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HBO Boxing Boss on Judging Controversies, Pacquiao-Mayweather and More

Kelsey McCarson

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HBO Sports president Ken Hershman admitted to TSS he’s just as sick of judging controversies as the rest of us.

“We want great fights first and foremost, and we want those fights to be scored appropriately. We’ve invested a lot in the sport for over 30 years, and its integrity is very important to us. So anything that interferes with that or diminishes the integrity of the sport is a negative. We take it very seriously.”

So can the cable television giant, the one that pours millions and millions of dollars into boxing every year do anything to help turn the tide? Is there a world on the horizon where fight fans won’t have to hold their breath every time a decision is announced after 10 or 12 hard-fought rounds?

“Obviously, we don’t control the judges. We don’t select them, and we don’t train them. We can only present the facts about what is going on.”

Hershman said HBO’s role was just like that of any other boxing media member: to shine a light on things where needed. He said HBO’s partnership with promoters doesn’t necessarily put them into a position to do anything more than other media types.

“I don’t think we want to get into picking the officials any more than Fox wants to get into picking the officiating crews from a NFL games. That’s up to the state commissions and the promoters to ensure they’re getting the highest level of professionalism and that they’re responsible for them. I think what we can do is make sure our announcing team has the independence to call it like they see it, which we give them.”

Hershman also said it might be important for HBO to better educate fans on the intricacies of judging. If you follow the sport via social media, you probably agree. Fans are often too quick to call close fights robberies even though the nature of judging a fight is largely subjective and the scoring system used doesn’t differentiate much between close rounds and one-sided rounds unless there is a knockdown.

“For the most part, what I glean from these situations is that 95 percent of fights are scored appropriately. It just happens that some of the more high profile ones get a little upside down from time to time, and it sends everyone into a tizzy over whether this sport is legitimate. That’s what’s so frustrating, because in nine out of the 10 cards that I watch, everybody comes to the same conclusion.”

Hershman said HBO might consider going more in-depth on the issue in various ways.

“Some judges do award different kinds of styles, and maybe it’s incumbent on us to do a better job explaining that to the audience: how judges look at fights, how ring generalship and defense may factor in more for one judge versus power and dominating that way for another judge in the same fight.”

And of legitimate controversies, such as Timothy Bradley’s decision win over Manny Pacquiao back in 2012?

“Hopefully, through just being present, televising and calling attention to some of these things when they go awry, it puts the necessary pressure on everyone who does train or who is responsible for the officiating to further hone their techniques. We want the sport to be as transparent as possible and as legitimate as possible. And all that can be done, whether it’s instant replay, mandatory drug testing, better training of officials–whatever needs to be done–we’re here to support and encourage it. And we stand to gain from it, because the bigger the sport, the bigger and better bang for the buck for HBO.”

On Pacquiao-Mayweather

Hershman said Pacquiao might appear to be running out of options for opponents in 2015. While that might encourage you to believe a long-awaited megafight against Floyd Mayweather is closer to happening than ever, he also said he was confident Pacquiao would find a viable dance partner if that turned out not to be the case.

“I always believe in boxing that you might look at the landscape one day and one particular moment in time and it might seem pretty thin, and then a week or a month later, somebody emerges and a fight comes along that we hadn’t thought about.”

Pacquiao defeated Timothy Bradley and Chis Algieri in 2014, the latter emerging as an opponent after the New Yorker’s upset win over Ruslan Provodnikov.

“If I’m being totally objective at the moment about big fights for Pacquiao, there are a few but they’re limited at the moment. But Manny has a way of putting on amazingly entertaining shows. Somebody will materialize, I’m confident, and become a compelling opponent for him.”

Still, I did the dirty deed and asked him on the tail end of our 30-minute conversation about alleged negotiations for Pacquiao-Mayweather. Were they happening as suggested recently by Bob Arum? And was he surprised I hadn’t asked him about the topic up to the final few moments of the call?

“What I find interesting, Kelsey, is that every reporter has their own technique of getting to it. You tried to soften me up and get me relaxed, and I appreciate the technique. Some people hit me over the head with it first.”

We had a good laugh, but Hershman remained consistent with his no-comment approach on the matter nonetheless.

“As a fight fan, I’d love to see the fight. I’m not going to comment on the negotiations publically because that would not be fruitful for anybody, but I want to see the fight. I want to be there at the fight like any other fight fan. I know how much it means.”

On Golden Boy Promotions and Al Haymon

Hershman said HBO was glad to be working again with Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions.

“They’re a great promotional outfit and really good partners right now. It’s been exciting for us and for them. We’re pretty easy to do business with if you understand where we’re coming from. We try to be transparent and communicate well. I think Oscar and team think and act the same way. They’re very transparent. They’re very open to ideas and communication. They really want what’s best for the sport, what’s best for their fighters and what’s best for their company. They’re really doing a great job of bringing big fights to the market and being good partners.”

