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Behind the Scenes At Pacquiao-Bradley 2: Part One

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Shortly after one o’clock on the afternoon of Thursday, April 10, Manny Pacquiao concluded a series of satellite interviews that originated in Section 118 of the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The interviews were designed to promote his April 12 fight against Tim Bradley and everything had gone according to plan.

“My advantage is that I’m quicker than him and punch harder than him,” Pacquiao told one interviewer.

When asked about being knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny responded, “Sometimes these things happen. That is boxing.”

An interviewer for Sky-TV posed the all-but-obligatory question of whether or not Pacquiao would fight Floyd Mayweather.

“I’m happy for that fight,” Manny said. “If not in boxing, maybe we can play one-on-one in basketball.”

As for his musical talents, Pacquiao acknowledged, “I can sing, but my voice is really not that good. The fans like my singing because of what I’ve done in boxing.”

At one point, Manny noted, “Sportsmanship is very important to me because it is my way of displaying respect to the sport of boxing, to my opponent, and to the fans.”

After the interviews ended, Pacquiao was leaving Section 118 when a voice from across the arena shouted out loud and clear: “Manny, we love you. Manny, we love you. Manny! Manny!”

Pacquiao turned to acknowledge the fan, one of many who follow him wherever he goes. Then his face broke into a broad smile. The man shouting was Tim Bradley.

Manny waved, Tim waved back. In two days, they would try to beat each other senseless in a boxing ring. But for now there was fondness between them.

Welcome to Pacquiao-Bradley 2, featuring two elite fighters who carried themselves with dignity and grace throughout the promotion with no lapse of decorum by either man.

Pacquiao’s saga is well known. In an era of phony championship belts and unremitting hype, he has been a legitimate champion and also a true peoples’ champion. The eleven-month period between December 6, 2008, and November 14, 2009, when he demolished Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, and Miguel Cotto were his peak years in terms of ring performance and adulation.

That was a while ago.

Tim Bradley believes in himself and epitomizes Cus D’Amato’s maxim: “When two fighters meet in the ring, the fighter with the greater will prevails every time unless the opponent’s skills are so superior that the opponent’s will is never tested.”

Most elite athletes are overachievers. Bradley comes as close to getting one hundred percent out of his potential as anyone in boxing. He’s a more sophisticated fighter than many people give him credit for. He’s not just about coming forward, applying pressure, and throwing punches. He has a good boxing brain and knows how to use it. But he isn’t particularly fast, nor does he hit particularly hard. The keys to his success are his physical strength and iron will.

“I’m not the most talented fighter in the division,” Tim acknowledges. “Not at all. There are guys with better skills and better physical gifts than I have. Where I separate myself from other fighters is my determination. I wear the other guy down. That’s what it is; hard work and determination. I work my butt off. I come ready every time. People keep saying that I don’t hit that hard, that I don’t box that well. But I keep winning, don’t I?”

Before each fight, Bradley promises himself that his opponent will remember him for the rest of his life. Marvin Hagler is his favorite fighter. Blue-collar work ethic, shaved head, overshadowed by boxing’s glamour boys.

Pacquiao and Bradley met in the ring for the first time on June 9, 2012. During that bout, Tim suffered strained ligaments in his left foot and a badly swollen right ankle. He was rolled into the post-fight press conference in a wheelchair.

“Both of my feel were hurt in that fight,” he recalls. “And I had a lion in front of me. All I could do was take it round by round. And it wasn’t enough to survive each round. I had to win them.”

Bradley, as the world knows, prevailed on a split-decision. A firestorm of protest followed.

In the aftermath of the bout, Pacquiao was an exemplary sportsman. “I’m a fighter,” Manny said. “My job is to fight in the ring. I don’t judge the fights. This is sport. You’re on the winner’s side sometimes. Sometimes you’re on the loser’s side. If you don’t want to lose, don’t fight.”

But others were less gracious. The beating Bradley took outside the ring was worse than the punishment he took in it.

