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The Hauser Report: January Notes

Thomas Hauser

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The most interesting action in boxing often takes place outside the ring. There have been developments on both sides of the ropes in January 2015 that are worthy of comment.

*     *     *

The Al Haymon Era officially began this month when Haymon Boxing, armed with a reported $100,000,000 war chest in venture-capital funds, put the finishing touches on two time buys.

NBC Sports announced on January 14 that it had entered into an agreement with Haymon that provides for twenty fight telecasts in 2015 (five on NBC on Saturday nights, six on NBC on Saturday afternoons, and nine in prime time on NBC Sports Network).

The NBC commentating team will include Al Michaels and Sugar Ray Leonard, two of the best in the business. There are reports that another elite commentator, possibly Marv Albert, will join them.

The first telecast pursuant to the agreement will come on March 7, when Keith Thurman faces off against Robert Guerrero and Adrien Broner takes on John Molina at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. That will be followed by Danny Garcia vs. Lamont Peterson and, possibly, Andy Lee vs. Peter Quillin on April 11, most likely at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Both of these cards will be televised on NBC. Thurman, Broner, Garcia, and Quillin will be the favored fighters in more ways than one.

On January 22, a second Haymon Boxing time buy was announced; this one on Spike TV. Thirty-three monthly cards (nine in 2015, twelve in 2016, and twelve in 2017) will be televised on Friday nights, many of them opposite ESPN2 Boxing.

The inaugural Spike telecast will take place on March 13 with Andre Berto vs. Josesito Lopez and Shawn Porter vs. Roberto Garcia. Berto and Porter are considered the house fighters.

Much of the boxing media was frozen out of the press conferences announcing these events. That might be because Haymon had more prominent scribes in mind. Or it might be because he doesn’t want anyone who knows the business boxing asking hard questions in the presence of the uninitiated.

The reaction of competing promoters and television executives left out in the cold has ranged from denial to panic. Some in between these extremes have noted that Haymon now has the burden of selling advertising for programming that advertisers have resisted for decades.

As for fans, there was an ominous signal when it was announced that the April 11 fight between WBA-WBC 140-pound beltholder Danny Garcia and IBF 140-pound beltholder Lamont Peterson will be an over-the-weight non-title bout. That’s Haymon’s way of distributing as many belts as possible among as many of his fighters as possible to keep them happy. Also, presumably, he can pay the fighters a bit less because they aren’t risking their belts.

Haymon is trying to create a sense of inevitability. And he’s spending a lot of his investors’ money to do it. One of many unanswered questions is whether or not the investors will get their money back.

*     *     *

A lot of people in boxing have free time on their hands and not much to do with it. That’s the most likely explanation for the breathless reporting during the past month regarding the non-fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

Pacquiao wants the fight. So does Showtime (a subsidiary of CBS Corporation), which would like to dig itself out from under the weight of its $32,000,000-per-fight minimum obligation to Mayweather.

Bob Arum (Pacquiao’s promoter) may, or may not, want it. But by posturing publicly in favor of the bout, he’s ingratiating himself with Les Moonves (president and CEO of CBS Corporation), who banished Top Rank from the network after Arum brought Pacquiao back to HBO following a flirtation with Showtime for Pacquiao vs. Shane Mosley in 2011.

Speculation that Mayweather-Pacquiao would happen peaked on January 14, when HBO CEO Richard Plepler and Ken Hershman (president of HBO Sports) were seen having lunch in a Manhattan restaurant with Matt Blank and Stephen Espinoza (their Showtime counterparts). By most accounts, the meeting went poorly.

There are numerous issues between Showtime (which has an exclusive contract with Mayweather) and HBO (Pacquiao’s network). These issues range from how the commentating team for Mayweather-Pacquiao would be constituted to which network would televise the rebroadcast of the fight a week later.

More to the point; Mayweather’s actions (as opposed to his words) indicate that he doesn’t want the fight. Al Haymon (Floyd’s manager and de facto promoter) might not want it either.

