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The 50 Greatest Featherweights of all Time Part Four: 20-11

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GREATEST FEATHERWEIGHTS, PART IV — Monsters abound in this, the penultimate installment of The Fifty Greatest Featherweights of all time.

That said, the demarcation line between these fighters who make up the second clutch, and the legends of fistic dominance who pack the top ten is reasonably clear.  Cases can be made for the #10 slot for the fighters in the final five entries here, but those cases are slim, and the #9 slot is beyond all of them by my criteria. This was refreshing. Organizing the featherweights has been a task indeed.

Not that I am complaining; exploring this litany of brilliance has been nothing but a pleasure. I hope the reader shares in it.

20 – Johnny Dundee (83-32-20; Newspaper Decisions 117-41-26)

Johnny Dundee’s career is an absurd mash of weights, wins, losses, draws, controversy and championship honors. He won, lost and drew title fights at both featherweight and super-featherweight, fighting for the former of these for the first time way back in 1913. His opponent was the great Johnny Kilbane, and Dundee put in a defensive performance of the very highest class “drawing back at the right moment, he converted probably a half hundred right crosses into misses and half that number into glancing blows” according to one ringsider. The fight was rendered a draw, Dundee showing clever but perhaps not doing quite enough on offense to gain the decision.

Dundee was then but twenty years old, a three year pro. There was a sense that this near-miss heralded a mere postponement to his lifting the title. This was true, but Dundee would have to wait an entire decade to get his hands on the gold, by which time impressions of him had rather cooled. Dundee picked up a strap against Danny Frush in 1922 and the legitimate world championship in 1923 against the underrated Eugene Criqui. He certainly could not be accused of being excessively defensive that night, battering Criqui repeatedly to the canvas on his way to featherweight championship honors.

Dundee boxed on for another decade, the remainder of his career the same mix of success and failure that comprised the first decade. This, combined with the fact that he staged zero featherweight championship defenses, and had a propensity to stray to 130lbs, rather limits his standing here, although his longevity and skill are impressive.

He can routinely be found considerably higher up such lists and I have even seen him in some top tens. Aside from saying that I find this utterly baffling and that his resume at the poundage does nothing at all to justify such a lofty ranking, I have little to add.

19 – Danny Lopez (42-6)

It is hard to believe now, but in 1974/75, Danny “Little Red” Lopez was consistently out-punched by his opposition; in stepping up in class his apparent limitations in technical acumen had been revealed by Bobby Chacon, who dropped him and stopped him in nine, then by the limited Shig Fukuyama, who cut him above the eye, an apparent corner-accident rendering Lopez blind and prompting a quit job after eight and finally by the veteran Octavio Gomez, a fine fighter, but one who had managed to win just four of his last nine. He outworked, out-landed and out-hit the apparently frozen Lopez for a ten round decision.

Probably the last thing this failing featherweight prospect needed in his next fight was all time great bantamweight Chucho Castillo, but that is what he got. In truth, Castillo was but a shadow of the fighter that had once stricken fear into the hearts of promising youngsters everywhere, but still, this may have been the most important fight of Danny’s career. He obliterated Castillo in two rounds, the real test following against Ruben Olivares. Lopez was a hideous, vaporizing puncher, and Olivares was where he had drawn much of his inspiration to become one. “I wanted to be like him,” he said of the great Mexican. “But this was business.”

Olivares, then ranked the #6 featherweight in the world seemed on the verge of putting Danny’s plans to sleep, decking him early, cutting him, and landing some serious right hand punches, but Lopez outlasted then outfought the former bantamweight king, stopping him in seven. Really, he never looked back. He avenged himself on Gomez before taking on and stopping top contender Art Hafey. Hafey was tough but succumbed in seven, although Lopez had to climb from the canvas once again to stop him. This was Lopez distilled, taking punches to give them but his essence was uncovered now; he had bloomed and would remain a fan favorite throughout his stormy career, making war in a battle of wills that he would more often than not win.

When he lifted a strap against David Kotey three months later it seemed featherweight had a champion of which it could be proud, but it must be remembered that Alexis Arguello ruled the division as the legitimate champion at this time. Lopez had the longevity, however, to hang on at the top of the division for a number of years and is generally recognized as the lineal champion from 1979 after Arguello’s departure and he held that title until he ran into the great Salvador Sanchez in 1980, a fight he was never going to win. Juan Domingo Malvarez, Roberto Castanon and Mike Ayala all succumbed to his brutal machinations before that time, his blend of savagery and class helping to build a superb resume.

18 – Sugar Ramos (55-7-4)

Sugar Ramos and Danny Lopez are all but interchangeable for me; the tie-breaker that edges Ramos in front is his defeat of not one but three fighters who could be named the best or second best in the world at the time of his meeting them.

