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The Real Main Event On Saturday Night Is….

Matt McGrain

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Lethal power-puncher Gennady Golovkin, the world’s best middleweight, 33-0 and thirty-three years of age out of Karaganda, Kazakhstan, meets Canadian David Lemieux, 26 years old and 34-2 in Madison Square Garden on the seventeenth of this month.

It’s a good fight, and, should he win, Golovkin is on his way to becoming a great fighter. But it’s not the main event.

It is receiving top billing because the main protagonist is a middleweight power-puncher and because there are people in powerful positions that believe him a possible long-haul golden-goose but the real main event is in fact the chief support, the meeting between three weight strapholder #1 pound-for-pound, 43-0 lineal flyweight champion Roman Gonzalez, a man who has more knockouts to his name than Golovkin has fights, and Brian Viloria, a former strapholder at two different weights, 36-4 and a former TBRB top-ten pound-for-pounder. Viloria exited the pound-for-pound line-up only after a loss to the monstrous Juan Francisco Estrada, currently ranked #7 on the same list.

While Gonzalez and Golovkin are the main attractions and while Gonzalez dominates Golovkin in terms of prestige and titles, of the respective opponents, Viloria is also the more prestigious then. In 2011, when Lemieux was losing to the likes of Marco Antonio Rubio and Joachim Alcine, Viloria was knocking out beasts like Giovani Segura and Omar Romero. Being frank: Golovkin is in Gonzalez’s class as a fighter but clearly to be ranked below him pound-for-pound while, as opposition, Viloria is by far the more accomplished of the two opponents.

That said, arguments that Lemieux has more momentum than Viloria going in are sound. “The Hawaiian Punch”, continues to rebuild in the wake of his hurtful 2012 loss to Estrada, after which the first thing he did was take a whole year off before returning against granite-chinned Puerto Rican journeyman Juan Carlos Herrera. The fight was not a satisfying one with Viloria boxing and moving and potshotting his way to a wide unanimous decision. My initial thoughts were that Viloria had become gun-shy, but he looked more alive if not quite himself against Jose Zuniga in the summer of 2015, stopping the Mexican with a body attack after five. Bodyshots, too, were the formula for his fourth round stoppage of Armando Vazquez, but it was clear that Viloria was now treading water; that perhaps the seemingly overstated criticism of him from earlier in his career, namely that he was not always necessarily a natural fighter or one that could be relied upon to be switched on to his boxing in the manner of most top fighters, seemed worth recalling.

Then came his most recent fight, his June meeting with Omar Soto.

This fight was significant not just because, despite losing a two round blow-out to Roman Gonzalez in 2011 that sent him into a tailspin of form so bad he was no longer ranked, Soto was a step up from the very limited competition he had been meeting, but also because it was a rematch. Soto had pushed Viloria to a split decision back in 2010 in a fight I thought the Mexican had won with steady pressure and a dogged persistence in taking any and all punching opportunities. It was clear his style troubled Viloria and certainly, despite Soto’s drop in form, this was an interesting test for the American.

Viloria looked almost frightening against a clearly compromised Soto. He looked fast, angry, balanced and heavy-handed. Soto was forced to take a knee three times in 119 seconds, twice by right hands, once with a scything left-hook to the liver. Soto failed to make it out of the first round for the very first time.

First round knockouts appear often as mirages. One thinks one knows things that one does not, sometimes, behind a first round knockout. It was a first round knockout of Floyd Patterson by Sonny Liston that told us that Liston could not be beaten, least of all by a lightweight mimic like Cassius X, soon to be Muhammad Ali. In fact, Liston was already a past-prime alcoholic who was ready to be taken. Mike Tyson was only twenty months short of his destruction at the hands of James “Buster” Douglas when he flattened Michael Spinks, his private life already spinning dangerously out of control. This knockout, brutal and succinct though it was, has not answered key questions about Viloria – does he have the stamina for twelve hard rounds, does he have the stomach for another hard fight, but I don’t think these are the questions at hand for his fight against Roman Gonzalez.

