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Catchweight the Topic At Cotto-Geale Presser in NYC

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A pretty fair middleweight tangle should unfold on Saturday night in Brooklyn, but the main topic of conversation at the press conference in Manhattan days out from the clash between Miguel Cotto and Aussie challenger Daniel Geale was the “catch weight” clause in the contract between the two pugilists.

Cotto holds the WBC 160 pound belt, which he wrested from Sergio Martinez last summer. But he’s “requested” that Geale hit the scale Friday as a sub-middleweight, that the 31-3 hitter adhere to a 157 pounds or less limit.

Geale, a soft spoken, most unfailingly polite sort, told the media he is OK with that, but his promoter wasn’t as accepting. Gary Shaw took pains to tell Cotto he respects the heck out of him, and his career, and his legacy—but catchweight fights shouldn’t be in play for title fights, he stated.

Cotto told the press that he had to play the catchweight game a few years ago, when he faced off with Manny Pacquiao. That “welterweight” clash in 2009 was set for a 145 pounds or less limit, and no one really squawked and he didn’t make waves, he told us.

His current trainer, “Dedham” Freddie Roach, was in Manny’s corner that night, the 35-in-October-year-old Puerto Rican icon said.

Shaw told me that there are no “teeth” in the contract, that there is no penalty called for if Geale, the 34-year-old who held the IBF 160 strap in 2011-2013, doesn’t make 157. The plan is for Geale to honor what amounts to a gentleman’s agreement…though, Shaw said, it was made clear to him that Cotto reserves the right to call off the fight if Geale doesn’t make 157. That, I dare say, would not be in the cards, so I guess we will cross that bridge if we come to it, which we hopefully won’t.

Roc Nation, which signed Cotto to a mega-million deal, beating out long-time promoter Top Rank for his services, is promoting the Saturday card. HBO will show the main event.

There is a tentative working plan, if all goes according to the Cotto plan, for Miguel to meet up with Mexican hitter Canelo Alvarez in the fall, on a pay-per-view scrum, should Cotto best Geale. So, there were questions to Cotto about Canelo, and also about future potential foe Gennady Golovkin, who holds some other 160 pound crowns, and will be in Brooklyn Saturday, to scope out Cotto. He is pressing hard for the Puerto Rican to step to the line, and accept the challenge. Patience, Cotto has advised; those mega-fights fan crave will occur but on his time frame, he noted. And, it was implied, on his terms. He’s the A side, to the A minus sides Canelo and Golovkin…as for Geale, he seems to get everyone is seeing him as a B-guy…but he stared down Cotto hard at the photo face-off at BB Kings, and nothing in his face suggested he didn’t think he’d have his hand raised come Saturday night, no matter what he’s tasked to weigh in Friday.

Here is the release which went out after the presser:

MIGUEL COTTO VS. DANIEL GEALE

FINAL PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES

 

WBC & RING MAGAZINE MIDDLEWEIGHT WORLD CHAMPION COTTO

TO FACE FORMER TWO-TIME WORLD CHAMPION GEALE

ON JUNE 6, 2015 AT BARCLAYS CENTER IN BROOKLYN LIVE ON HBO®

 

PRESENTED BY ROC NATION SPORTS + MIGUEL COTTO PROMOTIONS

NEW YORK (June 3, 2015) -Roc Nation Sports and Miguel Cotto Promotions hosted the final press conference for the June 6 showdown between WBC and Ring Magazine Middleweight World Champion Miguel Cotto and former Two-Time World Champion Daniel Geale on Tuesday, June 2 at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York City. Along with the main event participants, undercard fighters Junior Younan and Zhang Zhilei were also in attendance. Other speakers included Michael Yormark (President & Chief of Branding and Strategy of Roc Nation), Hector Soto (Miguel Cotto Promotions), Freddie Roach (Cotto’s Trainer), Gary Shaw (Gary Shaw Productions), Graham Shaw (Geale’s Trainer), Brett Yormark (CEO of Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets), Peter Nelson (VP HBO Sports Programming), David Berlin (Executive Director of the New York State Athletic Commission) and Ululy Martinez (Vice Chairman of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade Board of Directors). The press conference was emceed by Brooklyn Nets Public Address Announcer David Diamante.

Here’s what press conference participants had to say:

Miguel Cotto – WBC & Ring Magazine Middleweight World Champion

“I want to thank my lovely family for being here with my. My kids, my wife, my lovely mom. Thank you for always supporting my career no matter how hard it seems or looks to you. I love you.”

