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It’s About Time That Mayweather Flipped the Script, but Don’t Hold Your Breath

Frank Lotierzo

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To the surprise of no one, former pound for pound king Floyd Mayweather is again becoming a staple of boxing news. The last time Floyd was in the ring was back in August of   2017 when he was for the most part toying with MMA star Conor McGregor by the time the fight/exhibition ended. Astonishingly, the McGregor clash actually counted on Mayweather’s boxing record as his 50th consecutive win to give him a career record of 50-0 (27).

Discussing Mayweather’s place in history is a controversial subject when it comes to assessing where he ranks. And perhaps the year in which one was born plays the biggest role as to where one slots him among the greatest of the greats. The bellweather year is somewhere around 1978, meaning today you’re 40 years old. Assuming that you became cognizant of boxing when you were about 13 years old, that means you started watching boxing closely around 1991. And since 1991 no fighter has remained on top longer than Mayweather starting with him fighting as an Olympian in 1996, winning his first title as a junior lightweight and then emerging into a full blown superstar after winning a split decision over Oscar De La Hoya in May of 2007.

To those born after 1978, Mayweather is the only star fighter they never saw lose a bout. Therefore they truly see him as being unbeatable, in spite of many believing he lost his first meeting with Jose Luis Castillo before beating him conclusively when they met in a rematch. But Floyd isn’t the only great or near-great who won a controversial decision, so you better believe the fans who grew up during his prime can easily justify him as being one of the all-time greats.

The conversation when it comes to Mayweather’s all-time pound for pound rank is dramatically different to hardcore boxing fans born before say 1970. In their opinion, who you fought and beat and when you fought them, assuming the opponent was at or near his prime, carries significantly more clout than being undefeated…….especially when, as they see it, Floyd fought most of his marquee opponents when he was at or near his best and they were clearly on the decline.

Floyd has some impressive names on his resume. The best fighter he beat during his career who was both outstanding and in his prime while also undefeated was the late Diego Corrales. After stopping Corrales in January of 2001, Floyd defeated other really good fighters. However, of the signature names on his record, namely Oscar De La Hoya, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez and Manny Pacquiao, the only one that was undefeated when Mayweather fought him was Alvarez, but the issue there is Canelo hadn’t yet fully flowered into the more complete and hardened fighter that he’d end up being, and Mayweather forced him down to a catch-weight of 152 for a junior middleweight title bout, two pounds lighter than he’d been in two years while he was still filling out physically. And if you don’t think two-pounds is a big deal, than why did Floyd insist on it? Although I don’t think it changed the result, Canelo was without a doubt compromised.

As for De La Hoya, he’d only fought once in three years after being stopped by Bernard Hopkins and had been defeated four times entering the fight with Mayweather, and all four defeats were more convincing than Floyd’s showing against him. In regard to Marquez, if you would have applauded Sugar Ray Leonard for torching Alexis Arguello if they had fought, then you can add that win to the Corrales column. But I can’t laud Mayweather for beating Marquez due to him being the pronounced bigger man. Then he defeated a shopworn Shane Mosley who came closer to knocking Mayweather out than any other fighter he was ever in the ring with. But is winning a decision over Shane so impressive in 2010? Mosley had already lost five times and, at the same weight he fought Mayweather, he was defeated much more handily, twice, by the late Vernon Forrest eight years earlier in 2002.

Perhaps one of Mayweather’s most thrilling fights was against Miguel Cotto in 2012. Again, Cotto, who competed well, entered the fight having previously been stopped and dominated by Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao in 2008 and 2009. Once again Floyd fought a fighter who, although very determined and not washed up, wasn’t at his best and after fighting Mayweather, Cotto picked his opponents as judiciously as Mayweather had through the last 15 years of his career. Lastly, Mayweather won a dull but convincing decision over Manny Pacquiao, who started boxing as a flyweight, was five or six years past his prime and two-and-a-half years earlier had been knocked out cold by one punch by Marquez.

The content above is not an opinion or a theory; it’s the reality of the situations pertaining to those bouts. But as is the case when discussing Mayweather, I’ll be excoriated by his fans and applauded by those who don’t care for him….I get it. But the facts don’t lie and that’s why those of us born before 1970 aren’t blown away by Mayweather’s resume and five titles. What we are blown away by is how he stayed in great shape for 20-plus years, evolved as a fighter and studied the intricacies of boxing and mastered defense….nothing can shade that.