“After the fight,” Tim remembers, “they announced that I was the winner. I was on top of the world, and then the world caved in on me. It should have been the happiest time of my life, and I wound up in the darkest place I’ve ever been in. I thought the fight was close. I thought the decision could have gone either way. You prepare your entire life to get to a certain point; you get there; and then it all gets taken away. I was attacked in the media. People were stopping me on the street, saying things like, ‘You didn’t win that fight; you should give the belt back; you should be ashamed of yourself; you’re not a real champion.’ I got death threats. I turned off my phone. All I did was do my job the best way I could, and It was like I stole something from the world.”

“It was bad,” says Joel Diaz, who has trained Bradley for the fighter’s entire career. “Tim was all right with people criticizing the decision, but the personal attacks really hurt. Tim is a proud man, and it was hard for him to walk tall anywhere.”

In Pacquiao’s next fight, he suffered a one-punch knockout loss at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez. Eleven months later, he rebounded to decision Brandon Rios. Meanwhile, Bradley edged Ruslan Provodnikov in a thriller and outboxed Marquez en route to another split-decision triumph.

That set the stage for an April 12 rematch at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Bradley was the reigning champion, but Pacquiao was the engine driving the economics of the fight. The event was labeled “Pacquiao-Bradley 2”, and Manny was guaranteed a $20 million purse ($6 million less than for their initial encounter). Tim was promised $6 million (one million more than the first time around).

Each fighter felt that there was unfinished business between them.

“There is a big question mark on our first fight,” Pacquiao said at a February 6 press conference in New York. “This time, we will answer that question.”

“The whole Pacquiao situation still bothers me,” Bradley added. “So on April 12, I’m going to clean that up.”

Fight week had a strange feel to it. The Pacquiao-Bradley rematch hadn’t taken place earlier because neither HBO nor Top Rank (which promoted both fighters) thought it would sell well. But after Marquez starched Pacquiao and Bradley beat Marquez, the possibility of beating Tim loomed as a more impressive credential for Manny. Also, as part of a deal to secure the fight, Bradley agreed to a two-year extension of his promotional contract, which was due to expire in December 2014.

That said, the promotion was struggling a bit.

Elite fighters have a glow, an aura around them. Pacquiao in his prime was electrifying. But in recent years, the Pacquiao super nova has dimmed.

In the days leading up to Pacquiao-Bradley 2, the narrative was no longer about Manny’s Magical Adventure. The media no longer waited in heightened anticipation for his arrival at publicity events. The fighter himself seemed to have a bit of “Pacquiao fatigue.” Certainly, he was aware of the talk that his career was nearing an end.

Again and again during fight week, Manny told interviewers, “My time in boxing is not yet done. I want to prove that my journey in boxing will continue.”

There was the mandatory appearance by Pacquiao on Jimmy Kimmel Live and all of the ritual hype. But pay-per-view sales were tracking poorly, an estimated 650,000-to-700,000 buys (down from 875,000 for the first Pacquiao-Bradley fight). Ticket sales were respectable, but there wouldn’t be a sell-out.

It was Bradley who generated much of the energy in the media center. Tim is inherently likable with an exuberance for life and a smile that lights up a room when he enters. Insofar as his status as a role model is concerned, he and his wife, Monica, appear to have a loving stable marriage. When Bradley takes his children to school in the morning, it’s not a designed photo op for television cameras. There’s no bimbo girlfriend, no charge of domestic violence, no conspicuous spending. The thought of Tim blowing twenty thousand dollars in a strip club is ludicrous.

Bradley loves challenges. “I’m looking forward to the fight,” he told the media. “It will be fun.”

Reflecting on his football-playing days, Tim opined, “Boxing is more fun than playing quarterback. I like it better where, if someone hits me, I can hit him back.”

Defending the judges’ decision in Pacquiao-Bradley I, Tim told an interviewer, “Everybody has an opinion. That means I have an opinion too. Manny Pacquiao is one of the best fighters ever to lace on a pair of gloves. I’m a big fan of Manny Pacquiao. But I beat him.”

Then the interviewer stated proudly that he was rooting for Pacquiao, and Bradley responded, “If you’re a Pacquiao fan; hey, Manny is a good dude. I respect the person he is and I respect what he has done for the sport. I have no problem with anyone who roots for him.”

