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The Holidays Can Be Hard, But Most Have Gifts To Be Thankful For..WOODS

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esquire-xmas-1963-hornetsIt is supposed to, if you go by those commercials on TV, a time of constant cheer, a short span where the American man suspends all animosities and instead luxuriates in vibes of harmony and amiability. If you are a particularly lucky soul, you have placed a four-foot red bow on the luxury auto you purchased for your significant other, and will be rewarded with a look of adoration as intense as has ever been bestowed, and perhaps a lush lip lock under the mistletoe a l'il later. Yes, the Christmas season, or holiday season, if you prefer, is a time of joviality, of convening with family and friends, and toasting the year's bounty.

Supposed to be.

The holidays are not, sometimes, all Hollywood or Madison Ave. cracks them up to be. You may be trying to scrounge up money for your mortgage payment, or lamenting the forthcoming cutoff of your unemployment check. Hey, I'm not going all Grinch on you, but I do like to traffic in reality here at TSS. Convening with family for some doesn't always result in a marvelous soiree of sterling conversation and warm recollections. Dec. 25th can mean it's six days from the end of your unemployment benefits.

But I'm guessing there are things for you to be thankful for, that you can hunt a little harder and muster some holiday cheer even if your “luxury auto” is a '98 Accord so busted that car thieves don't bother trying to make off with it. Even if the eggnog you're sipping is a few days past the sell-by date. Did the family make it through to the end of the year with all lives and limbs intact? Mom and dad still of sound mind and body, still able to remind you of the time you peed your pants right before you were to pose on Santa's lap at Sears in 1967? Did you manage to fool 'em all at the office again, hold on to your job, which may not be the ticket to the paradise, but keeps food on the table, which is something that can't be said for millions of kids around the world?

Sometimes, you have to hunt a little harder to find the joy, to fix on those slightly smaller, subtler bounties that you don't drive off a lot, or find in a Tiffany's box.

Even high rollers sometimes go cold, go on losing streaks. Kelly Pavlik was the pride of Youngstown, circa 2007, 2008. The kid had it all, he was the middleweight champion of the world who would provide hope and change for not just a struggling sport, but a rusted out region which has been kicked in the teeth by the death of American-made. Contrast that period of time with today, when Pavlik finds himself at a scary crossroads. He went to rehab last year, and all of us hoped he'd kick the booze jones, settle down and take care of business in that zone where he seemed most comfortable, the ring. But putting the cork in the bottle, and keeping it there, isn't so easy. It takes some folks a few tries. They need to learn a few lessons. We can hope the 29 year-old boxer has figured out that it seems quite likely that booze only complicates matters for him. It is no friend, no salve. On Wednesday, Pavlik was arrested at his home in the Youngstown neighbor Canfield after a neighbor told cops the fighter crashed an ATV he was driving into a telephone pole and lampost.

This holiday season has had to have been the most tumultuous for the fighter, who announced after an October meeting with manager Cameron Dunkin and promoter Bob Arum that he'd be relocating to California, to train with Robert Garcia, who tutors Tony Margarito and Brandon Rios. This came after he bagged out in the 11th hour on a fight with Darryl Cunningham, leaving cabler Showtime angry as a kicked bucket of bees for leaving them hanging. The OVI charge, to which Pavlik entered a not guilty plea on Friday, comes two weeks after things between him and now ex trainer Jack Loew went from bad to worse. Loew was asked about no longer being part of Team Pavlik, and it all spilled out. He said in a TV interview with the local NBC station that he was sick of taking flak for Pavlik, was sick of being insulted as a trainer, after he'd taken a kid from age 9 and they won the middleweight crown together. I spoke to Loew on Thursday, and he was still sort of heated. The man's pride his hurt, but he wasn't backing off anything he said in the interview. “Nothing I said wasn't public knowledge,” said the man I like to call Paver Jack, a nod to his past as a paver of driveways.

Loew wanted some credit for spending his money taking young Pavlik to amateur tournaments. He took issue with Pavlik, who he said accused him of having a booze problem himself up til last year.

Yes, no holiday spirit is left in this relationship. By the end of the call with Loew, I felt sad that it had come to this. See, I'm a sort of conflicted tabloid reporter. I like to go where the drama is, but I can't help but get sad when a pair like this splits. These two were from a screenplay. Paver Jack and the kid from the region left behind.

Loew thinks that Pavlik's dad is more interested in Kelly's ring life than his personal life, which has been rocky the last few years. “Whatever is here is in California too,” Loew pointed out to me.

By the end of the call, I told Loew I have a guarantee for him. I said that it may take awhile, it may take a few years, but these two will get over this. Some of these stinging words will need to recede, specifics will need to become fuzzy, but they will hug, and be able to focus on the happy times.

