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Weekend Boxing Recap: Billy Joe Saunders, Gassiev-Lebedev and More

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Joe Saunders

WEEKEND BOXING RECAP — The first Saturday of December marked the return of undefeated (24-0) Billy Joe Saunders who successfully defended his WBO middleweight title with a unanimous decision over Russia’s Artur Akavov at the Lagoon Leisure Center in Paisley, Scotland.  Saunders, who had been sidelined with a hand injury, was making his first start in 12 months and ring rust appeared to be a factor in his lackluster showing. After the bout, he was his own worst critic, saying “I stunk the place out.”

Saunders is a member of the Irish Traveler community, as is Tyson Fury who accompanied him into the ring bearing Saunders title belt. Saunders has his sights set on a unification fight with Gennady Golovkin, but conceded in post-fight interviews that he would be well-served by another tune-up fight.

In the chief undercard bout, up-and-coming Jack Catterall, who competes at 140 pounds, improved to 17-0 at the expense of Argentina’s Diego Gonzalo Luque. Despite hurting his hand in the second frame, Catterall won every round on two of the scorecards. A 23-year-old southpaw, he spent a good portion of 2015 in the United States sparring with Floyd Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez.

A more compelling match played out at the Khodynka Ice Palace in Moscow where 37-year-old Denis Lebedev, with Freddie Roach in his corner, risked his IBF world cruiserweight title against undefeated Murat Gassiev. Youth was served as the 23-year-old Gassiev, coached by Abel Sanchez, dethroned his Russian countryman by a split decision (116-111, 116-112,113-114) that should have been unanimous.

Lebedev (29-3) was the busier fighter, but Gassiev (24-0) landed the harder blows.  A wicked body punch had Lebedev on the canvas in the fifth stanza. The defending champion fought more cautiously from that point on while continuing to keep his hands busy.

The cruiserweight division, historically under the radar, is suddenly brimming with good young talent. Oleksandr Usyk of the Ukraine, Mairis Briedis of Latvia, Yunier Dorticos of Cuba, now fighting out of Miami, and two Las Vegas cruiserweights, Michael Hunter and Andrew Tabiti, are all undefeated. It will be interesting to see where Murat Gassiev goes next.

There was a shocker in the co-feature when little-known Julius Indongo flattened defending IBF 140-pound world champion Eduard Troyanovsky with a left hand to the jaw in a bout that was over in 40 seconds. Hailing from the small nation of Namibia in southern Africa, Indongo, a lanky 5’10” southpaw, was undefeated (20-0 going in), but had fought exclusively in his homeland and was accorded little chance of defeating the previously unbeaten (25-0) Troyanovsky who had won 16 straight inside the distance and was being compared favorably with Terence Crawford. The 36-year-old Troyanovsky waited until he was 29 years old to launch his pro career and may find it difficult to claw back from this bombshell.

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Moscow was also the site of the most noteworthy bout on Friday’s deep card. At the Tough Fight Gym, in a very entertaining fight, Russian lightweight Dennis Shafikov improved to 38-2-1 with a 12-round split decision over Ghana’s Richard Commey. This was the second straight loss by split decision for Commey (24-2) who came up just a wee bit short in his previous go vs. Robert Easter Jr. in a bout contested for the vacant IBF world lightweight title. Shafikov becomes Easter’s mandatory opponent, but Easter plans to have a fight in the interim.

Other Friday Fights of Note

At the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California, former U.S. Olympian Jose Carlos Ramirez improved to 19-0 (14) with a 6th round stoppage of Issouf Kinda, a late replacement for Gabriel Bracero. Ramirez dominated throughout and ended the contest with a series of body shots. The Bronx-based Kinda, who hails from the West African country of Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), drops to 18-4.

Ramirez, the son of farm workers from nearby Avenal, is developing a huge following in the area. The announced attendance, 13,700, was roughly identical to the attendance for Kolavev-Ward, although it should be noted that ticket prices were considerably cheaper. Two super welterweights, Esquiva Falcao (15-0) and Daniel Valdivia (13-0), kept their unbeaten records intact with 8-round unanimous decisions on the undercard.

At the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia, local super lightweight Tevin Farmer continued his winning ways with a wide unanimous 10-round decision over Dardan Zenunaj, an LA-based fighter from Kosovo. Farmer, a 26-year-old southpaw, is an interesting story. Eleven fights into his pro career, his record stood 6-4-1. Then something clicked. He will ride a 17-fight winning streak into his next match. The last man to beat him is Jose Pedraza, the reigning WBA world 130-pound champion.

