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INTO THE MIND OF A REF Jack Reiss On The Hows and Whys of Being the Third Man In the Ring

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If you always wanted to know what it takes to become a successful boxing referee or official and didn’t know where to start then you might want to read Jack Reiss’ story. Reiss is a former amateur boxer turned professional referee. Before that, he was a fireman in the Los Angeles Fire Department for 31 years, 19 years as a supervisor, until he turned professional referee in 1998.

When you follow Reiss’ story you will find a guy that has an undying passion for boxing, and as it turns out, has become one of the most respected referees in the sport today. And Reiss explains that he gained that esteem the hard way. Reiss thinks it’s his experience as a fighter that makes him a good official, and that his almost religious-like preparation has helped him earn respect from fighters inside of the ring.

Referees can’t hesitate on their instincts. That’s what makes them who they are. When they see it, they call it. And there is a discipline behind their approach. Reiss explains that every referee acquired those instincts in a different way.

He says that every referee needs to know what it feels like to take a punch because in a fight, there is more than what meets the eye. He says every referee had to pay his or her dues one way or another. But some had to pay their share more than others. Reiss tells me he resents the fakers in his profession. He calls them “posers,” officials that got “into the game for political reasons” or because they are “somebody’s important nephew.”

In a candid discussion about the science behind “the sweet science” and the politics (for lack of a better term) surrounding the fights, Reiss practically preaches to us about his tricks to the trade. He describes his approach inside the dressing room with fighters and talks about the controversial Canelo/Lara decision., tells us his theory on taking points, and explains why there are so many “poser” officials that do not have the respect of fighters in the sport of boxing.

RM: Let’s just start off by telling me how you became a referee.

JR: Well, I did some amateur fighting in kickboxing and boxing. And I have been involved in boxing since I was a little kid. I have a picture of my father standing at the beach in 1929, yoked at about 160 pounds in a boxing stance. So you know, it’s been in my family for years. So, I did it as an amateur and refereeing is something I always thought about doing. So, I finally called the Nevada State Athletic Commission because that was the only one I had ever heard of from watching the big fights on TV, you know.

RM: Yeah.

JR: So, I spoke to Marc Ratner and he said, “You could become a referee but why don’t you call the California Athletic Commission?” So, I said, “OK. Mr. Ratner thanks”…. So, I didn’t know. You know what I’m saying, Ray? So, I called the California Athletic Commission and hounded them for about a year and a half. I just kept on them. And they allowed me to be a part of this program in 1998, a three-year program. It was a class, followed by a professional referee probationary period. Professional referees Pat Russell, Lou Filippo, Larry Rozadilla and Marty Denkin taught the class. We also had many other refs and pro fighters as guest speakers. The first year was all classroom instruction and working in the ring with guys sparring. The second year was one fight a month as a ref or a judge. The third year we signed an agreement to allow us to do four rounds on a regular basis. But if you did anything that was egregious then they could let you go with no recourse.

RM: I see. Sounds legit.

JR: Yeah. The class started with about 90 people. It was filled with a nepotistic type atmosphere. There were a lot of sons, daughters, bankers, friends, and relatives of some of the existing referees. I didn’t know anybody, you know. But eight or nine of us passed the course as a ref, judge, or both.

RM: OK. So, tell me about the difference in mindset from when you started to the present day. How much have you changed since the first fight that you refereed?

JR: Oh my God, my first referee experience was my like my first sexual experience… It was over before I knew it. And I had to ask someone else how I did.

RM OK…

JR: In my initial refereeing experiences it was more about – How did I do? Did I do a good job? Did I do the right thing? – Now, at this stage of the game, on a regular basis, I look to my peers, guys I trust, and ask about what I could do different or better. What alternatives did I have in the situation I was in? It is not a matter of right or wrong. I am just always trying to improve. My goal is to do what is best for boxing, and to do what is best and fair for the fighters.

RM: OK. So, you are trying to be the perfect referee.

JR: Yeah. It is impossible to be perfect. But I try to do the best I can in each venture. You know what I mean?

