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#MayPac: The Impossible Waltz

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“I wanted to give the fans what they wanted to see – they wanted to see a toe-to-toe battle. Fans don’t want to see me moving. They want to see me coming forward, so that’s what we did tonight.”

This is Floyd Mayweather talking to Larry Merchant after his 2010 mismatch with Shane Mosley. Merchant had made his first question about the perceived abandonment by Mayweather of his “defensive genius.”

In truth, Mayweather had done no such thing, but he had changed as a fighter and this was the night upon which it became apparent. Mayweather “retired” in 2007 after two glorious moving performances against Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton, and upon his comeback had matched Juan Manuel Marquez, who he dwarfed. Mayweather spent much of that fight inching forwards or holding ground but he was both the bigger man and the puncher in that fight so his apparently aggressive approach looked natural. But against Mosley he was expected to move.

Everything you might have said about him had he done so could still be said – he was too fast, too quick and too clever for a stumbling Shane Mosley, past-prime but coming off a very impressive win over Antonio Margarito. But he did not move, or to be more precise, he did not fight a moving fight. Even the fighter’s own claim that he “boxed the first couple of rounds” must be called into question as Mayweather and Mosley repeatedly bumped up on the inside, Mayweather even contesting some of the clinches and to the surprise of many his newfound post-retirement size and strength made him far from the victim Mosley’s ruggedness was expected to make of him there. A new reality unfolded: even while he eschewed in disdain Mosley’s body as a target, Mayweather himself had become more available for the jab to the body than at any other time in his career. The payoff was a direct route to Mosley’s head and jaw, which Mayweather filled with punches throughout.

In round two, Shane Mosley hit Mayweather with a right-hand which remains the hardest punch Floyd has ever taken in his ring career. Mayweather was rattled but did not budge; he remained in range, he invited Mosley to the pocket, and allowed his opponent to tag him with another right hand before the round was out. The best mover of his generation had been hit with the hardest punch of his career and left his bike parked at ringside. Mayweather Mark II was born in that moment.

I was sad about this at first. The world is full of fighters who stand their ground and fight but boxers like the one that destroyed Diego Corrales way back in 2001 are incredibly rare. Mayweather was electric, eclectic, using every inch of canvas until Corrales was in control of exactly none of it, giving up square feet and then inches in a gradual easement that was almost otherworldly; that placed him, it seems to me now, nearer the tower inhabited by the likes of Roy Jones and Ray Robinson than the streets where earthbound pugilists swarm.

That argument is for another day though. What interests us now, in the light of the thunderclouds gathering on Mayweather’s horizon in the shape of a perpetually aggressive southpaw, is the recent history of the man they call Money. In shorthand, after Mosley, Mayweather made the most lavish living in all of sports doing what people liked to say he couldn’t do in 2003, namely beat a series of welterweight and light-middleweight pressure fighters in the pocket. Of course he still moved, but his movement was typified now by economy; against Robert Guerrero especially he maintained an exquisitely tight circle, turning his opponent often, inviting him to punch, countering him but just as often throwing out leads in short squabbles over territory that inevitably ended in Mayweather’s favour. Mayweather has written an old tune with his commitment to arbitrary rather than patterned head and upper-body movement but he has taken the song and made it his own. Certainly it wasn’t the steady ground that he gave that baffled Canelo Alvarez in 2013, a shrewd flooding of the space behind him which worked well in bringing the numbed Alvarez steadily forwards, but rather the sudden egress when he allowed Alvarez to catch him that was the difference in that fight. In the sixth he suddenly filled the space he was narrowly vacating with every variety of right hand that can be named, and the fight as a contest was over.

His fight with Cotto, and the first with Marcos Maidana were a little more troubling. In both of these contests Mayweather was, for the first time since the adoption of his new style, pressed. This was not the same as his being buzzed by that chopping Mosley right, this was consistent and direct pressure brought by opponents who believed in their style and their chances, Cotto because of his size and strength, Maidana because of unfettered surety in his own aggression. It would be a gross exaggeration to say that either man came close to beating him, but Mayweather looked uncomfortable.

Against Maidana, especially, Floyd was handled for spells. The Argentine came for him two handed with his head up the middle, which is not to imply that Maidana was butting Mayweather but rather to say that he was brave enough to place his head in a position that made it likely that he would be hit but that eliminated one plane of movement for a Mayweather escape – keep in mind now that I am speaking not of his employing his legs, but rather head and upper body movement. Mayweather couldn’t dip because he would have been driving his face into Maidana’s skull. If he went straight back into the ropes, Maidana would naturally gain space into which he was leaning, again, dangerous, but the brave and the correct decision.

