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Three Punch Combo: The Story Behind Lomachenko-Marriaga and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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Marriaga

THREE PUNCH COMBO — On Saturday, Vasyl Lomachenko (8-1, 6 KO’s) makes the third defense of his 130-pound title when he faces Miguel Marriaga (25-2, 21 KO’s) in an ESPN televised main event. Many boxing insiders see Marriaga as an unworthy challenger and expect the fight to be a cakewalk for the ultra-skilled Lomachenko. So why are we seeing such a fight on a big platform like ESPN? It’s the business of the sport that produced the bout.

Top Rank, Lomachenko’s promoter, clearly wanted Orlando Salido as the opponent for Lomachenko for this date. With limited options at 130 for Lomachenko, facing the only fighter he lost to as a pro in what was an entertaining fight made a lot of sense. However, Salido is well aware that there are not a lot of options at 130 for Lomachenko and that he is by far the most marketable name available. Salido set a high price for his services. It was not met and Salido will continue to hold out, believing that one day his price will be met.

So with Salido out, where else could Top Rank turn? They needed to keep Lomachenko busy and wanted him on the ESPN platform but did not have many options. The other top 130 pounders either already had fights scheduled or had previously turned down overtures to face Lomachenko. The list was thin and Top Rank ultimately, in a very calculated decision, settled on Marriaga.

Why Marriaga? He is coming off a loss to Oscar Valdez and his other loss was a one-sided defeat against Nicholas Walters. Lomachenko, of course, dominated the same Walters last November, so the selection of Marriaga as Lomachenko’s opponent wasn’t going to go over well in the boxing community.

The way Top Rank looked at this was that no matter who they picked, the opponent would not go over well after they could not entice Salido to take the bait. Marriaga is a name boxing fans are familiar with and, more importantly, his style is what Top Rank was seeking. In his bouts against Walters and Valdez, Marriaga showed at times an almost reckless abandon. He was willing to be aggressive and let his hands go, hoping to land something big to change the course of those bouts. By being so aggressive, he did land but also got hit a lot.

Why is this important? If Marriaga brings this same style to the ring when facing Lomachenko, we may see something in a Lomachenko fight that we have not seen happen to him since he faced Salido. I would venture to say we are going to see Lomachenko get hit. Marriaga is going to let his hands fly like he did against Walters and Valdez and inevitably land some punches. Lomachenko will counter and pick Marriaga apart but it’s the get hit part that is important.

Top Rank needed an opponent that Lomachenko could handle but also look a little vulnerable against. They need him to get hit. Lomachenko has been so dominant that he is scaring off many potential foes. Why get in the ring with someone who is just going to pick you apart while you are swinging at air? The risk is not worth it. So Top Rank needed an opponent who would be willing to let his hands fly and go for broke in the hopes that Lomachenko gets touched a bit. They need him to look somewhat human and not just a machine that dissects his opposition to bits. If Lomachenko gets cracked a few times, maybe other potential opponents think they can do something and the risk now becomes worth their while. That is how the business of the sport brought us Lomachenko-Marriaga on Saturday.

What Is Next For Mikey Garcia and Adrien Broner?

Mikey Garcia (37-0, 30 KO’s) scored a dominant unanimous decision win against Adrien Broner (33-3, 24 KO’s) in a bout contested in the 140-pound division. Now Garcia and Broner will head in drastically different paths with Garcia on the road to some more substantial fights while Broner must pick up the pieces.

In all probability, Garcia will return to the lightweight division his next time out where he still holds a belt. At age 29 and entering the prime of his career, he is clearly seeking big fights. The most likely opponent for Garcia would seem to be another belt holder at lightweight in Robert Easter Jr. Easter is undefeated with some solid wins under his belt and in need himself of a big fight. Easter is also aligned with Al Haymon and with Garcia having fought under the PBC banner his last three times out, the fight would seemingly be easy to make.

Garcia is a smart individual surrounded by very intelligent people. They realize the importance of marketability in this sport. It’s a big reason why Garcia and his team took the Broner fight. Broner has a name and Garcia needed the name on his resume. Easter may not have the name that Broner has, but Easter does have a belt and a win over him would make Garcia a unified champion and drive his price up. Keep in mind there is a huge name fighting one division below lightweight in the aforementioned Lomachenko who has made overtures about moving up if a big fight presents itself. Well, if Garcia is a unified champion, he would not only make for a natural opponent for Lomachenko in a super fight but also have serious bargaining power when negotiating such a fight.

