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Pacquiao Must Deal With the Mother of All Distractions

Bernard Fernandez

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For a lot of people – too many, probably – the worst natural disasters are viewed with a certain sense of detachment. Maybe that’s because it’s difficult for the less compassionate among us to wrap their minds around the sudden deaths of thousands, or even tens of thousands, of other human beings because the scope of it all is just too unimaginable to grasp. Maybe it’s because it’s difficult for individuals numbed by a succession of such events to feel much sympathy for deceased strangers in a different part of their own country, much less in some far-off land.

Tragedy is often a matter of perspective. We feel the pain most acutely when it is personal, when that especially destructive earthquake, hurricane or flood affects us and ours, when the death of a loved one, or the sudden loss of all of his or her earthly possessions, is more keenly felt that the televised sight of collapsed buildings and rows of stacked bodies elsewhere.

If someone is fortunate enough never to have felt the capricious wrath of nature’s fury, it perhaps is possible to remain at least somewhat unmoved by such catastrophes as the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004 (death toll: 230,000); Hurricane Katrina (U.S. landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, with a death toll of 1,833, mostly in Louisiana and Mississippi, and property damage estimated at $81 billion); the Haiti earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010 (death toll: anywhere from 100,000 to 316,000, depending upon which figure you choose to believe); the Japan earthquake of March 11, 2011 (death toll: 15,883), and Superstorm Sandy (death toll: 286, and property damage of $65 billion in the U.S.).

In relation to the terrible toll exacted by some of the aforementioned weather-related disasters, Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the northern Philippines on Nov. 7, was, in boxing terms, almost qualifies as a flash knockdown. The death toll currently stands around 5,000, but could climb higher when the bodies of many of the missing persons presumed to be dead are found and added to the list. Hundreds of thousands of survivors, fortunate to still be alive, were left homeless, hungry and desperate.

Against this backdrop of national misery, the Philippines’ greatest sports hero, former eight-weight-class world champion Manny Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KOs), heads into this weekend’s scheduled 12-rounder with Brandon Rios (31-1-1, 22 KOs) in Macao, China – first bell rings Saturday night in the United States, in late morning on Sunday China time – facing the mother of all distractions. Pacquiao, one of 289 members of the Philippine congress who someday hopes to run for his homeland’s presidency, not only must try to affirm his continued relevancy as a boxer following back-to-back defeats to Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez, but he shoulders the potentially crushing responsibility of providing his countrymen a glimmer of hope, with an especially impressive victory, that all again can be right in their world.

It is a fine line that Pacquiao, who trained for the Rios fight in his hometown of General Santos City, 466 miles from the area hardest-hit by Typhoon Haiyan, must tread. There will be those who will say he should have immediately broken off training, traveled to the devastated areas of the Philippine archipelago and provided whatever assistance he could to the more bereft of the country’s 98 million citizens, a vast majority of whom have come to regard him as the most visible embodiment of their own national pride. Others will say, with justification, that Typhoon Haiyan struck too close to the date of the fight, that Pacquiao – who turns 35 on Dec. 17 – had no choice but to continue with his preparations to vanquish the dangerous Rios because to do otherwise would have an even more debilitating effect on an already reeling populace.

“I really want to visit the area and personally do what I can to help our countrymen who have suffered so much in this terrible tragedy,” Pacquiao said in a prepared statement. “But I am deep in training for this crucial fight, so I regret that I cannot go.”

Pacquiao’s adviser, Canadian Michael Koncz, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview last week that Pacquiao intended to personally view the wreckage and talk to displaced orphans of the storm on the morning of Nov. 24, hopefully as the bearer of glad tidings.

But Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, realizes that even a return to dominance by his fighter – who has hinted at retirement if he loses for the third time in succession – can’t be a panacea for all the hardships Filipinos are enduring, and will continue to face in the weeks and months ahead.

“That’s probably small comfort to people going without food and water,” Roach said of the effects a Pacquiao triumph would have on a half-million souls now deprived of many of life’s basic necessities.

