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Could Being Good Be Bad For Manny Pacquiao?

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Pacquiao breaks camp 120604 003aReligion isn't my thing. I grew up Catholic, not because I wanted to, but because my parents set it up that way. I attended church, but was bored by it. I drifted off mentally when at mass, thought about the next Little League game, scanned for the cute girls in attendance. I found the customs involved in the whole deal strange–men in sci-fi garb, and such– and that much stranger as I got older, and read stories in the newspapers of cases involving priests' misdeeds.

I found it hard to conceive that any human being could successfully pledge their full-allegiance to an unseen deity, and rebuff internal urges to procreate, or fornicate. Year after year, I sipped the Kool Aid dutifully, trying to develop a taste for the Godstuff…and periodically, I will still try a thimble full here or there, whisper a prayer while lying in bed. But all in all, it ain't for me.

I try to keep an open mind for those who are believers; after all, knowing what we know about the world, anything that works as a salve, as long as it isn't a self-destructive substance, people should have access to it. And bless 'em if they find something that works.

But in many cases–maybe it's the journalist in me, the part of me that searches for the contradictions, the elements that can be fixed, for the betterment of the masses, not the uppermost classes–I tend towards the mildly jaded and cynical when it comes to those who worship overtly. Quiet reverence is one thing; a grandma who goes about her business, but pops into church every AM for some contemplation and devotion time, as she sends hopeful messages to a higher power, so that her grandkids lead a full and healthy life, and her sciatica disappears and her friend Bertha's cancer is removed, who the hell am I to say anything about? But those that worship, and proselytize, who feel a need to spread the good word, incessantly, in any context, well, the cynic in me often silently judges. Why the need to testify and try to sway wayward souls into the flock? I'm an each to his own guy, again, as long as your behavior doesn't affect others. You want to build an altar in your living room, and sip grape juice and pretend it's the blood of someone or another, really, that's your business. But if you're out and about, as a public figure, and you spend a bunch of your time extolling the virtues of your movement, and work like the dickens to sell us on that movement, a movement which I believe, all due respect, condones sexism and bigotry, against women and homosexuals…then I got a bit of a problem with that. Even if you are a person who seemingly believes fully and deeply that what you are spouting is the truth. Even if I sense that you aren't one of these folks who uses the “word of God” as a weapon, who uses your religious beliefs as a salve but also as a weapon, as a rationale to justify your views on same-sex marriage, or birth-control, or abortion, or other matters which are in my mind purely no one's business but your own, and certainly not the business of an elected government official to impact, or a church leader to influence.

Over the years, when coming across stories that hinted, or outright stated that Manny Pacquiao was a man of severe contradictions, that his humble, affable public persona hid another side, one that gave in temptation, and behaviors which impacted his loved ones negatively, I found myself looking past them. I found myself justifying them, glossing over them. When I heard about drinking, gambling, cockfighting, and so many “where there's smoke there's got to be fire” rumors about marital infidelity, I found myself looking past them. When Floyd and company alleged that many got help via PEDs, I frankly dismissed that grenade out of hand. Rightly, I think, because we've seen no proof of that, but wrongly, perhaps, because I took a shine to his personality. Manny doesn't come off as someone who would cheat, I thought to myself. I think regular readers know that I've been trying to come to grips with that of late, that I've tried to hash out in my brain if we, the press, have treated Pacquiao, because of that humility and affability, more favorably than, say, a less humble person, like Floyd Mayweather.

