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The Trash Talk Stoking the GGG-Canelo Rumble: Is at least some of it Strategic?

The subject was trash talk, its truthful origins in some cases and its usage as a strategic tool in others. Sometimes it’s a combination of both

Bernard Fernandez

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The subject was trash talk, its truthful origins in some cases and its usage as a strategic tool in others. Sometimes it’s a combination of both. But separating fact from fiction beforehand can be difficult for those on the outside, so it made sense to consult an expert on the subject to weigh in on the increasingly nasty dialogue between the respective camps before Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez exchange verbal jabs for actual punches in Saturday night’s HBO Pay for View rematch at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.

So how about it, Bernard Hopkins? As the old commercials once advised us, is it live or is it Memorex? Great taste or less filling?

“It’s real, all right. It’s real on both sides,” said Hopkins, who can’t be described as a strictly neutral observer given his position as an executive with Golden Boy Promotions, for whom Alvarez is the principal cash cow.

But regardless of whether the charges and counter-charges, most of which are fairly dripping with venom, are 100 percent genuine hardly seems to matter at this point. The perception of bad blood between Fighter A and Fighter B can stoke wildfires of interest in a particular bout, and the methods employed for igniting the conflagration can range from clever, comical, profane and legitimate animosity. Selecting just the right format to throw a particular opponent off his game is something of an art form.

During a 28-year professional boxing career that will result in a first-ballot induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Hopkins spiced his physical skills, superior conditioning and ring smarts with a tart tongue and occasional props, the most obvious being the Puerto Rican flag he twice threw down at press conferences in advance of his Sept. 29, 2001, showdown with that island’s favorite son, Felix Trinidad. The gestures of disrespect so infuriated Trinidad that he boiled over with anger, wanting nothing so much as to put a beat-down on B-Hop. And while a more civil Hopkins might have won anyway, in legend and lore his signature, 12th-round technical knockout victory in a fight he was handily winning to that point is suspected by many to have been somewhat aided by his getting into Trinidad’s head and making him, well, a little bit crazy.

But the insult route in the prefight mental warfare can backfire sometimes. Prior to the first installment in the classic Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier trilogy, on March 8, 1971, Ali — whose previously preferred method of annoying the other guy was to compose trite poems predicting the exact round of that fighter’s impending defeat — resorted to cruel and personal taunts, as well as portraying himself as black America’s champion while holding another proud black man up to ridicule. On one televised talk show, Ali said, “The only people rooting for Joe Frazier are white people in suits, Alabama sheriffs and members of the Ku Klux Klan.”

While that kind of incendiary rhetoric hyped interest in the “Fight of the Century” to a fever pitch, Ali – who later admitted he didn’t really mean much of what he said, that it was just a means of making a big event even bigger – did not count on the motivational effect it had on Smokin’ Joe. “Before we fought, the words hurt me more than the punches,” Frazier is quoted as saying in Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times, by author Thomas Hauser.  Not nearly as verbose as Ali, Frazier exacted his revenge the only way he knew how, with a barrage of left hooks, one of which dropped his tormentor in the 15th round and served as the exclamation point for the Philadelphia slugger’s unanimous decision victory. But that was one of the few instances in which Ali’s trash talk didn’t produce the desired result.

“When it came to mental warfare,” Hopkins said, “I always won that hands down against the guys I fought. I was right behind Muhammad Ali.”

A contender for Hopkins’ runner-up status to Ali as the trash-talking GOAT is the now-retired (but maybe not for long) Floyd Mayweather Jr., whose curious matchup with UFC superstar Conor McGregor on Aug. 26, 2017, whom “Money” stopped in 10 rounds, was presaged by a bizarre four-city promotional tour in which the participants tried to outdo one another in the dropping of globally televised f-bombs. The slew of shouted expletives no doubt helped produce the 4.3 million pay-per-view buys and $600 million in total revenues that made the novelty bout a financial bonanza, but there were more than a few horrified onlookers who probably wished the fighters’ mamas could have come on stage to wash their sons’ mouths out with soap.