Top Rank, Pacquiao’s promotional company, isn’t glossing over what Typhoon Haiyan has wrought upon a poor but proud nation. Standard boxing considerations don’t really apply to this fight, as noted by several legendary fighters who took part in what Top Rank billed as the “greatest teleconference in boxing history.”

“If there is anyone that has the ability to come back, both physically and psychologically, it’s Manny Pacquiao,” said Sugar Ray Leonard, who was joined on the conference call with the media by Roberto Duran, George Foreman, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Marco Antonio Barrera, Timothy Bradley and Mike Alvarado. “I’m picking Manny because he is Manny Pacquiao. He can – and he will have to – black out everything and have tunnel vision going into the ring against Brandon Rios.”

Foreman said he “was distracted” by a cut he incurred in sparring, which led to a delay of several weeks in the staging of his “Rumble in the Jungle” showdown with Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa, Zaire, and “that’s why I lost.” The fact that nearly all Zaireans were so demonstrably for Ali might have had something to do with it, too.

But Foreman also claims to have risen above other distractions, which come more frequently than the public sometimes realizes. “Just before I fought Michael Moorer there was a big, tragic flood right here in the Houston area and I had to wade through waist-deep water to rescue my family,” Big George recalled. “There were many deaths. But when it came time to put on the boxing trunks, it all disappeared.”

Barrera, who twice was defeated by Pacquiao (an 11th-round TKO in 2003, a 12-round, unanimous decision in 2007), even went so far as to mathematically calculate the mental effect Typhoon Haiyan might have on “Pac-Man.”

“Distractions can play a big deal for many in Manny’s situation,” Barrera said. “If you train 100 percent, distractions could take away 40 percent of all the work that you put in. Manny has to concentrate on one thing, and that’s boxing. He does have responsibilities with the typhoon and everything, which makes it harder, but he can’t separate himself from being a boxer. If he tries to be a politician and a boxer at the same time, he’s going to be in trouble.”

Much of the speculation being bandied about by observers and pundits is just that, but there are at least a couple of boxing writers who can keenly relate to the particulars of what Pacquiao is feeling, albeit on a much lesser public scale. Hurricanes and typhoons are indiscriminate victimizers, cutting across all social and economic distinctions.

For me, a native of New Orleans with numerous family members and friends still living in the city and area, the gut punch was delivered when Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, with entire neighborhoods in my old hometown washed or blown away. For a time, Katrina transformed the heavily damaged Superdome into a refugee camp and international symbol of misery and despair.

The floodwaters covered the home of the youngest of my three brothers-in-law to its roof; it later was determined to be unsalvageable and bulldozed. But the worst of it was when another brother-in-law, who was living with my wife and me in suburban Philadelphia, suffered a stroke the night Katrina struck, the coverage of which he had watched all day, in shock, on TV. Rushed to a nearby hospital, he soon lapsed into a coma and died a week later. To this day, I remain convinced Katrina played at least a part in his too-early demise, at 47. And if all that weren’t enough, my elderly mother, whom we had brought north to live with us several months prior to the hurricane, was scheduled to undergo cancer surgery the day after Katrina, on Aug. 30. She never left the hospital following the operation and died on Oct. 20.

For months, it was a struggle for me to perform even the simplest daily functions. I probably was clinically depressed, and there was no joy or satisfaction in my covering boxing matches and other sports for my employer, the Philadelphia Daily News. In comparison to life-and-death issues, what does it really matter who wins or loses a prizefight or a ballgame? But, fortunately, I eventually found my way back to who and what I had been before.

A similar story is told by my friend and successor as president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, Jack Hirsch, whose Rockaway Park, N.Y., home was flooded by seven feet of water during Superstorm Sandy.

“One of the local mailmen I knew drowned in his basement,” said Jack, whose property losses included such treasured boxing memorabilia as gloves signed by Willie Pep, Kid Gavilan and Archie Moore. “And he wasn’t the only one. The water came in with a quick surge and some people couldn’t get out.

