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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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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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