At the Twin River Event Center in Lincoln, Rhode Island, super featherweight Toka Khan Clary (20-1, 14 KOs) got back on the winning track with a second round stoppage of trial horse Mario Antonio Macias. Khan Clary was matched soft. Macias is now 2-10 in bouts outside his native Mexico with seven of those losses inside the distance. However, Khan Clary, a decorated amateur who trains in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, needed a confidence-booster after being blasted out in the opening round by Filipino journeyman Jhon Gemino in his previous bout in what stands as one of the most shocking upsets of the year.

In the co-feature, Providence super featherweight Shelly Vincent (19-1) won an 8-round unanimous decision over obscure Marquita Lee, imported from Northern California. Akin to Khan Clary, Vincent was also coming off a loss. In her last start, she was outpointed by fellow unbeaten Heather Hardy at Coney Island in a robust scrap that was nationally televised.

At Sam’s Town Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Ashley Theophane scored a 10-round unanimous decision over Yakubu Amidu. It was the fifth straight loss for Amidu, an LA-based fighter from Ghana who is 1-7-1 in his last eight starts. After the fight, Theophane (40-7-1) called out WBA world 140-pound champion Ricky Burns, but don’t look for that fight to be made anytime soon. With only 11 knockouts in 48 starts, Theophane, the British transplant, simply isn’t very marketable.

This was the fourth boxing show at Sam’s Town this year, all of which were co-promoted by Floyd Mayweather’s “The Money Team,” and it was easily the least attractive of the lot. Theophane-Amidu was noosed to a very tepid undercard. The leading Las Vegas daily didn’t bother to send a reporter to cover the event.

More Saturday Activity

BULGARIA

Fighting for the first time as a professional in his hometown of Sofia, Kubrat Pulev had a happy homecoming, turning away blubbery Samuel Peter who retired after three rounds complaining of an arm injury. It was the fourth straight win for the 35-year-old Pulev (24-1) who was manhandled by Wladimir Klitschko in his lone defeat. Barring unforeseen developments, Pulev is in line to fight the winner of the fight between Klitschko and Anthony Joshua.

Not surprisingly, it was a hollow performance by Samuel Peter, a former heavyweight title-holder, who ate a lot of jabs before he called it quits. Hopefully we have seen the last of him.

MEXICO

At the Centennial Sports Center in Los Mochis, super bantamweight Eduardo Ramirez, fighting in his hometown, advanced to 19-1-2 with a 10-round unanimous decision over fellow southpaw Edivaldo “Indio” Ortega. Tijuana’s Ortega, 24-0-1 going in, incurred his first pro defeat.

In the co-feature, Johnny Navarrete (33-8-1) outpointed Jorge “Maromerito” Paez Jr. (39-9-2) in a 10-round super welterweight encounter. This was the third straight loss for Paez who was coming off a 10-round scrap with comebacking Antonio Margarito. The bouts aired on Azteca TV in Mexico and on Spanish language BeIN Sports in the United States.

GERMANY

In Karsruhe, Germany, Vincent Feigenbutz delighted his hometown fans with a second round knockout over Albania-born countryman Mike Keta who was counted out at the 1:49 mark of the second round. Feigenbutz (25-2, 23 KOs), who turned 21 in September, previously split two bouts with Giovanni De Carolis in matches sanctioned for the WBA world 168-pound title.

Down the road, it figures that Feigenbutz will match up with Leon Bauer who appeared on the undercard and advanced to 10-0 with a second round stoppage of Gheorge Sabau. Bauer, akin to Feigenbutz, his fellow German, is mature beyond his years. Germany’s youngest professional boxer, Bauer turned 18 in August.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.

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The BWAA Shames Veteran Referee Laurence Cole and Two Nebraska Judges

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In an unprecedented development, the Boxing Writers Association of America has started a “watch list” to lift the curtain on ring officials who have “screwed up.” Veteran Texas referee Laurence Cole and Nebraska judges Mike Contreras and Jeff Sinnett have the unwelcome distinction of being the first “honorees.”

