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Mini-blogs on Kovalev, Mayweather-Pacquiao and PBC on NBC

Kelsey McCarson

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Mini-blogs on Kovalev, Mayweather-Pacquiao and Premier Boxing Champions

Bloggers gonna blog. I think that’s a saying. If not, it might should be. Anyway, here’s a smattering of thoughts on Sergey Kovalev, Mayweather-Pacquiao and Al Hayon’s Premier Boxing Champions.

Don’t Ask Sergey Kovalev About Mayweather-Pacquiao

The running debate in boxing today is who is scarier: undefeated middleweight monster Gennady Golovkin or light heavyweight destroyer Sergey Kovalev. I’ve spoken with both men a handful of times, the latter in person at least twice.

While I wouldn’t want to step in the ring (or a dark alley) against either man, I have to say that Kovalev just seems the scarier fighter to me. I have several reasons, but I’ll hit the important ones at a high level here.

First, Kovalev just seems meaner. That’s not to say he’s not polite to fans and media. He is. Or even that he’s actually mean. Maybe he’s not. But there’s something I see beneath his menacing eyes that tells me he’d rather be bashing skulls with his fists than doing mundane things like smiling and talking to people.

Second, he’s the one fighter I’ve met in person (and I’ve met plenty) who while I was interviewing him, I felt the distinct impression that he absolutely hated my guts. No matter how much he smiled and nodded or how many nice the things he said to me, I always came away from the encounter thinking that the whole time my gums are flapping at him that he’s pondering in his mind what my blood looks like.

None of these things may be true, mind you. It’s just the vibe I get.

But probably the best interview I ever had was Kovalev, and it was precisely because he was so surly with me during it that it made for some really good copy. Already not the type to enjoy chatting with media people (especially those of us who aren’t big-timers like Dan Rafael or Chris Mannix), Kovalev was in the midst of losing the necessary amount of weight required to make his 175-pound contract limit for his bout against Blake Caparello.

“How are you today,” I asked to open the call.

“Hungry,” he scowled back at me.

That set the tone for the rest of the interview. He was hungry and angry and I got the sense he really didn’t like doing interviews so his answers were short and his voice was gruff. All the while, of course, I could see in my mind images of him chopping light heavyweights down as if his arms were axes.

He was much more chipper when I talked to him last week. Maybe the birth of his son has softened the big lug up a bit. Maybe he’s grown accustomed to the media junket all HBO boxing stars are put through. Maybe he’s grown to like me. At least that’s what I thought until I closed the call by asking him the obligatory Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao question.

A long silence followed. His manager, Egis Klimas (who I get the same kind of vibe from by the way), proceeded to translate it for Kovalev in case he had trouble picking it up himself. The only words I understood among the hodgepodge of what I assume to be Russian are “Pacquiao” and “Mayweather.”

Silence again.

“Um…,” Kovalev says, emitting a long sigh in the process.

More silence.

“I don’t like to do predictions,” Kovalev finally says to me. I can only imagine what might be going through his mind as he proceeds with the rest of his answer. He’s talking Mayweather-Pacquiao, but I keep thinking he’s wondering what my spine would feel like in his hand.

“The fight is one the boxing world has waited for…I think it will be a war of mind: who is smarter will win.”

There is another long period of silence, and then we both begin to speak, talking over each other. Obviously, if two people begin speaking at the same time and one of them is Sergey Kovalev, the other is, by default, interrupting.

“Do you think it will be a good fight?” I clumsily ask over whatever it was he was about to say.

Silence. Then more translation.

“Yes. I think it will be interesting fight. Who wins? I don’t know. I’m not going to say who will win.”

Fair enough, Sergey.

You Can Ask Jean Pascal and Bryant Jennings About Mayweather-Pacquiao (But I Already Did)

I also talked to Kovalev’s March 14 opponent, Jean Pascal, and undefeated heavyweight Bryant Jennings, who faces world champ Wladimir Klitschko on April 25. Both of them see close Mayweather wins over Pacquiao.

