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The Hauser Report: Felix Verdejo Shines and Other Fights

Thomas Hauser

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The recent deluge of fights on television has taken on the feel of an all-you-can-eat buffet. That means boxing fans are going to start making choices and become more selective in their viewing.

June 12 and 13 saw three telecasts of note. One on HBO, one on Showtime, and one on Spike. Let’s take a look at what viewers saw.

HBO featured four undefeated fighters in two match-ups from The Theater at Madison Square Garden: Felix Verdejo (17-0, 13 KOs) vs Ivan Najera (16-0, 8 KOs) and Nicholas Walters (25-0, 21 KOs) vs. Miguel Marriaga (20-0, 18 KOs).

Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler once noted, “There’s a difference between a learning-curve record and a padded record.”

Verdejo has the former. He’s a 22-year-old lightweight from San Juan, who Top Rank hopes will be its next Puerto Rican ring icon.

Felix has a sparkling personality, a flashy fighting style, and he’s good. He’s also f-a-s-t.

Najera was tough and game. He tried to turn the fight into a brawl. But Verdejo’s punches were too sharp and his defense too good.

Ivan got dropped by a left uppercut in round five and a left hook in round seven (lightning strikes that seemed to come out of nowhere). Each time, he got up fighting but his cause was hopeless.

Verdejo took the tenth round off and still won it on two of the judges’ scorecards en route to a 100-88, 100-88, 99-89 triumph. After the fight, he told his fans, “Continue to support me, and you will have Felix for a long time.”

That sounds like a good deal. Let’s see if his promise is fulfilled.

Nicholas Walters turned heads last October with a sixth-round knockout of Nonito Donaire, and was considered by some to be the best featherweight in the world. Miguel Marriaga was a largely unknown opponent from Colombia.

Walters-Marriaga disappointed.

For starters, Walters weighed in initially at 127.4 pounds, couldn’t get lower than 127, and was forced to vacate his 126-pound title.

Add to that the fact that a lot of the energy in the arena dissipated after Verdejo-Najera, giving Walters-Marriaga the feel of a walk-out bout.

Worse, Walters-Marriaga was a boring fight. Miguel fought cautiously, and Nicholas was content to outbox him. There were moments of heated engagement but certainly not enough. When it was done, Walters had outlanded Marriaga by a 279-to-165 margin and bested him 119-108, 118-109, 117-110 on the judges’ scorecards.

In the course of an hour, Walters went from must-see viewing to it all depends on what else is on TV tonight.

*     *     *

WBC heavyweight beltholder Deontay Wilder (now 34-0, with 33 KOs) stepped up in his last fight and answered some questions about his ring skills with a unanimous-decision triumph over Bermane Stiverne. But Wilder’s performance against Eric Molina in Showtime’s main event on Saturday night left a lot to be desired.

Soft touches aren’t unheard of in heavyweight title matches. But few fighters less qualified than Molina have fought for a heavyweight belt. Team Wilder hyped the fact that it was bringing a “championship” fight to Deontay’s home state of Alabama. But Molina had as much chance of winning as Charleston Southern does when it journeys to Tuscaloosa to face the Crimson Tide on the gridiron. Yes, Eric had a 23-2 record. But he’d never beaten a quality opponent and had been knocked out twice in the first round.

Wilder was an 35-to-1 favorite. The conventional wisdom was that Molina (who weighed in at a blubbery 239 pounds) wouldn’t make it past the first round. Wilder knocked him down once in round four, twice in round five, and delivered a finishing right hand in round nine. But he looked sloppy and failed to impress.

In the opening bout, Jose Pedraza (now 20-0, 12 KOs) outclassed Andrey Klimov (19-12, 9 KOs) in a super-featherweight match-up by scores of 120-108, 120-108, 119-109.

*     *     *

Spike’s June 12 telecast offered viewers one interesting fight and one awful one. Let’s start on the plus side.

