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The Underappreciated Boxing Brilliance of Erislandy Lara

Kelsey McCarson

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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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Looking Ahead to Canelo-Kovalev, Looking Back at Robinson-Maxim

Jeffrey Freeman

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Looking Ahead to Canelo-Kovalev, Looking Back at Robinson-Maxim

Will boxing history repeat itself again? 

In modern era prizefighting it is almost unheard of for a reigning middleweight champion to challenge a reigning light heavyweight champion for his title. It’s a fifteen pound climb on the scales; the second biggest weight gap between any of boxing’s eight original weight classes.

Undisputed middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler was wise to resist the temptation; choosing to let Michael Spinks go up 25 pounds to heavyweight rather than moving up himself to challenge the then undefeated Spinks “Jinx” for his unified light heavyweight titles.

As it turns out, Michael could handle the heavyweights. He beat Larry Holmes twice and blitzed Gerry Cooney. He might well have handed Hagler an ugly loss, maybe even one by knockout.

Bernard Hopkins moved up to light heavyweight a year after losing his middleweight titles. He won some and lost some before being knocked out of the ring, and out of boxing, by Joe Smith Jr.  James Toney went from middleweight to heavyweight but he did it slowly over two decades.

CHAMPIONSHIP POUNDS

More often than not, it is the natural middleweight champion (160) fielding challenges from welterweight (147) or junior middleweight (154) while today’s light heavyweight champions (175) sometimes see action from the super middleweights (168) who pack on seven extra pounds.

The most recent example of a middleweight champion moving up in weight to box a defending light heavyweight champion for his title is still Sugar Ray Robinson’s ill-fated challenge of Joey Maxim at Yankee Stadium in New York City on June 25, 1952. Theirs was one hell of a fight.

According to the United Press, the summer heat in the outdoor ring reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Robinson weighed-in at just 157; Maxim at 173. Robinson was better, quicker, and more skilled. Maxim was stronger and he took a much better punch than the lighter Sugar Ray.

“Time after time [Robinson] danced into the attack with his stinging combinations and slipped away from Maxim’s jab,” penned Jack Hand from ringside for the St. Petersburg Times sports page. “But the time came when he could dance no more. As the 13th ended, he collapsed wobbling against the ropes near a neutral corner and had to be dragged to his own stool.”

Robinson retired in the corner after the thirteenth round‒well ahead on points. Referee Ruby Goldstein also failed to go the distance due to desert-like temperatures and dehydration. Ruby was replaced by referee Ray Miller after an especially sweat-drenched tenth frame.

22222robinson maxim e1529974298391 620x465

The only one in the ring who could take the literal and proverbial heat was Maxim, thus he became the only fighter to stop Robinson, the greatest pound-for-pounder of all time, before going on to engage in a trilogy with Archie Moore; losing all three bouts by unanimous decision.

Robinson retired but came back three years later in 1955, actively competing until 1965.

As a middleweight.

HISTORY AWAITS…

On November 2 in Las Vegas, Nevada at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Golden Boy’s superstar “Canelo” Alvarez will challenge WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev.

The unique move by Alvarez comes after an anticipated third fight with Gennady Golovkin failed to materialize in 2019. Airing on DAZN, there is no catchweight BS and Kovalev (1-1 against Latinos named Alvarez) will be allowed to box without having a hand tied behind his back.

Whether he gets fair officiating in Vegas is another story. Canelo, like Robinson, will be attempting to make history by winning a third world title in as many weight classes but can he pull it off? Is Canelo finally biting off more than he can chew after gradually easing into middleweight and then seizing the crown last September from the long reigning Triple G?

“Historic fights have been a hallmark of this company and we are pleased to once again live up to the high expectations we’ve set for fans. The best pound-for-pound fighter is also boxing’s biggest star. I am certain he will stop Kovalev,” predicts Canelo’s promoter Oscar De La Hoya.

Oddsmakers have already installed Canelo as the betting favorite (4 to 1 on some books) just as they did in 1952 when Robinson was favored (13 to 10) to defeat the then 78-18-4 Maxim.

