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THE WOODSIES: The Year in Boxing 2011

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WardFroch Bailey10There was no lockdown choice for Fighter of the Year. But Andre Ward deserves more credit than he gets, so we’re happy that a solid role model and superior pugilist is getting the acclaim he has earned. (Hogan)

It wasn’t the best of years for boxing, it wasn’t the worst of years for the sport.

Try as I might to look on the bright side, which is the best way to look, because you can get caught up looking at the copious darkness which abounds in the sport and world at large, I find myself coming to the conclusion that the year in pugilism 2011 will quite likely be remembered as another year that the most logical, the most yearned-for, the most no-brainer of all no-brainer fights didn’t get made. 2011 was another year in which boxing fans didn’t get what they most wanted: a Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao clash.

Now, some good stuff happened, don’t get me wrong. Please don’t tell Andre Ward, my choice for Fighter of the Year, that this year was all about what didn’t happen. The 27 year-old Oakland resident got Ws over Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch while snagging top honors in the Super Six tournament, and elevated himself to a place where he can lay legitimate claim that he could well be No. 2 on the pound for pound list, behind Floyd Mayweather.

Manny Pacquiao, Sergio Martinez, Nonito Donaire and Juan Manuel Marquez would likely not agree to place SOG at No. 2, but Ward’s stellar pugilistic arsenal is world-class stuff. And it would be in any era; he is a thinking-man’s hitter, someone who can neutralize the best and brightest in the game, make them look ordinary as anything, and while a lack of power and lack of edge and darkside will perhaps keep him from becoming a PPV driver, Ward deserves plaudits galore for being an ace at his craft.

But back to what didn’t happen. I try mightily to keep focus as much as possible on what makes the game great. I firmly believe that the sport gives young men who would otherwise be headed to jail or an early demise a reason to exist. Boxing is a net positive to the world, overall, because countless men who might otherwise leave a wake of carnage and sadness in the outside world instead become people who inspire hope and pride in themselves, their family, their community, their nation. But the sport does so much to muddy that message.

It is unfathomable why the fight that cries out to be made, which would be the sport’s Super Bowl, which would gross each boxer something in the neighborhood of $50 million or so, and draw 3 million pay-per-view buys, and get the sport more mainstream ink than any bout since lord knows when, doesn’t get made. I won’t re-litigate the matter extensively, because we’ve all wasted too many inches and too much breath on this non-happening. We’ve speculated as to who deserves the most blame, Mayweather for allegedly ducking the fight, or Pacquiao for allegedly being afraid of stringent blood-testing, or Arum for allegedly being afraid to injure his cash cow. I say they all share culpability, and if 2012 passes and we again don’t get this match made, then I say we Occupy all of ‘em. In any other sport, sanity would prevail, differences would be ironed out, and the public would get what they want, and by the way, would pay a pretty penny for the privilege. Floyd, Manny, Bob, Al, HBO, please..book a suite at Camp David, and refuse to leave until you guys get ‘er done, until Mayweather-Pacquiao is made, because if much more time passes, the public might just lose their interest.

Now, let’s take a look back at what else transpired in the year, shall we?

JANUARY

We started off the year with a tabloid-y story. Kelly Pavlik was due to leave rehab for a booze problem. He came home, and we heard that he wanted to be mindful of his decisions and inclinations. We crossed our fingers he’d stay on course. Sadly, the year ended on a less hopeful note for the Youngstowner, as he was picked up for DUI on an ATV two weeks ago. We all hope he gets a handle on himself and even if he never fights again, finds a measure of peace and the strength of will to keep the cork in the bottle.

Mid month, we all soaked in the vibes of harmony, as we saw the two promoters of the era, Don King and Bob Arum, work together seamlessly to set the Miguel Cotto-Ricardo Mayorga bout (March 12). These two battled each other like Hagler-Hearns back in the day so it was something to see, the two old warhorses grooving together in NYC.

http://tss.ib.tv/news/articles/12126-now-best-buds-king-and-arum-it-wasnt-always-so

The fans were let down by the battle of junior welterweight young guns, as the Devon Alexander-Tim Bradley bout never really achieved liftoff. They tangled in Michigan on Jan. 29 and the ending was a particular downer, as Alexander indicated he was too pained to continue in the tenth, giving Bradley a TD10 victory. We all hoped that this wouldn’t be a harbinger for the year.

http://tss.ib.tv/news/articles/11952-bradley-wins-technical-decision-from-alexander-super-fight-was-so-so

FEBRUARY

Nonito Donaire moved himself into another echelon with his head-denting KO of Fernando Montiel on Feb. 19. The TKO2 win for the bantamweight-super bantam ace opened tons of eyes, as fight fans realized this is a bomber with a compelling personality who could well help carry the sport in the coming years.