Artur Beterbiev is a 30-year-old Russian now living in Canada, who’s making waves at 175 pounds. After a 300-fight amateur career, he turned pro in 2013 and scored eight knockouts in eight fights before facing Alexander Johnson on Friday night.

Johnson was a 50-to-1 underdog. Nothing on his record suggested that he would be competitive with Beterbiev, and he wasn’t. Artur put him on the canvas twice in round five; the first time with a short stiff jab that came from an awkward angle, and the second with a right uppercut. He also turned southpaw from time to time, which added to Alexander’s troubles.

Johnson fought largely to survive, which he did until round seven when a straight right to the temple ended matters.

Beterbiev is entertaining to watch and very good.

Beterbiev-Johnson was followed by Erislandy Lara (20-2-2, 12 KOs) vs Delvin Rodriguez (28-7-4, 16 KOs), which was a dreadful match-up.

Lara is a quality junior-middleweight. Rodriguez had won four of his last eleven fights dating back to 2008, which explained why Erislandy was a 40-to-1 favorite.

Lara-Rodriguez was a drab one-sided beating with no entertainment value. Lara had a 233-to-63 edge in punches landed and won 120-107 times 3 on the judges’ scorecards.

*     *     *

While other fighters were in the spotlight this past weekend, local fan favorite Seanie Monaghan scored his twenty-fifth victory in twenty-five fights with a ninth-round stoppage of Fulgencio Zuniga in an undercard bout at Madison Square Garden.

Monaghan didn’t turn pro until age twenty-eight. Five years later, he’s ranked in the top-ten at 175 pounds by each of the four major sanctioning bodies. His best assets are a Spartan work ethic, iron resolve, and a good chin. His most significant liability is that he’s slow for a boxer. Speed and quickness can’t be taught.

Zuniga, age 37, turned pro in 2001 and now has a 27-11 (24 KOs) record. In recent years, he has become an opponent, losing to Gilberto Ramirez, Hassan N’Dam, James DeGale, Tavoris Cloud, Lucian Bute, Kelly Pavlik, and others.

Monaghan got hit more than he should have against Zuniga, particularly with left hooks up top. But he scored well to the body, moved inexorably forward, and willingly engaged in trench warfare. The end came at 2:10 of round nine, when Zuniga took a knee after one final body shot, signaling to referee Danny Schiavone that he’d had enough.

“I’m not the most polished boxer in the world,” Monaghan acknowledged afterward. “But I come to fight, I fight hard, I win my fights, and the fans have a good time.”

“Right now, we’re waiting for a title shot,” trainer Joe Higgins added. “The guy we have our eye on is [WBA beltholder] Juergen Braehmer [of Germany]. Sooner or later, Seanie will get his chance. When it comes, he’ll be as ready as he can be.”

*     *     *

There’s a common-sense solution to the middleweight championship belt tangle that the WBC has created with its lust for sanctioning fees and multiple champions.

Miguel Cotto is the current WBC world middleweight champion by virtue of his having defeated Sergio Martinez last year. Gennady Golovkin is the organization’s “interim” world champion, taking that title from Marco Antonio Rubio on October 18, 2014.

The WBC keeps assuring Golovkin that, at some point, he’ll become Cotto’s mandatory challenger. The problem is that Miguel has no intention of fighting him. First, Cotto defended his title against Daniel Geale. Now a mega-fight against Canelo Alvarez is in the making.

Meanwhile, all sorts of nonsense is being bandied about. Golovkin, will (or will not) receive a step-aside payment to allow Cotto-Alvarez to proceed. The winner of that fight would agree to fight Gennady (or be stripped of his title).

Let’s get real. Alvarez is a junior-middleweight. So is Cotto. Miguel said as much the night he beat Geale, when he told a national television audience, “My weight yesterday was 153.6 pounds. I am not a middleweight.”

The solution is simple. Floyd Mayweather is the current WBC 154-pound champion. But Floyd and his opponent have both weighed under 147 pounds in his last three fights.