Returning to 2013 and Viloria’s Waterloo against Estrada for a moment, the factors that made Estrada so much the master may not be present when Viloria meets Gonzalez.

Viloria landed two hard left hooks in the opening minutes but a distant warning note was already sounding. Viloria looked slow of foot. This enabled Estrada to repeatedly forage and even to audition punches until he settled on a right uppercut, no less, perhaps the hardest punch to land in such guerrilla fashion but the one that repeatedly found the target.

This is not an ability that Gonzalez has. He doesn’t pounce, but rather brings the most adept pressure of any fighter currently active, with all due respect to Golovkin, who may be the second. Catching fleet-footed flyweights is perhaps the most difficult job in all of boxing and it is one at which Roman Gonzalez absolutely excels, as I wrote in my detailed accounting of the new pound-for-pound king. But he is not recreating the jack-rabbit attack executed so faultlessly by Estrada.

Once Estrada had softened Viloria up, he came inside and dominated here also, really hurting his man in the ninth round in the process. Viloria, who has an iron jaw and is as hard as nails, barely made it out of the twelfth.

Estrada couldn’t get Viloria out of there, but Gonzalez is a better puncher. However, while Estrada enjoyed a huge (and generally overlooked) stylistic advantage over Viloria, Gonzalez does not. In fact, I suspect that Viloria is in the stylistic box-seat here, if he finds the right fight plan.

Viloria likes come forward fighters who wait for their turn. Gonzalez may be the best technician in the world and he is certainly capable of the unexpected but while he can counter-punch, you won’t generally see him pre-counter or try to pull the trigger on an opponent who has shaped a punch. He is too excellent for this. What this means is that a fighter with the guts to attack him might get to spend a few rounds on the same plane as him.

When fighters break, Gonzalez has already beaten them. It is only a matter of time before he catches them and fillets them. When they run from the off, Gonzalez builds terrifying momentum hunting them down and wins, at worst, a lop-sided decision. What Estrada did was fight him, and fought him for every minute of every round with a wonderful mix of movement and aggression. He prevented Gonzalez getting set with his superior speed and stalled his momentum with aggression and fluidity.

In a sense, Estrada has “lain down the blueprint” in the vocabulary of the Mayweather obsessive, but I suspect it is not one that Viloria can follow. He doesn’t have Estrada’s speed – in fact I think Gonzalez will be the faster fighter as well as the volume puncher – and he’s always struggled with that type of fighting retreat. He becomes disorganised. If he elects to box-punch for as long as he can hold the heat I think Gonzalez will stalk him down for the knockout. That’s a bold prediction – dig up the Estrada fight for an example of what Viloria can swallow without effect – but it’s one I stand by. If, on the other hand, Viloria strikes out to attack Gonzalez, to knock him out, and to do so early, I think he introduces enough variance, enough chaos, that such a result be possible. Viloria has excellent power when he lands right, and although he can sometimes seem strangely staid in fights of a certain nature, when he is aggressive and direct he can be devastating.

Like he was against Giovani Segura; like he was against Soto.

Of course, Gonzalez is a different matter altogether but trying to box-punch with the best box-puncher in the world and trying to move off against the best pressure fighter in the business, seems to me the greater of the evils, should Viloria be determined to win.

But if he can tap into that vein of power that surges in both his right and his left glove, if he can hurt Gonzalez early, and if he is fit, well and mentally adjusted so that he be able to maintain an attack in such circumstances, anything can happen. Whether or not Viloria and his team strike upon such a solution is another matter of course, in my experience most fighters want to believe that fighters can win boxing “their way.”

Against Gonzalez, boxing his way is going to get Brian Viloria hurt, badly, in an entertaining fight. But if he can find the heart and the nerve to set sail into the storm, we might just see a shock on this weekend. At 112lbs or below, Gonzalez is always going to be the right pick, regardless of the opposition, but Viloria is not chanceless.

