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Hopkins' Strength Is That He Knows His Weakness

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This past weekend Bernard Hopkins 55-6-2 (32) unified the IBF and WBA light heavyweight titles with a 12-round split decision over Beibut Shumenov 14-2 (9).

If you didn't see the fight, it should've been a unanimous decision because Hopkins controlled the bout from start to finish and the outcome was never in question. I guess with the fight being held in Washington D.C. a scandal in regards to the scoring in favor of Shumenov isn't all that shocking.

Hopkins, 49, did what he always does, and that's put the clamps on a young, strong fighter who had the illusion of throwing 100 plus punches per round at him. For some reason Shumenov only averaged 50 punches per round, which was only about 18 more than what Hopkins averaged for the fight. The fight barely qualifies as a boxing match. But it was still a great exhibition because of Hopkins.

What is it about Hopkins that his opponents never fight their intended fight against him? And it's not like he's anything close to being un-hittable. When there are exchanges, he generally only gets the better of them maybe 60-percent of the time. I've noticed, though, that he makes it a point to always be the one who lands last. This aids him in a big way in the eyes of the judges. Most boxing observers know that Hopkins is most vulnerable to volume punching and work rate. Volume punching would accomplish two things against him if it could be sustained. It would speed up the pace of the fight, which is the last thing he wants. And it would also give him less time to plot his next move and set up his opponent for his sneaky counters. But for some reason nobody ever really lets their hands go once they are in front of Hopkins and feel his presence. It's as if they become hypnotized by him.

Fighters don't let their hands go for a reason, believe me it doesn't just happen by accident. One of the reasons fighters don't go in with both guns blazing is because they are concerned about getting blasted back with something big in return. However, Hopkins isn't really a life-taker when it comes to punching power, so that can't be the reason why his opponents are so judicious and measured with their punch output when facing him.

The other reason fighters tend to clam up and not get off is because they are fearful that they will be embarrassed due to missing badly and then being countered. This probably applies mostly to the fighters who have recently tried to overwhelm Hopkins with their power and activity.

The genius of Hopkins is that he is fully aware of his limitations and what he must do in order to slow the pace of the fight down to a walk instead of a sprint or hard run. This shows that he not only understands his strengths better than anyone else, he also understands and accepts his weaknesses. And, by doing that, those things are barely weaknesses at all. Every time Hopkins signs for a fight, regardless of who the opponent is, he knows that he has no intention of trying to win by knockout. He understands that pressing for a stoppage only opens himself up to getting hit more solidly and can give his opponent confidence and momentum.

Bernard doesn't care if you run with him during the fight as long as he can trip you up once or twice during the round in order to win it. Understand that Hopkins wants a lot of wasted time during the round and only needs to land a few clean signature shots to win them. He also has a great chin to protect himself in case of an emergency and has retained just enough punch to prevent any opponent from charging at him as if he were handcuffed.

Strategically, Hopkins is one of the few fighters that actually looks his opponents over and sizes up what they are vulnerable to based on their stance and movement. And it sure was easy for him to catch Shumenov with so many lead and counter-right hands with him moving towards Hopkins in a straight line with his left hand so low. Bernard seldom looks directly at his opponent and seems to be looking off to the side or down at the canvas. What he's really doing is watching his opponents' body movement and footwork. Knowing that the opponent cannot move without picking up their front foot first, he gets the jump on them. In addition to that, they can only move forward or to the left or right. Once he reads their foot movement he knows the direction to go to place himself out of range and set up his counter assault. In reality it's boxing 101, but Hopkins is an academic and has the aptitude to take something basic and use it to exploit everybody he fights. Since he's looking not to get hit before he's looking to hit, Hopkins tries not to initiate many exchanges and forces his opponents to commit first. He doesn't want to deal with a lot of activity and when he is under attack, he doesn't try to fight his way out. He'll get away by using his feet and upper-body movement to set up his sneak attack/counter, usually a right lead or left-hook while the opponent is open after throwing at him. Notice that after landing those sneaky right leads or left hooks, he'll immediately tie up. It's like he doesn't care about building up momentum, even when he has the advantage.