RM: Yeah. I get it.

JR: It is the only way to grow. I have to be honest with you, Ray. There are a lot of posers, man. There are a lot of referees out there that are just posers. There are a lot of referees and judges that got into this game because they are somebody’s important nephew, if that makes sense to you.

RM: Yeah.

JR: They got into the game for political reasons or something.

RM: Yeah.

JR: They don’t know boxing. They don’t know combative sports. They have never been punched in the face in their entire life. How could you have compassion for a guy taking a beating if you have never taken a beating? You have to know how it is to dish it out and take it.

RM: I hear you.

JR: But I always try to constantly improve to be the best I could be. And if you are not trying to be the best you can be as a referee then you are falling backwards. You are getting complacent. It is sort of like a doctor in a sense…. And, I am not comparing myself to a doctor.

RM: Oh, course not.

JR: But a doctor has to keep up with the latest medical breakthroughs and the latest tests and things that are going on. In that sense, as a referee, you have to constantly watch fights and constantly question yourself, “What would I do if that was me? What alternatives would I have in that particular situation?” And ultimately, you have to know what is fair for the fighters and boxing.

RM: It seems like from our short conversation so far, that you want to do what is best for boxing.

JR: Yeah. And what is right for the fighters.

RM: Right. OK. So, you were talking about these posers. What do you think boxing fans think about them? How do you explain the posers to boxing fans? We see referees or judges that don’t look like they have been in a fight all of the time.

JR: Well, I explain it sincerely just like I explained it to you. Not everybody got there (became a referee or judge) taking the correct path. Some of these guys really don’t belong. Unfortunately we are adequated in the sense that officials don’t have a national commission or a worldwide commission that writes the rules and has the standards. In the NBA, NFL, or any other professional league, you can’t be a ref without going through their system.

RM: Good point.

JR: They tell you what is right and wrong. But more importantly, you are under their scrutiny, and you are EVALUATED Ray, you are EVALUATED, on a regular basis. In boxing, we have 50 states with 50 commissions. All the other countries in this world have their own commissions. Luckily, in California we have a wonderful commission that understands combative sports. But some states still have commissioners that are political appointees and they have no clue about combative sports. So if you go in the ring and screw up, they just say, “Oh, you were pretty good. That was good.” Nobody is correcting you. Fortunately in California we have a checks and balances system. But all over the world and throughout the United States, it is not like that.

RM: I see.

JR: And I will tell you another thing, check this out. In California we do 200 fights a year in MMA and boxing. In other places if they do 20 shows a year that is a lot. Those referees and judges aren’t getting a quarter of the experience we are getting. They have to do something to keep the officials sharp and learn.

RM: That just brought the Canelo/Lara fight to my attention. One judge from New Mexico scored the fight 117-111 for Canelo. There aren’t many big fights in New Mexico.

JR: Was it Levi Martinez?

RM: Yeah.

JR: Let me tell you about Levi. Levi is literally one of the most premier judges in the world. He is a WBA, WBO, and IBF judge. If you look up his name on Boxrec.com you will see over 100-world title fights as well the local shows he does around the area. His reputation precedes him but that is not always true with other people.

RM: So do you think these appointees or posers that you were referring to have the best interest of boxing in their hearts?

JR: I want to think that they do. But how can I know, Ray? We are fortunate here in California to have an outstanding mix of people in the commission. Our executive officer is an ex-fighter in MMA and boxing, and we have a neurosurgeon on the commission as well. What more can you ask for?

RM: I see. So, what makes a great official in your opinion?

JR: Someone who has absolute integrity, someone who cannot be bought, or bribed at all. Someone who understands the scope of what’s going on in front of him… I’ll give you a great example. The other day a rookie referee was refereeing this fight. It was the first round of the fight; there hasn’t been a lot of action. A fighter gets dropped and gets up on shaky legs. The referee stops the fight and said, “He was going to get hurt.” So I tried to explain to this official that you can’t just say, “He’s going to get hurt.” These guys get paid to get hurt..

RM: That’s true.

