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MAYWEATHER, LIKE SUPERMAN, NEEDS A LITTLE KRYPTONITE TO MAINTAIN INTEREST

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NEW YORK — Maybe it really happened, maybe it didn’t. But, the oft-recited and perhaps apocryphal story goes, Muhammad Ali was seated on a jet airliner when, just before takeoff, a female flight attendant reminded him to fasten his seat belt.

“Superman don’t need no seat belt,” Ali replied.

“Superman don’t need no airplane either,” the quick-thinking flight attendant retorted.

Like Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson and a precious few other gods of boxing, Floyd Mayweather Jr., who was here at the Marriott Marquis on Monday to kick off a five-city, four-day press tour to hype his Sept. 13 rematch with Argentina’s Marcos Maidana, is so exceptionally gifted that it sometimes might appear that he arrived from another planet for the express purpose of dazzling mere earthlings. Ali and the original Sugar Ray knew — or at least found out when their aura of invincibility was finally threatened — what the creators of Superman did when they began to run out of story ideas for a character that could fly at incredible speeds, had unimaginable strength and was impervious to any sort of physical pain.

Whether it’s in comic books or inside a roped-off swath of canvas, there has to be conflict and a reasonable amount of danger faced by the protagonist to maintain interest from a public constantly expecting fresh thrills. Thus did writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, who in tandem conceived Superman in the 1930s, decide that he needed to occasionally deal with strength-sapping kryptonite and an expanding cast of super-villains that included, among others, General Zod, Kryptonite Man, Metallo, Mister Mxyzptik, Ultra-Humanite and Ultraman. There was even an issue of DC Comics in which Superman tangled with, yep, Muhammad Ali.

It remains to be seen whether the 30-year-old Maidana (35-4, 31 KOs), can match or even exceed his performance against Mayweather (46-0, 26 KOs) of May 3, when the “Money” man was obliged to settle for a more-difficult-than-expected 12-round majority decision at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, where he again will take on the Argentine brawler. It marks the 10th straight bout for the Grand Rapids, Mich., native to fight in his adopted hometown and at his preferred venue.

To hear Mayweather, who will defend his WBC, WBA and THE RING welterweight championships, what Maidana did that night as a 10-to-1 underdog was an illusion, a juxtaposition of dirty tactics allowed by the referee (Tony Weeks) and the inflated expectations of those who see anything other than absolute domination on Mayweather’s part as some sort of failure. And Mayweather is correct, in one sense. The higher you continually set the bar, the more difficult it is for even the most exceptional of flesh-and-blood human beings to clear it with the ease of Superman leaping over a tall building in a single bound.

So, has Floyd Mayweather Jr., at 37, become too good for his own good? Has he reached the point where mere victories on his part no longer are considered satisfactory by fight fans paying top dollar for seats in the arena or pay-per-view subscriptions?

“The perception out there is that Floyd’s been the best,” said Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions. “He didn’t just become the best; he’s been the best. Any kind of success anyone has against him, people tend to gravitate toward that.”

Mayweather, looking relaxed and very fit in a black T-shirt set off by shiny, expensive jewelry, agreed that he is frequently held to a higher standard than other fighters, thus the somewhat perplexing scorecard 114-114 scorecard submitted by judge Michael Pernick, whose colleagues, Burt Clements and Dave Moretti, had him defeating Maidana by comfortable margins of 117-111 and 116-112, respectively. It wasn’t the first time, he believes, that he’s been given less than his due. In the bout prior to his matchup with Maidana, when he stepped up in weight to challenge WBC and WBC super welterweight champ Canelo Alvarez, Craig Metcalfe and Moretti had him cruising by respective scores of 117-111 and 116-112 while the third judge, C.J. Ross, like Pernick, accorded him only a 114-114 standoff.

“I think we need to get some young judges,” said Mayweather, still amazed that he has had to come away with back-to-back majority decisions in fights he is convinced he clearly won and with no hint of controversy. “I think it’s just about being fair. As a fighter, Maidana know – he know – he didn’t win that fight. Even with (Jose Luis) Castillo in that first fight, if I felt like I lost, I would have said, `Yeah, I lost.’ Because I’m fair. But I know I beat him. I know it for a fact.”