“I think that people are making a big issue where there does not need to be a big issue with catch weights. Freddie, back in 2009, made me go down from 147 to 145. Did anyone hear anything about Miguel Cotto disagreeing with the catch weights? No, I was a gentlemen the whole way. Catch weights were our main point to make this fight happen. Daniel and his team agreed to going down to 157 and I hope he can make weight on Friday. I hope to see everyone there on Saturday night.”

“Freddie brings the confidence back to Miguel. He comes every day no matter what he feels and gives his best to me. When you have this kind of person in front of you giving you his best and making sure that you are going to do your best, the only way you can pay him back is bringing your best too. We only talk about boxing when we are in the gym. He’s my trainer there, but as soon as we finish our training session, he’s my friend.”

Daniel Geale – Former Two-Time World Champion

“This is a huge opportunity and I’m very excited. We’re so excited as a team that this fight is taking place. We’ve put a great training camp in for this fight and I’m feeling as good as I ever have. There’s no excuses. I’m going in as the best fighter I can possibly be. I’m hoping Miguel Cotto is the best fighter he can be as well. I want the fans to enjoy a great fight and I believe it will be a great fight. I can’t wait to walk away with another title. I’m going in very confident and I know a lot of people aren’t giving me much of a chance, but I have a huge amount of confidence in myself knowing I’ve completed a great training camp. Knowing that I have put everything that I possibly can into it and knowing that I have such a great team. I look forward to Saturday night.”

Freddie Roach – Cotto’s Trainer

“We’ve had a great training camp. Miguel is in great shape. Our sparring partners on our team have been great. And we’re ready for this fight. Gary’s been making a big deal about catch weights, but they have been around for a long time and he knows how to read a contract and he’s had that contract for a long time now, so I don’t think that’s an issue. We look forward to seeing you at the fight.”

Michael Yormark – President & Chief of Branding and Strategy of Roc Nation

“Led by our Chairman JAY Z and his partners, Roc Nation was founded to work with artists and entertainers to guide them and help them build their careers even beyond the boundaries of the music industry. It is fitting then, that today we stand in a setting named for the legendary BB King – may he rest in peace – an artist and a man that knew no boundaries during a career that transcended his art. In a few short years, Roc Nation itself has expanded beyond the world of music, diversifying in a way that many never thought possible. Today we begin to celebrate a landmark in that expansion, as another legend, World Champion Miguel Cotto, prepares to headline Roc Nation’s first major fight on Saturday night against Daniel Geale, live at Barclays Center and on HBO.”

“When Roc Nation founded its boxing division less than a year ago, we committed to doing things differently, and what you will see on Saturday night will be different. The eyes of the boxing world will be fixed on Barclays Center on Saturday, with celebrities and VIP’s lining the ring and a captivated audience watching at home. They will watch with anticipation, awaiting not only a masterful performance from the champion Miguel Cotto against a formidable opponent, but also an electric appearance from Roc Nation artist and hip-hop superstar Big Sean, as well as the voice of New York Angie Martinez, and a host of other surprises that will make this live boxing experience different from anything you’ve ever seen before.”

“Saturday is the start of something new and fresh for the boxing industry. It is a chance for all of us to show boxing fans, and sports and entertainment fans around the world, that the action on fight night can and will live up to the hype.”

Hector Soto – Miguel Cotto Promotions

“It has been several months of hard work and dedication. Puerto Rico will shine again on the night of June 6 when Miguel Cotto defends his titles successfully.”

Ululy Rafael Martinez – Puerto Rican Day Parade

“We’re really happy this year to formalize a relationship with Miguel Cotto thanks to Roc Nation Sports and Miguel Cotto Promotions. I also want to thank Roc Nation Sports and Miguel Cotto Promotions for contributing to our scholarship fund. They are helping us empower young high school students and college students we provide scholarships to so they can further their education. I’m encouraging everyone planning on coming to the Parade on June 14 to support our man Miguel Cotto On Saturday, June 6 at Barclays Center for the boxing match of the year.”

David Berlin – New York Athletic Commission

“Miguel Cotto and Daniel Geale represent the best in boxing. These are men that carry themselves with dignity both inside and outside the ring. Men who can be respectful because they don’t have to prove themselves with words. Where they prove themselves each and every time they fight is inside that ring.”

