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The Avila Perspective, Chap. 33: After the Storm Comes the Deluge of Fights

David A. Avila

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After days of rainfall pummeling the coasts of California now it’s boxing’s turn to take a few swings of its own.

In three days five fully loaded fight cards take place mostly in Southern California with the Sunday punch erupting in Northern California. Those who love boxing may never be the same again with Gervonta Davis, Alberto Machado and Jose Carlos Ramirez coming through the pike.

From small promotion powerhouses like Thompson Boxing Promotions to older established mega monster outfits like Top Rank, fans in the Golden State will be able to watch world title fights, classic clashes and good old fashion club fights from Friday to Sunday on television, streaming or in person.

Let’s begin the tour.

Thompson Boxing

On Friday, Feb. 8, Thompson Boxing brings its usual impressive array of prospects to the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, Calif. The boxing company that introduced Timothy Bradley, Josesito Lopez, current world champion Danny Roman and many others will be showcasing several new prospects.

Over the years matchmaker Alex Camponovo has shown a keen eye in picking prospects from the pile. Who will emerge as its next star?

Bantamweights clash in the main event with Mario Hernandez (8-0-1, 3 KOs) facing Luis Saavedra (7-6, 3 KOs) in an eight round contest. Several other solid matchups are planned. Doors open at 7 p.m. and action starts at 8 p.m. For tickets and information call (714) 935-0900. The fight card can also be seen via stream on Thompson Boxing Promotions page on Facebook. Commentating for the first time will be Doug Fischer who replaces Steve Kim. Remaining as a lead commentator is Beto Duran.

Golden Boy

On Saturday Feb. 9, Golden Boy Promotions presents possibly its best boxing card in years though many may not see it that way. Top to bottom the lineup led by WBA super featherweight titlist Alberto “Explosivo” Machado (21-0, 17 KOs) defending against Andrew Cancio (19-4-2, 14 KOs) promises to be riveting at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif.

And it should be. All of the cards will be streamed by DAZN and it’s in a battle for boxing relevancy with Showtime, Fox and ESPN. Nothing less than excellence will ensure its survival.

Facing Machado (pictured on the left) will be Blythe, California’ s Cancio who’s known for giving any aspiring superstar a run for their money. Many a title challenger has been toppled by Cancio who is like an NFL safety making a shoestring tackle on a running back heading for daylight. If you don’t have the goods Cancio will let you know.

“I know he hits hard but he’s been put down too,” said Cancio. “We’re going to see what he can take because after I feel him out we will see what happens. I’ve fought guys that hit hard before like Rene Alvarado and Dardan (Zenunaj).”

It was the fight against Zenunaj that caught the attention of fans as the two super featherweights put on a performance that many claim was the true “Fight of the Year.” It caught many by surprise at the ferocity both fighters showed that summer night last August.

Zenunaj is another fighter that should be brought back but that’s a topic for another time. Hopefully we see Zenunaj again.

On Saturday, Cancio expects Puerto Rico’s Machado to come out blasting.

“He likes to start fast and see if you can take it,” said Cancio. “I’m ready and thankful for this chance at a title.”

Another world title fight matches WBC super bantamweight Rey Vargas (32-0, 22 KOs) a tall, long and angular fighter from Mexico City who has made three world title defenses since snatching it away from Britain’s Gavin McDonnell in England two years ago.

Venezuela’s Franklin Manzanilla (18-4, 17 KOs) gets his crack at Vargas and has that hunger you can’t teach.

“He’s a really good kid and works hard,” said trainer James Gogue who works with Manzanilla in Colombia. “There are a lot of hungry fighters in Colombia who want their chance.”

Manzanilla is making his first visit to the USA and says his family and friends in Colombia and Venezuela are ecstatic about his opportunity.

“I know Vargas is a very good champion and I’m just happy for this opportunity to fight him,” said Manzanilla who is almost as tall as Vargas. “I’m very prepared for this fight.”

A third marquee fight features featherweight title contender Jojo Diaz (27-1, 14 KOs) facing local legend Charles Huerta (20-5, 12 KOs) in a fight set at 130 pounds instead of 126. Could the difference in weight make a difference?

Huerta, now 32, has a vast amount of experience that he can unfurl on any fighter regardless of talent. One major question mark is rust. He suffered an Achilles Heel injury and was inactive for more than a year. But he’s one of the most intelligent fighters in boxing crazy Southern California and can topple anybody on any day.