So, by all means enjoy Golovkin-Leminuex on Saturday – just don’t be late, you might miss the main event.

Check out The Boxing Channel video “Golovkin vs Lemieux HBO PPV – Quick Results”.

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Pacquiao vs. Thurman: A Case Study on Two Types of Atrophy

Kelsey McCarson

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Manny Pacquiao’s historic welterweight showdown against WBA titleholder Keith Thurman on July 20 is a case study on two types of atrophy which can negatively influence a professional fighter’s career.

One happens because of age; the other due to inactivity.

Pacquiao is 40 now. Eventually, what happens in every fighter’s life is the same thing that will happen to Pacquiao and relatively soon, whether against Thurman or sometime later. Pacquiao’s body will just stop working, at least in comparison to how it did before, and while the fighter can keep working hard at the gym, the return he receives will slowly diminish until all of a sudden Pacquiao can no longer compete with the best.

That same kind of thing happens to everyone in life, but it’s more apparent in boxing because instead of not being able to do something mundane anymore like easily bend over to pick up the keys you just dropped, the consequence is a black eye, a bloody nose and a view of the lights hanging above the boxing ring that you never really wanted to see (and probably won’t remember).

It’s strange then that Pacquiao is slightly favored by bookmakers over a talented and undefeated world champion ten years his junior in what’s easily the most important fight of that champion’s career.

While few fighters in boxing history have achieved as much as Pacquiao has over the course of his 24-year career, fewer still have been able to consistently defeat quality opponents at Pacquiao’s advanced age.

And can we just let that sink in for a second? Pacquaio’s prizefighting career has spanned almost a quarter-century!

Sure, Pacquiao has still looked pretty elite in recent outings. But after stopping Lucas Matthysse in July 2018 and scoring a dominant decision win over Adrien Broner in January 2019, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll finally hit the wall against the younger and naturally larger Thurman.

Thurman, 30, from Clearwater, Florida, is undefeated through 29 professional fights and, at first glance, he appears to be sitting on the right side of a crossroads fight. But a closer inspection of the situation reveals that might not actually be the case. Because where Pacquiao might be fighting a losing battle against age, Thurman has most definitely been losing a winnable battle against inactivity.

Here’s what happens all too often in boxing (whether it’s happening at the present to Thurman or not). A fighter puts in years and years of work only to stop doing all the things he did to get there once he reaches a comfortable position in the sport, usually a world title or two, numerous TV appearances and a boatload of money.

It’s conceivable that what is going on with Thurman right now is exactly that. Because even in somehow managing to maintain his title status with the WBA, Thurman hasn’t really been what most would consider an active fighter over the past few years.

In fact, the last time Thurman fought more than twice in a year was all the way back in 2012. The enigmatic champion only fought once each in 2016 and 2017, was out of boxing all of 2018 and didn’t appear to be the fighter he was before that long break earlier this year in his majority decision win over Josesito Lopez.

To be fair to the fighter, Thurman did suffer an elbow injury which required surgery after his title unifying split-decision win against Danny Garcia in March 2017. He also suffered a deep bone bruise to his left hand which led to the cancellation of a 2018 return bout against an opponent that was somewhat suspiciously never named.

To be even more fair to Thurman, at least in regards to this particular fight, Pacquiao hasn’t really been all that active in recent years either. But Pacquiao has 70 professional prizefights on his ledger, is ten years older than Thurman and has won world titles in eight different divisions.

It seems more reasonable that Pacquiao would be more selective about his fights these days, especially when you consider he was already a sure-fire Hall of Famer over a decade ago. Thurman, on the other hand, hasn’t even yet proved to be the best welterweight signed by Al Haymon, much less in the whole shebang.

Regardless, it’s a bit troubling that Thurman is seemingly unaware of how prolonged inactivity can negatively impact a fighter’s career. According to Thurman, in fact, he basically trained for his last fight on a spin bike at L.A. Fitness, and that was the reason, at least in Thurman’s mind, that Lopez was so competitive against him six months ago.

