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The Avila Perspective, Chapter 31: Hollywood Swinging Again and More

David A. Avila

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Hollywood

In a place once famous for staging some of the best entertainment during World War II, prizefighting returns to the saloon of the Hollywood stars.

360 Promotions brings back its boxing series on Sunday Jan. 27, with former titlist Maricela “La Diva” Cornejo (12-3) facing Erin “Steel” Toughill (7-3-1) in the main event at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood. It will be streamed live on www.360promotions.com page.

The last time Cornejo stepped in the boxing ring she battled for the WBC super middleweight world title and lost to Franchon Crews-Dezurn by decision. Since that moment in September 2018, she dropped down to super welterweight at 154 pounds.

“I feel stronger and comfortable,” said Cornejo, 31, who is originally from the state of Washington.

On the opposite corner will be Toughill, who though not boxing since 2006, has been busy in mixed martial arts and fought in 14 MMA bouts. Whether fighting or training throughout the years she’s always been in the gym.

Over the years I’d run into Toughill, especially in Huntington Beach. I remember seeing her fight Laila Ali on TV and Kuulei Kupihea at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello, Calif. She just loved competitive fighting.

It’s been a few years since Toughill has boxed, but she’s someone who fought Dakota Stone and Jacqui Frazier-Hyde the daughter of the great Joe “Smokin” Frazier. Staying in shape was never a problem for the 41-year-old Orange County fighter.

Cornejo, 31, has shifted to Hollywood for training because of involvement in a Hollywood movie with actress Gina Rodriguez. She also teaches boxing to a small group and is training with the father of David Benavidez and Jose Benavidez.

As she worked with about a half dozen students at the City of Angels Boxing Club near downtown L.A. she looked very slim and energetic. Dropping down in weight can be a tricky endeavor but last week boxing fans saw Amanda Serrano drop from 140 to 115 and obliterate an Austrian girl in less than a minute.

Tom Loeffler, the head of 360 Promotions, never staged mismatched fights especially with female bouts. Remember the two upsets by Mexican girls over Louisa Lawton?

“Uninformed people don’t realize how competitive this fight is going to be,” said Loeffler, one of the top promoters in the world. “Erin Toughill is very confident in this fight and she has always stayed active even if she hasn’t been in the boxing ring for a while.”

A number of young guns also fill the fight card at the Avalon including New York’s Brian Ceballo (6-0) meeting Randy Fuentes (8-7-1) in a welterweight clash set for six rounds.

Another youngster set for action is George Navarro (pictured) who lives in nearby Huntington Park but trains at the Wild Card in Hollywood. He’s been fighting for 13 years as both an amateur and professional.

“I just have a passionate love to fight,” says Navarro, 21, who fights at super flyweight but will be at bantamweight for this fight against Anthony Torres of Visalia. “I want to start my own era.”

Years ago Hollywood stars would arrive at the same saloon to raise money for the war. That era has long gone but now stars come to see boxing on a regular basis at the Avalon.

Doors open at 3 p.m. For tickets go to this link: www.360Promotions.us

Riverside Roustabout

An army of fighters are gathering in the hills of Riverside, California for upcoming fights this weekend and the next month when Abner Mares, Jose Carlos Ramirez, and Genaro Gamez and Saul Rodriguez hit the road for ring wars in the next few weeks.

Josesito Lopez (36-7, 19 KOs) spearheads the warrior force that train at Robert Garcia Boxing Academy. Lopez faces WBA welterweight titlist Keith Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) on Saturday Jan. 26, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Fox will televise live.

It’s especially appropriate that the 34-year-old veteran Lopez opens up with his cannons. The Riverside native was one of the first waves of fighters from the area that has grown from two boxing gyms to more than 12 gyms.

Back in the 1990s the city famous for oranges and the historic Mission Inn was still a sleepy town. Guys like Lopez, Chris Arreola and Mark Suarez were part of a wave of young boxers trained by the now departed Andy Suarez at Lincoln Boxing Club.

