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‘Pacman’ vs. ‘The Problem’ Will Sort Out Perception From Reality

Bernard Fernandez

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Pacman vs The Problem

Sometimes it is the fighters’ real or perceived flaws, as much as their strengths, that make for a compelling if not necessarily great fight.  Such would appear to be the case when 40-year-old Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39 KOs), the only man ever to win world championships in eight weight classes, defends his “regular” WBA welterweight title against 29-year-old former four-division champ Adrien Broner (33-3-1, 24 KOs) on Jan. 19 at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden.

The bout – marking “Pac-Man’s” first ring appearance on American soil in 26½ months, since he retained his WBO 147-pound crown on a unanimous decision over Jessie Vargas at Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center – is being heralded as a Really Big Deal, a precursor to more and better things for the living legend and sitting senator from the Philippines.

“I have to pass through him before fighting Floyd Mayweather,” Pacquiao said of what hinges on the outcome of his scrap with Broner, hinting at a rematch with his fellow fortysomething that resulted in a wide unanimous decision for Mayweather on  May 2, 2015, a fight that even then was several years past its optimum expiration date. “I want to prove to the boxing fans that Manny Pacquiao is still in the pack. You will see more fights with Manny Pacquiao in the United States.”

Everyone involved in the promotion is making it sound like this bout, which hopefully will prove to be entertaining enough inside the ropes to warrant all the optimistic chatter, is on more or less the same level as 33-year-old, black-leather-encased Elvis Presley reminding everyone of just how huge he used to be with his globally televised, ratings-smashing “Aloha From Hawaii” comeback special on Jan. 14, 1973.

Pacquiao-Broner, presented by Premier Boxing Champions, will be televised via Showtime Pay Per View and Stephen Espinoza, the premium-cable outfit’s president of Sports and Event Programming, is among those dropping broad hints that the fight just might be as much can’t-miss TV as was the slimmed-down Elvis going back to his roots to belt out “Jailhouse Rock,” which considering the oft-arrested Broner’s participation might not be wholly inaccurate.

“Manny Pacquiao and Adrien Broner are two of the most gifted athletes in boxing today,” Espinoza gushed. “Both men throw punches with eye-opening speed and carry significant power in both hands. These attributes have made them two of the biggest draws in the sport. Pacquiao is a proven pay-per-view attraction, while Broner has consistently delivered many of the highest-rated boxing events on television. This matchup promises explosive action from bell to bell.”

Well, maybe. Then again….

It is axiomatic in the area of boxing promotion to never let any scintilla of negativity interfere with the obligatory cascade of breathless hype. For those at least willing to concede that all might not be as well as advertised, it should be noted that Pacquiao – a legitimate all-time great, future first-ballot Hall of Famer and three-time Fighter of the Year – has lost four of his last 10 fights and his seventh-round TKO of faded Argentine slugger Lucas Matthysse (who immediately announced his retirement) on July 15, might not have been as impressive as it appeared at first blush.

Although Pacquiao came away with Matthysse’s secondary welterweight title and ended a 13-bout non-KO streak dating back to his 12th-round stoppage of Miguel Cotto on Nov. 14, 2009, the fight had to be promoted by Pacquiao himself in Kuala Lumpur because his longtime promotional company, Top Rank, had determined that the Manny Express no longer was capable of making regular stops to pick up sacks of box-office and TV profits. It also was for a belt handed out by the shameless WBA, which gleefully acknowledges “super,” “regular,” “interim” and all manner of other championships in the same weight classifications, the better to scoop up as many sanctioning fees as possible. The real WBA welterweight champion is Keith Thurman, who ends nearly two years of injury-prolonged inactivity when he takes on Joselito Lopez on Jan. 26 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Pacquiao found a new promotional partner in Al Haymon’s PBC because PBC signs fighters by the gross and, well, because “Pac-Man” still has the kind of transcendent name value that can be milked further. Manny fans always will be Manny fans, just as Elvis devotees never were going to stop getting weak in the knees whenever the King of Rock ’n’ Roll wiggled his hips on stage. But it will be up to the Fab Filipino to demonstrate that he still has more than fumes in the gas tank. The best-case scenario for him is that he justifies his significant -280 favoritism (bettors would have to wager $280 to come out a hundred bucks ahead) against Broner, who has an entirely different set of issues he needs to sort out both in the ring and in his train-wreck personal life.