The first of these was Rafui King, the Nigerian who blasted his way to number one contendership with a series of beautiful knockouts scored throughout Europe in the early 1960s. Ramos travelled to Paris in 1962 aged just twenty and out-pointed perhaps the most feared featherweight in the world at the time over ten rounds. He had already established himself as a serious man with his defeat of Felix Cervantes the year before, and despite his youth had already gathered serious experience having turned professional at fifteen years old. Since, he had lost just a single contest, by disqualification.

So it was perhaps not surprise when almost a year to the day after his defeat of King (and after defeating ranked men Danny Valdez and Jose Luis Cruz), the young Ramos found himself in the ring with champion Davey Moore. The two fought left-handed early and when Ramos edged ahead in that contest, Moore introduced his right; Ramos countered with the left and then, as the fight progressed, slowly brought in his own straight right – then the right uppercut. Moore was brave, always in the fight, but my feeling is that Ramos held too many dimensions for him. When those dimensions came together in the tenth, the challenger was able to reign down leather on the champion almost at will; an untidy knockdown scored against Moore saw him clatter his head into the bottom rope, suffering the injury that would cost Moore his life. Ramos had all he ever wanted, but he had taken a life in getting it.

Perhaps it was no coincidence then that he elected to return home to Mexico for his first defense, scoring a fifteen round decision over old foe Rafiu King, and after a winning visit to lightweight made his second defense against #1 contender Mitsunori Seki in Tokyo, scoring a seventh round stoppage. One more defense followed, against Floyd Robertson, before he ran into a great, Vicente Saldivar. Ramos was very good, but perhaps not a great fighter – he was outclassed by Saldivar and made his next vacation to lightweight permanent.

King, Moore and Seki are the names that underpin an excellent collection of victories which sneak Ramos into the top twenty. Compare, if you will, his record of achievement to that of Johnny Dundee, and consider who did more at the poundage.

17 – Jim Driscoll (53-4-6; Newspaper Decisions 7-1)

The story goes that Jim Driscoll was mourned by some hundred thousand wet-eyed Welsh upon his death in January of 1925; one of his nation’s favorite sons, he was both the master of and mastered by their hearts.

Driscoll served his fighting apprenticeship earnestly, winning the British and Commonwealth titles at a canter in a time when both mean more than they do now; even before that he three times bested a worn George Dixon who travelled to Britain in his mid-thirties to continue to hunt retirement funds hawking out his carcass to any prospect that needed the boost. Driscoll did what he had too, shrugged off British rival Harry Mansfield at the third attempt and then departed for America where the real champion waited. The year was 1909 and the champion was another legend, this one in his prime: Abe Attell.

Attell is the villain of this story and when he met the brilliant Driscoll it was not for the title but in a No Decision affair. It was known that the title did not pass between fighters under such circumstances.

The part of this legend that is true: Driscoll provided for Attell a boxing lesson. The Associated Press reported that Jim “Outpoints, outgenerals and outslugs featherweight champ and leaves no doubt as to his superiority.”

Also true is that Attell never rematched Driscoll with the title on the line. What is a little overstated is Attell’s subsequent avoidance of the great Welshman. Driscoll needed to remain in the USA and press his claim; instead, he took the next boat home to box in a benefit show for orphans.

Is it better to have one hundred thousand mourners at your funeral, or to have a crack at the title? I suggest Driscoll’s answer is clear.

As to his overall legacy, it is important that we remain clear-eyed. When he returned to America, Driscoll ran into Pal Moore, who got the better of him and his chance was gone. He returned again to Wales and never saw American shores again.

Probably Driscoll’s second, third and fourth best wins are all up at lightweight. His featherweight resume is not a great one – and he was never a champion. Still, you sense this was a life as well lived as anyone in the top fifty.

He was never the champion (although he was recognized in the UK, it didn’t hold) and his resume is not as special as many in the top twenty. More, he flitted between featherweight and lightweight happily, resulting in a career that impresses in the pound-for-pound sense more than divisionally.

16 – Young Griffo (68-11-38; Newspaper Decisions 50-1-30)

From a 2013 article I wrote for a different website:

“Say hello to the list-maker’s nightmare, the inscrutable, the irascible, the mercurial Young Griffo.”

I have uncovered no reason to change my opinion in the intervening years.

The thinking behind his relatively high ranking here (admittedly lower than Nat Fleischer and Herb Goldman had him, but a lot has happened since then) is his emergence from the division undefeated. That is an outstanding achievement.

It’s also not quite true. Griffo has two losses recorded by Boxrec from his featherweight days, but these need to be understood in context. In 1888 Griffo met the otherwise unexceptional Bill Oates in what probably amounted to little more than an exhibition, and agreed to stop him in eight rounds or post the loss; he dominated the fight, but couldn’t get the knockout, and so, under the rules of the day, he lost that fight. In 1892, under identical circumstances, he posted a loss to Mick Ryan. The hundred fights in between?  He never felt the pinprick of defeat.

