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The Avila Perspective, Chapter 28: Haney, Uzcategui, Plant and Broner

David A. Avila

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Devin Haney

Prizefighters, lace up those withered gloves tight.

In 2019 prizefighting will experience one of the most contentious and competitive years in the history of the sport. This is no exaggeration.

Boxing will hit full force and it will be streamed and televised more than ever before as Premier Boxing Champions, Top Rank, Matchroom Boxing and Golden Boy Promotions among others will be providing fight cards almost every single week. Many of the cards will be battling each other for the fans interest.

This year is a sort of test for boxing as these various competing cards and media outlets will be scrambling for fans. The results will either be an increase in watching prizefighting or a glut that results in overkill.

Showtime

First up at bat will be young gun Devin Haney defending the NABF lightweight title against Xolisani Ndongeni in a battle between the undefeated on Friday Jan. 11, in Shreveport, La. Showtime will televise.

Haney (20-0, 13 KOs) still makes mistakes but has so much natural athleticism that despite mistakes he can dominate. He’s coached by Floyd Mayweather Sr. The Las Vegas-based fighter will be facing South Africa’s Ndongeni who has only fought once outside of Africa.

Ndongeni (25-0, 13KOs) is now managed and trained by Luis Tapia out of Las Vegas. The South African fighter is largely a question mark but did fight in Ontario, Calif. back in 2016 when he defeated Juan Garcia Mendez by unanimous decision. But fighting Haney presents an entirely different scenario.

It’s a very interesting matchup.

On the same televised fight card Northern California’s Ruben Villa gets a shot when he faces undefeated Ruben Cervera in a featherweight semi-main event.

Villa, 21, is originally from Salinas, Calif. but trains in Santa Fe Springs, Calif. with Danny Zamora and Max Garcia. The southpaw is taking the same road that other Thompson Boxing Promotion fighters did on their way to the top.

Once a Thompson fighter reaches a certain point they’re not pampered. Instead a fighter like Villa receives a nationally or internationally televised fight and the opportunity to prove they belong.

Two years ago WBA super bantamweight titlist Danny Roman took the same route and stamped his claim on stone that he was worthy. He followed the same path as others like Tim Bradley, Mauricio Herrera and Josesito Lopez among many others.

Showtime will televise Villa and Cervera’s fight too.

Fox Sports 1

Los Angeles provides the backdrop for a super middleweight world title fight as IBF titlist Jose Uzcategui defends against undefeated Caleb Plant at the Microsoft Theater on Sunday Jan. 13. Fox Sports 1 will televise the TGB fight card.

It’s a slick move showcasing boxing on Sundays.

Plant (17-0, 11 KOs) epitomizes slickness and has that shoulder roll counter-punching style that seems to be a staple of Las Vegas boxing nowadays. But Plant is not a Las Vegas native, he’s originally from Ashland City, Tennessee, a small town near Nashville. This will be his first time facing an A-level fighter.

Uzcategui (28-2, 23 KOs) holds the IBF title that he took by stopping Andre Dirrell not once, but twice. The first Dirrell fight on May 2017 saw Uzategui knock out the Michigan counter-puncher, but it was later ruled the blow came after the bell had rung. It was an erroneous call by the Maryland officiating group and resulted in Dirrell’s corner attacking Uzcategui. They fought again in March 2018 and again Uzcategui stopped Dirrell in the eighth round.

Venezuela’s Uzcategui now lives and trains in Tijuana, Mexico and has proven he knows how to beat the shoulder roll. But that was against a southpaw. With Plant he faces an orthodox fighter who uses the shoulder roll style. It could make a distinct difference.

Showtime

In a couple of weeks Adrien “The Problem” Broner fights legendary Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao in a welterweight battle on Jan. 19, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Recently in a Showtime exclusive, Broner talked about a pivotal moment in his life many years ago.

As a teen Broner was jailed and thought carefully about his future while incarcerated. It’s something that all should think about when facing your future eye to eye.

“What the (expletive) am I gonna do if I get out,” Broner recalled the introspective moment. “I’m going to sell drugs? Nah, I’ll be back in here. I was like, I’m gonna box. I made up my mind that day that if God let me out of here, I’m gonna box.”

Once out of jail Broner knew exactly what to do next.

“And then a week later I got out and I ran to the gym.  And now I’m here fighting Pacquiao.  I never thought in a million years I’d be here.”

It’s a familiar theme to those of us who faced similar circumstances and could see a bleak future.

I’ve been there and I’m sure many of you out there have been there too.

The hardest part is staying away. You can’t keep the same acquaintances; it just doesn’t work. A clean break is the only way and then you have to find new friends and comrades that are moving in the same direction and on the same road.

Broner found the right road.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arne K. Lang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teofimo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

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

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

Photo credit: Stacy Verbeek

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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

Arne K. Lang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

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

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

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

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

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

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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