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LOTIERZO: Comparing Golovkin To Hagler and Monzon Is Premature…For Now

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Nobody brings out enthusiastic fans in professional boxing like a certified puncher, such as the likes of IBO/WBA/WBC middleweight title holder Gennady Golovkin 34-0 (31).

There’s something about a puncher looking unbeatable on certain nights that it’s impossible to fathom them ever losing, at least in the eyes of some.

We saw it with Sonny Liston, George Foreman, Mike Tyson and Thomas Hearns on the way up to their title-winning efforts. Then a particular fighter came along, named Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali, Buster Douglas or Sugar Ray Leonard and suddenly they didn’t look so scary and unbeatable.

Of course the three fighters who gave them their first professional loss had something in common — that being they could all fight and didn’t fold physically or mentally the first time the boogey man touched them. If you go back and review boxing history, it’s replete with catch ‘n’ kill KO artists who have massacred every fighter in their path…..until that one day they touched hands with a fighter who stood up to their power and even punched ’em back pretty good.

As of this writing Gennady Golovkin is the new unbeatable wrecking machine in boxing, despite having not faced one truly elite fighter in 34 bouts. Many fans and writers have already begun to compare him favorably to some of the all-time middleweight greats such as Carlos Monzon, Marvin Hagler and Bernard Hopkins. This of course doesn’t sit well with me, even though I believe Golovkin has the potential, yes, potential to become a once in a generation fighter. However, it’s way too early for such accolades in light of the fact that he hasn’t shared the ring with one fighter who I’d consider outstanding, let alone being a near great.

On the way up many observers and fans were proclaiming Mike Tyson would surpass Muhammad Ali as the greatest heavyweight in history, which didn’t turn out to be the case. Remember when it was often stated how Tyson combined hand speed, accuracy and power better than any other heavyweight in history? His defense and being hard to hit was always a staple and after some bouts his jab was highlighted as being a superior weapon too. In hindsight that praise was heaped upon Mike way too soon. Looking back, some of us tried to warn that Mike looked extra great because he hadn’t really fought many outstanding fighters and a lot of his opponents were fighters Larry Holmes beat four or five years earlier.

Well, the same has begun to happen with Gennady Golovkin. Recently, a few colleagues and friends of mine whose boxing acumen I have the utmost respect for sent the below e-mails to me. Here’s a sample:

Dear Frank: “In your opinion, is GGG the best middleweight puncher of all time? I checked his record. 22 KOs in a row, and in almost all cases he stopped his opponent faster than the field did. What else can you say?

Do you think he would likely defeat Hearns, Hagler, Leonard, and Duran of the 1980’s?

I’m thinking he will end up a top 5 ATG at middleweight and I don’t care if he doesn’t feast on Hall of Fame blown up welters.

Lotierzo reply: I’m all in on Golovkin. But it’s too early to rank him for me. I think he is probably too big for Leonard, Hearns and Duran. I couldn’t pick him over Hagler or Hopkins right now….but I’m open to revisiting that down the road.

Actually, I’m more impressed with Kovalev than Golovkin, but Gennady is getting all the hype, in spite of the fact that Sergey has defeated two fighters, Bernard Hopkins and Jean Pascal, impressively, both of whom are three times better than anyone GGG has faced.

Another e-mailed I received:

Dear Frank: “Golovkin reminds me of a middleweight Tyson. Only I think he’s tougher and more durable. I’ve seen enough….on their best night I think he beats Hagler and Hopkins.”

Lotierzo reply: It’s too early to step out and proclaim he could’ve beat Hagler or Hopkins. Based on what? What do you think Hagler/Hopkins would’ve done to David Lemieux the night he fought GGG?

As stated above, punchers are the ones who bring out the most passionate fans and observers. However, punchers are always overrated before they lose for the first time. Like Tyson did to many of his opponents before he lost, a lot of Golovkin’s challengers are intimidated and already defeated before the first round. Mike fed off of that and became even more confident, and I believe the same applies to Gennady. Fighting is so much more mental than most who have never done it can fathom. The fighters who are told how great they are become more unbeatable mentally and those who face them during that period enter the bout with diminished confidence, and once they get hit they succumb easier because they imagine the impact, in some cases, to an even greater degree than it actually was.

In a way it was easier seeing Tyson breezing through the heavyweight division than it is envisioning Golovkin escaping the middleweight division unscathed. There are many more big hitters fighting at heavyweight than there are at middleweight. So that bodes well for Golovkin down the road. On the downside, the overall grade of fighter in the middleweight division is exponentially better than it is in the heavyweight division, so in that regard, Gennady may face more outstanding fighters than Tyson did.

