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ATLAS, POVETKIN IN UPHILL FIGHT FOR HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE

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Heavyweight-Povetkin-looks-to-overcome-short-camp-9UAUJ8S-x-largephoto Jens Meyer, AP

Sometimes folks grow so used to seeing people do the wrong thing that when someone does the right thing they think it’s wrong. Teddy Atlas is the latest to be victimized by what we’ll call the “Right Way Is Wrong’’ syndrome.

Saturday night Atlas will lead heavyweight contender Alexander Povetkin into a ring in Erfurt, Germany to face former champion Ruslan Chagaev for the somewhat vacant WBA title. It’s not really vacant since Wladimir Klitschko owns it but the alphabet organizations have a way of always making room for an extra sanction fee one way or another and so they have in this case.

Klitschko is now a unified “super’’ champion and so the title is ‘’vacant’’ even while he still wears it. If you are confused, welcome to boxing.

Confusion reigns in this sport, which is why so few sports fans care about it anymore. In boxing up is down, right is wrong and making the wise decision is a vice not a virtue.

A year or so ago Atlas rejected a shot at Klitschko for young Povetkin because, of all reasons, with only 19 professional fights he wasn’t going to sacrifice his future for a payday. That cost Atlas about $200,000 and, frankly, Povetkin about the same because of the way his contract would be stepped on by promoters, managers and their various agents and minions.

There is a risk-reward ratio in boxing that must always be measured. The usual way they do it in boxing is you make the fighter take the risk and you keep most of the rewards. Atlas sees it differently, which is why he rejected the fight and was highly criticized by the No Nothing Party for it.

His job, as he sees it, is to not only train young Povetkin but also to put him in fights that make sense. There might be a time it made sense to risk him against the bigger, harder punching and vastly more experienced Klitschko but that was not the time. That will remain true regardless of what happens Saturday night in Erfret, even though some will argue otherwise.

If Povetkin loses, Atlas’ critics will say he got him beat for short money. They will say he could have made vastly more against Klitschko, which is true if you only look at the gross and forget about the net. In boxing, as with the IRS, the net is all the matters and what Povetkin was going to net against Klitschko was very likely a career-altering beating for very short money.

Saturday night the money is no better but his chance to win is. At least it would have been had Povetkin’s management team allowed (or forced if necessary) him to come to America as was his contractual obligation and train for eight weeks with Atlas.

Atlas’ deal with Povetkin has always been that he would travel to Russia to train him when his work at ESPN allowed. But during the ESPN2 fight season, which ends with the beginning of college football and begins in January, the fighter was supposed to train in the U.S.

This time he did not, for reasons really only known to Povetkin and his manager, and Atlas refused to put his full-time job at risk simply to please them. Ultimately he decided he would not train Povetkin at all for the biggest fight of his life, a decision they refused to accept. Atlas remained firm until his phone rang about a month ago and it was the 31-year-old Povetkin, who speaks little English, calling just to say hello.

Not long after that, at a press conference in Germany to hype the fight, writers noticed Atlas was missing and asked Povetkin who his trainer was. He said “Teddy Atlas.’’

At that point, for the second time in his two-year stint with the former Olympic gold medalist, Atlas did what others would not. He put himself at risk.

Just as he stood up to German promoter Wilfried Sauerland, refusing to send Povetkin like a lamb to the slaughter against a far more experienced and well prepared Klitschko, he stood up against his own instincts and got on a plane to Russia knowing it was far too late for the kind of full training camp one needs for a fight of this magnitude.

In both cases, Atlas did what far too few do in boxing. He did the right thing and yet if Povetkin’s hand isn’t raised Saturday night he’s going to catch hell. That’s what happens in boxing. You try to do the right thing and you catch hell. You roll over and conduct business as usual and everybody thinks you’re smart, a realist or both.

My colleague Eric Raskin postulated several days ago that if Povetkin loses, Atlas’ career as a top-flight trainer is over because he will be perceived as someone who blocked his fighter from an opportunity and then got him beaten for a lesser opportunity.

Someone who sees what happened in these two cases that way should not be licensed to box because their vision is impaired. Protecting your fighter from a match he isn’t ready for is not something to be vilified for. It’s good business.

Sticking by him even when the people around him – either through ignorance, arrogance or worse, corruption – break their contractual obligations to his trainer and create a problem-filled work environment in the months before the biggest fight of his life should not be something other fighters fear. It should be something they seek.