You all heard that the rumor is Floyd Mayweather bet a cool million on the Pats to beat the Broncos two weeks ago? I guess “Money” didn’t heed my Feb. 25 call for him to ditch the gambling, that easy method of excitation of his pleasure centers, and concentrate on his ring work. http://tss.ib.tv/news/articles/12091-dear-floyd-ditch-the-gambling-nightlife-and-do-what-you-say-you-do-the-bestbox

Another young ‘un, Brandon Rios, showed himself to be a future star when he stopped Miguel Acosta in the tenth round on Feb. 26. This feat was made that much more impressive when we learned that he broke his right hand in round eight. Yes, it was nice as it always is to marvel at the toughness shown by the athletes we so admire in the sport which often tortures us with the ancillary idiocy offered up by the promoters and sanctioning bodies and such…

MARCH

Fight fans had high hopes when in early March we learned that another flirtation reached fruition, when Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye signed on to fight. They jawed like champs, but when it came time to brawl, both underperformed. The bright side? We didn’t have to pony up PPV dollars on July 2 to see it.

Zab Judah reinvigorated his career with a TKO7 win over Kaizer Mbuza on March 5. His crippling counter had everyone thinking he would finally put it all together. He had found God, and the serenity that would make him a total package in the ring, many thought. Later in the year, expectations were reset once again, as he reverted to form against Amir Khan.

The top dogs didn’t want to test themselves against Sergio Martinez in 2011, so the Argentine had to make do with second tier opposition. Sergei Dzinziruk gave a solid account of himself on March 12 against “Maravilla,” scoring a TKO8. We all hoped that Sergio, who became the most ducked man in the game in 2011, would score a megafight later in the year. Alas, he’s still waiting…

Miguel Cotto stayed relevant, with a TKO12 win on March 12 over Ricardo Mayorga, whose fake Twitter account gave us some most-hearty belly laughs of the year. We repeat our call for Mayorga to hire his impersonator to Tweet for him legit…

http://tss.ib.tv/news/articles/12185-cotto-gets-stoppage-in-round-12

We all got a reminder how much the heavyweight division stinks, when slovenly Odlanier Solis crumpled to the canvas in the first round of his fight with Vitali Klitschko on March 19. His knee gave out, a condition probably not helped by the fact that he carries an excess of fifty pounds or so on his frame when not fighting. Semi understandable for a keyboard tapper, not so much for a “world class” athlete…

The promoters gave us a week of mid-month entertainment, when Golden Boy stole Nonito Donaire from Top Rank. An arbitrator ruled that Donaire was still under contract to Arum at the end of the month, so Oscar De La Hoya looked for other ways to damage rival Arum. They sniped at each other in print, with Oscar taking to Twitter to zing the Bobfather.

The fight game lost several notables this year. Gil Clancy died on March 31, and we all lamented the exit of the Hall of Fame trainer and analyst. http://www.tss.ib.tv/news/articles/12311-qit-was-always-great-with-gil-q-homage-to-clancyborges

APRIL

We keyboard tappers like to do the tsk-tsk thing, and opine that the old warhorses should fade away, exit the game when we deem it appropriate. Much of the time, it can be argued we are right. But 34 year-old Erik Morales, seven years past his prime,  proved to the tsk-tskers he had something left when he gave Marcos Maidana all he could handle on April 9. The Mexi-legend lost (MD10) but won another pile of respect for his toughness. We tappers like to be wrong, sometimes.

Some of us wondered if maybe we’d overrated Amir Khan. The Brit  looked only OK against Paul McCloskey in England on April 16. He revived against Zab Judah in July, and then closed out the year with a decision loss to Lamont Peterson. Most expected Khan to elevate in 2011 to the tippy top, but it turns out the year ends with him being in a crossroads place. Is he a future star, has he plateaued? We shall see…

The Andre Berto-Victor Ortiz fight on April 16 in Connecticut made everyone’s top 5 fights of the year list. Both men tasted the canvas, and thrilled the crowd with their exchanges and stubbornness. Ortiz got the decision and ample satisfaction, as he made clear later in the year when he lashed out at the press for questioning his heart. No one questioned it on this night…Though questions did arise if Ortiz was all natch on fight night, after Berto Tweeted insinuations that Victor was on something stronger than vitamins in training. He quickly backed off the unfounded accusation.

http://tss.ib.tv/news/articles/12419-ortiz-beats-berto-in-fight-of-the-year-back-and-forth-barnburner

Dan Rafael had Floyd Mayweather at No. 3, pound for pound, at the end of April, behind Manny Pacquiao and Sergio Martinez.

By the end of the year, Floyd would own the top slot and debate occurred on who should be next on the totem pole.

MAY

Shane Mosley tarnished his legacy with a cash-grab type performance against Manny Pacquiao on May 7 in Vegas. Fans at the MGM Grand booed multiple times during the bout, which saw Mosley seek to survive, not thrive, for most of the 12 rounds. Some wondered if Pacquiao had lost something, as he wasn’t able to cut off the ring as many thought he should have been able to against the aged underdog.

http://tss.ib.tv/news/articles/12536-pacquiao-not-in-vintage-form-get-ud-over-defensive-mosley

http://tss.ib.tv/news/articles/12547-shame-shane-mosleys-legacy-is-stained-by-his-poor-effort-against-pacquiaowoods

Andre Ward scored a UD12 over Arthur Abraham on May 14 in Cali. The Nuetralizer made Abraham look ordinary, though it must be said that Abraham’s best days had passed.