“Boxing is a sport where judges and referees are rarely held accountable for poor performances that unfairly change the course of a fighter’s career and, in some instances, endanger lives,” says the BWAA in a preamble to the new feature. Hence the watch list, which is designed to “call attention to ‘egregious’ errors in scoring by judges and unacceptable conduct by referees.”

Contreras and Sinnett, residents of Omaha, were singled out for their scorecards in the match between lightweights Thomas Mattice and Zhora Hamazaryan, an eight round contest staged at the WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa on July 20. They both scored the fight 76-75 for Mattice, enabling the Ohio fighter to keep his undefeated record intact via a split decision.

Although Mattice vs. Hamazaryan was a supporting bout, it aired live on ShoBox. Analyst Steve Farhood, who was been with ShoBox since the inception of the series in 2001, called it one of the worst decisions he had ever seen. Lead announcer Barry Tompkins went further, calling it the worst decision he has seen in his 40 years of covering the sport.

Laurence Cole (pictured alongside his father) was singled out for his behavior as the third man in the ring for the fight between Regis Prograis and Juan Jose Velasco at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on July 14. The bout was televised live on ESPN.

In his rationale for calling out Cole, BWAA prexy Joseph Santoliquito leaned heavily on Thomas Hauser’s critique of Cole’s performance in The Sweet Science. “Velasco fought courageously and as well as he could,” noted Hauser. “But at the end of round seven he was a thoroughly beaten fighter.”

His chief second bullied him into coming out for another round. Forty-five seconds into round eight, after being knocked down for a third time, Velasco spit out his mouthpiece and indicated to Cole that he was finished. But Cole insisted that the match continue and then, after another knockdown that he ruled a slip, let it continue for another 35 seconds before Velasco’s corner mercifully threw in the towel.

Controversy has dogged Laurence Cole for well over a decade.

Cole was the third man in the ring for the Nov. 25, 2006 bout in Hildalgo, Texas, between Juan Manuel Marquez and Jimrex Jaca. In the fifth round, Marquez sustained a cut on his forehead from an accidental head butt. In round eight, another accidental head butt widened and deepened the gash. As Marquez was being examined by the ring doctor, Cole informed Marquez that he was ahead on the scorecards, volunteering this information while holding his hand over his HBO wireless mike. The inference was that Marquez was free to quit right then without tarnishing his record. (Marquez elected to continue and stopped Jaca in the next round.)

This was improper. For this indiscretion, Cole was prohibited from working a significant fight in Texas for the next six months.

More recently, Cole worked the 2014 fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and Orlando Salido at the San Antonio Alamodome. During the fight, Salido made a mockery of the Queensberry rules for which he received no point deductions and only one warning. Cole’s performance, said Matt McGrain, was “astonishingly bad,” an opinion echoed by many other boxing writers. And one could site numerous other incidents where Cole’s performance came under scrutiny.

Laurence Cole is the son of Richard “Dickie” Cole. The elder Cole, now 87 years old, served 21 years as head of the Texas Department of Combat Sports Regulation before stepping down on April 30, 2014. At various times during his tenure, Dickie Cole held high executive posts with the World Boxing Council and North American Boxing Federation. He was the first and only inductee into the inaugural class of the Texas Boxing Hall of Fame, an organization founded by El Paso promoter Lester Bedford in 2015.

From an administrative standpoint, boxing in Texas during the reign of Dickie Cole was frequently described in terms befitting a banana republic. Whenever there was a big fight in the Lone Star State, his son was the favorite to draw the coveted refereeing assignment.

Boxing is a sideline for Laurence Cole who runs an independent insurance agency in Dallas. By law in Texas (and in most other states), a boxing promoter must purchase insurance to cover medical costs in the event that one or more of the fighters on his show is seriously injured. Cole’s agency is purportedly in the top two nationally in writing these policies. Make of that what you will.

Complaints of ineptitude, says the WBAA, will be evaluated by a “rotating committee of select BWAA members and respected boxing experts.” In subsequent years, says the press release, the watch list will be published quarterly in the months of April, August, and December (must be the new math).

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Popo vs. “La Hiena”: Blast From the Past – Episode Two

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Freitas

When WBA/WBO super featherweight champion Acelino “Popo” Freitas met Jorge Rodrigo “Il Hiena” Barrios in Miami on August 8, 2003, there was more on the line than just the titles. This was a roughhousing 39-1-1 Argentinian fighting an equally tough 33-0 Brazilian. The crowd was divided between Brazilian fans and those from Argentina. To them this was a Mega-Fight; this was BIG.

