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Making The Most Of A “Terrible” Situation…RASKIN

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MoralesPrepares4Matthysse_Espinosa11There are some in the boxing media who find it worth noting that Erik Morales will be attempting to win a title in his fourth division this Saturday night. As someone who cares as much about alphabet belts as I do whatever next week’s Brett Favre comeback rumors will be, I’m much more interested in a different “fourth” that Morales is pursuing on the Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz undercard: the fourth man to fill his opponent slot for this show.

This has been one of the more unusual matchmaking merry-go-rounds we’ve ever seen because the majority of the opponent-replacement news has actually been positive. Initially, Morales was supposed to face unknown Brit Anthony Crolla. Then Jorge Barrios became available when word spread that the legally troubled “Hyena” was going to be allowed to leave Argentina, so he replaced Crolla. To most observers, Morales-Barrios was an upgrade over Morales-Crolla. When it turned out Barrios and his oversized sunglasses weren’t going to be allowed out of his homeland after all, Team Morales was back on the hunt for an opponent, and they came up with Lucas Matthysse, unquestionably a sterner test than either Crolla or Barrios. In fact, it went from a showcase fight for Morales to one in which he was perceived as the underdog.

But then just last week, Matthysse dropped out with a viral infection, and on nine days’ notice, 21-year-old Mexican prospect Pablo Cesar Cano got the call. This time, the change represented a backward step for fight fans. But given the short notice and the difficulty in finding a credible opponent who would be in fighting shape, this was a hell of a save. Cano is undefeated, from Mexico City, and trained by Rudy Perez, the longtime trainer of Marco Antonio Barrera. Morales-Cano is no Morales-Matthysse. But we’ve seen some pointless pay-per-view undercard fights in recent years that were put together on a couple of months’ notice, so with that in mind, we should be happy that Morales-Cano is no Danny Jacobs-Victor Lares or Edner Cherry-Wes Ferguson.

Some will say that we’re right back where we were at the start with Morales-Crolla—but in truth, Morales-Crolla wasn’t such a bad matchup. I had studied some of Crolla’s fights back when the matchup was first announced, and he’s better than he looks on paper. Yes, with his babyface and hair parted on the side, Crolla could sooner pass for C. Thomas Howell’s understudy in The Outsiders than a professional fighter. And yes, his ho-hum 21-2 (9) resume was built against guys with records that included 18-75-7, 7-102-2, and 4-43. (Seriously. Those aren’t made up numbers.) But the opposition had gotten better over the last two years. And Crolla has vastly improved punching power for a guy who once went the distance nine fights in a row. He’s busy, uses the jab, and bangs the body consistently. He also switches, fluidly, to the southpaw stance on occasion. Crolla would have been an underdog against Morales, to be sure. But it wasn’t an all-out mismatch. Not against this aging version of “El Terrible.”

Cano seems of a threat level similar to Crolla. There’s not a lot to judge with our own eyes; YouTube offers no full Cano fights, and clips from just two. In one (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbwLdG92lRY), you learn more about the round-card girl’s posterior than you do Cano’s fighting ability. In the other (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeIExEREByw), you get the sense that Cano is capable of providing fun action, but you still don’t know if he’s any good.

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime and I couldn’t refuse it,” Cano said in the formal press release announcing the fight. “I have grown up watching Erik Morales. I know both his strengths and weaknesses. While it’s an honor to fight him, I have the style to beat him.”

In building a record of 22-0-1 (17), Cano has proven even less than Crolla. The only name on Cano’s resume that you might recognize is Oscar Leon, who was 36 years old and had lost eight of his last nine when Cano beat him via split decision last June. Cano is an undefeated Mexican prospect, but the next Julio Cesar Chavez he is not. He might not even be good enough to pass for one of Chavez’s kids. We just don’t know. Maybe Cano has “the style to beat” Morales, as he says. Or maybe he’s going to get liquefied by the old man in a round or two.

Whether it’s quick and easy or long and taxing, a win over Cano won’t do for Morales’ career what a win over Matthysse would have. Beating Cano doesn’t PROVE anything, except that Morales isn’t a shot fighter, which we already (think we) know. Just like if he’d fought Crolla or Barrios, Morales is expected to win, and if he does, he remains what he is right now: a well-known name whom everybody at 140 pounds will want to fight.

So who might be next? Amir Khan’s name has been floating out there quite a bit, but that seems like the worst possible matchup for Morales. El Terrible surprised most of us against Marcos Maidana in April, in large part because Maidana’s style allowed him to surprise us. Khan’s style—the one that befuddled Morales’ arch rival Marco Antonio Barrera not too long ago—would almost certainly make the 34-year-old Morales look his age.

A rematch with Maidana is a lot more winnable and is certainly a realistic possibility, considering Robert Guerrero (Maidana’s intended August opponent) just had shoulder surgery two weeks ago and won’t be able to train until approximately the end of December.

We’d also all love to see the Matthysse fight revived. There was a lot of “this is going to steal the show from Mayweather and Ortiz” buzz surrounding the matchup, and it would make a fine HBO co-feature to whatever less-action-packed fight Khan signs for December.

And then there’s Barrera. As Bill Dettloff and I discussed at length on a recent podcast, Morales’ unexpected career revival is giving him an outside shot at possibly moving past Barrera on the all-time-greats list without even fighting his mortal enemy. But there’s no substitute for a head-to-head win, and if Morales’s primary goal in life is to be remembered as superior to Barrera, knotting their legendary series at 2-2 would be an enormous step in that direction. It’s a good payday for each and, unless one of them suddenly develops Israel Vazquez’s scar tissue, it’s a wonderful fight for the fans.

If Morales loses to Cano, Barrera might be his only option for a meaningful fight. If he defeats Cano, he’ll pretty much have his pick of the junior welter field. And if he has his pick of anyone … well, I still want him to take on Barrera next.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself. We’re still a few days away from Morales-Cano, after all. Who’s to say we won’t have two or three more opponent changes before Saturday night?

 I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda hoping Barrera’s already in half-decent fighting shape and somewhere near his phone, just in case.

 

 

Eric Raskin can be contacted at RaskinBoxing@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin and listen to new episodes of his podcast, Ring Theory, at http://ringtheory.podbean.com.

 

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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. He 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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