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Impressions: Martinez, Cotto, Combat, and Sport

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At 9:15 on the night of June 7, Sergio Martinez entered dressing room #5 at Madison Square Garden with trainer Pablo Sarmiento, cutman Roger Anderson, and physical therapist Raquel Bordons. Cornerman Russ Anber and Nathan Lewkowicz (the son of promoter Sampson Lewkowicz) followed. The room was small and angularly-shaped with brown industrial carpet and cream-colored cinderblock walls. Two doors down the corridor, Miguel Cotto was ensconsed in dressing room #5.

In two-and-a-half hours, Martinez and Cotto would do battle for the middleweight championship of the world. Sergio was the defending champion, but his dressing room was one-third the size of Miguel’s. Other slights had cut deeper.

The fight and all promotional material for it had been styled “Cotto-Martinez” rather than the other way around. “It bothers me,” Sergio admitted, “because it’s disrespectful to the history and traditions of boxing. But Cotto said there would be no fight if his name wasn’t first on the posters. I can imagine that, on June 7, he will ask for rose petals to be thrown at his feet or he won’t walk to the ring.”

More significantly, the finances of the fight were weighted in the challenger’s favor. Cotto and Top Rank (Miguel’s promoter) had retained Puerto Rican television rights off the top. The first $15,000,000 in net revenue after that would be split 55 percent to Cotto and Top Rank, 45 percent to Martinez and his promoters (DiBella Entertainment and Sampson Promotions). Thereafter, the split would increase to 60-40.

To Cotto, that was fair and logical. “Two times in my career – when I fought Pacquiao and when I fought Mayweather – I was the champion but I was the B-side,” Miguel noted. “I understood my position. Sergio Martinez is a great fighter, but boxing is a business. For this fight, I am the one who sells the tickets.”

A fighter’s dressing room is a sheltered world in the hours before a big fight. In Sergio’s case, the mood is constant from bout to bout; relaxed and low-key until the final minutes when smiles evaporate.

Some fighters are intimidated by the atmosphere of a big fight. Martinez thrives on it. He loves the spotlight. His 2012 bout against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr had been more personal for him than this one because of the backroom dealing that led to his championship being temporarily taken from him. But he’d reclaimed the throne in front of a raucous crowd of Chavez partisans. Now he was eager to perform on an even bigger stage.

Referee Mike Griffin came into the dressing room and gave Martinez his pre-fight instructions. Russ Anber wrapped Sergio’s hands. Martinez put on his shoes and trunks and shadow-boxed briefly. Then he pulled a protective latex sleeve up over each knee. “A precaution,” he explained. “Not a necessity.”

A precaution deemed advisable because of the surgery and rehabilitation that Martinez underwent last year.

Pablo Sarmiento gloved Sergio up. Earlier in the evening, New York State Athletic Commission inspector Ernie Morales had initialed Martinez’s handwraps. Now Sue Etkin (the other inspector assigned to Sergio) wrote “Sue” on the tape covering the lace on each glove.

Martinez hit the pads with Sarmiento.

Music played. Out of Control, sung by the group You Aren’t Going to Like This. The same song, again and again.

There was anticipation in Sergio’s eyes. Madison Square Garden . . . The middleweight championship of the world . . . A screaming bloodlust crowd of 21,090 waited. For Muhammad Ali, boxing was a sport. Joe Frazier treated it as combat. In Martinez’s mind, he was preparing for a sporting competition. Two doors down the corridor, Miguel Cotto was preparing for combat.

Like most fighters, Martinez comes from a hard world. He’s a thoughtful intelligent man, sometimes philosophical. Growing up in the slums of Buenos Aires, he didn’t know what “dinner” was. The family didn’t sit down together at an appointed hour. When food came into the home, they ate it.

“When you are very small, a child, you don’t know that you’re poor,” Sergio says, reflecting back on that time. “Even though you’re hungry and cold, if you have the love of your parents, you’re happy with what you have because you’re used to that life and it’s all you know. Then you become an adolescent. You start to realize what you don’t have and begin to think about how to get what you want. You can work hard or you can take the shorter path and turn to crime. If you have good parents, it makes a big difference in deciding which path you take. When you are an adult, you realize fully what you missed as a child. And again, you have a choice. You can feel sorry for yourself or you can feel pride at where you came from and where you’ve gotten to in life. I give thanks to the fact that I grew up poor because it helps me appreciate what I have now.”

Taken severally, Sergio’s features aren’t classically handsome. But they fit together well and his smile further binds them together. Fashion designers love to hang clothes on him. He has a strong physical presence and carries himself with grace. Every now and then, a hard look creeps into his eyes, as though he is remembering the hardships of his youth or the demands of his trade. But he’s unfailingly gracious. Women and men are drawn to him.

Boxing was Martinez’s route to a better life. “I was a good student,” he says. “But my family didn’t have the money to continue my education. Without my physical gifts, I don’t think I would have found my way out of poverty. But I believe that everyone has a path if they choose to follow it. Everyone has a talent that’s special.”