Actually, when you think about that, that might be part of his genius: he's smart enough to know that even when he's the one doing the landing, it's in his best interest, in the long run, to keep shutting things down. Even when he can get off a few more punches, he shuts it down because he wants to prevent a firefight from breaking out. And this works because Hopkins goes into every fight with the intention of going the distance and has no mind to beat up his opponent or knock them out.

In the 11th round Hopkins dropped Shumenov, and it wasn't a flash knockdown. Yet he didn't even attempt to press for the knockout or stoppage. And that's because he knew the only way for Shumenov to get back in the fight was if he got into a big exchange with him while he was desperate. Instead, Hopkins slowed the pace back down and dragged him through the mud for the remainder of the round. Going the full 12-rounds against Shumenov not only suited Hopkins fine this past weekend, it was his plan the moment the fight was announced.

There was a time when Hopkins really was the executioner in the ring. He was nasty and had no mercy and wanted to win by knockout. But that was a long time ago. As of 2014 and at age 49, Hopkins knows he can't really beat up or knock out any of the top-tier contenders he'll have to fight. He's like a pitcher with no fastball. So he forces batters to chase bad pitches, and then after they've fouled off seven or eight pitches and are looking to get walked, he fires a fast one and strikes them out.

Hopkins knows that in order to beat his opponent up, he has to put himself at risk. So he doesn't even attempt to go there. At this stage of his career he can't take that risk and won't put himself in harms way. In essence Hopkins wants to avoid a fight at all cost. So his first order of business when he fights is, I'm not going to let you work me over and beat on me. And in turn I'm not going to attempt to beat you up. Instead I'm gonna have you follow me into little minefields that will go off here and there and that will shade just enough aggression off of your game that we'll be fighting in the mud. Only I can navigate in the mud better than you because I've been doing it for 10 years and have it down pat now. And as long as I don't try to cover you completely in it, all I have to do is make sure you are a little muddier than me when the 12th round is over, I win.

The consensus is Hopkins will next fight WBC light heavyweight title holder Adonis Stevenson 23-1 (20). In Hopkins, Stevenson will be facing an opponent who won't even be trying to hurt him or knock him out, yet he will be in for the most difficult fight of his career.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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A Conversation with Legendary Phoenix Boxing Writer Norm Frauenheim

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It seems all along that Norm Frauenheim was destined to become a boxing writer.

Two critical elements were at play that led the 75-year-old scribe to that profession.

“I was always interested in boxing, even as a kid,” said Frauenheim who spent 31 years with the Arizona Republic beginning in 1977. “I’m an Army brat. I was born in January 1949 on a base, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, a city I didn’t really see until I hit the NBA road covering the [Phoenix] Suns for more than a decade starting in 1979-80.”

Frauenheim, a longtime correspondent for The Ring magazine who writes for various boxing sites such as boxingscene.com and 15rounds.com, added more background: “One of the many places I lived was Schofield Barracks on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu from 1962 to 1966,” he continued. “I delivered The Stars & Stripes to troops with the 25th Infantry Division, which was headed to Vietnam, along with my dad.

“Anyway, boxing and Schofield have long been linked, mostly because of a novel and film, ‘From Here to Eternity’ (the James Jones novel starring Frank Sinatra on the big screen). The troops were still boxing, outdoors, at the barracks along my newspaper route. I was 13 to 17 years old. I’d stop, watch and get interested. I’ve been interested ever since.”

Frauenheim added: “From there, my father and family shipped to Fort Sheridan, then a base north of Chicago where I spent one year and graduated from high school “Then my dad went back to Vietnam and I went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville (1967 through 1971) and graduated with a major in history. I was also a competitive swimmer, pre-Title IX.

“Competitive swimming is also at the roots of my sportswriting career. I was frustrated that Vanderbilt’s student newspaper didn’t cover us. I offered to do it. The newspaper agreed. I don’t swim as well as I used to. I look at a surfboard and look at the waves I used to take on and wondered what in the hell I was doing. It’s a lot safer to be at ringside.”