“Now that I am with the commission, I no longer root for fighters. I’m in a neutral role, but I do root for fights. I root for fights when fighters come into the ring and they fight hard but they leave the ring safely. I root for fights that satisfy the fans and fights where the right man has his hand raised at the end. That of course is where the New York State Athletic Commission comes in.

“This promises to be a competitive fight. Obviously a competitive fight means it’s a hard night for judges, but what I’m committing to the fighters and fans is that we are going to have competent, qualified and neutral officials in place and the right man is going to have his hand raised at the end of the fight. I wish both men good luck on Saturday night.”

Brett Yormark – CEO of Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets

“We’re expecting a great night on Saturday night. So, hopefully we see all of you. Tickets are still on sale. Saturday night represents our 13th night of championship boxing at Barclays Center since we opened the building 32 months ago and boxing plays a huge role in what we do in Brooklyn.”

Peter Nelson – Vice President, Programming, HBO Sports

“We look forward to two fighters who have always rose to every challenge that has been put in front of them. Daniel Geale had a lucrative opportunity at one point in time to make his HBO debut and he actually decided instead to go to Germany, to Felix Sturm’s backyard, fight him for his world titles and ended up lifting the titles away from him. He is naturally the largest opponent that Miguel Cotto has ever fought and he’s stepped up to every challenge that’s ever been put in front of him.”

“Miguel Cotto…the last time he stepped into the ring, he entered it an underdog and he ended up leaving it the lineal middleweight champion. He joined just a handful of fighters ever to win four world titles in four separate divisions and he was the first man from Puerto Rico ever to do so. He performed what I saw as one of the strangest punches ever in boxing when he touched a man on the temple and it caused his knee to twist into a knot. I’ve never seen that happen. It was an extraordinary performance.”

“We look to see in this fight, fighters who are going to give us moments of great bravery and great courage. These are the kind of men we want to have on the network. That’s what makes great fights.”

Gary Shaw – Gary Shaw Productions

“I have a personal problem with catch weights. We accepted the catch weight of 157 and I’m not here to complain about the catch weight. We’re going to make the weight. It’s going to be tough. I believe that if a fighter wants to fight at any weight that he wants to fight at, he has that opportunity, but he shouldn’t stop the opponent from fighting at the sanctioned weight which in this case is 160.”

“I believe Daniel Geale is going to win the fight. I believe that Miguel and his team made a mistake. If they were looking at the Golovkin fight, thinking that’s the Daniel that is going to come into the ring…it will not be that same Daniel Geale.”

“It’s truly an honor to represent Daniel Geale because he’s a different young man. The first time I met him, I flew to Germany. I looked around and I couldn’t identify Daniel Geale. Little did I know, he was standing against the back wall. After taking my seat at the dais, Daniel Geale walked up. I looked at him and I said “we’re in trouble! This kid looks like a choir boy not a fighter,” but he gave it all he got and he won the fight. He’s a family man. Doesn’t travel with an entourage. Always on time. Trains hard. Does everything that a true champion has to do.”

Cotto vs. Geale, a 12-round fight for Cotto’s WBC and Ring Magazine Middleweight World Championships, takes place Saturday, June 6 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and will be televised live on HBO. The fight, which is presented by Roc Nation Sports and Miguel Cotto Promotions in association with Gary Shaw Productions, will be the official kick-off event of the 2015 National Puerto Rican Day Parade Week and is sponsored by Cerveza Tecate, Jaybird, TapouT, Tequila Cazadores, Venue Kings and Nüe Resource. In addition to the great action inside the ring, the event will feature several notable Roc Nation touches that will further serve spectators with an enhanced fan experience, including Roc Nation and Grammy nominated artist Big Sean taking to the ring for a special performance prior to the main event. The event will be hosted by notable emcee “The Voice of New York” Angie Martinez and will also feature hit master DJ Lobo who will serve alongside Martinez throughout the night. Tickets priced at $500, $250, $200, $150, $100, $80, $50, $35 and $25, not including applicable service charges and taxes, are on sale now and available for purchase at www.barclayscenter.com, www.ticketmaster.com and at the American Express Box Office at Barclays Center. To charge by phone, call Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000. Doors open at 6:00 PM, the first fight begins at 6:15 PM and the HBO telecast begins at 10:30 PM ET/PT.

