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Jim Lampley and 16 Others Weigh in on the Problem of PED Use in Boxing

For this latest survey, I reached out for suggestions from our regular panel of respondents. Among the fascinating survey questions submitted

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For this latest survey, I reached out for suggestions from our regular panel of respondents. Among the fascinating survey questions submitted were “Should Boxers Be Allowed to Have Beards?” and “What Was Your Brush With Greatness?”

Picking one was difficult, but I ultimately chose to go with a question of great topical interest: How Would You Deal With PED Cheats? Thanks to Steve Canton for passing along this suggestion. A Floridian, Steve has been involved in every aspect of boxing for more than 50 years. Once again, the respondents are listed alphabetically.

MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI (TSS boxing writer): I am an advocate of three strikes and you’re out. A first positive test would be a one-year ban from all ratings (and/or stripped of belt) and to re-enter the ratings the fighter would have to defeat a top ten opponent. The second offense would be an 18-month ban from ratings (and/or stripped of belt) and to re-renter ratings the boxer would have to defeat a top ten opponent. And a third positive test is permanent ban from ratings.

JOE BRUNO (former NYC sportswriter and author of more than 45 crime-related books): First offense – one-year suspension. Second offense – three year suspension. Third offense – lifetime ban. No appeal processes. Of course, this being America, the suspended fighter can sue. Good luck with that

STEVE CANTON (author and the face of boxing in Florida): My opinion: Anyone who fails a PED test should be banned for life from boxing, no questions asked. Career is over – permanently. The problem would disappear in a hurry. (Note: Steve also favors stiff penalties for those who come in overweight.)

MONTE COX (boxing historian): I’m not sure how much PEDs help a boxer, but I definitely feel it is cheating. Unfortunately, it’s so hard to regulate that maybe they should let everyone use to guarantee a level playing field. That’s sad to say though.

BERNARD FERNANDEZ (journalist; one of only eight lifetime members of the Boxing Writers Association of America): Some drug tests, although rare, yield false positives. That is why I think it might be excessive to institute a one-strike-and-you’re-out-forever policy. There is also a difference between the type of designer drugs that turned baseball’s Barry Bonds from a 185-pound leadoff-man type into a 235-pound home run machine, and trace amounts of a banned substance found in certain legitimate medications. A first offense should result in a one-year suspension and a fine, not necessarily a career-killer, and a second a four-year suspension with a stiffer fine. A third offense? Permanent banishment and a major hit to the bank account. Oh, and let’s convince the International Boxing Hall of Fame to forever ban two- or three-time offenders.

LEE GROVES (author, writer and the Wizard of CompuBox): It would be easy to throw the hammer down and impose an instant and permanent ban upon hearing the accusation because it is true that boxing is a tough enough sport without throwing chemically enhanced fighters (and chemically enhanced punches) into the mix. The effects of PEDs, particularly in boxing, are deadlier than in most other sports because there are bodies, brains and long-term quality of life issues involved. Therefore, PED cases must be dealt with severely when confirmed, not only as a punishment for the offenders but also to act as a deterrent for those thinking about juicing. Because a PED conviction can stain a fighter’s reputation — and money-making ability — for the rest of his life, accusations should be approached with the utmost care and due process should be exercised, which I believe it is.

If a fighter is exonerated, that exoneration should be trumpeted as loudly and as widely as the original accusation so that the damage can be reversed as much as possible. After all, fair is fair. With the current scheduling protocol between fights — superstars fight only twice a year if that — the penalty should also be long enough to inflict deep pain. I believe the minimum penalty for a first offense should be two years, and I wouldn’t mind if it was three. A second offense should result in a lifetime ban as well as an especially punitive fine. If such athletes were to try other sports (such as MMA or kickboxing) in order to skirt around the first-offense penalty, that PED penalty should follow them and disqualify them as well. To sum up, PEDs are a real issue and while protocols should be followed, the penalties for the guilty should be severe and long-lasting.

HENRY HASCUP (historian, collector, and long-time president of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame): I’d fine and suspend them and take any relevant title away.

