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In Dismantling Povetkin, Joshua Recaptured His Swag among the Heavyweights

Frank Lotierzo

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experienced opponent

He was in against a very crafty and experienced opponent in former WBA titlist Alexander Povetkin 34-2 (24). And although he was troubled by the dangerous Russian fighting small as he tried to inch his way in and time him, AJ adjusted well and started to take the initiative and dropped and stopped Povetkin in the seventh round, retaining his WBA, WBO, and IBF heavyweight titles and thus becoming the first fighter to ever stop Povetkin, something Wladimir Klitschko failed to do.

During the fight AJ was forced back. He had to adapt to Povetkin making him punch down and that caused him to be a little tentative, especially after being bloodied from a broken nose in the first round. And early on, AJ was a little confused and busy trying to keep Povetkin occupied from outside so he couldn’t get in on him. His most effective weapon in doing such was his left jab, delivered to the head or body, although the fight really turned when he began putting his one-two together. Then after a fairly evenly-paced bout, AJ slowed some with the hope it would lure Povetkin to close in a little harder, and he did.

As Povetkin, who came to fight, became more assertive, he became more vulnerable. AJ found the openings for his big right hand and left hook. With the first really solid right hand that bounced off his chin, Povetkin buckled and instinctively went back. Joshua pursued him and then, with near Joe Louis-like accuracy, put his right hands and hooks together, along with a beautiful right to the body in the middle of the assault and finished his game opponent.

Once again it was shown that trading with AJ is almost certain suicide. Povetkin was in great shape and would’ve been a handful for any other heavyweight in the world because he no doubt brought his A-game. Sometimes it takes AJ a little while to get going, and if you don’t do anything to bother him or wake him up, he doesn’t fight with the urgency of a “Smokin” Joe Frazier. However, when you wake him up and force him to cut loose, he’s so dangerous that he doesn’t need too many clean shots to end it. And making Joshua more lethal is that he has both short and inside power in both hands.

After months of hearing how Povetkin was the most serious threat to Joshua, that’s now finished business. Prior to the bout The Ring magazine rated the top six heavyweights in the world as follows…..Joshua, Wilder, Povetkin, Ortiz, Whyte and Parker, in that order. Now Joshua is 3-0 (2) versus Povetkin, Whyte and Parker which squashes the narrative that he has fought weaker opposition than WBC title holder Deontay Wilder 40-0 (39) who has only faced Ortiz among the top six.

Today, the most widely levied criticism of any elite fighter is that he didn’t fight the best man or men in his division. Fighters can’t control who their contemporaries are but they can control fighting the best of their era. Rocky Marciano’s era wasn’t stellar, but he fought every top fighter who was in line to challenge him. Floyd Mayweather fought in a stout era – the difference is an overwhelming majority of his bouts with big name opponents were strategically manipulated so that he faced them on the downside of their career – and that’s a fact, not a theory.

Forty years after his last victory in a title fight, Muhammad Ali is respected and revered as a fighter even by those who don’t claim to be a fan of his. Why? He wasn’t the most fundamental boxer in heavyweight history nor was he the biggest puncher, and not all of his fights were edge of your seat exciting. The thing that’s often cited as to why he was a marvel is that he fought the best of the best during one of the deepest eras in heavyweight history. There were a few times between 1975-77 that he held a win over every fighter ranked among The Ring magazine’s top-10. Sure he fought a few Brian London’s and Jean Pierre Coopman’s, but London was encompassed by Sonny Liston and Ernie Terrell during the 1960s and Coopman by Joe Frazier and Ken Norton during the 1970s.

Anthony Joshua hasn’t yet sniffed the greatness of Ali on many levels, but he is on the same trajectory in regards to meeting and defeating the best of his generation. By the end of this month, the WBC heavyweight title fight between Deontay Wilder and former champ Tyson Fury will likely become official with them meeting in early December. And regardless of who wins, Joshua, if he really wants to etch a great legacy, must pressure the winner to meet him in their next bout. In addition to that, he must tell his brain, aka Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn, to forget about winning the purse war if it is the only stumbling block. If the winner of Wilder-Fury is impressive, he will have earned a 50-50 split.

