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Hopkins Looking At Stevenson, Ward, Even Mayweather

Bernard Fernandez

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HopkinsCloudWorkout Kane24 5e1ffThere is a dark cloud from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean that hovers like radioactive fallout over IBF light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins’ Oct. 26 defense against Germany’s Karo Murat in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.

That dark cloud has a name: Morrade Hakkar.

Even with the emergence of highly credible European champions and contenders in multiple weight classes, those fighters tend to mostly ply their trade in and around their own countries, and off American TV. (Hopkins-Murat will be televised by Showtime Championship Boxing.) There is a lingering suspicion among more than a few U.S. boxing buffs that foreign fighters with whom they are generally unfamiliar – be they from Europe, Asia, South America or Africa – are somehow less worthy than homegrown Americans, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. And, let’s face it, Murat (25-1-1, 16 KOs) – who will be making his first professional appearance on these shores – is very much a mystery man, despite his No. 2 ranking from the IBF, to fight fans who will be in attendance in Boardwalk Hall or catching the action on Showtime.

No wonder there are those, including Hopkins (53-6-2, 32 KOs; seen above in Hogan photo) who are hoping, even praying, that the 31-year-old German is a vast upgrade over Hakkar, who furnished the opposition (well, sort of) for B-Hop’s only world title bout in his hometown of Philadelphia. That matchup, in which Hopkins successfully defended his IBF/WBC/WBA middleweight crowns on an eighth-round stoppage of an overmatched and clearly frightened Hakkar on March 29, 2003, in the since-demolished First Union Spectrum, was such a stink bomb that Larry Merchant’s post-fight interview with the winner began with him asking if Hopkins was “embarrassed” to have fought someone as inept as the French stiff.

“Why should I be embarrassed?” an indignant Hopkins responded. “I didn’t make the guy the No. 1 contender. (HBO) gave Roy Jones four years to fight school teachers and policemen. Roy can do it and I can’t? I’m asking to fight the best fighters. I’m 38. I’m so ancient, why aren’t the great, young fighters calling out the old man?”

If he truly felt that way, why didn’t Hopkins simply ditch one of his bejeweled championship belts, Merchant persisted, as Riddick Bowe once did, rather than to proceed with a mandatory that he felt was beneath him?

“To give up any of my belts would be like taking a shotgun and blowing my own foot off,” Hopkins explained. “If I’m not getting big fights with three belts, how am I going to get them if I give any of my belts away? I don’t see why I should be punished when (the world sanctioning bodies) continue to put guys (at No. 1) who ain’t supposed to be there. I’m not the problem.”

But there was a problem, according to HBO senior vice president Kery Davis, and one that boxing, or maybe Hopkins, needed to correct if it was to avoid what had just taken place in the ring when Hakkar did his impression of a fleeing thief being pursued by a satin-trunked cop.

“This was an embarrassing mismatch in terms of a mandatory,” Davis fumed. “This is why you hate mandatories. We wanted to get Bernard a bigger name, but this is the guy he wanted to fight.”

It should be noted that Karo Murat is Hopkins’ mandatory challenger. The IBF’s No. 1 contender, Polish-born, Chicago-based Andrzej Fonfara (24-2, 14 KOs), is coming off a ninth-round stoppage of Gabriel Campillo on Aug. 16, and thus was unavailable to jump in against Hopkins on such short notice. And, besides, is Fonfara any more of a household name in the U.S. than Murat?

Ten years after Morrade Hakkar and things would not appear to have changed much for the aging legend or for the fight game in general. Hopkins is now 48, the last of the padded-glove dinosaurs, still guarding the belt he said offers him a measure of protection against sinister guys in suits who would strip him of his relevancy, and still calling out the hot, young stars who could give him the big fights, big paydays and historic significance he says are necessary to keep him interested.

“If there was something more significant on the table, even without a title, sure, we could have rolled with that,” said Hopkins, the oldest man ever to have won a widely recognized world championship, a distinction he clearly cherishes. “I’ve done that before. I could vacate my title, say this guy (Murat) is not worthy, go for somebody with a bigger name. But there was nothing like that out there for me at this time. I can’t just sit around, close to 50, and not fight. So Golden Boy wants me to go ahead with this and keep my title, so we all decided to do it.