“Five years ago, I would have said Mayweather easily,” said Pascal. “But now, time is starting to catch up to Floyd. The fight will be much closer than it was five years ago, but I have no choice but to go with Floyd because Floyd is the man right now.”

Pascal continued.

“It seems to me like it. It’s not because of one fight that age is starting to catch up. If we see it again versus Pacquiao, we’ll know for sure. But in his last fight, he wasn’t moving the way he used to move. People are starting to say that but who knows? We’ll see on May 2.”

Still, Pascal likes Pacquiao to give Mayweather a stern test.

“Definitely, Pacquiao can give him his toughest test because Pacquiao is strong. Pacquiao is fast. I think right now this is the biggest fight for Floyd and the biggest fight for the sport.”

Jennings had similar thoughts.

“I think Mayweather is going to win,” said Jennings. “Skill for skill, I think Mayweather will win. But there are some things I’ve seen in Mayweather’s last fight that Pacquiao might be able to capitalize on. But Floyd was going through a lot of things in his last fight. I’m hoping he learned his lesson. All that stuff can play a part. A lot of things probably got to him that he probably learned now that he shouldn’t have let get to him.”

Jennings also believes Pacquiao will give Mayweather a good fight.

“He probably can. It’s going to be a great fight. I’m pretty hyped about it. I’m a Mayweather fan, but I’m also a Pacquiao fan. He followed me back on Instagram so…”

We had a good laugh about the last bit.

A Note on Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions

My Twitter timeline was almost universal in praise of Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions. The inaugural show kicked off Saturday night on NBC. Boxing needs more skeptics. Here’s why.

First, people seem to be buying into PBC for two main reasons. First, they want to see boxing on network television. That’s best for everyone. It means more free shows for fans and better job security and growth potential for the boxing media. Second, the PBC has gone out of its way to promote itself as a change for the sport, something both boxing fans and media have long pined for. The status quo is not ideal.

Here’s criticism on both.

First, for PBC to be successful, it needs to draw sponsors. As of now, all Haymon has done is bought airtime on NBC and other networks to promote his fighters. So what’s happened so far is Haymon has set a precedent where networks might now expect promoters to pay them to put boxing on TV. Let’s say sponsors never come and PBC has to fold up shop in a year. Will boxing ever find its way onto network television again? Both Main Events and Golden Boy Promotions have had fights air on network television in recent years. If Haymon fails, will it ever happen again? Is the risk worth the potential reward?

Second, PBC is seen by some as a breath of fresh air, a change for the sport of boxing. But is it? Haymon has been in boxing longer than I’ve been a boxing writer. His involvement in the sport has been good for his fighters but potentially less so for the overall health of boxing. Many fights that could have and should have been made over the years did not come to fruition because (at least in part) Haymon did not want the bouts to happen. He’s shown a consistent inability to make the fights most fans most want to see. Leo Santa Cruz is a perfect example of a Haymon fighter who has not faced anything but cupcake opposition since bursting onto the scene as a fan favorite two years ago.

The simplest way to put it is this: Haymon isn’t really a breath of fresh air, and the innovations of PBC seem more veneer at this point than actual substance. Yes, they’ve rid boxing of fighter entourages during ring walks and the fetishism of title belts. Yes, they paid off NBC so fights can be on network television. Yes, they hired a bunch of celebrities to call the action. And do not get me wrong, all of it could turn into something really good for boxing.

But until further notice, the PBC is still run by the same people who gave us one of the more disappointing years of Showtime fights in recent memory. They’re the same people who let Danny Garcia butcher lightweight Rod Salka in a farce of boxing contest. They’re the same entity that Freddie Roach claims is currently paying off potential sparring partners for Manny Pacquiao so the Haymon fighter, Floyd Mayweather, has as large an advantage as possible when the two meet on May 2 (even though someone claiming to be “The Best Ever” shouldn’t need such silly shenanigans).

The final point is this: The only way PBC is truly successful in changing the sport as a whole will be by destroying and rebuilding it. If boxing is to make all the right fights, the ones fight fans want, then PBC must become the only game in town. That means other promoters go away or become so small that they don’t really matter and PBC becomes boxing’s version of UFC. That might not be a bad thing. But it might not be good either. And it hasn’t happened yet. All the PBC is at present is a sparkly new enterprise, one that could become the future of boxing or ruin it altogether by creating yet another faction in this already fractured sport.

