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Euro Bureau Best of Last Year

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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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132,000-Plus….A Boxing Attendance Record Unlikely to Ever be Broken

Bernard Fernandez

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You always hear that records are meant to be broken, but, barring a stunning change in national policy by a Communist country unwelcoming to outsiders, the 132,000-plus that turned out to see Julio Cesar Chavez pummel Greg Haugen on Feb. 20 1993, at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca likely will forever stand first for live attendance for a boxing event.

Chavez’s intentionally cruel thrashing of the lippy Haugen enabled the Mexican national hero variously known as “JC Superstar” and El Gran Campeon to successfully defend his WBC super lightweight title for the 10th time. That fight was the capper to an incredibly deep card dubbed the “Grand Slam of Boxing” by promoter Don King, which also featured title retentions by such top-shelf attractions as Azumah Nelson, Terry Norris and Michael Nunn. But make no mistake, those outstanding fighters – Nelson and Norris, like Chavez, have been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame – merely served as fillers until the main event. The massive crowd might have been nearly as large and boisterous had the only scheduled bout been the white-hatted Chavez vs. Haugen, the presumptive American villain.

azteca

The announced attendance of 132,247 for a showdown fast approaching its 27th anniversary shattered the previous high for a boxing event, the 120,470 that filled Philadelphia’s Sesquicentennial Stadium on Sept. 23, 1926, to see Gene Tunney lift Jack Dempsey’s heavyweight title on a 10-round unanimous decision. (A crowd estimated at 135,000 turned up in a public park in Milwaukee to see Tony Zale fight Billy Pryor on Aug. 16, 1941, but that doesn’t count as there was bleacher seating for only a few thousand and the event was free for everyone.)

The recent incidence of stadium bouts with impressively large gatherings – 90,000 jammed London’s Wembley Stadium on April 29, 2017, to watch Great Britain’s Anthony Joshua retain his WBA and IBF heavyweight titles on an 11th-round TKO of long-reigning previous champion Wladimir Klitschko – hints at more large throngs willing to leave the comfort of their living rooms to see live boxing, but no promoter can fit a gallon into a quart bottle. Live attendance at least partially hinges on how much space there is in a place, and there is only one stadium that presently has a seating capacity larger than that of Estadio Azteca in 1993. That would be Rungrado 1st of May Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea, which has a capacity of 150,000. But that huge facility is used primarily as a means of the country’s populace dutifully assembling for the purpose of feeding the ego of dictator Kim Jong Un.

It’s a sharp drop from Rungrado 1st of May Stadium to the 110,000-seat capacity of Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium in India, known mostly as a cricket venue, and the 107,601-seat Michigan Stadium, the “Big House” of college football in the United States. Sesquicentennial Stadium (later known as John F. Kennedy Stadium) was demolished in 1992, and even Estadio Azteca, which was erected to host the soccer matches at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, has been downsized, having undergone renovations in 1999, 2013 and 2016. It now lists a capacity of “only” 87,523.

All of which likely stamps Chavez-Haugen as a pugilistic equivalent to Woodstock as a you-had-to-be-there human magnet in the estimation of renowned ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr., whose memories of the literally biggest event he ever worked are as vivid now as they were then.

“I can’t remember if they had large projection screens like they do now, but I’m assuming they didn’t have them then,” recalled Lennon, who joined referee Joe Cortez in sharing their recollections for this story. “Here you had this vast sea of people.  I saw these little fires high up in the stands. People brought their own food and were cooking way up in the more distant seats. I remember thinking this was more of a mass celebration than just a sporting event. Whether or not a lot of people could really see much down in the ring, it certainly seemed that they were enjoying themselves. It was kind of like the huge crowd for Woodstock; just being there was a huge part of it.”

Cortez, now 76 and retired from refereeing, said he also was amazed by the gargantuan crowd.

“Walking into the stadium that day was like walking into a different world,” he said. “You had to be there to believe it, an event with that many fans, almost all of them rooting for Chavez.

