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Who’s Really ‘The Greatest’ Heavyweight Champion Ever?

Kelsey McCarson

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Boxing writers like to make lists. It’s sort of what we do. I suppose it’s been officially that way ever since promoter Tex Rickard and publisher Nat Fleisher devised the original Ring Magazine ratings policy back in the 1920s, but it was likely a part of boxing long before that. I can picture fans of the old-time, pioneer pugilists listing and rating the great champions of their day, too, if not with the written word then at least with each other in heated barroom debates.

To me, there is no more intriguing debate in the genre than the ranking of all-time great heavyweight champions. In fact, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time in my life thinking about the topic. There is so much to consider on the subject, and it seems as if every boxing historian in the world has given his or her two cents on the matter to boot.

Still, there seems to be a good enough consensus across the board to say there are really only a handful of legitimate contenders for the high honor of laying claim to the very top spot: the greatest.

Here’s a little bit of information on each fighter to help you decide who you think should get the nod. I’ve listed them below in chronological order: the five definitive fighters of the heavyweight division.

Jack Johnson

“The Galveston Giant” was heavyweight boxing’s first great defensive fighter. He was a master of slips, parries, arm blocks and jams, and his ring generalship was said to be without equal. Johnson was the first black heavyweight champion. He defeated Tommy Burns in 1908 and held the title until he lost to giant slugger Jess Willard in 1915. Johnson later claimed to have thrown the fight at the behest of his promoters, but there’s never been a definitive call on the matter. Jack Dempsey called Johnson, “the greatest catcher of punches that ever lived…he could fight all night. He was a combination of Jim Corbett and [Joe] Louis. I’m glad I didn’t have to fight him.”

Ring Magazine founder and longtime editor Nat Fleisher considered Johnson the best heavyweight he ever saw, which included other men on this list like Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and a young Muhammad Ali.

Jack Dempsey

Dempsey was the roughest sort of hobo you could imagine. He made his way around the world by train long before he hit it big as a prizefighter, but not like those highfalutin hobos who rode inside the cars. No, Jack Dempsey rode the rails by snagging a ride beneath the train, laying himself atop thin metal bars between the undercarriage of the carts and the train track, between life and death.

When a man such as this gets to town, he heads to the only place he can: a bar. There, Dempsey would make himself a few dollars by fighting anyone and everyone who cared to tussle that night. In short, Jack Dempsey was a badass.

Dempsey was an offensive juggernaut. He had punishing power in both hands, and he used them with ferocious intent. He won the heavyweight championship in 1919 by brutalizing the giant Jess Willard over three one-sided rounds in a fight that was over almost as soon as it started. Right before the bout was set to begin, Dempsey learned he had a substantial amount of money to gain if he knocked Willard out in the first round because of a side bet his manager, Jack Kearns, made on his behalf. What followed was perhaps the most brutal, one-sided, first round beatdown in boxing history. Despite it, Dempsey lost the bet. Willard was saved by the bell, and after some confusion that lead Jack to believe he had already won the fight, was remarkably deemed okay to continue by Referee Ollie Pecord. Dempsey had to come back to the ring, and then he finished the big lug off in round three.

Dempsey held the title for almost seven years, fighting sparingly, until he was bested by careful technician Gene Tunney, who had made it his life’s missions to defeat the Great Jack Dempsey, and then did so.

Boxing writer Ted Carroll said Dempsey “possessed the natural gifts of unusual quickness, inborn savagery, ruggedness and punching power…his attack was tigerlike [sic] in its intensity.” It’s no wonder, then, that fans dubbed him the “Manassas Mauler.”

Rocky Marciano

For being the only man on this list to retire unbeaten, Rocky Marciano seems to be consistently underrated by most historians today. The “Brockton Blockbuster” was as tough as they come. He’d come forward, slipping and catching as many punches as he could until he put himself in position to land his devastatingly hard punches.

The Rock won the heavyweight crown in 1952 by defeating Jersey Joe Walcott in classic fashion. Walcott dropped Marciano in the first round, then steadily built a point advantage until he got knocked out in round thirteen round by Marciano’s signature “Suzie Q” overhand right. Marciano held the title until he retired in 1955, besting hall-of-famers Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore along the way.