In addition to that, there are a multitude of differences between Tyson and Golovkin when it comes to their amateur background and mental makeup. GGG, I think, has the discipline that Tyson could only dream off. If I were to bet, I get the strong sense that Golovkin’s mental makeup and constitution is centered on a better foundation than Mike’s was. In addition, I think GGG has a better chin in a pound for pound sense in comparison to Tyson, and that’s not insinuating that Tyson couldn’t take a big time shot because he could.

Then again I don’t know that and cannot say for sure regarding GGG because I’ve never seen him under duress or cracked real good by an authentically great puncher. Tyson also had marketing connections that GGG could only dream of. Mike was a bully type of front-runner with some self-destructive tendencies out of the ring and some lack of focus in it. The few who could stand up and test Tyson’s intangibles found him lacking in this department. On the other hand, maybe Gennady will prove to be so great and physically dominant that he’ll never be tested in that vein…but that’s not realistic, I don’t think.

The bottom line is – can we please see a little more of Golovkin against some elite fighters before the comparisons to past middleweight greats start?

I will leave you with this: During the years 1983-85, I thought undisputed welterweight champion Donald Curry was one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters I ever saw. After he knocked out Milton McCrory in the second round in December of 1985, I questioned whether or not a prime Sugar Ray Leonard could’ve beat Curry if both were in their prime. Then he fought Lloyd Honeyghan in September of 1986 and I never questioned that again.

Frank Lotierzo can be reached at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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Omar Figueroa, Adrien Broner Examples of Why Mental Health is a Serious Issue

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COVID-19, the global pandemic that never seems to go away entirely, doggedly living on as various strains have emerged, has emphasized the need to prioritize mental health during a time when school children and working adults alike have increasingly been traumatized by imposed restrictions that have inexorably altered their daily lives.

As someone who has twice been dealt grievous blows by the effects of such utter despair – an uncle and a cousin so felt that walls were closing in on them that they took their own lives – I cannot make light of the circumstances that have led to Saturday night’s PBC on SHOWTIME revised 12-round main event, in which junior welterweight Omar Figueroa Jr. (28-2-1, 19 KOs) takes on late replacement Sergey Lipinets (16-2-1, 12 KOs) at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla. Figueroa, a former WBC lightweight champion, has been quite open about the “dark place” from which he has been trying to emerge after making the difficult decision to seek counseling and therapy for a wide range of mental issues including ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder), Bipolar disorder, clinical depression, anxiety, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and a more severe form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) known as “complex” PTSD.

Lipinets, 33, was already scheduled to appear on Saturday night’s card, in an eight-rounder against Carlos Portillo (22-4, 17 KOs), but the former IBF junior welterweight titlist moved up to the marquee bout when Figueroa’s originally scheduled opponent, four-division ex-champion Adrien “The Problem” Broner (34-4-1, 24 KOs) withdrew Monday because of – and this is not really a shock, given his history of erratic behavior — mental health concerns.

Asked when he realized that his brain was not conjuring only happy images of sunshine and lollipops, the now-32-year-old Figueroa said, “I think, for me, it was when I was 17 or 18 years old. That’s when I got really, really bad. Obviously, this past year I feel like I had a psychotic break because of everything that was going on, then getting hit with news that I really did have all this stuff going on. It’s been a roller-coaster, man. It’s been interesting to say the least.”

It is incredible, given all that he has had to deal with out of the ring, that Figueroa was able to perform at such a high level until the whirling dervishes inhabiting his mind became more of a threat to his career and general well-being than gloved opponents seeking to batter him into submission. His most recent victory, a 10-round unanimous decision over John Molina Jr., was 42 long months ago. He has fought only twice since then, a points loss to Yordenis Ugas on July 20, 2019, and an ineffectual, sixth-round stoppage at the hands of Abel Ramos on May 1, 2021, that made it abundantly clear that something was terribly wrong and needed to be fixed if he was to salvage the one aspect of himself that ever had made him feel special.

“I don’t know,” Figueroa said when asked why the wheels came off the way they did against Ramos. “I wish I knew what the heck happened in that fight. My legs just weren’t there. That’s the most frustrating thing that can happen because we went through a whole camp and whenever I’m in camp I’m 100% and I dedicate myself. I did everything I had to do to be perfect for that fight. In the first round I knew I hurt him and I know I could have finished him, but when I tried to put in that little extra effort to finish him, my legs just weren’t there. I don’t know what happened to my body at that point, but that’s also what started me on my introspective journey. I started looking into mental health and I realized how important that was.”

