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CAUTION: Golovkin Remains A Mystery Still

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Saturday night Gennady Golovkin proved what we already knew. What he did not prove is whether he is the best middleweight in the world.

The undefeated WBA-IBO champion’s punching power was never in question. When you have the highest knockout percentage of any active world champion as well as the highest in middleweight championship history it doesn’t matter whether you’ve knocked out the top names in the division, which he has not.

Power is power and if you’ve got the kind Golovkin has it’s obvious, as it was when he dropped challenger Matthew Macklin with a savage left to the liver that crumpled him to the floor in a heap at 1:22 of the third round, unable to get up for several minutes after he was counted out by referee Eddie Cotton.

But the truth is the man Golovkin beat was already beaten before he entered the ring. For more than a week Macklin kept talking about how he hadn’t really wanted the fight yet, insisting he needed one more tune-up before facing Golovkin, even though this was Macklin’s third shot at the middleweight title.

That is a man who doesn’t want to be where he ended up, which was trapped inside the ropes with Golovkin patiently boring in on him like termites in the woodwork.

After talking a good game until the week before the fight, Macklin (29-5, 20 KO) entered the ring at the MGM Grand Theatre filled with self-doubt. His movements from the beginning were skitterish, his feet seldom set to punch, his eyes darting here and there, his worry obvious.

That, of course, is the curse of the big puncher. It has benefited fighters for decades. It is a spell of fear that comes over an opponent that ends the fight before it begins, rendering that opponent incapable of the kind of calm patience necessary to do his job.

Most observers miss this nuance, seeing only the explosion and assuming the sole cause is the unbeatable devastation of the knockout artist. But fighters, especially champions, know differently.

The best of them see deeper things. They see the eyes of the opponent and know what it means. They see the weaknesses of the champion and know how to expose and exploit them.

That is why Gennady Golovkin’s performance Saturday night, impressive as it was, did not satisfy all the skeptics in the crowd. It made clear to them, not that they had any doubt, that he has dynamite in both hands but it did not quite convince them yet that he will detonate it no matter who the competition is.

“People talk about punching power,” said Andre Ward, the undisputed super middleweight champion and an analyst working at ringside Saturday night for HBO.

“He is always in position to punch. It’s from that Soviet (amateur system, where he was allegedly 350-5 before turning pro). He has a strong base, strong foundation. He puts a lot of pressure on people, and it starts with his feet. He gets into position, then is able to unload the big shot.’’

And then came the “but.’’

“Until somebody is able to dominate (Sergio) Martinez, he’s in that top spot (in the middleweight division),’’ Ward said after the fight. “He’s struggled his last couple of fights but he holds onto that top spot.

“I don’t know what’s going on with negotiations behind the scenes with Golovkin. They say that nobody wants to fight him. He’s doing this (knocking out guys), but not the top competition so I’ll keep Martinez in the top spot.

“I’d like to see Golovkin against a young fighter like Kid Chocolate (Peter Quillin). If he can do that against a fighter like that you can say he’s a top spot (guy).’’

Ward made clear without saying it that he has no fear and no doubt what would happen if all the talk of Golovkin moving up to 168 in pursuit of him came to fruition. In his mind it would be Golovkin’s first true test at the highest level of the sport and he would not pass it.

For all his toughness, Macklin lost a disputed decision he probably deserved over Felix Sturm, was stopped by Martinez after 11 rounds in which Macklin dropped Martinez early but ended up taking a beating and now was non-competitive against Golovkin. In other words, and there’s no disrespect meant by this but he is not a top level talent.

Even Macklin’s trainer, former world champion Buddy McGirt, did not seem as impressed as you might have expected, in part because he knew before the fight what became obvious as Macklin walked into the ring with the look of someone staring at a hangman’s noose with his name on it.

“He has the power, you can‘t take that away from him,’’ McGirt said after the fight, “but I’d still like to see him in a dogfight against a boxer who can punch. He’s in an era where there are no great middleweights. That’s not his fault but it takes a little shine off him. I still think he hasn’t been tested.

“The best fighters are patient fighters. They stay calm under pressure. Matthew got caught with a shot because he felt Golovkin was getting the momentum and he had to do something. He got anxious.’’

Not without good reason. After quickly stopping Macklin, Golovkin is now on a streak of 14 straight KOs and takes the approach that one of the inevitable things in life is that he will render his opponent unconscious sooner rather than the later, an opinion not surprisingly also held by his trainer, the very able Abel Sanchez.

