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Three Punch Combo: Digging Deeper Into the Alvarez-Kovalev Upset and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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studying economics

THREE PUNCH COMBO — My background is in economics. When studying economics, we often look to the past to attempt to predict future outcomes. For example, when the last recession occurred we compile what the data said prior to the start of that recession and look for future similarities to predict when the economy may be headed toward another downturn. This is all done after the fact with the goal being to use what we learned to hopefully better predict and maybe even prevent future economic downturns.

Well those principles of economics can also be used in boxing. Specifically, when upsets occur there are often mitigating factors. Such is the case when explaining why Eleider Alvarez was able to pull off a pretty shocking upset last week when he stopped Sergey Kovalev in round seven of their light heavyweight title fight.

Looking back at the resume of Alvarez leading into the fight, one can see that he was prepared for the moment. Some of this preparedness was by accident (more on this in a moment) and some by design. But regardless, Alvarez was more than ready for his moment under the bright lights.

Many resumes of fighters that are climbing the ladder contain soft opposition meant to pad their record. These fights do nothing in terms of developing the fighter. Yes, Alvarez does have some of these type opponents on his resume. But by and large he fine-tuned his craft by facing quality opponents.

In his ninth professional fight, Alvarez faced 23-1-1 Shawn Hawk in a fight scheduled for twelve rounds. Alvarez, who had not been past the sixth round as a pro, won a decision going the full twelve at this very early stage in his career. A year later, Alvarez faced the always tough Edison Miranda and defeated Miranda by decision.

More quality opponents followed and Alvarez kept grinding out wins. Then in November of 2015, Alvarez faced tricky veteran Isaac Chilemba. Alvarez found Chilemba a tough foe but in the end prevailed via a twelve round majority decision. Though not his best performance, this fight proved to be a great learning experience. The win also put Alvarez in position as the mandatory challenger for WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson.

Despite Alvarez’s mandatory status, Stevenson was able to slip out of ever getting in the ring with him. Instead, Alvarez received a few bucks for agreeing to not pursue the mandatory and had a few other fights to help build him toward something bigger. He faced and defeated former world champions Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal during this time frame. These valuable experiences sort of happened by accident due to the Stevenson situation but further prepared Alvarez for that moment when the big name would finally get in the ring with him.

That big name, of course, was Kovalev and we know what happened. Alvarez was more than prepared for this moment due to not being spoon-fed weak opponents in the first 23 fights of his career. He faced all different types of fighters and styles. He did not always look great but always learned and grew as a fighter. In looking backward, as I often do when studying the economy, the reasons for Alvarez winning now seem very apparent. It’s a lesson from which others can learn.

USA Tuesday Night Fights

This August marks the 20th anniversary of the final airing of the long running weekly boxing series on USA Network titled USA Tuesday Night Fights. The series ran for nearly 16 years and was really boxing’s last consistent weekly television series (as a note, ESPN’s Friday Night Fights Series often went dormant from September to December due to college football).

The series helped develop some of boxing’s biggest stars of the 80’s and 90’s as well as provide many memorable moments. The welterweight contest between Derrell Coley (29-1-2, 21 KO’s) and Kip Diggs (27-2, 19 KO’s) in March of 1997 produced my personal favorite memory from the series.

Derrell Coley vs. Kip Diggs:    03/25/1997

This fight, slated for twelve rounds for the vacant NABF welterweight belt, was a shoot-out from the opening bell. In the first couple of rounds, Coley and Diggs exchanged big shots with each hurting the other on a few occasions. Diggs dropped Coley in the third round with a right down the middle followed by a left hook. Coley had to be helped to his corner at the end of the round but came back firing in the fourth, wobbling Diggs. But Diggs would quickly respond, putting Coley down in round five and then again in round seven with a left hook that put Coley flat on his back.

Coley appeared ready to go in round eight but somehow managed to stage a rally to get back in the fight. The two exchanged big shots again in rounds nine and ten with momentum swinging back and forth.

Toward the end of round ten, a blistering uppercut from Coley put Diggs on the canvas. Diggs was visibly hurt but made it to his feet and to the bell. Coley jumped on Diggs immediately to open round eleven and an overhand right followed by another flush right sent Diggs sprawling to the canvas. Diggs was out and referee Marty Denkin wisely waived an end to the contest.

It was a dramatic win for Coley in a fight that seemingly flipped back and forth in momentum on dozens of occasions. It is a forgotten classic and in my opinion the best fight from the 16-year run of the Tuesday Night Fight series on the old USA network.