Nor is the often-coarse repartee restricted to boxing. Before the NFL took steps to eliminate some of the cruder stuff, it was not uncommon for homophobic slurs, verbal attacks on girlfriends and wives, even questioning the paternity of an opponent’s child to be used to irritate players wearing the other team’s uniform. “I love to be annoying; I’m going to do stuff that will get on your nerves,” Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcom Jenkins told Joseph Santoliquito in a story that was published by PhillyVoice in March 2017. “The talk is more sanitized today than when I first got into the league (in 2009). There is a new generation of players where everybody is buddy-buddy, trading jerseys after games.”

It remains to be seen how GGG-Canelo II is influenced by the relentless innuendos and flat-out accusations of impropriety. While there was grudging respect between the two in the lead-up to their first meeting on Sept. 16 of last year, which ended in a split draw, whatever goodwill that once existed between them and their camps appears to have dissipated. Golovkin and his trainer, Abel Sanchez, believed GGG had done enough to get the decision, but they hinted at darker forces behind judge Adalaide Byrd’s incomprehensible 118-110 scorecard for Canelo.

Tensions would continue to mount after the originally scheduled date for the do-over, on May 5 of this year, was postponed when Canelo tested positive – twice – for the banned substance Clenbuterol. Although Alvarez and Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya claimed the failed drug tests owed to his fighter inadvertently having ingested tainted beef while training in Mexico, Golovkin has maintained that they serve as proof that the vastly popular Mexican fighter is a purposeful cheater, and probably was before his suspension that has now been lifted.

GGG, on the scoring of the first fight: “It was terrible. It was terrible for the people and, of course, it was terrible for the sport of boxing because statistics showed I landed more punches. The fans saw I wanted to fight and Canelo did not want to fight. The fans who watched it live saw the judges bringing crazy scorecards. When the decision was announced, everyone was saying, `Oh, come on! This is not real! This is not true!’ Everybody was mad because those judges killed the sport that night.”

Abel Sanchez, on the subject of Canelo’s failed drug tests: “They (Alvarez, De La Hoya and Alvarez cornermen Eddy Reynoso and Jose “Chepo” Reynoso) keep accusing us of insulting them. There have been no insults from our side. What I’ve stated has been facts. Golovkin gets bothered when people try to sweep the two positive tests under the rug like nothing ever happened and it’s business as usual. Canelo is the one that tested positive, twice. He’s the one that created that. It wasn’t us.”

Sanchez, on Chepo Reynoso’s claim that GGG fights “like a donkey”: “Chepo Reynoso has never had an Olympian. Chepo Reynoso has never had a silver medalist. Chepo Reynoso has never had 18 world champions, as I’ve had. Chepo Reynoso just talks about Canelo. When he gets to my level, maybe he can speak in an intelligent manner. To hear somebody talk like that is ridiculous. It shows a lack of class, a lack of intelligence.”

Sanchez, on what he thinks of Canelo as a person and as a fighter: “I don’t think he’s a man of honor, a man of character. I think he will run like a scared rabbit, like he did the first time.”

Would you care to respond, Team Canelo?

Canelo: “What little respect we had (for Golovkin and his handlers), it’s been lost. Is it personal now? Yes, absolutely. It’s totally changed. They disrespected me. Everything they’ve been saying, everything they’ve been doing, their actions … now it’s different. It’s personal.”

De La Hoya on Alvarez’s motivation to punish GGG: “That’s exactly what a fighter needs, and that’s exactly why this is going to be a great fight. When you’re a fighter and you have no respect for your opponent, magic happens. You train harder in the gym. You run extra miles. More importantly, it’s mental. The mental aspect of it is at its highest level.”