Haymon is accustomed to controlling all revenue streams from Mayweather’s fights. And he’s a secretive guy. Mayweather-Pacquiao would be a joint venture with Top Rank. That means Bob Arum would know what foreign revenue Haymon was bringing in. And vice versa.

Come to think of it; Arum might not like that much either.

This is the only time in memory that the two most prominent fighters in the world have been in the same weight class and didn’t fight each other. There are reports that Moonves has instructed Espinoza to not give dates to Haymon unless and until Mayweather-Pacquiao is made. That would explain why Showtime has so little programming in place for this year.

*     *     *

Deontay Wilder vs. Bermane Stiverne, contested on January 17, was seen going in as an entertaining match-up between two guys with questionable chins who could punch. Even better, it was unclear who would win.

Stiverne came in at 239 pounds with some extra weight around his waist. For most of the night, he plodded forward without letting his hands go often enough. Wilder used his considerable advantage in height and reach well. Even though Deontay moved away for most of the night, he did so as the aggressor, firing jabs with right hands mixed in. His jab was effective as both an offensive weapon and a defensive shield. The right hands stunned Stiverne at the end of round two and again in round seven.

Wilder had never gone more than four rounds before. By mid-fight, it was clear that Stiverne needed a knockout to win. The only open issues were Deontay’s stamina and his chin. Bermane didn’t do much to test either. Instead, he kept plodding forward, taking punishment and failing to cut off the ring. On the few occasions when he landed something promising, Wilder fired back. The judges’ scores of 120-107, 119-108, and 118-109 were a bit generous to Deontay, but not by much.

With his victory, Wilder claimed the bogus WBC heavyweight belt. The real champion is Wladimir Klitschko. But by besting Stiverne, Deontay established himself as a legitimate contender. He looked better against Bermane than a lot of people thought he would.

Wilder is entertaining to watch. He has the potential to excite people. There’s a big payday waiting for him against either Klitschko or Tyson Fury. Wladimir would be a decided favorite over Deontay. Fury would not.

Wilder-Fury would be a huge event in England. Think Wembley Stadium and the 80,000 fans who attended Carl Froch vs. George Groves last spring. Let’s hope then Deontay opts for Klitschko or Fury in his next fight and not Bozo the Clown.

*     *     *

The January 24 rubber match between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado shaped up at best as an entertaining club fight. The two men had combined to lose five of their previous seven outings over the past thirty-three months, with their only victories coming against each other. There was an effort to brand their trilogy as the second coming of Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward. That had no more credibility than likening Harry Connick Jr to Frank Sinatra.

In the weeks leading up to the fight, there was a widespread belief that, at best, Alvarado wasn’t training properly. At the start of round one, he looked like a man who didn’t want to fight. Then he morphed into a human punching bag. His only moment of serious aggression came toward the end of the second round, when he walked away from the action, then turned and whacked Rios in the testicles. In round three, Brandon pounded away without mercy. Following that stanza, the fight was stopped.

HBO commentator Jim Lampley acknowledged afterward, “It was a one-sided annihilation by a well-prepared Brandon Rios against a stunningly unprepared Mike Alvarado. Basically, he wasn’t there.”

“He had nothing, zero,” promoter Bob Arum added.

Boxing fans were spared comparisons with Gatti-Ward in the post-fight analysis.

*     *     *

The sad story of Jermain Taylor got sadder on January 19 with his arrest on charges of aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a minor, and possession of marijuana after he fired a gun during a parade in Little Rock honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

Taylor was out on bail at the time, pending trial on charges of first degree battery stemming from an incident last August, when he shot his cousin in the leg. His bail was revoked after the parade incident.

There was a time when Jermain was considered a model citizen, and rightly so. Those days are gone.

“It’s possible that brain trauma from boxing is contributing to this,” Dr. Margaret Goodman (one of the most knowledgeable advocates for fighter safety in the United States) posits. “With CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy], you see extreme personality and mood changes. But you wouldn’t know whether that’s the case here without a lot of tests.”

