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One Punch Meant World of Difference to Pazienza, Rosenblatt

There are very few things on which Vinny Paz, who used to be known as Vinny Pazienza until he had his last name legally changed some years back

Bernard Fernandez

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Pazienza

There are very few things on which Vinny Paz, who used to be known as Vinny Pazienza until he had his last name legally changed some years back, and Dana Rosenblatt are apt to agree. Perhaps the only common ground to which the polar-opposite former archrivals from New England are willing to admit is this: both of their lives irreversibly changed the night of Aug. 23, 1996, in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, with the landing of a single punch in  the fourth round of the first of their two bouts.

That punch, a looping overhand right launched by a bleeding, vision-impaired Paz (as he will be referred to for the remainder of this look-back story), landed flush on Rosenblatt’s jaw, drastically altering a crossroads fight that Rosenblatt was winning easily to that point. Although Rosenblatt, the younger (24 years of age to Pazienza’s 33), seemingly hotter growth property, lurched to his feet and beat referee Tony Orlando’s count, he clearly was in deep distress and the instantly revitalized “Pazmanian Devil” swarmed in to release as much of the pent-up aggression his ominous nickname suggested. So intent on his finishing purpose was Paz that, when Orlando jumped in moments later to end the battering and protect the out-on-his-feet Rosenblatt, he also was floored by a wild shot flung by the underdog victor. For that bit of overexuberance, a semi-penitent Paz was socked with a 90-day suspension and $5,000 fine by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board.

“I called Tony’s room later that night,” Paz, now 55, recalled when contacted for his remembrances of a fight that is inarguably one of his career highlights. “I said, `Tony, I want to tell you I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.’ He said, `Vinny, don’t worry about it. But can I get a rematch?’”

There would be a rematch, but not one pitting Paz against Orlando. Rosenblatt would get revenge of sorts on Paz when they squared off a second time, on Nov. 5, 1999, in Mashantucket, Conn., coming away with a disputed, 12-round split decision (it was disputed at least by Paz, who insists he was screwed by the judging) for the fringe IBO super middleweight title. But that didn’t – couldn’t – even the score for Rosenblatt for the punch that changed the arc of both fighters’ lives and careers 1,069 days earlier.

Now, about that jolting right that pumped new vitality into what had been Paz’s seemingly sagging fortunes while simultaneously sucking the momentum out of what had been Rosenblatt’s predicted ascendance to superstardom. Was it a purely lucky punch, as Rosenblatt contended then and still does, or the anticipated product of intense preparation, as Paz believes?

Depends on whom you ask.

“If you watch a tape of that fight and see him land that punch, he’s not looking at me at all,” said Rosenblatt, now 46. “His face is down. His eyes are closed. If that’s not a lucky punch, I don’t know what is.”

Paz, of course, begs to differ. “I had worked on that punch all through 10 weeks of training camp,” he said. “After the third round, I went back to the corner and told Rooney (trainer Kevin Rooney), `Kevin, I’m going to knock this f—— kid out.’ He said, `So go do it!’ I know you can do it, so go do it!’ And I did it. After I knocked him down and went to the neutral corner, I was thinking, `Please, please, Tony, let me go.’ I wanted to murder the guy. I wanted to take his head right off his shoulders.’”

So whose version of The Punch is the more accurate? Ron Borges, then the boxing writer for the Boston Globe, qualifies as an objective observer, having extensively covered both Pazienza, the wrong-side-of-the-tracks kid from Cranston, R.I., and Rosenblatt, the erudite southpaw from Malden, Mass., whose promoter, Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum, already had begun to hype as an updated version of such legendary Jewish fighters as Benny Leonard and Barney Ross. On this one question, however, Borges sides squarely with Paz.

“Vinny knew Dana would be open to being hit with that punch,” Borges recalled. “Those first three rounds, Dana was just beating the crap out of Vinny, who was already pretty busted up. After the third round, Dana, who was always this serious, self-contained guy, did something that was pretty uncharacteristic for him. He put one hand up and kind of dismissively twisted his glove around. I remember thinking, `He’s in trouble, because he actually thinks this fight is over.’ I knew that was the time when Vinny was most dangerous. In the very next round Vinny knocked his ass out with that overhand right.