Perhaps Marciano’s greatest attribute was simply his grit and determination. Our own Springs Toledo notes Marciano would be “unlikely to ever lose a test of wills” and that “he seemed to get stronger as fights wore on and opponents wore out.”

And Marciano wore all of them out. All of them.

Joe Louis

Truth be told, I happen to be of the opinion that God made one perfect heavyweight prizefighter, and that it was Joe Louis. It’s a sentiment shared by many notable boxing historians, though the bulk of the balance might lean towards Muhammad Ali.

“The Brown Bomber” put together the most impressive championship reign in the history of the sport. He kept the heavyweight crown on his head for almost 12 years, defending it a record 25 times before he retired. He was a remarkable 58-1 at the time, having avenged his only loss (Max Schmeling) by first round knockout. It was a picture perfect display of his unparalleled power, speed and technical precision. Louis was devastatingly accurate and wielded beautifully mechanical combination punches with frightening ease. He wasn’t just a monster in the ring. Louis was a machine.

In 2003, Ring Magazine praised him as the greatest puncher of all-time. Our resident historical expert, Frank Lotierzo, calls Louis “the most faultless heavyweight fighter in history.” Moreover the International Boxing Research Organization ranks Louis the top heavyweight in history according to its most recently updated member poll in 2006.

Boxing.com’s Matt McGrain hails Louis “as capable a combination puncher as ever lived, his hands were lightning, devastatingly accurate, he punched with huge power and maximum economy…who could force the attack with horrifying results.”

Muhammad Ali

Many ring historians consider Muhammad Ali one of the top heavyweight champions ever, most often being placed in either the first or second position. Ring Magazine ranked him number one among all-time heavyweight champions in 1998, while the International Boxing Research Organization ranked him second under the same criteria in 2006.

While the weight of certain criteria may be debatable, less so is the stature of his resume in the sports’ grandest division. There is simply no heavyweight champion in history that defeated as many top contenders and fellow all-time greats as Ali.

Ali was tall for a heavyweight, but he patterned his style after the little guys. His “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” tactic mesmerized his opponents when he was young. He’d pop his pristine jab to their jaws and follow it up with hard right crosses almost at will, all the while avoiding a return with his tremendously fast feet.

When Ali slowed down a bit in the later years, he showed he had an all-time great chin to go along with his already impressive repertoire. His three encounters with Joe Frazier, in which he went 2-1, included moments that were some of the best in boxing history. His 1974 upset of the previously undefeated George Foreman ranks among the greatest upsets in boxing history, and he’s the only man to win the lineal heavyweight championship three times.

Through Ali’s title reigns, 1964-1970, 1974-1978 and 1978-1979, he amassed a total of 19 successful title defenses.

The Other Guys

Other men may have claim for consideration, too, but none quite make the grade completely. Sticking to chronological order, James J. Jeffries comes to mind. He was probably the biggest and the best of the old-timers, and he retired undefeated before foolishly trying his hand against Jack Johnson over five years and fifty pounds later. George Foreman and Joe Frazier were great, but neither solidified himself as the best of his era. To that end, wherever you come out on the Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis debate, you might think that person has a shot at the list. But the fact that it’s a lively debate at all leaves enough mystery to leave all of them out. Finally, Wladimir Klitschko may be on his way there someday, but his career still has a ways to go and finding top notch competition will remain tough as ever.

So who’s really the greatest heavyweight champion of all-time?

That’s for you to decide, TSS readers. Tell us who you think is really ‘The Greatest’ heavyweight champion ever. Leave a comment in our forum, or tweet us at @TSSBoxingNews using the hashtag #Greatest. Is there someone else that should be on this list? Is there someone here that doesn’t belong? Let us know!