When Suarez passed away in March 2006 a void was left for a short while but the spark he made at the tiny gym has become a firestorm for prizefighting. Lopez is one of his former students and all of those Suarez disciples were taught to fight with heart or go home.

The skinny as a rail Lopez has always had that easy going demeanor that fools people into thinking he’s a softy. Those that faced him found out otherwise. Nobody ever had an easy fight with Lopez. You can ask Victor Ortiz, Marcos Maidana or Andre Berto if Lopez was an easy touch. He was about as harmless as a lit stick of dynamite.

Years ago, Edwin Valero was the most dangerous man alive. The Venezuelan knocked out 27 out of 27 who faced him. Even in sparring the super featherweight assassin took no pity on people entering the boxing ring. On one particular sparring session Valero knocked out five consecutive opponents within seconds. He could whack and he liked whacking guys unconscious.

Then, they motioned for Josesito Lopez to get in the ring as if sentencing him for electrocution. The skinny Riverside fighter calmly entered through the ropes and methodically sparred two rounds, then four rounds then six rounds with the remorseless Valero. Lopez was the only one not rendered unconscious that day.

Some of you may not know Valero but the super featherweight world champion was one of the most feared fighters in three weight classes. He allegedly committed suicide after killing his wife in 2010.

Lopez has faced killers in and out of the ring. Now after all these years he faces yet another heavy-hitter.

“There are a lot of people that don’t understand the ins and outs and what I bring to the table,” said Lopez. “To a lot of people it’s going to come as a surprise.”

Thurman has been out of action for two years and that can only mean hunger.

“It’s great to be back. I’m looking forward to this fight 22 months in the making,” said Thurman. “It’s going to be a great show and I‘m happy to be here.”

Another Riverside Kid in Action in Houston

Also on Saturday Jan. 26, about 1,630 miles west of Brooklyn, a Golden Boy Promotions fight card features another Riverside trained fighter Vergil Ortiz Jr. (11-0, 11 KOs) fighting Mexican veteran Jesus Valdez Barrayan (23-4-1, 12 KOs) in a super lightweight scrap. DAZN will stream the fight card from the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.

Ortiz, 20, is a native of Dallas, Texas but trains with Robert Garcia in Riverside. So far the thin framed football loving prizefighter has been stopping guys colder than a blindside shot from a Cowboy safety.

The feature card showcases Mexico’s young super welterweight world champion Jaime Munguia (31-0, 26 KOs) defending the WBO world title against Japan’s Takeshi Inoue (13-0-1, 7 KOs).

Munguia is a long-armed slugger whose best defense is those unpredictable wallops he throws from weird angles at absurd times. He willingly accepts two of yours for one of his in any exchange. So far he’s gambled correctly.

Japan’s Inoue isn’t coming all the way to Texas to lose. Fighters from Japan are in many ways like those from Mexico. They refuse to quit. A number of Japanese fighters have come to America and returned with straps like Masayuki Ito. He did a number on Chris Diaz in Florida and captured the WBO super featherweight title last year.

It’s never a sure thing when it comes to Mexican or Japanese fighters.

Another world title bout on the DAZN card features Puerto Rico’s Jesus M. Rojas (26-2-2, 19 KOs) defending the WBA featherweight strap against China’s Can Xu (15-2, 2 KOs) in a 12 round world title bout.

Last August, Rojas suffered a loss against Jojo Diaz in a riveting slugfest in Los Angeles, Calif. Though he lost the fight, he kept the title because Diaz was overweight and ineligible to fight for the title.

Rojas is a tough customer but has problems with boxers like Xu. But can the Chinese fighter keep Rojas off of him? The Puerto Rican fighter is like a human avalanche; he just keeps coming with blows. DAZN will stream all of the fights live.

Fights to Watch

Jan. 26, Saturday 5 p.m. FOX Keith Thurman vs. Josesito Lopez; Tugstsogt Nyambayar vs. Claudio Marrero; Adam Kownacki vs. Gerald Washington.