JR: This is their livelihood, Ray.

RM: Yeah…

JR: The only way you can protect them is to not allow them to fight. Our job is to protect them from unnecessary harm. And I explained that she might have done more damage by stopping the fight that way. And she goes “what do you mean?” I go, ‘look at the big picture. There’s more than just what is in front of you that’s at stake. Every fighter has earned the right to get a second look. On another note, if this fighter was an old fighter making a comeback and you stop that fight too quick, that fighter is thinking, “Oh, that referee screwed me. I am going to keep fighting. I have to prove to the world that I still got it.” Whereas, if you let a fight go to its natural conclusion, then that fighter knows he is done. There is no controversy, it is the best thing for boxing, and he will gracefully retire without maybe the next fight where he might get killed.

RM: I hear you.

JR: So there is a bigger picture you have to look at. You have to take a lot in. Never sacrifice the safety of a fighter. But there is more than just what’s in front of you at stake. If you stop a fight on HBO in the first round when a guy has a full gas tank, you will never work again. The fans come to see a fight. Does that make sense? You have to evaluate everything.

RM: So, it’s sort of a political job in a way… Or is that taking it too far?

JR: No. It’s not political. There’s just more to stopping a fight due to safety. Some refs say, “Oh, he was going to get hurt.” I think that’s a cop-out.

RM: OK.

JR: You have to have intelligent verbiage backed up by factual information of body language to stop a fight. You can’t just say, “He was done.” When I stop a fight, I can give you definite reasons why I stop a fight. In fact, I have my own criteria.

RM: Like what?

JR: If the fighter is a 50% capacity and he hasn’t taken too much punishment, I am going to give him one shot to continue to see how he responds to that knockdown, even if he’s on shaky legs. These guys have amazing recuperative power. The lights might go out for a second, but then the lights are flickering when they get back on their feet. So, if they have the ability to intelligently defend themselves, they are getting one shot from me. How they respond will determine the fight from that point on.

RM: So, to become a great official, you have to understand the science behind what it takes to stop a fight.

JR: Thank you very much. You said everything I was trying to say in one freaking sentence and it took me three paragraphs.

RM: Well, thanks. But you’re the expert.

JR: Well, that’s why they call it the sweet science, Ray. It really is a science. That’s why we can talk like this.

RM: Yep. That’s true.

JR: But you have to understand, the great fighters always find a way to continue. The great officials always look at the bigger picture. The most paramount thing on an official’s mind is fighter’s safety. You never want to violate that. But we also have a responsibility to our sport, to do what’s best for the sport of boxing.

RM: OK. Then let me know, what makes you different from any other referee?

JR: I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t know how the other referees think or train. But I can tell you that I feel like I am blessed to be a part of this sport. Just like you are. We’re blessed to be a part of a professional sport and I take the responsibility seriously. I constantly, constantly, train. I constantly try to better myself. I have a routine that I have followed since I started. I get myself in the zone before I step in the ring. I go to the gym and I move around with the fighters. And I have a book that I created, and it’s been 16 years already where I go over situation after situation after situation in my head to review. When I step in that ring, I have to be ready from the first second of the first round. You know, what’s my warm-up? A boxer warms up in the dressing room right?

RM: Yeah.

JR: I have to be mentally warmed up for the first second of the first round so I don’t miss something and I don’t overreact. So, I can’t tell you what makes me different. But I have an exuberant amount of passion for what I do. And I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for these warriors. And I have a tremendous amount of respect and love for our sport.

RM: Do you prepare for a big fight differently than you would for a small show?

JR: Yes. In a small show I might not know who is fighting until I get there. For a big show, they might give you an assignment a month out. So I get an opportunity to review the fights I have done with them and go through a more stringent routine. I go to YouTube to watch tapes. Look at styles. Look at weights. See where they’ve been. Are they coming up from a different weight? How did they do in their last five fights? Things like that, it’s a different preparation than a club show. But it’s a same manner in the respect that I have this routine that I go through to get in the zone for the first second of the first round. I can just do more research if it’s a big fight. It’s very important to know their natural weight. Some guys move up in weight and have no power. I want to know how they did in their last five fights. Are they moving up in weight? Have they won in the weight class they are going in to? Some guys that move up in weight got no power.