 

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In Defense of Julie Lederman

Ted Sares

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In-Defense-of-Julie-Lederman

Some years ago, Matt Podgorski (a former boxing official) came up with a formula for evaluating the performance of boxing judges worldwide by determining the percentage of instances his or her scores were consistent with the other two judges working the same fights. He called it the Pod Index. It was a rare effort to quasi-quantify the work of boxing judges. “Boxing and MMA judges are often evaluated based on whether or not they have had a controversial decision. This is a poor way to assign and regard professional judges,” said Podgorski in an interview with former RingTV editor Michael Rosenthal.

Matt’s Disclaimer: “We are not claiming that judges with low Pod Index scores are bad judges. The Pod Index is simply a measurement of round by round variation compared to other judges.”

Julie Lederman placed very high in Podgorski’s study. In fact, only one  veteran judge — Canada’s Benoit Roussel — had a better score.

For more information about the Pod Index, see http://theboxingtribune.com/2014/12/19/the-pod-index-a-step-in-the-right-direction/

Confirmation Bias

Some of this writer’s favorite judges, in addition to Lederman, are Steve Weisfeld, Glen Feldman, Dave Moretti, Glenn Trowbridge, Joe Pasquale, Max DeLuca, Hubert Earle, Benoit Roussel, Burt Clements, Rocky Young, Joel Scobie, Tom Shreck, Don Trella, William Lerch, Pinit Prayadsab, and Raúl Caiz, Jr. All of them have been maligned at one time or another.

Being a judge is a thankless endeavor and attention is mostly received when something controversial happens. Once a judgment is made about a bad job, that judgment influences future perceptions. This is known as “confirmation bias.”

Thus, Julie Lederman’s highly questionable scoring in the Loma-Lopez fight, though it didn’t change the result, will most certainly label her a bad judge, tarnishing her reputation despite all of the fine work she has done in the past. Moreover, it’s now fashionable to “pile on” and castigate her with a nasty Bob Arum leading the charge.

“…what kind of fight was she watching,…these judges are the craziest…I would advise any fighter I would have to ask the commission not to appoint her…” — Arum

This wasn’t the first time that Arum criticized Julie. Back in 2014, Tim Bradley and Diego Gabriel Chaves fought to a draw. Lederman scored the fight 116-112 in favor of Chaves. Arum had this to say: “She should never be allowed to work in Nevada again….Her scorecard for Chaves is an absolute disgrace …[She was appointed] because they let these [expletive] Showtime guys put a fight on the same night that we did it. They don’t have enough judges. They don’t have enough referees. They want to accommodate both parties. Why? Because they’ll do anything the [expletive] MGM asks them to do.”

“It’s easy to criticize boxing judges. But it’s not that easy to have a sound basis for the criticism. One needs to see the fight the judge saw to be in the position to rightly criticize. Critics should temper criticisms in light of the situations boxing judges are in when judging fights. And judges should likewise understand criticisms from the boxing public, however baseless these may seem.”  — Epifanio M. Almeda

Lederman, 52, is in her 24th year as a professional boxing judge. Her assignments have taken her to eight foreign countries and Puerto Rico. And she has been a fixture this year at the MGM Bubble, working 18 fights across seven shows without incident prior to this past Saturday night.

This, of course, does not excuse Julie’s scoring on Saturday (119-109 for Teofimo Lopez), but it needs to be kept in mind that she has been ranked high over the years and does not have in her past work a pattern of poor judging such as seemed to exist, for example, in Texas and which drew the ire of Paulie Malignaggi.

When she first hit the scene, cries of nepotism and politics accompanied her, but those complaints quickly evaporated. Whether she can bounce back from this controversy remains to be seen. This writer hopes she can.

Photo: Julie Lederman and her father are flanked by Henry Hascup, President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and Aaron Davis, former President of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board

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

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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“—C’mon!” (from the pen of Springs Toledo)

Springs Toledo

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-C'mon

“—C’mon!” said Teofimo Lopez with two seconds left in the 12th round. It was a Brooklyn thing to say on a Brooklyn-type Saturday night, and Lopez timed it well. He’d just crashed two hooks at either side of Vasiliy Lomachenko’s head and ended their saga as it began—with sharp words.