“We evacuated early, but we took a big hit. In the weeks after the storm, I would go back to the house very early in the morning to try to clean up as best I could. The neighborhood was just empty. It was like civilization had yet to start again. What few people were around didn’t have electricity, and food was hard to get. We were eating a lot of what I called space food (prepackaged RTEs, or “ready-to-eat” meals).

“Believe me, I did not want to talk or even think about boxing during that time. The hurricane was still too fresh in everyone’s minds. Out of necessity, though, I had to snap out of it because five weeks later, we had our BWAA East Coast business meeting. It was either step down or step up. I had to force myself to put my game face back on.”

Jack said it probably is impossible to gauge what effect Typhoon Haiyan will have on Pacquiao until fight night, when he, too, will have to step down or step up at the moment of truth. “Who knows?” Jack asked, rhetorically. “It could motive him more. It could be an insurmountable distraction. Everyone deals with these things differently.”

The closest sports analogy I can come up with, of an individual or a team having endured what Pacquiao has and rising above it, is the New Orleans Saints-Philadelphia Eagles playoff game on Jan. 13, 2007, in the Superdome, just 16 months after Katrina had dealt a near-death blow to the city of my birth. The Saints had gone 3-13 in the 2005 season, playing “home” games in Baton Rouge, La., and San Antonio, Texas, but somehow had rebounded to go 10-6 and reach the postseason thanks in large part to the magical passing arm of the team’s prized free-agent acquisition, Drew Brees. This is how I described it:

This game is about so much more than which team takes another step toward Super Bowl XLI. It is about hope and survival, and humanity’s refusal to be beaten into submission.

If the residents of New Orleans can fight back from near-ruination to something approaching normalcy, so, too, can the people of the Philippines. It’s no wonder they have so latched onto Pacquiao, a devout Roman Catholic whose given first name – Emmanuel – means, appropriately given the situation, “God is with us” in Hebrew. The country’s chosen one was so poor as a child that the family dog became dinner when an already sparse food supply ran out. But it isn’t just that Pacquiao, a multimillionaire, has busted free of the shackles of poverty that makes him such an inspirational figure and role model. He could have become even wealthier by moving to the United States to decrease his tax liabilities and increase his endorsement opportunities, but he chose not to do so because he is first, last and always a native son.

In the April 2010 issue of GQ, Pacquiao was described by one former Philippine congressman as the country’s “most important source of social welfare.” It is reasonable to presume that a significant chunk of his eight-figure purse for the Rios fight will go to typhoon relief efforts because, well, he always has funneled much of his financial good fortune back into the nation that spawned him.

It is not out of the question that some of that well-intentioned money will even go toward improved barriers against the typhoons that visit the Philippines all too regularly. But no man – not even Pacquiao – can erect walls high enough to keep the worst storms totally out. We all exist within the parameters of human fragility, as Haiyan again demonstrated.

“If mountain ranges and oceans can be overcome,” Gen. George S. Patton, played by Academy Award winner George C. Scott, says in the great 1970 war movie, Patton, “anything made by man can be overcome.”

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The Top Ten Lightweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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The lightweight decade 2010-2019 was a disaster. Far and away the weakest list I have compiled so far; it was also far and away the most difficult to compile. Two excellent fighters, fit to grace any list, open at nine and ten but they made the tiniest handful of appearances at the poundage in the decade. Eight to four are populated by interchangeable lightweights whose ordering is confused by a 2012 robbery that has seen the “loser” of that contest edge in front of the “winner” adding to an already confused picture. The result is our seeing fighters who engender a sense of “what’s he doing there?” as high as number four.

Towering over this hot mess are the top two for the decadal division, two giants of the sport about whom it is a pleasure to write, and a clear number three.

Despite the foibles of lightweight there were also some excellent fights to run the ruler across on the way to ordering them. So, without further apologies here are the top ten lightweights for the last decade.