“Look, the light heavyweight division is heating up. I was watching when Adonis Stevenson (the WBC 175-pound champ) beat up Tavoris Cloud. Me and him would be a big fight. Me and (Sergey) Kovalev, too, or me and Andre Ward, even me and (Julio Cesar) Chavez Jr. You know Chavez can’t make 160 anymore, or even 168. (Gennady) Golovkin could come up and we could maybe do something at a catch weight.

“I’ll even throw another name out there that might sound crazy. If Floyd Mayweather is what he says he is, if he wants to come up in weight like Oscar did, I can come down and we can come to some sort of arrangement. I want to do something really big before I leave this game because that’s why I’m in the business. Yeah, I got the record for being the oldest world champion, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. But I want to go out with a fight as big as when I fought my friend and business partner, Oscar De La Hoya. I prefer superfights. I don’t want to fight mandatories. For what? Unless it’s a mandatory against somebody that everybody knows, a superstar like myself.”

To get to that megabucks finale, or maybe similarly important fights on the way to his big sendoff, Hopkins believes he needs to hold onto a title that is anything but worthless, no matter what some pundits insist. Maybe Mayweather is so monstrously important that he doesn’t need a belt to command public attention, but Hopkins, ever the conspiracy theorist, said that without one he is naked to the whims of behind-the-scenes types that have long sought to shuttle him off to the sideline where his big mouth would be effectively silenced.

“To get these guys to fight me I must hold my belt,” Hopkins said. “I got to hold the belt hostage. Because if I don’t, some of these guys are always going to choose a less dangerous champion to fight than Bernard Hopkins.”

Which brings us back to Karo Murat, the German who at least talks the talk. And maybe he is the unexpected rock slide that will derail Hopkins’ 25-year chug into boxing history.

“Bernard Hopkins is 48 years of age,” Murat said after the fight with Hopkins, which originally had been scheduled for July 13 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., before it was delayed due to visa problems for Murat. “Will he be ready for me? I do not know. What I can say is that I will be my best on Oct. 26. When I am through messing up his old bones it will make me a star in an instant.”

So what does Hopkins think of Murat, who is making the familiar I’ll-kick-your-ass noises that everyone makes before the first bell rings?

“I can’t tell you s— about the guy, other than what I seen on YouTube,” Hopkins admitted. “Naazim (Richardson, Hopkins’ trainer) said he seen him once or twice when he was over there in Germany with Steve Cunningham.

“But, really, I’ve fought so many guys with so many different styles in my career, I can adapt and make whatever adjustments I need to make. And it’s not like I’m taking him light in any case. I’m preparing for him like he’s somebody that everybody knows because that’s the way I have to think. Fighters like this are tricky. You want people to come up to you on the street and say, `Man, that guy you’re fighting is good!’ You know they’d be saying that if I was fighting Adonis Stevenson or Andre Ward.

“I mean, the fact that he isn’t known much in the U.S. doesn’t mean he can’t fight. It’s just that you have to get as up mentally for someone who’s not known as you do for the guys everybody knows. I’ve always got my mind right for every fight, which is why I’ve stayed on top as long as I have. If I wasn’t like that, I could easily overlook this guy then, boom, he beats me because I didn’t bring my `A’ game.”

One wonders what would have happened to Hopkins had he gone to sleep on Hakkar, whom he probably could have defeated even if he had brought only his `D’ game.

“I once fought a guy like this from France – uh, what’s his name again? – who literally ran around the ring all night. A horrible fight. I won, I stopped him, but it was horrible.

“This guy (Murat) is way better than the French guy, but the situation is sort of similar. I know (Murat) got knocked out by Nathan Cleverly, and I’ve got that fight on DVD, but to be honest, I stopped watching it.

“Is he fundamentally sound? Yeah. He basically comes straight forward, hands up, tries to outwork you. He’s got that European style, doesn’t do anything fancy. So, yeah, the burden is on me to perform. I’m carrying all the weight for this fight, even in the promotion of it.

“There are a lot of possible distractions, but I know what I got to do, and I’m gonna do it.”

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part One

Ted Sares

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Britain’s Martin Murray has fought the very best and has now closed out a heartbreaking if not admirable and old school career.

Others are just beginning to hit their stride and suddenly the possibilities are mouthwatering.

The buzz is back on. The heat is coming. No excuses. No badly injured shoulders. No running. This is macho explosive. This is the best fighting the best like it used to be done. Cherry picking is not allowed.

Back in the day, warriors like Ernie Durando, Kid Gavilan, Joey Giardello, Tony DeMarco, Bobby Dykes, Paul Pender, Joey Maxim, Holly Mims, Bobo Olson, and way too many others to list here would fight other top-notch boxers. It was the norm; not the exception. Tony DeMarco beat Kid Gavilan in 1956 and then fought Gaspar Ortega three times in a row in a relatively short period of time.

