello, who was 78 when he died on Sept. 4, 2008, and his wife, Rosalie, to see The Hurricane the week of its release for the purpose of me writing about their reaction to the fight sequence in question.

“I can’t believe what I’m seeing,” Rosalie Tilelli, who attended the actual fight, said to her husband as the fight scene played on the wide screen. “They made it seem like he beat the hell out of you. I never thought it would be like this. I thought they would make it, you know, a little bit controversial. But this is ridiculous. It’s so unfair.”

Said Giardello: “They got the crowd booing me. How could they do that? Nobody booed. Those were my people there, from South Philly. They were happy I won. And I did win. I won, he lost. End of story.

“End of the fight, Carter congratulated me in the ring. He wasn’t complaining because he didn’t have anything to complain about. I was better than him. I know it, he knows it, everybody who was at the fight knows it. It’s just too bad all the people who see this movie won’t know it.”

Two people who knew what Giardello and his wife knew were Les Keiter, who called the fight for TV, and Ron Lipton, a New York-based referee who was a personal friend of Carter’s and had been asked by the moviemakers to do the choreography for the boxing sequences, a job he didn’t get because, he said, he refused to go along with Jewison’s instruction to portray the fight as a racially-motivated robbery.

It took me less than 10 minutes of calling around to track down Keiter, who was then living in Hawaii, for his take on how he – or the guy pretending to be him on-screen – was portrayed.

“The scene was absolutely, totally fictitious,” Keiter told me. “I never said any of that. Not even close.

“I have my call of the fight on tape. I played it for several of the sports writers here in Hawaii. Giardello, in my scoring, was the clear-cut winner. Now, it was a reasonably close fight. But the 15th round was just the reverse of what was shown. It was all Giardello, with his boxing and his counterpunching.”

Lipton has photos of himself with Muhammad Ali when they went to post bail for Carter in 1976. In an email he posted on the Cyber Boxing Zone message board after Carter’s death, he said “the photos of me standing with Carter with Ali speak for themselves.” It was Carter, in fact, who proposed to Jewison that his friend, Lipton, serve as the choreographer for the fight scenes for the movie.

So why didn’t Lipton get that gig, which would have paid him a nice chunk of money he admits he could have used? It was, he said, because he resisted the movie people’s suggestion to take liberties with what really happened that night.

“But Joey Giardello is still alive. It would hurt him to have the fight presented that way,” Lipton said he told the Hollywood people.

“No big deal. He’s just some old pug nobody cares about,” he said of the response he received.

When Giardello settled out of court – for a reported $350,000 – Lipton admitted to being happy that justice, to an extent, was served because, well, Lipton was a fan of all the good things Giardello represented as a fighter.

“I can never remember crying, except once,” he recalled when he read about the settlement. “That was when Joey Giardello left the ring after his second fight with Dick Tiger, the one in which he lost his title. Joey took a beating, but he refused to quit. There was no one I had ever seen in the ring who could be braver than Joey was that night.

“I’d rather be dead than to do anything to embarrass a great warrior like that.”

Interestingly, a big-time lawyer with a Washington, D.C., firm contacted my executive sports editor at the Philadelphia Daily News, demanding that the newspaper fire me or face a lawsuit because my stories had resulted in adverse publicity for the movie, possibly causing it to lose out on several potential Academy Awards. Denzel Washington, who did receive a Golden Globe Award for his portrayal of Carter, lost the Best Actor Oscar to Kevin Spacey for American Beauty. That picture also beat out The Hurricane for Best Picture.

“The controversy surrounding (The Hurricane) stems from the fact that some people think I shouldn’t be around. They think I should be dead,” Carter said at the time.

Thankfully, my boss told the attorney representing Beacon Communications Corp., which financed the movie, that the paper didn’t fire its reporters for writing what was true. The lawsuit against the Daily News and me was never filed, and as part of the settlement there were some tweaks of the DVD version of The Hurricane before it went on sale. The standard disclaimer – which states that certain events and characters “have been composited or invented, and a number of incidents fictionalized” – was moved from the closing credits to the beginning of the movie. And the epilogue, which shows the real-life Carter receiving a championship belt from the World Boxing Council in 1993, noted that the awarding of that belt was “in recognition of his 20-year fight for freedom.” The additional explanation is important, because it refutes any implication that the WBC was attempting to rectify an injustice tied to the decision for Giardello.

