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Roy Jones-Bobby Gunn Another Reminder of How the Mighty Have Fallen

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Some will come because they are curious, perhaps even morbidly so. Others will come because they remember how truly great one of the participants was, even if that greatness has dimmed into a mere shadow of its former brilliance.

Mostly, though, fight fans with more important ways to dispose of their disposable income will choose to sit this one out, even if the legendary but now-44-year-old Roy Jones Jr. somehow manages to reach far enough back in time to remind spectators, at least a little, of what once made him so very special.

They held a press conference in Philadelphia last Wednesday to formally announce the Dec. 4 matchup of Jones (56-8, 40 KOs) and Bobby “The Celtic Warrior” Gunn (21-5-1, 18 KOs) for the vacant WBU cruiserweight championship, a mostly meaningless trinket. The scheduled 12-rounder, if indeed it is staged, will take place at the cozy National Guard Armory in Northeast Philly, which figuratively is much further from Madison Square Garden, site of several of Jones’ marquee fights, than the 115 or so miles actual driving distance.

It is an indication of the current reality that the Jones-Gunn press conference was attended by only one reporter from a local newspaper and a handful of boxing web-site writers, but not by camera crews from any of the Philadelphia television stations or by the town’s more influential columnists. That was because another famous and aging athlete whose best days are well behind him, onetime 76ers superstar Allen Iverson, 38, was choking back tears at a similar media gathering and announcing that he had hoisted up his last jump shot.

Virginia native Iverson, of course, spent all or part of 12 of his 14 NBA seasons with the Sixers, firmly establishing himself as a hometown icon. But Jones, who hails from Pensacola, Fla., has never fought in Philadelphia, a place where he is known mostly for being a thorn in the side of Bernard Hopkins, the ageless Philly standout with whom Jones split a pair of decisions spaced over nearly 17 years, from May 22, 1993, to April 10, 2010.

Not that Jones (seen in above Hogan photo, getting ready to fight Bernard Hopkins in 2010) hasn’t considered fighting in Philadelphia in the past. Like the late standup comedian Henny Youngman, RJJ might have told the sparse turnout at Wednesday’s press conference that he was “glad to be here … but then, at my age, I’m glad to be anywhere.”

“I love the City of Brotherly Love,” Jones said with a touch less pomposity than most followers of his career are used to. “When (Gunn) said he wanted to fight Roy Jones Jr. and that it was going to be his last fight, that’s big to me. And I know that him being a gypsy, being a bare-knuckle champ, he has heart like no other. These are the type of fights that make legendary nights. They are dangerous the whole night long.

“I know this guy is game, and that from Round 1 to Round 12 he’s going to think he can win, and will be trying to land that one punch to take you out. That’s what I live for. That’s what I love. My job is trying to see how many hits I can put on him before he even tries to land that punch. As a 44-year-old, ain’t nobody can do that like I do.”

Matchmaker Don Elbaum (who can’t be the promoter of record, as he does not hold a promotional license with the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission) beamed as Jones spoke. Elbaum has been down this path before, having staged Sugar Ray Robinson’s final bout – ironically, when Robinson was 44 –in which the greatest boxer of all time dropped a 10-round unanimous decision to Joey Archer on Nov. 10, 1965, in Pittsburgh.

Elbaum knows that name recognition sells, and Jones certainly has retained some of that. “The Bum,” as he is sometimes affectionately known, also knows the value of any interesting “hook” to lure paying customers, and he believes he has found one for Gunn, who, at least until now, probably was best known for his losing challenge of then-IBF cruiserweight champ Tomasz Adamek on July 11, 2009. But Gunn – who turns 40 on Christmas Day – became the first boxer to win a sanctioned bare-knuckle fight since 1989 when he defeated Richard Stewart on Aug. 5, 2011, thus winning the “vacant heavyweight title.”

“He’s the first bare-knuckle champion since John L. Sullivan!” Elbaum said of Gunn, who intends to retire after the bout with Jones, regardless of the outcome.

Gunn, to his credit, doesn’t pretend that he ever was the equal of the Jones that was voted Fighter of the Decade for the 1990s by the Boxing Writers Association of America. But that was then and this is now, and Gunn thinks that the considerable gap between himself and Jones not only has narrowed, but been successfully bridged.

”I came close to fighting Jones twice before,” Gunn recalled. “In 2006, when I had the IBA cruiserweight title, I was going to fight him, but that fell through. Two years ago, I again was supposed to fight him, but once more it didn’t happen. And that’s OK, because I believe now is the right time for me.

