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Alexander-Maidana Has Fight of the Year Potential

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Alexander-Maidana Has Fight of the Year Potential – One of the most popular analogies in boxing is that of “The Bull vs The Matador.” Over the years, it has been used time and time again,when illuminating the stylistic differences between the pressure fighter and the classical, pure boxer. Sugar Ray Robinson’s balletic grace and movement against the self explanatory Raging Bull, Jake Lamotta. Pernell Whitaker’s defensive sorcery against the charging Azumah Nelson and Muhammad Ali floating and stinging, trying to put out the smoke of the swarming late, great Joe Frazier. On February 25th in St. Louis, two of the best junior welterweights in the world, Marcos Maidana and Devon Alexander, will meet, in a bout that will be billed as the latest chapter in the classic “The Bull vs The Matador” tale. Both fighters will be campaigning in the welterweight division for the first time in their careers, moving from 140 to 147.

Argentina’s Marcos Maidana, a relentless pressure fighter,i s a perfect representation of the bull. A fighter who personifies the bull’s aggressive nature, nothing will stop him in his pursuit of closing in on his target. On the other hand, Devon Alexander, seen as a slick southpaw, will be portrayed as the matador, utilizing footwork and elusiveness to maneuver the charging Maidana wherever he wants him. Will the pressure fighter be able to cut off the ring, close the distance and turn the fight ugly? Or will the pure, classical boxer be able to keep the pressure fighter at distance, using the jab and swift footwork, attempting to make the contest an exhibition rather than a fight?

It is this writers opinion that Devon Alexander has been wrongly labelled as a pure boxer thus far. Willie Pep or Ivan Calderon he is not. When watching pure boxers you will see a lot of common attributes: superb footwork, a great jab, good head movement, technical defense and relaxation when under pressure. Against Timothy Bradley, Devon Alexander looked anything but a pure boxer. His jab was not thrown with any real authority. Against Andreas Kotelnik, Alexander was out-boxed at times and was hit far too often with the jab, offering little in the way of head movement. Lucas Matthysse was able to close the distance with ease as Alexander, fighting on the back foot,was not able to maintain distance, and keep the fight at arms length. Alexander was very fortunate to have been awarded a decision win on that  night. Whilst watching these three fights in particular, one can see Devon Alexander is not a boxing savant. Devon’s lack of relaxation is also a major problem. He is so intense, which in turn, leads to him becoming too tense when letting his hands go. Devon is the polar opposite of a technician like James Toney, whose relaxation, comfort level and composure, when under fire and when throwing his punches, was astounding.

So if Devon Alexander is not a pure, classical boxer, what is he?

In order to win this fight, Devon Alexander needs to escape “The Matador” moniker, and take on board some of the characteristics of the bull. Against Juan Urango, we saw Devon Alexander at his absolute best. More aggressive, moving without running, staying in the pocket and sitting down on his punches. That was the Devon Alexander that needs to show up on February 25th against a fighter whose style and reputation mirrors that of Juan Urango. Maidana is a tough, no nonsense fighter. What you see, is what you get. There is nothing complex about  his tactics. From the opening bell, it becomes his mission to walk through his opponent’s offense in order to get inside, sometimes taking two or three just to land one. Maidana does not bother to throw a jab, a wasted motion in his mind. Instead you get a fighter throwing nothing but power punches, hooks and uppercuts his weapons of choice. Once the distance is closed, Maidana is one of THE premier fighters in the world when it comes to inside fighting. His ability to shorten his punches in close is one of his most underrated attributes, as is his defense on the inside. He has a way of evading a counter and creating a punching angle simultaneously, something Roberto Duran and Julio Cesar Chavez made look like an art form. Marcos Maidana is also one of the hardest punchers, pound for pound, in all of boxing. He is the owner of accumulative and one punch KO power. Although Maidana does not have great, or even good footspeed, he is extremely adept at cutting off the ring, something we saw him do well against the fleet-footed Amir Khan.

Devon Alexander would be making a huge mistake if he decided to box on the back foot against Marcos Maidana. Alexander will not be able to keep Maidana at arms length, just throwing his jab. If he does, it’s not hard to envision  this fight going the same way as Ivan Calderon’s failed attempts of being “the Matador” against Giovanni Segura, a fight which saw the classic boxer hunted and eventually stopped by the marauding pressure fighter. Antonio Margarito’s systematic stalking of Miguel Cotto, in their first fight, is another example. Miguel Cotto, instead of turning his opponent, backed up in straight lines and was forced to the ropes, the last place  Alexander wants to be against Maidana. Devon Alexander also has a terrible habit of telegraphing his jab, giving off what can only be described as a yelp just before he lets it go, another indication that he is not the most relaxed of fighters.

