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The Marksman Q n A Special: Kenny Bayless

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Even though he is one of the more respected referees in the game of boxing, Kenny Bayless is the first to admit that he has made some mistakes in the ring.

Bayless attends at least six referee seminars a year and loves to educate boxing fans about the sweet science.

But do not expect Bayless to apologize for his performance on Saturday night during the rematch between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana.

Bayless gives himself an “A plus” for that effort, he informed me during a recent chat. It was, I think we can agree, one of the more difficult fights to officiate for any referee in recent memory.

In our discussion, Bayless gives us a breakdown of why he did what he did on the night Mayweather was victorious. Some fans think Bayless played a major role in Mayweather winning a unanimous decision.

Bayless says he was just doing his job, which was controlling the fight.

Bayless also had some choice words for some of the boxing media. Bayless says many in the media “do not engulf themselves in the sport.”

Bayless continues by explaining why we have a problem in boxing when a commentator with an untrained eye has so much influence on the public, and so much more.

RM: Let’s jump into the big fight between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana this past Saturday. Tell me about your preparation… Did you prepare any differently for this fight?

KB: Well, as far as physical preparation, I trained for it the same way. I have a treadmill at my house. I get on it on a regular basis to keep my cardio up, I also workout with elastic bands. I just do enough to stay in shape on a regular basis. Now, I probably prepared more mentally as opposed to physically. The main thing for me or any other referee is not losing control of (any) fight. After watching the first fight and seeing how physical it was, I needed to make sure the fight didn’t get out of hand. I needed to make sure I didn’t lose control.

RM: OK. So, what were things that you did to make sure the fight did not get out of control?

KB: One of the things I picked up on from the first fight was whenever Mayweather went to the ropes, which made it easier for Maidana to score, a lot of the punches thrown by Maidana were roundhouse punches and several of the punches were rabbit punches. They were hitting Mayweather on the back of the head. Another thing was that Maidana has an aggressive style and he tends to lead with his head. And if you noticed in the first fight, there was an accidental head-butt. Mayweather was on the receiving end of that head-butt. And also some of the punches went a little low. All these things were happening in the first fight. It was my job to correct that. I wanted to make sure it didn’t happen in the second fight because tempers can flare. I always say, in the heat of the moment, a fighter can do anything. There might be fouls that are intentional or unintentional. My job is to keep the fight even, safe, and fair on both sides.

RM: When you referee a rematch do you think of it as a rematch or try to separate the two fights?

KB: Well, I do look at the first fight and critique it, then decide what I have to do to make (the rematch) a better fight. And what a lot of fans don’t understand is that sometimes referees have to take a difficult fight, or an uneventful fight and turn around and make it an enjoyable fight for the fans to watch.

RM: But why is it your job to make the fight enjoyable?

KB: I’ll give you an example. I happened to referee a fight couple of years ago, which was a rematch, just like Saturday night. It was between Sugar Shane Mosley and Fernando Vargas. In the first fight there was an accidental head-butt. Mosley’s camp said it was accidental. Vargas’ camp said it was intentional. And I don’t know if you remember, but Fernando Vargas… the side of his head started to swell up and ultimately the fight had to be stopped. Well, I did the rematch for that fight. And I had to study the first fight well. The main thing for me was to hopefully not allow that (another head-butt) to happen. Both sides had their issues about the heads and other issues that I had to address. Again, the main thing for me is to make sure the fight is clean on both sides.

RM: I see. So, what types of things were said in the dressing room when you were talking to Mayweather and Maidana before the fight?

KB: Well there wasn’t a lot said. First I went to Maidana’s dressing room. The first thing I said was that I want both fighters and the camps to be professionals. I told them that my job is to keep a level playing field. And then I went into the rules. And then I told them to hold all of their questions until after I went over the rules because a lot of times I answer the questions while I am stating the rules. When I was done, there weren’t many questions asked. I believe Mr. Garcia Sr. asked a question. But it was pretty much standard. Then I went to Mayweather’s room. I started out the same way about being professional. Floyd Sr. was not in the dressing room at the time because he had a fighter at ringside. Roger Mayweather was there. I went over all the rules. Floyd didn’t have any questions. I said good luck to Floyd Mayweather just like I said good luck to Marcos Maidana. And the next time I saw them was in the ring.