JEFF JOWETT (longtime boxing scribe and heir to the late Jack Obermayer as an authority on Diners): I don’t have much of an opinion. I’m not in the administrative end of the sport much. I do see one problem, though, in invalidating fight results. I don’t believe anyone can effectively determine what role a PED actually played in the outcome of a contest. Suppose the guy got knocked out? Then take the victory away from the opponent and call it NC? Or suppose the offender won! Is it right to say he won BECAUSE of the PED? A pretty devilish situation. As to what to do about it, I guess the only response would be increasing lengths of suspensions. If he’s not allowed to box, he can’t make $$$. That would seem a deterrent enough.

DR. STUART KIRSCHENBAUM (Michigan State Boxing Commissioner Emeritus and advisor to the governor on boxing issues): As a former State Boxing Commissioner and Co-Founder of The Association of Boxing Commissions, I was an early pioneer in the testing of drugs in boxers. At the onset of testing, approximately 70 per cent of those tested were positive …mostly of the street environmental culture kind of cocaine, amphetamines, cannabis, morphine, heroin. These were taken not for performance enhancement but rather recreational use. For the most part, these drugs were PNED…Performance Non-Enhancement Drugs.  However, they were illegal and in an effort to clean up the negativity of the sport, boxers were punished with suspensions and still are.  I hate to say but looking back boxers and trainers were not sophisticated to even think of any pharmacological advantage of other PEDS available as are used in other sports.

JIM LAMPLEY (IBHOF inductee and long-time anchor of HBO broadcasting team): Point one is that this is way too simplistic a question for the breadth and complexity of the subject. I could write for days. Point two is I favor the application of VADA testing in every fight in every venue in every jurisdiction in the world. But I don’t have the authority to mandate that, no one does, and we would be required to manufacture dozens more Margaret Goodman’s, and it can’t be done. Point three is even if we did that testing, all our past experience with sordid street drugs, sophisticated pharmaceutical recreation, and PEDs should be sufficient by now to establish we will NEVER significantly diminish their use, much less end it, via punishment and penalty. The drugs and their effects are too strong for that to happen. Now the most important point: For fifty years now, the development of the PED story has always wrapped itself around the suspected glamour user of the moment: Marian Jones, Mark McGwire, Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds. Never is enough attention paid to the sources of the supply, the global pipeline, the massive profit motive, and the degree to which all the inner chambers of most sports have been penetrated. The history of PEDs is mostly codified episodically, so fans look past the discussion and accept what they are watching.  It grows and grows and globally.

So, what do I do with PED users?  Give them a league of their own? Fact is, many PED users are athletes whose perceived accomplishments have earned them audiences and people are still going to want to watch them perform. But the vital question is not what to do with them, but rather what to do with the damage they do to standards of competition. As usual, the real answers lie in all the things society finds too expensive, cumbersome and time-consuming to do: childhood education, extension of morality for morality’s sake, broad-based examination of the ecosystem that produces these behaviors, the provision and promotion of real opportunities and advantages for those who do things the right way. We keep looking for the quick fix. There is no quick fix.

“The worst thing possible hasn’t happened yet.”—Jim Lampley

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RON LIPTON (world class boxing referee, former fighter, boxing historian, retired police officer): Once revealed and the report confirmed, their scheduled bout would be cancelled. A hearing would ensue and if the evidence merits it, a suspension would follow. Upon an application to return to the ring, a clean bill of health under the most reputable scrutiny would be mandated.

ADEYINKA MAKINDE (author, boxing writer and UK Barrister): It should be treated quite severely relative to other sports. It is one thing to take drugs to run faster than another human being but quite another when it gives an athlete an advantage in regard to strength and endurance when participating in a combat sport. Bearing this mind, a suggested five-year ban or even a life-time ban should not appear draconian. Admittedly, such a policy needs to be predicated on a watertight, evenly applied regime of testing. The defense of contaminated supplements is one that has plausibility but is at the same time one that is clearly rife with abuse. Also, as the recent positive test of Canelo Alvarez demonstrates, double-standards abound. The universal application of USADA-style all-year-round testing as applied in the UFC would be a step in the right direction for boxing.

