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Canelo Has No True Style Identity

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This past weekend’s junior middleweight bout between top contenders Saul “Canelo” Alvarez 44-1-1 (31) and Erislandy Lara 19-2-2 (12) has created quite a stir regarding the split decision that went in favor of Alvarez by the scores 115-113, 117-111 and 113-115.

However, there’s more to glean from the fight than who you actually thought won it. And briefly, judge Levi Martinez who scored the fight 117-111 Alvarez, is either blind or inept.

Takeaways from the fight:

For starters, there’s been a lot of chatter since the fight that goes something like this: “If you prefer the fighter who fights more as the boxer who hits and moves, you probably saw it for Lara.” On the other hand, “If you like the aggressor who lands the harder punches, you most likely think Alvarez deserved the decision.” Sure, that’s fair, but Lara was really underwhelming with his low punch output. If you’re the boxer you better be getting off. And Alvarez was very sub-par regarding his effective aggression. For the record, I had a family emergency Saturday night that prevented me at the last minute from seeing the fight live. As I always say, if you didn’t score the fight live and in the moment, your score doesn’t count. I found that when watching a fight that goes the distance and knowing the result, we usually favor the “boxer” whereas when watching it live more often than not the “bigger puncher” usually looks more effective than he really was.

Knowing that the fight went the distance going in, I scored it 6-5-1 / 115-114 Lara. No, I don’t think Lara ran, I think he moved left to right in order to befuddle and force Alvarez to have to reset, which is now the book on how to fight him. At times Lara was on his bicycle a little too much, but if you want to see ineffective aggression at its best, watch Alvarez pursue Lara, which I’ll touch on more.

The one common theme during the fight was, Lara was fighting the fight he planned to going in, Alvarez wasn’t. Canelo had so many gaps where he couldn’t touch Lara, who is no Hector Camacho when it comes to movement. You can count on one hand how many clean shots that Alvarez landed to Lara’s face. It’s amazing that he managed to cut him and if it weren’t for his terrific body work in spurts, you wouldn’t have even known he was there. And it’s not like Lara was moving and hitting him so much that it was a task for him to get inside and work him over, which he obviously intended and needed to do in order to execute his fight. Had I seen the fight live I think there’s a good chance I might have had it for Alvarez by a point because I’m sure his big shots to the body would’ve looked a little more impressive live than on replay. Either way it was close and it could’ve gone to Alvarez or Lara by a point or two.

My takeaway is, Lara didn’t get off enough as a boxer to really seal the deal and left too much to chance. Had he let his hands go a little more, and he could’ve, there would be less fuss about the decision in the aftermath. And that’s on him because Alvarez sure wasn’t making him pay for his inactivity. In regards to Alvarez, he has no style identity. He was not an effective aggressor and if he could cut the ring off even a little bit, he would’ve forced Lara to fight more than allowing him the room to pick his spots and box.

Think about all of the upper-tier boxers today. They all have an identity when it comes to their fighting style. Wladimir Klitschko is a boxer-puncher who pushes the fight behind his strong jab in order to set up his right hand and left hook. Andre Ward is a counter-puncher who manipulates his opponents into counters. And you know if they move away, he’ll go get them, if they try to bring it, he picks them apart on the way in. Gennady Golovkin is an attacker who applies bell-to-bell pressure looking to get his opponent against the ropes and work them over. Floyd Mayweather is a boxer/counter-puncher who will box and pot shot from outside and beat you inside if you try and push the fight. Guillermo Rigondeaux is a smooth boxer, who if you try to impose your will on him, he’ll also sharp shoot you in a vital spot with something that’ll discourage you from trying it again. Manny Pacquiao is an attacker, although he boxed smartly in his last fight against Timothy Bradley.

Canelo doesn’t have a defined style. He’s not a life-taker regarding his power, nor does he cut off the ring or apply constant effective pressure. He follows and comes in straight without letting his hands go. When it comes to making opponents who can really box, fight, forget about it. When it comes to doubling up his jab to set something up, if it happens, it’s by accident. On the plus side he is a great body puncher and has a sturdy chin. But move on him, keep him having to regroup, jab him, and he turns into a robot. And I haven’t seen that desperate urge to win or kick it up a gear.

In the main, Alvarez is a solid boxer with good fundamentals and basics. But he’s not going to out-box anybody that isn’t a walk-in, take three to get one off mauler. He’s not good enough at closing the distance and getting into range without being disrupted by a fighter who moves and throws two or three shots at him. He isn’t a big enough puncher to stop real world class guys with one or two shots like a Thomas Hearns, and he doesn’t overwhelm his opponents with volume punching and activity. He’s also not fast enough via hand or foot to really be a good counter-puncher.

The style best suited for Alvarez is to try and fight as a boxer-puncher. Move in behind multiple jabs, set up the right hands and body hooks. Learn to cut the movers off and not follow them and a little head movement wouldn’t hurt. If he can get a fight with lineal middleweight champ Miguel Cotto next, he better do everything in his power to do it. Cotto cannot box and fight him like Mayweather and Lara did. Oh, he might try but once he’s tagged real good he’ll try and fight Alvarez off and that will lead him into being out-gunned and most likely stopped.

However, if the Cotto fight doesn’t come to fruition, Alvarez better stay away from Demetrius Andrade or Gennady Golovkin, because he needs to clean up his style and figure out exactly what he’s trying to do in the ring first. The takeaway from the Alvarez-Lara fight is this: they were both average at best. Neither shined but it can be said that Lara fought more of his fight than Alvarez did, which doesn’t necessarily mean that he conclusively won. He was also lucky that Alvarez isn’t sure who he is as a fighter stylistically, at least not yet.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ Jake Paul and More

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It’s official. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a formal press conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, to announce the forthcoming fight between Mahmoud Charr, formerly known as Manuel Charr, and Kubrat Pulev. They will meet in Bulgaria’s capital city on March 30 at a 12,000-seat arena.