I also asked if Hershman thought we might see any of the numerous fighters managed by boxing powerbroker Al Haymon on HBO anytime soon, fighters like Erislandy Lara, Jermell Charlo and Danny Garcia.

“We’re open to anything. As you see with the Golden Boy relationship, if our philosophies and thought processes sync up and the opportunities are there, we’re happy to entertain anything. But we have a really amazing roster of talent. We’re so fully stocked that we’re not really chasing anybody, and we don’t think we need to. We just want to put on the best shows we can with fighters that we’re working with.”

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Canelo vs. BJ Saunders: Predictions and Analyses from the TSS Faculty

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More than 60,000 fight fans are expected to gather at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, on Saturday. The turnout for the fight between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders represents a turning point in the COVID-19 era. Boxing has been pretty much walled-off to the general public since a sellout crowd of 15,816 witnessed the second encounter between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder on Feb. 20, 2020 in Las Vegas.

Canelo Alvarez (55-1-2, 37 KOs) holds the WBC and WBA world titles at 168 pounds. Billy Joe Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs) owns the WBO belt. However, the hardware is largely immaterial whenever Canelo steps in the ring as he is widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. In Saunders he is meeting a slick southpaw bidding to become the second member of the Traveling community to hold multiple title belts simultaneously, joining his friend Tyson Fury. The bout headlines a 7-bout card that will air on DAZN in 200+ countries and territories worldwide and on TV Azteca in Mexico.

Whenever a fight of this magnitude comes down the pike, we invite members of our editorial staff to provide a quick analysis of the match and forecast the outcome. Their prognostications appear below with the respondents listed in alphabetical order.

The graphic is by Colorado comic book cover artist ROB AYALA, an honored guest whenever we perform this kind of exercise. Check out more of Rob’s cool illustrations at his web site fight posium.

PICKS and ANALYSIS

No gimme for Canelo here, as Saunders is a southpaw who can box, has a bit of pop in his punch, as well as a knack for making his opponents look not quite as impressive as they normally are. Still, Canelo is at the top of the boxing food chain for a reason. It’s all right for him to win some fights and not be spectacular in doing so. Figure the Mexican icon on scoring a knockdown or two along the way, but he may have to be satisfied with a win on points this time out. – BERNARD FERNANDEZ

I no longer pick against Canelo Alvarez. And certainly not against a boxing basket case like Billy Joe Saunders. There’s a huge difference in the level of maturity between these two fighters and that will be seen in the ring when Canelo becomes the first to corner the fleet-footed Saunders and put him on his back. Canelo KO in 10. – JEFFREY FREEMAN

Canelo by decision. He does everything better than Saunders, who will fight well enough to survive but not win. – THOMAS HAUSER

Billy Joe is formidable. You don’t lock in an Olympic berth at age 18 without natural talent. You don’t run circles around a big puncher like David Lemieux without a high ring IQ. But Saunders, despite his undefeated record, has been inconsistent. Canelo, as Kevin Iole noted in a recent column, doesn’t do one thing great, but he does everything well. How does one formulate a smart game plan for a boxer with no flaws to exploit? Canelo UD. – ARNE LANG

Much has been made by Saunders’ camp this week about the size of the ring that will be used in the fight. While it seems strange and even unruly that there can be such vast disparities in how large the boxing ring is or how spongy the mat can be for any professional fight card in our sport, the truth of the matter is that Saunders probably doesn’t have much hope in beating Alvarez no matter how those other factors play out. They could fight on a basketball court, and I’d still pick Alvarez. The best the cagey UK fighter will be able to muster is trying to go the distance with the Mexican. Callum Smith pulled it off back in December, but Saunders won’t quite get there. CANELO via 9th-round stoppage. – KELSEY McCARSON

There was a time, not that long ago, when I would have favoured Saunders to beat Canelo and stylistically I still feel Saunders holds all the aces. Canelo’s improvements in the last 30 months have astonished, though. He has found a meaningful fourth and fifth punch for his combinations and his strength, for whatever reason, is prestigious at whatever weight he fights. Saunders, something of a persona-non-grata here in his home country after a series of public relations disasters, is very much a man out of time.  Canelo, bodyshots, between the eighth and the tenth. – MATT McGRAIN