It is notable that the rematch with Maidana marks only the second time Mayweather, who generally abhors the notion of do-overs, has grudgingly consented to swap punches with a previous victim. There are those – quite a few, actually – who are of the belief that the then-27-year-old Mayweather was the beneficiary of a gift decision as a challenger against WBC lightweight titlist Castillo on April 20, 2002. Castillo, outboxed in the early rounds, was to a degree able to bully Mayweather down the stretch. Mayweather, however, won a unanimous decision with scores of 116-111 and 115-111 (twice), which ran counter to the unofficial tabulations of HBO’s Harold Lederman and Larry Merchant, both of whom had Castillo retaining his championship.

Maidana, looking very much like a mild-mannered and bespectacled Clark Kent during his session with the media, said he and his team studied the tape of Mayweather-Castillo I at length and incorporated some of what they saw into their game plan against Floyd.

“We did look at and analyze that fight,” Maidana said. “It was a very close fight. We tried to implement a lot of the same things that Castillo did. But Mayweather is a great fighter. He has great defense and he’s not very easy to hit.”

And his repeat shot at the consensus No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter?

“I think our plan of attack (the last time) was great,” he said. “I just got to add to it.” Added Robert Garcia, Maidana’s trainer: “(Marcos) thought—I thought – that Mayweather was going to be something different, something special. He isn’t, not really.”

Mayweather, who maintains that he never watches tape of upcoming opponents because he can adapt to anything he might encounter on the fly, gives the impression that any tinkering by Maidana is certain to end in disappointment. The guy he’s fighting always has to adjust to him, not the other way around. Hasn’t Maidana ever read a Superman comic book? The flying man from Krypton always prevails, as does the man from Grand Rapids with the fancy footwork and rapid-fire hands.

“Maidana’s a tough competitor, but I’m really not worried about nothing,” Mayweather said. “I don’t worry about no fighter. They’re all the same to me.”

So, is there anything that Maidana did or does well, that might prove nettlesome this time around?

“Fight dirty,” said Mayweather, who figured that Maidana won three rounds, tops, the first time around. “Is he a better fighter than Canelo? No. Is he a better fighter than (Miguel) Cotto? No. Is he a dirtier fighter? Yes. That’s safe to say. That’s the only thing that sets him apart. He wants to hold with one hand, he wants to elbow. I didn’t get a deep gash from a punch, I got a deep gash from a head-butt. Low blows all night. Twenty of them, at least. We can go on and on.”

But Mayweather, who will be fighting for the fourth time as part of a six-bout pay-per-view deal with CBS/Showtime that will yield him upwards of $200 million, is enough of a businessman to understand that having a close call against Maidana, or what passes for a close call, is apt to produce higher gross revenues for the rematch. That’s enough reason for him to consent to a Part II, which has unimaginatively been dubbed “Mayhem,” as did Stephen Espinoza, Showtime’s executive vice president and general manager of sports and event programming.

It has not gone unnoticed that Showtime did not release the number of PPV buys for Mayweather-Maidana I, which some contend is proof that Mayweather, whose fights have produced a record $700 million-plus in PPV sales, is losing some clout as his sport’s foremost can’t-miss attraction. That could owe to generally soft sales for all PPV bouts in a saturated market, and it might owe, at least in part, to the growing feeling that Mayweather is blowing through a procession of no-chance opponents who might as well be shooting rubber bullets at the Man of Steel. Some have pegged the PPV buy rate for Mayweather-Maidana I at 850,000, which falls below the threshold of a million buys believed in some quarters to be the break-even point for any PPV fight involving Mayweather in his current deal, which guarantees him a minimum of $32 million per outing.

“Those numbers (for Mayweather-Maidana I) have not been released,” Espinoza acknowledged. “There’s a very small circle of people that know what the numbers are. But the May 3 fight was the most exciting and entertaining bout of Mayweather’s career, certainly the toughest of his career. Yet, in the aftermath, all people wanted to talk about was pay-per-view buys. I think it’s negative for the event, negative for the sport, negative for our company, when people draw conclusions that aren’t merited and thus spread misinformation.

“There’s only one fighter in history that’s done over two million PPVs twice, and that’s documented. (Mayweather did 2.5 million buys for his fight with Oscar De La Hoya, and 2.2 million for his fight with Alvarez.) There’s no question Floyd is the No. 1 pay-per-view star, regardless of whether we released numbers for Mayweather-Maidana 1 or not. There’s no question he does bigger gates, he does more buys and he generates more attention than any other boxer in the sport.”

And Espinoza’s prediction for Part II?

