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The Year in Boxing, Part 3

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Tommy Morrison, a certified hammerfist with a compelling bio and Tiger Beat-level looks, left us too soon, this September. He was presented as a Caucasian sensation who could maybe take the Tyson baton but too much partying and a diagnosis of the presence of HIV in his system short-circuited his career. He left behind a solid body of work, though, and a rep as a damned-fine pugilist.

Here’s what I wrote upon his passing: Morrison used boxing to get distance from himself and a difficult home life, where his volatile dad could be abusive–dad put him in Toughman shows when he was in seventh grade–so it can be argued that Morrison is an example of boxing’s ability to lift up, as it gave him purpose and direction. He also helped convince holdouts that HIV isn’t a “gay” disease, that the virus can be spread by heterosexuals, so for that inadvertent public service, he can be commended.

The theater of the unexpected didn’t disappoint in September, with the news that the Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya, had succumbed to the perils of addiction again, and that he’d miss the Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez fight because he’d instead be entering rehab. This statement went out days before Floyd’s bout: Canelo Alvarez and I have big fights coming up this weekend. His is the ring and mine in treatment. I will not be at the fight to cheer Canelo to victory since I have voluntarily admitted myself into a treatment facility. I explained this to Canelo and he understood that my health and longterm recovery from my disease must come first. Thank you for your understanding. I ask for your support and privacy during this difficult time for me and my family. Oscar exited rehab in time to share the holidays with his family.

Mayweather on Sept. 14 made Alvarez look like the guy who didn’t win rounds against Matthew Hatton, Ryan Rhodes and Austin Trout as definitively as you’d want in order to give him much of a chance to beat the best boxer of his (and maybe others’) generation. Somebody named CJ Ross inserted herself into the narrative, when she hallucinated a 114-114 draw scorecard in Las Vegas, but luckily sobriety and the scorecards of Dave Moretti (116-112) and Craig Metcalf (117-111) over-rode Ross’ brown acid trip of idiocy. A couple days later, Ross slid herself under the bus, telling commission boss Keith Kizer, “I will be taking some time off from boxing but will keep in touch.”

Ken Norton died at age 70 on Sept. 18, his legacy best understood by true fight fans who knew he simply had Ali’s number, and probably deserved better than a 1-2 record against The Greatest.

Miguel Cotto turned back the clock on October 5, showing a brand of handspeed, body-snatching and aggression against Delvin Rodriguez that many assumed he’d left in the rear-view mirror. The Puerto Rican kept himself in the mix for megafights, out-landing the Friday Night Fights staple, 55-16, in a bit less than three rounds of target practice. Next for Cotto? “Line ’em up,” said the newest new trainer, Freddie Roach.

There was no shortage of takers who liked Juan Manuel Marquez to outsmart and strip down Timothy Bradley when they clashed fists on Oct. 12, especially after it became clear how messed up Bradley was from his violent carcrash against Ruslan Provodnikov. But Bradley boxed beautifully, playing all the angles just right and staying a step ahead of the vet Marquez, who looked like a regular 40-year-old rather than one who’d latched on to the services of a magical strength and conditioning coach. Glen Feldman’s garbage card for Marquez luckily was deemed irrelevant, but his poor eyesight shan’t go unremembered by me.

The following week saw another wickedly enjoyable rumble, for everyone but Mike Alvarado and team. Ruslan Provodnikov re-stamped himself into the hearts and minds of fight fans with his savagely stubborn effort in wresting the WBO 140 pound crown from Alvie at home in Colorado. The overseers, including ref Tony Weeks, drew props for their handling of the ending, which came after Alvie sat down following round ten. His body language screamed no mas, and Weeks pulled the plug. Weeks later, we’d be reminded what can happen when such signals aren’t paid attention to…

We hope that fight fans never forget the name Frankie Leal, a Mexican kid who gave, literally, his all in the ring. November will be remembered for an in-the-ring tragedy which leaves us holding out hope.

Russian heavyweight Magomed Abdusalamov on November 2 met Mike Perez on the Gennady Golovkin-Curtis Stevens undercard in NYC, and one heavyweight, each mans’ handlers told me, would leave the ring a star in the division. Little did we know one man would leave the ring with compromised health; Mago suffered brain damage, was rushed to an NYC hospital after losing a ten round decision, and today, is working to regain basic bodily abilities in an upstate rehab facility.