Against the great Erik Morales, a fighter who possesses limited handspeed and power at this stage in his career, Marcos Maidana was hit coming in on numerous occasions by an uppercut. He didn’t seem to know how to adjust and eliminate the threat. This is because Maidana is too squared up when walking down his opponent. On these occasions, Maidana’s feet find themselves parallel with his shoulders and his hands nowhere near his chin. This is the area in where the fight can be won or lost for Alexander. The St. Louis native must utilize his far superior hand speed advantage, and throw his uppercut as Maidana is coming in. Alexander’s lead hand uppercut is a fight ending shot. We saw this first hand against the previously un-stopped Juan Urango. It is my gut feeling that if Alexander can get back to doing what he does best, which is standing his ground, throwing his lead uppercut and and not abusing his jab, he is capable of scoring  a sensational knockout. Maidana can be hurt, as was evident against Amir Khan and Victor Ortiz. He must invest to the body, like  Khan did against Maidana. He must turn Maidana and not just back up to the ropes like he did with Lucas Matthysse. He must take advantage of Maidana’s lack of head movement as he is advancing and must not allow the fight to take place on the inside. If that is the destination of the exchanges, Maidana will dominate the action. Alexander is not great on the inside, offensively or defensively and doesn’t seem to know how to tie up a fighter in close either, something Muhammad Ali became a master of during the second phase of his career.  The fight must take place at mid-range for Alexander. Shane Mosley’s effort against Antonio Margarito is as good an illustration as any on the type of tactics Alexander should employ.

So the final outcome all depends on which Devon Alexander shows up on February 25th. If Alexander comes out on his toes, throwing eye catching, flashy jabs, hoping to win a decision, it’s possible Maidana will be able to walk through them, shorten the distance and possibly score the KO himself.

If the power punching Alexander of the Juan Urango fight decides to show up, we may see one of the most unpredictable, spectacular stoppage wins in recent memory.

There has been plenty of “home cooking” talked about in boxing recently, so hopefully the fact that the fight will take place in Devon Alexander’s home town will just be a side note, and not the final story, as it is this writer’s opinion that we may have a potential fight of the year candidate in the making.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: ‘Stitch’ Duran at the Top Rank Gym and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jacob “Stitch” Duran is the most famous cutman in the world. But this past November, when he was working the first of the four Triller shows — the show in Los Angeles anchored by the Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Jr exhibition – Duran realized for the first time that his renown wasn’t confined to the insular world of combat sports.

“Snoop Dogg came up to me and said, ‘man you’re a legend, may I take a picture with you?’ I was shocked. I had no idea that anyone knew me in that world. It was a memorable moment.”

Duran, who turned 70 this month and looks years younger, has had many memorable moments. The night that he plied his trade in London’s Wembley Stadium before 90,000 screaming fans is forever embedded in his memory. But that adventure was bittersweet. He worked the corner of Wladimir Klitschko, with whom he had a 12-year relationship, and that see-saw fight between Klitschko and Anthony Joshua ended with Klitschko on the receiving end of a barrage of punches, forcing the referee to step in and call off the contest in the 11th round.

Duran grew up in Planada, CA, an overwhelmingly Hispanic community where a third of the population lives below the poverty line. Planada is in the agriculturally fertile San Joaquin Valley. Most of the working adults are employed by the farms or in a food-related industry. Duran’s memoir, “From the Fields to the Garden” (as in Madison Square), written with Zac Robinson, was released in 2011 and spawned a sequel.

If there is ever a third book, one chapter will likely be titled “Life in the Bubble.” Duran and Mike Bazzel, and eventually Floyd Mayweather’s associate Bob Ware, were tabbed to be the house cutmen for all of Top Rank’s so-called Bubble Fights, 22 in all, a series that ran from June 23, 2020 to Feb. 20 of this year from the sterile MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.

The cutmen and other essential employees were quarantined on the 12th floor of the hotel, departing only for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and for the weigh-in. Bazzel, who has a home in the San Francisco Bay Area, never left the hotel. Duran, who lived 20 minutes away, was able to go home between assignments but the better part of his week was still spent in his 12th-floor “crib.”