46 never looked so sharp as on the night of May 21 in Quebec, when Bernard Hopkins showed off his vast storehouse of fistic knowledge. He schooled Jean Pascal and won the light heavyweight title via UD12, becoming the oldest man to win a crown.  Here is how I sized the match up before it went down: http://theboxingchannel.com/thesweetsciencecom-editor-michael-woods-breaks-down-the-bernard-hopkins-jean-pascal-rematch

We also learned that the Golden Boy had some of the same problems as the rest of us, if we didn’t already know that, when it was announced that Oscar De La Hoya had entered rehab to battle substance abuse. TMZ was all over the story, and they clung close to Oscar, who has had to fend off women of dubious morality looking for payoffs.

Hope sprang alive when on May 31 we learned that Manny Pacquiao was to receive an apology from Oscar De La Hoya and Richard Schaefer for defaming him, and would thus drop his suit against the Golden duo. Alas, it didn’t mean the impasse would be bridged, and Mayweather-Pacquiao would get made.

JUNE

Tears were shed when ex super feather champ Genaro Hernandez died on June 7. He’d fought cancer as hard as he fought ring foes but didn’t get the W in this scrap.

The man didn’t think he’d live long enough to enjoy the honor, but Mike Tyson, sober, vegan, humbled, entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame on June 12.  The former enfant terrible made a sweet speech which showed how far he’d come from being an ear chomping, woman-violating brute.

The esteemed Nick Charles, of CNN and then Showtime, died on June 25. Cancer took him, but not the memories of his graceful presence in our lives.

The Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz hype wagon pulled into NYC on June 28, and us suckers got our hopes up again as Floyd said he’d like to fight Manny Pacquiao next. The hype job made many think that Ortiz had a slim chance, maybe, but we all know how that turned out…

JULY

It was the Most Fraudulent Performance of the Year. On July 2, David Haye fought with the passion and courage of a butterfly, and dropped a UD to Wladimir Klitschko in Hamburg. Haye lobbied for the bout for a couple years, indicated that he’d go guns a blazing at Klitschko, and then did just the opposite. Most of us hoped that this was the last we saw of the Brit, and hoped that big brother Vitali wouldn’t reward him with another gig.

http://tss.ib.tv/news/articles/12881-klitschko-wins-ud-ultra-cautious-haye-haye-talked-big-but-barely-threw

So soon after Charles’ death, the fightgame lost another esteemed media figure. TSS’s own George Kimball, the literary lion of the keyboard tapper set, died on July 6. He was taken more than five years after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and given only six or so months to live. Kimball churned out book after book in his late stages, showing all of us the right way to deal with the KO artist cancer. They simply do not make ‘em like George anymore, and they will not ever again.

http://deadspin.com/george-kimball/

Paul Williams may well have jumped the shark on July 9, when Erislandy Lara got the better of LTP in AC. But the judges didn’t think so; they gave Williams the decision in what most thought was one of the very worst decisions of the year. Hard to say it was the worst, as judges did as they do every year—they butchered about one big fight a month. The AC commish did the right thing by busting the judges responsible, and demanding they do remedial training.

http://tss.ib.tv/news/articles/12921-paul-williams-gets-decision-over-erislandy-lara-in-ac

They earned every darned dime of their purses, did Delvin Rodriguez and Pawel Wolak on Friday Night Fights. I had Delvin ahead in the NYC clash, but many though Pawel won in a bigtime Fight of the Year candidate, and the judges called it a draw. Here was another example that the best tussles usually don’t feature the mega names, and often feature guys with losses on their ledger.

Mid month, we learned that Ross the Boss wouldn’t be much longer. Ross Greenburg was encouraged to exit at HBO, and Showtime head Ken Hershman was named his successor. Most applauded the move, with the thinking being that Ross had gotten stale, and the fight fare offered by the cabler had fallen dramatically in recent years. Too many walkover matches, too many SMH purses given to puzzling persons. Fight fans hoped a new era would bring pick ‘em fights galore.

http://sports.yahoo.com/box/news?slug=ki-ross_greenburg_resignation_hbo_071711

AUGUST

Kelly Pavlik’s tumultuous year got that much whackier, when the fighter  pulled out of his scheduled fight with Darryl Cunningham on Aug. 2,  four days before they were set to tussle on a Showtime date. Pavlik said he was irked that he wasn’t get paid enough, and jealous that Mikkel Kessler was allegedly offered a boatload to meet Lucian Bute. This  wasn’t bottom for the Ohioan, sadly enough…

Ref Russell Mora turned in the Most Inept Performance of the Year by an official, quite an honor considering how many crap performances are turned in every year. He missed about a hundred low blows thrown by Abner Mares at Joseph Agbeko’s groin on Aug. 13. Mora had his face right near Agbeko’s groin when Mares smashed it with a left hook in round 11, but he inexplicably called the blow a fair launch and called for a knockdown. People screamed fix, and called for Mora’s head. He later apologized, admitting he had an off night. That is an understatement. He should work nothing but four rounder’s for all of 2012, at the leats, before he’s considered for a larger gig.

