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Mayweather’s Unfortunate Announcement Stole No Thunder From Canelo-GGG II

In sports, as in life, timing is everything. An example of perfectly good timing, at least for the winning team, came Saturday afternoon in Auburn, Ala

Bernard Fernandez

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In sports, as in life, timing is everything. An example of perfectly good timing, at least for the winning team, came Saturday afternoon in Auburn, Ala., as LSU kicker Cole Tracy nailed a last-second field goal to cap a fourth-quarter rally and lift LSU to a 22-21 upset of Auburn in a terrific college football game.

An example of perfectly rotten timing came earlier in the day, as Floyd Mayweather Jr. revealed that he would be coming out of retirement, again, to take on the ghost of Manny Pacquiao in a rematch of their May 2, 2015, megafight that set financial records, but delivered far less action than any boxing fan could have hoped for given the astronomical ticket prices and only slightly less-outrageous pay-per-view subscription fee.

Coincidentally (possible, but unlikely), when they found themselves at a musical festival in Tokyo, “Money” and “Pac-Man” confronted one another and more or less announced the likelihood of a do-over sometime in December. The proposed rematch is something that Mayweather apparently believes will generate the same sort of global fascination that their first fight did, not to mention another hefty payday for himself.

“Manny don’t want none of this, baby,” a preening Mayweather was heard to say in a video that not unexpectedly went viral. “Easy work.”

An accompanying Instagram post on Mayweather’s account revealed why boxing’s foremost attention hound might consider another go at Pacquiao in a bout that the masses haven’t exactly been clamoring for. “Another 9 figure pay day on the way,” he optimistically predicted.

If Mayweather can squeeze another $100 million out of the public to put on another dog-and-pony show, he might prove himself to be more of a marketing genius than he already has demonstrated time and again. But it says here that the old master (he’s 41) will be sorely disappointed to learn that his drawing power is greatly diminished at this late stage of a remarkable career, a reality even more evident for the 39-year-old Pacquiao despite his recently won “regular” WBA welterweight title that came on a seventh-round stoppage of the even more-faded Lucas Matthysse.

Now, back to the matter of timing. Does anyone think it wasn’t planned that the notion of a May-Pac II clash was revealed on the very morning that Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin were to square off in the biggest fight of 2018, a fight that for the most part lived up to the lofty hype? It was widely speculated that Mayweather was trying to “steal the thunder” from Canelo-GGG II, which on the face of it is as much a certainty as early-morning sunrises. Much of the shenanigans that Mayweather is involved in to remain a lightning rod for controversy are orchestrated. Some, unfortunately, is not.

Let one thing be made clear. In addition to his gift for making himself the most fabulously wealthy boxer ever, Mayweather is the finest fighter of his era. He was the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet for years, and one of the best ever, although the man who bills himself as “TBE” (the best ever) might be a tad excessive in his boastful claim to such a distinction. Many boxing historians would make him an underdog if somehow he could be paired, prime on prime, against Sugar Ray Robinson at welterweight, Roberto Duran at lightweight or Sugar Ray Leonard at any weight. But even now, Mayweather’s magnificent defense and overall skill set would, at least initially, stamp him as a top four or five pound-for-pound fighter were he to come back to campaign in earnest in a deep welterweight division packed with such young guns as Errol Spence Jr., Terence Crawford, Keith Thurman and, maybe soon, elite 140-pounders Jose Ramirez and Regis Prograis.

Conspicuously absent from the list of most-relevant welterweights is future first-ballot Hall of Famer Pacquiao, the secondary title he wrested from the used-up Matthysse (who promptly announced his retirement) notwithstanding. The only man ever to win world titles in eight weight classes, Pacquiao’s handling of Matthysse in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, marked his first victory inside the distance since his 12th-round TKO of Miguel Cotto on Nov. 14, 2009, snapping a kayo-less streak of 13 bouts.