No one has ever disputed Broner’s talent, which he has flashed often enough to seduce his backers into thinking it can yet be an ongoing thing. But the man aptly nicknamed “The Problem” also will enter the ring shrouded in a haze of question marks. Once hailed as someone who might embellish Cincinnati’s proud pugilistic heritage that was crafted in large part by the far more accomplished Ezzard Charles and Aaron Pryor, both of whom have been enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Broner as presently constituted is at best a fringe candidate for IBHOF immortalization. He is just 3-2-1 in his last six outings and, although still young enough to be considered in his prime, his litany of brushes with the law suggests that he should consider going plural with his nome de guerre and start calling himself “Problems.” Snarky detractors sometimes refer to him as “Mayweather Lite,” which, all things considered, is still more complimentary than he deserves.

In a Showtime episode of “All Access” meant to whet fan interest in the fight, Broner spoke of one of the first times he found himself incarcerated, facing a 57-year sentence, at which point the youthful miscreant vowed to himself that he would funnel his energy into boxing should he be fortunate to gain his freedom. He did, and he did. Except that he has spent so much time dealing with police that he could be the star of his own reality show, “Cops: On the Street With Adrien Broner.” In February 2018 he was arrested in an Atlanta mall on a charge of misdemeanor sexual battery for allegedly groping a woman, and he found himself in cuffs again just before Christmas, in Broward County, Fla., after a warrant was issued for his failure to appear in court earlier in the month. He was booked in county jail and then released, the case stemming to a December 2017 arrest when he was stopped for speeding and found to have no driver’s license, registration or proof of insurance.

But a lot of the legal lint that has stuck to Broner’s Velcro suit could be brushed at least temporarily clean should the +240 underdog demonstrate that the Pacquiao of our fondest memories, the force of nature who defeated, among others, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Shane Mosley and Cotto, is incapable of solving one more Problem.

Until the first punch is thrown, much of the prefight drama will center on matters that are somewhat peripheral to whatever takes place inside the ropes. After briefly parting, Pacquiao and his longtime trainer, Freddie Roach, are reuniting for another grab for some of that old glory, and they’re both making it sound like there is more magic to be made.

“I am not making a prediction, but my goal is to knock out Broner,” Pacquiao said. “I forgot how much fun winning a fight by knockout was until I stopped Lucas Matthysse last summer. It felt great to win that way and the fans loved it too, so why not try for it again?”

Said Roach, perhaps oblivious to diminishment of any fighter’s skills by the relentless march of time: “I think experience has made Manny a better fighter. He still trains harder than anyone. I like Broner as a fighter. I think he has excellent boxing skills. But Broner has never faced anyone like Manny. Broner will be mentally exhausted within four rounds and physically spent within six. It will be impossible for Broner to keep pace with the Manny Pacquiao of this training camp.”

We shall see.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Three Punch Combo: The Fight That Could Steal the Show This Weekend and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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Three-Punch-Combo-The-Fight-That-Could-Steal-the-Show-This-Weekend-and-More

THREE PUNCH COMBO — Boxing returns to DAZN on Saturday with a massive card from The Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, TX. This venue, which serves as the indoor practice facility for the Dallas Cowboys, will play host to a significant welterweight bout when Mikey Garcia (39-1, 30 KO’s) returns to the ring to face Jessie Vargas (29-2-2, 11 KO’s). Also on the docket is a much anticipated 115-pound title fight between champion Khalid Yafai (26-0, 15 KO’s) and former pound for pound king Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (48-2, 40 KO’s). While I love both of these contests, it is another title fight on this card that I think may steal the show.