On Nov. 9 in Texas, Mikey Garcia kept up his momentum, with a win over Rocky Martinez, and Nonito Donaire restored a bit of luster with a win over Vic Darchinyan after taking on damage during a Rigolutionary war against the Cuban wizard Guillermo Rigondeaux. Last year, it was Donaire who was seen as an ascendent stud with Garcia still climbing the prospect to contender to champ rungs, again illustrating for us how fortune can shift like the mercury in the age of climate change.

The drama leading up to the Nov. 23 Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios fight wasn’t much present until Freddie Roach and former pal Alex Ariza stirred the pot. A few days before fightnight, Roach wanted Team Rios to exit the hotel gym, so Team Pacman could work out, and had words with trainer Robert Garcia and Ariza, who threw a karate kick at Roach when Dedham Freddie advanced on the former Pacman employee. Pacman’s offense in Macau was better than that offered by Ariza, as he had his way with an overmatched Rios, who showed more zest for combat after the fight, against the media, than he did versus the Congressman.

The exultation for Pacman, who dedicated the win to countrymen laid out by a horrific typhoon, was tempered slightly by tangles with tax collectors in the Philippines and the US, which are still being dealt with and negotiated at the time of writing.

The light heavyweight division reached a level of prominence unseen in a dog’s age, when Sergey Kovalev rolled over Ismayl Sillakh and Adonis Stevenson took apart Tony Bellew in Montreal Nov. 30. All expect them to do the obvious, and meet each other in a test of supremacy but this being boxing, only a fool believes that’s a given.

Showtime looked to end the year with a conclusive, concussive stamp, putting on back to back Golden Boy cards December 7 and Dec. 14.

Paul Malignaggi won the night in Brooklyn, showing that he had oodles more in the tank than ultra-desultory Zab Judah, enroute to a UD win in the Battle of Brooklyn.

The next week, Marcos Maidana stripped Adrien Broner naked in Texas, exposing the man who boasted he was About Billions, and the next logical star to inherit the Mayweather throne. No fighter had more people tuning in to see him lose than Broner, apart from Mayweather, and AB left the haters happy, losing a wide UD, while getting knocked to the mat twice.

The theater of the unexpected had one more showing, with cornerman Alex Ariza being accused of possibly giving fighter Maidana some sort of liquid or chemical aid during the bout, an allegation Ariza vigorously denied. Frame by frame examination of out of context video makes Ariza’s denials less sturdy, but Twitter is a place to brag about your gymflow and such, not a place to examine, process and litigate issues with much in the way of stringent standards and practices. But lordy, does it pass the time in entertaining fashion. Just like our sweet science does. It was a year of beauty and beastliness, the sublime and the sordid, a year in which we celebrated the best a man is capable of giving and the exorbitant price that is sometimes paid for entering a zone where only the hardiest of souls, people composed of a sturdier fiber than I, dare step.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 105: Angry Welterweights and More

David A. Avila

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Those welterweights don’t play.

One welterweight just got out of jail and wants to take out his angry frustrations in the boxing ring.

“One of us is getting knocked out. If it gets to where I’m behind on points, I’m just going to come forward and try to take him out, even if I end up getting knocked out,” said Juan Carlos Abreu. ““If he stands and fights, it’s better for me. That’s what I want.”

Standing in front of Abreu (23-5-1) will be one of the top welterweights in America, Philadelphia’s Jaron Ennis (25-0, 23 KOs). This is could be Ennis’ first true test against an experienced foe on Saturday Sept. 19, at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. Showtime will televise the Premier Boxing Champions card.

Ennis, 23, has been breezing easily since first jumping in the prize ring in April 2016. So far, the competition has been unable to cope with the athleticism he possesses. Will Abreu be the first to pose a problem?

“Whatever he brings, we are going to be ready. I’m going to go out there, do my thing, be smart, have my fun, and get that stoppage at the end of the night,” said Ennis, whose last opponent Bakhtiyar Eyubov was eliminated in four rounds in January. “You can’t just go in there and go for the knockout. That’s how you get tired and lose your cool or even get hit with punches that you shouldn’t be getting hit with.”