That Pacquiao would subject himself to another near-certain loss to Mayweather is not surprising. Unlike the presumably fixed-for-life Mayweather, Manny appears to be in desperate financial straits. He owes millions of dollars to the IRS, has been jettisoned by his longtime promotional company, Top Rank, after a 17-year relationship, and he had to put up some of his own dwindling funds to promote the fight with Matthysse, which tanked at the box office. All of the elite fighters at 147 want to get a piece of Manny while there is still a scrap to fight over, but the Fab Filipino has to realize that his last, best shot at a significant payday might necessitate offering himself up as another testament to Floyd’s ego. When last they fought three-plus years ago, Pacquiao’s more enthusiastic supporters backed him with their hearts and wallets instead of with rationality, which dictated that his was probably a lost cause from the beginning. But at least Pacquiao had the excuse that he was fighting with a bum shoulder, an injury he concealed until after the fact.

It should not be inferred that Mayweather rose to the heights he did by beating up on used-to-be’s, never-were’s and not-quite-there-yets. There are many big-name victims on his resume, and he dispatched most of them in convincing fashion. But as he developed an antihero persona that stirred the masses one way or the other, raised his profile and inflated his bank account, he became ever more protective of his undefeated record and veneer of invincibility.  His obstinance was the primary roadblock to delaying a fight with Pacquiao that came five years later than it should have, and his two bouts thereafter were a perfunctory tuneup of mouthy Andre Berto, who fashioned himself as Floyd Lite, and the novelty matchup with even mouthier UFC superstar Conor McGregor, whose crossover into a fighting discipline in which he played the deluded novice to “Money’s” grand master made the Irishman more of a designated victim than legitimate threat.

Now Mayweather is back, which might be because, like other retired greats, he craves the spotlight that has since focused on others. But it might also owe to the possibility that his fabulous and much-flaunted wealth, like that once possessed by Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, was not so fabulous as to be severely whittled down by his exorbitant spending habits.

In a 2014 Showtime special in which his lifestyle of the rich and famous was examined by, yes, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous host Robin Leach, Mayweather’s otherworldly extravagance was nearly as incomprehensible to regular folk as that displayed by  Charles Foster Kane, as played by the great Orson Welles, in the 1941 film classic Citizen Kane. Among the nuggets of information revealed in that program:

*Mayweather maintained three residences in Las Vegas, one in Sunny Isles, Fla., outside of Miami, one in Los Angeles and one in New York City. Among the 88 luxury cars he had purchased for himself and members of his unwieldy entourage, he kept a matching set at his primary Vegas residence (those were white) and one in Florida (those were black) “because I don’t want to get confused where I am,” he told Leach.

*Despite his fleet of spiffy rides, he couldn’t resist the urge to shell out $4.8 million for the world’s most expensive car, a Koenigseeg CCXR Trevita, a land rocket that can go from zero to 60 in 2.8 seconds and has a top speed of 250 mph. After Leach’s camera crew departed, Mayweather further splurged on a $3.2 million Pagani Huayra and a $3.3 million Aston-Martin 177.

*He wore wildly expensive boxer shorts and sneakers (Christian Louboutins, which are priced anywhere from $795 to $3,595 a pair, depending on the model) only once before discarding them.

*He kept on staff a personal, in-residence chef at $4,000 a day (useful if he got the late-night munchies) and a personal barber charged with the daily responsibility of keeping Floyd’s shaved skull shiny and follicle-free.

*The bars at his various residences are stocked with his beverage of choice (Louis XIII Remy Martin Cognac, which goes for $3,500 a bottle).

Although Mayweather’s investments supposedly guaranteed him at least $1 million a month in interest, his expenditures far exceeded that amount, which might have caused a cash-flow problem as he no longer is an active boxer and receiving checks with lots of zeros on them. Given his fondness for betting big on sports events, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop (he only goes public on those occasions when he collects on wagers), it is not unreasonable to believe that he either has cut back on his spending, sold off some of his pricier boy toys to lower the overhead or – more to the point in this instance – decided to throw down again with Manny for fun, profit and self-gratification.

But should Mayweather proceed with still another flight of fancy, he is apt to find out that all the network executives and other power brokers once obliged to dance to his tune aren’t willing to give him anything he wants, or even most of it, this time around. Those he bossed around because he could on his way up might want some payback now that he no longer is holding the whip. Even fans who once felt compelled to follow Mayweather’s every move might now balk at ponying up for a second installment of the slow waltz with Manny as the realization settles in that the first fight, when both men ostensibly were better than they are now, wasn’t exactly a barnburner.