“He’s an animal in the ring when he’s right,’’ Sanchez said. “He’s the best fighter I ever trained. From 154 pounds to 168 pounds no one can stand up to his power.’’

Such a person, of course, has never existed. No one could stand up to Jack Dempsey until Gene Tunney did…twice. No one could stand up to Mike Tyson until Buster Douglas did. No one could stand up to Thomas Hearns or Sonny Liston or The Great John L. or every big puncher there ever was…until somebody did. The only one who can say no one did is Rocky Marciano because, well, no one did, although truth be told he fought in an era not unlike the fallow one Golovkin is in now.

Whether Golovkin’s somebody is presently in the middleweight division remains to be seen but for all his glorification over the weekend, he remains a mystery, as even he seemed to inadvertently hint at after the fight.

“I expected a tougher fight,’’ Golovkin (27-0, 24 KO) admitted. “I gave him a good opportunity early in the fight to see what he had. When he didn’t take it I knew it would be an easy fight.

“The left hand (to the body) is something we worked on in the gym. When I saw he was open for it, I drilled him with it. I knew he wasn’t going to get up.’’

All true. Equally true was that Macklin was halfway to the floor before he left his dressing room. That is not to hint he was a coward because he was not. He was just an opponent who didn’t believe he could win and when that is the case you seldom do and against a guy like Golovkin you never do.

But the biggest names in the division, guys like Martinez, Quillin and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., as well as Ward at 168, will not leave their dressing room with such a deficit of mind.

They will carry with them the serenity of the great fighter, the kind Golovkin (27-0, 24 KO) clearly possessed against Macklin and all his other opponents. It is the serenity of faith in yourself and your gifts but also faith in your will as well as your skill.

It is a faith Golovkin has but a faith that has not yet been tested. Only then will we learn if he is to join names like Hagler, Monzon, Hopkins, Greb, Ketchel, Robinson and the few other truly great middleweight champions.

For now he is a 31-year-old fighter with a big punch that is serving him well and rightly exciting boxing fans and the sport. He is on his way to bigger challenges.

If he passes them Gennady Golovkin will be what people say he is but words alone will not make it so. It’s a funny thing about greatness in boxing. It’s something you have to prove against people who already have established their own.

Those kind of fighters, and there are not many of them these days, are different from the Macklins and the Gabriel Rosados and Nobuhiro Ishidas of the world. They have what you have and it’s more than a punch.

Until Gennady Golovkin gets the opportunity to test himself in that hot cauldron we wait to see if he is what he says he is or if he’s just another guy who could punch holes in guys like Matthew Macklin even before he hit them.

 

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 281: The Devin and Ryan Show

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Over the years bouts between old foes such as Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia tend to be surprising.

Yes, both are only 25 but have known each other for many years.

When undisputed super lightweight champion Haney (31-0, 15 KOs) steps into the prize ring at Barclays Center to meet challenger Garcia (24-1, 20 KOs) on Saturday, April 20, fans will be witnessing the continuation of a feud that began more than a decade ago.

And though the champion is a heavy favorite, familiarity is Garcia’s best weapon heading into their fight on the Golden Boy Promotions card that will be shown on PPV.COM with Jim Lampley and friends. DAZN pay-per-view is also streaming the card.

In many ways Haney and Garcia have ventured down the same path. From amateur sensations to fighting in Mexico while teens to asking for the biggest challenges available.

“Whichever version of Ryan shows up on April 20, I will be ready for him. Ryan Garcia is just another opponent to me,” said Haney who holds the WBC super lightweight title after his win over Regis Prograis.

The first time I saw Haney as a pro he battled the dangerous Mexican contender Juan Carlos Burgos at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula. It was an impressive performance against a fighter who fought three times for a world title.

Haney was 19 at the time.

My first look at Garcia as a pro was in his first bout in the U.S. when he met Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Cruz at the Exchange in downtown Los Angeles. The Boricua looked at Garcia and tried intimidating him with stares, taunts and the usual patter. During the fight both swung and missed until the second round when Garcia zeroed in and took him out.

Garcia had just turned 18, the legal age to fight in California.

Both fighters did not have the Olympics credentials that lead to fame. But their talent has allowed them to fight through the dense smoke that is professional boxing.