RM: Why is it important to know whether a fighter has lost or won his last few fights?

JR: Well, fighters get old overnight. And that is usually a good indication of what’s going on in their life. I look at the timespan between fights. If you have a guy that lost his last four fights I am thinking that his career has hit a skid. I want to know what he has done different to prepare for this fight. His career might come to an end. Why is he losing? Has he taken too many punches? Has he gone up in weight or down in weight? What are the contributing factors to why he lost? These are just more tools in my tool chest to help me accomplish “fighter safety” if that makes sense.

RM: No. That makes sense. But I am just playing devils advocate. Let’s say that I am fighter that lost my last three fights. – If I know a referee had your mindset, maybe I am thinking that the referee wants to stop the fight early, you know. How do you feel about that idea?

JR: That’s a great question and you are going to laugh when I give you the answer. I would love to have you come in the room with me when I give pre-fight instructions. I get a lot of good information. And more importantly, I get a baseline at where they are at mentally. I like to hear them talk. I want to see them move. I like to watch them walk in the dressing room and I like to watch them walk to the ring. I am trying to find out their normal senses. If you have a fighter that lost his last few fights, I like to ask, “How’s it going? How are you feeling?” They are always the first ones to cough up and give me the information that I am looking for.

RM: Yeah.

JR: Fighters usually fess up and tell you about the problems. They’ll say something like, “Oh, I know I lost my last few fights.” Or, “I had a bad shoulder last time. I’m ready now.”

RM: So, you use pre-fight information as a tool to help you referee a fight.

JR: Yeah. Well, none of it is a game stopper. I just use it as tools in my tool chest. Remember, you have to consider a lot more than what is in front of you. Something I know might save that guys life. What if a guy broke his right hand two fights ago, and tells me in the pre-fight that his hand is fine now. If he stops using his broken hand in the fight, I will know what’s going on. You know what I’m saying?

RM: Yeah. I hear you.

JR: That is the kind of information I use to help me make a decision. If I saw that, I would go to the doctor and tell him to check the right hand. It helps soften the blow if we need to stop a fight and it helps us protect the fighters.

RM: See, now I would never know that unless I talked to a referee. That’s important to know.

JR: Yeah. It’s important to know a fighter’s recent history, Ray. I want to get as much information as I can.

RM: OK. Talk to me about the art of neutrality. You used to be a fighter, so you know what they go through. How do you stay neutral as a referee?

JR: It’s very simple. And this is another reason why I feel that people have no business being a ref or a judge if they have never been punched in the face. I remember when I was training for fights. I was a 19-year-old kid, staying away from family and friends for months at a time. Fighters just want a fair and impartial referee.

RM: That reminds me of the Andre Ward/Edwin Rodriguez fight when you gave each fighter a two-point deduction for fouling. How did that all play out in your head?

JR: Remember when I was telling you how I prepare for fights?

RM: Yeah.

JR: In my books, I had that particular situation planned since 2002. I thought about the Holyfield/Tyson II situation when Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear. I thought what would happen to me if I had to guys so unruly? How would I try to maintain control?

RM: Yeah.

JR: So, Rodriguez was initiating a lot of that dirty stuff and Ward was retaliating… First, I verbally tried to correct them. I went to the corners and emphatically implored them to be professionals. That didn’t work. And then, in about the fourth round, Rodriguez got Ward in a guillotine. He tried to choke him out. He lifted Ward. And he was walking backwards, choking Ward. I was saying, “stop.” And Rodriguez wasn’t stopping. So Ward took matters into his own hands, and threw a punch over the top or two. Then I jumped in, and I think I got punched in the face.

RM: Right.

JR: So, I called time. Their adrenaline was spiraling out of control. My intent was to calm them down, and let this all pass so the fight will settle into something that resembles a professional boxing match.

RM: OK.