RM: Now take me through the fight. Was the fight just as physical as you expected?

KB: Yes, Basically I wanted to be in control initially. I wanted to keep control so it didn’t get out of hand. And believe it or not, fouls will occur when fighters are in a clinch. And before the fight I told both fighters, I will give you an opportunity to fight out of a clinch. But if you don’t fight out of the clinch I am I going to stop the action. That’s when the fouls start, the rabbit punches and the possible low blows. So when they got into a clinch and I didn’t see hardly any action, I stopped it immediately. I separated them and let the fight continue.

RM: I noticed Maidana complaining about having a free hand during the clinch. Even the Showtime broadcast team said something about it. What did you think?

KB: Well, he might have had a free hand but you have to fight out of the clinch. I have to determine if it is a hard clinch or a soft clinch. Usually if it is a soft clinch or soft hold then I will let them fight out. But if it is a hard clinch or a hard hold then I have to step in and separate the fighters.

RM: Floyd was holding pretty hard and that’s why you broke them up, right?

KB: Yes. But it is neutral in a sense. When both fighters have a glove under the arm and I see they are trying to work out of it, then I will step back. As a matter of fact, there were a couple of times they did work out. Couple of times I was so close one of the fighters, I think it was Maidana, almost backed into me. But the key thing is to determine the difference between the hard hold versus the soft hold. I had to make my decision on the spot. Right then and right now. And knowing what happened in the first fight, as far as rabbit punches, accidental head-butts, and low blows. My intent was to not get a repeat of that. So I got in as quick as I could to prevent any fouls from happening.

RM: So, how do you respond to the criticism afterwards? I’m sure you heard some of the comments made all over the boxing world.

KB: Well, I’ve had some calls from friends that told me some of the comments the sports announcers said about me getting involved, and not allowing Maidana to fight out. Apparently in the first fight he was able to score mostly on the ropes. The announcers said I wasn’t allowing him to score or fight because I was getting in there too fast. Their comments aren’t accurate. I had to keep the fight under control. Between the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Bob Bennett and the commissioners and my colleagues, the officials and judges, they said I did a great job in refereeing a tough fight. So the comments I hear don’t bother me at all. I have been refereeing for over 23 years. I wouldn’t be in the position I am in now if it wasn’t for the fact that I do a clean job. I am unbiased. If I don’t perform well, we have the executive director and commission sitting at ringside; they will without question let me know that I wasn’t on my A game. So, I have to bring my A game for every assignment. Whether it’s a four round fight or six round fight or a championship fight because we get critiqued after every fight card.

RM: What would you grade yourself for Saturday?

KB: I would give myself an A+.

RM: Why?

KB: It is because of my ability to move around the ring. I had to stay consistent to see everything that happened. That’s another thing that fight fans and people don’t understand. You have to be in great shape to move around in that ring. You have to be in position at all times to see what happens. We have to be in position to make the right call. You know, I’ll tell you Ray, our work is not easy. It is very difficult. Saturday night was no walk through the park.

RM: Was it because of all the movement?

KB: The movement. Exactly.

RM: What exactly happened during the bite incident?

KB: Well, Maidana’s head was down. Every once in a while, you will get that type of hold. It usually happens when a fighter comes in and misses a punch. As I separated the two fighters, Floyd stepped back and indicated that he got bit.

RM: Right.

KB: And he just said, “He bit me. He bit me.” I called timeout, told Maidana to go to a neutral corner. I looked at Floyd’s glove and I didn’t see anything. But Floyd kept indicating that he got bit. This was a situation where I had to make some decisions. And, Floyd Sr. gets up on the ring apron. And he is upset and mad. He is talking about what he wants to do… Now, I have to defuse the situation. It can get out of hand.

RM: Right.

KB: I got Floyd Sr. to go back down the stairs and I asked the doctor to come up. I specifically asked for the doctor to come up to give some time for things to settle down.

RM: OK.

KB: I knew the doctor was going to see what I did. Whatever happened was on the inside of the glove. It wasn’t like his glove was bleeding or anything. There was nothing. The doctor came up, he saw what I saw, and he didn’t see anything. So, I sent the doctor back down. Again, I was just buying time to defuse the situation. Then at that point, I told Floyd there is nothing that I could see. The fight has to continue.

