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Gennady Golovkin and Roman Gonzalez: Pound-For-Pound Showcase

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On October 17, a sellout crowd of 20,548 filled Madison Square Garden for a fight card featuring Gennady Golovkin vs. David Lemieux and Roman Gonzalez vs. Brian Viloria. These were fight fans; not high-rollers who’d been comped to get them into a casino. They arrived early and stayed late.

Golovkin (who’s the consensus choice for #1 middleweight in the world) and Gonzalez (who reigns supreme in the 112-pound flyweight division) are technically sound ring predators. Each man dominates opponents with hard precision punching and a pressure assault. With Floyd Mayweather’s retirement, they rank first and second on wide range of pound-for-pound lists. Lemieux and Viloria (15-to-1 betting underdogs) were brought in as building blocks for the stardom of their presumed conquerors.

Gonzalez entered the ring with 43 wins, 0 losses, and 37 knockouts. He’s unknown to most sports fans. But in recent months, there has been a buzz about him in boxing circles.

Roman grew up in poverty on the outskirts on Managua and is Alexis Arguello’s successor as “The Pride of Nicaragua.”

“I used to fight in the neighborhood and in the streets,” Gonzalez told Diego Morilla of RingTV.com. “I was lucky to meet Alexis Arguello when he opened a gym in San Judas. My father’s fighting name was ‘Chocolate’. He used to fight in his younger years and traveled to Cuba a lot. When we went to the gym for the first time to see Alexis Arguello, there were many kids around. Alexis said, ‘So you’re Chocolate’s son? Then you must be ‘Chocolatito.’ It stuck after that. When he realized I had some talent, Alexis placed a lot of attention on me. He took me under his wing during my amateur career.”

Gonzalez compiled a reported 88-and-0 amateur record and turned pro in 2005. Now 28 years old, he’s 5-feet-3-inches tall. Several times a year, he weighs the flyweight maximum of 112 pounds (about the same as a thoroughbred horse jockey). He has a high-pitched voice and, in street clothes, would blend unnoticed into a crowd.

References to God are sprinkled throughout Gonzalez’s conversation. “It is a great pride to represent my country,” he says. “I am the only champion that Nicaragua has right now, and that’s my biggest motivation to continue training more and more. Hearing my name announced away from my country is an extra motivation. When I hear people say ‘Chocolatito’ in the streets, I feel that everyone in Nicaragua is watching my fights and sending their blessings.”

This is the first time in a long time that boxing fans have paid much attention to the flyweight division. Viloria (36-and-4 with 22 KOs) said all the right things leading up to the fight. “Roman has his accolades for a reason,” Brian noted. “But I’m relaxed. I’m confident. I know I’m ready.”

If one was looking for a peg that Viloria could hang his hopes on, it lay in the fact that, at a media sitdown two days before the fight, Gonzalez was chewing gum and spitting periodically into a nearby trash can; a sure sign that a fighter is struggling to make weight. The following afternoon, that peg was whittled down considerably when Roman weighed in at 111.4 pounds.

Fighting Gonzalez is like fighting a tornado. But in the ring, there’s no storm cellar for sanctuary. Viloria started aggressively, getting off first and winning round one on all three judges’ scorecards. He also earned the nod from two judges in the second stanza. But he wasn’t landing much of consequence, and one had the feeling that it was just a matter of time before the tables turned.

Gonzalez is a relentless non-stop punching machine, who throws three and four-punch combinations to the head and body with pinpoint accuracy. They’re sharp, punishing blows. In round three, a chopping right hand put Viloria on the canvas. Brian fought back bravely, but his cause was hopeless. By round six, his punches had lost their sting and the issue was how Gonzalez would end it, not if. Referee Benjy Esteves stopped the beating at the 2:53 mark of round nine. Gonzalez outlanded Viloria by a 335-to-186 margin, including a 315-to-161 advantage in power punches.

Sitting with a handful of reporters before the final pre-fight press conference, Gonzalez had talked about how Alexis Arguello taught him to throw punches in combination. Roman also recounted a conversation he had with his mentor about Arguello’s first fight against Aaron Pryor.

Arguello told Gonzalez, ‘I hit Pryor with my best righthand. With that hand, I knocked everybody down. And nothing happened. At that moment, I looked to the sky and said, ‘Ay, mamita!’”

When Viloria was being pummeled around the ring, he could have been forgiven for saying, “Ay, mamita!”

Gonzalez-Viloria was followed by Golovkin-Lemieux.

Golovkin had compiled a 33-and-0 record with 30 KOs, including knockout victories in his most recent twenty fights. He has never been on the canvas as an amateur or pro.