This, too, needs to be properly understood. He fought a lot of four-rounders against overmatched opposition. He fought in some no-decision bouts where no newspaper decision was recorded. He also struggled in some of his biggest fights during this time.  In his July 1891 contest with the man generally recognized as the first featherweight champion, “Torpedo” Billy Murphy, he was locked in a mortal combat that seemed poised to fall either way until Murphy tagged Griffo with a body shot dropping him; in the fog of combat he followed his felled opponent to the canvas throwing punches and suffered a disqualification loss. In December of 1889 Griffo met the excellent Young Pluto in a fight which was to be named a draw if no knockout occurred after seventy rounds; Griffo dominated but was unable to put away his rugged opponent and so a draw is what it was.

This underlined Griffo’s problem, a dearth of power. He was a brilliant defensive fighter, likely every bit as much a genius as Pernell Whitaker or Floyd Mayweather, but he failed to put away fighters of a certain durability, meaning he relied upon judges and newspapers for much of his glory. This is why his ledger contains sixty-eight draws; the era just wasn’t given to handing decision victories to non-punchers.

I have tried in this series of articles to obtain as much objectivity as can be mustered.  Griffo tests this position to the extreme, because his ranking is based heavily upon how one weighs his going undefeated against the level of opposition he met, fighters about which it is not possible to know great detail. Also crucial is the reportage of the era, which named him as wonderful a fighter as had yet boxed. My feelings on these matters are that Griffo’s dominance, achieved despite a dismissive attitude to training and abstention, is impressive but not overwhelmingly so; that the reportage is impressive, but given that it was made at the dawn of boxing’s history, not overwhelmingly so. So #16 is where he has washed up. I can see arguments for ranking him anywhere from #11 to #22 that would not require detailed explanations.  Sixteen is where he washes up.

15 – Kid Chocolate (136-10-6)

The IBRO are certainly not alone in ranking Kid Chocolate one of the ten greatest featherweights of all time. Here, he scrapes into the top fifteen.

Why?

Kid Chocolate was, in many ways, a reincarnation of Jim Driscoll. Quick, clever and technically brilliant he has the appearance on film of one of the era’s great technicians and is among the cornerstones of any counter-argument to the strange notion that the fighters of the twenties and thirties were “primitive.”

But much of his best work was done above featherweight. This is fact.

In 1930 he was provided with a shot at a featherweight belt despite having posted losses to Fidel LaBarba and Jack Berg that same year; he was turned away in a vicious encounter by the perpetual warmonger that was Battling Battalino.

This called for a change of strategy, specifically a move to the super-featherweight division, for which there was little enthusiasm; in fact, the Kid would become the division’s last champion for thirty years. It held his attention past his legendary 1931 contest with Tony Canzoneri up at lightweight. The fractious title picture upon Battling Battlino vacating the 126lb title drew him back to featherweight, and this is when the Kid did his best work in the division.

Lew Feldman was the able, if not extraordinary belt-holder he met in 1932. “After the first five rounds,” wrote The Brooklyn Eagle, “it was a strictly no contest.” Referee Patsy Haley stopped the massacre after twelve.

It is important to be cognitive of what else the Eagle had to say about the fight:

“The [NYSAC] has created, out of its own fertile imagination, a new world featherweight champion.”

The Kid was never universally recognized as lineal, but rather a belt-holder. For his first “defense” though, he fought a wonderful fight with Fidel LaBarba, emerging with a split-hair majority decision.  He followed this up with a fine performance against number one contender Tommy Watson.

Most of the rest of his career was spent boxing at around 130lbs.

All in all it is not enough to see him ranked among the best, but Kid Chocolate certainly was one of the best. This is likely the criteria that sees him generally ranked higher than he is here; like Driscoll, also occasionally seen gracing the top ten, he didn’t do enough to achieve the absolute heights by my criteria; a great fighter, certainly, but a truly great featherweight?

It’s a borderline case.

14 – Tony Canzoneri (137-24-10; Newspaper Decisions 4-0)

Tony Canzoneri, the whirling dervish, the vanishing vapor, as perplexing and confounding a fighter as ever took to the ring, ranks great or near great in every division he ever boxed in. He was a monster who stands here alongside any of the other monsters from this installment that you care to mention.

Canzoneri gathered together the title pieces left shattered by the departure from the division of Louis Kaplan and is generally recognized as lineal from 1928 when he defeated both Johnny Dundee and Benny Bass. These were Canzoneri’s best wins at the weight but unfortunately also the year he was ejected from consideration for the top ten, defeated, as he was, by old foe Andre Routis. The two staged a towering contest punctuated by savage exchanges in which Canzoneri was surprisingly edged out. Overall, he dominated the series with Routis, but this was their key fight and in dropping a split decision Canzoneri suffered an undermining of his featherweight legacy.

