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The Weekend That Was: Some Good Fights, Some Big Upsets and a lot of Junk

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There were no mega-fights on the final weekend of January, but there were several interesting fights and several potentially uninteresting fights that played out in an interesting fashion.

Keith Thurman was a massive favorite over Josesito Lopez, notwithstanding the fact that Thurman has been out of action for 22 months while rehabbing injuries to his right shoulder and right hand. The odds suggested a one-sided and potentially humdrum fight, but there was a moment of high drama in the seventh round when the spunky Lopez staggered Thurman and chased him all over the ring. For a moment, it appeared that the fight would be stopped.

Thurman re-grouped and won a majority decision that should have been unanimous, but Lopez came to fight and put on a good show.

In the co-feature, pudgy Adam Kownacki improved his stock enormously while delighting his partisans with a quick demolition of Gerald Washington. Kownacki’s nickname is Baby Face and it fits. As someone commented on another web site, he looks like he came off the screen of one of those “Nutty Professor” movies where an addled chemist stumbles on the formula for turning a baby into a giant.

Kownacki is rough around the edges but he’s fun to watch. He has now eliminated two of Deontay Wilder’s former opponents – Artur Szpilka and Washington – in half the time that it took Wilder. But it doesn’t bode well for him that one of the few punches that Washington landed opened a cut over his left eye. Fighters with his pale hue are thought to be especially prone to cut.

There was an upset on the undercard that attracted considerable buzz although few people actually witnessed it live as it came early on a deep card while the arena was still mostly empty. Marsellos Wilder, the younger brother of Deontay Wilder, was handily winning his 4-round bout with Nebraska journeyman William Deets when, out of the blue, Deets landed a clean three-punch combination that put Wilder on the mat. He beat the count but had trouble keeping his balance and the fight was stopped.

Marsellos can take solace in the fact that his older brother was knocked out in his amateur days and went on to make a ton of money. But there was always the nagging suspicion that the younger Wilder brother, a former Jackson State and semi-pro wide receiver, would have been better served if he had put more effort into football.

The defeat knocked Wilder off the Feb. 23 DeGale-Eubank card in London. By rule in New York, a fighter who suffers a knockout receives an indefinite suspension. Eddie Hearn, the promoter, has indicated that he will honor it.

– – –

By all indications, the fight in Houston between defending WBO 154-pound champion Jaime Munguia and challenger Takeshi Inoue was a very good fight.

The scorecards said otherwise. Munguia won every round on two of the cards and 11 rounds on the other. However, the theme of every ringside report, including that of TSS correspondent Kelsey McCarson, was that the perspicacious Inoue made Munguia dig deep for his bone.

We have a seen a few fights like that; competitive fights that yielded lopsided scores that were not off the mark. If a fighter wins each round by a razor-thin margin he rightfully gets credit for pitching a shutout even if the overall impression is different. We didn’t see the fight so we have no quibble with the judges, but we’re compelled to ask how the Texas Athletic Commission could have assigned three judges with Hispanic surnames to a fight in which one of the combatants was Mexican.

The co-main produced a big upset when obscure Xu Can wrested the WBA featherweight title from Jesus Rojas. Can entered the contest with a 15-2 record that included only two wins by knockout. In his lone previous engagement on U.S. soil he labored to win a split decision in an 8-round fight with a journeyman.

The presumption was that Can had no business in the same ring with Puerto Rico’s Rojas. But he out-fought the champion, winning by margins of 4, 6, and 8 points. In so doing, Can, the son of pastry chefs, became the third fighter from China to win a world title following former WBO flyweight champion Zou Shiming and former WBC minimumweight champion Xiong Chaozhong.

– – –

No details have emerged in English language papers regarding Saturday’s all-Canada showdown in Montreal between Calgary’s Steve Claggett (27-5-1) and Montreal’s Mathieu Germain (16-0). On paper the 10-round bout, contested at 140 pounds, was an evenly matched fight and it played out that way, ending in a draw (95-95, 96-94, 94-96).