Armyan Bernstein, head of Beacon Communications, stopped short of an apology in his letter to Giardello, but he wrote that “we had no intention of taking away from your legacy as world middleweight champion, or of besmirching the other boxing accomplishments in which you, your friends and family take pride. Rubin Carter, who worked with us on The Hurricane, told me that you never ducked a fight.”

I didn’t buy that explanation then, and I don’t buy it now. It’s one thing for a screenwriter to script lines of dialogue for movies about, oh, Alexander the Great or some real person from hundreds of years ago. It’s another to do the same thing about a person and events that took place in the mid-20th century, with conversations and other materials that could have been easily documented.

“The movie was such a lie, such a contrived piece of (bleep),” Lipton wrote after Carter had passed away. “Not one thing in the movie is true.” He concluded that what lies ahead for the deceased fighter is now “between Carter and God.”

It could be 100 percent correct that Carter was railroaded. I’ve been around long enough to have personally witnessed many instances of racially-tinged injustices, an unfortunate byproduct of those turbulent times and one that has yet to be completely eradicated. Certainly, Carter was adamant in his steadfast refusal to conduct himself, even in prison, as someone who needed to pay for the heinous crime for which he was convicted.

“I wouldn’t give up,” he said in an interview on PBS in 2011. “No matter that they sentenced me to three life terms in prison. I wouldn’t give up. Just because a jury of 12 misinformed people … found me guilty does not make me guilty. And because I was not guilty, I refused to act like a guilty person.

“When I walked into prison, I refused to wear their stripes. I refused to eat their food. I refused to work their jobs, and I would have refused to breathe the prison’s air if I could have done so.”

I’m not as quick to give Jewison the benefit of the doubt, no matter how well-intentioned he might be or how skillful in the presentation of his art. More than a few of the acclaimed director’s films have dealt with societal themes and injustice, and before The Hurricane he examined racial tensions in In the Heat of the Night (1967), which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and A Soldier’s Story (1984). In 2010 he received a lifetime achievement award from the Directors Guild of America. But The Hurricane, in striving to make a point, bent history to fit the director’s narrative, and that is where any movie “based on a true story” can go terribly wrong.

It fit Jewison’s vision to demean Joey Giardello, and it fit that vision to build up Rubin Carter as a fighter of near-mythical ability whose destiny to become one of the all-time great middleweight champions was diverted by a judge and jury that couldn’t see past the color of his skin. No one can deny that Carter was a devastating puncher with some career exclamation points, the most notable of which was his one-round stoppage of the great Emile Griffith, but his final professional record of 27-12-1, with 19 knockout victories, was hardly Hall of Fame-worthy. The movie suggests that Carter was still a top contender, only recently removed from his presumably unjust points loss to Giardello, when he was sent to prison. Not so; he was just 7-7-1 in his post-Giardello bouts and was no longer world-ranked.

After the settlement, Giardello and his attorney, George Bochetto, expressed satisfaction that their primary goal had been the preservation of Giardello’s deserved reputation as a tough fighter who never ducked anyone, which they felt was tarnished by the movie.

“For 19 years, I fought the greatest fighters around and I beat Carter fair and square,” Giardello said. “I just wanted to set the record straight, and I think it has been.”

Said Bochetto: “Joey’s reputation always was his primary concern. He wanted it restored. He put it on the line to make sure that it was.”

But The Hurricane has been televised multiple times since its release 14-plus years ago, and I caught bits and pieces of it on the tube only a few weeks ago, including the disputed fight sequence. It is still as blatantly false as ever, and the disclaimers which appear on the DVD version aren’t anywhere to be found unless you have that DVD as part of your video library.

In other words, the truth might have set Carter free, but, to those who aren’t aware of the real story of the fight in question, Joey Giardello’s legacy is still besmirched.

Like Norman Jewison said, the truth is a moving target and Hollywood, the ultimate land of make-believe, often misses the bulls-eye that it seldom aims at in any case.

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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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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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