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Two Klitschkos and the Invisible Heavyweight Division

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Let me first just say it’s not their fault. I know this. Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko had nothing to do with the porous nature of their competition. They were simply born at the wrong time. Both of them are smart, skilled, and powerful fighters who do exactly what they are supposed to against inferior opponents. Methodically knock them around until they are on their backs.

They do it well.

However, I fear it will be nearly impossible to ever appropriately rate the two brothers, because for the better part of the last decade plus, the only decent fight the two could have made would have been against each other. No one can blame them for not wanting to play the feud.

Still, the thing is still the thing. Just take a look at the other alphabet champions outside of the Klitschkos since Lennox Lewis left the stage. Chris Byrd, Roy Jones Jr., Corrie Sanders, John Ruiz, Lamon Brewster, Hasim Rahman, Nikolai Valuev, Siarhei Liakhovich, Oleg Maskaev, Shannon Briggs, Ruslan Chagaev, Sultan Ibragimov, Samuel Peter, David Haye, Alexander Povetkin, and finally (whew) Berman Stiverne. That list reads like no one’s “who’s who” of anything.

Outside of Roy Jones Jr. and his carefully crafted successful challenge against the most unwatchable heavyweight champion of all time, John Ruiz, is there a single hall of famer in there? Seriously, take a look at that list again. The best of that crowd is probably—with apologies to Stiverne, who’s still building his resume—Rahman and Brewster. That’s not to say these guys aren’t or weren’t good fighters, but how many were particularly memorable beyond Jones, Rahman, and I suppose Brewster?

For all their dominance, the crowd of “contenders” they have been surrounded by has robbed the Klitschkos of what anyone would call a signature win. Neither fighter has lost a bout in over ten years (Vitali retired in 2012 after beating someone named Manuel Charr), but if you were going to make a list of their great wins, would you even need to sharpen your pencil?

To be fair to Vitali, he may have well been on his way to such a victory when his fight with Lennox Lewis was stopped in the 6th due to a nasty gash over his left eye. He was ahead on all three judge’s cards at the time, but because the injury was caused by a punch, the TKO loss fell on Klitschko. Lewis retired before giving Vitali a rematch. Vitali’s only other career loss was suffered in much the same fashion when he was forced to retire in the 9th after injuring his shoulder against Chris Byrd.

While many often viewed Vitali as a bit of an overachiever, his brother Wladimir went through a significant period where his heart, stamina, and most significantly, his chin, were challenged. It may be hard to believe now, but the more gifted Klitschko suffered a blow out 1st round KO to Ross Purity, a 2nd round TKO to Corrie Sanders, and 5th round TKO to Lamon Brewster. These are losses so stunning they rate up there with Lennox Lewis’ twin beatings from Rahman and Oliver McCall on the shock level.

Wladimir wisely hired Emanuel Steward as a trainer before the first Brewster fight. While that bout ended unceremoniously for the duo, the match would prove to be well made between boxer and guide. Steward not only improved Wladimir’s conditioning, but perhaps more importantly got him to take better advantage of his natural gifts, namely his size and reach. Standing at a towering 6 feet 6 inches tall and with arms to match, Steward taught the younger brother that he didn’t need to take so many chances. He could be patient, win and control rounds, and then when the opportunity presented itself, attack with his massive right hand.

It has served him brilliantly. Unfortunately, there has been no great resistance or challenge to his reign since. Oh sure, David Haye could certainly out-talk him, but he sure as hell couldn’t out fight him. Plus, the cautious style seldom made for crowd-pleasing fights.

Both brothers have often employed their long left arms against the craniums of their opponents in ways that almost remind you of the old comic strips where the muscle bound guy holds off the angry, furiously swinging pipsqueak by simply holding the palm of his outstretched arm against the smaller man’s forehead. That pretty much describes the entirety of the Klitschko reign. Underwhelming, overmatched opposition for more than ten years. It has not been fun to watch.

It has now gotten so bad that Wladimir—the active Klitschko—doesn’t even bother to fight in the States anymore. If you want to see his occasional fights live, they are likely to be on pay cable at 5PM in the afternoon. This is the heavyweight champion of the world and it feels like no one cares.

I know people around the fight game want us to get excited about Saturday’s tilt between Stiverne and KO artist Deontay Wilder, and while they may be a good match for each other, I feel like I’ve already seen this movie before. Chris Arreola, anyone? Wilder does have one solid win over former champion Liakhovich, but the rest of his record consists largely of beat downs over moonlighting postal worker types. Stiverne dusted Arreola twice, but also owns a draw against Charles Davis and a 4th round TKO loss against Demetrice King. Are these guys supposed to make Wladimir quake?

