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Three Punch Combo: Wilder-Fury, Barrera-Hamed, Cabrera-Macias and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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After Deontay Wilder stopped Luis Ortiz in round ten this past March, I wrote a story comparing Wilder to Naseem Hamed. The unorthodox manner in which Wilder fights where he makes so many obvious errors inside the ring but yet makes that style effective in part because of his one punch power reminded me of the way Hamed fought during his heyday. Now, Wilder will soon be facing an even bigger test than Ortiz in that of Tyson Fury. In continuing with the Hamed comparison, I am wondering if Fury can do to Wilder what Marco Antonio Barrera did to Hamed.

When Hamed fought Barrera in 2001, Hamed had just as many critics as Wilder does today. Experts were convinced that at some point Hamed would pay for all the mistakes he made in the ring. He did so many things fundamentally wrong like lunging forward with his hands down with his chin exposed or pulling straight back with his chin high in the air. Most who followed boxing figured eventually he’d run into someone skilled enough to expose those mistakes.

However, that opponent was not thought to be Barrera. Remember, Barrera had been beaten twice by Junior Jones a few years earlier and since then, with the exception of Erik Morales, had not fought a high level of opposition. As a matter of fact, a few months prior to facing Hamed, Barrera struggled mightily against an obscure opponent named Jose Luis Valbuena. Many people who watched that fight thought Barrera was fortunate to get the decision. Ironically, that poor performance helped Barrera land the fight with Hamed.

As we know, the rest is history. Barrera took the fight to Hamed from the opening bell and for the most part dominated the action. It took an elite level fighter to do so, but ultimately the many flaws of Hamed were exposed.

So this brings me to Fury-Wilder. Obviously, Fury and Barrera are stylistically two entirely different fighters. Fury relies on movement, ring skill and defensive prowess. He is not easy to hit clean. Often times, he frustrates his opponents into making mistakes and then quickly counters before either tying up or retreating out of harm’s way.

Fury gets this opportunity with Wilder in part because Wilder’s team feels Fury is vulnerable. And why wouldn’t they? After his signature win over Wladimir Klitschko, Fury was out of the ring for over two years and dealt with a myriad of issues. In his two comeback fights since the layoff, Fury has shown some of the old skills that made him champion but it is hard to decipher what he has left in the tank due to the level of opposition he faced.

However, based on his past, Fury does have the skill to expose Wilder who makes a ton of mistakes and can get easily frustrated. Remember him swinging wildly and missing often against Gerald Washington all the while being out-boxed for four rounds? Of course, Wilder rescued that fight with his power, knocking Washington out in round five. But Fury does have the defensive ability to make Wilder miss all night.

It is going to take a very skilled upper level fighter to defeat Deontay Wilder just as it once did to defeat Naseem Hamed. Wilder’s unorthodox style and his power make him a difficult matchup for most heavyweights. But at some point Wilder will be exposed much like Hamed was at the highest level and for my money I think that will happen when he steps in the ring with Tyson Fury.

Another USA Tuesday Night Fights Memory

In my last column, I alluded to this month being the 20 year anniversary of the end of the long run of the popular USA Tuesday Night Fights series.  Reminiscing about the series that provided so many great memories for fight fans, I looked back on the 1997 welterweight slugfest between Derrell Coley and Kip Diggs. A few months after that memorable fight, another unforgettable slugfest took place, this time at the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia between heavyweights Courage Tshabalala (20-1, 17 KO’s) and Darroll Wilson (18-1-2, 12 KO’s).

On paper, this fight had the potential for fireworks. Both fighters liked to mix it up and both had shown a questionable set of whiskers. Tshabalala was considered a top heavyweight prospect but was entering the ring coming off a recent stunning knockout loss to journeyman Brian Scott. Wilson was best known for his shocking upset win against Shannon Briggs but was coming in off a recent early knockout loss to David Tua. Both Tshabalala and Wilson had a lot on the line in what was a classic Tuesday Night Fights crossroads tilt.

Thirty seconds into the fight, Tshabalala dropped Wilson with a stiff left jab. Tshabalala would dominate Wilson for the remainder of the round with power shots. Near the end of the stanza, he rocked Wilson with a left hook to the jaw.

The next two rounds were also controlled by Tshabalala. His power shots were seemingly taking a toll on Wilson who was fighting primarily going backwards. Near the end of the third, a thunderous overhand right put Wilson on the canvas. Wilson tried to get up but fell backward. With referee Rudy Battle beginning to waive the fight off, Wilson got to his feet and Battle signalled the timekeeper to ring the bell to end the round.

