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Manny Pacquiao Returns…

Kelsey McCarson

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Manny Pacquiao returns to the ring this weekend against Brandon Rios in Macau, China, almost one full year after he was bludgeoned down to the canvas by archrival Juan Manuel Marquez. Most fighters are unable to recover from such a knockout. Their career would be over the way a chicken’s life is over when you remove its head. Sure, it flails and kicks around like it’s still alive, but that chicken is dead.

In 1986, a four-issue comic book series called The Dark Knight Returns was published by DC Comics. The story was written by Frank Miller, who co-illustrated it alongside Klaus Janson. The plot follows a 55-year-old Bruce Wayne, as he dons the batsuit once again after a long retirement to fight crime in Gotham City.

Batman faces both new foes and old. He thwarts a gang of criminals called the Mutants, dukes out a final round against his arch-nemesis, the Joker, and even takes down Superman after the hulking alien is sent to Gotham to stop Batman’s vigilante efforts once and for all.  The series was later collected into a single volume graphic novel, and is considered by critics one of the finest examples of storytelling and art in the genre.

For those more familiar with the movie version of Batman, particularly the one portrayed by Christian Bale and directed by Christopher Nolan, many of the motifs present in the third and final installment of the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, were borrowed from Miller’s comic book classic.

Most applicable to this essay, are three elements: Batman’s return to crime fighting after a long layoff; Batman facing younger, stronger and faster adversaries; Batman inspiring Gotham City one more time.

A Return to Familiar Places

Like Batman’s return to Gotham City, Pacquiao will be returning to a familiar environment on Saturday night, one he has previously mastered. Where only the top one percent of boxers ever carve out a living in the sport, only a fraction of those who do also reach both the historical and financial levels of success Pacquiao has attained.

But the ring is an unforgiving environment. Fighters age out faster than perhaps in any other sport. Unlike team sports, there is no roster spot to hide a player with diminished skill. And unlike other individual sports,  such as tennis or golf, boxing is combat. The goal is not to hit a ball, but an opponent. Boxing is the roughest of pastimes. Fighters get old almost overnight. One day, you’re at the top of the sport. The next, you’re lying face down in the rubble.

It’s the same for Batman in The Dark Knight Returns. Where characters like Superman, Spiderman, Hulk, Thor, etc. all possess alien, magical and/or mutant superpowers, Batman is just a man. Sure, he’s big, fast, strong and skillful, but Batman has no more physical or mental attributes than any other human could have, except that in this story he has aged past his physical prime. In that way, the fictional Batman is of the realistic variety, as far as comic book heroes go.

Like Pacquiao (seen above arriving in Macau with wife Jinkee, in Chris Farina-Top Rank photo), the Batman of The Dark Knight Returns isn’t what he used to be. But Batman is still enough of what he was to look like Batman to everyone else, including his antagonists.

Is Pacquiao the same?

Facing the Young Brutes

There is no senior circuit or masters tour in boxing. In fact, in order to stay in the fight game as an elder statesmen, one has to beat back the younger, stronger and usually hungrier fighters coming up to take your place. Only the very best fighters in boxing history have done this for an extended period of time. And some of the greatest fighters ever were unable to do it at all. Roy Jones, Jr. was knocked out cold at age 35 by Antonio Tarver, who was the same age but had carried much less ring wear into the fight because of a late starting career. Muhammad Ali was a shell of himself at age 36 when he lost a split decision to 24-year-old Leon Spinks. Jones and Ali never looked the same. Pacquiao, 34, will face a 27-year-old Rios this weekend.

In The Dark Knight Returns, Batman is 55-years-old. Fans of the comic will remember him looking even older than that in the comic’s artwork. While Batman does face some old nemeses, men like Harvey Dent (Two Face) and the Joker, the predominant enemies Batman must tussle with are not his contemporaries at all. Through most of the narrative, Batman faces a new gang of thugs called the Mutants. They’re young. They’re strong. But he’s Batman.