After a more than five-decade stint covering boxing, Frauenheim is glad that the manly sport is still around but with more outside competition.

“It’s surely not the [Muhammad] Ali era. It’s not the Golden 80s, either. It’s a fractured business in a world with more and more options for sports fans. MMA is just one example,” he said. “Boxing is not dying. It has been declared dead, ad nauseam. I read the inevitable obits and think of an old line: Boxing has climbed out of more coffins than Count Dracula.

“Still, the sport has been pushed to the fringe of public interest. But it’s been there before. Resiliency is one of its strongest qualities. It’ll be around, always reinventing itself.”

In some respects, boxing, like the other sports, has always been dependent on rivalries like the NBA’s Celtics versus Lakers, which drives the public’s interest and storylines.

“[Larry] Bird-Magic [Johnson] was basketball’s Ali-[Joe] Frazier,” Frauenheim says. “It transformed the league, setting the stage for Michael Jordan. It can happen again, in boxing or any other sport.”

Boxing is still the same but with tweaks here and there.

“When I started, championship bouts were 15 rounds instead of 12,” said Frauenheim who began his journalism career in 1970 at the Tallahassee Democrat and worked at the Jacksonville Journal before being lured in Phoenix. “There were morning weigh-ins instead of the day-before promotional show. There was also a lot more media. A big fight in Vegas meant all of the big media people were there. The last time that happened was Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015, a fight that failed to meet expectations and I think eroded much of the big media’s appetite for more,” continued Frauenheim whose byline has appeared in USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

Mexican legend Saul Alvarez is still a major draw, but there are others on the horizon who are ready to step in and take over like the undefeated super middleweight David Benavidez.

“The clock is ticking on Canelo’s career, and I think he knows it. At this point, it’s about risk-reward. The 27-year-old Benavidez is too big a risk. Canelo, I think, looks at Benavidez and thinks he’ll beat him. I don’t think he would,” Frauenheim noted. “Benavidez is too big, has a mean streak and possesses a rare extra gear. He gets stronger in the late rounds.

“Even if Canelo wins, there’s a pretty good chance that Benavidez hurts him. There’s still a chance Canelo-Benavidez happens. But I think it’ll take some Saudi [Arabian] money.”

Boxers stand alone in the ring, literally and figuratively, but have a small supporting crew.

This makes them unique compared to baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

“Boxers are different from any other athlete I’ve ever covered. It’s why, I guess, boxing has been called a writer’s sport. There are plenty of NFL and NBA players who have grown up on the so-called mean streets,” Frauenheim said. “But they have teammates. They don’t make that long, lonely walk from the dressing room to the ring.”

Stripped naked, boxers are an open book, according to Frauenheim.

“They can be hard to deal with while training and cutting weight. But after a fight, no athlete in my experience is more forthcoming,” he said. “Win or lose, they just walked through harm’s way in front of people. In my experience, that’s when they want to talk.”

Selecting a career highlight or highlights isn’t easy for Frauenheim, but he tried.

“There are so many. I was there for the great Sugar Ray Leonard victory over Thomas Hearns [1981], a welterweight classic,” he recalled. “A personal favorite was Michael Carbajal’s comeback from two knockdowns for a KO of Humberto Gonzalez in 1993, perhaps the best fight in the history of the lightest weight class. I was also there for the crazy, including Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield’s “Bite Fight” and the “Fan Man” landing in the ring like the 82nd Airborne Division midway through a Riddick Bowe-Holyfield fight behind Vegas’ Caesars Palace.”

Three boxers set the tone and backdrop for Frauenheim’s illustrious tenure as a writer.

“Roberto Duran is the greatest lightweight ever. His lifestyle sometimes got the best of him. That was evident in his infamous ‘No Mas’ welterweight loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in New Orleans,” he said of that November 1980 bout. “He told me that he took the rematch, on short notice, because of the money. “Women-women-women, eating-eating-eating, drinking-drinking-drinking,” he told me in an interview of what he had been doing before Leonard’s people approached him for an immediate rematch of his Montreal victory. But take a look at Duran’s victory in Montreal [June 1980]. Watch it again. On that night, there’s never been a better fighter than Duran.”