Criticism of such an exploit isn’t just fair and valid right now. It’s absolutely necessary.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 135: Danny Roman and Super Bantamweights Perform in L.A.

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 135: Danny Roman and Super Bantamweights Perform in L.A.

The super bantamweight division was virtually unknown by most fans of prizefighting for the last decade.

Then Danny Roman arrived and re-booted the 122-pound division virtually by himself by challenging and defeating world champions from Japan and the United Kingdom.

Roman (28-3-1, 10 KOs) no longer holds the world titles but itches to regain his footing when he fights Ricardo Espinoza (25-3, 21 KOs) at Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday May 15. Showtime will televise the battle on the Premier Boxing Champions card.

“Everything I do in boxing from here on out is to regain my status as a world champion,” said the normally ultra-reserved Roman, 31.

Ironically, both Roman and Espinoza turned their careers around with numerous battles at boxing shows in Ontario, California. They entered as boys and emerged as battle-tested men.

For the last 20 years Thompson Boxing Promotions has been pumping out world champions and contenders at a furious rate despite their small size in Southern California. They do not pamper or cajole their prospects.

Both Roman and Espinoza suffered their first losses as professionals at Thompson Boxing’s bloody battles at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario. But despite losing, they continued to learn and evolve. Now they meet in Los Angeles on the big stage.

When Roman lost to Japan’s Takashi Okada in 2011 and Juan Reyes in 2013, that could have derailed the Los Angeles-based fighter for good. Instead, he re-grouped and reloaded to become a unified world champion. Roman traveled to Japan and won the WBA super bantamweight world title by stoppage of Shun Kubo in 2017. A couple of years later after several defenses, he clashed with WBO super bantamweight titlist TJ Doheny to win an incredible battle by decision in Los Angeles. It was perhaps the Fight of the Year in 2019 and gained Roman the WBO belt.

Though Roman lost both the WBA and WBO titles to Murodjon Akhmadaliev, it was a disputed split decision. Many felt Roman was the true winner. So now he must battle back toward the top.

Espinoza also fought many bloody affairs at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario including his first two losses. He lost to Sam Rodriguez in 2016 and Christian Nieto in 2017. Then the power-punching fighter from Tijuana, Mexico knocked out 12 of 13 of his opponents to gain a world title fight that he lost in April 2019. Since then, he has returned to his winning ways and upset undefeated Brandon Valdes last year.

“Danny Roman has fought some really quality opponents that are high in the rankings, but this is my time. This is when I show that I can step up in competition and prove that I belong with the best,” said Espinoza who is very familiar with Roman.

The Tijuana fighter is a punching machine.

“This is not going to be an easy fight because I know my opponent is a tough fighter from Tijuana who is coming with everything he’s got. He’s got a lot of power, so I must be smart on how I throw my combinations,” said Roman who lives within 10 miles of the event. “I believe my experience in big fights is going to be the difference on May 15. I’m expecting a rough fight and I’m ready for an intense battle.”

Now the two veterans of the Ontario, California wars finally meet each other to see who advances toward a world title fight. They won’t have to look far. The main event pits two titleholders against each other.

Unification Battle for Super Bantam Belts

Mexico’s Luis Nery holds the WBC super bantamweight world title and faces Texan Brandon Figueroa who holds a version of the WBA super bantamweight title in the main event on the Dignity Health Sports Park card on Saturday. Showtime will televise.

Nery formerly held the bantamweight title too. But the Tijuana-based fighter had problems making weight and wisely moved up a weight division. So far, the extra pounds hasn’t been a problem.

The problem facing Nery is Figueroa has a solid chin.

Figueroa may look like a pretty boy but he fights like he’s ugly. The Weslaco, Texas native has firepower and a rock chin but does he have the skills to match Nery?

