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A Cautionary Tale For New Champ Garcia

Bernard Fernandez

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MoralesGarciaPC Eilts13HOUSTON – There is a fine line that separates understandable caution from foolish risk-taking, and fighters who appear well on their way to winning a bout sometimes find themselves straddling it.

Is that living legend in the other corner, the crafty veteran who appears to be in deep trouble, really as hurt as he seems? Or is he just playing possum, hoping to lure a reckless opponent into the danger zone?

In the ring, where data has to be processed in a fraction of a second and strategies accordingly selected, hesitation is almost always the worst way to go. But taking a blind leap of faith and choosing an unwise course of action can be just as hazardous to one’s health and chances for victory.

Saturday night here in Reliant Arena, a familiar rite of passage was observed when young, strong, quick Danny “Swift” Garcia, 24, took the WBC super lightweight championship from old, slow and weakened Erik Morales, 35. The scores were 118-109, 117-110 and 116-112.

Well … technically the title was no longer Morales’ to defend, the Mexican icon having relinquished it on the scale the day before when he came in 2 pounds over the super lightweight limit of 140. Morales did not even attempt to use his hour’s grace period to sweat off those 32 excessive ounces, an apparent admission that his body had given all it had to give and could give no more.

Given Morales’ recent failure to approach the splendiferous form he had so frequently exhibited prior to his taking 31 months off from the ring (he is now 3-2 on the comeback trail), the smart money was on Swift to blow the remnants of the legacy of “El Terrible” to smithereens. And, to read the respective scorecards submitted by judges Samuel Conde, Oren Shellenberger and Mark Green, that’s exactly what happened.

Or maybe it wasn’t. No, this was not your standard-issue, Texas-sized boxing controversy – that more appropriately applied to the other HBO-televised bout on this night, in which a seemingly outclassed James Kirkland was presented with a gift-wrapped disqualification victory over Carlos Molina by referee Jon Schorle and the Texas commission. Still, you have to wonder if the main event might have turned out at least somewhat differently if certain realities been slightly altered.

“I’m not sad. I’m happy,” Morales (52-8, 36 KOs) said of his own performance, which might not have recalled his glory days but probably was better than many expected. “I fought with dignity, with pride.

“It wasn’t like he was beating me by a lot. It was pretty competitive.”

Garcia (23-0 14 KOs) also was pleased with what he had shown because, well, it was a victory and a world-title-winning one at that. Hard to complain when you’ve only just turned 24 years of age and have joined the world championship club.

“I’m still kind of in a daze right now,” Garcia said when asked if he felt, well, different since his status had changed. “I can’t believe I’m the world champion. I just went 12 rounds with a legend.”

Morales-Garcia had been on hold since January, when the original date for the fight was postponed when Morales underwent gallbladder surgery in December.

Although Morales had annexed his fourth world title in separate weight classes when he outpointed 22-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano on Sept. 17. It was not nearly the best Morales ever has looked in the ring. But then he didn’t need to be in top form against someone whose skill-set didn’t approach that of Garcia’s.

“I respect everyone I fight, and I respect Morales,” Garcia, a Phiadelphian of Puerto Rican descent, noted. “But I have to think he’s looking at me like he looked at that kid he just beat. (Cano) was young and undefeated, like me. But I’m not him. I’m better than he is.”

And so it was apparent almost from the opening bell in the Reliant Center. A possibly drained, used-up Morales couldn’t match Garcia’s youth and energy, and with each passing round the younger man added to his point total. The cleaner, harder shots all seemingly were landed by Garcia, and an especially telling one, an overhand right that landed flush, came in the third round when Morales was sent reeling backward.

But Morales, or the memory of him as the future Hall of Famer who had gone to war and given as good as he received against the storied likes of Manny Pacquiao, Marco Antonio Barrera and Daniel Zaragoza, seemed to keep Garcia from just turning it loose. It was as if he believed Morales was laying a trap for another overconfident kid to stumble into.

Might Garcia have gone for the putaway then? Or in the sixth round, when he pinned Morales against the ropes and was whaling away with both hands? And if not then, what about the 11th round, when Garcia, bleeding from the nose, floored Morales with a left hook flush on the jaw?

“I tried to finish him (in the 11th), but he’s a veteran,” Garcia explained. “He was rolling his shoulders, making me miss. I didn’t want to get … what’s the word? … too greedy. He’s been in big fights before, and he knows how to get in people’s heads.”

It is hardly unusual for a young fighter like Garcia to possibly give too much respect to a living legend like Morales, but Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya has been in both positions – rising superstar and faded icon, striving to hang on – and he was quick to realize that Garcia’s performance might be described as the glass being half-full.

“He won the fight and obviously is going to grow from the experience,” De La Hoya said of Garcia. “We’re looking forward to matching him up with other champions so he can unify the titles.”

