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Teofilo Stevenson (1952-2012)

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20110126144332Teofilo Stevenson was a damned fine heavyweight boxer, who became the first fighter in the Olympics to win gold in three Games, the ’72, ’76 and ’80 editions. He may have been on par with Muhammad Ali, or, some maintain, a step up from The Greatest. But the world never got to answer that question, because the citizen of Cuba spurned the myriad attempts to lure him away from Fidel Castro, to the US, where an embarrassment of riches awaited him. Stevenson died on Monday, at age 60, from a heart attack, forever to remain in people’s memory a skilled sportsman, and a most potent symbol of anti-capitalism.

“I will not leave my country for one million dollars or for much more than that,” he said in 1974, to Sports Illustrated. “What is a million dollars against eight million Cubans who love me?”

Bob Surkein, head referee for the Games and a veteran of more than 30 years of refereeing amateur bouts at the time, put Stevenson up there with the top dogs.

“Stevenson is the best,” he told SI. “Better than Foreman or Frazier and as good as Ali, but Ali fought as a light heavy in the Olympics. Stevenson has quick hands and he already moves almost as well as Ali—and he's bigger. He is a classic boxer, like all the Cubans. “

A crackerjack right hand was his money punch. His jab was fine, and one didn’t see the hook all that much, but with that Hearns-y length, Stevenson got great leverage on the right. The boxer, who mostly worked as a patient aggressor, maintained his balance well, and moved minimally, as he was comfortable fighting at close range.

I don’t want to bring this news item into other territory, don’t want to get into a debate of the merits and defiencies of our system of capitalism and our nation’s concept of freedom and the lack thereof in Cuba; but in an age where it seems like anyone and everything is up for bid, it is at the least interesting to remember that then, and even now, there are people who adhere to a different values system. Defenders of our nation, and people with even a passing knowledge of the tactics used to tamp down dissent in Cuba can point out that many a man was unable to exert freedom of choice, knowing that eyes were on them, and there would be ramifications if a Stevenson chose to jump ship, and head for the pot of gold in the States. But as the SI writer pointed out, Stevenson during this 1974 chat in Santo Domingo was not under surveillance or accompanied by handlers; he could have at the least indicated that he’d be open to defection.

Many promoters knew that an Ali-Stevenson showdown would be a bank-buster, not a mere prizefight, but a metaphorical clash of epic proportions. One athlete would prevail, and one nation could proudly point to that fighter, and their system of commerce and politics, and declare victory. A deal for an exhibition series, put together by Bob Arum, seemed to get near the finish line in 1978. Ali would be paid, and Stevenson’s share would go to his nation. But the deal fizzled out, and Stevenson, with a mark of 302-22, left the arena in 1988. In January, according to the NY Times, Stevenson had a blot clot in an artery near his heart, and spent 15 days in intensive care. Will we ever truly know how he felt about the fact that he didn’t get, or take the chance, to test himself against those known as the best, who were plying their trade for pay? Perhaps not; the lack of freedom of speech on his island likely means that his innermost thoughts, as well as well as the answer to who was better, he or Ali, will stay buried with him.

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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