Ratings are by Ring between 2010 and 2012 and TBRB from 2013 to 2019.

10 – Juan Manuel Marquez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 6-2 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

I am arguably reaching in placing Juan Manuel Marquez at ten given the limited contribution he made to the lightweight decade, but it must be borne in mind that Marquez was the decade’s first legitimate, lineal lightweight champion. Lightweight gave us but three champions in the decade and certainly room can be made for all of them here.

Marquez had previously stopped the younger, fresher, purportedly stronger Juan Diaz in nine rounds in 2009 in what I rate his career’s best performance until that time but nominated to re-match him in July of 2010, probably unnecessarily. Marquez was once more brilliant, his jab never better, Diaz clearly wary of the uppercut that had hurt him so in their first fight.

Marquez mopped up his lightweight title run against Michael Katsidis in November of that same year. Marquez didn’t just beat the younger, stronger Katsidis, he became just the second man to stop the Australian, the quickest ever to do so.

This fight was also noteworthy as being veteran broadcaster Jim Lampley’s finest moment and we will give him the final word on Marquez at lightweight, and as we won’t be seeing him again in this series, Marquez generally (my italics):

“If it comes down to the question of whether you can courageously apply your technique…bet on Juan Manuel Marquez. He knows how to do that better than anyone in boxing.”

09 – Mikey Garcia

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 22-1 Ranked For: 27% of the decade

Mikey Garcia is a splendid fighter but one who seems to have spread himself a little thin divisionally speaking. He swept into lightweight, established himself as the number one contender, remained divisionally ranked until the end of 2019 but fought hardly a contest within 135lbs.

The work he did do there though, was significant, two fights enough to establish him as one of the pre-eminent lightweights of the timeframe.

Most impressive was his January 2017 knockout victory over Dejan Zlaticanin. Zlaticanin, himself coming off impressive back-to-back stoppages of Franklin Mamani and Ivan Redkach, was an undefeated strapholder; Mikey established his world class jab within seconds and lost not a minute of the eight they completed. The uppercut and hook combination for the knockout made for the best stoppage of the lightweight decade.

Robert Easter, himself a contender for the number ten spot, was a second undefeated fighter who was ranked in the top five laid low by Garcia. Easter though, offered stiffer resistance, doing well with his own jab and even winning a few rounds on the way to a lop-sided decision loss. Garcia fought an aggressive, disciplined fight against a much taller and longer opponent leaving no doubt as to the winner, dropping Easter with a gorgeous, penetrating right hand in the third.

Lightweight certainly would have benefited from more Garcia but what he gave was good enough to see him creep in at nine.

08 – Ricky Burns

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 16-6-1 Ranked For: 32% of the decade

Ricky Burns traded on heart and durability but the thrashing that the great Terence Crawford handed him in March 2014 is not one he recovered from. Dejan Zlaticanin sent him scurrying from the division in his very next fight.

In the months before his brave decision to match Crawford, however, Burns turned in one of the more impressive runs of the lightweight decade between 2011 and the summer of 2013. It began with Michael Katsidis, the former lightweight titleholder who had been laid low by Juan Manuel Marquez one year earlier. Katsidis never recovered from the beating Marquez laid upon him, but descriptions of him as shot proved as wide of the mark as those who installed Katsidis as a favourite.  Katsidis turned in a fine pressure performance and Burns needed the combination of jab and body attack he deployed to win a much, much closer fight than the judges saw. Ricky’s remains one of the most underrated jabs of the decade at lightweight or elsewhere.

Ranked contender Moses Paulus went next and here Burns turned in perhaps his best defensive performance. A victim of the fashionable “earmuffs” approach to defence, Burns showed himself here capable of parrying and blocking as well as shutting the shop and waiting. He arguably put these two strata of his skillset – the careful offence, the dynamic defence – together just once in his career, against Kevin Mitchell, then still ranked among the world’s ten best lightweights.  Burns countered well that night and although far from difficult to hit he made himself hard to hit clean. It was probably the difference-maker as he drew Mitchell into a war he could not hope to win, dusting him off in four exciting rounds.

