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The Underappreciated Boxing Brilliance of Erislandy Lara

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Erislandy Lara is not universally praised as one of the best boxers on the planet, but he should be.

Oh sure, he holds an alphabet title belt and is recognized as the No. 2 junior middleweight fighter in the world by both the Transnational Rankings and Ring Magazine. But being recognized and accepted as a top fighter is not nearly the same thing as being praised for it. And Lara isn’t celebrated for his boxing brilliance by fans and media.

He’s scoffed at for it.

A Familiar Story

There’s always that one guy. Isn’t there? He’s the one who doesn’t have hoards of fans but still commands the respect among his peers because they know what he is capable of doing every single time the bell rings: winning.

Other fighters avoid facing him like The Plague. They know he has the goods. He’s just too damned skilled at what he does to be worth the risk no matter how big the associated payday might be. There’s always someone else to fight, someone less risky. And to hell with whatever the alphabet gang says about him, fighters know he’s the toughest fight in the division.

But he’s a hard sell. Maybe he’s so great defensively that his fights are labeled boring by anyone but boxing’s most astute observers. Or maybe his best weapons are his jab and footwork. Or maybe he hails from a tiny island off the coast of America, one that’s estranged from Uncle Sam’s capitalist culture and doesn’t offer a gigantic built-in fan base like some of boxing’s other social groups.

God forbid it’s all of them.

And because of it, ringside judges make him work extra hard to win fights. It’s not that they’re necessarily corrupt. It’s not that they’re not necessarily corrupt either. But it’s mainly because they’re human. They hear the crowd cheering for the other guy. They read the papers before the fight. They hear, too, the fans in the cheap seats, those whose interests typically match their pocketbooks, boo lustily as he slips and dodges punches rather than absorbing them with his face.

So our guy Lara has to win nine rounds or more every single fight just to get a “fair” shake from boxing judges. If he wins anything less, he can expect a draw on the cards or a decision loss. That’s just how it goes.

It’s not right, but Lara is used to it. He comes from tougher stuff.

The American Dream

Lara was born in one of the poorest areas of Cuba. He’s never met his father, and he told me that his mother, Marisol, was an alcoholic. His grandmother did the best she could to raise him, but she died when Lara was just 11 years old.

Like I said, tougher stuff.

Maybe Lara was born to fight. By 2005, he was captain of the Cuban national team and a three-time national champion for a country that produces exponentially more Olympic boxing medalists per capita than any other in the world. Lara was one of the favorites for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but he never made it there.

Teofilo Stevenson, winner of three Olympic gold medals and perhaps Cuba’s greatest boxer of all time, turned down $5 million dollars in the 1970s to leave his country and fight reigning heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.

“I wouldn’t exchange my piece of Cuba for all the money they could give me,” Stevenson told Sports Illustrated. “I prefer the affection of eight million Cubans.”

But Lara was from a new generation of Cubans, one that experienced the results of Fidel Castro’s revolution in a vacuum. They weren’t part of the change. They were the result of it. Lara’s generation didn’t reflect as fondly on their county’s past. They looked even less favorably on its current condition.

Lara wanted more than his countrymen’s ardor, so he attempted to defect from Cuba during the 2007 Pan American Games in Brazil. After having a few drinks with teammate Guillermo Rigondeaux, the two made a break for Germany with boxing promoter Ahmet Oner, who had helped Yuriorkis Gamboa and Yan Barthelemy defect from Cuba a short time earlier so that they could start their professional careers. That’s what Lara and Rigondeaux wanted, too. The two men were hidden away by Oner so they could be smuggled safely out of the country when the time was right.

But it never happened.

The two languished for three weeks, fugitives in a strange land with no place to turn. Cuba worked diligently with Brazilian authorities to search for the missing boxers until Lara and Rigondeaux finally decided to turn themselves in. Upon their return to Cuba, the two were branded traitors and placed on indefinite suspension by the Cuban government. The men were then confined to their homes and not allowed to fight again.

“It was a pointless existence,” said Lara.

But it wasn’t pointless for Castro. It was important for him to make an example out of the two. “They have reached a point of no return as members of a Cuban boxing team,” wrote Castro in the state-run Granma. “An athlete who abandons his team is like a solider who abandons his fellow troops in the middle of combat.”

