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The Vegas Fight Week Experience From A To Z (Part I)

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MayweatherOrtizFinalPC_Blevins4I hate the alphabet groups in boxing. But I have nothing against the alphabet itself. So, on the heels of my five days and five nights spent experiencing fight week in Las Vegas, this week’s column will lean on the alphabet as a narrative-structuring device. I’ll offer my insights on the Floyd Mayweather vs. Victor Ortiz hoopla from A to Z, sharing my opinions on the various happenings that the fight world is now buzzing about and going behind the scenes with some of the things I saw, heard, and did that I couldn’t have seen, heard, or done from the comfort of my living room:

A is for Action

I’m using “action” to mean two different things here. Primarily, I’m talking about a pay-per-view card that was as action-packed from top to bottom as any I can remember in recent years. Jessie Vargas vs. Josesito Lopez was the close, hard-fought affair I expected it to be. Erik Morales vs. Pablo Cesar Cano was 10 times the bloody, dramatic battle that anyone expected it to be. Saul Alvarez vs. Alfonso Gomez teased us with the possibility of a massive upset before delivering a sudden (perhaps too sudden) finish. And Mayweather vs. Ortiz, whatever you thought of the conclusion, produced the most memorable action of any Mayweather fight since his first clash with Jose Luis Castillo nine years ago.

But “action” also applies to gambling action, and I got an added kick out of silently rooting for the one outcome nobody else in the arena wanted to see: a draw. At 35-1 odds at the MGM Grand sports book, and with any kind of a fluky technical draw getting me paid, I couldn’t help but plunk down $20 for the opportunity to win $700. Oh, how enjoyable it would have been to pull a Mayweather and tweet a picture of my winning ticket, as well as a picture of me holding a phat stack of seven C-notes. (And perhaps using them as a flip phone on which to call my buddy 50 Cent.) But alas, it wasn’t to be. I need to stick to what I do best: acting like I know what’s going to happen in fights without actually putting any money behind my predictions.

B is for Boos

The boos rained down at the Grand Garden Arena both early and late in Saturday’s card. They echoed when Vargas was given a split decision over Lopez in the opening bout of the pay-per-view. (For the record, I had Lopez winning by a point, but this was no robbery; the fight could have gone either way.) And they reverberated again when Mayweather-Ortiz ended abruptly on a less-than-sporting (but 100-percent legal) two-punch combination that Joe Cortez learned about via the magic of instant replay. On the whole, though, we heard a lot more cheering than booing over the course of this action-packed (callback to the letter A!) night of boxing.

C is for Cano

This wasn’t quite Azumah Nelson announcing his arrival with a competitive loss to a prime Salvador Sanchez, but Cano earned my approval with one hell of a mature, gutsy performance for an untested 21-year-old kid facing a Hall-of-Fame-bound legend. And he bled like the girl scout who tried to sell Larry David cookies this year on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Who would have guessed that Lucas Matthysse dropping out of this show would turn out to be a good thing?

D is for Dynamic

As in, the dynamic prepared-statement reading of Leonard Ellerbe. In the midst of the interminable drone-fest that is the final prefight press conference (we need more guys in suits thanking other guys in suits while the fighters sit there playing with their iPhones!), the CEO of Mayweather Promotions/head sycophant attempted to address the media. I say “attempted” because Ellerbe is to public speaking as Victor Ortiz is to beard growing. I especially enjoyed the moment where Ellerbe built and built toward finally bringing Mayweather to the microphone … only it was Ortiz’s turn to speak next, so Ellerbe had to sheepishly hand it off to Oscar De La Hoya instead so that Oscar could introduce his fighter. Good times.

E is for El Terrible

I’ve covered the young man, Cano. How about the old man, Morales? Sure, he looked a little closer to shot than he did last time out, against Marcos Maidana. But he added another thriller to a career absolutely loaded with them. Seriously, Arturo Gatti is revered as the most exciting fighter of his generation, but Morales’ resume of major and minor classics is creeping up on Gatti’s. The guy is simply never in a bad fight, never escapes one without his face looking like it’s gone through a food processor, and even if watching him fight now means watching his love handles jiggle round after round, that’s a small price to pay. It truly was an honor to be there live to see the legendary El Terrible do his thing.

