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Euro Bureau Best of Last Year

Phil Woolever

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Euro Bureau Best of Last Year
BLASTS PAST – GrandpaGloves ’11hobbles into the graveyard of calendars while Boxing Baby 2012 begins the crawl. New Year’s blessings to all.

We must bury Boxing2011 with few wreaths of greatness, but we can also praisemany honorable and entertaining duke-outsduring that past twelve months. The game itself deserves “Fighter of the Year”consideration for once again making naysayers look like trolls, slithering around beneath the ringside seats.

Even a bad year in boxing is as goodas a normal year in most sports.

Still, with persistent negative images,perceived miscues or improprieties and, perhaps most damaging; stars’ questionable efforts in “championship” events, this certainlywasn’t amongst the best seasons ever.It really wasn’t a bad year overall for the brand worldwide though, whileregrettable that two of the very biggest, potentially classicfights in the global spotlight, Pacquiao -Mosley and Klitschko – Haye, were complete duds.

As always, there were thousands more good scores or calls than bad, but last year it seemed there were far moreunsatisfactory callsin fights of the very highest profile, like Floyd Mayweather Jr – Victor Ortizstateside or Yoan Pablo Hernandez – USS Cunningham in Germany. Around here, the weirdest sour ending was whenVitali Klitschko stopped Odlanier Solis on a one punchleg injury.Uncommon and uncanny.

In European territory, there was sustained interest in local titles and local prospects, with limited coverage of theUS scene. In Germany, and probablyBritain, Mayweather got muchmore ink and screen time than Manny Pacquiao. Then again, in 2011 Floyd had many of what you could call more “newsworthy” days than other fighters.

Around this continent and the UK there was plenty of good action at the ground level. Boxing remains a bigger consumersport here than in the States. Pay per view is limited or non-existent in most regions. That means almost every big fight is on free TV. Makes a difference. In Germany the amount of viewers is usually quitesubstantial, a trend probablycommonin nearby domains. The businessmodel, kind of like ’50s USA, is apparently good for the sport.

The K2 promotional express rolled on, setting the standard for class, like a precision luxury coup gliding down the autobahn at warp speed. Newer muggs like Alexander Povetkin, Robert Helenius, Tyson Fury, Hernandez, and Amir Kahn became more regular in the sports pages.In Germany, “Smokin'” Joe’s passing was widely noted with respect of an appropriate magnitude.

There seems to be enough punch for profit going around Germany to makeeveryone happy. At least three major broadcasting companies (possible affiliations unknown) transmit fights relatively often, and stronglysupport them through a related media umbrella which includes high-def live streams.

Klitschko stadium galas, while not as red-hot or expensivea ticketas a couple years back, fill tens of thousands of seatsthree orfour times a yearwith no visible decline in the demand for premium VIP packages (maybe it should be VEP: very expensive person). Sauerland Event, the area’s most active premium promotional outfit, regularlyputs onexcellent major title cards that average aroundfour to six thousand customers. The club fight typescene looks very popularat many local gyms, which sponsor bouts for a couple hundred people.

Here, boxing is mainstream enough that advertising campaigns present boxing based images as a desirable, marketable attribute. Fitness, fashion and general goods get the gloved-uptreatment.Michael Buffer has been prominently featured for many months in promos for one of the biggest retail companies in Germany.

There is probably more general boxing coverage in the UK than other parts of Europe I’ve seen, with regular profiles outside usual immediate or upcoming fight time frames. German media provides good coverage of many fights immediately preceding specific events. In Germany there are many celebrity-based photos of boxersamong daily paper tabloids. Unlike UK Page 3 types, Deutschland’stopless frauleins adornpage one ofsome city newspapers.

European boxing’scurrent stateof the artexists incomplete self sufficiency, stablity and withan ongoing,replenished talent pool. Top amateur prospects may be less protected than many of the future USstars I saw. Overall, through size alonethe talent pool around Germany is farmore shallow thana place likeLA or Vegas in terms of global impact. Between strong national programs at both amateur and pro levels there is a considerable migration of former Soviet Union state area prospects who head west for more optimal training conditions.