“I could not carry Roy Jones’ jockstrap five or 10 years ago. I admit it. But his time has passed, and it’s my time now. I’m a full-fledged cruiserweight and a puncher, and a puncher always has a puncher’s chance.”

Gunn said he is training as if the Roy Jones Jr. of many people’s memories, the one who held legitimate world titles at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight, makes a surprise re-appearance.

“He might not be all that he was, but on any given night a great champion like Roy ones might show up and look as good as he ever did,” Gunn continued. “You never know. But I’m not coming just to say that I was there. I’ve paid my dues. I’ve had a long, crazy career, been involved in my share of controversial fights. But this one … it just feels right to me. And I don’t doubt for a minute that I am going to come out on top.”

The mere thought of a fringe guy like Gunn defeating a prime Roy Jones Jr. is incomprehensible, but that Jones left the building years ago and really hasn’t been glimpsed since. That Jones dropped his hands and leaned straight back from punches, which are violations of the most basic tenets of boxing, but he was able to get away with it because of his extraordinary reflexes. Like the young, lithe Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, Jones, technically speaking, did everything wrong but found a way to make it turn out right.

Jones’ slide was shockingly sudden and seemingly irreversible. He lost three consecutive bouts from June 2004 to October 2005, a pair of the defeats (one on a second-round stoppage) against Antonio Tarver sandwiched around a brutal, nine-round beatdown by Glen Johnson.

When it was suggested to Jones that his unorthodox style had betrayed him as his reflexes slowed, he said the losing streak owed more to his getting away from the distinctive traits that had set him apart.

“With my hands up, I am no good,” he said before a victory over Jeff Lacy on Aug. 15, 2009. “That is not what I was put here to do. I had to go back, re-drop my hands, get ’em back down to my side. Get my mouthpiece back out so I can stick my tongue at people and piss ’em off before I knocked ’em out. That’s what I used to do and that’s what I’m best at.”

Jones more or less reiterated those comments prior to a scheduled fight against journeyman Manny Siaca, for the NABO cruiser title, which was to have been held on Dec. 9, 2009, at the Liacouras Center on the Temple University campus in Philadelphia. But that fight never happened, delaying for nearly four years Jones’ pledge to strut his stuff before Philly fight fans in a city that, he said, “if it’s not the best place for boxing, it’s one of the best. It’s home of so many legends.”

Curiously, again using the tactics he claims to have gotten away from, Jones endured another three-bout losing streak from December 2009 to May 2011 – knockout losses to Danny Green and Denis Ledbedev plus a unanimous-decision loss in the long-delayed rematch with Hopkins. He has since cobbled together back-to-back wins, over Max Alexander and Pawel Glazewski, but he is 7-7 dating back to the knockout by Tarver, four of those defeats coming inside the distance.

What Jones apparently wants is to build some momentum leading up to an oft-proposed pairing with mixed martial arts great Anderson “Spider” Silva of Brazil, whom many believe is the foremost MMA fighter of all time. That bout would not be in the Octagon, but in the ring, which presumably would enhance Jones’ chances, considering the stumbles Ray Mercer and James Toney had when attempting to cross over into a different type of fighting. Silva – who is skilled in Jiu-Jitsu, Tae Kwon Do, Muay Thai, Judo and Capoeira – has said he is amenable to squaring off with Jones in a boxing match.

But what if Jones loses to Gunn? To Silva, who is 1-1 as a boxer? Is RJJ’s legacy and place in boxing history so secure that they can’t be tarnished by his continuing to fight at a noticeably diminished level?

Seth Abraham, the former head of HBO Sports, weighed in on that issue in April 2006. “His drive was to do things that were of interest to him,” Abraham said, “but not necessarily to fight the very best middleweights, super middleweights and light heavyweights who were out there. I think Roy’s legacy in the sport absolutely will suffer because he chose not to do everything he could to make himself as great as he might have been.”

Then again, Jones can hardly be faulted for chasing past glories. It is a tale that is repeated over and over, like a spinning cat trying to capture its own tail.

“You always think of yourself as the best you ever were,” Hall of Famer Sugar Ray Leonard said of his own many comebacks from retirements that didn’t stick. “That’s human nature. And that’s not just how highly successful people think. Everybody thinks that way.