When Acelino Freitas turned professional in 1995, he streaked from the gate with 29 straight KOs, one of the longest knockout win streaks in boxing history. He was fan-friendly and idolized in Brazil. Barrios turned professional in 1996 and went 14-0 before a DQ loss after which he went 25-0-1 with 1 no decision.

The Fight

The wild swinging “Hyena” literally turned into one as he attacked from the beginning and did not let up until the last second of the eleventh round. Barrios wanted to turn the fight into a street fight and was reasonably successful with that strategy. It became a case of brawler vs. boxer/puncher and when the brawler caught the more athletic Popo—who could slip and duck skillfully—and decked him with a straight left in the eighth, the title suddenly was up for grabs.

The Brazilian fans urged their hero on but to no avail as Barrios rendered a pure beat down on Popo during virtually the entirety of the 11th round—one of the most exciting in boxing history. Freitas went down early from a straight right. He was hurt, and at this point it looked like it might be over. Barrios was like a madman pounding Popo with a variety of wild shots, but with exactly one half of one second to go before the bell ending the round, Freitas caught La Hiena with a monster right hand that caused the Hyena to do the South American version of the chicken dance before he went down with his face horribly bloodied. When he got up, he had no idea where he was but his corner worked furiously to get him ready for the final round. All he had to do was hang in there and the title would change hands on points.

The anonymous architect of “In Boxing We Trust,” a web site that went dormant in 2010, wrote this description:

“Near the end of round 11, about a milli-second before the bell rang, Freitas landed a ROCK HARD right hand shot flush on Barrios’ chin. Barrios stood dazed for a moment, frozen in time, and then down he went, WOW WOW WOW!!!! Barrios got up at the count of 4, he didn’t know where he was as he looked around towards the crowd like a kid separated from his family at a theme park, but Barrios turned to the ref at the count of 8 and signaled that he was okay, SAVED BY THE BELL. It was panic time in the Barrios corner, as the blood continued to flow like lava, and he was bleeding from his ear (due to a ruptured ear drum). In the beginning of round 12, Freitas was able to score an early knockdown, and as Barrios stood up on wobbly legs and Freitas went straight at him and with a couple more shots, Barrios was clearly in bad shape and badly discombobulated and the fight was stopped. Freitas had won a TKO victory in round 12, amazing!!!!”

Later, Freitas tarnished his image with a “No Mas” against Diego Corrales, but he had gone down three times and knew there was no way out. He went on to claim the WBO world lightweight title with a split decision over Zahir Raheem, but that fight was a snoozefest and he lost the title in his first defense against Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz.

Freitas looked out of shape coming in to the Diaz fight and that proved to be the case as he was so gassed at the end of the eighth round that he quit on his stool. This was yet another shocker, but others (including Kostya Tszyu, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and even Ali) had done so and the criticism this time seemed disproportionate.

Popo had grown old. It happens. Yet, against Barrios, he had proven without a doubt that he possessed the heart of a warrior.

The Brazilian boxing hero retired in 2007, but came back in 2012 and schooled and KOd the cocky Michael “The Brazilian Rocky” Oliveira. He won another fight in 2015 and though by now he was visibly paunchy, he still managed to go 10 rounds to beat Gabriel Martinez in 2017 with occasional flashes of his old explosive volleys. These later wins, though against lower level opposition, somewhat softened the memories of the Corrales and Diaz fights, both of which this writer attended at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut. They would be his only defeats in 43 pro bouts.

Like Manny Pacquiao, Freitas had a difficult childhood but was determined to make a better life for himself and his family. And, like Manny, he did and he also pursued a career in politics. Whether he makes it into the Hall will depend on how much a ‘No Mas’ can count against one, but he warrants serious consideration when he becomes eligible.

As for the Hyena, on April 8, 2005, he won the WBO junior lightweight title with a fourth round stoppage of undefeated but overweight Mike Anchondo. In January 2010 he was involved in a hit and run accident in which a 20-year-old pregnant woman was killed. On April 4, 2012 Barrios was declared guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced to four years in prison. He served 27 months and never fought again, retiring with a record of 50-4-1.

Ted Sares is one of the oldest active full power lifters in the world. A member of Ring 10, and Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he was recently cited by Hannibal Boxing as one of three “Must-Read” boxing writers.