But yet …

“I went into Danny’s locker room and I was criticizing him left and right,” De La Hoya continued. “I told him, `OK, you went up against a legend, and you beat a legend. That’s great. But you have to put your punches together. It was like every time you hit Erik, you stopped to pose for a picture. You can’t do that.’”

De La Hoya paused, as if he thought too much constructive criticism might detract from Garcia’s opportunity to enjoy the moment before going back to work to improve upon it.

“Danny can learn from this,” the Golden Boy himself said. “There were a lot of good things Danny did, but he also showed a lot of flaws.”

CompuBox statistics appeared to support the decision of the judges. Regardless of whether he failed to put his punches together to his promoter’s satisfaction, Garcia landed 238 of 779, 31 percent, to just 164 of 547, or 30 percent, for Morales. The gap was especially evident in power punches, where Garcia found the range on 170 of 445, 38 percent, to 71 of 240, 30 percent, for Morales.

But Morales’ jab was sharper and more effective as he landed 93 of 307 to 68 of 334 for Garcia, and it was the jab that bloodied Garcia’s nose and opened a cut over his right eye in the 11th round.

Morales, who earned $1 million, minus the $50,000 penalty he was assessed for failing to make weight, said he was considering retirement, but would probably hold off on making that decision until he had a chance to schedule a possible farewell bout in Mexico, where his popularity remains unabated.

“I don’t want to keep fighting to lose,” he said. “If I’m going to keep fighting, I want to win. But I have to evaluate if I want to keep doing this.”

Garcia, whose purse was $225,000, figures he’s due for a lengthy residence in or near boxing’s ritziest neighborhood, and he’ll take what he learned against Morales and apply that knowledge to future fights.

“Get used to this face,” Garcia said at the postfight press conference. “I’m going to be around for a long time.”

In the co-featured bout, Kirkland (31-1, 27 KOs), the knockout artist from Austin, Texas, was having all sorts of problems with the flurry-and-grab tactics employed by Chicago’s Carlos Molina (19-5-2, 6 KOs), who built a substantial lead through nine rounds of the scheduled 12-rounder. But Kirkand knocked down Molina in the closing seconds of Round 10, setting into motion a bizarre chain of events.

Schorle was giving a count to Molina, who did not appear to be discombobulated at all, when the bell sounded and Molina’s corner team entered the ring. Schorle then disqualified Molina, a draconian response for an infraction that was literally a heartbeat from being no infration at all.

Kirkland, who retained his WBC Continental Americas super welterweight title, maintained that he was just finding his rhythm and that Molina would never have survived two more rounds of what he was about to dish out. Molina, who was 11-0-1 in his previous 12 outings, disputed that. The shame of it is that neither one was afforded the opportunity to state his case over those two unfought rounds.

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Conor McGregor vs. Pac-Man: The Circus is Back in Town

Arne K. Lang

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MMA superstar Conor McGregor stole some of the thunder from a busy Saturday in boxing with his announcement that his next fight would come against Manny Pacquaio. “boxing Manny Pacquiao next in the Middle East,” McGregor tweeted on Friday, Sept. 25.

Jayke Johnson, a representative of Pacquiao, confirmed that there have been preliminary talks. Johnson hinted that this would be Pacquiao’s final fight and said that Senator Manny would be donating a large chunk of his purse to COVID-19 relief in the Philippines. The situation is bad there. As of Sept. 22, there were 291,789 confirmed infections in a population of approximately 109 million. The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that travelers postpone all travel to the Philippines, including essential travel.

The best guess is that the fight will take place early next year. Pacquiao is unlikely to leave his homeland until the pandemic has abated there.

Pac-Man, who turns 42 in December, last fought in July of 2019 when he further cemented his great legacy with a 12-round decision over previously undefeated Keith Thurman. McGregor, 32, last fought in January of this year. His fight with Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone was over in 40 seconds. Cerrone left the ring with a fractured nose and orbital bone.

In June, McGregor announced his retirement, but few people gave it any credibility. McGregor was just making noise which he is very good at. But like him or loathe him, the fellow is certainly adept at selling his brand. In the world of combat sports, the Dubliner is Mr. Charisma.

In 2019, McGregor was reportedly the 4th wealthiest sports personality in the world, trailing only Mayweather, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo. And his bank balance was growing in leaps and bounds because the whiskey he was promoting was flying off the shelf. Proper No. 12, a three-year-old blended Irish whiskey bottled at Ireland’s oldest distillery, was launched in September of 2018 and reportedly attracted $1 billion in sales in its very first year. (The “12” refers to the postal code of the neighborhood where McGregor grew up.)

McGregor started the company; he wasn’t merely the spokesperson. The parent company of Tequila maker Cuervo recently upped their stake in Proper No. 12 to 49 percent. Without a punch or a kick, McGregor made a big score.