No, Floyd didn’t steal thunder from Canelo and GGG with an announcement that made news but did not – could not – snatch boxing’s biggest headlines on a day in which a really good and competitive fight wasn’t about to be supplanted by one that wasn’t all that compelling three years ago, and another that might or might not take place in December.

If there is any surprise should Mayweather actually go through with this, it will come when he discovers he no longer controls the narrative, and he can’t regain his grasp on the steering wheel by relentlessly insulting Pacquiao or trying to surpass his own record for titillating f-bombs. For the Pacquiao fight in 2015, he ordered the revocation of credentials from two female reporters, Michelle Beadle and Rachel Nichols, who had the temerity to mention Floyd’s history of domestic abuse toward women, which is much more of a hot-button topic now than it was then. Beadle did not particularly mind being absent on fight night, and she said there is more to Mayweather, not all of it positive, than his superb defense, signature shoulder roll and unblemished record inside the ropes.

“I feel strongly about holding people accountable for their actions,” Beadle wrote after her credential had been lifted. “People are fed up. A lot, not all, but a lot of fans are tired of rooting for terrible human beings who are allowed to continue being terrible, so long as they’re winning.”

That assessment might be overly harsh. I don’t know Floyd well enough to weigh in on the subject one way or the other. But it is, and always has been, abundantly evident that his undeniable talent is eclipsed only by his unshakable belief that he operates on a higher plane than mere mortals. It is at once his gift and his curse.

All Hail to the Great Lotierzo

There is a reason Frank Lotierzo is TSS’ foremost expert in analyzing what will happen in an upcoming fight. The reason is simple: he’s right a lot more often than he’s wrong. When Frank predicted a points victory for Canelo Alvarez over Gennady Golovkin in their delayed and very contentious rematch, I should have reconsidered my own position, which was that GGG would win, probably on a stoppage (I picked him to get the job done in eight rounds, but I, like two of the official judges, had Canelo winning by a 115-113 margin).

Kudos to Frank, and mea culpas on my part to those TSS readers who erred in siding with me on this one. But the great thing about boxing is that there’s always another big fight coming up, and with it another chance to either look really smart or to embarrass yourself. Maybe we can agree to disagree somewhere down the line, Frank. Should be fun.

 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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It’s Been a Topsy-Turvy Week for Claressa Shields

Arne K. Lang

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When signing an autograph for a fan, Claressa Shields appends her signature with the initials GWOAT (Greatest Woman of All Time). Last night (Wednesday, Oct. 16), she acquired another trophy for her mantle when she was named Sportswoman of the Year for Individual Sports by the Women’s Sports Foundation at the organization’s annual banquet at the Cipriani-Wall Street Restaurant in New York. The foundation was founded in 1974 by tennis legend Billie Jean King “to advance the lives of women and girls through sports and physical activity.”

Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, currently 9-0 as a pro, finished first in a field of 10 finalists. She previously won this award in 2016. Since the award was bifurcated with individual sports separated from team sports, only Shields and speed skater Bonnie Blair have won this award twice. Blair took down the honors in 1994 and 1995.

The news came one day after law enforcement authorities in Shields’ hometown of Flint, Michigan, confirmed that Shields brother Artis Mack was in custody for the assault of James Ali Bashir (aka Bashir Ali).

Seven days ago, things were going swimmingly for Claressa Shields. At the press conference in Flint for her forthcoming bout with Croatia’s Ivana Habazin, SHOWTIME executive Gordon Hall presented Shields with a $10,000 check for her charity which benefits underprivileged youth in the Flint area. Mark Taffet, Shields’ manager, announced that 300 Flint-area youth representing such organizations as the Boys and Girls Club would be Claressa’s guests at the fight. Dr. Karen Weaver, the mayor of Flint, thanked the fighter for “the love and support that she has shown for her hometown.” (Earlier this year, Mayor Weaver, a clinical psychologist, declared April 27 to be Claressa Shields Day in Flint and presented the boxer with the symbolic key to the city.)

