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33 Boxing Notables Name Their Top ‘Must-See-TV’ Fighters: A New TSS Survey

Ted Sares

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Welcome to the first Quarterly TSS Survey of 2019. The following questions were asked: In the past, what ONE fighter did you most look forward to watching on week-end TV? How about today? Who is that ONE fighter that makes work go by faster on Friday in anticipation? As always, the respondents are listed alphabetically.

JIM AMATO — author, writer, historian and collector: Whenever Roberto Duran was on TV I would try to find time to watch him. Even in the 90s when he was fighting on the USA Network. He was such a clever technician. A true master of fisticuffs. Today I enjoy watching Mikey Garcia. He’s a real throwback to yesterday’s boxers. I respect the fact that he is willing to meet the talented and bigger Errol Spence Jr. A supreme challenge. Like Duran, Arguello, Basilio, Olivares, etc…Mikey is ready to take on the very best.

RUSS ANBER — trainer, elite cornerman, and owner of Rival Boxing Equipment: The one name that popped into my head above all others was Danny “Little Red” Lopez. I believe I watched every fight he had on mainstream television, and was thrilled every time. I also remember how heartbroken I was when he lost to the great Salvador Sanchez. I loved Little Red!

MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI — TSS boxing writer: In the past it was Arturo Gatti. What can I say about Gatti that has not already been said? His fights were almost always fan friendly, high contact affairs with plenty of drama. Even his tune-up fights, like the one against Calvin Grove in 1997, turned out to be wars. Today, it is Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. He sure is exciting to watch. Just comes forward, abandoning defense, and only thinking about landing his own shots. Like Gatti, even Sor Rungvisai’s tune-up fights turn out to be exciting.

DAVID AVILATSS West Coast Bureau Chief: In the past Muhammad Ali was that fighter I would plan ahead to make time to watch. Even when he was suspended I read about anything he had to say. When he returned to boxing against Jerry Quarry, I celebrated. Today, I would say Canelo Alvarez. I saw his first fight in America and I’m amazed at his career.

BOB BENOIT — former pro fighter and current referee: Archie Moore was my favorite to look forward to in the past.  Presently, I don’t have one.

JOE BRUNO — former New York City sportswriter; prolific author: I would wait in anticipation to see any Joe Frazier fight. He gave it his all and never cheated the public. Same with Arturo Gatti. As for today, nobody comes to mind. Most of the potential great fighters are now fighting MMA which, to me, is unwatchable.

STEVE CANTONauthor and President of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame: I don’t think that I can say that there was just one fighter I looked forward to seeing on week-end TV. Growing up, I always looked forward to the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports Friday Night Fights with Don Dunphy. The fighters who appeared regularly were always a treat to watch, like Emile Griffith, Gaspar Ortega, Chico Vejar, Vince Martinez, Luis Rodriguez, Dick Tiger, Carlos Ortiz, Joe Brown, etc. etc. etc.

CHARLIE DWYERformer professional referee and member of U.S. Marine Corps Boxing Hall of Fame: Micky Ward. Win, lose or draw it was going to be a good one to watch. Today, Gennady Golovkin, a disciplined, consistent, no-nonsense fighter.

STEVE FARHOOD — Showtime announcer, former editor of The Ring magazine and 2017 IBHOF inductee: In the days of weekend network TV, the fighter I most looked forward to seeing in action was Matthew Saad Muhammad. Fortunately, he fought often in Atlantic City, so I was usually able to attend his fights. I was never surprised by the twists and turns in Saad’s fights; after half a dozen times, I came to expect them. He was thrilling–and at a very high level. And I’d put Marvin Johnson up there, too, largely because he twice fought Saad. Today, that fighter would be John Molina. While Molina is, of course, defensively weak, and hasn’t proven to be championship caliber, his fights have been as consistently entertaining–and as consistently unpredictable–as those of any fighter you can name. He may not lead the league in home runs, but nobody has hit more eight-run homers than Molina.

BERNARD FERNANDEZ — TSS mainstay and lifetime Member of the BWAA:  As a grade-school kid, I put Carmen Basilio right up there with my other sports heroes, Billy Cannon (LSU’s only Heisman Trophy winner), Bob Pettit (the NBA great and also an LSU product) and Stan Musial, who had nothing at all to do with LSU. The “Upstate Onion Farmer” was my dad’s favorite fighter, so he became mine, but I probably would have liked him anyway because he was in The Ring’s Fight of the Year five years running, from 1955-59. Later on, I was drawn to Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard, who were so alike in some ways and so different in others.