“A few hours after the fight I was walking through the casino and ran into Dana’s dad, who was a very nice man. I told him, `I’m sorry for what happened to Dana, but I got to tell you something. I have no inside information, but I’m pretty sure that right now up in Dana’s room, his trainer, Joe Lake, is telling him he got hit with a lucky punch. But Mr. Rosenblatt, let me tell you something. Vinny spent a lot of time getting himself ready to throw that punch because he’s a professional. And that’s what your boy needs to know.”

Opinions will vary, of course. Perhaps the more pertinent consideration is not whether The Punch was the result of blind luck or meticulous planning, but all the circumstances that both preceded and followed it.

For Paz, the Rosenblatt bout, for the mostly insignificant and vacant WBU super middleweight title, had the earmarks of a last, possibly futile chance for redemption. He had not fought in 14 months, his most recent ring appearance having been an absolute beatdown at the hands of the luminously talented Roy Jones Jr. on June 24, 1995, also in Boardwalk Hall and, coincidentally, also with Tony Orlando as the referee. More than a few knowledgeable observers were ready to write off Paz, a former IBF super lightweight and WBA super welterweight champion, as past his prime and possibly as damaged goods. Remember, five years earlier Paz had been involved in a serious automobile accident that left him with two broken vertebrae in his spine and another that was dislocated. Doctors told him he would never box again, but, if his rehabilitation went well enough, he might someday be able to walk “with limited movement.” Fourteen months later, and after having had a metal device called a halo attached to his skull by screws, miracle man Paz resumed his career.

Contrast the foreboding sense of pessimism about Paz’s long-term prospects with the most optimistic projections for stylish southpaw Rosenblatt. In the September 1995 issue of The Ring, Arum predicted that the day would come, a few years down the road, when fight fans would want nothing so much as a matchup of Oscar De La Hoya, by then filled out to a robust 160 pounds and well on his way to his stated goal of world championships in six weight divisions, and Rosenblatt. The two had appeared on the same card at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on May 6, 1995, with De La Hoya stopping Rafael Ruelas in two rounds of a lightweight unification showdown and Rosenblatt retaining his minor WBC Continental Americas middleweight title on a first-round knockout of Chad Parker.

“The dream fight for the biggest money of all time is Oscar and Rosenblatt,” Arum was quoted as saying. “That’s what I think of when I go to sleep at night.”

Arum’s master plan presumably still was on the drawing board with Paz penciled in as a big-name steppingstone for Rosenblatt in what was billed as “The Neighborhood War” for New England supremacy on the 3-to-1 favorite’s way to bigger and better things. But Paz had his own ideas of how matters would play out. To his way of thinking, it was he who had lured Rosenblatt into the trap he had set, not the other way around.

“I had watched him a couple of times before he fought me and I knew I was gonna knock the kid out,” Paz said. “I picked him out. He didn’t pick me. I picked an undefeated young kid because I wanted people to know that the way it went down with Jones wasn’t the end of my career.”

Not surprisingly, Paz – who’d be a charter inductee into the trash-talking hall of fame, were there such a thing – began a campaign of verbal disparagement that he insists wasn’t just to help sell the show. Nor was it just insulting words Paz hurled at Rosenblatt, but other forms of intended intimidation aimed at getting under the younger man’s skin like a progressively irritating rash.

“Vinny sent a dozen black roses to Rosenblatt’s mother before the fight,” Borges said. “That was pure Vinny. Then, on the night of the fight, Vinny stopped walking toward his dressing room and peeled off in a different direction. The security guard who was accompanying him said, `Hey, Vinny, that’s the wrong way.’ Vinny  said, `Yeah, I know, I just got to do something first.’ Then he burst into Rosenblatt’s dressing room and told him, `Tonight’s going to be your worst f—— nightmare. I’m going to kick your f—— ass,’ at which point he got pushed out the door. But it was just a continuation of the mind games Vinny had been playing from the time the fight was announced.”

For his part, the polite Rosenblatt could not understand what he had done to incite Paz’s hatred of him. “I had no animosity toward him,” Rosenblatt said. “It was all on his end. His attitude was kind of like, `Yeah, I’m kind of a lowlife and this is my shtick. I’m going to make fun of this kid, then I’m going to beat him up.’ It was arrogance on his part, but I didn’t take it seriously.

“But before the second fight, maybe because I had beaten him up in the first one – up to the point he hit me with a punch I didn’t see, and praise to him for sticking around long enough to land that shot – it got even nastier on his end. A lot of the stuff he was saying was personal. I couldn’t believe some of the stupid s— he said.”