PAUL MAGNO (author, writer and Mexican boxing official): I suspect that many, many people in boxing don’t want to really know who is dirty and who isn’t. If we got a real testing program going, lots of money would be lost by lots of boxing big shots. If boxing is serious about monitoring for PEDs, however, they need universal, 24-7/365 random testing and some sort of commission in place to actually uphold clear and consistent punishment for offenses. Obviously, in the here and now, PEDs cheats should face some sort of suspension and fine. But it’s all meaningless unless these dirty fighters are actually held accountable for their actions– and that’s just not the case right now. State commissions should step up and do the heavy lifting in this regard. Then again, if commission PEDs testing is spotty and useless and fighter/promoter-directed voluntary testing is less than 100% reliable, how can we really punish ANYONE? The system is broken here and, I suspect, conveniently so.

LARRY MERCHANT (legendary retired member of the HBO broadcasting team):  Prizefighting is largely about risk and reward. Whatever the reward of using PEDs — and Dr. Margaret Goodman once told me that not a single fighter she knew who tested positive had leaped forward in punching power or class — there should be heightened risk. Baseball has it about right: half a season (half a year in boxing) for the first test failure, a full season (year)  for the second, banishment for a third. Failure a second or third time, anyway, suggests a degree of knuckle-headedness that even regular knuckleheads can’t imagine. The guy needs help of another kind.

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 “ We need more guys…willing to voluntarily submit to the most rigorous drug-protocols. And those who don’t and get nailed need to find out it wasn’t worth the risk. I’m not sure boxing commissions have stepped up to that responsibility yet.”—Larry Merchant

“I mean, this is a physical sport and you can get hurt and end up dead…”Carlos Molina

ERNESTO MORALES (former boxer and boxing writer): During my involvement in the game over the years I’ve personally known a few cheats, a small few, both pros and amateurs. Some willfully have chosen to take the risk of cheating but not all. Some we’re induced/convinced or fallen victim to the exhortations of their trainers, with their managers also having FULL knowledge, to the point to where they themselves were shelling out the $$$ for this disgraceful crime. This is one side that is NEVER considered nor ever mentioned when fighters test positive. Did Margarito cheat by himself? Of course not!

Now what should be done? It all depends. If he is a champ he should be dealt with tough justice. HEAVY fines and EFFECTIVE suspensions, BOTH. He has no excuse and chances are his stain on the game has a more negative effect, first offender or not. Other offenders should also be punished with fines/suspensions or both. The examples have to be set and the lines drawn. Sadly, the trainers who are in on it will never get sanctioned. Now, most trainers do NOT condone this dirt BUT it is true that a very small few actually do. It pains me say that.

TED SARES (TSS boxing writer): Six months; 18 months; life-time ban. Three strikes and you’re out. I also agree with Paul Magno that the system is broken at the state level with too many political hacks//appointees on commissions. Also, three-time offenders should never be inducted into the IBHOF. One of my favorite quotes comes from former Bad Left Hook colleague Brent Brookhouse:  “…it’s not testing from an agency like VADA that is flawed; it’s the sport of boxing from the bottom up. It’s on the promoters and the fighters. It’s on the commissions. It’s on the networks who don’t demand better. It’s on the media, all too happy to play nice and get their generic five minute ‘exclusive interviews’ rather than rock the boat. And, it’s on fans who don’t say that they’re sick of the transparent garbage from everyone in the game.” SAD.

ICEMAN JOHN SCULLY (former world light heavyweight title challenger, trainer, commentator):  If it is proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that a person willingly took a performance-enhancing drug then I have no problem with him being banned for life. You let it be known well in advance that this is the penalty and let the chips fall where they may. Now I understand that sometimes people can take things without knowing it, so it’s a slippery slope, but if it could be proven that the person took something willingly, a lifetime ban is no problem with me

Observations and Comments:

I invited several boxers to participate and they declined. That’s understandable. If weight lifters were asked the same question, they too might not want to respond. That being said, Jim Lampley’s response was one that hit on all cylinders.

