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TWO SECONDS FROM GLORY, TWO SECONDS TO HEARTBREAK

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Two seconds.

How long is that? Maybe long enough for 1½ beats of the average human being’s heart, or for a long inbounds pass to Duke All-America Christian Laettner, who made one of the most memorable buzzer-beating shots in college basketball history.

It is but a tiny snippet of time, a few blinks of the eye, a sneeze, a hiccup. But a snippet is enough to make the difference between a gold medal and a silver in the Olympics, or between victory and defeat in one of the most controversial boxing matches ever.

The Ring magazine very well might have selected the epic first clash between undefeated super lightweight champions Julio Cesar Chavez and Meldrick Taylor its Fight of the Year for 1990 even had that bout ended two seconds sooner. But those two seconds had yet to tick off, and the nature of the bout’s conclusion – with referee Richard Steele waving his arms and awarding Chavez, who was too far behind on the scorecards to win on points, even with the benefit of his 12th-round knockdown of Taylor – has stamped it as a matter of perennial debate. Should Steele, who had to be aware of the flashing red light in his field of vision as he administered a standing-eight count to a badly shaken Taylor, signifying that the fight was in its final few seconds, have allowed the Philadelphian the benefit of that sneeze or hiccup? Or did Steele, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2014, make the right call, one rendered on the side of caution?

So incredible was the unification fight of two 140-pound kings at the height of their powers – the 23-year-old Taylor, the IBF titlist, went in at 24-0-1, with 13 knockouts, to 67-0 with 49 wins inside the distance for Chavez, 27, the WBC ruler and Mexican national hero — that Chavez-Taylor got that Fight of the Year nod over a little scrap in Tokyo five weeks earlier, in which a 42-to-1 longshot named Buster Douglas knocked out heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, the most fearsome visitor to the Land of the Rising Sun since Godzilla.

I was at ringside for both fights, and although Tyson-Douglas was undoubtedly the bigger event from a historical perspective, given the aura of invincibility that clung to Tyson that afternoon (because of the 14-hour time difference between the East Coast and Japan, the bout began Sunday afternoon in Japan, Saturday night in the U.S.), but Chavez-Taylor, to me, was the more compelling scrap. It was, in every sense of the word, worthy of all the hype, which might or might not be the case when welterweight champs Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao swap punches in an even-more-anticipated unification pairing on May 2 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

It was my opinion then, and now, that Taylor deserved the victory he had earned in the first 35 minutes, 58 seconds of a war for the ages. Chavez knew there were only a few seconds remaining until the final bell, and he was right behind Steele, poised to charge forward and get in one last, telling lick. Had Steele signaled Chavez to return to the farthest neutral corner, the fight almost certainly would have ended in a Taylor split-decision victory.

There were, however, other ingredients in the bubbling broth of woulda-coulda-shoulda. What if Taylor co-trainer Lou Duva, an excitable sort under the best of circumstances, not mounted the ring apron and distracted Taylor, who turned his head to look at Duva instead of Steele when the referee was asking him if he was OK? It can be argued that Duva’s actions were tantamount to a towel toss, signifying surrender. But had Steele even noticed him?

What didn’t wash, at least to me, was Steele – whose integrity I didn’t question then, nor do now – saying that he treated all fighters the same, be they journeymen or celebrated world champions. It was Steele who, queried about his reluctance to call a halt in the third round of WBC middleweight champion Thomas Hearns’ June 6, 1988, defense against Iran Barkley, with ample time left on the clock and Hearns badly hurt and sagging against the ropes, said that, “Thomas Hearns is a great champion, and great champions deserve the opportunity to fight their way out of trouble.”

Make no mistake: What happened to Meldrick Taylor, whose downward spiral after the first Chavez fight (he was stopped in eight rounds in the rematch, on Sept 17, 1994), would have happened regardless of the outcome. The damage he absorbed from JCC’s heavy blows that night at the Las Vegas Hilton, it became increasingly obvious, was irreversible. Although Taylor, a gold medalist at 17 at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, would go on to capture another world title, scoring a unanimous decision over WBA super lightweight champion Aaron Davis on Jan. 19, 1991, and successfully defending it twice, he was a ghost of his former brilliance in losing on a fourth-round TKO when he challenged WBC super welterweight king Terry Norris on May 9, 1992.