F is for Free Food

As a guy who does a lot of one-day trips to Atlantic City for fights and rarely does these five-day trips to Vegas, most of my media feeding experience involves the college-cafeteria-quality media room buffet at Boardwalk Hall. I wasn’t fully prepared for the majesty of media food in Vegas—with the highlight coming at a Thursday night media dinner at a restaurant called Fiamma, a smorgasbord of fine foods the likes of which I don’t quite experience at home when finishing my kids’ partially eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Golden Boy isn’t sending me any freelance checks anymore, so I may as well at least let them foot the bill for some grub. Speaking of which …

G is for Golden Boy Promotions

As pretty much everyone knows by now, GBP recently gutted the staff of The Ring magazine, firing people who did the job with passion and integrity and expertise in magazine production in favor of … well, other people. I’m not happy about this. I got mildly nauseous at the prefight press conference, watching Richard Schaefer and De La Hoya greet each other on the dais with a big ol’ back-slappy hug. And the nausea just kept bubbling to the surface all week long. Look, there are plenty of employees of Golden Boy against whom I harbor no ill will. But the people who played a hand in the firing of people I respect and care about—while potentially destroying the magazine I’ve spent my entire career proudly representing—made the bile rise inside me throughout the week. I took the most professional path I could: not saying a word to any of them, since I didn’t have anything nice to say.

H is for HBO.com

Editor Steve Marzolf and company are the ones who brought me out to Vegas for the week so I could author the HBO.com blog, and it was a pleasure working with them. In case you missed any of it, you can check out my work for them here http://www.insidehboboxing.com/, and I particularly recommend my fun back-and-forth discussion with fellow scribe Kieran Mulvaney (http://tinyurl.com/3ej6q4j) and my three seconds of fame in this video (http://tinyurl.com/3ep6c8n). Okay, end of commercial interruption, back to our regularly scheduled column …

I is for Indoors

Would you believe I only left the MGM Grand once in the entire five days I was there? I walked 10 minutes to Planet Hollywood on Friday to meet a friend and former business associate for lunch, and otherwise, I breathed recycled casino air for roughly 154 consecutive hours. I guess when I call this column the “Vegas experience,” I should really call it the “MGM Grand experience.” I didn’t actually experience Vegas at all. But I’ve experienced Vegas plenty of times before, so this trip was about ease, convenience, and getting work done. And that meant never seeing the sun. My sources tell me the weather was rather nice.

J is for Jones

In the best undercard fight you didn’t see from the comfort of your home, frequent ESPN2 and ShoBox competitor Carson Jones scored a mild upset of the generally overrated Said Ouali, closing his right eye and forcing his corner to stop the fight after the seventh round. At various points in the fight. I had flashbacks to the first time I saw Ouali fight in person, when he was boxing well before falling apart in the fifth round against the then-unknown Kermit Cintron. When Ouali’s corner threw in the towel on Saturday night, Jones turned toward the crowd, thrust both arms in the air, and yelled, “Yes!” (And because the arena was 96 percent empty throughout the undercard, I was able to hear his voice clearly from seven rows back in the press section.) It was a great moment of triumph for a journeyman fighter still looking to make something of himself, and hopefully he’ll get a TV date out of this entertaining win.

K is for Kyrone Butler

In a far less compelling undercard fight between two guys making their pro debuts, Butler scored a four-round shutout over … wait for it … Cassius Clay. I flew to Vegas to see Cassius Clay handed his first professional loss. I feel like I’m a part of history now.

L is for Larry Merchant

We couldn’t hear it in the arena, but you’d better believe I watched it on YouTube later that night, when HBO’s feisty old color man screamed at Mayweather, “I wish I was 50 years younger and I’d kick your ass!” Some have suggested Merchant went over the line. In my view, sure, it was unprofessional, but it was completely warranted. When Mayweather said Merchant needed to be fired, that’s the kind of threatening statement that causes a man with a backbone to stand up for himself. So Larry did. And it gave us this (http://bit.ly/n5fueo). Everybody wins.

M is for Money Mayweather

Ortiz is a lover. Mayweather is a fighter. He operated within the rules when he decked an opponent who failed to protect himself while the fight was going on, and even if many other fighters wouldn’t have taken advantage of that opening the way Mayweather did, there is no real fault to be found in his actions. And for four rounds leading up to the controversial finish, Floyd was his usual brilliant self. Maybe his resume isn’t as great as he thinks it is. Maybe he’s overrating his place in history. But the man is one heck of a special talent. And the fact that he found a way to both win and perpetuate his bad-guy image means demand for a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight won’t cool off one bit. Now it’s up to Mayweather to capitalize on that sometime before both fighters are in their 40s.

(Check back tomorrow for Part II, as we go from N to Z. Admit it, you’re dying to see what liberties I take with the rules in order to use the letter X.)


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

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A hockey Arena 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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