The WBC should relieve Mayweather of its 154-pound title. That would free up the bauble for Cotto and Alvarez, and make it palatable for Miguel to relinquish his 160-pound belt. That, in turn, would negate the need for any kind of step-aside payment to Golovkin and generate a large sanctioning fee for the WBC at 154-pounds.

The WBC might even make Mayweather some kind of special 154-pound champion, thus holding out the hope for an additional sanctioning fee the next time Floyd fights.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – Thomas Hauser on Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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Ryan Garcia, Canelo’s Protege, Announces Fight With Manny Pacquiao

Kelsey McCarson

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Ryan Garcia has just about everything he needs to become the next Canelo Alvarez, even the champ’s terrific training team led by Mexico’s Eddy Reynoso.

“It’s great, man. They support me. They stay by my side. They believe in me. They know what they see, even Canelo,” Garcia told me before his last fight.

So, it should come to no surprise that the 22-year-old lightweight contender would be attempting to pull off the same kind of trick that led to Alvarez’s first and only loss in the professional ranks, but the same one that probably helped the Mexican more than any other as a learning experience inside a boxing ring.

Just as Alvarez did in securing his 12-round dance with boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr. back in 2013, Garcia wants to sign up for the same kind of tango with boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao.

“I’ve been boxing my whole life, and I’ve been ready for the biggest fights,” Garcia said.

Lots of fighters say things like that, but almost nobody actually attempts to do it.

Alvarez does.

Now, Garcia does, too.

“Canelo brings me to the side at times out of nowhere and says ‘you’re one of the most talented fighters I’ve ever seen in my life. I just want you to work as hard as I do and you’re going to have the world’,” Garcia said.

On Sunday, Garcia posted via Instagram that his dream fight vs. Pacquiao was a done deal, though it’s important to note no other confirmations of any kind have followed that post.

Additionally, the promotional poster used by the social media superstar in his announcement didn’t look official, and Pacquiao has remained eerily silent about the matter publicly.

Still, Garcia seems to believe his next fight will be against Pacquiao, and it must be a near-enough reality that everyone else involved with the matter has decided to remain silent until everything is sorted out.

“I want to leave a true legacy when I’m done with the game,” Garcia said.

That Garcia even wants to face Pacquiao right now testifies to that truth, and it’s absolutely something worth celebrating.

The undefeated Instagram idol might have over 8.3 million followers for many reasons, but the most notable claim Garcia has to the mantle of being boxing’s next big thing is less about those attributes and more about the talent, skill, and ability he possesses inside a boxing ring.

To put it another way, it’s one thing to be as handsome as Oscar De La Hoya. It’s quite another to actually fight like him.

Case in point, Garcia is coming off the most important win of his career.

Making good on his pre-fight promise to stop Olympic gold medalist and world title challenger Luke Campbell on January 2 was an important rung to take on the ladder to success, and that became especially true after Campbell dumped the prodigy to the canvas in the second round of the fight.

But Garcia weathered that early storm and eventually came back to pull the stoppage win over Campbell five rounds later.

Nobody had done that before. Campbell went 12 full rounds with both Vasyl Lomachenko and Jorge Linares in previous losing efforts against world-class lightweights, so Garcia’s stoppage win was more evidence that he’s legitimately special where it matters most.

After his viral knockout, Garcia was lauded by some of the most notable sports celebrities on the planet. The kid can barely purchase alcohol in all 50 states and his massive fanbase already includes the likes LeBron James, Damian Lillard, and Carlos Correa.

In some ways, that puts Garcia way ahead of Alvarez’s early all-star pace, at least at the level of notoriety.

Say what you want about Garcia’s social media-centric fanbase, the incredible level of fame the American has already achieved was previously only reserved for the likes of specific Olympic gold medal winners with a perfect mix of qualities.

De La Hoya comes to mind again, and that type of talent only comes around once a generation in our sport.

Look, Garcia isn’t ready for Pacquiao.

