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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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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

The Gervais Auto Center in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada, roughly 100 miles south of Montreal, hosted tonight’s card on ESPN+, a co-promotion of Camille Estephan’s Eye of the Tiger Promotions and Bob Arum’s Top Rank. Arum wasn’t there; he was in Leeds, England, but the outcome would have mitigated his aggravation at seeing his fighter Josh Taylor fall short earlier in the day.

Super middleweight Christian Mbilli, of whom Arum owns a piece, needed only 40 seconds to conquer British import Mark Heffron who, on paper, was a very credible opponent. Mbilli backed Heffron into the ropes and collapsed him with a left hook that landed under his rib cage. Heffron, 30-3-1 heading in with 24 KOs, went down on all fours and was counted out. The contest was over almost before it began.

The Cameroon-born Mbilli, a 2016 Olympian for France who turned pro in Montreal, is ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA; #3 by the IBF and WBO. With the victory, he advanced his record to 27-0 (23 KOs). His next fight will reportedly come in August with rugged but battle-blistered Sergiy Derevyanchenko in the opposite corner. Mbilli has been chasing a fight with Canelo Alvarez, but has scant chance of landing it. At this juncture of his career, the red-headed Mexican undoubtedly wants less daunting assignments.

Co-Feature

Arslanbek Makhmudov, the Russian Lion, rebounded from his poor performance against Agit Kabayel with a second-round stoppage of sacrificial lamb Milan Rovcanin. Makhmudov (19-1, 18 KOs) knocked Rovcanin to the canvas with an overhand right in the opening round. The punch knocked Rovcanin sideways, his head resting on the ring apron. To Rovcanin’s credit, he beat the count and launched a futile offensive after he arose. A similar punch ended the brief bout at the 2:32 mark of the next frame.

Makhmudov is certainly heavy-handed, but he moves at a glacial pace and would be up-against-it against a world-class opponent with faster hands and better footwork. Rovcanin, who had  been feasting on fourth-raters in his native Serbia, declined to 27-4.

Other Bouts of Note

In a bout contested at the catch-weight of 178 pounds, Montreal-based Mehmet Unal, a 31-year-old former Olympian for Turkey, scored the best win of his career with a fourth-round stoppage of 34-year-old Laredo, Texas campaigner Rodolfo Gomez.

Gomez, routinely matched tough and better than his record (14-7-3 heading in), protested loudly when the referee waived it off, but his corner stood poised to throw in the towel. He hadn’t previously been stopped, let alone knocked off his feet. Unal improved to 10-0 (8 KOs).

Super middleweight Mereno Fendero, a 24-year old French Army veteran, improved to 6-0 (4) with a six-round decision over 38-year-old Argentine journeyman Rolando Mansilla (19-15-1). Fendero won every round on all three cards including a 10-8 round on one of the cards although there were no knockdowns. Although badly out-classed, the teak-tough Mansilla, a glutton for punishment, earned his pay.

Local prospect Alexandre Gaumont, a middleweight, improved to 11-0 (7) with an unpopular 8-round split decision over Argentina’s Santiago Fernandez (8-1-1). Two of the judges gave Gaumont six rounds, ridiculed as home town bias, with the other awarding five rounds to the Argentine who received a loud ovation as he left the ring.

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Sweet Revenge for the ‘Cat’: Catterall Outpoints Taylor in a Fan-Friendly Fight

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Former unified junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor and Jack Catterall renewed acquaintances tonight in a sold-out arena in Leeds, England. Their first bout 27 months ago in Glasgow ended in favor of Taylor, a controversial winner by split decision as most felt that Catterall was robbed. Tonight, the Cat, as he is nicknamed, turned the tables, winning a unanimous decision in a 12-round non-title fight that was more entertaining than their first encounter.

Catterall, who closed a short favorite, came out fast and was plainly ahead at the mid-point of the fight. But Taylor closed the gap and on unofficial scorecards it was an even fight after 10 frames. Then, in the 11th, shortly after the referee halted the action to warn the fighters about something, Catterall turned the tide back in his favor, stunning Taylor with a looping left hand coming out of the break. Seconds later, both fighters went down in a heap in front of a corner post.

Both fighters were marked-up at the finish, more so Taylor who ended the fight with his right eye swollen and nearly closed shut.

A draw would not have been unreasonable, but two of the judges gave Jack Catterall nine rounds (117-111) and the other had it 7-4-1 (116-113).

In his post-fight interview, Eddie Hearn, Catterall’s promoter, conceded that the scores were too wide but opined that the right guy won. Few would disagree, but co-promoter Bob Arum had a different take. “Those scores were a disgrace,” he said, taking the microphone. “I feel sorry for Josh. I thought he won the fight….”

In avenging his lone defeat, Catterall improved to 29-1 (13). It was second straight loss for Taylor (19-2) who had been inactive since losing his unified title to Teofimo Lopez.

A rubber match would be welcome.

Semi Wind-up

In the chief supporting bout, Cheavon Clarke improved to 9-0 (7 KOs) with an eighth-round stoppage of Ellis Zorro. Clarke, who represented both his native Jamaica and England in international amateur competitions, won the BBBoC British cruiserweight title.

