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Three Punch Combo: Bold Predictions for 2018 and More

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — The end of the year is upon us and it is time to look forward to what could happen in 2018. Every year there are at least a few surprises that seemingly come from nowhere in the sport. For example, this year we saw a landmark broadcast deal involving Top Rank and ESPN. So what surprises could be in store for 2018?

The 175-pound division is deep and seemingly getting deeper by the minute. There are a lot of big fights to be made and probably several will occur in 2018. But what about the bout that has eluded the division for years? Could 2018 finally be the year we see Adonis Stevenson step up to face Sergey Kovalev? If a few chips fall into place, the ingredients are finally there for this fight to take place toward the tail end of the year.

The main reason this fight has not taken place yet is Stevenson. One of the last fighters trained by Emanuel Steward (the Kronk Gym maker of champions died in 2012), Stevenson has avoided Kovalev for years, content to feast on inferior opposition while making good money defending his belt in Canada. But a few things are changing. For one, PBC does not have the same outlets that it did in the past where quality control was not always a concern. Stevenson, to make the money he commands, must fight on premium cable with the only realistic option being Showtime. And though Showtime did telecast Stevenson’s last bout against Andrzej Fonfara, a bout widely considered a mismatch, they disney princess bouncy castle are apparently reluctant to give Stevenson that luxury going forward. Hence, we may see a Stevenson defense against Badou Jack on Showtime in the first part of 2018 which would represent far and away the toughest test for Stevenson since he won a 175-pound belt in 2013.

If he beats Jack, Stevenson will then be looking down the barrel at facing some of the young, hard hitting, skilled opponents that have come on the scene. He won’t be able to revert back to the likes of Dmitry Sukhotskiy or Tommy Karpency because Showtime will have no interest.

So if Stevenson, who turned 40 in September, is going to have to face a dangerous opponent, he will probably pick the one that economically makes the most sense. And guess which fighter could now be on his radar? Yes, Sergey Kovalev.

Kovalev has a planned fight in March and can probably get away in that contest with someone like Joe Smith. It is a dangerous fight for Kovalev, but one that he’d still be substantially favored to win. If Kovalev wins, he is looking down the barrel at the same situation as Stevenson. And that is a high risk, low reward opponent.

There is animosity between the camps of Stevenson and Kovalev, but boxing economics will outweigh these concerns. The options are simple. They can face someone like Artur Beterbiev, Oleksandr Gvozdyk or Dmitry Bivol for a six figure payday or face each other for seven figures. It is risk/reward scenario and even Stevenson is bound to come to his senses to finally make the fight we have all wanted to see for years.

Second Bold Prediction

In 2017, we saw big changes in the televised coverage of boxing in the United States. Top Rank struck gold with an output deal with ESPN. Golden Boy Promotions also scored an output deal with ESPN. Online streaming of boxing cards took off and gave fight fans a new platform to watch bouts that were previously inaccessible.

Quietly too, Al Haymon’s PBC venture started to drift in a different direction. Haymon lost some television partners and produced fewer shows on the outlets he still had in place. PBC went back toward putting their bigger fights on Showtime. A big question in the sport is what will PBC look like in 2018?

My second bold prediction for 2018 is that in the first quarter of the year we get a major announcement from PBC. Say what you will about Haymon but he is always thinking big. With only a handful of cards under the PBC banner on the schedule so far in 2018 (all on Showtime), something is coming and that something will be huge. Remember too, Haymon still has a lot of fighters whom he serves as an advisor and needs to get these fighters regular work.

My guess is that Haymon is working on a big output deal. It will involve one network and follow the traditional model in the sport where that network pays a license fee to broadcast boxing cards. It may or may not involve a network from his previous buy time agreements, but whatever it will be, that network will partner with Haymon similar to what ESPN is doing with Top Rank. That means a commitment from the network which Haymon did not always have under the previous buy time arrangements and also mean more quality control for the cards that are broadcast.

In addition, it has long been speculated that at some point Haymon will delve into online streaming and I expect him to launch his own online streaming platform in 2018. This would be an avenue where he could keep fighters busy. It would be more suited to showcase upcoming prospects as well as involve tune-up fights for more seasoned veterans. The UFC is doing something similar and expect Haymon’s online platform to be molded in the same manner.

Haymon is a very smart man and knows he needs to counter what Top Rank and others did in 2017. Expect Haymon to do so in the first part of 2018 with a major announcement that will shake up the boxing world.

Remembering a Forgotten 122-Pound War

December 19th marks the 20th anniversary of the classic battle between “Prince” Naseem Hamed and Kevin Kelley. The bout was a war that featured several knockdowns and was instantly proclaimed by Larry Merchant as the “Hagler-Hearns of the featherweight division.”

However, an equally exciting bout took place on the undercard between Junior Jones and Kennedy McKinney.  Jones (44-2, 26 KO’s) held a 122-pound title and was coming off two huge wins against future Hall of Famer Marco Antonio Barrera. McKinney (32-2-1, 18 KO’s) was a former Olympic gold medalist but had to this point fallen short of expectations. This was expected to be a solid match of two skilled boxers but turned into something entirely different.

The first round did start out as a boxing match with both Jones and McKinney working behind a left jab. They each also found a home in spots for sharp right hands behind the jab. But toward the end of the round, a shootout began with both slugging it out at the bell.

The slugfest that started at the end of the first continued as the bell sounded to start round two. Both landed some big shots but it was Jones who was busier and landing the cleaner and harder shots. He even momentarily wobbled McKinney with a left that landed with about a minute remaining in the round. All in all, it was a big Jones round but he also unloaded a high volume of punches with maximum effort.

The two continued to trade bombs into the third. About halfway through the round, Jones landed a big right hand that put McKinney on the canvas. McKinney would rise a bit shaken and Jones would jump on him seeking the end. Jones unloaded the kitchen sink but was unable to hurt McKinney during the follow-up barrage. As McKinney began to regain his wits, he started to throw and land right hands in between Jones’ punches. It was thrilling action and the round ended with both appearing to be on shaky legs.

Jones had unloaded a huge amount of power punches in the first three rounds and appeared to be sucking for air as the fourth commenced. McKinney began to find a home for a short, quick, well-timed right hand that landed flush on Jones’ chin on several occasions. With the tide swinging, McKinney threw one of those short quick rights as Jones was coming forward looking to throw a right of his own. McKinney’s landed first with full leverage and Jones collapsed to the canvas. Hurt and exhausted, Jones arose but had no legs and fell forward to the canvas again. Referee Wayne Kelly did not hesitate to stop the contest at this moment, awarding a TKO win to McKinney.

Because of what happened in the main event, many fans quickly forgot about the action they witnessed in the McKinney-Jones fight. But it was a truly special bout and deserves to be recognized on this, the 20th anniversary of the contest.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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