Four months later, Lara tried to leave Cuba again. He was smuggled by boat along with 20 other defectors. The six-hour trek to Mexico took 17 hours in the dead of night, and the smugglers demanded 10 times more for Lara’s passage once they learned he was a world champion boxer.

Lara made it to Mexico, and once there, he was transported by Oner to Germany. He fought twice overseas for Oner before leaving for the United States in 2008 to sign with a new manager, Luis DeCubas, Jr. In 2012, boxing powerbroker Al Haymon became Lara’s co-manager alongside DeCubas.

“It was a very difficult decision to leave Cuba, which is why it took me so long to leave, but I did it for the right reasons,” said Lara. “I did it to better my life and better my family’s life and that is what I’ve done. I came here to work hard and fight.”

Lara’s journey was fraught with danger. He wasn’t sure he’d make it.

“Being on the sea, not knowing whether you are going to live or die—whether I’d make it or not,” he said. “I’m grateful to God I was able to pass that stage of my life and now that is why I work so hard in this country to make the most out of my life. I believe that God put every human being on this planet for a reason.”

If one supposes there truly is a reason for every human being on earth to exist, a close study of Lara reveals one obvious conclusion: Lara was born to be a world-class boxer.

A Technical Appreciation

A quote attributed to Bruce Lee can rightly be applied to Lara’s boxing skills, too: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Substitute “punch” for “kick” and Lee would probably have admitted a healthy amount of fear of Lara, particularly his straight left hand. Everything Lara does inside a boxing ring relies and depends on his left, and he does multiple things to set the punch up.


All of Lara’s favorite combinations include the straight left. He frequently employs a jab-cross, a jab-cross-jab and even a cross-jab that ends in a pivot.

While less used than the aforementioned, Lara also throws a mean half-hook, half-uppercut to the body after a stiff or blinding jab to the face.

Like most fighters, Lara has more than one jab. Unlike most, he’s great at more than one of them. The two most frequent jabs he uses are the classic, stiff jab (aka the first punch you learn in a boxing gym) and a flashy, blinding jab that’s primarily used as a setup for whatever is coming in behind it.

In the video below, Lara uses both jabs in succession. His blinding jab sets up the stiff one. Only the second of the two is meant to land.

Lara will at times use his power hand like a jab. Similar to Rigondeaux, Lara will sometimes paw with his left hand simply to have his opponent react to it or be blinded by it, after which he’ll throw a sharp jab or stinging hook behind it. Think of it as a Trojan Horse; the light-hitting left seems so amiable and sweet until one realizes the walloping right that seemingly comes from within it.

In the very same sequence, Lara uses his left hand to blind Alvarez before throwing a hard one-two.

Overall, Lara’s style is relatively simple but incredibly effective. He relies on just a few critical elements but has mastered them to the point of being almost unbeatable. His trainer, Ronnie Shields, believes the more one knows the intricacies of the sport, the more one appreciates the crafty style of Lara.

“If you really know boxing, then you will love Erislandy Lara,” said Shields. “If you don’t know anything about boxing, then you will not love him. Because the kid knows how to fight. He knows what to do inside of that ring. That’s all that’s important.”

Lara is the prototypical Cuban fighter. He’s a fast stylist who uses swift movement, educated timing and precise punching. He is a master of both distance and space who relies on his defense to set up his offense. He’d rather hit and not be hit. It’s not that he doesn’t believe in his ability to take a punch. It’s that he knows he doesn’t have to in order to land his own.

He accomplishes this by using superb footwork to create angles. Lara’s goal is create linear attack points from one direction, and linear escape points in another. He’s capable of stepping either toward or away from his opponent’s power hand in order to land the punches he wants. He often steps wide to the side when he fights, but still manages to follow through with his punches as if he were trying to hit someone two inches behind where the opponent is standing.

It’s called punching through the target, and Lara does it better than anyone in the sport.

The hallmark of Lara’s style is his overly wide stance. If you go into any local American boxing gym and try to mimic his fighting technique, you’ll likely be admonished. Traditionally, fighters rely on narrower stances than Lara’s because they feel it allows more freedom to move around the ring.

A good example of a traditional wide-but-not-Lara-wide stance would be the one employed by Juan Manuel Marquez, a brilliant mover who can punch from virtually anywhere on the floor. There’s nothing wrong with the approach. Marquez is one of the finest boxers ever.