Now? I admit to having a natural affinity for Regis Prograis, partly because he is a native New Orleanian, as I am, but also because he’s an action fighter with a big punch. Other southpaws whose bouts I never want to miss are Errol Spence Jr. and, of course, Vasiliy Lomachenko, who does stuff like nobody else can.

JEFFREY FREEMAN (aka KO Digest) — TSS boxing writer: Mike Tyson was my weekend warrior back in the good old days of cable television. I’d plan my busy work schedule around Tyson’s fights, always requesting those Saturday nights off. These days, I’m most excited about Anthony Joshua’s world heavyweight title bouts. With the DAZN app loaded onto my iPhone, I never have to miss any AJ action even if I’m at a wedding in Provincetown, Massachusetts like I was when he knocked out Alexander Povetkin. Joshua’s fights are global events and I will go out of my way not to miss the flagship fighter of boxing’s resurgent flagship division.

RANDY GORDON — writer, editor, radio show host and former head of the New York State Athletic Commission: When I was in college, Joe Frazier was the man! Today, I can’t get enough of Vasiliy Lomachenko, Regis Prograis and Deontay Wilder (I just can’t pick one!).

LEE GROVES – author, writer and Wizard of CompuBox: When I first began watching boxing, the fighter I looked most forward to seeing was Danny “Little Red” Lopez because he was an incredibly exciting fighter who often had to overcome adversity before securing victory. I also admired his humility and sportsmanship, assets that stood in contrast to the destruction he had just completed inside the ring. I soon learned that was the case for many big hitters, but he was among the first I saw that demonstrated that dynamic. As for today, I can only speak as a punch-counter, so, in that vein, I look forward to counting Leo Santa Cruz because he throws a lot of punches and those punches are easy for me to see and discern. Also, because he maintains his rhythm, it makes it easier for me to maintain my rhythm.

HENRY HASCUP – historian; President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame:  That’s a tough one. I know most people would say Tyson or Pacquiao and I would agree with them, but I also liked Matthew Saad Muhammad and Arturo Gatti. They didn’t win all the time but they sure gave us our money’s worth. Regarding today, I have several but none gives me the excitement of the ones I listed above!  I love watching guys like Crawford, Spence, Alvarez,  Lomachenko, Triple G, and the Garcias, but I just can’t pick just one!

JACK HIRSCH– former President and now lifetime member of the BWAA: There is no one particular fighter I can name. If absolutely forced to, I would say Ali and Frazier for the great drama they gave to the heavyweight division in the 60’s and 70’s.

BRUCE KIELTY — boxing matchmaker, manager, and historian: Whether you liked him or hated him, Mike Tyson had the type of menacing charisma that compelled you to watch. Apparently many people felt the same way because it was once reported that Mike was responsible for 30% of HBO subscribers. Today, Errol Spence captures my attention. He has consistent excellence and poise beyond his years. More importantly, he carries himself with class, unlike so many of boxing’s ignorant buffoons.

STUART KIRSCHENBAUM – boxing commissioner emeritus, State of Michigan: Thomas Hearns fighting on national TV would have me and all of Motown watching. Without so many networks having boxing you do not have the same fan base until they reach Pay Per View, so I haven’t felt that same anticipation in years. Even a Floyd Mayweather fight you would have to mortgage your house to watch…then it would be like eating Chinese food. One hour after the fight you would feel hungry again for some action.

 JIM LAMPLEY– linchpin of the HBO announcing team; 2015 IBHOF inductee: In my youth, long before I could have envisioned working in boxing media, it was of course Muhammad Ali. Once I arrived in the sport, 1986, it was of course Mike Tyson. And regardless of recent results, among the current crop of great fighters, there are a flock of them but if you force me to choose one it is Triple G. “Big Drama Show” still applies. But as I hope my work demonstrated, for the most part I loved and appreciated them all. Collectively, they taught me about life. Their instruction in that regard is irreplaceable for me.

ARNE LANG — TSS editor-in-chief, author, historian: I really can’t think of any fighters who were “must-see TV” for me other than those I knew personally. But I became smitten with the stumpy Avtandil Khurtsidze while watching him dismantle Antoine Douglas and was very much looking forward to seeing Khurtsidze fight Billy Joe Saunders. That would have been a great style matchup. Unfortunately, Khurtsidze got swept up by U.S. federal prosecutors in a sweep of the Russian Mafia and it’s likely we will never see him again.