In fact, one can easily argue that the 23-year-old Alvarez that lost to Mayweather eight years ago was way more prepared for that fight than Garcia is right now for Pacquiao.

And we all know how that one went.

But Garcia’s daring attempt at making such a huge splash at such a young age is a wonder to behold.

A rising superstar like Garcia choosing to go against the conventional wisdom that would otherwise tell him to steer clear of fights he’ll probably lose is a breath of fresh air.

The reason he wants to do things like that is just as great.

“I have a gift. I’m a true talent. I can’t let all that go to waste,” Garcia said.

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Fulton Wins Inside War to Win WBO Title and Other Results from Connecticut

David A. Avila

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This time Stephen Fulton passed the Covid-19 test and then out-worked Angelo Leo in a brutal inside war to take the WBO super bantamweight world title by unanimous decision on Saturday.

Philadelphia’s Fulton (19-0, 8 KOs) was supposed to box and move against the body puncher Leo (20-1, 9 KOs) of Las Vegas but instead banged his way to victory with an artful display of inside fighting at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.

When Leo won the world title during this past summer, he was supposed to fight Fulton, but Fulton showed positive on a Covid-19 test and was forced out of the fight. Not this time. Instead, the Philly fighter would not be denied.

Fulton planted his feet and banged to the body against body shot artist Leo and kept it going toe-to-toe for most of the 12 rounds.

Leo had his moments and was able to start slightly quicker, but by the sixth round it seemed Fulton was the stronger fighter down the stretch.

“He started breathing a little harder,” said Fulton. “I pushed myself to the limit in training.”

It showed.

Fulton took control for the last four rounds and just seemed fresher and more active to win by unanimous decision. Despite fighting primarily inside, the Philly fighter seemed comfortable.

“The game plan was to box at first. But I had to get a little dirty,” Fulton said. “I made it a dog fight.”

All three judges scored it for Fulton: 118-110 and 119-109 twice. TheSweetscience.com scored it 115-113 for Fulton who now holds the WBO super bantamweight world title.

“I’m the only champion Philadelphia has,” said Fulton.

Aleem KOs Pasillas

A battle between undefeated power-hitting super bantamweights saw Ra’eese Aleem (18-0, 12 KOs) knock down East L.A.’s Vic Pasillas (16-1, 9 KOs) multiple times before ending the fight in the 11th round.

“I believe I put an exclamation point in my victory,” said Aleem who trains in Las Vegas but is a native of Michigan.

Aleem showed off his quickness and power in both hands that resulted in knock downs of Pasillas in the second, sixth, ninth and 11th rounds. It seemed that Pasillas never could figure out how to combat the awkward looping blows and quickness of Aleem.

Pasillas had a few moments with his ability to score with counter lefts and right hooks from his southpaw stance. But every time he scored big Aleem would rally back with even more explosive blows.

As Aleem mounted a large lead, Pasillas looked to set up a needed knockout blow but was instead caught with an overhand right to the chin and a finishing left that forced the referee to stop the fight at 1:00 of the 11th round.

Aleem picks up the interim WBA super bantamweight title. It’s basically a title that signifies he is the number one contender.

Lightweights

Rolando Romero (13-0, 11 KOs) floored Avery Sparrow (10-3, 3 KOs) in the first round and then exhibited his boxing skills to win by technical knockout.

It looked like the fight was going to end early when Romero caught Sparrow with a left hook. But Philadelphia’s Sparrow survived the first round and the next few rounds to slow down the attacking Romero. Things settled down but Romero kept winning the rounds.

Sparrow dropped to the floor during an exchange of blows in the sixth round which the referee quickly ruled “no knockdown.” Noticeably in pain Sparrow was under full assault from Romero and resorted to firing low blows. The referee deducted two points from Sparrow for the infraction.

The Philadelphia fighter limped out with a still gimpy knee to compete in the seventh round but within a minute Sparrow’s corner signaled to the referee to stop the fight. The stoppage gave Romero the win by technical knockout at 43 seconds into the round.