Under The Radar Fight

For those of us in the United States that still have time left on their KlowdTV subscription from the Usyk-Gassiev event last month, there will be another international card available on that platform this coming Sunday. This card takes place in Russia and is headlined by a 130-pound contest between Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (12-0, 9 KO’s) and Robinson Castellanos (24-13, 14 KO’s).

Rakhimov, 23, is an aggressive southpaw who likes to work behind the right jab and use that punch to close the distance on his opposition. Once inside, Rakhimov is a very good body puncher and he will look to work both sides of his opponent’s ribcage. From the video I have seen, his best punch is the straight left though he can be described as more of a heavy handed type fighter than a one punch knockout type guy. Though he usually carries a high guard, Rakhimov has shown some defensive vulnerability.

Castellanos may have the most deceiving record in boxing. At first glance, he appears to be a journeyman type opponent brought in to pad Rakhimov’s record. But Castellanos is no journeyman. He has scored his share of upsets in recent years including handing Ronny Rios his first defeat and stunning one time Cuban amateur star Yuriorkis Gamboa.

Castellanos is a tricky guy to fight as he will throw lots of punches and from all sorts of angles. He will jump in and out, giving opponents all sorts of different looks. He has perfected his awkward style in recent years and given plenty of world class opponents plenty of fits.

I see this fight as an absolute toss-up. Rakhimov is going to see plenty of openings with Castellanos and with his aggressive nature will probably be more than willing to open up. But that may play right into the hands of his Mexican opponent. Castellanos has a good overhand right and I think he lands the punch with frequency. These two are going to land often on each other and I think we are going to get a nice competitive scrap.

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South African Trailblazer Peter Mathebula Dead at Age 67

Arne K. Lang

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Peter Mathebula wasn’t a great fighter. He suffered nine losses during his 45-bout career. He was stopped five times. But Mathebula, who died yesterday (Jan. 18) at age 67, was a historically important fighter. He was the first black South African to win a world title. He was the first South African boxer of any color to win a world title on foreign soil. His predecessors, bantamweights Vic Toweel and Arnold Taylor, won their titles in Johannesburg. Mathebula won his in Los Angeles.

Mathebula took the WBA flyweight title on a split decision from Korea’s Tae-Shik Kim on Dec. 12, 1980 at LA’s Olympic Auditorium. The fight was originally headed to Seoul but Mathebula was denied a visa.

In those days, South Korea barred tourists from South Africa as a protest against that country’s policy of apartheid. Mathebula was a victim of apartheid, but that made no difference as the ban was a blanket ban, covering all South Africans, regardless of color.

Olympic Auditorium matchmaker Don Fraser acquired the orphanded fight. Southern California had a large Korean population and Fraser thought the fight would go over big with this demographic.

The fabled Olympic Auditorium was noted for raucous SRO crowds. But not on this particular night. The crowd was overwhelmingly Korean-American, but there weren’t more than 3,000 in attendance. Kim vs. Mathebula didn’t resonate with the Olympic Auditorium regulars.

The fight was very close but most thought the decision was fair. The Korean started fast, wrote LA Times ringside reporter Mark Heisler, but Mathebula fought his way back into the fight in the middle rounds and won the 14th and 15th stanzas on his card, sufficient he thought to secure the win.

The victory made Mathebula a big star in South Africa. His purse for the fight with Tae-Shik Kim was only $7,500 (approximately $23,500 in today’s dollars) but he made up for it in endorsements. He appeared in ads for automobiles, Old Buck Gin, Bostonian shoes and a line of splashy clothes according to Joseph Lelyveld, the New York Times man on the scene.

Mathebula’s celebrityhood crossed racial lines. Newspapers that took little cognizance of goings-on in the black community showered Mathebula with a copious amount of ink. When he defended his title against Argentina’s Santos Laciar, it was front page news in white and black newspapers.

Mathebula opposed Laciar a mere 13 weeks after winning his title in Los Angeles. The match was held in Soweto’s Orlando Stadium, a facility built to house the Pirates, Soweto’s all-black soccer team. Three years earlier, South Africa had legalized interracial sporting events but few whites dared venture into Soweto which was ground zero for anti-apartheid demonstrations.

Despite the great esteem in which Mathebula was held, the fight wasn’t a sellout. A local black nationalist organization launched a campaign to boycott the fight on the grounds that the government, which paid to set up Mathebula in a fancy hotel and paid for his motorcades, was using international mixed-race sporting events as a propaganda tool, an early illustration of what has come to be called “sportswashing.”