 

“We’ve sparred before,” said Huerta, who lives in the Los Angeles area. “We know each other very well. I like these kind of fights that mean something.”

Back in the 1980s this type of fight between Southern California hotshots would have sold out the Olympic Auditorium. Expect fans of both fighters to travel 100 miles to see this fight at Fantasy Springs Casino.

Huerta and Diaz are not the only Southern California rival fight. A pair of lightweights are set to clash with San Diego’s undefeated Genaro Gamez (8-0) meeting L.A.’s Ivan Delgado (13-1-2) in an eight round contest. I guarantee this fight will light it up.

Five other bouts are scheduled including Armenian warriors Ferdinand Kerobyan and Azat Hovhannisyan in separate bouts. Plus, Durango’s Oscar Duarte and Coachella’s Rommel Caballero in two other separate bouts. Middleweight contender Tureano Johnson is also scheduled to fight on the ultra-stacked boxing card.

It’s absolutely the best boxing card Golden Boy has staged in years from top to bottom. If you can’t make it to Indio you can view the boxing card via DAZN.com.

PBC

WBA super featherweight southpaw slugger Gervonta Davis (20-0, 19 KOs) defends his world title against last-minute replacement Hugo Ruiz (39-4, 33 KOs) on Saturday Feb. 9, at the Dignity Health Sports Park (formerly StubHub Center) in Carson, Calif.

Davis was slated to face Abner Mares in a top notch matchup but an eye injury forced a cancellation. Now, Ruiz, fought last month in Las Vegas and won by decision against Alberto Guevara, is the replacement opponent for the mighty Davis. It’s just one of those quirks of fate that happens in boxing.

“All I know is that he is fast, he has some speed. It looked like he has some power and good timing,” said Davis about Ruiz. “I actually think that this is not a walk in the park, like people think.”

Ruiz knows what to expect.

“I think this is going to be an explosive fight. We’re both known for our knockouts and this is a fight that can end at any moment. It’s going to be by a knockout,” said Ruiz of Mexico.

Another fighter to watch is Mario Barrios.

The undefeated Barrios (22-0, 14 KOs) meets Mexico’s Ricardo Zamora (19-2, 12 KOs) in a 10 round super lightweight clash. It’s another step-up fight for the 23-year-old from San Antonio, Texas. Last summer, Barrios clipped Jose Roman in a similar battle for legitimacy as a contender.

“This is going to be one of my toughest fights but I put in all the hard work in camp and I’m going into Saturday night with no doubts,” said Barrios who trained with Virgil Hunter in the Oakland, Calif. area for this fight. “I was getting great work, sparring with Devin Haney. We got about two or three weeks of great work just going at it. That was tremendous experience just keeping up with him. He’s a very explosive fighter and ahead of the curve for his age. I finished off camp sparring with Amir Khan, who is getting ready for his Terrence Crawford fight.”

Showtime will televise the main card and the undercard fights can be seen on the Showtime page on YouTube.com

Roy Englebrecht Events

Super bantamweights Humberto Rubalcava (9-0) and Jonathan Torres (8-6-1) clash in the main event on Saturday Feb. 9, at Gardens Casino in Hawaiian Gardens, Calif. The fight card is promoted by Englebrecht Events and features several local fighters.

Doors open at 6 p.m. For more information call (949) 760-3131.

Top Rank

Because of the Saturday afternoon crush of fights Top Rank pushed its boxing card to Sunday afternoon where the sports calendar is free especially now with NFL football finished.

“That’s the beauty of working with ESPN,” said Bob Arum of Top Rank. “We can have a Sunday show and not have to deal with other competition.”

WBC super lightweight titlist Jose Carlos Ramirez (23-0, 16 KOs) defends against Jose Zepeda (30-1, 25 KOs) in the main event at Save Mart Arena in Fresno, Calif. ESPN will televise.

Ramirez, 26, is making his second defense of the world title since winning it nearly a year ago in March 2018 against Amir Imam. His last fight was a firefight against Antonio Orozco that ended in a unanimous decision win. But for 12 rounds the two fired relentlessly nonstop. It was a riveting performance and considered one of the top fights of 2018.

“Yes it was a pretty good fight for the fans and I give all respect to Antonio Orozco, but this is what I love to do,” said Ramirez while in L.A. recently. “I want to unify the world titles and this is the first step toward doing that.”