Once he was certain he had restored enough mental tranquility to return to the travails of his trade, Figueroa felt confident enough to skip any minimally challenging warmup bouts and go directly to Broner, whom he was originally scheduled to face in 2018 until that bout fell through. So assured was Figueroa, a Texan by birth and Mexican by heritage, that he would emerge victorious that he was moved to say “I think we’re both at a point in our careers, especially with our age (Broner is 33) and our trajectories, I wanted to make a challenge to Broner and say, `Whoever loses this fight should retire.’”

In stepping aside on Monday, Broner, who had said earlier that he was “ready for whatever (Figueroa) brings,” might have stamped himself as irreparably damaged goods. He issued his reason for withdrawing via social media, offering that “Man I’m going thru a lot at this moment in my life, but I ain’t (gonna) give up. I set more goals and I ain’t stopping until I finish what I started but sorry to say this but I’m not fighting (Saturday night).”

Broner

Broner

It will be interesting to see if Broner commits himself as fully as did Figueroa to repairing his jumbled thought processes. His talent inside the ropes is such — or was — that some observers once dared to list him as a possible addition to the list of legendary Cincinnati boxers headed by Ezzard Charles and Aaron Pryor, but mark me as unconvinced until further notice. In a story I did for The Sweet Science that was posted on Feb. 16, 2017, I wrote that “his decision-making out of the ring has been baffling, his conduct outrageous, his irresponsibility legendary.” Noted trainer and longtime ESPN boxing analyst Teddy Atlas said of the best of Broner that did not always manifest itself once the bell rang that “from a physical standpoint he is extremely skilled. Whoever he gets in with, he just looks faster, smarter and better than all of them.”

In that 2017 story, however, Broner did say that “It’s not about me anymore. It’s about my children and that’s what I’ve based my career on as of now. I’m doing everything for them. I just want to do better and be in better situations. That’s all. When you try to do it your way and it don’t work, then you got to make the right choices and start following the right steps.”

Given that many mental health issues are hereditary, Broner’s once-expressed concern for his children does provide a glimmer of hope that just maybe he is a leopard that can finally change its spots, as Figueroa is in attempting to not only transform himself as a fighter, but as a proper dad and role model for his kids.

All of which stamps Figueroa vs. Lipinets as a far more interesting case study of human behavior borne of the intricacies of the mind than of the standard plot of one fighter having to change course to a different opponent on short notice.

“What are we going to do?” Figueroa asked, rhetorically. “It’s fight week. It’s not like I have time to change stuff in sparring, or training, or anything. I just have to trust myself and the work that we’ve done and move forward as best we can.”

Bernard Fernandez, named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category with the Class of 2020, was the recipient of numerous awards for writing excellence during his 28-year career as a sports writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. Fernandez’s first book, “Championship Rounds,” a compendium of previously published material, was released in May of last year. The sequel, “Championship Rounds, Round 2,” with a foreword by Jim Lampley, is currently out. The anthology can be ordered through Amazon.com and other book-selling websites and outlets.

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Robert Garcia is the Wild Card in the Usyk-Joshua Rematch

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Robert Garcia is the Wild Card in the Usyk-Joshua Rematch

Anthony Joshua was assailed for fighting a stupid fight after losing his alphabet trove of heavyweight titles to Oleksandr Usyk in September of last year. Joshua himself came to share this opinion and responded by cutting ties with trainer Rob McCracken who had guided him to an Olympic gold medal and was the chief voice in his corner for his last nine pro fights.

Joshua’s search for a replacement took him to the United States where he had conversations with Ronnie Shields, Virgil Hunter, Eddy Reynoso and Robert Garcia. He chose Garcia.

Garcia, 47, learned the ABCs of boxing at the knee of his father Eduardo Garcia, a Mexican immigrant agricultural worker who taught boxing in the evenings at a boys’ club in the LA county community of Oxnard and would eventually open his own gym. Eduardo taught him well. Robert won the IBF world super featherweight title and made two successful defenses before leaving the sport with a 34-3 record.

In retirement, Robert Garcia worked alongside his father training boxers. Their prize pupil was Robert’s younger brother Mikey Garcia who won titles in four weight classes. During his prime fighting years, said the noted boxing authority Frank Lotierzo, Mikey was the most fundamentally sound fighter in the sport.

Robert Garcia has trained or co-trained 17 fighters who went on to win world titles. The most recent is precocious 22-year-old WBC super flyweight champion Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez who is such a smooth operator that he has already drawn comparisons to Vasyl Lomachenko.