For more information please visit www.rocnation.com. Follow Roc Nation on Twitter and Instagram @rocnation and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RocNation.  

For more information, visit www.hbo.com/boxing, follow on Twitter and Instagram at @HBOBoxing and become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HBOBoxing.

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Oleksandr Usyk from a Historical Perspective 

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Oleksandr Usyk flipped the heavyweight division onto its head this past Saturday night in the Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, travelling a long way from home to seal his greatest victory. Usyk, small by modern heavyweight standards, towers over most men at 6’3″ and 220lbs and sporting a reach that lineal champions Ezzard Charles or Joe Walcott would have killed for. Things have changed though, and in the middle rounds of his war with Tyson Fury, Usyk suddenly appeared tiny. Fury, a giant at around 6’8” and over 260lbs seems a heavyweight for this century. Usyk, a journeyman in the most ancient sense of the word, feels like a throwback to a more savage time. His greatest achievements have taken place on foreign soil. The last time he boxed at home was almost a decade ago and given the situation in Ukraine and given Usyk’s 37 years, it is unlikely he will ever box there again.

Usyk took chances in the seventh and especially the eighth to take charge of a fight that seemed to be slipping away from him. In the vertigo inducing ninth, it was he, not Fury who appeared the giant. Usyk draped the Englishman over the ropes like so much fresh meat and tenderised him to within an inch of unconsciousness, the sheer hugeness of Fury perhaps preventing a referee’s intervention on behalf of his opponent, and not for the first time. Against both Deontay Wilder (the first fight) and Otto Wallin, a more squeamish official would have stepped in and stopped the fight, and here, too, there was a case. If Usyk seems a throwback, then Fury has been refereed like one, spared stoppages likely to be inflicted upon his peers, he was allowed once again to continue boxing, as Joe Louis was against Max Schmeling, or Jack Dempsey was against Luis Pirpo. But with Fury buckled at the knees, Usyk seemed the true heavy man in the ring.

In historical terms, Usyk is not a small heavyweight. He would have dwarfed “The Galveston Giant” Jack Johnson in the ring and loomed large over “Big” George Foreman. Usyk has every attribute necessary to make an unpleasant evening for Joe Louis, but it should be noted that while his footwork and speed and technical excellence would be the source of the discomfort, his excess of height and reach are the wildcards. Usyk would seem two to three weight classes bigger than Rocky Marciano, mainly because he is, and the towering Sonny Liston would look up. Circus strongman Jess Willard and the mob-sponsored Primo Carnera would both look down on Usyk – but not by that much. Usyk would stand eye to eye with Muhammad Ali but prime-for-prime he would outweigh him by ten pounds, as he would Larry Holmes. We must skip Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield and reach all the way into the Lennox Lewis era before we find men from history that truly out-size Usyk on a consistent basis.

Size, as Usyk has proven, is far from everything. Big by historical standards, he is small by modern standards. What else is now true in the wake of the seismic fistic events of Saturday night? Firstly, Usyk is unquestionably ranked the #1 heavyweight in the world. Of this, there can be no dispute. Accounting for his two wonderful defeats of another “super” heavyweight, Anthony Joshua, he is 3-0 against the rest of the top five and sitting unassailably at the head of the heavyweight table. More, and I have been surprised to see it disputed in some corners, Usyk is now almost as equally unassailably the pound-for-pound number one. The only fighter breathing the same air as Usyk right now is Naoya Inoue. Inoue has been operating at or near the highest level for longer, but the level of his opposition has not been as rarefied. Comparing the first phase opposition defeated by Naoya to the murderer’s row of cruiserweights that Usyk ran into during the Super Six series can lead to only one conclusion. Although Naoya’s busy, weight-class-bursting style has topped him out for most of the past two to three years, only one of these men has consistently been beating bigger, taller, longer opposition at the highest level, and that is Usyk. It is not a matter of opinion – he is the smallest man in my heavyweight top ten.

01 – Oleksandr Usyk

02 – Anthony Joshua

03 – Joseph Parker

04 – Tyson Fury

05 – Filip Hrgovic

06 – Zhilei Zhang

07 – Agit Kabayel

08 – Daneil Dubois

09 – Martin Bakole

10 – Joe Joyce

Usyk lives among giants now and where there is parity of height (Kabayel) he is the lighter man by 15 pounds. This is not true of Naoya, who despite his weight-hopping, still manages to run into fighters of the same height and of shorter reach. The opposition argument is narrow, but the relative size opposition is not and there is no pound-for-pound credential more significant than that of consistently out-fighting bigger men. Usyk has done so and will continue to do so for as long as he fights. There is simply no smaller man in his class.