Lara can punch from anywhere, too. And Lara’s overly wide stance gives him significant power in situations where other fighters typically wouldn’t have it, even if he’s moving backwards.

Moreover, Lara uses his stance to draw opponents toward him. While Lara is capable of leading, he prefers to be a counterpuncher. One unique way he tries to lure his opponents in is by bending his knees low while resting in his stance. It puts his torso very close to the mat, and at times his rear is virtually inches from the ground. From this position, Lara moves his head and shoulders as punches come toward him and is capable of making his opponents miss wildly, serving the dual function of tiring them out and setting them up for counters.

“The Cubans really know what the sweet science is,” said Shields. “Boxing is a hit-and-don’t-get-hit sport. The Cubans have perfected that. They are boxer-punchers. They know how to hurt you. But at the same time, they’re not getting beat up.”

Lara has fought 24 times as a professional. He’s never been beat up.

Fair Criticism

Lara is overly criticized for his fighting methods, but not all of it is unfair or unwarranted. While he’s clearly a superb pugilist, one gets the impression watching him fight that he’s not quite maximizing his full potential.

That was nowhere more apparent than during his hotly disputed split-decision loss to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in 2014, a fight Lara probably won but also deserved to lose.

Judge Levi Martinez scored the bout atrociously, 117-111 for Alvarez. The other two judges scored the bout 115-113: Jerry Roth for Lara and Dave Moretti for Alvarez.

Media scores were similarly close. According to a Boxing News poll, of 89 media members who scored the bout, 34 of them scored it for Alvarez, 30 for Lara and 25 called it a draw. Compubox numbers support the Lara crowd. Lara outlanded Alvarez 107-97 and landed a higher percentage of his punches.

But Lara appeared to be in control of the bout for most of the night, and while Alvarez was an aggressor in many of the rounds (i.e., he was moving forward), he was hardly effective. Lara’s footwork kept him out of sync, and while he hurled body punches at his Cuban foe over the course of the fight, much of them where blocked by Lara’s arms and elbows.

Having watched and rewatched the bout numerous times, it seems that the most likely outcome of the fight, had Alvarez not been a popular Mexican fighter with big-money backers, and a loud a boisterous crowd shouting praises at him from all over the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, would have been anywhere between a draw to a 116-112 win for Lara.

The idea that Alvarez won more than six rounds is a stretch at the very least and becomes even more elasticized as one moves up the ladder to seven, eight or nine rounds in his favor.

Judge Martinez gave Alvarez nine rounds in the fight, meaning he either somehow prefilled his scorecards for each round based solely on expectation before the bout started or simply got the fighter’s names mixed up when the bell rang.

But either way, Lara made curious choices leading up to the biggest bout of his professional career, enough to make one wonder how Roth and Moretti would have scored the bout had he done things just a little differently.

When Lara first defected from Cuba, he ended up in Miami. But Lara found the nightlife there distracting and decided to instead move to Katy, a suburb of Houston, Texas, so he could focus solely on the two things that mattered most to him: boxing and his family.

But heading into the biggest fight of his career, Lara moved his training camp away from home and to Las Vegas, a city known exactly for the things Lara left Miami for in the first place.

Lara trains with Shields in a boxing gym housed within Plex, an impressive fitness facility near Katy in Stafford, another Houston suburb. It’s a place where the owner, Danny Arnold, has made a good living training elite athletes from all over the world.

Other Shields fighters, such as Bryan Vera and the Charlo brothers, Jermell and Jermall, train with Arnold there year-round. The results are astounding. The Charlos are two of the fittest 154-pounders in boxing. Since working with Arnold, their appearance has visibly changed and both have shown marked increases in speed and punching power.

Vera attained similar results. His newfound athleticism helped what used to be a lead-footed brawler deserve (but not receive) the nod for outboxing Julio Cesar Chavez in 2013.

Moreover, as Vera has been more and more absent from training at Plex over the last year, so too have his skills seemingly eroded back to the fighter he was before.

Despite having access to a place where other Shields’ fighters, as well as NFL, NBA and MLB players, train with the latest technology to develop endurance, speed and power, Lara has maintained an old school boxing mentality.