Professionally, at the novice to mid-prelim range things look muchthe same as in the US. Maybe its something in the water, wine or workoutsthat later separatesanemergence of trueworld class performers. In 2011, the ambassadors from these Europeanpartsdidn’t fare so well in global arenas.German star Arthur Abraham got spanked in the Super Sixwhile respected Sebastian Zbik and Serhiy Dzinzirukalso met defeat onUS shores. Abraham gets back on lighter horse in around a week. Dzinziruk, who got stopped by worthy champion Sergio Martinez and Zbik, narrowly outpointed by improving JC Chavez Jr wentback to the drawing board with new opportunities. Sebastian Sylvester, who lost his IBF middleweight belt to Daniel Geale then got stopped by Grzegorz Proska, may digress to a spoiler role.

Perhaps the most shocking differencein theGerman scene is that here, the cruiserweight division is very strong and entertaining. No, I did not stay too long in Amsterdamfor NewYears’ (just long enough, actually).

There are many solid cruisers who will never earn a title but are no easy notch, a bit like fringe heavyweightcontenders of the 70-80s.Guys who probably hit the ring fight nightwell over 200 poundslike Ola Alofabi orDenis Lebedov arethe fringes of the 2010s.Guys like Hernandezand Cunninghammight have won bouts against previous heavies like James Tillis,Joe Mesior Tyrell Biggs.

Differences in nationalapplication and results cause no major deficiencies in anyone’s product.It’s still two women ortwomen, generally braver andin better shape than the average citizen, getting into a ring and throwing hands.

Consistent levels of Vegas main events and featured undercard bouts apparently still dwarfthe euroscene atop the fistic food chain, but the overall spectacleis much the same. Some Klitschko VIP parties rival glitter gulch presentations. For the record, as a fight destination nothing matches Vegas in the 80s-90s,probably the modern era’sheight of boxingglamour. So far.

Thatsummit may remain unmatched, but there are many fine fights and fighters to observe in these parts nowadays. Here’s the best of what I saw firsthandlast year.

Fighter(s)of the Year : The Kbros split this one by way ofboth dominant and dubious distinction. From one perspective, nobody really came close to matching the level of exemplaryprofessionalism Wlad and Vit have maintained forrelative eons now, in everything from proper preparation to charitablesidelines. On the other side of the coin,during 2011 there were few major Euros who hadvery good years. Lebedev pounding Roy Jones or James Toney in Moscowain’t exactly a Renaissance.

Fight of the Year – I’m goingwith Marco Huck’s (pictured) frenzied10th round KOversusHugo Garayin Munich’s Olympic Ice Stadium last July. It was not the most finesse based exercise ever conducted between the strands, but it was one heck of a two-way brawlthat made the 4,404 or so fans in attendance loco. Both men were stunned multiple times during huge exchanges. Garay was a perfect foil, and made an upset look entirely possible more than a couple times. Icing on the conking cake was Huck’s way over the top entrance featuring a live performance by pop-rocker Sera Lee, complete with unisex dancing boxersusing flaming gloves. A live cartoon.

There was less of the essential mauling mayhem, but in terms of top level technique the runner-up nod goes to the controversialFelix Sturm-Matthew Macklin endurance contest. Sturm’s subsequent draw againstMartin Murray looked nearly as good on TV, andHernandez-Cunningham shaped up as a thriller before an accidental cut.

Round of the Year: Sturm- Macklin round 12.A great promotion with a full house of 19,000 inCologne. Excellent battle, arguablyup for grabs down the stretch. I gave the round to Sturm by a punch,but the fight to Macklin by a point. Runner up: Povetkin-Chagaev round 6. Yes it wasa bit ofa big boy slog, but well-fought overallbehind plenty of heavy thuds.Maybe it takes a strong bruiser like Chagaev to bring out the best in Povetkin.Reminiscent of ’80selimination waltzes featuring guys like Dokes,Weaver or Cobb.