But for now, Loew said, he wants the kid, who will turn 30 in April, to get straight. He covered for him, made up excuses when his partying affected him, and now feels jilted, like his loyalty was meaningless. The implication is that the problem is the trainer, that a switch in teachers will cure Kelly. Hey, a new voice, some new techniques could indeed help him grow as a boxer. But my guess is, and this is just a guess, I don't know intimately the depth of his problems, the kid needs tutoring outside the ring. Like, twelve step stuff. I'm not talking smack from my behind here. I've walked that walk. I've hit some of those same sort of “jackpots” Pavlik has, been at scenes where there was broken glass and sirens and lights and the like, and needed some structure and humbling to see straight. Until that stuff stops, it will be impossible for him to even attempt to get back to where he was as a boxer, even if the ghost of Eddie Futch comes back to guide him.

By the tail end of the call, Loew even sounds ready to start a reconciliation. “Those were some of the greatest times of my life,” he said. “It opened doors for me, and I don't have to wait till later to say how great it was.”

No, the holidays are not always the most wonderful time of the year, are they? But we can always hold on to hope, look a bit harder for the gifts we've been given, and I think it helps to open our eyes to the fact that things can get tough in any zip code, even for high rollers.

Merry Christmas, readers. And happy Hannukah, as well. Thanks for logging on to TSS, and remember, if you've had one too many spiked eggnogs, hand over the keys to a sober pal.

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Artur Beterbiev: “I’d prefer to fight Bivol because he has the one thing I need”

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Russian Artur Beterbiev, triple champion of the 175-pound division, is the only current world champion who, thanks to the enormous power he wields in his fists, has won all his fights inside the distance.

Beterbiev has 18 victories by way of chloroform since he debuted as a professional fighter in June 2013 when he anesthetized retired American, Christian Cruz, in the tenth round at the Bell Center in Montreal where Beterbiev currently resides.

Beterbiev, who turned thirty-eight last Saturday, will defend his WBC, IBF, and WBO titles against Brit Anthony “The Beast from the East” Yarde (23-2, 22 KOs) on Saturday, January 28th at the OVO Arena in London.

Beterbiev obtained the WBO belt on June 18th this past year when he defeated American Joe Smith (28-4, 22 KOs) in the second round at Madison Square Garden. This was Smith’s second defense of the belt.

Earlier, in November 2017, Beterbiev won the vacant IBF belt after defeating German Enrico Koelling (28-5, 9 KOs) by knockout in the twelfth round in Fresno, California.

Two years later, Beterbiev seized the WBC belt from Ukrainian Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-1, 14 KOs) in Philadelphia. Three knockdowns in the tenth round forced referee Gary Rosato to stop the lopsided bout with 11 seconds remaining in the round.  Beterbiev maintains that although his intention is to win each fight, in no way does he want to harm his rival and that his greatest wish is for both of them to leave the ring healthy.

Referring to his upcoming matchup, Beterbiev told BoxingScene that “after the fight, I just hope he (Yarde) is okay.”

He acknowledged that he does not know much about the British boxer, although he has watched several of his fights: “He’s a good fighter, has good experience as a professional and he’s a boxer. He’s dangerous so I have to prepare for this fight like I always do.”

Beterbiev said that his main motivation is to successfully defend the three belts he owns and that is why he will try to be one hundred percent ready and then it will be evident who is the better fighter.

Regarding his knockout streak, Beterbiev emphatically denied that he enjoys knocking out his opponents: “No. There’s no pleasure in it. I just hope everything is OK with them. I just want to do good boxing, not hit people.”

Beterbiev smiles enigmatically and stares at the horizon when they ask him to what he attributes the strength of his fists to. “I know for sure, 1000 percent, that the secret to my power is somewhere in my boxing gym but I don’t know exactly where,” he adds. “I don’t know which exercise or bag gave me this secret. I don’t know where it comes from. I wasn’t always like this either, it has come from working every day. But really my dream is to be a good boxer one day.”

Aside from the upcoming fight with Yarde, Beterbiev acknowledges in each interview that his goal is to be the undisputed champion of the division, which means facing (and defeating) the undefeated Russian Dmitry Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs), who holds the WBA light heavyweight super championship belt.

“I need Bivol,” Beterbiev admits. “I’d prefer to fight Bivol because he has the one thing I need. I hope I fight him in 2023 but the hold-up is not from my side, it’s from their side. In the last three years he always says he will fight me next but in this time we’ve done unification fights against Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Joe Smith. We’ve done that whereas he has just been talking about it.