What Chavez started, Norris clearly finished, so much so that Taylor, who had retained his WBA welterweight championship, was never a factor in relinquishing the title a one-sided, eighth-round stoppage to Crisanto Espana on Oct. 31, 1992, in London, on the undercard of heavyweight Lennox Lewis’ –round blowout of Razor Ruddock. So alarmed was Lou Duva by what he saw of Taylor, who at his finest could not possibly have been beaten by the likes of Espana, that he urged Taylor – then all of 26 — to immediately retire. Not surprisingly, Taylor refused. He would go 6-5 in his final 11 bouts, mostly against second- and third-tier opposition.

“I love the kid and I’m not going to let him get hurt,” Duva said after Taylor’s beatdown from Espana. “As far as I’m concerned, he shouldn’t fight again. He’s a great person and he’s been a great champion. He’s recovered from every disappointment he’s had in this sport, and he’ll recover from this.

“There’s been some wise guys who’ll try to convince him to keep on fighting, but it’s pretty obvious he’s through. I wouldn’t even put him in there with a four-round preliminary guy. Why? Because it only would take one punch to do it (seriously hurt Taylor).”

Had Taylor survived Chavez’s desperate 12th-round onslaught, would he have merited the win that seemingly had been within his grasp? That is a matter of judging preference; it was clear that Taylor, whose blurring hand speed was a marvel to behold, had the edge in quantity, landing punches in bunches. But Chavez packed more pop, so give him the upper hand for the impact of those shots that did connect. After the fight, Taylor spent the night at Valley View Hospital where he was treated for dehydration, a lacerated tongue and a small fracture in the bone behind his left eye. He also lost two pints of blood during the course of the bout.

“It was sad to see Meldrick last night,” Taylor’s twin brother, Eldrick, said of one of the more heartbreaking defeats ever suffered by any fighter. “`Two seconds,’” he kept repeating. “Two seconds.”

Those two seconds, truth be told, have haunted Meldrick Taylor until this day. They no doubt will haunt him for the rest of a life shrouded in recriminations.

“I think I fought the best fight I could have fought,” he said upon his release from the hospital. “I beat Chavez at his own game. A lot of people said he was going to wear me down with body shots, but I gave more than 100 percent. And then for the referee to stop it like that … it was traumatic for me.”

Until Steele waved his arms, Taylor – who, perhaps unwisely, had been advised by Duva before the climactic 12th round to continue to take the fight to Chavez instead of sitting on his presumed lead – was too far ahead to be caught on points. His rapid-fire combinations had found favor with judges Jerry Roth and Dave Moretti, who had him ahead by respective margins of 108-101 and 107-102, with Chuck Giampa favoring Chavez by 105-104. And for those who would argue that Taylor was foolish in not getting on his bicycle, remember that Oscar De La Hoya thought he was too far ahead to lose a decision to Felix Trinidad. Chavez’s status as a hugely popular Mexican icon might have had the Duva corner leery that the scorecards weren’t as tilted in their man’s favor as it turned out.

Lou Duva and his son, Dan, the Main Events president who served as Taylor’s promoter, reacted to the sudden, shocking ending by seeking to have the result overturned, citing violations of IBF rule 14, WBC rule 12 and NSAC rule 467.740, all of which essentially are the same. It was their contention that Steele, by not directing Chavez to the farthest neutral corner, had made a mistake that in essence deprived Taylor of his greatest moment of professional glory. But those official protests were not upheld, and neither was their alternative demand that the fight be declared a no-contest, which would have allowed Taylor to retain his IBF belt.

HBO revisited that amazing fight, and its aftermath, in 2002 with the documentary “Legendary Nights: The Tale of Chavez-Taylor,” with arguments made on both sides of the issue.

“I thought Richard Steele made a bad stoppage,” offered Larry Merchant, HBO’s longtime fight analyst. “Meldrick Taylor fought his heart out. He had earned the right of those extra two seconds.”

Counterpoints were offered by Boston sports columnist Ron Borges, and, of course, Steele.

“It was hard initially to step back and reallylook at what had happened,” Borges opined. “One guy (Taylor) got assaulted at the end, is what happened. Should they have stopped the fight? Yeah, they should have stopped the fight.”