There was a consensus that boxing commissions were remiss by not stepping up to the plate. Some (me included) suggested the system is broken. Also, there was a consensus that the penalties should be stiff as the distinction between boxing and other sports was made clear.

In the end, just about every abuser has a lame excuse—contaminated meat is the go-to excuse these days– and just about every abuser returns to fight another day. But clearly, the cumulative evidence of PED use has become troubling.

Ted Sares is one of the oldest full power lifters (and Strongman competitors) in the world and is a four-time winner of the EPF’s Grand Master championship. He also is a member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Gay Talese, an Icon of the ‘New Journalism,’ Wrote Extensively About Boxing

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Rejected by every college and university he applied to except one, Gay Talese is one of the most celebrated and decorated American writers over the last seven decades.

Beginning at Ocean City High in New Jersey where he wrote for the student newspaper and later the Ocean City Sentinel-Ledger, Talese, 92, went to the University of Alabama where he worked on the student newspaper, the Crimson White, and after a stint in the Army, wrote for The New York Times, Esquire, The New Yorker and numerous magazines.

Not wasting time, Talese has published more than a dozen books, including “The Kingdom And The Power” (1969), “Honor Thy Father,” (1971), “Thy Neighbor’s Wife” (1980), “Unto The Sons,” (1992) and “A Writer’s Life,” (2006).

Talese, who earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism, wrote what many consider the finest magazine profile ever published, his magnum opus for the April 1966 issue of Esquire, titled “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold,” which the magazine proclaimed its greatest feature during the magazine’s 70th anniversary.

In July 1966 and for the same publication, Talese wrote another classic, “The Silent Season Of A Hero,” about New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio in retirement.

Talese’s interests are many and so are his subjects, including profiles of three boxing luminaries, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Floyd Patterson.

To say Talese writes with a light touch and a careful eye to detail is an understatement and his penchant for listening and simply hanging around have served him well and brought his subjects to life in what became known as New Journalism. (Practitioners of the New Journalism adapted the writing techniques of the novel to non-fiction storytelling, often immersing themselves in the narrative. Famous writers identified with the genre include Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, and Talese.)

In one of Talese’s most enduring boxing features, he shined the light on Ali. It ran in the September 1996 issue of Esquire, slightly less than two decades before Ali’s passing in June 2016 at age 74.

The title is “Ali In Havana,” and it captured the essence and luminosity of the three-time heavyweight champion after the lights dimmed.

This section by Talese comes early in the piece: “Although Muhammad Ali is now fifty-four and has been retired from boxing for more than fifteen years, he is still one of the most famous men in the world, being identifiable throughout five continents. As he walks through the lobby of the Hotel Nacional toward the bus, wearing a gray sharkskin suit and a white cotton shirt buttoned at the neck without a tie, several guests approach him and request his autograph. It takes him about thirty seconds to write ‘Muhammad Ali,’ so shaky are his hands from the effects of Parkinson’s syndrome; and though he walks without support, his movements are quite slow, and Howard Bingham and Ali’s fourth wife, Yolanda, are following nearby.”

Talese adds a short while later: “On the bus, as always, Ali is sitting alone, spread out across the two front seats in the left aisle directly behind the Cuban driver. Yolanda sits a few feet ahead of him to the right; she is adjacent to the driver and within inches of the windshield. The seats behind her are occupied by Teofilo Stevenson, Fraymari [Stevenson’s wife], and the photographer Bingham. Seated behind Ali, and also occupying two seats, is an American screenwriter named Greg Howard, who weighs more than 300 pounds. Although he has traveled with Ali for only a few months while researching a film on the fighter’s life, Greg Howard has firmly established himself as an intimate sidekick, and as such is among the very few on the trip who have heard Ali’s voice. Ali speaks so softly that it is impossible to hear him in a crowd, and as a result whatever public comments or sentiments he is expected to, or chooses to, express are verbalized by Yolanda, or Bingham, or Teofilo Stevenson, or even at times by this stout young screenwriter.”