Finally, he stopped Jose Gonzalez in nine before going off a cliff in a fashion more familiar in speedsters than technically adept workhorses.

07 – Antonio DeMarco

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 10-7 Ranked For: 28% of the decade

Antonio DeMarco fights on and in fact has two fights planned this year. This has been to the great detriment of his paper record.

In the early part of the decade, the part which he fought at lightweight, he lost just twice, once to the doomed figure of Edwin Valero and once to Adrien Broner, both of whom beat him clean but DeMarco is in possession of a pair of wins that make Broner’s ranking above him questionable still.  Key among them is his 2011 stoppage of Jorge Linares.

On the surface, this is the type of win to rappel into the farthest reaches of this list. Linares would become one of the finest lightweights of the decade and his name carries meaning whatever the context; but it is the context of this fight that prevents DeMarco climbing much farther.

Linares had never boxed twelve rounds when he met DeMarco and despite dominating early, he was cut up badly by DeMarco’s clean punching born of consistent pressure. Suffering the attentions of a faster, more talented fighter, DeMarco did the only thing he could, stepping in the fire zone and pressing; eventually Linares began to give ground. When a lacerating straight broke his nose in the sixth, the whole fight changed and when DeMarco cut him over the right eye in the seventh, his night became desperate. Suffused with blood, Linares was compromised in the eleventh from footwork to defence to his beautiful, gliding offence; the referee, perhaps prompted in part by the blood pouring from the face of Linares, stopped the fight.

It needs to be remembered who Linares was at this point of his career. He had been stopped in a round in 2009 and would be stopped in two with facial damage in his very next fight. This was the Linares that DeMarco broke down, not the storied veteran that Vasily Lomachenko would face years later. It is an impressive win, but DeMarco needs more for the spot.

Fortunately, he has it. After taking out gatekeeper Miguel Roman in five, DeMarco was matched with John Molina in a fight billed as an exciting shootout between evenly matched and exciting fighters. DeMarco blasted him out in a round. His power-punches were booming equalisers that laid more talented fighters low.

06 – Adrien Broner

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 20-4 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

It is unpleasant to see Adrien Broner, a serial failure at the highest level and seemingly a horror of a human being ranked above the likes of Garcia and Marquez, but assessing legacy must be blind.  Broner is well into double figures for contests at lightweight and picked up the same number of ranked contenders as the two part-time decadal lightweights ranked at nine and ten – so he belongs, there is no debate to be had about that.

And, to be fair to him, his biggest win is a beauty, being his 2012 victory over Antonio DeMarco.  DeMarco may have been on the slide but marginally. He remained a cagey, balanced, firmly planted southpaw, difficult to fight and harder to beat. Broner out-waited DeMarco and countered him, took a narrow lead in the early rounds before throwing more heavy punches the later the fight went. It became a beatdown, DeMarco failing to find the timing that would counter his opponent’s speed earlier in his career.

Three months later, Broner was nearly as impressive blasting out number eight contender Gavin Rees in just five rounds. In the aftermath Rees called him the best fighter he had ever met and predicted he would go all the way to the top. That hasn’t happened – for reasons too many to cogitate here – but he did enough to rank among the ten most accomplished lightweights of the decade.

05 – Brandon Rios

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 12-5 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Things have been messy and difficult up until this point – now that get very messy and very difficult.  Brandon Rios was awarded an official decision over Richar Abril in 2012 but he did not beat him; this was an outright robbery. Rios is not credited for that win here.

That fight is dealt with in detail in the entry below; for the moment, take my word for it and we will look at why it is reasonable for Rios to rank top five despite the Abril fight being treated here as a loss.