What Rosenblatt can’t dispute is the terrible toll The Punch took on him, in ways that likely would not have happened had he won as expected, very likely by stoppage had Paz’s badly swollen left eye and bleeding, busted nose worsened to the point where Orlando or the ring doctor would have had no choice but to call things off.

“My whole life would have been different,” Rosenblatt said of how his career, which went well for the most part but never reached the threshold of greatness, would now be regarded were it not for The Punch. “I’ll take boxing first. After Pazienza, I probably would have fought (Sugar Ray) Leonard, before Leonard fought (Hector) Camacho. Bob was promising Leonard. I would have made some money, maybe a million bucks, and, really, that wasn’t the Sugar Ray we all remember. Camacho proved that. I would have knocked out Leonard because he was done.

“After that, who knows? Now, all of a sudden, I’m a `name.’ Certainly my name would have resonated more than it does now. My life would be exponentially different, exponentially better.”

How so, he was asked.

“In my first fight after Pazienza (a 10-round unanimous decision over Glenwood Brown on Jan. 5, 1997, in Boston), I busted my (right) hand in the first round and I really mangled it by hitting him with it for nine more rounds. That was my power hand, since I’m naturally right-handed. Maybe I shouldn’t have kept going, but I knew if I lost twice in a row, I’d be done. But then I was out because of the hand injury for 15 months, and that really set me back.

“Why did I kind of fade away after the (first Paz) fight? It wasn’t just that I lost. It wasn’t the manner of how I lost. It was that I was off so long after I beat Glenwood Brown. Out of sight, out of mind, right? It was like I was yesterday’s news. And it wasn’t the same when I was able to fight again. I wasn’t with Bob anymore.

“I probably wouldn’t have fought Glenwood, where I busted my hand, were it not for that one punch from Pazienza. That was the beginning of the end for me, the start of a bunch of injuries to my hands and shoulders. That’s why I stopped fighting. But, hey, maybe I wouldn’t be doing mortgages now. So I don’t regret what happened then. Aw, that’s a lie. I do regret what happened.”

Rosenblatt retired from the ring after a three-round technical draw with Juan Carlos Viloria on June 28, 2002, a bout Rosenblatt almost certainly would have won were it not for the bad cut he sustained from what was ruled an unintentional head-butt. He finished with a 37-1-2 record with 23 victories inside the distance, but he never fought for a widely recognized world championship and the megafight with De La Hoya never became anything other than Arum’s temporary pipe dream.

But Rosenblatt hasn’t done badly in his post-boxing life. “I do residential mortgages,” he noted. “I was with a small bank up here, which is gone now, but I’m still in the business. I’ve been doing this since November 2001. I got in at a great time. Rates were going down, down, down, and I developed a lot of contacts.

“In my third month, I made $35,000. By the end of 10 months, I think I made about $1.5 million. I mean, do the math. I got, like, $15,000 for that final fight with Viloria. In 10 years after I stopped boxing and started doing mortgages, I made about $8 million and I invested it well.

“Over a five-year period I never made less than $800,000, and in my best year of 2005 I made $955,000. I was just killing it. But let me tell you, there were times when I would have given it all up to go back and finish my boxing career the right way.”

How good was Rosenblatt or, more to the point, how good might he have been? That, too, is a matter of conjecture. Teddy Atlas, who did color commentary for ESPN2’s telecast of Paz-Rosenblatt II, weighed in on the matter during his prefight analysis.

“He was never as good as his record before he got knocked out, and he never was as bad as they said after,” Atlas said. “He goes in and he’s fighting the right fight against Vinny (in their first matchup). He’s pot-shotting him when (Paz) rushed in and all of a sudden Rosenblatt gets caught with one of those looping punches, many of which missed before, and he’s out. After that night, the confidence left him like air from a punctured balloon. He’s a kid who never fully regained that confidence he once had in the ring. When he fights now, it’s like he’s waiting for something bad to happen.”

Paz, meanwhile, is still waiting for one more good thing to happen. He finished with a 50-10 record and 30 wins inside the distance, an accomplished enough career to get him inducted into the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame on June 3 of this year and a life notable enough to have been the subject of a critically acclaimed 2016 movie, Bleed For This, with Miles Teller in the lead role. But there is a widespread belief that Paz bulked up through the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and even some of his more ardent admirers are hesitant to endorse him for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame for that and other reasons.