Nevertheless, he built a splendid resume at the poundage, twice defeating Ignacio Fernandez, former bantamweight champion Bud Taylor, Al Singer and Joey Sangor, all ranked men when he tortured them with his wonderful blend of unorthodox boxing and savage fighting.

13 – Henry Armstrong (151-21-9)

Ah, the terror that was Henry Armstrong.

Unparalleled in his chosen style; as lethal, as terrifying, as devastating as any man who has ever set foot upon a taught and blood-sodden canvas – one of the few men who could legitimately claim to be as good as anyone who came before or after.

At featherweight, Armstrong’s position is less assured. It has been repeated ad nauseam throughout this series but bears repeating here in support of Armstrong’s position: we are interested here only in a fighter’s exploits at a given poundage and slightly above. Armstrong was so fearless, so brilliant, that he happily tossed in 126lbs and disappeared north to every division that could reasonably hold him.

In fact, before he even made a mark at featherweight he had begun his exploration of lightweight, his assault in earnest at 126lbs not beginning until 1935, four years after he turned professional, with a defeat of the shadow of the once great flyweight Midget Wolgast. Wolgast was toying with obesity at featherweight but he had still done enough damage to earn himself a top five ranking and a reputation as a spoiler deluxe, a nightmare for a prospect, however talented. In the second, Armstrong dribbled the champion down the ropes and never really looked back, crashing his way to a ten round decision. More top five stalwarts followed, including Baby Arizmendi in their 1936 encounter, their only meeting at featherweight and a fight he won so clearly that some sources see him victorious in every round. Title claimant Mike Belloise was next, battered into a retreat and a ten round loss, Armstrong refused recognition by the alphabet organization in question due to their championship limit being fifteen rounds; Armstrong knocked him out in four in a rematch, perhaps to punish him for the inconvenience, before being recognized as lineal the following year after handing out similar treatment to Pete Sarron.

And then it was off to lightweight and welterweight for this deadly featherweight.  Despite additional victories over toughs like Juan Zurita and Rodolfo Casanova (both vicious knockouts), Armstrong arguably doesn’t have the resume for this spot. But Armstrong is a head-to-head storm with the most advanced skillset of any swarmer in history; his standing is greatly enhanced by these secondary factors.

12 – Terry McGovern (59-5-3; Newspaper Decisions 6-1-5)

There was a spell in early 1900s where Terry McGovern was peerless. Smashing out the bantam, feather, and lightweight champions in quick succession he was in a pound-for-pound class of his own. He settled at featherweight for a short spell of domination although it also encompassed his unfortunate struggles with mental illness. McGovern, then, dropped off while still at the poundage, but he spent a portion of his very best in the neighborhood. That’s enough to have him probing the top ten.

Those who have read this entire series will have no doubt been saddened by the final parade of the faded George Dixon, a man who was of near unparalleled greatness in his prime who became nothing more than a blade for top prospects to sharpen their tools on. In McGovern, we meet the man who heralded his demise. McGovern crushed people in the ring. Pedlar Palmer, the bantamweight champion, who he destroyed in a round, and Frank Erne, the lightweight champion, who he butchered in three, were just two of the men who encountered him and were never the same again. Dixon was no different.

The two superstars met in 1900 with Dixon’s lineal title on the line. A “ring general without parallel” and “the greatest fighter ever at the weight” according to one newspaper, Dixon suffered the ignominy of being hunted from the very first by a fighter just as great. A beautiful savagery of ebb and flow resulted, but McGovern was almost uncontainable at the turn of the century; Dixon’s control slipped and by the seventh he was giving ground; in the eighth he was yo-yoed to the canvas like so many journeymen. Featherweight belonged to McGovern.

His ownership was short-lived but savage, in keeping with his idiom, but McGovern packed a lot into his reign, including five title defenses. These included a 1901 war against the brutal and unbeaten Aurelio Herrera, a meeting between perhaps the two most devastating punchers in the history of the division. McGovern did the devastating in five.

11 – Young Corbett II (59-13-12; Newspaper Decisions 9-9-7)

The man Terry McGovern could never beat – and the reason he does not crack the top ten – is Young Corbett II.

They met twice for the title, first in 1901. The champion was seen, at that time, as near invincible but no less a personage than George Dixon was unsure. The faded master had been defeated by McGovern in 1900, but had also lost to Corbett the year after. That fight had been compounded savagery, both men emerging bloody and exhausted, Corbett the winner. Dixon was not convinced that McGovern had the beating of Corbett, though he stopped short of picking the Coloradan challenger.

Those interested in such things may have run across the often spun legend that Corbett stopped outside the champion’s changing room door to roar insults and that this somehow coerced McGovern into fighting toe-to-toe. This is nonsense. McGovern’s only wish was to fight toe-to-toe and burn his opponent alongside him in that furnace. Rather, Corbett’s insults showed McGovern that he was not intimidated. Many were.