Drug abuse is also believed to be a factor. After Taylor defeated Bernard Hopkins twice in 2005, he left his longtime trainer, Pat Burns, to work with Emanuel Steward, who was assisted by Ozell Nelson. Thereafter, Jermain was introduced to some not-so-healthy aspects of street life.

Taylor reunited with Burns in 2011. Last year, he won a watered-down 160-pound “championship” belt.

“If I sound perturbed,” Burns told this writer last week, “it’s because I am. Jermain was completely against drugs when I first knew him. And now, it’s not just marijuana. It can’t be. Marijuana doesn’t make you crazy like this. I’m told there’s stuff on the streets now that’s marijuana processed in a certain way that’s very dangerous. Maybe it’s that; I don’t know. But he’s out of control. That’s the scary part. The drugs are kicking Jermain’s ass.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Thomas Hauser on Boxing: Another Year Inside the Sweet Science) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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Mad Max and Manny

Ted Sares

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Mad-Max-and-Manny

The crowd chants “Manny, Manny, Manny” at the weigh-in at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and Pacquaio’s beloved Pinoy fans are going wild. It’s a BIG event, bigger even than many heavyweight title fights.

Max

Meanwhile, Maxim “Mad Max” Dadashev’s wife Elizabeth is flying from her home in St. Petersburg, Russia, to be with her husband at a hospital in Maryland. Dadashev was critically injured on Friday night while suffering an upset loss to heavy-handed Puerto Rican bomber Subriel Matias at another MGM property, the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

Dadashev, 28, was 281-20 as an amateur, undefeated in 13 professional fights, and the IBF’s third-ranked junior welterweight, but Matias had his number and dominated throughout in a tough and grinding affair.

Capture 9

Maxim Dadashev

At the end of the 11th round, Buddy McGirt told his fighter, “I’m going to stop it, Max.” Dadashev protested. Maybe Max’s brain signaled no, maybe not. But his heart surely said “I’m not done.”

McGirt overruled him, a sage move, but unbeknownst to anyone the damage had been done and it was severe.

“He had one hell of a fight,” McGirt told the Washington Post. “Tough fight, tough fight; took a lot of tough body shots. I just think it was time to stop it. He was getting hit with too many shots. I said to him, ‘I’m stopping it.’ He said, ‘No, don’t.’”

The scores at the time of the stoppage were 109-100, 108-101 and 107-102 in favor of Matias. According to CompuBox, Matias out-landed Dadashev 319-157; 112 of Matias’ punches were body shots.

Max was stretchered out of the arena and rushed to UM Prince George’s Hospital where his skull was opened up to relieve the pressure caused by bleeding. The cavity reveals brain damage, and memories of Mago surface. The dreaded and familiar scenario then begins as he is put into an induced coma. Hopefully, the swelling goes down, the bleeding stops, and no blood clot appears as the later would make a terrible situation grave. In any event, Max will never box again. His well-publicized dream to win a world title will not be fulfilled.

In a post-fight interview, ESPN’s ringside analyst Tim Bradley said, “That’s a scary situation and every time you step foot in the ring you know that was always the talk that I would have with my wife. You know before I would step foot in the ring, I would sit her down, I would look at her and I would say, ‘Look at me, honey. Take a good look at me, open your eyes wide open because I might not come out the ring, for one, and I know I’m not coming out of the ring the same way that I came in.’”

Manny

Back to the big fight the following evening:

The crowd chants “Manny, Manny, Manny” as he enters the ring to battle Keith Thurman for still another championship as his worshipers are now virtually in a state of mass hysteria and begin singing and cheering loudly. The scene borders on the surreal.

Across the Pond

Earlier on Saturday, across the pond in London, heavyweight David Allen took a bad beating from 6’9” David Price and required oxygen. He also was stretchered out and sent to a hospital, adding to the angst. But he will be okay. According to his promoter, Eddie Hearn, Allen had a broken orbital bone and a damaged tongue, but brain scans suggested he was okay.