“No doubt he was juicing,” said Borges. “His face took on the same sort of shape as Lyle Alzado’s. I’ve known Vinny since he was a skinny amateur. But, really, it’s partially the Duvas’ fault. He was much more of a boxer when he was an amateur and early into his pro career. He wasn’t looking to take two or three to land one. They kind of convinced him that if he was going to become popular and sell tickets, he had to be more than a boxer. He had to take people out. In that first fight against Rosenblatt it worked out. Other nights, not so much.

“And as far as the (IBHOF), I never say never because some of the guys who have gotten in there probably don’t deserve to be. I’m kind of a stickler. I think it should be a lot more exclusive than it is.”

Maybe more has been made of The Punch than needs to be, in terms of overall historical impact. But for two men so alike in some ways, so vastly different in others, the effects of it will forever stand as a touchstone for how a fleeting moment in time can have such a profound and lasting effect.

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The Top Ten Lightweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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The-Top-Ten-Lightweights-of-the-Decade-2010-2019

The lightweight decade 2010-2019 was a disaster. Far and away the weakest list I have compiled so far; it was also far and away the most difficult to compile. Two excellent fighters, fit to grace any list, open at nine and ten but they made the tiniest handful of appearances at the poundage in the decade. Eight to four are populated by interchangeable lightweights whose ordering is confused by a 2012 robbery that has seen the “loser” of that contest edge in front of the “winner” adding to an already confused picture. The result is our seeing fighters who engender a sense of “what’s he doing there?” as high as number four.

Towering over this hot mess are the top two for the decadal division, two giants of the sport about whom it is a pleasure to write, and a clear number three.

Despite the foibles of lightweight there were also some excellent fights to run the ruler across on the way to ordering them. So, without further apologies here are the top ten lightweights for the last decade.

Ratings are by Ring between 2010 and 2012 and TBRB from 2013 to 2019.

10 – Juan Manuel Marquez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 6-2 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

I am arguably reaching in placing Juan Manuel Marquez at ten given the limited contribution he made to the lightweight decade, but it must be borne in mind that Marquez was the decade’s first legitimate, lineal lightweight champion. Lightweight gave us but three champions in the decade and certainly room can be made for all of them here.

Marquez had previously stopped the younger, fresher, purportedly stronger Juan Diaz in nine rounds in 2009 in what I rate his career’s best performance until that time but nominated to re-match him in July of 2010, probably unnecessarily. Marquez was once more brilliant, his jab never better, Diaz clearly wary of the uppercut that had hurt him so in their first fight.

Marquez mopped up his lightweight title run against Michael Katsidis in November of that same year. Marquez didn’t just beat the younger, stronger Katsidis, he became just the second man to stop the Australian, the quickest ever to do so.

This fight was also noteworthy as being veteran broadcaster Jim Lampley’s finest moment and we will give him the final word on Marquez at lightweight, and as we won’t be seeing him again in this series, Marquez generally (my italics):

“If it comes down to the question of whether you can courageously apply your technique…bet on Juan Manuel Marquez. He knows how to do that better than anyone in boxing.”

09 – Mikey Garcia

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 22-1 Ranked For: 27% of the decade

Mikey Garcia is a splendid fighter but one who seems to have spread himself a little thin divisionally speaking. He swept into lightweight, established himself as the number one contender, remained divisionally ranked until the end of 2019 but fought hardly a contest within 135lbs.

The work he did do there though, was significant, two fights enough to establish him as one of the pre-eminent lightweights of the timeframe.

Most impressive was his January 2017 knockout victory over Dejan Zlaticanin. Zlaticanin, himself coming off impressive back-to-back stoppages of Franklin Mamani and Ivan Redkach, was an undefeated strapholder; Mikey established his world class jab within seconds and lost not a minute of the eight they completed. The uppercut and hook combination for the knockout made for the best stoppage of the lightweight decade.

Robert Easter, himself a contender for the number ten spot, was a second undefeated fighter who was ranked in the top five laid low by Garcia. Easter though, offered stiffer resistance, doing well with his own jab and even winning a few rounds on the way to a lop-sided decision loss. Garcia fought an aggressive, disciplined fight against a much taller and longer opponent leaving no doubt as to the winner, dropping Easter with a gorgeous, penetrating right hand in the third.

Lightweight certainly would have benefited from more Garcia but what he gave was good enough to see him creep in at nine.

