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MICHAEL GRANT KNOWS WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE WHERE DEONTAY WILDER IS NOW

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It is human nature, one supposes, to compare the Next Big Thing to a Former Big Thing. Oh, sure, it is a handy and sometimes useful tool to gauge a rising star’s progress against the statistical achievements of a predecessor, or to simply allow ourselves to experience the aesthetic rush that comes with believing that the hot prospect we are watching is capable of doing the same wondrous things that a favorite athlete once did.

But wishing doesn’t make it so, and never has. A lot of New York Yankees fans wanted to believe that Bobby Murcer would be as magnificent a centerfielder as Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, but, alas, he was just Bobby Murcer – a pretty good player in his own right, but no Hall of Famer.

Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder will enter the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night for his Showtime-televised shot at WBC heavyweight champion Bermane “B.Ware” Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KOs) shouldering the same sort of pressure that weighed upon Murcer, and many others, like a ton of bricks. With 32 knockouts in 32 professional bouts, the Tuscaloosa, Ala., native’s power with his signature overhand right is legitimate, enough to generate comparisons in some quarters to such renowned sleep-inducers as Mike Tyson, Earnie Shavers and a young George Foreman.

But, at 6-foot-7 and with the impressively lean musculature of an NBA power forward, Wilder is no physical prototype of the squatty Tyson, and his long streak of pastings of second-tier opponents hardly merits a place alongside Phase 1 of Big George just yet. A more reasonable measuring stick might be Shavers, a one-trick pony (the trick admittedly was pretty good) who was like a cleanup hitter who could smack a baseball 500 feet, but struck out a bit too often and was no Gold Glover on defense. For all the electrifying knockouts that Shavers registered, he’s also the same guy who never held a version of the title, had stamina issues and was stopped inside two rounds by both Randall “Tex” Cobb and Brian Yates.

To my way of thinking, the fighter to whom the 29-year-old Wilder should most be likened to at this critical juncture of his evolving career is Michael Grant, another 6-foot-7 Adonis with six-pack abs, a mighty punch and inflated expectations that caused quite a few of his followers to believe he was not only headed to greatness in the here and now, but to a level of immortality that is the destiny of only the best of the best. Don Turner, who trained Grant during his halcyon era when the suits at HBO had all but anointed him as a larger, potentially improved version of Joe Louis or Jack Dempsey, even went so far as to proclaim his fighter as having the capabilities of surpassing every heavyweight who ever laced up a pair of padded gloves.

But then Grant got his dream shot, at WBC champion Lennox Lewis on April 29, 2000, in Madison Square Garden, and the air went out of his balloon as swiftly as a punctured balloon. The pin prick in this instance was supplied by Lewis’ own thunderous right hand, which he employed to drop Grant four times before referee Arthur Mercante Jr. counted him out 2 minutes, 53 seconds into the second round.

Anyone can get caught – Lewis, a 2009 enshrinee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on merit (41-2-1, 32 KOs) – twice got nailed on the chin by underdogs Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, causing him to crash to the canvas like an imploded building. But when Grant also was starched in one round by fringe contender Jameel McCline in his next fight, on July 21, 2001, in Las Vegas, the hype machine that had previously been turned on at full volume wheezed to a halt.

Grant is now 42, still active with a 48-6 record that includes 36 knockout victories (and five losses the same way), and he can see where parallels might be drawn between Wilder and himself. Although Grant is a city guy (born in Chicago, long-based in the Philadelphia area and now a resident of Atlanta) and Wilder is from the less-urban environs of Tuscaloosa, where college football is king, both have multi-sport backgrounds and the physiques dreams are made of.

One distinct difference: Grant’s failed audition for greatness came against Lennox Lewis, who might have been the finest heavyweight during a very good era for heavyweights; Stiverne, on the other hand, is no Double-L. He would appear to is more like Bobby Murcer, if you’ll pardon the crossover comparison between boxers and baseball players, or maybe to Seth Mitchell, the former Michigan State linebacker who was talked up as the most recent Next Big Thing, until he came thudding back to earth with a KO2 loss to Johnathan Banks. Mitchell beat Banks in a boring sequel, and then got stopped by Chris Arreola (KO1) in 2013. He has all but vanished from the division’s big picture.

“I’ve sparred with Stiverne,” Grant told me last week. “He hung in there. I put some really big shots on him and he took them pretty good. He’s going to be a good, tough test for Wilder. Is he a really powerful test? Probably not on the level of a Lennox Lewis, or a (Wladimir) Klitschko.

And good, tough tests are not the same as all-or-nothing final exams.

“Andrew Golota and Lou Savarese (both of whom Grant defeated), they were good fighters,” Grant continued. “I was very comfortable developing my skills against fighters like that. But when I fought Lennox for the championship, that was moving up to a whole different level. You fight somebody like that, there is a different kind of pressure put on you. I wasn’t ready for it. I admit it.

“So many people thought I not only could win, but would win. They were telling me I was going to be a guest on `Oprah,’ that the City of Philadelphia was going to hold a parade for me. There was talk that Versace wanted me to be a celebrity endorser. That’s enormous pressure, man. I never had to deal with anything like that before. Looking back, I probably did allow it to get to me a little bit.

“Being on the big stage, or at least a bigger stage, might affect Deontay. Maybe it won’t; like I said, Stiverne is no Lennox Lewis. But if and when he steps up to the plate to fight Klitschko, it’s going to weigh heavy on him because Klitschko is on another level, like Lewis was when I fought him. I know Deontay is a big puncher and all that, but I can’t see him lasting more than a few rounds against Klitschko.”

