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The Complexity of Nigel Benn: A Symphony in Two Parts

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NIGEL BENN: THE DARK DESTROYER — I have always had a special affinity for fighters from the United Kingdom. Maybe it has to do with their grit or maybe the drama that seems to unfold in many of the top fights. It might have started when I watched Alan Minter shock and dismantle Sugar Ray Seales in 1976. Billy Schwer and Dave “Boy” Green exemplified the qualities I admired. However, watching the likes of Carl Thompson, Chris Eubank, Michael Watson and Nigel Benn have provided unmatched thrills.

NIGEL BENN

In his early days, Benn was a juvenile delinquent and then some, but a four-year tenure as a soldier in the Royal Fusiliers, which he credits as a major turning point in his life (there would be more), forced him to embrace a need for self-discipline.  He was born in Liford, England, and was the son of Barbadian immigrants. As an amateur, he had a record of 41 wins and only one loss. His KO percentage, 83%, served notice as to what was to come.

Benn became known as “The Dark Destroyer.” Turning professional in 1987, he launched an eye-popping streak of 22 consecutive KO wins, a streak that extended until 1989 and included wins over such notables as Fernin Cherino and Abdul Umaru, the latter for the British Commonwealth Middleweight Title. He lost this title (and his undefeated record as well) to the remarkably talented but ill-fated Michael Watson by a 6th round knockout.

BENN’S STYLE

When it comes to ferocity, the Dark Destroyer defined that word. His trainers (and he had several over the course of his career) attempted to make him a more orthodox fighter, but he always resisted and reverted to form, providing uncommon excitement and entertainment for fight fans. Steve Collins described being hit by Benn as “like having your teeth broken…Yeah, sickening. That’s what it felt like, it was sickening….you feel the searing pain, then it’s gone in an instant.”

Although considered one of the hardest punchers of all time, when Nigel fought at the top level, he sometimes– inexplicably– became unglued. Still, his ferocity and velocity were unmatched and his bombs were launched with malicious intentions, the purest of rage, and often punctuated with a whirlwind of deadly hooks and uppercuts from all angles. (His compelling autobiography, “Dark Destroyer,” offers many clues and glimpses into what made him fight with such fury.)

Early on, his quality of opposition was excellent. Aside from Winston Burnett (who would finish with a 20-98-3 record), Benn fought boxers with mostly decent records, a departure from the norm. He faced men like Reggie Miller, Abdul Umaru Sanda, Darren Hobson, Nicky Piper, Jamaican Anthony Logan, Kid Milo, Canadian Dan Sherry, Puerto Rican Jose Quinones, American Sanderline Williams, Congolese Mbayo Wa Mbayo, David Noel, and Argentinean Hector Lescano– all of whom came in with winning records.

Benn then stepped up to a higher tier to fight South African Thulani “Sugar Boy” Malinga (twice), Italian and former WBC super middleweight champion Mauro Galvano (twice), former world champion Chris Eubank (twice), Juan Carlos Gimenez (46-6-3 coming in), Vincenzo Nardiello (26-3), Michael Watson (21-1-1 coming in) and, of course, defending world super middleweight champion Steve Collins (twice)–names that should resonate with aficionados. These fighters, along with Herol Graham and Robin Reid, represented the cream of the crop during a great era of fighters in the U.K.  Benn also fought top Americans in Iran “The Blade” Barkley (a warrior who fought in a savage manner not unlike Benn’s) and the great Gerald “G-Man” McClellan and he beat them both by stoppage. Nigel also beat Doug DeWitt. In short, he was competitive with the world’s best.

Benn got his initial opportunity at a world championship and made the most of it when he fought for the WBO world middleweight title held by Dewitt on April 29, 1990 in Atlantic City. Benn captured the crown, knocking out the resilient and granite-chinned DeWitt who had lasted 12 rounds against Thomas Hearns.

Benn’s first defense came against former world champion Iran Barkley and after being badly rocked by the Blade, he knocked him out in round one in a furious, savage, and controversial shoot-out. However, just three months later, he lost the title when he was stopped by the flamboyant and cocky Chris “Simply the Best” Eubank in round 9 of a very close battle in Birmingham. The fight is still considered a classic to this day and is often referred to as England’s Hearns-Hagler. Referee Richard Steele called it, “the most dramatic fight I’ve ever refereed.”

The Destroyer then embarked on another undefeated streak, this time reaching sixteen. In 1991, he took out underrated Robbie Sims (half-brother of Marvin Hagler) who had beaten Roberto Duran and many other top level fighters. Reflective of Benn’s power, Robbie’s loss to Benn would be Robbie’s only career stoppage defeat.

GERALD McCLELLAN

In 1992, after beating his future conqueror Thulani “Sugar Boy” Malinga by a 10 round decision, he won the WBC’s super middleweight title with a fourth round knockout over defending world champion Mauro Galvano. Then, after two more wins including a rematch with Galvano, he fought a rematch in 1993 with Chris Eubank and retained his title with a 12 round draw before 42,000 rabid fans in Manchester.  After beating rugged Henry Wharton (undefeated coming in) and Juan Carlos Gimenez, he engaged in his career defining fight with the great Gerald McClellan (31-2).  Unfortunately, the brutal war ended tragically.

While his fight with the great bomber McClellan has already received voluminous treatment, it will not be ignored here. As Boxing Monthly contributor Ian McNeilly poignantly said, the fight, which left McClellan needing around-the-clock care for the rest of his life, ‘’was one of the best and worst to ever take place …. a triumphant and tragic microcosm of boxing.” Clearly, it would be another turning point in Nigel Benn’s life.

