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Five Questions That Will Be Answered Saturday Night…NGUYEN

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Saturday night’s welterweight superfight between Floyd Mayweather and Victor Ortiz has everything a prizefight could ask for:  high stakes, innumerable subplots, and rivetingly compelling combatants.  Appropriately dubbed Star Power, Mayweather vs. Ortiz will display the past, present, and, potentially, the future of the sport.

Among the many intriguing aspects of the fight are the numerous questions that surround both fighters.  Answers will become perfectly clear after the opening bell, but five of the most pressing questions surrounding Saturday’s battle are posed here.

#1.  Does Ortiz have it in him to be more than just “good”?
Every fighter has a moment of truth, when the point is made clear where he belongs in the thereafter of boxing lore.  In the opinion of many, Victor Ortiz already had his trial by fire and failed miserably.  His meltdown and subsequent white-flag surrender to Marcos Maidana provided all the information that hardened fight fans needed to know.  The diagnostic test was run, and the prognosis was negative for Victor Ortiz.

However, many fight fans were left reconsidering if their verdicts regarding Victor Ortiz were made too hastily after his gutsy performance against the heavily-favored and undefeated Andre Berto.  In a fight that exposed plenty of vulnerabilities for “Vicious Victor,” the 24-year old Kansas native showed an impressive ability to compensate for his deficiencies with vast reserves of determination and heart.  Had he demonstrated the same gritty resolve against Maidana, the boxing world would probably be looking at this weekend’s matchup through very different lenses.

To say that Victor Ortiz completely restored himself with the win over Berto might be a bit rash; it might be more accurate to say that the Berto win made him relevant again instead of a written-off afterthought.  Case in point, he hit the “Money” Mayweather jackpot.  For Ortiz, though, this fight is about more than a payday.  Or, at least, it should be.

Ortiz currently finds himself in what could be categorized as the realm of “good” fighters.  He’s clearly world class, and would likely beat any welterweight on the scene not named Pacquiao or Mayweather.  The question is whether he can elevate himself beyond “good” to “great.”  It’s a jump that only a select few fighters in each generation are capable of making, and it’s a move that Victor Ortiz has the opportunity to make this Saturday.

Floyd Mayweather is a heckuva litmus test for evaluating a fighter’s greatness, but, like it or not, Victor Ortiz must face up to it.  Can Ortiz achieve greatness later down the line if he loses Saturday?  Perhaps.  But it’s improbable that the jury of his peers will give him more opportunities to prove himself beyond this.

#2.  How will Floyd Mayweather respond to fighting the first prime, young welterweight he’s ever faced?
Many fans and fightwriters alike mistakenly believe that all the questions about Saturday’s throwdown are hovering around Victor Ortiz.  Certainly, most of them are, but “Money” has to change some interrogatives into declaratives as well.

One of the biggest questions is how he will react to facing a young, hungry, primed, and powerful welterweight for the first time.  Though he’s been brilliant since moving to 147 pounds in 2005, a close look at Floyd’s resume reveals some shaky credibility when it comes to opposition.  Since settling into the welterweight division, Mayweather has faced a couple blown-up lightweights and junior welterweights (Mitchell, Hatton, and Marquez), extremely limited welterweights (Baldomir), and a couple golden oldies (De La Hoya and Mosley).  The closest to being a primed welterweight opponent for Mayweather during that stretch was Zab Judah.  Even then, Judah was coming off a loss to the aforementioned Baldomir, and it was at a time of Judah’s career when his focus and mental edge were coming apart at the seams.  That the fight happened at all was more about boxing business than deciding welterweight supremacy.

On Saturday night, Floyd will be in his most dangerous fight in years, possibly since his closely contested bouts with Jose Luis Castillo in 2002.  The difference here?  Ortiz is bigger, stronger, and younger than Castillo was, and Mayweather is nine years older than he was back then.  Can Floyd continue to make the skill differential more relevant than his disadvantages in size, strength, and youth?  Can Floyd match the hunger of a young lion like Ortiz if it comes down to it?