Martinez turned pro in 1997 and fought in obscurity for much of his ring career. On June 21, 2003, on what he calls “the most important day of my life,” he took a beating but won a twelve-round decision over Richard Williams in Manchester, England, to claim the unheralded IBO 154-pound title.

“It was a very hard fight for me,” Sergio recalls, “because I was not experienced at that time. But I won.”

One week later, Martinez had a tattoo of a dragon imprinted on the outside of his left arm from shoulder to elbow. In January 2013, he added the word “resistencia” (resistance) on the inside of his right forearm and “victoria” (victory) on the inside of his left forearm.

“The life I have chosen revolves around those two words,” Sergio says, explaining the latter two tattoos. “When I was preparing to fight Chavez [in September 2012], they were constantly in my head. Then I signed to fight Martin Murray. I wasn’t motivated and I thought the tattoos would help motivate me. There will be no more tattoos. I don’t like tattoos. I never wanted tattoos. I hate tattoos. It is a contradiction, I know. I cannot explain it except to say, in two brief moments in time, I thought it was important to have these tattoos on my body.”

Martinez ascended to stardom on April 17, 2010, when he decisioned Kelly Pavlik to claim the WBC and WBO middleweight crowns. Seven months later, in his first title defense, he scored a dramatic one-punch knockout of Paul Williams. Victories over Sergiy Dzinziruk, Darren Barker, Matthew Macklin, Julio Cesar Chavez, and Martin Murray followed.

“The very poor identify with boxing,” Sergio observes. “They look at boxers and relate to the economic conditions that we came from and to our struggle. They admire the courage we have to fight to get to the next level. The very wealthy look at boxers as two animals trying to kill each other for their entertainment. They don’t identify on a human level with the fighters. Many of them – I truly believe this – want to see me fail in the end, lose all my money, and go back to nothing. It’s like a game for them. And sadly, most boxers who go from very poor to very rich go back quickly to being poor again.”

Cotto-Martinez harkened back to a time when New York was the capitol of the sports world. Earlier in the day, California Chrome’s pursuit of racing’s Triple Crown had drawn a crowd of 102,000 to the Belmont Stakes. On fight night, Madison Square Garden was rocking.

Cotto was bidding to become the first Puerto Rican to win titles in four weight divisions. This would be his ninth fight in the big Garden arena and the first for Martinez. Three thousand fans had attended the Friday weigh-in. It would have been more, but the doors to The Theater at MSG were closed an hour before the fighters stepped on the scales.

Stripped of the hype, Cotto-Martinez was an entertaining match-up between two compelling personalities who have served boxing well. Each man carries himself with dignity. And while Martinez was a 2-to-1 favorite, the outcome of the fight was very much in doubt.

The case for a Martinez victory began with the belief that Cotton wasn’t “Cotto” anymore. Miguel had lost two fights in a row (to Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout) before blowing out journeyman Delvin Rodriguez last October. Prior to those fights, he’d been brutalized by Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao and looked ordinary in victories over Yuri Foreman, Ricardo Mayorga, and (in a rematch) Margarito.

Trout was thought to have given Martinez a roadmap for beating Cotto. Like Sergio, Austin is a tall southpaw. Twelve months earlier, he’d outpointed Miguel 119-109, 117-111, 117-111. Asked at a June 4 sitdown with reporters about the parallels between Trout and Martinez, Cotto responded, “I fought Trout in 2012. Now it is 2014. I never saw that fight after that night, and I have no plans to see it again.”

That seemed like a bad case of denial. Moreover, for the first time in a long time, Martinez would be entering the ring with a height (three inches) and weight (four pounds) advantage over his opponent.

“I like to watch my opponents,” Martinez says. “I like studying them a lot. More than what they do, it’s how they think. I want to know what my opponent is thinking. Once I’ve seen them, I can figure them out; the ideas they have, their plan, their strategy.”

Watching Cotto, Sergio had seen Pacquiao and Mayweather beat Miguel with speed and Margarito beat him with power.

“Cotto does not have the same power at this weight that he had at 147,” Martinez opined. “I am the power-puncher of the two of us. When I start to find my rhythm, my timing, and the right distance, the fight will be over.”

Team Cotto, of course, held to a contrary view.

Cotto would be the most intelligent and technically-skilled opponent that Martinez had faced. Freddie Roach (Miguel’s trainer) was confident that edge would enable his fighter to exploit the flaws in Sergio’s style.

“Martinez is a great athlete,” Roach said. “I wouldn’t call him a great boxer. If you keep yourself in a good position, most of the time you’ll control the fight. Sergio’s footwork is reckless. He’s all over the place. Miguel can take advantage of that. And I think Miguel can beat Martinez down the middle. Sergio’s defense is not all that good, if you exchange with him, let your hands go, he’s very hittable. Chavez didn’t do that until the last round, and you saw what happened when he did. I think Cotto’s boxing ability will be too much for Martinez to handle.”

On the issue of size and power, Cotto declared, “It’s not about gaining the weight. It’s about not having to lose the weight. For the first time in my career, I’m not concerned about making weight. I can eat to be strong.”