With Pacquiao's recent full-on immersion into his religion, his almost Born Again status, I have found myself looking at him with a new set of eyes. Or, perhaps, a new bias. Because of my personal belief that religion is too often a misused opiate of the masses, too often used as a tool of destruction, rather than what it could and should be, a means to achieve a measure of serenity and contentment that is difficult to attain, and a blueprint to aid man in overcoming his inherent selfishness, and move towards selflessness, I have looked and listened as Manny preached with a sense of detachment and even slight skepticism. When the Pacquiao-Ampong same-sex marriage flap erupted, I admit, my view of the Congressman took a slight dive. I see marriage as an issue of love, not gender, and dismiss the viewpoint that sees it as anything but as a biased one. I believe–and please get back to me in 20 years on this–that history will bear out my stance in coming decades, just as it did on the subject of the right of women and blacks to vote, for instance. Yet, I didn't scorn Manny because of his biases the same way I do some of the US politicians who portray themselves as good Christians..and then vote to reduce food stamps to needy children, or deny the right of two people who love each other to get married. Why? I guess because I sensed his faith, his recent immersion, was genuine. But…I don't know if it is. Nobody really does except for Manny. After all, before recent fights over the years, we heard about how he was in the best shape of his life, that he was training as hard as could be. Now, we learn that he was sometimes up all night partying, and showing up to the gym as fresh as Charlie Sheen mid-bender. Yes, yes, I know that the boxing business is one where promotion is instrumental in success. But sue me; I tend to believe, oftentimes, people at face value. When a boxer says he is coming to the ring looking to do damage, and then like David Haye fights like a scared Golden Glover, I feel cheated. That's naivete, you could argue. I don't fight it, because it shows I haven't tipped towards full-on veteran reporter cynical.

I am still trying to hash out how I feel about the new Pacquiao. Part of me feels duped, like I was sold some BS about the old Manny. But that is my issue, and, frankly, more germane to me personally, and my attempts to figure out my existence and the ways of the world, than it is to TSS. What is germane to TSS, though, is how Manny's conversion will affect him in the ring on Saturday night, against Timothy Bradley. Colleague Ron Borges wrote about how Bradley is something of a skeptic on “new Manny.”

“I knew sooner or later all the distractions would catch up with him,’’ Bradley said of Pacquiao’s chaotic public and private lives to Borges. “He’s here. He’s there. He’s fornicating. Now he’s got his religion in place? I want to finish the job.’’

Good for Bradley, for articulating what too many of us are afraid, or unwilling, for whatever reasons, to voice. He is questioning the veracity of Manny's newfound faith. He's thinking that it only came about, to this degree of devotion, because it was forced upon him. Bradley, or so it has appeared as we've watched him these last two months, seems to possess a genuine faith in a higher power, and seems to actually walk the walk in his personal life as well. Unless it emerges later that we've been conned, it seems to me that he is reverent towards his wife Monica and kids, and doesn't need to fill any vacuums with drinking or screwing around or massive gambling. So, I'm left to wonder, will that true-blue devotion and seeming serenity manifest itself in the ring, and propel Bradley to an upset win on Saturday over Pacquiao?

I asked Pacquiao about the faith issue before the Ampong thing popped up. I wanted to know if the newly bolstered faith would impact him as a boxer. Why, I asked, did you indulge in untoward activities?

“I read the Bible, it's my manual for life,” Pacquiao told me. “Before (my conversion) I pray, I always pray. I believed in God's dream to follow,” he said, but that he wasn't sure how exactly to follow the directions to be “good.” That, he said, is why he indulged in “gambling and girls” and the like. “I read the bible now to follow the commandments of God.”

I asked Manny what Bible verses in particular spoke to him. Matthew 5:48, he said, is favorite: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Another is John 8:47, Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” I admit, that second especially throws me, as it seems to be a diss on those who don't follow God as Manny and members of his particular flock see him. If a person is good, and does good acts, I frankly don't give a hoot if he belong to the Church of the Potted Plant. He's doing good, being a benefit to society, and that's all that matters, to me. But I digress…

So, will the heavy duty faith keep you from trying to knock Bradley's head off?

“In the ring I get to entertain people,” Pacquiao told me. “I want the people to be happy.”

Trainer Freddie Roach also told me that the new faith level won't diminish his skills as a boxer. “Manny gave up all distractions, now it's just one distraction,” he said. “It's not too hard reading the Bible. Now, he's not going away, not going to cockfights or casino. He hasn't drank in over a year. He's given up all that's bad for him. He realized his mistakes, him and his wife are getting along great. His life is less confusing for him and all of us.”

Me, I'm of the Freddie school on religion, I think. (I bet he grew up a Massachusetts Catholic, as I did, lol.) But I wondered, has Manny yanked him into the flock?

“Manny hasn't invited me yet to Bible study. I'm waiting for that to happen. I'm not a religious person, but it won't kill me.”

So, will Manny still go for the kill, or feel pity for the fool, if he gets Bradley buzzed?