David Allen — “Very happy and proud of David Price. I will be okay, but the last 12 months or so my health has been deteriorating and I’m glad I hung on, took the chance, and made money. [I’m] now probably done.”

“Manny, Manny, Manny”

In Las Vegas, Manny has decked Thurman in the first round and the place is delirious. The crowd senses that this is his night although Thurman is not backing up. In the tenth, Pac almost puts “One Time” away after landing a devastating body punch.

Finally, the fight is over and Manny is declared the winner. The decibel count goes off the chart as the Pinoys sing “We Are The Champions.” Viewers hit the mute button. These are not fans as much as they are cultists. One wonders if those who are chanting even know that this has been a week where boxing exposed its grim side.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

Ted Sares is a member of Ring 8, a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). He is an active power lifter and Strongman competitor in the Master Class.

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The Hauser Report: Caleb Plant is Making His Mark

Thomas Hauser

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The July 20 IBF 168-pound title fight between Caleb Plant and Mike Lee wasn’t expected to be competitive. But it was a coming out party for one of boxing’s more compelling personalities.

Plant was born and raised in Tennessee. As his ring career progressed, he moved to Henderson on the outskirts of Las Vegas to hone his craft. On January 13 of this year, he scored an upset decision victory over Jose Uzcategui to claim the IBF belt and bring his record to 18-0 with 10 KOs. Prior to that, his hardscrabble origins had been scarred by tragedy.

Plant grew up in a home where alcohol and drug abuse were common. His own daughter, Alia, was born with severe brain damage.

“She had zero motor skills,” Caleb recounted last year. “She couldn’t sit up. She couldn’t hold her head up. She couldn’t lift her arm. She couldn’t eat. She ate through a tube in her stomach. I didn’t know if she was gonna know who I was. I didn’t know if she knew that I loved her. She was never gonna stand and say ‘I love you, dad’ or ‘Merry Christmas, dad.’ She’s not gonna know what it’s like to have friends. But what if I could just give her a nice life, a life that I didn’t have. What if I could work so hard that I can give her a life and things that I never had as a kid. We won’t be able to have the relationship that I had with my dad. But I’ll give her my all, my best, no matter what. This is what I can try to give her. A roof over her head; food in her stomach even if it’s not through her mouth.”

In 2015, at nineteen months of age, Alia was in the hospital on life support for the fifth and final time in her young life. Plant’s words speak for themselves.

“The doctors were telling me, ‘Mr. Plant, your daughter is gonna pass away. That’s a tough conversation to have. She was slowly going down and down and down and down. I went to her. It was just me, and I said, ‘You know, this has been a long nineteen months, and I know you have to be tired. And if you are over this, then I’m okay with that. I’m not gonna be mad at you. I’m not gonna be disappointed in you. I’m not gonna be upset with you. If you’re tired of this and you’re done and you don’t want to do this anymore, then your daddy supports you. And I’m gonna be right here.’ And right after that conversation – a conversation that I had never had with her before because, every time before, it was ‘No, this is not gonna happen’ – she started going down. I said, ‘I want you guys to take this stuff off of her because I don’t want her to pass with these tubes down her throat and an EEG machine on her head and sticky and all that stuff.’ They took all that stuff out. They cleaned her off and washed her hair. They took everything out. I got to sit there with her. She took her last breath at 10:55. And I just sat with her there for a long while.”

Adding to the tragedy in Plant’s life, his mother was shot and killed by a police officer in March of this year. According to the Tennessee Bureau of investigation, Beth Plant was being taken to a hospital by ambulance when she became unruly and pulled a knife from her backpack. The driver pulled over to the side of the road and called for assistance from law enforcement. When a policeman arrived, Plant came toward him brandishing the knife and he shot her.