However, Floyd and some of his fans insist he’s the “GOAT” and that’s an unfunny joke. In an honest assessment, Mayweather has made a strong case that he’s among the top-50 pound for pound boxers ever. Had he defeated a stylistic nightmare like Paul Williams, instead of retiring briefly just to avoid fighting him, his case would be stronger. Antonio Margarito tried to face Mayweather before he lost his title to Williams, and was ignored by Floyd and his team. And that was because Mayweather knew Antonio’s physicality, style and toughness was more work than he was willing to sign on for…..and that mindset and management enabled Floyd to remain undefeated.

In all likelihood, Floyd is going to fight again and his opponent will either be a top MMA fighter or Manny Pacquiao, two automatic wins that are just a money grab and really won’t enrich his legacy one iota.

Since Floyd retired, two fighters have emerged fighting at the weight where he scored his biggest and most lucrative wins, and that’s welterweight. Terence Crawford holds the WBO title and is 34-0 (25) and like Floyd won titles at 135, 140 and 147. Crawford is better than any welterweight Mayweather ever fought and stylistically he’s even more versatile than Floyd, not to mention he’s a better pound for pound puncher and he’s meaner. The other alpha fighter in the welterweight division is IBF titlist Errol Spence 24-0 (21). Spence, a southpaw, is a bigger puncher and more of a physical presence than any opponent Mayweather ever confronted. He’s also extremely confident and applies immense mental and physical pressure. And like Crawford, Spence is in his prime and would more than welcome a fight with Mayweather for the obvious money it would net him.

In a prime-for-prime match-up, I would favor both Terence and Errol to beat the Mayweather who defeated De La Hoya, Mosley and Pacquiao. And if they fought now they would both be favored over Mayweather, a moot point as it’s apparent Floyd won’t go near them.

During Floyd’s career he entered his fights with an advantage in one way or another over the best fighters he faced, something that wouldn’t apply if he were to meet Crawford or Spence. And if he fought either of them and lost, neither Crawford nor Spence would get credit for beating him. Rather, it would be repeated over and over afterward how they didn’t beat the best Mayweather and that would be correct. The only thing that would change is Mayweather would no longer be undefeated……..but if he was competitive with either Crawford or Spence in a losing effort, it might be more impressive than any single victory he earned. And if he won, he’d have to be considered one of the greatest of the greats and nobody could dispute that regardless of their year of birth.

For once it would be something to see Floyd Mayweather go into a fight when everything surrounding it didn’t favor him. Mayweather losing to either Crawford or Spence in 2019 wouldn’t hurt his legacy a bit; his detractors couldn’t take relish in him losing at age 42. On the flip side, a win would be epic and off the chart and his legacy would never be questioned again!

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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Three Punch Combo: Two Intriguing Prelims on the Wilder-Fury Card and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — Wilder-Fury II fight week is upon us and there will certainly be plenty of stories written about the remarkable comeback of Tyson Fury. But Fury is not the only comeback story this week. On the undercard as part of the televised pre-show leading up to the PPV event, Amir Imam (22-2, 19 KO’s) will look for his second straight win following a lengthy layoff after losing to Jose Ramirez in their 140-pound title fight in March of 2018.

Comeback stories in boxing come in many forms. Some, like Fury’s, derive from battling personal demons outside the ring. Some come from fighters suddenly figuring the game out after being seemingly vanquished to permanent journeyman status. Think of Orlando Salido and Tevin Farmer. And finally, some come from once promising fighters rebounding from setbacks that turned them into an afterthought in the sport. This is where Amir Imam falls.

Imam (pictured) is an afterthought at the moment. But as I have harped about on several occasions, just because a fighter suffers a setback or even multiple setbacks, that does not necessarily mean they should be seen as afterthoughts. Sometimes setbacks actually become a blessing in disguise.

Let’s not forget that Imam was a highly decorated amateur. He nearly qualified for the 2012 Olympics but was in the unfortunate position of fighting in the same weight class as Errol Spence Jr.