What a wonderful preamble to what was packaged as a landmark night in the city of Flint. Shields would be making her first appearance as a pro in the city where she was born and raised. The fight would air as the main event on SHOWTIME which had pumped up interest in the fight at no small expense by showcasing Shields in a three-part digital series called “The Rise.” With a win over Habazin, who held the WBO 154-pound belt, Shields would become the fastest fighter in history – male or female – to win world titles in three weight divisions.

Then the stuff hit the fan.

At the weigh-in the day following the press conference, Ivana Habazin’s trainer, the aforementioned James Ali Bashir, got into a tense verbal confrontation with Shields’ sister during which he punctuated his back talk with incendiary words related to her mannish appearance. (Claressa’s sister is a member of the LBGTQ community.)

Somewhat later but before the scales were readied, Bashir was punched in the back of the head. The punch landed with such force that Bashir, whose age is variously listed as 68 and 71, fell face first to the concrete floor where he lay unconscious, bleeding from the mouth. Habazin rushed to him sobbing and stayed with him as he was transported to the hospital.

Bashir underwent some sort of facial reconstructive surgery, was released from the hospital, and then had to return to the hospital when he was diagnosed with a brain bleed. He is out of the hospital now and believed to be back in his native New Jersey.

As we know, the Shields-Habazin fight was cancelled although the show went on as scheduled with the co-feature bumped up into the main event.

Shields was devastated. The show, which was intended to uplift her beleaguered community, had the opposite effect, heaping more sludge on a city with an image problem. “Claressa and her team are classless,” Habazin wrote on her social media page. “We don’t feel safe here (in Flint).”

In an interview shortly after the incident with a local TV station, Shields said that the assailant, to her knowledge, was not a member of her camp. That depends, one might say, on how one defines “camp.”

The identity of the miscreant was first revealed by Ryan O’Hara, a young boxing writer from Arizona. In a story that appeared on Oct. 9, O’Hara, who did his homework, told his readers that Artis Mack, Claressa’s 28-year-old brother, had been in and out of prison since 2009 and was on parole for assault and felony weapons violations.

artis

Claressa referenced her brother back in August when she said that one of the reasons she was happy about having her next fight in Flint was because it meant that Artis (pictured) would finally get to see her in the ring. As a parolee, he wasn’t allowed to leave the state.

News about Artis Mack’s arrest included the information that he was apprehended on the day of the weigh-in. As he ran from the building, he was followed by an off-duty officer who caught up with him in a nearby neighborhood and arrested him. Why the authorities waited 12 days to name the culprit remains a mystery.

The charge against Mack is “assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder.” If found guilty, he faces up to 10 years in prison.

As for Claressa Shields, she purportedly lost a $350,000 payday when the fight was cancelled. Her newest award from the Women’s Sports Foundation will presumably assuage a bit of the hurt.

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Avila Perspective, Chap 69: – Boxing Loses 3; Thompson Boxing and More

David A. Avila

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The month of October has not been kind to the boxing world. Three prizefighters including Patrick Day died from various reasons in the span of two weeks.

Day, 27, passed away four days after injuries sustained from a prize fight on Oct. 12, against Charles Conwell in Chicago. He was in a coma when he was ambulanced to a nearby hospital. The super welterweight fighter was born and raised in Freeport, New York.

Eloy Perez, 32, a former contender from Salinas, California, passed away on Oct. 11 from undisclosed reasons allegedly in Tijuana, Mexico. He was a super featherweight whose last battle was against Adrien Broner for the WBO world title back in 2012.

Javier “Pelos” Garcia, 30, a former BKB champion, expired on Oct. 1, at age 30 in Oxnard, California also from undisclosed reasons. The cousin of Robert and Mikey Garcia last fought in 2013 against DeMarcus Corley.

All three boxers fought in Southern California.

Last June, the super welterweight Day fought at Pechanga Resort and Casino where he battled against Carlos Adames in a fierce 10 round war and lost by decision. After the fight he could be seen taking photos with fans and other fighters at the casino in Temecula, California.

Perez lost only one fight and after that never fought again. As a youngster he was involved in football and was a quarterback despite his lack of height. Boxing became his next venture and he excelled. Some of his best wins were over Dominic Salcido and David Rodela.