(By the way, the popularity of Conor McGregor’s libation isn’t matched by the reviews. A bottle was sent complimentary to a business magazine in London with instructions to pass it around the office. No one liked it. “It smelled like ethanol and tasted only marginally better,” said one imbiber.)

McGregor’s fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. in June of 2017 attracted a whopping 4.3 million pay-per-view buys. The match at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas drew 13,094 paid and a live gate of $55.4 million, the second highest in Nevada history (albeit well short of the $72 million gate generated by Mayweather vs Pacquiao in 2015).

McGregor plainly won the first round in that fight and won the first three rounds in the eyes of many observers. But by the ninth round the Irishman was clearly fatigued and Mayweather stopped him in the 10th.

Many people, including this reporter, believe that there was a gentleman’s agreement in place whereby Mayweather agreed to fight the first few rounds under wraps to give the paying fans more bang for their buck. In a recent tweet, McGregor said that he was disgusted with himself for not following up his early advantage and that, if he could go back and do it over, he would give Floyd a good kick in the neck because getting disqualified wouldn’t have stung as bad as getting TKOed.

The preamble to the McGregor-Mayweather fandango was a four-city promotional tour that began in Los Angeles and coursed through Toronto and New York before concluding in London. At each stop, the public was invited to come and witness the fighters’ vent their mutual enmity and the circus was live-streamed on several social media platforms.

Each session was marked by an orgy of F-bombs. Veteran boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, after tuning-in to the Toronto segment, articulated the feelings of many as he voiced his disgust: “(The show) defiled whatever remained of the nobility of combat sports, and in a broader sense the fabric of civilized society.”

If there is a promotional tour for McGregor-Pacquiao, it will take a different tack. Manny is deeply religious; he won’t play that game.

Historically, some fights for charity have been little more than exhibitions. A writer for an MMA site speculates that McGregor-Pacquiao may be contested under a modified rule set, whatever that means. Regardless, if this event comes off, it wouldn’t command my patronage if I were anything other than a boxing writer obliged to give it a look-see.

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Emerging Heavyweights: Three to Watch

Ted Sares

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Victor Faust (Viktor Vykhryst), a 6’6” 232-pound Ukrainian heavyweight (and long-time amateur) is a product of the great amateur program in the Ukraine–one that has produced the likes of the Klitschko brothers, Oleksandr Usyk, Vasily Lomachenko, and more recently Sergiy Derevyanchenko.

At first glance, his amateur record does not appear stellar, but a closer review indicates several SD’s or MD’s.

Earlier this month, on Sept. 20, he scored a frightening one punch KO when he fought the more experienced Gabriel Enguema (10-9) in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro. It was his third KO victory in three professional fights—all in 2020. The end came as a result of a Doctor Steelhammer-like perfect straight right to knock the Spaniard out cold. It brought back memories of Wladimir’s KO of Calvin Brock in 2006. Faust displayed skills, size, a solid chin, and power in dispatching his opponent.

“…Soon everyone will …see how skillful he is. He’s the complete package and will compete in massive fights sooner rather than later.” Erol Ceylan (Faust’s German promoter)

Oh yes, Faust beat Romanian Mihai Nistor in the amateurs and the talented Nistor in turn halted Anthony Joshua in the amateurs back in 2011. (Nistor also went 1-2 with Filip Hrgovic and lost to Tony Yoka in 2012.) Of course, one must be circumspect when using logic in boxing. Now that Nistor has turned pro, he will be worth following as his style is very much Tysonesque.

There are others who have—at a minimum– the same potential as Faust.

Tony Yoka

tony

Hard-hitting Frenchman 6’7” Tony Yoka (8-0) has beaten far better opposition than Faust and has a far better amateur record. In fact, he beat Filip Hrgovic and Joe Joyce in the 2016 Rio Games on the way to a Gold Medal. Recently, he dismantled veteran and fellow Frenchman Johan Duhaupas, a fringe contender with some notable notches on his belt. The end came in the first round by virtue of a crunching right uppercut.

Yoka perhaps could be slotted above Faust at this point.; he just might be the best of the new guys on the block. However, there are some dicey anti-doping issues that have tainted his reputation, though they do seem to be mostly resolved at this point.

Arslanbek Makhmudov

Arslanbek

This Russian “Lion,” 6’5 ½”, 260 pounds with an imposing muscular frame, is still another hungry prospect ready to break into the next tier. Nicknamed the “Lion,” — he also has been called “Predator” and “Beast — he is 10-0 (10 KOs).

He now lives and fights out of Montreal. The holder of two regional titles, he stopped a shot Samuel Peter in one round this past December.

“I’m confident that with my team, Eye of the Tiger Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions, I will reach my goal of becoming heavyweight champion of the world,” —Makhmudov.