Beterbiev recalled that he was with Bivol on the Russian national team where they were amateurs. “I knew him then, but he is younger than me. We haven’t talked for 10 years now. He was 75kg back then, too small for me. We were never friends.”

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

 Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A New Foe for Broner and an Intriguing Heavyweight Match-up

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A New Foe for Broner and an Intriguing Heavyweight Match-up

BLK Prime’s inaugural venture went off without a hitch. An announced crowd of 14,630 turned out in Omaha to watch native son Terence Crawford dismantle David Avanesyan. BLK Prime’s second promotion, slated for Feb. 25 at a 5,000-seat venue in Atlanta, has been messy from the get-go. The executives at the fledgling company, based in Hayward, California, are learning to their dismay that the sport of professional boxing is governed by Murphy’s Law: whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

Adrien Broner’s nickname is “The Problem” (how perfect!) but the problem isn’t him but finding a suitable opponent for the former four-division title holder who purportedly signed a three-fight deal with BLK Prime that will pay him an absurd $10 million. As reported in a story that ran on these pages last week, Broner’s original opponent Ivan Redkach pulled out and was replaced by Hank Lundy. Today (Tuesday, Jan. 24) it was revealed that Lundy was also off the card and would be replaced by Michael Williams Jr.

Prior to being lopped off the card, it was reported that Hank Lundy had been suspended by the California Athletic Commission for failing to honor his contract to fight up-and-comer Ernesto Mercado (8-0, 8 KOs) on Feb. 4. The match was to be an 8-rounder in Ontario, California. According to prominent boxing writer Jake Donovan, Lundy provided paperwork to the California commission showing that he was unable to keep his commitment because of a cut he suffered in sparring.

Some state athletic commissions automatically honor a suspension handed down in another jurisdiction. Other commissions evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis. It’s a fair guess that had Lundy kept quiet about the (alleged) injury, the Georgia commission would have allowed the Broner-Lundy match to go forward. Regardless, he’s out and, barring more upheaval, Broner (pictured) will be touching gloves with Michael Williams Jr.

The son of an Army veteran who serves as his chief trainer, Williams Jr, 23, was born in Fort Riley, Kansas, and grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home to Fort Bragg. As a pro, he’s 20-1 with 13 KOs but those 20 wins came against a motley bunch of opponents and he failed miserably on the one occasion that he stepped up in class. On Dec. 11, 2021, he was stopped in four rounds by fellow unbeaten John Bauza on a Top Rank card at Madison Square Garden. Williams suffered five knockdowns before the match was halted. “He’s got a lot to work on. There are some glaring issues here,” said ringside TV commentator Andre Ward.

Although the Fayetteville area has long had a reputation as pugilistic feed lot (a place where boxers go to fatten up their records), the feeling is that Williams may have been awed by his surroundings that night in the Big Apple, hence his poor showing. During the early portion of his career, he was co-trained by Roy Jones Jr who reportedly hooked up with the young junior welterweight after witnessing him bully a bunch of ex-cons while sparring at a gym in New Orleans.

Does he have the tools to make things interesting against Adrien Broner? Likely not, but Broner tends to fight down to his level of competition, so it wouldn’t surprise us if Williams wins a few rounds.

Heavyweights at the Crossroads

SHOWTIME drops anchor in San Antonio on Feb. 11 with a card headlined by a match between Rey Vargas and O’Shaquie Foster. They will compete for the WBC 130-pound world title vacated by Shakur Stevenson.

Truth be told, this isn’t a contest that gets our juices flowing. The undefeated Vargas, who has won world titles at 122 and 127, is a solid technician but doesn’t fight with pizzazz. He hasn’t won a fight inside the distance since 2016. Foster is on a nice roll – he’s won nine straight, advancing his record to 19-2 — but likewise lacks charisma.

The pay-per-view opener, however, seized our interest. It’s that very rare contest between two rising heavyweights at the same juncture of their respective careers. On paper there’s little to choose between Viktor Faust (11-0, 7 KOs) and Lenier Pero (8-0, 5 KOs). Both are the same age (30), are roughly the same size (in the six-foot-five and 240-pound range) and were outstanding amateurs.

Faust

Viktor Faust, aka Viktor Vykhryst, is from the Ukraine. In 2017, he won the European amateur title, defeating future Olympian Frazer Clarke in the finals. He turned pro in 2020, spurning an opportunity to represent Ukraine in the Tokyo Olympics.

Faust, says prospect watcher Matt Andrzejewski, is extremely fluid for his size and his hand speed is well above average. He also has one-punch knockout power as he demonstrated in his third pro fight when he starched the Spaniard, Gabriel Enguema. However, his most recent fight on U.S. soil, a match in Hollywood, Florida, against Iago kiladze, left many questions unanswered.