Early in his pro career, Imam showcased a telephone pole-like jab that was mindful of the jab of former welterweight champion Ike Quartey. Often freezing opponents in their footsteps, Imam often worked thunderous pinpoint combinations behind this jab. He had skill, power and speed. It is easy to see why so many, myself included, thought Imam could not only win a world title one day but become a superstar.

Remember just two-and-a-half years into his pro career Imam easily out boxed Yordenis Ugas in winning a wide eight-round unanimous decision. Fast-forward six years later and Ugas has turned into one of the best welterweights in the sport. That win by Imam showed just how good a fighter he can be.

In November of 2015, Imam was one step away from a title fight when he was upset by Adrian Granados in what was supposed to be a tune-up fight. Granados was a vastly underrated fighter at that time and Imam looked somewhat unprepared for the storm that he encountered that night.

Two-and-a-half years later, Imam held his own while losing a unanimous decision to Jose Ramirez. After this bout, a legal battle ensued with his then promoter Don King that caused an extended ring absence. Imam is now aligned with Top Rank.

Many in boxing have all but given up on Imam. But the talent that we saw when he was coming up the ladder is still there. And that was evident last November when in his first fight back from the Ramirez loss, he impressively knocked out Marcos Mojica.

On Saturday, Imam will be in the ring with Javier Molina (21-2, 9 KO’s) who is coming off an upset first- round knockout of Hiroki Okada. The fight is at a catch-weight of 142 pounds. Molina is a solid pro and an impressive win by Imam would put him back on the map. Not only do I expect an impressive performance by Imam here but I think he will one day soon complete his own comeback bid and become a world champion.

Who is Jeo Santisima?

On the pay-per-view portion of the Wilder-Fury II undercard, boxing’s busiest champion Emanuel Navarrete (30-1, 26 KO’s) will defend his WBO 122-pound title against the organization’s number five ranked contender in Jeo Santisima (19-2, 16 KO’s) of the Philippines. So, who is Santisima and does he pose any threat to Navarrete?

Santisima, 23, turned pro when he was 16 and has had all 21 of his fights in the Philippines. He began his career 2-2 but since then has reeled off 17 straight wins.

To put it mildly, Santisima has been in with soft competition. Even the most hardcore boxing fan would be hard-pressed to recognize any names on his resume. His best win on paper was a first- round knockout in 2017 of Goodluck Mrema who was then 16-0. Mrema has lost four more fights since then, including three by knockout.

There is actually quite a bit of footage available of Santisima on YouTube. He is an orthodox fighter who is a boxer-puncher by trade. He has a decent left jab and will look to work combinations behind that punch. Santisima also will sit back and look to counter. Again, against limited opposition, he has shown an ability to bait his opposition into throwing by using subtle feints to set up counter opportunities.

Santisima is fairly athletic. His hand speed is average, but he appears to possess heavy-handed power in both fists. I’d say his best punch is his left hook. It is often delivered short, quick and compact. He has hurt opponents to both the head and body with that punch.

One major flaw in Santisima’s game is that when he jabs, he often gets lazy when bringing it back. He has been clipped a few times when doing this and will need to correct this flaw to stand any chance against Navarrete.

I initially dismissed Santisima’s chances in this fight, but after watching him on YouTube, I suspect he may surprise some people. We all know Navarrete is a punching machine. But by throwing so many punches, Navarrete is somewhat susceptible to counter shots. With Santisima being a decent counterpuncher with heavy hands, I can see him landing some damaging punches. And that left hook, in my opinion, is for real.

Everything considered, I think Santisima will, at the least, make the fight with Navarrete entertaining for the fans. Yes, there is a good chance he may get overwhelmed but as long as he is standing, he will be dangerous and make things fun.

An Interesting Option for Diego Magdaleno

Diego Magdaleno (32-3, 13 KO’s) put a spark in his career when he won a clear 10-round unanimous decision over Austin Dulay (13-2, 10 KO’s) in a lightweight contest this past Saturday. Coming on national television, the win will certainly get Magdaleno another opportunity. And putting my matchmaker hat on for a second, I see one very interesting option out there for him.

Back in January, I was ringside at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, NY to watch one time can’t-miss prospect Felix Verdejo in action against journeyman Manuel Rey Rojas. The prevailing thought at ringside was “don’t blink” with the expectation that Verdejo would dispatch Rojas quickly and in a spectacular fashion.

