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Spence and Garcia Concur that to be the Best, You Have to Beat the Best

Bernard Fernandez

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Spence & Garcia

There is a familiar saying, the originator of which no one seems to know, that holds that good and big always beats good and small. And it’s true in most forms of athletic competition, especially in team sports, where, all other things being equal, superior height (basketball) and heft (football) tend to reward obvious size advantages.

Given that admittedly imperfect rule of thumb, it stands to reason that the odds favor IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. (24-0, 21 KOs), a natural 147-pounder who stands 5-foot-9½ with a 72-inch reach compared to Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs), who is 5-6 with a 68-inch reach. Spence, who at 29 is also two years younger than Garcia, is the -363 choice in some sports books, meaning bettors would have to risk $363 to win $100. Garcia is +251, which would reward his backers with a $251 payoff on a $100 wager.

The gap in those numbers can and very likely will shrink when the two undefeated and rightfully celebrated fighters square off Saturday night in the Fox Sports Pay Per View main event at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Although Spence, from the Dallas suburb of Desoto, is nominally the hometown guy, many spectators among a live turnout approaching and possibly even surpassing 40,000 are Mexican or Mexican-American and are apt to follow their hearts by putting their cash on Garcia, a life-long Cowboys fan (as is Spence) even though he grew up in Oxnard, Calif., and now resides in Moreno Valley, Calif.

Then again, maybe Garcia’s fans won’t be swayed so much by ethnic pride as by cold, calculating reason. There is another saying, also unattributed, that holds that big and good doesn’t necessarily beat great and small. Even if he comes up, well, a bit short in his ambitious bid to unseat Spence, the likelihood is that Garcia, still the WBC lightweight titlist as well as the former WBO featherweight and super featherweight and IBF super lightweight champ, already has done enough to guarantee his eventual enshrinement in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Spence, who would seem to be headed toward his own IBHOF induction, is not yet a lock to have his ticket punched to Canastota, N.Y. He probably is a few key victories shy of matching Garcia’s credentials as a ring immortal, which could explain his rationale for taking a fight some would say is as much a risk on his part as it is for Garcia. If Spence defeats Garcia, and even if he knocks him out, will he hear from skeptics claiming that all he did was to beat up an undeniably gifted but much smaller man?

Almost everyone agrees that Garcia, to his credit, is daring to be great by jumping up two weight classes to mix it up with arguably the top welterweight in the world. Spence’s participation, on the other hand, might owe more to the fact that his oft-stated objective — to fully unify the title at 147 — has been blocked at every turn, at least to date, which had the effect of steering him toward Garcia. As consolation prizes go, this one is about as good as anyone could have hoped for.

“I doubt (a fight with) Keith Thurman (the WBA “super” champion) would’ve happened at the Cowboys stadium, or me and Terence Crawford (the WBO champ) would’ve happened at the Cowboys stadium,” Spence reasoned. “I’m just grateful to be fighting at home, on Fox Pay Per View and against a great opponent like Mikey Garcia. It was an easy fight to make, too. He basically called me out. It’s a real good fight. I’m happy with it.”

He’s also happy because he believes, as does his trainer, Derrick James, that he will win for reasons that go beyond physical dimensions. On fight night the power-punching southpaw is absolutely certain he will not resemble Jess Willard, battered senseless by the much smaller but much better Jack Dempsey, or John Ruiz, made to look foolish by the much smaller but clearly more talented Roy Jones Jr. Spence and James have as much confidence in Spence’s impressive array of skills as Garcia has in his own well-stocked arsenal.

“I believe this fight, from my perspective, not only establishes Errol as a superstar, it enhances his status as a superstar, which I believe he already is,” James said. “If you go by social media, more people talk about Errol than just about any other fighter in the world. They speculate about him fighting this guy, that guy, some other guy. So, yeah, he’s already there. Anthony Joshua is a top seller, Canelo Alvarez is a top seller and Errol Spence Jr. is a top seller. This fight will prove beyond any doubt that he’s one of the top dogs in boxing.”