“What happened was it got to be about three weeks before the fight and the fighter himself and the people asked me to come over and I found out that they had made no other arrangements and the fighter was waiting for me and I had a decision to make, more from a personal standpoint, I guess a moral standpoint where – do I stay away from it?’’ Atlas said this week.

“Because we didn’t have the situation that was agreed to, my brain told me that a little bit, but my heart told me, do I want to be thinking about the fighter being left alone?  And I didn’t want to be thinking about that.

“So I got on a plane. I went to (Chekhov, Russia) about three weeks and two days before the fight and as I said, we had a very condensed training camp, not the amount of sparring that we would normally want to have, especially southpaw sparring because we are fighting a southpaw.

“I organized things the best I could from a mental standpoint, trying to get his mind right in the time that was allowed and trying to get the – obviously the game plan, the strategy in place.  I think we’ve done a good job getting the strategy in place.  We understand what will work against Chagaev and what to be concerned about with Chagaev.  My biggest concern was having not the full amount of time for physical training, that’s my biggest concern that we didn’t have that and the full amount of time in sparring.

“Look, either I’m going to keep my damn mouth shut and say nothing, which I probably should do sometimes, or I’m going to tell the truth. I’d feel more comfortable if I had more time. Do I feel we’ve done the best we could do in these conditions, in these circumstances? Yes, I do.’’

Atlas is a realist. He sees the world not as he’d like it to be but as it is. He knows an ambush disguised as an opportunity is a trap, as the Klitschko fight was. He knows Povetkin was contractually bound to be in New Jersey two months ago and was prevented or allowed not to do it at his peril.

Atlas was not willing, nor should he have been, to put his primary job at risk with ESPN for people who were not willing to honor their word, a contract or what was best for their fighter. Yet, in the end, he swallowed both his pride and his good sense and went to Russia three weeks and two days before Saturday night’s fight to do what he could for a young man who still believes, “Teddy Atlas is my trainer.’’

If those things make him unemployable as a trainer it says more about boxing’s ills than it does about Atlas.

On Saturday night Atlas will have run out of time but he’ll be where he felt he needed to be. He’ll be in Alexander Povetkin’s corner. If a few other people claiming to be actually had been the fighter would have been at his optimum for the toughest fight of his career.

Come what may, Alexander Povetkin’s real problem won’t be the man in front of him or the man in his corner. His problems will be sitting in expensive seats they got for free wearing expensive suits guys like Povetkin paid for. They won’t be in his corner when the fight starts. Then again, they never really were any way.

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Denny and Crocker Win in Birmingham: Catterall vs Prograis a Go for Aug. 24

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Matchroom was at Resorts World in Birmingham, England today with a card topped by an EBU European middleweight title fight between Tyler Denny and Felix Cash. Denny was the defending champion and had home field advantage, but Cash, undefeated heading in (16-0, 10 KOs) went to post a consensus 9/4 favorite.

A member of the Irish Traveler community, Cash was making his first start in 18 months. As noted by Tris Dixon, he had a number of distractions during his hiatus, including a bitter divorce. Tonight, he looked rusty and he never did get the chance to establish a rhythm.  In the second round, he suffered a cut on his right eyelid from what was ruled an accidental clash of heads. The cut deepened, and in round five the referee stopped the action and had the ringside physician inspect the wound. On his advice, the bout was stopped.

Owing to the derivation of the cut, the bout went to the scorecards. Tyler Denny was ahead on all three cards: 49-46 and 49-47 twice.

Denny, who improved to 19-2-3, won his second straight inside the distance, an oddity as every one of his first 17 wins went to the scorecards.

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, Belfast welterweight Lewis Crocker advanced to 21-0 (11) with a unanimous but unpopular 10-round decision over Wolverhampton’s Conah Walker (13-3-1). The judges had it 95-94 and 96-93 twice. There were no knockdowns, but Walker had a point deducted in round nine for low blows.

The crowd’s dissatisfaction with the decision (Walker was clearly the busier fighter) was tempered by the fact they got to see a doozy of a fight. At times, notably in the last two rounds, the action was furious.

A rematch is in order, but all indications are that Crocker’s next fight will come against Paddy Donovan who was in attendance. A Top Rank signee from Limerick, Ireland, Donovan is 14-0 as a pro after a decorated amateur career.

