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Mini-blogs on Kovalev, Mayweather-Pacquiao and PBC on NBC

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Mini-blogs on Kovalev, Mayweather-Pacquiao and Premier Boxing Champions

Bloggers gonna blog. I think that’s a saying. If not, it might should be. Anyway, here’s a smattering of thoughts on Sergey Kovalev, Mayweather-Pacquiao and Al Hayon’s Premier Boxing Champions.

Don’t Ask Sergey Kovalev About Mayweather-Pacquiao

The running debate in boxing today is who is scarier: undefeated middleweight monster Gennady Golovkin or light heavyweight destroyer Sergey Kovalev. I’ve spoken with both men a handful of times, the latter in person at least twice.

While I wouldn’t want to step in the ring (or a dark alley) against either man, I have to say that Kovalev just seems the scarier fighter to me. I have several reasons, but I’ll hit the important ones at a high level here.

First, Kovalev just seems meaner. That’s not to say he’s not polite to fans and media. He is. Or even that he’s actually mean. Maybe he’s not. But there’s something I see beneath his menacing eyes that tells me he’d rather be bashing skulls with his fists than doing mundane things like smiling and talking to people.

Second, he’s the one fighter I’ve met in person (and I’ve met plenty) who while I was interviewing him, I felt the distinct impression that he absolutely hated my guts. No matter how much he smiled and nodded or how many nice the things he said to me, I always came away from the encounter thinking that the whole time my gums are flapping at him that he’s pondering in his mind what my blood looks like.

None of these things may be true, mind you. It’s just the vibe I get.

But probably the best interview I ever had was Kovalev, and it was precisely because he was so surly with me during it that it made for some really good copy. Already not the type to enjoy chatting with media people (especially those of us who aren’t big-timers like Dan Rafael or Chris Mannix), Kovalev was in the midst of losing the necessary amount of weight required to make his 175-pound contract limit for his bout against Blake Caparello.

“How are you today,” I asked to open the call.

“Hungry,” he scowled back at me.

That set the tone for the rest of the interview. He was hungry and angry and I got the sense he really didn’t like doing interviews so his answers were short and his voice was gruff. All the while, of course, I could see in my mind images of him chopping light heavyweights down as if his arms were axes.

He was much more chipper when I talked to him last week. Maybe the birth of his son has softened the big lug up a bit. Maybe he’s grown accustomed to the media junket all HBO boxing stars are put through. Maybe he’s grown to like me. At least that’s what I thought until I closed the call by asking him the obligatory Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao question.

A long silence followed. His manager, Egis Klimas (who I get the same kind of vibe from by the way), proceeded to translate it for Kovalev in case he had trouble picking it up himself. The only words I understood among the hodgepodge of what I assume to be Russian are “Pacquiao” and “Mayweather.”

Silence again.

“Um…,” Kovalev says, emitting a long sigh in the process.

More silence.

“I don’t like to do predictions,” Kovalev finally says to me. I can only imagine what might be going through his mind as he proceeds with the rest of his answer. He’s talking Mayweather-Pacquiao, but I keep thinking he’s wondering what my spine would feel like in his hand.

“The fight is one the boxing world has waited for…I think it will be a war of mind: who is smarter will win.”

There is another long period of silence, and then we both begin to speak, talking over each other. Obviously, if two people begin speaking at the same time and one of them is Sergey Kovalev, the other is, by default, interrupting.

“Do you think it will be a good fight?” I clumsily ask over whatever it was he was about to say.

Silence. Then more translation.

“Yes. I think it will be interesting fight. Who wins? I don’t know. I’m not going to say who will win.”

Fair enough, Sergey.

You Can Ask Jean Pascal and Bryant Jennings About Mayweather-Pacquiao (But I Already Did)

I also talked to Kovalev’s March 14 opponent, Jean Pascal, and undefeated heavyweight Bryant Jennings, who faces world champ Wladimir Klitschko on April 25. Both of them see close Mayweather wins over Pacquiao.

“Five years ago, I would have said Mayweather easily,” said Pascal. “But now, time is starting to catch up to Floyd. The fight will be much closer than it was five years ago, but I have no choice but to go with Floyd because Floyd is the man right now.”

Pascal continued.