08 – Ricky Burns

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 16-6-1 Ranked For: 32% of the decade

Ricky Burns traded on heart and durability but the thrashing that the great Terence Crawford handed him in March 2014 is not one he recovered from. Dejan Zlaticanin sent him scurrying from the division in his very next fight.

In the months before his brave decision to match Crawford, however, Burns turned in one of the more impressive runs of the lightweight decade between 2011 and the summer of 2013. It began with Michael Katsidis, the former lightweight titleholder who had been laid low by Juan Manuel Marquez one year earlier. Katsidis never recovered from the beating Marquez laid upon him, but descriptions of him as shot proved as wide of the mark as those who installed Katsidis as a favourite.  Katsidis turned in a fine pressure performance and Burns needed the combination of jab and body attack he deployed to win a much, much closer fight than the judges saw. Ricky’s remains one of the most underrated jabs of the decade at lightweight or elsewhere.

Ranked contender Moses Paulus went next and here Burns turned in perhaps his best defensive performance. A victim of the fashionable “earmuffs” approach to defence, Burns showed himself here capable of parrying and blocking as well as shutting the shop and waiting. He arguably put these two strata of his skillset – the careful offence, the dynamic defence – together just once in his career, against Kevin Mitchell, then still ranked among the world’s ten best lightweights.  Burns countered well that night and although far from difficult to hit he made himself hard to hit clean. It was probably the difference-maker as he drew Mitchell into a war he could not hope to win, dusting him off in four exciting rounds.

Finally, he stopped Jose Gonzalez in nine before going off a cliff in a fashion more familiar in speedsters than technically adept workhorses.

07 – Antonio DeMarco

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 10-7 Ranked For: 28% of the decade

Antonio DeMarco fights on and in fact has two fights planned this year. This has been to the great detriment of his paper record.

In the early part of the decade, the part which he fought at lightweight, he lost just twice, once to the doomed figure of Edwin Valero and once to Adrien Broner, both of whom beat him clean but DeMarco is in possession of a pair of wins that make Broner’s ranking above him questionable still.  Key among them is his 2011 stoppage of Jorge Linares.

On the surface, this is the type of win to rappel into the farthest reaches of this list. Linares would become one of the finest lightweights of the decade and his name carries meaning whatever the context; but it is the context of this fight that prevents DeMarco climbing much farther.

Linares had never boxed twelve rounds when he met DeMarco and despite dominating early, he was cut up badly by DeMarco’s clean punching born of consistent pressure. Suffering the attentions of a faster, more talented fighter, DeMarco did the only thing he could, stepping in the fire zone and pressing; eventually Linares began to give ground. When a lacerating straight broke his nose in the sixth, the whole fight changed and when DeMarco cut him over the right eye in the seventh, his night became desperate. Suffused with blood, Linares was compromised in the eleventh from footwork to defence to his beautiful, gliding offence; the referee, perhaps prompted in part by the blood pouring from the face of Linares, stopped the fight.

It needs to be remembered who Linares was at this point of his career. He had been stopped in a round in 2009 and would be stopped in two with facial damage in his very next fight. This was the Linares that DeMarco broke down, not the storied veteran that Vasily Lomachenko would face years later. It is an impressive win, but DeMarco needs more for the spot.

Fortunately, he has it. After taking out gatekeeper Miguel Roman in five, DeMarco was matched with John Molina in a fight billed as an exciting shootout between evenly matched and exciting fighters. DeMarco blasted him out in a round. His power-punches were booming equalisers that laid more talented fighters low.

06 – Adrien Broner

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 20-4 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

It is unpleasant to see Adrien Broner, a serial failure at the highest level and seemingly a horror of a human being ranked above the likes of Garcia and Marquez, but assessing legacy must be blind.  Broner is well into double figures for contests at lightweight and picked up the same number of ranked contenders as the two part-time decadal lightweights ranked at nine and ten – so he belongs, there is no debate to be had about that.

And, to be fair to him, his biggest win is a beauty, being his 2012 victory over Antonio DeMarco.  DeMarco may have been on the slide but marginally. He remained a cagey, balanced, firmly planted southpaw, difficult to fight and harder to beat. Broner out-waited DeMarco and countered him, took a narrow lead in the early rounds before throwing more heavy punches the later the fight went. It became a beatdown, DeMarco failing to find the timing that would counter his opponent’s speed earlier in his career.