“My son will destroy Lomachenko,” Lopez’s father told EsNews in August 2017. Three months later Lopez was in the gym mimicking his style. “Same side always,” he said as he tapped the bag and dipped to his right. “Nuthin’ different.” “Lomachenko is a diva,” he said last week. “I don’t like him … I’m the type of person, I say something I mean it. If you have a problem with it, come see me.” Lomachenko came to see him all right, and both brought their fathers as if the whole thing was a schoolyard scrap.

Lomachenko’s father is a silent sage. His modern training techniques are part of the “performance revolution” that has transformed every sport, including the sport that’s barely a sport, and not necessarily for the better. Papa Chenko’s futurama theories seem at once scientific and idiosyncratic. Pundits who never heard of Freddie Brown think they’re next-level stuff. There’s Lomachenko holding his breath under water to build lung strength; there he is touching that board with blinking lights to improve hand-eye coordination. When Lomachenko was 9, his father went so far as to enroll him in a Ukrainian folk dance school to expose him to hobak, hutsulka, and the kolomiyka, and you can see it in all the hopping and side-stepping he does around the ring at 32.

Papa Lopez is anything but silent, though he too is a sage—a naysaying sage with street instincts picked up during a few round trips through hell. He takes no one’s word for anything and if he takes a break from a tirade and asks a question, it has about as much tact as a shiv. When Lomachenko is holding his breath in the pool is someone else there too, denting his rib cage with hooks? Those lights blinking on the screen, do they feint? And dancing school? Dancing school? Brooklyn itself rolls its collective eyes.

Papa Lopez laughs without mirth at the consensus opinion, at the so-called experts. But he couldn’t laugh off the indisputable fact that Lomachenko has been knocking off a parade of world-class fighters. So he plopped down in front of YouTube to see for himself what was happening.

And what did he see?

He saw that the so-called Matrix style is a series of tricks; that Lomachenko is pulling fast ones on the gullible in the opposite corner and in press row. He saw opponents cooperating with him as he gauged their strengths and weaknesses in the first round or two and measured the distance between his glove and their chin. He saw them mesmerized by nothing-shots—“pitty pats,” he called them, “patty-cakes,” and wondered if it would have been easier or harder, given the language barrier, if Lomachenko just came out and asked them to throw something so he can find the best route around it to sock them in the chops.

Papa Lopez also saw that Lomachenko is preoccupied with not getting hurt; that he habitually slips, dips, and veers off to his right against the conventional stance. Teofimo, 23, saw the same thing. They both know why he prefers that direction: it’s the safest route.

His offense, which has two prongs and lots of frills, doesn’t contradict his preoccupation. Lomachenko wants to draw out his opponents to counter them. He stands a half-step off the perimeter where they can’t quite reach him and he can’t reach them. Then he baits them. If they take the bait, he hops in with a jab and then hops back out of reach. He’s making calculations, looking for patterns, and once he finds them he exploits them with minimal risk to himself because, like Floyd Mayweather, he already has a pretty good idea of what they’re going to throw. When is he most aggressive? When his opponent is least aggressive—out of position or covering up. He isn’t comfortable with uncalculated risks. Like Floyd, he wants control; and that only happens with an opponent’s cooperation.

Stanley Crouch, the late cultural critic and Brooklynite who was at least as contentious as Papa Lopez, understood the set-up. “What a boxer ideally wants to do is turn the opponent into an assistant in his own ass-whipping,” he said. “That’s really what you want the other guy to do—to assist you in whipping his ass.”

Lomachenko built a reputation on willing assistants.

And defeating him was easier than anyone anticipated. The fighter of the future bowed to all-American unruliness and old-fashioned fundamentals.

Old School’s comeback Saturday night was long, long overdue. Lopez used his strength and length to draw an invisible border with a warning that said “this far and no farther.” Then he enforced it. Instead of letting Lomachenko freely angle around him like he’s some stiff at the prom, he angled with him and threw punches. When Lomachenko slipped and sallied past his invisible border, he adjusted his distance and sent the dogs out. He stopped his momentum. He never let him take control. He never cooperated.