During the faux negotiations between the Joshua and Wilder camps this past summer the purse split was the focal point. And prior to the prospect of Wilder and Fury meeting, Joshua clearly held the better hand based on his resume and owning three titles to Wilder’s single title.  But the Wilder-Fury winner will have closed the gap and Joshua needs to be next while the fighters are at or near their prime. The fact is Joshua versus the Wilder/Fury winner will be the most widely anticipated fight in the heavyweight division since Lewis-Tyson and maybe even since Tyson-Holyfield I. The onus is on the fighters to make it happen and they both have the clout to make sure it does, especially Joshua.

Interviewed in the ring after dispatching Povetkin, AJ said it didn’t matter to him who he fought next as long as it’s Wilder or Fury, but it was obvious that he preferred Wilder. A lot depends on how Wilder fares with Fury, but until then, here’s what we know…..Alexander Povetkin and Luis Ortiz are about on the same level; having never faced each other, it’s a tossup as to who’d win. Both Joshua and Wilder scored impressive stoppages over Povetkin and Ortiz respectively…AJ needed seven rounds and Deontay needed ten rounds. During his bout with Ortiz, Wilder was knocked around the ring and had to endure a few big exchanges, some of which he came out second-best. Wilder was also nearly stopped in the seventh round but battled back, summoning great courage and reserve to win a fight he was losing. Against Povetkin, Joshua was more troubled than he was beaten up. And once he found his range and pace and began putting his punches together, the fight ultimately ended when AJ got off with his best stuff. In essence, Joshua was more impressive against Povetkin and had fewer close calls than did Wilder against Ortiz.

Between now and the time Wilder fights Tyson Fury, it’ll be debated as to who was more impressive – Joshua against Povetkin or Wilder against Ortiz; the answer is clearly Joshua for the reasons stated. Moreover, when analyzing a fight, A + B doesn’t equal C. Joshua will be favored over either Wilder or Fury, but probably along the line of 7-5 and nothing will change that.

The thing that emerged from Joshua dismantling Povetkin is that AJ recaptured some of the limelight and swag he ceded to Wilder this past March. AJ is again the fighter to beat in the heavyweight division and will probably get the bigger purse split regardless of whether he faces Wilder and Fury.

That said, he better not let the fight fall through over it!

Between 1977 and 1982, Frank Lotierzo had over 50 fights in the middleweight division. He trained at Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia under the tutelage of the legendary George Benton. Before joining The Sweet Science his work appeared in several prominent newsstand and digital boxing magazines and he hosted “Toe-to-Toe” on ESPN Radio. Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@gmail.com

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Friday Night Fight Results from Las Vegas, Central Florida, and Long Island

Arne K. Lang

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The boxing action on the last day of February extended across a wide swath of the country. Moving from west to east, the premier destinations were Las Vegas, Central Florida, and Huntington, Long Island.

“ShoBox: The New Generation” was at Sam’s Town in Las Vegas where the main go was a rematch between super lightweights Keith “The Bounty” Hunter and Sanjarek Rakhmanov. They fought here on February 5 of last year and Hunter staved off a late rally to win a split decision.

A second-generation prizefighter and the younger brother of heavyweight contender Michael Hunter, Keith Hunter came out on top again, winning a unanimous decision in a very entertaining fight that featured a doozy of a 10th round. The scores (98-91 and 97-92 twice) were somewhat misleading as Uzbekistan native Rakhmanov (12-3-1) had his moments after a shaky second round in which Hunter (12-0) scored a flash knockdown.

Other Bouts

In a rather monotonous fight, Richardson Hitchins simply had too much class for Nick DeLomba in their 10-round affair contested at 140 pounds. The Brooklyn-born Hitchins, who represented Haiti in the 2016 Olympics, advanced to 11-0. DeLomba (16-3) hails from Cranston, R.I. and was making his first appearance as a pro outside New England.