“Most guys come back for money. They need another payday and there are people around them feeding their egos, telling them how good they still are. Maybe they come back because they don’t know anything but boxing, and they’re apprehensive about entering the next phase of their lives that doesn’t include it.

“But even if money is not an issue, and you have other options, you never lose that belief in yourself as a fighter, particularly if you’ve been to the very top of the mountain. (Being retired) eats at you. It’s hard to find anything else that can give you that high.”

Even if achieved high is actually sort of low, and it comes in a cramped National Guard Armory in Philly instead of in glitzy venues in Las Vegas and New York.

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Oleksandr Usyk from a Historical Perspective 

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Oleksandr Usyk flipped the heavyweight division onto its head this past Saturday night in the Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, travelling a long way from home to seal his greatest victory. Usyk, small by modern heavyweight standards, towers over most men at 6’3″ and 220lbs and sporting a reach that lineal champions Ezzard Charles or Joe Walcott would have killed for. Things have changed though, and in the middle rounds of his war with Tyson Fury, Usyk suddenly appeared tiny. Fury, a giant at around 6’8” and over 260lbs seems a heavyweight for this century. Usyk, a journeyman in the most ancient sense of the word, feels like a throwback to a more savage time. His greatest achievements have taken place on foreign soil. The last time he boxed at home was almost a decade ago and given the situation in Ukraine and given Usyk’s 37 years, it is unlikely he will ever box there again.

Usyk took chances in the seventh and especially the eighth to take charge of a fight that seemed to be slipping away from him. In the vertigo inducing ninth, it was he, not Fury who appeared the giant. Usyk draped the Englishman over the ropes like so much fresh meat and tenderised him to within an inch of unconsciousness, the sheer hugeness of Fury perhaps preventing a referee’s intervention on behalf of his opponent, and not for the first time. Against both Deontay Wilder (the first fight) and Otto Wallin, a more squeamish official would have stepped in and stopped the fight, and here, too, there was a case. If Usyk seems a throwback, then Fury has been refereed like one, spared stoppages likely to be inflicted upon his peers, he was allowed once again to continue boxing, as Joe Louis was against Max Schmeling, or Jack Dempsey was against Luis Pirpo. But with Fury buckled at the knees, Usyk seemed the true heavy man in the ring.

In historical terms, Usyk is not a small heavyweight. He would have dwarfed “The Galveston Giant” Jack Johnson in the ring and loomed large over “Big” George Foreman. Usyk has every attribute necessary to make an unpleasant evening for Joe Louis, but it should be noted that while his footwork and speed and technical excellence would be the source of the discomfort, his excess of height and reach are the wildcards. Usyk would seem two to three weight classes bigger than Rocky Marciano, mainly because he is, and the towering Sonny Liston would look up. Circus strongman Jess Willard and the mob-sponsored Primo Carnera would both look down on Usyk – but not by that much. Usyk would stand eye to eye with Muhammad Ali but prime-for-prime he would outweigh him by ten pounds, as he would Larry Holmes. We must skip Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield and reach all the way into the Lennox Lewis era before we find men from history that truly out-size Usyk on a consistent basis.

Size, as Usyk has proven, is far from everything. Big by historical standards, he is small by modern standards. What else is now true in the wake of the seismic fistic events of Saturday night? Firstly, Usyk is unquestionably ranked the #1 heavyweight in the world. Of this, there can be no dispute. Accounting for his two wonderful defeats of another “super” heavyweight, Anthony Joshua, he is 3-0 against the rest of the top five and sitting unassailably at the head of the heavyweight table. More, and I have been surprised to see it disputed in some corners, Usyk is now almost as equally unassailably the pound-for-pound number one. The only fighter breathing the same air as Usyk right now is Naoya Inoue. Inoue has been operating at or near the highest level for longer, but the level of his opposition has not been as rarefied. Comparing the first phase opposition defeated by Naoya to the murderer’s row of cruiserweights that Usyk ran into during the Super Six series can lead to only one conclusion. Although Naoya’s busy, weight-class-bursting style has topped him out for most of the past two to three years, only one of these men has consistently been beating bigger, taller, longer opposition at the highest level, and that is Usyk. It is not a matter of opinion – he is the smallest man in my heavyweight top ten.