With all due respect to Vasyl Lomachenko and with all promotional hyperbole aside, Canelo is arguably the top rated P4P boxer in the world today with decision victories over Gennady Golovkin, Miguel Cotto, Erislandy Lara, Austin Trout, and Danny Jacobs on his record.

His lone loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. made him a better boxer, particularly on defense. The skilled redhead is now 52-1-2 with 35 knockouts. He rolls with the punches like ‘Money May’ and by that I mean to say he shoulder-rolls and parries like no Mexican fighter I know of.

RISKY BUSINESS

“The second phase of my career is continuing as planned,” says Canelo. Whether or not that includes a third fight with GGG remains to be seen but Kovalev’s Main Events promoter Kathy Duva is happy to see Golovkin wait. “Canelo is to be praised for challenging Krusher Kovalev. Win or lose, he will make history and Sergey is extremely pleased to get the chance to test his mettle against another future Hall-of-Famer. I have a feeling that this will be one for the ages.”

Last month against Anthony Yarde, Kovalev, 36, showed that he is still very vulnerable to the body. During the eighth round of his WBO title bout in his Russian hometown of Chelyabinsk, Kovalev’s abdomen came under attack from Yarde who almost did what Andre Ward did in his rematch with Kovalev; namely buckle the big guy over and make him quit from bodyshots.

Kovalev weathered the storm and used his long stiff jab to put Yarde down and out in the 11th.

Canelo, 29, is coming off a May win against Danny Jacobs, a unanimous decision in which he proved beyond a shadow of any doubt that as the one who beat Golovkin, he is the best and most accomplished middleweight in the world‒the legitimate world champion of the division.

There’s really nothing left to prove there.

“I want to be remembered as one of the greats in boxing and that is why I continue to work hard and continue to take on these type of fights, so that I can keep on writing my own history. That is why I’ve decided to jump two weight classes. Kovalev is a dangerous puncher, and he’s a naturally bigger man but those are the kinds of challenges and risks that I like to face.”

“In order to be the best you have to beat the best,” acknowledges the 34-3-1 (29) Kovalev. “I always tried to fight the toughest opponents in my division. Canelo wanted to fight me; to step up to a higher weight and challenge for my belt. I will be ready on November 2nd,” he promises.

If he hopes to beat Canelo and redeem himself for the technical knockout losses to Ward (in 2017) and Eleider Alvarez (in 2018), Kovalev will have to be in the best shape of his ten-year career and more ready than he’s been recently to go hard for the full twelve rounds.

Poor stamina must not be an issue again. It’s time to put down the vodka and pay close attention to trainer Buddy McGirt. “He still has that fire inside to be the best,” insists Buddy.

Alvarez is a thunderous body puncher and the best counterpuncher in the game today. But it’s hard to land downstairs or counter to the head effectively when you’re being kept at a safe distance by a bigger, stronger man using his long reach and superior power to his advantage.

Kovalev pumps an outstanding jab and it’s his most important weapon for upsetting Alvarez.

While one can see Canelo working his way inside and crushing a tiring Kovalev’s body, one can also see a motivated Kovalev taking advantage of this golden opportunity to remind us all of the talented fighting machine who beat Bernard Hopkins and appeared to have done enough to deserve the judges’ decision in his first encounter with the now retired P4P star Andre Ward.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

They say that history is written by the winners but in the case of Robinson-Maxim, it appears to have been written by the loser, or at the very least by those sympathetic to him. Ask anyone about the fight today and all you’ll hear about is how Robinson wilted like a raisin in the sun.

Maxim gets little to no credit.

But according to Maxim’s manager Jack Kearns, all the hot talk was just hot air, an excuse.

“Robinson was nailed good in the belly in the tenth and again in the twelfth. And he got a left hook and a right to the head at the end of the thirteenth when he was on the ropes. If the bell hadn’t rang he’d be dead,” he said. “We had Joey lay back and let Robinson punch himself out.”

Who’s to say it didn’t work?

If Canelo’s plan is to wait until Kovalev gets winded and then go to work on his body like Ward and Yarde, he might be able to achieve what even the great Sugar Ray Robinson was unable to accomplish. And if Kovalev is fit and ready on fight night as promised, he has the physical tools to win; proving that a good big man almost always beats a good (even GOAT) small man.

Canelo-Kovalev is a real fight.