“I worried at first,” Roach told me. “I wanted to see his work ethic. He still beats the s–t out of me. He says “sorry,” and hits me again. I was a little worried about that, not wanting to hurt people, but it's the oldest sport in the world. Maybe God was into boxing too. I'm not worried at all about him being soft, he's the same fighter, just no more distractions and vices… except for Bible, and that's a pretty good vice in my book.”

You might recall George Foreman went through a conversion himself. He lost to Jimmy Young in Puerto Rico on March 17, 1977 (UD12). He went to his dressing room and was reborn. “I died in the dressing room and had my vision of Jesus Christ being crucified,” he said after. “God wanted me to lose that fight so that I could lose my life. That's not an excuse; that's the truth…I walked out of that dressing room with peace of mind for the first time in my life.” Foreman left the sport, became a preacher, and then re-entered the ring a decade later. His faith held steady, to this day. I reached out to Big George, to help get a better sense of the Pacquiao conversion, and ask if the infusion of faith will help or hurt the Filipino in the ring.

Has he been following the Pacquiao-is-reborn storyline?

“I've been kind of watching it,” Foreman told me. “It seems to be sincere. That's what you want.”

Foreman said he met Pacquiao at the birthday bash for Muhammad Ali in January. “We sat and talked religion,” the ex heavyweight champion said. “He is sincere.” Foreman said being the man is hard, that there is nobody surrounding you when you are out and about to tell you no, that isn't a good idea. “I was right and rich,” he said of his pre-conversion days, “and who's going to tell me I can't say or do that?”

I did for the benefit of disclosure admit to Foreman my own stance on religion, by the way, so he could know where I was coming from. And, interestingly, without me mentioning Pacquiao's same-sex marriage flap, he touched on the issue of religious figures judging others and using Bible passages to justify it. “Just because you find religion,” Foreman said, “you shouldn't shut the door on thinking. The Bible is the truest love letter.” Foreman said we should give Pacquiao time, let him grow into the faith, and we will see if his actions match his words. “Like Mother Theresa, she went out and demonstrated her beliefs. You can't get tangled up in deeds. Show me how religious you are by the deeds you do. Those people that do the Meals on Wheels, I'd rather see that than preaching on the street or praying for five hours. If Manny has extra money, he can donate it to the Meal on Wheels program. That's full-time Holy Ghost religion.”

Foreman agrees with Roach, that the new religiosity won't affect Pacman's ability to finish a foe. But he might be stung, Foreman said, if the cheers turn to boos. “If you're religious, and you get hit, and they go crazy, it's the most lonely feeling in the world,” he said. “Pacquiao will have to deal with that.”

All in all, Foreman stresses that we should be patient with Pacquiao. “We never wait and see. It will take time. It took me thirty years to figure out that I was not called to preach against anyone and anything, but to tell people how great God is. Because once you say it out of church, it's no longer religious, it's politics.”

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ Jake Paul and More

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It’s official. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a formal press conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, to announce the forthcoming fight between Mahmoud Charr, formerly known as Manuel Charr, and Kubrat Pulev. They will meet in Bulgaria’s capital city on March 30 at a 12,000-seat arena.

Charr vs Kubrat bears the imprimatur of a world heavyweight title fight (WBA version). Charr is considered the champion, notwithstanding the fact that others have held the title since he first laid claim to it more than six years ago.

The WBA, as we know, recognizes two champions in some weight classes, a “super” champion and a “regular” champion. The “super” designation was created in 2000. It was designed to segregate title-holders into levels of accomplishment. In theory, a “super” champion has made five successful defenses and is recognized as a world title-holder by at least one of the three other major sanctioning bodies. “Super” champions are allowed certain liberties with respect to mandatory title defenses.

The bifurcation was greeted with hoots of derision. The Panama-based WBA trivialized the sport.

Mahmoud Charr

Mahmoud Charr was born in Beirut but has resided in Germany since he was a little boy. He won the vacant title with a 12-round decision over unexceptional Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany.  It was a close fight. TSS ringside correspondent Phil Woolever had Ustinov winning 7 rounds to 5, but conceded that the verdict could not be called an injustice.