Instead of taking advantage of where he is, Lara uses Edward Jackson, strength and conditioning coordinator who told me he didn’t really even need a gym to get his fighters ready to fight.

“I don’t need any of this stuff,” said Jackson as he pointed to the machines at gadgets around him a Plex. “We can get ready anywhere.”

Maybe that’s true. But as someone who has been with and around Shields’ fighters over the past couple of years, I can wholeheartedly attest to one thing: the fighters that train at Plex have changed significantly since they’ve taken the plunge. You don’t just think the fighters are getting faster and stronger. You can actually see it.

Here’s why that’s so crucial. Lara’s style is entirely dependent on his foot-speed and movement. It relies on him being quick and explosive and requires the maximum amount of endurance the human body can muster over 12 full rounds.

Against Alvarez, Lara appeared to tire in the middle rounds. He threw fewer punches, and allowed Alvarez to steal key moments in the bout by not keeping pace. Yes, Lara was in fine shape that night. But if there were ways for him to get into even better shape, it would have behooved him and his handlers to explore them.

Lara will never get the benefit of the doubt from judges. He should know that by now. He doesn’t just have to win rounds. He has to win them convincingly. In order to do that, he doesn’t just have to be in great shape. He has to be in exceptionally great shape.

And starting with Plex–exploring it and any other ideas or options that are available to a world-class fighter with big-money backers like Haymon and DeCubas–would be a wise move going forward.

The Road Ahead

Lara is 31 years old. His fan base largely consists of the small number of hardcore fight fans who enjoy the Cuban style of boxing and fighters who rely on ring generalship more than any other attribute. And even at that, he plays second fiddle to Rigondeaux, a fighter more talented, more accomplished and more ballyhooed with essentially the same fighting approach but more power and speed for his weight class.

Ranked No. 2 in the division by the Transnational Rankings behind lineal champion Floyd Mayweather and the No. 1 rated Alvarez, Lara appears to have no big fights on the horizon.

Lara is the WBA regular champion. Supposedly, this makes him first in line for the WBA’s super champion at 154, Mayweather. But there’s simply no world in which the aging Mayweather chooses Lara for a defense that isn’t forced upon him. And even if that were the case, Mayweather only fights above 147 pounds for blockbuster pay-per-views against legitimate superstars.

Lara does not fit the bill.

After Alvarez eked out his decision win over Lara, his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, was upfront about what everyone knew would be the case at the time: there would be no rematch.

De La Hoya knew Alvarez had gambled greatly by fighting Lara, a tough bout that would have been easy for the young star to avoid. To his credit, Alvarez made the fight happen and did enough in the judges’ eyes to walk away the winner. Alvarez, age 24, is a brave, new generation of star who seems okay with taking fights he could possibly lose, an old school approach more young fighters could stand to mimic.

But Alvarez isn’t stupid. He made it out of the bout unscathed and can now focus on bigger names and less risk. Moreover, Alvarez seems to have outgrown the junior middleweight division. His last two fights were fought above 154 pounds, including the contest with Lara.

Other division titleholders include Demetrius Andrade and Cornelius Bundrage, fighters who likely wouldn’t jump at the prospect of a unification bout with Lara unless they could be guaranteed an amount of money for the fight a TV network isn’t likely to pay.

And the best up-and-comers in the division, the Charlo brothers, are stable mates of Lara who also train with Shields, making them highly unlikely as potential competition.

About the only good thing one can say about Lara’s future prospects is that, in boxing, fights just seem to materialize sometimes. Lara will get more fights, and some of them will be interesting and noteworthy.

Lara dominated former titleholder Austin Trout in 2013. The American has won two straight fights since and a rematch with Lara could make sense to his handlers if they’re looking to earn more title shots.

Lara suffered a technical draw to Vanes Martirosyan in 2012. The bout was halted in Round 9 due to a cut caused by an accidental head-butt over Martirosyan’s left eye. That fight might also warrant a redo.

Martirosyan lost a split-decision to Andrade in 2013 but has rebounded nicely since parting ways with former promoter Top Rank and hooking up with Goossen Promotions. He’s won two straight over fairly decent opposition, including a solid shellacking of Willie Nelson last year.

And then there’s Al Haymon.