RON LIPTON — former fighter, retired police officer, pro referee: Back in the early 60’s after seeing Rubin Carter knock out Florentino Fernandez and Emile Griffith in one round each, he was the one I looked forward to seeing in his next fight on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports the most. Then it became Ali and Mike Tyson that generated the most anticipation for me. As to today, I have to pass on that one as an active referee.

ADEYINKA MAKINDEUK barrister, author, and contributor to the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Boxing: I always looked forward to watching Hogan Jimoh, a lightweight, and Eddie Ndukwu, a featherweight, on Nigerian TV in the late 1970’s. They were the best that Nigeria could offer in the post-Dick Tiger era and attracted sizeable crowds to the National Stadium. As for today, I can’t pick one fighter as it invariably depends on the quality of opposition they are facing. So it could be the exceedingly skillful Terence Crawford one week or the very resourceful Oleksandr Usyk on the other.

JOE PASQUALE — elite boxing judge:  I can only respond to the question as it pertains to retired boxers to avoid any conflict of interest perceptions on fighters I may be judging in the future. That said, Sugar Ray Leonard in his prime probably stands out as the one fighter I looked forward to watching on TV. His boxing IQ combined with his explosive abilities, heart and charisma always made Leonard a fighter full of intrigue for me. I am still thrilled when I watch the videos of his bouts.

J. RUSSELL PELTZ — venerable Philadelphia boxing promoter and 2004 IBHOF inductee: As a kid, Dick Tiger because there always was a chance for a knockout.  Also Sonny Liston but when I began watching late in 1959 I only saw him once with Eddie Machen. Henry Hank also was a pleasure due to his style. Emile Griffith because of his great back and shoulders. Also, Bennie Briscoe. Today, no one gets my juices going. Wilder is interesting because he can crack you at any moment in the fight.

CLIFF ROLD — boxing writer; founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board: Mike Tyson in the past, today Naoya Inoue.

FRED ROMANO — author and former ESPN researcher:  There were so many great weekend warriors from the late seventies into the 90s. I particularly looked forward to the Mancini fights, such as those against Arguello, Frias and Espana. You were always guaranteed to get a good action fight. Today, I enjoy watching Lomachenko for his unique style and excellent technique and skill. If Tuesdays were included, my throwback choice would be Foreman and his comeback fights on the USA Network.

LEE SAMUELS — Top Rank publicist and 2019 IBHOF Inductee: Years ago seeing Muhammad Ali in action was awesome – a tremendous all-action bigger-than -life champion. As a writer with the Philadelphia Bulletin we covered two of Ali’s fights – his first fight with Leon Spinks, then in his finale against Trevor Berbick. Ali was a dynamic athlete, full of life and mischief in media rooms and always had something unique to say about his opponents. As far as today’s champions, Bob Arum said it best when he noted “Vasiliy  Lomachenko reminds me of Muhammad  Ali.” Loma, the greatest amateur of our time, is an unpredictable force who attacks from a variety of angles and is unquestionably the most exciting athlete in the ring today. Which brings us to Terence Crawford who amazingly takes time, rhythm and space to figure out his challenger and – while facing hard punching – finds a route to where he can take out his opponent in spectacular fashion. He is a must-see champion in the game of boxing right now.”

 ICEMAN JOHN SCULLY — former boxer; manager, trainer, TV commentator, writer, historian: When I was coming up as a kid watching weekend TV fights I never missed an Aaron Pryor fight. I remember him getting knocked down once and before the referee could even start an eight count he had done sort of a somersault while on the canvas and lifted himself off the canvas and started punching at his opponent before the guy could even get his hands back up. Never missed his fights after that.

Today I’m not as drawn to as many guys because they aren’t as visible as they were back when the three major networks along with USA and ESPN were showing fights on a weekly basis but I’d say in terms of action and watching someone who you know is going to produce or at least try as hard as he can to produce some fireworks every time he steps in there, Id’ say that Deontay Wilder is a must-watch type of guy.

 TED SARES — TSS writer: In the past it was Bobby Chacon. I watched him fight Olivares, Little Red, then two with Boza Edwards and three with Limon. It was scotch and cigar time each time. Today, it’s a tie between Loma simply because he does things I have never seen before, and Wilder because the concussive end can come at any time in the fight.

PETER SILKOV — boxing writer: In the past, (80s/90s) there was a whole host of fighters who would make me look forward to Friday and Saturdays, unfortunately, that isn’t the case now. If I had to pick one fighter from recent years who I have followed avidly it would be Roman Gonzalez, closely followed by GGG and Kovalev. Unfortunately, all three now seem to be at the end of their careers. If I had to pick a fighter for right now it would be Usyk, followed by Tyson Fury.

