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What If Artur Szpilka Beats Deontay Wilder?

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This Friday night, the WBC World Heavyweight title is on the line at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York as champion Deontay Wilder (35-0) defends his belt against the challenge of Artur Szpilka (20-1).

It has been a year since Wilder captured the vacant WBC belt with a defeat of Bermane Stiverne, and Wilder successfully defended the belt twice in 2015 to go (3-0) for the year.  On a wider level, Wilder also gave the Heavyweight division new life on the American scene, as he became the first fighter from the USA to carry a piece of the world title in almost 10 years.

But in some circles Wilder is still criticized for the quality of his opponents, and whether by chance or design, he has avoided Russia’s Alexander Povetkin  (30-1), who is the WBC’s #1 mandatory challenger and has been since Wilder won the belt last January.

Povetkin last fought in November, when he defeated Mariusz Wach, another Polish fighter, in an event held in Kazan, Russia. Though Povetkin vs Wilder for the January 16th date was talked about, Povetkin’s schedule was not aligned for that date and the match went by the wayside.   Wilder set his sights on the WBC’s #2 rated contender Vyascheslav Glazkov.

And this is where things begin to get funny in today’s Heavyweight boxing scene.  After defeating long-time divisional alpha-male Wladimir Klitschko this past November, the lineal champion and holder of many of the most highly regarded world titles was Tyson Fury of the United Kingdom.  The IBF decided to strip Tyson Fury of their world title when he refused to face Glazkov, who the IBF rated as Fury’s mandatory challenger.  Glazkov and his manager Kathy Duva elected to fight IBF #2 challenger Charles Martin for the vacant IBF title rather than face Wilder for the WBC belt.  Were they taking the easier work and avoiding the difficult match with Wilder?  Martin and Glazkov will fight at the Barclays Center on the same night as the co-main event of the evening.

At the end of November, Wilder was still looking for an opponent for January 16th.  Wilder would have you think that he is a feared champion, and that people would prefer to fight other opposition than to face him.  His detractors argue that Wilder is not really respected and the general consensus is that Wilder needs to step up and fight world class competition in order to prove himself.

The deal with Szpilka was made when he rose above a field of potential opponents that included 44 year old Shannon Briggs and veteran Steve Cunningham among others.  Szpilka is 26 years old and he comes with a solid record of (20-1).  A southpaw, he has 15 stoppages in his 20 wins, and the lone blemish on his record came at the hands of Brandon Jennings.  He has a hard-nosed reputation and he has been sent to the canvas in his fights and he has gotten back up and gone on to win.  That Szpilka accepted the fight without the benefit of a full training camp adds to his gritty and tough reputation.

But a win over Szpilka will not be the career defining win that Wilder needs.  The lines at the sport books have Wilder a (-1250) favorite, with Szpilka returning at (+800).  The WBC has endorsed Povetkin as the mandatory challenger who awaits the winner of Wilder vs Szpilka.  Povetkin has been in the media stating he would accept a meeting with Wilder in the United States sometime in the spring.  People are looking past Szpilka.

Wilder has advantages of height, reach speed and athleticism, and his 34 KO stoppages in 35 fights gives him a much higher rating as far as power is concerned, so his status as favorite in this fight is justified.  But to rule out Szpilka outright could be a mistake.  The biggest win of Szpilka’s career came against fellow countryman Tomasz Adamek in November of 2014 when he faced the then (49-3) Polish hero in a fight where Szpilka was also under-estimated.

Szpilka will need to land punches on Wilder and do damage, but Wilder’s recent outings against Eric Molina and Johan Duhaupas showed that Wilder is hittable.  Duhuapas especially left Wilder with a swollen face, and he came close to shutting Wilder’s eye.  If Szpilka can manage some offense against Wilder and leave a mark, it opens up a lot of possibilities.

And a win by Szpilka could very well kill the current interest in the Heavyweight division as far as the American fanbase is concerned.   Szpilka would still be facing a mandatory challenge from Alexander Povetkin.  Povetkin has expressed interest in fighting Wilder in the United States, but a win by Szpilka would likely see Povetkin lure the new champion to Russia with the title on the line.