“When Chavez was making his walk to the ring, the cheers were so incredibly loud I almost had to cover my ears, and the boos for Haugen when he was making his walk to the ring were just about as loud. It was an intense feeling, I think, for everybody. I knew it was for me. I never had been in a situation like that. I remember thinking, `What the hell can the people in the seats farthest away from the ring see, unless they have binoculars? The fighters must have seemed like two little ants, with me the third ant, in a tiny box. I knew then it was going to be an experience I would remember the rest of my life, and I still feel that way.”

Even though Chavez was and is the most popular Mexican fighter ever, the scene might not have been so incredibly jam-packed or emotional were not for the opponent. The ill will Chavez harbored toward Haugen, a onetime “Tough Man” contestant who had risen above those humble circumstances to win titles at both lightweight and super lightweight, was palpable, and had been simmering for three years. Each new affront by Haugen only served to harden JCC’s determination to someday make him pay.

The feud began behind closed doors, when Haugen showed up at a Chavez sparring session. As Chavez left the ring, Haugen approached him and sneeringly said that his sparring partners were “nothing but young little girls with dresses on.”

“I hated him from that moment on,” Chavez would later say, with Haugen seemingly enjoying any occasion by which he could verbally torment a fighter who the trash-talking antagonist knew would represent his biggest payday.

The stakes were raised on Dec. 13, 1992, moments after Chavez had scored a sixth-round TKO of Marty Jakubowski at The Mirage in Las Vegas. Haugen entered the ring and again confronted Chavez, telling him that his 84-0, with 72 wins inside the distance, had been crafted against “Tijuana taxi drivers that my mom could whip.” But this insult was heard on television, a flung gauntlet that Chavez was only too glad to pick up. He would make Haugen, who came in 32-4-1 with 16 KO victories, regret such impudence.

“I will not have mercy on you,” Chavez told Haugen. “I will rip your head off.”

King immediately realized that this fight called for the biggest possible setting, and what could be bigger than Estadio Azteca? His Hairness played up the revenge angle to the hilt, which was to be expected, except that it wasn’t standard pre-fight hype this time. Chavez, who was known to inflict as much pain as possible on any opponent who did not pay him his due as a great fighter, was on a mission to hurt and humiliate Haugen more so than anyone he had faced. There is little doubt that Chavez’s making the bout personal imbued his many supporters with the determination to be there so they could someday regale their children and grandchildren with the tale of how they witnessed their glorious knight slay the impudent dragon.

“I arrived very early at the stadium, maybe 1 p.m. or 1:30,” Lennon recalled. “I was in my tuxedo and practicing my announcements, but even then, maybe nine hours before the main event went on, there had to be 15,000 people in the stands. They were cheering as I practiced my introduction of Chavez. It’s always kind of awkward to practice your introductions in an empty arena, but it sure wasn’t empty then. Of course, all 132,000 hadn’t shown up either.”

Cortez, as was the case with almost everyone there except the few hardy souls who had come to support Haugen, figured Chavez to win. But what if the brash underdog from Washington state pulled off the upset that could spoil the festive mood of all those JCC supporters?

“The security was unbelievable,” Cortez said. “There were so many police officers and military people with their plastic shields, and a lot of them had German Shepherds on leashes. If a riot broke out, which nobody wanted, the security people were ready, but how ready could they have been with a crowd that big?”

Fortunately for all concerned, maybe even Haugen, the hordes of Chavez fans who had come anticipating another sterling performance by their hero got it, which enabled all of them to go home happy. Chavez dropped Haugen with an overhand right just 25 seconds into the first round, the first time the challenger had been decked as a pro, and he might have finished him off shortly thereafter had he pressed the issue. But Chavez eased his foot off the gas pedal, the better to do what he had vowed to do, which was to prolong the pain he was so intent on dishing out. That plan must have been obvious to everyone, even to the folks in the nosebleed section who paid only 5,000 pesos for their bargain tickets, then the equivalent of about $1.65 U.S.

“He has no way to keep Julio Cesar Chavez off, except mercy on the part of Chavez, and he has none,” TV commentator Ferdie Pacheco said of the systematic disassembly of a fighter who had no chance of winning but was too proud and determined to quit.

