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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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Juan Francisco Estrada KOs Carlos Cuadras; Chocolatito Wins Too

David A. Avila

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WBC super flyweight world titlist Juan Francisco Estrada led a triumvirate of world title fights with a sizzling knockout victory over Mexican rival Carlos Cuadras to retain the world title and set up a future clash with former foe Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez who won his bout in the co-feature.

In front of a small Mexico City crowd Estrada (41-3, 28 KOs) proved he could defeat Cuadras (39-4-1, 27 KOs) again and did it emphatically to retain his title by knockout. There was no squabbling about scorecards in this clash like their first encounter in 2017 that ended with Estrada by decision.

It did not begin well for Estrada who endured Cuadras imposing his strength and speed behind a very strong left jab in the first three rounds. And then a sneaky right uppercut followed by a left hook sent Estrada down for the count in the third round.

But that only proved to be a spark for the fighter known as “El Gallo.”

Estrada realized he was falling behind, especially after the knockdown. Instead of counter-punching, the boxer from Sonora, Mexico began moving forward and became an aggressor. The dynamics of the fight changed suddenly.

Cuadras was hurt by a body shot in the sixth round and spent most of his time looking to avoid more contact. Estrada was in full control.

Despite the change in momentum no round was easy for either Mexican pugilist. Both exchanged freely always looking to end the fight with a big blow. Though each were hurt at times, neither showed signs of relenting.

From the eighth through the 10th round Cuadras seemed to find a second wind, or maybe it was desperation. The Mexico City native known as “Principe” fought possessed and managed to swing the momentum back toward his way for maybe two of those rounds.

In the 11th round both exchanged blows and Estrada connected with a left and right and down went Cuadras. The former world champion got up and was then floored with a counter right cross. He got up again a little shaky and Estrada attacked with a four-punch combination that forced referee Lupe Garcia to stop the fight for a technical knockout at 2:22 of the round.

Estrada retained the WBC super flyweight world title and will now meet Chocolatito.

Chocolatito

Nicaragua’s Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (50-2, 41 KOs) proved that an opponent like Mexico’s Israel Gonzalez (25-3) can be faster, taller, longer and younger but the Nicaraguan will find a way to beat you. He did that with a convincing unanimous decision win after 12 rounds to retain the WBA super flyweight world title.

Chocolatito will now probably meet Juan Francisco Estrada for a long-expected rematch. In their first encounter back in 2012, the Nicaraguan won by decision in Los Angeles.

Chocolatito looked dominant in his ability to deflect the speedy combinations by the young Mexican fighter Gonzalez. Nothing worked against the Nicaraguan who skillfully manipulated his way through barrage after barrage and connected inside with body shots and uppercuts.

It was a masterful performance.

JC Martinez

Mexico City’s Julio Cesar Martinez (17-1, 13 KOs) was defending his WBC flyweight world title against Moises Calleros (33-10-1) a virtual bantamweight weighing more than 7 pounds over the 112-pound flyweight limit. Even the extra weight could not help him.

In the first round, Martinez exploded with a blistering three-punch combination the sent Calleros to the floor dazed and confused. He beat the count and survived the round.

The second round wasn’t too kind for Calleros who became the punching bag for the quick-fisted Martinez who opened up with a nine-punch salvo that forced the referee Cesar Castanon to end the slaughter at 2:42 of the second round.

Other Bouts

Diego Pacheco (10-0, 8 KOs) used his height and reach to score a knockout with a snapping right uppercut to the chin of Mexico’s Juan Mendez (12-3-2) in a super middleweight fight. The end came at 2:02 of the second round with Mexican referee Rafael Saldana stopping the fight at the perfect moment.

Austin “Ammo” Williams (6-0, 5 KOs) powered through Esau Herrera (19-12-1) with body shots and combination punches to win by knockout in a middleweight battle. The end came at 1:36 of the fifth round.

Otha Jones III (5-0-1, 2 KOs) and Mexico City fighter Kevin Montiel (6-0-1) fought to a split draw after six rounds in a super featherweight clash. Both fighters started quickly with Jones having good rounds in the middle portion of the six-round fight, but he tired and allowed Montiel to rally from behind. The scores were split with 58-56 for Jones, 58-56 for Montiel and 57-57.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Fury’s Next Opponent, Lomachenko Redux and More

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Fury’s Next Opponent, Lomachenko Redux and More

It wasn’t long ago that Bob Arum was talking about potting Fury-Wilder III at Las Vegas’ new Allegiant Stadium in December. But Arum and his business partner Frank Warren have switched gears. Fury-Wilder III is on hold indefinitely.

According to Team Fury, Wilder invalidated the rematch clause in the Articles of Agreement for Wilder-Fury II by failing to activate it within the required time frame. That opened the door for Fury to choose a different opponent for his next fight. The frontrunners are reportedly Agit Kabayel and Carlos Takam. The fight is expected to come off in December in London.