This was a wild and wooly affair that ended in the second minute of the second round. Kiladze was down three times and Faust twice during the tumult. Because Kiladze was on the small size for a heavyweight, one was left wondering whether Faust could have weathered the storm if he were matched against a bigger man.

Since that scuffle, Faust has added two more wins to his ledger, comfortable 8-round decisions over 40-something gatekeepers Kevin Johnson and Franklin Lawrence.

Pero

Lenier Pero, a Cuban defector, was never an Olympian, but had a more extensive amateur career. He was 9-3 in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing but what really stands out is that he was 5-1 against countryman Frank Sanchez who has made great headway as a pro since leaving Cuba in 2017 and is currently ranked #3 by the WBC and #2 by the WBO.

Although the amateur careers of Faust and Pero overlapped, their paths never crossed. However, Faust did fight Lenier’s younger brother Dainier Pero who is currently 2-0 as a pro and may actually be a better prospect than his sibling. Faust and Dainier Pero met in 2018 at a tournament in the Ukraine and the Cuban won a close decision.

Perhaps that’s an omen. Regardless, Lenier Pero looks like the right side in what has the earmarks of an entertaining shootout.

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David Benavidez and Caleb Plant Both Want ‘Canelo’ Álvarez

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American Fighter David Benavidez has been in constant pursuit of an opportunity to face Canelo Álvarez and, until now, it has been an unrealizable dream. For his compatriot Caleb Plant, his match up with Canelo in 2021 resulted in a resounding loss.

For several years, Benavidez has been trying to cross gloves with Mexican star Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez (58-2-2, 39 KOs), who has avoided facing him despite receiving countless criticisms from boxing fans.

Undefeated in the ranks, everything indicates that today Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) is closer than ever to finally matching up against Canelo, the current holder of the four most prestigious super middleweight titles in boxing: WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO.

Previously, by order of the WBC, Benavidez faced Canadian David Lemieux (43-5, 36 KOs), to whom he applied chloroform in the third round in Glendale, Arizona, where the winner conquered the Interim title of that sanctioning body.

After the victory, the WBC declared that Benavidez had the obligation to collide with Caleb Plant (22-1, 13 KOs), who was ranked the number one contender by both the WBA and the WBO and third by the IBF.

According to Mauricio Sulaimán, president of the WBC, the winner between Benavidez and Plant becomes the mandatory challenger for Canelo in a battle for that organization’s belt.

However, the future seems quite complicated for the winner between Benavidez and Plant, since Canelo is currently in negotiations with British southpaw John Ryder (32-5, 18 KOs) to fight in May and, subsequently, in September, to carry out the rematch against Russian Dmitry Bivol (20-0, 11 KOs), who defeated him unanimously on May 7 of last year at the T-Mobile Arena where the European retained the WBA light heavyweight belt.

Benavidez has been outspoken about Canelo’s refusal to face him: He (Canelo) knows I’m the biggest threat at 168.” Benavidez stressed the fact that Canelo avoids him because he knows that if he accepts the fight, the same thing will happen to him as against Dmitry Bivol, an adversary who is also larger and equally as strong as the Mexican redhead.

Despite the efforts and multiple statements by Benavidez (also by José Benavidez Sr, his father and trainer), Canelo has always chosen other adversaries with the excuse that Benavidez has not fought any elite rivals that would make him worthy of the opportunity.

CALEB PLANT WANTS REVENGE AGAINST CANELO

“That wasn’t my best camp going into that fight,” said Plant about last year’s battle with Canelo, “but, regardless, that’s not the reason I lost. I lost because I got caught with a great shot and I got stopped.” Plant was clear about wanting to meet Canelo in the ring again. “I want a rematch with Canelo. If I have to pick up every last top super middleweight in the division to get to that, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Canelo’s victory against Plant at the T-Mobile Arena in November 2021 made him the first boxer from Latin America with the four most important titles, in any weight category. But six months later, in May of last year, Álvarez suffered the second setback of his career, losing unanimously to Bivol who retained his WBA “super” title belt at 175 pounds.

Four years ago, on January 13, 2019, Plant won the IBF belt, unanimously defeating Venezuelan José Uzcátegui (32-5, 27 KOs) at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Uzcátegui went to the canvas in both the second and fourth rounds. Plant lost the IBF title in the unification match against Canelo, a title that Plant had defended three times prior.

Mauricio Sulaimán confirmed to several media outlets that the winner of the upcoming battle between Benavidez and Plant will be the mandatory challenger for Canelo’s WBC super-middleweight title. Per ESPN’s Mike Coppinger, Benavidez vs Plant will take place on March 25th at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

 Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

To comment on this story in the fight Forum CLICK HERE

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