It was boxing’s version of the “Shawshank Redemption,” says Stitch, referencing the 1994 prison movie starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. “We were literally in solitary confinement.” But he is thankful that Top Rank COO Brad Jacobs called him and offered him the gig. Duran was one of the few people in boxing who was able to stay busy when things slowed to a crawl.

Duran, an Air Force veteran, came to Las Vegas in 1995. During his early years in the city, he prowled the boxing and MMA gyms, looking for work. Nowadays, he doesn’t have to look for work, it seeks him out, but Duran is still an insatiable gym rat of sorts.

Earlier this week he was at the Top Rank Gym which was bustling with activity. Tyson Fury was there being put through his paces by trainer SugarHill Steward, as was Scotland’s Josh Taylor, who has a big fight upcoming with Jose Ramirez. The winner will be the undisputed 140-pound champion owning all four meaningful belts.

Duran and the Gypsy King are well-acquainted. When Fury hooked up with Steward, the nephew of the late Emanuel Steward, Stitch Duran came along in what was something of a package deal. Their first fight together was Fury’s rematch with Deontay Wilder. Staged at the MGM Grand Garden on Feb. 22, 2020, it was a tour-de-force for the Gypsy King.

“Working with Fury was a seamless transition because I was so familiar with the Kronk way of doing things,” says Duran. The legendary Emanuel Steward handled Wladimir for 17 fights. When Steward died of colon cancer in 2012, the torch was passed to Emanuel’s longtime assistant Johnathan Banks.

One can number Stitch among those who thought that Emanuel Steward had no peer as a boxing coach: “Emanuel’s work with Wladimir in his first fight with Samuel Peter was the best corner work I ever saw. Emanuel’s instructions got him back in the fight.”

Klitschko looked like a cooked goose after Peter knocked him down twice in the fifth round, but the big Ukrainian went on to win a clear-cut unanimous decision.

There was a camera crew at the Top Rank Gym gathering up the final pieces for a Stitch Duran documentary that commenced filming in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It should prove interesting.

Nat Fleischer Award

The Boxing Writers Association of America has named Joe Maxse the 48th recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award. The award, which recognizes Excellence in Boxing Journalism, is voted on by previous honorees.

A Cleveland native, Maxse, 69, covered boxing for the Cleveland Plain Dealer from 1987 to 2013. Cleveland was an important fight town during most of those years. Don King built his empire there before relocating to New York City and eventually Deerfield Beach, Florida.

The Fleischer Award has been presented every year since 1973. The first recipient was Barney Nagler who went on to helm the BWAA from 1984 to 1989. Nagler was then the sports columnist for the Daily Racing Form. He had begun his journalism career with the Bronx Home News and was the author of two boxing books, most notably “James Norris and the Decline of Boxing,” a book that still appears on many lists of the best boxing books of all time.

Former recipients include two members of the TSS family: Bernard Fernandez (1998) and Thomas Hauser (2004). Last year’s winner was Graham Houston, the longtime North American correspondent and sometimes editor for several British boxing publications including the venerable Boxing News.

Maxse will be honored along with other award winners (a two-year supply) at the 95th BWAA awards dinner, the date and site of which have yet to be determined. Hopefully, when Maxse takes the podium, he won’t conclude his speech without tossing in an impression of the late Harry Carey. Maxse’s spot-on impersonation of the iconic baseball announcer endeared him to his peers.

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Canelo vs. BJ Saunders: Predictions and Analyses from the TSS Faculty

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More than 60,000 fight fans are expected to gather at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, on Saturday. The turnout for the fight between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders represents a turning point in the COVID-19 era. Boxing has been pretty much walled-off to the general public since a sellout crowd of 15,816 witnessed the second encounter between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder on Feb. 20, 2020 in Las Vegas.

Canelo Alvarez (55-1-2, 37 KOs) holds the WBC and WBA world titles at 168 pounds. Billy Joe Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs) owns the WBO belt. However, the hardware is largely immaterial whenever Canelo steps in the ring as he is widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. In Saunders he is meeting a slick southpaw bidding to become the second member of the Traveling community to hold multiple title belts simultaneously, joining his friend Tyson Fury. The bout headlines a 7-bout card that will air on DAZN in 200+ countries and territories worldwide and on TV Azteca in Mexico.