Maybe I’m wrong about these two. I certainly hope I am. Nothing would make me happier than to see a Klitschko taking on an opponent of consequence. The heavyweight division desperately needs such a fight. It sure wouldn’t hurt Wladimir’s legacy either. Until that is proven though, Wladimir’s ledger for all its dominance is just as opaque as his brother’s. It’s not fair to them, but it’s the truth.

Even inside the realm of the hardcore fight fan, who really talks about the heavyweight division with any excitement or sense of anticipation? It’s not that we don’t want to. It’s that we have no reason to. Not for a very long time anyway. I will certainly be among our number this Saturday night when Stiverne and Wilder exchange pleasantries. How could I not be? I do live in hope. I also reside in reality too. Klitschkos aside, heavyweights may have gotten bigger, but they sure as hell haven’t gotten better.

We are a long way removed the last golden age of heavyweight boxing. This, when creatures like Lewis, Tyson, Holyfield, and Bowe walked the earth, and the 2nd tier included fighters like Moorer, Foreman, and Douglas. Once there were giants in the heavyweight division. Now there’s just a Klitschko and bunch of tall guys. You’re up Stiverne and Wilder. Prove me wrong. Please.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 105: Angry Welterweights and More

David A. Avila

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Those welterweights don’t play.

One welterweight just got out of jail and wants to take out his angry frustrations in the boxing ring.

“One of us is getting knocked out. If it gets to where I’m behind on points, I’m just going to come forward and try to take him out, even if I end up getting knocked out,” said Juan Carlos Abreu. ““If he stands and fights, it’s better for me. That’s what I want.”

Standing in front of Abreu (23-5-1) will be one of the top welterweights in America, Philadelphia’s Jaron Ennis (25-0, 23 KOs). This is could be Ennis’ first true test against an experienced foe on Saturday Sept. 19, at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. Showtime will televise the Premier Boxing Champions card.

Ennis, 23, has been breezing easily since first jumping in the prize ring in April 2016. So far, the competition has been unable to cope with the athleticism he possesses. Will Abreu be the first to pose a problem?

“Whatever he brings, we are going to be ready. I’m going to go out there, do my thing, be smart, have my fun, and get that stoppage at the end of the night,” said Ennis, whose last opponent Bakhtiyar Eyubov was eliminated in four rounds in January. “You can’t just go in there and go for the knockout. That’s how you get tired and lose your cool or even get hit with punches that you shouldn’t be getting hit with.”

Abreu hopes he loses his cool.

“If he stands and fights, it’s better for me. That’s what I want. I really want one of us to get knocked out,” says Abreu of the Dominican Republic who was purportedly jailed for street fighting.

This welterweight matchup is the precursor to the WBC super welterweight eliminator between Terrell Gausha (21-1-1, 10 KOs) and Erickson Lubin (22-1, 16 KOs).

Gausha and Lubin both have lost once in their pro careers and need a win to get another crack at a world title.

Gausha lost a decision to Erislandy Lara three years ago. Lubin was stopped in one round by Jermell Charlo three years ago. Both realize the nature of the beast.

“I think Gausha has some problems with southpaws, but I’m not focused on that. I’m focused on my game plan and coming out victorious Saturday night,” said Lubin, 24, a southpaw called “the Hammer” for a reason.

Gausha is originally from Cleveland, Ohio but trains in Southern California and has fought four elite southpaws in his career. He believes one more is not a problem.

“This will be my fourth southpaw in a row. So, I’m more comfortable and familiar this time around,” said Gausha, 33, a former US Olympian who trains with Manny Robles Jr. “The guys before me, they all fought each other. Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran. They all fought each other. To be the best, you have to beat the best. And you can see that the fights I take, even after a long layoff, they are tough fights.”

Top Rank

Also, on Saturday Sept. 19, heavyweights and super lightweights lead a Top Rank card featuring some interesting bouts that will be shown on ESPN+.

Newly acquired Efe Ajagba (13-0,11 KOs) meets Jonnie Rice (13-5-1) in a 10-round heavyweight clash. It’s Nigeria’s Ajagba’s second fight this year. Though still a little raw he shows immense potential and great natural strength.

Rice fights out of Bones Adams’ Gym in Las Vegas and has some power. He built up his record on heavyweights in Tijuana boxing rings but has some pop. He’s a sizeable heavyweight and good measuring stick for Ajagba.

The main event is a doozy.

Puerto Rico’s Jose “The Sniper” Pedraza (27-3, 13 KOs) meets Southern California’s Javier Molina (22-2, 9 KOs) in a 10-round super lightweight bout at the MGM Grand Bubble in Las Vegas.

This should be good.

Pedraza, 31, is a former WBO lightweight world titlist who lost in his first defense to Vasyl Lomachenko. Nothing bad about that. He defeated Mexico’s Raymundo Beltran for the belt and has shown a penchant for showing up big when you least expect it.