Corbett’s steady nerve and McGovern’s viciousness produced a bitter and violent confrontation that lasted just two rounds. The second was legendary, ebbing and flowing moment by moment. Corbett ended the affair with a right uppercut to the jaw that left McGovern, never beaten until that point except by disqualification, senseless for fifteen seconds. The world had a new champion.

The two fought a rematch in 1903. McGovern was still two years from commitment to Stamford Hill Sanatorium but an addiction to the racetrack and what the newspapers gently referred to as “domestic troubles” beset him. Nevertheless, such was McGovern’s reputation that he remained the betting favorite. In a “rough and desperate fight” he was beaten once more and once more the finishing punch was a Corbett right uppercut, this time in the eleventh. In a hellish finish, McGovern was pinned in “the northwest corner, with his hands down, eyes staring, apparently sightless.” McGovern contended the count; there seems little doubt he was the beaten man.

I love Terry McGovern and have racked my brain trying to think of a reason for ranking him above Corbett. I can’t. They boxed a similar number of title defenses against a similar level of opposition, they both beat Dixon, they both beat Oscar Gardner. The differences, such as they are, stand in Corbett’s favor. He left the division the undefeated champion whereas McGovern was beaten, and the man who beat him was Corbett. Minor reasons for favoring McGovern exist, but feel spurious; that McGovern might have beaten Corbett the year before they actually met, that Corbett lost more. But subjective opinions about what have might have happened in a fantasy should not be allowed to subsume reality; and Corbett’s losses, for the most part, came above the poundage and at the end of his career (he won just seven of his last twenty contests).

No, it’s Corbett over McGovern I’m afraid and arguments to the contrary are scant.

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).

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

 

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The Avila Perspective, Chapter 8: Competing Cards in N.Y. and L.A.

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Rival boxing shows compete this Saturday as light heavyweight world titlists are featured in New Jersey while former world champion welterweights and middleweights tangle in New York.

A mere 150 miles separate the two fight cards staged in Uniondale, N.Y. and Atlantic City.

But there’s no mercy inside the boxing ring and certainly no mercy between boxing promotions. While Main Events stages WBO light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev and WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol in separate bouts, DiBella Entertainment stacks former champs Andre Berto against Devon Alexander in a welterweight clash.

Take your pick.

Russia’s Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) has lost some luster and hopes to reboot his popularity with a win against Canada’s Eleider Alvarez (23-0, 11 KOs). But he will be directly competing against WBA champ Bivol (13-0, 11 KOs), also of Russia, who defends against Isaac Chilemba (25-5-2) of South Africa.

HBO will televise both light heavyweight title fights.

Bivol, 27, has slowly, almost glacier-like slow, picked up fans along the way by training in Southern California. The quiet unassuming fighter with a conservative style and cobra-like quickness appeals to the fans.

“I do not think that now I am the best light heavyweight, but I am now one of the best. One of four guys,” said Bivol during a press conference call. “But I hope in not the far future, we will know who is the best.”

That, of course, would mean a date with Kovalev should both fighters win on Saturday. Nothing is certain.

Kovalev, now 35, has lost some of that fear factor aura since losing back-to-back fights to now retired Andre Ward. Though he’s cracked two opponents in succession by knockout, many are pointing to the potential showdown with Bivol as the moment of truth.

“Most likely this fight is gonna happen since both Sergey and I are HBO boxers and as long as that’s what the people want, most likely the fight will happen,” said Bivol. “Me and Sergey will make sure to give this fight to the people.”

It’s time for the build-up and it starts on Saturday Aug. 4, on HBO.

“That’s certainly a goal of Sergey’s and he’s made it very clear to me that that’s what he wants to do,” said promoter Kathy Duva, CEO of Main Events. “He wants to do unification fights if he is successful with Eleider Alvarez. That’s what he wants to do next; he’s been very clear about that.”

DiBella

Five former world champions stack the fight card at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.

Former welterweight world champs Andre Berto (31-5, 24 KOs) and Devon Alexander (27-4-1, 14 KOs) lead the charge in a 12-round clash. FOX will televise the main event and others at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET.

Berto, 34, has been fighting once a year so it’s difficult to determine if age has crept into his reflexes. When he knocked out Victor Ortiz in a rematch two years ago Berto looked sharp and dangerous. But against Shawn Porter a year ago, the crispness seemed gone and he quickly lost by knockout.

Alexander, 31, has the advantage of being a southpaw. But he always seems to do the minimum when he fights. Last February he slowed down and allowed Victor Ortiz to steal the fight. All the commotion by the announcers was for naught. Defense does not win fights, it allows you to win fights. The lack of offense in the latter rounds cost Alexander a win in a match that entered the books as a majority draw.

