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Avila’s Picks for Best Fighters and Moments of 2015

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BOXING’S BEST FIGHTER 2015

Gennady “GGG” Golovkin didn’t need Floyd Mayweather to retire to prove he’s the new king of boxing. He’s arrived like a comet from Kazakhstan with his “Mexican style” bent on elimination of the opposition as quick as possible. Two times he met and defeated world title challengers with crushing knockouts against Martin Murray and Willie Monroe Jr. Each time the crowds grew larger. Finally, this past October, he met Canada’s David Lemieux the owner of the IBF middleweight title in New York City. Fans quickly shelled out cash and filled 20,000 seats at Madison Square Garden. It was the first time two non-Americans sold out the historic sports palace. The middleweight championship fight was tougher than expected as Golovkin showed off his boxing skills that some doubted he possessed. Jabs, movement and counter-punches rained from the man known as “Triple G” and soon the continuous pounding could not be withstood any more from the courageous Lemieux. Now the boxing world knows all about Golovkin’s abilities. No longer do fans wonder where the next big star will come from, he’s already arrived.

Runners Up: Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Sergey Kovalev, and Tyson Fury.

BEST 12-ROUND SCHEDULED FIGHT 2015

Francisco Vargas entered the ring against WBC super featherweight titlist Takashi Miura in Las Vegas on November 21. Both had reputations for high energy action. Both did not disappoint. In the opening round Vargas connected and wobbled the champion badly. It did not look good, but if you saw his fight two years ago in Mexico against Yeyo Thompson it was business as usual. Miura survived and actually turned things around. In the fourth round he knocked down Vargas with a clean one-two combination. Then he proceeded to gain momentum and nearly ended the fight with Vargas in the eighth. It seemed the ninth round would be the end for Vargas, but in a quick turn of events, it was Miura who was caught with some vicious blows and staggered to the ground. Vargas pounced on the valiant Japanese but to no avail. The crowd was in shock at how quickly the fight turned around. Have you ever heard 12,000 fans suddenly go breathless?

KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR 2015

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez met James “Mandingo Warrior” Kirkland in a super welterweight match that everyone and their cousin predicted would end in a knockout. They were not disappointed. Mexico’s Alvarez and Houston native Kirkland were not about to pull another Mayweather- Pacquiao bore fest and gave the more than 30,000 fans fireworks in May. Dukes were flying and heads were snapping as each had their moments. Suddenly, Alvarez connected with a right that turned Kirkland 180 degrees around and out for the count. It was a brutal and expected ending. The replay of the knockout in slow-motion showed how expert timing and technique can make a difference measured in micro-seconds. Kirkland launched a slightly wide left cross and Alvarez connected with a short quick right cross. It was over immediately. Fans cheered wildly though the fight did not reach the end of three rounds. It was exactly what they paid for and the fighters delivered. Some say it washed the stigma of stagnancy of Mayweather’s very underwhelming win that had America asking itself why they spent nearly $100 on a Mayweather fight card that had no excitement at all after the opening bell. Alvarez and Kirkland gave the fans a reason to return to boxing.

Runner up: Nonito Donaire KO of Anthony Settoul in round 2 on July 18, 2015 in Macao, China.

MOST INCREDIBLE ROUND 2015

12th round Nonito Donaire vs. Cesar Juarez

It was a fight that started slowly with Nonito Donaire winning several one-sided rounds against Mexico’s Cesar Juarez on Dec. 11 in Puerto Rico. Those were the warm up rounds. After the halfway point Juarez began warming up and Donaire’s speed started waning. Suddenly, a real fight was taking shape. It was like watching the Rocky movie as speed, reflexes and power of Donaire were being tested by strength, endurance and willpower of Juarez as fans stared awestruck as each round seemed better than the next. By the 12th and final round, Donaire seemed out of breath and the younger Juarez was near the end too. But they came out swinging from the heels with blood streaming down the face. Each expended every ounce of energy and both seemed super human in their ability to withstand crushing blows. It was mesmerizing as the final bell rang and both warriors continued firing with chests heaving. They both had nothing left to give to the fans and they had given their very best. No other round this year seemed better.

COMEBACK FIGHTER OF 2015

Tim Bradley

After fighting to a draw a year ago and losing to Manny Pacquiao, Tim “Desert Storm” Bradley seemed on the down side of his brilliant career. The Palm Springs speedster had not won a fight in two years. This summer he was matched with junior welterweight champion Jessie Vargas in a welterweight match and dominated most of the fight. In the last round, Bradley was nearly decked by Vargas and seemingly saved from a knockdown when the referee erroneously stopped the fight prematurely a few seconds before the actual bell. Maybe it was destiny. He then was matched against dangerous Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios who had earlier in the year annihilated Mike Alvarado. For the fight Bradley switched trainers and that’s usually a bad thing. But the 32-year-old seemed to benefit from the change of scenery and eager to meet Rios. It was a fight that pit two fighters on the edge of the down side. Bradley prevailed with a scintillating performance that saw him not only out-box Rios but stop the rugged warrior with body punches for a knockout win. It was a surprise ending that nobody saw coming. Bradley certainly does not seem to be waning any longer. He actually seems stronger.

Runner Up: Nonito Donaire.