The mysterious advisor, who just announced a multi-year deal to broadcast numerous fights on the NBC network, will need inventory for his grand television venture. Does Lara fit into those plans?

Lara is one of the fighters Haymon advises and could potentially be used to fill timeslots at NBC, or at the very least Lara could be someone who benefits from Haymon putting other fighters on NBC. With those men busy with dates on the slew of upcoming NBC, NBC Sports Network and Spike TV cards, and potentially less Haymon fighters left for traditional boxing powerhouse Showtime to choose from now, the superbly skilled Lara could suddenly become an alluring option to Showtime executives looking to fill dates with fighters that fans can recognize while Haymon focuses on his free TV experiment. Lara’s bout with Alvarez last year and his exciting knockout of Alfredo Angulo in 2013 at least made him into someone fight fans know and have seen fight.

Whatever Lara’s future is, though, one thing remains clear. He’ll box brilliantly once the bell rings. He’ll move, feint and counter better than most fighters in the world today. He’ll showcase the Cuban style of boxing that has dominated amateur competitions for decades now, and he’ll do it over 12 rounds in the world of professional prizefighting.

He’ll make people wonder how great a heavyweight bout between Ali and Stevenson might actually have been. He’ll do the same for those who pined for Mike Tyson against three-time gold medalist Felix Savon in the 1980s. He’ll help people understand exactly why it’s so hard for Rigondeaux to get the biggest names at junior featherweight to fight him, and whether professional boxing’s slow demise in the United States would have been less severe had more of his countrymen chose he and Rigondeaux’s path rather than Stevenson’s and Savon’s.

And Lara will probably remain underappreciated for all of it. Maybe it’s just his lot in life. Maybe it’s his choices. Maybe it’s something heretofore undefined.

Or maybe Lara is right. Maybe God really does put every single human being on the planet for a reason. And maybe—just maybe—he didn’t just put Lara here to be a boxer, but to be an underappreciated one.

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Andy Ruiz and Filip Hrgovic on the Road to Oleksandr Usyk

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Mexican-American Andy Ruiz and Croatian Filip Hrgovic were instructed by the IBF to begin negotiations for their fight for the Interim heavyweight title, which consequently provides the winner with the opportunity to face the champion Oleksandr Usyk who also holds the WBO and WBA super champion belts.

Ruiz (35-2, 22 KOs) and Hrgovic (15-0, 12 KOs) have 30 days, expiring on February 19, to reach an agreement. Otherwise, the IBF will hold a public auction to see who will promote the bout.

The IBF decision took into account the fact that Hrgovic is the top-ranked contender, while Ruiz is ranked third. The second slot is vacant.

About a year ago, the IBF had confirmed the fight between Ruiz and Hrgovic, with the intention of defining a mandatory challenger for southpaw Usyk (20-0, 13 KOs), but the American withdrew from negotiations due the fact that he was recovering from an alleged injury.

Thirty-three-year-old Ruiz from Imperial, California was victorious in his last two bouts, the most recent on September 4th in Los Angeles by unanimous decision against Cuban southpaw Luis “King Kong” Ortíz (33-3, 28 KOs).

After the victory over Ortíz, Ruiz stated that his immediate goal is to face former world champion Deontay Wilder (43-2-1, 42 KOs) as a victory over Wilder would provide him with the opportunity to face Brit Tyson Fury (33-0-1, 24 KOs), the current WBC champion.

A few weeks later, Ruiz received a boost from the WBC, which confirmed at their 60th annual convention in November that the winner of the fight between Ruiz vs Wilder would face the winner of Fury vs Derek Chisora  ​​(33-13, 23 KOs).

Fury, thirty-four years old, had no difficulty in defeating Chisora by way of chloroform in the tenth round on December 3rd at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.

However, now after the IBF mandate, Ruíz’s long-awaited confrontation with Wilder remains in limbo. Recently, Malik Scott, Wilder’s coach, expressed that although Ruíz is a strong adversary, he is not on the same level as Wilder.

Scott stated, “Andy Ruiz is a serious test. Not just for Deontay but for anybody. But for a disciplined Deontay, in my opinion, Andy Ruiz doesn’t even come close to being in the same league as him. Because what beats Andy Ruiz? Discipline! An old [Chris] Arreola gave him trouble just with discipline. Andy’s problem is he can’t beat disciplined fighters. I had Arreola winning by two rounds. Against Deontay, Andy is going to reach, he has to, we’re taller, and when he reaches, he’s going to pay like he’s never paid before.”