After Plant’s mother died, Caleb posted a message on Facebook that read, “Love you forever and always momma. You always said ‘work hard bubba’ and I did. I know that we spent a lot of time wishing the relationship we had was different but you was still my momma. We both wished we could start from scratch so we could go back and you could have a fresh start with me and Maddie. Regardless you was one of the sweetest ladies I’ve ever come across. You had your demons but you’d give the shoes off your feet and your last dollar to someone who needed it less than you. I love you momma and I know you are up there with Alia now and her and grandma finally get to spend time together like we talked about way back. You are the first one out of all of us to see what Alia is really like so make the most of that and kiss her up and tell her that her daddy loves and misses her. I know in the end it’s your demons we always talked about that got the best of you. Maybe you always told me because you knew I’d understand because we shared some of the same ones.”

The saving grace in Plant’s life has been boxing.

“I’ve been boxing since I was nine years old,” Caleb says. “There ain’t never been a Plan B. Not to go to college. Not to get a nine-to-five. Not to get a job. Not to be in the NFL. Not any of that. All I’ve ever had is boxing. I’m from the metho-heroin capital of the U.S. where a mother will sell her child’s last toy for one Xanex. Where a mother will lock her son and her daughter in a room for hours, not taking care of them, just so she can be locked away in her room doing her own stuff. I’m from where the Bethesda Center gives out-of-date canned food to you because you ain’t got no food. There ain’t no Plan B.”

Elaborating on that theme during a July 1 media conference call, Plant declared, “Boxing has always been like a sanctuary for me. It’s been a place that I could go and be somebody. As a kid, I was somebody that nobody would want to be, living in a place where nobody would want to be in. When I got to go to the gym, then I got to be somebody that everybody wanted to be. Grown men looking up to me, oohing and ahhing. And once I got back out of those doors, I had to go back to being that kid that nobody wanted to be. So that became like an addiction for me, to want to be there, want to be in the gym.”

“Through everything that came and left in my life,” Plant continued. “Through all the things that I’ve lost, through all the things I’ve been deprived of or haven’t had, boxing has always stood by my side. Boxing has always been there for me through thick and thin. Boxing is like a woman. If you treat her right and you do good by her, then she’ll stand by you and she’ll do right by you. But she’s a jealous woman. And the difference between me and my opponent is, I haven’t glanced off of her. I haven’t endeavored into other things.”

Mike Lee comes from a world that Caleb Plant is unfamiliar with.

Lee went to high school at the Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois. Virtually all of Benet’s students go on to college. Lee spent a year at the University of Missouri before transferring to Notre Dame, where he graduated with a degree in finance. “I relax by watching CNBC,” he told writer Kieran Mulvaney several years ago. “And I like reading the Wall Street Journal.”

For most of Lee’s ring career, he was well marketed and well protected by Top Rank. At one point, he parlayed his Notre Dame pedigree into a much-commented-upon Subway commercial. Recently, he left Top Rank to campaign under the Premier Boxing Champions banner. Now 32 (five years older than Plant), he came into Saturday night’s fight with a 21-0 (11 KOs) record and had fought his entire career at light-heavyweight or a shade higher.

Plant’s opposition had been suspect prior to his victory over Uzcategui. Lee’s opposition had been worse. “The typical Mike Lee opponent,” one matchmaker observed, “has had ten fights and won all but nine of them.”

Kick-off press conferences are usually characterized by the lack of anything eloquent being said. The May 21 press conference for Plant-Lee was different. Lee spoke first, voicing the usual platitudes.

“Every single fight is different. I don’t really care what his other opponents have done in or out of the ring. It doesn’t matter. On fight night, the bell rings, it’s just me and him. The best man will win. I’ve been in so many press conferences where opponents either talk shit or they’re dismissive or they’re respectful. I’ve beat them all. This is an incredible opportunity and I will make the most of it. I’m going to shock a lot of people”

Then it was Plant’s turn.