http://tss.ib.tv/news/articles/13107-russell-mora-beats-joseph-agbekostay-tuned-for-avila-from-ringside

SEPTEMBER

Was it a cheap shot? Is all fair in love and war and boxing? Floyd Mayweather cracked Victor Ortiz off a break, dropping and stopping the Californian, and introduced the “two piece with a biscuit” into the lexicon, on Sept. 17. Ortiz stirred things up with a blatant headbutt attempt on Floyd, and then when order was restored, took his eyes off the eager-for-revenge Mayweather. He paid for it with scrambled marbles.  Perhaps the most lasting memory of the evening came post-fight, when Mayweather took offense at Larry Merchant’s questioning, told him he was a hack, and heard Merchant say, “I wish I was fifty years younger, and I’d kick your ass.” T-shirts were printed up in the next half hour and Larry’s wife wore one. Some thought Merchant was unprofessional, I personally loved the pugnacious display. If only so many of the pugilists displayed Merchant-type fire during their bouts…

http://tss.ib.tv/news/articles/13280-floyd-drops-and-stops-ortiz-in-fourthwas-it-a-cheap-shot-woods

Class ended for “The Professor,” George Benton, an ace fighter and trainer who taught tricks of the trade to much of the Main Events stable. He was 78, and a master craftsman who left us with the adage, “Win this fight. Look good in the next one.”

OCTOBER

Boxing saw it’s second bizarre finish to a big fight in a month when Chad Dawson dumped Bernard Hopkins on his back after Hopkins grabbed him in the second round of their Oct. 15 match in California. Ref Pat Russell—it was a year of controversy for Cali refs named “Russell”—called Dawson the winner via TKO, declaring that Hopkins quit. Hopkins did tell Russell that he had just one good limb, saying his left shoulder was hurt, and then cried foul when the match was halted and Dawson’s hand was raised. The powers that be then declared the event a No Contest, which most of us thought was the right call on fight night. Many pundits and fans gave Hopkins a thumbs down for his part in the affair and to this day, Dawson’s trainer John Scully publicly calls Hopkins a faker, saying he thinks his shoulder wasn’t all that injured.

http://tss.ib.tv/news/articles-frontpage/13435-hopkins-shoulder-hurt-after-dawson-throws-him-down-fight-ends-in-2nd

http://tss.ib.tv/news/articles/13448-dawson-trainer-scully-on-hopkins-qa-real-gangster-wouldve-gotten-upq

It was one and done for Dewey Bozella, a man who didn’t let his wrongful conviction for murder eat him alive. Instead, he fought for his freedom, and to celebrate his release, he secured a fight on the Hopkins-Dawson undercard. On Oct. 15, the 52 year-old Bozella beat Larry Hopkins (UD4), age 31, and gained some serious consideration to gain Fighter of the Year honors. I would not have a problem bestowing Dewey that designation, not at all.

Akira Yaegashi of Japan and Thailan’s Pornsawan Porpramook did not stop throwing on Oct. 24, as they battled for Porn’s WBA minimum-weight title and for that they must win my vote for Fight of the Year. Eric Raskin was first to this bandwagon, to my knowledge, and Dan Rafael also tipped his cap to these guys, so I’m happy to shine some more light on the 105 pounders as well. Side-note: you have to love YouTube, for without this service, two minimum-weight boxers would never be contenders for the BWAA versionof FOY.

NOVEMBER

The steroids issue popped up in the fight game, when we learned at the beginning of the month that Juan Manuel Marquez’ strength and conditioning coach Angel Heredia used to be a PED dealer and ratted out athletes who used. Whatever Heredia did with JMM, it worked, as Marquez gave Manny Pacquiao all that he could handle and then some on Nov.  12, in their third tangle; but Marquez didn’t get love from the judges, as the Vegas arbiters scored for Manny, 115-113, 116-112, and one had it even, 114-114.

http://tss.ib.tv/news/articles-frontpage/13612-pacquiao-wins-majority-decision-in-ultra-tight-scrapwoods

A true Fight of the Year contender unfolded on Nov. 5, when James Kirkland bounced back from a quickie knockdown in the first, dropped Alfredo Angulo in the same frame, and finished him in the sixth. He fought like a man possessed, or perhaps a man no longer possessed, by the man. Kirkland did time on a weapons charge, scrubbed off some rust, and goes in to 2012 as one to watch.

Fight fans shed another tear, when they learned that Smokin’ Joe Frazier was gone. The ex heavyweight champion perished from liver cancer, at age 67, on Nov. 7. One presumes he will be in the mind of Muhammad Ali when The Greatest celebrates his 70th birthday on Jan. 17th.

Stephen Espinoza was named new head of boxing at Showtime on Nov. 17. The lawyer comes over from Golden Boy, so all eyes will be on him to see if his old bosses get preferential treatment. His first act was to open up the purse strings to snag Berto-Ortiz II. So far, so good…(Yes, Ortiz is a Golden Boy fighter, but as long as Espinoza buys pick ‘em fights of great quality, he will be fine.)