As for Broner, as I wrote last week, his legacy takes a serious hit with the loss to Garcia. Broner needs to go back to the drawing board to resurrect his career. He is only 28 and has time to get back in the picture. Expect him to take a similar path that he took following his first career loss to Marcos Maidana. Broner will fight the classic “B” level type opponents and get a few wins in fights where he is heavily favored. One such opponent could be Ricky Burns. A Broner-Burns fight has been discussed on and off for a few years and the time may finally be right in the careers of both men to make it happen.

Under The Radar Fights

We have another big weekend of televised action this week. As is often the case of such weekends, a few fights tend to fly under the radar. A pair of fights on ESPN are not getting much attention right now but should not be missed.

On Saturday, Raymundo Beltran (33-7-1, 21 KO’s) returns to face Bryan Vasquez (35-2, 19 KO’s) in a lightweight fight that could turn into a war. The bout will serve as a co-feature to Vasyl Lomachenko’s 130-pound title defense. This is the third time I have featured Beltran in the under the radar segment and for good reason. He has a crowd pleasing style that just makes for good entertaining fights. He constantly presses forward looking to make the fight and draw opponents into exchanges. Vasquez is a solid fighter who has a very similar style to that of Beltran. See why I love this fight? We have two fighters who like to be aggressive and press the action. And two fighters who like to get their opponents into exchanges. Mark my words, this will be a good scrap and be the talk of the boxing community on Sunday.

Another fight that could turn into a war is the Golden Boy on ESPN headliner on Friday night between Mauricio Herrera (23-7, 7 KO’s) and Jesus Soto Karass (28-11-4, 18 KO’s). First off, both have seen their better days., but that’s why matching them together makes a lot of sense. The winner goes forward with one last opportunity and the loser really needs to strongly consider hanging the gloves up for good.

In his prime, Herrera was a technically sound boxer who used his legs and a precise jab to throw off the rhythm of his opponents. He was a master at setting up just the right angles to land sharp punches. But his legs are not what they used to be just a few years ago. This has led to Herrera being more in the pocket and getting hit a lot more. As for Soto Karass, he knows only one way to fight and that is going forward chucking leather. He has never been concerned about defense. Herrera, with his legs not what they once were, will be in front of Soto Karass most of the night. Herrera will find Soto Karass an easy target but also be in position to allow Soto Karass to do what he likes to do and that is throw punches. This could be a lot of fun.

As I so often preach, good matchmaking leads to good fights. The above two fights that are flying under the radar this week are examples of good matchmaking. Don’t miss them as they should be a lot of fun to watch.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 134: Mexico vs World

David A. Avila

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A couple of Mexican champions lead the way to the Texas fight card as Saul “Canelo” Alvarez seeks to gather another world title and mini-bomber Elwin “La Pulga” Soto defends his title this weekend.

Canelo (55-1-2, 37 KOs) holds the WBC and WBA super middleweight belts and wants the WBO belt that Billy Joe Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs) holds. They meet Saturday, May 8, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card.

It’s not an easy fight, especially when you consider Saunders is a speedy southpaw who can easily run for 12 rounds. For those with good memories, another southpaw runner named Erislandy Lara gave a preview of that back in 2014. That fight bored most of the boxing world to tears. Let’s hope this one is better.

Fight fans want to see blows exchanged. Few want to see someone scurry around the boxing ring with nary a blow exchanged. It’s the primary reason people like brawls or prefer to watch people fight in the stands over spilt beer.

Canelo longs to establish himself as one of the greats in boxing and knows that by unifying the super middleweight division he can stamp his name in the history books. Only one other super middleweight did it. And he was a Brit.

Chasing Calzaghe

Joe Calzaghe was his name and to be more accurate he was Welsh. The “Italian Dragon” fought from 1993 to 2008 and ended his career with a flourish.

Calzaghe’s last three fights were against Mikkel Kessler, Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. Though he was floored by both Jones and Hopkins in the first round he rallied to win by decisions in the U.S., not in the United Kingdom. Quite a feat.

It’s never easy to fight another world champion so when Calzaghe fought Hopkins in Las Vegas back in April 2008, many Americans expected the Philly fighter to be too much for the Welshman. It was a rugged scrap as Hopkins manhandled Calzaghe early in the fight before adjustments were made and the Welshman simply out-hustled the defensive-minded Hopkins.

Calzaghe won by split decision in a razor close fight. He fought one more time against Jones and had a much easier time in defeating the former undisputed light heavyweight titlist. He simply retired with little fanfare from those here in the US, but the Welshman was a tough, tough customer with speed, footwork and a solid chin. One more thing: he was a southpaw.

When Canelo faces Saunders he’s fighting someone who somewhat resembles the physical elements of Calzaghe. One thing about Calzaghe, he never ran. He simply stood right in front of his foe and out-punched them.