“I’ve been boxing my whole life,” Caleb said. “No college degree for me. No high school sports. No acting gigs. No Subway commercials. Just boxing, day in and day out, rain, sleet, or snow. He may have a financial degree. But in boxing I have a Ph.D and that’s something he don’t know anything about. Something else I have a Ph.D in is being cold and being hungry and being deprived, coming from very rock bottom. That’s something he don’t know anything about. So if this guy ever thought for one second that I would let him mess this up for me and send me back there; unlike him, I have everything to lose. This is how I keep a roof over my head and food in my belly. That’s something he don’t know anything about. So if he thinks he’s going to mess this up for me, he’s not half as educated as I thought he was.”

At times, the dialogue seemed to verge on class warfare. And it continued in that vein through fight week.

“There are zoo lions and there are jungle lions,” Plant said at the final pre-fight press conference two days before the bout. “The zoo lion will look at the jungle lion and think they’re the same thing. And from a distance they look the same. Until it’s time to eat or be eaten.”

“The trash talking goes back and forth,” Lee responded. “That’s as old as time. Nothing he’s saying is new. It’s all recycled stuff he’s heard on TV or heard in movies. It’s nothing new to me. It doesn’t even bother me. I laugh at it.”

Plant-Lee was broadcast live on Fox as a lead-in to the Pacquiao-Thurman pay-per-view card. Lee was a 15-to-1 underdog. The consensus was that he had as much chance of beating Plant in a boxing match as Yale would have of beating Notre Dame in football.

Nevada’s choice of 76-year-old referee Robert Byrd as third man in the ring was a bit of a surprise. Byrd was once a capable referee, but his performance in recent years has been erratic. The most egregious example of this was his mishandling of the June 15 World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight semi-final bout between Mairis Briedis and Krzysztof Glowacki.

Byrd is past the point where he can move nimbly around the ring and was out of position for much of Briedis-Glowacki. His judgment was also faulty. In round two while the fighters were in a clinch, Glowacki hit Breidis in the back of the head with a rabbit punch. Briedis retaliated by flagrantly smashing an elbow into Glowacki’s face, driving the Pole to the canvas. In a post-fight in-the-ring interview on DAZN, Briedis acknowledged the foul, saying, “I did a little bit dirty.”

Glowacki, for his part, noted, “The elbow was really strong and clear to the chin. I did not know what happened. I do not remember a lot after that.”

Byrd deducted a point from Briedis but didn’t give Glowacki additional time to recover. Still hurt, Glowacki was knocked down fifteen seconds later by a two-punch combination that ended with a right hand to the back of the head. He rose. The bell rang to end the round. And Byrd didn’t hear it.

“The bell’s gone,” DAZN blow-by-blow commentator Jim Rosenthal shouted. “They’re carrying on. Come on, referee. I can hear it. Get in there.”

But Byrd allowed the action to continue. With people at ringside waving their arms and screaming at him that the round had ended, he allowed Briedis to batter Glowacki for another eight seconds until Mairis scored another knockdown.

“He’s gone down after the bell,” Rosenthal proclaimed. “What is occurring in there? What is occurring? That bell was ringing for ages. It’s farcical. He’s saying he couldn’t hear the bell. He must have been the only one in the arena.”

A badly damaged Glowacki was allowed out of his corner for round three but the fight was stopped twenty seconds later. In the same post-fight interview on DAZN, Briedis conceded that he’d heard the bell ending round two but kept punching.

As for Plant-Lee, the fight lived down to expectations. Lee tried to fight aggressively but didn’t have the tools to do it. Plant was the faster, stronger, tougher, better schooled fighter. He dropped Lee with a lead left hook late in round one, dug effectively to the body throughout, and put Lee on the canvas thrice more in the third stanza. After the final knockdown, Byrd stopped the mismatch. According to CompuBox, Lee landed just eight punches in the entire bout.

It will be interesting to see how Plant progresses from here, in and out of the ring. In that regard, it should be noted that writer Jeremy Herriges talked at length recently with Carman Jean Briscoe-Lee (Alia’s mother, who was once Caleb’s companion). Thereafter, Herriges wrote a thought-provoking article for NY Fights that calls portions of Plant’s narrative into question.

A Missing Part of the Caleb Plant Story 

 

Meanwhile, Caleb remains a work in progress.