Instead, Verdejo looked sluggish in coasting to a wide unanimous decision victory. The fight looked like a glorified sparring session and the explosiveness we once saw in the early portion of Verdejo’s career was once again non-existent. Despite the win, Verdejo’s stock continued to plummet.

Top Rank, Verdejo’s promoter, needs to find out what they have in Verdejo once and for all. There is no need to match him anymore with the Manuel Rey Rojas’ of the world. Verdejo needs a step-up and Magdaleno fits the bill.

Could Verdejo lose to Magdaleno? The answer is a resounding yes. But could Magdaleno with his aggressive style bring out the best in Verdejo? The answer is also a resounding yes.

Verdejo vs. Magdaleno would be a perfect co-feature to the big title unification fight that Top Rank is planning in the spring.

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The Top Ten Light-Heavyweights of the Decade 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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The light-heavyweight decade just passed was neither as impressive as cruiserweight nor as underwhelming as heavyweight when placed under the microscope; most notable was the emergence of no fewer than six lineal champions, an impressive number that will not be bettered and might tell any one of a hundred stories depending on who is writing it.

I welcome you to my telling.

10 – Oleksandr Gvozdyk

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 17-1 Ranked For: 10% of the Decade

Tavoris Cloud came close to grabbing the number ten spot, but his second most impressive win after his 2010 defeat of Glen Johnson is his points decision over Gabriel Campillo from 2012. This, sadly, is a straight-up robbery despite Campillo suffering a disastrous first round. It’s a very good fight though, and if you have the time, check it out. I did actually look at Campillo then, because despite the fact he has lost many of his keynote contests, he was repeatedly abused on the cards, against Cloud, against Beibut Shumenov and in the draw with Karo Murat, but there isn’t quite enough there to make the ten. I looked briefly at Andrzej Fonfara, who did as much to eliminate Campillo from contention as any other fighter but despite all the right names, Fonfara tended to meet them on all the wrong dates, when they were well past prime.

So, I went back to the future and have named as the #10 light-heavyweight for the decade the last lineal champion but one, Oleksandr Gvozdyk. Gvozdyk inflicted terrible injuries on the long-reigning champion Adonis Stevenson and so it seems ghoulish to dwell upon how they were dealt, but the big clue came in the third round when Stevenson was dropped hard. He was nimble, quick-handed and already had a nice line in feints with glove and boot.  He essentially outlasted a much more seasoned fighter to take the stoppage victory in eleven.

He managed just a single defense before an even more deadly Artur Beterbiev caught up with him, but I think he did just enough on his run to the Stevenson fight to get the nod, picking off the likes of Tommy Karpency and Isaac Chilemba as early as ninth and tenth fights.

09 – Chad Dawson

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 7-5-0-1 Ranked For: 45% of the Decade

Chad Dawson’s run from 2006 to 2009 was legitimately special but was brought to a juddering halt by Jean Pascal in the summer of 2010. Dawson was a preeminent light-heavyweight of the time but the last decade was not kind to him, as reflected in his paper record. So, the question isn’t whether he should rank any higher here, but whether he should rank at all.

I’ve come down on the side of “yes” due to just three fights and in essence just one. Dawson bounced back from Pascal with a very impressive win over Adrian Diaconu who had his own problems with Pascal but remained a ranked contender and a well-organized, doughty opponent. Dawson outboxed him cleanly over twelve in his first fight with Emmanuel Steward in his corner and from here moved on to a contest with true champion Bernard Hopkins.

Hopkins, ancient and brilliant, suffered a separation of his left shoulder and the fight was abandoned, originally awarded to Dawson, later rendered a no-contest making a rematch a necessity. Dawson, whose style had elements of the cutie, turned stalker for Diaconu and it was a style he re-embraced for his contests with Hopkins. Working behind a jab, his superior speed and an occasional flurry brought him what should have been a clear points win despite the majority decision the judges found.

As unsatisfying as these fights were, they represent a summit in that Dawson became the true light-heavyweight champion of the world. When he lost it in a disastrous first round knockout loss to the decade’s defining champion, Adonis Stevenson, it spelled the end for him as a top contender. He has continued to box but has yet to earn another meaningful victory at the poundage, a harsh indictment of his late career.