Should Canelo win, he has a firm date against IBF super middleweight titlist Caleb Plant of Las Vegas in September.

“We have always been open about what our short- and long-term plans have been. I want to unify the 168lb division, and Caleb Plant would be next in line to secure that short term goal if successful against Billy Joe Saunders,” said Alvarez.

Mini-bomber from Mexicali

WBO light flyweight titlist Elwin Soto (18-1, 12 KOs) defends against Japan’s Katsunari Takayama (32-8, 12 KOs) who is moving up from minimumweight where he was the world titlist.

Soto, 24, hails from Mexicali, the border town east of Tijuana, and has fought on American soil four times. The Mexican champion known as “La Pulga” has a kamikaze style of fighting. He’s not keen on looking stylish unless you mean his hair style.

Ironically, the Mexican kamikaze will be fighting Takayama who at 37 years old returns to the wars after spending four years away between 2016 and 2020. He moved up one weight division after winning the vacant WBO minimumweight title in August 2016 and did not fight again until last December.

Takayama has been in the fight game for a while and actually fought Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez for the minimumweight world title back in 2009 when the great Nicaraguan fighter campaigned at that weight class. That’s quite a few years ago.

Takayama has been fighting 20 years professionally. That’s a lot of wear and tear. But against Soto the former minimumweight world champion should not worry about a boxing match, he just has to be wary of those bombs coming his way.

Dignity. Always Dignity.

This is a favorite movie line that my spouse and I like to repeat. It was uttered by dancer/actor Gene Kelly in the motion picture Singing in the Rain.

Premier Boxing Champions presents its second of three boxing cards at the Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday May 15, when WBC super bantamweight titlist Luis Nery defends against Brandon Figueroa.

Tijuana’s Nery has always been recognized as loaded with talent and also with too many tacos. He failed to make weight a few times as a bantamweight and now campaigns at super bantamweight. It’s one of the most talented divisions in prizefighting.

“I have a lot of respect for Brandon, but inside the ring, I am going to be the rudest person he’s ever met. Respect goes out of the window inside that ring. I am going to do everything to get the win,” said Nery.

Figueroa, 24, holds some version of the WBA super bantamweight title. Another fighter on this card, Danny Roman, held the original version that he won back in 2017 and then took the IBF version in 2019. He recently lost both belts, losing a split decision to Murodjon Akhmadaliev in January 2020.

The 122-pounders will be on display and its going to be a crackling affair.

Tickets are available now for the PBC fight card that takes place at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. Those outside of the area can watch on Showtime.

Fights to Watch

Fri. Telemundo 11:30 p.m. George Acosta (11-1) vs Gadwin Rosa (11-1).

Sat. DAZN 5 p.m. Saul Alvarez (55-1-2) vs Billy Joe Saunders (30-0); Elwin Soto (18-1) vs Katsunari Takayama (32-8); Kieron Conway (16-1-1) vs Souleymane Cissokho (12-0).

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Boxing Odds and Ends: ‘Stitch’ Duran at the Top Rank Gym and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jacob “Stitch” Duran is the most famous cutman in the world. But this past November, when he was working the first of the four Triller shows — the show in Los Angeles anchored by the Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Jr exhibition – Duran realized for the first time that his renown wasn’t confined to the insular world of combat sports.

“Snoop Dogg came up to me and said, ‘man you’re a legend, may I take a picture with you?’ I was shocked. I had no idea that anyone knew me in that world. It was a memorable moment.”

Duran, who turned 70 this month and looks years younger, has had many memorable moments. The night that he plied his trade in London’s Wembley Stadium before 90,000 screaming fans is forever embedded in his memory. But that adventure was bittersweet. He worked the corner of Wladimir Klitschko, with whom he had a 12-year relationship, and that see-saw fight between Klitschko and Anthony Joshua ended with Klitschko on the receiving end of a barrage of punches, forcing the referee to step in and call off the contest in the 11th round.

Duran grew up in Planada, CA, an overwhelmingly Hispanic community where a third of the population lives below the poverty line. Planada is in the agriculturally fertile San Joaquin Valley. Most of the working adults are employed by the farms or in a food-related industry. Duran’s memoir, “From the Fields to the Garden” (as in Madison Square), written with Zac Robinson, was released in 2011 and spawned a sequel.

If there is ever a third book, one chapter will likely be titled “Life in the Bubble.” Duran and Mike Bazzel, and eventually Floyd Mayweather’s associate Bob Ware, were tabbed to be the house cutmen for all of Top Rank’s so-called Bubble Fights, 22 in all, a series that ran from June 23, 2020 to Feb. 20 of this year from the sterile MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.