By the 8th round, Lomachenko realized that he had no chance to win unless he let go of his preoccupation with defense. He had to “sell out,” as Andre Ward said, by getting closer and sallying in when it wasn’t safe. Lomachenko won the 8th round—the first of only three that two judges scored his way—but it didn’t matter. His mouth had dropped open as if he was getting ready to admit futurama’s failure. “I heard him huffing and puffing and I knew I had him,” said Lopez.

The 12th round reminds us that Old School remains the gold standard in the sport that’s barely a sport. When Papa Lopez had a nervous moment in the corner and urged caution, Lopez refused. “I’m a fighter, I can’t give him that,” he said, as if to remind us that Old School is more than dust, that it’s a disposition.

Teofimo Lopez now stands in a succession of lightweight kings whose dispositions were the impetus behind achievements that make this succession very possibly the most majestic of them all: Joe Gans. Benny Leonard. Tony Canzoneri. Barney Ross. Henry Armstrong. Ike Williams. Carlos Ortiz. Roberto Duran. Julio Cesar Chavez. Pernell Whitaker.

Floyd Mayweather is in that succession too, but the business model that guided his career was rebuked Saturday night. Lopez pointed to the past, polished it up, and declared its superiority. “We’re bringing back what the Old School was. You fight the best and push on it. I’m not here to pick and choose who I want to fight because I want to defend my title and keep that 0,” he said and shook his head. “No. Nah!”

The lightweight king now beckons chief rivals Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, and Gervonta Davis to disavow the business model and take up the red flag. He looks north to Josh Taylor and Jose Carlos Ramirez’s battle for the jr. welterweight crown and beckons either of them—or both.

 “—C’mon!”

 

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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Kelsey McCarson’s HITS and MISSES: Takeover Edition

Kelsey McCarson

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Kelsey-McCarson's-Hits-and-Misses-Takeover-Edition

Boxing is back!

Okay, boxing had technically been back for a few months now. But didn’t it seem to be more fully back to normal with the weekend’s lightweight unification battle between Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko on ESPN?

Make that double the case now that another edition of HITS and MISSES follows the latest big weekend in boxing, the first installment since the global pandemic began. 

HIT: Teofimo Lopez’s Undisputed Takeover

It’s one thing to parade something like “Takeover” around as your nickname while promising to be the next great fighter in the sport. It’s quite another to actually pull that takeover off, and do it at the tender age of 23 against a three-division world champion that’s a massive betting favorite. 

But that’s what Lopez did on Saturday night in Las Vegas, and he accomplished it in a way that almost nobody expected. 

Lopez dominated Lomachenko from the start of the fight. He outboxed the clever southpaw savant in a way few people dreamed possible and took home the unanimous decision win. Even among the few who thought the young lion might somehow usurp the old guard, most of that crew thought it would probably be one big punch that sent Loma down for the count.

By the end of the night, Lopez had solidified his status as boxing’s newest superstar. He also became the first undisputed lightweight champion since Pernell Whitaker. 

But even if the whole WBC Franchise fiasco leaves you in a place that questions that specific designation, Lopez used his post-fight celebration time to call the other WBC belt holder Devin Haney about a possible future showdown. 

So, Lopez is the undisputed best thing to happen to boxing in a long time. 

MISS: Vasiliy Lomachenko’s Slow Start

I like to think Lomachenko is still somewhere out there right now feinting and shuffling his feet around like a dancer. Seriously, though, what was Lomachenko doing for most of Saturday night? He certainly wasn’t attempting to win the fight. 

Much was made by the ESPN announcers about how Lomachenko would start slow in fights because he liked to download his opponents’ movements before settling on his attacks. But Lomachenko didn’t seem all that interested in attacking Lopez until somewhere around the eighth-round. By that time, the 32-year-old was way too far down on the scorecards for anything to matter all that much.

Sure, the last third of the fight was fun to watch. Lomachenko did end up having his moments including a strong 11th round, but it would have been a better fight if Lomachenko had started sooner. 