ALAN SWYER — filmmaker, writer, and producer of the acclaimed El Boxeo: As a very young kid, I couldn’t wait to see Sugar Ray Robinson, especially when he was scheduled to fight Basilio. Today, the guy I most look forward to seeing is Terence Crawford. For an in-depth interview with Alan Swyer about “El Boxeo” please CLICK HERE

GARY “DIGITAL” WILLIAMS –the voice of “Boxing on the Beltway”:  For me in the 80’s, it was Hector “Macho” Camacho. It was a lot of fun watching him during that time. He seemed to be a very cool character and someone fresh for that time.

BEAU WILLIFORD – former trainer and manager and Mr. Boxing in Louisiana’s Cajun Country: When I was a very young boy, my father took me to Lee Field House at Fort Bragg to see Rocky Marciano vs. Archie Moore. I became a huge fan of both. My favorite weekend boxer was Gaspar Ortega. Today I get excited when “Canelo” Alvarez is boxing.

 PETER WOOD — former boxer and author of several books including The Boy Who Hit Back — There was once a wild heavyweight–a large human-shaped piece of muscle. He was dripping in id and marinated in pure ego. He was the only fighter who bested Muhammad Ali in a pre-fight press conference, calling Ali a “chicken…cheep! cheep! cheep!” and “a black kangaroo”. He was the only fighter who was ever able to knock Joe Frazier down twice in one round. He was the only fighter to be disqualified in the Pan-American Games for biting Lee Carr’s shoulder, and the only fighter to be shot dead at the Mustang whorehouse in Nevada–Oscar Bonavena. RIP … Today? Tyson Fury is an interesting character. He is cut out of the same maniacal cloth–id and ego.

Observations:

A very wide range of answers with Ali, Frazier, and Tyson being mentioned the most. As for today, Lomachenko, Spence, Crawford and Wilder get the nod but not by much.

Peter Wood’s contribution was especially enjoyable because it reflected his special way of writing. And Jim Lampley’s was as poignant as they get.

Many thanks to all the contributors.

P.S. How about you? Is there one particular fighter — past or present – who has you waiting for Saturday with bated breath?

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors. He is a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA).

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Pernell Whitaker, Short List All Time Great

Bernard Fernandez

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Pernell Whitaker was, by most accounts, the best defensive fighter since Willie Pep, maybe even better. His ability to stay in the pocket and make frustrated opponents hit nothing but air, answering their misfires with stinging counterpunches, was a form of pugilistic genius beyond replication until Floyd Mayweather Jr. came along. But even Mayweather might not have matched Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker’s uncanny gift for ducking and dodging incoming shots, Matrix-style. It was almost as if he were in a rainstorm without an umbrella, yet somehow able to avoid getting wet.

All right, so even a legendary fighter’s quick-twitch reflexes figure to slow nearly two decades after his retirement from the ring. Whitaker was 55 and well removed from his remarkable prime when he was struck by a car while crossing a Virginia Beach, Va., street Sunday night, sustaining fatal injuries.  But here’s the thing: the driver whose vehicle slammed into the four-division former world champion didn’t swerve out of control, and he apparently wasn’t exceeding the posted speed limit. There is no fleeing villain for Whitaker’s many admirers to castigate (the driver, who stayed with Whitaker, has not been charged with a crime), and emergency medical personnel were quickly on the scene to render whatever assistance they could, to no avail.

Pernell Whitaker, who was to hit-and-not-be-hit boxing what baseball’s Ozzie Smith was to art of playing shortstop, was pronounced dead at the scene. His official time of passing was listed as 10:04 p.m. EDT.

The only possible explanation is familiar to all boxers who were surprised to find themselves on the canvas, woozy, and being counted out. The blow that is most apt to result in a knockout is the stealthy one you don’t see coming. It’s just that this knockout, steel against flesh and bone, was forever.

Kathy Duva, the Main Events CEO who has known Whitaker even before the clever southpaw, a gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, signed with her now-deceased husband Dan’s promotional company as part of arguably the greatest crop of U.S. boxers ever to come out of the same Olympiad, finds it as ironic as it is tragic that someone known for being nearly untouchable inside the ropes could have forgotten the first safety rule for all pedestrians: Look both ways before stepping onto any roadway, especially if it’s late at night and that roadway is not particularly well-illuminated.