Don’t believe the Vegas odds.  There is definite drama and competitive suspense here.

#3.  How will the big stage affect Victor Ortiz?
Victor Ortiz will find himself in a strange and new situation on Saturday night.  He may think that he is ready for it.  He may believe that it will not impact him.  He may have convinced himself that it will be just like any other fight.

If so, he is wrong.

What he experiences on Saturday night will be unlike anything he’s experienced in his career or, for that matter, his life.  His every move will be scrutinized, the spotlight will be unrelenting, and the pressure will be suffocating.  Along with all this, he will be facing the greatest pure boxer of this generation.

The question is not if Ortiz will be impacted by the big stage, but how he will be impacted.  Ortiz has already shown indications that the added attention is flustering him.  He stated in frustration that his press conference responses were essentially scripted by his brain trust at Golden Boy.  He has expressed his distaste for the media as well as how it characterized him after the Maidana fight, a topic that still seems to irk Ortiz.  Hopefully, he can channel those stressors into additional motivation; the great ones always find a way.

For the rarest of fighters, Mayweather among them, the world stage is an opportunity for them to rise to another level.  Consider some of Mayweather’s best performances:  Corrales, Gatti, Hatton, Mosley.  For each of these fights, he faced increasingly heightened expectations due to his growing public profile.  Instead of freezing up in these situations, Mayweather reveled in them.  The spotlight elevates his game to a different stratosphere, which is one of the countless reasons why Mayweather is in a different league than almost any athlete on the planet.

Under the glaring hot lights of the public eye, fighters invariably take one of two routes:  they either wilt or flourish.  The hype around Ortiz for most of his career made this moment a near inevitability.  Golden Boy Promotions openly touted him as the future face of boxing.  Ortiz has taken the scenic route, complete with unexpected detours, to get to this point.  His chance has finally arrived.  The question, now, is what will he do with it?

#4.  Did the trouble Mayweather was in against Mosley indicate increased vulnerability?
Let’s face it.  There is only one undefeated, undisputed champ in boxing:  Father Time.  He gets the best of everyone eventually (although Bernard Hopkins is proving to be a frustrating foe).

This includes the great Floyd Mayweather.  At 34 years of age, Mayweather is almost certainly past his best physical years, although it is definitely premature to say that he is on the slide.  The great ones can usually fight on past their physical peaks, drawing more on guile and craft than the athletic gifts of their youth.  Mayweather’s game relies on timing and rhythm, things that typically don’t escape a veteran, so his transition into this stage of his career has been quite smooth.

It is perhaps too early, then, to use the phrase “vulnerable” in reference to Mayweather, but some point to his last fight with Shane Mosley as an indication that the inevitable erosion of the Mayweather empire could already have begun.  In the second round of his lopsided decision win over Mosley, two monstrous right hands connected by Mosley that left Mayweather doing the chicken dance.  It took some holding, grappling, and scattered spurts of fighting for Mayweather to get through possibly the most perilous round of his career.

Granted, all’s well that ends well, and Mayweather went on to dominate Mosley in routinely prodigious fashion, which is what most have rightly chosen to remember.  The fact remains, however, that Mayweather was in serious trouble against Mosley, even if only for a few brief moments.  Ortiz supporters point to those moments as the strongest case for an upset.  The logic is that if a faded, gunshy Mosley can penetrate Mayweather’s Fort Knox defense, then the young, ferocious Ortiz should be able to blast through with devastating results.

If, hypothetically, Mayweather is in the beginning stages of a downward slide, he sure isn’t helping himself with inactivity.  Consider that in the past 45 months, Floyd Mayweather has fought just twice.   Though he looked excellent in those showings, conventional wisdom is that layoffs and advanced age do not a sharp fighter make.