RM: Interesting. So, you were just buying time?

KB: Yeah. I was buying time to calm things down. Usually when a fighter gets fouled and nothing is done about it, he has a reason to retaliate. I’m not saying Floyd was going to foul him back. But I addressed the incident and hoped that he wouldn’t retaliate. And he didn’t retaliate.

RM: Why did you take a point away from Maidana in the fight?

KB: I told both fighters in the dressing room, two wrongs don’t make a right. If you deliberately commit a foul, I can take up to two points from your score. Maidana threw a forearm in Floyd’s face then he threw him to the ground. How deliberate is that? And this comes after the possibility that he bit him? I couldn’t tell if he bit him then he comes back two rounds later and throws him to the ground?

RM: Yeah.

KB: For me, remember, taking control of the fight is the main thing. I felt it was appropriate at that time to take a point, to slow Maidana down because Floyd Mayweather has a way of frustrating his opponents simply because they can’t hit him. I refereed the Mayweather/Canelo Alvarez fight. Canelo Alvarez couldn’t hit him and he (Canelo) did some stuff that I had to give him some very hard warnings about. I was very close to taking points from him. Fighters get frustrated because they can’t hit Floyd. Maidana hit Mayweather with a great shot. I believe it was at the end of the third round, right at the bell. That was his best punch of the fight. But he was not able to follow up. So that is something I have to be alert to. I have to know where the fight is going as far as Fighter A and Fighter B.

RM: You have to be in tuned with the fight?

KB: Yep. I have to be in tuned with all that is happening. We get a forearm to the face and a throw down. So I took a point. And there was no argument when the round ended. And I went over to the Maidana corner to warn him to keep the fight clean. Robert Garcia said that he didn’t see the foul. But that’s OK. I don’t know how he didn’t see it. When fans or trainers see their fighter do something wrong it’s ok with them because they want to win the fight. In the following round Floyd hit Maidana with a low blow. I believe it was unintentional. I gave Maidana time to recover. But it was low. That was just simple mechanics.

RM: One big misconception for the fans or even some of the media is that we don’t get to hear the stuff you say to the fighters in the dressing room. You said that you deducted the point from Maidana because you warned him about infractions before the fight… You said that you warned both fighters about breaking the rules. Maybe fans get upset because we don’t see you tell the fighters these rules.

KB: Well I was surprised Ray. Usually Showtime or HBO will come in the dressing room and film my instructions. They usually give the fans every aspect. The reason why I don’t have a problem taking the interview with you is because I like to educate the fans. The fans are the least educated as far as what referees do when we are in the ring. It is difficult for fans because when I step in the ring, I have to be unbiased. When fans step in the arena they already know in their mind who they want to win.

RM: That’s a good point.

KB: Look Ray, if I had a criticism about the sports announcers and the boxing media making the comments like they do – A lot of these commentators don’t engulf themselves into the sport. They don’t go to referee seminars. They don’t learn how we are thinking. They don’t know what we are doing in the ring. I have been to four seminars this year. And I will go to two more seminars before this year is out. Sometimes I will host the seminars. I continue to critique my status as an official. I work hard for the fighters’ fans and for myself. These sportswriters and sports fans, they don’t go to any of the seminars to see how we work on our craft. They can just make comments about us and the fans can just engulf what they say. And that’s the sad part. If one commentator says, “Why doesn’t Kenny do this or that?” that’s enough for at least 10,000 fans watching at home on PPV to think I am favoring Mayweather. But I am just doing my job. I call it the way I see it. I can’t call it the way the fans see it, or the way the sports announcers see it. I have to call it the way I see it.

RM: So is there a misconception because many of the sports writers and commentators are uneducated?

KB: Well, a lot of them have been around the business for many years. I am not saying they are uneducated. But I know of only one sports announcer that has attended seminars. His name is Colonel Bob Sheridan. Him and me have talked about it. He always says, “I don’t know why these other sports announcers don’t attend these seminars.” They should attend the seminars. So they can at least have a vision of what the referee is looking at. The fight isn’t about what they are looking at. I officiate based on what I am looking at. If anyone cannot see that control was my main objective, then they need to start attending some seminars. They need to start educating themselves. There is more in boxing than what they think they know. There is so much more a referee has to deal during a fight. Like I said earlier, one of the calls I got was about one of the sports announcers at ringside. He (the announcer) was hitting me hard about how fast I was breaking the fighters. And another one of the commentators corrected him. I think it was Paulie Malignaggi but I don’t know for certain. I think it was Paulie that said, ‘Kenny has to break them fast because if he doesn’t then the fouls occur.’ Paulie would know being a fighter. He would know. He sees what I was doing. A lot of these commentators don’t know. They don’t engulf themselves in the sport. They don’t learn what we do in the ring.