Come January 16th, Deontay Wilder will enter the ring with a lot of work left to do to truly capture the American market.   His two title defenses came in his home state of Alabama, and Wilder sold out a five thousand seat arena on those occasions.   Though those are terrific accomplishments he still has his doubters, and frankly, there are still vast amounts of average Americans who have not seen him fight. The challenge of headlining in New York and building upon that to become a major star still faces Wilder.  It all starts with a win against Szpilka, anything short of that on the part of Wilder and it will be a huge setback to the American Heavyweight boxing scene.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 287: Boxing Wars on Tap in Philadelphia and Las Vegas

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Those boxing wars continue.

Rival promoters battle it out in America as Matchroom Boxing shows off its newest prize Jaron Ennis while Top Rank presents a world title fight in the middleweight division.

Take your pick. Both are scintillating.

Philadelphia’s Ennis (31-0, 28 KOs) makes his promotional debut for the British boxing promotion company and faces David Avanesyan (30-4, 18 KOs) for the IBF welterweight world title on Saturday June 13 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card.

It’s been a year since Ennis last fought and meanwhile he was bestowed the IBF title without throwing a punch. He earns it on Saturday.

“Having this time off isn’t going to affect me at all. I just want to get back in the ring,” said Ennis whose last fight was a knockout win over Roiman Villa back on July 8, 2023.

A promotional war ensued for the right to sign Ennis. Matchroom Boxing was the winner and they’re itching to showcase one of the most talked-about welterweights to come along since Sugar Ray Leonard.

Avanesyan was selected to replace original opponent Cody Crowley who was forced to withdraw for medical reasons. The Armenian fighter has upset a few in his career including Sugar Shane Mosley and England’s Josh Kelly a few years back.

He’s not shy.

“I think that this is a 50-50 fight. He’s younger, He’s strong, it’s a very good fight,” said Avanesyan who lives in the United Kingdom.

Ennis had no qualms about facing a veteran like Avanesyan.

“It’s a better fight than Cody Crowley but I’ll beat him up, break him down and get the knockout,” Ennis said.

For the past several years boxing experts have been crowing about the Philadelphia prizefighter’s immense talent. On Saturday in front of a hometown crowd he continues the journey toward stardom.

Also, on the same card female WBC featherweight titlist Skye Nicolson (10-0) defends against Dominican stalwart Dyana Vargas (19-1). The Aussie southpaw makes her first real world title defense.

Las Vegas

IBF and WBO middleweight titlist Zhanibek Alimkhanuly (15-0, 10 KOs) defends against Andrei Mikhailovich (21-0, 13 KOs) on Saturday July 13, at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. ESPN+ will stream the Top Rank boxing card.

Its Kazakhstan versus Russia as Alimkhanuly continues the middleweight tradition established by his countryman Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. Can he continue to dominate?

Alimkhanuly, 31, is a southpaw slugger and still learning how to corral a moving target. But he has power and shouldn’t have a problem finding Mikhailovich who packs power too.

Mikhailovich, 26, fights out of New Zealand but has never had a professional fight outside of the island nation. Will he be able to ignore the glitter of Las Vegas?

Also, Southern California’s Ray Muratalla (20-0, 16 KOs) faces former super featherweight champion Tevin Farmer (33-5-1, 8 KOs) in a lightweight clash set for 10 rounds.

It’s another step-up fight for Muratalla who had a four-fight knockout streak snapped in his last fight against South Africa’s Xolisani Ndongeni this past March. It won’t get any easier against speedy Farmer.

Golden Boy and 360 Promotions

Tickets are available for the super welterweight showdown between Vergil Ortiz and Serhii Bohachuk that takes place on Saturday, Aug. 10, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

A press conference was held today at the Golden Boy headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. Both fighters were present to kick off the promotion that will feature the two fighters with almost 100 percent knockout rate.