First and foremost is his defeat of the excellent Miguel Costa, world’s number one contender in February of 2011, lain low by a career’s best performance from Rios. Costa bossed Rios early, moving off him and tattooing him with power punches; Rios followed stoically but lost every one of the first five rounds. Focused and prepared, Rios seemed merely inconvenienced by the powerful punches of a world class competitor and there was something inevitable about what remains a dramatic collapse from Costa in the mid-rounds; in the tenth, battered and unresponsive, he was rescued by the referee as Rios clubbed him into submission with meathook shots.

Either side, Rios turned in impressive stoppage victories over ranked men Anthony Peterson and John Murray. Best-for-best, this adds up to near parity between Rios and Broner, but Rios claimed more quality names at the poundage; it edges Rios in front of his fellow American despite the Abril fight.

04 – Richar Abril

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 8-2-1 Ranked For: 44% of the decade

If you scour the internet, you might be able to find the single ringside scorecard that had Richar Abril’s 2012 fight with Brandon Rios a draw; every other scorecard by ringsiders had the fight for Abril, some of them by margins as wide as 120-108.

Every ringsider, that is, outside of two of the officials paid to score the fights.

What we can only hope was the abject stupidity of Glenn Trowbridge and the infamous Adalaide Byrd (both still judging fights today folks) cost Abril the win that night but here, I am taking the rare step of ignoring the official decision, something I have only done on one other occasion in the course of this series. Almost all ringsiders agree, and the film demonstrably shows, this was an Abril win.

It was not an exciting fight, partly due to its one-sidedness. Abril shelled up in close and Rios, who failed to make weight, threw cuffing shots apparently incapable of penetrating. In the second half of the fight, Abril closed with great awareness, carefully to consistently outland Rios in every round, defensively sound, offensively alive to opportunity.

Either side of his defeat of Rios, Abril defeated the same man who defined Brandon’s lightweight run, Miguel Acosta, and contender Sharif Bogere in a filthy, badly refereed contest. In essence, his legacy at the weight echoes that of Rios almost exactly, with one exception: he beat Rios.

Abril is not an inspiring figure. He boxed in a dry, careful fashion that did not endear him to fans but he excelled at controlling his opponents and there is no way to rank him below Rios given how dominant he was over him in their fight. That puts him in the top four.

03 – Jorge Linares

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 20-4 Ranked For: 35% of the decade

Jorge Linares was “one for the most fantastic boxers I have ever saw in my life” according to the great Emanuel Steward and you can see what he means. Linares is as beautifully balanced, as well co-ordinated as any lightweight seen this decade, outside of the top two. Lithe, quick-handed, and a fine selector of punches, he began the decade anointed by the then pre-eminent Freddie Roach, spending his spare time sparring with the legendary Manny Pacquiao.

Then it went wildly wrong. Linares had his faced ripped apart by the punches of Antonio DeMarco in 2011 and then Sergio Thompson in 2012. It was a long way from these losses back to the top but Linares made it, in the main by travelling to the UK and battering her best lightweights. His winning streak ran to thirteen fights.

Key among them was his 2015 victory over Kevin Mitchell. Mitchell, who had restored himself from both personal and professional strife with a quite remarkable performance against Daniel Estrada, was once again ranked among the world’s top ten. Linares has struggled when hurt throughout his career, but when dropped by Mitchell in the fifth, Linares, who had been struggling a little in the third and fourth, remained concentrated. He didn’t enjoy the rest of that fifth round, but he escaped it and instead of crumbling he crumbled Mitchell, cutting him up and stepping in to take over in the eighth then patiently closing the blinds in the tenth.

It was a fine turning of the corner by a fighter who would go on to deliver on some of his seemingly limitless potential, firstly against an inspired Anthony Crolla, once more in the UK, who he beat close then, re-matched and dropped on the way to a wide decision victory. Finally, Linares, a road-warrior if ever there was one, invited Luke Campbell over to the USA and squeaked past him in a brilliant strategic joust.

