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THE BREAKDOWN How Donaire Beat Arce

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Donaire Arce 121215 008aThe case can be made that Donaire is the best pound for pound fighter in the world. (Chris Farina-Top Rank)

On Saturday night, Nonito Donaire capped off a sensational year –one which will surely see him take fighter of the year honors- after knocking out Jorge Arce in the third round of their fight in Houston, Texas. Arce, who announced his retirement from boxing in the ring to Larry Merchant, was simply no match for Donaire, who was able to control and dominate the tough little Mexican from start to finish. Here, I’d like to illustrate how Donaire was able to end the fight so efficiently and abruptly.

Instead of coming out all guns blazing, Jorge Arce, who was as powerfully built as I’ve seen him look, defied reputation and came out far more passively than he usually does. It was actually a very smart strategy from Arce, given the way in which the heavy-handed Donaire has dispatched of overly aggressive opponents in the past. Arce knew that by staying on the outside before coming in behind single punches, then getting back out again, Donaire would be forced into taking the fight to Arce, thus, possibly eliminating his counter-punching threat. What continues to impresses me with Donaire, more so than any of his other vast physical gifts, is his mind…he’s constantly thinking. Where a lot of fighters may have resorted to applying relentless pressure in this situation, feeling somewhat frustrated by Arce’s negative tactics, Donaire sought out another way of opening his opponent up. Instead of trying to cut the ring off, eating up the distance using sustained pressure, Donaire applied subtle pressure using small shuffling steps, along with feints and single jabs, looking to draw a lead out from Arce. Donaire wanted the fight to come to him.

donaireArceBreakdown 1

Notice here how Donaire is approaching Arce in a subtle manner. Donaire is edging forward, taking small shuffling steps before taking a half step back. By doing this, Donaire is giving Arce a false sense of distance, hoping that he’s going to lead off so that he can counter. Even though Arce doesn’t react to it here, one can see Donaire’s intentions –edge forward, half-step back, draw out a response and counter.  

Donaire vs Arce    

In this sequence, Donaire’s subtle pressure pays off. Here, as Donaire is edging forward, Arce responds by leading with a right hand. As Donaire takes a half-step back and leans away, Arce falls short and is now off-balance. Donaire is now in a perfect position to counter and lands a short left uppercut to the chin of Arce.

This was also one of the many subtle baiting techniques that heavyweight knockout artist Joe Louis used.

donaireArceBreakdown 3

Here’s Joe Louis doing what he does best. After edging forward, Louis baits his opponent into leading by sticking a left arm out. As his opponent responds and leaps in with a left hook, Louis takes a half-step back and counters with a short left hook on the inside, sending his opponent down to the canvas. Louis, like Donaire, was brilliant at forcing his opponents into opening up and making mistakes by applying subtle pressure.

The more frequently Arce was tagged, the more he began to open up. Donaire’s subtle pressure, along with those single jabs and feints, really drew out the attack from Arce, who, at heart, is really a blood and guts fighter. As a result, even more counter-punching opportunities came along for Donaire.

donaireArceBreakdown 4

Here, Arce leads with a jab but is countered by a Donaire jab. Notice how Donaire blocks Arce’s jab using his rear glove as he’s landing his jab. Donaire has an astute understanding of timing and distance. He knows that his superior speed and length will allow him to reach and find the target before Arce can.

The first knockdown in the fight illustrated one of Donaire’s signature counter-punching techniques perfectly.

donaireArceBreakdown 5

Here’s Donaire parrying and countering over the top of a jab. As Arce leads with a jab, notice how Donaire turns his rear hand over so that his palm is pointing towards the punch. Donaire intercepts the jab and counters with a short right hand over the top. Although the knockdown was a little scrappy, there was still a lot of skill involved.

This counter-punching technique requires great hand speed as well as excellent hand eye coordination. It was also one of Roy Jones Jr’s favorite countering techniques.

donaireArceBreakdown 6

Here’s Roy Jones Jr. parrying a jab with his rear hand and countering over the top with a left hook/straight right combination. Notice how Jones’s left glove is carried low in the first picture –this draws the jab out. There are a lot of similarities between Jones and Donaire. Especially the way in which they counter after a parry.