Lou Duva, one of Tshabalala’s cornermen, tore into Battle between rounds, screaming that Battle had signified initially that the fight had ended. But the fight would continue despite Duva’s pleas.

Wilson was still on shaky legs when round four began as Tshabalala came out looking to end the fight. Though Tshabalala landed some good shots, Wilson seemed to be regaining his legs as seconds ticked by and then started landing some big counters of his own. A slugfest was now underway with both launching big shots at one another. With the crowd in a frenzy, Wilson turned the tide, landing sharper harder punches and now hurting Tshabalala. With under a minute to go in the round, a fusillade of clean power shots from Wilson put Tshabalala on the canvas. Tshabalala wasn’t able to beat the count, giving Wilson an improbable come-from-behind win in a forgotten Tuesday Night Fights classic.

Under The Radar Fight

The Golden Boy on Facebook series continues next Saturday with a card headlined by rising 130-pound star prospect Ryan Garcia (15-0, 13 KO’s) taking a step up in class facing Carlos Morales (17-2-3. 6 KO’s). While the development of Garcia piques my interest, it is the co-feature between undefeated 154-pound prospects Marvin Cabrera (8-0, 6 KO’s) and Neeco Macias (16-0, 9 KO’s) that I think steals the show.

Cabrera and Macias are both southpaws but by no means would either be considered a “cutie.” Instead, both are very aggressive. Given their respective styles, we should see plenty of action.

Cabrera is the more polished fighter of the two. He is also the bigger puncher. He will press forward behind the right jab and look to get in range to work combinations to the head and body of Macias. Cabrera is a very good body puncher but does leave his chin exposed when he throws downstairs.

Macias is a volume puncher who is going to look to outwork Cabrera. Macias will throw a lot of punches per round and from all sorts of angles. However, by doing so, he often leaves many openings for his opposition to counter.

In Cabrera and Macias, we have two aggressive offensive-minded fighters who on paper are evenly matched. They each also have some major defensive holes in their respective games. I expect we see an all-out brawl in what should be a very entertaining fight.

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HITS and MISSES: Javier Fortuna Shines and More

Kelsey McCarson

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HITS and MISSES: Javier Fortuna Shines and More

The boxing schedule continued during the penultimate week of November though there seemed a little less action over the weekend than prior weeks. Still, important contests took place featuring some of the top fighters in the sport.

Here are the biggest HITS and MISSES from another week on the boxing beat.

HIT: Future Fortunes of Javier Fortuna 

Perhaps it’s just my affinity for southpaws, but Javier Fortuna looked sensational on Saturday night in the main event of an FS1 PBC Fight Night card.

Fortuna, 31, from the Dominican Republic, is a legit threat in the 135-pound division. His sole loss since moving up to lightweight was a split-decision to former titleholder Robert Easter in a fight that could have been scored either way, and his athletic and unorthodox style will just about always make him a problem for anyone.

Alongside being tied to Al Haymon’s PBC group, Fortuna is promoted by Sampson Lewkowicz, whose most famous recent client is probably former middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. Like Martinez, Fortuna is the type of talent who could unexpectedly make some legitimate noise in his division during the latter part of his career.

MISS: Austin Delay’s Emotional Reactions to Accidental Headbutts

Despite the two losses on his record, there’s a lot to like about lightweight prospect Austin Dulay. The 25-year-old from Nashville defeated Jose Luis Gallegos in a 10-round decision in the co-feature of the PBC card on Saturday night in Los Angeles.

Dulay’s a sharp-fisted, crafty southpaw with fast hands and good feet. While his win over Gallegos absolutely proved he possesses some upside as a rising talent in the sport, his emotional responses to the three accidental headbutts in the fight gives his team plenty to work on with the fighter as he progresses.

Referee Thomas Taylor did a great job explaining the key concept to him. “It happens,” Taylor reminded Dulay at least twice in the fight after the clashes of heads. Indeed, it does happen, and that’s especially true in southpaw vs. orthodox matchups.

After the second headbutt in the fight, which happened in the sixth round, Dulay angrily gunned for the knockout. Everyone loves action like that, but reactive responses to innocuous events aren’t on the path to the highest levels in the sport. Dulay needs to reel his emotions back in during those types of moments if he hopes to become a world champion.

HIT: The Savagery of Alen Babic vs. Tom Little

Hopefully, you’ve witnessed the majesty of Alen Babic by now. The 30-year-old from Croatia is the type of heavyweight you’d better enjoy now on the way up the ranks because, let’s face it, Babic’s style and skill set make him likely to be exposed as he climbs higher up the ladder.

