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ADD GARCIA-SALKA TO AUGUST’S `MONTH OF MISMATCHES’ LIST

Bernard Fernandez

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If you look back through boxing history, August has been the month of some truly notable matchups: John L. Sullivan’s bare-knuckles KO of Jake Kilrain (in 75 rounds!) in 1889; Henry Armstrong’s 15-round points nod over Lou Ambers in 1938; Beau Jack’s 10-round decision over Bob Montgomery in the “war bonds” fight in 1944; Thomas Hearns’ electrifying second-round knockout of Pipino Cuevas in 1980, and Ivan Robinson’s epic 10-round split decision over Arturo Gatti in their first fight in 1998.

August also has been the month of some of boxing’s most egregious mismatches: Heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson’s sixth-round stoppage of Pete Rademacher, the Olympic gold medalist who was challenging for the title in his pro debut, in 1957; Muhammad Ali toying with a totally outclassed Brian London until the inevitable stoppage in the third round in 1966, and Mike Tyson’s one-round beatdown of the oafish Peter McNeeley in 1995.

Want to venture a guess on which list the pairing of Danny “Swift” Garcia and Rod Salka is apt to be placed?

On Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., WBC/WBA super lightweight champion Garcia (28-0, 16 KOs) was to have defended those titles against mystery guest Salka (19-3, 3 KOs). That bout will still be held as scheduled and still be televised by Showtime, ostensibly as the main event. But before the first punch is thrown, the biggest stunner of all – heck, probably the biggest of the year, and maybe of the decade – was registered when the sanctioning-fees-loving honchos with the WBC and WBA withdrew certification of Garcia-Salka as a championship contest. The expected rout for Garcia has been downgraded to a 10-round, non-title affair, and at a catch weight of 142 pounds, two pounds over the super lightweight limit.

It isn’t often that the alphabet bandits do the right thing, so maybe what took place behind the scenes in this instance will go down as boxing’s greatest reversal of expectations since Buster Douglas took a wrecking ball to the notion of Mike Tyson’s invincibility in Tokyo on Feb. 11, 1990.

In a teleconference with skeptical or downright disapproving media members, Garcia, Salka and Golden Boy Promotions president Oscar De La Hoya did their best to apply lipstick and dangly earrings to what would seem to be one ugly pig of a fight.

“I don’t pick my opponents,” Garcia said, countering the inevitable criticism of something that appears to be little more than a glorified sparring session. “My manager, Al Haymon, does. He picked the (Amir) Khan fight, he picked the (Lucas) Matthysse fight, he picked the Zab Judah fight, he picked the (Mauricio) Herrera fight. I never question him about his decisions. My job is to train hard, go in there on Aug. 9 and give the people at the Barclays Center a great performance. My style always brings out the best in my opponents, so I’m looking forward to an action-packed fight.”

And what of the fact that Salka is a natural lightweight who would seem to pack the punching power of a third-grade girl, and whose quality-of-competition in comparison to Garcia’s is about the same as, say, Slippery Rock’s against Alabama in college football?

“That’s the media’s problem,” he said of the widespread depiction of Salka as a no-hoper. “He got two hands, I got two hands, and we’re gonna fight. It don’t matter who they put in there. It’s going to be two guys giving their all and it’s going to be a great fight.”

For some reason, I couldn’t help but recall the immortal words of Peter McNeeley a few days before he was offered up as a human sacrifice to Tyson, who was making his first ring appearance following a three-year incarceration on a rape conviction.

“I’m Peter McNeeley, from Medford, Mass,” the son of onetime heavyweight title challenger Tom McNeeley pronounced in his thick Massachusetts accent, “and I’m here to kick Mike Tyson’s ass.” Cute. Who said Muhammad Ali was the only boxer capable of uttering trite poetry?

His attempt at rhyming notwithstanding, this is how close the brash but unrealistically optimistic McNeeley came to kicking Tyson’s ass: He went down seconds after the opening bell, and he was on his way to taking a first-round stomping when Vinny Vecchione, McNeeley’s manager, entered the ring and wrapped his arms around the stricken fighter before Tyson committed pugilistic homicide. It went into the books as a disqualification after just 89 elapsed seconds.

A few years later, the semi-notorious McNeeley landed a commercial in which he got knocked out by a slice of pizza.

“For the money they paid us, Peter will let himself be knocked out by a pizza any time,” Vecchione reasoned.

Most would agree that Danny Garcia is the finest 140-pound boxer on the planet, but he’s not a star on the level of Mike Tyson, nor is he ever likely to come within telescope distance of that lofty status if he follows up a relatively pedestrian majority-decision victory over Herrera with anything less than an emphatic blowout of Salka and then wins over some of the bigger names in and around his weight class. Saturday’s fight has been roundly criticized, seemingly with ample justification, and one has to wonder what, exactly, could Garcia gain from even a thorough drubbing of Salka after previously having survived tests by fire from the very capable likes of Morales (twice), Khan, Judah and Matthysse? Why isn’t he set to swap punches in a unification bout with IBF champ Lamont Peterson (32-2-1, 16 KOs), who defends his title against Edgar Santana (29-4, 20 KOs) in Saturday’s co-feature at the Barclays Center?

De La Hoya said that, yes, Garcia-Peterson would have been far more palatable than Garcia-Salka, but, in boxing, wishing counts for very little. (See Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao, which remains the stuff of dreams.)

“It’s a fight that has been talked about, but there’s nothing that we can push for now,” Oscar said of a Garcia-Peterson showdown that appears to have gotten hung up on that most common of sticking points, money. He added that, “Making this card, we’re going to have a lot of shockers, a lot of surprises, a lot of great performances. We’re going to get it all.”

If would be a shock, all right – a lightning bolt to the public’s sensibilities – if Salka were somehow to score the biggest boxing surprise since, well, Buster Douglas’ puncturing of the Mike Tyson legend. The odds of his doing so range from 33-to-1 to 50-1, depending on which oddsmaker you choose to believe.

“He’s coming off a huge upset against highly touted Alexei Collado, when he handed Collado his very first professional loss,” De La Hoya noted. “He expects to shock the world against Garcia.”

It is true that Collado was undefeated before he ran into Salka, but that bout, on April 18 in Monroeville, Pa., was for the vacant WBC FECARBOX lightweight title, whatever that is. But, like Garcia said, Salka has two hands and he presumably puts his trunks on one leg at a time, the same as the Philadelphian. So, sure, he has a chance. It’s just not a very good one.

“It is what it is,” Salka said of the rulings by the WBC and WBA to withdraw certification of the fight as being for their bejeweled belts. “There’s nothing I can do about that. I’d rather it had been for the titles, but what am I going to do?

“I’m fighting the best fighter at 140 pounds in the world. Would I rather fight somebody nobody ever heard of for a title, or would I rather fight somebody that everybody knows for no title? Why wouldn’t I want to fight Danny Garcia? He’s the best guy out there.”

If only the well-spoken Salka had ripped a page from the Peter McNeeley’s bombastic playbook, this could have been so much more interesting, if not necessarily more competitive. “I’m Rod Salka, from Bunola, P-A (Pennsylvania),” he might have said, “and I’m here to make Danny Garcia hit the hay.”

And if it doesn’t work out for Salka the way he hoped, like it didn’t work out for McNeeley, there is always the possibility some pizza company might be looking for a new endorser.

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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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