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SUPER BOWL SPECIAL: NY Notes From Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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Boxing fans know all about the rivalry between Top Rank and Golden Boy. Also, HBO versus Showtime. But in New York, there’s another nascent competition: Madison Square Garden versus Barclays Center.

For decades, Madison Square Garden was known as “the Mecca of boxing.” That time is gone. But until recently, The Garden was the premier destination for big fights in The Big Apple. Last year, Barclays challenged that notion.

There were three fight cards at Madison Square Garden in 2013; all of them in the smaller venue known as The Theater, not the main arena. The headline attractions on those cards were:

January 19 – Gennady Golovkin vs. Gabriel Rosado, Orlando Salido vs. Mikey Garcia, Roman Martinez vs. Juan Carlos Burgos

April 20 – Tyson Fury vs. Steve Cunningham, Curtis Stevens vs. Derrick Findley

November 2 – Gennady Golovkin vs. Curtis Stevens, Magomed Abdusalamov vs. Mike Perez

By contrast, there were five fight cards at Barclays Center in 2013:

March 9 – Bernard Hopkins vs. Tavoris Cloud, Keith Thurman vs. Jan Zaveck

April 27 – Danny Garcia vs. Zab Judah, Peter Quillin vs. Fernando Guerrero

June 22 – Paulie Malignaggi vs. Adrien Broner, Seth Mitchell vs. Johnathon Banks

September 30 – Michael Perez vs. Miguel Zuniga, Sadam Ali vs. Jay Krupp

December 7 – Paulie Malignaggi vs. Zab Judah, Devon Alexander vs. Shawn Porter, Erislandy Lara vs. Austin Trout, Sakio Bika vs. Anthony Dirrell

Golovkin is the best fighter in the group. But Barclays has a credible claim to the more impressive line-up.

2014 began with fight cards at both sites within the span of five days.

First, on January 25, HBO telecast a doubleheader from Madison Square Garden featuring Mikey Garcia vs. Juan Carlos Burgos and Bryant Jennings vs. Artur Szpilka. The opening undercard bout was scheduled for 6:30 PM. The first HBO fight began at ten o’clock. That left three-and-a-half hours for six undercard fights, four of which ended in the first round and one in the second. There was a lot of down time.

Ten years ago, Jennings-Szpilka would have been a mid-level offering on Cedric Kushner’s “Heavyweight Explosion” series. Jennings is vying for a rung on the world-class heavyweight ladder. Szpilka is a club fighter. But the excitement generated by Artur’s fans gave the contest drama. Bryant tried throughout the bout to load up on a big right hand. Then, late in the going, he realized that the left hook was there for the landing.

Szpilka has a questionable chin. In round ten, a hook to the jaw deposited Artur on the lowest of the four MSG ring strands. He rose, woozy and unable to defend himself. Referee Mike Ortega, showing poor judgment, instructed the fighters to resume fighting. Then, perhaps remembering what happened to Magomed Abdusalamov in the same ring on November 2, Dr. Barry Jordan (medical director for the New York State Athletic Commission), climbed onto the ring apron and stopped the bout. Whether Jennings is America’s next world-class heavyweight or the next Seth Mitchell remains to be seen.

Many of Szpilka’s fans left immediately after the bout and the energy in the arena rapidly dissipated. The atmosphere for Garcia-Burgos was sepulchre in nature. Nor did the fight help. Garcia is a patient techically-sound fighter who gets the job done. Burgos is a capable boxer, who didn’t have the firepower to hurt Garcia and seemed happy to survive for twelve rounds, collect his money, and go home. The bout had the feel of a sparring session with Garcia winning by scores of 119-109, 118-110, 118-110.

Five nights later, on January 30, the scene moved southeast to Barclays Center, a fifteen-minute ride on the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Fox Sports 1 was the host network. The non-televised undercard featured 5-and-0 vs. 3-and-6, 13-and-0 vs. 7-and-7, and 8-and-0 vs. 4-and-8.

The worst match-up of the evening was 23-and-0 Gary Russell Jr vs. Miguel Tamayo of Mexico. Russell, it appears, is being maneuvered to a belt without being legitimately tested. Tomayo had lost three of his previous four fights with the only win in that span coming against a sub-.500 plodder. Russell-Tomayo might have been designed to make boxing fans eager to see more of Russell. It certainly made them want to see less of Tomayo. A predictable knockout followed.

Then Eddie Gomez (another prospect being carefully groomed) pounded out a workmanlike unanimous decision over Daquan Arnett. Future opponents might take note of the fact that Gomez tends to drop his right hand when he throws his hook up top.

That set the table for the main event: Victor Ortiz vs. Luis Collazo.

Ortiz entered the ring one day short of his twenty-seventh birthday with a 29-4-2 record and widespread doubt regarding his mental fortitude. He’d won only once in the preceding forty months (an April 16, 2011, decision over Andre Berto) and was coming off back-to-back knockout losses at the hands of Floyd Mayweather (sucker-punch) and Josesito Lopez (broken jaw).

Collazo, 32 years old, sported a 34-and-5 record and is a faded version of the fighter who lost a razor-thin decision to Ricky Hatton seven years ago and tested Andre Berto three years after that.

Ortiz fought aggressively in round one but lacked the hard edge he’d shown when his career was on-track. Late in round two, the fighters (both southpaws) threw right hooks simultaneously. Collazo’s landed. Victor stumbled backward. Luis followed with two glancing blows, and Ortiz went down. Whether Victor could have gotten up is a matter of conjecture. What’s clear is that he didn’t, nor did he seem to try. He was counted out at 2:59 of the stanza.

Ortiz’s vulnerability, both in and out of the ring, makes him a compelling figure. That said; this was the most troubling of his losses. Collazo is not a big puncher and had scored only four knockouts in the previous eight years.

More significantly, Ortiz wasn’t taking a beating (as he had in his loss against Marcos Maidana). His jaw wasn’t dangerously broken (as it was against Josesito Lopez). If he’d beaten the count, he would have had a full minute to recover. Fighters come back from knockdowns like that to win fights. Indeed, Victor did it against Andre Berto. But that Victor Ortiz exists now only in memory.

Whatever Ortiz once had as a fighter, he doesn’t have it anymore. The good part of his career is over. Let’s hope that the rest of the end game is short.

Meanwhile, Madison Square Garden has penciled in Gennady Golovkin vs. TBA for The Theater on April 26. And then, it hopes, the big one: Sergio Martinez vs. Miguel Cotto in the main arena on June 7.

As for now, let it be noted that The Theater sold out in sub-freezing temperature on January 25. And on January 30, more than 8,000 fans braved the frigid weather to journey to Barclays Center for a night at the fights. Boxing is not dead in New York.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Straight Writes and Jabs: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) has just been published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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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.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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