On the undercard, mammoth Russian heavyweight Arslanbek Makhmudov, who carries 260 pounds on a 6’5 ½” frame, knocked out journeyman Jason Bergman in the opening round.

Makhmudov entered the pro ranks well-touted. “(He has) enormous size, prodigious strength, and frightening power,” wrote Matt McGrain. This was his sixth pro fight and sixth knockout. In total, he has answered the bell for only seven rounds.

When Makhmodov turned pro he relocated to Toronto to be near his friend and former amateur teammate Artur Beterbiev. As for Bergman, who also tips the scales in the 260 pound range, he brought a 27-14-2 record but had come up the ladder on the grungy West Virginia circuit.

– – –

At the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, welterweight Cletus Seldin, the Hebrew Hammer, blew away Adam Mate, knocking him down twice before the bout was halted after 48 seconds.

Mate entered the contest with a record of 28-13, but a closer inspection of his record showed that all of his wins had come in his native Hungary and that outside this pod he had been stopped nine times, five times in the very first round.

The resourceful Hungarian found an uncommon way to see the world on someone else’s dime. His itinerary has taken him to London, Edinburgh, Madrid, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, and Washington, DC, among other places. Perhaps someday he will write a book about his adventures.

We don’t begrudge him that; we wish that we had seen more of the world in our younger days. But as prizefighters go, Mate is an imposter and it’s time for him to come up with a new ruse to feed his wanderlust.

Promoters like Seldin’s promoter Joe DeGuardia are the lifeblood of the sport, but they don’t get a pass when they manufacture junk and this wasn’t the first time that DeGuardia arrived at the Mohegan Sun bearing junk. In June of last year he matched the top dog of his stable, Joe Smith Jr., against an unskilled 39-year-old Kentuckian, Melvin Russell, the self-styled Romantic Redneck. Smith took him out in the opening round.

– – –

On Saturday at a dance club in Managua, Nicaragua, Costa Rica’s Hannah Gabriels successfully defended her WBA world female super welterweight title with a unanimous 10-round decision over Australia’s Sarah Dwyer.

“Hannah lacked efficiency and precision on her punches (but) her experience allowed her to work her opponent’s body and wear her out,” wrote Laura Alvarado in the Costa Rica Star who noted that a movie about Gabriels’ life is in post-production with a scheduled release date of Feb. 28.

Gabriels improved to 19-2-1. Dwyer declined to 3-5-2 and that’s no typo.

We don’t want to belittle Gabriels accomplishments. The lady is dedicated to her craft, has paid her dues, and she can really fight. Back in June she gave young gun Claressa Shields her hardest test, knocking the two-time Olympic gold medalist down in the opening round before losing a unanimous decision. However, the fact remains that Gabriels was thrust against an opponent that had won only one-third of her nine pro fights and the shameless World Boxing Association saw fit to sanction it as a world title fight.

Sarah Dwyer wasn’t junk. You Tube snippets of her in training show a woman whose punches carry more authority than female boxers with much glossier records. But in our estimation, the belt for which she competed – indeed any item that bears the WBA logo – is just a piece of junk.

– – –

Finally, we have run out of patience awaiting results of Friday’s show in Bolivia so we will share them with you anyway although we can’t say for certain that the event actually took place.

The main go pitted Brockton, Massachusetts court officer Vinnie Carita (19-1-1, 18 KOs) against a local man, Eddy Salvatierra (21-6-2, 17 KOs). Salvatierra, like many of Carita’s former opponents, is a little long in the tooth. He is 43 years old.

In the co-main, Saul Farah (67-23-3) was pitted against a fellow Bolivian, Jorge Urquiza Anez (7-4). Farah, alias Saul Becerra Gil, weighed 264 ½ pounds in his most recent start. Although he has outgrown the division, Anez is still listed as a super welterweight on BoxRec.

