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Don’t Fault ‘Big Baby’ for Fighting a No-Hoper; He Did What He Should Have

Frank Lotierzo

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In boxing it is a common practice for fans and those that cover the sport to constantly excoriate a contender pertaining to who they fight when the opponent isn’t a title-worthy challenger or a Hall of Famer. And if the fighter being scolded is a heavyweight, the criticism is especially harsh.

This past weekend unbeaten WBA #2, WBO #3 heavyweight contender Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller 22-0-1 (19) scored a second round KO over former two-division title holder Tomasz Adamek 53-6 (31) at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago. The 317-pound Miller clubbed the smaller Adamek to the canvas with a series of shots to end it. The outcome was never in question from the moment the match was announced as is the case whenever a ranked heavyweight faces an opponent who at 41 years old has been on the decline. At one time Adamek was a force fighting as a light heavyweight and cruiserweight. When he moved up to heavyweight he beat a few name guys in Andrew Golota, Chris Arreola and Michael Grant when they were on their way down.

Finally, eight years ago, he got a title shot against WBC champ Vitali Klitschko. He lasted longer than most figured he would, but was stopped in the 10th round. He won a few competitive bouts after that but lost to the better opposition he fought in Artur Szpilka and Eric Molina. Prior to fighting Miller, Adamek beat three middle of the road opponents (and that’s being nice), which in the heavyweight division counts for something. What is so often overlooked or just isn’t known is that usually there are never more than a handful of upper-tier fighters in the heavyweight division. Below the top six or seven, the remaining lot is usually middle of the road, and some haven’t even gotten through the woods to find the road.

Going into the fight Jarrell Miller was The Ring’s 10th ranked contender. The top seven in order read….Anthony Joshua, who holds three title belts, Deontay Wilder who owns the WBC title, followed by Luis Ortiz, Dillian Whyte, Alexander Povetkin, Joseph Parker and Tyson Fury. In order for Miller not to be excoriated, he would’ve had to have been facing one of them. Easier said than done, and that’s always been the case at the top of any division.

The problem was that Joshua just fought last month and beat Povetkin, eliminating both of them. Wilder and Fury are fighting in December and Whyte just beat Parker in July. So the reality is there wasn’t a truly acceptable opponent for Miller that would’ve satisfied the fans and boxing media. However, instead of sitting around and trying to further talk his way into being Joshua’s next opponent, he did what most ranked heavyweights don’t, and that is continue to fight and remain active, meaning he would stay in the gym and hopefully in some form of shape. And that’s a lifetime better than the alternative.

With there being such a dearth of truly upper-tier fighters in boxing’s glamor division, if a fighter remains consistent and continues to win, he’ll eventually get a title shot, especially with four titles available. Granted, Joshua occupies three and that’s rare in today’s game, but even at that he needs seemingly worthy opponents who can boast nice clean records, having suffered no more than a loss or two. It didn’t matter that Miller’s fight was a perceived mismatch from the onset. The point is he stayed active and beat a fighter with some name recognition. And most importantly, Miller did what he should’ve done against Adamek, and that is beat him quickly and in an impressive fashion.

“Big Baby” is really a big man. He’s 6-4 and weighed 317 at the weigh-in, roughly 20 pounds more than what he usually averages. However, he said he was down to 307 before the bout and felt weak. That calls to mind George Foreman during his second career when he got down to 235, looked great, but said he felt weak and never again got down that low. And like Foreman, Miller doesn’t look like a sumo wrestler carrying that much weight. He’s nowhere in the same universe as Foreman when it comes to punching power, but like George he’s solid and physically strong.

Miller will undoubtedly get a title shot in 2019. No, he didn’t take a risk fighting Adamek, but he had to go through the routine of fighting and there’s no doubt he learned something new about himself and how to get ready for a fight. He may not be built like Anthony Joshua or former WBA champ Mike Weaver, but he stayed in the gym, something that hasn’t been a given with heavyweight contenders during the last 30 years. Miller was ripped for being over 300 pounds, but think of what his weight may have ballooned up to had he not been in the gym. He’ll no doubt be under 300 when he fights for the title.

Against Adamek, Miller ended the bout in less than four full minutes of combat – proving that he’s serious about his career and a 41-year-old former fringe contender in no way belongs in the same ring with him. Jarrell let his hands go from the onset and hurt Adamek with the first meaningful punches he landed. Obviously, he had no fear of anything Adamek was going to send back at him, so he took care of business. Granted, it’s a lot easier for him to be a bully against a fighter who is no threat than it will be facing someone like Joshua, but at least he didn’t strain and struggle.

Is “Big Baby” a world beater? No, I don’t think so. But he isn’t a joke. He’s funny and personable and that will make for some entertainment during the run-up to his title shot. The big guy has some skill and a semblance of how to fight. Once the bell rings the fun will end, and if he’s facing Joshua in April, he’ll be defeated convincingly and who knows what after that. But at least he’s staying active and doing what professional fighters are expected to do…fight.