Event of the Year : Vitali K – Adamek in Wroclaw, Poland, where the locals showed why their economy is growing. Students of boxing loremay recall the Dempsy-Gibbons fiasco in Shelby, Montana. This was the other side of the payoffcoin, in a still under construction stadium area to be used again for the 2012 European football/soccer tournament. It looked like almost everyone in town came for the spectacle.As a heavyweight fight, it was merely an impressive performance by the much larger, more experienced Kbro, who did what he was supposed to do against a brave but overmatched foe. Nothing extraordinary. As a cultural gathering, it was a rare scene of mass humanity with boxing at the center. The last time I observedanything like it was Lewis-Tyson in Memphis.It was later sad to hear that Adamekwas parting ways with Main Events, whose quiet efficiency contributed to both an amazing event and Adamek’s overall status in the ranks. Nothing in these parts came close as a runner up.

Debacle of the Year :Goes hands and happy pants downto the Klitschko-Haye fight. As a fight scene, Hamburg was the opposite of Wroclaw.Imagine. A chancefor redemption of the marketability mothballed heavyweight division ona single July evening in Hamburg. Evena near constant, chillingdownpour couldn’t drown the highly-anticipated showdown. Six or seven thousand visiting Brit fans completely outcheered the rest in a soaked crowd that looked around 38,000 deep. Despite the drenching, when the last prefight fireworks went off, there was real, electrified anticipation in the air. That lasted around four more minutes, to a point in round two when most of the stadium started figuring out they were not in for a classic. The soggy Britvocalists put more heart into their effortthan Haye did into his,and sang formore frames than he fought.

Prospective International Star : There are currently a pair of potential primo punchers on the rise : ’04 Olympic silver medalistandWBA”something or other”middleweighttitlist Gennady Golovkin and ’08 heavyweight gold medalist Rakhim “The Machine” Chakhkiev, a southpaw cruiserweight.Hernandez could also be considered, but almost all his potential competition is based in Germany and the usual suspects are pretty muchunknowns. Right now Chakhkiev looks like a future heavyweight force, maybe a Denis Boytsov typewithout the hand issues.

KO :Afolabi’shugeblastout ofTerry Dunstanon the Klitschko-Haye undercardwas the most obvious calluntil December, when Glovovkincreamed the reportedly never dropped Lajuan Simon, who’d looked solid against Abraham and Sylvester. Whatever your preference, bothshort hooks produced splattering, crowd joltingfirst round stoppages.

Progress: Fury and Helenius moved themselves to the front of the Klitschko sweepstakes pack by staying busy. Though defeated, Zbik and Dzinziruk went from being unknowns in America to being unknowns in America who are now only another decent effort away from being well -knownenough for agood payday.

Comeback: Haye. Completely unearned, but somehow he rosefrom July mockery tocomfirmed year-end mention as most likely contender for an early summer stadium fight against Kbro Vitali.

Class Act:The Klitschko brothers again. Whenthe main knock, year after year,istheir complete lack of competition, they’re doing something a lot better than everybody else.

 

Country to country, the Americas still seemsuperior in the manly art.All said, if everythinglooked equal on paper, I’d pick Latin American or USbased fighters over their European counterparts at least seven times out of ten.

It’s a good sign that the new year starts witha return of the sport to a foundational network. NBC’s Chambers-Liakhovich free cable broadcast could well be the event of next year, one way or another.

Thepositive perspective, as usual, is that there were lots of good fights all over the lumping landscape by honorable, well prepared performers who maintained boxing’s best traditions and highest standards.

The fight gameremained a vibrant piece of the social equation last year,andthe planet continued to spin as old calendars and old champions were replaced.

There is a lot of middle ground between thriving and starving.

Boxing’s bellymay be lean, but it isn’t under-nourished.

Euro Bureau Best of Last Year / Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.

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Buatsi Flattens Dos Santos in Manchester; Charr KOs Fraudulent Lovejoy in Cologne

Arne K. Lang

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In a Knockout of the Year candidate, rising light heavyweight contender Joshua Buatsi (14-0, 12 KOs) leveled Daniel Blenda Dos Santos, an unheralded Frenchman, in the fourth round, closing the show with a pulverizing right hand – and for good measure, touching him with another right as he fell. A 2016 Olympic bronze medalist for England, the Ghana-born Buatsi trained for two months in the California Bay Area under his new trainer Virgil Hunter and his American sojourn paid dividends.