Linares was a real enigma. Skin so thin it might as well be used to pack the meat that constitutes his face, he has literally fallen apart in the ring; soft of chin, he has been blown out. The fighter that Manny Steward saw all those years before probably never emerged, but he still appears special enough to edge out Abril.

Take note though, he is not a “natural” divisional decadal number three and there is real distance between Linares and the fighter that ranks number two.

02 – Terence Crawford

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 26-0 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Terence Crawford is a genius in the ring, and we watched the emergence of that genius at lightweight. 2014 was the year and almost all the meaningful damage that the Nebraskan did to the 135lb division was done in that year.

I was glued to his March dissection of Scotsman Ricky Burns and it was painful to watch my countryman dismantled so completely, Burns complaining about Crawford’s control of distance and angles in a gracious post-fight interview. In truth, Burns had boxed beautifully to make so many of the rounds in what was a clear, wide victory for Crawford so close, but we did not know then what we know now: Crawford is one of the best fighters in the world.

At the end of 2014 when he welcomed number two contender Ray Beltran to his native Omaha, this was clear. Beltran had outfought and arguably been robbed of a victory over Ricky Burns when he visited Scotland for what was a hotly disputed draw but there were multiple classes between he and Crawford when they met that November. Crawford did mostly what he liked, and what he liked, from round two, was to box as a southpaw, jabbing with impunity, bringing Beltran forwards onto punches and in doing so shutting his opponent’s offence down almost completely. In the final round Beltran, who had not won a single round on my scorecard, threw around twenty punches, even though his only route to victory was by knockout.

In between his wide defeats of Burns and Beltran, he dispatched Yuriokis Gamboa in the ninth.  These were three technical mis-matches in one year against quality opposition after which he departed for 140lbs.

This is enough to make him a clear number two, but in all honesty were his numbers and opposition not enough to get him over that line, it would still be difficult to see him lower. Crawford was imperious.

01 – Vasily Lomachenko

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 14-1 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Ranked for almost an identical number of weeks throughout the 2010s, Vasily Lomachenko was also given, like Terrence Crawford, to taking a close look at his opposition in the opening round.

Another thing these two have in common is that their visitations to 135lbs were relatively brief. We will meet no other divisional decadal number one with so few fights at the poundage – having only met legitimately ranked men at the poundage however, Lomachenko has done enough to clearly seal up the number one spot. He has but one peer and has clearly edged that peer out.

Gatecrashing the division meeting none other than Jorge Linares helped. This had the appearance of rash, even careless matchmaking, a duel, essentially, to determine the finest lightweight of the decade. It appeared careless matchmaking, certainly, when Lomachenko was dropped in the sixth walking carelessly onto a straight punch that clearly hurt him.

But Lomachenko isn’t like other fighters. He had learned over the course of a monumental amateur career that he had the innate toughness to support his genius; Lomachenko re-took his feet and blasted Linares out in the tenth.

He certainly hasn’t looked back. Jose Pedraza, the world’s number three lightweight at that time, made it through a nightmarish eleventh to take Lomachenko the distance in 2018 but it was a wide, hurtful loss for the brave, world class Puerto Rican. Anthony Crolla went next and was stopped in just four rounds, his first stoppage loss since 2012. Luke Campbell, ranked number seven just as Crolla had been, seemed to be having a better evening but he won just two rounds and was on the receiving end of some savage combinations in making it to the final bell.

Lomachenko learns his man’s range then abuses it, hovering just within or just outside it, using his quick reflexes and beautiful, consistent slipping to keep him safe while he deploys what has become one of the best body-attacks in the sport. Predicting him is impossible, which forces fighters to try to take the play away from him, which leaves them open for the widest variety of counters in boxing this century.

It is mildly frustrating then that he and Crawford never met in the ring. Had it happened, that ring would have contained as much skill as any since Roberto Duran defeated Ray Leonard.

The other lists:

Heavyweight

Cruiserweight

Light-Heavyweight

Super-Middleweight

Middleweight

Light-Middleweight

Welterweight

Light-Welterweight

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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