Three months later, Broner was nearly as impressive blasting out number eight contender Gavin Rees in just five rounds. In the aftermath Rees called him the best fighter he had ever met and predicted he would go all the way to the top. That hasn’t happened – for reasons too many to cogitate here – but he did enough to rank among the ten most accomplished lightweights of the decade.

05 – Brandon Rios

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 12-5 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Things have been messy and difficult up until this point – now that get very messy and very difficult.  Brandon Rios was awarded an official decision over Richar Abril in 2012 but he did not beat him; this was an outright robbery. Rios is not credited for that win here.

That fight is dealt with in detail in the entry below; for the moment, take my word for it and we will look at why it is reasonable for Rios to rank top five despite the Abril fight being treated here as a loss.

First and foremost is his defeat of the excellent Miguel Costa, world’s number one contender in February of 2011, lain low by a career’s best performance from Rios. Costa bossed Rios early, moving off him and tattooing him with power punches; Rios followed stoically but lost every one of the first five rounds. Focused and prepared, Rios seemed merely inconvenienced by the powerful punches of a world class competitor and there was something inevitable about what remains a dramatic collapse from Costa in the mid-rounds; in the tenth, battered and unresponsive, he was rescued by the referee as Rios clubbed him into submission with meathook shots.

Either side, Rios turned in impressive stoppage victories over ranked men Anthony Peterson and John Murray. Best-for-best, this adds up to near parity between Rios and Broner, but Rios claimed more quality names at the poundage; it edges Rios in front of his fellow American despite the Abril fight.

04 – Richar Abril

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 8-2-1 Ranked For: 44% of the decade

If you scour the internet, you might be able to find the single ringside scorecard that had Richar Abril’s 2012 fight with Brandon Rios a draw; every other scorecard by ringsiders had the fight for Abril, some of them by margins as wide as 120-108.

Every ringsider, that is, outside of two of the officials paid to score the fights.

What we can only hope was the abject stupidity of Glenn Trowbridge and the infamous Adalaide Byrd (both still judging fights today folks) cost Abril the win that night but here, I am taking the rare step of ignoring the official decision, something I have only done on one other occasion in the course of this series. Almost all ringsiders agree, and the film demonstrably shows, this was an Abril win.

It was not an exciting fight, partly due to its one-sidedness. Abril shelled up in close and Rios, who failed to make weight, threw cuffing shots apparently incapable of penetrating. In the second half of the fight, Abril closed with great awareness, carefully to consistently outland Rios in every round, defensively sound, offensively alive to opportunity.

Either side of his defeat of Rios, Abril defeated the same man who defined Brandon’s lightweight run, Miguel Acosta, and contender Sharif Bogere in a filthy, badly refereed contest. In essence, his legacy at the weight echoes that of Rios almost exactly, with one exception: he beat Rios.

Abril is not an inspiring figure. He boxed in a dry, careful fashion that did not endear him to fans but he excelled at controlling his opponents and there is no way to rank him below Rios given how dominant he was over him in their fight. That puts him in the top four.

03 – Jorge Linares

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 20-4 Ranked For: 35% of the decade

Jorge Linares was “one for the most fantastic boxers I have ever saw in my life” according to the great Emanuel Steward and you can see what he means. Linares is as beautifully balanced, as well co-ordinated as any lightweight seen this decade, outside of the top two. Lithe, quick-handed, and a fine selector of punches, he began the decade anointed by the then pre-eminent Freddie Roach, spending his spare time sparring with the legendary Manny Pacquiao.

Then it went wildly wrong. Linares had his faced ripped apart by the punches of Antonio DeMarco in 2011 and then Sergio Thompson in 2012. It was a long way from these losses back to the top but Linares made it, in the main by travelling to the UK and battering her best lightweights. His winning streak ran to thirteen fights.

Key among them was his 2015 victory over Kevin Mitchell. Mitchell, who had restored himself from both personal and professional strife with a quite remarkable performance against Daniel Estrada, was once again ranked among the world’s top ten. Linares has struggled when hurt throughout his career, but when dropped by Mitchell in the fifth, Linares, who had been struggling a little in the third and fourth, remained concentrated. He didn’t enjoy the rest of that fifth round, but he escaped it and instead of crumbling he crumbled Mitchell, cutting him up and stepping in to take over in the eighth then patiently closing the blinds in the tenth.