So, does the logic add up to an upset?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But an Ortiz victory would be far from the most surprising outcome in the history of the sport.

#5.  Can Victor Ortiz hold it together mentally to pull off the upset?
This is the question that must have even the staunchest of Ortiz supporters losing sleep.  In his most difficult moments, Ortiz has panicked under pressure.

In the fight with Marcos Maidana, Ortiz looked like a phenomenon when he dropped Maidana for the first time in the opening round.  Then, just as suddenly, Maidana cracked Ortiz with a right hand that sent him crashing to the deck.  The fight changed from that moment on.  Even though Ortiz managed to floor Maidana two more times and fought effectively, there was a palpable sense that it was Ortiz who was fighting with greater urgency.  Ortiz seemed to know that if he didn’t get rid of Maidana quickly, he would be in serious trouble.  It appeared that Maidana could sense it as well.

It turned out that they were both correct.

By the fifth round, Ortiz was unraveling, and one round later, the outcome was all but a given.  It’s rare to witness such an utter and complete implosion, but within the rubble left behind were the remains of Ortiz’ career and reputation.

In what many believe was his moment of vindication against Andre Berto, Ortiz indeed fought bravely, but also showed the same dangerous tendency to come undone in the midst of struggle.  After dominating the first five rounds, a slightly-winded Ortiz allowed Berto to dictate the pace to start the sixth round.  A sharp turn of the tide ensued, and Ortiz soon found himself on the canvas courtesy of a huge right hand from Berto.  A follow-up assault revealed that Ortiz was nearly out on his feet, and a stoppage seemed imminent until Ortiz landed a miraculous left hand that dumped Berto on the seat of his pants.

There’s obviously no way to know, but what would have happened if Ortiz didn’t manage to land a huge left of his own to stem the surging Berto tide at the end of the sixth round?  Would he have continued to fall apart in a replay of his Maidana defeat?  Watch that sixth round again and stop it prior to his knockdown of Berto, and use your boxing senses to predict what would probably have happened next.

Not a pretty thought, huh?

The good news for Ortiz is that he doesn’t figure to experience the same type of pressure-cooker slugfest against the contact-conscious Mayweather, but he will probably encounter the most frustrating experience of his boxing life.  How will he handle swinging at shadows as Mayweather slips and slides away from his punches?  How will be react to taking pinpoint counterpunches straight in the mush when “Money” makes him miss?  Will he stick to the gameplan, or will he resort to the same temperament that cost him so dearly in the past?  Or can he calm himself and continue to press on in spite of difficulty?

Mayweather has managed to make Hall-of-Fame-caliber fighters look foolish and hesitant in their frustrations.  The pattern for most Mayweather fights is that he asserts his dominance in greater measure as the bouts progress and his opponents get more and more hopelessly confused.  Unfortunately for supporters of Ortiz, he is known as a fighter who tends to fade and get less effective as the rounds go on.

For Ortiz’ training camp, the need for mental preparation almost seems more important than the physical.  His physical tools are far readier for Mayweather than his psyche seems to be.   It’s possible that the win over Berto exorcised the demons that haunted Ortiz.  He needs to hope that it did.


Conclusion

Boxing is a sport in which too few questions ever get definitive answers.  However, should Saturday night’s fight provide any truly conclusive result, each of these questions should also be resolved, settled by means only a prizefight can provide.  Regardless of the outcome, here’s to hoping that the actual fight between Mayweather and Ortiz manages to surpass the considerable rhetoric and hype.  If it does, we’re in for something spectacular.

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South African Trailblazer Peter Mathebula Dead at Age 67

Arne K. Lang

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Peter Mathebula wasn’t a great fighter. He suffered nine losses during his 45-bout career. He was stopped five times. But Mathebula, who died yesterday (Jan. 18) at age 67, was a historically important fighter. He was the first black South African to win a world title. He was the first South African boxer of any color to win a world title on foreign soil. His predecessors, bantamweights Vic Toweel and Arnold Taylor, won their titles in Johannesburg. Mathebula won his in Los Angeles.