Dos Santos, who found his way to boxing after serving three-and-a-half years in prison, was undefeated (15-0, 8 KOs) coming in, but hadn’t fought beyond six rounds. He was knocked down earlier in the fight with a chopping right hand. There were less than 20 seconds remaining in the fourth when Buatsi put Dos Santos to sleep, and to his credit he did not celebrate but consoled his distraught victim.

Other Bouts

In a shocker, 31-year-old southpaw Jason Cunningham improved to 29-6 (6) with a unanimous decision over Gamal Yafai (18-2) who was making the first defense of the European bantamweight title that he won in Milan.

Cunningham had Yafai on the canvas three times — knocking him down with left hands in the second, fourth and sixth rounds — but Yafai, the younger brother of former 115-pound world title-holder Kal Yafai — wasn’t deterred and kept coming forward. In the end, however, Cunningham’s lead was too big for Yafai to overcome. The judges had it 115-110 and 114-111 x2 for the southpaw who was a consensus 10/1 underdog.

Super middleweight Lerrone Richards breezed to a lopsided 12-round decision over Italian veteran Giovanni DeCarolis to snatch a vacant European title. Trained by Dave Coldwell, who previously handled Tony Bellew, Richards was content to rack up points and the one-dimensional DeCarolis, who was making his first start in 23 months, had no way to stop him.

The judges had it 120-108 and 119-109 twice. The London-born Richards, whose family roots are in Ghana, improved to 15-0 (3). This may have been the last rodeo for the 36-year-old DeCarolis who fell to 28-10-1.

Belfast’s Tommy McCarthy (18-2, 9 KOs) was fed a softie for his first defense of his European cruiserweight title in the form of 36-year-old Romanian Alexandru Jur who brought a 19-4 record but had defeated only four men with winning records. Except for a few brief moments, Jur showed little inclination to mix it up. McCarthy put Jur down with a body punch in round four and finished him off two rounds later with another body punch. The official time was 2:09.

McCarthy, who is of Irish and Jamaican descent, moves on to a date with fellow Brit Chris Billam-Smith. Jur lost for the fourth time in his last six starts.

Cologne

Credit Christopher Lovejoy for having the gumption to defy Don King who threatened legal action if Lovejoy went ahead with his match today with WBA “champion in recess” Mahmoud (Manuel) Charr. But the 37-year-old Lovejoy, who arrived in Germany all by himself, traveled a long way to destroy whatever credibility he may have had. Fighting off the grid, he had rung up 19 fast knockouts in 19 fights against 19 presumptive Tijuana taxi drivers.

Carrying 306 ½-pounds, the six-foot-five Lovejoy lasted less than two full rounds against Charr who was making his first ring appearance in 42 months. Lovejoy was counted out after being dropped with a volley of punches in the second round.

Photo credit: Mark Robinson / Matchroom

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 135: Danny Roman and Super Bantamweights Perform in L.A.

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 135: Danny Roman and Super Bantamweights Perform in L.A.

The super bantamweight division was virtually unknown by most fans of prizefighting for the last decade.

Then Danny Roman arrived and re-booted the 122-pound division virtually by himself by challenging and defeating world champions from Japan and the United Kingdom.

Roman (28-3-1, 10 KOs) no longer holds the world titles but itches to regain his footing when he fights Ricardo Espinoza (25-3, 21 KOs) at Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday May 15. Showtime will televise the battle on the Premier Boxing Champions card.

“Everything I do in boxing from here on out is to regain my status as a world champion,” said the normally ultra-reserved Roman, 31.

Ironically, both Roman and Espinoza turned their careers around with numerous battles at boxing shows in Ontario, California. They entered as boys and emerged as battle-tested men.

For the last 20 years Thompson Boxing Promotions has been pumping out world champions and contenders at a furious rate despite their small size in Southern California. They do not pamper or cajole their prospects.