Obviously, Thurman knows he can’t do the same thing against Pacquiao. But the thing about not using a skill or a gift for a prolonged period of time is that it tends to recede in a person even while that person remains unaware. It’s entirely possible that Thurman has lost the best parts of his fighting ability and doesn’t even know it yet.

No one can ever really predict these types of things, but it will be interesting to see how things play out. If Pacquiao is suddenly old and frail, it won’t really matter how little Thurman has trained over the last couple of years. But if Pacquiao is anything like the fighter we saw against Broner and Matthysse, and Thurman comes into the fight looking like he did against Lopez, there’s no telling how bad things could get for the younger fighter.

All this to say that the only way to combat atrophy, whether it’s the inevitable kind that comes with getting older or the preventable kind that comes with not using something, is by staying active and engaged. As it stands at the present, it seems clear from the outside looking in that one fighter, Pacquiao, has done all he can do to be at his very best on Saturday night in Las Vegas, while the other, Thurman, has needlessly rolled the dice.

Use it or lose it. That’s what people say, but only when they’re still young enough to pick up their keys.

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3 Punch Combo: Scoping Out Teofimo vs Nakatani, Ajagba vs Demirezen and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — Boxing on ESPN+ returns this Friday with a card from the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, MD headlined by the fast-rising lightweight sensation Teofimo Lopez (13-0, 11 KO’s). Lopez will be facing the undefeated Masayoshi Nakatani (18-0, 12 KO’s) of Japan in a final IBF eliminator to become the mandatory challenger for champion Richard Commey (29-2, 26 KO’s). While Lopez is a known commodity to most boxing fans, the same cannot be said of Nakatani. So just who is this unheralded fighter from Japan and does he pose any threat to Lopez?

Nakatani, 30, turned pro in 2011 after an amateur career that by most accounts consisted of somewhere between 50 and 60 bouts. As a pro, he has never fought more than three times a year and never outside of Japan, but by managing to stay undefeated he has crept into the Top 15 rankings of three of the four major sanctioning bodies in the lightweight division.

Looking closer Nakatani’s resume, the overall level of his competition is highly questionable.  Probably his best win was in his eighth pro fight when he won a 12-round unanimous decision against Ricky Sismundo. Sismundo has sprung some surprises in the past and as a matter of fact gave undefeated rising contender Maxim Dadashev a scare earlier this year, but this is the same Ricky Sismundo who was defeated by Ruslan Madiyev last week in California, bringing his record to 35-14-3.

Other than Sismundo, the names on Nakatani’s resume are hardly recognizable.

Nakatani, an orthodox fighter, is tall for the lightweight division standing nearly six feet in height. As such, he likes to work behind the left jab. However, that jab is not very sharp or powerful, but used as more of a range finder and to set up his right hand. Sometimes he will follow the right with a left hook but his primary offense is the left jab followed by the right.

Nakatani is not that athletic or quick inside the ring. His hand speed is below average for the division. He is also not a powerful or heavy handed puncher. The knockouts are more from his level of competition than anything else.

Here are a few other notes on Nakatani based on my observations: He does not like to fight on the inside and will initiate clinches when his opponent closes the distance. And he has a habit of trying to avoid punches with his legs, often times pulling straight back with his hands down. He has gotten clipped quite a few times but fortunately for him those fighters that have done so have not possessed big punching power.

I actually do think Nakatani is the strongest opponent for Lopez to date. That being said, however, I do not think he will give Lopez much trouble. Teofimo may get frustrated some by Nakatani’s constant clinching on the inside, and he may get hit with a few range finding jabs, but expect another Lopez knockout here sometime in the first half of the fight.