After the knockdown, Jorge Arce began taking more chances on offense and started to take the fight to Donaire. It wasn’t too long before the inevitable happened.

donaireArceBreakdown 7

Here is where the second knockdown took place. As Arce leads with a left hook, Donaire ducks and rolled under to the outside. As Donaire pressed his left elbow into Arce’s right shoulder, freezing Arce, he fired a right hand over the top and outside of Arce’s line of vision. Even though Donaire threw another two left hooks that sent Arce to the canvas, the right hand landed here was the real damaging blow.

The finale will likely be remembered for being another picturesque left hook knockout by Donaire. However, I thought his composure in taking out a hurt fighter was particularly noteworthy. In the same scenario, you’ll often see a fighter throwing wildly in trying to close the show. Not Nonito Donaire.

donaireArceBreakdown 8

With Arce hurt, Donaire moves in calmly. Instead of swinging for the fences, Donaire tries to bait Arce into opening up again. See how Donaire edges forward and tries to counter Arce’s jab with a right hand counter. Arce manages to avoid Donaires first attempt at closing the show.

donaireArceBreakdown 9

Undeterred, Donaire moves in calmly again. This time, he launches a right cross followed by a left uppercut. Both shots partially land and Arce manages to survive yet another Donaire assault.

Donaire’s patience finally pays off.

donaireArceBreakdown 10

Here, Donaire manages to finally close the show via his spring-loaded left hook. Donaire’s left hook, either as a counter or a lead, may just be the best punch in all of boxing. It’s certainly the one shot that I’d select for encapsulating both boxing’s brutality and beauty in a single moment.

All in all, it was another spectacular performance by Nonito Donaire. Sure, nobody really gave Jorge Arce a real chance of winning the fight, but Donaire must be given credit for taking Arce away from his initial game plan, and out within a few frames. Last week, we saw a sensational counter-punching finish by Juan Manuel Marquez when he knocked out Manny Pacquiao with an over-hand right at the end of the sixth round. In the dying moments of that fight, we saw a fighter pay the ultimate price for being overly aggressive. Ultimately, Manny Pacquiao’s deliberate and predictable attack left nothing to the imagination and pretty much made Marquez’s mind up for him. Marquez also had close to 42 rounds of in-ring experience with his familiar opponent prior to that fight ending moment. Jorge Arce is certainly no Manny Pacquiao, but during the early going of this fight, Donaire found in front of him an unfamiliar and unwilling opponent. Regardless of ability, I’ve always felt these are the most difficult fighters to put away -the Joshua Clottey’s against Manny Pacquiao, and some of the early career opponents of Mike Tyson or a light heavyweight Roy Jones. As good as Manny Pacquiao is, his style accommodates that of a hard hitting counter-puncher.

Donaire, by way of his superior ring intelligence, assessed the situation and managed to figure out a way of opening up an opponent who wasn’t really looking to open up. As I’ve already mentioned, once Arce was floored, we saw him resort back to something more like his old self where Donaire would soon put the finishing touches on yet another masterpiece, but this clearly wasn’t the case at the beginning of the fight.

I really don’t want to delve too deep into all of the PED talk that seems to be dominating boxing right now, but Nonito Donaire MUST be applauded for his participation in the 24/7/365 VADA testing that he’s currently undergoing. There’s an obvious problem out there at the moment and Donaire is doing his best in trying to eradicate it.

Right, now let’s get back to Donaire’s boxing ability. Personally, I think Nonito Donaire is the most creative offensive fighter in the sport right now. He’s at the opposite end of the spectrum to the likes of Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward who are always looking to stymie and stifle. Yes, Donaire’s different. He’s looking to unlock and unload. He’s always searching for the knockout. And what’s even more worrying for future opponents is the fact that he’s becoming a more intelligent fighter with each passing fight. During his last three outings, Donaire has shown that he now has the deciphering skills to figure out an opponent’s style and adapt to it accordingly -we saw him pressurizing and getting inside on a taller opponent in Jeffery Mathebula, and against Toshiaki Nishioka and now Jorge Arce, we’ve seen a more strategic, trap setting Donaire. A few fight ago, relying on nothing but his speed and power, Donaire seemed to be a little left hand happy. This is no longer the case.