The cutmen and other essential employees were quarantined on the 12th floor of the hotel, departing only for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and for the weigh-in. Bazzel, who has a home in the San Francisco Bay Area, never left the hotel. Duran, who lived 20 minutes away, was able to go home between assignments but the better part of his week was still spent in his 12th-floor “crib.”

It was boxing’s version of the “Shawshank Redemption,” says Stitch, referencing the 1994 prison movie starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. “We were literally in solitary confinement.” But he is thankful that Top Rank COO Brad Jacobs called him and offered him the gig. Duran was one of the few people in boxing who was able to stay busy when things slowed to a crawl.

Duran, an Air Force veteran, came to Las Vegas in 1995. During his early years in the city, he prowled the boxing and MMA gyms, looking for work. Nowadays, he doesn’t have to look for work, it seeks him out, but Duran is still an insatiable gym rat of sorts.

Earlier this week he was at the Top Rank Gym which was bustling with activity. Tyson Fury was there being put through his paces by trainer SugarHill Steward, as was Scotland’s Josh Taylor, who has a big fight upcoming with Jose Ramirez. The winner will be the undisputed 140-pound champion owning all four meaningful belts.

Duran and the Gypsy King are well-acquainted. When Fury hooked up with Steward, the nephew of the late Emanuel Steward, Stitch Duran came along in what was something of a package deal. Their first fight together was Fury’s rematch with Deontay Wilder. Staged at the MGM Grand Garden on Feb. 22, 2020, it was a tour-de-force for the Gypsy King.

“Working with Fury was a seamless transition because I was so familiar with the Kronk way of doing things,” says Duran. The legendary Emanuel Steward handled Wladimir for 17 fights. When Steward died of colon cancer in 2012, the torch was passed to Emanuel’s longtime assistant Johnathan Banks.

One can number Stitch among those who thought that Emanuel Steward had no peer as a boxing coach: “Emanuel’s work with Wladimir in his first fight with Samuel Peter was the best corner work I ever saw. Emanuel’s instructions got him back in the fight.”

Klitschko looked like a cooked goose after Peter knocked him down twice in the fifth round, but the big Ukrainian went on to win a clear-cut unanimous decision.

There was a camera crew at the Top Rank Gym gathering up the final pieces for a Stitch Duran documentary that commenced filming in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It should prove interesting.

Nat Fleischer Award

The Boxing Writers Association of America has named Joe Maxse the 48th recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award. The award, which recognizes Excellence in Boxing Journalism, is voted on by previous honorees.

A Cleveland native, Maxse, 69, covered boxing for the Cleveland Plain Dealer from 1987 to 2013. Cleveland was an important fight town during most of those years. Don King built his empire there before relocating to New York City and eventually Deerfield Beach, Florida.

The Fleischer Award has been presented every year since 1973. The first recipient was Barney Nagler who went on to helm the BWAA from 1984 to 1989. Nagler was then the sports columnist for the Daily Racing Form. He had begun his journalism career with the Bronx Home News and was the author of two boxing books, most notably “James Norris and the Decline of Boxing,” a book that still appears on many lists of the best boxing books of all time.

Former recipients include two members of the TSS family: Bernard Fernandez (1998) and Thomas Hauser (2004). Last year’s winner was Graham Houston, the longtime North American correspondent and sometimes editor for several British boxing publications including the venerable Boxing News.

Maxse will be honored along with other award winners (a two-year supply) at the 95th BWAA awards dinner, the date and site of which have yet to be determined. Hopefully, when Maxse takes the podium, he won’t conclude his speech without tossing in an impression of the late Harry Carey. Maxse’s spot-on impersonation of the iconic baseball announcer endeared him to his peers.

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Canelo vs. BJ Saunders: Predictions and Analyses from the TSS Faculty

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More than 60,000 fight fans are expected to gather at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, on Saturday. The turnout for the fight between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders represents a turning point in the COVID-19 era. Boxing has been pretty much walled-off to the general public since a sellout crowd of 15,816 witnessed the second encounter between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder on Feb. 20, 2020 in Las Vegas.

Canelo Alvarez (55-1-2, 37 KOs) holds the WBC and WBA world titles at 168 pounds. Billy Joe Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs) owns the WBO belt. However, the hardware is largely immaterial whenever Canelo steps in the ring as he is widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. In Saunders he is meeting a slick southpaw bidding to become the second member of the Traveling community to hold multiple title belts simultaneously, joining his friend Tyson Fury. The bout headlines a 7-bout card that will air on DAZN in 200+ countries and territories worldwide and on TV Azteca in Mexico.