Garcia fought in the BKB, an organization that lasted only a few years and whose fights were held in a pit in Las Vegas. He won the BKB welterweight championship with a fifth round knockout over Darnell Jiles at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in 2014.

It’s been a very sad month for the boxing world.

Thompson Boxing

Trick or treat begins early for Thompson Boxing Promotions.

Instead of sugar-coated candy the hunt for the next world champion continues Friday, Oct. 18, with welterweight prospect Angel Ruiz (16-0, 12 KOs) meeting Puerto Rican southpaw Javier Flores (14-2, 12 KOs) at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario. It will be streamed on Thompson Boxing’s page on Facebook.com.

Tijuana’s Ruiz was scheduled to meet Flores several months ago but a hand injury scrapped the meeting. Now the Mexican fighter has recovered and finally meets the Boricua in the boxing ring.

“Ruiz has had plenty of time to prepare for this fight,” said Alex Camponovo the matchmaker for Thompson Boxing. “It should be an excellent fight.”

Also on the card, Golden Garcia (11-0-1), comes by way of Canada and was recommended by Banner Promotions. The lightweight from Montreal will be making his first appearance on U.S. soil. He faces Tijuana’s Hector Garcia, a scrappy fighter who took Devin Haney, Juan Carlos Burgos and Daniel Franco the distance when they met.

“We have a longstanding relationship with Banner and we’re going to take a good look at him,” said Camponovo of the Canadian lightweight.

Another prospect worth watching will be George Acosta (7-1) fighting Mexican veteran Roberto Almazan (9-12) in a lightweight clash set for six rounds. Acosta lost his last fight in a battle with another talented prospect Ruben Torres.

“He’s a good fighter and when he lost to Ruben Torres both fighters were undefeated,” said Camponovo. “It was a very close fight and could have gone either way. We like his talent.”

Doors open at 6:30 and the fights begin at 8 p.m. For more information call (714) 935-0900.

Artis J. Mack brother of Claressa Shields Charged

A prosecutor has filed an assault charge against the brother of boxer Claressa Shields in connection with an attack on the trainer of Ivana Habazin before the weigh-in for their fight, according to a story by the Associated Press.

Genesee County prosecutor David Leyton issued a statement Wednesday saying 28-year-old Artis J. Mack of Flint has been charged with one count of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder in the Oct. 4 attack on 68-year-old James Ali Bashir.

Bashir was hospitalized after getting punched, falling and striking his head on the floor before the weigh-in. The Oct. 5 fight was cancelled.

Fights to Watch

Fri. 7 p.m. ESPN – Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-0) vs Artur Beterbiev (14-0)

Fri. 8 p.m. Facebook Watch – Angel Ruiz (16-0) vs Javier Flores (14-2, 12 KOs)

Fri. 11:30 p.m. Telemundo – Emanuel Colon (16-1-1) vs Richard Zamora (19-3)

Sat. 11 a.m. DAZN – Lewis Ritson (19-1) vs Robbie Davies Jr. (19-1)

Sat. 6 p.m. UFC Fight Pass – Cody Crowley (17-0) vs Mian Hussain (16-1)

Sat. 7 p.m. Facebook Watch – Oscar Duarte (17-1-1) vs Richard Solano (21-2-2)

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Beterbiev vs. Gvozdyk a Matchup of Shark vs. Piranha?

Bernard Fernandez

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To hear trainer Teddy Atlas describe it, Friday night’s light heavyweight unification matchup of IBF champion Artur Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KOs) and WBC titlist Oleksandr “The Nail” Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KOs) is like a shark taking on a piranha, and Teddy’s guy, Gvozdyk, is the piranha.

But boxing isn’t always about the predator that has the biggest, sharpest teeth, or the hardest punch. Victory in the ring can be the result of various means, one being the way a large enough shark can swallow its prey almost whole.  Another is for the piranha to take a bite here and a bite there until the same objective is achieved.

Which approach is the more effective on fight night should be determined in what the oddsmakers have made a virtual 50/50 tossup. ESPN and ESPN Deportes will televise from the Liacouras Center on the Temple University campus in North Philadelphia.