Molina, 30, is a 2008 US Olympian and a member of the fighting Molina family. His brother Oscar was a member of Mexico’s 2012 Olympic team. His other brother Carlos fought for the world title against Amir Khan. Though Javier Molina has never shown great power, he can truly fight.  His last win came against Amir Imam this past February.

Pending Lightweight Clash

Speaking of the lightweight division, is anyone else as excited as me about the looming showdown between the remarkable Vasyl Lomachenko and impressive Teofimo Lopez coming in less than a month?

Lomachenko, 32, the Ukrainian stylist known as “Hi Tech,” has that incredible footwork and ability to control distance. He’s a master of frustrating opponents and imposing his style of darting in and out of danger. But as good as he is, he can’t sell tickets. Only hardcore fans appreciate his peerless boxing skills.

Lopez, 23, hails from Brooklyn and has that ex-factor you can’t teach. He’s pizzazz and panache with a punch. That combination of flair and power excites fans and seemingly makes him a natural gate attraction. But in spite of his electric abilities, he’s facing a master boxer. Is he ready?

Top Rank is known for having a team of matchmakers headed by boxing wizard Bruce Trampler. It makes me wonder why they are pitting these two against each other?

The probable answer: neither sells out an arena alone. May the best man win.

A friend of mine from East L.A., who formerly boxed and comes from a boxing family, shared his knowledge and opinion on the matchup. He has an interesting take.

“His footwork is incredible,” said George Rodriguez about Lomachenko. “Don’t get me wrong, Teofimo is an incredible talent, but Lomachenko has that footwork.”

Any way you look at it, the winner of this clash clearly bumps up his own image.

Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs) versus Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) at the MGM Grand Bubble in Las Vegas on October 17. Mark down that date. It will be televised on ESPN.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Sept. 26 Horn of Plenty and Other Notes

Arne K. Lang

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Considering the constraints, the month of September has been a pretty good month for professional boxing. And the month will close with a flourish. Eight world title-holders will be in action on the 26th, the last Saturday of the month.

Five of the belt-holders will appear on the SHOWTIME PPV doubleheader featuring the Charlo twins. The most intriguing fight on that card finds Jermall Charlo risking his belt and his undefeated record against rugged Sergiy Deveryanchenko. At last glance, Jermall was a consensus 17/10 (minus-170) favorite. In baseball, a 17/10 favorite is a heavy favorite. In boxing, not so. A serious handicapper who wouldn’t think of laying 17/10 in a baseball game would have no hesitation about laying these odds in a boxing match.

When Deveryanchenko steps into the ring, 51 weeks will have elapsed since his last fight, his bruising tiff with Gennadiy Golovkin. Jermall Charlo hasn’t been on the shelf for quite that long, having last fought in December.

A more interesting match on this particular Saturday, at least in the eyes of this reporter, will unfold earlier that day in Munich when the curtain finally comes down on Season 2 of the long-drawn-out World Boxing Super Series. Two titles will be on the line when Mairis Briedis (26-1, 19 KOs) meets Yuniel Dorticos (24-1, 22 KOs).

Briedis’ lone defeat came at the hands of Oleksandr Usyk in a very competitive fight. Briedis won five rounds on two of the cards and won six rounds on the other. Dorticos’ lone defeat came on enemy turf in Sochi, Russia when he was stopped with eight seconds remaining in a doozy of a fight with Murat Gassiev.

Forget the titles; titles are a dime a dozen. These two guys are plainly the two best cruiserweights on the planet.

“The tickets are flying out the door and we expect to sell out within hours, if not days,” said co-promoter Kalle Sauerland at a pre-fight press conference.

That assertion was made way back on January 22 when the fight, originally targeted for late December of last year, was headed to Riga, Latvia, on March 21. That date didn’t work, nor did the re-scheduled date of May 16, and ultimately Riga didn’t work either.

Whatever tickets were sold, had to be refunded. There will be no fans in attendance when Briedis and Dorticos finally lock horns on Sept. 26 at a TV studio in Munich. The fight will air on DAZN in the U.S.

“Rest makes rust” was an often-heard caution when big gamblers of yesteryear dissected a boxing match. The late, great pricemaker Herb Lambeck reflexively shied away from boxers that had been inactive for a considerable period of time. For him, the Briedis-Dorticos match would likely be a head-scratcher. Both combatants have been inactive since June 15 of last year when they appeared in separate bouts on the same card in Riga, Briedis’s hometown. And they aren’t getting any younger. Briedis is 34 and Dorticos is 35.

The odds got nicked down somewhat when the site shifted from Riga with fans to Munich without, predictably so as Briedis, the first fighter from Latvia to win a world title, has an avid local following.