Batman faces the leader of the Mutant gang twice. The first time he rumbles with the younger, stronger and more youthful Mutant leader, Batman tries to fight him as if they were similar in age and vigor. He almost loses his life in the process, barely escaping. The second time, Batman uses guile to lure the leader into a mud pit where Batman can keep the Mutant leader from having any advantage in speed. The rest is all bravery and cunning. Batman defeats the leader of the gang, and the rest of the criminals are rounded up and put into jail.

While Batman had to think differently than when he was a younger man, he didn’t change his style. He was still Batman in form and function. Rather, Batman recognized his strengths and weaknesses to that of his opponent. Moreover, he was honest with himself in assessing a much smaller margin for error against opponents at his advanced age. Like Batman, Pacquiao will still need to be himself against his adversaries. But he’ll need to be smarter and fight with more attention to detail than he has in the past.

Something to Believe In

On November 8, 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Yolanda) barreled through the Philippines wreaking havoc on thousands of local inhabitants. CBS News reports Yolanda might become the area’s deadliest natural disaster on record. As of Sunday, the rising death toll was almost 3,500 souls, with almost 1,200 missing and 13,000 reported injured.

Whether it is right or wrong, many in the Philippines will seek a diversion from their sorrow and angst through their love of national hero Pacquiao. To his credit, Pacquiao recognizes this and has dedicated the fight to his country and the victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan.

The phenomenon of coping with tragedy through sports is not localized to the Philippines at all. Americans will remember how venerated the New England Patriots were after the September 2011 terror attacks, how eagerly the New Orleans Saints were cheered for after Hurricane Katrina leveled the city in 2005, and how important the Boston Red Sox were for many after this year’s Boston Marathon bombing.

In Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Batman serves the same function for the inhabitants of this fictional, dystopian future. Part of the comic’s narrative is aimed at describing the polarizing views that grow more and more rampant in a society with a two-party political system. But the narrative is also about the effect a galvanizing force can have on a group of people. By the end of the story, Batman is the leader of an ardent group of loyal followers who believe in him and his cause. They don’t just believe in him because of what he is. They believe in him because of what he stands for, and more importantly what they believe he stands for.

The people of Gotham live in a world where bad is celebrated as good, where right is wrong, where down is up. They rally behind Batman, not as a man really, but as a symbol of hope. The motif is probably better realized (or at least more accessible) in Nolan’s movie, The Dark Knight Rises. For the people of Nolan’s universe, Batman is who rallies them to rise against the menacing bandits who take over the city and hold it hostage.

Like the fictional Batmans in Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, real life Pacquiao will be asked to provide a symbol of hope after a desperate and trying time. It might not be fair, but it’s reality.

Pacquiao is a favorite against Rios, and he absolutely should be. While Rios is a tough-nosed fighter with hard punches and a brave chin, Pacquiao has everything in his tool bag that Rios can’t handle. When the two meet on Saturday, Pacquiao won’t need to go to the same lengths Batman did against the Mutant leader in order to win. He won’t have to lure him into mud to slow Rios down. Pacquiao is already much faster than Rios. And while Rios has a good punch, Pacquiao will likely hold the edge in power, too. In fact, the only tangible elements Rios will have on his side this Saturday night is youth and size. And he probably doesn’t have enough of either of them to beat Pacquiao, who still appears closer to a hero than a has-been.

And After All This, There’s Just One More Thing: $uperman

After facing Rios, Pacquiao has several notable options to pursue. First and foremost on the list should probably be Timothy Bradley, who was awarded a controversial decision win over Pacquiao in 2012 (even though almost everyone else in the world thought Pacquiao deserved the nod easily). After that, Pacquiao would probably seek a fifth tussle with archrival Juan Manuel Marquez. Marquez knocked out Pacquiao last December, but did so after appearing to be on his way to a loss. Pacquiao holds a 2-1-1 edge on the fighter, and would probably take the fifth fight, too.

But those are Pacquiao’s normal foes. Akin to Batman facing Two Face and the Joker, Pacquiao isn’t treading new water in this part of narrative. But maybe, like Miller’s comic book, the final act will be the most interesting.

Because if there’s a Superman in the boxing universe, he’s wearing a ‘$’ symbol instead of an ‘S’. His name is Floyd Mayweather, and it would be the perfect way to end the story. Like Batman vs. Superman, Pacquiao would be the underdog against Mayweather. But unlike the fictional Superman, Mayweather is only flesh and blood.