The early career sneaks him in at number nine.

08 – Jean Pascal

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 10-5-1-1 Ranked For: 68% of the Decade

It feels very much as though Jean Pascal has been around forever and certainly his longevity is reflected in the touchstone fighters he has met across the decade. How many men faced both Hopkins and Dawson and Bivol and Elieder Alvarez?

Despite this, Pascal has failed to nail up the kind of scalps that might be expected from so many years spent on the dangerous side of the street. He lost to all of the above, bar one, and his second-best result is arguably his last – a twelve round split over #8 contender Badou Jack scored in dying days of a decade he once ruled over. Their fight was a lo-fi classic, all tension and surges, first one way, then the other and the cards reflected this, Pascal’s sudden spurts of activity and jab (excellent when he used it) enough to get him across the line in a split decision. It was a rough, difficult, contest and not the type of fight a veteran tends to win.

In the fight immediately prior to this came another surprising and exciting victory, this time over the much younger Marcus Browne. In many ways this was the ultimate old-man mugging, as Pascal lost every round – except the ones that mattered. Buying himself three points on the cards by way of knockdowns, Pascal turned a sure defeat into a sure victory as he was out-sped, out-hit but not-out-thought or outpointed. He won by way of technical decision over eight rounds and by a single point after an accidental headbutt opened a gusher on Browne’s forehead.

So, Pascal finalized his case with mere hours of the decade remaining, but it was a victory that he earned when it was only months old that cements his place. In August of 2010 another accidental headbutt resulted in another technical decision in the favor of Pascal, this time after eleven, the victim, Chad Dawson. That made Pascal the lineal champion.

07 – Eleider Alvarez

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 21-1 Ranked For: 52% of the Decade

Eleider Alvarez is the most underrated fighter on this list, and although I don’t feel great about him slipping in ahead of Jean Pascal, it helps that Alverez defeated him.

Pascal, as it happened, had several special nights before him, but at the time it felt like Alvarez was clearing up on the last generation as Isaac Chilemba (then still ranked, a part of so many of these stories), Lucian Bute and Pascal all fell to him. The Chilemba fight was dull and close, the Pascal fight a jab clinic with Alvarez in control, however the judges scored it, but it was against Bute that Alvarez showed what might be possible. Bute was the mere remains of the fighter that had impressed years previously, but Alvarez dazzled with his speed and heavy-handedness, thrashing him in five.

A Columbian by birth, Alvarez fights out of fistic hotspot Montreal but went in the summer of 2018 to the United States to face Sergey Kovalev. Kovalev’s air of invincibility had been crushed forever by Andre Ward, but he had re-established himself as the number one contender to the legitimate title when Eleider came calling. The Columbian, in truth, was marginally outboxed through the first six rounds but Kovalev never appeared entirely comfortable while stalking his man. In the seventh, behind on the cards and with the fight ebbing away, Alvarez followed up a swift feinted jab with a booming right hand over the top that set Kovalev on his trunks; his follow-up was sensational and saw him a winner on the three-knockdown rule.

Alvarez was out-classed by a jab-right hand strategy in the rematch, and that puts the brakes on his standing here. He remains, at thirty-five, a serious player in the division.

06 – Dmitry Bivol

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 17-0 Ranked For: 25% of the Decade

Dmitry Bivol is currently ranked the world’s #1 contender to Artur Beterbiev’s championship and joyfully, that fight will likely be made for 2020. In 2018 and 2019, Bivol cleared out several fighters belonging to the last generation and picked off two live contenders from this one, and it’s enough to see him ensconced in the decade’s divisional top ten.

Bivol impressed in bombing out Cedric Agnew and Trent Broadhurst in 2017 but his first fight of 2018, against Sullivan Barrera, was when he was confirmed top tier. Barrera was highly ranked, a puncher, and tough. Bivol won every minute of every round and stopped him in the twelfth. No light-heavyweight was ever so assured after so few fights. The footwork was quick and sure. His jab was so good it stripped Barrera almost entirely of his own jab, and he went literal clusters of rounds without landing one. The right hand behind is as fast as any in boxing despite his size and the body-attack is deployed as a part of a layered offense, strategic, opportunistic. Bivol has the depth in offense of a much, much more experienced man.

