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NEW CHAMP TRAINED TO WIN…Borges

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In the end, as always, the fighter won the fight but in the case of Alexander Povetkin it was the trainer who showed him how.

Not just how to box, which is obviously essential for a prize fighter, but how to be a professional. That’s what won Povetkin the portion of the WBA heavyweight title not owned by Wladimir Klitschko Saturday night in Erfurt, Germany. What won for him was that when he needed to most, he became a Professional.

The former Olympic gold medalist had ample reason not to act like one after he stepped into the ring with former world champion Ruslan Chagaev but Teddy Atlas wouldn’t let him. Until Atlas showed up in Russia three weeks and two days before the fight, Povetkin’s training camp was a shambles. It was also a joke but not a funny one.

He was supposed to have been in northern New Jersey training with Atlas for eight weeks but the people around him didn’t get that done for whatever reason and Atlas had broadcast responsibilities with ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights that made it impossible for him to come to Russia.

This was known by both sides for months but in the end somebody forgot. Or somebody chose to gamble with Povetkin’s future. Whatever they did, they left the fighter and his trainer with 23 days to prepare for a southpaw former champion who, if nothing else, knows who he is.

Povetkin could have used the absence of a full camp, the resultant conditioning issues, Atlas’ late arrival and more than a few other things to provide him with an excuse to lose. He made another choice, which is what life is. Its choices.

Several days before the fight Povetkin was quoted saying, “I could knock him out or he could knock me out.’’ It was not what Atlas wanted to hear – even though anyone who has ever been involved in a heavyweight title fight understood the reality of that statement.

He let Povetkin know it by reminding him as they boarded a plane from Russia to Germany of what he had told him when they first met. Atlas asked Povetkin if he remembered what he’d said was the most important thing he needed to develop if he was going to become a world champion.

“Be a professional,’’ Povetkin said.

“That’s right,’’ Atlas replied. “That’s what you’re going to be Saturday night.’’

The night before the fight Atlas had trouble sleeping, worried about the things trainers worry about but worried about more than that. He too, had ample excuses to give in to defeat. In fact, he had ample excuses not to have even shown up in the first place, having been told one thing by the people around Povetkin while living a far different reality.

For a time it got to him but in the end he did not what a professional does but what a human being does. He was there for his fighter even when the wise choice – the Professional’s choice – would have been to avoid the whole thing. Saturday night Povetkin was the beneficiary of that humanity in a sport where it is in short supply.

Doubt is a common resident of the prize ring. Doubt is there far more often than most fighters will ever admit. It is a natural part of the landscape, a year-round resident of gyms and arenas around the world.

There is an inherent danger in boxing not only of injury and unconsciousness but also of humiliation. To lose a sporting event is one thing. To lose a fight while standing half naked in front of thousands of people is something quite different.

For most fighters it is the potential for embarrassment they fear more than defeat or injury. After all that had gone on in Povetkin’s fractious training camp the door was open for him to give in however and just let that happen.

The morning of the fight Atlas sensed this so when he came down to meet Povetkin in the hotel he said, “You’re ready to be a professional today. Now let’s go become a champion.’’

Alexander Povetkin, who soon would be alone on a stage far bigger than he thought it would be when he was a boy in a small Russian village dreaming of being heavyweight champion, nodded in agreement. He believed he would be a professional because his trainer, who had taught him what that meant, told him he was one.

And unlike a lot of other people in his world, his trainer didn’t lie.

As Atlas sat up all night he came to a decision. He had a well thought out game plan of how to beat Chagaev, who was himself a Professional Atlas respected. But he decided sometime in the middle of the night he would make a slight shift.

“They don’t think Sasha is a boxer,’’ Atlas said to himself. “So tomorrow we box this guy.’’

It was not a total departure from the plan, just a minor alteration. So he told Povetkin instead of starting slowly, as he so often had in the past, he would put something on Chagaev early so that he would be wary of seeing that again later. Then he would box from the outside, slipping punches, pot-shoting Chagaev, “keeping behind him.’’

“I never told one of my fighters to do that before,’’ Atlas recalled later, after Povetkin’s hand had been raised following a unanimous decision that was not particularly close. “I wanted Chagaev to have to chase Sasha.’’

He did with little success. Yet around the sixth round Povetkin, perhaps the doubts about his conditioning whispering in his ear, began to flag a bit. He seemed to slow down and Chagaev sensed it. It was then that the two years spent with Atlas in gyms around New Jersey, often just the two of them working alone on small details, showed.

Even Povetkin’s German promoters, who have been highly critical of Atlas much of the time because he wouldn’t continence what he believed were unwise choices, conceded that during that sixth round they saw something from Povetkin they had never seen before.