Not since the heyday of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield has a lineal heavyweight champion consistently fought bigger men and not since Mike’s hype-infused prime has a heavyweight menaced the number one pound-for-pound spot. Usyk has not enjoyed anything like the same machine support as Mike did; indeed, he has laboured in the shadow of more prominent men until such time as he thrashed them. He is a true manifestation of pound-for-pound glory in the unlimited class. Where does this leave him in terms of all-time standing?

I am reluctant to rate active fighters for reasons that are obvious enough; Usyk could be pole-axed in three by an irate Fury in a December rematch and all this ink is for naught. But what I am willing to do is play let’s pretend and imagine Usyk as retired and consider his place in heavyweight history now.

Usyk’s raw numbers are low-grade at just 22-0 with 14 knockouts. Worse, most of this was built in the cruiserweight division and not the heavyweight division. Against men weighing in as heavyweights, Uysk is essentially 7-0, and only 3-0 against ranked opposition. On the other hand, one of these victories came against Daniel Dubois, now ranked, and the 3-0 was posted against Tyson Fury, generally held to be the best or second-best heavyweight in the world, and Anthony Joshua, ranked behind only Fury at the time of his first fight with Usyk. So, when he stepped up, he stepped up to tackle the best in the world and has become lineal as a result. It’s a hard ledger to wrestle with, but fortunately we have a career that is comparable in the shape of Gene Tunney.

Tunney, a career light-heavyweight, earned a heavyweight legacy built of essentially one man: Jack Dempsey. Past-prime and inactive, Dempsey was ripped apart by Tunney in their legendary first fight and did better in a losing effort against the genius “Fighting Marine” in a rematch, much like Joshua did against Usyk. Tunney then boxed the limited but game Tom Heeney and retired. The rest of his heavyweight career was spent beating great middleweights like Harry Greb and limited losing-streak gatekeepers like Charley Weinert and Martin Burke. One thing that must be noted is that Tunney is matching men who are smaller than Usyk’s cruiserweight opposition to his heavyweight credit. Men like Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev would have been big men in Tunney’s era, but they aren’t counted towards heavyweight legacy for the Ukrainian – either would constitute Tunney’s second-best heavyweight scalp, I think. Tunney’s wider resume does not necessarily include fighters who compare that favourably even to Dereck Chisora or Chaz Witherspoon, the men who make up Usyk’s second layer of opposition.

The point is, Tunney was made a legend for defeating a champion. Both Fury and Joshua were active, physically enormous fighters that Usyk simply unmanned with a type of genius Gene Tunney would have stood to applaud. Tunney appended to his light-heavyweight career the important part of a heavyweight career – the part where you fight and beat the champion, and it has made him a stalwart of heavyweight history. This, Usyk too has achieved, but I have been more impressed with Usyk’s summit than Tunney’s. To be direct: Usyk should rate higher at heavyweight than Tunney.

What that means is that the top twenty at heavyweight is the minimum Usyk can expect from history’s eye should he retire undefeated. In such a case, I would place Usyk in this sort of company:

18 – Ezzard Charles

19 – Oleksandr Usyk

20 – Jersey Joe Walcott

21 – James J Corbett

22 – Peter Jackson

23 – Ken Norton

24 – Max Schmeling

25 – Vitali Klitschko

26 – Riddick Bowe

27 – Gene Tunney

Also illustrative of a point is Tunney’s career pre-heavyweight. Tunney, every bit as brilliant as Usyk in the ring (although notably smaller, and successful against notably smaller opposition), laced up his gloves on close to ninety occasions and his level of competition dwarfs that of Usyk. That is no indictment. All it really means is that Usyk isn’t among the thirty greatest fighters ever to have drawn breath, like Tunney is. He can join an enormous and star-studded cast that includes Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins and Carlos Monzon in that. I do think, though, that Oleksandr Usyk’s career, were it to end tomorrow, could be readily compared to that of Evander Holyfield and that means that an unbeaten Usyk, lineal cruiserweight and heavyweight champion of the world, current pound-for-pound king, is within spitting distance of a list that captures the fifty greatest fighters in history.