Whenever a fight of this magnitude comes down the pike, we invite members of our editorial staff to provide a quick analysis of the match and forecast the outcome. Their prognostications appear below with the respondents listed in alphabetical order.

The graphic is by Colorado comic book cover artist ROB AYALA, an honored guest whenever we perform this kind of exercise. Check out more of Rob’s cool illustrations at his web site fight posium.

PICKS and ANALYSIS

No gimme for Canelo here, as Saunders is a southpaw who can box, has a bit of pop in his punch, as well as a knack for making his opponents look not quite as impressive as they normally are. Still, Canelo is at the top of the boxing food chain for a reason. It’s all right for him to win some fights and not be spectacular in doing so. Figure the Mexican icon on scoring a knockdown or two along the way, but he may have to be satisfied with a win on points this time out. – BERNARD FERNANDEZ

I no longer pick against Canelo Alvarez. And certainly not against a boxing basket case like Billy Joe Saunders. There’s a huge difference in the level of maturity between these two fighters and that will be seen in the ring when Canelo becomes the first to corner the fleet-footed Saunders and put him on his back. Canelo KO in 10. – JEFFREY FREEMAN

Canelo by decision. He does everything better than Saunders, who will fight well enough to survive but not win. – THOMAS HAUSER

Billy Joe is formidable. You don’t lock in an Olympic berth at age 18 without natural talent. You don’t run circles around a big puncher like David Lemieux without a high ring IQ. But Saunders, despite his undefeated record, has been inconsistent. Canelo, as Kevin Iole noted in a recent column, doesn’t do one thing great, but he does everything well. How does one formulate a smart game plan for a boxer with no flaws to exploit? Canelo UD. – ARNE LANG

Much has been made by Saunders’ camp this week about the size of the ring that will be used in the fight. While it seems strange and even unruly that there can be such vast disparities in how large the boxing ring is or how spongy the mat can be for any professional fight card in our sport, the truth of the matter is that Saunders probably doesn’t have much hope in beating Alvarez no matter how those other factors play out. They could fight on a basketball court, and I’d still pick Alvarez. The best the cagey UK fighter will be able to muster is trying to go the distance with the Mexican. Callum Smith pulled it off back in December, but Saunders won’t quite get there. CANELO via 9th-round stoppage. – KELSEY McCARSON

There was a time, not that long ago, when I would have favoured Saunders to beat Canelo and stylistically I still feel Saunders holds all the aces. Canelo’s improvements in the last 30 months have astonished, though. He has found a meaningful fourth and fifth punch for his combinations and his strength, for whatever reason, is prestigious at whatever weight he fights. Saunders, something of a persona-non-grata here in his home country after a series of public relations disasters, is very much a man out of time.  Canelo, bodyshots, between the eighth and the tenth. – MATT McGRAIN

There is a case to be made that Canelo Alvarez has not faced a pure boxer on the level of Billy Joe Saunders since his do-si-do with Erislandy Lara in 2014, in a fight that still has some screaming robbery (Alvarez won by split decision). Of course, that was nearly seven years ago, back when Alvarez was still trading on his telenovela bonafides. Since then, he has gone on to distinguish himself as arguably the best boxer in the sport today. The same cannot be said for the erratic and self-sabotaging Saunders, who has squandered his impressive showing against David Lemieux in 2017 with consecutive lackluster outings against mostly middling opposition. The southpaw will find ways to frustrate Alvarez at times, to be sure, but expect Alvarez to slow down the jittery motions of the Brit by punishing him to the body en route to a mostly clear win on the cards. Canelo by majority decision. – SEAN NAM

I see a feeling-out type fight in the first two rounds and then Canelo begins the stalk. Saunders will be more elusive and more savvy than most of Canelo’s opponents, occasionally getting in some sharp counters. However, he will begin to tire late from an accumulation of Canelo’s body work and from backing up. This will allow the Mexican to increase the tempo looking for a way to close the show. The Traveler will survive. But Canelo will win with a dominating UD. – TED SARES

Two names come to mind for me when deciding how this fight will play out. First, Erislandy Lara, who I saw outbox but not outfight Alvarez. Second is Alexander Povetkin, whose horrible performance against Dillian Whyte was reportedly due to coronavirus residue, which Alvarez also claims to have been afflicted by. Can Saunders, another left-hander with a bit more of a reach advantage than Lara, take advantage of a possibly weakened Canelo? Don’t bet on it unless Cinco de Mayo weekend gets cancelled and nobody from Texas or Mexico shows up for the fight. Saunders seems capable of making it interesting, but Alvarez wins by wide decision or late TKO.  – PHIL WOOLEVER

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