Added Steele: “I was really thrilled to be selected for this fight … Really, a great moment in my life. I never regretted what I did.”

Again, the whirling dervish that had been Meldrick Taylor ceased to exist that March night a quarter-century ago. It was a fight that cost him a significant chunk of his prime, additional financial benefits (he had agreed to a six-bout, $10 million-to-$12 million contract extension with HBO, contingent on his winning) and, sadly, his health. His gift literally had been beaten out of him.

In the HBO documentary, Las Vegas ring physician Margaret Goodman said that Taylor, whose slurred speech just a few years after the Chavez fight was in marked contrast to the pre-Chavez model, “shows all evidence of chronic brain injury,” and that his continued participation as an active boxer makes me embarrassed for the sport.”

Some people – those who don’t understand the thrall in which boxing holds its participants — have told me that Muhammad Ali stayed too long at the fair, that if they were in his place and knew what awaited him, they would never even have taken up such a dangerous occupation. But there are others who gladly would risk all to know, even for a day, what it must feel like to be one of the most charismatic and admired athletes ever to walk the face of the earth. There is a steep price that sometimes must be paid to achieve extraordinary things, and I have to believe a significant percentage of those who never come close to breaking free from the shackles of the mundane would accept future diminishment for true greatness in the full bloom of their youth.

Meldrick Taylor came so very close to having it all, and one can only wonder if he could more easily accept his sad present circumstances had he only had the benefit of two seconds that forever will be just beyond his grasp.

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Gay Talese, an Icon of the ‘New Journalism,’ Wrote Extensively About Boxing

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Rejected by every college and university he applied to except one, Gay Talese is one of the most celebrated and decorated American writers over the last seven decades.

Beginning at Ocean City High in New Jersey where he wrote for the student newspaper and later the Ocean City Sentinel-Ledger, Talese, 92, went to the University of Alabama where he worked on the student newspaper, the Crimson White, and after a stint in the Army, wrote for The New York Times, Esquire, The New Yorker and numerous magazines.

Not wasting time, Talese has published more than a dozen books, including “The Kingdom And The Power” (1969), “Honor Thy Father,” (1971), “Thy Neighbor’s Wife” (1980), “Unto The Sons,” (1992) and “A Writer’s Life,” (2006).

Talese, who earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism, wrote what many consider the finest magazine profile ever published, his magnum opus for the April 1966 issue of Esquire, titled “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold,” which the magazine proclaimed its greatest feature during the magazine’s 70th anniversary.

In July 1966 and for the same publication, Talese wrote another classic, “The Silent Season Of A Hero,” about New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio in retirement.

Talese’s interests are many and so are his subjects, including profiles of three boxing luminaries, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Floyd Patterson.

To say Talese writes with a light touch and a careful eye to detail is an understatement and his penchant for listening and simply hanging around have served him well and brought his subjects to life in what became known as New Journalism. (Practitioners of the New Journalism adapted the writing techniques of the novel to non-fiction storytelling, often immersing themselves in the narrative. Famous writers identified with the genre include Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, and Talese.)

In one of Talese’s most enduring boxing features, he shined the light on Ali. It ran in the September 1996 issue of Esquire, slightly less than two decades before Ali’s passing in June 2016 at age 74.

The title is “Ali In Havana,” and it captured the essence and luminosity of the three-time heavyweight champion after the lights dimmed.

This section by Talese comes early in the piece: “Although Muhammad Ali is now fifty-four and has been retired from boxing for more than fifteen years, he is still one of the most famous men in the world, being identifiable throughout five continents. As he walks through the lobby of the Hotel Nacional toward the bus, wearing a gray sharkskin suit and a white cotton shirt buttoned at the neck without a tie, several guests approach him and request his autograph. It takes him about thirty seconds to write ‘Muhammad Ali,’ so shaky are his hands from the effects of Parkinson’s syndrome; and though he walks without support, his movements are quite slow, and Howard Bingham and Ali’s fourth wife, Yolanda, are following nearby.”

