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Las Vegas Analysis: Neno Rodriguez, Vargas, Rios, and Canelo

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Looking back at the long weekend of Las Vegas fights several prizefighters emerged to take the next step in their careers.

This is what we saw:

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez defeated Miguel Cotto in a fight much closer than the scores indicated, Ronny Rios has a lot more left in his tank, Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura had the Fight of the Year, and Saul “Neno” Rodriguez is ready for prime time.

Neno

Neno, as his family and friends call him, trains in Riverside under Robert Garcia or more precisely the entire Garcia family. It’s a dynamic that includes brothers Mikey, Robert, Robert Jr. and father Eduardo Garcia. Together they’ve honed a lightweight contender capable of ending a fight at any moment.

For example, last Friday at the Cosmopolitan the slender lightweight was matched with San Antonio’s Ivan “Bam, Bam” Najera a good fighter who had gone the distance against Puerto Rico’s banging Felix Verdejo.

Rodriguez had sparred with the real “Bam, Bam” Brandon Rios and also with Mikey Garcia to prepare for the fight. You can’t get better preparation than that.

During the weigh-in, Najera was 2.6 pounds overweight and did not try to lose the weight. Rodriguez took the fight any way. He wasn’t going to miss out on a television opportunity with the nation watching. Basically, Najera had the advantage of weight and did not starve himself like Rodriguez to make weight. He went in at full-power.

Ever since Rodriguez turned professional, the Garcias have been molding him to be a more defensive-minded fighter. As an amateur the Riverside lightweight would come in with guns blazing and it was kill or be killed. Mostly he collected scalps but did not make the elite amateur squads. But fans loved to watch him in amateur tournaments. When the bell rang Rodriguez would blast out of his corner and obliterate most opposition.

Fans love knockouts.

If you’ve followed Rodriguez you know that knockouts are still a central part of his plans. But professional boxing has its latitudes and each time a fighter climbs another rung it gets tougher to achieve knockouts. That’s where the Garcias have added another layer to his arsenal; one that includes strategy and defense.

Against Najera the entire arsenal was on display as Rodriguez analyzed, dissected and obliterated the Texans in less than a round. The Riverside prizefighter has graduated to another level and just might be the next emerging star.

Ironically, or maybe not, junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford watched intently as Rodriguez dispatched Najera with left hooks and check right hands. Puerto Rican contender Verdejo was there too.

“I took a photo with Felix Verdejo,” said Rodriguez after the fight. “He’s a nice guy.”

Rodriguez and Verdejo could be the next Mexican-Puerto Rican war down the line. And whoever is successful could be matched with the very talented Crawford in two or three years. But for right now, Rodriguez will probably be graduating to HBO level fights very soon.

A contingent of HBO executives were in attendance and were impressed with Rodriguez’s firepower. Everybody loves knockouts.

Fight of the Year

Even before the fight took place one had to know that matching WBC junior lightweight titlist Takashi Miura of Japan against Mexico’s Francisco “El Bandido” Vargas was putting gasoline with fire.

Two years ago I witnessed Miura fight Sergio “Yeyo” Thompson in a similar match up. It was a filthy hot and humid bull ring in Cancun, Mexico during the summer of 2013. That night each fighter hit the deck and clobbered each other for 12 rounds. Miura emerged the victor but collapsed in his dressing room and was carted away to a local hospital. The temperature inside the enclosed bull ring was well above 100 degrees that night. Miura proved to be ok. He just did not have any more fluids in his body. I voted it Fight of the Year for 2013 but many did not see the fight on the Golden Boy card.

Miura showed me then he was one heck of a warrior.

Vargas started kind of late as a professional at age 25. Now 30, he’s been on the fast-track and in five years has fought and defeated talented opposition such as Jerry Belmontes, Abner Cotto, and Will Tomlinson. He’s not afraid to trade blows with anyone. He showed that against Juanma Lopez back in 2014 when he got into a firefight with the hard-hitting Boricua and ended the fight in three rounds. Of course, many said Lopez was past his prime and that may or not be true, but Vargas did take some shots. He survived.