“I come forward. I bring the pressure and I’m definitely going to bring the power, the size and all the advantages I have to make sure that we give the fans a great show. I do respect him as a fighter but we’re just going to have to find out Saturday,” said Figueroa whose brother Omar Figueroa fought in the same venue two weeks ago.

Nery has quickness and agility to supplement his power. He also has experience in world class opposition and that’s something Figueroa lacks.

“Brandon’s style really fits with what I want to do in the ring,” said Nery, a boxer-slugger. “This is going to be an all-out war from the first round on. People are going to be talking about it for a long time after.”

The winner of this clash will hopefully meet the winner of Roman and Espinoza. That would really heat up the super bantamweight division to blue hot levels.

Some of my favorite fighters of the past occupied the super bantamweight division like Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Israel “Magnifico” Vazquez who twice fought in this same venue. His third fight with Rafael Marquez on March 1, 2008 was voted Fight of the Year for its brutal but spectacular display of super bantamweight power.

The winners of this quasi-super bantamweight tournament can equally achieve the same kind of greatness those former stars achieved. This is a good start.

Fights to Watch (All times are Pacific Coast)

Friday UFC Fight Pass 5:30 p.m. Heather Hardy (22-1) vs Jessica Camara (7-2); Melissa St. Vil (13-4-4) vs Olivia Gerula (18-18-4).

Friday Telemundo 11:30 p.m. Denilson Valtierra (14-0) vs Emanuel Lopez (30-12-1).

Sat. DAZN 10 a.m. Lerrone Richards (14-0) vs Giovanni De Carolis (28-9-1).

Sat. Showtime 7 p.m. Luis Nery (31-0) vs Brandon Figueroa (21-0-1); Danny Roman (28-3-1) vs Ricardo Espinoza (25-3).

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

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Charr vs Lovejoy: Better Late Than Never, or Not

Phil Woolever

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COLOGNE – There are many questions to be answered regarding Mahmoud Charr’s scheduled fight against Christopher Lovejoy this Saturday night at a training facility along the Rhine. The most primary point to be determined is whether the contest actually occurs.

Charr has been idle since capturing a WBA title belt against Aleksandr Ustinov way back in November 2017. Since then numerous delays and cancellations, many of them out of Charr’s control, have kept the erstwhile ranked heavyweight out of the championship picture and far from the international public eye.

The most recent of such situations found Charr unable to obtain a travel visa for a defense against Trevor Bryan in Florida last January. Machinations by Don King and the WBA in relegating Charr to “in recess” status further tarnished both the promoter and the organization’s already disgraceful reputations.

King has also had a hand in keeping Lovejoy off the rumbling radar, after the boxer previously claimed retirement as a way out of King’s contractual clutches. When Lovejoy attempted to face Dave Allen in London on the undercard of Usyk-Chisora, King contacted Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn with enough of a claim that Lovejoy’s appearance was cancelled.

According to Lovejoy, King has also attempted to block Saturday’s fight, so uncertainty remains until the first bell rings this weekend. That said, everything else about the relatively low key card seems to be well in place, and there is plenty to look forward to, questions and all. A subscriber-based live stream on German news outlet Bild.de will broadcast the bout.

How the long layoff, which began way before the coronavirus pandemic, has affected Charr is probably the most crucial factor, but what the rarely seen Lovejoy brings to the table is as compelling as it is curiously noteworthy. His record of 19-0 with 19 quick knockouts, compiled completely off-grid in frequent madhouse Tijuana could mean damn near anything.

Charr, 31-4 (17), has been stopped three times and in two of those KOs (by Maris Briedis and Alexander Povetkin) he was blasted into one-shot oblivion. Under Saturday’s scenario one of the few possible surprises might be if Lovejoy doesn’t try to get Charr out of there immediately.

Lovejoy, listed at 6’4”, looks substantially larger than 6’3” Charr, but not any taller. An uneducated guess indicates a strong possibility that the more proven Charr is capable of wearing Lovejoy down, especially considering how he did it against a respectable version of Ustinov.

When Lovejoy refused to shake Charr’s hand and insulted his courage during their press conference photo op, there was a slight but very significant twitch in Charr’s almost constantly upbeat countenance. If Lovejoy doesn’t indeed carry huge power in his punches, he may have inspired a painful night.