Frauenheim added another titan to that short list: “Leonard, who is the last real Sugar,” he said, and ended with the only eight-weight division king. “Manny Pacquiao, an amazing story about a starving kid off impoverished Filipino streets. He was a terrific fighter, blessed with speed, power and instinct. Add to that a shy personality unchanged by all the money and celebrity. He is an example of what can still happen in boxing. He’s the face of the game’s resiliency.”

That’s quite a trio, and they’re the best of the best that Frauenheim’s seen and covered from ringside.

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Aaron McKenna and Kieron Conway Victorious in Osaka

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Aaron McKenna scored a 10th-round stoppage of Jeovanny Estela today (Monday, July 15) in Osaka, Japan. The bout was one of four scheduled 10-rounders in the middleweight division in a revamped Prizefighter Tournament with a $1,000,000 prize at stake for the winner.

One of two fighting brothers from the little town of Smithborough in County Monaghan, Ireland, the undefeated (19-0, 10 KOs) McKenna (pictured) was well ahead on the scorecards when the referee stepped in and halted the match at the 2:02 mark of the final round. He entered the ring a 4/1 favorite over Estela (14-1), a 23-year-old Floridian of Puerto Rican descent who began his pro career at 147.

McKenna’s opponent in the next round (at a date and place to be determined) will be England’s Kieron Conway (21-3-1, 6 KOs) who scored a seventh-round stoppage over China’s obscure Ainiwaer Yilixati (19-2). All three of Conway’s losses were to opponents who were undefeated when he fought them with two of those setbacks occurring on Canelo Alvarez undercards.

Two Japanese fighters – Riku Kunimoto and Kazuto Takesako – were victorious in the other bouts and will meet in the semifinals.

Local fan favorite Kunimoto, recognized as the middleweight champion of Japan, advanced to 12-1 (6 KOs) with a fifth-round stoppage of countryman Eiki Kani (8-5-3). This was a rematch. The two fought earlier this year in Nagoya with Kunimoto registering a fifth-round TKO.

Takesako (17-2-1, 15 KOs) registered the lone upset on the card with a hard-earned decision over England’s Mark Dickinson. It was the first pro loss for Dickinson who had only six pro fights under his belt but was a highly decorated amateur. The scores were 98-92, 97-93, and 95-94.

The next fight for Kunimoto will be another rematch. Takesako saddled him with his lone defeat, knocking him out in the first round at Tokyo’s venerable Korakuen Hall in May of 2021.

The tournament, co-sponsored by Matchroom and televised on DAZN, offers an aggregate $100,000 per event for knockouts. McKenna, Conway, and Kunimoto scooped up $25,000 apiece.

Aaron McKenna, his brother Stephen, and their father/trainer Feargal McKenna were the subjects of a story that ran on these pages. Stephen McKenna (14-0, 13 KOs) returns to the ring next month against 14-2 Joe Laws on a BOXXER promotion that will air on Sky Sports in the UK.

Aaron McKenna entered the Prizefighter Tourney as the pre-fight favorite and Matchroom honcho Eddie Hearn has indicated that he will be in line for a world title shot if he wins his next two matches.

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Results and Recaps from Philly where ‘Boots’ Ennis Stomped Out David Avanesyan

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PHILADELPHIA, PA — On what Matchroom Boxing Promotions called the most important night in Philadelphia boxing in over 40 years, Jaron “Boots” Ennis (32-0, 29 KOs), the current IBF welterweight champion from the city of Brotherly Love, attracted a larger-than-expected crowd of 14,119 to the Wells Fargo Center where he stopped David Avanesyan who was pulled out after five rounds. In Avanesyan (30-5-1, 18 KOs), Ennis looked to impress on two fronts, both commercially and critically.