“It seems to me like it. It’s not because of one fight that age is starting to catch up. If we see it again versus Pacquiao, we’ll know for sure. But in his last fight, he wasn’t moving the way he used to move. People are starting to say that but who knows? We’ll see on May 2.”

Still, Pascal likes Pacquiao to give Mayweather a stern test.

“Definitely, Pacquiao can give him his toughest test because Pacquiao is strong. Pacquiao is fast. I think right now this is the biggest fight for Floyd and the biggest fight for the sport.”

Jennings had similar thoughts.

“I think Mayweather is going to win,” said Jennings. “Skill for skill, I think Mayweather will win. But there are some things I’ve seen in Mayweather’s last fight that Pacquiao might be able to capitalize on. But Floyd was going through a lot of things in his last fight. I’m hoping he learned his lesson. All that stuff can play a part. A lot of things probably got to him that he probably learned now that he shouldn’t have let get to him.”

Jennings also believes Pacquiao will give Mayweather a good fight.

“He probably can. It’s going to be a great fight. I’m pretty hyped about it. I’m a Mayweather fan, but I’m also a Pacquiao fan. He followed me back on Instagram so…”

We had a good laugh about the last bit.

A Note on Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions

My Twitter timeline was almost universal in praise of Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions. The inaugural show kicked off Saturday night on NBC. Boxing needs more skeptics. Here’s why.

First, people seem to be buying into PBC for two main reasons. First, they want to see boxing on network television. That’s best for everyone. It means more free shows for fans and better job security and growth potential for the boxing media. Second, the PBC has gone out of its way to promote itself as a change for the sport, something both boxing fans and media have long pined for. The status quo is not ideal.

Here’s criticism on both.

First, for PBC to be successful, it needs to draw sponsors. As of now, all Haymon has done is bought airtime on NBC and other networks to promote his fighters. So what’s happened so far is Haymon has set a precedent where networks might now expect promoters to pay them to put boxing on TV. Let’s say sponsors never come and PBC has to fold up shop in a year. Will boxing ever find its way onto network television again? Both Main Events and Golden Boy Promotions have had fights air on network television in recent years. If Haymon fails, will it ever happen again? Is the risk worth the potential reward?

Second, PBC is seen by some as a breath of fresh air, a change for the sport of boxing. But is it? Haymon has been in boxing longer than I’ve been a boxing writer. His involvement in the sport has been good for his fighters but potentially less so for the overall health of boxing. Many fights that could have and should have been made over the years did not come to fruition because (at least in part) Haymon did not want the bouts to happen. He’s shown a consistent inability to make the fights most fans most want to see. Leo Santa Cruz is a perfect example of a Haymon fighter who has not faced anything but cupcake opposition since bursting onto the scene as a fan favorite two years ago.

The simplest way to put it is this: Haymon isn’t really a breath of fresh air, and the innovations of PBC seem more veneer at this point than actual substance. Yes, they’ve rid boxing of fighter entourages during ring walks and the fetishism of title belts. Yes, they paid off NBC so fights can be on network television. Yes, they hired a bunch of celebrities to call the action. And do not get me wrong, all of it could turn into something really good for boxing.

But until further notice, the PBC is still run by the same people who gave us one of the more disappointing years of Showtime fights in recent memory. They’re the same people who let Danny Garcia butcher lightweight Rod Salka in a farce of boxing contest. They’re the same entity that Freddie Roach claims is currently paying off potential sparring partners for Manny Pacquiao so the Haymon fighter, Floyd Mayweather, has as large an advantage as possible when the two meet on May 2 (even though someone claiming to be “The Best Ever” shouldn’t need such silly shenanigans).

The final point is this: The only way PBC is truly successful in changing the sport as a whole will be by destroying and rebuilding it. If boxing is to make all the right fights, the ones fight fans want, then PBC must become the only game in town. That means other promoters go away or become so small that they don’t really matter and PBC becomes boxing’s version of UFC. That might not be a bad thing. But it might not be good either. And it hasn’t happened yet. All the PBC is at present is a sparkly new enterprise, one that could become the future of boxing or ruin it altogether by creating yet another faction in this already fractured sport.

Criticism of such an exploit isn’t just fair and valid right now. It’s absolutely necessary.

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George Groves and Callum Smith Finally Meet in the WBSS Capstone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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