By some coincidence, the promoter of this show was Carita’s father, Vincenzo Carita Sr. The matchmaker was none other than Saul Farah. Ergo, Carita and Farah were victorious. If not, we’re betting that the sun will rise in the west tomorrow.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

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Results from the MGM Grand where Gervonta Davis Returned with a Bang

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After an absence of 421 days, Gervonta “Tank” Davis returned to the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. In the opposite corner was Detroit-born Frank “The Ghost” Martin who has been training in Dallas under Derrick James. In previous fights, Gervonta, who holds the WBA world lightweight title, has shown a tendency to start slow before closing the show with a highlight-reel knockout. Tonight was no exception.

Martin, 18-0 heading in, fought off his back foot from the get-go, but had good moments and was arguably ahead after five frames. But as the fight moved into the middle rounds, Martin became more stationary and one could sense that the ever-stalking Davis was wearing him down. In Round 8, Davis trapped Martin against a corner post, discombobulated him with a left uppercut and then turned out his lights with a chopping left hand. There was no chance that Martin could rise before referee Harvey Dock completed the “10” count.

Davis (30-0, 28 KOs) celebrated by standing on the top strand of rope and doing a black flip. He has many lucrative options going forward and will be favored to defeat whoever his next opponent will be.

The Davis-Martin fight was the capstone of a four-fight pay-per-view, the second collaboration between Premier Boxing Champions and Amazon Prime Video.

Benavidez-Gvozdyk

In his first fight as a light heavyweight, David Benavidez scored a 12-round unanimous decision over former lineal light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

Benavidez, who improved to 20-0 (24), worked the body well and kept up the pressure in the early-going, building a substantial lead. His work output declined over the last third of the fight, but his punches still carried more steam than those of Gvozdyk, 37, who suffered his second loss in 22 pro fights, the other inflicted by the indomitable Artur Beterbiev, prompting the SoCal-based Ukrainian to take a long hiatus from the ring. The judges had it 119-109, 117-111, and 116-112.

Puello-Russell

In a major upset, Alberto Puello of the Dominican Republic saddled Gary Antuanne Russell with his first pro loss, winning a split decision. Puello appeared to have the edge in a furious final round, without which the bout would have ended in a draw. Puello, who improved to 23-0 (10), had to overcome a dubious call by referee Allan Huggins who took a point away from the Dominican in Round 7 for too much holding.

Russell, who was making his first start against a southpaw, is now trained by his brother Gary Russell Jr., the former featherweight champion, who replaced their late father. Russell Jr last fought in January of 2022.

Heading in, Gary Antuanne Russell had won all 17 of his pro fights by knockout. One of the judges thought he won handily. But his tally, 118-109 for Russell, was overruled by the115-112 and 114-113 scores awarded the underdog. Puello, who briefly held the WBA diadem at 140 but had it stripped from him when he tested positive for PEDs, won an interim belt in that weight class with his upset tonight.

Adames-Gausha

In the PPV opener, Alberto Puello’s countryman Carlos Adames successfully defended his WBC middleweight title in his first world title fight with a one-sided decision over former U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha. Adames, whose late father reportedly sired 35 children, was the aggressor and landed many more punches. He advanced his record to 24-1 (19). It was the fourth loss in 29 pro starts for the 36-year-old Gausha. The judges had it 119-109 and 118-110 twice.

Adames’ triumph made it 2-0 for the Dominicans and their trainer Ismael Salas.

Other Bouts of Note

In a huge upset, Delaware’s Kyrone Davis overcame Arizona’s previously undefeated and highly-touted Elijah Garcia, winning a split decision. A 21-year-old father of two, Garcia, 16-0 heading in, was rated #1 by the WBA and seemingly one step removed from challenging Erislandy Lara for the WBA middleweight title. But Davis, trained by Stephen “Breadman” Edwards, had a solid game plan and although Elijah came on strong in the homestretch, it was too little, too late.

One of the judges favored Garcia 98-92, but his cohorts each gave seven rounds to Davis (19-3-1, 6 KOs) and the decision was fair.

Filipino junior lightweight Mark Magsayo, in his second fight back since losing back-to-back fights with featherweight belt-holders Rey Vargas and Brandon Figueroa, advanced to 26-2 (17) with a 10-round unanimous decision over Mexico City’s Eduardo Ramirez (28-4-3). Magsayo scored a knockdown in the third round with a straight right hand and won by scores of 99-90 and 97-92 twice.