He was slipping punches, making Chagaev miss, turning defense into offense and then getting back to a safe distance. He was a boxer but he had become more than that. He was a Professional now, a fighter refusing to give in to doubt or to take the open road of easy escape in excuses for defeat.

In any walk of life there is no higher praise for a man than to hear, “He’s a professional.’’ Saturday night Povetkin was just that. He was what Atlas has long been. Because of it what Atlas promised him that first day was delivered. The Professional became The Champion.

Standing behind him, a smile on his face for the first time in months, stood another professional, a trainer of prize fighters who trains not just the body but the mind.

Whether he’ll ever stand there again who knows? Atlas has been forced to deal with many unnecessarily difficult circumstances in the two years he has worked with Povetkin. They were not of the fighter’s making but they were the kind of difficulties and deceits that caused Atlas to walk away from training and into a broadcast booth, where he is one of boxing’s best and most controversial analysts because he does there what he did with Povetkin, years ago.

Atlas tells you the truth, even when you don’t want to hear it. Because he did he made Povetkin a Professional and The Professional made Atlas the trainer of his second heavyweight champion. Fair trade.

In the end, Alexander Povetkin had to block out the doubts, listen to Atlas’ instructions and execute the plan. No trainer wins without that. But the fighter didn’t win alone either.

Not by a long shot.

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In a Massive Upset, Dakota Linger TKOs Kurt Scoby on a Friday Night in Atlanta

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Although it was an 8-rounder on a show with two “tens,” Kurt Scoby’s match with Dakota Linger was accorded main event status on tonight’s card at the Overtime Elite Arena in Atlanta. This had everything to do with Scoby (pronounced Scooby), a former record-setting college running back who was considered one of the brightest prospects in the 140-pound weight class. “[Scoby] works harder than almost anyone I’ve ever seen,” said veteran New York promoter Lou DIBella in a conversation with Keith Idec. “But he’s literally getting better after every fight and he’s got the hammer of Thor, man. He can punch through walls.”

The Duarte, California product who has relocated to Brooklyn and trains at Gleason’s Gym, was undefeated (13-0) heading in and was expected to make Linger his ninth straight knockout victim. But Linger, a 29-year-old Buckhannon, West Virginia policemen whose first ring engagements were in Toughman competitions, wasn’t intimidated by Scoby’s press clippings or by Scoby’s bodybuilder physique.

Linger, who improved to 14-6-3 with his tenth win inside the distance, took the fight right to Scoby and repeatedly found a home for his overhand right. In the sixth round, after Linger strafed the ever-retreating Scoby with a barrage of punches, referee Malik Walid determined that he had seen enough and waived it off. The decision seemed a tad premature, but neither Scoby nor his cornermen offered anything in the way of a protest.

Tournament results

In the first installment of an 8-man super welterweight tournament, Brandon Adams returned to boxing after his second three-year layoff and showed no ring rust whatsoever. Adams, a 34-year-old family-man who grew up in the Watts district of LA, dismissed Ismael Villareal with a wicked punch to the liver in the waning seconds of round three. The official time was 2:59.

A former wold title challenger, Adams who improved to 23-3 (16 KOs), has become the king of boxing tournaments. He first attracted notice in 2018 when he won the fifth edition of “The Contender” series, scoring a wide 10-round decision over Shane Mosley Jr in the championship round.

Villareal, a second-generation prizefighter from the Bronx whose dad fought the likes of Hector Camacho, declined to 13-3.

Adams next opponent will be Francisco Veron who will bring a record of 14-0-1 (10).

In an energetic 10-rounder, Veron, a Florida-based Argentine with a strong amateur pedigree, scored a unanimous decision over Mexico-born, LA southpaw Angel Ruiz (18-3-1). The judges had it 100-90, 99-91, and 96-94.

Ruiz certainly had his moments, but Veron launched and landed many more punches despite fighting the last six rounds with a damaged eye.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 281: The Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia Show

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Over the years bouts between old foes such as Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia tend to be surprising.

Yes, both are only 25 but have known each other for many years.

When undisputed super lightweight champion Haney (31-0, 15 KOs) steps into the prize ring at Barclays Center to meet challenger Garcia (24-1, 20 KOs) on Saturday, April 20, fans will be witnessing the continuation of a feud that began more than a decade ago.

And though the champion is a heavy favorite, familiarity is Garcia’s best weapon heading into their fight on the Golden Boy Promotions card that will be shown on PPV.COM with Jim Lampley and friends. DAZN pay-per-view is also streaming the card.

In many ways Haney and Garcia have ventured down the same path. From amateur sensations to fighting in Mexico while teens to asking for the biggest challenges available.

“Whichever version of Ryan shows up on April 20, I will be ready for him. Ryan Garcia is just another opponent to me,” said Haney who holds the WBC super lightweight title after his win over Regis Prograis.