In the process of compiling a 95-25-1 record, Ezzard Charles engaged in an eye-popping 27 fights against men who would go on to be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and/or the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

The List

Rocky Marciano (twice) – IBHF/WBHF

Joe Louis – IBHF/WBHF

Jersey Joe Walcott (four times) IBHF/WBHF

Archie Moore (thrice) IBHF/WBHF

Joey Maxim (five times) IBHF/WBHF

Jimmy Bivins (five times) IBHF/WBHF

Charley Burley (twice) IBHF/WBHF

Harold Johnson IBHF/WBHF

Lloyd Marshall (thrice) WBHF

Gus Lesnevich WBHF

In addition, Charles had three fights with Rex Layne, two with Ken Overlin, two with Elmer Ray, and one with Bob Satterfield

“Some day, maybe, the public is going to abandon comparisons with Joe Louis and accept Ezzard Charles for what he was—the best fist fighter of his particular time”  –Red Smith

Beau Jack, Aldo Minelli, Yama Bahama, Johnny Cesario, Fighting Harada, Eder “Golden Bantam” Jofre, Vicente Saldivar, Jose “El Huitlacoche” Medal, and then later Juan LaPorte and Livingstone “The Pit Bull” Bramble did not know what easy opponents meant. They were willing to fight anyone anywhere and were seldom stopped.

Vito Antuofermo, Ralph Dupas, Willie Pastrano, Curtis Parker, Bennie Briscoe, Kassim Ouma, Emanuel Augustus, Scott LeDoux, Ben Tackie, Ray Oliveira, Renaldo Snipes, Freddie Pendleton, John Scully, Charles Murray, Ted Muller, Anthony Ivory, and Alfredo “Freddy” Cuevas were also representative of those who would fight anyone anywhere. Picking made-to-order opponents was not what they were about.

Ali, Norton, Young, Quarry, fought one another. So did Duran, Leonard, Hagler, and Hearns. Across the pond, Watson, Benn, and Eubank did the same. Frazier, Holyfield, Mugabi, Tszyu, Cotto, and Chacon never ever backed away, nor did Mexican notables Castillo, Marquez (JMM), Morales and Barrera.

No one will accuse Floyd “Money” Mayweather of not fighting the best but they might point out that Floyd sometimes used long time intervals between bouts to his advantage. “Money” was not a particularly active fighter. The phrase “cherry picking” gained traction during this time.

Still, Andre Ward cleaned out an entire division. Cotto fought Pacquiao and Canelo, De La Hoya met Pacquiao, Klitschko faced Fury and then Joshua. Fury — after beating Klitschko — fought Wilder twice. Chisora will fight anyone they put in front of him. Heck, GGG fought 24 brutal rounds with Canelo and if that wasn’t the best fighting the best, what was?

“…great fights lead to other great fights.”—Max Kellerman

To be continued……

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Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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At the Moment Boxing is Dormant, but There Will Be Fireworks Aplenty in February

Arne K. Lang

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At the Moment Boxing is Dormant, but There Will Be Fireworks Aplenty in February

The month of January has been quiet on the boxing front and that’s putting it mildly. And making matters worse, the month’s best offering, a Golden Boy card on Jan. 30, bit the dust when Sergey Kovalev tested positive for a banned substance, harpooning his bout with Bektemir Melikuziev and forcing the cancellation of the entire card.

Once considered a shoo-in for Canastota, Kovalev has degenerated into a longshot and his match with Melikuziev didn’t figure to help his chances. The Uzbek southpaw, a Bronze medalist at the Rio Olympiad, has only six pro fights under his belt but is so highly regarded that the bookies installed him a 7/2 favorite.

Showtime has a PBC card on Jan. 23 headlined by a WBO world title match between super bantamweights Angelo Leo and Stephen Fulton, there’s an intriguing heavyweight match on the 29th between musty Manuel Charr and Don King’s undefeated Trevor Bryan, and Caleb Plant is slated to defend his IBF 168-pound belt the following night against Caleb Truax, but that’s it for this month, quite a limp slate, even considering that January is historically a slow month for the sweet science.

The good news is that things will heat up in February.