Perhaps Wilder will continue to ratchet up the excitement level starting to cling to him like lint on Velcro if he makes the 36-year-old Stiverne knockout victim No. 33. Or he could get starched himself, which would promptly drop him into the lower category where guys like Shavers and Grant reside – and maybe even further down than that, to the discount bin of crushed dreams where more obvious pretenders like Mitchell and Faruq Saleem have been assigned. And if you don’t remember Saleem, he’s the big (6-7, 257 pounds ) heavyweight from Newark, N.J., whom the late Butch Lewis steered to a 38-0 victory with 32 knockouts, against a lineup of opponents more odious than the ones Wilder has dispatched so emphatically. The 34-year-old Saleem was stopped in four rounds by someone named Shawn McLean on Sept. 23, 2009, and immediately called a halt to his phantom ring career.

“If he were a welterweight or a middleweight, I’d be real concerned right now,” Lewis said in 2009, before Saleem got his come-uppance from McLean. “But come on now. We’re talking about the bleeping heavyweight division. Every bleeper-bleeper whose name anybody recognizes is older than 34, damn near. And nobody’s a killer. There ain’t no bleeping killer nowhere. I mean, who’s the killer?”

Well, there’s Klitschko, a legitimate assassin inside the ropes. But “Dr. Steelhammer” is 38 and has to be winding down sometime, given the more ravaging effects the aging process can do to someone’s body than a few quick ’n’ easy rounds against the no-chance challengers he’s been handling with almost ridiculous ease.

Which brings us back to Stiverne-Wilder, which is what passes for a major heavyweight bout in these diminished times. The winner will be held up as the last semi-legitimate threat to Klitschko’s dominance, but the guess here is that that man will chart a course as far away from the Ukrainian as possible until he joins his older brother Vitali in the safe arms of retirement. If the captain of the Titanic had it to do all over again, you’d have to figure he would go slower and keep a keener eye out for icebergs. Stiverne is the last horse in promoter Don King’s thinned-out stable capable of a reasonably brisk trot, and Wilder’s manager/adviser Al Haymon is as adverse to risk as was Mayberry deputy Barney Fife.

Still, a reasonable degree of hype – one way or the other – can be justified, if only because fight fans desperately want something more from boxing’s big men than the same-old, same-old. Even a younger version of Michael Grant, the one who was exposed against Lewis, would look enticing in the present heavyweight lineup.

Asked who would win if the 29-year-old Grant could somehow be paired with Wilder, ESPN2 boxing analyst Teddy Atlas – who, it should be noted, trained Grant for a time – went with his former pupil.

“Grant was more athletic,” Atlas said. “He could do more things. He had a better left hand. There’s only one thing Wilder does reallywell, and that’s to punch like hell with the right hand. It’s really all he does.

“The most important difference between Grant and Wilder, though, is that Grant was around – unfortunately for him – when a guy named Lennox Lewis was around. Lewis was a truly dominant heavyweight. Deontay Wilder comes along when there’s nobody around, other than Klitschko. Wilder has an option, an alternative, to avoid Klitschko. He can fight Stiverne. Change them around and if Michael Grant had Stiverne to fight instead of Lewis at the same stage of his career, he very well might have been heavyweight champion of the world. But Lewis was there, Grant wasn’t ready for him and that was that.”

Despite his misgivings about Wilder, however, Atlas is picking him to dethrone Stiverne, and with an exclamation point.

“I don’t think Deontay Wilder is all that great,” Atlas opined. “But he’s got that big right hand and he’s in a situation where he’s fighting Stiverne – who’s a good puncher, too – and is also a guy that’s been knocked out once in his career. Stiverne likes to counterpunch and he needs you at a certain distance to be effective. Because Wilder is tall and long and can bang with the right hand, I think the style matchup is horrible for Stiverne.

“I look for Wilder to keep Stiverne on the outside and catch him before Stiverne ever gets close enough to catch Wilder. I think Wilder will knock him out in one or two rounds.”

For his part, Wilder – the pressure on him now might be even a bit heavier, given the fact that his beloved Alabama Crimson Tide was upset by the underdog Ohio State Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff semifinals – doesn’t like to be compared to anyone, be it Grant, Tyson, Shavers, the young Foreman or whomever.

“I don’t like people to compare me to anybody, even if it’s the greatest fighter in the world,” Wilder said. “It don’t do me no justice to say I have a style like this guy or that guy. That ain’t doing me no good. What Michael Grant done, that was his legacy, his journey. My name is Deontay Leshun Wilder. Nice to meet you.

“I don’t care what Michael Grant done. I’m on a totally different path. I’m making my own legacy.”

Not that I’m sure it went down this way, but I’d guess that Bobby Murcer probably said more or less the same thing the first time someone attempted to link him to DiMaggio or The Mick. The gaps between contention and championship and legendary status are wide, and getting wider, and fans keep trying to fill in those gaps by building up the Next Big Thing as something bigger than it might actually be.

 

NOTE FROM FERNANDEZ:  My original story contained an error and I wish to apologize for that. Mistakes such as this are far beneath the standard I have set for myself, and which I would like to believe TSS readers have come to expect of me. I offer no excuses, but perhaps an explanation is in order. The night before I wrote, a relative had a seizure and I spent a good chunk of that evening in a hospital emergency room. I should have been better-rested, more-prepared and more-diligent when I sat down to do the piece, instead of trusting my memory, which proved to be a mistake. I will regard the matter as a flash knockdown, from which I will get up and resume punching. One more thing: I think I speak for all TSS contributors when I say it is an honor and a privilege to put my (usually) best effort  on the site for inspection for such knowledgable and discerning boxing people such as yourselves. If I have let you down in this instance, rest assured I will do my utmost to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

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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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