There is a case to be made that Canelo Alvarez has not faced a pure boxer on the level of Billy Joe Saunders since his do-si-do with Erislandy Lara in 2014, in a fight that still has some screaming robbery (Alvarez won by split decision). Of course, that was nearly seven years ago, back when Alvarez was still trading on his telenovela bonafides. Since then, he has gone on to distinguish himself as arguably the best boxer in the sport today. The same cannot be said for the erratic and self-sabotaging Saunders, who has squandered his impressive showing against David Lemieux in 2017 with consecutive lackluster outings against mostly middling opposition. The southpaw will find ways to frustrate Alvarez at times, to be sure, but expect Alvarez to slow down the jittery motions of the Brit by punishing him to the body en route to a mostly clear win on the cards. Canelo by majority decision. – SEAN NAM

I see a feeling-out type fight in the first two rounds and then Canelo begins the stalk. Saunders will be more elusive and more savvy than most of Canelo’s opponents, occasionally getting in some sharp counters. However, he will begin to tire late from an accumulation of Canelo’s body work and from backing up. This will allow the Mexican to increase the tempo looking for a way to close the show. The Traveler will survive. But Canelo will win with a dominating UD. – TED SARES

Two names come to mind for me when deciding how this fight will play out. First, Erislandy Lara, who I saw outbox but not outfight Alvarez. Second is Alexander Povetkin, whose horrible performance against Dillian Whyte was reportedly due to coronavirus residue, which Alvarez also claims to have been afflicted by. Can Saunders, another left-hander with a bit more of a reach advantage than Lara, take advantage of a possibly weakened Canelo? Don’t bet on it unless Cinco de Mayo weekend gets cancelled and nobody from Texas or Mexico shows up for the fight. Saunders seems capable of making it interesting, but Alvarez wins by wide decision or late TKO.  – PHIL WOOLEVER

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A Heinous Crime Will Likely Land Felix Verdejo in Prison for the Rest of His Life

Arne K. Lang

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“Felix has a sparkling personality, a flashy fighting style, and he’s good. He’s also f-a-s-t.” The quote is from Thomas Hauser who wrote those words in June of 2015 after Verdejo improved his record to 18-0 with a near-shutout of fellow unbeaten Ivan Nejara on an HBO card from the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

At this juncture it appeared that Verdejo, a former Olympian, was destined to become the next icon of Puerto Rican fight fans, the heir-apparent to Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto.

Today, news stories about Verdejo make no reference to his sparkling personality. It’s an attribute inconsistent with the portrait of a monster.

This past Saturday, as hardcore fight fans were glued to the telecast of a show in Manchester, England, it came to light that authorities in San Juan, Puerto Rico, had found the body of a young woman who had been reported missing after failing to turn up at her job at a dog grooming salon on Thursday morning, that the decedent was plainly the victim of foul play, that Verdejo was the primary suspect in her murder, and that he wasn’t cooperating with the authorities.

When the corpse of the missing woman was fished from a lagoon, her body was reportedly so mangled that forensic examiners had to consult dental records to confirm that the decedent was indeed Keishla Marlen Rodriguez Ortiz, the 27-year-old woman they were looking for. The boxer and Ms. Rodriguez had reportedly known each other since middle school. According to Rodriguez’s family members, she was pregnant with Verdejo’s child and the boxer, who was married with a 2-year-old daughter, wasn’t happy about it.

Keishla

Keishla Rodriguez

With each new detail, the story became more sordid.

It is alleged that the victim was thrown off a bridge after being punched in the face and injected with a syringe filled with an unidentified substance. Verdejo and an accomplice – who hasn’t been charged and is identified only as a witness – then tied her hands and feet with wire and weighed the body down with a cinderblock before tossing it into the water. When the body was slow to sink, Verdejo allegedly fired a bullet at it. A shell casing was found on the bridge and the authorities have corroborating evidence from toll booth cameras.

As first reported by veteran boxing writer Jake Donovan, the boxer surrendered to FBI agents yesterday evening (Sunday). He appeared this morning via zoom before federal magistrate Camille Velez Rive who ordered him returned to prison and held without bail.

Many of the headlines in the tabloids say that Verdejo is facing the death penalty. That’s technically true. The three crimes for which he has been charged — carjacking resulting in death, kidnapping resulting in death, and intentionally killing an unborn child – are federal crimes. As a commonwealth of the United States, Puerto Rico is subject to U.S. federal laws. However, Puerto Rico abolished capitol punishment in 1929. The country hasn’t executed anyone since 1927 when a man named Pascual Ramos was hanged for killing his boss.

It’s doubtful that prosecutors would pursue the death penalty unless the trial were moved to the mainland. However, domestic violence has become a hot-button issue in Puerto Rico and the national mood toward crimes of this nature is trending toward harsher retribution. Yesterday, according to the Daily Mail, hundreds of people, mostly women, including Rodriguez’s sister, gathered at the bridge that spans the lagoon to pay their respects and demand justice for the victims of domestic violence.