Haney has defeated numerous world champions such as Prograis, Vasyl Lomachenko and George Kambosos Jr., while Garcia has stopped champions Javier Fortuna and Luke Campbell.

As amateurs, Garcia and Haney battled six times with each winning three.

“They know each other very well,” said Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions. “Ryan is going to beat Devin Haney.”

Haney has a buttery-smooth style with one of the best jabs in boxing. He’s very adept at keeping distance and not allowing anyone to fight him inside. His reflexes are outstanding, yet he seldom fights inside. That’s his weakness.

Garcia fights tall and has superb hand speed and a lightning quick left hook. Though his defense lacks tightness his ability to rip off three-punch combinations in a blink of an eye pauses opponents from bullying their way inside.

“These guys always just look at me and look at me like I don’t know how to box,” said Garcia on social media. “Why was I one of the best fighters in the amateurs. Why was I a 15-time National champion…why did I beat everyone I came across.”

Haney is a strong favorite by oddsmakers to defeat Garcia. But you can never tell when it comes to fighters that know each other well and are athletically gifted.

When Sergio Mora challenged Vernon Forrest he was a big underdog. When Tim Bradley fought Manny Pacquiao the first time, he was also the underdog. And when Andy Ruiz met Anthony Joshua few gave him a chance.

Haney and Garcia have history in the ring. It should be an interesting battle.

PPV.COM

Jim Lampley will be leading the broadcast on PPV.COM for the Haney-Garcia card at Barclays and texting with fans on the card live. He will be accompanied by journalists Lance Pugmire, Dan Conobbio and former champion Chris Algieri.

The PPV.COM broadcast begins at 5 p.m. PT. and is available in Canada and the USA.

Other News

MMA stars Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal will be holding a media day event on Friday, April 19, at NOVO at L.A. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Diaz and Masvidal will be boxing against each other in a grudge match on June 1 at the KIA Forum in Inglewood, Calif. The two MMA stars met five years at UFC 244 with Masvidal winning by TKO over Diaz due to cuts.

This is a grudge match, but under boxing rules.

Fight card in Commerce, Calif.

360 Promotions returns to Commerce Casino on Saturday April 20 with undefeated super lightweight Cain Sandoval leading the charge.

Sandoval (12-0) faces Angel Rebollar (8-3) in the main event that will be shown live on UFC Fight Pass. Also on the card are two female events including hot prospect Lupe Medina (5-0) versus Sabrina Persona (3-1) in a minimumweight clash.

Doors open at 4 p.m.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round

There were few surprises when co-promoters Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren and their benefactor HE Turki Alalshikh held a press conference in London this past Monday to unveil the undercard for the Beterbiev-Bivol show at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 1. Most of the match-ups had already been leaked.

For die-hard boxing fans, Beterbiev-Bivol is such an enticing fight that it really doesn’t need an attractive undercard. Two undefeated light heavyweights will meet with all four relevant belts on the line in a contest where the oddsmakers straddled the fence. It’s a genuine “pick-‘em” fight based on the only barometer that matters, the prevailing odds.

But Beterbiev-Bivol has been noosed to a splendid undercard, a striking contrast to Saturday’s Haney-Garcia $69.99 (U.S.) pay-per-view in Brooklyn, an event where the undercard, in the words of pseudonymous boxing writer Chris Williams, is an absolute dumpster fire.

The two heavyweight fights that will bleed into Beterbiev-Bivol, Hrgovic vs. Dubois and Wilder vs. Zhang, would have been stand-alone main events before the incursion of Saudi money.

Hrgovic-Dubois

Filip Hrgovic (17-0, 13 KOs) and Daniel Dubois (20-2, 19 KOs) fought on the same card in Riyadh this past December. Hrgovic, the Croatian, was fed a softie in the form of Australia’s Mark De Mori who he dismissed in the opening round. Dubois, a Londoner, rebounded from his loss to Oleksandr Usyk with a 10th-round stoppage of corpulent Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller.

There’s an outside chance that Hrgovic vs. Dubois may be sanctioned by the IBF for the world heavyweight title.

The May 18 showdown between Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury has a rematch clause. The IBF is next in line in the rotation system for a unified heavyweight champion and the organization has made it plain that the winner of Usyk-Fury must fulfill his IBF mandatory before an intervening bout.

The best guess is that the Usyk-Fury winner will relinquish the IBF belt. If so, Hrgovic and Dubois may fight for the vacant title although a more likely scenario is that the organization will keep the title vacant so that the winner can fight Anthony Joshua.