To put Charr’s simmering anger in perspective, it must be remembered that he still looked like he was calmly waiting for his food while being carried out on a stretcher after getting shot four times in the lower abdomen during a 2015 ambush in nearby Essen. When his assailant, a former boxing protégé, confessed by saying he only meant to shoot him in the leg, Charr told an emotion packed courtroom bygones were bygones, saying “I am a man who forgives.”

A refugee at five years old whose father was killed in the Lebanese civil war, Charr seems to clearly envision a bigger picture than just his boxing career, and he consistently posts positive motivational copy on social media, including an end of Ramadan message stressing nonpartisan hope for the current Gaza conflict.

The 10-round fight carries no title designation but whatever they may or may not step into the ring with, one thing Charr and Lovejoy share is the potential for a make-or-break performance.

If Charr wins, people will dismiss Lovejoy’s merit in the first place but it still keeps a bit of shine on his championship claims, increasing his leverage regarding Bryan or even bigger game. If Lovejoy wins, especially by dramatic KO, he has definitely upped his recognition factor marketability.

The only safe bet is that the winner will probably hear from somebody representing Don King.

And maybe even Fres Oquendo.

Questions, questions.

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The Tartan Tornado Invades Las Vegas, Harkening Back to Sugar Ray Robinson

Arne K. Lang

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On Sunday, Feb. 26, 1961, Sugar Ray Robinson arrived in Las Vegas for his match six days later with Gene Fullmer at the two-year-old Las Vegas Convention Center. Reporters on hand to greet Robinson at the airport were taken aback by his large entourage. With him were his manager George Gainford, his trainer and his trainer’s assistant, his mother, his traveling secretary, his personal physician, his dietician, his bodyguard, his personal barber and a sparring partner – eleven bodies in all including Robinson.

Flash forward 60 years. When WBA/IBF world super lightweight champion Josh Taylor arrived in Las Vegas on April 24, his party also numbered eleven. Arriving with him from Edinburgh were his trainer Ben Davison, his former amateur coach Terry McCormack (pictured on the right) and assorted others including a videoanalyst, a physiotherapist, and several longtime friends and gym mates including undefeated (10-0) European bantamweight title-holder Lee McGregor and sparring partner Chris Kongo.

Once he was settled in, Sugar Ray had less than a full week to finish off his preparation for his title fight with arch-rival Fullmer. By contrast, Josh Taylor and his team arrived in Las Vegas a full month before Taylor was set to square off against WBC/WBO counterpart Jose Ramirez in the biggest fight in Las Vegas since Fury-Wilder II, a lapse of 14 months.

There are other differences between Team Robinson and Team Taylor which touch on the way that boxing has changed from a promotional standpoint. Sugar Ray and his party stayed at the Dunes Casino Resort on the Strip where Robinson picked up some loose change holding afternoon pre-fight workouts in the hotel’s showroom at $1 a head. Team Taylor is staying as a group in a large, luxury home in the “burbs” where there are fewer distractions and when he is ready to spar at the Top Rank Gym, “foreigners” are shooed away. Which isn’t to say that Josh Taylor isn’t friendly. Quite the opposite; the Tartan Tornado has been very approachable and unstinting of his time with the few local reporters that have been hep to his whereabouts.

Taylor hails from Prestonpans, a town eight miles east of Edinburgh, Scotland’s second-largest city. His dad works as a landscape gardener and his mother as a receptionist. He has one sibling, a younger sister. This past December he became engaged to hairdresser Danielle Murphy, his longtime girlfriend. They have known each other for 10 years.

On Wikipedia, Prestonpans is portrayed as a small fishing village, but that is highly misleading. For a better reference, think of towns in the American rust belt that have been bruised by the loss of manufacturing jobs. Taylor and his neighbors will tell you that the policies of Margaret Thatcher, British PM from 1979 to 1990, compounded the damage.