Talese slides this nugget into the feature:

“Stevenson did not actually explain that it had been merely another photo opportunity, one in which they sparred open-handed in the ring, wearing their street clothes and barely touching each other’s bodies and faces; but then Stevenson had climbed out of the ring, leaving Ali to the more taxing test of withstanding two abbreviated rounds against one and then another young bully of grade-school age who clearly had not come to participate in a kiddie show. They had come to floor the champ. Their bellicose little bodies and hot-gloved hands and helmeted hell-bent heads were consumed with fury and ambition; and as they charged ahead, swinging wildly and swaggering to the roars of their teenaged friends and relatives at ringside, one could imagine their future boastings to their grandchildren: On one fine day back in the winter of ’96, I whacked Muhammad Ali. Except, in truth, on this particular day, Ali was still too fast for them. He backpedaled and shifted and swayed, stood on the toes of his black woven-leather pointed shoes, and showed that his body was made for motion – his Parkinson’s problems were lost in his shuffle, in the thrusts of his butterfly sting what whistled two feet above the heads of his aspiring assailants, in the dazzling dips of his rope-a-dope that had confounded George Foreman in Zaire, in his ever-memorable style, which in this Cuban gym moistened the eyes of his ever-observant photographer friend and provided the overweight screenwriter to cry out in a voice that few in this noisy Spanish crowd could understand, ‘Ali’s on a high! Ali’s on a high!’ ”

Talese penned a touching and poignant portrait of Louis, the “Brown Bomber” in the June 1962 issue of Esquire. The title is “Joe Louis: The King As A Middle-Aged Man.”

Early in the profile, Talese wrote this of the beloved former champion: “Though his tax difficulties have eradicated all his assets – including two trust funds he had set up for his children – Joe Louis is still a man of great pride. He refused the money that hundreds of citizens sent him to help with his government debt, although he still owes the government thousands and could have used the cash. Last year Joe Louis earned less than $10,000, most of it from refereeing wrestling matches (he earns between $750 to $1,000 a night), and from endorsements or appearances. The last big money he made was the $100,000-a-year guarantee he got in 1956 for wrestling. He won all his matches – except those in which he was disqualified for using his fists – but his career ended not long afterward when the 300-pound cowboy Rocky Lee accidentally stepped on Louis’s chest one night, cracked one of his ribs, and damaged some of his heart muscles.”

A little later in the feature, Talese penned this: “And on and on it went, as Louis walked down Broadway: Cab drivers waved at him, bus drivers honked at him, and dozens of men stopped him and recalled how they once traveled 130 miles to get to one of his fights, and how they’d put their heads down to light a cigarette in the first round, then before they could look up, Louis had flattened his opponent and they had missed everything: or how they’d had guests at the house that night to hear the fight, and while they were struggling in the kitchen to get the ice out, somebody came in from the living room and said, ‘It’s all over! Louis knocked ‘im out with the first punch.’ “

In the March 1964 issue of Esquire, Talese, who wrote thirty-seven stories on Patterson, the onetime youngest heavyweight king, authored a gem titled, “The Loser.”

Midway through the feature, Talese wrote, “One hour later Floyd Patterson was jogging his way back down the dirt path toward the white house, the towel over his head absorbing the sweat from his brow. He lives alone in a two-room apartment in the rear of the house and has remained there in almost complete seclusion since getting knocked out a second time by Sonny Liston.

In the smaller room is a large bed he makes up himself, several record albums he rarely plays, a telephone that seldom rings. The larger room has a kitchen on one side and, on the other, adjacent to a sofa, is a fireplace from which are hung boxing trunks and T-shirts to dry, and a photograph of him when he was the champion, and also a television set. The set is usually on except when Patterson is sleeping, or when he is sparring across the road inside the clubhouse (the ring is rigged over what was once the dance floor), or when, in a rare moment of painful honesty, he reveals to a visitor what it is like to be a loser.”