NY fight fans rejoiced when they learned that the Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito rematch would take place at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 3. They held their breath as mega-drama played out in the second half of the month, because the New York State Athletic Commission acted in a quite deliberate manner while processing Margarito’s application to receive a license to box. The Mexican had three surgeries, for a fractured orbital bone, a detached retina and then a cataract, in a span of six months, but with 12 days till fightnight, the NYSAC licensed the hitter.

DECEMBER

Yep, he cheated. The verdict came in, in the minds of many fight fans, when they saw Miguel Cotto have his way with Antonio Margarito on Dec. 3 at MSG. A packed house saw the Puerto Rican box and move like an ace, and force the doctor to pull the plug on Margarito after nine rounds were completed. His damaged right eye was closed, and his reputation was in complete tatters, as most all assumed that the first time they tangled, in 2008, “Margacheato” was using loaded hand wraps. Cotto goes into 2012 as a viable foe, again, for Manny Pacquiao if the ball is again dropped, and Pacquiao-Mayweather doesn’t get made.

It was one of the top handful of upsets of the year, just maybe not in the eyes of the winner, Lamont Peterson. The DC-based boxer was neck and neck with Amir Khan, and had his hand raised at the end of their Dec. 10 junior welter title scrap. Point deductions from Khan for pushing were the difference, as the judges saw it 113-112, 113-112, 110-115 for Peterson, whose stock rises immensely, as he rose to the occasion in a big way. Khan’s stock drops, and we are all left wondering if we over-estimated his worth. As an aside, Peterson is another one of those kids who could easily have tumbled down a crack if boxing hadn’t given him a platform to shine.

Ward made Carl Froch look like a solid journeyman, nothing more, on Dec. 17, and hoisted the Super Six tourney trophy at the end of the night in AC. In a perfect world, a just world, this God-fearing upstanding citizen would enjoy the same buzz as Floyd Mayweather. This world is what it is, far from perfect, so Ward will for now have to be somewhat content with being most appreciated by purists.

Dec. 21 brought the word that Floyd would be doing some jail time, no more than 90 days, for his Sept. 10 altercation with the mother of his kids, and to us, hope that this “clarity” in his legal matters would pave the way to make Manny-Mayweather. But if Floyd goes behind bars Jan. 6, and gets out in March or April, he wouldn’t likely be in line to meet Manny until September. Which means we have another nine or so months to bloviate on the Matchup That Might Never Be…And Floyd would be 35 ½ and Pacman almost 34….Sigh. I’m trying to finish up this piece leaning in a positive direction, and this line of thinking is making it hard.

On Dec. 30, Jermain Taylor came back to the ring after two plus years away, and got the W over journeyman Jessie Nicklow. He said he was fired up, had the motivation, and wanted to reclaim a title. He said all the things you expect the comebacking fighter to say. It’s fair to say we all breathed a sigh of relief that he left the ring A-OK after his TKO8 win, which is saying something, since he suffered bleeding on the brain following his KO12 loss to Arthur Abraham. Docs said he’s good to go, and we pray they are correct as he moves toward bigger fights against harder-punching opponents.

With no bouts scheduled for Dec. 31, unless Mayweather lights a stack of thousand dollar bills on fire in a club, or Pavlik or someone else acts up, that’s a wrap on the year in boxing, 2011.

Thanks to all who gave their all in the ring for our entertainment, and to all you faithful readers of TSS. Happy New Year!

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Oleksandr Usyk from a Historical Perspective 

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Oleksandr-Usyk-from-a-Historical-Perspective

Oleksandr Usyk flipped the heavyweight division onto its head this past Saturday night in the Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, travelling a long way from home to seal his greatest victory. Usyk, small by modern heavyweight standards, towers over most men at 6’3″ and 220lbs and sporting a reach that lineal champions Ezzard Charles or Joe Walcott would have killed for. Things have changed though, and in the middle rounds of his war with Tyson Fury, Usyk suddenly appeared tiny. Fury, a giant at around 6’8” and over 260lbs seems a heavyweight for this century. Usyk, a journeyman in the most ancient sense of the word, feels like a throwback to a more savage time. His greatest achievements have taken place on foreign soil. The last time he boxed at home was almost a decade ago and given the situation in Ukraine and given Usyk’s 37 years, it is unlikely he will ever box there again.

Usyk took chances in the seventh and especially the eighth to take charge of a fight that seemed to be slipping away from him. In the vertigo inducing ninth, it was he, not Fury who appeared the giant. Usyk draped the Englishman over the ropes like so much fresh meat and tenderised him to within an inch of unconsciousness, the sheer hugeness of Fury perhaps preventing a referee’s intervention on behalf of his opponent, and not for the first time. Against both Deontay Wilder (the first fight) and Otto Wallin, a more squeamish official would have stepped in and stopped the fight, and here, too, there was a case. If Usyk seems a throwback, then Fury has been refereed like one, spared stoppages likely to be inflicted upon his peers, he was allowed once again to continue boxing, as Joe Louis was against Max Schmeling, or Jack Dempsey was against Luis Pirpo. But with Fury buckled at the knees, Usyk seemed the true heavy man in the ring.