That, and there’s just not enough quality heavyweights around to test “Big Baby” every time out – so he did the next best thing in taking on a name opponent (Adamek) who has a fan base. It wasn’t a fight anyone paid exclusively to see and if you know anything about boxing, you knew what it was going in — a paid workout in order to maintain his ranking.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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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NEWS FLASH: Leon Spinks Hospitalized; Reportedly Fighting for His Life

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The gossip site TMZ is reporting that Leon Spinks is hospitalized in Las Vegas and is fighting for his life. TMZ acquired this information from Spinks’ wife Brenda Glur Spinks after spying her social media post. “It’s been a tough year for us,” she wrote. “Leon has endured a lot of medical problems. I’m reaching to ask that you pray for my Beautiful Husband Leon. So that he may overcome the obstacles that crossed his path.”

Her sentiment was echoed by Leon’s son Leon Spinks III who posted this message on his facebook page: “My Dad isn’t doing so good now and his wife Brenda Glur Spinks and I ask that u pray that he weather’s this storm. My dad is all I have left and I really appreciate it if yall let God know that he is not in this battle alone.”

A gold medal winner at the 1976 Olympics, Spinks, 66, is best remembered for upsetting Muhammad Ali in 1978 to win the world heavyweight title. He lost the title back to Ali in his next fight.

This is a developing story. As new details emerge, we will share them with you.

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Crawford-Kavaliauskas is the Main Go, but ‘The Takeover’ is the Stronger Allurement

Arne K. Lang

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Crawford-Kavaliauskas is the Main Go, but ‘The Takeover’ is the Stronger Allurement

Terence Crawford puts his undefeated record and his WBO welterweight title on the line Saturday when he opposes Egidijus Kavaliauskas at Madison Square Garden on ESPN. Kavaliauskas is no slouch. The two-time Olympian for Lithuania is also undefeated (21-0-1, 17 KOs), but Crawford is so highly regarded that he is a massive favorite.

If one were arranging the bouts according to the degree of intrigue, using the odds as the barometer, Crawford vs Kavaliauskas wouldn’t sit atop the marquee. That honor would go the IBF lightweight title fight between Richard Commey and Teofimo Lopez. Moreover, it’s a fair guess that if this fight were to fall out (perish the thought) it would result in more refunds than if Crawford were a late scratch.

The challenger, Lopez, is favored, currently in the vicinity of 9/4, but this is a price that usually translates into a very competitive fight and the stakes are high. The winner will almost assuredly advance to a rich engagement with Vasiliy Lomachenko who holds the other three meaningful 135-pound title belts

Commey (29-2, 26 KOs) won the IBF lightweight title – it was conveniently vacant – with a second-round stoppage of Russia’s Isa Chaniev and stopped Raymundo Beltran in eight rounds in his first title defense. Commey dominated both fights, scoring seven knockdowns in all, but the Russian was a sad excuse for a world title challenger and Beltran, although a solid pro, was past his prime at age 38.

Commey’s two losses came in back-to-back fights in 2016 and both were by split decision. He lost to Robert Easter Jr in Reading, Pennsylvania, and then, eight weeks later, was upended by Denis Shafikov before a tiny crowd at an actual boxing gym in Moscow.

There was nothing controversial about those losses, but in both instances Commey was in hostile territory. Toledo’s Easter brought a large delegation of fans to Reading and Shafikov was fighting on his home turf. The crowd on Saturday will almost assuredly be skewed against Commey again, but it won’t be as pronounced. Commey, born and raised in Ghana, has a home in the Bronx. Lopez was born in Brooklyn, a bond that his Brooklyn-born promoter Bob Arum likes to emphasize, but grew up in Davie, Florida.

Teofimo

At age 22, Teofimo Lopez (14-0, 11 KOs) is almost 10 years younger than Richard Commey. A year ago, at this very venue, he scored his most memorable triumph, a highlight-reel, 44-second, one-punch knockout of Mason Menard that was named the TSS Knockout of the Year. He has won three fights in the interim, most recently a 12-round decision over Masayoshi Nakatani.

Teofimo won comfortably on the scorecards, but his performance left much to be desired. The Japanese was a tall, rangy fighter. In Richard Commey, he is meeting a man of similar height. Both are listed at five-foot-eight.

Lopez has developed a large following in a short time and his in-ring heroics are only part of the story. He’s quite the showman. After each win he adds an exclamation point with a celebratory back-flip and outside the ring his brash persona has enhanced his notoriety.

When a fighter has a common surname, it helps to have a unique first name. The reality is that Lopez would not have built his brand as fast if his first name had been, say, Miguel, or Carlos, or Juan. And he had the foresight to supplement his unique first name with a unique nickname: The Takeover.