Hopefully, promotional issues can be put aside for once and boxing fans will get to see Nonito Donaire versus Abner Mares in 2013. Should that fight be made and should Donaire win, which is not beyond the realms of possibility, then I think Nonito Donaire would have a very good case on his hands for being recognized as the very best fighter in the sport.

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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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In Boxing, a Quadrilogy is Rare. Going 2-2 Against Butterbean Even More So

Ted Sares

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The late heavyweight Mitch Rose could not translate his Golden Gloves amateur skills to the pro ranks. He retired with an underwhelming 2-11-1 mark, but he did enough quirky things to put his life story in a book and one of the most memorable parts of it involved his being the first fighter to stop Eric “Butterbean” Esch, the legendary knockout machine who was trumpeted as the King of the Four Rounders. Rose did it on an undercard bout at Madison Square Garden on a show with Oscar De La Hoya and Arturo Gatti in the featured bouts.

“… Rose was a tried and true New Yorker. As loud and funny as he was, he never seemed to take himself too seriously. He had a big heart, a lot of dreams, and an emotional honesty that was extremely refreshing.” — Robert Mladinich, NYFIGHTS

As Bernard Fernandez noted, Eric Esch, aka Butterbean, rebounded nicely. “(He) went on to continue his unlikely advance to stardom of sorts as a bald and blubbery blaster.”

Butterbean, who also competed in MMA and in Tough Man competitions, developed a cult following and retired with a boxing record of 77-10-4. But Butterbean’s last three losses as a boxer came between 2009-2013, long after he should have left the boxing scene.

Enter Kenny “The Raven” Craven (here’s a recent picture).

Craven

Craven

 “Wherever you find yourself in time… Please remember to do the right thing.” — Kenny Craven

A soulful and righteous man who believes in equality and walks the walk, Craven, a Mississippian from tiny Ellisville, is a follower of the teachings of Desmond Tutu. He is pro-people and pro-underdog and will not bypass injustice.

“I wrote a post yesterday on Facebook that expanded my view of the power of the people. All of us know we have this power but we have no idea how to use it. Well, we do know how it is used but we make a conscious decision not to. Why? We the people have supreme authority but we give this gift to just a few people who do not even like us.” — Craven

Kenny Craven finished his pro boxing career with a 28-20 record. He won 23 by knockout BUT all of his 20 losses came by knockout and that made him an exciting fighter, if nothing else. Kenny was a fan favorite on the southern circuit and if his opponent didn’t get him, he usually got his opponent and the fans could anticipate with near 100 percent accuracy that someone was getting knocked down.

The other thing about Kenny was that he fought a Who’s Who of elite fighters. They included Henry Akinwande (37-1-1 coming in), Michael Nunn (55-4), Vaughn Bean (41-2 and no relation to Butterbean), Attila Levin (27-1), Albert Sosnowski (33-1), Clifford Etienne (28-2-2), Calvin Brock (25-0), Timur Ibragimov (20-0-1), Oliver McCall (46-8), Vassiliy Jirov (36-3-1), and Ezra Sellers (28-7).

In 1999, “The Raven” was stopped by Butterbean (48-1-2) in the second round on the undercard of the De La Hoya vs Trinidad fight at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. It was Alabama vs Mississippi. However, in the first round, Craven displayed the blueprint on how to beat the ‘King of Four Rounders” by using a stick and run approach.

In 2005, Kenny lasted until the third round before the Bean (then 71-3-4) overwhelmed him.

 But just three months later in Jackson, Mississippi, Kenny finally figured out Esch and utilized the blueprint by jabbing and moving laterally, and won a majority decision over the heavily favored Bean in front of a small but howling and disbelieving crowd. The fact that Tonya Harding was on the undercard added to the circus-like atmosphere.

Then, three months later in Bejing, China, Kenny did it again. Yes, in China!!? This time he had his way with Eric and cruised to an easy win.

In a rare Quadrilogy, Kenny Craven went 2-2 with Eric Esch who never managed to knock Kenny down or even hurt him. No mean feat.

Mitch Rose had his moment. Kenny Craven had two. As Kenny says, “I did the best I could for a guy with three amateur fights and growing up in rural Mississippi. I loved every second, the good and the bad.”

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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