RM: I think what you are pointing out here is the accountability factor. Commentators, media, I mean, I am probably guilty of it as well, we can say some things about the professional referees and fighters and people will accept it because there is a platform.

KB: That’s exactly right, Ray. People are very opinionated in this country.

RM: That’s true.

KB: The Twitters and the Facebooks. Everybody’s got a comment about something.

RM: Globalized media. We all have a voice.

KB: People that are making comments are not even educated in the sport. They have a platform to voice their opinion. But as I said in the HBO piece, (HBO Cornered) we referees have to train our mind to call what we see right then and right now. And I will be the first one to tell you Ray I have made mistakes in the ring. We are not perfect. But we try to be as close to perfect as we can. We know the opinionated sports writers and sports announcers are going to be very critical if we make mistakes. I gave myself an A+, Ray, because with the bite and all of the movement, and the fouls, etc. etc. I have a very high standard for myself. I don’t care if it’s a four round fight or a ten round fight. I gave myself the highest grade, Ray. It’s easy to get in there and the fighters are listening to everything you are saying. I could give a verbal break and they’ll break. If I use voice command and everything goes well. That’s like a dream fight for a referee. As opposed to moving, getting in position, physically breaking them, making sure they hear your voice commands over the loudness of the crowd.

RM: Man, there was a lot of movement in that fight.

KB: There was a lot of movement.

RM: OK. Do you want to discuss anything else about the fight?

KB: Well, a lot of people don’t know this but the last time I refereed Marcos Maidana, he fought a kid by the name of Soto Karass. In that fight, I took away two points from Marcos Maidana. I took away points because of the illegal stuff he was doing. I also took one point away from his opponent. That’s where control becomes an issue. In my entire career I have never taken a point from both fighters at the same time until I did it in that fight between, Soto Karass and Marcos Maidana. I took points for all the roughhousing and not listening to my commands. And then about a round or two later I took another point from Maidana for hitting on the break.

RM: I see.

KB: So, am I supposed to forget that? No. I will keep it in the back of my head. I didn’t go in the dressing room and say, “You know Marcos, I have taken two points from you before.” I didn’t say that. I didn’t even mention it. Even after Mayweather was saying all those things before the fight about him (Maidana) being dirty, I remembered I took two points from him in a previous fight, but I still said nothing. Then Saturday night, first there was the bite, then the forearm and the throw down. So you have to look at the full picture.

RM: So, you studied the previous fights you refereed with both fighters and used it as a reference?

KB: Yeah. But every fight is different. But is Marcos Maidana capable of infraction? Well, I refereed him two times now. And in two fights have taken three points away from him.

RM: How did you get selected to referee this fight? Is there a selection process?

KB: Yes. There is a selection process. The executive director makes his recommendations to the commissioners, and the commissioners will vote on it. The executive director has us on rotation. The rotation dictates the order you come up. Sometimes the commission gives the camps an opportunity to express how they feel about the referee that is doing the fight. And when my name was mentioned to Marcos Maidana’s camp they had no problem with me refereeing this fight. We got the same thing from the Mayweather camp. I accepted the assignment, knowing I had to be in tiptop shape. I did what I had to do to prepare and keep the fight clean and fair.

RM: Hey, what did you think of the HBO show – Cornered?

KB: Well, I thought it went very well. Believe it or not, the show was shot back in 2012. We shot it right around the time it was announced that I was going to work the fourth fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. It was originally supposed to air in February but apparently HBO had different plans. They just finally aired it last week. It’s still all good because I thought it was an excellent piece.

RM: I’m sure you were eager to see it after almost two years.

KB: Yeah. I just had a lot of people eager to see it. But other than that everything went well.

RM: Great. Can you tell me about the WBC Cares program that you will attend next month?