Peter Mathebula couldn’t catch a break and that may have impacted his performance against the Argentine. It was woeful. Laciar knocked him down in the fifth and then bull-rushed him out of the ring (the ref called it a push) and the bout was stopped in the eighth with Mathebula complaining that his vision was compromised.

Before the year was out, Mathebula lost twice more. Fighting on hostile turf in Venezuela, he was stopped twice by Betulio Gonzalez, first in the 10th and then in the sixth. A three-time world title-holder, Gonzalez had a great career but he was approaching his 32nd birthday, old for a flyweight, and his best days were behind him.

In the span of less than 10 full months, Peter Mathebula went from the penthouse to the proverbial outhouse, but with the passage of time his people remembered his historic achievement in Los Angeles and pretty much forgot the slew of disappointments that quickly followed. The word “legend” suffuses reports of his death in South African papers.

Mathebula reportedly had multiple health issues and spent the last three weeks of his life in Leratong Hospital in the province of Gauteng, not far from the all-black township where he was born. May he rest in rest in peace.

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Ringside in Verona: Alvarez Capsizes Seals Plus Undercard Results

Matt Andrzejewski

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VERONA, NY — The main event of an ESPN televised card at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY between light heavyweight contenders Eleider Alvarez (25-1, 13 KO’s) and Michael Seals (24-3, 18 KO’s) started with a whimper but ended with a bang. After six-plus rounds of lackadaisical action, Alvarez scored a stunning sensational one punch knockout just before the end of the seventh round of their scheduled ten round fight.

The first three rounds saw more clinches than punches landed. Seals seemed to be looking to land one perfect punch and in doing so barely unleashed any punches. Alvarez, for his part, was not very active in these rounds but certainly moved his hands more and landed more than Seals.

In round four, Seals came out much more aggressive and had his best round of the fight. But in the fifth, Seals went back to looking for that one punch and Alvarez took back control of the action. Toward the end of the round, Alvarez staggered Seals with a right hand.

Alvarez continued to be in control of the fight in rounds six and seven by simply moving his hands more. And then towards the end of round seven, Alvarez connected with a picture perfect overhand right that sent Seals crashing to the canvas. Referee Danny Schiavone did not reach a full 10-count before waiving the fight off.

For Alvarez, this was a big bounce-back win after his loss to Sergey Kovalev in their light heavyweight title rematch last February. With the light heavyweight division flush with talent, it seems Alvarez is in prime position to get a big opportunity his next time out.

In the co-feature, lightweight contender Felix Verdejo (26-1, 16 KO’s) put on a workmanlike effort in winning a wide ten round unanimous decision against Manuel Rey Rojas (18-4, 5 KO’s). While Verdejo was in complete control of the contest from the opening bell, the performance certainly lacked sizzle and may raise even more questions on the potential of the once can’t-miss prospect.

Verdejo utilized a very patient approach throughout the night working behind the left jab. While the jab was effective, Verdejo only occasionally looked to unleash power punches behind that jab. Reyes, for his part, played mostly defense keeping a very tight guard and looking to selectively counter Verdejo’s jab.

Verdejo’s defense, which had been criticized in the past, looked better but still showed some leaks. In the fifth round, Reyes landed a sharp right hand flush on the jaw of Verdejo that seemed to momentarily get Verdejo’s attention. And in the ninth, Reyes landed a hard right that snapped Verdejo’s head back. If Reyes could punch harder, either of those two rights may have altered the course of the fight.

But aside from those brief moments from Reyes, Verdejo dictated all the action. He easily out-worked and out-landed the mostly defensive minded Reyes. In the end it is a win for Verdejo and he can proceed forward towards what he hopes will be an eventual title shot in the lightweight division.

In a bizarre heavyweight fight between two former 2004 Olympians, Devin Vargas (22-6, 9 KO’s) was awarded a disqualification victory in the eighth and final round against Victor Bisbal (23-5, 17 KO’s). Bisbal scored a knockdown in round two with a left hook but was deducted two points in round four for various infractions.  Aside from the knockdown round, Vargas seemed to out-hustle and out-land Bisbal. Ahead on all three scorecards (67-63 twice and 66 -64) entering the final round, Vargas absorbed a low blow from Bisbal. At this point, referee Michael Ortega decided to disqualify Bisbal.

Abraham Nova (18-0, 14 KO’s) scored a one-sided fourth-round TKO of tough veteran Pedro Navarette (30-25-3, 19 KO’s) in a lightweight contest that was scheduled for eight rounds. Nova scored knockdowns in rounds two, three and four before the fight was waived off.