Until that time comes, though, Babic is must-see TV. The savagery of seeing a volume punching heavyweight who throws just about every single punch with serious emotional intent is a wonder to behold.

For his part, Tom Little did his best to turn the Babic tide back. In fact, the 33-year-old was the first fighter to weather Babic’s early storm and offer a return, but Babic ultimately dumped him down for the third-round knockout.

By the way, that’s faster than Daniel Dubois and Filip Hrgovic did it.

MISS: Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Not Making Superfight Priority

What shouldn’t be lost in the Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence debate is how both fighters would rather fight Manny Pacquiao instead of each other.

I had the chance to speak with both elite welterweight champions within the past week, and both men told me the same thing in regards to their focus on making one fight happen. Crawford wants Pacquiao next. Spence does, too.

While it’s completely understandable why these guys would seek the bigger payday against the legendary future Hall of Famer, something would seem to be broken in boxing overall when arguably the best and most important fight in the sport doesn’t even seem to have a tiny chance of happening anytime soon.

HIT: The Professional Amateur Conor Benn

Imagine having just around 20 amateur bouts and trying to put together a world-level professional boxing career. Now, imagine also trying to follow in the footsteps of your father, himself a former world champion.

But rising welterweight contender Conor Benn seems to be on his way to giving that run a serious go. Benn, 24, from England, defeated Germany’s Sebastian Formella in the main event of a Matchroom Boxing card on DAZN on Saturday.

While Benn doesn’t exactly have the look of a can’t-miss prospect destined for greatness, he does at least possess some of the qualities that could lead him to the top of the sport. Certainly, Benn believes it.

After beating Formella, Benn argued he’d done it just as good as two-time welterweight titleholder Shawn Porter had done.

“I beat him just as good,” Benn said during his post-fight interview.

He wasn’t wrong about that, and neither was his father, Nigel Benn, for lavishing praise on his son after his big win.

“Well done, son. I’m proud of you,” Nigel Benn said.

Benn has a tough road ahead of him. He’s basically been a professional amateur up to this point, a fighter getting paid professional money to employ an amateur skill set on fight night.

But he’s improving at a rate that suggests that might not be the case soon.

Photo credit: Sean Michael Ham / TGB Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Filip Hrgovic vs. Efe Ajagba, Dame Helen Mirren and More

Arne K. Lang

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There’s a battalion of young heavyweights ready to make their mark when Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua and their cohorts leave the scene. There’s Daniel Dubois and Tony Yoka and Filip Hrgovic and Efe Ajagba to name just four.

When one thinks of a fantasy fight, one usually thinks of a “what if?” match between two all-time greats. But one can also contrive a fantasy fight out of two young guns who have a high probability of meeting down the road.

Filip Hrgovic (12-0, 10 KOs) and Efe Ajagba (14-0, 11 KOs) are at a similar stage of development. Both fought in the 2016 Olympics – Hrgovic for Croatia and Ajagba for Nigeria – and both have been touted as future champions. Ajagba’s former trainer Ronnie Shields, not a man given to hyperbole, compared him to a young George Foreman.

Who would win if Filip Hrgovic were to meet up with Efe Ejagba?

We posed this question to Jonnie Rice who is quite familiar with both fighters. Rice sparred with Ajagba and then went 10 rounds with him at the MGM Bubble on Sept. 19. Shortly thereafter, he was off to Florida to help Hrgovic prepare for his bout earlier this month with Rydell Booker. Rice sparred frequently with Hrgovic during the three weeks he spent in the Croatian’s training camp.

“You have to respect Efe’s power,” Rice told us, “but I would have to go with Filip because he throws more punches and has better footwork.”

Jonnie Rice, by the way, is improving at age 33 although one wouldn’t assume that from his 13-6-1 record. He was outpointed by Ajagba but had several good moments late in the fight.

Helen Mirren

Andrew Moloney failed to recapture his WBA world super flyweight title in his rematch with Joshua Franco on Nov. 14, but won legions of new fans. In case you missed it, the fight was stopped after only two rounds because Franco’s right eye was swollen shut. Referee Russell Mora ruled that the damage was caused by an accidental head butt which meant that the fight would go into the books as a “no-decision” and Franco would keep the title.

It took the Nevada Athletic Commission 26 minutes to confirm Mora’s ruling. During the lacuna, the abbreviated fight was replayed over and over again for folks tuning in on ESPN. There was no visible head butt, at least not one that could have produced this result, and the TV talking heads, lead announcer Joe Tessitore the most vocal among them, were adamant that Moloney, who clearly won the first two rounds, was the victim of a grave injustice.