The opening bout of the ShoBox tripleheader produced an upset when Genc Pllana (8-1-1) won an unpopular decision over Roy Jones Jr protégé Kevin Newman II in a 10-round contest in the 168-pound class. The scores were 96-94 across the board. A native of Albania, the 26-year-old Pllana represented Washington DC as an amateur.  Newman, 11-1-1, heading in, avenged his previous loss and would likely be favored if were to lock horns with Pllana again.

In an undercard bout of note, cruiserweight Viddal Riley improved to 4-0 with a four-round unanimous decision over Muhammad Abdullah. The 22-year-old Riley, a Londoner who is now part of Floyd Mayweather Jr’s The Money Team stable, is best known as the former trainer of YouTube sensation KSI. A 34-year-old Cincinnati southpaw with an MMA background, Abdullah declined to 4-2-1.

Kissimmee

In Kissimmee, Florida, an Orlando suburb, Puerto Rico’s Yomar Alamo (18-0-1) staved off Kendo Castaneda (17-1) in a battle of unbeaten junior welterweights on Telemundo. Alamo, who was making his fourth straight start in Kissimmee, won a majority decision, prevailing by scores 99-93, 98-92, and a more reasonable 95-95. Castaneda, who works the graveyard shift at a FedEx warehouse back home in San Antonio, was the aggressor but the judges were more impressed by Alamo’s overall ring generalship.

Huntington

At the Paramount Theater in Huntington, Long Island, local fan favorite Cletus Seldin and Carlos Takam, fringe contenders in their respective weight classes, won as expected over carefully selected opponents.

Junior welterweight Seldin, the Hebrew Hammer, back at his old stomping grounds after a 30-month absence, scored a seventh-round stoppage of late sub Luis Eduardo Florez. Coming off his career-best win over faded Zab Judah, Seldin improved his ledger to 25-1 with his 21st knockout. The high-water mark of Florez’s career was a first-round KO of current 130-pound champion Miguel Berchelt (currently 37-1), but that was back in 2014 and since then the Columbian is 10-15 and has been stopped nine times.

The 39-year-old Takam (38-5-1), who has been in with the likes of Anthony Joshua, Alexander Povetkin and Joseph Parker, scored a unanimous decision over Fabio Maldonado, a 39-year-old Brazilian who was once a UFC headliner. It was the fourth straight loss for Maldonado (26-4) in the role of a conventional boxer.

This was the 38th show put on at the Paramount by promoter Joe DeGuardia and the 17th Paramount appearance for Cletus Seldin. Future world title-holders Chris Algieri and Joe Smith Jr, Long Islanders like Seldin, earned their spurs here.

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Mikey Garcia’s Second Welterweight Assault Happens Saturday in Texas

David A. Avila

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Mikey-Garcia's-Second-Welterweight-Assault-Happens-Saturday-in-Texas

Imagine if the Corleone Family of the fictional film “The Godfather” were involved in the prizefighting world. That’s kind of what you get with the Garcias.

Eduardo Garcia heads the Riverside-based boxing family but retired years ago. The day-to-day leadership role now lies in the hands of Robert “Grandpa” Garcia.

Just like the Corleone family the Garcias have their own compound and its army of fighters are geared toward preparing Mikey Garcia (39-1, 30 KOs) for his welterweight assault against Jessie Vargas (29-2-2, 11 KOs) on Saturday, Feb. 29. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card from The Ford Center in Frisco, Texas.

The Robert Garcia Boxing Academy functions like a daily boot camp with prizefighters arriving and departing Monday through Saturday.

It’s a grinding human factory of fistic proportions that never stops.

It all started in Oxnard, California back in the 1980s when older brother Daniel Garcia became a professional. He was followed by Robert “Grandpa” Garcia who was the first to win a world title in 1998 against Harold Warren. After two defenses he met with Diego Corrales and for seven rounds the two battled as if their life depended on it. It was brutal yet beautiful in its intensity.