Mathebula took the WBA flyweight title on a split decision from Korea’s Tae-Shik Kim on Dec. 12, 1980 at LA’s Olympic Auditorium. The fight was originally headed to Seoul but Mathebula was denied a visa.

In those days, South Korea barred tourists from South Africa as a protest against that country’s policy of apartheid. Mathebula was a victim of apartheid, but that made no difference as the ban was a blanket ban, covering all South Africans, regardless of color.

Olympic Auditorium matchmaker Don Fraser acquired the orphanded fight. Southern California had a large Korean population and Fraser thought the fight would go over big with this demographic.

The fabled Olympic Auditorium was noted for raucous SRO crowds. But not on this particular night. The crowd was overwhelmingly Korean-American, but there weren’t more than 3,000 in attendance. Kim vs. Mathebula didn’t resonate with the Olympic Auditorium regulars.

The fight was very close but most thought the decision was fair. The Korean started fast, wrote LA Times ringside reporter Mark Heisler, but Mathebula fought his way back into the fight in the middle rounds and won the 14th and 15th stanzas on his card, sufficient he thought to secure the win.

The victory made Mathebula a big star in South Africa. His purse for the fight with Tae-Shik Kim was only $7,500 (approximately $23,500 in today’s dollars) but he made up for it in endorsements. His appeared in ads for automobiles, Old Buck Gin, Bostonian shoes and a line of splashy clothes according to Joseph Lelyveld, the New York Times man on the scene.

Mathebula’s celebrityhood crossed racial lines. Newspapers that took little cognizance of goings-on in the black community showered Mathebula with a copious amount of ink. When he defended his title against Argentina’s Santos Laciar, it was front page news in white and black newspapers.

Mathebula opposed Laciar a mere 13 weeks after winning his title in Los Angeles. The match was held in Soweto’s Orlando Stadium, a facility built to house the Pirates, Soweto’s all-black soccer team. Three years earlier, South Africa had legalized interracial sporting events but few whites dared venture into Soweto which was ground zero for anti-apartheid demonstrations.

Despite the great esteem in which Mathebula was held, the fight wasn’t a sellout. A local black nationalist organization launched a campaign to boycott the fight on the grounds that the government, which paid to set up Mathebula in a fancy hotel and paid for his motorcades, was using international mixed-race sporting events as a propaganda tool, an early illustration of what has come to be called “sportswashing.”

Peter Mathebula couldn’t catch a break and that may have impacted his performance against the Argentine. It was woeful. Laciar knocked him down in the fifth and then bull-rushed him out of the ring (the ref called it a push) and the bout was stopped in the eighth with Mathebula complaining that his vision was compromised.

Before the year was out, Mathebula lost twice more. Fighting on hostile turf in Venezuela, he was stopped twice by Betulio Gonzalez, first in the 10th and then in the sixth. A three-time world title-holder, Gonzalez had a great career but he was approaching his 32nd birthday, old for a flyweight, and his best days were behind him.

In the span of less than 10 full months, Peter Mathebula went from the penthouse to the proverbial outhouse, but with the passage of time his people remembered his historic achievement in Los Angeles and pretty much forgot the slew of disappointments that quickly followed. The word “legend” suffuses reports of his death in South African papers.

Mathebula reportedly had multiple health issues and spent the last three weeks of his life in Leratong Hospital in the province of Gauteng, not far from the all-black township where he was born. May he rest in rest in peace.

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Ringside in Verona: Alvarez Capsizes Seals Plus Undercard Results

Matt Andrzejewski

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VERONA, NY — The main event of an ESPN televised card at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY between light heavyweight contenders Eleider Alvarez (25-1, 13 KO’s) and Michael Seals (24-3, 18 KO’s) started with a whimper but ended with a bang. After six-plus rounds of lackadaisical action, Alvarez scored a stunning sensational one punch knockout just before the end of the seventh round of their scheduled ten round fight.