JR: I’ll give you an analogy. I was a fireman for 31 years. And I went on domestic violence assignments all of the time. If you have two cops go to a house and there is a lot of screaming. A lady is standing there with a pot in her hand and her husband is standing there with a black eye, he has a big welt on his head. They are cursing each other out, screaming. What do the cops do?

RM: They separate them…

JR: Yeah. They (cops) separate them. They take the husband outside. They tell him to calm down so they could hear the story. They hear both sides, let them vent, and then they say, “Well, you assaulted him and he assaulted you. Do you want to go to jail?” Guess what, everything straightens out. So, in that fight, I called time. I separated them, and said if this continues, I’m fining both of them. Once you hit their pocket book, they check. They start to pay attention. You know what I mean?

RM: Yeah.

JR: Obviously they settled down and it was a great fight the rest of the way.

RM: Yeah. OK. So…

JR: Let me ask you a question.

RM: Sure.

JR: Can a guy that never fought before understand this stuff? Can he even consider it? Can a guy that is somebody’s important nephew, who never had a fight in his life, become a good ref or judge? Can that guy understand competitive, combative, sports?

RM: I don’t think so, man. I think you’re going to need some sort of street cred.

JR: Yeah. You gotta have some kind of cred.

RM: Yeah. And do you think fighters understand the difference? Do fighters know when they are in the ring with a referee that has never gotten in a fight?

JR: Are you kidding me? Absolutely.

RM: OK.

JR: I mean, a guy like Bernard Hopkins will take advantage of you. If you are on the right side of him he is holding with his left hand. If you are on the left side he is holding with his right. All of the fighters are survivors’ man. This is a fight. They are moving, grabbing, and pulling until you correct them. These guys are smart. This ain’t tennis. These guys are hitting each other. They are going to do what they can to win, and it ain’t always going to be pretty.

RM: Now, I’m just curious. When Rodriguez had Ward in a guillotine and Ward defended himself. How come you didn’t just deduct a point from Rodriguez for the guillotine choke? I’m sure situations like that arise from time to time. But sometimes I see fouls, and referees just let them go without a warning.

JR: I deducted points for unsportsmanlike conduct from both fighters. I deducted points from Rodriguez for not letting go and Ward retaliating, and all the fouls prior to that. I will give you my theory on taking points. The fans don’t pay to see me take points and change the course of fight. They pay to see a fight come to a natural conclusion.

RM: True.

JR: This is not tennis. Take basketball for example, it is a non-contact sport, right?

RM: Yeah.

JR: But people that run the NBA know that there is going to be contact when you have seven-foot tall, 250-pound men jumping for a little ball. So they give them each five times to make contact before anything bad is going to happen.

RM: Right.

JR: Now transfer that over to boxing. We have highly trained athletes coming into the ring full of adrenaline, sometimes they hate each other, and there’s emotion on top of adrenaline. I got to tell you, the first few rounds aren’t going to be pretty. I try to use my people skills to calm them down and correct without taking points. The only caveat to that is if there is an intentional foul.

RM: That’s an interesting comparison. Thanks a bunch for your time, Jack. Is there anything else that you want the boxing world to know?

JR: I just want to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to even speak to you. It is not very often that we get to tell our side, our trials and tribulations, and talk about the challenges we face as officials. I appreciate it. I just want to give you one last parting thought.

RM: OK.

JR: As a referee in any other professional sport, there is a team of people looking at different angles. And when they are not sure, they call time, get in the huddle and make a decision. A referee in boxing and MMA has to get it right on the spot, and it’s right now. You can’t call timeout because someone has the advantage. If you call timeout, that person loses their advantage.

RM: Yeah.

JR: So, it is a very challenging position. And I hope the fans and writers understand.

RM: Definitely. Do you feel like referees get treated unfairly?

JR: Oh totally unfair. But when I checked the warranty on Jack Reiss, it doesn’t say anything about fairness. Nothing on my birth certificate says life is going to be easy or fair. That’s just the way life is. It’s unfair dude.

You can email Ray at Raymond.Markarian@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter at @raymarkarian

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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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