Wilder-Zhang

The match between Deontay Wilder (43-3-1, 42 KOs) and Zhilei Zhang (26-2-1, 21 KOs) is a true crossroads fight as both Wilder, 38, and Zhang, who turns 41 in May, are nearing the end of the road and the loser (unless it’s a close and entertaining fight) will be relegated to the rank of a has-been. In fact, Wilder has hinted that this may be his final rodeo.

Both are coming off a loss to Joseph Parker.

Wilder last fought on the card that included Hrgovic and Dubois and was roundly out-pointed by a man he was expected to beat. It’s a quick turnaround for Zhang who opposed Parker on March 8 and lost a majority decision.

Other Fights

Either of two other fights may steal the show on the June 1 event.

Raymond Ford (15-0-1, 8 KOs) meets Nick Ball (19-0-1, 11 KOs) in a 12-round featherweight contest. New Jersey’s Ford will be defending the WBA world title he won with a come-from-behind, 12th-round stoppage of Otabek Kholmatov in an early contender for Fight of the Year. Liverpool’s “Wrecking” Ball, a relentless five-foot-two sparkplug, had to settle for a draw in his title fight with Rey Vargas despite winning the late rounds and scoring two knockdowns.

Hamzah Sheeraz (19-0, 15 KOs) meets fellow unbeaten Austin “Ammo” Williams (16-0, 11 KOs) in a 12-round middleweight match. East London’s Sheeraz, the son of a former professional cricket player, is unknown in the U.S. although he trained for his recent fights at the Ten Goose Boxing Gym in California. Riding a skein of 13 straight knockouts, he has a date with WBO title-holder Janibek Alimkhanuly if he can get over this hurdle.

The Forgotten Heavyweight

“Unbeaten for seven years, the man nobody wants to fight,” intoned ring announcer Michael Buffer by way of introduction. Buffer was referencing Michael Hunter who stood across the ring from his opponent Artem Suslenkov.

This scene played out this past Saturday in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. It was Hunter’s second fight in three weeks. On March 23, he scored a fifth-round stoppage of a 46-year-old meatball at a show in Zapopan, Mexico.

The second-generation “Bounty Hunter,” whose only defeat prior to last weekend came in a 12-rounder with Oleksandr Usyk, has been spinning his wheels since TKOing the otherwise undefeated Martin Bakole on the road in London in 2018. Two fights against hapless opponents on low-budget cards in Mexico and a couple of one-round bouts for the Las Vegas Hustle, an entry in the fledgling and largely invisible Professional Combat League, are the sum total of his activity, aside from sparring, in the last two-and-a-half years.

Hunter’s chances of getting another big-money fight took a tumble in Tashkent where he lost a unanimous decision in a dull affair to the unexceptional Suslenkov who was appearing in his first 10-round fight. The scores of the judges were not announced.

You won’t find this fight listed on boxrec. As Jake Donovan notes, the popular website will not recognize a fight conducted under the auspices of a rogue commission. (Another fight you won’t find on boxrec for the same reason is Nico Ali Walsh’s 6-round split decision over the 9-2-1 Frenchman, Noel Lafargue, in the African nation of Guinea on Dec. 16, 2023. You can find it on YouTube, but according to boxrec, boxing’s official record-keeper, it never happened.)

Anderson-Merhy Redux

The only thing missing from this past Saturday’s match in Corpus Christi, Texas, between Jared Anderson and Ryad Merhy was the ghost of Robert Valsberg.

Valsberg, aka Roger Vaisburg, was the French referee who disqualified Ingemar Johansson for not trying in his match with LA’s Ed Sanders in the finals of the heavyweight competition at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Valsberg tossed Johansson out of the ring after two rounds and Johansson was denied the silver medal. The Swede redeemed himself after turning pro, needless to say, when he demolished Floyd Patterson in the first of their three meetings.

Merhy was credited with throwing only 144 punches, landing 34, over the course of the 10 rounds. Those dismal figures yet struck many onlookers as too high. (This reporter has always insisted that the widely-quoted CompuBox numbers should be considered approximations.)

Whatever the true number, it was a disgraceful performance by Merhy who actually showed himself to have very fast hands on the few occasions when he did throw a punch. With apologies to Delfine Persoon, a spunky lightweight, U.S. boxing promoters should think twice before inviting another Belgian boxer to our shores.

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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