Agit Kabayel, a 28-year-old German of Kurdish descent, is 20-0 (13 KOs). He came to the fore in November of 2017 when he upset dangerous but erratic Dereck Chisora, winning a 12-round decision at the Casino in Monte Carlo. In his most recent fight, in July of this year, he won a lopsided 10-round decision over an obscure opponent before a small gathering (per COVID policy) at a public park in Magdeburg.

Carlos Takam (39-5-1, 28 KOs) is best known for taking Anthony Joshua into the 10th frame before succumbing when they met three years ago this month at Principality Stadium in Wales. Takam was called in from the bullpen when Kubrat Pulev was forced to pull out with a shoulder injury.

In his most recent fight, the 39-year-old French-Cameroonian won a 10-round decision over unheralded Jerry Forrest at the MGM Bubble. As had been true when he was matched up against Joshua, Takam got the call when his opponent’s original opponent fell out. Takam replaced Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller who failed his pre-fight drug test, as was his custom.

In the words of fight writer Kenneth Friedman, regardless of whether it’s Kabayel (pictured) or Takam, “this will be a stay busy fight for Fury, and not one meant to be serious entertainment for the boxing public.”

We appreciate boxing writers who refuse to sugarcoat, but this strikes us as a bit harsh. Kabayel can fight more than a little, and should he get the call he may prove to be as pesky as Otto Wallin.

Lomachenko

It has come out that Vasiliy Lomachenko was damaged goods heading into his bout with Teofimo Lopez. He had a shoulder ailment that forced him to miss a week of training in the gym. This past Monday, Oct. 20, the noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal S. ElAttrache – the head team physician for the LA Dodgers and LA Rams – put Lomachenko under the knife.

Dr. ElAttrache told Yahoo! boxing writer Kevin Iole that Loma had a bruised rotator cuff and a chipped piece of cartilage and that the injury was in the same area in his right shoulder where Vasiliy suffered a torn labrum in his bout with Jorge Linares in May of 2018.

Lomachenko’s promoter Bob Arum said he had no knowledge that the Ukrainian was less than 100 percent. Neither did the bettors. Had the word got out, the wiseguys would have “steamed” the underdog.

We’re reminded of the 1995 fight at the Caesars Palace outdoor arena between Oscar De La Hoya and the late Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez. It leaked out that Hernandez had suffered a broken nose in his final sparring session and the odds favoring De La Hoya zoomed from 4/1 to 17/2.

In the sixth round, a punch from Oscar broke Hernandez’s fragile nose. The blood came down in torrents, Hernandez quit at the conclusion at the round, and the bookies took a bath.

From a betting standpoint, injuries are far more relevant in an individual sport such as boxing than in a team sport. A heavy sports gambler of our acquaintance, now deceased, invariably bet on an NFL team missing one or more key players. “The back-ups were All-Americans too,” he said by way of explanation.

The contract for Lomachenko-Lopez did not include a rematch clause. Teofimo has no interest in a rematch and has earned the right to move on. However, we would bet that most fight fans would love to see them go at it again. Lomachenko is expected to be fit to resume his regular training regimen in January.

Davis vs. Santa Cruz

“In what is being billed as a 50/50 fight….” reads a SHOWTIME press release heralding the forthcoming match between Gervonta “Tank” Davis and Leo Santa Cruz.

What an interesting choice of words. Who exactly is it that is billing this as a 50/50 fight? Certainly not the bookies. As of Friday, Oct. 23, Davis was anywhere from a minus-460 to minus-680 favorite at prominent betting establishments offshore. (For the sake of convenience, let’s just say that Gervonta is a 5/1 favorite.)

No, this is hardly a 50/50 fight, at least not in the view of the bet-takers who have no choice but to be transparent. But in defense of SHOWTIME, this is an intriguing contest between a brash upstart who has yet to taste defeat and a 32-year-old veteran who has suffered only one defeat in 39 starts, a defeat that he avenged.

Gervonta Davis (23-0, 22 KOs) will walk right through Leo Santa Cruz if he fights as well as he did against Jose Pedraza in 2017. But if “Tank” fights as he did later that year against Francisco Fonseca, Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs) will make it warm for him.

Davis vs. Santa Cruz will play out on Halloween before a live audience in the San Antonio Alamodome. It is the main attraction of a PPV event with a suggested list price of $74.99. It will be interesting to see what numbers it draws since the show goes head-to-head against an ESPN+ card featuring the U.S. debut of Naoya “Monster” Inoue.

Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions, which handles Tank Davis, has predicted that Davis will someday command “Mayweather money.” He bases this not merely on Davis’s talent, but on his large social media following. The 25-year-old Baltimorean has a big presence among the hip-hop crowd.

At stake in the Davis vs. Santa Cruz fight are a pair of WBA titles hitched to different weight classes. One of the belts at stake is the WBA lightweight title.