February 13

The 13th will be a particularly busy day. The action kicks off in the afternoon (U.S. time) when Josh Warrington, the Leeds Warrior, defends his IBF world featherweight title against Mexico City’s Mauricio Lara on a Matchroom/DAZN card. Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs) doesn’t pack a hard punch, but makes up for it with a high-octane attack. He will go to post a solid favorite over Lara (21-2, 14 KOs).

That evening, two West Coast shows will compete for eyeballs.

In Las Vegas, Joe Smith Jr. (26-3, 21 KOs) opposes Russia’s Maxim Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs) for the vacant WBA light heavyweight title. A Long Island construction worker who has branched out and started a tree surgery business, Smith will be forever remembered as the man who rucked Bernard Hopkins into retirement, but based on his recent efforts that was certainly no fluke. In bouts with Jesse Hart and former title-holder Eleider Alvarez, Smith showed that he is a skilled craftsman with a high boxing IQ.

The are two title fights on the Golden Boy card going head-to-head in Indio, CA. It’s Brazil vs. Argentina when Brazil’s Patrick Teixeira (31-1, 22 KOs) opposes Brian Castano (16-0-1, 12 KOs). Teixeira will be making his first start since copping the WBO 154-pound title with a mild upset of Carlos Adames in November of 2019. That was a bloody battle in which Teixeira overcame a big deficit to pull the fight out of the fire.

Teixeira will dress as the underdog vs. Castano, a second-generation professional boxer who was reportedly 181-5 as an amateur and who recently held a version of the WBA light middleweight title (doesn’t everybody?). The draw on Castano’s ledger came in a spirited skirmish with Erislandy Lara.

Teixeira vs. Castano will more than likely precede the match between Joseph “Jojo” Diaz (31-1, 15 KOs) and Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (15-0, 12 KOs) in the bout order. Diaz will be making the first defense of the IBF 130-pound title he won from Tevin Farmer in January of last year. Rakhimov, a native of Tajikistan who currently resides in Ekaterinburg, Russia, will be making his U.S. debut.

Feb. 20

The featured bout of the second Matchroon/DAZN event of 2021 is a 12-round welterweight contest between David Avanesyan (26-3-1, 14 KOs) and Josh Kelly (10-0-1, 6 KOs). The well-traveled Avanesyan has turned his career around after suffering a sixth-round stoppage at the hands of Egidijus Kavaliauskas in February of 2019. Since then, he’s won three straight in Spain, including back-to-back knockouts of the highly-touted and previously undefeated Spaniard, Kerman Lejarraga.

England’s Kelly, a former Olympian, is moving up in class, but at last look he was a very slight favorite over his Russian adversary. Akin to Warrington vs. Lara, the match is expected to take place at Wembley Arena where Anthony Joshua TKOed Kubrat Pulev before 1,000 fans on Dec. 12.

The all-Mexico showdown between Miguel Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) and Oscar Valdez (28-0, 22 KOs) is the crème-de-la-crème of the February docket. On paper this bout, a Top Rank promotion pushed back from Dec. 12 when Berchelt tested positive for COVID, will warrant consideration for Fight of the Year.

Berchelt, who will be defending his WBC 130-pound world title, has knocked out 15 of his last 17 opponents. This will be the third fight at 130 for Valdez, a two-time Olympian who successfully defended his WBO world featherweight title six times before vacating the belt because he was having trouble making the weight.

If Berchelt  (pictured on the left) is victorious, he is expected to move up to lightweight where some rich paydays await in potential fights with Vasyl Lomachenko and bevy of young hotshots. If Valdez wins, it is expected that he will pursue a unification fight with the winner of the forthcoming match between Carl Frampton and Jamel Herring.

Top Rank honcho Bob Arum has indicated that both the Smith-Vlasov and Berchelt-Valdez fights will be staged in Las Vegas at an MGM property, but not necessarily at the MGM Grand where Top Rank promoted 24 shows without fans during the pandemic.

Feb. 27

On the last Saturday of the month, fight fans in the U.S. can take in a doubleheader if they can roust themselves out of bed in the middle of the night. In Auckland, New Zealand (18 hours ahead of New York), there’s a big domestic clash between heavyweights Joseph Parker (27-2, 21 KOs) and Junior Fa (19-0, 10 KOs). These two have been on a collision course since 2009 when Fa, the older man by 27 months, defeated Parker in the first of their four meetings as amateurs. Parker won two of the next three to even the series at 2-2.