KB: Yes. WBC Cares program is ran by a lady named Jill Diamond. She reaches out to the community and works with the individuals in bringing fighters to the local Boys and Girls clubs. The last convention was in Las Vegas about two or three years ago. We went to the local Boys and Girls club and got about three hundred kids. Some of the kids were from Richard Steele’s boxing gym. Fighters like Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, and Larry Holmes were there giving autographs to the kids. I am going to Stockton to reach out to the community and work with some trainers that have been in the sport for many years. The WBC wants to recognize them. So personally I will fly to the Bay Area and be a part of that event. It is just something that is really great. It is well worth the time and effort that we put into it.

You can email Ray at Raymond.Markarian@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: @raymarkarian

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Rey Vargas: “The featherweight title is absolutely still mine”

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Although there have been many speculations and comments about his boxing future, Mexican Rey Vargas affirms with total conviction that he will only decide after his fight against American O’Shaquie Foster on February 11th at the Alamodome in Texas.

Undefeated and current WBC featherweight champion, Vargas (36-0, 22 KOs) will seek to add the vacant WBC super featherweight belt that American southpaw Shakur Stevenson (19-0, 9 KOs) lost on the scale last September when he beat Brazilian Robson Conceicao (17-2, 8 KOs) by unanimous decision.

Referring to his 126-pound title, Vargas expressed via a translator, “The featherweight title is absolutely still mine, so no worries about that. As far as 130, this is definitely an interesting challenge, an interesting place to be. We haven’t really decided what we’re gonna do afterwards, but we’re focused on the moment right now. Let’s focus on this fight, on this great crowd that we’re gonna be in front of, and then whatever happens, it will come after this fight.”

Born 32 years ago in the Federal District and residing in Otumba, Mexico, Vargas captured the world featherweight belt in February 2017, defeating Gavin McDonnell (22-2-3, 6 KOs) by majority decision at the Ice Arena in McDonnell’s hometown of Hull, England.

During the following two years, he made five successful defenses and in November 2021 he was victorious in a 10-round bout against his compatriot Leonardo Báez (21-5, 12 KOs) at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas.

Eight months later, in his second appearance at 126 pounds, Vargas defeated then-undefeated Philippine champion Mark Magsayo (24-1, 16 KOs) by split decision. Magsayo was defending his WBC belt for the first time that night at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

After beating Magsayo, Vargas’s representatives made arrangements to collide with Mexican Leo Santa Cruz (38-2-1, 19 KOs), who at that time was the WBA featherweight super champion.

However, the agreement with Santa Cruz did not materialize and Vargas directed his attention towards the 130-pound belt, which Stevenson lost at the weigh-in in September. Considering his status as champion, the WBC agreed to Vargas’ request and ordered him to compete with O’Foster, who is ranked at the top of the category.

In a statement on its website, the WBC specified that the winner between Vargas and Foster has the obligation to make two defenses, according to the rules and regulations of that sanctioning body.

“The Leo Santa Cruz fight is definitely something that we have been meaning to do for years now,” Vargas said. “But as the process got more complicated and other stuff just kept getting in our way, this door opened for us where it was definitely an interesting challenge, something that can be as good as the Leo Santa Cruz fight.”

“(I’m) in a new division, the super featherweight division, where I can test myself,” said Vargas. Yes, it’s not my division per se, but I’m always up to new and exciting challenges, and this is definitely one of them. So, even though this isn’t the Leo Santa Cruz fight, it can definitely live up to the hype just as that one would.”

Foster (19-2, 11 KOs) has nine successive wins, the most recent against Tajikistan southpaw Muhammadkhuja Yakubon on March 18 of last year in Dubai, where they fought for the WBC silver belt.

Born 29 years ago in Orange, Texas, Foster said in an interview that this opportunity to face Vargas for the 130-pound crown “is a dream come true. And I’m so happy I can’t even hide it.”

Foster continued, “It’s something that I’ve been working for since I was eight years old. I never had a dream to be an Olympian, it was always to be a world champion so I’m feeling great and I’m ready to put on a show for the world.

“I feel like everything is happening at the right time and it’s my time to take over. I would love to unify once I get the title and then go undisputed if I can.  I’ve got big, big, big aspirations coming up.  We’re going to make it happen.”

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Álvarez in Spanish.

Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Navarrete Overcomes Adversity to TKO Wilson in a Corker

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Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete won his 31st straight fight, pushing his record to 37-1 (31) and captured a title in a third weight class tonight at the Desert Diamond Arena in Phoenix, Arizona, but nearly came a cropper himself in a match in which both he and his opponent Liam Wilson were on the deck and hurt on multiple occasions. At stake was the WBO 130-pound belt vacated by Shakur Stevenson.

The obscure 26-year-old Wilson, subbing for Oscar Valdez who had to pull out with a rib injury, was making his U.S. debut and appearing in his first scheduled 12-rounder. The skinny on him was that he had a puncher’s chance because of a powerful left hook, but with only 12 pro fights on his ledger he was a massive underdog.

Navarrete got a taste of that left hook in the fourth round which Wilson landed after landing a hard overhand right, and suddenly it appeared that the Queenslander was poised to score the biggest upset in Australian boxing history since Jeff Horn upended Manny Pacquiao. Navarrete hit the deck, lost his mouthpiece and was clearly hurt, but managed to survive the round after precious seconds elapsed as he was getting his mouthpiece re-fitted.

Navarrete fought his way back into the fight and was having a strong sixth round until the final 30 seconds when Wilson hurt him again, this time with a right hook. But the Mexican weathered the storm, winning the next two rounds decisively and closed the show in round nine when he put the intrepid Aussie on the deck with an overhand right, the prelude to an assault that forced the referee to waive it off.

Semi-windup

In a tactical junior welterweight fight that heated up in the final round, LA’s Arnold Barboza continued his steady ascent toward a title fight with a narrow but unanimous decision over Puerto Rican veteran Jose Pedraza, a former Olympian and world title-holder in two weight divisions.

Barboza, who fights well off his back foot but isn’t a hard puncher, won by scores of 97-93 and 96-94 twice to push his record to 28-0. The 33-year-old Barboza fell to 29-5-1.

Also

In the opening bout on ESPN’s main platform, Tulare, California’s Richard Torrez Jr, a silver medalist at the Tokyo Summer Games, scored his fifth fast knockout in as many opportunities at the expense late sub James Bryant

Torrez came out like gangbusters, as is his custom, and sent Bryant stumbling back into the ropes with a harsh left uppercut followed by a straight hand in the waning seconds of the opening round. A highly decorated high school football player in Pennsylvania who had a cup of coffee with two NFL teams, Bryant, 37, was saved by the bell but elected not to come out for round two.

Torrez has mentioned that he would welcome a fight with British up-and-comer Frazer Clarke. Both were defeated in the Tokyo Olympics by fearsome Uzbek southpaw Bakhodir Jalolov, the heavy favorite.

ESPN+

Las Vegas super featherweight Andres Cortes (19-0) overcame a deep cut on his left eyelid to keep his undefeated record intact with a lopsided decision over Luis Melendez. The cut was caused by an accidental clash of heads in round six. Cut man deluxe “Stitch” Duran used his magic potion to stem the bleeding and the match continued on its established course. Cortes, the busier fighter, won all 10 rounds on all three cards. Melendez, a Puerto Rican from Hialeah, Florida, declined to 17-3.

Nico Ali Walsh, Muhammad Ali’s grandson, advanced to 8-0 (5) with a unanimous decision over a local fighter, Eduardo Ayala (9-3-1), in a six-round middleweight affair. The scores were 60-53 and 59-54 twice.

Walsh, who sparred with Caleb Plant in preparation for this fight, had Ayala on the canvas in round two, compliments of a short right hand, but his durable opponent managed to last the distance.

In an 8-round junior welterweight match, Mexico’s Lindolfo Delgado, a 2016 Rio Olympian, advanced to 17-0 (13) with a unanimous decision over Clarence Booth (21-7), a 35-year-old Floridian. The scores were 80-71 and 79-72 twice.

The heavy-handed Delgado, who had Robert Garcia in his corner, scored the fight’s lone knockdown, knocking Booth off his pins in the final stanza with a chopping right hand to the ear.

In the ESPN+ opener, 18-year-old Emiliano Vargas (3-0, 2 KOs) won a 4-round unanimous decision over 19-year-old Tex-Mex southpaw Francisco Duque (1-2). Vargas won all four rounds, but Duque had several good moments.