Facing Miura, the first round had barely begun when Vargas tagged the Japanese warrior early with a left hook and had him wobbling around the ring. Unlike many others, I had seen Miura before and knew he would survive. He did. Slowly but surely Miura began mounting an attack and began battering the Mexican fighter around the ring. The momentum shifted and the champion was in full control and floored Vargas with a perfect right jab, left cross combination. Down went Vargas. He got up and battled like I knew he would. Four rounds later, Miura seemed to have the Mexican fighter in bad trouble in the corner, but time ran out.

In the ninth round Vargas stormed out of his corner and caught Miura with an overhand right and down went the champion. The entire arena was in shock. They expected the Japanese to end the fight and instead saw Vargas whack out Miura with a barrage of blows that forced referee Tony Weeks to stop the fight.

Could Miura have continued?

That could spell a rematch between the two warriors. It’s definitely the Fight of the Year.

Rios Reloads

Santa Ana’s Ronny Rios had one victory since being blasted out by Robinson Castellanos a year ago at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio. It was a one-sided beating that could have taken the heart out of any fighter. Rios was taken by ambulance to a local hospital after that fight in October 2014.

Rios has never been a big puncher. The featherweight instead relies on good boxing fundamentals and constant pressure. He’s proof that if you know your craft you can succeed even in a knockout driven sport.

The featherweight contender returned to the boxing ring last March and seemed tentative in his return. But as the rounds mounted you could see the confidence build. After 10 rounds he looked back to normal. But that was against a good fighter, but not a contender.

Puerto Rico’s Jayson Velez fought on a Golden Boy fight card in downtown L.A. this past June and had prepared at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. He showed sharpness, power and most of all he was very strong.

When Golden Boy announced the match between Velez and Rios it was clear it was a do or die moment for Rios.

Rios, 25, is a fighter of Mexican-American descent managed by Frank Espinoza. Most of his fighters have serious firepower. But there’s something about the Orange County fighter that makes you like him. He loves to fight. He’s smart and people simply are drawn to him.

But you can’t take fans into the ring with you. Though a large contingent of fans were in attendance at the Mandalay Bay for Rios, he was facing Puerto Rico’s Velez who also had a large contingent of Puerto Rican fans shouting for him. It was Mexico versus Puerto Rico all over again.

From the first round it was obvious that Rios planned to target the body and was doing a great job. But referee Jay Nady once again declared the blows were low. Nady has done this many times in the past including his horrible work officiating John Molina’s fight with Humberto Soto. In that fight he took points away from Molina that led to a defeat for the Covina fighter. Here he was again taking a point away from Rios for a blow that landed on the belt.

Nady is simply too tall to referee fighters below welterweight. He takes away use of body shots that can change the outcome of a fight. The Nevada State Athletic Commission needs to evaluate his performances more closely. Body shots are legal and he’s penalizing fighters who attack the body. It’s costing boxers their livelihood.

Rios was battling Velez and the referee throughout the fight but somehow managed to control the fight. Velez tried mightily but it just wasn’t his night. The Puerto Rican fighter is very talented and his style wasn’t suited for Rios constant attack.

Fans waited for the verdict and when it was announced Rios had won they burst into near tears. Not only was Rios back but he looked stronger than ever.

“He looked very good,” said Espinoza after the fights. “I was very impressed by Ronny.”

Fans watching on television were also impressed.

Canelo

After 12 rounds between Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto it was obvious that the redhead belongs in the upper tier. Cotto had consecutive knockouts against former world champions but could not put a dent on Canelo.

The fight appeared to be a lot closer than the judges scored it. Many on press row had the fight a draw. It was one of those fights that saw one guy (Canelo) landing much harder blows and the other scoring with jabs and combinations.

Alvarez was declared the winner so what’s next?

The Mexican redhead has three options: 1) a rematch with Cotto. 2) defend the title against David Lemieux. 3) meet Gennady Golovkin in a unification bout.

Of course the world would love to see the third option. So would I. In my opinion Alvarez showed he’s very strong and could go toe-to-toe with Golovkin. Not many fighters can, but I think the Mexican from Guadalajara showed he has a chin and strength to withstand Golovkin’s assaults at least in the early going.

It’s all up to Golden Boy and Canelo.

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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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