That left the trashtalking to Bob Arum, who spent much of the week denouncing the host site and the MGM Grand’s president of entertainment, Richard Sturm.

Arum was appropriately angry that the hotel-casino was festooned with advertising for the May 3 fight between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana to the detriment of his own promotion. Introducing Sturm at the final pre-fight press conference on Wednesday, he referenced the executive as “the president of hanging posters and decorations for the wrong fight.”

Then, at the end of the press conference, Arum went further, declaring, “I know the Venetian [which had hosted Pacquiao’s previous fight in Macau] would never make a mistake like this, They would know what fight was scheduled in three or four days, and they wouldn’t have a 12-to-1 fight all over the building that’s going to take place three weeks from Saturday. That’s why one company makes a billion dollars a quarter and the other hustles to pay it’s debt.”

The following day, Arum elaborated on that theme, telling reporters, “There are two companies which are the leadingAmerican companies in gaming, and it’s for a reason. It’s because they’re smarter than these guys and they know what they’re doing. First is the Venetian-Sands company and then there is the Wynn. Pick up a paper and look at where the stock of each company is going. Then tell me who has smarter people. Is it luck? I don’t think so. If one company is making so much more than the other company and doesn’t have financial problems because they borrowed too much money, it’s not luck. It’s because they’re smarter and conduct themselves better. This company really has a serious management problem.”

Thereafter, in various interviews, Arum called Sturm “a horse’s ass . . . totally clueless . . . a moron . . . a brain-dead moron,” and added, “He doesn’t have a fucking clue what the f— he’s doing.”

On Friday, the promoter proclaimed, “They [the MGM Grand] did something that I believe is an absolutely horrendous thing to do. It shows tremendous disrespect for the Filipino people, who are suchnice people. If I were Flipino, I would never patronize an MGM Hotel again.”

Then, as a helpful guide to Filipino high-rollers who might have been offended by the slight, Arum listed all of the MGM Grand properties that they might want to avoid in the future.

Meanwhile, the odds had settled on Pacquiao as a 9-to-5 favorite, down from 4-to-1 in the first Pacquiao-Bradley encounter.

Bradley has never been thought of as a big puncher. His ledger shows a meager twelve knockouts, with only one in the past seven years. Pacquiao, by contrast, has 38 career KOs. But Manny’s record is devoid of stoppages since his 2009 demolition of Miguel Cotto.

That led Bradley to declare, “Manny is still sensational physically, but I don’t think the fire is there anymore. He’s not the same fighter he used to be. He’s still a tremendous fighter. But the killer instinct, the hunger, is gone and it won’t come back again. Manny fights for the money. I have the hunger to win. I just feel that his heart isn’t in it anymore.”

Were Bradley’s comments about Pacquiao no longer having “killer instinct” designed to undermine Manny’s confidence? Or perhaps to goad him into fighting recklessly?

“Neither,” Tim answered. “I’m simpy stating a fact.”

Team Pacquiao didn’t entirely disagree with Bradley’s thought. Trainer Freddie Roach acknowledged, “Recently, Manny has felt it was enough to just win his fights. He didn’t want to hurt his opponent more than he had to. I’ve had a lot of talks with him about that and I’m sure it’s not going to happen again. When Bradley told Manny that he’d lost the killer instinct, frankly, Manny got pissed off. He thought it was disrespectful.”

“Sometimes I’m too nice to my opponent,” Pacquiao added. “I have been happy winning on points because it is winning. But the fans want to see that hunger from me, and I’m always concerned about the fans and their satisfaction. So I’m going to fight this fight to show that I still have that hunger and that killer instinct.”

But there were questions as to whether, intent aside, Pacquiao still had the strength and physical stamina to close the show against an elite opponent.

“To me, it’s not about killer instinct,” Joel Diaz noted. “I don’t think Pacquiao is being compassionate. I don’t think he can finish anymore. Look at what happened when he fought Marquez in their third fight. The judges scored it for Pacquiao, but a lot of people thought Marquez should have won. Everyone knew it was close. And Pacquiao couldn’t come on strong late. Pacquiao is getting older. He’s not the fighter he used to be in the second half of his fights.”