Ramirez also has dedicated his fight toward the war against cancer and will be donating part of his boxing wardrobe for an auction. The proceeds will go toward the local Community Cancer outreach.

Zepeda, 29, is a southpaw knockout puncher who has been around the Southern California fight scene for a while. He always presents a danger.

“I can’t underestimate Zepeda especially because he’s a lefty,” said Ramirez who trains with Robert Garcia in Riverside, Calif.

Also on the fight card is former champion Ray Beltran (35-8-1) who meets Japan’s Hiroki Okada (19-0) in a super lightweight contest in the semi-main event.

“It’s more of a challenge at 140,” said Beltran the former lightweight world titlist at 135 pound lightweight division. “It’s about that time in my life for another challenge.”

Saul Rodriguez, the super featherweight prospect out of Riverside, has his second fight under the Top Rank banner since returning. His next foe is a Brazilian knockout artist named Aelio Mesquita.

Rodriguez (22-0-1, 16 KOs) meets Mesquita (17-3, 15 KOs) in a 10 round contest at the lightweight limit. Both are hard-hitting fighters with speed. Mesquita has faced Shakur Stevenson and was stopped in two rounds. It’s an important test for Rodriguez who was among the top prospects before signing with Mayweather Promotions more than two years ago. But an inability to place Rodriguez in marquee fights forced the California fighter to return to Top Rank. Now he’s poised to break into contender status. This is step number two for Rodriguez.

ESPN will televise some of the fights and ESPN+ will stream the other fights on the streaming service. First streamed bout begins at 1 p.m. PT.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hogan Photos / Golden Boy Promotions

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Pernell Whitaker, Short List All Time Great

Bernard Fernandez

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Pernell Whitaker was, by most accounts, the best defensive fighter since Willie Pep, maybe even better. His ability to stay in the pocket and make frustrated opponents hit nothing but air, answering their misfires with stinging counterpunches, was a form of pugilistic genius beyond replication until Floyd Mayweather Jr. came along. But even Mayweather might not have matched Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker’s uncanny gift for ducking and dodging incoming shots, Matrix-style. It was almost as if he were in a rainstorm without an umbrella, yet somehow able to avoid getting wet.

All right, so even a legendary fighter’s quick-twitch reflexes figure to slow nearly two decades after his retirement from the ring. Whitaker was 55 and well removed from his remarkable prime when he was struck by a car while crossing a Virginia Beach, Va., street Sunday night, sustaining fatal injuries.  But here’s the thing: the driver whose vehicle slammed into the four-division former world champion didn’t swerve out of control, and he apparently wasn’t exceeding the posted speed limit. There is no fleeing villain for Whitaker’s many admirers to castigate (the driver, who stayed with Whitaker, has not been charged with a crime), and emergency medical personnel were quickly on the scene to render whatever assistance they could, to no avail.

Pernell Whitaker, who was to hit-and-not-be-hit boxing what baseball’s Ozzie Smith was to art of playing shortstop, was pronounced dead at the scene. His official time of passing was listed as 10:04 p.m. EDT.

The only possible explanation is familiar to all boxers who were surprised to find themselves on the canvas, woozy, and being counted out. The blow that is most apt to result in a knockout is the stealthy one you don’t see coming. It’s just that this knockout, steel against flesh and bone, was forever.

Kathy Duva, the Main Events CEO who has known Whitaker even before the clever southpaw, a gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, signed with her now-deceased husband Dan’s promotional company as part of arguably the greatest crop of U.S. boxers ever to come out of the same Olympiad, finds it as ironic as it is tragic that someone known for being nearly untouchable inside the ropes could have forgotten the first safety rule for all pedestrians: Look both ways before stepping onto any roadway, especially if it’s late at night and that roadway is not particularly well-illuminated.

“For a guy who almost never got hit to die that way … It’s insane. Ironic. I guess that’s the only word for it,” said Duva, still nearly overwrought with emotion 12 hours after a fighter she so liked and respected, and with whom she had remained in fairly regular contact, perished so unexpectedly.

Asked if she thought Whitaker’s face belonged on a figurative Mount Rushmore of the greatest defensive fighters ever, Duva said, “Oh, absolutely. And, really, he’s on a lot of people’s lists of the greatest fighters of all time, and not just for his defense. He belongs there, too.”