Briedis, the superior boxer, is a consensus 9/5 favorite. That seems a shade high as he won’t be able to feed off the crowd – there won’t be a crowd – and Dorticos, the Cuban KO Doctor, has a better chance of ending the fight with one punch. It wouldn’t be shocking if the fight followed a similar tack as the recent fight between Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin.

In case you missed it, Whyte was dominating his Russian adversary when things changed in a flash in the fifth round. Out of nowhere, Povetkin, the underdog, unleashed a picture-perfect uppercut that left Whyte flat on his back, unconscious before he hit the canvas. There have been other smashing one-punch knockouts this year – Ryan Garcia’s demolition of Francisco Fonseca comes quickly to mind – and there may be a few more, but it’s hard to visualize anyone topping Povetkin in the voting for Knockout of the Year.

By the way, if he wins it, Povetkin, 41, would be the second-oldest boxer to score the Knockout of the Year. George Foreman was 45 when he knocked out Michael Moorer in 1994. The source is The Ring magazine which has been issuing this award since 1989.

And if you happen to know the youngest fighter to score The Ring Knockout of the Year, then you’re pretty sharp. No, it’s not baby-faced Naoya Inoue, who is older (27) than he looks. The honor goes to the long-forgotten African-American/Filipino southpaw Morris East who was 19 when he knocked out defending WBA 140-pound champion Akinobu Hironaka in 1992.

In a rarity, it didn’t take long for Alexander Povetkin and Dillian Whyte to agree on a rematch. They will meet again on Nov. 21. The venue is undecided, but Eddie Hearn is hopeful that he can pot the fight somewhere outside his backyard “fight camp” with fans in attendance. The first lines on the fight show Whyte the favorite in the vicinity of 13/5. Povetkin-Whyte II will be a nice appetizer for the Errol Spence vs. Danny Garcia match that goes off later that day.

In an unrelated development, Fury-Wilder III is purportedly going to Allegiant Stadium, the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders, in late December. Bob Arum anticipates a crowd of 10,000-15,000 with social distancing protocols in place.

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Meekins vs. Kawoya: File It Under Bizarre

Ted Sares

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 It was August 8, 1988. The location was Resorts International in Atlantic City. The main event featured New Yorker John Wesley Meekins (18-1-2) vs another New Yorker (via Uganda and Denmark) Mohammed Kawoya (11-3).

The rangy and skilled Meekins with a stellar amateur career was a clear favorite over the lesser known Kawoya who had fought only once in the US, losing to Jorge Maysonet on cuts at the Felt Forum. Meekins was expected to move on to a world title fight after dispatching Kawoya.

Meekins enjoyed a successful career between 1984 and 1994, fighting the likes of Davey Montana, Mike Mungin, Harold Brazier, Saoul Mamby, Santos Cardona, Darrin Morris (who won his last 16 fights in a row), and Terence Alli. He would lose to a prime Meldrick Taylor (20-0-1) in 1989 with the IBF World Super Lightweight title at stake.

On June 15, 1990, Meekins beat Santos Cardona over 12 rounds to win the NABF light-welterweight championship, but would lose it to Terence Alli some seven months later. It was downhill after that and he retired in November 1994 with a record of 24-5-2 after being stopped by so-so Darryl Lattimore.

Back to Meekins vs. Kawoya

 This one did not go as expected. After being decked in round 2, Kawoya dropped Meekins in the opening seconds of round 3. An exciting fight with multiple knockdowns and furious exchanges was in progress and the fans loved it.

An aroused Meekins then went after the Ugandan with a vengeance and set up one of the most bizarre endings that few boxing fans have ever heard about, much less witnessed, as he again dropped Kawoya this time with a fast left hook. He then went for the kill. Referee Paul Venti sensed it and moved in—perhaps prematurely– as Meekins unleashed what he hoped would be a fight-ending volley of hard shots.

 As soon as Venti stepped in to stop the fight, Kawoya landed a right that dropped Meekins and had him crawling on the canvas and holding on to the ropes devoid of his senses for at least ten seconds. The punch was thrown at the exact moment that Venti ended matters and Venti didn’t realize what had occurred.

 While Kawoya thought he has scored a clean KO and celebrated wildly, the fact was that Venti had ended the fight a fraction of a second before and his decision would stand.

The fans not only enjoyed a great fight, they witnessed something truly memorable—something that had to be seen to be believed; namely, a winner struggling to get up and a loser celebrating what he thought was a knockout.

Kawoya pulled out of the rematch because of a throat infection and Saoul Mamby took his place as a late sub. The Ugandan never fought again, while Meekins never got the title shot that a more impressive effort might have gotten him.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com or on Facebook and welcomes comments.

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