May the best man win.

*****

Boxing Writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts from 1973 to 1987, during the Marvelous career of Marvin Hagler. JFree then lived in Lowell, Mass during the best years of Irish Micky Ward’s illustrious career. A new member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a Bernie Award Winner in the Category of Feature Under 1500 Words, Freeman covers boxing for The Sweet Science in New England.

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The Avila Perspective, Chap 65: September’s Dueling Fight Cards

David A. Avila

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Rivaling fight cards in Los Angeles and Las Vegas last weekend still managed to attract more than 7,000 fans in each location.

Tyson Fury, the lineal heavyweight champion, headed the pseudo Mexican lineup at T-Mobile Arena and brought more than 9,000 fans into its vast accommodations. Jaime Munguia, the super welterweight titlist from Tijuana, Mexico brought more than 7,100 followers to the Dignity Health Sports Park.

Both cards were streamed by ESPN+ and DAZN respectively. The beauty of streaming is that fans individually can see them whenever and wherever they are as long as there is phone reception.

Fury’s return to the actual heavyweight throne was nearly derailed by Sweden’s Otto Wallin, proving that anything can happen in a prize fight. The punch that opened up a cut near Fury’s eye almost stopped his potential mega fight with Deontay Wilder early next year.

Top Rank probably envisioned dollar bills floating toward an incinerator when Fury’s blood dripped during the fight. Luckily the referee was Tony Weeks and he’s a fighter’s referee who doesn’t mind inside fighting or bloody fights. In my estimation he’s the best referee in Nevada and one of the best in the world.

A day earlier Devin Haney showed off his fighting abilities at Madison Square Garden Theater with some flashy weaponry. The Las Vegas prizefighter with the sizzling combinations demonstrated his defensive wizardry too in immobilizing Zaur Abdullaev and battering the Russian lightweight.

“I’m not a prospect,” insisted Haney when an interviewer injected that phrase. “I’m a champion.”

Last year, he met former world title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos at Pechanga Resort and Casino and proved his pedigree with a dominating performance. That’s when his prospect status ended for me. You don’t dominate a guy like Burgos who went the distance with Mikey Garcia and Japan’s Hozumi Hasegawa. Burgos only lost to those guys and now to Haney. Burgos used every trick he knew and invented a few more but Haney kept his cool and convincingly defeated Burgos.

The Las Vegas kid is for real.

Thompson Boxing Promotions, the Little Giant

This Friday the Southern California based outfit Thompson Boxing Promotions has two fight cards it’s co-promoting, one in Texas that can been seen on Showtime and another in Ontario, California that will be streamed on RingTV.com.

Featherweight prospect Ruben Villa (16-0) meets Jose Durantes Vivas (17-0) in the main event of a ShoBox card on Showtime in Midland, Texas. Villa is no stranger to televised bouts and once again he’s facing an undefeated opponent. Durantes now lives and trains in Southern California and recently fought on a Garcia Promotions card in San Bernardino.

On the same Texas card, Michael Dutchover (10-0, 7 KOs) returns to his hometown and meets once beaten Thomas Mattice (14-1-1) in a lightweight clash. The native Texan trains in Santa Fe Springs, California and has a five-fight knockout streak. He’s very aggressive but has learned to patiently weave his way through his opponent’s defense. This time he faces a veteran with plenty of skills.

On the same night, Thompson Boxing stages a boxing card in its regular location, the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, where many of its former discoveries like Timothy Bradley, Mauricio Herrera, Josesito Lopez and Yonnhy Perez performed before headlining major boxing cards.

Petr Petrov (40-6-2, 21 KOs) headlines the Southern California card and faces Dedrick Bell (23-30-1) of  Memphis, Tennessee in the main event set for eight rounds.

Others on the card include Isaac Zarate, Anthony Chavez, Arnold Dinong, and Mario Hernandez.

Doors open at 6:30 and the fights begin at 8 p.m. For more information call (714) 935-0900.

Commerce

On Friday night about 50 miles west, Bash Promotions has a lengthy boxing card at Commerce Casino in Commerce, featuring top prospects Christopher Zavala, Miguel Contreras, Narek Abgaryan and others. A flash sale that gives 50 percent off ticket prices is available when you purchase online at Bashboxing.com and mention FLASH. Nine bouts are currently scheduled.