Prior to Ruiz’s recent two victories, he lost by unanimous decision to Brit Anthony Joshua on December 7, 2019 in Saudi Arabia. Only six months had passed since Ruiz knocked out Joshua in the seventh round and seized the IBF, WBA and WBO belts from him on June 1 at New York’s legendary Madison Square Garden.

Hrgovic, three years younger than Ruiz and born in Zagreb, Croatia, comes off a difficult win against Chinese southpaw Zhilei Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KOs) at the Superdome in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Although the three officials handed in scorecards of 115-112 (2x) and 114-113 in favor of Hrgovic, Zhang had sent the European to the canvas in the opening round.

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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Artem Dalakian, Sunny Edwards, and the Most Storied Title in Boxing

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When the mighty Roman Gonzalez departed the 112lb division in 2016 he vacated the title and broke the longest remaining lineage in the sport. In a moment of quiet heartbreak for the boxing aficionado, the final direct link with boxing’s glorious past was cut forever.

That lineage had begun back in 1975 with perhaps the greatest flyweight champion, Miguel Canto.  Canto cleaned house that year, shading the wonderful Betulio Gonzalez and the evergreen Shoji Oguma, part of a calendar year that saw him go 6-0 and establish his absolute pre-eminence in the deepest of flyweight divisions. In 1979, old in the face, Canto was out-worked and even in some ramshackle way out-jabbed by a swarming, aggressive Korean named Chan Hee Park. Park was a good fighter, Shoji Oguma lay in wait to send him tumbling with counter-rights, taking his turn in an impressive second tour. In 1981, the new generation asserted itself in the form of Antonio Avelar.  Avelar seemed, briefly, to be the real deal but he was unseated by a murderous punching Colombian, Prudencio Cardona, who inflicted upon Avelar the most violent knockout in flyweight history.

This heralded the advent of a series of caretaker champions, good fighters, all, but no great ones as the early eighties evaporated while the hot-potato flyweight championship passed from Fredy Castillo to Eleoncio Mercedes to Charlie Magri and others, none of them holding it for more than a matter of months. When the mighty Sot Chitalada wrestled it from the last caretaker champion in 1984, Canto finally had a descendent who could be named a peer. In two spells, Chitalada held the title into the 1990s whereupon it was ripped from him by the Thai Maungchai Kittikasem who then dropped it to an early emergent of the Soviet and former Soviet schools in Yuri Arbachakov.  Arbachakov was the first flyweight whose legacy was to suffer at the hands of the ABC title-belt madness, his record-breaking spell as champion marred by matches with WBC-nominated journeymen. Despite his lengthy title reign, Yuri managed to fight men who were held to belong in the top ten just twice as champion.

Less than a year after the lineal title and Arbakachov were parted, it would be wrapped around the waist of a youngster named Manny Pacquiao, who had crushed Chatchai Sasakul in eight who had in turn outpointed Arbachakov. From the madness of the alphabet soup to the emergence of one of the greatest fighters of our time, the story of the flyweight lineal championship is the story of modern boxing untrampled by titular uncertainty. The history of the championship, of the divisional king, can be traced back to a time when Muhammad Ali ruled the world and so a fistic tendril connects Ali, a hero to his people, to Pacquiao, a hero to his. Pacquiao nearly ruined it all though.  Manny missed weight for his 1999 match with Boonsai Sangsurat and had he won that fight, the title would have been vacated as he departed the weight forever, but fortunately, a weight-drained mess, he was crushed in three rounds.

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam then, when he lifted the title in 2001, became the latest great to trace his lineage back to Canto. Wonjongkam’s reign was as modern as can be imagined, dictated thoroughly by ABCs, fought almost exclusively in his backyard, and despite amassing an astonishing twenty title defences in two spells as king, his win resume underwhelms. A list of the worst ever lineal title challengers would draw heavily from Wonjongkam’s opposition.

Wonjongkam made way for Sonny Boy Jaro of The Philippines who made way for Toshiyuki Igarashi and Akira Yaegashi, both of Japan, underlining what has always been the most international of championships. And finally, at the end of the longest road in modern boxing, the title was lain at the feet of a great fighter from Nicaragua, the wonderful Roman Gonzalez.