Ortiz has won every fight by knockout. Bohachuk’s last fight ended in a win and was the first time he didn’t obtain a victory by knockout. But the Ukrainian fighter did pick up the interim WBC title with the win over Brian Mendoza who previously had knocked out current champion Sebastian Fundora.

Both Bohachuk and Ortiz train in Southern California.

Fights to Watch

Thurs. ESPN+ 11 a.m. Nelson Hysa (17-0) vs Thorsten Fuchs (13-1).

Sat. DAZN 5 p.m. Jaron Ennis (31-0) vs David Avanesyan (30-4-1); Skye Nicolson (10-0) vs Dyana Vargas (19-1).

Sat. ESPN+ 8 p.m. Zhanibek Alimkhanuly (15-0) vs Andrei Mikhailovich (21-0); Ray Muratalla (20-0) vs Tevin Farmer (33-5-1).

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Trevor McCumby Fell Off the Map and Now He’s Back with a Big Fight on the Horizon

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Trevor McCumby Fell Off the Map and Now He’s Back with a Big Fight on the Horizon

There’s a church in Arizona that has its own motto: “A church that cares where you’re going and not where you’ve been.” It’s the catchline of The Rock, a non-denominational Christian church in the Phoenix suburb of Peoria.

That phrase undoubtedly resonates with Trevor McCumby, a member of the congregation. “I’ve been to some dark places,” says McCumby who was working at a 7-11-style convenience store a few years ago and now finds himself on the cusp of some big paydays in the sweet science.

If McCumby’s name rings a bell, it likely relates to something that had its genesis on Nov. 26, 2016, when he knocked out Donovan George in the opening round on a card in Las Vegas.

The result was changed to “no contest” when traces of two banned substances were discovered in McCumby’s pre-fight urine specimen. Also, McCumby acknowledged receiving an intravenous infusion to rehydrate after the weigh-in which was against the rules of the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

It wasn’t until July of the following year when McCumby learned his fate. The boxing commission suspended him for 18 months, retroactive to Nov. 26, 2016, and fined him $3,750.

He maintains that he never knowingly took a PED. He pointed the blame at a multi-vitamin supplement allegedly contaminated with anabolic agents. (Trevor’s advice to his fellow boxers: If using a supplement, save the receipt and keep the empty container; it may come in useful someday.)

McCumby quit boxing at this juncture but returned in 2018 and recorded two more wins, pushing his record to 25-0 with 17 knockouts. Eleven of those kayos came in the opening round and that doesn’t include his demolition of Donovan George which effectively never happened.

And then, Trevor McCumby fell off the map. Four-and-a-half years would elapse before he returned to the ring, his comeback stalled by a knee injury suffered in sparring.

A light heavyweight during his run to 25-0, he returned as a super middleweight. Two wins in Phoenix prefaced his ProBox debut on Jan. 31 of this year when he won a lopsided 10-round decision over 17-3-1 Christopher Pearson. Up next is former IBF world super middleweight champion Caleb Plant who has been in with the top dogs in the division. It’s not official yet, but it’s an open secret that McCumby and Plant have agreed to touch gloves on August 17, likely in Florida.

Trevor McCumby, now 31 years old, was introduced to boxing by his father, a police officer in Niles, Illinois, and former Marine who once served as a presidential honor guard. The minimum age for an amateur boxer in Illinois was eight, but the elder McCumby lied about his son’s age and Trevor started competing with oversized gloves at the age of seven. (Trevor McCumby and his dad are pictured in a story about amateur boxing in the Windy City that ran in the Chicago Tribune in April of 1999. At the time, little Trevor would have been six years old.)

The McCumbys then lived in Yorkville, Illinois, a town roughly 50 miles southwest of Chicago. Trevor recalls traveling almost every day after school to the gritty south side of Chicago for training. Sweating side-by-side with inner city kids couldn’t help but speed up his development. He had a fine amateur record (127-11 by his count) and, at age 17, with the Olympics yet two years away, was ready to say “yes” when he got a surprise call from Cameron Dunkin who wanted to manage him. Renowned for his keen eye as a talent scout, the late Mr. Dunkin had one of the foremost stables in boxing.