Mayweather elected to hold his ground once more. This was the fight that really called out for a moving strategy; it would have rendered what ended up being a close decision win for Mayweather a rout. Maidana did not have the science or the physical abilities necessary to keep up with the Floyd Mayweather that destroyed Corrales, or even the one that narrowly out-pointed De La Hoya. But still he did not move, still he stayed in the pocket, weaving, tilting, perhaps barely outlanding a fighter that threw around twice as many punches as him and roughed him up in the process. If we could believe Mayweather Senior when he claimed that fighting rather than boxing had been the plan against Mosley, we could not believe that here. Mayweather neglected to move against Maidana not because he wouldn’t but because he couldn’t.

Mayweather’s legs have gone.

When I say “gone”, I don’t, of course, mean “gone”. George Foreman had “no legs” when he won the world’s heavyweight title. A fighter without legs isn’t incapable of movement but rather is incapable of controlling the tempo of the fight with movement.

For a fighter like Foreman Mark II, this is no disaster. He can maintain pressure by shuffling forwards and eating punches, hoping for the chance to land that dream shot. But for a fighter like Mayweather it should have been a total disaster. History tells us that a fighter losing his legs is inevitable and that, in the case of the mobile defensive genius, it signals the end of his career. Ivan Calderon is the best example in recent history. Belatedly admitted to the various pound-for-pound lists published on the internet and elsewhere, he was already past-prime when he became well known to boxing fans. Although he sported quick pistols and fluidity in pulling the trigger, it was footwork that set Calderon apart for the five years he boxed as the best little-man on the planet. When his legs betrayed him he was finished and even against a fighter as limited as Moises Fuentes, who battered him into submission in his very last fight, he was chanceless, sinking sadly to his haunches and accepting the count.

Time moves fast for a fighter who trades on speed of movement and it catches up to every boxer of this style. Even the great Willie Pep was forced to take a knee when his feet couldn’t keep him ahead of the merciless Sandy Saddler. Roy Jones, in turn, was tracked down and destroyed by Glen Johnson, a wolf he would have slaughtered in a previous life but one he could not keep from the door once his legs had betrayed him.

Cast your mind back to the opening paragraph of this article for a moment if you will. Larry Merchant asked Mayweather:

“Floyd…why did you turn yourself from – a defensive wizard into an offensive force?”

And Mayweather replied:

“I wanted to give the fans what they wanted to see – they wanted to see a toe-to-toe battle. Fans don’t want to see me moving. They want to see me coming forward, so that’s what we did tonight.”

A more honest answer would have been, “I’ve got to give the fans what they want to see. The fans won’t see me moving again for twelve rounds because I can’t do it. Sometimes, I’m going to have to come forwards. That’s what we did tonight.”

What Mayweather, like Muhammad Ali before him, has recognised, is that there is another way. Ali knew years before he employed the rope-a-dope against George Foreman that he would have to look for another solution to the fifteen round championship distance, that he couldn’t, even in his prime, dance a 215lb machine around the ring for fifteen rounds. His solution was the ropes, a lot of absorption, an uncanny ability to read punches and a fabulous ability to pick and land counterpunches.

Floyd, like Ali, has endured a period of inactivity prior to which he was the best mover of his generation, and like Ali he has returned to the ring without that mobility. What Ali and Mayweather have both recognised is that control is everything; and if you can’t control the ring with your legs control it some other way. Against Foreman, Ali gave his opponent everything he wanted. Big George came to that ring to walk Ali down and force his (by the standards of the day) old legs into surrender. So Ali gave him exactly what he wanted from the second round and took advantage of the over-exuberance in the “destroy” portion of the “seek and destroy” equation that Foreman personified. Mayweather has done the same thing. He has chosen pressure fighters because he knows he can control them; because he knows at any given moment where they will be and that is front and centre, missing him, and getting hit with counterpunches.

But his legs have still gone. If he could adopt a moving strategy, we would have seen it by now. The maximum he can offer was on display in Mayweather’s last fight, the rematch with Maidana, won by Floyd at a canter as he took measures to ensure he would only intermittently have to fight off the ropes: narrow relaxed steps and a fast clinch when his back touched the top strand. Even this modest commitment to mobility seemed to have a price as Mayweather threw a measly 326 punches according to Compubox (netting him just under 100k a punch), far and away his lowest total ever recorded over twelve rounds. Any physical activity is a balancing act. Running is a balancing act between the legs and the lungs; boxing is a balancing act between movement and fighting, acted upon externally by the opponent. In fights where he punches instead of moves, Mayweather can still toss out over 600 punches as he did against Miguel Cotto. In selecting recommitment to movement to some small degree against Maidana he limited his output severely. Nor is it a matter of contact, a matter of movement keeping him away from the combat zone. Against De La Hoya, Mayweather spent the whole fight moving and threw almost five-hundred punches. This is an exquisite rendering of a fighter past his prime, perched perfectly on the cliff edge it is his destiny to fall from should he go on too long.