Whenever a fight of this magnitude comes down the pike, we invite members of our editorial staff to provide a quick analysis of the match and forecast the outcome. Their prognostications appear below with the respondents listed in alphabetical order.

The graphic is by Colorado comic book cover artist ROB AYALA, an honored guest whenever we perform this kind of exercise. Check out more of Rob’s cool illustrations at his web site fight posium.

PICKS and ANALYSIS

No gimme for Canelo here, as Saunders is a southpaw who can box, has a bit of pop in his punch, as well as a knack for making his opponents look not quite as impressive as they normally are. Still, Canelo is at the top of the boxing food chain for a reason. It’s all right for him to win some fights and not be spectacular in doing so. Figure the Mexican icon on scoring a knockdown or two along the way, but he may have to be satisfied with a win on points this time out. – BERNARD FERNANDEZ

I no longer pick against Canelo Alvarez. And certainly not against a boxing basket case like Billy Joe Saunders. There’s a huge difference in the level of maturity between these two fighters and that will be seen in the ring when Canelo becomes the first to corner the fleet-footed Saunders and put him on his back. Canelo KO in 10. – JEFFREY FREEMAN

Canelo by decision. He does everything better than Saunders, who will fight well enough to survive but not win. – THOMAS HAUSER

Billy Joe is formidable. You don’t lock in an Olympic berth at age 18 without natural talent. You don’t run circles around a big puncher like David Lemieux without a high ring IQ. But Saunders, despite his undefeated record, has been inconsistent. Canelo, as Kevin Iole noted in a recent column, doesn’t do one thing great, but he does everything well. How does one formulate a smart game plan for a boxer with no flaws to exploit? Canelo UD. – ARNE LANG

Much has been made by Saunders’ camp this week about the size of the ring that will be used in the fight. While it seems strange and even unruly that there can be such vast disparities in how large the boxing ring is or how spongy the mat can be for any professional fight card in our sport, the truth of the matter is that Saunders probably doesn’t have much hope in beating Alvarez no matter how those other factors play out. They could fight on a basketball court, and I’d still pick Alvarez. The best the cagey UK fighter will be able to muster is trying to go the distance with the Mexican. Callum Smith pulled it off back in December, but Saunders won’t quite get there. CANELO via 9th-round stoppage. – KELSEY McCARSON

There was a time, not that long ago, when I would have favoured Saunders to beat Canelo and stylistically I still feel Saunders holds all the aces. Canelo’s improvements in the last 30 months have astonished, though. He has found a meaningful fourth and fifth punch for his combinations and his strength, for whatever reason, is prestigious at whatever weight he fights. Saunders, something of a persona-non-grata here in his home country after a series of public relations disasters, is very much a man out of time.  Canelo, bodyshots, between the eighth and the tenth. – MATT McGRAIN

There is a case to be made that Canelo Alvarez has not faced a pure boxer on the level of Billy Joe Saunders since his do-si-do with Erislandy Lara in 2014, in a fight that still has some screaming robbery (Alvarez won by split decision). Of course, that was nearly seven years ago, back when Alvarez was still trading on his telenovela bonafides. Since then, he has gone on to distinguish himself as arguably the best boxer in the sport today. The same cannot be said for the erratic and self-sabotaging Saunders, who has squandered his impressive showing against David Lemieux in 2017 with consecutive lackluster outings against mostly middling opposition. The southpaw will find ways to frustrate Alvarez at times, to be sure, but expect Alvarez to slow down the jittery motions of the Brit by punishing him to the body en route to a mostly clear win on the cards. Canelo by majority decision. – SEAN NAM

I see a feeling-out type fight in the first two rounds and then Canelo begins the stalk. Saunders will be more elusive and more savvy than most of Canelo’s opponents, occasionally getting in some sharp counters. However, he will begin to tire late from an accumulation of Canelo’s body work and from backing up. This will allow the Mexican to increase the tempo looking for a way to close the show. The Traveler will survive. But Canelo will win with a dominating UD. – TED SARES

Two names come to mind for me when deciding how this fight will play out. First, Erislandy Lara, who I saw outbox but not outfight Alvarez. Second is Alexander Povetkin, whose horrible performance against Dillian Whyte was reportedly due to coronavirus residue, which Alvarez also claims to have been afflicted by. Can Saunders, another left-hander with a bit more of a reach advantage than Lara, take advantage of a possibly weakened Canelo? Don’t bet on it unless Cinco de Mayo weekend gets cancelled and nobody from Texas or Mexico shows up for the fight. Saunders seems capable of making it interesting, but Alvarez wins by wide decision or late TKO.  – PHIL WOOLEVER