Charr vs Kubrat bears the imprimatur of a world heavyweight title fight (WBA version). Charr is considered the champion, notwithstanding the fact that others have held the title since he first laid claim to it more than six years ago.

The WBA, as we know, recognizes two champions in some weight classes, a “super” champion and a “regular” champion. The “super” designation was created in 2000. It was designed to segregate title-holders into levels of accomplishment. In theory, a “super” champion has made five successful defenses and is recognized as a world title-holder by at least one of the three other major sanctioning bodies. “Super” champions are allowed certain liberties with respect to mandatory title defenses.

The bifurcation was greeted with hoots of derision. The Panama-based WBA trivialized the sport.

Mahmoud Charr

Mahmoud Charr was born in Beirut but has resided in Germany since he was a little boy. He won the vacant title with a 12-round decision over unexceptional Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany.  It was a close fight. TSS ringside correspondent Phil Woolever had Ustinov winning 7 rounds to 5, but conceded that the verdict could not be called an injustice.

The title that Charr won was vacated by Ruslan Chagaev who won the belt from Fres Oquendo, lost it to Lucas Browne, and got it back by decree when Browne’s post-fight urine tests showed evidence of banned substances. But Chagaev never fought again. His fight with Browne was his last.

Charr’s first defense was to come against Fres Oquendo. Slated for March 23, 2019 in Cologne after being pushed back from September of the previous year, the match never came to fruition when Charr tested positive for two banned substances. Things get really muddled from here with Charr pushed to the sideline by legal battles complicated by Don King’s shenanigans. King arranged a fight in Florida between Charr and his fighter Trevor Bryan and succeeded in getting Bryan the WBA belt when Charr was unable to get a visa. The belt is vacant again after Bryan was knocked out by Daniel Dubois who, in turn, was knocked out by “super” champion Oleksandr Usyk.

There are more threads to this saga but let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that after defeating Ustinov, Charr was out of action for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s had only three fights since 2017 and to say that his opponents were men of low repute would be giving them the best of it. In his most recent assignment, in December of 2022, he scored a second-round stoppage over 46-year-old Swiss-Albanian slug Nuri Seferi. That brought his record to 34-4 (20). He has been stopped three times, most recently in 2015 when he was halted in five frames by future cruiserweight champion Maris Briedis.

Kubrat Pulev

Kubrat Pulev will have the home field advantage in Sofia. Charr will have youth on his side. He’s 39; Pulev is 42.

Pulev sports a 30-3 record. The losses came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko (L KO 5), Anthony Joshua (L KO 9), and Derek Chisora (L SD 12). He last fought in December at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, CA, where he won a lopsided decision over Polish journeyman Andrzej Wawrzyk.

In a previous engagement here at the Hangar, a concert hall that seats a shade over 3,000, he TKOed Bogdan Dinu. That bout is remembered mostly for what happened after it ended. In an incident that went viral on social media, Pulev surprised Jennifer Ravalo, a self-styled journalist, with a kiss on the lips. That animated women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and led to an 8-page spread in Playboy (of Ravalo, not Allred). The California State Athletic Commission fined and suspended Pulev and mandated that he undergo sexual harassment training. The suspension lasted 120 days.

The match between Charr and Pulev, says a blurb about it, is an “eagerly anticipated” clash between “two evergreen living legends.” We will let you provide the punchline, The winner is expected to fight Martin Bakole who was knocked out by Michael Hunter.

Jake Paul

Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of prizefighting, returns this Saturday on a card in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that will air on DAZN. Paul, an influencer who brought his big social media following with him when he took up fisticuffing, is coming off a first-round stoppage of Andre August, a no-name fighter from Texas. Saturday’s sacrificial lamb is a fellow from Dickinson, North Dakota (by way of Benicia, California) named Ryan Bourland.

Bourland, who is reportedly 35 years old but looks older, scored his signature win in 2018 when he avenged a previous defeat with a 10-round majority decision over Jose Hernandez. He has fought only one since then, TKOing a fighter with a losing record in a 6-rounder at a lodge on a remote Indian reservation in North Dakota. That improved his ledger to 17-2 (6 KOs).

Regarding Jake Paul, Thomas Hauser once wrote that he’s worked hard to become a better boxer and is “certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.” There was a time when this reporter, perhaps naively, thought that Jake had the potential to become a legitimate top-15 cruiserweight, but his recent choice of opponents suggests that he is comfortable just spinning his wheels.

His bout with Bourland will play second fiddle to Amanda Serrano’s featherweight title defense against Germany’s Nina Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs). Although Amanda has a lot of mileage on her odometer, she is expected to have little difficulty with Meinke. In another bout of note, Puerto Rican campaigners Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KOs) and Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder with Gonzalez’s WBO light flyweight title at stake.

—-

Let’s conclude this write-up on an upbeat note. Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a frequent TSS contributor, informs us that his fifth and presumably final anthology is nearing completion with a likely release date of April or May. “Championship Rounds, Round 5” includes a foreword by Gerry Cooney and has drawn glowing reviews from the likes of Dave Kindred and Dr. Gordon Marino who both had an early peek at the manuscript. Kindred, a renowned sportswriter and author, was the subject of a 2021 piece on “60 Minutes.” Marino, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has written extensively about boxing for the Wall Street Journal.

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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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