For more information call (844) 662-8499.

Bakersfield

Alfredo “Perro” Angulo (25-7, 21KOs) has a very tough test when he fights Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin (34-1-1) in a super middleweight fight set for 10 rounds at Rabobank Theater in Bakersfield, Calif. FOX Sports 1 will televise the PBC boxing card.

Angulo has been training in Big Bear with Abel Sanchez and won his last fight via knockout at Dignity Health Sports Park last April. It was his first win in four years. Now he faces a former world champion in Quillin.

Quillin, 36, was KOed by Daniel Jacobs four years ago and hasn’t been very active since then. But he’s always been a very skillful fighter and we will see if Angulo’s working with Sanchez will be a factor in this super middleweight fight.

It’s a massive boxing card scheduled for 16 pro fights. Reminds me of the old Don King Production fights of the past that would begin at 10 a.m. and end at 1 a.m. the next day. Truth.

Also on the PBC card in Bakersfield are Thomas Dulorme, Gary Antonio Russell, Francisco Ochoa, Gary Antuanne Russell and many more.

Fights to Watch

Fri. Ringtv.com 8 p.m. Petr Petrov (40-6-2) vs Dedrick Bell (23-30-1).

Fri. Showtime 10 p.m. Michael Dutchover (13-0) vs Thomas Mattice (14-1-1); Ruben Villa (16-0) vs Jose Durantes Vivas (17-0).

Saturday Fox Sports 1 5 p.m. Thomas Dulorme (24-3-1) vs Terrel Williams (18-0); Peter Quillen (34-1-1) vs Alfredo Angulo (25-7).

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Featured Articles

Shawn Porter Explains Why He Isn’t in Over His Head Against Errol Spence Jr.

Bernard Fernandez

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Shawn-Porter-Explains-Why-He-Isn't-in-Over-His-Head-Against-Errol-Spence-Jr.

There sometimes can be a thin line separating child abuse and a demanding parent’s version of tough love. Twenty years or so ago, the way Kenny Porter elected to draw out the athletic excellence and mental fortitude that he imagined existed within his grade-school-age son Shawn might have been misinterpreted, had their relationship drawn the scrutiny of a case worker for Summit County Children Services in the Porters’ hometown of Akron, Ohio. Not that Kenny ever laid a hand on Shawn in a brutal or excessive way, but an equivalent level of treatment might have been looked upon negatively by a child protective care professional objecting to the kid routinely being thrown into the deep end of the pool to fend for himself, or more to the point onto football fields where he was regularly required to compete against bigger, stronger and older boys not disposed to take it easy on the little guy.

“It’s how I grew up. It’s how my dad raised me and it’s where I come from. We were never allowed to shy away from any challenge and that’s how I lived my life,” Shawn Porter, now the WBC welterweight champion, said of his upbringing under Kenny, a relentless daily grind which also helped other would-be child athletic prodigies (like two-time Olympic gold medalist and current WBC/WBA/WBO lightweight titlist Vassiliy Lomachenko) rise to giddy heights while those made of less resilient stuff (see former USC and Los Angeles Raiders quarterback Todd Marinovich, profiled by TSS on Jan. 14) psychologically unraveled to the point they wanted nothing more than to cease trying to constantly please a parent for whom a merely good effort was never good enough.

“I was 10 years old playing football against guys who were 12 and 13 years old,” continued Porter (30-2-1, 17 KOs), who will be asked to tackle another herculean task Sept. 28 when he takes on the heavily favored IBF 147-pound titlist, Errol Spence Jr. (25-0, 21 KOs) in a unification showdown to be televised via Fox Pay Per View from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. “It doesn’t sound like that big a deal now, but back then when you’re 10 going up against preteens it is a big deal. So even at that young age my dad has always challenged me and made sure I not only put out my best but I was going against the best. I’m 31 now and this is 100% familiar territory because it’s where I come from.”