McCumby was then living in Phoenix. He would finish high school in Las Vegas before making his pro debut in Los Angeles at age 18.

Looking back, Trevor says, “I didn’t take boxing as seriously as I should have. After each win, it was time to go out and party.” His hiatus from boxing was sobering on many levels. Working in a convenience store was humbling and his priorities changed when he met Kenzie (short for McKenzie), a member of the worship committee at The Rock and his future wife. Trevor is now the father of a 3-year-old son, a 1 ½-year-old daughter and there’s another girl on the way, due in November. As for the knee injury, a torn ACL, Trevor says, “it took about a whole year of rehab but feels better now than it ever did.”

McCumby opened his camp for the Plant fight during the week of July 4 at the Top Rank Gym in Las Vegas. His training is being coordinated by Brandon Woods, a protégé of Hall of Fame trainer Kenny Adams.

He and Caleb Plant have a common opponent in a manner of speaking. Plant went 12 rounds with David Benavidez in his last outing, losing a unanimous but relatively close decision. The “strength of schedule factor” in Plant’s favor will weigh heavily in setting the odds for McCumby vs. Plant. But McCumby has also shared the ring with Phoenix-native Benavidez, and on many occasions. “We gave each other great work,” he says. “You could have sold tickets to those sparring sessions.”

There was a time when it seemed that Trevor McCumby would be remembered mostly for putting his hand in the cookie jar and failing to maximize his talent. But hold the phone. His boxing journey is far from finished and this is a story that may ultimately prove uplifting.

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Fernando Martinez Ratches Up the Heat in the Hot Super Flyweight Division

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On Sunday in Tokyo, Fernando Martinez picked up a second piece of the world super flyweight title with a mild upset of Kazuto Ioka. Martinez owned the IBF belt and added Ioka’s WBA scalp to his bedpost. That gives the Argentinian globetrotter one more belt than Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez if you are keeping score.

Of course, there isn’t a little man on this planet who would be favored over “Bam” at the moment, excepting Naoya Inoue who competes two divisions up at 122. The San Antonio southpaw was so impressive in dismantling Juan Francisco Estrada on July 29 that he stifled all talk of whether he belongs on the pound-for-pound list. The debate now is about his placement; how high should it be? But despite Bam’s towering presence in the 115-pound division, there are some good fights out there for him beginning with Martinez.

Kazuto Ioka brought quite a resume. The first fighter from Japan to win world titles in four weight divisions, he was 31-2-1 heading in with both losses by split decision and was appearing in his twenty-fifth world title fight. But Martinez showed no fear of him. He took the fight to Ioka and closed strong, winning by scores of 120-108, 117-111, and 116-112. (The 120-108 tally by California judge Edward Hernandez Sr was assailed as ludicrous; the fight was much closer than that…but there was no disputing the verdict, the right guy won.)

A fight with Bam Rodriguez, who was in attendance, would be the most lucrative for Fernando Martinez, but he has other options. WBO belt-holder Kosei Tanaka is out there as is former pound-for-pound king Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez. Both are in action this month. Chocolatito (51-4, 41 KOs) fights this coming Friday on his home turf in Managua against Colombian journeyman Rober Barrera (27-5). Tanaka (20-1, 11 KOs) defends his belt on July 20 in Tokyo against Mexico’s Jonathan Rodriguez (25-2-1). Tanaka has won four straight since getting dominated and stopped by Ioka in 2020.

The outcome of the Ioka-Martinez bout was no surprise to Matt McGrain who previewed the contest in these pages. And, as McGain noted, Martinez doesn’t have much time left to build up his fan base outside South America and the Orient. His current record (17-0, 9 KOs) betrays the fact he turns 33 next week.

The smaller weight divisions have never attracted a large following in the United States, but that has something to do with a historical dearth of American-born fighters at the pinnacles. Bam Rodriguez is making even casual fans stand up and take notice and his ascent comes at a time when his division is percolating.

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