01 – Oleksandr Usyk

02 – Anthony Joshua

03 – Joseph Parker

04 – Tyson Fury

05 – Filip Hrgovic

06 – Zhilei Zhang

07 – Agit Kabayel

08 – Daneil Dubois

09 – Martin Bakole

10 – Joe Joyce

Usyk lives among giants now and where there is parity of height (Kabayel) he is the lighter man by 15 pounds. This is not true of Naoya, who despite his weight-hopping, still manages to run into fighters of the same height and of shorter reach. The opposition argument is narrow, but the relative size opposition is not and there is no pound-for-pound credential more significant than that of consistently out-fighting bigger men. Usyk has done so and will continue to do so for as long as he fights. There is simply no smaller man in his class.

Not since the heyday of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield has a lineal heavyweight champion consistently fought bigger men and not since Mike’s hype-infused prime has a heavyweight menaced the number one pound-for-pound spot. Usyk has not enjoyed anything like the same machine support as Mike did; indeed, he has laboured in the shadow of more prominent men until such time as he thrashed them. He is a true manifestation of pound-for-pound glory in the unlimited class. Where does this leave him in terms of all-time standing?

I am reluctant to rate active fighters for reasons that are obvious enough; Usyk could be pole-axed in three by an irate Fury in a December rematch and all this ink is for naught. But what I am willing to do is play let’s pretend and imagine Usyk as retired and consider his place in heavyweight history now.

Usyk’s raw numbers are low-grade at just 22-0 with 14 knockouts. Worse, most of this was built in the cruiserweight division and not the heavyweight division. Against men weighing in as heavyweights, Uysk is essentially 7-0, and only 3-0 against ranked opposition. On the other hand, one of these victories came against Daniel Dubois, now ranked, and the 3-0 was posted against Tyson Fury, generally held to be the best or second-best heavyweight in the world, and Anthony Joshua, ranked behind only Fury at the time of his first fight with Usyk. So, when he stepped up, he stepped up to tackle the best in the world and has become lineal as a result. It’s a hard ledger to wrestle with, but fortunately we have a career that is comparable in the shape of Gene Tunney.

Tunney, a career light-heavyweight, earned a heavyweight legacy built of essentially one man: Jack Dempsey. Past-prime and inactive, Dempsey was ripped apart by Tunney in their legendary first fight and did better in a losing effort against the genius “Fighting Marine” in a rematch, much like Joshua did against Usyk. Tunney then boxed the limited but game Tom Heeney and retired. The rest of his heavyweight career was spent beating great middleweights like Harry Greb and limited losing-streak gatekeepers like Charley Weinert and Martin Burke. One thing that must be noted is that Tunney is matching men who are smaller than Usyk’s cruiserweight opposition to his heavyweight credit. Men like Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev would have been big men in Tunney’s era, but they aren’t counted towards heavyweight legacy for the Ukrainian – either would constitute Tunney’s second-best heavyweight scalp, I think. Tunney’s wider resume does not necessarily include fighters who compare that favourably even to Dereck Chisora or Chaz Witherspoon, the men who make up Usyk’s second layer of opposition.

The point is, Tunney was made a legend for defeating a champion. Both Fury and Joshua were active, physically enormous fighters that Usyk simply unmanned with a type of genius Gene Tunney would have stood to applaud. Tunney appended to his light-heavyweight career the important part of a heavyweight career – the part where you fight and beat the champion, and it has made him a stalwart of heavyweight history. This, Usyk too has achieved, but I have been more impressed with Usyk’s summit than Tunney’s. To be direct: Usyk should rate higher at heavyweight than Tunney.

What that means is that the top twenty at heavyweight is the minimum Usyk can expect from history’s eye should he retire undefeated. In such a case, I would place Usyk in this sort of company:

18 – Ezzard Charles

19 – Oleksandr Usyk

20 – Jersey Joe Walcott

21 – James J Corbett

22 – Peter Jackson

23 – Ken Norton

24 – Max Schmeling

25 – Vitali Klitschko

26 – Riddick Bowe

27 – Gene Tunney

Also illustrative of a point is Tunney’s career pre-heavyweight. Tunney, every bit as brilliant as Usyk in the ring (although notably smaller, and successful against notably smaller opposition), laced up his gloves on close to ninety occasions and his level of competition dwarfs that of Usyk. That is no indictment. All it really means is that Usyk isn’t among the thirty greatest fighters ever to have drawn breath, like Tunney is. He can join an enormous and star-studded cast that includes Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins and Carlos Monzon in that. I do think, though, that Oleksandr Usyk’s career, were it to end tomorrow, could be readily compared to that of Evander Holyfield and that means that an unbeaten Usyk, lineal cruiserweight and heavyweight champion of the world, current pound-for-pound king, is within spitting distance of a list that captures the fifty greatest fighters in history.