Garcia was yet a curious choice. He has worked primarily with Mexican and Mexican-American boxers and has never coached a title-holder in a weight class higher than middleweight. Moreover, Anthony Joshua doesn’t need someone to teach him to be more of a textbook fighter. He needs someone to teach him to be a bully.

Since his first fight with Andy Ruiz, said Barry McGuigan in London’s Daily Mirror,  “{Joshua} has tried to become something that he is not, a technical, thinking fighter. This was the root of his problems against Usyk.” He was the bigger specimen and theoretically could have roughed up Usyk and worn him down, but he failed to use his size to his advantage.

“It sounds crazy,” Joshua was quoted as saying in a story in the Daily Mail, “but I’m not going to lie: My objective was never to hurt him, to land damaging punches; my aim was to go the full 12 rounds and prove I could box as well as he does, to land scoring punches.”

Looking at the tape of that fight, Robert Garcia noted that AJ merely smiled each time that Usyk nailed him with a hard punch in the final round. Garcia doesn’t want to see any more smiling from Joshua. He wants his charge to get mad and show it.

Can Anthony Joshua change his mentality and get meaner? If so, will it make any difference against a fighter as fundamentally sound as Oleksandr Usyk? We will find out on Saturday when AJ and Usyk renew acquaintances in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The fight will be live-streamed in the United States on DAZN. It’s a mid-afternoon show for those residing in the Pacific Time Zone with the preliminaries expected to start about noon and the first bell for the main event slated to go at approximately 2:45 (5:45 pm ET).

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Commonwealth Games Champ Delicious Orie and More

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Commonwealth Games Champ Delicious Orie and More

The Commonwealth Games wrapped up this past Monday, Aug. 8, in Birmingham, England. The boxing competition drew 231 entrants (172 male) from 55 member-states. There were 10 weight classes for men and six for the ladies.

This was the twenty-second edition of the Commonwealth Games, a quadrennial event. Many of the competitors will turn up again in Paris in 2024 for the Olympic Summer Games. Over the years, many athletes have used the Commonwealth Games as a steppingstone to Olympic glory.

The boxer that attracted the most ink in this year’s competition was Delicious Orie, the gold medal winner in the super heavyweight class. Writers noticed a lot of parallels between the six-foot-six Orie and the six-foot-six Anthony Joshua, both of whom came to the sport relatively late and have a Nigerian branch in their family tree.

Orie was born in Moscow, the son of a Nigerian father and a Russian mother. At the age of seven, he moved with his parents to England, settling first in London and eventually Wolverhampton, a suburb of Birmingham. As for the derivation of his bizarre first name, it’s something of a mystery. His parents have “normal” names: Justin and Natalie.

Unlike many boxers, Orie says that he never got into a street fight as a kid. To the contrary, he says he was something of a teachers’ pet. He holds a degree from Birmingham’s Aston University where he majored in economics and graduated with honors in 2020.

In the gold medal match, Orie, 25, lost the opening frame to his Indian opponent but stormed back to win a unanimous decision. He is pointing toward the 2024 Olympics and says he has no interest in turning pro before that event. He has several more hurdles to pass before earning a ticket to Paris.

Northern Ireland, which has won more medals in boxing than in any other sport, sent a 12-man squad to Birmingham, the second-largest contingent, surpassed only by England (14). Five members of the NI team (3 men; 2 women) won gold medals including 29-year-old featherweight Michaela Walsh and her younger brother Aidan Walsh, a 25-year-old light middleweight. Michaela and Aidan were Olympians last year, the first brother-sister combo in Olympic boxing history, but failed to medal.

The third time was the charm for Michaela, a silver medalist at the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games.

The finals in the middleweight division pit Scotland’s Ken Hickey against Australia’s Callum Peters. In a good action fight, the gold medal went to the Scotsman who prevailed on a split decision.

The Australian press denounced the decision as a robbery. We likely haven’t seen the last of Callum Peters. At age 19, the hard-luck Aussie was one of the youngest boxers in the tournament

Hall of Fame referee Steve Smoger turns 71 tomorrow (Monday, Aug. 15). According to a missive from the desk of the International Boxing Research Organization, Smoger is currently bedridden with pneumonia, a residue of Covid, which he contracted in April.

A former New Jersey municipal court judge, Smoger has refereed more than a thousand boxing matches in a career spanning five decades. Named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2015, he has purportedly refereed more boxing matches in more jurisdictions around the globe than any referee in the history of the sport.

For anyone wishing to send Smoger a birthday greeting or a Get Well card, his address is:

Steve Smoger

8 Cambridge Ave.

Ventnor, NJ 08406

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