“I remember the way Chavez punished Haugen to the body instead of getting him out of there quickly,” Lennon said. “But that was the way Chavez was. You had the sense he was controlling every moment of the fight and could have ended it whenever he wanted to.”

Finally, after an elapsed time of 2 minutes, 2 seconds in the fifth, Chavez decided Haugen had had enough. Or maybe it was the compassionate Cortez who chose to intervene, wrapping his arms around the valiant but thoroughly beaten-up American.

Asked what he thought about all those “Tijuana taxi drivers” who he had characterized as Chavez victims, Haugen said, “They must have been very tough taxi drivers.”

No fight is made memorable solely by the number of butts occupying the seats. Upon reflection, Chavez vs. Haugen was utter domination of a good fighter by a clearly superior one. There have been many of those in the annals of the sport. But still …

“That is definitely one fight I won’t forget,” Lennon said. “When people ask me about the most memorable fights I’ve done, that one is right up there. If it isn’t No. 1, it’s pretty close, if only for the size of the crowd.”

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Ryan Garcia’s Thunderous KO Tops This Week’s Installment of HITS and MISSES

Kelsey McCarson

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Ryan Garcia’s Thunderous KO Tops This Week’s Installment of HITS and MISSES

There was plenty to love about boxing over Valentine’s Day weekend. Heck, there were even a few reasons to feel jilted over what might have been. But the biggest story was that boxing absolutely delivered the goods just before the world was turning its full attention toward this weekend’s huge rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury.

Yep, Cupid slung plenty of arrows at boxing fans over the past couple of days. Here are his biggest HITS and MISSES.

HIT – Ryan Garcia’s Thunderous Valentine’s Day KO 

Heartthrob lightweight contender Ryan Garcia has over 5 million followers on Instagram, hangs around with other social media influencers/invaders like Logan and Jake Paul, and seems to be the biggest hit with the ladies in boxing since his promoter Oscar De La Hoya cut a musical album back in 2000.

But Garcia sure can fight, and that’s something that cannot be denied after seeing him shockingly knock out Francisco Fonseca in the first round of the main event of a Valentine’s Day special card showcased on DAZN Friday night in Anaheim, Calif. Garcia looked sensational, and the 21-year-old should only keep getting better under the tutelage of Canelo Alvarez’s trainer Eddy Reynoso. What a win it was for Garcia, and what huge statement the fighter made as he seeks to become boxing’s next big thing.

MISS – IBF’s Silly Super Middleweight Rankings 

German super middleweight Vincent Feigenbutz found himself with the opportunity of a lifetime on Saturday night in his main event battle against IBF titleholder Caleb Plant in Nashville, Tenn. The 24-year-old had only competed in fights on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean during his nine-year professional boxing career, and most of those were in his home country. But thanks to the IBF’s 168-pound rankings, which amazingly rated the one-loss fighter with no notable wins in the division at No. 3, Feigenbutz found himself with a huge chance to become the first German fighter to win a world title in the U.S. since Max Schmeling defeated Jack Sharkey in 1930.

The problem, of course, was the Feigenbutz was nowhere near ready for such a huge leap up in competition. That could easily be seen just from the 10 seconds of mitt work Fox showed the fighter doing before he headed into the ring on fight night. Look, it makes sense for the PBC, Fox and everyone else involved to operate within boxing’s current system, even if it’s an incredibly flawed one. But Plant vs. Feigenbutz was a silly mismatch that couldn’t possibly do anything for anyone beyond getting Plant paid for one easy night of work.

HIT – Abel Ramos’ Fantastic Final Round Effort Lands Fighter Epic Comeback KO

Welterweight Bryant Perrella was in control of the fight and on his way to scoring the unanimous decision victory over Abel Ramos on Saturday night on Fox’s Plant-Feigenbutz card. Perrella was ahead on all three scorecards entering the 10th round for good reason. According to CompuBox, for example, Perrella had the 200-79 edge in total connected punches.

But Ramos wasn’t prepared to let those last three minutes run off the clock without doing his best to nab the unlikely victory. He knocked Perrella down midway through the last round, then finished him off during the final seconds of the fight. It was an incredible display of fortitude.