A short while later, Talese adds: “Now, walking slowly around the room, his black silk robe over his sweat clothes, Patterson said, ‘You must wonder what makes a man do things like this. Well, I wonder too. And the answer is, I don’t know … but I think that within me, within every human being, there is a certain weakness. It is a weakness that exposes itself more when you’re alone. And I have figured out that part of the reason I do the things I do, and cannot seem to conquer that one word – myself – is because … is because … I am a coward.’ He stopped. He stood very still in the middle of the room, thinking about what he had just said, probably wondering whether he should have said it.”

In all three features, Talese steers clear of mythologizing and allows the reader to decide the merit and quality of each man.

They were all supremely gifted in the ring, but each had their foibles and flaws outside the squared circle. That is, they, like everyone, were merely human.

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Zhilei Zhang and Deontay Wilder Meet at the Final Crossroads

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Six feet six inches and 290lbs are our favourite statistics when it comes to Big Bang Zhang, out of Zhoukou, China. Here are two more: he’s forty-one years old and he has lost two of his last four, including a woeful shortfall against a rejuvenated Joseph Parker in the Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, in March.

Kingdom Arena, Riyadh is the site too of his next fight this weekend against Deontay Wilder as a major part of the Five vs Five card Matchroom and Queensberry promotions have developed. Our favourite Wilder stat: forty-three wins, forty-two knockouts. More pertinent though are his record for the 2020s, which stands at 1-3, and his thirty-eight years of age.

This is not just a crossroads fight; it is the place where someone finds out they’re no longer on the list to receive the riches of Riyadh – when someone finds out their time on the island of relevancy is over. It is impossible to imagine Wilder remaining a part of the title picture after posting his fourth loss in five matches in his thirty-eighth year; it is impossible, too, to imagine Zhang remaining a problem anyone on the world scene needs if he loses his third fight in five with his forty-second birthday in sight. For someone, the dance will be over this Saturday night – but who?

In trying to determine what Deontay Wilder has left, the most important statistic of all is 12-0. That was what my scorecard read after the twelve humiliating rounds Wilder posted against Joseph Parker last December. Wilder entered the ring dry and tight, and I expected him to move into the contest as he warmed up and loosened up, but the pattern of the fight did not change. A word here for Parker, a gentleman despite the questionable friendships he keeps: his boxing was excellent. Asked about Wilder’s performance afterwards he said that he felt that “inactivity has played a part” but that “sticking to the plan Andy Lee laid out” got him there. All of this sounds right to me. Parker was extremely disciplined and it was exactly what was required. He feinted Wilder with his left and sought the right hand, arraying himself against his foe’s greatest weakness, his balance. An ill-balanced fighter, Wilder was kept under disorganised control by a sparse but disciplined offence.

With that important point out of the way, we need to return to Wilder’s absolute inability to change the pattern of the fight. I do not think he won a single minute of a single round, he was as conclusively beaten by Parker as it is possible for a fighter to be on points, although it should be noted that two judges were generous enough to find two rounds for him (the third saw it as I did). Competence was the word that most expresses what undid him – competence in footwork, diligence in offence.  Wilder looked, at times, a novice before Parker’s double-jab, travelling all the way to the ropes to escape a much shorter punch. His own jab, of course, was compromised by his gunslinger’s stance. Wilder often throws the punch from low down, lengthening the time the punch is in the air, shortening the required reaction time of the opponent. Parker was unamused by this punch, parrying it off his gloves or slipping outside the range – Wilder found himself falling over his front foot when what he wanted was to be on his back foot and the panic a miss could induce in him was apparent by the fourth, impeding his organisation still further. Wilder spent so much time leaning away, shuffling back, his offence was banished.

Allowing that the best answer is “a little of both” we must ask whether this was something that Parker did to Wilder or something that Wilder did to himself – or worse, is this who Wilder is now?