Over the course of his 17-year pro career, Whitaker won world titles as a lightweight, junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight. Considering the high level of competition he routinely faced, his 40-4-1 record, with 17 KOs and one no-decision, would be impressive, but it is even more so upon closer examination. His first “loss,” by split decision to WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Ramirez in Paris on March 12, 1988, was a heist by pencil so blatant wanted posters should have been distributed seeking the arrests of judges Newton Campos and Louis Michel for crimes against sensibility.

After winning a one-sided unanimous decision over IBF lightweight titlist Greg Haugen (Whitaker won 35 of the 36 rounds on the three judges’ combined scorecards), he exacted his revenge upon Ramirez on Aug. 20, 1989, in Whitaker’s hometown of Norfolk, Va., retaining his IBF strap while adding the vacant WBC belt on a UD so obviously in his favor that it could have been scored by Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Ronnie Milsap. This time Whitaker was only marginally less dominant than he had been against Haugen, winning 33 of 36 rounds on the cards.

“Sweet Pea’s” emergence as boxing’s top pound-for-pound performer earned him recognition as 1989’s Fighter of the Year from both the Boxing Writers Association of America and The Ring magazine, but his skyrocketing confidence in his own ability, almost bordering on arrogance, was tempered by his lingering belief that powerful, behind-the-scenes players not only were hesitant to give him his due, but were actively plotting to stick it to him again as had been the case in the first Ramirez bout.

That sense of foreboding appeared at least somewhat justified the night of Sept. 10, 1993, in San Antonio’s Alamodome, when he defended his WBC welterweight championship against Mexican superstar Julio Cesar Chavez, who came in 87-0 and had the crowd of nearly 60,000 squarely behind him. But Whitaker did to Chavez that night what he had done to so many other opponents, which was to confuse and frustrate El Gran Campeon with an unorthodox fight plan that had him frequently going down onto his haunches, the most successful bit of duckwalking since Chuck Berry was strutting along 1950s stages, playing his guitar just like ringing a bell and belting out Johnny B. Goode.

Although almost everyone in the press section had Whitaker winning eight to 10 of the 12 rounds, judges Mickey Vann and Franz Marti each saw the fight as a 115-115 standoff (the third judge, Jack Woodruff, had Whitaker ahead by 115-113), making for a hugely controversial majority draw that again left the American feeling as if he’d been gut-shot.

“I knew this might happen, but still it was like a bad dream,” a disbelieving Whitaker said. “It was like someone put a knife in me and twisted it.

“I whipped his ass, and easily. I mentally and physically beat him. I put an old-fashioned project beating on him. A housing authority beating. A ghetto beating.”

There were those who predicted the draw was designed to set the stage for an even bigger rematch, but neither Kathy Duva nor I believed it. Chavez, also a great fighter, might have wanted a do-over as much as Whitaker, but his promoter Don King would decide who he would fight going forward, and His Hairness understood that Whitaker’s unorthodox and impenetrable style was always going to be problematic for JCC.

Did his disappointment over the disputed outcome of the fight with Chavez weigh so heavily on Whitaker that it affected him throughout the remainder of his career? Maybe, maybe not. He strung together an eight-fight winning streak after Chavez, but lost a relatively wide unanimous decision to Oscar De La Hoya in a fight that seemed much closer, and to some people’s way of thinking could have gone the other way.

Convinced he had been shafted again, Whitaker followed the De La Hoya fight with a close, 12-round points nod over Andrey Pestryaev in a WBA welterweight elimination bout, which was later changed to a no-decision when Whitaker tested positive for cocaine. He did not fight again for 16 months, and when he returned it was for a beatdown at the hands of IBF welterweight champ Felix Trinidad, in which Whitaker suffered a broken jaw. Disregarding the pain, Whitaker went the distance, whereupon he again put himself on a shelf for 26 months, coming back for a scheduled 10-rounder against journeyman Carlos Bojorquez on April 27, 2001, in which Whitaker was stopped in the fourth round on the advice of ring physician Dr. Margaret Goodman when it became clear that Whitaker was a one-armed fighter unable to deal with the effects of a broken clavicle.

Finally, it was over. Whitaker went back home to Norfolk, where he occasionally trained fighters, but largely stayed under the radar, his once-gleaming reputation tarnished by occasional reports of his ongoing brushes with the law over his cocaine habit. In June 2002, he was convicted of cocaine possession after a judge found he had violated terms of a previous sentence by overdosing on cocaine in March of that year.