Much was made afterward about referee Jack Reiss stopping the contest with just one second left on the clock. But I’d rather give credit here to Ramos for throwing the kitchen sink at his opponent when he had to know the odds were completely stacked against him.

MISS – Fighters Not Listening to Their Corners

Fighters aren’t really capable of judging fights while they participate in them, but 24-year-old lightweight Austin Dulay had the hometown gig against 33-year-old veteran Diego Magdaleno in Tennessee and absolutely should have been listening to his corner on fight night. Had he done that, Dulay would at least not have offered such a quizzical look on his face after judges turned in their scorecards in favor of Magdaleno. The elder had been busier, better and more active for most of the fight. Dulay can act as shocked as he wants over the scores after the fact, but what should really shock him is his own lack of attention to the simple act of listening to his corner’s instructions during the fight.

Magdaleno was winning the fight. Dulay’s corner told him that. Dulay didn’t change a thing to his approach.

HIT – Immediate Promotion of Ryan Garcia vs. Jorge Linares Summer Showdown

Former lightweight champion Jorge Linares returned to American soil on the undercard of Garcia-Fonseca, and the idea put forth by the DAZN crew was that if both Garcia and Linares won their fights, the two would meet in May. So, the apparent promotion of each man’s next fight started well before they even won on Friday night and kept going after each fighter delivered the goods.

Garcia appears to be a runaway train type of talent that could become a huge crossover star. But Linares has the talent, experience and punching power to stop that train in its tracks. Well done by DAZN, Golden Boy Promotions and the two fighters for getting the hype on the proposed Garcia-Linares going so early. It’s a big fight made even bigger by that smart approach.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan, Hogan Photos / Golden Boy Promotions

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Three Punch Combo: Two Intriguing Prelims on the Wilder-Fury Card and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — Wilder-Fury II fight week is upon us and there will certainly be plenty of stories written about the remarkable comeback of Tyson Fury. But Fury is not the only comeback story this week. On the undercard as part of the televised pre-show leading up to the PPV event, Amir Imam (22-2, 19 KO’s) will look for his second straight win following a lengthy layoff after losing to Jose Ramirez in their 140-pound title fight in March of 2018.

Comeback stories in boxing come in many forms. Some, like Fury’s, derive from battling personal demons outside the ring. Some come from fighters suddenly figuring the game out after being seemingly vanquished to permanent journeyman status. Think of Orlando Salido and Tevin Farmer. And finally, some come from once promising fighters rebounding from setbacks that turned them into an afterthought in the sport. This is where Amir Imam falls.

Imam (pictured) is an afterthought at the moment. But as I have harped about on several occasions, just because a fighter suffers a setback or even multiple setbacks, that does not necessarily mean they should be seen as afterthoughts. Sometimes setbacks actually become a blessing in disguise.

Let’s not forget that Imam was a highly decorated amateur. He nearly qualified for the 2012 Olympics but was in the unfortunate position of fighting in the same weight class as Errol Spence Jr.

Early in his pro career, Imam showcased a telephone pole-like jab that was mindful of the jab of former welterweight champion Ike Quartey. Often freezing opponents in their footsteps, Imam often worked thunderous pinpoint combinations behind this jab. He had skill, power and speed. It is easy to see why so many, myself included, thought Imam could not only win a world title one day but become a superstar.

Remember just two-and-a-half years into his pro career Imam easily out boxed Yordenis Ugas in winning a wide eight-round unanimous decision. Fast-forward six years later and Ugas has turned into one of the best welterweights in the sport. That win by Imam showed just how good a fighter he can be.

In November of 2015, Imam was one step away from a title fight when he was upset by Adrian Granados in what was supposed to be a tune-up fight. Granados was a vastly underrated fighter at that time and Imam looked somewhat unprepared for the storm that he encountered that night.

Two-and-a-half years later, Imam held his own while losing a unanimous decision to Jose Ramirez. After this bout, a legal battle ensued with his then promoter Don King that caused an extended ring absence. Imam is now aligned with Top Rank.