56 – Ruben Olivares

57 – Wilfredo Gomez

58 – Vicente Saldivar

59 – Oleksandr Usyk

60 – Evander Holyfield

61 – Ted Kid Lewis

62 – Lou Ambers

63 – Rocky Marciano

64 – Abe Attell

65 – Manuel Ortiz

A retired Naoya Inoue would join him in the top seventy, I think, and a retired Bud Crawford the top ninety.

Boxing is dead, haven’t you heard?

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Another Victory for Ukraine as Berinchyk Upsets Navarrete in San Diego

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Whether it was inspiration or perspiration, Ukraine’s Denys Berinchyk motored past Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete by split decision to become the WBO lightweight world titlist on Saturday.

Just hours after his fellow countryman Oleksandr Usyk became undisputed heavyweight world champion, Berinchyk joined the club.

“This is a great night for all people of Ukraine,” Berinchyk said.

The undefeated Ukrainian Berinchyk (19-0, 9 KOs) gutted out a win over Navarrete (38-2-1, 31 KOs) who was attempting to join Mexico’s four-division world champion club in San Diego. The lanky fighter known as “Vaquero” fell a little short.

Through all 12 rounds neither fighter was able to dominate and neither was able to score a knockdown. Just when it seemed one fighter gathered enough momentum, the other fighter would rally.

A butt caused a slight cut on Navarrete in the 10th round. That seemed to ignite anger from the Mexican fighter and he powered through the Ukrainian fighter the next two rounds.

In the final round Berinchyk bore down and slugged it out with the Mexican fighter as both relied on their weapons of choice. For most of the night Navarrete scored with long-range uppercuts and Berinchyk scored with overhand rights.

After 12 rounds two judges scored it 115-113, 116-112 for Berinchyk and one 116-112 for Navarrete. Ukraine gained its third world titlist in one a week. Berinchyk joins Usyk and Vasyl Lomachenko as world titlists.

“He’s a very tough guy,” said Berinchyk of Navarrete.

Welterweights

A battle between undefeated welterweights saw Brian Norman (26-0, 20 KOs) knock out Giovany Santillan (32-1, 17 KOs) in the 10th round to become the interim WBO titlist.

For nine rounds both welterweights engaged in brutal inside warfare as each tried to beat the sense out of each other.

Norman worked the body early as Santillan targeted the head. Neither fought more than two inches from each other.

The younger Norman, 23, connected with a right cross during an exchange that wobbled Santillan in the eighth round. From that point on the Georgia fighter began setting up for his power shots. Finally, in the 10th round, uppercuts dropped Santillan twice. In the second knockdown Santillan went down hard as referee Ray Corona stopped the fight immediately at 1:33 of the 10th round.

Other Bouts

Heavyweight Richard Torrez (10-0, 10 KOs) knocked out Brandon Moore (14-1) in the fifth round for a regional title.

Lightweight Alan Garcia (10-0) defeated Wilfredo Flores (10-3-1) by decision after eight.

Photo credit: German Villasenor

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UNDISPUTED ! – Usyk Defeats Fury ! – Plus Undercard Results from Riyadh

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The most ballyhooed fight of the young century played out today at Riyadh Arena in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where Ukraine’s amazing Oleksandr Usyk became an undisputed world champion in a second weight class with a split decision over WBC and lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.

This was a memorable fight with twists and turns. Usyk had some good moments early, but the middle rounds belonged to the Gypsy King. Heading into the second half of the bout, the old saying that a good big man will always beat a good little man, appeared to be holding up once again. Fury was having good success working the body as his trainer SugarHill Steward exhorted him to do, and when he went upstairs, he rattled Usyk, notably in round five when a big uppercut appeared to lift the Ukrainian off his feet. But Usyk finished round seven strong, a prelude of what was to come.

Usyk plainly won round eight and in round nine, he came within a whisper of ending it. A flurry of punches sent Fury reeling. He crashed into the ring ropes which dictated a standing-8 count from referee Mark Nelson. If Nelson had waited a few more seconds, he would have likely waved the fight off as Fury was on queer street. But this dramatic turnaround came late in the round and the Gypsy King was saved by the bell.

Among other things, Tyson Fury is known for his amazing powers of recuperation. He not only stayed the course, but appeared to win the final round. But in the end, Oleksandr Usyk, now 22-0 (14) saddled Fury (34-1-1) with his first defeat. Two of the judges favored him (115-112, 114-113) with the dissenter scoring it for Fury 114-113.