“For a guy who almost never got hit to die that way … It’s insane. Ironic. I guess that’s the only word for it,” said Duva, still nearly overwrought with emotion 12 hours after a fighter she so liked and respected, and with whom she had remained in fairly regular contact, perished so unexpectedly.

Asked if she thought Whitaker’s face belonged on a figurative Mount Rushmore of the greatest defensive fighters ever, Duva said, “Oh, absolutely. And, really, he’s on a lot of people’s lists of the greatest fighters of all time, and not just for his defense. He belongs there, too.”

Over the course of his 17-year pro career, Whitaker won world titles as a lightweight, junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight. Considering the high level of competition he routinely faced, his 40-4-1 record, with 17 KOs and one no-decision, would be impressive, but it is even more so upon closer examination. His first “loss,” by split decision to WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Ramirez in Paris on March 12, 1988, was a heist by pencil so blatant wanted posters should have been distributed seeking the arrests of judges Newton Campos and Louis Michel for crimes against sensibility.

After winning a one-sided unanimous decision over IBF lightweight titlist Greg Haugen (Whitaker won 35 of the 36 rounds on the three judges’ combined scorecards), he exacted his revenge upon Ramirez on Aug. 20, 1989, in Whitaker’s hometown of Norfolk, Va., retaining his IBF strap while adding the vacant WBC belt on a UD so obviously in his favor that it could have been scored by Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Ronnie Milsap. This time Whitaker was only marginally less dominant than he had been against Haugen, winning 33 of 36 rounds on the cards.

“Sweet Pea’s” emergence as boxing’s top pound-for-pound performer earned him recognition as 1989’s Fighter of the Year from both the Boxing Writers Association of America and The Ring magazine, but his skyrocketing confidence in his own ability, almost bordering on arrogance, was tempered by his lingering belief that powerful, behind-the-scenes players not only were hesitant to give him his due, but were actively plotting to stick it to him again as had been the case in the first Ramirez bout.

That sense of foreboding appeared at least somewhat justified the night of Sept. 10, 1993, in San Antonio’s Alamodome, when he defended his WBC welterweight championship against Mexican superstar Julio Cesar Chavez, who came in 87-0 and had the crowd of nearly 60,000 squarely behind him. But Whitaker did to Chavez that night what he had done to so many other opponents, which was to confuse and frustrate El Gran Campeon with an unorthodox fight plan that had him frequently going down onto his haunches, the most successful bit of duckwalking since Chuck Berry was strutting along 1950s stages, playing his guitar just like ringing a bell and belting out Johnny B. Goode.

Although almost everyone in the press section had Whitaker winning eight to 10 of the 12 rounds, judges Mickey Vann and Franz Marti each saw the fight as a 115-115 standoff (the third judge, Jack Woodruff, had Whitaker ahead by 115-113), making for a hugely controversial majority draw that again left the American feeling as if he’d been gut-shot.

“I knew this might happen, but still it was like a bad dream,” a disbelieving Whitaker said. “It was like someone put a knife in me and twisted it.

“I whipped his ass, and easily. I mentally and physically beat him. I put an old-fashioned project beating on him. A housing authority beating. A ghetto beating.”

There were those who predicted the draw was designed to set the stage for an even bigger rematch, but neither Kathy Duva nor I believed it. Chavez, also a great fighter, might have wanted a do-over as much as Whitaker, but his promoter Don King would decide who he would fight going forward, and His Hairness understood that Whitaker’s unorthodox and impenetrable style was always going to be problematic for JCC.

Did his disappointment over the disputed outcome of the fight with Chavez weigh so heavily on Whitaker that it affected him throughout the remainder of his career? Maybe, maybe not. He strung together an eight-fight winning streak after Chavez, but lost a relatively wide unanimous decision to Oscar De La Hoya in a fight that seemed much closer, and to some people’s way of thinking could have gone the other way.

Convinced he had been shafted again, Whitaker followed the De La Hoya fight with a close, 12-round points nod over Andrey Pestryaev in a WBA welterweight elimination bout, which was later changed to a no-decision when Whitaker tested positive for cocaine. He did not fight again for 16 months, and when he returned it was for a beatdown at the hands of IBF welterweight champ Felix Trinidad, in which Whitaker suffered a broken jaw. Disregarding the pain, Whitaker went the distance, whereupon he again put himself on a shelf for 26 months, coming back for a scheduled 10-rounder against journeyman Carlos Bojorquez on April 27, 2001, in which Whitaker was stopped in the fourth round on the advice of ring physician Dr. Margaret Goodman when it became clear that Whitaker was a one-armed fighter unable to deal with the effects of a broken clavicle.