In historical terms, Usyk is not a small heavyweight. He would have dwarfed “The Galveston Giant” Jack Johnson in the ring and loomed large over “Big” George Foreman. Usyk has every attribute necessary to make an unpleasant evening for Joe Louis, but it should be noted that while his footwork and speed and technical excellence would be the source of the discomfort, his excess of height and reach are the wildcards. Usyk would seem two to three weight classes bigger than Rocky Marciano, mainly because he is, and the towering Sonny Liston would look up. Circus strongman Jess Willard and the mob-sponsored Primo Carnera would both look down on Usyk – but not by that much. Usyk would stand eye to eye with Muhammad Ali but prime-for-prime he would outweigh him by ten pounds, as he would Larry Holmes. We must skip Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield and reach all the way into the Lennox Lewis era before we find men from history that truly out-size Usyk on a consistent basis.

Size, as Usyk has proven, is far from everything. Big by historical standards, he is small by modern standards. What else is now true in the wake of the seismic fistic events of Saturday night? Firstly, Usyk is unquestionably ranked the #1 heavyweight in the world. Of this, there can be no dispute. Accounting for his two wonderful defeats of another “super” heavyweight, Anthony Joshua, he is 3-0 against the rest of the top five and sitting unassailably at the head of the heavyweight table. More, and I have been surprised to see it disputed in some corners, Usyk is now almost as equally unassailably the pound-for-pound number one. The only fighter breathing the same air as Usyk right now is Naoya Inoue. Inoue has been operating at or near the highest level for longer, but the level of his opposition has not been as rarefied. Comparing the first phase opposition defeated by Naoya to the murderer’s row of cruiserweights that Usyk ran into during the Super Six series can lead to only one conclusion. Although Naoya’s busy, weight-class-bursting style has topped him out for most of the past two to three years, only one of these men has consistently been beating bigger, taller, longer opposition at the highest level, and that is Usyk. It is not a matter of opinion – he is the smallest man in my heavyweight top ten.

01 – Oleksandr Usyk

02 – Anthony Joshua

03 – Joseph Parker

04 – Tyson Fury

05 – Filip Hrgovic

06 – Zhilei Zhang

07 – Agit Kabayel

08 – Daneil Dubois

09 – Martin Bakole

10 – Joe Joyce

Usyk lives among giants now and where there is parity of height (Kabayel) he is the lighter man by 15 pounds. This is not true of Naoya, who despite his weight-hopping, still manages to run into fighters of the same height and of shorter reach. The opposition argument is narrow, but the relative size opposition is not and there is no pound-for-pound credential more significant than that of consistently out-fighting bigger men. Usyk has done so and will continue to do so for as long as he fights. There is simply no smaller man in his class.

Not since the heyday of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield has a lineal heavyweight champion consistently fought bigger men and not since Mike’s hype-infused prime has a heavyweight menaced the number one pound-for-pound spot. Usyk has not enjoyed anything like the same machine support as Mike did; indeed, he has laboured in the shadow of more prominent men until such time as he thrashed them. He is a true manifestation of pound-for-pound glory in the unlimited class. Where does this leave him in terms of all-time standing?

I am reluctant to rate active fighters for reasons that are obvious enough; Usyk could be pole-axed in three by an irate Fury in a December rematch and all this ink is for naught. But what I am willing to do is play let’s pretend and imagine Usyk as retired and consider his place in heavyweight history now.

Usyk’s raw numbers are low-grade at just 22-0 with 14 knockouts. Worse, most of this was built in the cruiserweight division and not the heavyweight division. Against men weighing in as heavyweights, Uysk is essentially 7-0, and only 3-0 against ranked opposition. On the other hand, one of these victories came against Daniel Dubois, now ranked, and the 3-0 was posted against Tyson Fury, generally held to be the best or second-best heavyweight in the world, and Anthony Joshua, ranked behind only Fury at the time of his first fight with Usyk. So, when he stepped up, he stepped up to tackle the best in the world and has become lineal as a result. It’s a hard ledger to wrestle with, but fortunately we have a career that is comparable in the shape of Gene Tunney.

Tunney, a career light-heavyweight, earned a heavyweight legacy built of essentially one man: Jack Dempsey. Past-prime and inactive, Dempsey was ripped apart by Tunney in their legendary first fight and did better in a losing effort against the genius “Fighting Marine” in a rematch, much like Joshua did against Usyk. Tunney then boxed the limited but game Tom Heeney and retired. The rest of his heavyweight career was spent beating great middleweights like Harry Greb and limited losing-streak gatekeepers like Charley Weinert and Martin Burke. One thing that must be noted is that Tunney is matching men who are smaller than Usyk’s cruiserweight opposition to his heavyweight credit. Men like Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev would have been big men in Tunney’s era, but they aren’t counted towards heavyweight legacy for the Ukrainian – either would constitute Tunney’s second-best heavyweight scalp, I think. Tunney’s wider resume does not necessarily include fighters who compare that favourably even to Dereck Chisora or Chaz Witherspoon, the men who make up Usyk’s second layer of opposition.