After that fight, Corrales, who passed away in May 2007, said to this writer “wasn’t that a great fight?” And then quickly added: “I need a soda pop.”

Years after that fight with “Grandpa” Garcia, the always cheerful Corrales claimed that was his favorite fight.

Mikey

Reluctantly, Mikey Garcia followed into the family business and now serves as the leader of the pugilists and third member of his family to lace up professionally for the Garcia family.

He’s kind of like a Michael Corleone in that it wasn’t his lifetime plan.

“I wanted to become a police officer,” said Mikey Garcia who participated in the police academy. “I wasn’t really sure about boxing.”

Now the third brother of the Garcia clan seeks another division world title to add to his glowing collection. He already captured world titles in the featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight and super lightweight divisions.

It’s an incredible feat that goes unnoticed.

A year ago, the four-division champion was blocked from gaining a fifth division world title by welterweight kingpin Errol Spence Jr.

Mikey refuses to stop now.

“I learned a lot from that fight,” said Garcia, who lost by unanimous decision after 12 rounds to the southpaw Texan. “You always learn from every fight even a loss.”

Despite his father’s slight opposition, Mikey Garcia intends to enter combat with yet another tall welterweight in Vargas.

“I like a challenge,” says Mikey Garcia. “I think I have the ring intelligence to do what I need to get the win.”

The Godfather of the Garcia’s does not agree 100 percent.

“They are too big and too long,” said Eduardo Garcia the father to Ruben, Robert and Mikey Garcia. “I don’t like him at this weight. It’s too big.”

But the father realizes that his son hungers for challenges and is willing to take chances to obtain greater rewards and recognition.

Riverside Stronghold

Ever since the Garcias arrived on February 2010, the family has gained a strong foothold in Riverside, California and become a powerhouse in the boxing world. Mikey Garcia serves as the recognized leader of the more than two dozen prizefighters who train at the hilltop compound daily.

avila 1

Ten years ago the patriarch Eduardo Garcia ventured to find a new home and one by one his sons followed – first Mikey, then Robert. Daniel still lives in the Oxnard area.

“It started with my dad who was looking at retirement. My career wasn’t anywhere near what it is today. Not knowing I would continue, I had just graduated from the police academy in 2010. I was looking at coming over here and maybe working law enforcement. But I came to follow my dad. He offered me a home.”

“We were already professional fighters and no apparent future and didn’t know where boxing was going for us,” said Mikey Garcia, 32. “I didn’t have much going for me in Oxnard either.”

The Garcias found a local gym that was being used by heavyweight contender Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola and Josesito Lopez. It was brand new and built on a hillside with a spectacular view of Jurupa Valley.

“We started with Indian Willie (Schunke) and later went to P-Town with Angel. At first we were trying to see where boxing would take us. It wasn’t my choice, it was my dad’s. I just followed him and I decided to stick around.”

Indian Willie Schunke was a mainstay in Riverside boxing as a cut man and built the gym with his own finances. But the popular corner man passed away in 2015. The Garcias needed to find another gym and by this time older brother Robert Garcia decided to sell the Oxnard gym and move to Riverside too.

“There was always boxing here with Chris Arreola, Artemio Reyes Jr. was up and coming. So boxing was already here,” said Mikey Garcia. “But now that my brother is based here, we really pushed boxing in the area.”

RGBA, as it is known, has a list of top contenders and prospects that are the envy of almost every gym in the West Coast. Fighters like Vergil Ortiz Jr. Josesito Lopez, Juan Carlos Ramirez, Saul “Neno” Rodriguez, Genaro Gamez and many others exchange punches in sparring and are polished and honed to fight-ready status.

“We rarely spar at other gyms,” said Vergil Ortiz Jr. “They usually come to us.”

All have contributed to Mikey Garcia’s second assault on the welterweight elite.