It’s a curious matchup of former world champions.

Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin (33-1-1, 23 KOs) the former WBO middleweight titlist meets J’Leon Love (24-1-1, 13 KOs) in a super middleweight bout set for 10 rounds. It’s another intriguing fight especially between two fighters with great personalities.

Quillin, 35, was ambushed by Daniel Jacobs in the first round a year ago in losing the title. Was it bad luck, age or both? As a fighter the Brooklyn-based prizefighter has a ton of followers who like him as a person. Few are as classy as Quillin.

Love, 30, has long been a mainstay in Las Vegas and since his amateur days his abilities have been touted. Throughout the years Love has shown that charm and friendliness can go a long ways, even in the bitter wars of prizefighting. But the time has come to see if he belongs in the prizefighting world. Quillin will present an immense challenge for Love.

A number of other interesting fights are slated to take place among former world champions including Sergey Lipinets who lost the super lightweight title to Mikey Garcia this past winter. There’s also Luis Collazo in a welterweight match.

One world title fight does take place on the card.

Female WBA super middleweight titlist Alicia Napoleon (9-1) makes the first defense of her title against Scotland’s Hannah Rankin (5-1). It’s a 10 round bout and the first time Napoleon defends the title since winning it last March against Germany’s Femke Hermans. Ironically, Hermans now has the WBO super middleweight title after defeating former champ Nikki Adler by decision this past May.

L.A. Congestion

Next week the city of Angels will be packed with three fight cards in four days.

First, on Wednesday Aug. 8, 360 Promotions stages Abraham Lopez (9-1-1, 3 KOs) versus Gloferson Ortizo (12-0-1, 6 KOs) in the main event at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood, Calif. This is Filipino fighter Ortizo’s ninth fight this year. You read that correctly.

All of Ortizo’s fights have taken place across the border in Tijuana. The 32-year-old now returns to California against another Californian in Lopez. He’ll be looking for his fourth consecutive knockout, but Lopez, 22, has not lost a fight since his pro debut. Inactivity might come into play for Lopez who hasn’t stepped in the boxing ring in over a year.

New York’s Brian Ceballo (3-0) returns in a six round welterweight bout against local fighter Tavorus Teague (5-20-4). Ceballo, who is promoted by 360 Promotions, looked good in his last appearance. The amateurish punches seen in his first two bouts were gone by his third pro fight. His opponent Teague has ability and can give problems if Ceballo takes his foot off the pedal.

One of Gennady “GGG” Golovkin’s training partners Ali Akhmedov (11-0, 8 KOs) makes his California debut when he meets Jorge Escalante (9-1-1, 6 KOs) in a light heavyweight match.

Female super lightweight Elvina White (2-0) is also slated to compete. The entire fight card will be streamed at www.360promotions.us and on the 360 Promotions page on Facebook. First bell rings at 6:15 p.m.

Belasco Theater in downtown L.A. is the site of Golden Boy Promotions fight card on Friday Aug. 10. A pair of young prospects will be severely tested.

San Diego’s Genaro Gamez (8-0, 5 KOs) meets Filipino fighter Recky Dulay (10-3, 7 KOs) for the vacant NABF super featherweight title. For Dulay it’s always kill or be killed. Five of his last fights have ended in knockout wins or losses.

Gamez, 23, seems to thrive under pressure and broke down two veterans in back-to-back fights at Fantasy Springs Casino. Now he returns to the Belasco, a venue where he has struggled in the past. But this time he’s the main event.

Another being severely tested will be Emilio Sanchez (15-1, 10 KOs) facing veteran Christopher Martin (30-10-3, 10 KOs) who is capable of beating anyone.

Sanchez, 24, lost by knockout in his last fight this past March. He’s talented and fearless and one mistake cost him his first loss as a pro. He’s not getting a break against Martin, a cagey fighter who has upset many young rising prospects in the past. Martin also has experience against world champions. It’s an extremely tough matchup for Sanchez.

The fight card will be televised by Estrella TV beginning at 6 p.m.

World Title Fight

On Saturday, boxing returns to the Avalon Theater in Hollywood.

The main event is a good one as Puerto Rico’s Jesus Rojas (26-1-2, 19 KOs) defends the WBA featherweight world title against Southern California’s Jojo Diaz (26-1) in a 12 round clash. It’s power versus speed.

Rojas, 31, is one tough customer. When he took the interim title against Claudia Marrero last year he chased down the speedy southpaw Dominican and blasted him out in the seventh round. Several months earlier he obliterated another Golden Boy prospect, Abraham Lopez (not the same Abraham Lopez that is fighting on the 360 Promotions card), in eight rounds. Now he has the title and defends against the speedy southpaw Diaz.

Diaz, 25, just recently lost a bid for the WBC featherweight title against Gary Russell Jr. Though he lost by decision three months ago, that fight might be easy in comparison to this challenge against Rojas.