The point is, Tunney was made a legend for defeating a champion. Both Fury and Joshua were active, physically enormous fighters that Usyk simply unmanned with a type of genius Gene Tunney would have stood to applaud. Tunney appended to his light-heavyweight career the important part of a heavyweight career – the part where you fight and beat the champion, and it has made him a stalwart of heavyweight history. This, Usyk too has achieved, but I have been more impressed with Usyk’s summit than Tunney’s. To be direct: Usyk should rate higher at heavyweight than Tunney.

What that means is that the top twenty at heavyweight is the minimum Usyk can expect from history’s eye should he retire undefeated. In such a case, I would place Usyk in this sort of company:

18 – Ezzard Charles

19 – Oleksandr Usyk

20 – Jersey Joe Walcott

21 – James J Corbett

22 – Peter Jackson

23 – Ken Norton

24 – Max Schmeling

25 – Vitali Klitschko

26 – Riddick Bowe

27 – Gene Tunney

Also illustrative of a point is Tunney’s career pre-heavyweight. Tunney, every bit as brilliant as Usyk in the ring (although notably smaller, and successful against notably smaller opposition), laced up his gloves on close to ninety occasions and his level of competition dwarfs that of Usyk. That is no indictment. All it really means is that Usyk isn’t among the thirty greatest fighters ever to have drawn breath, like Tunney is. He can join an enormous and star-studded cast that includes Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins and Carlos Monzon in that. I do think, though, that Oleksandr Usyk’s career, were it to end tomorrow, could be readily compared to that of Evander Holyfield and that means that an unbeaten Usyk, lineal cruiserweight and heavyweight champion of the world, current pound-for-pound king, is within spitting distance of a list that captures the fifty greatest fighters in history.

56 – Ruben Olivares

57 – Wilfredo Gomez

58 – Vicente Saldivar

59 – Oleksandr Usyk

60 – Evander Holyfield

61 – Ted Kid Lewis

62 – Lou Ambers

63 – Rocky Marciano

64 – Abe Attell

65 – Manuel Ortiz

A retired Naoya Inoue would join him in the top seventy, I think, and a retired Bud Crawford the top ninety.

Boxing is dead, haven’t you heard?

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Another Victory for Ukraine as Berinchyk Upsets Navarrete in San Diego

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Whether it was inspiration or perspiration, Ukraine’s Denys Berinchyk motored past Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete by split decision to become the WBO lightweight world titlist on Saturday.

Just hours after his fellow countryman Oleksandr Usyk became undisputed heavyweight world champion, Berinchyk joined the club.

“This is a great night for all people of Ukraine,” Berinchyk said.

The undefeated Ukrainian Berinchyk (19-0, 9 KOs) gutted out a win over Navarrete (38-2-1, 31 KOs) who was attempting to join Mexico’s four-division world champion club in San Diego. The lanky fighter known as “Vaquero” fell a little short.

Through all 12 rounds neither fighter was able to dominate and neither was able to score a knockdown. Just when it seemed one fighter gathered enough momentum, the other fighter would rally.

A butt caused a slight cut on Navarrete in the 10th round. That seemed to ignite anger from the Mexican fighter and he powered through the Ukrainian fighter the next two rounds.

In the final round Berinchyk bore down and slugged it out with the Mexican fighter as both relied on their weapons of choice. For most of the night Navarrete scored with long-range uppercuts and Berinchyk scored with overhand rights.

After 12 rounds two judges scored it 115-113, 116-112 for Berinchyk and one 116-112 for Navarrete. Ukraine gained its third world titlist in one a week. Berinchyk joins Usyk and Vasyl Lomachenko as world titlists.

“He’s a very tough guy,” said Berinchyk of Navarrete.

Welterweights

A battle between undefeated welterweights saw Brian Norman (26-0, 20 KOs) knock out Giovany Santillan (32-1, 17 KOs) in the 10th round to become the interim WBO titlist.

For nine rounds both welterweights engaged in brutal inside warfare as each tried to beat the sense out of each other.

Norman worked the body early as Santillan targeted the head. Neither fought more than two inches from each other.

The younger Norman, 23, connected with a right cross during an exchange that wobbled Santillan in the eighth round. From that point on the Georgia fighter began setting up for his power shots. Finally, in the 10th round, uppercuts dropped Santillan twice. In the second knockdown Santillan went down hard as referee Ray Corona stopped the fight immediately at 1:33 of the 10th round.

Other Bouts

Heavyweight Richard Torrez (10-0, 10 KOs) knocked out Brandon Moore (14-1) in the fifth round for a regional title.

Lightweight Alan Garcia (10-0) defeated Wilfredo Flores (10-3-1) by decision after eight.

Photo credit: German Villasenor

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UNDISPUTED ! – Usyk Defeats Fury ! – Plus Undercard Results from Riyadh

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The most ballyhooed fight of the young century played out today at Riyadh Arena in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where Ukraine’s amazing Oleksandr Usyk became an undisputed world champion in a second weight class with a split decision over WBC and lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.

This was a memorable fight with twists and turns. Usyk had some good moments early, but the middle rounds belonged to the Gypsy King. Heading into the second half of the bout, the old saying that a good big man will always beat a good little man, appeared to be holding up once again. Fury was having good success working the body as his trainer SugarHill Steward exhorted him to do, and when he went upstairs, he rattled Usyk, notably in round five when a big uppercut appeared to lift the Ukrainian off his feet. But Usyk finished round seven strong, a prelude of what was to come.