Abreu hopes he loses his cool.

“If he stands and fights, it’s better for me. That’s what I want. I really want one of us to get knocked out,” says Abreu of the Dominican Republic who was purportedly jailed for street fighting.

This welterweight matchup is the precursor to the WBC super welterweight eliminator between Terrell Gausha (21-1-1, 10 KOs) and Erickson Lubin (22-1, 16 KOs).

Gausha and Lubin both have lost once in their pro careers and need a win to get another crack at a world title.

Gausha lost a decision to Erislandy Lara three years ago. Lubin was stopped in one round by Jermell Charlo three years ago. Both realize the nature of the beast.

“I think Gausha has some problems with southpaws, but I’m not focused on that. I’m focused on my game plan and coming out victorious Saturday night,” said Lubin, 24, a southpaw called “the Hammer” for a reason.

Gausha is originally from Cleveland, Ohio but trains in Southern California and has fought four elite southpaws in his career. He believes one more is not a problem.

“This will be my fourth southpaw in a row. So, I’m more comfortable and familiar this time around,” said Gausha, 33, a former US Olympian who trains with Manny Robles Jr. “The guys before me, they all fought each other. Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran. They all fought each other. To be the best, you have to beat the best. And you can see that the fights I take, even after a long layoff, they are tough fights.”

Top Rank

Also, on Saturday Sept. 19, heavyweights and super lightweights lead a Top Rank card featuring some interesting bouts that will be shown on ESPN+.

Newly acquired Efe Ajagba (13-0,11 KOs) meets Jonnie Rice (13-5-1) in a 10-round heavyweight clash. It’s Nigeria’s Ajagba’s second fight this year. Though still a little raw he shows immense potential and great natural strength.

Rice fights out of Bones Adams’ Gym in Las Vegas and has some power. He built up his record on heavyweights in Tijuana boxing rings but has some pop. He’s a sizeable heavyweight and good measuring stick for Ajagba.

The main event is a doozy.

Puerto Rico’s Jose “The Sniper” Pedraza (27-3, 13 KOs) meets Southern California’s Javier Molina (22-2, 9 KOs) in a 10-round super lightweight bout at the MGM Grand Bubble in Las Vegas.

This should be good.

Pedraza, 31, is a former WBO lightweight world titlist who lost in his first defense to Vasyl Lomachenko. Nothing bad about that. He defeated Mexico’s Raymundo Beltran for the belt and has shown a penchant for showing up big when you least expect it.

Molina, 30, is a 2008 US Olympian and a member of the fighting Molina family. His brother Oscar was a member of Mexico’s 2012 Olympic team. His other brother Carlos fought for the world title against Amir Khan. Though Javier Molina has never shown great power, he can truly fight.  His last win came against Amir Imam this past February.

Pending Lightweight Clash

Speaking of the lightweight division, is anyone else as excited as me about the looming showdown between the remarkable Vasyl Lomachenko and impressive Teofimo Lopez coming in less than a month?

Lomachenko, 32, the Ukrainian stylist known as “Hi Tech,” has that incredible footwork and ability to control distance. He’s a master of frustrating opponents and imposing his style of darting in and out of danger. But as good as he is, he can’t sell tickets. Only hardcore fans appreciate his peerless boxing skills.

Lopez, 23, hails from Brooklyn and has that ex-factor you can’t teach. He’s pizzazz and panache with a punch. That combination of flair and power excites fans and seemingly makes him a natural gate attraction. But in spite of his electric abilities, he’s facing a master boxer. Is he ready?

Top Rank is known for having a team of matchmakers headed by boxing wizard Bruce Trampler. It makes me wonder why they are pitting these two against each other?

The probable answer: neither sells out an arena alone. May the best man win.

A friend of mine from East L.A., who formerly boxed and comes from a boxing family, shared his knowledge and opinion on the matchup. He has an interesting take.

“His footwork is incredible,” said George Rodriguez about Lomachenko. “Don’t get me wrong, Teofimo is an incredible talent, but Lomachenko has that footwork.”

Any way you look at it, the winner of this clash clearly bumps up his own image.

Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs) versus Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) at the MGM Grand Bubble in Las Vegas on October 17. Mark down that date. It will be televised on ESPN.

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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.

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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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