Many well-known people took to social media to weigh in on the “villainy,” none more famous than Helen Mirren, Dame Helen Mirren, if you please, having been invested with that title during a 2003 ceremony at Buckingham Palace. The multi-decorated British-American actress (she holds dual citizenship), who won both a Tony and a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II, wrote “Moloney was clearly robbed in Vegas tonight. Shame on the Nevada boxing organisation” on her Instagram platform which reportedly has 903,000 followers.

Many people were surprised to learn that a classy Dame like Mirren, now 75 years old, had any interest in pugilistic affairs, but maybe that shouldn’t have been so surprising considering that Mirren once had an affair with the ill-fated Argentine boxer Oscar Bonavena.

I had best re-phrase that. Her screen character had the affair.

The movie was called “Love Shack.” In the 2010 film, directed by Mirren’s husband Taylor Hackford — who shared a producing credit with Lou DiBella — Mirren played Sally Conforte, the wife of Joe Conforte, the keeper of Nevada’s most infamous brothel, the Mustang Ranch on the outskirts of Reno. In 1976, the rugged Bonavena, who twice went the distance with Joe Frazier and took Muhammad Ali into the 15th round, was working there as a bouncer when he was fatally shot by one of Joe’s henchmen, a killing supposedly sparked by Joe’s jealousy over Sally’s affair with the 33-year-old bruiser whose 38-vehicle funeral procession through the streets of Buenos Aires would reportedly attract more than 150,000 onlookers.

The movie seemingly couldn’t miss. It had a compelling storyline based on real-life events and two stars in the leading roles, with Joe Pesci smartly cast as Joe Conforte. However, the movie got lukewarm reviews and died a quick death.

Mirren’s hubby, by the way, is helming the big screen biopic of Mike Tyson with Jamie Foxx portraying Iron Mike. The movie, as they say, is in pre-production.

Literally Matched Soft

In case you missed it, former IBF light-heavyweight title-holder Tavoris Cloud returned to the ring this past Friday after a six-year absence. Cloud was matched Soft, and yes, that’s Soft with a capital “S.”

Cloud’s opponent, a Sioux Indian from Rapid City, South Dakota, fights under the name Ryan Soft. He brought a 4-11-1 record and had been stopped eight times. Cloud made it “9”, stopping the softie in the third round on a show in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Cloud, who was managed by Don King for much of his career, opened his career with 25 straight wins that included four successful defenses of his IBF belt. He lost his title to 48-year-old Bernard Hopkins, was stopped by Adonis Stevenson and Artur Beterbiev in his next two fights, and then disappeared. At age 38 and without a lot of mileage on his odometer, he may be young enough to snag a few decent paydays before he calls it quits for good.

The Upside of Covid-19

Five games in college football’s top division were postponed this past Saturday, including two games vs. Top 5 teams. Also, there was a hastily arranged boxing card this past Saturday on the Fox Sports 1 network.

These developments were interrelated and they point out that this terrible scourge called Covid-19 hasn’t been all bad for boxing. As other kinds of sporting events are postponed or cancelled with little advance warning, boxing stands poised to fill the void. The mushrooming sports channels need content.

The ever-expanding number of weight divisions in pro boxing pales alongside the glut of bowl games in college football. Counting the national title game and the semifinals bleeding into it, there will be 37 bowl games this year. The games are splayed across a 22-day window straddling New Year’s Day and it all starts with the ludicrous Tropical Smoothie Café Bowl on Dec. 19 in Frisco, Texas.

Correction: There would be 37 bowl games if they all get played. But many will be cancelled. That opens the door to enterprising boxing promoters.

On balance, of course, the pandemic has been terrible for all sports that depend in whole or in part on gate receipts, without which they are not sustainable. By and large, the boxers that have appeared in “bubble fights” have been working on the cheap. But for some, the pandemic has provided an opportunity for exposure they would not have otherwise received, and that will pay dividends down the road when the world returns to normal.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 114: Electrifying Ryan Garcia Opens Up 2021

David A. Avila

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Southern California’s Ryan “Kingry” Garcia will face England’s Luke Campbell on Saturday January 2, 2021. DAZN will stream the battle for the interim WBC lightweight title at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif.

Another one of those useless titles but it’s really all about the fight.