“We moved up the weight a little bit and put on more muscle,” Roach added. “I think Miguel will be stronger on the inside and much more physical on the inside than Martínez is. We’re going to push him around with no problem. On the inside we’re the bigger stronger fighter. Sergio is in over his head on this one.”

But the biggest issue surrounding Cotto-Martinez was Sergio’s physical condition. Some people thought that Cotto was shot. Virtually everyone believed that Martinez was fragile.

Forty-three months had passed since Sergio’s demolition of Paul Williams. Subsequent to that, he had looked vulnerable. More than most fighters, Martinez fights with his legs. But in recent fights, his legs have betrayed him.

After decisioning Martin Murray on April 27, 2013, Martinez underwent major knee surgery.

“The recuperation was very painful,” Sergio acknowledged in a May 20 teleconference call. “I was on crutches for nine months and it is very hard to come back from that. But this is the road that I chose and I enjoy the achievement of coming back from something like this. Right now, I am just the same as when there were no knee problems. I have overcome all obstacles.”

That thought was echoed by Raquel Bordons, who said in the dressing room an hour before the fight, “Sergio’s condtion is more than I could have hoped for. He is very, very good now.”

But at this stage of Martinez’s career, injuries during a fight seem as likely as not. Was he fully repaired after the surgery, or was he a 39-year-old athlete with sub-standard body parts?

Tom Gerbasi framed the issue when he wrote, “It’s almost as if Martinez making it to the ring is the equivalent of New York Knicks captain Willis Reed limping out of the tunnel for Game Seven of the NBA Finals against the LA Lakers on May 8, 1970, to inspire his team and get them off to the start they needed to win the game and the title. It’s got that feel, that buzz, that for one more night, a great champion can be great. Saturday night is Sergio Martinez’s Game Seven. But this is no basketball game. Martinez can’t hit two baskets, go back to the bench, and leave his teammates to finish the work like Reed did. This is a fight, twelve rounds with the best fighter Martinez has ever been in with. Thirty-six minutes of wear and tear, physical and mental warfare.”

“Who do you like in the fight?” boxing maven Pete Susens was asked.

“Whichever guy has one last big fight left in him,” Susens answered.

During the build-up to Cotto-Martinez, Sergio had told the media, “It has been my dream for a long time to fight in the big room at Madison Square Garden.”

On fight night, that dream turned into a nightmare.

The heavily pro-Cotto crowd was chanting “Cotto, Cotto” even before the bell to start round one rang. It didn’t have to wait long for satisfaction. One minute into the first stanza, Cotto staggered Martinez with a left hook up top. A barrage of punches put Sergio face down on the canvas. He rose on unsteady legs and, a minute later, was decked again by a right hand. Once more, he struggled to his feet. Almost immediately, a body shot put him down for the third time.

That left Martinez with quite a hole to climb out of on the judges’ scorecards. And worse, he was now a debilitated fighter.

“The first punch that hurt me, after that, I never recovered,” Sergio said in his dressing room after the fight. “I wasn’t the same after that. I couldn’t do anything. My mind was disconnected from my body. My mind told me to do something, and my body wouldn’t do it.”

A brutal beatdown followed. Cotto punished Martinez almost at will to the head and body. Everything that Miguel landed seemed to hurt. Sergio’s only hope was that Cotto would fade in the late rounds as had happened in several recent outings. But with each passing round, it became more unlikely that Martinez would have anything left if and when that eventuality occurred. As the fight wore on, the question was not who would win, but how much punishment Martinez could take. Sergio wasn’t just being outpointed. He was getting beaten up. All he had left was his heart.

After nine rounds, Pablo Sarmiento stopped the carnage. In the dressing room after the fight, the trainer recounted, “I told him, ‘Sergio, champion, you mean more to me than I mean to myself. I am stopping it now.’ Sergio pleaded with me, ‘One more round.’ I told him no, and he accepted that.”

If Cotto-Martinez was Miguel’s finest hour, it was also Sarmiento’s.

As Pablo spoke, Martinez sat on a folding cushioned chair with Raquel Bordons beside him. His face was bruised and swollen. There was a cut on his right eyelid and an ugly gash on top of his head. The right side of his body, where Cotto’s left hook had landed again and again, ached. Fortunately, a post-fight trip to Bellevue Hospital for a precautionary MRI revealed nothing more serious than a broken nose.

As for Sergio’s future, two thing that he has said in the past are instructive.

Prior to fighting Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, Martinez declared, “I always look ahead. That’s what works for me; to look toward my goals and never look away from them.” Then, in a light moment shortly before fighting Cotto, Sergio acknowledged, “I am thirty-nine, and people think that I’m an old man. For boxing, maybe I am.”

Put those thoughts together and retirement after a long and honorable career is a sound option. Meanwhile, Cotto-Martinez stands as a reminder that, for each thrilling victory in boxing, there’s a heartbreaking defeat.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Reflections: Conversations, Essays, and Other Writings) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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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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experienced opponent

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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