Atlas and Beterbiev’s trainer, Marc Ramsay, appear to be in agreement that Beterbiev, 34, a Russian based in Montreal for the last several years, has the kind of paralyzing power capable of taking out many opponents with a single shot. But the Big Bite strategy can be neutralized and overcome by patient nibblers who recognize that there are times when it’s better to hang back and other times when it’s preferable to dart in and quickly snack on whatever is being offered. Not so very long ago Gvozdyk, a bronze medalist for Ukraine at the 2012 London Olympics, was hesitant to exhibit the selective restraint as preached by Atlas. Now, as they approach their third bout together, Gvozdyk – hardly a pittypat puncher, if not quite on Beterbiev’s level — has made himself over into the prototypical Atlas fighter. Ramsay, however, isn’t convinced that any trainer, together with a fighter for less than a year, can orchestrate such a swift and comprehensive stylistic overhaul. What Ramsay does know is that his man is the real deal when it comes to bringing the pain.

“He’s the best that I ever saw,” Ramsay, who also has worked with former light heavyweight champions Jean Pascal and Eleider Alvarez, said when asked about Beterbiev’s penchant for exclamation-point finishes. “And the thing is that it’s not only one shot. It’s all the shots. He can hurt you from distance or in close. He has that kind of explosiveness. But he has a lot more than power to offer.”

Ramsay is less inclined to accept the notion that Gvozdyk, who is no newcomer to boxing at 32, can make anything more than cosmetic changes to an aggressive, come-forward style that has served him so well for so long. He said old, ingrained habits are not so easy to break.

“Real change – technical things, philosophical things – is a long process,” Ramsay opined. “It’s a lot of repetition in the gym. A lot of repetition.”

Atlas is a highly accomplished trainer who has worked at various times with such outstanding fighters as a young Mike Tyson, Michael Moorer, Donny Lalonde, Alexander Povetkin and Timothy Bradley Jr., was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame as a broadcaster last June. He is my-way-or-the-highway Type A personality who demands absolute adherence to his dictums from his fighters, which is one reason why he was hesitant to take on another after Bradley retired. Gvozdyk is his only fighter at this time, maybe the last he’ll ever work with, and the relationship seems solid.

“We know the basics. Everybody knows the basics,” Gvozdyk said of the way he looked at the way he prepared himself for bouts before he hooked up with Atlas. “But the small details … sometimes you think I’m too good, somebody can forgive me some mistakes. Teddy is always on top of it. He never lets you drift. He’s kind of like a dictator. A smart dictator. That is what I need at this stage of my career. I feel like I’m special right now for Teddy. Teddy is not some average trainer. He’s a legend.”

Atlas’ first fight as Gvozdyk’s chief second was no shakedown cruise through smooth waters. When “The Nail” – his last name literally translates to that in Russian – challenged then-WBC titlist Adonis “Superman” Stevenson on Dec. 1, 2018, on Stevenson’s home turf in Quebec City, he was facing another devastating puncher, maybe one with even more pop than Betierbiev, and a long-reigning champ who was making his 10th defense over  5½ years. But while Gvozdyk ended Stevenson’s career with an 11th-round knockout, he did have a couple of shaky moments. The first came when he was hammered with a flush shot in the second round and another, one he didn’t see, in the 10th. He might not be readying to face Beterbiev now if he had been caught with a follow-up shot while hurt, but he found a way to make it to the end of the round.

Asked if he “felt good” about Gvozdyk’s chances against Beterbiev, given his previous brush with disaster with Stevenson, Atlas said there’s always some anxiety when the guy in the other corner hits as hard as a mule kicks.

“It’s never a good experience facing a puncher,” Atlas noted. “It’s a reminder that there’s no room for mistakes. There has to be full concentration for 36 minutes. You have to fight one three-minute round at a time, not two minutes and 59 seconds, not when you’re in there with a puncher that can change everything in a moment, as Stevenson almost did in the 10th round.

“But the reason why (Gvozdyk) is a champion is that he was able to survive that. When the moment came, he behaved like a champion. I’ve no doubt that whenever that moment comes Friday night, he’ll do the same thing. It’s never comfortable to be facing a puncher, but at least we know we’ve done it and we know what it takes to get by.”