Regardless, it’s perhaps most simply put like this. Superman might be the most powerful hero in the DC universe, but Batman would be on the shortlist of those who might be able to take him down. And while Mayweather is probably the best boxer of his era, Pacquiao has all the tools to give him the most trouble should the two ever meet inside a boxing ring. So much so, in fact, that Mayweather has never seemed super interested in facing Pacquiao in the first place.

And maybe that says it all. Maybe Mayweather knows he’s Superman alright, but that he’s still not the main character of the narrative. Maybe he knows he’s stuck playing the bit part at the end of a Batman story. Maybe he’s read Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and knows how the story ends. Maybe he knows Pacquiao is the hero. Maybe he knows Pacquiao is the winner.

Or maybe this essay has spun too far out into the world of meta-narratives, and you should just enjoy the fight. After all, that’s when Manny Pacquiao returns…

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Sept. 26 Horn of Plenty and Other Notes

Arne K. Lang

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Considering the constraints, the month of September has been a pretty good month for professional boxing. And the month will close with a flourish. Eight world title-holders will be in action on the 26th, the last Saturday of the month.

Five of the belt-holders will appear on the SHOWTIME PPV doubleheader featuring the Charlo twins. The most intriguing fight on that card finds Jermall Charlo risking his belt and his undefeated record against rugged Sergiy Deveryanchenko. At last glance, Jermall was a consensus 17/10 (minus-170) favorite. In baseball, a 17/10 favorite is a heavy favorite. In boxing, not so. A serious handicapper who wouldn’t think of laying 17/10 in a baseball game would have no hesitation about laying these odds in a boxing match.

When Deveryanchenko steps into the ring, 51 weeks will have elapsed since his last fight, his bruising tiff with Gennadiy Golovkin. Jermall Charlo hasn’t been on the shelf for quite that long, having last fought in December.

A more interesting match on this particular Saturday, at least in the eyes of this reporter, will unfold earlier that day in Munich when the curtain finally comes down on Season 2 of the long-drawn-out World Boxing Super Series. Two titles will be on the line when Mairis Briedis (26-1, 19 KOs) meets Yuniel Dorticos (24-1, 22 KOs).

Briedis’ lone defeat came at the hands of Oleksandr Usyk in a very competitive fight. Briedis won five rounds on two of the cards and won six rounds on the other. Dorticos’ lone defeat came on enemy turf in Sochi, Russia when he was stopped with eight seconds remaining in a doozy of a fight with Murat Gassiev.

Forget the titles; titles are a dime a dozen. These two guys are plainly the two best cruiserweights on the planet.

“The tickets are flying out the door and we expect to sell out within hours, if not days,” said co-promoter Kalle Sauerland at a pre-fight press conference.

That assertion was made way back on January 22 when the fight, originally targeted for late December of last year, was headed to Riga, Latvia, on March 21. That date didn’t work, nor did the re-scheduled date of May 16, and ultimately Riga didn’t work either.

Whatever tickets were sold, had to be refunded. There will be no fans in attendance when Briedis and Dorticos finally lock horns on Sept. 26 at a TV studio in Munich. The fight will air on DAZN in the U.S.

“Rest makes rust” was an often-heard caution when big gamblers of yesteryear dissected a boxing match. The late, great pricemaker Herb Lambeck reflexively shied away from boxers that had been inactive for a considerable period of time. For him, the Briedis-Dorticos match would likely be a head-scratcher. Both combatants have been inactive since June 15 of last year when they appeared in separate bouts on the same card in Riga, Briedis’s hometown. And they aren’t getting any younger. Briedis is 34 and Dorticos is 35.

The odds got nicked down somewhat when the site shifted from Riga with fans to Munich without, predictably so as Briedis, the first fighter from Latvia to win a world title, has an avid local following.

Briedis, the superior boxer, is a consensus 9/5 favorite. That seems a shade high as he won’t be able to feed off the crowd – there won’t be a crowd – and Dorticos, the Cuban KO Doctor, has a better chance of ending the fight with one punch. It wouldn’t be shocking if the fight followed a similar tack as the recent fight between Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin.