The title that Charr won was vacated by Ruslan Chagaev who won the belt from Fres Oquendo, lost it to Lucas Browne, and got it back by decree when Browne’s post-fight urine tests showed evidence of banned substances. But Chagaev never fought again. His fight with Browne was his last.

Charr’s first defense was to come against Fres Oquendo. Slated for March 23, 2019 in Cologne after being pushed back from September of the previous year, the match never came to fruition when Charr tested positive for two banned substances. Things get really muddled from here with Charr pushed to the sideline by legal battles complicated by Don King’s shenanigans. King arranged a fight in Florida between Charr and his fighter Trevor Bryan and succeeded in getting Bryan the WBA belt when Charr was unable to get a visa. The belt is vacant again after Bryan was knocked out by Daniel Dubois who, in turn, was knocked out by “super” champion Oleksandr Usyk.

There are more threads to this saga but let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that after defeating Ustinov, Charr was out of action for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s had only three fights since 2017 and to say that his opponents were men of low repute would be giving them the best of it. In his most recent assignment, in December of 2022, he scored a second-round stoppage over 46-year-old Swiss-Albanian slug Nuri Seferi. That brought his record to 34-4 (20). He has been stopped three times, most recently in 2015 when he was halted in five frames by future cruiserweight champion Maris Briedis.

Kubrat Pulev

Kubrat Pulev will have the home field advantage in Sofia. Charr will have youth on his side. He’s 39; Pulev is 42.

Pulev sports a 30-3 record. The losses came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko (L KO 5), Anthony Joshua (L KO 9), and Derek Chisora (L SD 12). He last fought in December at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, CA, where he won a lopsided decision over Polish journeyman Andrzej Wawrzyk.

In a previous engagement here at the Hangar, a concert hall that seats a shade over 3,000, he TKOed Bogdan Dinu. That bout is remembered mostly for what happened after it ended. In an incident that went viral on social media, Pulev surprised Jennifer Ravalo, a self-styled journalist, with a kiss on the lips. That animated women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and led to an 8-page spread in Playboy (of Ravalo, not Allred). The California State Athletic Commission fined and suspended Pulev and mandated that he undergo sexual harassment training. The suspension lasted 120 days.

The match between Charr and Pulev, says a blurb about it, is an “eagerly anticipated” clash between “two evergreen living legends.” We will let you provide the punchline, The winner is expected to fight Martin Bakole who was knocked out by Michael Hunter.

Jake Paul

Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of prizefighting, returns this Saturday on a card in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that will air on DAZN. Paul, an influencer who brought his big social media following with him when he took up fisticuffing, is coming off a first-round stoppage of Andre August, a no-name fighter from Texas. Saturday’s sacrificial lamb is a fellow from Dickinson, North Dakota (by way of Benicia, California) named Ryan Bourland.

Bourland, who is reportedly 35 years old but looks older, scored his signature win in 2018 when he avenged a previous defeat with a 10-round majority decision over Jose Hernandez. He has fought only one since then, TKOing a fighter with a losing record in a 6-rounder at a lodge on a remote Indian reservation in North Dakota. That improved his ledger to 17-2 (6 KOs).

Regarding Jake Paul, Thomas Hauser once wrote that he’s worked hard to become a better boxer and is “certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.” There was a time when this reporter, perhaps naively, thought that Jake had the potential to become a legitimate top-15 cruiserweight, but his recent choice of opponents suggests that he is comfortable just spinning his wheels.

His bout with Bourland will play second fiddle to Amanda Serrano’s featherweight title defense against Germany’s Nina Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs). Although Amanda has a lot of mileage on her odometer, she is expected to have little difficulty with Meinke. In another bout of note, Puerto Rican campaigners Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KOs) and Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder with Gonzalez’s WBO light flyweight title at stake.

—-

Let’s conclude this write-up on an upbeat note. Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a frequent TSS contributor, informs us that his fifth and presumably final anthology is nearing completion with a likely release date of April or May. “Championship Rounds, Round 5” includes a foreword by Gerry Cooney and has drawn glowing reviews from the likes of Dave Kindred and Dr. Gordon Marino who both had an early peek at the manuscript. Kindred, a renowned sportswriter and author, was the subject of a 2021 piece on “60 Minutes.” Marino, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has written extensively about boxing for the Wall Street Journal.

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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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