Now, finally, enter Manny Pacquiao stage left. Pacquiao himself is many years removed from the 1,000 punches he threw against Joshua Clottey but he is still a destroyer. He is still, on paper, the exact type that would be expected to slaughter a defensive genius forced to adapt to new realities. A hard puncher with an awkward style, he looks every inch Sandy Saddler to Mayweather’s Willie Pep. And yet Mayweather is an overwhelming favourite to win their contest come May 2nd.

Why?

It’s the question that burned for me from almost the moment the fight was made. At first, I was nodding along with those predicting an easy points victory for Mayweather. Sure, why not? He had the clear style advantage all those years ago when the fight was really hot, and although both were past their prime, Manny, still re-gathering himself after a hideous knock out defeat at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012, was even more so. But when the fight began to broil under the obsessed eye of the media and I began to check out of the endless coverage I also began to wonder.

Manny wants to forage. He wants to stand just out of range hustling, feinting, dipping, and then bursting forwards into the pocket, firing. In 2008, the likely outcome would have been a slip, a slide, a counter, then a shuck or a step with a right-hand lead to kiss Pacquiao goodbye before sliding back out into some other quarter of the ring. The style advantage then belonged to Mayweather.

Now when Manny forages the likely outcome will be a slip, a counter but then a bump or a clinch or a shoulder-role and a possible exchange. That, to me, sounds like the style advantage now belongs to Pacquiao.

There has been some questions as to who the puncher will be in this fight. Pacquiao has not stopped an opponent since Miguel Cotto in 2009 and Mayweather’s new found strength at 147lbs has impressed many, not least of all me. But this question is neither here nor there in trying to unpick their respective strategies. The question that matters is who wants to initiate the exchanges? To whose advantage are exchanges in this fight? Because it is impossible for Manny to win if output is low, the answer is clearly “Pacquiao”. If, in fact, Mayweather can outpunch him he will still lose, but because there is no opportunity here for him to outbox Mayweather, that unpleasant fact (should it be one) will not affect either man’s strategy.

To sum up in a line: there will be more exchanges in this fight than there would have been in 2008. On paper that narrows the odds in Pacquiao’s favourite.

The stunning knockout of Pacquiao by Marquez and the inevitable diminishing of his punch output has turned the wheel of public perception too far in Mayweather’s direction in my opinion. If Mayweather moves more than he wants to, his engine will suffer and his output will likely drop to somewhere around 400 punches. I don’t think this is necessarily enough to get him over the line. On the other hand, if he elects to stand his ground as his Mark II stylistics have called upon him to do, I would expect him to throw more than five-hundred punches at Pacquiao – which is enough to get the job done but forces him into exchanges with the remnants of the best offence of this generation. Both options contain risks; both options allow Mayweather to exert control over the action – but I believe the first option probably carries the greatest risk of defeat, and that Mayweather who has become, against all the odds, one of the great ring pragmatists, will favour the second option. I expect Mayweather to fight Pacquiao almost exclusively in the pocket in the second two thirds of the fight. He’ll redress the situation with movement on occasion when he starts to feel uncomfortable as he did against Miguel Cotto; we are not going to see Pacquiao machine-gun Mayweather with punches at his age, meaning a Maidana style mauling is off the cards – unless Freddie Roach and Manny Pacquiao believe a decision to be an impossibility and decide to go for the early stoppage – but for the most part these two are going to spend a great deal of this fight on the edge of exchanges.

My guess is those exchanges will still favour Mayweather. Everyone has been hitting Pacquiao with right hands in recent years, up to and including Chris Algieri, who repeatedly landed a scuffing version of the punch on Manny as he swooped in. Although Algieri had to go to the body to land many of his meaningful rights, Mayweather has perhaps the best right-hand in the business. He will land it often and flush. On the other hand I expect Mayweather to be able to ride, deflect, crowd and step out on most of Pacquiao’s best work. Who, when really thinking about it however, can deny that Pacquiao will, like the past-prime Mosley, have his past-prime moment? In days of Mayweather past the vanishing act in the following round would have been complete, but if Pacquiao hurts Mayweather – when Pacquiao hurts Mayweather – the next three-hundred seconds of combat will be waged in the pocket, the best infighting offence of this generation let loose upon the best defensive infighter of this generation.

That is what is happening May 2nd and I hope it is not just Pacquiao who can gather to himself the praise deserved should he find a route to victory. Mayweather too must be credited, as one of the few defensive geniuses to have relied primarily upon mobility to cement his greatness but survive the departure of that mobility against one of the genuine destroyers of his era, for all that the destroyer was once upon a time a better fighter.

And a final thought – for all that this match might have been fought on a higher plane in 2008 I suspect it would also have been less entertaining.

I would stop short of predicting war, but a taught and hurtful battle is in the offing, I think.

The winner will join Roy Jones and Pernell Whitaker among the pantheon of true modern greats.

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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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