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Saturday May Give Us the Best Fight of the Year

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Cotto vs. Martinez doesn’t offer us the best two fighters in the sport, but it very well may offer us the best fight of the year.

To an outsider’s eye, a duel between a 39-year old champion with a recent knee surgery tucked underneath his middleweight belt and a 33-year old challenger who has lost three of last seven times he’s entered the ring has an underwhelming look on the surface of things.

But looks are deceiving. The temerity that both men fight carries the promise of an instant classic in the Garden, a venue that has adopted the Puerto Rican middleweight aspirant Cotto as its own because of the pitbull with gloves style he has carefully cultivated over the years. Gifted with more pride and skill than good sense, Sergio Martinez and Miguel Cotto are both wolves in gentleman’s wool.

The way things go in boxing with the suits looking to maximize a boxer’s future purse potential and with fighters themselves able to politick away from unfavorable matchups, we don’t often see the most competitive matchups get made. But the Cotto-Martinez dance will mark the third consecutive month in which we’ve seen the game’s top fighters in tough against a warrior with not only something to prove but the ability to prove it.

Almost certainly, Cotto could have made more money by dipping into the Mexican PPV well against Canelo Alvarez. But Cotto’s hard head sits in the middle of a Venn diagram of valor, courage and pride and he’s obsessed with becoming the first Puerto Rican to win belts in four weight classes, an accomplishment appreciated by only the sport’s most ardent fans and historians. What’s far more compelling than the arbitrary nature of titles, sanctioning organizations, and keeping track of who holds what belt, is that Cotto places glory ahead of money in a sport where careers can end in an instant.

And nothing embodies the spirit of prize-fighting better than taking incredible risks for the sake of perceived immortality. Cotto is taking on the biggest man and toughest out of his career, and is betting everything that he will succeed. He’s already come back from boxing death once or twice in his career, he can’t have many more ring lives in the tank.

Inversely, it might be argued that Martinez has had his fill of glory as the consensus champion of Sugar Ray Robinson’s weight class, it’s time to get paid. The Argentine hasn’t had the megafight paydays that Cotto has enjoyed and doesn’t have the broad name recognition that can drive up PPV buys in traditional boxing markets. Coupled with his elite skills as a boxer and puncher, his lack of star-power has made him one of the sport’s oft-avoided champions.

Sergio can publically bristle all he wants about playing second fiddle to Cotto’s Stradivarius, the Puerto Rican’s fan-friendly style packs MSG and drives up the buys and promises to give Martinez the best purse of his career. At 39 years old, Martinez has to be thinking about the financial consequences of this fight, win or lose.

Martinez might be the Vegas favorite heading into the night, but he carries enough of his own risk to make bettors pause. With his age and fairly recent knee operation, the Buenos Aires southpaw has to end the fight by its midpoint, like he did against Paul Williams in their second fight. We’ve seen Martinez in three fights where he’s weakened considerably against top guys in late rounds: the first Williams fight, the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr fight, and last year’s surprisingly close meeting with Martin Murray. For Cotto, the fight plan has to include surviving Martinez’s early energy and rolling the dice on the champion’s legs in the 8th, 9th, and 10th rounds.

Both fighters may have the best of their careers behind them, but that will hardly matter when the bell rings in what should be a wild Madison Square Garden on the Puerto Rican Parade weekend. Fresh off dismantling Delvin Rodriguez last fall, Cotto is selling the story of being a reborn boxer under trainer Freddie Roach. Martinez finds himself in a familiar position, forced to prove himself yet again as a top five pound-for-pound fighter. What matters most in boxing matchups is when skill and desire meet their match, and there’s nowhere to run for 36 minutes or less, and that’s the promise here.

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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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Muratalla Nips Farmer and Segawa Upsets Villa on a Top Rank Card in Las Vegas

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Fontana, California lightweight Raymond Muratalla, ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA and #4 by the IBF, continued his charge toward a world title with a hard-fought 10-round decision over Philadelphia southpaw Tevin Farmer on a Top Rank card at the Palms in Las Vegas tonight. The judges had it 97-92, 96-93, and 95-94. There were no knockdowns but referee Tom Taylor deducted a point from Farmer in round eight for excessive holding.

Farmer, 33, formerly held the IBF junior lightweight title. He lost the belt in his fifth defense to Jojo Diaz in 2020 and was out of the ring for the next 29 months. He won three straight after returning to the ring, elevating his record to 33-5-1 (8) preceding tonight’s tussle with Muratalla.

Farmer fought mostly off his back foot but was seemingly ahead after seven frames. But Muratalla, who improved to 21-0 (16), had more fuel in his tank and clearly got the best of the late rounds. He landed the best punch of the fight with a shade over a minute remaining in the final stanza, catching Farmer against the ropes and rocking him with a looping right hand.

Co-Feature

In a major upset, Sulaiman Segawa, a 33-year-old southpaw from Silver Spring, Maryland, by way of Uganda, out-worked Ruben Villa to win a 10-round unanimous decision and snatch away Villa’s regional featherweight title. The judges had it 98-92, 97-93, and 96-94.

Villa came in ranked #1 at 126 by WBC. He had lost only once in 23 starts, that coming in a WBA title fight vs. Emanuel Navarrete, a narrow defeat. Among his victims were reigning IBF featherweight champion Luis “Venado: Lopez. He was a consensus 14/1 favorite over Segawa who was 16-4-1 with only six knockouts coming in. But Villa fell behind early and although he had his moments, he didn’t punch hard enough to keep the Ugandan from staying the course.

Other Bouts of Note

In his first fight at 140 pounds, Brisbane, California’s Charlie Sheehy won an unpopular 8-round decision over SoCal’s Ricardo Quiroz. The judges had it 78-74 and 77-73 twice.

Sheehy (10-0, 5 KOs) was underwhelming. Quiroz (13-5) has been repeatedly matched tough and has never been stopped.

In a junior lightweight match, Jonathan “Geo” Lopez, a 21-year-old Pennsylvania native of Puerto Rican descent, trained by Eddy Reynoso, improved to 16-0 (12 KOs) first a first-round demolition of Venezuela’s Leonardo Padilla (23-6-1). Lopez, who defeated the likes of Xander Zayas and Abdullah Mason in the amateurs, knocked Padilla sideways and through the ropes with a body punch. Padilla slumped to his knees when he was extricated and was counted out at the 1:43 mark. “Geo” is a fighter who bears watching.

Albert “Chop Chop” Gonzales, a 22-year-old SoCal super featherweight, used an effective body punch to wear down and stop Texas campaigner Conrado Martinez. The end came at the 1:43 mark of the sixth and final round. Trained by Robert Garcia, Chop Chop improved to 9-0 (5 KOs). Martinez falls to 9-2.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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