Fresh off his destruction in December of Cristofer Rosales to capture the WBC flyweight crown, Julio Cesar Martinez (15-1, 12 KO’s) returns to the ring to make his first title defense against the undefeated Jay Harris (17-0, 9 KO’s).  Given their respective styles, we are all but guaranteed to see non-stop action from the opening bell to whenever the contest concludes.

As I have previously noted in these pages, Martinez is an absolute non-stop pressure fighter who rarely takes his foot off the gas. Possessing above average hand speed and heavy-handed power, he simply looks to break his opposition down with his combination of pressure and power. And thus far it has worked to the tune of him becoming a world champion in just 16 fights.

One difference between Martinez and other pressure fighters is the way that Martinez uses angles to find ways to land precision power shots. He will often switch fluidly between the orthodox and southpaw stances to create these angles.

Like many other pressure fighters, Martinez has a tendency to abandon defense for his own offense. He actually takes it to the extreme, often coming forward with his hands down along with no head movement. At some point, he is going to pay for this lack of attention to defense. Could it come against Harris?

After a short but solid amateur career, Harris turned pro at 23 in 2013 and has moved along steadily. He is coming off his two best wins against former world title challenger Angel Moreno and former amateur standout Paddy Barnes. In each of those fights, Harris showed steady progression and seems well poised for that next big step-up in competition.

Harris is a traditional boxer-puncher by trade but has shown tendencies to get into firefights. He is technically sound and likes to work behind a solid left jab to set up his power punching combinations. Harris possesses decent hand speed and, like Martinez, can be a solid accurate puncher.

In the aforementioned fight against Barnes, Harris showed some solid power in his left hook. He knocked Barnes down twice with the left hooks to the body, the second of which finished him off in the fourth round.

Martinez is going to bring the fight to Harris. But I think Harris is skilled enough to provide resistance and give back as good as he gets. If I am right, this is going to be one fan-friendly fight that could ultimately compete for fight of the year.

Some Thoughts on the Judging of McKenna-Mimoune

For those not familiar, MTK Global is running eight-man single elimination tournaments across several different weight classes in the UK with the winner in each weight class being awarded a lucrative management contract. This past Friday in London saw the semi-finals in both the featherweight and 140- pound divisions. And as so often happens in boxing, one of the contests, a 140-pound bout between Tyrone McKenna (21-1-1, 6 KO’s) and Mohamed Mimoune (22-4, 3 KO’s), ended in a controversial decision. McKenna was the beneficiary, winning the ten-round fight on all three cards.

My card sided with Mimoune. I had the fight 96-94 in his favor. However, unlike the commentators and many on social media, I was far from outraged that McKenna was given the nod.

This may sound overly simplistic, but we need to keep in mind that fights are scored on a round by round basis. Each round is its own separate entity. And sometimes a round is won big by a fighter but scored just 10-9 in their favor without knockdowns. This would be the same score if that same fighter had just edged out that round.

In the case of McKenna-Mimoune, we saw Mimoune take control of the fight late and win many of those later rounds by a substantial margin. To be honest he completely dominated those rounds.

But in the early going, there were many close rounds that were hard to score. McKenna seemed to edge a couple and some were frankly a coin flip. If the judges sided with McKenna for those close rounds, and it appears they did just that, then there is a clear path to him getting the decision.

For me, this was somewhat reminiscent of Foreman-Briggs which I also thought was not a robbery. Maybe the scoring system in boxing needs to be changed but that is a topic for another day. I don’t think given the scoring system in place for this sport that the McKenna-Mimoune decision was all that outrageous.

What’s Next For Emanuel Navarrete?

This past Saturday, on the undercard of Wilder-Fury II, 122-pound champion Emanuel Navarrete (31-1, 27 KO’s) stopped tough Jeo Santisima (19-3, 16 KO’s) in the eleventh round. It was Navarrete’s fifth title defense in less than a year. So, what is next for the popular and busy Navarrete?