Under The Radar Fight

The attention of the boxing world this week is going to be focused on the big welterweight pay-per-view title fight between Manny Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KO’s) and Keith Thurman (29-0, 22 KO’s). Also on the show is an intriguing heavyweight fight that is falling deep under the radar between a pair of 2016 Olympians in Efe Ajagba (10-0, 9 KO’s) and Ali Eren Demirezen (11-0, 10 KO’s).

Ajagba, 25, represented his native country of Nigeria in the Super Heavyweight division of the 2016 Olympics where he lost to Ivan Dychko in the quarterfinals. Since turning pro, he has really turned heads, building a reputation as a fearsome puncher.

Ajagba is a big imposing heavyweight. He stands 6’5” tall and possesses a massive 85-inch reach. Best described as an aggressive boxer puncher, he will press the action, often times behind a very stiff and powerful left jab from the orthodox stance. Very athletic for a man his size, he possesses above average hand speed for the heavyweight division. His best trait is his power; he possesses legitimate one punch knockout power in both fists. The natural tools are all there for Ajagba to potentially one day be a dominant force in the division.

But there are things Ajagba needs to work on, namely his defense. Right now, he lacks any sort of head movement and often poses in front of his opponents after punching them to admire his work. He hasn’t paid yet for his lack of attention to defense but that may change as his competition rises.

Demirezen, 29, represented Turkey in the Super Heavyweight division of the 2016 Olympics where he lost to Filip Hrgovic in his opening fight. Since turning pro he hasn’t had much fanfare, but has amassed quite an impressive early pro record while fighting mostly in Germany.

Though he may not have the imposing physique of Ajagba, Demirezen possesses some solid skills as well as some surprising athleticism. As a matter of fact, I’d go so far as to call him a poor man’s version of Andy Ruiz Jr.

Demirezen will look to apply pressure behind the left jab and work combinations with his quick hands behind that jab. He does not really possess one-punch power but is heavy handed and his punches can take a cumulative effect on his opponents. His best punch is a quick left hook to the body that he often lands with precision.

If physiques won a boxing match, this would be no contest. But as we saw with Joshua-Ruiz, physiques don’t always win. Ajagba will be favored and rightfully so, but Demirezen can fight. This is an interesting fight between two undefeated heavyweight prospects who were recent Olympians and one that I am very much looking forward to on Saturday.

Prospect Watch – Luis Arcon

 There is a lot that gets me excited about the future of the sport. Not only is the sport being broadcast like it never has before but we have many good prospects who are beaming with talent. So many good prospects, as a matter of fact, that some very talented young fighters are falling a bit under the radar. One such fighter is junior welterweight Luis Arcon who moved to 8-0 with 8 knockouts this past Friday with a third-round knockout of Mario Lozano.

Like many of today’s top prospects, Arcon has a strong amateur pedigree. His amateur background includes representing his native country of Venezuela in the 2016 Olympics.

Arcon, 27, turned pro in March of 2018 in Mexico. So far he has breezed through his competition though it must be noted that he hasn’t faced the toughest of challenges. But he has looked very good so far in his early pro career and has been flashing some incredible talent.

Fighting from the orthodox stance, Arcon likes to work behind a well-timed and very powerful left jab. His footwork is excellent and he often positions himself at the right angles to land combinations behind that jab. He possesses very fast hands and can often fire off a volley of power shots before his opponent can react.

And then there is the power. Perhaps this is what stands out most when watching Arcon on video. Granted, as noted earlier, the competition has not been the stiffest, but he has displayed devastating knockout power in both fists. His best punch is the left hook to the body which often has a paralyzing effect on his opposition.

With his amateur background, Arcon is ready to take the next step in his career. His game is polished and he possesses massive power in both of his hands. He belongs on all top prospect lists and has a bright future in this sport.

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R.I.P. Pernell ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker, One of the All-Time Greats

Arne K. Lang

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Tributes are pouring in for Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker who was killed last night (Sunday, July14) after being struck by a car while walking across a busy intersection in Virginia Beach, Virginia. An Olympic gold medalist who won six world titles in four weight classes,  Whitaker was a defensive wizard. At his peak he was considered the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. In 2002, The Ring magazine named him the 10th best boxer of the last 80 years.