The former Olympian won’t be able to take a breath against the Puerto Rican slugger who is about as rough as they come.

Two more undefeated Golden Boy prospects get a chance to eliminate each other when Philadelphia’s Damon Allen (15-0-1) meets East L.A.’s Jonathan Navarro (14-0, 7 KOs) in a super lightweight fight set for 10 rounds.

Phillie versus East LA is like fire versus fire in the boxing ring. Boxers originating from those two hard-bitten areas usually have go-for-broke styles that result in pure action. Allen versus Navarro should not disappoint.

Allen, 25, is not a hard puncher but he’s aggressive and like most Philadelphia fighters, he’s not afraid to mix it up.

Navarro, 21, lives in East L.A. but trains in Riverside under Robert Garcia. He’s slowly finding his timing and will be facing the fastest fighter since his pro debut in 2015.

Others featured on the card will be Hector Tanajara, Aaron McKenna and Ferdinand Kerobyan.

The card will be streamed on the Golden Boy Fight Night page on Facebook beginning at 6 p.m.

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What’s Next for Manny Pacquiao?

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Manny Pacquiao isn’t quite ready to retire, and more big-money fights against high-level competition seem to be on the 39-year-old’s way.

“I feel like I’m a 27-year-old,” Pacquiao told GMAnetwork.com’s Jamil Santos last week. “Expect more fights to come.”

Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39 KOs) looked exceptionally sharp in his seventh-round knockout win over former junior welterweight titleholder Lucas Matthysse on July 15 at Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was Pacquiao’s best performance in at least four years, netting Pacquiao a secondary world title at welterweight along with a slew of renewed public interest in the boxing superstar’s career.

But what comes next for the only fighter in the history of boxing to capture world titles in eight different weight classes? TSS takes a detailed look at the potential opponents for one of the sport’s most celebrated stars.

Cream of the Crop

Pacquiao looked good enough against Matthysse to suggest he’d make a viable candidate to face either Terence Crawford or Vasyl Lomachenko next. Crawford is ranked No. 2 on the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board’s pound-for-pound list while Lomachenko slots at No. 1.

While Pacquiao is no longer under contract with longtime promoter Bob Arum at Top Rank, most industry insiders expect he will continue working with Arum’s team in some capacity so long as his career keeps moving forward. Pacquiao started his own promotional venture, MP Promotions, to co-promote the Matthysse bout with Oscar De La Hoya, but Top Rank was still involved in the fight which is why the bout ended up streaming on ESPN+.

Top Rank’s two hottest commodities at the present are Ring Magazine and WBA lightweight champ Lomachenko and welterweight titlist Crawford. Both are highly-regarded, multi-division world titleholders in the primes of their careers who are universally considered the top fighters in boxing.

Lomachenko and Crawford would each present a unique set of problems for Pacquiao stylistically. Of the two, Pacquiao probably matches up best with Lomachenko at this point in his career. Crawford (33-0, 24 KOs) is much larger and heavier than both Pacquiao and Lomachenko, and unless Pacquiao just really wants to test himself against someone incredibly dangerous, it’d probably be best for Team Pacquiao to avoid fighting Crawford at all costs. Crawford would be a heavy favorite against Pacquiao and most boxing insiders don’t believe this version of Pacquiao could compete with Crawford.

Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs) is naturally smaller than Pacquiao and has never fought above 135 pounds. If Pacquiao could lure Lomachenko to 140 pounds or above, he’d find himself in a winnable fight against a top-notch opponent. Lomachenko would probably be the slight favorite based on age alone but Pacquiao’s power and athleticism would give him a realistic chance to pull the upset.

Other Notable Possibilities

Former junior welterweight titleholder Amir Khan has long been angling for a bout against Pacquiao. Khan faces Samuel Vargas on Sept. 8 in another comeback bout against lower level competition. Khan (32-4, 20 KOs) bravely moved up to middleweight to fight Canelo Alvarez in 2016 but was knocked out in the sixth round. He left the sport for a spell but returned to boxing in February as a welterweight with a sensational first round knockout win over Phil Lo Greco. A win over Vargas puts Khan in good position to secure a bout with Pacquiao, and the fight is a reasonable move by both camps. Pacquiao would probably be the heavy favorite, but Khan’s speed and long reach give him a decent chance to pull the upset.

Former welterweight titleholder Jeff Horn won a controversial decision over Pacquiao last year in Australia. The bout grabbed huge ratings for ESPN and there have been many debates since it happened as to which fighter truly deserved the nod from the judges. Horn (18-1-1, 12 KOs) doesn’t possess elite level talent, but he’s huge compared to Pacquiao and fights with such ferocity that the two can’t help but make an aesthetically pleasing fight together. Pacquiao would be the heavy favorite to defeat Horn if the two fight again.

