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Monster Indeed: Naoya Inoue Destroys Payano in Japan

Juan Carlos Payano was ranked the fifth best bantamweight in the world by the TBRB going into today’s fight with Naoya Inoue and would have been ranked

Matt McGrain

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Juan Carlos Payano was ranked the fifth best bantamweight in the world by the TBRB going into today’s fight with Naoya Inoue and would have been ranked higher were it not for his desperately close loss in his 2016 rematch with Rau’shee Warren. Payano had beaten Warren the year before and in dropping the razor-thin majority call in the rematch he had posted the only loss of his career.

Until today when he met Naoya and was blasted out in a single round in Yokohama, Japan.

A career bantam, Payano has a mixture of rugged determination, elegant movement, elite workrate and experience that was supposed to present a genuine threat to the Japanese. Most of all, his proven punch resistance, heralded by appearances at the Olympics in 2004 and 2008 and by a 20-1 professional ledger that bore no stoppage losses, was supposed to represent a real test for Naoya’s punching power in his new bantamweight home.

True, Naoya had done away with the enormous Jamie McDonnell in just a round but there were mutterings about the Englishman’s suffering in making the weight. Where Payano was concerned, there were no such issues.

In mere seconds, Naoya destroyed Payano completely, knocked him into what amounted to unconsciousness and sent out a second consecutive warning to the 118lb division and to boxing at large. This contest, which was a quarter-final to the excellent WBSS bantamweight tournament, puts not just the other competitors on warning but to the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford. Naoya already holds straps in three divisions and at twenty-five years old and having fought just seventeen contests, there is a more to come. The best fighter in the world may now be Japanese for the first time in history (remembering that the legendary Fighting Harada shared his prime with a peak Muhammad Ali).

The pathology of his violence is exquisite. At bell he walked into Payano’s range and did nothing, then stepped just out of range; and back in. Payano was tempted, throwing a jab to the body and Naoya had now measured his guns. Left extended in a queer nodding motion, he shifted precisely nowhere in a deep stance that declares his intention while throwing none of the punches it promises. He is a watching, waiting, learning doom-machine that appears to have been programmed by Carlos Zarate.

Naoya circled with Payano, but maintained that eerie distance that allowed him to dip in and out of his opponent’s sphere of influence – and, by extension, drop Payano in and out of his own.

Payano is no stranger to strategy, to timing, to dueling for the range. He was an amateur of enormous experience and holds a win as a professional over the excellent Anselmo Moreno. He kept his left hand high, feinted with the southpaw jab, tried to buy a trailing lead to the body; normal fight stuff, the stuff that works to gain ground on mortals. Naoya skipped away from the lead, moving almost before it was thrown and at safe distance by the time Payano was trying to re-gather himself. Now Naoya had measured Payano’s over-extension.

Muscled and full-fleshed rather than the drawn fighter we saw at 108lbs, Naoya’s movement looks like that of a fighter who has found his home. Another division is almost certainly on the cards, a fifth far from impossible, but I suspect bantamweight is the division where we will see the best of him. Like Ruben Olivares, he is fast enough and hits hard enough to devastate top men in bigger weight classes, but here he is capable of the type of immolation that makes legends.

And this the thing that will stay most with me of the punches that separated Payano from his senses with two minutes of the first round remaining: they didn’t look that hard.

Like Zarate, who threw punches with the nonchalance of a drunk emptying ashtrays into his back yard, yet sent fighters broken and reeling, Naoya stuck out a sharp jab and in a fraction of a second, in the blinking of an eye, landed the right hand that accompanied it on the same spot.  Like he had had his bones scooped from his body, Payano shrugged his shoulders and fell down and into himself, stiffened on the canvas, propped himself up on his elbows and then rolled over onto his side as though reclaiming sleep from an alarm clock as the messages of disaster rattled through his body.

Naoya, who knew immediately that he was victorious, pounded his gloves together and then raised his right fist to the roof of the Yokohama Arena. He literally had not broken a sweat.  Besides the anxious wait to see that Payano was unhurt (he was), his evening was over.

In this article I have compared Naoya Inoue to Fighting Harada, Carlos Zarate and Ruben Olivares.  I’m quite comfortable with that.

A poisoned bullet atop a stacked card from Japan, Naoya had thrown the best punch of the day but there were others of note. Ken Shiro, the best light-flyweight in the world and also Japanese, made short work of that divisional #5 contender, Milan Melindo. Shiro, now 14-0, brutally broke down his Filipino opponent with straight, two-handed fuselages of punches which disintegrated Melindo’s face with alarming rapidity. Cut, battered, vulnerable to the body while he desperately tried to protect his crumbling face, Melindo probably never stopped trying but when he was rescued by the ringside doctor during the seventh, there were no complaints.

Shiro, who is head and shoulders above the competition at 108lbs, may be the next pound-for-pound rated Japanese superstar.

Also on the undercard and a part of yet another WBSS tournament, this time at 140lbs, was a meeting between ranked light-welterweights Kiryl Relikh and Eduard Troyanovsky.  Relikh advanced to the next round with a close, well-earned and unanimous points decision.

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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

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

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

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

It did not last.

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

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

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

Other Bouts       

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

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

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

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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

Arne K. Lang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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