A draw wouldn’t have caused much of a stink and now they will do it again. The sequel is tentatively scheduled for October. Both are getting a little long in the tooth – Usyk is 37 and Fury is 35 – so we will be surprised if the rematch lives up to the hype.

Semi-wind-up

The first encounter between Jai Opetaia and Mairis Briedis was a grueling fight. Opetaia, an Australian Olympian at age 16, won the battle (a fair decision) but yet took the worst of it. Early in that bout, he had his jaw fractured in two places and for the next two months was forced to eat out of a straw.

The rematch tonight in Riyadh was a monotonous fight through the first nine rounds. Briedis, now 39 years old and inactive since their first meeting, looked old and rusty. But the fight heated up in round 10 and the championship rounds belonged to the Latvian.

It came too little, too late, however, as Briedis needed a knockout to win. At the conclusion, the judges favored the Aussie by scores of 117-111 and 116-112 twice.

Opetaia, 28, improved to 25-0 (19).  Briedis, who has defeated everyone that he has fought with the exceptions of Opetaia and Oleksandr Usyk (and the Usyk fight was close) falls to 28-3.

The first fight between Opetaia and Briedis was for the IBF cruiserweight title. Tonight’s match is for the vacant IBF cruiserweight title (don’t ask).

Cordina-Cacace

In a major upset, Belfast’s Anthony Cacace, a 12-year pro, captured the IBF 130-pound world title with a seventh-round stoppage of previously undefeated Joe Cordina who went to post a consensus 7/1 favorite. The end came 39 seconds into round seven with Cacace pummeling Cordina against the ropes.

The Irishman was the busier fighter and landed the harder punches, but the bout was not without controversy. In the third frame, Cacace stunned Cordina with a punch that landed after the referee ordered the fighters to break. That put Cordina on the defensive and before the round was over, Cacace put him on the canvas with a wicked uppercut and Cordina, badly hurt, barely survived the round. Cacace (22-1, 8 KOs) had a big sixth round and closed the show in the next stanza.

Cordina, a 2016 Olympian who was undefeated in 17 pro fights heading in, is a close friend and frequent workout partner of Lauren Price who captured the WBC female welterweight title last week. She now stands alone as the only current world champion from Wales.

Kabayel-Sanchez

In a mild upset, Agit Kabayel continued his late career surge with a seventh-round KO of previously undefeated Frank Sanchez. As was the case in his last fight when he upset Arslanbek Makhmudov, Kabayel (25-0, 17 KOs) finished his opponent with body punches. A left-right combination knocked Sanchez to his knees and then, after Sanchez got to his feet, a straight right to the belly sent him down again and he wasn’t able to beat the count.

Sanchez, who was 24-0 heading in, entered the bout with a brace over his right knee that compromised his mobility. Kabayel, the aggressor throughout, was comfortably ahead at the time of the stoppage. The official time was 2:23 of round seven.

Kovalev-Safar

In a dull 10-rounder, unsung Robin Safar, a Swedish-born fighter of Kurdish descent, may have written the finish for the career of Sergey Kovalev. At age 41 in his second fight as a cruiserweight and coming off a two-year layoff, the “Krusher” was a pale imitation of the fighter that won nine straight light heavyweight title fights before losing a controversial decision to Andre Ward in their first encounter.

Safar, who improved to 17-0 (12) punctuated his triumph by knocking down Kovalev (35-5-1) with a big right hand inside the final 10 seconds of the final round. The judges had it 99-90, 97-92, and 95-94.

Two early fights ended in early knockouts.

Moses Itauma, a 19-year-old, six-foot-six southpaw who was raised in London by a Nigerian father and a Slovakian mother, stopped Ilya Mezercev at the 50-second mark of the second round. Mezercev made it to his feet after being decked with a big right hook, but his legs were jelly and the fight was waved off.

Trained by Ben Davison, Itauma (9-0, 7 KOs) has been hailed as the next Anthony Joshua. As an amateur, he was reportedly 24-0. Mezercev, a Germany-based Kazkh, declined to 25-9.

British lightweight Mark “Thunder” Chamberlain (16-0, 12 KOs) looked sensational while blasting out Joshua Oluwaseun Wahab in the opening stanza. Chamberlain had Wahab (23-2) on the deck twice before the bout was waived off at the 2:42 mark.

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