Photos credit: Al Applerose

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Billam-Smith Avenges Lone Defeat; Retains Cruiser Belt in a Messy Fight

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In a mild upset, Bournemouth’s Chris Billam-Smith, an overachiever, successfully defended his WBO cruiserweight title with an inelegant 12-round unanimous decision over previously undefeated Richard Riakporhe. In the process, Billam-Smith, who advanced to 20-1 (13), avenged his lone defeat. Riakporhe won a split decision in their previous encounter five years ago in London.

This was a messy fight marred by excessive clinching. Referee Steve Gray, who earned his pay, warned both fighters during the match for a laundry list of infractions and eventually deducted a point from Riakporhe for leading with his head. The point deduction came in the final round and sealed the win for the Bournemouth fighter who prevailed on scores of 116-111 and 115-112 twice. Riakporhe declined to 17-1.

The fight was contested outdoors at the Crystal Palace soccer grounds in South London. The sky was grey and a light rain was falling when the show started, but the rain let up well before nightfall.

Billam-Smith, who is trained by Shane McGuigan, was making the second defense of the title he won with an upset of Lawrence Okolie. The other cruiserweight title-holders are Jai Opetaia (IBF), Gilberto Ramirez (WBA) and Noel Mikaelyan (aka Noel Gevor). Billam-Smith would be a decided underdog to Opetaia. Fights with Ramirez and Mikaelyan would likely be snoozefests.

Semi-Wind-up

Olympic silver medalist Ben Whittaker, a light heavyweight whose arrogant showboating has translated into a large social media following, went 10 rounds for the first time in his career and won a lopsided decision, advancing his record to 8-0 (5). Whittaker’s opponent, Ezra Arenyeka, a 28-year-old Nigerian, brought a 12-0 record that on closer inspection included only three wins over opponents with winning records.

Arenyeka plowed forward much of the fight, but kept a high guard and had trouble letting his hands go. In round seven, he lost a point for hitting Whittaker in the face with an elbow. The scores were 100-89 and 99-90 twice.

Also

In another mild upset, Jack Massey won the vacant European cruiserweight title with a 12-round decision over Isaac Chamberlain. Massey, who improved to 22-2 (12), is a stablemate of reigning IBF female welterweight champion Natasha Jonas who was part of the broadcasting crew. He went 10 rounds in a losing effort with former heavyweight title-holder Joseph Parker in January of last year before returning to his natural weight class. This was a competitive fight with several momentum swings.  Chamberlain, 16-2 heading in, lost by scores of 116-112 and 115-113 twice.

Dan Azeez, who had Hall of Fame trainer Buddy McGirt in his corner, was expected to have an easy time with Hrvoje Sep, a 38-year-old Ukrainian, but Azeez (20-1-1) had to work hard to salvage a draw with Sep (12-2-1) in an 8-round light heavyweight match.

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Notes on Saturday’s Boxing Action Topped by the Return of Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis

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Notes on Saturday’s Boxing Action Topped by the Return of Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis

Gervonta “Tank” Davis returns to the ring on Saturday after an absence of nearly 14 months that included a 44-day stint in a Baltimore jail. In the opposite corner is St. Louis southpaw Frank “The Ghost” Martin.

Davis (29-0, 27 KOs) is now the undisputed lightweight champion of the WBA. He had been sharing that distinction with Devin Haney who was de-frocked when he moved up in weight. Martin (18-0, 12 KOs) is also undefeated and their match is the main attraction of a four-fight pay-per-view on Amazon Prime Video and affiliates including PPV.com (list price $74.99) where viewers have the opportunity to interact with the hosts, namely Jim Lampley, Lance Pugmire, Chris Algieri, and Dan Conobbio.

One other world title fight and two contrived interim title fights support the main event. The title fight, which will serve as the PPV opener, pits WBC middleweight title-holder Carlos Adames (23-1, 19 KOs) against former U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha (24-3-1, 12 KOs). Adames became a full-fledged title-holder last month when the organization stripped trouble-plagued Jermall Charlo of the belt within hours after his DWI arrest in Texas.