It is Spence’s contention that while other holders of welterweight titles, as well as big-name former champs, pay lip service to sharing the ring with him, they tend to be conveniently unavailable when it’s time to strike a deal. James claimed it has been that way since Spence journeyed to Sheffield, England, hometown of then-IBF welter champ Kell Brook, and wrested his title on a brutal, 11th-round stoppage on May 27, 2017. Brook, forced to take a knee in both the 10th and 11th rounds, came away with the orbital bone in his left eye shattered.

“Any trainer wants to have a complete fighter, someone who has a lot of strengths and no obvious weaknesses,” James said. “From the time I started training Errol, I asked him what the weakest part of his game was. Because we were going to build that part up. That’s what we did with his defense, and it’s why I think Errol is such a complete fighter. He has great defense now to go with great offense and great counterpunching. He’s the whole package.”

Garcia begs to differ, which is why he successfully lobbied his father, Eduardo, and brother-trainer, Robert, a former IBF junior lightweight titleholder, to go after Spence when the more prudent course might have been to take one or two less-daunting, welcome-to-the-neighborhood bouts at welterweight.

“He’s the best right now in the division,” Mikey Garcia said of his impatience to get it on with Spence. “I want to make a statement. I want to make a mark, and you know I have to do that against the best.

“I believe I’m a better fighter overall. When it comes to footwork, I think I have the better footwork. When it comes to speed, I think I have better speed. When it comes to defense, I have better defense. With timing, I have better timing. The only thing he has going for him that’s apparent is the size, height, weight and reach. I’ve always said I’m better than him. Not by a lot, but just enough to beat him.”

What about the perceived advantage for Spence in power, especially against a smaller guy who might not be able to bring his own formidable punch with him up two weight classes?

“A lot of people underestimate my power when they face me,” Garcia said. “They don’t see my physical size as a threat. But you know they feel the power once we’re in the ring and I definitely change their minds.”

BIG NAMES, BIG CROWDS IN `BIG D’

It is not generally known, but Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones once was a boxing promoter. In 1984, five years before he purchased the NFL’s most globally recognizable brand, he staged a fight card in Little Rock, Ark., that drew 2,500 spectators.

Perhaps it is no surprise then that early blueprints for Jones’ Xanadu of a football palace, now known as AT&T Stadium, included a layout for boxing that placed the ring on the blue star at the 50-yard line.

Jones, 76, still likes to involve himself with fights and fighters, only on a far more grandiose scale. AT&T Stadium, widely known as “Jerry’s World,” will be the site of its fourth major card Saturday night when IBF welterweight titlist Errol Spence Jr. and four-division ruler Mikey Garcia throw down in a matchup of undefeated champions that is expected to draw 45,000 or more spectators.

The first time AT&T Stadium, then known as Cowboys Stadium, welcomed a fight crowd was on March 13, 2010, when Manny Pacquiao retained his WBO welterweight title on a wide unanimous decision over Joshua Clotttey, a bout that had a paid attendance of 36,371 and overall turnout of 41,843. Pacquiao was the draw again when he outpointed Antonio Margarito, also on a unanimous decision, to win the vacant WBC super welterweight title. That fight drew another strong crowd of 41,734.

Now Spence-Garcia is out to surpass the stadium attendance record of 51,240 for a boxing match, set on Sept. 17, 2016, when hugely popular Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez lifted Liam Smith’s WBO super welterweight belt on a ninth-round knockout.

DAN JENKINS WAS DEAD SOLID PERFECT IN PRINT

It has been my unpleasant duty over the years to bid farewell to any number of noted boxing figures, including writers, who lost the scuffle with Father Time to which we all eventually fall victim.

Legendary sports writer Dan Jenkins was not a fight guy; he primarily wrote about college football and golf for Sports Illustrated, among other publications. But greatness should be acknowledged, and the Texas-bred Jenkins, who was 89 when he passed away on Thursday, was the author of 23 books, as well as the father of Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins, whose journalistic chops obviously were passed along by her dad.

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

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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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