The first time I saw Haney as a pro he battled the dangerous Mexican contender Juan Carlos Burgos at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula. It was an impressive performance against a fighter who fought three times for a world title.

Haney was 19 at the time.

My first look at Garcia as a pro was in his first bout in the U.S. when he met Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Cruz at the Exchange in downtown Los Angeles. The Boricua looked at Garcia and tried intimidating him with stares, taunts and the usual patter. During the fight both swung and missed until the second round when Garcia zeroed in and took him out.

Garcia had just turned 18, the legal age to fight in California.

Both fighters did not have the Olympics credentials that lead to fame. But their talent has allowed them to fight through the dense smoke that is professional boxing.

Haney has defeated numerous world champions such as Prograis, Vasyl Lomachenko and George Kambosos Jr., while Garcia has stopped champions Javier Fortuna and Luke Campbell.

As amateurs, Garcia and Haney battled six times with each winning three.

“They know each other very well,” said Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions. “Ryan is going to beat Devin Haney.”

Haney has a buttery-smooth style with one of the best jabs in boxing. He’s very adept at keeping distance and not allowing anyone to fight him inside. His reflexes are outstanding, yet he seldom fights inside. That’s his weakness.

Garcia fights tall and has superb hand speed and a lightning quick left hook. Though his defense lacks tightness his ability to rip off three-punch combinations in a blink of an eye pauses opponents from bullying their way inside.

“These guys always just look at me and look at me like I don’t know how to box,” said Garcia on social media. “Why was I one of the best fighters in the amateurs. Why was I a 15-time National champion…why did I beat everyone I came across.”

Haney is a strong favorite by oddsmakers to defeat Garcia. But you can never tell when it comes to fighters that know each other well and are athletically gifted.

When Sergio Mora challenged Vernon Forrest he was a big underdog. When Tim Bradley fought Manny Pacquiao the first time, he was also the underdog. And when Andy Ruiz met Anthony Joshua few gave him a chance.

Haney and Garcia have history in the ring. It should be an interesting battle.

PPV.COM

Jim Lampley will be leading the broadcast on PPV.COM for the Haney-Garcia card at Barclays and texting with fans on the card live. He will be accompanied by journalists Lance Pugmire, Dan Conobbio and former champion Chris Algieri.

The PPV.COM broadcast begins at 5 p.m. PT. and is available in Canada and the USA.

Other News

MMA stars Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal will be holding a media day event on Friday, April 19, at NOVO at L.A. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Diaz and Masvidal will be boxing against each other in a grudge match on June 1 at the KIA Forum in Inglewood, Calif. The two MMA stars met five years at UFC 244 with Masvidal winning by TKO over Diaz due to cuts.

This is a grudge match, but under boxing rules.

Fight card in Commerce, Calif.

360 Promotions returns to Commerce Casino on Saturday April 20 with undefeated super lightweight Cain Sandoval leading the charge.

Sandoval (12-0) faces Angel Rebollar (8-3) in the main event that will be shown live on UFC Fight Pass. Also on the card are two female events including hot prospect Lupe Medina (5-0) versus Sabrina Persona (3-1) in a minimumweight clash.

Doors open at 4 p.m.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round

There were few surprises when co-promoters Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren and their benefactor HE Turki Alalshikh held a press conference in London this past Monday to unveil the undercard for the Beterbiev-Bivol show at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 1. Most of the match-ups had already been leaked.

For die-hard boxing fans, Beterbiev-Bivol is such an enticing fight that it really doesn’t need an attractive undercard. Two undefeated light heavyweights will meet with all four relevant belts on the line in a contest where the oddsmakers straddled the fence. It’s a genuine “pick-‘em” fight based on the only barometer that matters, the prevailing odds.

But Beterbiev-Bivol has been noosed to a splendid undercard, a striking contrast to Saturday’s Haney-Garcia $69.99 (U.S.) pay-per-view in Brooklyn, an event where the undercard, in the words of pseudonymous boxing writer Chris Williams, is an absolute dumpster fire.

The two heavyweight fights that will bleed into Beterbiev-Bivol, Hrgovic vs. Dubois and Wilder vs. Zhang, would have been stand-alone main events before the incursion of Saudi money.

Hrgovic-Dubois

Filip Hrgovic (17-0, 13 KOs) and Daniel Dubois (20-2, 19 KOs) fought on the same card in Riyadh this past December. Hrgovic, the Croatian, was fed a softie in the form of Australia’s Mark De Mori who he dismissed in the opening round. Dubois, a Londoner, rebounded from his loss to Oleksandr Usyk with a 10th-round stoppage of corpulent Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller.

There’s an outside chance that Hrgovic vs. Dubois may be sanctioned by the IBF for the world heavyweight title.