Talese adds a short while later: “On the bus, as always, Ali is sitting alone, spread out across the two front seats in the left aisle directly behind the Cuban driver. Yolanda sits a few feet ahead of him to the right; she is adjacent to the driver and within inches of the windshield. The seats behind her are occupied by Teofilo Stevenson, Fraymari [Stevenson’s wife], and the photographer Bingham. Seated behind Ali, and also occupying two seats, is an American screenwriter named Greg Howard, who weighs more than 300 pounds. Although he has traveled with Ali for only a few months while researching a film on the fighter’s life, Greg Howard has firmly established himself as an intimate sidekick, and as such is among the very few on the trip who have heard Ali’s voice. Ali speaks so softly that it is impossible to hear him in a crowd, and as a result whatever public comments or sentiments he is expected to, or chooses to, express are verbalized by Yolanda, or Bingham, or Teofilo Stevenson, or even at times by this stout young screenwriter.”

Talese slides this nugget into the feature:

“Stevenson did not actually explain that it had been merely another photo opportunity, one in which they sparred open-handed in the ring, wearing their street clothes and barely touching each other’s bodies and faces; but then Stevenson had climbed out of the ring, leaving Ali to the more taxing test of withstanding two abbreviated rounds against one and then another young bully of grade-school age who clearly had not come to participate in a kiddie show. They had come to floor the champ. Their bellicose little bodies and hot-gloved hands and helmeted hell-bent heads were consumed with fury and ambition; and as they charged ahead, swinging wildly and swaggering to the roars of their teenaged friends and relatives at ringside, one could imagine their future boastings to their grandchildren: On one fine day back in the winter of ’96, I whacked Muhammad Ali. Except, in truth, on this particular day, Ali was still too fast for them. He backpedaled and shifted and swayed, stood on the toes of his black woven-leather pointed shoes, and showed that his body was made for motion – his Parkinson’s problems were lost in his shuffle, in the thrusts of his butterfly sting what whistled two feet above the heads of his aspiring assailants, in the dazzling dips of his rope-a-dope that had confounded George Foreman in Zaire, in his ever-memorable style, which in this Cuban gym moistened the eyes of his ever-observant photographer friend and provided the overweight screenwriter to cry out in a voice that few in this noisy Spanish crowd could understand, ‘Ali’s on a high! Ali’s on a high!’ ”

Talese penned a touching and poignant portrait of Louis, the “Brown Bomber” in the June 1962 issue of Esquire. The title is “Joe Louis: The King As A Middle-Aged Man.”

Early in the profile, Talese wrote this of the beloved former champion: “Though his tax difficulties have eradicated all his assets – including two trust funds he had set up for his children – Joe Louis is still a man of great pride. He refused the money that hundreds of citizens sent him to help with his government debt, although he still owes the government thousands and could have used the cash. Last year Joe Louis earned less than $10,000, most of it from refereeing wrestling matches (he earns between $750 to $1,000 a night), and from endorsements or appearances. The last big money he made was the $100,000-a-year guarantee he got in 1956 for wrestling. He won all his matches – except those in which he was disqualified for using his fists – but his career ended not long afterward when the 300-pound cowboy Rocky Lee accidentally stepped on Louis’s chest one night, cracked one of his ribs, and damaged some of his heart muscles.”

A little later in the feature, Talese penned this: “And on and on it went, as Louis walked down Broadway: Cab drivers waved at him, bus drivers honked at him, and dozens of men stopped him and recalled how they once traveled 130 miles to get to one of his fights, and how they’d put their heads down to light a cigarette in the first round, then before they could look up, Louis had flattened his opponent and they had missed everything: or how they’d had guests at the house that night to hear the fight, and while they were struggling in the kitchen to get the ice out, somebody came in from the living room and said, ‘It’s all over! Louis knocked ‘im out with the first punch.’ “

In the March 1964 issue of Esquire, Talese, who wrote thirty-seven stories on Patterson, the onetime youngest heavyweight king, authored a gem titled, “The Loser.”

Midway through the feature, Talese wrote, “One hour later Floyd Patterson was jogging his way back down the dirt path toward the white house, the towel over his head absorbing the sweat from his brow. He lives alone in a two-room apartment in the rear of the house and has remained there in almost complete seclusion since getting knocked out a second time by Sonny Liston.