Once more pitted against generational leftovers behind this win, Bivol completely dominated the scorecards against Isaac Chilemba and Jean Pascal. These were fighters on the slide but what was impressive was that Bivol was at no point out-thought by either. His defensive surety and offensive riffing meant that both men failed to find tactical cracks in Bivol’s boxing armor despite whatever fleeting successes they achieved.

When he turned in similarly one-sided cards against the fresher, hungrier Joe Smith, Bivol’s completeness was signaled. He has been imperious and dominant against a wide range of quality opposition in a short timeframe.

05 – Bernard Hopkins

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 5-3-1-1 Ranked For: 46% of the Decade

If you remember 2010-2019 the same way I do, you remember Bernard Hopkins beating up an ancient Roy Jones and thinking “that makes sense, now he’ll retire.”

He didn’t retire and in fact he had some of the most thrilling fights of his career – yes thrilling – before him. Chief among these was his December 2010 battle with Jean Pascal. Pascal, by then lineal champion, dropped Hopkins twice in the contest but was so summarily outboxed that many believed he was lucky to escape with the draw. An immediate rematch was fought.

This fight had George Foreman, whose record as the oldest champion in boxing history was about to be supplanted, “on the edge of his seat” with excitement, a response to the tension that purveyed each round. Emanuel Steward called it “the best fight” Hopkins had boxed since his knockout of Felix Trinidad.  It was an astonishing display and a unanimous points victory over a prime, young, hungry champion boxing in his hometown. Hopkins was under heavy pressure early but leading with the right hand placed a clearly uncertain Pascal back in his box. He sniffed the decision out by a point on my card.

Hopkins was not always so much fun at light-heavyweight and when he ran into Chad Dawson in his next two fights (a no contest and a loss) the fun seemed to be over; but writing Hopkins off is foolish. He came back and out-smarted Tavoris Cloud, then the #2 contender in the world, punishing him for every little mistake, scraping up enough points for a clear decision. He was by then forty-eight years old. Karo Murat and Beibut Shumenov fared little better – Shumenov even became the first Hopkins opponent to visit the canvas in a decade; then the wheels came off a little with a wide loss to Sergey Kovalev before he was knocked clean out of the ring and the sport by Joe Smith.

But he will never be forgotten. During a decade of life when most men are looking to wind down, Hopkins wound up and he wound up a big chunk of the light-heavyweight division.

04 – Andre Ward

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 11-0 Ranked For: 14% of the Decade

I had no clue what to do with Andre Ward when I realized I had to rank him. 11-0 for the decade, sure, but less than that at 175lbs where he hovers at around half a dozen contests. It’s not a great deal.

But the more I thought about it the less troubling it seemed. Sure, he didn’t spend a lot of time in the division, but his numerical record is a site better than that of Chad Dawson, as is his paper one. The reason is his two duels with Sergey Kovalev.

The first, fought in late 2016, ached with tension. Kovalev dominated the first two rounds and even dumped Ward on the end of a one-two in the second but the American’s adaptability is his great strength.  His original plan was to scavenge punches while taking as little risk as possible but Kovalev saw straight through that and sought to dominate him behind the jab. In the third, Ward spent some time taking chances, nothing radical, but enough to make Kovalev think about his speed. In the sixth he pot-shot the body; he wrestled, he out-hit Kovalev in ugly clinches in a desperately close fight.

And that’s the key here. Ward identified early that he was outgunned and mashed a whole series of small adaptations into a strategic quilt that he used it to make the fight close. I had Kovalev winning by a point, but his success was as much making it reasonable for him to have won as in winning. It was a tortuous fight to score.

Most media favored Kovalev making a rematch inevitable. Famously, or infamously, Ward landed significant low blows in this fight, in the second, when he appeared to be losing control, the seventh, and the eighth, where punches deemed either borderline or low depending on your perspective resulted in a stoppage win for Ward.

What to make of all this? A desperately close first fight that could be scored any one of three ways, a controversial stoppage in the second? In the end, I honor those results. I won’t overturn the decision in such a close fight for ranking purposes and a stoppage is a stoppage. This means Ward has the best and second-best wins on this list. It’s the top five for him!