Although Shawn Porter now resides in Las Vegas, a tough town in a glitzier sort of way, his formative years were spent in northeast Ohio, a gritty, blue-collar region where working men in hard hats and dingy dungarees made their livings in steel mills or, more specifically to Akron, the factories that led to the Rust Belt city being labeled the “rubber capital of the world.” Porter likes to note that Akron also is the hometown of NBA superstar LeBron James, who as a child and adolescent also regularly went up against older boys, although in LBJ’s case he was nonetheless the taller, stronger, faster and more dominant player on just about every court he ever set foot upon.

Unlike youth-league football, where apparently age and size differences were sometimes overlooked in the leagues in which Shawn participated, amateur boxing required him to compete against kids more or less his own proportions. But there was still a way for Kenny Porter to ensure that his boy continued to test himself in trials by fire against those whose physical capabilities and potential seemingly dwarfed his son’s. A natural welter now as an adult, the 5-foot-7 Shawn Porter bulked up to an above-his-weight-class 165 pounds to throw down with future middleweight world titlists Daniel Jacobs and Demetrius Andrade and – talk about a relative David and Goliath matchup – undisputed cruiserweight champ Oleksandr Usyk, the 2018 Boxing Writers Association of America’s Fighter of the Year. Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs) is 6-foot-3 and makes his heavyweight debut on Nov. 12 in Chicago against Tyrone Spong, with the celebrated Ukrainian likely to be in the 215-pound range, or maybe even a bit higher.

So how did Porter fare in the land of the larger? Better than many might expect.

“I have wins against Jacobs and Andrade,” he said. “Me and Andrade were 1-1 in the amateurs. The last time we fought we were 165 pounds and I beat him. The experience is there. The experience against taller, bigger opponents is there.”

None bigger in retrospect, of course, than Usyk, whose skill set, southpaw stance and high ranking on almost everyone’s current pound-for-pound list are close approximations of Spence, if Spence were being viewed through a magnifying glass.

“I fought Usyk at 165 pounds back in the day when we were about 20 years old,” Porter recalled with obvious pride. “I beat him.”

Given his history, it seems somewhat odd that Porter, who has slain more than his share of fire-breathing dragons both in the amateurs and in the pros (most notably Danny Garcia), is such a significant underdog against Spence. Unless the betting line shifts in a major way, Spence will go off in the neighborhood of -800 (meaning you’d have to bet $800 to win $100) while Porter is +450. Not that a Porter victory would be considered an upset along the lines of Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson or Andy Ruiz Jr. over Anthony Joshua, but still…

Porter, not unexpectedly, does not consider Spence, who comes in with advantages of three inches in height and 2½ inches in reach, to pose a physical mismatch for him, be it by scale or tools.

“Looking at Errol Spence, I don’t think he’s a bigger guy than me,” Porter reasons. “I don’t think he’s one of the bigger guys in the division. I think that he’s been matched up against guys who have made him look a lot more powerful and bigger and stronger than he is.

“I’m comfortable with the knowledge of what I can do. Errol’s really good, but I think I match him speed for speed, quickness for quickness, power for power. The big question that needs to be answered the night of the fight is can he handle my aggression, my punch output? We’re banking on his not being able to handle my pressure and some of my other attributes.”

Spence has expressed the opinion that Porter is a “dirty” fighter, or something akin to a rule-bender if not exactly a rules-breaker, which to Porter sounds very much like he is getting into the Texan’s head where the seeds of doubt are sown.

“Errol is very driven and competitive, I get that,” Porter said. “I think he may be trying to psych himself up into thinking he can (become the first fighter to knock out Porter). If he can’t handle my pressure then you will find out real soon, if that’s what’s working for us, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll be rough, we’ll be hard, we’ll be rugged. We’ll keep the pressure on him and we all know pressure bursts pipes.

“I think he’s in trouble. The world is about to be shocked. I know how it feels to prove people wrong. I know what it feels like to do the impossible, things that people don’t expect you to do.”

Doing the impossible is an instinct that has been bred into Shawn and nurtured almost from birth by Kenny, who, as his son’s manager and trainer, remains his most ardent proponent and closest confidante. It doesn’t always work out that way, of course, but this is one father-son relationship in boxing that has deepened rather than divided.

Errol Spence Jr. might not be the highest mountain Shawn Porter ever has been tasked to climb. It remains to be seen if he is the steepest and most hazardous.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel  

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