“I’m expecting it to pick up right where it left off,” he said. “What we have typically seen in the past is Mayweather cruising in the later rounds, when he establishes dominance and kicks into rhythm. That wasn’t the case in the last fight. Some people felt that Mayweather won comfortably. Others thought it was a slimmer margin. Probably a minority felt that Maidana won. From a business standpoint, it is a major advantage to have a thrilling, very competitive fight to sell as a rematch. We’ve made no secret of the fact it is a challenge to market some of these events because, given Floyd’s history, there is a presumption he’s going to dominate anyone who’s in the ring with him.”

The one fighter who continues to offer the most intriguing option is, of course, Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao. But Pacquiao is aligned with Top Rank founder Bob Arum, whom Mayweather despises, and with HBO, twin obstacles that have proved insurmountable in the past and might continue to be too much to overcome. Should Mayweather get past Maidana again, and easily, that leaves a comparatively skimpy menu of entrée items that might include Amir Khan, Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman, Kell Brook and Lucas Matthysse. All would be significant underdogs against a Mayweather that is even a reasonably close approximation of his familiar Superman persona.

Mayweather, who more and more is dropping hints that he is tiring of the demands placed upon him, is certain of only two things until he hangs up his gloves for keeps. One is that he remains the closest thing to a sure thing we have seen in boxing in some time. If he fulfills these last three bouts of his contract and remains undefeated, he’d be 49-0, and likely to be satisfied with that. He professes to have little interest in taking an additional fight, to go to 50-0 and surpass the record of the late, great heavyweight champion, Rocky Marciano.

“I never seen Marciano fight,” Mayweather said. “I seen some highlights. But this is the Mayweather era. All I can do is focus on the guy in front of me. Marciano had his time. Right now it’s my time. If my career was over today, I’d be happy with what I’ve accomplished. My job is not to go out there and break records. If it happens, it happens. If it don’t, it don’t.”

And that other certainty?

“You done seen this a thousand times,” he said. “`This guy is going to beat Floyd, he’s a young, hungry lion. He’s got power.’ But he’s not going to win, no matter who he is or who his trainer is. Each fight is the same result, and the same excuses. There’s so many excuses that they use. When I fought (Juan Manuel) Marquez, he was over the hill, washed up. Then he comes back to knock out Pacquiao and he’s pound-for-pound one of the best. They said I fought Cotto at a bad time for him. Now he’s the middleweight champ.

“I say this: Line ’em up like bowling pins so I can continue to knock ’em down.”

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Madueno Upsets Pauldo and Lopez Overcomes Escudero at Whitesands

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Madueno Upsets Pauldo and Lopez Overcomes Escudero at Whitesands

When it comes to professional boxing down in the Tampa Bay area, Canadian transplant Garry Jonas is a one-man band.

The architect of the Wednesday Night Fights series, Jonas doesn’t have to pay a site fee for the shows that he promotes because he owns the venue. The shows that he stages at his Whitesands Events Center in Plant City air on his live streaming platform ProBoxTV. His series currently has only one sponsor, a bookmaking operation called SportsBetting.Ag., and he owns that too. (A self-styled serial entrepreneur, Jonas continued his assault on the established order last week with his purchase of the respected Boxing Scene website, but that’s a story best saved for another day.)

Jonas promotes high-grade club fights. When he started this venture, he promised entertaining, well-matched fights and tonight he delivered. The “A” side fighters in the co-main events were matched tough.

In the featured bout, lightweight Justin Pauldo (17-2, 1 NC) was upset by Mexico’s Miguel Madueno. Managed by Jolene Mazzone, the former VP and matchmaker for Main Events and trained by Ronnie Shields, Pauldo, a resident or nearby Orlando, was unbeaten in his last 12 heading in.

In his previous start, Madueno turned in a lackluster performance against surging Canadian campaigner Steve Claggett. His showing (he was 30-1 with 28 KOs heading in) was inconsistent with his record. Tonight, he was more pugnacious, out-working the man in front of him, a 4/1 favorite. The decision was split; 97-92 and 95-94 for Madueno, 95-94 for Pauldo. There were no knockdowns, but the Mexican had a point deducted in round 5 for leading with his head.

Co-Feature

The co-main was an entertaining 10-round light heavyweight affair in which Edgar Berlanga stablemate Najee Lopez improved to 10-0 (8) with a hard-earned majority decision over Marcos Escudero (14-3). One of the judges had it a draw (95-95) but he was overruled by his cohorts who had it 97-93 and 99-91.