Finally, it was over. Whitaker went back home to Norfolk, where he occasionally trained fighters, but largely stayed under the radar, his once-gleaming reputation tarnished by occasional reports of his ongoing brushes with the law over his cocaine habit. In June 2002, he was convicted of cocaine possession after a judge found he had violated terms of a previous sentence by overdosing on cocaine in March of that year.

“He had demons, but when he was in the ring that was when he was in control and when he was happy and when he was the very best at what he did, and he wanted to show that to everybody,” Duva said in another interview, with ESPN.

By all accounts, however, Whitaker had exorcised many of the demons that had made him an unhappy semi-recluse. A first-ballot inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007, he returned to Canastota, N.Y., in June to participate in the festivities for the 2019 induction ceremonies and took delight in being greeted warmly by fight fans. He also had accepted an invitation to leave for Las Vegas on Thursday to do a similar meet-and-greet with the public at the MGM Grand in advance of Saturday’s big PBC on Fox Sports PPPV fight between Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman.

All of which makes his sudden death so much more shocking to those who were encouraged that he was finding his way back to a better life in and out of boxing, a life that always should have been afforded him by virtue of his rare and special gift.

Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson, a big boxing buff and as much an artist in his own sphere as Whitaker had been in his, tweeted, “Pernell `Sweet Pea’ Whitaker was in the class of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard as one of the most entertaining fighters of my lifetime.”

Former ESPN boxing analyst Max Kellerman, now with ESPN, also ladled out the praise, tweeting, “The best lightweight I ever saw passed away (Sunday night). Yes, that includes Roberto Duran, Floyd Mayweather, Ike Williams and anyone else you want to mention … He was one of the three greatest pure boxers who ever lived.”

For those who always want to remember the best of Pernell Whitaker, there is consolation knowing that his passing appears to be nothing more than a terrible accident, the kind that can happen on any street, at any time, and to anyone.

“I guess he was wearing dark clothes, the road was dark and the driver didn’t see him,” Devon Whitaker, 27, the youngest of Pernell’s four surviving children, said of what he thought might have happened. Virginia Beach Police spokesperson Linda Kuehn noted that the investigation is still ongoing, “However, it does not appear that drugs, alcohol or speed were factors in the crash.”

Rest in peace, Sweet Pea. It was my pleasure watching you work.

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Pacquiao vs. Thurman: A Case Study on Two Types of Atrophy

Kelsey McCarson

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Pacquiao vs. Thurman: A Case Study on Two Types of Atrophy

Manny Pacquiao’s historic welterweight showdown against WBA titleholder Keith Thurman on July 20 is a case study on two types of atrophy which can negatively influence a professional fighter’s career.

One happens because of age; the other due to inactivity.

Pacquiao is 40 now. Eventually, what happens in every fighter’s life is the same thing that will happen to Pacquiao and relatively soon, whether against Thurman or sometime later. Pacquiao’s body will just stop working, at least in comparison to how it did before, and while the fighter can keep working hard at the gym, the return he receives will slowly diminish until all of a sudden Pacquiao can no longer compete with the best.

That same kind of thing happens to everyone in life, but it’s more apparent in boxing because instead of not being able to do something mundane anymore like easily bend over to pick up the keys you just dropped, the consequence is a black eye, a bloody nose and a view of the lights hanging above the boxing ring that you never really wanted to see (and probably won’t remember).

It’s strange then that Pacquiao is slightly favored by bookmakers over a talented and undefeated world champion ten years his junior in what’s easily the most important fight of that champion’s career.

While few fighters in boxing history have achieved as much as Pacquiao has over the course of his 24-year career, fewer still have been able to consistently defeat quality opponents at Pacquiao’s advanced age.

And can we just let that sink in for a second? Pacquaio’s prizefighting career has spanned almost a quarter-century!

Sure, Pacquiao has still looked pretty elite in recent outings. But after stopping Lucas Matthysse in July 2018 and scoring a dominant decision win over Adrien Broner in January 2019, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll finally hit the wall against the younger and naturally larger Thurman.

Thurman, 30, from Clearwater, Florida, is undefeated through 29 professional fights and, at first glance, he appears to be sitting on the right side of a crossroads fight. But a closer inspection of the situation reveals that might not actually be the case. Because where Pacquiao might be fighting a losing battle against age, Thurman has most definitely been losing a winnable battle against inactivity.

Here’s what happens all too often in boxing (whether it’s happening at the present to Thurman or not). A fighter puts in years and years of work only to stop doing all the things he did to get there once he reaches a comfortable position in the sport, usually a world title or two, numerous TV appearances and a boatload of money.