Garcia (20-0, 17 KOs) was supposed to meet Campbell (20-3, 16 KOs) in early December, but the British fighter contracted the coronavirus and was forced to quarantine. This new date allows enough time for the fight to be re-scheduled.

“My mindset going into this fight hasn’t changed, and my training hasn’t stopped,” said Ryan Garcia. “I’m excited we have a new date and can finally bring this to the fans. I’m here, and I’m ready to ring in the new year with a victory…let’s go.”

Campbell expects to be ready.

“New date, new year, same result,” said Luke Campbell. “I’m fully back in training and have never felt better. What a way to start 2021 this is going to be with a clinical Luke Campbell win.”

It’s rare for a non-world title fight to grab main event status on a major boxing card, but Garcia (pictured on the right with his famous stablemate) is not the usual contender. Though undefeated, it’s really the manner of his victories that have electrified fans. In his last three fights, none of his opponents survived longer than six minutes. Francisco Fonseca was electrocuted with a left hook at 1:20 of the first round the last time Garcia walked into a prize ring.

British fans expect Campbell to prove Garcia is pure hype and a product of social media mania and a large female fan base. They cite Campbell’s experience against world champions like Vasyl Lomachenko and Jorge Linares that ended in decision losses. Also, that Campbell has never been stopped.

So far, Garcia has never been floored as a professional and shown extraordinary speed. It’s not a push-over fight but a strategically important step for the Southern Californian’s future as a major force in boxing and a crossover star who can attract non-boxing fans.

We have seen this before several decades ago.

“What better way to start this new chapter than with boxing’s newest crossover star? Despite being just 22 years old, Ryan Garcia has already built a huge fan base, and once he gets past Luke Campbell, the sky is the limit,” said Oscar De La Hoya who knows a thing or two about crossover appeal.

De La Hoya also happens to be Garcia’s promoter.

Now if Oscar can hang onto Garcia’s contract, we might see a revisit to a golden era like we saw when De La Hoya sold out boxing cards from Los Angeles to New York. And of course, Las Vegas.

One day after the new year begins, Garcia could be the vanguard of a new boxing era.

We shall see.

New Boxing Networks

No matter how many times prizefighting gets kicked and stomped on from detractors and haters, the sport always seems to rise up again.

Two boxing cards competed on a Thursday night with NBC Sports Network showcasing Ring City USA at the Wild Card Gym parking lot in Hollywood, and another show in Mexico City streamed on UFC Fight Pass.

Boxing continues to attract media outlets.

American fighters were sent to Sonora, Mexico on Roy Jones Jr. Boxing Promotions to battle Mexican fighters. On the same night, Mexican fighters were sent to Hollywood, California USA to battle American fighters.

Both competed against each other.

Ring City USA has no particular promoter tie and already has dates set up for December and beyond.

“We’re willing to work with all promoters and we are not promoters,” said Evan Rutkowski on a DAZN boxing talk show. “We’re not taking options on any of these fighters.”

UFC Fight Pass has a deal with Roy Jones Jr. Boxing Promotions, but rumors are spreading that the streaming network plans to expand its boxing platform on a large scale.

One of its promoters is said to be Salita Promotions and if that is true, then it could be a major coup led by top female fighter Claressa Shields.

At the moment, it is merely a rumor.

Spence and Garcia

All systems are go for the welterweight showdown between IBF and WBC welterweight titlist Errol Spence Jr. and former champion Danny “Swift” Garcia on December 5 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It will be shown on FOX pay-per-view.

Questions remain about the health of Spence after a horrific car crash that saw his car topple end over end a year ago. Does the Texas southpaw still possess the reflexes and grit that propelled him to victory over Shawn Porter, Mikey Garcia and Kell Brook?

Garcia has only two losses and both were firefights with no clear winner.

This is an important measuring stick for both Spence and Garcia.

Canelo

With the departure of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez from Golden Boy Promotions it does not seem to constitute a complete amputation. DAZN will continue to stream the redheaded Mexican’s fights.

Alvarez will be fighting Callum Smith on Saturday Dec. 19, at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. A limited number of fans will be allowed to witness the fight that will be co-promoted by Matchroom Boxing and Canelo Promotions. DAZN will stream.

“I am thrilled to be back at the Alamodome and very thankful to be fighting in front of my fans on December 19,” said Canelo. “I have great memories of my previous bouts in Texas, and I expect this to be a special fight to close out the year.”

Callum Smith is a younger brother of Liam Smith one of Canelo’s earlier knockout victims. He also has a seven-inch height advantage and equal reach advantage. Canelo, tiny by comparison, has a towering assignment to complete.

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