The first three rounds saw more clinches than punches landed. Seals seemed to be looking to land one perfect punch and in doing so barely unleashed any punches. Alvarez, for his part, was not very active in these rounds but certainly moved his hands more and landed more than Seals.

In round four, Seals came out much more aggressive and had his best round of the fight. But in the fifth, Seals went back to looking for that one punch and Alvarez took back control of the action. Toward the end of the round, Alvarez staggered Seals with a right hand.

Alvarez continued to be in control of the fight in rounds six and seven by simply moving his hands more. And then towards the end of round seven, Alvarez connected with a picture perfect overhand right that sent Seals crashing to the canvas. Referee Danny Schiavone did not reach a full 10-count before waiving the fight off.

For Alvarez, this was a big bounce-back win after his loss to Sergey Kovalev in their light heavyweight title rematch last February. With the light heavyweight division flush with talent, it seems Alvarez is in prime position to get a big opportunity his next time out.

In the co-feature, lightweight contender Felix Verdejo (26-1, 16 KO’s) put on a workmanlike effort in winning a wide ten round unanimous decision against Manuel Rey Rojas (18-4, 5 KO’s). While Verdejo was in complete control of the contest from the opening bell, the performance certainly lacked sizzle and may raise even more questions on the potential of the once can’t-miss prospect.

Verdejo utilized a very patient approach throughout the night working behind the left jab. While the jab was effective, Verdejo only occasionally looked to unleash power punches behind that jab. Reyes, for his part, played mostly defense keeping a very tight guard and looking to selectively counter Verdejo’s jab.

Verdejo’s defense, which had been criticized in the past, looked better but still showed some leaks. In the fifth round, Reyes landed a sharp right hand flush on the jaw of Verdejo that seemed to momentarily get Verdejo’s attention. And in the ninth, Reyes landed a hard right that snapped Verdejo’s head back. If Reyes could punch harder, either of those two rights may have altered the course of the fight.

But aside from those brief moments from Reyes, Verdejo dictated all the action. He easily out-worked and out-landed the mostly defensive minded Reyes. In the end it is a win for Verdejo and he can proceed forward towards what he hopes will be an eventual title shot in the lightweight division.

In a bizarre heavyweight fight between two former 2004 Olympians, Devin Vargas (22-6, 9 KO’s) was awarded a disqualification victory in the eighth and final round against Victor Bisbal (23-5, 17 KO’s). Bisbal scored a knockdown in round two with a left hook but was deducted two points in round four for various infractions.  Aside from the knockdown round, Vargas seemed to out-hustle and out-land Bisbal. Ahead on all three scorecards (67-63 twice and 66 -64) entering the final round, Vargas absorbed a low blow from Bisbal. At this point, referee Michael Ortega decided to disqualify Bisbal.

Abraham Nova (18-0, 14 KO’s) scored a one-sided fourth-round TKO of tough veteran Pedro Navarette (30-25-3, 19 KO’s) in a lightweight contest that was scheduled for eight rounds. Nova scored knockdowns in rounds two, three and four before the fight was waived off.

Knockout out artist Jonathan Guzman (24-1, 23 KO’s) rose from the canvas to score a fourth-round knockout of Rodolfo Hernandez (30-10-1, 28 KO’s) in a 122-pound slugfest. The heavily favored Guzman scored two knockdowns with body shots in the opening stanza and appeared on his way to an easy win. But Hernandez flipped the script in round three with a hard right hand just before the bell sounded that put Guzman on the canvas and nearly out. The two went toe to toe in the fourth when a vicious left hook to the body from Guzman put Hernandez down and this time out for good.