The May 18 showdown between Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury has a rematch clause. The IBF is next in line in the rotation system for a unified heavyweight champion and the organization has made it plain that the winner of Usyk-Fury must fulfill his IBF mandatory before an intervening bout.

The best guess is that the Usyk-Fury winner will relinquish the IBF belt. If so, Hrgovic and Dubois may fight for the vacant title although a more likely scenario is that the organization will keep the title vacant so that the winner can fight Anthony Joshua.

Wilder-Zhang

The match between Deontay Wilder (43-3-1, 42 KOs) and Zhilei Zhang (26-2-1, 21 KOs) is a true crossroads fight as both Wilder, 38, and Zhang, who turns 41 in May, are nearing the end of the road and the loser (unless it’s a close and entertaining fight) will be relegated to the rank of a has-been. In fact, Wilder has hinted that this may be his final rodeo.

Both are coming off a loss to Joseph Parker.

Wilder last fought on the card that included Hrgovic and Dubois and was roundly out-pointed by a man he was expected to beat. It’s a quick turnaround for Zhang who opposed Parker on March 8 and lost a majority decision.

Other Fights

Either of two other fights may steal the show on the June 1 event.

Raymond Ford (15-0-1, 8 KOs) meets Nick Ball (19-0-1, 11 KOs) in a 12-round featherweight contest. New Jersey’s Ford will be defending the WBA world title he won with a come-from-behind, 12th-round stoppage of Otabek Kholmatov in an early contender for Fight of the Year. Liverpool’s “Wrecking” Ball, a relentless five-foot-two sparkplug, had to settle for a draw in his title fight with Rey Vargas despite winning the late rounds and scoring two knockdowns.

Hamzah Sheeraz (19-0, 15 KOs) meets fellow unbeaten Austin “Ammo” Williams (16-0, 11 KOs) in a 12-round middleweight match. East London’s Sheeraz, the son of a former professional cricket player, is unknown in the U.S. although he trained for his recent fights at the Ten Goose Boxing Gym in California. Riding a skein of 13 straight knockouts, he has a date with WBO title-holder Janibek Alimkhanuly if he can get over this hurdle.

The Forgotten Heavyweight

“Unbeaten for seven years, the man nobody wants to fight,” intoned ring announcer Michael Buffer by way of introduction. Buffer was referencing Michael Hunter who stood across the ring from his opponent Artem Suslenkov.

This scene played out this past Saturday in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. It was Hunter’s second fight in three weeks. On March 23, he scored a fifth-round stoppage of a 46-year-old meatball at a show in Zapopan, Mexico.

The second-generation “Bounty Hunter,” whose only defeat prior to last weekend came in a 12-rounder with Oleksandr Usyk, has been spinning his wheels since TKOing the otherwise undefeated Martin Bakole on the road in London in 2018. Two fights against hapless opponents on low-budget cards in Mexico and a couple of one-round bouts for the Las Vegas Hustle, an entry in the fledgling and largely invisible Professional Combat League, are the sum total of his activity, aside from sparring, in the last two-and-a-half years.

Hunter’s chances of getting another big-money fight took a tumble in Tashkent where he lost a unanimous decision in a dull affair to the unexceptional Suslenkov who was appearing in his first 10-round fight. The scores of the judges were not announced.

You won’t find this fight listed on boxrec. As Jake Donovan notes, the popular website will not recognize a fight conducted under the auspices of a rogue commission. (Another fight you won’t find on boxrec for the same reason is Nico Ali Walsh’s 6-round split decision over the 9-2-1 Frenchman, Noel Lafargue, in the African nation of Guinea on Dec. 16, 2023. You can find it on YouTube, but according to boxrec, boxing’s official record-keeper, it never happened.)

Anderson-Merhy Redux

The only thing missing from this past Saturday’s match in Corpus Christi, Texas, between Jared Anderson and Ryad Merhy was the ghost of Robert Valsberg.

Valsberg, aka Roger Vaisburg, was the French referee who disqualified Ingemar Johansson for not trying in his match with LA’s Ed Sanders in the finals of the heavyweight competition at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Valsberg tossed Johansson out of the ring after two rounds and Johansson was denied the silver medal. The Swede redeemed himself after turning pro, needless to say, when he demolished Floyd Patterson in the first of their three meetings.

Merhy was credited with throwing only 144 punches, landing 34, over the course of the 10 rounds. Those dismal figures yet struck many onlookers as too high. (This reporter has always insisted that the widely-quoted CompuBox numbers should be considered approximations.)

Whatever the true number, it was a disgraceful performance by Merhy who actually showed himself to have very fast hands on the few occasions when he did throw a punch. With apologies to Delfine Persoon, a spunky lightweight, U.S. boxing promoters should think twice before inviting another Belgian boxer to our shores.

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