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Upon Re-Watching, I Still Think Pacquiao Won, But…

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PacquiaoBradley Hogan 33Three days on, and I'm still wrestling with the Pacquiao-Bradley decision. I'm still not sure what it was that my eyes saw. Fight night, I was certain. I was right there with the HBO crew, and that thunk you heard from Park Slope, Brooklyn was the same thunk you heard en masse in Vegas, and in the Philippines, and everywhere else people had access to the broadcast or stream of the fight. It was my jaw and your jaw, and probably hundreds of thousands of jaws hitting the floor when Michael Buffer got done telling us what we could scarcely believe..but could believe, without a lengthy bout of processing, because similar circumstance had forced us to pick up our jaw from the floor last month, and the month before that, and so on, and so forth

But then I kept ruminating, and marinating, and pondering some what ifs. What if there was a contrarian stance to take? What if a tsunami of emotion and opinion, coalescing around the new wonder that is social media, had turned a semi-screwy decision into a Brinks Job, a Madoffian fleecing. What if those two judges, Ross and Ford, weren't inept or worse, compromised, but actually turned in scores that were within the bounds of reason, based on the criteria they use to score fights. These were out there “what ifs,” because on fight night, I saw the replays, I saw Manny throwing shots that had mustard on them, I saw him landing more than a couple straight lefts that landed flushed and tested Bradley's chin, I saw minute after minute in round after round of Bradley backing up, or throwing mushy shots which seemed to find Pacman's forearms and gloves as much as anything else. I also saw the CompuBox numbers, which helped cement my take, based on the hard, cold numbers, that Manny threw more power shots, and landed many more, and that Manny won the fight. But, I had to remind myself, these old pros didn't have those watching aids on fight night. They didn't get the benefit of the super slo mo replays, or the punchstat numbers, to help inform their scores. Course, word was that just about every media person present at the MGM saw Manny the victor, and we all heard that Bradley after apologized to promoter Bob Arum for not getting it done. But I felt like I owed it to those judges who've been getting slammed by everyone and their brother, raked over the coals with Lasik jokes and such to re-watch that fight, with the sound off, and lose the replay and CompuBox crutches.

On Monday and Tuesday I did that. I re-watched the bout. And guess what? Manny still won on my card.

I still saw him doing more, a bunch more, based on the main component I use to score a bout: effective aggression. He landed the cleaner, harder shots. Round after round. But..I re-watched with another purpose in mind. To try and watch the rounds and determine if they could PLAUSIBLY be scored for Bradley. And guess what? I saw, on second watch, a fight that was closer than it looked initially.

Now, maybe my mind is irrevocably tainted. Maybe I'm bending over too far backwards in sympathy to Ross and Ford, trying too hard to take that contrary stance. But I found it exceedingly hard to find a runaway round, the sort of round that a kindergartner could watch, and tell you who won. There were no knockdowns. There were no shots landed that buzzed a guy to his marrow, made his knees knock. There weren't more than a couple blows that sent sweat spraying off into the second row, a clear signal that damage has been done, solid contact has been made.

On fight night, I gave a single round to Bradley, and upon further review–sorry Tim–I only gave him one more than that. This might be derided as the wimpiest unofficial card ever produced, but remember, I re-watched with a new purpose, to give Bradley and Ross and Ford the benefit of the doubt…and I scored 5 rounds for Pacquiao, two rounds for Bradley, and five rounds even. And what that told me was that I am backing off terming this fight a “robbery.” Bad decision, yep. Should Duane Ford beg and plead a moment of insanity for telling Steve Carp and the world he though Bradley gave Pacquiao a “boxing lesson?” I think he should…But there have been worse decisions than this one, and will be a half dozen more in the second half of this year, sad to say.

ROUND ONE Was it as effective as the most aggressive we've seen Manny on his best night? No, but he still pushed the action, looked to me to land half a handful of cleaner blows, plus Bradley landed on Manny's arms, up in front of his face. Manny's best shots probably landed in the last ten seconds, so if you were on the fence, as many could have been with this round, that late work might have nudged it to Manny. (Not fair to score with aid of replay, if you are trying to replicate the experience of the onsite judges; but replay showed Manny landing a clean, crisp left, the best of the round for either man, in the waning seconds. I think it was the waning seconds, I was watching with sound off, lest I be seduced by the smoothtalking seducers. Did that launch impress the judges like it did me? Not Duane Ford; he liked Bradley in the first.
The Round Winner: Manny Pacquiao
Could Bradley Have Won It, Plausibly: Yes

ROUND TWO No one separated themselves in this frame. Since we are undertaking this endeavor to test our initial reaction, and want to be as fair as possible, want to not be reflexively dismissive of friends and colleagues who saw a closer fight than we did, we tilt towards trying to view Bradley with open eyes and mind.
The Round Winner: Draw
Could Bradley Have Won It, Plausibly: I suppose so…though I keep getting visions of him being outfitted with little alligator arms as his jab falls short on Manny. Ross and Roth didn't agree on that front; they gave the nod to Bradley.