Jan. 26, Saturday 6 p.m. DAZN streaming Jaime Munguia vs Takeshi Inoue; Jesus Rojas vs. Can Xu; Vergil Ortiz Jr. vs. Jesus Valdez Barrayan.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

To comment on this article in The Fight Forum, CLICK HERE

 

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“—C’mon!” (from the pen of Springs Toledo)

Springs Toledo

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-C'mon

“—C’mon!” said Teofimo Lopez with two seconds left in the 12th round. It was a Brooklyn thing to say on a Brooklyn-type Saturday night, and Lopez timed it well. He’d just crashed two hooks at either side of Vasiliy Lomachenko’s head and ended their saga as it began—with sharp words.

“My son will destroy Lomachenko,” Lopez’s father told EsNews in August 2017. Three months later Lopez was in the gym mimicking his style. “Same side always,” he said as he tapped the bag and dipped to his right. “Nuthin’ different.” “Lomachenko is a diva,” he said last week. “I don’t like him … I’m the type of person, I say something I mean it. If you have a problem with it, come see me.” Lomachenko came to see him all right, and both brought their fathers as if the whole thing was a schoolyard scrap.

Lomachenko’s father is a silent sage. His modern training techniques are part of the “performance revolution” that has transformed every sport, including the sport that’s barely a sport, and not necessarily for the better. Papa Chenko’s futurama theories seem at once scientific and idiosyncratic. Pundits who never heard of Freddie Brown think they’re next-level stuff. There’s Lomachenko holding his breath under water to build lung strength; there he is touching that board with blinking lights to improve hand-eye coordination. When Lomachenko was 9, his father went so far as to enroll him in a Ukrainian folk dance school to expose him to hobak, hutsulka, and the kolomiyka, and you can see it in all the hopping and side-stepping he does around the ring at 32.

Papa Lopez is anything but silent, though he too is a sage—a naysaying sage with street instincts picked up during a few round trips through hell. He takes no one’s word for anything and if he takes a break from a tirade and asks a question, it has about as much tact as a shiv. When Lomachenko is holding his breath in the pool is someone else there too, denting his rib cage with hooks? Those lights blinking on the screen, do they feint? And dancing school? Dancing school? Brooklyn itself rolls its collective eyes.

Papa Lopez laughs without mirth at the consensus opinion, at the so-called experts. But he couldn’t laugh off the indisputable fact that Lomachenko has been knocking off a parade of world-class fighters. So he plopped down in front of YouTube to see for himself what was happening.

And what did he see?

He saw that the so-called Matrix style is a series of tricks; that Lomachenko is pulling fast ones on the gullible in the opposite corner and in press row. He saw opponents cooperating with him as he gauged their strengths and weaknesses in the first round or two and measured the distance between his glove and their chin. He saw them mesmerized by nothing-shots—“pitty pats,” he called them, “patty-cakes,” and wondered if it would have been easier or harder, given the language barrier, if Lomachenko just came out and asked them to throw something so he can find the best route around it to sock them in the chops.

Papa Lopez also saw that Lomachenko is preoccupied with not getting hurt; that he habitually slips, dips, and veers off to his right against the conventional stance. Teofimo, 23, saw the same thing. They both know why he prefers that direction: it’s the safest route.

His offense, which has two prongs and lots of frills, doesn’t contradict his preoccupation. Lomachenko wants to draw out his opponents to counter them. He stands a half-step off the perimeter where they can’t quite reach him and he can’t reach them. Then he baits them. If they take the bait, he hops in with a jab and then hops back out of reach. He’s making calculations, looking for patterns, and once he finds them he exploits them with minimal risk to himself because, like Floyd Mayweather, he already has a pretty good idea of what they’re going to throw. When is he most aggressive? When his opponent is least aggressive—out of position or covering up. He isn’t comfortable with uncalculated risks. Like Floyd, he wants control; and that only happens with an opponent’s cooperation.

Stanley Crouch, the late cultural critic and Brooklynite who was at least as contentious as Papa Lopez, understood the set-up. “What a boxer ideally wants to do is turn the opponent into an assistant in his own ass-whipping,” he said. “That’s really what you want the other guy to do—to assist you in whipping his ass.”