Outside the ring, Gennady has a gentle demeanor that masks how brutally he practices his trade. During fight week, he appears as relaxed as a man who’s readying to play an important tennis match at his country club on Saturday night. In the ring, he’s methodical and focused. He has mastered the art of controlling the distance between himself and his opponent. The opponent is always in danger.

“My plan is my plan,” Gennady said after beating Martin Murray earlier this year. “It doesn’t matter what he is doing. Step by step. Box. Then finish it.”

Light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, who has sparred with Golovkin, told Ryan Burton of BoxingScene.com, “When we had the same training camp, we sparred a lot of times. His punches are not heavy but make you feel pain. Heavy is like a ‘boom’. His punches are more sharp, even more than heavy. He is a very hard puncher.”

And Fredde Roach, who trains Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto, opined, “Golovkin is a great fighter. He’s strong. He has good fundamentals. He cuts the ring off well. I’ve watched his ring generalship. It’s effing great. Ring generalship is a lost art, but Golovkin has it. Ninety-five percent of the time, he’s in the right position. If you do that, you win fights. He’s heavy-handed. He’s a nice kid. I’m a big fan.”

Any doubts that people might have regarding Golovkin’s ring prowess are based on fights he hasn’t had. To wit, the lack of elite opponents on his ring record. By contrast, Lemieux (34-2, 31 KOs) was shadowed by two abysmal past performances.

There was a time when Lemieux was hailed as the future of Canadian boxing. Then, in 2011, he wilted against journeyman Marco Antonio Rubio and was stopped in the seventh round. In his next outing, he was brought back soft and lost again, this time by decision to Joachim Alcine (who has won only three of eleven fights since December 6, 2009).

The selling point for Golovkin-Lemieux was David’s “power”. Lemieux had won nine fights in a row after losing to Alcine, including a decision victory over Hassan N’Dam to capture an alphabet-soup championship belt. David was said to have “a puncher’s chance.” Indeed, the promotion kept likening Golovkin-Lemieux to Marvin Hagler versus Thomas Hearns.

But Hagler-Hearns was a toss-up fight. And as Jimmy Tobin wrote, “Lemieux wields his power with the nuance of child learning to use a spoon. Golovkin may not be the fighter of his mystique. But he would have to fall impossibly short of it to lose to Lemieux.”

An honest pre-fight appraisal of Golovkin-Lemieux was, “It will be entertaining for as long as it lasts.”

“Every boxer has power,” Golovkin warned. “The question is, ‘How much?’ I know my job. I think the knockout streak is not finished yet.”

When the fight began, Lemieux fought more cautiously than he usually does, which made sense given the fact that he was fighting the equivalent of a Sherman tank that’s firing live ammunition. At times, David tried jabbing. That didn’t work. At times, he tried fighting more forcefully to back Golovkin up, which is like trying to back up a brick wall.

Through it all, Golovkin moved inexorably forward.

To again quote Jimmy Tobin, “The ground opponents give Golovkin is usually shoveled onto their graves. Those who fire on Golovkin wind up no better, and very often worse, than those who choose to flee.”

In round five, a hook to the body sent Lemieux to the canvas, either as a delayed reaction or, more likely, because David took a knee to compose himself. Gennady then landed right to the jaw while David’s knee was down. Referee Steve Willis should have warned Golovkin for what appeared to be an accidental foul and given Lemieux time to recover. He did neither.

Lemieux rose and continued to fight. Those who remember the first bout between Roy Jones and Montell Griffin appreciate how differently David, to his credit, handled the situation. Lemieux fought courageously, but his cause was hopeless. At 1:32 of round eight, with Golovkin battering him around the ring, Willis stopped the carnage. Golovkin won every round and outlanded his foe by a 280-to-89 margin with a 110-to-54 advantage in power punches.

As for the future; Golovkin and Gonzalez will add to their collection of belts. But that’s no longer the point. Each man is pursuing stardom.

Madison Square Garden was far and away Gonzalez’s biggest stage to date. Team Golovkin is now outfitted by Air Jordan, and Gennady is featured in a new commercial for Apple Watch. The issue of Sports Illustrated that hit the newsstands during fight week devoted five pages to him.

As for pound-for-pound; Andre Ward, by choice, hasn’t fought a credible opponent since facing a debilitated Chad Dawson three years ago. And given Dawson’s dismal ring record since then, one has to go back to 2011 (when Ward bested Carl Froch) to find a true inquisitor.

Gennady Golovkin is #1 on my pound-for-pound list with Roman Gonzalez in second place.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His next book – A Hurting Sport – will be published by the University of Arkansas Press in November.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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