03 – Artur Beterbiev

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 15-0 Ranked For: 50% of the Decade

Current champion Artur Beterbiev spent longer in the decadal rankings than the likes of Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson, all while competing in just fifteen professional fights. He achieved this by being matched tough but brilliantly early. In just his sixth fight he met Tavoris Cloud, who had lost back to back against Bernard Hopkins and Adonis Stevenson but remained ranked at #7 and was a sure challenge for a green professional, albeit one who had rated a crack amateur.

Beterbiev blew through Cloud in two rounds, already boxing like an AI/human hybrid, his control of ring center absolute, his variety and technical surety on offense outstanding. Probably there is no “correct” way to box, but for the four short minutes this fight lasted that seemed arguable. Inside, outside, offense, defense, against a world-class opponent on the slide, Beterbiev was devastating.

A few months later Beterbiev, still nothing but a baby in professional terms, took on Gabriel Campillo, the big, awkward light-heavyweight who was robbed against Cloud three years before. This was a different type of challenge: one that was mobile, quick, a slippery boxer with a nice line in unorthodox offense.  Beterbiev found him in just four, with shorter, harder punches than Cloud was able to land on Campillo in twelve.

Beterbiev is a wrecking-machine, a new incarnation of the east European technician, a Russian raised on boxing who studied at a Sports School from the age of sixteen. His title-winning performance against Gvozdyk was seminal, wearing him out, out-landing and finally bullying him to the canvas, echoing their meeting in the amateurs. He is going to take some beating, though at thirty-five years of age this exquisite form surely can’t last much longer.

02 – Adonis Stevenson

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 16-2-1 Ranked For: 56% of the Decade

When Adonis Stevenson separated Chad Dawson from his senses in the first minute of their 2013 championship contest he became, for around half that time, everyone’s favorite fighter. The grotesque over-celebration in Dawson’s stunned face, followed by nine title defenses during which the highest ranked opponent he met was Andrzej Fonfara (5), made him rather less popular.

The truth of those defenses is inescapable, however. While Stevenson may not have shown much interest in meeting the best in the division once he’d easily dispatched the champion, he did dispatch the champion, and he did stage the defenses. Years of ranking fighters has taught me that they should be ranked in accordance with what they did do, rather than what they did not. Stevenson’s title reign made him the definitive champion for the decade and the opposition he did meet saw him build the number two light-heavyweight resume for that timeframe.

It is constructed in part of men who are on this list (Dawson, Cloud) and men who were considered for it at some stage (Fonfara, Karpency). As a puncher, he’s arguably unequalled even in this company and remains undervalued as a boxer. His reign came to a tragic end when Gvozdyk repeatedly found and hurt him in their 2018 contest, hospitalizing him and injuring him seriously. That he was recovered enough in October to attend the WBC convention and take the stage under his own steam is testimony enough to his fighter’s heart and was a fitting end to the light-heavyweight decade.

01 – Sergey Kovalev

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 29-4-1 Ranked For: 84% of the Decade

I remember Sergey Kovalev’s 2013 arrival in the UK very well.  He was here to take on Nathan Cleverly, who due to his holding a mathematics degree and having the word “clever” in his name was repeatedly lauded for his “ring IQ” by the British press, who also made him a favorite. In fact, he was about to be hopelessly outgunned by a fighter who may look like a mere prototype for Bivol or Beterbiev right now, but who in his day was every bit as intimidating as either of those men.

Kovalev landed in England having brutalized Campillo earlier that year; he didn’t rank with the truly elite combination artists of the decade, but he had a two-piece and a three-piece as good as literally anyone boxing, and he laid it out for Campillo that night. The Spaniard was gone in three rounds. Cleverly would get as far as the fourth.

All of this made Kovalev a strapholder, something he would remain for much of the rest of the decade, but he would never become the true world champion. That title was held by Adonis Stevenson and Stevenson wanted no part of Kovalev. As a writer who upholds the “tradition” (dubious, as there were conflicting claims in every era) of one division, one champion, this requires some explaining: if Stevenson managed nine defenses of the legitimate world title, how can Kovalev be justified as ranking above him?