Lomachenko built a reputation on willing assistants.

And defeating him was easier than anyone anticipated. The fighter of the future bowed to all-American unruliness and old-fashioned fundamentals.

Old School’s comeback Saturday night was long, long overdue. Lopez used his strength and length to draw an invisible border with a warning that said “this far and no farther.” Then he enforced it. Instead of letting Lomachenko freely angle around him like he’s some stiff at the prom, he angled with him and threw punches. When Lomachenko slipped and sallied past his invisible border, he adjusted his distance and sent the dogs out. He stopped his momentum. He never let him take control. He never cooperated.

By the 8th round, Lomachenko realized that he had no chance to win unless he let go of his preoccupation with defense. He had to “sell out,” as Andre Ward said, by getting closer and sallying in when it wasn’t safe. Lomachenko won the 8th round—the first of only three that two judges scored his way—but it didn’t matter. His mouth had dropped open as if he was getting ready to admit futurama’s failure. “I heard him huffing and puffing and I knew I had him,” said Lopez.

The 12th round reminds us that Old School remains the gold standard in the sport that’s barely a sport. When Papa Lopez had a nervous moment in the corner and urged caution, Lopez refused. “I’m a fighter, I can’t give him that,” he said, as if to remind us that Old School is more than dust, that it’s a disposition.

Teofimo Lopez now stands in a succession of lightweight kings whose dispositions were the impetus behind achievements that make this succession very possibly the most majestic of them all: Joe Gans. Benny Leonard. Tony Canzoneri. Barney Ross. Henry Armstrong. Ike Williams. Carlos Ortiz. Roberto Duran. Julio Cesar Chavez. Pernell Whitaker.

Floyd Mayweather is in that succession too, but the business model that guided his career was rebuked Saturday night. Lopez pointed to the past, polished it up, and declared its superiority. “We’re bringing back what the Old School was. You fight the best and push on it. I’m not here to pick and choose who I want to fight because I want to defend my title and keep that 0,” he said and shook his head. “No. Nah!”

The lightweight king now beckons chief rivals Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, and Gervonta Davis to disavow the business model and take up the red flag. He looks north to Josh Taylor and Jose Carlos Ramirez’s battle for the jr. welterweight crown and beckons either of them—or both.

 “—C’mon!”

 

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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Kelsey McCarson’s HITS and MISSES: Takeover Edition

Kelsey McCarson

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Kelsey-McCarson's-Hits-and-Misses-Takeover-Edition

Boxing is back!

Okay, boxing had technically been back for a few months now. But didn’t it seem to be more fully back to normal with the weekend’s lightweight unification battle between Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko on ESPN?

Make that double the case now that another edition of HITS and MISSES follows the latest big weekend in boxing, the first installment since the global pandemic began. 

HIT: Teofimo Lopez’s Undisputed Takeover

It’s one thing to parade something like “Takeover” around as your nickname while promising to be the next great fighter in the sport. It’s quite another to actually pull that takeover off, and do it at the tender age of 23 against a three-division world champion that’s a massive betting favorite. 

But that’s what Lopez did on Saturday night in Las Vegas, and he accomplished it in a way that almost nobody expected. 

Lopez dominated Lomachenko from the start of the fight. He outboxed the clever southpaw savant in a way few people dreamed possible and took home the unanimous decision win. Even among the few who thought the young lion might somehow usurp the old guard, most of that crew thought it would probably be one big punch that sent Loma down for the count.

By the end of the night, Lopez had solidified his status as boxing’s newest superstar. He also became the first undisputed lightweight champion since Pernell Whitaker. 

But even if the whole WBC Franchise fiasco leaves you in a place that questions that specific designation, Lopez used his post-fight celebration time to call the other WBC belt holder Devin Haney about a possible future showdown. 

So, Lopez is the undisputed best thing to happen to boxing in a long time. 