Atlas banned media members from attending any of Gvozdyk’s private training sessions in Philadelphia, the better to ensure that whatever wrinkles he was adding to a fighter that still might be considered a work in progress were not made public before fight night. But Atlas did say that there are times when a clever piranha can indeed defeat a shark. Little bites add up, until the time is right to open those smaller jaws wide and gouge out a larger chunk.

“If there’s moments to take bigger bites in this fight, we’re going to take them, at whatever time that is,” Atlas said. “If it’s early, it’s early. If it’s late, it’s late. There’s going to be moments to take bigger bites with this guy. That doesn’t mean getting sloppy or careless or greedy.

“Alex has great judgment and instincts. I know we can depend on that judgment and those instincts.”

Go, Eagles! Uh, make that Rock …

Arch-rivalries are the lifeblood of any sport. How much less interesting would baseball be without Yankees-Red Sox, Cardinals-Cubs and Dodgers-Giants to stir fans’ passions? The NBA was so much more compelling when the Lakers and Magic could go for it all, and frequently did, against the Celtics and Bird. Tennis used to be defined by Borg vs. Connors, Sampras vs. Agassi and, even now in their athletic dotage, Federer vs. Nadal.

In Philadelphia, the most despised opponent is always the Dallas Cowboys. The City of Brotherly Love is anything but when the Eagles and ’Boys hook up, as will be the case Sunday night when the Eagles and Cowboys, both 3-3 and tied for first place in the lackluster NFC East, square off in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Each team’s season might be disappointing to this point, but that hardly matters when emotions run high and civic pride is on the line. In Philly, at least, the quarterback duel of Carson Wentz vs. Dak Prescott will still be viewed as something akin to Frazier vs. Ali in helmets and shoulder pads. Eagles coach Doug Pederson fanned the standard flames higher and hotter by publicly predicting his team was “going to win that football game.”

In addition to Eagles-Cowboys, there will be another Philly vs. Dallas matchup on ice, albeit at a somewhat less acrimonious level, Saturday night when the NHL’s Flyers host the Dallas Stars at the Wells Fargo Center. Meanwhile, in a different part of town the same evening, Hard Hitting Promotions gets in on the act by staging a 10-bout card at The Met Philadelphia as part of what is being described by HHP head Manny Rivera as “Philly vs. Dallas Week.”

The eight-round main event pairs North Philly heavyweight Darmani Rock (16-0, 11 KOs) against 41-year-old Maurenzo Smith (21-11-4, 14 KOs), who actually was born and raised in Houston but is said to now fight out of Dallas. The undercard is topped by the six-round light heavyweight matchup of Glassboro, N.J.’s (hey, it’s reasonably close to Philly) Derrick Webster (28-2, 14 KOs) and Israel Duffus (19-6, 16 KOs), of Los Angeles by way of his native Panama. Duffus is a late fill-in for Francisco Castro (28-11, 23 KOs) of El Paso, Texas, which, like LA, is really nowhere near Dallas. five other Philadelphia fighters, or those in the general vicinity, are slated to appear, but none against opponents with even the thinnest ties to Dallas.

Word has it that Rock and maybe Webster will enter the ring garbed in some sort of midnight green, the better to stoke the Eagles-adoring crowd. Prudent matchmaking suggests that both local fighters (if you give Webster benefit of the doubt) will be victorious, although Rock’s weight is frequently an area of concern. The 6-foot-5, 23-year-old prospect came in at a career-high 289 pounds for his most recent bout, a second-round knockout of Raymond Ochieng on June 14, 48 pounds more than he did for his sixth pro outing three years earlier. Rock will probably be looking to quickly put away Smith, who has been stopped seven times and, at 278 pounds for his most recent ring appearance, also packs the heft of an NFL defensive lineman.

For Philadelphia fight fans hankering for a much more consequential Philly vs. Dallas showdown, it will happen sometime in 2020 if (a)  IBF/WBC welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. (26-1, 21 KOs), who lives in the Dallas suburb of DeSoto, Texas, fully recovers from injuries suffered in his recent auto accident and (b) he actually does take on two-division former titlist Danny Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs), of the Juniata Park section of Philly, as was announced after Spence’s Sept. 28 split-decision unification victory over Shawn Porter.

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