WORST FIGHT CARD MONEY COULD BUY 2015

When the fight was finally made between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao a gasp was collectively made around the world. It didn’t matter what sport you followed or if you even followed sports. Everyone seemed to want to see the mega fight that had been brewing for nearly nine years. Television stations that commonly ignore boxing suddenly were asking for credentials. Entertainers and news reporters that had no clue about boxing like the Good Morning America show on ABC were talking about “the fight.” Mayweather and Pacquiao both walked away with more than $100 million each. It was staggering how many people wanted to see this fight. Suddenly, America was tuned into the world of boxing. The subsequent fight card should have tipped people to what to expect. It was a lackluster fight card that had no drama and little action. So when the main event took place and Mayweather basically did his best to avoid a fight, fans around the world were shutting down their senses by the fifth round. Pacquiao later said he had injured a shoulder before the fight. Maybe he should have waited. Or maybe, it was just too much Mayweather’s “don’t exchange punches unless it’s safe” philosophy that did Pacman in? Whatever the case the record breaking 4.5 million pay-per-view audience were treated to one of the greatest heists in boxing history. They definitely did not get their money’s worth. Who was to blame?

BEST FIGHT CARD MONEY COULD BUY 2015

Mexico’s Saul Canelo facing Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto on Nov. 21 in Las Vegas was a surefire affair. Any time you match Mexicans against Puerto Ricans fans perk up. History has shown that matching these two countries is gasoline to fire. Just to guarantee action two more match ups featuring Mexicans against Puerto Ricans were added and they did not disappoint. Fans at the Las Vegas fight card got their money’s worth in each of the nationalistic wars. Ronny Rios vs. Jayson Velez; and Jose Martinez vs. Oscar Mojica rounded out the Mexican and Boricua wars that had flag wavers and screamers shouting from the rafters. Each was a razor close war including the main event between Cotto and Alvarez. Despite the wide scores, it seemed Cotto and Alvarez battled heavily for every single round. It was a 12-round fight that seemed to sprint to the end. The action didn’t rival Rios-Velez but did offer a competitive fight that saw Alvarez win the vacant WBC middleweight title. And if you add the Francisco Vargas versus Takashi Miura contest, overall, it was the best fight card of the year.

Runner up: Gennady Golovkin vs. David Lemieux October 17 fight card at Madison Square Garden.

TRAINER EXTRAORDINAIRE

Abel Sanchez

Abel Sanchez sits like a wizard on top of a mountain and receives prizefighters from around the world. After a short period, they emerge like sharpened Ginsu knives ready to cut and destroy all opponents. Of course not every pupil is successful but Sanchez’s numbers are impressive. At the Big Bear training camp called The Summit, he’s wheeled out fighter after fighter into the winner’s circle beginning with Golovkin and including others from all parts of the world. Not many people realize this is not his first walk around the park. Sanchez has been churning out champions for years like Terry Norris, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Lupe Aquino and several others. But now he has finally been given his due. He’s like an ambassador of the “Mexican style” that may not be defensive-minded, but he’s mindful that fans do not pay mega bucks to see someone run from a fight or seldom throw punches. Offense sells tickets, not defense. Television loves offense too. Suddenly, Sanchez is the biggest ticket in the boxing world. It’s definitely his year and Golovkin is his sword.

Runner up: Chepo Reynoso

PROMOTER EXTRAORDINAIRE

Tom Loeffler of K-2 Promotions

It’s the third consecutive year Tom Loeffler has been awarded the Best Promoter designation. Just look at Gennady Golovkin to understand the reason. Not only did Loeffler raise Golovkin from the ashes of European also-rans, he then strategically maneuvered the middleweight from obscurity to the pin up for Nike and Apple television ads. If anyone could do what Loeffler did I’d like to see it. The Los Angeles-based promoter did what a real promoter should do and used his brains and business savvy to plan and implement the course to take. So far, Golovkin stands poised to defend his IBF, WBA and IBO titles and meet Saul “Canelo” Alvarez for the WBC middleweight title in September 2016. The mega event is tentatively set. First, both fighters have other business to attend. Canelo in May against an opponent to be signed and Golovkin will be fighting at least one other opponent before meeting Alvarez. It’s Mexican style versus Mexican style. Loeffler is responsible for the boxing world discovering Triple G. Thank you Mr. Loeffler.

Runner ups: it’s a tie between Kathy Duva of Main Events and Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions.

WORST SCORING

Nicholas Walters and Jason Sosa scoring

Nicholas Walters and Jason Sosa of New Jersey clashed in a 12-round super featherweight bout that most observers felt the Jamaican did the more effective work. The judges scored it a majority draw. It came as a shock to everyone including most of the media attending the fight in Verona, New York. Once again New York judges showed their tendency to award the more local fighter with a favorable judgment to the chagrin of Walters and outsiders.

Runner up: Saul Alvarez vs. Miguel Cotto. It seems Cotto got little credit in their fight that seemed closer than the judge’s scores. I’m not saying Canelo did not win, but those scores were pretty wide.

TOP REFEREE RETIRES

Pat Russell retires this year as a ringside referee. He has been refereeing world title events for decades and throughout the years has been among the best of the best. “I’ll still be judging fights, but I’m done getting in the ring,” said Russell who lives in Southern California. Many consider Russell one of the top judges in professional boxing.

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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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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar

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Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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