Many in boxing have all but given up on Imam. But the talent that we saw when he was coming up the ladder is still there. And that was evident last November when in his first fight back from the Ramirez loss, he impressively knocked out Marcos Mojica.

On Saturday, Imam will be in the ring with Javier Molina (21-2, 9 KO’s) who is coming off an upset first- round knockout of Hiroki Okada. The fight is at a catch-weight of 142 pounds. Molina is a solid pro and an impressive win by Imam would put him back on the map. Not only do I expect an impressive performance by Imam here but I think he will one day soon complete his own comeback bid and become a world champion.

Who is Jeo Santisima?

On the pay-per-view portion of the Wilder-Fury II undercard, boxing’s busiest champion Emanuel Navarrete (30-1, 26 KO’s) will defend his WBO 122-pound title against the organization’s number five ranked contender in Jeo Santisima (19-2, 16 KO’s) of the Philippines. So, who is Santisima and does he pose any threat to Navarrete?

Santisima, 23, turned pro when he was 16 and has had all 21 of his fights in the Philippines. He began his career 2-2 but since then has reeled off 17 straight wins.

To put it mildly, Santisima has been in with soft competition. Even the most hardcore boxing fan would be hard-pressed to recognize any names on his resume. His best win on paper was a first- round knockout in 2017 of Goodluck Mrema who was then 16-0. Mrema has lost four more fights since then, including three by knockout.

There is actually quite a bit of footage available of Santisima on YouTube. He is an orthodox fighter who is a boxer-puncher by trade. He has a decent left jab and will look to work combinations behind that punch. Santisima also will sit back and look to counter. Again, against limited opposition, he has shown an ability to bait his opposition into throwing by using subtle feints to set up counter opportunities.

Santisima is fairly athletic. His hand speed is average, but he appears to possess heavy-handed power in both fists. I’d say his best punch is his left hook. It is often delivered short, quick and compact. He has hurt opponents to both the head and body with that punch.

One major flaw in Santisima’s game is that when he jabs, he often gets lazy when bringing it back. He has been clipped a few times when doing this and will need to correct this flaw to stand any chance against Navarrete.

I initially dismissed Santisima’s chances in this fight, but after watching him on YouTube, I suspect he may surprise some people. We all know Navarrete is a punching machine. But by throwing so many punches, Navarrete is somewhat susceptible to counter shots. With Santisima being a decent counterpuncher with heavy hands, I can see him landing some damaging punches. And that left hook, in my opinion, is for real.

Everything considered, I think Santisima will, at the least, make the fight with Navarrete entertaining for the fans. Yes, there is a good chance he may get overwhelmed but as long as he is standing, he will be dangerous and make things fun.

An Interesting Option for Diego Magdaleno

Diego Magdaleno (32-3, 13 KO’s) put a spark in his career when he won a clear 10-round unanimous decision over Austin Dulay (13-2, 10 KO’s) in a lightweight contest this past Saturday. Coming on national television, the win will certainly get Magdaleno another opportunity. And putting my matchmaker hat on for a second, I see one very interesting option out there for him.

Back in January, I was ringside at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, NY to watch one time can’t-miss prospect Felix Verdejo in action against journeyman Manuel Rey Rojas. The prevailing thought at ringside was “don’t blink” with the expectation that Verdejo would dispatch Rojas quickly and in a spectacular fashion.

Instead, Verdejo looked sluggish in coasting to a wide unanimous decision victory. The fight looked like a glorified sparring session and the explosiveness we once saw in the early portion of Verdejo’s career was once again non-existent. Despite the win, Verdejo’s stock continued to plummet.

Top Rank, Verdejo’s promoter, needs to find out what they have in Verdejo once and for all. There is no need to match him anymore with the Manuel Rey Rojas’ of the world. Verdejo needs a step-up and Magdaleno fits the bill.

Could Verdejo lose to Magdaleno? The answer is a resounding yes. But could Magdaleno with his aggressive style bring out the best in Verdejo? The answer is also a resounding yes.

Verdejo vs. Magdaleno would be a perfect co-feature to the big title unification fight that Top Rank is planning in the spring.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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