Both Roman and Espinoza suffered their first losses as professionals at Thompson Boxing’s bloody battles at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario. But despite losing, they continued to learn and evolve. Now they meet in Los Angeles on the big stage.

When Roman lost to Japan’s Takashi Okada in 2011 and Juan Reyes in 2013, that could have derailed the Los Angeles-based fighter for good. Instead, he re-grouped and reloaded to become a unified world champion. Roman traveled to Japan and won the WBA super bantamweight world title by stoppage of Shun Kubo in 2017. A couple of years later after several defenses, he clashed with WBO super bantamweight titlist TJ Doheny to win an incredible battle by decision in Los Angeles. It was perhaps the Fight of the Year in 2019 and gained Roman the WBO belt.

Though Roman lost both the WBA and WBO titles to Murodjon Akhmadaliev, it was a disputed split decision. Many felt Roman was the true winner. So now he must battle back toward the top.

Espinoza also fought many bloody affairs at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario including his first two losses. He lost to Sam Rodriguez in 2016 and Christian Nieto in 2017. Then the power-punching fighter from Tijuana, Mexico knocked out 12 of 13 of his opponents to gain a world title fight that he lost in April 2019. Since then, he has returned to his winning ways and upset undefeated Brandon Valdes last year.

“Danny Roman has fought some really quality opponents that are high in the rankings, but this is my time. This is when I show that I can step up in competition and prove that I belong with the best,” said Espinoza who is very familiar with Roman.

The Tijuana fighter is a punching machine.

“This is not going to be an easy fight because I know my opponent is a tough fighter from Tijuana who is coming with everything he’s got. He’s got a lot of power, so I must be smart on how I throw my combinations,” said Roman who lives within 10 miles of the event. “I believe my experience in big fights is going to be the difference on May 15. I’m expecting a rough fight and I’m ready for an intense battle.”

Now the two veterans of the Ontario, California wars finally meet each other to see who advances toward a world title fight. They won’t have to look far. The main event pits two titleholders against each other.

Unification Battle for Super Bantam Belts

Mexico’s Luis Nery holds the WBC super bantamweight world title and faces Texan Brandon Figueroa who holds a version of the WBA super bantamweight title in the main event on the Dignity Health Sports Park card on Saturday. Showtime will televise.

Nery formerly held the bantamweight title too. But the Tijuana-based fighter had problems making weight and wisely moved up a weight division. So far, the extra pounds hasn’t been a problem.

The problem facing Nery is Figueroa has a solid chin.

Figueroa may look like a pretty boy but he fights like he’s ugly. The Weslaco, Texas native has firepower and a rock chin but does he have the skills to match Nery?

“I come forward. I bring the pressure and I’m definitely going to bring the power, the size and all the advantages I have to make sure that we give the fans a great show. I do respect him as a fighter but we’re just going to have to find out Saturday,” said Figueroa whose brother Omar Figueroa fought in the same venue two weeks ago.

Nery has quickness and agility to supplement his power. He also has experience in world class opposition and that’s something Figueroa lacks.

“Brandon’s style really fits with what I want to do in the ring,” said Nery, a boxer-slugger. “This is going to be an all-out war from the first round on. People are going to be talking about it for a long time after.”

The winner of this clash will hopefully meet the winner of Roman and Espinoza. That would really heat up the super bantamweight division to blue hot levels.

Some of my favorite fighters of the past occupied the super bantamweight division like Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Israel “Magnifico” Vazquez who twice fought in this same venue. His third fight with Rafael Marquez on March 1, 2008 was voted Fight of the Year for its brutal but spectacular display of super bantamweight power.

The winners of this quasi-super bantamweight tournament can equally achieve the same kind of greatness those former stars achieved. This is a good start.

Fights to Watch (All times are Pacific Coast)

Friday UFC Fight Pass 5:30 p.m. Heather Hardy (22-1) vs Jessica Camara (7-2); Melissa St. Vil (13-4-4) vs Olivia Gerula (18-18-4).