ROUND THREE Another tight one. No sharpshooter landing sniper fire. One Manny straight left stood out for me, in the middle third, but if you want to call this one a draw, power to you. I would have given a slight edge to Pacquiao, because, yes, I will typically reward you for trying to make the fight, “hitting” is the main aim of the game, but will bend over backward for Bradley here. Maybe I was being “too fair;” all three judges gave Manny the round.
The Round Winner: Draw
Could Bradley Have Won It, Plausibly: Yes

ROUND FOUR Manny got into fiery mode, and the boys traded some early, and the Filipino's power emerged for me here. The crowd told you, I think, who took this round, with their ovation after the frame. Bradley spent most of his energy trying to slip shots, moving his head here and there to evade. His offense wasn't top drawer here. All three arbiters were on the same page, for Pacquiao.
The Round Winner: Manny Pacquiao
Could Bradley Have Won It, Plausibly: Nah

ROUND FIVE Pacman tried to push the action, went forward, was the more aggressive man in this round. Did he miss a lot? Yes. Bradley was quite intent on focusing on defense here, and neglected a concerted offensive focus. But..only Jerry Roth saw it my way.
The Round Winner: Manny Pacquiao
Could Bradley Have Won It, Plausibly: Define “plausible.” I don't think so. But Manny missed a good deal; if a judge digs D, then maybe he gave Tim the nod here. Grudgingly.

ROUND SIX Guess what else is new? No runaway winner here. Bradley did a ton of backing up, and used a pecking jab, which to my eyes didn't bother Manny a stitch. Neither man was very busy the first two thirds of the round and in the last third Manny did more. He actually went on the offensive whereas Bradley mostly focused on D. All three watchers agreed with me.
The Round Winner: Manny Pacquaio
Could Bradley Have Won It, Plausibly: If you are a BIG fan of a half-arse jab and think there was mastery involved in Bradley's gameplan. I guess..

ROUND SEVEN Bradley got into more of an offensive groove. Don't know if heard it in his corner after the sixth, because I was watching with sound off, but it seemed like he was fighting as though he did. Then, a graphic popped up that said Manny was outlanding him in the round by about a 3 to 1 margin, so..I don't know. As I'm watching this bending over backwards to see all the good Bradley is doing, maybe I give him too much credit. Siiighhhh. The judges, by the way, refuted the CompuBox info, and all gave the round to Bradley.
The Round Winner: Draw
Could Bradley Have Won It, Plausibly: Yes. He wasn't backing up as much as in prior rounds, and that could/should be rewarded in my book.

ROUND EIGHT Same thing here; no runaway winner. Another round where I cannot say, damn, that judge should be locked up, or suspended and sent to remedial ed. Manny wasn't busy in the first third, and Bradley made him miss a lot, with that underrated head movement the last two thirds. I don't like flipping a coin; if a round is close, I generally won't do it. I am unafraid to admit that I didn't see separation and thus, declared no clear winner. More judges doing so might encourage more fighters to fight more aggressively, so as to send a non-subtle message to the judges. I WANT TO WIN. (Note: After the round, the camera showed Mrs. Pacquiao at her seat, head bowed, concern on her face. her body language didn't say, “We got this in the bag. This thing is sewn up.” Just sayin'…) Only Roth would've reassured her that her guy did better in this one.
The Round Winner: Draw
Could Bradley Have Won It, Plausibly: Yes.

ROUND NINE Pacquiao was a bit cleaner and more effective. A couple of Pacquiao's launches had a noticeable effect on Bradley. They moved him a half step, or knocked his head slightly to the side. No landslide of momentum, or knockdown to really put a Pacquiao stamp on it, but Manny won it. Ross and Roth agreed with my take. Ford dissented.
The Round Winner: Pacquiao
Could Bradley Have Won It, Plausibly: If I'm bending to the point where my back is breaking, I guess so…

ROUND TEN Manny showed his age here, no shame in that. Bradley just worked harder and while he still backpedaled for a goodly portion of the round, his offense sent note that he craved winning the frame. All three agreed.
The Round Winner: Bradley
Could Bradley Have Won It, Plausibly: Yessir

ROUND 11 Bradley was busier for much of the round, but you could argue that Pacquiao landed two maybe three power shots that had far more spicy mustard on them than anything Bradley threw, and thus, Manny's power should supersede Bradley's busy-ness. You know the drill–another close round, not easy for the best judge in the world to differentiate. Ford rewarded Manny's power here, the other two liked the reborn Bradley.
The Round Winner: Draw
Could Bradley Have Won It, Plausibly: Yes

ROUND 12 This Bradley, who was often first, and countered super smartly when he wasn't first, and didn't let Manny get into a rhythm, this guy could have truly, legitimately won the fight. All three judges thought he won the round.
The Round Winner: Bradley
Could Bradley Have Won It, Plausibly: Yes

So, we will continue to talk about this one. Maybe more useful than looking back, and my robot judges jokes, would be brainstorming and implementing improvements to the system. I'm thinking using more ex professional boxers, who do tend to know what they are seeing in there, couldn't hurt. Coming up with standardized criteria, so all judges in all jurisdictions are working off the same playbook, seems to make sense as well. And being more judicious about using words like “robbery,” I think, is something I will try to incorporate.

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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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