Wilder’s excuses for his awful performance against Parker were varied; some days it was the long flight to Riyadh; sometimes it was the improper use of a cryo-chamber. These are far from the strangest excuses that Wilder has produced for a loss, as Sweet Science readers well know. His more recent public musings have seemed even more cryptic, including an apparent obsession with his own death, not always entirely negative in the sense that he is curious about the afterlife, but still an interesting train of thought for an elite athlete. Through the gaps in the stream of consciousness though comes the things we want to hear. “The flame, the fire, has been relit inside of me. I fell out of love with boxing but I’m in love with it again…I went back to being a student of the game.”

More, Wilder always lost rounds – against the last southpaw opponent he met, Luis Ortiz, he lost almost every round he did not score a knockdown in, but this lack of ring generalship is counterbalanced by his overwhelming power. He never landed that shot on Parker because Parker, with the help of coach Andy Lee, decoded him.  Wilder has clearly slipped, but it may be his general lack of form and balance, though savagely exposed on this occasion, means he is still a good chunk of what he used to be – and just because Parker decoded him, doesn’t mean Zhang can.

Zhang looked lethal decoding his own Waterloo in smashing Joe Joyce to pieces twice. Slow-moving, big punching, and apparently lacking all survival instincts against a big-hitting southpaw, Joyce was perfect for Zhang, but the Chinese looked wonderful getting the big Brit out of there. Zhang, too, was badly exposed against Joseph Parker, but their fight was not nearly so one-sided. In fact, Zhang swept Parker in the early rounds, culminating in a third-round knockdown that put him firmly in charge of the fight. Zhang’s enormity was a part of the equation. He forced Parker out of ring centre (which Parker dominated against Wilder) simply by existing. Zhang two-stepped to the outside to land single shots while Parker struggled a bit with his backfoot range. Andy Lee noticed this and his advice to Parker after round two, felt, at the time, inadequate but he was quite correct: “He’s gonna slow, and slow, and slow.”

A Scene from Zhang vs Parker

A Scene-from-Zhang-vs-Parker

What Lee recognised was Zhang’s stamina issue would be the definitive factor in the fight, in combination, of course, with Parker’s own excellent engine. The later the fight goes, the more Zhang feels those 270-290lbs. The disaster that was the second half of his fight against Jermaine Franklin victim Jerry Forrest is most illustrative of this. I thought Zhang was lucky to get away with a draw in that fight and he dropped every one of the final five rounds for me. Stories abound that Zhang’s kidneys went into failure in that fight, some claim, and one that has never been verified. Big Bang now apparently consumes two gallons of water every day. How then, to explain his second half collapse against Filip Hrgovic?  Zhang did well through the early part of that fight but dropped a razor-thin decision after losing five of the final six on my card. Parker, though, seems the final proof of Zhang’s greatest weakness – dropped in the third, Parker came over his front foot in the fourth, showed head movement, and suddenly had a tiring Zhang circling. Brave, committed, Parker is all of that and Zhang did not like it in the late parts of the fight. He won eighth with another bomb, but apart from that he won not a single round on my card post the third. Zhang is a molasses in elite terms in the championship rounds. He seems to have no strategy to win rounds late against world-class opposition; rather he plods, and waits for the 180 seconds to pass, relying upon his size and chin to keep him out of serious trouble.

What a wonderful mesh this produces for the massive confrontation between Zhang and Wilder this Saturday night. Early, Zhang’s naturalised pressure will make a reluctant Wilder uncertain about throwing as Zhang does his best work. As the rounds grind by, Zhang will start to blow and the opportunity for Wilder to take over will present itself. Here, we will really find out what it is that Wilder has left. A handful of punches is enough to win rounds against Zhang in the second half of the fight, and I mean that literally. But Wilder threw fewer than fifteen punches per round in five of the twelve rounds he boxed against Parker, an incredible absence of activity – and he lands a low percentage anyway much of the time. He was essentially in hiding against Parker – Zhang hits harder and is more menacing generally. Does Wilder really have “the fire” back in his belly, and has he really fallen in love with boxing once again? If so, still the division’s best puncher, he will have no problems landing late on ranked heavyweight boxing’s juiciest target. If not, we could witness some of the dullest rounds boxing can deliver, a gun-shy former predator doing his best to avoid contact with a blown forty-one year old.