It’s conceivable that what is going on with Thurman right now is exactly that. Because even in somehow managing to maintain his title status with the WBA, Thurman hasn’t really been what most would consider an active fighter over the past few years.

In fact, the last time Thurman fought more than twice in a year was all the way back in 2012. The enigmatic champion only fought once each in 2016 and 2017, was out of boxing all of 2018 and didn’t appear to be the fighter he was before that long break earlier this year in his majority decision win over Josesito Lopez.

To be fair to the fighter, Thurman did suffer an elbow injury which required surgery after his title unifying split-decision win against Danny Garcia in March 2017. He also suffered a deep bone bruise to his left hand which led to the cancellation of a 2018 return bout against an opponent that was somewhat suspiciously never named.

To be even more fair to Thurman, at least in regards to this particular fight, Pacquiao hasn’t really been all that active in recent years either. But Pacquiao has 70 professional prizefights on his ledger, is ten years older than Thurman and has won world titles in eight different divisions.

It seems more reasonable that Pacquiao would be more selective about his fights these days, especially when you consider he was already a sure-fire Hall of Famer over a decade ago. Thurman, on the other hand, hasn’t even yet proved to be the best welterweight signed by Al Haymon, much less in the whole shebang.

Regardless, it’s a bit troubling that Thurman is seemingly unaware of how prolonged inactivity can negatively impact a fighter’s career. According to Thurman, in fact, he basically trained for his last fight on a spin bike at L.A. Fitness, and that was the reason, at least in Thurman’s mind, that Lopez was so competitive against him six months ago.

Obviously, Thurman knows he can’t do the same thing against Pacquiao. But the thing about not using a skill or a gift for a prolonged period of time is that it tends to recede in a person even while that person remains unaware. It’s entirely possible that Thurman has lost the best parts of his fighting ability and doesn’t even know it yet.

No one can ever really predict these types of things, but it will be interesting to see how things play out. If Pacquiao is suddenly old and frail, it won’t really matter how little Thurman has trained over the last couple of years. But if Pacquiao is anything like the fighter we saw against Broner and Matthysse, and Thurman comes into the fight looking like he did against Lopez, there’s no telling how bad things could get for the younger fighter.

All this to say that the only way to combat atrophy, whether it’s the inevitable kind that comes with getting older or the preventable kind that comes with not using something, is by staying active and engaged. As it stands at the present, it seems clear from the outside looking in that one fighter, Pacquiao, has done all he can do to be at his very best on Saturday night in Las Vegas, while the other, Thurman, has needlessly rolled the dice.

Use it or lose it. That’s what people say, but only when they’re still young enough to pick up their keys.

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3 Punch Combo: Scoping Out Teofimo vs Nakatani, Ajagba vs Demirezen and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — Boxing on ESPN+ returns this Friday with a card from the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, MD headlined by the fast-rising lightweight sensation Teofimo Lopez (13-0, 11 KO’s). Lopez will be facing the undefeated Masayoshi Nakatani (18-0, 12 KO’s) of Japan in a final IBF eliminator to become the mandatory challenger for champion Richard Commey (29-2, 26 KO’s). While Lopez is a known commodity to most boxing fans, the same cannot be said of Nakatani. So just who is this unheralded fighter from Japan and does he pose any threat to Lopez?

Nakatani, 30, turned pro in 2011 after an amateur career that by most accounts consisted of somewhere between 50 and 60 bouts. As a pro, he has never fought more than three times a year and never outside of Japan, but by managing to stay undefeated he has crept into the Top 15 rankings of three of the four major sanctioning bodies in the lightweight division.

Looking closer Nakatani’s resume, the overall level of his competition is highly questionable.  Probably his best win was in his eighth pro fight when he won a 12-round unanimous decision against Ricky Sismundo. Sismundo has sprung some surprises in the past and as a matter of fact gave undefeated rising contender Maxim Dadashev a scare earlier this year, but this is the same Ricky Sismundo who was defeated by Ruslan Madiyev last week in California, bringing his record to 35-14-3.

Other than Sismundo, the names on Nakatani’s resume are hardly recognizable.

Nakatani, an orthodox fighter, is tall for the lightweight division standing nearly six feet in height. As such, he likes to work behind the left jab. However, that jab is not very sharp or powerful, but used as more of a range finder and to set up his right hand. Sometimes he will follow the right with a left hook but his primary offense is the left jab followed by the right.