In the smaller room is a large bed he makes up himself, several record albums he rarely plays, a telephone that seldom rings. The larger room has a kitchen on one side and, on the other, adjacent to a sofa, is a fireplace from which are hung boxing trunks and T-shirts to dry, and a photograph of him when he was the champion, and also a television set. The set is usually on except when Patterson is sleeping, or when he is sparring across the road inside the clubhouse (the ring is rigged over what was once the dance floor), or when, in a rare moment of painful honesty, he reveals to a visitor what it is like to be a loser.”

A short while later, Talese adds: “Now, walking slowly around the room, his black silk robe over his sweat clothes, Patterson said, ‘You must wonder what makes a man do things like this. Well, I wonder too. And the answer is, I don’t know … but I think that within me, within every human being, there is a certain weakness. It is a weakness that exposes itself more when you’re alone. And I have figured out that part of the reason I do the things I do, and cannot seem to conquer that one word – myself – is because … is because … I am a coward.’ He stopped. He stood very still in the middle of the room, thinking about what he had just said, probably wondering whether he should have said it.”

In all three features, Talese steers clear of mythologizing and allows the reader to decide the merit and quality of each man.

They were all supremely gifted in the ring, but each had their foibles and flaws outside the squared circle. That is, they, like everyone, were merely human.

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Zhilei Zhang and Deontay Wilder Meet at the Final Crossroads

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Six feet six inches and 290lbs are our favourite statistics when it comes to Big Bang Zhang, out of Zhoukou, China. Here are two more: he’s forty-one years old and he has lost two of his last four, including a woeful shortfall against a rejuvenated Joseph Parker in the Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, in March.

Kingdom Arena, Riyadh is the site too of his next fight this weekend against Deontay Wilder as a major part of the Five vs Five card Matchroom and Queensberry promotions have developed. Our favourite Wilder stat: forty-three wins, forty-two knockouts. More pertinent though are his record for the 2020s, which stands at 1-3, and his thirty-eight years of age.

This is not just a crossroads fight; it is the place where someone finds out they’re no longer on the list to receive the riches of Riyadh – when someone finds out their time on the island of relevancy is over. It is impossible to imagine Wilder remaining a part of the title picture after posting his fourth loss in five matches in his thirty-eighth year; it is impossible, too, to imagine Zhang remaining a problem anyone on the world scene needs if he loses his third fight in five with his forty-second birthday in sight. For someone, the dance will be over this Saturday night – but who?

In trying to determine what Deontay Wilder has left, the most important statistic of all is 12-0. That was what my scorecard read after the twelve humiliating rounds Wilder posted against Joseph Parker last December. Wilder entered the ring dry and tight, and I expected him to move into the contest as he warmed up and loosened up, but the pattern of the fight did not change. A word here for Parker, a gentleman despite the questionable friendships he keeps: his boxing was excellent. Asked about Wilder’s performance afterwards he said that he felt that “inactivity has played a part” but that “sticking to the plan Andy Lee laid out” got him there. All of this sounds right to me. Parker was extremely disciplined and it was exactly what was required. He feinted Wilder with his left and sought the right hand, arraying himself against his foe’s greatest weakness, his balance. An ill-balanced fighter, Wilder was kept under disorganised control by a sparse but disciplined offence.

With that important point out of the way, we need to return to Wilder’s absolute inability to change the pattern of the fight. I do not think he won a single minute of a single round, he was as conclusively beaten by Parker as it is possible for a fighter to be on points, although it should be noted that two judges were generous enough to find two rounds for him (the third saw it as I did). Competence was the word that most expresses what undid him – competence in footwork, diligence in offence.  Wilder looked, at times, a novice before Parker’s double-jab, travelling all the way to the ropes to escape a much shorter punch. His own jab, of course, was compromised by his gunslinger’s stance. Wilder often throws the punch from low down, lengthening the time the punch is in the air, shortening the required reaction time of the opponent. Parker was unamused by this punch, parrying it off his gloves or slipping outside the range – Wilder found himself falling over his front foot when what he wanted was to be on his back foot and the panic a miss could induce in him was apparent by the fourth, impeding his organisation still further. Wilder spent so much time leaning away, shuffling back, his offence was banished.

Allowing that the best answer is “a little of both” we must ask whether this was something that Parker did to Wilder or something that Wilder did to himself – or worse, is this who Wilder is now?