In case you missed it, Whyte was dominating his Russian adversary when things changed in a flash in the fifth round. Out of nowhere, Povetkin, the underdog, unleashed a picture-perfect uppercut that left Whyte flat on his back, unconscious before he hit the canvas. There have been other smashing one-punch knockouts this year – Ryan Garcia’s demolition of Francisco Fonseca comes quickly to mind – and there may be a few more, but it’s hard to visualize anyone topping Povetkin in the voting for Knockout of the Year.

By the way, if he wins it, Povetkin, 41, would be the second-oldest boxer to score the Knockout of the Year. George Foreman was 45 when he knocked out Michael Moorer in 1994. The source is The Ring magazine which has been issuing this award since 1989.

And if you happen to know the youngest fighter to score The Ring Knockout of the Year, then you’re pretty sharp. No, it’s not baby-faced Naoya Inoue, who is older (27) than he looks. The honor goes to the long-forgotten African-American/Filipino southpaw Morris East who was 19 when he knocked out defending WBA 140-pound champion Akinobu Hironaka in 1992.

In a rarity, it didn’t take long for Alexander Povetkin and Dillian Whyte to agree on a rematch. They will meet again on Nov. 21. The venue is undecided, but Eddie Hearn is hopeful that he can pot the fight somewhere outside his backyard “fight camp” with fans in attendance. The first lines on the fight show Whyte the favorite in the vicinity of 13/5. Povetkin-Whyte II will be a nice appetizer for the Errol Spence vs. Danny Garcia match that goes off later that day.

In an unrelated development, Fury-Wilder III is purportedly going to Allegiant Stadium, the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders, in late December. Bob Arum anticipates a crowd of 10,000-15,000 with social distancing protocols in place.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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Meekins vs. Kawoya: File It Under Bizarre

Ted Sares

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 It was August 8, 1988. The location was Resorts International in Atlantic City. The main event featured New Yorker John Wesley Meekins (18-1-2) vs another New Yorker (via Uganda and Denmark) Mohammed Kawoya (11-3).

The rangy and skilled Meekins with a stellar amateur career was a clear favorite over the lesser known Kawoya who had fought only once in the US, losing to Jorge Maysonet on cuts at the Felt Forum. Meekins was expected to move on to a world title fight after dispatching Kawoya.

Meekins enjoyed a successful career between 1984 and 1994, fighting the likes of Davey Montana, Mike Mungin, Harold Brazier, Saoul Mamby, Santos Cardona, Darrin Morris (who won his last 16 fights in a row), and Terence Alli. He would lose to a prime Meldrick Taylor (20-0-1) in 1989 with the IBF World Super Lightweight title at stake.

On June 15, 1990, Meekins beat Santos Cardona over 12 rounds to win the NABF light-welterweight championship, but would lose it to Terence Alli some seven months later. It was downhill after that and he retired in November 1994 with a record of 24-5-2 after being stopped by so-so Darryl Lattimore.

Back to Meekins vs. Kawoya

 This one did not go as expected. After being decked in round 2, Kawoya dropped Meekins in the opening seconds of round 3. An exciting fight with multiple knockdowns and furious exchanges was in progress and the fans loved it.

An aroused Meekins then went after the Ugandan with a vengeance and set up one of the most bizarre endings that few boxing fans have ever heard about, much less witnessed, as he again dropped Kawoya this time with a fast left hook. He then went for the kill. Referee Paul Venti sensed it and moved in—perhaps prematurely– as Meekins unleashed what he hoped would be a fight-ending volley of hard shots.

 As soon as Venti stepped in to stop the fight, Kawoya landed a right that dropped Meekins and had him crawling on the canvas and holding on to the ropes devoid of his senses for at least ten seconds. The punch was thrown at the exact moment that Venti ended matters and Venti didn’t realize what had occurred.

 While Kawoya thought he has scored a clean KO and celebrated wildly, the fact was that Venti had ended the fight a fraction of a second before and his decision would stand.

The fans not only enjoyed a great fight, they witnessed something truly memorable—something that had to be seen to be believed; namely, a winner struggling to get up and a loser celebrating what he thought was a knockout.