“I’m not a grown man,” he said during a July 1 media conference call. “I’m a growing man. So I’m going to continue to become better in the ring. I’m going to continue to become a better man outside the ring. Thus far, I think I’ve done a good job of handling that responsibility. If I just continue to follow what I’ve done, I think I’ll be on the right path.”

Let’s see how the journey unfolds.

Thomas Hauser’s new email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing  – will published this autumn by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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Manny Pacquiao Defies Father Time, Whips Thurman

David A. Avila

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Manny Pacquiao Defies Father Time, Whips Thurman

LAS VEGAS-Father time, hold on.

Manny Pacquiao knocked down Keith Thurman with his electrifying speed in the first round then managed to keep the lead and defeat Keith Thurman by split decision and retain the WBA welterweight world title Saturday. It was one exciting firefight.

Pacquiao showed the young guns he still has bullets left in the chamber.

The pride of the Philippines, Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs) also showed he still has star attraction and startling speed in front of the crowd of 14,356 at the MGM Grand. And he still has enough in the gas tank to defeat a young powerhouse like 30-year-old Thurman.

But it was razor close.

Pacman jumped to the lead in the first round with a sizzling combination capped by a lightning right hook that floored a surprised Thurman. The Florida fighter smiled while getting up.

“He caught me when I was moving back,” said Thurman. “After that knockdown it was just a numbers game.”

For the first five rounds Pacquiao bedazzled Thurman and the fans with his jitterbug style that has confused dozens of opponents in more than 20 years as a professional. But once he slowed down, Thurman began connecting and connecting.

Thurman had never tasted defeat and used a body attack to slow down the rushes by Pacquiao. It proved effective and from rounds six through nine the taller Thurman was connecting on a slower moving Pacquiao.

Just when it looked like Thurman was about to take over with body shots and rights in the 10th round, Pacquiao stopped the onslaught and unleashed a multiple-punch rally including a powerful left to the body that buckled Thurman who was visibly pained by the body blow. Somehow he hung on as Pacquiao unfurled a barrage of blows in search of the killing blow he once knew so well. Thurman survived.

“I felt like I was grabbing some momentum back. I felt like I needed to possibly get a knockdown,” Thurman said. “But definitely I was obviously hurt in that round.  I tried to push him to his limit and he came up on top.”

Pacquiao was able to carry over the momentum to the 11th round by targeting Thurman’s weakened body. But at 30 years old the Floridians recovery time was quick and he was able to stave off Pacquiao’s attacks with well-placed right counters.

In the final round Thurman kept pressure on the shorter Pacquiao who seemed a little tired and careful about getting caught with Thurman’s sharp right counters. The fight ended without serious further altercations.

Judge Glenn Feldman scored it 114-113 for Thurman while judges Dave Moretti and Tim Cheatham tabbed it 115-112 for Pacquiao who retains the WBA welterweight title by split decision.

Once again the record-making eight-division world champion Pacquiao defied the ageing process with a victory over another younger world champion. If naysayers felt retirement was overdue he proved once again that he is one of the wonders of prizefighting.

“He’s a good fighter, he’s strong,” said Pacquiao. “We did it for the fans. I’m sure they were happy tonight. Even though it was close he’s not an easy opponent, he’s strong.”

Thurman was gracious in defeat.

“I knew it was close,” said Thurman. “This is a beautiful night for boxing. Manny Pacquiao is a great, great champion. I wish I had a little bit more as he was getting tired, but it was a great night for boxing.”

“This guy is a fighter,” said Pacquiao. “I think I can rank this like a (Antonio) Margarito fight, an Oscar De La Hoya fight, a Juan Manuel Marquez fight and Marco Antonio Barrera fight. You saw what we did in the ring, it’s the first time I encountered an opponent like Keith Thurman. Keith hits like Margarito. I think because he was too big for me and heavy handed.”