First off, I think we have seen the last of Navarrete at 122. It was well documented during the PPV broadcast that Navarrete was struggling to make the weight. In addition, there are political boundaries that need to be crossed in order to make any big fights for Navarrete at 122. So, a move north to featherweight is seemingly inevitable.

Top Rank, which co-promotes Navarrete, does have a champion at featherweight in Shakur Stevenson. But Stevenson is a prized young fighter and there is no way Top Rank puts him anywhere near Navarrete. Not in a few months or even a few years. And as with the 122-pound division, there are political boundaries standing in the way of putting Navarrete in with the other featherweight champions at this time.

So, with no immediate title fight realistically available for Navarrete at featherweight, I think Top Rank looks to put him in with a ranked contender. And I think the most logical option is Christopher Diaz (25-2, 16 KO’s) who is also tied in with Top Rank.

Diaz himself was once a highly-thought-of young fighter but an upset loss to Masayuki Ito for a 130-pound title belt in 2018 sent Diaz’s career sideways. He dropped down to featherweight after that loss where he has two wins sandwiched around a one-sided loss on points in a ten-round contest with the aforementioned Stevenson.

Diaz needs a jolt to his career and, frankly, Top Rank is probably nearing the end of the road with him. So, this can be viewed as a final opportunity for Diaz and a fight I think he jumps at if offered. And it’s an easy sell to the fans as Diaz on paper would certainly represent the best opponent for Navarrete since his two fights with Isaac Dogboe.

I think it’s very likely that we see this fight on a Top Rank platform sometime this spring or summer.

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The Gypsy King Destroys Wilder; Wins on a TKO in 7

Arne K. Lang

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Fury Destroys Wilder; Wins on a TKO in 7

Las Vegas, NV — The late New York sportswriter Dick Young once wrote that there is no greater drama than in the moments preceding the opening bell of a world heavyweight title fight. In Young’s day, there weren’t four world sanctioning bodies, let alone three, and a world heavyweight title fight was front page news in all the tabloids.

Tonight, there was only one title belt at stake (okay, two if one counts the lineal diadem), but the tension was thick inside the MGM Grand Garden arena as Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, recognized in many quarters as the two best heavyweights in the world, made their ring entrances.

Fury entered the ring on a throne to the tune of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” an odd choice but somehow appropriate. It was an entrance that set a new bar for flamboyance. He looked supremely confident and with his namesake “Iron” Mike Tyson looking on, he delivered the goods with a smashing performance that ended at the 1:37 mark of round seven when the white towel of surrender was thrown in from Wilder’s corner.

At the opening bell, Fury came out of his corner with a rush and had Wilder fighting off his back foot. In round three, the Gypsy King decked Wilder with a punch that seemed to land behind his ear and may have resulted in Wilder suffering a busted eardrum.

Fury scored another knockdown in round five with a left to the body. Later in the round, referee Kenny Bayless docked Fury a point for what was apparently hitting on the break.

Fury dominated the sixth and it was more of the same in the seventh until Wilder’s corner saved him from suffering more punishment. Fury improved to 30-0-1 with his 21st knockout. Wilder suffered his first defeat in 44 pro starts.

The crowd was pro-Fury and typical of any boxing crowd with a large body of Brits, very boisterous. At the conclusion, many sang along as the Gypsy King serenaded the crowd with a version of Don McLean’s “American Pie.” It was an event that will linger long in memory.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Full Undercard Results from the Wilder – Fury Card at the MGM Grand

Arne K. Lang

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Full Undercard Results from the Wilder – Fury Card at the MGM Grand

Las Vegas, NV — Tonight’s mega-fight between undefeated heavyweights Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury was buttressed by a nine-fight undercard. The prelim accorded the status of the semi-main was a heavyweight contest between Californians Charles Martin and Gerald Washington billed as an IBF title eliminator.