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A Heinous Crime Will Likely Land Felix Verdejo in Prison for the Rest of His Life

Arne K. Lang

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“Felix has a sparkling personality, a flashy fighting style, and he’s good. He’s also f-a-s-t.” The quote is from Thomas Hauser who wrote those words in June of 2015 after Verdejo improved his record to 18-0 with a near-shutout of fellow unbeaten Ivan Nejara on an HBO card from the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

At this juncture it appeared that Verdejo, a former Olympian, was destined to become the next icon of Puerto Rican fight fans, the heir-apparent to Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto.

Today, news stories about Verdejo make no reference to his sparkling personality. It’s an attribute inconsistent with the portrait of a monster.

This past Saturday, as hardcore fight fans were glued to the telecast of a show in Manchester, England, it came to light that authorities in San Juan, Puerto Rico, had found the body of a young woman who had been reported missing after failing to turn up at her job at a dog grooming salon on Thursday morning, that the decedent was plainly the victim of foul play, that Verdejo was the primary suspect in her murder, and that he wasn’t cooperating with the authorities.

When the corpse of the missing woman was fished from a lagoon, her body was reportedly so mangled that forensic examiners had to consult dental records to confirm that the decedent was indeed Keishla Marlen Rodriguez Ortiz, the 27-year-old woman they were looking for. The boxer and Ms. Rodriguez had reportedly known each other since middle school. According to Rodriguez’s family members, she was pregnant with Verdejo’s child and the boxer, who was married with a 2-year-old daughter, wasn’t happy about it.

Keishla

Keishla Rodriguez

With each new detail, the story became more sordid.

It is alleged that the victim was thrown off a bridge after being punched in the face and injected with a syringe filled with an unidentified substance. Verdejo and an accomplice – who hasn’t been charged and is identified only as a witness – then tied her hands and feet with wire and weighed the body down with a cinderblock before tossing it into the water. When the body was slow to sink, Verdejo allegedly fired a bullet at it. A shell casing was found on the bridge and the authorities have corroborating evidence from toll booth cameras.

As first reported by veteran boxing writer Jake Donovan, the boxer surrendered to FBI agents yesterday evening (Sunday). He appeared this morning via zoom before federal magistrate Camille Velez Rive who ordered him returned to prison and held without bail.

Many of the headlines in the tabloids say that Verdejo is facing the death penalty. That’s technically true. The three crimes for which he has been charged — carjacking resulting in death, kidnapping resulting in death, and intentionally killing an unborn child – are federal crimes. As a commonwealth of the United States, Puerto Rico is subject to U.S. federal laws. However, Puerto Rico abolished capitol punishment in 1929. The country hasn’t executed anyone since 1927 when a man named Pascual Ramos was hanged for killing his boss.

It’s doubtful that prosecutors would pursue the death penalty unless the trial were moved to the mainland. However, domestic violence has become a hot-button issue in Puerto Rico and the national mood toward crimes of this nature is trending toward harsher retribution. Yesterday, according to the Daily Mail, hundreds of people, mostly women, including Rodriguez’s sister, gathered at the bridge that spans the lagoon to pay their respects and demand justice for the victims of domestic violence.

Felix Verdejo turned pro  at age 19 after representing Puerto Rico in the 2012 London Olympics. He rose to #1 in the WBO lightweight rankings after defeating Oliver Flores in February of 2017, but was demoted for inactivity. There were extenuating circumstances including fights that fell out and a 6-day stay in a hospital following a motorcycle accident.

He returned to the ring after a 13 ½ month absence and suffered his first pro defeat. An unheralded Mexican, Antonio Lozada, stopped him in the final round, the 10th. Verdejo was ahead on two of the scorecards through the nine completed rounds. There were 23 seconds remaining in the contest when the bout was stopped.

Verdejo’s most recent fight came in December of last year. He was stopped in the ninth round by Masayoshi Nakatani at the MGM Bubble in Las Vegas, reducing his pro record to 27-2. As happened against Lozada, Verdejo faded late, squandering a big lead.

Verdejo photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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