The nickname, says Lopez, doesn’t just refer to taking over a specific weight division (he’ll move up to 140 before the year 2020 is over) but, rather, taking over the whole sport in the sense of becoming boxing’s biggest pay-per-view attraction. Early into his pro career, he began calling out Lomachenko.

Teofimo’s biggest cheerleader is his Honduras-born father and trainer of the same name and the elder Lopez has even more hubris than his son. “My son is too strong for Lomachenko….he would walk through anything that Lomechenko throws at him,” Teofimo Sr. told veteran boxing writer Bill Tibbs prior to his son’s match with Mason Menard. “Liston, he has God-given gifts and he’s simply the best out there. (My son) has the best parts of Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, GGG, Floyd, Andre Ward, all the best of them in him.”

The Lopez that defeated Nakatani would not have defeated Vasiliy Lomachenko. And there are those that think he won’t beat Richard Commey unless he brings his “A’ game. It’s an interesting fight.

—–

The main fights on Saturday’s Top Rank boxing card will air on ESPN’s flagship station. The boxing card, which opens with the rematch between Michael Conlan and Vladimir Nikitin, follows the show in which the Heisman Trophy is presented to LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. The Heisman telecast will begin at 8 pm EST.

The same situation prevailed last year when Top Rank’s Madison Square Garden card was headlined by the fight between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Jose Pedraza. To the consternation of diehard boxing fans, the Heisman presentation show ran late. Don’t be surprised if it happens again.

Photo credit: Stacy Verbeek

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Will U.S. Olympic Boxers Fare Better in Tokyo Thanks to Yesterday’s Ruling?

Arne K. Lang

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The road to the medal round for U.S. boxers at the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics just got easier. But maybe not.

“Russia Banned From The Tokyo Olympics” screamed yesterday’s headline, but reading between the lines there’s more to the story. A more carefully worded headline would have read “Russian Olympic Athletes in Limbo.”

We have been down this road before. WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, recommended banning Russia from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The agency accused Russian authorities of a massive cover-up that erased hundreds of positive test samples.

WADA then did something of an about-face and decided to evaluate each case individually. Ultimately, 278 Russian athletes were approved to compete in Rio; 111 were denied. All 11 Russian boxers who survived the various qualifying events made the cut.

This new ban (which will be appealed) also emanates from WADA which alleges that the Russian authorities continued the massive cover-up using the “disappearance methodology.” But, if upheld, it’s a more severe penalty in that it bans Russia from major international sporting events for the next four years. That would include the World Cup, the biggest sporting event in the world by far. The next edition of the World Cup is slated for 2022 in Qatar.

“There’s still…the possibility of clean athletes to compete in the Games,” Svetlana Romashina, a five-time Olympic gold medalist in synchronized swimming, told Moscow correspondent Andrew Roth of The Guardian. “I believe the punishment of clean athletes to be unacceptable,” continued Romashina. “We have done nothing wrong.”

The reality, as it now stands, is that Russian boxers and other Russian athletes, if deemed clean, will be able to compete in Tokyo, just not under the Russian banner. As is common in some wrestling tournaments, their affiliation will be “unattached.” And Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is a big fan of amateur boxing and other combat sports, won’t be there. The ban prohibits Russian officials from attending major international sporting events if their team has been expelled.

—–

Historically, the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team has excelled in the Summer Games. But that’s yesterday’s news. In the last three Olympics, U.S. male boxers won only three medals, one silver and two bronze. By contrast, during the same period, Russian boxers walked off with 10 medals including three gold.

The prognosis for the 2020 U.S. team looked dim once again when the U.S. contingent earned only one medal (a silver by lightweight Keyshawn Davis) at the recent AIBA men’s World Championships in Ekaterinburg, Russia. The host team garnered four medals, including three gold. If one conjoined the Russian squad with former Soviet Union satellites Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the count grows to seven gold medals (of a possible eight) and 15 medals overall.

Russia’s gold medalists at the World Championships were welterweight Andrey Zamkovoy (pictured), middleweight Gleb Bakshi, and heavyweight Muslim Gadzhimagomedov. Zamkovoy and the heavyweight (who will badly need a new name if he ever turns pro) are outstanding amateurs and may have been favored to win their divisions in Tokyo.

Zamkovoy, 32, represented Russia in the 2012 and 2016 Games and medaled in 2012 where he defeated Errol Spence Jr en route to the semi-finals. The heavyweight (a cruiserweight by pro standards) is an ever-improving, 22-year-old, six-foot-four southpaw who has already amassed an amateur record of 60-5.

The competition for the U.S. team at overseas tournaments has gotten a lot tougher in the last two decades as several Eastern European countries have become more like Cuba, investing state resources into their amateur boxing programs with an eye to building a powerhouse. Perhaps the WADA edict will aid the U.S. boxing team in shaking the doldrums in 2020, but that assumption seems premature.

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