Nakatani is not that athletic or quick inside the ring. His hand speed is below average for the division. He is also not a powerful or heavy handed puncher. The knockouts are more from his level of competition than anything else.

Here are a few other notes on Nakatani based on my observations: He does not like to fight on the inside and will initiate clinches when his opponent closes the distance. And he has a habit of trying to avoid punches with his legs, often times pulling straight back with his hands down. He has gotten clipped quite a few times but fortunately for him those fighters that have done so have not possessed big punching power.

I actually do think Nakatani is the strongest opponent for Lopez to date. That being said, however, I do not think he will give Lopez much trouble. Teofimo may get frustrated some by Nakatani’s constant clinching on the inside, and he may get hit with a few range finding jabs, but expect another Lopez knockout here sometime in the first half of the fight.

Under The Radar Fight

The attention of the boxing world this week is going to be focused on the big welterweight pay-per-view title fight between Manny Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KO’s) and Keith Thurman (29-0, 22 KO’s). Also on the show is an intriguing heavyweight fight that is falling deep under the radar between a pair of 2016 Olympians in Efe Ajagba (10-0, 9 KO’s) and Ali Eren Demirezen (11-0, 10 KO’s).

Ajagba, 25, represented his native country of Nigeria in the Super Heavyweight division of the 2016 Olympics where he lost to Ivan Dychko in the quarterfinals. Since turning pro, he has really turned heads, building a reputation as a fearsome puncher.

Ajagba is a big imposing heavyweight. He stands 6’5” tall and possesses a massive 85-inch reach. Best described as an aggressive boxer puncher, he will press the action, often times behind a very stiff and powerful left jab from the orthodox stance. Very athletic for a man his size, he possesses above average hand speed for the heavyweight division. His best trait is his power; he possesses legitimate one punch knockout power in both fists. The natural tools are all there for Ajagba to potentially one day be a dominant force in the division.

But there are things Ajagba needs to work on, namely his defense. Right now, he lacks any sort of head movement and often poses in front of his opponents after punching them to admire his work. He hasn’t paid yet for his lack of attention to defense but that may change as his competition rises.

Demirezen, 29, represented Turkey in the Super Heavyweight division of the 2016 Olympics where he lost to Filip Hrgovic in his opening fight. Since turning pro he hasn’t had much fanfare, but has amassed quite an impressive early pro record while fighting mostly in Germany.

Though he may not have the imposing physique of Ajagba, Demirezen possesses some solid skills as well as some surprising athleticism. As a matter of fact, I’d go so far as to call him a poor man’s version of Andy Ruiz Jr.

Demirezen will look to apply pressure behind the left jab and work combinations with his quick hands behind that jab. He does not really possess one-punch power but is heavy handed and his punches can take a cumulative effect on his opponents. His best punch is a quick left hook to the body that he often lands with precision.

If physiques won a boxing match, this would be no contest. But as we saw with Joshua-Ruiz, physiques don’t always win. Ajagba will be favored and rightfully so, but Demirezen can fight. This is an interesting fight between two undefeated heavyweight prospects who were recent Olympians and one that I am very much looking forward to on Saturday.

Prospect Watch – Luis Arcon

 There is a lot that gets me excited about the future of the sport. Not only is the sport being broadcast like it never has before but we have many good prospects who are beaming with talent. So many good prospects, as a matter of fact, that some very talented young fighters are falling a bit under the radar. One such fighter is junior welterweight Luis Arcon who moved to 8-0 with 8 knockouts this past Friday with a third-round knockout of Mario Lozano.

Like many of today’s top prospects, Arcon has a strong amateur pedigree. His amateur background includes representing his native country of Venezuela in the 2016 Olympics.

Arcon, 27, turned pro in March of 2018 in Mexico. So far he has breezed through his competition though it must be noted that he hasn’t faced the toughest of challenges. But he has looked very good so far in his early pro career and has been flashing some incredible talent.

Fighting from the orthodox stance, Arcon likes to work behind a well-timed and very powerful left jab. His footwork is excellent and he often positions himself at the right angles to land combinations behind that jab. He possesses very fast hands and can often fire off a volley of power shots before his opponent can react.

And then there is the power. Perhaps this is what stands out most when watching Arcon on video. Granted, as noted earlier, the competition has not been the stiffest, but he has displayed devastating knockout power in both fists. His best punch is the left hook to the body which often has a paralyzing effect on his opposition.

With his amateur background, Arcon is ready to take the next step in his career. His game is polished and he possesses massive power in both of his hands. He belongs on all top prospect lists and has a bright future in this sport.

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