Hey, wait a second, didn’t Teofimo Lopez just win this very same title?

In Deadwood, South Dakota, one can visit the saloon where Wild Bill Hickock was shot dead while playing poker. Or one can walk down the street and visit a different saloon that claims to be the place where Hickock was shot dead while playing poker.

WBA president Gilberto Mendoza doesn’t own those two saloons, but he could have.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 110: Chocolatito, Lipinets and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 110: Chocolatito, Lipinets and More

In the middle of the former Aztec Empire, now called Mexico City, a series of super flyweight world championships will be staged for the entire world to see on Friday.

If this were the 1500s there would be blood. This is 2000, there will be knockouts.

Leading the charge WBC super flyweight titlist Juan Francisco Estrada (40-3, 27 KOs) defends against former champion Carlos Cuadras (39-3-1, 27 KOs) at Gimnasio TV Azteca in Mexico City. Also joining will be Nicaragua’s Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, the WBA super flyweight world champ. DAZN will stream the card live.

Both Estrada and Cuadras want another crack at Chocolatito.

This is the second time around for the Mexican fighters. Estrada won their first encounter when they met at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. Cuadras just could not pull the trigger. Blame it on Estrada.

Cuadras, 33, has more to lose than just consciousness. The fighter known as “Principe” will be fighting in his hometown. That’s bad for business to lose in from of your home boys especially if you talk as much smack as Cuadras.

Northern Mexico’s Estrada, now 30, handily defeated Cuadras three years ago but views the Mexico City native as a stepping stone to his true target Chocolatito. The fighter known as “Gallo” wants revenge.

Back in 2012, in the city of Angels, “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Estrada met at the old Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. That arena no longer exists but the memories of their encounter blazed its way to most fight fans brain cells. Although under-publicized, it was one of the best fights of that decade.

Nobody knew much about Estrada at that time, but Gonzalez was in the middle of a triumphant run toward becoming the best recognized fighter “pound for pound” in the world. He would reach it against Cuadras of all fighters. But against Estrada the Nicaraguan master fighter nearly was toppled.

The several thousand fans in attendance knew they had witnessed a classic. Many wanted to see a rematch. If both win on Friday, it’s likely that rematch will take place early next year.

Chocolatito

Gonzalez (49-2, 41 KOs) meets Israel Gonzalez (25-3, 11 KOs) of Los Cabos, Mexico. Many fans thought Chocolatito was done when he lost twice to Thailand’s Sor Rungvisai. It was the knockout loss that seemed to be the clincher. But he found a solution training in the desert sands of Coachella, California and now he’s back stronger than ever.

Chocolatito ripped the WBA world title away from Khalid Yafai last February and that left fans speechless. But at 33 how much is left for this 115-pound warrior?

What better place than Mexico City to discover who emerges from the smoke?

It was here in Mexico City, formerly known as Tenochtitlan, that the Aztec empire ruled over much of North and Central America. Battles were held constantly just for practice. True story. The Aztecs would have practice wars to keep up their killing skills and lives would be lost. It still remains one of the world’s greatest fight capitals.

Another bout features WBC flyweight world titlist Julio Cesar Martinez (16-1, 12 KOs) the fiery Mexican City fighter defending his throne against Moises Callero (33-9-1, 17 KOs).

The card on Friday night will be a strong one. Don’t miss it. It all begins at 4 p.m. PT on DAZN.

Showtime

Former super lightweight titlist Sergey Lipinets (16-1, 12 KOs) moves up a weight division and battles Canada’s Custio Clayton (18-0, 12 KOs) for the interim IBF welterweight title at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. Showtime will televise.

Lipinets, who trains in Los Angeles, has long sought another title shot at super lightweight and now heads into the welterweight realm and finds himself facing a Canadian fighter. You never know how good these guys are until they step in the boxing ring.

Also, on the same card, undefeated Xavier Martinez (15-0, 11 KOs) meets former world champion Claudio Marrero (24-4, 17 KOs) in a 12-round super featherweight match. Martinez, 22, may not be ready for the super slick Marrero but the Californian hasn’t had much trouble so far.

Fights to Watch

Thursday Oct. 22, UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Luis Torres (8-0) vs Orlando Zepeda (9-1).

Fri. Oct. 23, DAZN, 4 p.m. Roman Gonzalez (49-2) vs Israel Gonzalez (25-3); Juan Francisco Estrada (40-3) vs Carlos Cuadras (39-3-1); and Julio Cesar Martinez (16-1) vs Moises Calleros (33-9-1).

Fri. Oct. 23, Telemundo, 11:30 p.m. Belmar Preciado (20-3-1) vs Rodolfo Hernandez (30-9-1).

Sat. Oct. 24, Showtime 7 p.m. Sergey Lipinets (16-1) vs Custio Clayton (18-0).

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