This fight didn’t provide a lot of action. The humdrum ended in the waning seconds of round eight when Clarke nailed Zorro with a chopping right hand. He seized the moment, swarming after Zorro, and chopped him down with a series of punches. None appeared to land very cleanly, but Zorro was counted out with a mere second remaining in the round. It was his second straight defeat after opening his career with 17-0. In his previous bout, Zorro was blasted out in the opening round by Jai Opetaia.

Clarke, 33, is eyeing the winner of the forthcoming fight in London between WBO cruiserweight champion Chris Billam-Smith and Richard Riakporhe.

Also

Welterweight Paddy Donovan, a Traveler from Limerick, Ireland, advanced to 14-0 (11 KOs) with a ninth-round stoppage of former British lightweight champion Lewis Ritson (25-4).

Donovan, trained by former middleweight titlist Andy Lee, fought off his back foot for the first seven rounds as Ritson forced the pace. He changed tactics in round eight which was a strong round for him and then closed the show in the ninth. A series of punches had Ritson plainly hurt and the referee stepped in after 32 seconds and waved it off. It was Donovan’s fifth straight win inside the distance.

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Okolie Demolishes Rozanski to Jump-Start a Busy Boxing Weekend

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The weekend boxing activity got underway today in Rzesnow. Poland where, to the dismay of the locals, Lukasz Rozanski, was blown away in the opening round by UK invader Lawrence Okolie. Heading in, the Pole was 15-0 with 14 knockouts, was coming off back-to-back first-round stoppages, and had never fought beyond the fourth round. And he was a world champion of sorts, making the first defense of his WBC bridgerweight title.

Okolie (20-1, 15 KOs) knocked him down hard on the seat of his pants with a straight right hand, the first of three knockdowns. The final knockdown was the result of a combination that knocked Rozanski to his knees with his head landing outside the ropes. There were only seconds to go in the round, but when Rozanski arose on unsteady legs, the referee properly waived it off. At age 38, his first career loss may also mark the end of his career.

A 2016 Olympian co-managed by Anthony Joshua, Okolie (pictured) was making his first start with trainer Joe Gallagher after previously working under Shane McGuigan and SugarHill Steward and his first start since losing his WBO cruiserweight title to Chris Billam-Smith.  At six-foot-five and with an 82-inch reach, the 31-year-old Londoner is a very interesting specimen. His stated goal when he turned pro was to unify the cruiserweight division before moving up to heavyweight.

Had Rozanski won, there was talk of him fighting Badou Jack. The guess is this may be Okolie’s first and last fight at bridgerweight (under 225), a division recognized only by the WBC which invented it. (The WBA is poised to follow its lead. The WBA board of directors recently approved the addition of a super cruiserweight weight class.)

Saturday

The action tomorrow in regard to major fights begins at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen where the Fighting Dane, Dina Thorslund (21-0, 9 KOs), defends her WBC/WBO female world bantamweight title against Turkey’s Seren Cetin (11-0, 7 KOs). Thorslund, whose name appears on many pound-for-pound lists, is appearing in her 11th world title fight.

The marquee event takes place in the late afternoon (USA time) in Leeds, England, where Josh Taylor (19-1, 13 KOs) clashes with Jack Catterall (28-1, 13 KOs) in an eagerly-anticipated and twice-delayed rematch. Catterall will be seeking to avenge his lone defeat.

Their first encounter took place in February 2022 on Taylor’s turf in Glasgow, Scotland. Taylor won a split decision. To say that it was controversial would be putting it mildly. One pundit called it the biggest robbery in British boxing history. At stake was Taylor’s unified welterweight title which he would lose in his next outing when he was upset by Teofimo Lopez.

Catterall has fought twice since that night in Glasgow, most recently scoring a 12-round decision over globetrotter Jorge Linares who announced his retirement after the match. This is Taylor’s first ring outing since the Teofimo fight in New York. He and Catterall have engaged in a nasty war of words since their first encounter and the match – televised live exclusively in the U.S. on ESPN+ and around the world on DAZN — is an advance sellout. Check local listings for start times.

There’s been steady money on Catterall today and, if the odds hold up, Josh Taylor will assume the role of an underdog for the first time in his career.

Lastly

We’re back to ESPN+ again for a show in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada, a co-promotion between Eye of the Tiger and Top Rank.

In the featured bout, Christian Mbilli (26-0, 22 KOs) meets England’s Mark Heffron (30-3-1, 24 KOs) in a 10-round super middleweight contest.

The Cameroon-born Mbilli, a 2016 Olympian for France who turned pro in Montreal, is ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA; #3 by the IBF and WBO.

In the co-feature, heavyweight Arslanbek Makhmudov, the Russian Lion, returns to the ring looking to rebuild a reputation that was badly tarnished last December when he was manhandled by underdog Agit Kabayel in Saudi Arabia. Makhmudov (18-1, 17 KOs) opposes no-hoper Milan Rovcanin (27-3, 18 KOs) who has been feasting on fourth-raters in his native Serbia. The TV portion of this Saturday Night card has a scheduled starting time of 7 pm ET/4 pm PT.

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