True championship status is indeed a heavy indicator of pre-eminence, but it is far from definitive. The reasoning for Kovalev’s standing as the finest light-heavyweight of the decade is simple: he defeated more ranked contenders; he defeated more top five contenders; he defeated the number one ranked contender on two separate occasions; he sat atop the division for longer; he looked a better fighter.

The last of these points is disputable, the rest is not. It was clear when Kovalev embarrassed the ageing Hopkins that he was not just dangerous, but special; twice stopping Jean Pascal, who had never even been down before his first contest with Kovalev, rendered him terrifying. Even after he was toppled by Ward and then, later, by Eleider Alvarez, he returned to the top of the rankings. Now, in 2020, years after his savage prime ended, Kovalev remains ranked among the new generations of former Soviet-bloc light-heavyweights, even the embarrassing loss to middleweight Saul Alvarez not enough to flush him out of the top five.

The decade captured both the worst and the best of Kovalev and that makes appraising his reign complex. What makes him the clear number one is the timing that emerged around him. Clearly the best of the first decadal generation, emerging talent didn’t have time to build a conquering resume.

First by default is still first; nobody came close to overhauling him.

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Plant TKOs Feigenbutz in Nashville; A Bizarre Turnabout in the Co-Feature

Arne K. Lang

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Plant-TKOs-Feigenbutz-in-Nashville-A-Bizarre-Turnabout-in-the-Co-Feature

Vincent Feigenbutz came to Nashville with the hopes of becoming the first fighter from Germany to win a world title on American soil since Max Schmeling in 1930. But he was out-gunned by hometown hero Celeb Plant who successfully defended his IBF world super middleweight title with a 10th round stoppage.

It was obvious early on that Plant was the better athlete. He was more fluid and had a more well-rounded game and there was never a point in the fight where he was in jeopardy. But Feigenbutz made a gallant effort and remained upright until the very end. Eventually, however, referee Malik Waleed decided that Feigenbutz had taken enough punishment for one night. Waleed called a halt at the 2:23 mark of round 10.

The unbeaten, 27-year-old Plant, now 20-0 (12 KOs) was making the second defense of the title he won from Jose Uzcategui. Feigenbutz, who was making his U.S. debut, lost for the third time in 34 pro starts.

In the co-feature, tenacity eventually paid dividends for Abel Ramos who stopped Bryant Perrella with one second remaining in the 10th and final round of their welterweight contest. The fight harked to the famous first meeting between Julio Cesar Chavez and Meldrick Taylor which the broadcasters and both combatants referenced in their post-fight commentary.

Perrella, a 30-year-old southpaw from Fort Myers, Florida, took advantage of his significant height and reach advantage to pile up points and was comfortably ahead on the scorecards entering the final round, In fact, scoring the last round 10-7 for Ramos, Perrella would have still prevailed, albeit by a majority decision. But with barely a minute remaining in the 10th, Ramos dropped him with a hard left uppercut and then dropped him again with an overhand right as the fight moved into the final seconds.

Perrella beat the count but his gait was unsteady as he walked laterally from referee Jack Reiss and Reiss stopped the fight with only one tick left on the clock. Pennsylvania-born, Phoenix-based Ramos, who has fought extensively in Mexico, improved to 26-3-2 with his 20th knockout. Hard-luck Bryant Perrella fell to 17-3.

—-

In the TV opener, a 10-round lightweight match, Las Vegas veteran Diego Magdaleno (32-3, 18 KOs) rejuvenated his career with a unanimous decision over Nashville’s Austin Dulay (13-2). Magdaleno, 33, was making his first start since being stopped in the seventh round by Teofimo Lopez last February and his first start with new trainer Bones Adams.

Magdaleno started slow but found his rhythm in round four and gradually took the starch out of Dulay with a steady barrage of body punches. Some of the punches landed low and referee Reiss deducted a point from Magdaleno in round seven shortly after Magdaleno put Dulay on the canvas with a body punch. The scores were 97-91 and 96-92 twice.

In a non-televised undercard bout of note, Flint, Michigan junior middleweight Leon Lawson III needed only 36 seconds to put away Francisco Javier Castro. The 20-year-old Lawson, who defeated Ryan Garcia in the amateurs, improved to 13-0 (6). It was the fifth straight loss for the 36-year-old Castro who declined to 28-13.

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