Pacquiao vs. PBC fighters?

Boxing’s current political climate and the ongoing battle of promoters and television networks for the hearts and minds of boxing fans usually leaves many compelling fights between top level stars off the table. Fighters promoted by Top Rank and Golden Boy are almost never able to secure bouts with fighters signed to Al Haymon to appear under the Premier Boxing Champions banner and vice versa. But Pacquiao’s free agent status opens up new and interesting possibilities for the fighter to pursue noteworthy PBC fighters.

There had been lots of chatter about Pacquiao facing Mikey Garcia next. Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs) has been decimating competition at both lightweight and junior welterweight. Garcia is considered by most experts to be one of the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. He’s the TBRB junior welterweight champion and a unified lightweight titleholder (WBC, IBF). While Garcia is hoping to land a big money bout against IBF welterweight titleholder Errol Spence, most boxing experts believe the jump up to 147 pounds would be too much for the diminutive Garcia who began his career at featherweight. A better welterweight target for Garcia would be Pacquiao who also began his career in a much lower weight class.

Spence (24-0, 21 KOs) is probably the best of the PBC welterweights. He’s considered by many to be on par with Crawford at 147 so it would be an incredibly dangerous bout for Pacquiao to go after at this point in his career. But Spence is aggressive and fights in a style that Pacquiao traditionally matches up very well against. Spence would be the favorite based on size, age and skill.

Slightly less dangerous to Pacquiao would be facing the winner of the Sept. 8 battle between Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter. Garcia (34-1, 20 KOs) and Porter (28-2-1, 17 KOs) are fighting for the vacant WBC welterweight title and the possibility of capturing another world title in his career could sway Pacquiao to seek out the winner. Pacquiao could find himself a slight favorite or underdog depending on which of the two fighters he would face, but both would be winnable fights.

The WBA welterweight champion is Keith Thurman. Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) is a good boxer with tremendous power but Pacquiao’s speed and athleticism would probably give him the leg up in that potential matchup. Thurman hasn’t fought in over 16 months though and recent pictures suggest he’s not in fighting shape at the moment, so the likelihood of a Pacquiao vs. Thurman fight is pretty much nil.

Some fans want Pacquiao to face Adrien Broner. Broner (33-3-1, 24 KOs) is a solid contender at 147 but probably doesn’t have the skill to seriously compete with Pacquiao. Pacquiao would be a significant favorite and would likely stop Broner if the two were able to meet in a boxing ring.

Mayweather-Pacquiao 2?

Pacquiao lost a unanimous decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015, but the circumstances surrounding the fight, and the fact it was the biggest box office bash in the history of the sport, have led many to suspect the two fighters would meet again in a rematch.

Yes, Mayweather (50-0, 27 KOs) is retired, but he’s unretired several times in his career for big money fights including last year’s crossover megafight with UFC star Conor McGregor. While it seems unlikely to happen, Mayweather-Pacquiao 2 would still be a huge worldwide event worth millions of dollars to both fighters so those following the sport can never say never to the idea of it happening again.

While Mayweather is 41, he’d still get the nod as the betting favorite should he fight Pacquiao again based on what happened in the first fight as well as his stylistic advantage over Pacquiao.

Pacquiao vs. McGregor?

McGregor’s bout against Mayweather last year was such a financial success and the MMA star made so much more money in the boxing ring than he did as a UFC fighter that the idea of him returning to the sport to face Pacquiao isn’t as far-fetched as one might think.

Pacquiao vs. McGregor would be an easy sell to the general public. According to CompuBox, McGregor landed more punches against Mayweather than did Pacquiao, and the general consensus is that Mayweather-McGregor was more fun to watch than Mayweather-Pacquiao.

The size difference between the two would lead to an easy promotion. McGregor is a junior middleweight and Pacquiao has only competed at the weight once back in 2010. Despite all that, Pacquiao would be a significant favorite to defeat McGregor and rightly so. He’s too fast and too good a boxer, and his aggressive style would likely lead to a stoppage win.

Pacquiao’s Top Targets

Pacquiao’s top targets should be Mayweather, McGregor and Lomachenko. Pacquiao would stand to make the most money facing either Mayweather or McGregor. Pacquiao’s reportedly injured shoulder heading into 2015 bout left many wondering how the fight might be different had the Filipino gone into things at his best, and Mayweather’s age might play more of a factor in the second fight than it did in the first. A Pacquiao-McGregor fight would be a worldwide spectacle, one Pacquiao would be heavily favored to win. Besides, it’d be interesting to see if Pacquiao could stop McGregor sooner than historical rival Mayweather. Finally, Lomachenko might be trying to climb up weight classes too fast, and Pacquiao would certainly be fit to test the validity of that theory. It’d be one of the biggest fights in boxing and a win for Pacquiao would be another huge feather in the cap of one of boxing’s true historically great champions.

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