Bradley understands that there are no sure things in boxing. “I may lose this fight,” he said in a teleconference call. “You never know.Things happen in the ring when you least expect it.It only takes one punch to end the night.”

But as Pacquiao-Bradley 2 approached, Tim was confident, saying, “I’m a more mature fighter now than I was two years ago. I’m better at getting in and out on guys and controlling the distance between us, which I showed in the Marquez fight. I’m a better fighter now than I was the first time Pacquiao and I fought. And Manny can’t say that.”

“This is the first time I’ve fought the same guy twice,” Bradley continued. “And I think it’s an advantage for me. The first time we fought, I didn’t know how much intensity Manny brought to the ring. Omigod! He throws so many feints and closes the distance so fast and punches from all angles. He always keeps you guessing when he’s going to come in and out. Now I know what to expect. I was able to make adjustments in the first fight, and Manny had problems with me when I was moving. I’m excited; I’m happy. On Saturday night, I’ll get to show what I can do on the biggest stage possible. I know there are people who say I can’t hurt him. If Manny feels that way, let him come in reckless and see what happens.”

And there was another factor to consider. In his first fight against Pacquiao, Bradley had done something stupid. For the only time in his career, he’d entered the ring without socks because he’d once heard Mike Tyson say that going sockless helped him grip the canvas and increase the leverage on his punches. Bradley had trained sockless in the gym for that fight. But the canvas in the ring on fight night was different from the gym canvas. And the demands on fight night are different from the demands of sparring. In the early going against Pacquiao, Tim had suffered ligament damage in his left foot and sprained his right ankle.

“With two good feet, I’ll be able to move quicker this time and set down harder on my punches,” Bradley promised. “With two good feet, I can adjust my footwork to deal with whatever Pacquiao brings to the table. Pain-free is another dimension, and I’ll be pain-free this time.”

Indeed, the main concern in Bradley’s camp was that the judges might overcompensate for the perceived injustice of the scoring in Pacquiao-Bradley I and, fearing ridicule, have a default setting on close rounds in favor of Manny.

“We know the judges will have a lot of weight on their backs,” Joel Diaz noted. “The stage was set for Tim to lose the first fight, and it didn’t happen. Now the stage is set for Tim to lose again. If the fight goes the distance and it’s close, the judges will give it to Pacquiao. All I ask is for the judges to be fair. If Tim wins, give him the win. If Pacquiao wins, give him the win.”

Meanwhile, as the clock to fight night ticked down, it seemed as though Bradley had more enthusiasm for the battle than Pacquiao did.

“I got something to prove,” Tim declared. “I got something to prove to the media; I got something to prove to the fans; I got something to prove to everyone who says I didn’t win the first fight. This fight is redemption for me. I feel deep in my heart that I won the first fight and I didn’t get any credit. I’m going to beat Manny Pacquiao again. And this time, I want the credit for it.”

Team Pacquiao, of course, had a different view.

“Bradley is a very good fighter,” trainer Freddie Roach said. “He’s tough and resilient. He takes good shots.He has a good chin. He has determination and a lot of heart. When you hit him, he fights back.”

“But I don’t think Bradley has all the abilities that Manny has,” Roach continued. “He’s not as fast. He doesn’t punch as hard. When Manny is on his toes and uses his footspeed, he closes the distance better than any fighter in the world. Once you put Bradley on the ropes, his chin goes up in the air, he opens up, and he punches wild. When that happens, Manny can beat him down the middle. Once the scores have been announced and you’ve lost a fight, there’s nothing you can do about it except say, ‘We’ll get him next time.’ I think Manny beat this guy once, and I think he’ll beat him again.”

Pacquiao agreed with his mentor.

“I am impressed with what Bradley has done since our fight,” Manny acknowledged. “His style is hard to explain. He is not easy to beat. But I am still faster than Bradley and I still punch harder than Bradley. He says that he wants to see my killer instinct, so he will see it.”

Part Two of “Behind the Scenes at Pacquiao-Bradley 2” takes readers into Tim Bradley’s dressing room in the dramatic hours before and after the fight. It will be posted on The Sweet Science tomorrow.

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

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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

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168-pound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Three Punch Combo: A Bouquet for “ShoBox” and More

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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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