Eddy Reynoso: “Canelo has more talent. He’s more versatile. He knows how to walk in the ring, how to make you miss, how to counterpunch. He’s the total package. He is a thinking fighter, an intelligent fighter. Come Sept. 15, I can assure you two things: not only is Saul going to take away GGG’s undefeated record, he’s also going to shut up Mr. Abel Sanchez.”

From the sound of it, Hopkins would appear to be correct. The two-way rancor is real, not mere hyperbole. Ah, but how to use that pent-up hostility to one fighter or another’s best advantage?

It is Sanchez who has been constantly sniping at Canelo, claiming he fought “scared” the first time, tactics unbefitting a true Mexican warrior. Meanwhile, Sanchez keeps saying, Kazakhstan’s Golovkin more closely adheres to the “Mexican Style” of fighting, which is to come forward and constantly go for the knockout.

“I remember how Canelo boasted, how Bernard boasted that Canelo was so great he was going to knock out Golovkin in the 10th round,” Sanchez recalled. “I just hope he’s true to his word this time. The fans are expecting the Canelo that they’ve seen in the past, not the Canelo they saw last year. If he’s true to his words, that’ll give us the kind of classic fight that we expected the first time – two guys that want to win, not one guy that wants to win and the other guy just looking to survive.”

Although Alvarez has vowed to knock out GGG, he is dropping hints that he will not be lured into a toe-to-toe slugfest. “It’s one thing to be coming forward like a donkey and it’s another thing to be moving, dodging punches, counterpunching, even staying on the ropes without being hit,” he said. “I hope (GGG) goes back to his house afterward and realizes what I’ve been saying about him: that he’s a dumbass.”

To Hopkins’ trained ear, Sanchez’s suggestions of a frightened Canelo’s reluctance to engage at close quarters is the equivalent of the Puerto Rican flags he threw down to incite Trinidad into fighting the fight that played into B-Hop’s hands. He insisted Alvarez is too savvy to fall into that trap.

“Why do you think Abel Sanchez is talking so much about why Canelo needs to fight Mexican Style?’” Hopkins asked. “It’s a way of getting people to forget that Golovkin can fight only one way.

“I told Oscar a long time ago, when Canelo fought (James) Kirkland, that all that talk about Golovkin fighting `Mexican Style’ was just a way to camouflage his lack of ring generalship. How do you finesse this dangerous guy, who can get you out of there at any moment of any round? You make his power work against him, like Ali did with George Foreman.”

It’s a given that GGG and Canelo don’t much care for one another. But the outcome of their bitter feud, fueled by a desire for each to impose his will upon the other, may well hinge on which of these splendid fighters can keep a portion of his emotional need to dominate with enough mental discipline to perform under control. It is that inner struggle – the one within yourself, as well as the one as against your opponent – that often determines who survives big fights otherwise drenched in raw emotion.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Tyson Fury Roared and Deontay Wilder Remained Silent at their L.A. Presser

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TSS special correspondent LAUREN RODRIGUEZ was on the scene for the Top Rank Promotions press conference in downtown Los Angeles on June 15 at which the third meeting between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder was formally announced. Here is her report.

The third fight between Tyson “Gypsy King” Fury (30-1, 21 KOs.) and Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) will go down July 24th in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena. This continued mash-up between the two comes 16 months since their last bout. The first fight, in December 2018, ended in a draw and their second in February 2020, ended in a victory for Fury in the 7th round.

Fury carried the press conference while Wilder remained largely muted.

The WBC champion Fury remains undefeated, a status he is adamant in maintaining. The heavyweight boasted a white suit patterned with images of himself in a crown and wearing the belt he won off Wilder.

“This is a reminder of what happened to him last time, this is a remembrance suit of Deontay Wilder’s ass-kicking.”

The “Gypsy King,” an entertainer, left little words unsaid as he berated his silent opponent.

“It shows how weak a mental person is, it shows the emotional effect the last fight had on his life… I was worried about him after the defeat I gave him,” said Fury.

An Alabama native, Wilder has a 93% knockout rate, the highest rate for any heavyweight.