This all said, The Lion needs some work on his technical skills as size can only go so far.

Makhmudov’s next opponent is Canadian heavyweight Dillon “Big Country” Carman (14-5) whose claim to fame is that he KOd comebacking Donovan Ruddock in 2015 in Toronto. This one will end differently for “Big Country.”

Others

Arguably, classy Americans Stephan Shaw (13-0), and Jared Anderson (6-0 with four KOs in the first round) could be added to the above. Filip Hrgovic and Efe Ajagba, both 6’6”, have already moved up.

A good yardstick is 6’5” American Jonathan Rice who lost a 10-round bout to Ajagba, was TKO’d in the seventh round Makhmudov, lost a 6-round decision to Tony Yoka, and a lost 6-round decision to Shaw.

Have I missed any?

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com of on Facebook.

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Jermell Charlo Unifies Super Welterweights Via Solar Plexus Punch

David A. Avila

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WBC super welterweight titlist Jermell Charlo knocked out IBF and WBA titlist Jeison Rosario with a knockout punch delivered to the solar plexus on Saturday to add two more belts to his collection.

“I’m definitely bringing home the straps,” said Charlo.

Shades of Bob Fitzsimmons.

Back in 1897, Fitzsimmons used the same solar plexus punch to dethrone Gentleman James Corbett for the heavyweight title in Carson City, Nevada.

In another casino city Charlo (34-1, 18 KOs) floored Dominican Republic’s Rosario (20-2-1, 14 KOs) three times at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. He and his brother co-headlined a heavy duty pay-per-view card with no fans in attendance on the Premier Boxing Champions card.

Charlo jumped on Rosario quickly in the first round when he charged and clipped him with a left hook to the temple. Down went the two-belt champion for the count. But he got up seemingly unfazed.

For the next several rounds Rosario was the aggressor and put the pressure on Charlo who was content to allow the Dominican to fire away. Occasionally the Houston fighter jabbed but allowed Rosario to pound up and down with both fists.

After allowing Rosario to get comfortable with his attack, suddenly Charlo stopped moving and connected with a short crisp counter left hook and right cross in the sixth round. Down went Rosario again and he got up before the count of 10.

Charlo said it was part of the game plan.

“I’m growing and I realize that the knockout will just come,” he said.

Charlo was in control with a patient style and allowed Rosario to come forward. But the Dominican was more cautious in the seventh.

In the eighth round Charlo jabbed to the head and then jabbed hard to Rosario’s stomach. The Dominican fighter dropped down on his seat as if felled by a gun shot. He could not get up and convulsed while on the floor. The referee Harvey Dock counted him out at 21 seconds of round eight.

“That jab that got to him must have landed in a vital point,” said Charlo after the fight. “I hope he recovers and bounces back.”

Charlo now has three of the four major super welterweight world titles.

WBC Super Bantamweight Title

Luis Nery (31-0, 24 KOs) captured the WBC super bantamweight title by unanimous decision over fellow Mexican Aaron Alameda (25-1, 13 KOs) in a battle between southpaws. The war between border town fighters was intense.

Nery, a former bantamweight world titlist, moved up a weight division and found Alameda to be a slick southpaw with an outstanding jab. At first the Tijuana fighter was a little puzzled how to attack but found his groove in the fourth round.

But Alameda, who fights out of Nogales, Mexico, began using combinations and finding success.  A crafty counter left uppercut caught Nery charging in a few times, but he managed to walk through them.

In the final two rounds Nery picked up the action and increased the pressure against the slick fighting Alameda, He forced the Nogales fighter to fight defensively and that proved enough to give the last two rounds for Nery and the victory by unanimous decision. The scores were 115-113, 116-112 and 118-110 for Nery who now holds the WBC super bantamweight world title. He formerly held the WBC bantamweight title.

Roman Wins

Danny “Baby-Faced Assassin” Roman (28-3-1, 10 KOs) managed to rally from behind and defeat Juan Carlos Payano (21-4, 9 KOs) in a battle between former world champions in a nontitle super bantamweight clash. It wasn’t easy.

Once again Roman fought a talented southpaw and in this fight Payano, a former bantamweight titlist, moved up in weight and kept Roman off balance for the first half of the fight. The jab and movement by the Dominican fighter seemed to keep Roman out of sync.

Roman, who fights out of Los Angeles, used a constant body attack to wear down the 35-year-old Payano and it paid off in the second half. Then the former unified world champion Roman began to pinpoint more blows to the body and head. With seconds left in the 12th and final round, a left hook delivered Payano down and through the ropes. Sadly, the referee missed the knockdown. It didn’t matter as all three judges scored it identical at 116-112 for Roman after 12 rounds.

“I made some adjustments and picked up the pace and got the win,” said Roman who formerly held the WBA and IBF super bantamweight world titles.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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