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For Crawford It’s a Matter of Substance over Style

Frank Lotierzo

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WBO welterweight

Maybe he should be referred to as the quiet man, because WBO welterweight titlist Terence Crawford 33-0 (24) is very much understated. He doesn’t say much and when he does you can barely hear him. In the ring he’s a certified hell raiser and when challenged or angered by an opponent, his sublime skills take over and he dominates.

Crawford was asked on a conference call this week: “How do you view it when an opponent talks trash to you? Do you like it? Does it motivate you more? How do you approach that?”

Terence Crawford: “Of course it motivates me more because, as you know, I’m cool, calm, collected. I never said anything to the guy. He approached me, so now it makes the victory more enjoyable to go in there and hit him in his mouth and shut him up.”

This weekend he defends his title against Jose Benavidez 27-0 (18) at the Chi Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Benavidez has accused Crawford of beating up smaller fighters. Terence says he’ll give Jose the opportunity to back up his words Saturday night and most likely — as it is with all of Crawford’s title bouts — he’ll size Benavidez up for a round or two and then proceed to beat him up and take him apart a little more with each passing round until it’s over.

The reason I say that is because Crawford is so versatile. He has defeated upper-tier opposition and title holders fighting out of a conventional stance and fighting as a southpaw. Defensively, Crawford, going by the way he looks after his bouts, must be hard to hit because his face is seldom marked. Offensively, Crawford has more gears than any fighter in boxing and he’s quicker and a little bit of a bigger puncher than he is given credit for. Terence has more resources physically and processes information faster than any fighter we’ve seen in a long time. He has more ways to win and defeat elite fighters than any other combatant in the sport. He’s a natural fighter with a mean streak a mile wide and maybe the most underrated thing about him is that the punches of his opponents seldom go unanswered.

Jose Benavidez is an outstanding fighter who is always in great shape and comes to fight. He’s 3-4 inches taller than Crawford at 6-2 and holds a three-inch reach advantage. In fact he’s one of the biggest welterweights in the world and his best punch is probably his jab. But he doesn’t have the speed or sophistication to apply his physical advantages against Crawford. Moreover, he’s never been in the ring with a fighter as lethal as Terence Crawford. Jose says he plans on making Crawford fight, and that’s exactly what Terence thrives on because he’s boxing’s version of the New England Patriots. Crawford doesn’t enter the ring with a mindset that dictates what he wants to do -no- he’s like the Patriots in that he finds his opponents vulnerability and forces them to fight from their weakness.

Maybe the thing that stands out the most about Crawford is that we hardly ever hear a fighter call him out or challenge him. Anthony Joshua is the perceived number-one heavyweight in the world, yet he’s called out every day by his contemporaries the likes of Deontay Wilder, Luis Ortiz, Dillian Whyte and Tyson Fury. Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin are considered the top of the food chain among the middleweights, but a day doesn’t go by when they’re not publicly challenged by Demetrius Andrade, Billy Joe Saunders, Daniel Jacobs and Jermall Charlo. Even WBA 135-pound champion Vasyl Lomachenko, who is in the race with Crawford as boxing’s top pound for pound fighter, is issued challenges routinely. In fact, Lomachenko has been challenged by fighters he’s already defeated in Gary Russell and Jorge Linares. When is the last time a beaten Crawford opponent has asked for a rematch? Once Crawford beats them, they never want to have to think about him again.

As the year 2018 winds down, which has been another banner year for boxing, Terence Crawford is in need of a super-fight. He holds the WBO welterweight title with Keith Thurman, Errol Spence, Shawn Porter and Manny Pacquiao holding the other alphabet belts. In the opinion of most observers Crawford ranks higher than all of them. But all we hear is Thurman wants to fight Porter again, Spence challenged by WBC lightweight titlist Mikey Garcia and Pacquiao seeking another easy win via potential bouts with Amir Khan or Adrien Broner…..and the band plays on and Crawford goes unmentioned! That is if you don’t count Errol Spence’s tweets, and I don’t.

Counting down to Crawford’s clash with Benavidez, Terence is the least appreciated fighter among the top-10. He’s not a great interview nor is he a natural, say like Joshua, in front of the camera. Lomachenko is flashier and Golovkin puts his opponents to sleep….and those things grab casual fans more than Crawford’s technical brilliance and versatility. However, Crawford is a better fighter than they are and his killer instinct and coldness, showing no mercy to beaten opponents, goes virtually unmentioned. And if he beats Benavidez as convincingly as expected, his detractors will fall in line and parrot how Jose was just another undefeated bum who Crawford was fortunate to face on a big stage.

Of course they’re wrong, but the boxing business is fickle. With Lomachenko, Canelo, Golovkin, Mikey Garcia, Errol Spence and Naoya Inoue all moving back and forth among the top ten, the debate is continually changing. But the number one spot has consistently belonged Crawford for the last two or three years and I question the acumen of anyone who puts anyone else in that position.

It’s a matter here of substance over style.

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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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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