Tired of waiting around for Canelo, David Benavidez elected to move up in weight where he will face former WBC light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

It was inevitable that Benavidez (28-0, 24 KOs) would out-grow the super middleweight division. He carried 180 ¾ pounds for his second pro fight when he was 16 years old. Gvozdyk (20-1, 16 KOs) stepped away from boxing after getting stopped by Artur Beterbiev in a unification fight in October of 2019. He was badly beaten in that fight although he was ahead on two of the scorecards through the nine completed rounds. He missed all of 2020, 2021, and 2022 before returning to the ring in February of last year, shaking off the rust in a 6-round fight, and subsequently won two bouts by knockout. The Ukrainian turned 37 in April.

In the other interim title fight, super lightweight Gary Gary Antuanne Russell (17-0, 17 KOs) meets Alberto Puello (22-0, 10 KOs) in a battle of southpaws. Puello, a 29-year-old Dominican, briefly held the WBA diadem at 140, but had it stripped from him when he tested positive for PEDs.

Gervonta Davis has proved to be one of the biggest draws in boxing. Among American-born fighters, no one is currently at his level as a ticket-seller. However, it will be surprising if his bout with Frank Martin tomorrow night in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand can match the numbers he achieved in his last outing where he was pit against the charismatic Ryan Garcia who he stopped with a body punch in the seventh round. In all four of the fights on tomorrow’s pay-per-view, the favorite is chalked in the 7/1 range. Moreover, a DAZN event in Puerto Rico that overlaps the early portion of the pay-per-view may nibble away at the receipts.

Three high-grade 10-round preliminaries will precede the pay-per-view. These three fights, “teasers” as it were, can be accessed for free regardless of Prime membership. The action in the “free” portion of the card begins at 5:30 pm ET/2:30 pm PT.

DAZN

The DAZN card is a Matchroom promotion in Manati, Puerto Rico. IBF 140-pound world champion Subriel Matias makes the second defense of his title against Brisbane, Australia’s Liam Paro. A late bloomer, Matias (20-1, 20 KOs) has knocked out all of his opponents including the only man to defeat him (Petros Ananyan). Paro (24-0, 15 KOs) looked sharp in his last fight wherein he TKOed Montana Love, but will be up against it in Puerto Rico. Matias, who is making his first start in his hometown since 2019, is already looking ahead to a match with Regis Prograis.

The Matias-Paro ring walk is expected to commence shortly before 11 pm, ET/8 pm PT.

PEACOCK

For diehard fight fans in the U.S., it will be wall-to-wall boxing for about 11 straight hours beginning at 1:30 pm ET/10:30 am PT when NBC’s subscription channel, Peacock, begins its coverage of the WBO cruiserweight title fight in South London between Chris Billam-Smith (19-1, 13 KOs) and Richard Riakporhe. (17-0, 13 KOs).

Billam-Smith, who is trained by Shane McGuigan, will be making the second defense of the title he won with an upset of Lawrence Okolie while seeking to avenge his lone defeat. These two met in a 10-rounder back in July of 2019 with Riakporhe emerging the winner by a split decision.

Billam-Smith’s last two fights have been in his hometown of Bournemouth. Tomorrow, he fights on the grounds of the Crystal Palace Football Club of which Riakporhe is a big supporter. The bookies like the Londoner’s chance to prevail again. The challenger, Riakporhe, is an 11/5 favorite.

Fights to Watch (All Times Pacific)

Peacock: Chris Billam-Smith vs. Richard Riakporhe: 2:00 p.m. (prelims beginning at 10:30 a.m.)

DAZN: Subriel Matias vs. Liam Paro: 7:45 p.m. (prelims beginning at 4:30 p.m.)

AMAZON PRIME VIDEO PPV: Gervonta Davis vs. Frank Martin plus three: 5:00 p.m. (prelims beginning at 2:30 p.m.)

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