Wilder wanted no part in other questions from Q/A moderator Christina Poncher, or the media, as he remained silent with headphones and sunglasses to shield him from questions.

Wilder’s trainer, longtime friend and former heavyweight contender Malik Scott answered very few questions for the fighter as tensions rose.

“He’s very stubborn, like most legends and gifted people they have their things with them. As long as he gives me what I want in the gym, I don’t care about the stubbornness cause we’re going to get this done,” said Scott.

If it’s one thing Fury and team all agree on, it’s that history will repeat itself in this third fight come July.

When it comes to what we can expect this time, Fury’s trainer SugarHill Steward stated, “All I have to say is, over time, he [Fury] now has power to knock a man out with one punch. His boxing IQ is one-punch knockout power.”

In Gypsy King fashion, we will have an entertaining show come next month. Fury intends on moving his weight all the way to 300, so he can give Wilder a bigger knockout in the ring and fans a bigger show.

“This time I’m hoping to take him out early, one, two, three rounds max.”

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Tokyo-Bound Aussie Heavyweight Justis Huni Stops Rugged Paul Gallen in the 10th

Arne K. Lang

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Had Justis Huni fought Paul Gallen two months ago, the match would have been trashed as little more than exhibition. During his record-tying 19 years in rugby, Gallen evolved into one of Australia’s most well-known sporting personalities. When Gallen took up boxing in 2014, it was thought that he did it as a lark; as a way of cashing in on his name recognition. And his first 11 opponents were a motley bunch of former rugby players, MMA fighters, 40-somethings, and boxing novices.

Then came the night of April 21, 2021. In a shocker, Gallen demolished former WBA heavyweight titlist Lucas “Big Daddy” Browne in less than two minutes. “Gallen transformed from a rugby league player to a bona fide prize fighter before our very eyes,” said prominent Australian sports journalist Andrew McMurtry.

That knocked Lucas Browne out of a lucrative match with Justis Huni and vaulted Paul Gallen, who turns 40 in August, to the head of the queue. They met Wednesday night (Australia time) at a convention center in Sydney and Huni, five-and-a-half inches taller, 15 pounds heavier, and the younger man by nearly 18 years, saddled Gallen (11-1-1) with his first defeat.

Heading into the fight, Gallen conceded that the heavily favored Huni was faster. However, he thought that he could wear the bigger man down. “If I get through those first four to five rounds, I’ll be in his face the whole time and I think I can knock him out late,” he said.

It proved to be the other way around. Huni dominated the fight and when he knocked Gallen down in the 10th with a big right hook, the referee stepped in and stopped it. But Gallen, who had a bum shoulder from his rugby days and thought that he fought most of the fight with a broken rib, showed tremendous heart.

It was the fifth professional fight for Huni (5-0, 4 KOs) who won the Australian heavyweight title in his pro debut. Of Dutch, Swedish, Samoan, and Tongan heritage, he quit school at age 15 to give boxing his full attention and will represent Australia in the Tokyo Olympics which start next month.

Brisbane-born Huni is already being talked-about as the best-ever Australian-born heavyweight. The rap against him is a lack of one-punch knockout power which won’t be a detriment in Tokyo.

In undercard bouts of note, Brisbane middleweight Isaac Hardman (11-0, 9 KOs) scored a 4th-round stoppage of Emmanuel Carlos (12-2) and middleweight Andrei Mikhailovich, a Russian residing in Auckland, New Zealand, advanced to 16-0 (9) with a second-round stoppage of previously undefeated Alex Hanan (13-1).

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Three Pros are Joining the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, Ruffling Some Feathers

Arne K. Lang

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USA Boxing, the agency that controls amateur boxing in the United States, has a rule that prohibits professional boxers from competing in their tournaments. That rule remains in effect, but yet three pro boxers – middleweight Troy Isley, lightweight Keyshawn Davis, and featherweight Duke Ragan – will suit up for the United States in the forthcoming Tokyo Games. The announcement, which fell largely under the radar, came on June 7.