At age 17, Taylor, now 30, found his way to McCormack’s Lochend Boxing Club in Edinburgh. At this humble gym — a little shack situated smack against a public housing project — he honed the skills that made him an elite amateur, a globetrotter who culminated his tenure with a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Taylor turned pro for Barry McGuigan’s Cyclone Promotions. McGuigan entrusts his fighters to his trainer/son Shane McGuigan. The McGuigans already had Carl Frampton in the fold. Under the McGuigans stewardship, Frampton became a champion in two weight classes.

Taylor’s fight with Jose Ramirez will be his fourth in the United States. Josh made his pro debut in El Paso and also fought at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The common thread in all three fights is Frampton who also appeared on those cards, the last two as the headliner with Leo Santa Cruz in the opposite corner.

As a pro, Taylor is undefeated (17-0, 13 KOs). Ramirez, the pride of Central California’s vast San Joaquin Valley, home to more than 4 million people, is also undefeated (26-0, 17 KOs), but the Scotsman is considered to have fought the stronger schedule. Taylor’s last five opponents were collectively 110-1 at the time that he fought them with the lone blemish inflicted by Terence Crawford.

Taylor’s signature win was his Oct. 26, 2019 conquest of Regis Prograis at London’s O2 Arena. Both came in undefeated, both owned a share of the world super lightweight title, and the match had the added allure of being the final round of a World Boxing Super Series tournament with the coveted Muhammad Ali Trophy, an impressive piece of hardware, bestowed on the winner.

The fight was expected to be highly entertaining and it overachieved. The noted historian Matt McGrain called it “the inarguable 140lb fight of the decade.” At the end both fighters were marked-up, especially the victorious Taylor who sported a beauty of a shiner over his right eye. “I have never been prouder of an injury,” Taylor told this reporter.

pontrepans

His relationship with the McGuigans unraveled after this fight. Shane McGuigan took it hard. “I’ve invested four-and-a-half years of my time and energy in someone who just doesn’t deserve it,” he said. “If you want loyalty in boxing, buy a dog (a saying previously credited to the late British boxing promoter Mickey Duff).”

“Don’t buy a dog and then put it in the kennel,” replied Taylor, noting that he had been left alone for long periods by Shane McGuigan when training in England and that he wasn’t provided a key to the gym when his trainer was out of town.

Veteran British boxing scribe Colin Hart took the McGuigans’ side in a story that ran in the Sun, faulting Josh for his disloyalty. What Hart failed to note is that in every deal that Taylor has signed, he has insisted that his amateur coach be included. McCormack assisted McGuigan in the corner and continues in that role under Davison, the young trainer who reinvigorated Tyson Fury before their amicable split.

“I have never been so happy as I am now,” says Taylor. “I am content and relaxed.” And he insists that he harbors no hard feelings toward the McGuigans. “I’m grateful for what they did for me.”

This olive branch, of sorts, stands in stark contrast to his pal Carl Frampton whose break from the McGuigans was scarred with unbending acrimony. (Shane McGuigan’s latest protégé is Lawrence Okolie who turned in a sensational performance while blasting out Krzyzstof Glowacki to win the WBO world cruiserweight title on March 20. There’s no question that Shane is one of the sharpest young trainers in the sport, but if he were a physician, one might say that he needs to work on improving his bedside manner.)

The Taylor-Ramirez fight will be held at the Virgin Hotel (formerly the Hard Rock which was closed for 13 months while the new owners of the property, in their words, “reimagined” it). The winner will be the undisputed 140-pound champion, holding all four meaningful belts. If that be Taylor, who is a small favorite, that would put him on the same pedestal as Ken Buchanan who became a national hero when he won the world lightweight title from Ismael Laguna in 1970, a diadem he lost on a controversial punch to Roberto Duran who refused to give him a rematch.

Now 75 years old and residing in an assisted living facility in Edinburgh, the city of his birth, Buchanan was among the first to predict that Taylor would become a world champion. The two are well-acquainted. Buchanan pops in occasionally at McCormack’s gym. He has visited Taylor at his family home where, Josh notes, his mother welcomed him as she would any honored guest, meaning she put on a spot of tea.

Taylor vs Ramirez is a sellout. The bout will be televised free in the United States on ESPN. It’s a very compelling attraction.

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