“He had demons, but when he was in the ring that was when he was in control and when he was happy and when he was the very best at what he did, and he wanted to show that to everybody,” Duva said in another interview, with ESPN.

By all accounts, however, Whitaker had exorcised many of the demons that had made him an unhappy semi-recluse. A first-ballot inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007, he returned to Canastota, N.Y., in June to participate in the festivities for the 2019 induction ceremonies and took delight in being greeted warmly by fight fans. He also had accepted an invitation to leave for Las Vegas on Thursday to do a similar meet-and-greet with the public at the MGM Grand in advance of Saturday’s big PBC on Fox Sports PPPV fight between Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman.

All of which makes his sudden death so much more shocking to those who were encouraged that he was finding his way back to a better life in and out of boxing, a life that always should have been afforded him by virtue of his rare and special gift.

Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson, a big boxing buff and as much an artist in his own sphere as Whitaker had been in his, tweeted, “Pernell `Sweet Pea’ Whitaker was in the class of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard as one of the most entertaining fighters of my lifetime.”

Former ESPN boxing analyst Max Kellerman, now with ESPN, also ladled out the praise, tweeting, “The best lightweight I ever saw passed away (Sunday night). Yes, that includes Roberto Duran, Floyd Mayweather, Ike Williams and anyone else you want to mention … He was one of the three greatest pure boxers who ever lived.”

For those who always want to remember the best of Pernell Whitaker, there is consolation knowing that his passing appears to be nothing more than a terrible accident, the kind that can happen on any street, at any time, and to anyone.

“I guess he was wearing dark clothes, the road was dark and the driver didn’t see him,” Devon Whitaker, 27, the youngest of Pernell’s four surviving children, said of what he thought might have happened. Virginia Beach Police spokesperson Linda Kuehn noted that the investigation is still ongoing, “However, it does not appear that drugs, alcohol or speed were factors in the crash.”

Rest in peace, Sweet Pea. It was my pleasure watching you work.

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Pacquiao vs. Thurman: A Case Study on Two Types of Atrophy

Kelsey McCarson

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Pacquiao vs. Thurman: A Case Study on Two Types of Atrophy

Manny Pacquiao’s historic welterweight showdown against WBA titleholder Keith Thurman on July 20 is a case study on two types of atrophy which can negatively influence a professional fighter’s career.

One happens because of age; the other due to inactivity.

Pacquiao is 40 now. Eventually, what happens in every fighter’s life is the same thing that will happen to Pacquiao and relatively soon, whether against Thurman or sometime later. Pacquiao’s body will just stop working, at least in comparison to how it did before, and while the fighter can keep working hard at the gym, the return he receives will slowly diminish until all of a sudden Pacquiao can no longer compete with the best.

That same kind of thing happens to everyone in life, but it’s more apparent in boxing because instead of not being able to do something mundane anymore like easily bend over to pick up the keys you just dropped, the consequence is a black eye, a bloody nose and a view of the lights hanging above the boxing ring that you never really wanted to see (and probably won’t remember).

It’s strange then that Pacquiao is slightly favored by bookmakers over a talented and undefeated world champion ten years his junior in what’s easily the most important fight of that champion’s career.

While few fighters in boxing history have achieved as much as Pacquiao has over the course of his 24-year career, fewer still have been able to consistently defeat quality opponents at Pacquiao’s advanced age.

And can we just let that sink in for a second? Pacquaio’s prizefighting career has spanned almost a quarter-century!

Sure, Pacquiao has still looked pretty elite in recent outings. But after stopping Lucas Matthysse in July 2018 and scoring a dominant decision win over Adrien Broner in January 2019, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll finally hit the wall against the younger and naturally larger Thurman.

Thurman, 30, from Clearwater, Florida, is undefeated through 29 professional fights and, at first glance, he appears to be sitting on the right side of a crossroads fight. But a closer inspection of the situation reveals that might not actually be the case. Because where Pacquiao might be fighting a losing battle against age, Thurman has most definitely been losing a winnable battle against inactivity.

Here’s what happens all too often in boxing (whether it’s happening at the present to Thurman or not). A fighter puts in years and years of work only to stop doing all the things he did to get there once he reaches a comfortable position in the sport, usually a world title or two, numerous TV appearances and a boatload of money.

It’s conceivable that what is going on with Thurman right now is exactly that. Because even in somehow managing to maintain his title status with the WBA, Thurman hasn’t really been what most would consider an active fighter over the past few years.