Emiliano Vargas is the youngest and most well-touted of three fighting sons of Fernando Vargas, the former U.S. Olympian and two-time world super welterweight champion.

A 10-round super featherweight fight between Zavier Martinez (18-1) and Yohan Vasquez (25-3) was cancelled when it became obvious that Martinez would not make the contracted weight.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 223: An Act of War Benavidez vs Plant Press Confab

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LOS ANGELES-Heated words straight out of a burning furnace filled the cool air in downtown L.A. at the press conference on Thursday for top super middleweight contenders David Benavidez and Caleb Plant.

“Every fighter has one of these grudge matches that brings the best out of them. I don’t like Caleb at all, but I want to thank him for bringing the animal out of me. I’m more motivated than ever,” said Benavidez. “On March 25, I finally get to put hands on Caleb Plant.”

Plant was cool in his response.

“This rivalry only started because we agree to disagree on who’s better. And that’s fine, he should feel like that. That’s how great fighters are supposed to feel. It’s slowly built up over time,” said Plant.

Both are former world champions and both are ready to engage.

A large media turnout arrived at the Conga Room in LA Live to witness the two opposite style fighters, much like fire and ice.

Fiery Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) seemed eager to fight on the stage as the mere presence and cool demeanor of Plant (22-1, 13 KOs) seemed to ignite anger. They have both agreed to meet in the prize ring on March 25, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Showtime pay-per-view will televise the TGB Promotions card.

“If you know anything about boxing, you know this is one of the very best fights that can be made in the sport. The consensus No. 1 and No. 2 contenders in this division,” said Stephen Espinoza president of Showtime boxing. “This is a high-stakes matchup, personally and professionally. There’s a personal rivalry here. There are bragging rights here. There is supremacy in the division at stake.”

Both fighters have held world titles before and for years debates sprung up on who was better.

Benavidez was the youngest super middleweight champion at 20 when he first won the WBC version in 2017 defeating Ronald Gavril. He lost the title for testing positive for illegal substances the next year. In 2019 he faced Anthony Dirrell for the WBC title again and stopped him in nine rounds in Los Angeles. However, he failed to make weight in his next fight and lost the title again on the scales.

He is hungry to regain a world title but even more hungry to defeat Plant.

“I’ve been wanting to fight him for a long time and now the winner of this fight gets to be the mandatory for Canelo Alvarez. I’m super motivated,” Benavidez said.

Plant agrees that their match up is motivating because the winner gets Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and a hefty payday.

“I knew I was next in line to fight the interim champ before that fight, and that meant David Benavidez. I’m in the fight that I want,” said Plant who formerly held the IBF title.

Plant’s last fight was voted WBA Knockout of the Year when he double-left-hooked Dirrell to unconsciousness last October in Brooklyn. It was a shocking ending. His fight before that saw him lose the world title to Canelo Alvarez by knockout.

No shame in losing to Canelo.

Now the title former world titlists are eager to regain their former status and grab a mega payday fighting Alvarez. It’s perhaps the best fight in over a year for men’s boxing.

“I believe that this fight between David Benavidez and Caleb Plant will be added to the list of epic brawls between two warriors taking it to the next level,” said Tom Brown of TGB Promotions. “This fight will be one of, if not the winner of Fight of the Year this year. This is one you don’t want to miss.”

Top Rank

Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete (36-1, 30 KOs) challenges Australia’s Liam Wilson (11-1, 7 KOs) for the vacant WBO super featherweight title today, Feb. 3, at the Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona. ESPN+ will stream the Top Rank card.

Wilson, 26, has never fought outside of Australia but is known for his strength and power. He is also taller than Navarrete.

Navarrete and Wilson

Navarrete and Wilson

Navarrete is the former WBO featherweight champion and has not lost a fight in over a decade.

Also, Arnold Barboza (27-0) meets Jose Pedraza (29-4-1) in a super lightweight battle. And several others such as Lindolfo Delgado, Richard Torrez and Nico Ali Walsh will be performing.

Ontario Card

Southern California’s hot super lightweight prospect Ernesto “Tito” Mercado (8-0, 8 Kos) fights Jose Angulo (14-4) at the LumColor Center in Ontario, California on Saturday, Feb. 4. RedBoxing Promotions is staging the event.

Doors open at 6 p.m.

Photo credits: Esther Lin / SHOWTIME; Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

 

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