It was a fine turning of the corner by a fighter who would go on to deliver on some of his seemingly limitless potential, firstly against an inspired Anthony Crolla, once more in the UK, who he beat close then, re-matched and dropped on the way to a wide decision victory. Finally, Linares, a road-warrior if ever there was one, invited Luke Campbell over to the USA and squeaked past him in a brilliant strategic joust.

Linares was a real enigma. Skin so thin it might as well be used to pack the meat that constitutes his face, he has literally fallen apart in the ring; soft of chin, he has been blown out. The fighter that Manny Steward saw all those years before probably never emerged, but he still appears special enough to edge out Abril.

Take note though, he is not a “natural” divisional decadal number three and there is real distance between Linares and the fighter that ranks number two.

02 – Terence Crawford

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 26-0 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Terence Crawford is a genius in the ring, and we watched the emergence of that genius at lightweight. 2014 was the year and almost all the meaningful damage that the Nebraskan did to the 135lb division was done in that year.

I was glued to his March dissection of Scotsman Ricky Burns and it was painful to watch my countryman dismantled so completely, Burns complaining about Crawford’s control of distance and angles in a gracious post-fight interview. In truth, Burns had boxed beautifully to make so many of the rounds in what was a clear, wide victory for Crawford so close, but we did not know then what we know now: Crawford is one of the best fighters in the world.

At the end of 2014 when he welcomed number two contender Ray Beltran to his native Omaha, this was clear. Beltran had outfought and arguably been robbed of a victory over Ricky Burns when he visited Scotland for what was a hotly disputed draw but there were multiple classes between he and Crawford when they met that November. Crawford did mostly what he liked, and what he liked, from round two, was to box as a southpaw, jabbing with impunity, bringing Beltran forwards onto punches and in doing so shutting his opponent’s offence down almost completely. In the final round Beltran, who had not won a single round on my scorecard, threw around twenty punches, even though his only route to victory was by knockout.

In between his wide defeats of Burns and Beltran, he dispatched Yuriokis Gamboa in the ninth.  These were three technical mis-matches in one year against quality opposition after which he departed for 140lbs.

This is enough to make him a clear number two, but in all honesty were his numbers and opposition not enough to get him over that line, it would still be difficult to see him lower. Crawford was imperious.

01 – Vasily Lomachenko

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 14-1 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Ranked for almost an identical number of weeks throughout the 2010s, Vasily Lomachenko was also given, like Terrence Crawford, to taking a close look at his opposition in the opening round.

Another thing these two have in common is that their visitations to 135lbs were relatively brief. We will meet no other divisional decadal number one with so few fights at the poundage – having only met legitimately ranked men at the poundage however, Lomachenko has done enough to clearly seal up the number one spot. He has but one peer and has clearly edged that peer out.

Gatecrashing the division meeting none other than Jorge Linares helped. This had the appearance of rash, even careless matchmaking, a duel, essentially, to determine the finest lightweight of the decade. It appeared careless matchmaking, certainly, when Lomachenko was dropped in the sixth walking carelessly onto a straight punch that clearly hurt him.

But Lomachenko isn’t like other fighters. He had learned over the course of a monumental amateur career that he had the innate toughness to support his genius; Lomachenko re-took his feet and blasted Linares out in the tenth.

He certainly hasn’t looked back. Jose Pedraza, the world’s number three lightweight at that time, made it through a nightmarish eleventh to take Lomachenko the distance in 2018 but it was a wide, hurtful loss for the brave, world class Puerto Rican. Anthony Crolla went next and was stopped in just four rounds, his first stoppage loss since 2012. Luke Campbell, ranked number seven just as Crolla had been, seemed to be having a better evening but he won just two rounds and was on the receiving end of some savage combinations in making it to the final bell.

Lomachenko learns his man’s range then abuses it, hovering just within or just outside it, using his quick reflexes and beautiful, consistent slipping to keep him safe while he deploys what has become one of the best body-attacks in the sport. Predicting him is impossible, which forces fighters to try to take the play away from him, which leaves them open for the widest variety of counters in boxing this century.

It is mildly frustrating then that he and Crawford never met in the ring. Had it happened, that ring would have contained as much skill as any since Roberto Duran defeated Ray Leonard.

The other lists:

Heavyweight

Cruiserweight

Light-Heavyweight

Super-Middleweight

Middleweight

Light-Middleweight

Welterweight

Light-Welterweight

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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