Martin formerly held the IBF belt. Anthony Joshua sheared it from him, ending Martin’s title reign after only 85 days, the shortest in history. Martin, a southpaw, appears to have improved since then. Tonight he scored a one-punch knockout, knocking Washington on the seat of his pants in the second minute of the sixth round with a straight left hand, bringing a sudden conclusion to what had been a rather drab affair. Washington beat the count but was in no condition to continue and referee Tony Weeks waived it off. Martin advanced to 28-2-1 with his 25th knockout. Washington, a 37-year-old Navy veteran and former USC defensive end, fell to 20-4-1. All four of his losses have come by stoppage.

WBO world 122-pound title-holder Emanuel Navarrete, 31-1 (27 KOs) extended his winning streak to 26 with an 11th-round stoppage of Jeo Santisima (19-3). Navarrete, a busy bee who is big for his weight class, was making the fifth defense of the title he won in December of 2018. In the 11th, Navarrete took a breather, lying with his back against the ropes, and then rushed after Santisima with a storm of punches that forced referee Russell Mora to intervene. Santisima, making his first start outside his native Philippines, had won 17 straight coming in since starting his career 2-2. Mora, in the estimation of many, should have stopped the fight a few punches sooner.

Junior middleweight Sabastian Fundora, a 22-year-old southpaw nicknamed The Towering Inferno, improved to 14-0-1 with a 10-round unanimous decision over Australia’s Daniel Lewis (6-1). Lewis is listed at 5’10”, but at the weigh-in, the 6’6” beanpole Fundora appeared to be at least a foot taller. Lewis, a 2016 Olympian had his moments getting inside Fundora’s long reach, but ate too much leather as he pressed the action. The scores were 99-91, 98-92, and 97-93.

In a junior welterweight contest shortened from 10 to eight rounds, former U.S. Olympian Javier Molina scored a mild upset over former world title challenger Amir Imam, winning a unanimous decision. The scores were 79-73 and 78-74 twice. The 30-year-old Molina improved to 22-2. Imam, who lost for the third time in 24 starts, was making his second start under the Top Rank banner since shaking loose of Don King.

In a great action fight in the welterweight class, Petros Ananyan, a 31-year-old Brooklyn-based Russian, came on strong in the late rounds to score a 10-round upset over previously undefeated Subriel Matias. Ananyan (15-2-2) rocked Matias with four chopping rights followed by a left hook in round seven. The ropes kept Matias from falling and referee Robert Byrd properly called it a knockdown. Puerto Rico’s Matias had won all 15 of his previous pro fights inside the distance.

Gabriel Flores Jr, a 19-year-old lightweight from Stockton, CA, remained unbeaten with a wide 8-round decision over Matt Conway of Pittsburgh, PA. Flores, 17-0 (6 KOs) knocked Conway (17-2) to the canvas in the opening round, but the Pennsylvania lad hung tough and had his moments in a contest that was more competitive than the final scores (79-72, 80-71 twice) indicated.

Featherweight Isaac Lowe, a neighbor and training partner of Tyson Fury in Morecambe, UK, improved to 20-0 (6 KOs) with a lopsided 10-round unanimous decision over Mexico’s Alberto Guevara (27-6). It was an ugly scrum in which both fighters had three points deducted for a variety of infractions. Lowe effectively sealed the win when he knocked Guevara down with a short left in the eighth frame. The scores were 95-88 and 96-87 twice.

Las Vegas native Rolando Romero improved to 11-0 (10) with an impressive second round stoppage of Arturs Ahmetovs in a junior welterweight contest slated for eight rounds. Romero knocked Ahmetovs down twice, first with a straight right and then with a left hook before the bout was stopped at the 1:22 mark.  It was the first pro loss for Akhmetovs (5-1), a 30-year-old Latvian now based in Delray Beach, FL.

In a 4-round welterweight contest, Vito Mielnicki Jr, a 17-year-old phenom from Roseland, NJ, improved to 5-0 with a unanimous decision over Corey Champion (1-3). Mielnicki knocked Champion to his knees in a neutral corner in the waning seconds of round one, but Champion made it the final bell. The scores were 40-35 across the board.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

Be sure to check back in for a full review of the Wilder vs Fury II Main Event.

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