Here we have a bout with international significance that is also a match for neighborhood bragging rights. Parker and Fa grew up in the same South Auckland neighborhood and attended the same LDS church. But yet it won’t be hard to contort this fight into a grudge match. Parker’s family roots are in Samoa; Fa’s in Tonga. The two nations have a fierce rivalry in rugby.

This fight was more than two years in the making and when the bout was finally signed, 9,000 tickets went on sale to the general public.

Later that day, at a yet undetermined site in London, Carl Frampton (28-2, 16 KOs) seeks to become a title-holder in a third weight class when he challenges WBO 130-pound title-holder Jamel Herring (22-2, 10 KOs). The twice-postponed fight will air in the U.S. on ESPN+.

Frampton is currently a consensus 3/2 favorite over Herring who suffered an eye injury over his right optic, described as scraped lens, in his messy September fight with billy goat Jonathan Oquendo. A former Marine and former Olympian, Herring currently trains with Terence Crawford in  Omaha

As we move into March, the first Saturday will bring the rematch between Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin. Whyte dominated the first meeting until Povetkin found a home for a hellacious uppercut in the fifth frame, terminating the bout. Whyte, at age 32 the younger man by nine years, is favored to avenge that bitter defeat. As for the location, promoter Eddie Hearn has had conversations with potential suitors in Gibraltar and Monaco.

So, hang in there, fight fans. January may be dry, but there’s a whole bunch of interesting fights lurking around the corner.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 121: Prizefighting in 2021

David A. Avila

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Prizefighting actually dipped underground for the past nine months with professional boxers training illegally in darkened gyms behind shuttered windows and locked doors.

It still remains an underground sport.

The slow death cloud of the coronavirus led to government restrictions forbidding large gatherings especially in enclosed facilities. Boxers still train.

It was a primary reason that prizefighting among the elite was never more bare.

When Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder met at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for their rematch, a crowd of more than 15,000 fans witnessed the heavyweight spectacle. That took place on February 22, and it was the last hurrah in 2020.

A new year begins but the old ways of doing things are no longer in place. Those large purses are unattainable without fans, but it’s difficult to convince the prizefighters. All they know is they want to get paid with pre-2020 checks.

Very few of the top male prizefighters took to the prize ring.

One leading American matchmaker, who did not wish to go on record, said fighters do not understand that ticket sales are an important aspect of the fight game. Many prizefighters feel they are underpaid and being cheated when offered purses that fall under their pre-2020 monies.

No fans, no money.

Television or streaming app revenue is not enough without the clicking of the turnstile.

Fans are the reason that fighters get paid and without fans prizefighting does not exist.

Reality in 2021

Before the advent of television, prizefighters were paid strictly on the basis of ticket sales. The more fans a fighter could attract, the bigger the purse. When television arrived it drastically changed the landscape.

Television networks who delve into boxing bring their own budgets and cable networks like HBO and Showtime drastically changed the landscape. Instead of thousands, millions were being paid to the stars. Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather were the prizefighters leading the way past $20 and $30 million dollar purses. MMA still hasn’t reached those figures. Not even close, unless they are fighting against a boxer as Conor McGregor did several years ago.

During the past three years new players arrived with streaming apps like ESPN+ and DAZN entering the boxing world. One primary advantage has been its worldwide ability to transmit boxing events. However, because not all of the world has access to high tech, those streaming apps are still in the pioneering phase when it comes to building a fan base. At the moment, television still holds the upper hand but the gap is closing quickly.

Lately, DAZN has taken to inserting sponsors logos into their live programming without skipping a beat. It was only a matter of time before they realized the capabilities of inserting commercials digitally. It’s not a new idea; it was explored decades ago by our own BoxingChannel.tv.

Still, as long as the pandemic exists and fans are unable to attend boxing cards the mega fights that drive prizefighting will not take place. The arrival of various vaccines for the coronavirus are a big plus for the sport emerging out of the underground state of boxing. But the fighters need to fight.

Tyson Fury needs to meet Anthony Joshua in a battle for the heavyweight championship and Errol Spence Jr. must fight Terence Crawford this year. Others like Teofimo Lopez are doing their part to open the eyes of fans to the new breed of prizefighters who can fight, talk and excite with their electrifying skills.

Potential stars like Serhii Bohachuk, Vergil Ortiz Jr. and Charles Conwell are catching the eye of fans and all are basically around the same weight classes. They took advantage of the openings for television and streaming spots.

Prizefighters everywhere need to understand this pandemic may last longer than you think. God forbid, but there could be another looming around the corner. It’s time to go for broke and get back in the prize ring. Time is not on your side.

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