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The Hauser Report: Thurman – Lopez and More

Thomas Hauser

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The January 26 Premier Boxing Champions fight card at Barclays Center offered fans a mixed bag. There were thirteen bouts live and on various viewing platforms. Fans on site saw the predictable one-sided undercard bouts with one notable exception. In the second fight of the evening, Marsellos Wilder (Deontay’s younger brother) fought a late replacement from Kearney, Nebraska, named – depending on where one looks – William Deets or William Quintana.

Deets/Quintana came into the bout with 6 wins, 12 losses, and a meager two knockouts to his credit. Further burnishing his resume, he’d been out of action from mid-2013 through mid-2018 and, according to the Lincoln Journal Star, spent two years in prison after pleading no contest to charges that he sexually assaulted two women that he met online. Three additional women also came forward and made similar allegations against him. At his sentencing, the judge noted that Deets seemed to have “a low regard for women.”

Wilder dominated the early going to the point where the fight was almost stopped after two rounds. Then, in the fourth stanza, Marsellos got lazy. Deets-Quintana whacked him with a left-right combination, and Wilder went down. He rose on unsteady legs, fell into the ring ropes, and referee Al LoBianco properly stopped the contest with 25 seconds left in the bout.

That’s why they fight the fights instead of just mailing in the results.

Three bouts were televised on the Fox broadcast network.

Mongolian-born Tugstsogt Nyambayer (10-0, 9 KOs), who fights out of Los Angeles, announced his presence on the boxing scene with a 116-111, 115-112, 114-113 verdict over Claudio Marrero (23-2, 17 KOs) in a WBC featherweight elimination bout. Boxing writers and fans who spent years learning how to spell “Pacquiao” will track Tugstsogt’s career with trepidation.

Then it was time for Adam Kownacki (18-0, 14 KOs) vs. Gerald Washington (19-2-1, 12 KOs).

Kownacki looks as though his 260 pounds (give or take a few donuts) have been sculpted out of wet pancake mix. He’s a big, strong, affable man whose heart is unquestioned and defensive skills are suspect. Washington is a big, strong, better-sculpted fighter whose chin and punching power are in doubt. That combination made Kownacki a 5-to-1 betting favorite in what promised to be an entertaining fight.

A large vocal contingent of Polish-American fans made its feelings known as the fighters entered the ring. During the pre-fight introductions, Kownacki seemed happy to be there; Washington, not.

Adam came to fight. Gerald came to box. But Washington’s boxing wasn’t good enough to keep Kownacki off. There’s very little subtlety in the way Adam fights. It’s full speed ahead, throwing punches (mostly right hands), hit, get hit, and punch some more.

Kownacki staggered Washington with a series of right hands in round one. Fighting aggressively at the start of round two, Gerald opened a cut over Adam’s left eye. Then Kownacki dropped him with a right. Washington rose on wobbly legs, took a few more punches, and referee Harvey Dock stopped the bout at the 1:09 mark.

It was a statement win for Kownacki and his most impressive victory to date.

Two years ago, Washington lasted into the fifth round against Deontay Wilder and the eighth round against Jarrell Miller. Comparisons will be made, although that’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges.

Adam was able to walk through Washington’s jab. He won’t be able to do that against a world-class heavyweight.

The main event matched Keith Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) against Josesito Lopez (36-7, 19 KOs).

Thurman, age 30, turned pro in 2007 and established himself as a champion in the true sense of the word when he decisioned Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia to claim the WBA and WBC titles. But he has been plagued by injuries in recent years, needing elbow surgery after his March 4, 2017, victory over Garcia and then suffering a deep bone bruise on his left hand during training. Those injuries kept Keith on the shelf for almost 23 months and led some to question his commitment to boxing.

“I can care less what people say and what they think about Keith Thurman,” Thurman noted during a February 24 media conference call. “‘Oh, he’s ducking guys. He’s getting injured to avoid people.’ There’s a lot of people that don’t understand what it means to be a world-class fighter. So a lot of opinions just really don’t get to me. If anything, some of them were humorous. You know – I’m Keith ‘One-Time’ Thurman. I’m Keith ‘Run-Time’ Thurman, Keith ‘Sometime’ Thurman, Keith ‘Once-Upon-a-Time’ Thurman. That was pretty amusing.”

“You always have to be a little worried about new injuries,” Thurman added. “There’s nothing wrong with your car until the day it decides to break down. So at the end of the day, it’s always in the back of my mind. Athletes and their bodies go through a lot of things.”

Thurman-Lopez was viewed in advance by many as a non-competitive showcase fight. Josesito is willing to go in tough. But when he does, the results tend to not be good. He was knocked out by Andre Berto, Marcos Maidana, and Canelo Alvarez, and had four other losses on his record.

When asked about being regarded as a low-level opponent, Lopez responded, “I wouldn’t say it offends me. There’s a lot of casuals that don’t understand the ins and outs and don’t realize what I bring to the table. You can’t really judge a fighter by his wins and losses. I’ve had some tough defeats and some close defeats. Wins and losses aren’t everything. I’m a better fighter than I’ve ever been. So it doesn’t matter how many bumps on the road I might have had throughout my career. It’s going to come as a surprise when I pull off the victory. I’m not new to the game. I know exactly what I have to do. I’ve just got to go out there and execute. People are overlooking me. Does it bother me? Not at all. It motivates me.”

But talk is cheap. Thurman was a prohibitive betting favorite with the odds running as high as 50-to-1 in some quarters.

It turned out to be an entertaining fight. Early in Thurman’s career, observers focused on his power. But he’s also a skilled defensive boxer – always moving and hard to hit – who transitions well from circling out of harm’s way to quick-strike offense.

Against Lopez, Thurman traded blow-for-blow when he had to but preferred to punch and keep moving rather than wait for a receipt. He had an edge in speed, power, and basic ring skills. Lopez kept coming forward, but his efforts were largely ineffective and his punches rarely found the mark the way they were intended to.

Late in round two, a textbook left hook up top deposited Josesito on the canvas.

Round seven saw one of those dramatic shifts that make boxing at its best the most compelling sport of all. Midway through the stanza, Lopez (who fought valiantly throughout the bout) shook Thurman with a straight right hand, then followed up with a left hook and another right.

Suddenly, Thurman was in trouble. “He had me buzzed and shaken up in the seventh round,” Keith admitted afterward.

For the next minute-and-a-half, Thurman backed away as fast as he could, throwing next to nothing and struggling to survive. He stayed on his feet but was on the short end of a 10-8 calculation on each judge’s scorecard.

Then, as suddenly as it had opened, Lopez’s window of opportunity closed.

The overwhelming majority of people at ringside thought Thurman won by a comfortable margin. CompuBox statistics are sometimes wide of the mark. But here, they showed undeniable superiority for Thurman in the form of a 247-to 117 advantage in punches landed.

Inexplicibly, ring judge Don Ackerman scored the bout even at 113-113. Order was restored by Tom Schreck (117-109) and Steve Weisfeld (115-111) who, unlike Ackerman, appeared to have watched the fight and understood what they were watching.

Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp

Thomas Hauser’s new email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Protect Yourself at All Times – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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