Usyk plainly won round eight and in round nine, he came within a whisper of ending it. A flurry of punches sent Fury reeling. He crashed into the ring ropes which dictated a standing-8 count from referee Mark Nelson. If Nelson had waited a few more seconds, he would have likely waved the fight off as Fury was on queer street. But this dramatic turnaround came late in the round and the Gypsy King was saved by the bell.

Among other things, Tyson Fury is known for his amazing powers of recuperation. He not only stayed the course, but appeared to win the final round. But in the end, Oleksandr Usyk, now 22-0 (14) saddled Fury (34-1-1) with his first defeat. Two of the judges favored him (115-112, 114-113) with the dissenter scoring it for Fury 114-113.

A draw wouldn’t have caused much of a stink and now they will do it again. The sequel is tentatively scheduled for October. Both are getting a little long in the tooth – Usyk is 37 and Fury is 35 – so we will be surprised if the rematch lives up to the hype.

Semi-wind-up

The first encounter between Jai Opetaia and Mairis Briedis was a grueling fight. Opetaia, an Australian Olympian at age 16, won the battle (a fair decision) but yet took the worst of it. Early in that bout, he had his jaw fractured in two places and for the next two months was forced to eat out of a straw.

The rematch tonight in Riyadh was a monotonous fight through the first nine rounds. Briedis, now 39 years old and inactive since their first meeting, looked old and rusty. But the fight heated up in round 10 and the championship rounds belonged to the Latvian.

It came too little, too late, however, as Briedis needed a knockout to win. At the conclusion, the judges favored the Aussie by scores of 117-111 and 116-112 twice.

Opetaia, 28, improved to 25-0 (19).  Briedis, who has defeated everyone that he has fought with the exceptions of Opetaia and Oleksandr Usyk (and the Usyk fight was close) falls to 28-3.

The first fight between Opetaia and Briedis was for the IBF cruiserweight title. Tonight’s match is for the vacant IBF cruiserweight title (don’t ask).

Cordina-Cacace

In a major upset, Belfast’s Anthony Cacace, a 12-year pro, captured the IBF 130-pound world title with a seventh-round stoppage of previously undefeated Joe Cordina who went to post a consensus 7/1 favorite. The end came 39 seconds into round seven with Cacace pummeling Cordina against the ropes.

The Irishman was the busier fighter and landed the harder punches, but the bout was not without controversy. In the third frame, Cacace stunned Cordina with a punch that landed after the referee ordered the fighters to break. That put Cordina on the defensive and before the round was over, Cacace put him on the canvas with a wicked uppercut and Cordina, badly hurt, barely survived the round. Cacace (22-1, 8 KOs) had a big sixth round and closed the show in the next stanza.

Cordina, a 2016 Olympian who was undefeated in 17 pro fights heading in, is a close friend and frequent workout partner of Lauren Price who captured the WBC female welterweight title last week. She now stands alone as the only current world champion from Wales.

Kabayel-Sanchez

In a mild upset, Agit Kabayel continued his late career surge with a seventh-round KO of previously undefeated Frank Sanchez. As was the case in his last fight when he upset Arslanbek Makhmudov, Kabayel (25-0, 17 KOs) finished his opponent with body punches. A left-right combination knocked Sanchez to his knees and then, after Sanchez got to his feet, a straight right to the belly sent him down again and he wasn’t able to beat the count.

Sanchez, who was 24-0 heading in, entered the bout with a brace over his right knee that compromised his mobility. Kabayel, the aggressor throughout, was comfortably ahead at the time of the stoppage. The official time was 2:23 of round seven.

Kovalev-Safar

In a dull 10-rounder, unsung Robin Safar, a Swedish-born fighter of Kurdish descent, may have written the finish for the career of Sergey Kovalev. At age 41 in his second fight as a cruiserweight and coming off a two-year layoff, the “Krusher” was a pale imitation of the fighter that won nine straight light heavyweight title fights before losing a controversial decision to Andre Ward in their first encounter.

Safar, who improved to 17-0 (12) punctuated his triumph by knocking down Kovalev (35-5-1) with a big right hand inside the final 10 seconds of the final round. The judges had it 99-90, 97-92, and 95-94.

Two early fights ended in early knockouts.

Moses Itauma, a 19-year-old, six-foot-six southpaw who was raised in London by a Nigerian father and a Slovakian mother, stopped Ilya Mezercev at the 50-second mark of the second round. Mezercev made it to his feet after being decked with a big right hook, but his legs were jelly and the fight was waved off.

Trained by Ben Davison, Itauma (9-0, 7 KOs) has been hailed as the next Anthony Joshua. As an amateur, he was reportedly 24-0. Mezercev, a Germany-based Kazkh, declined to 25-9.

British lightweight Mark “Thunder” Chamberlain (16-0, 12 KOs) looked sensational while blasting out Joshua Oluwaseun Wahab in the opening stanza. Chamberlain had Wahab (23-2) on the deck twice before the bout was waived off at the 2:42 mark.

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