USA Boxing is subservient to AIBA, the sport’s international governing body, and to the International Olympic Committee. The Boxing Task Force of the IOC changed the rules to allow Isley, Davis and Ragan to compete and the honchos at USA Boxing are none too happy about it.

Blame the Covid-19 pandemic which forced the postponement and ultimately the cancellation of several qualifying tournaments including the “Americas” tournament in Buenos Aires at which boxers from 42 national federations – including the United States — would be competing for the Olympic slots allocated to this region. A total of 286 boxers from around the world will compete in Tokyo in the eight men’s and five women’s weight divisions with the coveted slots dispersed among four Continental Regional Divisions.

With no tournament, the Task Force redesigned the quota allocation process using world rankings to determine the national squads. The rankings were formulated using a point system from events held between January 2017 and October 2019.

The re-jiggering opened the door for Isley, Davis, and Ragan to rejoin the team. Isley and Davis had their first pro fight in February of this year. Ragan turned pro in August of 2020.

Team USA protested that the BTF allocation was unfair to the boxers that finished first in the final domestic qualifying tournament (December 2019 in Lake Charles, Louisiana), but their claim was denied. Isley and Ragan were knocked out of that tournament before reaching the finals; Davis finished first when his opponent in the finals took ill and had to pull out, but he was subsequently booted off the team, reputedly for missing too many practices which he attributed to a family health emergency. That unfrocking has been rescinded.

Before he left the team, Keyshawn Davis was considered the U.S. boxer with the best chance of winning a gold medal in Tokyo. A southpaw, he earned his spurs at the Alexandria Boxing Club in North Alexandria, Virginia, which was also the home gym of Troy Isley who lived right down the street.

The common thread between all three of the returnees is Kay Koroma who coached Davis and Isley at the Alexandria club where he was the top lieutenant to the club’s patriarch Dennis Porter and at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where he served as an assistant to Billy Walsh. Duke Ragan, who hails from Cincinnati, is Koroma’s nephew.

Koroma came to the fore in 2016 when he earned raves for his work with Olympians Claressa Shields. Shakur Stevenson, Charles Conwell and others. But Koroma, one of the hottest young trainers in the sport, won’t be available to work with the 2020/21 team before it heads off to Tokyo. “My plate is too full,” he told The Sweet Science.

Koroma, like many of his former pupils, turned pro himself. He continues to work with Shakur Stevenson, whom he has known since Shakur was 13 years old, he assists veteran coach Al Mitchell with Mikaela Mayer and he recently replaced Ronnie Shields as the head trainer of rising heavyweight contender Efe Ajagba.

Isley, Davis, and Ragan comprise three-fifths of the men’s Olympic team. Super heavyweight Richard Torrez Jr and welterweight Delante “Tiger” Johnson flesh out the quintet.

USA Boxing released a letter to its membership expressing frustration over the decision of the IOC Task Force which killed the dreams of seven boxers who hoped to snare an Olympic berth at the Buenos Aires tournament or, barring that, the Last Chance tournament in Paris which was also a casualty of the pandemic. The letter can be read at the USA Boxing web site.

The seven boxers who were fenced out are:

Darius Fulgham (heavyweight, Houston, TX)

Rahim Gonzalez (light heavyweight, Las Vegas, NV)

Joseph Hicks (middleweight, Lansing, MI)

Charlie Sheehy (lightweight, Brisbane, CA)

Bruce Carrington (featherweight, Brooklyn, NY)

Anthony Herrera (flyweight, East Los Angeles, CA)

and

women’s flyweight Andrea Medina (San Diego, CA).

USA Boxing insists there are no plans to allow professionals to compete for the United States in the 2024 Olympiad and beyond. This is a one-shot exception forced by a unique circumstance. But, needless to say, when it comes to amateur boxing, nothing is etched in stone.

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