Before the main event, Matchroom honcho Eddie Hearn announced that he had come to terms with Jack Catterall and Regis Prograis who will lock horns on Aug. 24 at the new Co-Op Live arena in Manchester, England. In his last assignment, Catterall comprehensively out-pointed former unified 140-pound world champion Josh Taylor while avenging the lone “L” on his record, a highly controversial setback to Taylor two years earlier in Glasgow. Regis Prograis, a two-time world title-holder at 140, has had only bad showing, but that came in his last start when he was thoroughly outclassed by Devin Haney.

Photo credit: Mark Robinson / Matchroom

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Results from Las Vegas where Rafael Espinoza Retained his WBO Title in Grand Style

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Top Rank made its first foray to the newest Las Vegas Strip resort, the Fontainebleu, tonight. Topping the bill was an all-Mexican featherweight title fight between Guadalajara’s Rafael Espinoza and Oaxaca’s Sergio Chirino. The lanky Espinoza, at six-foot-one the tallest featherweight world title-holder in history, was making the first defense of the title he won with a shocking upset of Robeisy Ramirez and tonight he looked sensational.

Espinoza, who advanced his record to 25-0 with his 21st KO, had his countryman on the canvas in the very first round, the result of a counter left uppercut. Chirino wasn’t badly hurt, but it quickly became apparent that he was out-gunned. In round three, Espinoza sent him to the canvas again with a four-punch combo climaxed by a short left to the liver, and Chirino would be down once again in the following round, hunched down from a series of punches that caught only air. At this juncture, referee Raul Caiz Jr wisely stepped in and stopped the fight. The official time was 2:45 of round four. Chirino, who came in riding a 13-fight winning streak, declined to 22-2.

Espinoza is expected to have a rematch with Ramirez, provided that Robeisy gets past his Mexican opponent later this month in a match that, on paper, looks like an easy win for the Cuban southpaw. In their first meeting, the unheralded Espinoza was a massive underdog. Based on his showing tonight, he looks no worse than “pick-‘em” in the sequel.

Co-Feature

In a 10-round junior lightweight fight, North Las Vegas native Andres Cortes scored a unanimous decision over former world title challenger Abraham Nova. The scores favored the local fighter by scores of 96-94 and 97-93 twice.

Cortes had the crowd in his corner, but the reaction when the verdict was announced was one of surprise. Nova, who was credited with throwing and landing more punches, was in better condition and seemingly had the best of it in the late rounds. It was the twenty-second win without a loss for Cortes. Nova (23-3), a class act,  was diplomatic in defeat.

Also

In a true crossroads fight (a “pink slip” fight in the words of ESPN commentator Mark Kriegel),Troy Isley, a former Olympian and stablemate of Terence Crawford, out-worked Javier Martinez to win a unanimous 10-round decision. The judges had it 96-92-and 97-91 twice.

The middleweights were well-acquainted, having split four fights at the amateur level. Isley, from Alexandria, VA, improved to 13-0 (5) Martinez, born in Milwaukee to immigrants from Mexico, was 10-0-1 heading in. Both fighters lost a point for low blows after repeated warnings from referee Tony Weeks.

Other Bouts of Note

In an 8-round bantamweight fight that turned zesty after a slow start, Floyd Mayweather Jr protégé Floyd “Cashflow” Diaz improved to 12-0 (3) with a unanimous decision over Tijuana’s Francisco Pedroza (18-12-2). The judges had it 78-73 across the board. Diaz was making his second start under the tutelage of Brian “Bomac” McIntyre. Pedroza lost a point in round six for hitting on the break.

Steven Navarro, a hot prospect from a prominent SoCal boxing family, won his second pro fight with a 6-round shutout over rugged but outclassed Juan Pablo Meza (7-4), a 33-year-old Chilean.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Will Eumir Marcial be the First Filipino Boxer to Win an Olympic Gold Medal?

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Will Eumir Marcial be the First Filipino Boxer to Win an Olympic Gold Medal?

Over the years, some of the world’s best boxers have been Filipino. Long before Manny Pacquiao there was Pancho Villa (Francisco Villaruel Guilledo) who became a national hero at the age of twenty-one when he captured the world flyweight title with a one-sided beat-down of Jimmy Wilde in 1923, knocking the legendary Welshman into retirement. But one thing is missing from the Pinoy boxing catalog, an Olympic gold medal. There have been eight medalists in all, four silver and four bronze, but the coveted gold has proved elusive.