Caleb Plant

IBF super middleweight titlist Caleb Plant had predicted Mike Lee was not a true challenge and then proved it with three rounds of domination to win by technical knockout in the third round.

Plant floored a hyper Lee in the first round with a left hook but the Chicago fighter shook it off. The second round was better for Lee who managed to land some blows against the speedy Plant but still lost the round. Worse things were in store for Lee.

Las Vegas-based Plant opened the third round with two quick jabs and rifled a right cross missile that dropped Lee with a thud. The former Notre Dame football player got up enthusiastically ready for more and Plant obliged with a check left hook and down went Lee again. Luckily for Lee, referee Robert Byrd missed the knockdown and called it a slip. Lee couldn’t get up right away but managed to gather himself. When the fight resumed Plant zipped a right cross and down went Lee hard. Referee Byrd stopped the fight without a count though Lee angrily disagreed with the stoppage.

Plant was deemed the winner by technical knockout at 1:29 of the third round to retain the IBF super middleweight world title. It was his first title defense since winning it earlier this year in Los Angeles against Jose Uzcategui.

“I’ve been telling you it’s not going 12,” said Plant. “I take my hat off to Mike, it takes a true man to go in the ring.”

The Tennessee native said he’s ready for anyone whether it’s a super middleweight or light heavyweight.

“I ain’t hard to get ahold of, just come to Las Vegas,” said Plant.

Nery KOs Payano

In a tough battle between southpaw sluggers for the WBC Silver bantamweight title Mexico’s Luis Nery (30-0, 24 KOs) finally solved Dominican’s Jose Carlos Payano (21-3, 9 KOs) by directing his big blows to the body to win by knockout in the ninth round. It was Nery’s 11th consecutive knockout win.

“He had a complicated style but I adapted by the sixth round and went to the body and focused on that,” said Nery who lives and trains in Tijuana, Mexico.

After back and forth blows for nine rounds Nery caught Payano with a crackling left to the body and down went Payano for more than five minutes. The Dominican was counted out by referee Vic Drakulich at 1:43 of the ninth round.

Ugas wins Ugly

If not for a point deducted Cuba’s Yordenis Ugas (24-4, 11 KOs) would have won every round over Texas fighter Omar Figueroa (28-1-1, 19 KOs) but he had to settle for winning by unanimous decision in winning the eliminator for the WBC welterweight title.

It was an ugly fight.

The first round looked good for Ugas who nailed Figueroa with a wicked overhand right. Figueroa was saved from hitting the floor by the ropes and the referee wisely called it a knockdown. But after that, darkness and frustration set in as Figueroa hugged his way inside and Ugas showed he did not how to fight at close distance. Instead of fighting he held and held until referee Russell Mora took a point away in the fifth round.

Figueroa’s charges inside were ineffective for 11 rounds as both were unable to allow a fight to break out. After 12 rounds all three judges scored it the same 119-107 for Ugas. It was Figueroa’s first loss as a pro.

Lipinets

Former super lightweight world titlist Sergey Lipinets faced last-minute replacement Javar Inson, a southpaw, and knocked out the Filipino fighter with a counter left hook in the second round. It was advice that his new trainer Joe Goossen had directed him to do.

“(Joe Goossen) is an exceptional trainer. He just wanted me to make sure I block his punches with my elbows and just counter,” said Lipinets.

During a exchange of blows Lipinets countered with a left hook that Inson did not see and was dropped for a knockdown. Referee Jay Nady looked at his eyes and stopped the fight at 57 seconds of the second round for a technical knockout win for Lipinets.

“You never know what to expect because you train for one style and get another. He was looking for it. A great fighter executes what he expects,” said Goossen.

Other Bouts

Nigeria’s Efe Ajagba (11-0, 9 KOs) out-punched Turkey’s Ali Eren Demirezen (11-1,10 KOs) over 10 rounds to surprisingly win by unanimous decision instead of by knockout. Both heavyweights entered the ring with prodigious knockout records but neither was able to knock the other down. Two judges scored it 99-91 and a third 97-93 for Ajagba.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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