Jessie Vargas

Though originally raised in Los Angeles, the former super lightweight and welterweight world titlist Vargas lives and trains in Las Vegas, Nevada. Since his first days as a professional he’s always been considered a tough nut to crack.

In the beginning he worked with Roger Mayweather who never wasted time on so-so fighters. Vargas was always seen as a “sure thing.” Now, 12 years later and after impressive outings against Tim “Desert Storm” Bradley, Manny Pacquiao, Humberto Soto and others, the tall and lean fighter faces a much smaller but potent foe in Garcia.

“Mikey Garcia is a talented fighter and a warrior as am I,” said Vargas, 30, who has a five-inch height advantage. “I’m excited. I’m stoked. Can’t wait to get into the ring.”

Garcia realizes you can’t teach height and Vargas indeed has an advantage physically with his reach as well. But that’s the fun of it.

“I think it’s a big challenge for me, a great challenge to compete at welter, but I think I have enough skills and talent to do it,” said Garcia. “I already got a taste and I learned and want to make sure I improve my legacy.”

It’s a legacy that started more than 30 years ago and now Mikey Garcia stands ready to expand the Garcia Empire.

I think I saw this movie before.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Khalid Yafai and Roman Gonzalez Meet at the Crossroads in Texas

Matt McGrain

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While the big sell from this weekend’s Texas card is unquestionably the Mikey Garcia-Jessie Vargas fight, it is the chief support from the undercard that most intrigues. The veteran and former pound-for-pound king Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, unquestionably sliding down from a very high peak, meets Kal Yafai, a belt-holder but one who treads the foothills. It is as clearly defined as a crossroads fight can be.

Yafai, a good-looking and clear-spoken British fighter of Yemeni extraction, came to prominence in a genuinely exceptional performance against another veteran in Luis Concepcion, a storied and seasoned fighter who he completely outclassed over twelve in late 2016. Since, he has taken the traditional path of an inexperienced fighter who has come by an alphabet trinket, meeting a series of fringe and borderline contenders in mandatory contests against opponents of moderate status. And to be fair to him, for the most part he has looked the part.

For the most part.

Fleet-footed and armed with a very fine jab, Yafai has added, at contendership level, a whistling lead right that complements a rather lovely left hook to the body. On Saturday he is to be presented with something a little different.

Roman Gonzalez has made a living out of forcing tactical errors and overwhelming ignoring tactical acumen both, punishing opposition planning, whether good or bad. There has been perhaps nobody in my lifetime in boxing so adept at turning a fighter’s own style against him. When fighters ran from him, he bulldozed them with momentum. When fighters stood with him, he out-hit them with some of the most succinct and brutal combination punching in the sport; he kept company, at his absolute apex, with Manny Pacquiao. When fighters box-punched or mixed styles it was he who suddenly seemed fluid rather than wrought.

Roman, for a spell, was the best fighter in the world, one of the finest sportsmen on his continent and a national hero to his Nicaraguan people. Then, and very nearly all at once, it all came clattering down.

I’m aware it’s irritating when boxing writers congratulate themselves on their own predictions, but this one is worth it I think: years before Roman was thought of by what we’ll call the mainstream boxing press, I predicted that he would be a future pound-for-pound number one, but I also predicted that his eventual downfall would be at the hands of an aggressive southpaw, perhaps up at 115lbs. A decade later, Roman’s fantastic multi-divisional reign was brought to a juddering halt by aggressive southpaw superfly Wisaksil Wangek (aka Srisaket Sor Rungvisai).

Another thing I predicted at that time: for Roman Gonzalez, there would be no meaningful second act.

All these years later that sense has deepened as Roman began to find himself rendered upon the wrong side of history. Nicaraguan politics has and will remain beyond the auspices of The Sweet Science – for all that I credit our readership with an attention span above and beyond the 2020 median, there is a limit. Suffice to say that his personal problems have rather dwarfed his professional ones.