Eumir Marcial came close in Tokyo. He advanced to the semi-finals in the middleweight competition where he lost a razor-thin decision to his Ukrainian opponent. Two of the judges favored him, but that was one short of what was needed.

“It took a long time for me to get over it, but I came to accept that God had a different plan for me,” says Marcial who gets another crack at it next month. He survived the qualifying tournaments and is headed to Paris where he will carry the flag of the Philippines into the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad.

Eumir (you-meer) Marcial grew up in Zamboanga City in the southern region of the archipelago, a two-day trip to Manila by ferry. He was introduced to boxing by his father Eulalio Marcial who besides being a farmer and a jitney driver is also the head coach of the Zamboanga City (amateur) boxing team.

Eulalio’s son is a big wheel in his native habitat, one of the more urbanized areas of the Philippines. This past October, when Eumir returned to Zamboanga City with his silver medal from the Asian Games in China, a motorcade awaited him at the airport and he was whisked to City Hall where he was feted in a ceremony organized by civic leaders.

In Las Vegas, where he was been training for the Olympics, he’s anonymous. No one genuflects when he walks into the DLX Gym in the company of his attractive wife Princess. He’s just another face in the crowd and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Marcial had one pro fight under his belt before the Tokyo Games. In December of 2020, he won a 4-round decision over a 3-1 opponent from Idaho on a card in Los Angeles. Not quite two months before that fight, while training at Freddie Roach’s gym, Marcial, who has two sisters, received the devastating news that his only brother Eliver had died in the Philippines of a sudden heart attack at age 39. Despite the age difference, the two were extremely close.

Marcial has had four more pro fights since then, advancing his record to 5-0 (3 KOs). In two of those fights, he had anxious moments.

In his second pro fight, he was knocked down three times in the first two frames, but gathered his wits about him and stopped his opponent in round four. In his next outing, a 6-rounder on the undercard of a Showtime PPV, he fought through a bad gash over his right eye, the result of an accidental head butt.

“I learned a lot from those fights,” says Marcial, “and they will make me a better Olympian than I was in 2021.”

Marcial spent nearly 10 years in the Philippines Air Force, but as somewhat of a civilian employee, spending little time around aircraft. He attracted a lot of attention after winning the AIBA world junior championship as a 15-year-old bantamweight in Kazakhstan in 2011. The Air Force seized on his growing fame to make him a recruiting specialist.

The word icon is over-used, but not when applied to Manny Pacquiao who overcame abject poverty to become an international superstar. “He was an inspiration to me,” says Marcial who references “PacMan” as Sir Manny or Senator Manny when he speaks about him.

The two would become well-acquainted. Pacquiao co-promoted Marcial’s last pro fight in Manila which was nationally televised in the Philippines and billed as a homecoming for Eumir who hadn’t fought in a Manila ring in five years. (He knocked out his Thai opponent in the fourth round.)

Marcial recalls some advice that Pacquiao gave him: “He said to me, ‘the higher you get, the more humble you should be.’”

Humbleness comes natural to the affable Marcial who is unstinting in his praise of those who have helped him along on his journey. “I would not have gotten through the qualifying tournament for the Paris games if not for my coach Kay Koroma,” he says.

Nowadays, whenever a Filipino boxer appears for a photo-op, Sean Gibbons is certain to be standing close by. Gibbons, who has homes in Las Vegas and the Philippines, has had an amazing ride since the days when he plied the Oklahoma and Midwest circuits, driving hundreds of miles each month to small shows in the sticks, transporting carloads of journeymen boxers with him. “[Sean Gibbons] helps us with accommodations, rental cars, whatever we need, and I am so grateful to him,” says Marcial of the man (pictured above on the left) who wears many hats but is perhaps best described as a facilitator.

Making matters more daunting for Marcial going forward, his weight class was eliminated when the governing body of the Olympics added a new weight category for women, subtracting one from the men. A middleweight (165-pound ceiling) in Tokyo, he will perform as a light heavyweight (176-pound ceiling) in Paris.

Eumir Marcial will return to the pro ranks regardless of what happens in France, but lassoing that elusive Olympic gold medal would likely bring him more joy than anything he may accomplish at the next level.

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