Wilder’s excuses for his awful performance against Parker were varied; some days it was the long flight to Riyadh; sometimes it was the improper use of a cryo-chamber. These are far from the strangest excuses that Wilder has produced for a loss, as Sweet Science readers well know. His more recent public musings have seemed even more cryptic, including an apparent obsession with his own death, not always entirely negative in the sense that he is curious about the afterlife, but still an interesting train of thought for an elite athlete. Through the gaps in the stream of consciousness though comes the things we want to hear. “The flame, the fire, has been relit inside of me. I fell out of love with boxing but I’m in love with it again…I went back to being a student of the game.”

More, Wilder always lost rounds – against the last southpaw opponent he met, Luis Ortiz, he lost almost every round he did not score a knockdown in, but this lack of ring generalship is counterbalanced by his overwhelming power. He never landed that shot on Parker because Parker, with the help of coach Andy Lee, decoded him.  Wilder has clearly slipped, but it may be his general lack of form and balance, though savagely exposed on this occasion, means he is still a good chunk of what he used to be – and just because Parker decoded him, doesn’t mean Zhang can.

Zhang looked lethal decoding his own Waterloo in smashing Joe Joyce to pieces twice. Slow-moving, big punching, and apparently lacking all survival instincts against a big-hitting southpaw, Joyce was perfect for Zhang, but the Chinese looked wonderful getting the big Brit out of there. Zhang, too, was badly exposed against Joseph Parker, but their fight was not nearly so one-sided. In fact, Zhang swept Parker in the early rounds, culminating in a third-round knockdown that put him firmly in charge of the fight. Zhang’s enormity was a part of the equation. He forced Parker out of ring centre (which Parker dominated against Wilder) simply by existing. Zhang two-stepped to the outside to land single shots while Parker struggled a bit with his backfoot range. Andy Lee noticed this and his advice to Parker after round two, felt, at the time, inadequate but he was quite correct: “He’s gonna slow, and slow, and slow.”

A Scene from Zhang vs Parker

A Scene-from-Zhang-vs-Parker

What Lee recognised was Zhang’s stamina issue would be the definitive factor in the fight, in combination, of course, with Parker’s own excellent engine. The later the fight goes, the more Zhang feels those 270-290lbs. The disaster that was the second half of his fight against Jermaine Franklin victim Jerry Forrest is most illustrative of this. I thought Zhang was lucky to get away with a draw in that fight and he dropped every one of the final five rounds for me. Stories abound that Zhang’s kidneys went into failure in that fight, some claim, and one that has never been verified. Big Bang now apparently consumes two gallons of water every day. How then, to explain his second half collapse against Filip Hrgovic?  Zhang did well through the early part of that fight but dropped a razor-thin decision after losing five of the final six on my card. Parker, though, seems the final proof of Zhang’s greatest weakness – dropped in the third, Parker came over his front foot in the fourth, showed head movement, and suddenly had a tiring Zhang circling. Brave, committed, Parker is all of that and Zhang did not like it in the late parts of the fight. He won eighth with another bomb, but apart from that he won not a single round on my card post the third. Zhang is a molasses in elite terms in the championship rounds. He seems to have no strategy to win rounds late against world-class opposition; rather he plods, and waits for the 180 seconds to pass, relying upon his size and chin to keep him out of serious trouble.

What a wonderful mesh this produces for the massive confrontation between Zhang and Wilder this Saturday night. Early, Zhang’s naturalised pressure will make a reluctant Wilder uncertain about throwing as Zhang does his best work. As the rounds grind by, Zhang will start to blow and the opportunity for Wilder to take over will present itself. Here, we will really find out what it is that Wilder has left. A handful of punches is enough to win rounds against Zhang in the second half of the fight, and I mean that literally. But Wilder threw fewer than fifteen punches per round in five of the twelve rounds he boxed against Parker, an incredible absence of activity – and he lands a low percentage anyway much of the time. He was essentially in hiding against Parker – Zhang hits harder and is more menacing generally. Does Wilder really have “the fire” back in his belly, and has he really fallen in love with boxing once again? If so, still the division’s best puncher, he will have no problems landing late on ranked heavyweight boxing’s juiciest target. If not, we could witness some of the dullest rounds boxing can deliver, a gun-shy former predator doing his best to avoid contact with a blown forty-one year old.