56 – Ruben Olivares

57 – Wilfredo Gomez

58 – Vicente Saldivar

59 – Oleksandr Usyk

60 – Evander Holyfield

61 – Ted Kid Lewis

62 – Lou Ambers

63 – Rocky Marciano

64 – Abe Attell

65 – Manuel Ortiz

A retired Naoya Inoue would join him in the top seventy, I think, and a retired Bud Crawford the top ninety.

Boxing is dead, haven’t you heard?

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Another Victory for Ukraine as Berinchyk Upsets Navarrete in San Diego

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Whether it was inspiration or perspiration, Ukraine’s Denys Berinchyk motored past Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete by split decision to become the WBO lightweight world titlist on Saturday.

Just hours after his fellow countryman Oleksandr Usyk became undisputed heavyweight world champion, Berinchyk joined the club.

“This is a great night for all people of Ukraine,” Berinchyk said.

The undefeated Ukrainian Berinchyk (19-0, 9 KOs) gutted out a win over Navarrete (38-2-1, 31 KOs) who was attempting to join Mexico’s four-division world champion club in San Diego. The lanky fighter known as “Vaquero” fell a little short.

Through all 12 rounds neither fighter was able to dominate and neither was able to score a knockdown. Just when it seemed one fighter gathered enough momentum, the other fighter would rally.

A butt caused a slight cut on Navarrete in the 10th round. That seemed to ignite anger from the Mexican fighter and he powered through the Ukrainian fighter the next two rounds.

In the final round Berinchyk bore down and slugged it out with the Mexican fighter as both relied on their weapons of choice. For most of the night Navarrete scored with long-range uppercuts and Berinchyk scored with overhand rights.

After 12 rounds two judges scored it 115-113, 116-112 for Berinchyk and one 116-112 for Navarrete. Ukraine gained its third world titlist in one a week. Berinchyk joins Usyk and Vasyl Lomachenko as world titlists.

“He’s a very tough guy,” said Berinchyk of Navarrete.

Welterweights

A battle between undefeated welterweights saw Brian Norman (26-0, 20 KOs) knock out Giovany Santillan (32-1, 17 KOs) in the 10th round to become the interim WBO titlist.

For nine rounds both welterweights engaged in brutal inside warfare as each tried to beat the sense out of each other.

Norman worked the body early as Santillan targeted the head. Neither fought more than two inches from each other.

The younger Norman, 23, connected with a right cross during an exchange that wobbled Santillan in the eighth round. From that point on the Georgia fighter began setting up for his power shots. Finally, in the 10th round, uppercuts dropped Santillan twice. In the second knockdown Santillan went down hard as referee Ray Corona stopped the fight immediately at 1:33 of the 10th round.

Other Bouts

Heavyweight Richard Torrez (10-0, 10 KOs) knocked out Brandon Moore (14-1) in the fifth round for a regional title.

Lightweight Alan Garcia (10-0) defeated Wilfredo Flores (10-3-1) by decision after eight.

Photo credit: German Villasenor

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UNDISPUTED ! – Usyk Defeats Fury ! – Plus Undercard Results from Riyadh

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The most ballyhooed fight of the young century played out today at Riyadh Arena in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where Ukraine’s amazing Oleksandr Usyk became an undisputed world champion in a second weight class with a split decision over WBC and lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.

This was a memorable fight with twists and turns. Usyk had some good moments early, but the middle rounds belonged to the Gypsy King. Heading into the second half of the bout, the old saying that a good big man will always beat a good little man, appeared to be holding up once again. Fury was having good success working the body as his trainer SugarHill Steward exhorted him to do, and when he went upstairs, he rattled Usyk, notably in round five when a big uppercut appeared to lift the Ukrainian off his feet. But Usyk finished round seven strong, a prelude of what was to come.

Usyk plainly won round eight and in round nine, he came within a whisper of ending it. A flurry of punches sent Fury reeling. He crashed into the ring ropes which dictated a standing-8 count from referee Mark Nelson. If Nelson had waited a few more seconds, he would have likely waved the fight off as Fury was on queer street. But this dramatic turnaround came late in the round and the Gypsy King was saved by the bell.

Among other things, Tyson Fury is known for his amazing powers of recuperation. He not only stayed the course, but appeared to win the final round. But in the end, Oleksandr Usyk, now 22-0 (14) saddled Fury (34-1-1) with his first defeat. Two of the judges favored him (115-112, 114-113) with the dissenter scoring it for Fury 114-113.