In boxing though, the round is always scored to someone. The prediction here is difficult because it is about how the two fighter’s malfunctions will intertwine, not their strengths. The bookies, rarely wrong, have made Zhang the favourite and that makes the most sense – his performance against Parker was less abhorrent than Wilder’s. But were Zhang’s struggles perhaps more fundamental? I think that even the Wilder we saw against Parker would have got moving against the iceberg that is late-fight Zhang and he still carries bazookas. It is not lost on me that Wilder’s busiest rounds against Parker were late in the fight when he came alive to the disaster that was unfolding. Wilder still has enough pride to be desperate whereas Zhang will find himself too exhausted for his desperation to matter.

Untidy, ugly, wildly entertaining rounds may be the fight fan’s reward for sticking with the turgid middle part of this crossroads combat.

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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

The Gervais Auto Center in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada, roughly 100 miles south of Montreal, hosted tonight’s card on ESPN+, a co-promotion of Camille Estephan’s Eye of the Tiger Promotions and Bob Arum’s Top Rank. Arum wasn’t there; he was in Leeds, England, but the outcome would have mitigated his aggravation at seeing his fighter Josh Taylor fall short earlier in the day.

Super middleweight Christian Mbilli, of whom Arum owns a piece, needed only 40 seconds to conquer British import Mark Heffron who, on paper, was a very credible opponent. Mbilli backed Heffron into the ropes and collapsed him with a left hook that landed under his rib cage. Heffron, 30-3-1 heading in with 24 KOs, went down on all fours and was counted out. The contest was over almost before it began.

The Cameroon-born Mbilli, a 2016 Olympian for France who turned pro in Montreal, is ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA; #3 by the IBF and WBO. With the victory, he advanced his record to 27-0 (23 KOs). His next fight will reportedly come in August with rugged but battle-blistered Sergiy Derevyanchenko in the opposite corner. Mbilli has been chasing a fight with Canelo Alvarez, but has scant chance of landing it. At this juncture of his career, the red-headed Mexican undoubtedly wants less daunting assignments.

Co-Feature

Arslanbek Makhmudov, the Russian Lion, rebounded from his poor performance against Agit Kabayel with a second-round stoppage of sacrificial lamb Milan Rovcanin. Makhmudov (19-1, 18 KOs) knocked Rovcanin to the canvas with an overhand right in the opening round. The punch knocked Rovcanin sideways, his head resting on the ring apron. To Rovcanin’s credit, he beat the count and launched a futile offensive after he arose. A similar punch ended the brief bout at the 2:32 mark of the next frame.

Makhmudov is certainly heavy-handed, but he moves at a glacial pace and would be up-against-it against a world-class opponent with faster hands and better footwork. Rovcanin, who had  been feasting on fourth-raters in his native Serbia, declined to 27-4.

Other Bouts of Note

In a bout contested at the catch-weight of 178 pounds, Montreal-based Mehmet Unal, a 31-year-old former Olympian for Turkey, scored the best win of his career with a fourth-round stoppage of 34-year-old Laredo, Texas campaigner Rodolfo Gomez.

Gomez, routinely matched tough and better than his record (14-7-3 heading in), protested loudly when the referee waived it off, but his corner stood poised to throw in the towel. He hadn’t previously been stopped, let alone knocked off his feet. Unal improved to 10-0 (8 KOs).

Super middleweight Mereno Fendero, a 24-year old French Army veteran, improved to 6-0 (4) with a six-round decision over 38-year-old Argentine journeyman Rolando Mansilla (19-15-1). Fendero won every round on all three cards including a 10-8 round on one of the cards although there were no knockdowns. Although badly out-classed, the teak-tough Mansilla, a glutton for punishment, earned his pay.

Local prospect Alexandre Gaumont, a middleweight, improved to 11-0 (7) with an unpopular 8-round split decision over Argentina’s Santiago Fernandez (8-1-1). Two of the judges gave Gaumont six rounds, ridiculed as home town bias, with the other awarding five rounds to the Argentine who received a loud ovation as he left the ring.

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