Knockout out artist Jonathan Guzman (24-1, 23 KO’s) rose from the canvas to score a fourth-round knockout of Rodolfo Hernandez (30-10-1, 28 KO’s) in a 122-pound slugfest. The heavily favored Guzman scored two knockdowns with body shots in the opening stanza and appeared on his way to an easy win. But Hernandez flipped the script in round three with a hard right hand just before the bell sounded that put Guzman on the canvas and nearly out. The two went toe to toe in the fourth when a vicious left hook to the body from Guzman put Hernandez down and this time out for good.

In a battle of former world title challengers, Freddie Roach trained Christopher Diaz (25-2, 16 KO’s) scored a wide eight round unanimous against Adeilson Dos Santos (19-8, 15 KO’s) in a featherweight contest. Diaz dominated the fight from the opening bell and hurt Dos Santos on a few occasions but ultimately had to settle for the decision victory.

The opening fight of the night saw heavyweight prospect Jared Anderson (3-0, 3 KO’s) easily dispatch Andrew Satterfield (5-4, 3 KO’s) in the first round of their scheduled four round fight. Anderson scored two knockdowns in what was a dominant performance.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Fast Results from Philadelphia: Rosario TKOs ‘J-Rock’ in a Shocker

Arne K. Lang

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Born and bred in Philadelphia, Julian “J-Rock” Williams had fought only twice in his hometown prior to this evening, most recently back in 2011 when he was still a 6-round fighter. Tonight he topped the marquee, defending his WBA/IBF super welterweight titles at the 10,000-seat Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University.

A successful homecoming for Williams, who was making the first defense of the titles he won last May with a hard but well-deserved unanimous decision over Jarrett Hurd, seemed like a foregone conclusion, but in a shocker Jeison Rosario of the Dominican Republic spoiled the soup, taking away Williams’ titles with a fifth round stoppage.

It was a mammoth upset.

In round two, Rosario (20-1-1, 14 KOs) caught Williams with a punch that left a cut over his left eyelid. In the fifth, the challenger, ahead on the scorecards after a slow start, stunned “J-Rock” with a volley of punches starting with a hard right hand and then, after Williams lost his balance, followed up with several hard punches, notably a wicked uppercut that left Williams (27-2-1) all at sea. The stoppage by referee Benjy Estevez met with the disapproval of the pro-Williams crowd, but it was clearly the right call. The official time was 1:17 of round five.

After the fight, Williams indicated that there was a rematch clause in the contract that he intends to activate.

Co-Feature

In a fight billed for the WBA interim super featherweight title, Brooklyn’s Chris Colbert (14-0, 5 KOs) stepped up in class and won a clear-cut 12-round decision over Panamanian southpaw Jezreel Corrales (23-4), a former WBA 130-pound title-holder. The cat-quick Colbert, 23, scored the bout’s lone knockdown, sending Corrales to the canvas in the 10th round with a short overhand right. The scores were 116-111 and 117-110 twice.

Kiddie Corps

In a humdrum fight slated for six rounds, 19-year-old super welterweight Joey Spencer (who is rapidly out-growing the division), won every round against Erik Spring, a 35-year-old champion kickboxer from Reading, PA. Spencer, whose style and body type has drawn comparisons to a young Canelo Alvarez, didn’t fight with his usual aggression, but advanced his record to 10-0. A southpaw, Spring (13-4-2) brought little to the table but maintained his distinction of having never been stopped.

In a four-round welterweight match, 17-year-old high school senior Vito “White Magic” Mielnicki Jr advanced to 4-0 but was extended the distance for the first time by overmatched but brave Preston Wilson (6-4-1), a boxer from Parkersburg, W. Va. In his first three pro fights, Mielnicki had answered the bell for only four rounds.

Also

In a super welterweight contest slated for 10 rounds, Mexican veteran Jorge Cota (30-4, 17 KOs) had too much firepower for Thomas “Cornflake” LaManna. There were no knockdowns, but LaManna ate a lot of leather before the referee intervened at 1:22 of the fifth. The crowd thought the stoppage was premature, but it met with the approval of LaManna’s cornermen.

In an all-Philadelphia affair between super welterweights, Paul Kroll (7-0, 6 KOs) scored a fourth-round stoppage of Marcel Rivers. (7-3). Kroll knocked Rivers down in the third and twice more in the fourth, but Rivers was on his feet when the referee thought it prudent to call it off. Kroll, 25, made the 2016 U.S. Olympic team but was eliminated at an international qualifying tournament and the U.S. competed in Rio without a representative in his weight class.

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Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp / TGB Promotions

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