MISS: Vasiliy Lomachenko’s Slow Start

I like to think Lomachenko is still somewhere out there right now feinting and shuffling his feet around like a dancer. Seriously, though, what was Lomachenko doing for most of Saturday night? He certainly wasn’t attempting to win the fight. 

Much was made by the ESPN announcers about how Lomachenko would start slow in fights because he liked to download his opponents’ movements before settling on his attacks. But Lomachenko didn’t seem all that interested in attacking Lopez until somewhere around the eighth-round. By that time, the 32-year-old was way too far down on the scorecards for anything to matter all that much.

Sure, the last third of the fight was fun to watch. Lomachenko did end up having his moments including a strong 11th round, but it would have been a better fight if Lomachenko had started sooner. 

Instead, the fighter ESPN has long argued deserved to be ranked above everyone else regardless of weight class dispassionately saw his titles ripped away from him with relative ease. 

HIT: Edgar Berlanga’s KO Streak

Last year, I noted that Berlanga’s incredible streak was probably a case of matchmaking gone awry and that Berlanga would likely suffer later in his career because he wasn’t getting any rounds under his belt that mattered. 

My reasoning? Even terrifying power punchers like Deontay Wilder and Gennadiy Golovkin didn’t dispatch their early opponents in such decisively one-sided ways. 

Maybe it was just the lack of boxing around due to the global pandemic, but now I’ve flipped on Berlanga’s knockout streak. The 23-year-old scored his 15th first-round stoppage in a row against Lanell Bellows on Saturday’s Top Rank on ESPN card. 

It’s become one of the most interesting and noteworthy streaks in the sport, and this time Berlanga stopped an opponent who had never suffered that fate before in any round, much less the first. 

Berlanga’s 15 KOs in 15 fights is good television. 

MISS: Boxing Judge’s Viral ‘Social Dilemma’

Lewis Ritson was awarded a split-decision victory over former lightweight titleholder Miguel Vazquez on Saturday in England in a junior welterweight bout dubbed by the Sporting News as the “worst decision of 2020.”

According to CompuBox, Ritson’s “constant forward movement and snappier punches” earned him the nod on two of the judges’ scorecards even though Vazquez had out-landed him in all the important punch stat categories (193-141 overall, 80-75 jabs, 113-66 power).

But the biggest controversy was the viral picture of judge Terry O’Connor apparently looking at his phone during the fight that he scored 117-111 for Ritson. 

That didn’t sit well with anyone who believes judges should be watching the fights they’re tasked with scoring.

But in the wake of Netflix’s documentary film “The Social Dilemma,” that shows just how ingenious today’s artificial intelligence is at boosting user engagement so companies can sell advertising time to the unwitting people on the other end who don’t know why they can’t put their phones down. Maybe O’Connor and others should be mandated to place their phones in a place they can’t be accessed during fights. 

That would keep the social media outrage that’s going on right now over the few seconds O’Connor spent looking away from the action and point it more toward what appears to be boxing’s bigger problem: phones or no phones, too many boxing judges don’t know how to score fights. 

HIT: The Wonder of Complementary Programming 

Boxing counterprograms itself so much these days through the different promotional companies and networks out there that it’s nice to enjoy at least one day in recent history where a big fight happened and there weren’t any other big fights attempting to grab our attention. 

Not only did that happen, but ESPN wisely chose not to split programming between it’s MMA and boxing audiences on Saturday. 

ESPN is the home to Top Rank on ESPN boxing as well as the world’s leading MMA promotional company, UFC.

Like Top Rank, the UFC had a massive fight card on its schedule on Saturday, and the boxing/UFC audiences are fractured enough that both cards could have somewhat reasonably ran against each other. 

Instead, the UFC’s Fight Night card in Abu Dhabi ran early in the evening, and it meant UFC fans who might be somewhat interested in the big fight in boxing could be funneled to the main card featuring Lopez vs. Lomachenko. 

That’s great for both sports, the promoters and ESPN, too. Top Rank’s Bob Arum and UFC’s Dana White might hate each other for personal and political reasons, but the rising tide of complementary programming on ESPN will ultimately have all ships rising. 