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The Avila Perspective Chapter 6: Munguia, Cruiserweights and Pacman

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Adjoining states

Adjoining states in the west host a number of boxing cards including a world title contest that features a newcomer who, before knocking out a world champion, was erroneously categorized by a Nevada official as unworthy of a title challenge.

Welcome to the world of Mexico’s Jaime Munguia (29-0, 25 KOs) the WBO super welterweight world titlist who meets England’s Liam Smith (26-1-1, 14 KOs) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 21. HBO will televise

Back in April when middleweight titan Gennady “GGG” Golovkin was seeking an opponent to replace Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who was facing suspension for performance enhancement drug use, it was the 21-year-old from Tijuana who volunteered his services for a May 5th date in Las Vegas.

Bob Bennett, the Executive Director for Nevada State Athletic Commission, denied allowing Munguia an opportunity to fight Golovkin for the middleweight titles. Bennett claimed that the slender Mexican fighter had not proven worthy of contesting for the championship though the tall Mexican wielded an undefeated record of 28 wins with 24 coming by knockout.

To be fair, Bennett has seen many fighters in the past with undefeated records who were not up to challenges, especially against the likes of Golovkin. But on the other hand, how can an official involved in prizefighting deny any fighter the right to make a million dollar payday if both parties are willing?

That is the bigger question.

Munguia stopped by Los Angeles to meet with the media last week and spoke about Bennett and his upcoming first world title defense. He admitted to being in the middle of a whirlwind that is spinning beyond his expectations. But he likes it.

“I’ve never won any kind of award before in my life,” said Munguia at the Westside Boxing Club in the western portion of Los Angeles. “I’ve always wanted to be a world champion since I was old enough to fight.”

When asked how he felt about Nevada’s denying him an attempt to fight Golovkin, a wide grin appeared on the Mexican youngster.

“I would like to thank him,” said Munguia about Bennett’s refusal to allow him to fight Golovkin. “Everything happens for a reason.”

That reason is clear now.

Two months ago Munguia put on a frightening display of raw power in knocking down then WBO super welterweight titlist Sadam Ali numerous times in front of New York fans. It reminded me of George Foreman’s obliteration of Joe Frazier back in the 1970s. World champions are not supposed get battered like that but when someone packs that kind of power those can be the terrifying results.

Still beaming over his newfound recognition, Munguia has grand plans for his future including challenging all of the other champions in his weight category and the next weight division.

“I want to be a great champion,” said Munguia. “I want to make history.”

The first step toward history begins on Saturday when he faces former world champion Smith who was dethroned by another Mexican named Canelo.

Cruiserweight championship

It’s not getting a large amount of attention in my neighborhood but this unification clash between WBA and IBF cruiserweight titlist Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs) and WBC and WBO cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) has historic ramifications tagged all over it.

The first time I ever saw Russia’s 24-year-old Gassiev was three years ago when he made his American debut at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello. It’s a small venue near East L.A. and the fight was attended by numerous boxing celebrities such as James “Lights Out” Toney, Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. One entire section was filled by Russian supporters and Gassiev did not disappoint in winning by stoppage that night. His opponent hung on for dear life.

Ukraine’s Usyk, 31, made his American debut in late 2016 on a Golden Boy Promotions card that staged boxing great Bernard Hopkins’ final prizefight. That night the cruiserweight southpaw Usyk bored audiences with his slap happy style until lowering the boom on South Africa’s Thabiso Mchunu in round nine at the Inglewood Forum. The sudden result stunned the audience.

Now it’s Gassiev versus Usyk and four world titles are at stake. The unification fight takes place in Moscow, Russia and will be streamed via Klowd TV at 12 p.m. PT/ 3 p.m. ET.

Seldom are cruiserweight matchups as enticing to watch as this one.

Another Look

A couple of significant fights took place last weekend, but Manny Pacquiao’s knockout win over Lucas Matthysse for the WBO welterweight world title heads the list.

Neither fighter looked good in their fight in Malaysia but when Pacquiao floored Matthysse several times during the fight, it raised some red flags.

The last time Pacquiao knocked out a welterweight was in 2009 against Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas. Since then he had not stopped an opponent. What changed?

In this age of PEDs there was no mention of testing for the Pacquiao/Matthysse fight. For the curiosity of the media and the fans, someone should come forward with proof of testing. Otherwise any future fights for the Philippine great will not be forthcoming.

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