In fact, the last time Thurman fought more than twice in a year was all the way back in 2012. The enigmatic champion only fought once each in 2016 and 2017, was out of boxing all of 2018 and didn’t appear to be the fighter he was before that long break earlier this year in his majority decision win over Josesito Lopez.

To be fair to the fighter, Thurman did suffer an elbow injury which required surgery after his title unifying split-decision win against Danny Garcia in March 2017. He also suffered a deep bone bruise to his left hand which led to the cancellation of a 2018 return bout against an opponent that was somewhat suspiciously never named.

To be even more fair to Thurman, at least in regards to this particular fight, Pacquiao hasn’t really been all that active in recent years either. But Pacquiao has 70 professional prizefights on his ledger, is ten years older than Thurman and has won world titles in eight different divisions.

It seems more reasonable that Pacquiao would be more selective about his fights these days, especially when you consider he was already a sure-fire Hall of Famer over a decade ago. Thurman, on the other hand, hasn’t even yet proved to be the best welterweight signed by Al Haymon, much less in the whole shebang.

Regardless, it’s a bit troubling that Thurman is seemingly unaware of how prolonged inactivity can negatively impact a fighter’s career. According to Thurman, in fact, he basically trained for his last fight on a spin bike at L.A. Fitness, and that was the reason, at least in Thurman’s mind, that Lopez was so competitive against him six months ago.

Obviously, Thurman knows he can’t do the same thing against Pacquiao. But the thing about not using a skill or a gift for a prolonged period of time is that it tends to recede in a person even while that person remains unaware. It’s entirely possible that Thurman has lost the best parts of his fighting ability and doesn’t even know it yet.

No one can ever really predict these types of things, but it will be interesting to see how things play out. If Pacquiao is suddenly old and frail, it won’t really matter how little Thurman has trained over the last couple of years. But if Pacquiao is anything like the fighter we saw against Broner and Matthysse, and Thurman comes into the fight looking like he did against Lopez, there’s no telling how bad things could get for the younger fighter.

All this to say that the only way to combat atrophy, whether it’s the inevitable kind that comes with getting older or the preventable kind that comes with not using something, is by staying active and engaged. As it stands at the present, it seems clear from the outside looking in that one fighter, Pacquiao, has done all he can do to be at his very best on Saturday night in Las Vegas, while the other, Thurman, has needlessly rolled the dice.

Use it or lose it. That’s what people say, but only when they’re still young enough to pick up their keys.

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3 Punch Combo: Scoping Out Teofimo vs Nakatani, Ajagba vs Demirezen and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — Boxing on ESPN+ returns this Friday with a card from the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, MD headlined by the fast-rising lightweight sensation Teofimo Lopez (13-0, 11 KO’s). Lopez will be facing the undefeated Masayoshi Nakatani (18-0, 12 KO’s) of Japan in a final IBF eliminator to become the mandatory challenger for champion Richard Commey (29-2, 26 KO’s). While Lopez is a known commodity to most boxing fans, the same cannot be said of Nakatani. So just who is this unheralded fighter from Japan and does he pose any threat to Lopez?

Nakatani, 30, turned pro in 2011 after an amateur career that by most accounts consisted of somewhere between 50 and 60 bouts. As a pro, he has never fought more than three times a year and never outside of Japan, but by managing to stay undefeated he has crept into the Top 15 rankings of three of the four major sanctioning bodies in the lightweight division.

Looking closer Nakatani’s resume, the overall level of his competition is highly questionable.  Probably his best win was in his eighth pro fight when he won a 12-round unanimous decision against Ricky Sismundo. Sismundo has sprung some surprises in the past and as a matter of fact gave undefeated rising contender Maxim Dadashev a scare earlier this year, but this is the same Ricky Sismundo who was defeated by Ruslan Madiyev last week in California, bringing his record to 35-14-3.

Other than Sismundo, the names on Nakatani’s resume are hardly recognizable.

Nakatani, an orthodox fighter, is tall for the lightweight division standing nearly six feet in height. As such, he likes to work behind the left jab. However, that jab is not very sharp or powerful, but used as more of a range finder and to set up his right hand. Sometimes he will follow the right with a left hook but his primary offense is the left jab followed by the right.

Nakatani is not that athletic or quick inside the ring. His hand speed is below average for the division. He is also not a powerful or heavy handed puncher. The knockouts are more from his level of competition than anything else.