Felix Verdejo turned pro  at age 19 after representing Puerto Rico in the 2012 London Olympics. He rose to #1 in the WBO lightweight rankings after defeating Oliver Flores in February of 2017, but was demoted for inactivity. There were extenuating circumstances including fights that fell out and a 6-day stay in a hospital following a motorcycle accident.

He returned to the ring after a 13 ½ month absence and suffered his first pro defeat. An unheralded Mexican, Antonio Lozada, stopped him in the final round, the 10th. Verdejo was ahead on two of the scorecards through the nine completed rounds. There were 23 seconds remaining in the contest when the bout was stopped.

Verdejo’s most recent fight came in December of last year. He was stopped in the ninth round by Masayoshi Nakatani at the MGM Bubble in Las Vegas, reducing his pro record to 27-2. As happened against Lozada, Verdejo faded late, squandering a big lead.

Verdejo photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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In Boxing, a Quadrilogy is Rare. Going 2-2 Against Butterbean Even More So

Ted Sares

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The late heavyweight Mitch Rose could not translate his Golden Gloves amateur skills to the pro ranks. He retired with an underwhelming 2-11-1 mark, but he did enough quirky things to put his life story in a book and one of the most memorable parts of it involved his being the first fighter to stop Eric “Butterbean” Esch, the legendary knockout machine who was trumpeted as the King of the Four Rounders. Rose did it on an undercard bout at Madison Square Garden on a show with Oscar De La Hoya and Arturo Gatti in the featured bouts.

“… Rose was a tried and true New Yorker. As loud and funny as he was, he never seemed to take himself too seriously. He had a big heart, a lot of dreams, and an emotional honesty that was extremely refreshing.” — Robert Mladinich, NYFIGHTS

As Bernard Fernandez noted, Eric Esch, aka Butterbean, rebounded nicely. “(He) went on to continue his unlikely advance to stardom of sorts as a bald and blubbery blaster.”

Butterbean, who also competed in MMA and in Tough Man competitions, developed a cult following and retired with a boxing record of 77-10-4. But Butterbean’s last three losses as a boxer came between 2009-2013, long after he should have left the boxing scene.

Enter Kenny “The Raven” Craven (here’s a recent picture).

Craven

Craven

 “Wherever you find yourself in time… Please remember to do the right thing.” — Kenny Craven

A soulful and righteous man who believes in equality and walks the walk, Craven, a Mississippian from tiny Ellisville, is a follower of the teachings of Desmond Tutu. He is pro-people and pro-underdog and will not bypass injustice.

“I wrote a post yesterday on Facebook that expanded my view of the power of the people. All of us know we have this power but we have no idea how to use it. Well, we do know how it is used but we make a conscious decision not to. Why? We the people have supreme authority but we give this gift to just a few people who do not even like us.” — Craven

Kenny Craven finished his pro boxing career with a 28-20 record. He won 23 by knockout BUT all of his 20 losses came by knockout and that made him an exciting fighter, if nothing else. Kenny was a fan favorite on the southern circuit and if his opponent didn’t get him, he usually got his opponent and the fans could anticipate with near 100 percent accuracy that someone was getting knocked down.

The other thing about Kenny was that he fought a Who’s Who of elite fighters. They included Henry Akinwande (37-1-1 coming in), Michael Nunn (55-4), Vaughn Bean (41-2 and no relation to Butterbean), Attila Levin (27-1), Albert Sosnowski (33-1), Clifford Etienne (28-2-2), Calvin Brock (25-0), Timur Ibragimov (20-0-1), Oliver McCall (46-8), Vassiliy Jirov (36-3-1), and Ezra Sellers (28-7).

In 1999, “The Raven” was stopped by Butterbean (48-1-2) in the second round on the undercard of the De La Hoya vs Trinidad fight at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. It was Alabama vs Mississippi. However, in the first round, Craven displayed the blueprint on how to beat the ‘King of Four Rounders” by using a stick and run approach.

In 2005, Kenny lasted until the third round before the Bean (then 71-3-4) overwhelmed him.

 But just three months later in Jackson, Mississippi, Kenny finally figured out Esch and utilized the blueprint by jabbing and moving laterally, and won a majority decision over the heavily favored Bean in front of a small but howling and disbelieving crowd. The fact that Tonya Harding was on the undercard added to the circus-like atmosphere.

Then, three months later in Bejing, China, Kenny did it again. Yes, in China!!? This time he had his way with Eric and cruised to an easy win.

In a rare Quadrilogy, Kenny Craven went 2-2 with Eric Esch who never managed to knock Kenny down or even hurt him. No mean feat.

Mitch Rose had his moment. Kenny Craven had two. As Kenny says, “I did the best I could for a guy with three amateur fights and growing up in rural Mississippi. I loved every second, the good and the bad.”

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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