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

Ted Sares

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

As mentioned in Part One, the phrase “cherry picking” gained meaningful traction during the time “Money” Mayweather was making his run. A new and very simple business model seemed to fuel it; namely, make the most money the quickest way with the least amount of risk and that translated into fewer fights. The change was almost imperceptible.

WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. (31-1) has fought once a year sine 2014. WBO middleweight king Demetrius Andrade (39-0) started out fast but then fell into a less active mode. Wlad Klitschko began to pick his spots with more caution as he met the likes of Francesco Pianeta and Alex Leapai. Shane Mosley slowed down towards the end and even Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-1) has faded from the headlines after being stopped by Vasyl Lomachenko.

Back to the Future

Suddenly, however, a twist has emerged that suggests a new model may well be in the offing; to wit: make the most money the quickest way but with lesser regard to risk. Perhaps Daniel Dubois fighting Joe Joyce last November was an example. Translated, it could mean that the best will fight the best as they did in days of yore. If so, Mega- possibilities await.

“I Want All The Belts, No Easy Fights, I Want To Face The Best.” –Virgil Ortiz

Ryan “King Ry” Garcia (21-0) has called out everyone and anybody and it appears he might get his wish in Devin “The Dream” Haney (25-0) or maybe the exciting Gervonta “Tank” Davis (24-0).

The new breed of Davis, Garcia, Haney and Teofimo “The Takeover” Lopez is being is being compared to the “Four Kings” (Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Duran) but a flattered Devin Haney wisely notes “those guys fought each other.”

In this connection, writer James Slater nails it as follows: “Right now, in today’s boxing world, Haney, Lopez, Davis and Garcia could all do well, they could win a title or two and they could pick up some huge paydays, without fighting each other. This is the state the sport is in these days. It’s up to the fighters to really WANT to take take the risks, to take on their most dangerous rivals. The ‘Four Kings’ did it, time and again, and this is what added enormously to their greatness.”

Teofimo Lopez did it. After shocking Richard Commey, he beat Vasyl Lomachenko in an even more shocking outcome and now wants George Kambosos, Jr. to step aside for a Devin Haney fight.

It doesn’t get any better than the specter of Errol Spence Jr. (27-0) fighting “Bud” Crawford (37-0) unless it’s Tyson Fury (30-0-1) meeting Anthony Joshua (24-1.) If Covid 19 is under control, they could do this one in front of 100,000 fans.

Josh Taylor has talked about challenging Lopez even if it means dropping down to lightweight, and then moving up to 147 to challenge Crawford or Spence.

Dillian Whyte rematching with Alexander Povetkin is another highly anticipated fray and has the added dimension of being a crossroads affair. Oleksandr Usyk will likely face off with Joe Joyce in Usyk’s first real test as a heavyweight.

In late February there’s a big domestic showdown in New Zealand between heavyweights Joseph Parker and Junior Fa. On that same date In London, Carl Frampton squares off with slick WBO 130-pound champion Jamel Herring.

And Juan Francisco Estrada rematching with a rejuvenated Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez has everyone’s attention.

Super exciting Joe Smith Jr. meets Russia’s Maxim Vlasov for the vacant WBA light heavyweight belt. What’s not to like?

The showdown between Miguel Berchelt (38-1) and Oscar Valdez (28-0) is the best on the February docket and could end up being a FOTY.

Speaking of FOTY’s, the prospect of Naoya “Monster” Inoue vs. Kazuto Ioka is as mouthwatering as it can get and has global appeal.

Meanwhile, Artur Beterbiev looms and it’s not a question of opponents as much as it’s a question of who wants to contend with his bludgeoning style of destruction.

Claressa Shields, Marie Eve Dicaire, Katie Taylor, Amanda Serrano, Delfine Persoon, Jessica McCaskill, and Layla McCarter are prepared to make female boxing sizzle. In the final analysis,  when Vasyl Lomachenko becomes an opponent, you know something is very different.

You can read Part One HERE

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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