Instead, the fighter ESPN has long argued deserved to be ranked above everyone else regardless of weight class dispassionately saw his titles ripped away from him with relative ease. 

HIT: Edgar Berlanga’s KO Streak

Last year, I noted that Berlanga’s incredible streak was probably a case of matchmaking gone awry and that Berlanga would likely suffer later in his career because he wasn’t getting any rounds under his belt that mattered. 

My reasoning? Even terrifying power punchers like Deontay Wilder and Gennadiy Golovkin didn’t dispatch their early opponents in such decisively one-sided ways. 

Maybe it was just the lack of boxing around due to the global pandemic, but now I’ve flipped on Berlanga’s knockout streak. The 23-year-old scored his 15th first-round stoppage in a row against Lanell Bellows on Saturday’s Top Rank on ESPN card. 

It’s become one of the most interesting and noteworthy streaks in the sport, and this time Berlanga stopped an opponent who had never suffered that fate before in any round, much less the first. 

Berlanga’s 15 KOs in 15 fights is good television. 

MISS: Boxing Judge’s Viral ‘Social Dilemma’

Lewis Ritson was awarded a split-decision victory over former lightweight titleholder Miguel Vazquez on Saturday in England in a junior welterweight bout dubbed by the Sporting News as the “worst decision of 2020.”

According to CompuBox, Ritson’s “constant forward movement and snappier punches” earned him the nod on two of the judges’ scorecards even though Vazquez had out-landed him in all the important punch stat categories (193-141 overall, 80-75 jabs, 113-66 power).

But the biggest controversy was the viral picture of judge Terry O’Connor apparently looking at his phone during the fight that he scored 117-111 for Ritson. 

That didn’t sit well with anyone who believes judges should be watching the fights they’re tasked with scoring.

But in the wake of Netflix’s documentary film “The Social Dilemma,” that shows just how ingenious today’s artificial intelligence is at boosting user engagement so companies can sell advertising time to the unwitting people on the other end who don’t know why they can’t put their phones down. Maybe O’Connor and others should be mandated to place their phones in a place they can’t be accessed during fights. 

That would keep the social media outrage that’s going on right now over the few seconds O’Connor spent looking away from the action and point it more toward what appears to be boxing’s bigger problem: phones or no phones, too many boxing judges don’t know how to score fights. 

HIT: The Wonder of Complementary Programming 

Boxing counterprograms itself so much these days through the different promotional companies and networks out there that it’s nice to enjoy at least one day in recent history where a big fight happened and there weren’t any other big fights attempting to grab our attention. 

Not only did that happen, but ESPN wisely chose not to split programming between it’s MMA and boxing audiences on Saturday. 

ESPN is the home to Top Rank on ESPN boxing as well as the world’s leading MMA promotional company, UFC.

Like Top Rank, the UFC had a massive fight card on its schedule on Saturday, and the boxing/UFC audiences are fractured enough that both cards could have somewhat reasonably ran against each other. 

Instead, the UFC’s Fight Night card in Abu Dhabi ran early in the evening, and it meant UFC fans who might be somewhat interested in the big fight in boxing could be funneled to the main card featuring Lopez vs. Lomachenko. 

That’s great for both sports, the promoters and ESPN, too. Top Rank’s Bob Arum and UFC’s Dana White might hate each other for personal and political reasons, but the rising tide of complementary programming on ESPN will ultimately have all ships rising. 

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

 

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The Official TSS Lomachenko-Lopez Prediction Page

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Featured Articles6 days ago

Does Lomachenko Still Have Enough Blue-Book Value to Motor Past Lopez?

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RIP Ricardo Jimenez: One of Boxing’s Most Beloved

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Navarrete Powers Way to WBO Featherweight Title

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 108: Knockdowns, Featherweight Title Fight and More

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Matchroom Fight Results: Buatsi TKOs Calic; Chantelle Cameron Wins a World Title

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Jose Zepeda Wins Knockdown Battle with Ivan Baranchyk at the MGM Bubble

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Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Avila Perspective. Chap. 107: El Flaco, the Charlo twins and More

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