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Three Punch Combo: Reflections on Canelo, Matthysse, and Yuriorkis Gamboa

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THREE PUNCH COMBO – Yuriorkis Gamboa suffered a stunning loss this past weekend to veteran Robinson Castellanos. It was the type of loss that will probably end Gamboa’s days as a top contender. And thinking back on his career, it was just five years ago when Gamboa seemed destined to be the sport’s next pound for pound king.

In March of 2012, HBO put out a press release officially announcing the contest between Gamboa and Brandon Rios for the vacant WBA lightweight title and fight fans from across the world were excited to see how the contrasting styles of the two undefeated fighters would mesh. As we know, the fight never happened. There are many stories as to what occurred, but Gamboa never showed at the first official press conference and the fight was soon scrapped. But what if he had faced Rios in 2012?

First, remember that Gamboa, who was then under contract to Top Rank, was supposed to be the star. Rios, also with Top Rank, was seen by many as a niche fighter. The thought in boxing was that Rios could make for some fun fights against other brawlers, but against more seasoned and skilled boxers would probably fall short. A loss to Gamboa would not be devastating for Rios, as Top Rank believed that Rios would still have a strong future making entertaining fights against similarly aggressive fighters (like Mike Alvarado, who was supposed to fight on the undercard).

But knowing what we know now and also remembering where both men were when the fight was supposed to happen, I think Rios would have been the first to expose Gamboa who has always had defensive issues. He frequently left his hands down, pulled straight back with his chin in the air and squared up often to his opponents. These issues were never corrected. Rios, with his smart aggression, would have found Gamboa easy to hit.

Also, remember the fight would have been at lightweight. Rios was a big lightweight whereas Gamboa was more suited for featherweight/super featherweight. Could Gamboa have taken the punch of Rios? I doubt it given his questionable chin and the size advantage of Rios. Just remember what Terence Crawford did to Gamboa a couple of years later at lightweight. And to this point, Rios probably would have been able to easily absorb Gamboa’s best shots given his size advantage. With Gamboa unable to get his respect, Rios would have just become more and more aggressive against the defensively challenged Cuban.

If the fight had taken place, I think Gamboa would have had his moments similar to the Crawford fight, but Rios’ power and unrelenting aggression would have gotten to him as the fight moved forward. Rios probably would have stopped Gamboa in the mid-rounds and set the career of Gamboa back a little earlier than would ultimately be the case.

The Return of The Machine

Lucas Matthysse returned to the ring after a 19-month absence and scored an impressive 5th round TKO win against Emmanuel Taylor. It wasn’t just that Matthysse won, but how he won that showed that he is once again a force to be reckoned with in the sport.

Emmanuel Taylor is a solid fighter and some, including myself, thought he would spring an upset. He had never been stopped as a pro and had given some very good fighters tough fights, including Adrien Broner and Antonio Orozco. There were also a lot of questions about Matthysse. Was the fire still there? How would the power carry to welterweight? Was he possibly shopworn? Well, Matthysse not only showed the fire from the opening bell but hurt Taylor with seemingly every solid punch that he landed. The power was still there and there were no signs of a shopworn fighter as he let his hands go when the openings were presented. All in all, it was the type of performance we saw from Matthysse when he was obliterating solid fighters on the way up a few years ago.

It’s funny how this sport works though. If Matthysse hadn’t looked so sharp, he’d no doubt get offered a fight with a big name welterweight his next time out. But the fact that he destroyed Taylor will make it tough for him to attract the top welterweights into the ring. The risk for them is simply too great. Does anyone think Bob Arum would consider matching Manny Pacquiao with Matthysse later this year based on this performance from Matthysse? Of course not. Will Adrien Broner’s team try to get in touch with Golden Boy about a future date with Matthysse? Highly unlikely.

I am guessing Matthysse is going to return in a few months on a Golden Boy on ESPN show. It won’t be a big name but someone similar to Taylor. One possible opponent in such a scenario is Pablo Cesar Cano who is a solid veteran and coming off a win against Mauricio Herrera. Matthysse would be heavily favored, but Cano is a come forward brawler and the fight would certainly make for good television. The one name down the line I could see potentially wanting a Matthysse fight is Viktor Postol. Yes, they fought once and Postol beat Matthysse. But since then, Postol lost to Terence Crawford and he needs a signature win to get back in contention. Given his style and skill, Postol is not a fighter many of the top fighters are clamoring for, so it would make sense for the two to hook up again in a high stakes crossroads fight.

It’s Time to Give Canelo His Just Due

In the immediate aftermath of his dominant showing against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Saul “Canelo” Alvarez announced he would face middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin in September. The fight has been long anticipated by boxing fans, many of whom have been critical of Canelo for seemingly sidestepping Golovkin the past few years. However, given the history of Canelo it’s no surprise that this fight is happening as he has been willing throughout his career to accept tough challenges.

Canelo began his career often taking on more experienced opponents in fights that he wasn’t necessarily favored to win. In his third pro bout, he took on future world champion Miguel Vazquez. Granted, it was Vazquez’s pro debut. However, down the road Canelo did face Vazquez in a rematch and by this point it was known that Vazquez possessed a style that was not easy to crack or look good against. But Canelo accepted the challenge in this early stage of his career of facing such a slick fighter in a bout that he was certainly not assured to win. Canelo did win, of course, and fights like the one with Vazquez gained him an early reputation of taking on all comers.

The Vazquez rematch took place in 2008. Fast forward a few years to 2011 when Canelo faced Ryan Rhodes. Rhodes was no pushover. He was a big skilled experienced southpaw who had a good record and entered the fight on a ten fight winning streak. But Canelo passed this fight with flying colors too.

It is somewhat forgotten in boxing circles that in 2012 Canelo signed to fight the slick southpaw punching machine Paul Williams. There were not a lot of fighters willing to face Paul Williams at this stage of Williams career but Canelo accepted the challenge. Of course, the fight did not come off due to Williams’ career-ending injury in a motorcycle accident.

A year later, Canelo accepted the challenge of the then undefeated Austin Trout. A slick fighter who was then in his prime, Trout seemingly posed a big threat to Canelo who had a fight with Floyd Mayweather hanging in the balance. Canelo took the fight and won impressively. A year after facing the best fighter in the world in Mayweather, Canelo faced another slick fighter that few were willing to face in Erislandy Lara.

The names just kept coming after the Lara fight. There was the dangerous puncher in James Kirkland, the speed of Amir Khan and, of course, having to deal with a potentially much bigger man in Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

Canelo’s resume speaks for itself and is probably the best in the sport at the moment. He has never backed down from a challenge and has fought many fighters that other top fighters were simply unwilling to face. It’s time to give him the credit he has long deserved for his willingness to fight the best.

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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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