Roman Gonzalez was my favourite fighters for years, I watched his boxing obsessively. More than a decade ago, I wrote an article predicting his eventual enshrinement as a pound-for-pound number one and his likely vanquishment by a southpaw, even going so far as to predict this would occur up at 115lbs, all of which came true. But it cut me when he stepped aside in 2016, the lineage that had begun with Canto destroyed, a lineage that had run through four different abdications and coronations at 160lbs, that ran all the way back to the last golden age of the flyweight division.

From the ashes, finally, a phoenix menaces. Far from stipulated, certainly not sure, but stirring. On Saturday night, Ukrainian Artem Dalakian (pictured) came to London to meet David Jimenez on the undercard of the Artur Beterbiev-Anthony Yarde fight. Dalakian-Jimenez is one of those rare and wonderful fights British and American fans are sometimes treated to, elite combat athletes who struggle to secure rewarding purses fighting low on a card which a just sport might see them headline. Jimenez, the challenger for Dalakian’s strap, refutes befuddlement with aggression, boxable but brutal, left floundering early in the biggest fight of his career against Ricardo Sandoval only to button up and fire forwards, hard-scrabbling enough rounds to conquer his more cultured foe. This would be his approach, too, against Dalakian. Dalakian is a fighter of no small culture whose activity suffered during those COVID months but with a legacy that stretches back to the last generation of top flyweights and a victory over Brian Viloria. Having boxed just twenty rounds in three years he was now bringing an unfortunate mix of rust and, at thirty-five years old, age.

Nevertheless, for me he dominated Jimenez. The younger man was reasonably quick-handed and tried to remain ambitious in his rushes, but Dalakian was never less than the cleaner puncher and rested on a steeper bank of experience that saw him nullify his more aggressive foe inside while consistently out-scoring him outside. It was a thoroughly impressive performance that confirmed Dalakian’s remaining superiority over most of the rest of the division. Jimenez, in just his thirteenth fight, had established himself firmly in the divisional top five and likely has a future at 112lbs if he wants it. This was a crossroads fight only in the sense that it tested the last generation with the new, and the new was found wanting.

This victory, a unanimous decision over twelve, was a significant one for Dalakian, however. For me, it establishes him as the number one flyweight in the world but at worst he is the number two. The man with whom he shares the top table is one Sunny Edwards, a London boy and very much the division’s coming man. Edwards has boxed nearly as many contests in the upper echelons of the division as Dalakian, and Dalakian’s victory over Viloria aside, Edwards probably has the most meaningful victory of the two having defeated the ageing Moruti Mthalane in early 2021. The recency of his important victories is the source of the tension concerning the number one divisional flyweight currently.

Sunny

Sunny Edwards

The hope is the two will settle this in the ring.

While it is not unusual for a fighter to arrive from foreign shores and never be seen in a British ring again, it is more often the case that they arrive with targeted opposition when they are boxing at title level, and from Dick Tiger to Zolani Tete, Britain welcomes foreign winners with open arms. It is likely that Dalakian has been brought to Britain to tease a fight with the only man in the division that might be seen as his better and in the only fight either man could hope to box and be similarly enriched. Some promotional tensions exist, but what would be unusual money for a flyweight contest might tip the scales.

And if they settle it in the ring, as the number one and number two flyweight contenders, they will start a new lineage, a new passage of the flyweight title. More than that, the fight would be a fascinating and evenly matched contest between Dalakian, a technician who will likely be forced to box with pressure as a result of his physical limitations and Edwards, a quick-footed slickster who will nevertheless have to commit to outworking maybe the only fighter in the division with superior straight punches. That is not to say that Mexican Julio Cesar Martinez will be excluded – clearly the division’s number three, he may yet have a say.

But if a new and meaningful lineage is to begin it is Dalakian and Edwards, the two best flyweights on the planet, who must seed it.

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Emanuel Navarrete Aims to Become Champion in a Third Weight Class on Friday

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Champion in both the super bantamweight and featherweight categories, the strong Mexican puncher Emanuel Navarrete will try to be champion at 130 pounds on Friday, February 3, when he faces Australian Liam Wilson at the Desert Diamond Arena in the city of Glendale, Arizona. ESPN will be broadcasting the fight.