In boxing though, the round is always scored to someone. The prediction here is difficult because it is about how the two fighter’s malfunctions will intertwine, not their strengths. The bookies, rarely wrong, have made Zhang the favourite and that makes the most sense – his performance against Parker was less abhorrent than Wilder’s. But were Zhang’s struggles perhaps more fundamental? I think that even the Wilder we saw against Parker would have got moving against the iceberg that is late-fight Zhang and he still carries bazookas. It is not lost on me that Wilder’s busiest rounds against Parker were late in the fight when he came alive to the disaster that was unfolding. Wilder still has enough pride to be desperate whereas Zhang will find himself too exhausted for his desperation to matter.

Untidy, ugly, wildly entertaining rounds may be the fight fan’s reward for sticking with the turgid middle part of this crossroads combat.

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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

The Gervais Auto Center in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada, roughly 100 miles south of Montreal, hosted tonight’s card on ESPN+, a co-promotion of Camille Estephan’s Eye of the Tiger Promotions and Bob Arum’s Top Rank. Arum wasn’t there; he was in Leeds, England, but the outcome would have mitigated his aggravation at seeing his fighter Josh Taylor fall short earlier in the day.

Super middleweight Christian Mbilli, of whom Arum owns a piece, needed only 40 seconds to conquer British import Mark Heffron who, on paper, was a very credible opponent. Mbilli backed Heffron into the ropes and collapsed him with a left hook that landed under his rib cage. Heffron, 30-3-1 heading in with 24 KOs, went down on all fours and was counted out. The contest was over almost before it began.

The Cameroon-born Mbilli, a 2016 Olympian for France who turned pro in Montreal, is ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA; #3 by the IBF and WBO. With the victory, he advanced his record to 27-0 (23 KOs). His next fight will reportedly come in August with rugged but battle-blistered Sergiy Derevyanchenko in the opposite corner. Mbilli has been chasing a fight with Canelo Alvarez, but has scant chance of landing it. At this juncture of his career, the red-headed Mexican undoubtedly wants less daunting assignments.

Co-Feature

Arslanbek Makhmudov, the Russian Lion, rebounded from his poor performance against Agit Kabayel with a second-round stoppage of sacrificial lamb Milan Rovcanin. Makhmudov (19-1, 18 KOs) knocked Rovcanin to the canvas with an overhand right in the opening round. The punch knocked Rovcanin sideways, his head resting on the ring apron. To Rovcanin’s credit, he beat the count and launched a futile offensive after he arose. A similar punch ended the brief bout at the 2:32 mark of the next frame.

Makhmudov is certainly heavy-handed, but he moves at a glacial pace and would be up-against-it against a world-class opponent with faster hands and better footwork. Rovcanin, who had  been feasting on fourth-raters in his native Serbia, declined to 27-4.

Other Bouts of Note

In a bout contested at the catch-weight of 178 pounds, Montreal-based Mehmet Unal, a 31-year-old former Olympian for Turkey, scored the best win of his career with a fourth-round stoppage of 34-year-old Laredo, Texas campaigner Rodolfo Gomez.

Gomez, routinely matched tough and better than his record (14-7-3 heading in), protested loudly when the referee waived it off, but his corner stood poised to throw in the towel. He hadn’t previously been stopped, let alone knocked off his feet. Unal improved to 10-0 (8 KOs).

Super middleweight Mereno Fendero, a 24-year old French Army veteran, improved to 6-0 (4) with a six-round decision over 38-year-old Argentine journeyman Rolando Mansilla (19-15-1). Fendero won every round on all three cards including a 10-8 round on one of the cards although there were no knockdowns. Although badly out-classed, the teak-tough Mansilla, a glutton for punishment, earned his pay.

Local prospect Alexandre Gaumont, a middleweight, improved to 11-0 (7) with an unpopular 8-round split decision over Argentina’s Santiago Fernandez (8-1-1). Two of the judges gave Gaumont six rounds, ridiculed as home town bias, with the other awarding five rounds to the Argentine who received a loud ovation as he left the ring.

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