Whitaker, who turned 55 in January, turned pro in 1984 at Madison Square Garden on a show that included five of his U.S. Olympic teammates – Evander Holyfield, Mark Breland, Meldrick Taylor, Tyrell Biggs, and Virgil Hill.

As a pro, Whitaker was managed by Main Events, a Duva family company, and did most of his training in Philadelphia under the watchful eye of George Benton. In his 17th pro fight, Pernell ventured to Paris to challenge WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Ramirez who was 100-6 going in. Whitaker came up short on the scorecards, losing a split decision.

This ranked among the worst decisions in boxing history. Whitaker’s chief second Lou Duva accused WBC president Jose Sulaiman of fixing the fight so as not to spoil an all-Mexico showdown between Ramirez and Julio Cesar Chavez.

Two fights later, Whitaker won his first title, taking the IBF lightweight belt from Greg Haugen. Pernell won all 12 rounds on two of the cards. He added the WBC belt in a rematch with Jose Luis Ramirez, winning a wide decision, and added the WBA belt with a first-round stoppage of Puerto Rico’s Juan Nazario in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

Between his first fight with Ramirez and his April 4, 1997 encounter with Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas, Whitaker was undefeated, a span of almost 10 years consisting of 26 fights. During this run he won world titles at 140 and 154 pounds before dropping back to welterweight for four successful title defenses.

There was one “blemish” late in this 26-fight run, a draw at the San Antonio Alamodome with Julio Cesar Chavez. This was also controversial. The post-fight report by William Nack was the cover story in Sports Illustrated. The headline was “Robbed!”

Sweet Pea lost a unanimous decision to De La Hoya that most ringsiders thought was a lot closer than what was reflected by the scorecards (DLH won by margins of 4, 6, and 6 points). A poll of 26 ringside reporters by the Las Vegas Review Journal revealed that 14 scored it for Whitaker with one having it a draw.

Six months after his bout with De La Hoya, Whitaker opposed Andrey Pestryaev at Foxwood’s Resort in Connecticut. He won a unanimous decision but wasn’t himself. A post-fight urine test revealed the presence of cocaine. That dictated a six-month suspension during which he failed a random drug test. He wouldn’t step back into the ring until Feb. 20, 1999, when he opposed IBF welterweight champion Felix Trinidad at Madison Square Garden.

This would the first fight in Whitaker’s remarkable career that he lost without controversy. Trinidad broke Pernell’s jaw during the bout and retained his title with a clear-cut unanimous decision.

Whitaker retired, but launched a comeback 26 months later with a fight in Lake Tahoe against Mexican journeyman Carlos Bojorquez. In this fight, Whitaker suffered a fractured clavicle in the second round. He soldiered on, but 27 seconds into the fourth, seeing that Whitaker was a one-armed fighter in considerable pain, referee Joe Cortez pulled the plug. This would be the final fight of his career. He left with a record of 40-4-1 and 1 “NC” (the Pestryaev contest).

Less than 48 hours later, back home in Norfolk, Virginia, Whitaker was rushed to the hospital with an apparent overdose. His girlfriend called 911 after finding him having a seizure on the floor of the bathroom, his body covered in sweat.

Sweet Pea, who worked as a boxing and personal trainer in retirement, appeared to have it all together back in June of 2007 when he was formally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. His emotional speech was the highlight of the induction ceremony. But in 2014 he was back in the news again when he was forced to evict his 73-year-old mother from the home she had occupied for 30 years. He said that he could no longer afford to maintain the home which he had always kept in his name. The United Press wire story said that Whitaker had squandered millions on drugs and legal expenses.

The man that struck Whitaker with his vehicle remained on the scene. Preliminary reports indicate that the driver was not impaired in any way. We here at The Sweet Science extend our condolences to Whitaker’s family and loved ones.

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