Kawoya pulled out of the rematch because of a throat infection and Saoul Mamby took his place as a late sub. The Ugandan never fought again, while Meekins never got the title shot that a more impressive effort might have gotten him.

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

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Price and Programming Lineup for Sept. 26 Charlo Twins PPV Doubleheader

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PRESS RELEASE — SHOWTIME Sports has announced the price and programming lineup for the first-of-its-kind pay-per-view doubleheader on Saturday, September 26, featuring two stacked fight cards each headlined by one of the world champion Charlo twins in an event presented by Premier Boxing Champions. THE SHOWTIME PPV event, CHARLO DOUBLEHEADER, is available for purchase at a suggested retail price (SRP) of $74.95 and includes six compelling fights, five of which are world championship bouts.

 THE EVENT

The first card of the SHOWTIME PPV telecast will be headlined by undefeated WBC Middleweight World Champion Jermall Charlo defending his title against Sergiy Derevyanchenko. WBA Super Bantamweight Champion Brandon Figueroa will defend his title against Damien Vázquez in the co-featured bout, while WBO Bantamweight World Champion John Riel Casimero faces off against Duke Micah in the pay-per-view opener. Following the main event and a 30-minute intermission, the second three-fight card headlined by WBC Super Welterweight World Champion Jermell Charlo facing unified 154-pound World Champion Jeison Rosario will begin. Luis Nery will battle Aaron Alameda for the vacant WBC Super Bantamweight World Championship in the co-feature, while former unified champion Danny Román faces former champion Juan Carlos Payano in a WBC Super Bantamweight title eliminator bout to open the second three-fight card of the pay-per-view.

TELECAST TEAM

The announce team for the SHOWTIME PPV telecast is comprised of the most experienced and decorated boxing team on television. Veteran sportscaster Brian Custer is the host. Versatile combat sports voice Mauro Ranallo handles blow-by-blow action alongside Hall of Fame analyst Al Bernstein and four-time world champion Abner Mares. Two Hall of Famers round out the telecast team: boxing historian Steve Farhood as unofficial scorer, and world-renowned ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr.

THE JOURNEY: CHARLO DOUBLEHEADER and DIGITAL PROGRAMMING LINEUP

In the leadup to the unprecedented two-event pay-per-view, SHOWTIME Sports will produce and premiere THE JOURNEY: CHARLO DOUBLEHEADER, a 30-minute show that chronicles the unique story of Jermall and Jermell, twins born one minute apart in Houston, Texas, as they rise through the ranks and put themselves in position to become global boxing stars. Voiced by SHOWTIME boxing host Brian Custer, THE JOURNEY: CHARLO DOUBLEHEADER features rarely seen footage and gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at their most pivotal career moments, motivations, and life outside of the ring.

THE JOURNEY will premiere on SHOWTIME on Sunday, September 13 at 11:30 p.m. ET/PT and will be available for free on the SHOWTIME Sports YouTube channel and all SHOWTIME On Demand platforms.

SHOWTIME Sports will also release new episodes, of the original, digital franchiseRING RESUME which examines the career progressions of boxing’s top stars, available on the SHOWTIME Sports YouTube channel. Beginning Monday, September 21, the SHOWTIME Boxing Snapchat page will focus on high-energy fight and training camp highlights featuring the Charlos. In addition, the Snapchat page will feature the Charlos’ RING RESUMES and THE JOURNEY to expand reach to young audiences with short-form, fast-paced storytelling. Plus, Brendan Schaub and Kenny Florian will preview the keys to the fights on BELOW THE BELT BREAKDOWN, available on the BELOW THE BELT YouTube channel.

MORNING KOMBAT INTERMISSION

Combat sports aficionados Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell will host a 30-minute intermission show after the conclusion of the Charlo vs. Derevyanchenko main event and the start of the second three-fight card. The duo, hosts of the popular live combat sports talk show and podcast MORNING KOMBAT, will also host live streams of the main events press conference and official weigh-in in addition to providing in-depth coverage on MORNING KOMBAT throughout the week. The official weigh-in and main events press conference will stream live on the SHOWTIME Sports YouTube channel and SHOWTIME Boxing Facebook page.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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