It didn’t take long for there to be some excitement after Ennis landed a clean jab that caused Avanesyan to stagger momentarily. Ennis turned southpaw and the action stopped after Ennis landed a low blow. Rounds two and three saw both fighters decide to fight on the inside. Ennis was able to land crisp upper cuts while only getting hit with a few shots in exchange. After four rounds, the evidence was clear that Avanesyan was getting hit with clean shots as his face started to get busted up. Avanesyan had a moment when he landed a right hand that got the attention of the crowd and Ennis.

In return, Ennis continued to press forward, this time behind a straight left and combinations. A huge overhand left floored Avanesyan who rose to his feet. Round five ended with Ennis landing some clean power shots that had Avanesyan looking deflated. The ringside physician called an end to the fight after the conclusion of round five.

After the fight, Ennis agreed that he would love the opportunity to fight Terence Crawford if Crawford were to win next month, this despite not having the type of performance that he would have loved to have had after having a year-long lay-off. Eddie Hearn mentioned that he would love to have Ennis return to Philadelphia sometime in October or November if the Crawford fight can’t be made in a possible unification fight.

Other Bouts

After three pedestrian rounds, what sounded like it would be a grudge match between Jahlil Hackett (9-0, 7 KOs) and Pete Dobson (16-2) finally turned into a fight in the fourth. With both fighters finally warming up, Hackett used his jab to continue to work his way inside to land power combinations. Dobson was forced to back up into the ropes and take shots after a large lump formed on his forehead above his left eye.

The action settled down after the sixth round with Hackett taking total control. He continued to work behind an educated jab that stunted any offensive attack that Dobson tried to muster. After all ten rounds, two of the judges saw the fight 97-93, while the third had it 96-94 all in favor of Jahlil Hackett.

Skye Nicolson (11-0, 1 KO), the 2020 Tokyo Olympian and current WBC featherweight champion, utilized her skills in every way to defeat Dayan Vargas (18-2, 12 KOs). All three judges scored the fight 100-90 after Nicolson completed the shutout in dominating fashion through her command of range with a sharp jab and lateral movement. Moving forward unification fights and a possible move up in weight may force Nicolson to face the type of opposition that could make for more entertaining fights in the future.

Light heavyweight action kicked off the main portion of the DAZN telecast. Jersey City native Khalil Coe (9-0-1, 7 KOs) made short work of Kwame Ritter (11-2). After an uneventful first round, Coe started to close the distance to start the second round and as a result he landed a hard straight right that hurt Ritter. A left hook dropped Ritter and he fell backwards into the ropes. When he got up, Coe was able to swarm him with hard shots and the referee called a halt to the action with just one second remaining in the second round.

Former world title challenger Christopher “Pitufu” Diaz (29-4, 19 KOs) made quick work of the game but clearly overmatched Derlyn Hernandez (12-2-1). A short-left hook hurt Hernandez and the seasoned Diaz took his time applying the follow-up pressure that forced the referee to wave off the action at the 2:36 mark of the second round. Diaz stated prior to this comeback fight that he’s looking for one more run towards a world title.

Christian Carto (23-1, 17 KO’s) looked impressive in three rounds of action against Carlos Buitrago (38-14, 22 KOs). Both fighters were happy to exchange from the opening bell. Carto took the punches he was hit with well and was able to return fire with combinations that caught and dropped Buitrago to start round three. A series of well-placed power combinations hurt Buitrago as the round came to an end, which prompted the referee to stop the bout at the end of the round.

A pair of Boots Promotions fighters kicked off the night with entertaining bouts:

It took all six rounds to decide the Ismail Muhammad (5-0, 1 KOs) Frank Brown (3-5-2) fight. Brown pressed the action early and caught the cold Muhammad in an exchange knocking him down for the first time in his career. Muhammad rose to his feet and proceeded to work the gameplan to get himself back into the fight. Muhammad scored his own knockdown in the fourth round and finished the fight strong to earn the unanimous decision victory by scores of 58-54 twice and 57-55.

Dennis Thompson (1-0) won his professional debut at bantamweight with a unanimous decision over the game Fernando Valdez (1-8).

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