Quoting McNeilly again, “The story of Gerald McClellan is a painful one, one that fighters, boxing writers and fans seem to find it easy not to discuss…………This is because he is a living embodiment of the risks fighters take every time they step through the ropes, a reminder of the dangers that are ignored at peril. To dwell on cases like Gerald McClellan would destroy the sport. To ignore him is to debase ourselves.”

Hopefully, true boxing fans will never ignore Gerald McClellan.

PART TWO

After the McClellan fight, 1995 would prove to be a very bad year for Nigel Benn. Even though he beat G-Man, it was clear that his fighting spirit had been erased by the tragedy.

Some say that Nigel Benn, now 52, is mostly a “forgotten warrior,” perhaps because he will forever be linked to Gerald McClellan and it is admittedly painful to think of him without remembering their tragic fight. But if so, his designation is clearly unfair. Any assessment of Benn must be based on his entertaining style and accomplishments in the ring. Again, to quote McNeilly, “…the many who watched saw a man [Benn] reach down into his inner being and summon something to destroy a force (McClellan) supposedly greater than himself (Gerald McClellan was a 4-1 favorite). And as we looked on, amazed and enthralled, we cheered as life slipped away from a fellow man slumped, defeated, in his corner.”

POST-McCLELLAN

The “Dark Destroyer” would go on to beat future world 168-pound titlist Vincenzo Nardiello and game Danny Perez before losing his WBC title to Sugar Boy Malinga by a 12 round decision in 1996. Shortly thereafter, he was given another chance at a world title, this time the WBO’s version of the 168-pound title, but he lost to Steve Collins by 4th round knockout in Manchester (a fight in which controversy arose over an injury to Benn’s ankle). After losing a rematch to Collins in his very next fight, Nigel had come to the end of his glorious career. The electricity had disappeared.

A NEW CHAPTER

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”– Friedrich Nietzsche

During his heyday, Nigel was an accessible and friendly staple at such popular London nightclubs as the Ministry of Sound where he enjoyed the good life to the fullest. But unlike Carlos Monzon who was a favorite of the Jet Set, Nigel could be seen at play with some underworld characters with whom he shared a wild lifestyle. Now he took to partying even harder with nothing to keep him on the rails. He became addicted to drink, drugs and sex and was headed for a bad landing that would include a severe case of depression and finally a suicide attempt. But then, after hitting bottom, still another turning point occurred.

About nine years ago he spent a lengthy time, a year, alone with his thoughts, reflecting on where his life was going. In the process, he confessed to his wife Carolyne his womanizing over the years. Renewed, he got the call and became a deeply devout born-again Christian and, after many years in Spain, moved to Australia where the only things that would matter to him were his faith and his family.

As he puts it, “I think it was like a sign. I was sitting in my car, crying my eyes out. Two-time world champion, but it isn’t happening. Something just told me ‘this simply isn’t going to happen like thi’s’ and I just drove home. You’re not in your right frame of mind when you start doing things like that. You’re not thinking right. You’re not stable. You’re all over the place. God just had other plans….did I want to die or did I just want someone to help me? God heard my cry.” He and Carolyne are now involved in a great variety of Christian–based activities.

Many interviews track the Dark Destroyer’s  life to this point and offer clarity as to the origins of his early persona and attendant rage, his need for self-discipline, his ability to party widely and then get back to training without missing a beat, his marvelous boxing career, his almost fatal depression, and finally his path to righteousness. One titled “The Big Interview: Boxing Legend Nigel Benn,” published on June 21, 1915 in the Express & Star and conducted by Craig Birch is one of the best.

In 2007, after a 12-year gap, he met Gerald McClellan and his sister Lisa when $250,000 was collected at a fundraiser in London. Nigel said, “It was so difficult, because I had to shout in Gerald’s ear so he could hear what I was saying, but he told me it was an accident, that it wasn’t my fault. I was so happy to see him but my emotions were up and down, up and down. I didn’t know whether to be happy, cry, or be sick. I’ve never experienced so many emotions at one time in my life. I held Gerald’s hand and his sister, Lisa, told me all the stories about his after-care. I always felt the American people (boxing fraternity) should have looked after him better than they did. If he’d been British, his house would have been paid for and he’d be getting the best of care.” It is difficult for Nigel to discuss this subject without coming to tears.

Benn entered the World Boxing Council (WBC) Boxing Hall of Fame in 2013 and was honored alongside Joe Calzaghe as the WBC’s greatest super middleweight champion in the organization’s history. Whether he gets into the International Boxing Hall of Fame remains to be seen, but if he fails, it will not be because he didn’t provide incredible excitement and create indelible memories for boxing fans throughout the world.

Nigel Benn was and is a complex, emotional and extremely soulful man who fought the best of UK competition at a time when that competition was as keen as any in the world. Leonard, Duran, Hagler and Hearns were doing their thing in the U.S, but Watson, Eubank, and Benn were matching them in the UK.

Nigel Benn was a one of a kind.

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


Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records in the Grand Master class. A member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he enjoys writing about boxing.

A native of Chicago, Ted resides in the White Mountain area of Northern New Hampshire with his wife Holly and dog Kater from which he manages a number of private investments. He has closely and passionately followed boxing for over 60 years and has written three related books including the popular “Boxing is my Sanctuary.” He also has written a true crime book titled “Shattered.” Ted has written for many different on-line boxing sites and publications and enjoys a strong international following. An elector for inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF), he is a member of Ring 4 (New England) and its Boxing Hall of Fame and also is a member of Ring 10 (New York). Sares is also one of the oldest active powerlifters and strongman competitors in the world. He is currently the four- time EPF Grand Master Nationals Champion.

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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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