Lopez, who is of Puerto Rican descent but was born and raised in the Atlanta area, hadn’t previously gone beyond six rounds. He was the house fighter. Named the 2023 Prospect of the Year by the ProBox team of TV commentators, Lopez was making his eighth appearance at Whitesands. Escudero, a South Florida-based Argentine had won four straight heading in at club shows in Delray Beach, FL after back-to-back setbacks in competitive fights with Joseph George.

Escudero, who did most of the leading, had many good moments. The 99-91 tally against the Argentine was a head-scratcher. (Commentator Paulie Malignaggi said the offending  judge, Alvaro Rodriguez, should have his fee withheld and be forced to serve a one-year suspension.)

Also

In an 8-round lightweight contest, former two-time Olympian Tsendbaatar Erdenebat, a 27-year-old Mongolian southpaw who began his pro career in China and now resides in southern California, improved to 9-0 (4) with a unanimous decision over Guinea-born Mohamed Soumaoro (11-3) who was a willing mixer but was out-classed. The scores were 79-73 and 80-72 twice.

As one would expect from a two-time Olympian, Erdenebat is a good technician who puts his punches together well, but doesn’t have a lot of power. If his name rings a bell, he’s the fellow who purportedly sent Ryan Garcia to the hospital from the effects of a body punch during a sparring session.

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Two Featherweight Title Fights Top a Strong Bill at Turning Stone on Saturday

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When Top Rank announced in December that they would be returning to Turning Stone Resort & Casino for an ESPN+ show on March 2nd featuring two featherweight world title fights they promised a deep action-packed show. Usually such words fall by the wayside as the event ultimately comes together but in this instance the docket is loaded from top to bottom with name attractions, undefeated prospects, local grudge matches and two very well-matched co-headliners.

In the first of the co-headliners, Luis Alberto Lopez (29-2, 16 KOs) makes the third defense of his IBF featherweight belt against Japan’s Reiya Abe (25-3-1, 10 KOs). Lopez is a popular brawler whose aggressive style and lack of attention to defense usually makes for entertaining fights. Abe, a southpaw, is a slick boxer who is coming off a career best win against Kiko Martinez last April. Abe has a style similar to that of Ruben Villa who outboxed Lopez to a ten round unanimous decision win in 2019.

The co-headline finale is being contested for the vacant WBA featherweight title between Otabek Kholmatov (12-0, 11 KOs) and Raymond Ford (14-0-1, 7 KOs). Both fighters were highly touted heading into the pro ranks. Ford has the speed advantage but Kholmatov has a big edge in power. Social media seems split right down the middle on this fight and oddsmakers agree installing Kholmatov as a very slight favorite as of this writing.

Also on this show is the return of the ever popular Nico Ali Walsh (9-1, 5 KOs) who bounced back from his first career defeat on Dec. 16 at a show in Guinea where he defeated a Frenchman with a 9-2-1 record (mysteriously, that fight isn’t yet listed on boxrec). He will face off against Luke Iannuccilli (7-0, 3 KOs). Walsh, Muhammad Ali’s grandson, will make his debut at Turning Stone Resort Casino in the same exact arena where his aunt and Boxing Hall of Famer Laila Ali made her professional boxing debut in October of 1999 with her legendary father sitting ringside. This will mark the fourth time a member of Muhammad Ali’s family has fought at Turning Stone.

The card also includes several contests featuring up-and-coming undefeated fighters. One match in particular to keep an eye on is an eight-round welterweight bout between a pair of unbeaten fighters in Rohan Polanco (11-0, 7 KOs) and Tarik Zaina (13-0-1, 8 KOs). Zaina opened some eyes last November when he defeated Marcelino Lopez and Polanco is coming off three consecutive wins against opponents who had a cumulative record of 39-3.

Finally I would be remiss if I didn’t notate the local grudge match on the docket between Gerffred Ngayot (6-1, 5 KOs) of Buffalo and Bryce Mills (14-1, 5 KOs) of Syracuse. They are scheduled to face off in a six-round bout in the 140-pound division. They are on this show because each have solid local fan bases and matching them was a way to help fill the stands. Mills is a sharp accurate counterpuncher with all-around solid skills. Ngayot is an aggressive fighter who is not afraid to be first and fire away to the body. Stylistically this could turn into quite a barnburner and each have plenty of motivation to make a statement on what is a much bigger stage than they are accustomed to.

We are often quick to criticize those in the sport when cards come together that are seemingly either loaded with mismatches or bouts that just don’t pique much interest. This is an instance where those involved need to be applauded for putting together a card from top to bottom that will certainly give fans plenty of bang for their buck.

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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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