Friday Telemundo 11:30 p.m. Denilson Valtierra (14-0) vs Emanuel Lopez (30-12-1).

Sat. DAZN 10 a.m. Lerrone Richards (14-0) vs Giovanni De Carolis (28-9-1).

Sat. Showtime 7 p.m. Luis Nery (31-0) vs Brandon Figueroa (21-0-1); Danny Roman (28-3-1) vs Ricardo Espinoza (25-3).

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Charr vs Lovejoy: Better Late Than Never, or Not

Phil Woolever

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COLOGNE – There are many questions to be answered regarding Mahmoud Charr’s scheduled fight against Christopher Lovejoy this Saturday night at a training facility along the Rhine. The most primary point to be determined is whether the contest actually occurs.

Charr has been idle since capturing a WBA title belt against Aleksandr Ustinov way back in November 2017. Since then numerous delays and cancellations, many of them out of Charr’s control, have kept the erstwhile ranked heavyweight out of the championship picture and far from the international public eye.

The most recent of such situations found Charr unable to obtain a travel visa for a defense against Trevor Bryan in Florida last January. Machinations by Don King and the WBA in relegating Charr to “in recess” status further tarnished both the promoter and the organization’s already disgraceful reputations.

King has also had a hand in keeping Lovejoy off the rumbling radar, after the boxer previously claimed retirement as a way out of King’s contractual clutches. When Lovejoy attempted to face Dave Allen in London on the undercard of Usyk-Chisora, King contacted Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn with enough of a claim that Lovejoy’s appearance was cancelled.

According to Lovejoy, King has also attempted to block Saturday’s fight, so uncertainty remains until the first bell rings this weekend. That said, everything else about the relatively low key card seems to be well in place, and there is plenty to look forward to, questions and all. A subscriber-based live stream on German news outlet Bild.de will broadcast the bout.

How the long layoff, which began way before the coronavirus pandemic, has affected Charr is probably the most crucial factor, but what the rarely seen Lovejoy brings to the table is as compelling as it is curiously noteworthy. His record of 19-0 with 19 quick knockouts, compiled completely off-grid in frequent madhouse Tijuana could mean damn near anything.

Charr, 31-4 (17), has been stopped three times and in two of those KOs (by Maris Briedis and Alexander Povetkin) he was blasted into one-shot oblivion. Under Saturday’s scenario one of the few possible surprises might be if Lovejoy doesn’t try to get Charr out of there immediately.

Lovejoy, listed at 6’4”, looks substantially larger than 6’3” Charr, but not any taller. An uneducated guess indicates a strong possibility that the more proven Charr is capable of wearing Lovejoy down, especially considering how he did it against a respectable version of Ustinov.

When Lovejoy refused to shake Charr’s hand and insulted his courage during their press conference photo op, there was a slight but very significant twitch in Charr’s almost constantly upbeat countenance. If Lovejoy doesn’t indeed carry huge power in his punches, he may have inspired a painful night.

To put Charr’s simmering anger in perspective, it must be remembered that he still looked like he was calmly waiting for his food while being carried out on a stretcher after getting shot four times in the lower abdomen during a 2015 ambush in nearby Essen. When his assailant, a former boxing protégé, confessed by saying he only meant to shoot him in the leg, Charr told an emotion packed courtroom bygones were bygones, saying “I am a man who forgives.”

A refugee at five years old whose father was killed in the Lebanese civil war, Charr seems to clearly envision a bigger picture than just his boxing career, and he consistently posts positive motivational copy on social media, including an end of Ramadan message stressing nonpartisan hope for the current Gaza conflict.

The 10-round fight carries no title designation but whatever they may or may not step into the ring with, one thing Charr and Lovejoy share is the potential for a make-or-break performance.

If Charr wins, people will dismiss Lovejoy’s merit in the first place but it still keeps a bit of shine on his championship claims, increasing his leverage regarding Bryan or even bigger game. If Lovejoy wins, especially by dramatic KO, he has definitely upped his recognition factor marketability.

The only safe bet is that the winner will probably hear from somebody representing Don King.

And maybe even Fres Oquendo.

Questions, questions.

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