A draw wouldn’t have caused much of a stink and now they will do it again. The sequel is tentatively scheduled for October. Both are getting a little long in the tooth – Usyk is 37 and Fury is 35 – so we will be surprised if the rematch lives up to the hype.

Semi-wind-up

The first encounter between Jai Opetaia and Mairis Briedis was a grueling fight. Opetaia, an Australian Olympian at age 16, won the battle (a fair decision) but yet took the worst of it. Early in that bout, he had his jaw fractured in two places and for the next two months was forced to eat out of a straw.

The rematch tonight in Riyadh was a monotonous fight through the first nine rounds. Briedis, now 39 years old and inactive since their first meeting, looked old and rusty. But the fight heated up in round 10 and the championship rounds belonged to the Latvian.

It came too little, too late, however, as Briedis needed a knockout to win. At the conclusion, the judges favored the Aussie by scores of 117-111 and 116-112 twice.

Opetaia, 28, improved to 25-0 (19).  Briedis, who has defeated everyone that he has fought with the exceptions of Opetaia and Oleksandr Usyk (and the Usyk fight was close) falls to 28-3.

The first fight between Opetaia and Briedis was for the IBF cruiserweight title. Tonight’s match is for the vacant IBF cruiserweight title (don’t ask).

Cordina-Cacace

In a major upset, Belfast’s Anthony Cacace, a 12-year pro, captured the IBF 130-pound world title with a seventh-round stoppage of previously undefeated Joe Cordina who went to post a consensus 7/1 favorite. The end came 39 seconds into round seven with Cacace pummeling Cordina against the ropes.

The Irishman was the busier fighter and landed the harder punches, but the bout was not without controversy. In the third frame, Cacace stunned Cordina with a punch that landed after the referee ordered the fighters to break. That put Cordina on the defensive and before the round was over, Cacace put him on the canvas with a wicked uppercut and Cordina, badly hurt, barely survived the round. Cacace (22-1, 8 KOs) had a big sixth round and closed the show in the next stanza.

Cordina, a 2016 Olympian who was undefeated in 17 pro fights heading in, is a close friend and frequent workout partner of Lauren Price who captured the WBC female welterweight title last week. She now stands alone as the only current world champion from Wales.

Kabayel-Sanchez

In a mild upset, Agit Kabayel continued his late career surge with a seventh-round KO of previously undefeated Frank Sanchez. As was the case in his last fight when he upset Arslanbek Makhmudov, Kabayel (25-0, 17 KOs) finished his opponent with body punches. A left-right combination knocked Sanchez to his knees and then, after Sanchez got to his feet, a straight right to the belly sent him down again and he wasn’t able to beat the count.

Sanchez, who was 24-0 heading in, entered the bout with a brace over his right knee that compromised his mobility. Kabayel, the aggressor throughout, was comfortably ahead at the time of the stoppage. The official time was 2:23 of round seven.

Kovalev-Safar

In a dull 10-rounder, unsung Robin Safar, a Swedish-born fighter of Kurdish descent, may have written the finish for the career of Sergey Kovalev. At age 41 in his second fight as a cruiserweight and coming off a two-year layoff, the “Krusher” was a pale imitation of the fighter that won nine straight light heavyweight title fights before losing a controversial decision to Andre Ward in their first encounter.

Safar, who improved to 17-0 (12) punctuated his triumph by knocking down Kovalev (35-5-1) with a big right hand inside the final 10 seconds of the final round. The judges had it 99-90, 97-92, and 95-94.

Two early fights ended in early knockouts.

Moses Itauma, a 19-year-old, six-foot-six southpaw who was raised in London by a Nigerian father and a Slovakian mother, stopped Ilya Mezercev at the 50-second mark of the second round. Mezercev made it to his feet after being decked with a big right hook, but his legs were jelly and the fight was waved off.

Trained by Ben Davison, Itauma (9-0, 7 KOs) has been hailed as the next Anthony Joshua. As an amateur, he was reportedly 24-0. Mezercev, a Germany-based Kazkh, declined to 25-9.

British lightweight Mark “Thunder” Chamberlain (16-0, 12 KOs) looked sensational while blasting out Joshua Oluwaseun Wahab in the opening stanza. Chamberlain had Wahab (23-2) on the deck twice before the bout was waived off at the 2:42 mark.

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