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

 

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 Teofimo Takes Over: Upsets Lomachenko

Arne K. Lang

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Teofimo Takes Over: Upsets Lomachenko

Four belts were at stake tonight when Vasiliy Lomachenko locked horns with Teofimo Lopez at the MGM Grand Bubble. There were two stand-alone belts (IBF and WBO), one fractured belt (WBA), and one belt of little provenance contrived especially for this fight. But this was a fight that didn’t need any alphabet baubles to legitimate it. In the history of the 135-pound division, few matchups have been as compelling.

Heading in, Lomachenko had faced eight former or current world title-holders and had won 13 straight. Lopez, nine years younger at age 23, was undefeated (now 16-0) but few thought that he was ready for the likes of the Ukrainian marvel who many considered the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. But the Brooklyn-born Lopez, who represented Honduras in the 2016 Olympics, started fast and finished with a flourish to win a unanimous decision.

The judges had it 116-112, 117-111, and 119-109, the latter score turned in by Julie Lederman whose tally struck the TV commentators as way too wide. Lomachenko started slow, arguably losing the first six rounds, and when he finally let his hands go more freely he was playing catch-up with too big a deficit to overcome.

Co-Feature

Los Angeles junior welterweight Arnold Barboza Jr., a consensus 13/5 favorite, maintained his unblemished record with a unanimous decision over former world title challenger Alex Saucedo who suffered his second loss in 32 fights. Saucedo scored the bout’s lone knockdown with a straight left hand in round seven (it was initially ruled a slip, but overruled by replay judge Joe Cortez), but Barboza, now 25-0, had the faster hands and routinely beat Saucedo to the punch to win by scores of 96-93, 97-92, 97-92.

Berlanga

Edgar Berlanga, the 23-year-old Brooklyn-based Puerto Rican, continued his spectacular start to his pro career with another first-round knockout, his 15th in as many opportunities. The victim was 34-year-old Lanell Bellows (20-6-3), a Mayweather Gym product who hadn’t previously been stopped.

A super middleweight, Berlanga, the 2019 TSS Prospect of the Year, hurt Bellows with a sweeping left hook and opened a gash over Bellows left eye with an overhand right before referee Robert Hoyle interceded. The official time was 1:19.

Other Bouts

In a bout contested at the catch-weight of 142 pounds, 22-year-old Bronx southpaw Josue Vargas, whose lone setback was by disqualification, improved to 18-1 with a unanimous decision over San Antonio’s Kendo Castaneda (17-3). The judges had it 100-89, 99-90, and 98-91.

Vargas, who was Teofimo’s chief sparring partner, scored a flash knockdown in round two with a straight left hand. Castaneda, who acquitted himself well in defeat in a Bubble bout with Jose Zepeda that he took on 7-days notice, is an honest workman hampered by a lack of punching power.

Featherweight Jose Enrique Vivas (20-1, 11 KOs) wasted no time dismissing John Vincent Moralde (23-4), whacking out the Filipino at the 1:16 mark of the opening round. The Mexico-born Californian, Vivas sent Moralde to the canvas in the opening minute with a cuffing left hook and then went for the kill, felling Moralde for the count with a vicious body punch.

In a 6-round welterweight contest, Houston’s Quinton Randall advanced to 7-0 (2) with a unanimous decision over Jon Carlos Rivera who was 4-0 with 4 KOs (and 1 ND) coming in. The scores were 59-55 and 58-56 twice.

Rivera, from Philadelphia via Vieques, Puerto Rico, was the aggressor, but the 30-year-old Randall, who is backed by a strong team, had height and reach advantages that Rivera couldn’t overcome.

In the TV lid-lifter, 17-year old welterweight Jahi Tucker improved to 2-0 with a unanimous decision over Charles Garner (1-1). All three judges gave Tucker all four rounds, but Garner wasn’t fazed by Tucker’s amateur pedigree – the Deer Park, Long Island teenager, was ranked #1 at 138 pounds while still a sophomore in high school – and acquitted himself very well in defeat.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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