In a battle of former world title challengers, Freddie Roach trained Christopher Diaz (25-2, 16 KO’s) scored a wide eight round unanimous against Adeilson Dos Santos (19-8, 15 KO’s) in a featherweight contest. Diaz dominated the fight from the opening bell and hurt Dos Santos on a few occasions but ultimately had to settle for the decision victory.

The opening fight of the night saw heavyweight prospect Jared Anderson (3-0, 3 KO’s) easily dispatch Andrew Satterfield (5-4, 3 KO’s) in the first round of their scheduled four round fight. Anderson scored two knockdowns in what was a dominant performance.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Fast Results from Philadelphia: Rosario TKOs ‘J-Rock’ in a Shocker

Arne K. Lang

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Born and bred in Philadelphia, Julian “J-Rock” Williams had fought only twice in his hometown prior to this evening, most recently back in 2011 when he was still a 6-round fighter. Tonight he topped the marquee, defending his WBA/IBF super welterweight titles at the 10,000-seat Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University.

A successful homecoming for Williams, who was making the first defense of the titles he won last May with a hard but well-deserved unanimous decision over Jarrett Hurd, seemed like a foregone conclusion, but in a shocker Jeison Rosario of the Dominican Republic spoiled the soup, taking away Williams’ titles with a fifth round stoppage.

It was a mammoth upset.

In round two, Rosario (20-1-1, 14 KOs) caught Williams with a punch that left a cut over his left eyelid. In the fifth, the challenger, ahead on the scorecards after a slow start, stunned “J-Rock” with a volley of punches starting with a hard right hand and then, after Williams lost his balance, followed up with several hard punches, notably a wicked uppercut that left Williams (27-2-1) all at sea. The stoppage by referee Benjy Estevez met with the disapproval of the pro-Williams crowd, but it was clearly the right call. The official time was 1:17 of round five.

After the fight, Williams indicated that there was a rematch clause in the contract that he intends to activate.

Co-Feature

In a fight billed for the WBA interim super featherweight title, Brooklyn’s Chris Colbert (14-0, 5 KOs) stepped up in class and won a clear-cut 12-round decision over Panamanian southpaw Jezreel Corrales (23-4), a former WBA 130-pound title-holder. The cat-quick Colbert, 23, scored the bout’s lone knockdown, sending Corrales to the canvas in the 10th round with a short overhand right. The scores were 116-111 and 117-110 twice.

Kiddie Corps

In a humdrum fight slated for six rounds, 19-year-old super welterweight Joey Spencer (who is rapidly out-growing the division), won every round against Erik Spring, a 35-year-old champion kickboxer from Reading, PA. Spencer, whose style and body type has drawn comparisons to a young Canelo Alvarez, didn’t fight with his usual aggression, but advanced his record to 10-0. A southpaw, Spring (13-4-2) brought little to the table but maintained his distinction of having never been stopped.

In a four-round welterweight match, 17-year-old high school senior Vito “White Magic” Mielnicki Jr advanced to 4-0 but was extended the distance for the first time by overmatched but brave Preston Wilson (6-4-1), a boxer from Parkersburg, W. Va. In his first three pro fights, Mielnicki had answered the bell for only four rounds.

Also

In a super welterweight contest slated for 10 rounds, Mexican veteran Jorge Cota (30-4, 17 KOs) had too much firepower for Thomas “Cornflake” LaManna. There were no knockdowns, but LaManna ate a lot of leather before the referee intervened at 1:22 of the fifth. The crowd thought the stoppage was premature, but it met with the approval of LaManna’s cornermen.

In an all-Philadelphia affair between super welterweights, Paul Kroll (7-0, 6 KOs) scored a fourth-round stoppage of Marcel Rivers. (7-3). Kroll knocked Rivers down in the third and twice more in the fourth, but Rivers was on his feet when the referee thought it prudent to call it off. Kroll, 25, made the 2016 U.S. Olympic team but was eliminated at an international qualifying tournament and the U.S. competed in Rio without a representative in his weight class.

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Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp / TGB Promotions

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