Here are a few other notes on Nakatani based on my observations: He does not like to fight on the inside and will initiate clinches when his opponent closes the distance. And he has a habit of trying to avoid punches with his legs, often times pulling straight back with his hands down. He has gotten clipped quite a few times but fortunately for him those fighters that have done so have not possessed big punching power.

I actually do think Nakatani is the strongest opponent for Lopez to date. That being said, however, I do not think he will give Lopez much trouble. Teofimo may get frustrated some by Nakatani’s constant clinching on the inside, and he may get hit with a few range finding jabs, but expect another Lopez knockout here sometime in the first half of the fight.

Under The Radar Fight

The attention of the boxing world this week is going to be focused on the big welterweight pay-per-view title fight between Manny Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KO’s) and Keith Thurman (29-0, 22 KO’s). Also on the show is an intriguing heavyweight fight that is falling deep under the radar between a pair of 2016 Olympians in Efe Ajagba (10-0, 9 KO’s) and Ali Eren Demirezen (11-0, 10 KO’s).

Ajagba, 25, represented his native country of Nigeria in the Super Heavyweight division of the 2016 Olympics where he lost to Ivan Dychko in the quarterfinals. Since turning pro, he has really turned heads, building a reputation as a fearsome puncher.

Ajagba is a big imposing heavyweight. He stands 6’5” tall and possesses a massive 85-inch reach. Best described as an aggressive boxer puncher, he will press the action, often times behind a very stiff and powerful left jab from the orthodox stance. Very athletic for a man his size, he possesses above average hand speed for the heavyweight division. His best trait is his power; he possesses legitimate one punch knockout power in both fists. The natural tools are all there for Ajagba to potentially one day be a dominant force in the division.

But there are things Ajagba needs to work on, namely his defense. Right now, he lacks any sort of head movement and often poses in front of his opponents after punching them to admire his work. He hasn’t paid yet for his lack of attention to defense but that may change as his competition rises.

Demirezen, 29, represented Turkey in the Super Heavyweight division of the 2016 Olympics where he lost to Filip Hrgovic in his opening fight. Since turning pro he hasn’t had much fanfare, but has amassed quite an impressive early pro record while fighting mostly in Germany.

Though he may not have the imposing physique of Ajagba, Demirezen possesses some solid skills as well as some surprising athleticism. As a matter of fact, I’d go so far as to call him a poor man’s version of Andy Ruiz Jr.

Demirezen will look to apply pressure behind the left jab and work combinations with his quick hands behind that jab. He does not really possess one-punch power but is heavy handed and his punches can take a cumulative effect on his opponents. His best punch is a quick left hook to the body that he often lands with precision.

If physiques won a boxing match, this would be no contest. But as we saw with Joshua-Ruiz, physiques don’t always win. Ajagba will be favored and rightfully so, but Demirezen can fight. This is an interesting fight between two undefeated heavyweight prospects who were recent Olympians and one that I am very much looking forward to on Saturday.

Prospect Watch – Luis Arcon

 There is a lot that gets me excited about the future of the sport. Not only is the sport being broadcast like it never has before but we have many good prospects who are beaming with talent. So many good prospects, as a matter of fact, that some very talented young fighters are falling a bit under the radar. One such fighter is junior welterweight Luis Arcon who moved to 8-0 with 8 knockouts this past Friday with a third-round knockout of Mario Lozano.

Like many of today’s top prospects, Arcon has a strong amateur pedigree. His amateur background includes representing his native country of Venezuela in the 2016 Olympics.

Arcon, 27, turned pro in March of 2018 in Mexico. So far he has breezed through his competition though it must be noted that he hasn’t faced the toughest of challenges. But he has looked very good so far in his early pro career and has been flashing some incredible talent.

Fighting from the orthodox stance, Arcon likes to work behind a well-timed and very powerful left jab. His footwork is excellent and he often positions himself at the right angles to land combinations behind that jab. He possesses very fast hands and can often fire off a volley of power shots before his opponent can react.

And then there is the power. Perhaps this is what stands out most when watching Arcon on video. Granted, as noted earlier, the competition has not been the stiffest, but he has displayed devastating knockout power in both fists. His best punch is the left hook to the body which often has a paralyzing effect on his opposition.

With his amateur background, Arcon is ready to take the next step in his career. His game is polished and he possesses massive power in both of his hands. He belongs on all top prospect lists and has a bright future in this sport.

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