He did come back though, a whole year after his loss to Wangek and looked competent if a little puffy at what is a heavy weight division for him, ten pounds north of the 105lbs he cut his teeth in.  The victim was Moises Fuentes and I wrote of that fight that while Roman was “perhaps not quite back, [he was] certainly warming up…and if the division isn’t trembling, it can at least be said to have thrown a quick look over its shoulder.”

If the division did look, and then looked again, it eventually just went about its business as Roman’s fight camp was once again enveloped in silence. A year passed and after a brief tune-up in a glorified exhibition it was announced that he would duel old foe and world champion Juan Francisco Estrada who gave Roman perhaps his toughest fight of his prime years. It was a thrilling proposition, so when Estrada withdrew with an injury, I was miserable. Then Kal Yafai stepped in.

Yafai, ranked the #4 superfly (behind a devastating line up of kingpin Estrada, Wangek, Kazuto Ioka and Jerwin Ancajas), has always been the fight I most wanted Roman, who is ranked #5, to take. It’s a winnable contest for both with a fascinating undertone of the generational clash despite the fact that Yafai, at thirty, is actually only two years younger than Roman. Their respective records of 26-0 and 48-2 tell the true story.

History says we favor the fresher man in this situation, but there are other factors at play here. As stated, Yafai, who himself names this the fight he most desires, has mostly looked the part against ostensibly weaker opposition, and he has. But in late 2018 he had a scare, against Israel Gonzalez out in Monte Carlo. Israel was underrated by the WBA who named him the #14 contender to Yafai’s title making him both a valid defense and a supposed soft touch, an interesting insight into both the failings of an alphabet ranking organization and the complacency such failings can bring. Yafai, perhaps, did not pay Israel the respect he deserved.

What most struck about Yafai’s performance in the first half of that fight, in an underwhelming venue before a small, underwhelmed audience, is how it drifted. He “did boxing”. He moved; he threw his hands; but he appeared to have no underpinning strategy with which to carve out his victory.

He looked more purposeful in the middle to late rounds but continued to absorb punches to the body at a surprising rate though at least in support of a concrete plan, using his jab to bring him inside. Watching this fight of two halves, I felt sure Roman would have his number if ever the two should meet.

Boxing without a concrete plan against Roman Gonzalez is like sitting on your front lawn in a deckchair during clement weather and waiting for lightning to strike: both stupid and pointless.  Even men who have arrived in his ring with detailed accountancy for what they want to do in every minute of the round, world class fighters like Akira Yaegashi and Francisco Rodriguez, have struggled. Men who approach the fight seeking to riff adaptions have been mercilessly butchered.

There is no question of Yafai approaching Roman Gonzalez as casually as he approached Israel Gonzalez but watching him follow Israel around the ring I was struck by his lack of a defining identity, something denied him, perhaps, by a defining fight. This clash is a defining fight but is it possible it comes too soon for Yafai?

This is arguable, though in honesty it is only arguable due to the stage of his career at which Roman finds himself. He’s older now and has suffered at the hands both of savage southpaws, and life. He wears both markers on his face. He is a hangdog version of the youthful warrior that crashed through four divisions in the past fifteen years; still dangerous, still strong, but notably smaller than his natural superfly opponent and notably slower than his 2010 self.  Yafai, meanwhile, is faster of jab (if not of combination) than Gonzalez ever was and has the feet to at least survive the juggernaut that was “Chocolatitito” best-for-best.

A Yafai victory would be best for boxing. That is undeniable. Even if Gonzalez winds it back, he can’t go on much longer.

And I don’t think he will wind it back; but I will predict he will win, not in a stretching of the years but in a straight-up mugging of a marginally superior opponent. Worn-down fighters have been worn by punches. Those punches teach hard lessons. I don’t think Roman has the power at the poundage to deliver a knockout, but I think he has the experience to steal enough rounds on the scorecards to poach a decision.

A late fade might exclude him, but a victory for the older, smaller, slower man is this slower, older writer’s prediction.

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