For Navarrete (36-1, 30 KOs), who has a 31-fight winning streak since his one and only setback in July 2012, the duel with Wilson will be his debut into the super featherweight division.

Navarrete, 28 years old and born in San Juan Zitlaltepec, defeated his countryman Eduardo Báez with a sixth-round knockout last July in San Diego, California, where the winner made his third successful defense of the WBO featherweight title.

Subsequently, Navarrete decided to seek the WBO championship at 130 pounds which had been vacated after the talented American southpaw Shakur Stevenson (19-0, 9 KOs) was unable to make weight on the scale before unanimously defeating Brazilian Robson Conceicao on September 23rd in New Jersey.

The WBO accepted Navarrete’s request to fight for the vacant title and opened the doors to fellow Aztec Oscar Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs), ranked second by the WBO and third by the WBC.

But in December, Valdez’s camp announced that he was withdrawing from the fight after undergoing a medical evaluation. Australian Liam Wilson (11-1, 7 KOs), ranked third by the WBO, was designated to take Valdez’s place.

A confident Navarrete stated: “This is my opportunity to become a three-division world champion. I am going for that crown. Liam Wilson is a good fighter, but this is my moment, and everyone will see a much more complete ‘Vaquero’ Navarrete that has a lot of thirst for victory. My ideal weight is 130 pounds, and that will be demonstrated on February 3rd when I become world champion for Mexico and San Juan Zitlaltepec. Wilson will not get in the way of my dream.”

Navarrete began his string of 31 wins after losing in four rounds against his compatriot Daniel Argueta on July 26, 2012, at the José Cuervo Hall in the finals of the XVIII Gold Belt Tournament. Despite the setback, Navarrete was the one declared champion of the contest, as Argueta failed to show up for the mandatory weigh-in.

Although he is on the verge of conquering his third championship in a third weight division, Navarrete has not defined what his immediate steps will be.

“Let’s see how things evolve,” Navarrete said. “We will see how I feel (at 130 pounds), and then make the right decision. It all depends on how I perform in February and analyze the result. How my body assimilates to the new weight class and things like that.”

Likewise, Navarrete confirmed that he was having difficulty making 126 pounds and that during his career in both the super bantamweight and featherweight divisions he had tried to unify the titles with the other champions without success.

“You know that I have been seeking unification fights in other weight classes,” stated Navarrete. “That is what I want, and what I’m looking for. I hope I can unify in this weight class (130 pounds). But first I hope to win against Wilson, and then we will decide.”

When analyzing his possibilities in the super featherweight division, Navarrete said that he has a tall stature which can benefit him. In the same sense, he considered that now at 130 pounds he will not have to wear himself out to make weight so he will be strong.

Wilson, 26 years old, won the vacant WBO International belt against Argentine Adrián Rueda (37-2, 32 KOs) on June 29th of last year in Brisbane, Australia. Wilson’s lone loss came from Filipino southpaw Joe Noynai (20-3-2, 8 KOs), who knocked him down once in the 1st round, twice in the 4th round, and again in the fifth round on July 7, 2021, in Newcastle, Australia, before referee Phil Austin stopped the lopsided match.

Wilson, however, got even eight months later in a rematch where he chloroformed Rueda in the second round and regained the WBO Asia-Pacific title.

For his upcoming fight, Wilson has set up a seven-week training camp in Washington DC at Headbangers Boxing Gym where Isaac Dogboe trains. Dogboe has fought Navarrete twice and can hopefully provide some valuable insight. “I’m only going off YouTube footage, so to get the advice off Isaac and his trainer over here, they’ve been in the corner against him, they’ve seen him in person, up close, so I have to take their advice onboard,” Wilson added.

Wilson is confident going into this fight, even though he has less professional experience. “He’s been in these fights so many times before. This is my first 12-rounder,” Wilson said. “In a sense, he has every reason to overlook me – I’ve only been in 10 rounders, he’s been 12 rounds multiple times, he’s a two-division world champion and for him it’s just another fight, for me it’s what I’ve dreamed of. I think I’ll be the bigger, stronger fighter. I believe I’ll be the biggest puncher he’s fought.”

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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