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When Life Imitated Art: The Birth of the Legend of Arturo Gatti

Bernard Fernandez




In retrospect, the timing was eerily appropriate. Less than 24 hours after Arturo “Thunder” Gatti announced himself as his generation’s most compelling action fighter, Braveheart, a film about William Wallace, the legendary, late 13th century Scottish warrior, took the Best Picture Oscar at the 68th annual Academy Awards.

Nor was that the only applicable movie analogy after the nearly blinded Gatti’s epic sixth-round knockout of Wilson Rodriguez on March 23, 1996 – to be technically accurate, very early on March 24, considering that the fight, the second installment of HBO’s recently launched Boxing After Dark series, ended at 12:40 a.m. in the Eastern time zone. Upon entering his dressing room at Madison Square Garden, Gatti, his face a lumpy mess, turned around and shouted, to no one in particular, a familiar catch-phrase from Rocky, the fictional tale of a never-say-die boxer which was named Best Picture of 1977.

“Yo, Adrian, I did it!” screamed an exuberant Gatti, just 22 days shy of his 24th birthday and possibly unaware that his promising ring career had just crossed over into a different dimension.

“That was the transitional fight that took Gatti from being a budding attraction and a champion (the back-from-the-brink conquest of Rodriguez was his first defense of his IBF junior lightweight title) to being a cult figure,” Lou DiBella, now a promoter but then the senior vice president of HBO Sports, said when contacted for his thoughts on a slugfest that became an instant classic, one of many authored by a fighter who demonstrated time and again he was always ready, even eager, to go down into the trenches.

“There’s no question that fight changed everything. It was a Rocky movie, the most dramatic fight I’ve ever seen to this day. I’m not going to say it’s the best fight I’ve ever seen, but it certainly was the most dramatic. The myth and legend of Arturo Gatti was born that night.”

Pat Lynch, Gatti’s manager, agrees with DiBella that the Rodriguez bout represented a sea change for his Italian-born, Montreal-reared, Jersey City-based fighter.

“There were a few people who knew how entertaining and exciting Arturo could be, but that’s the one that really put him on the map because it was televised by HBO and a lot of people got to see it,” Lynch recalled. “He had shown signs of being that guy early on, in a fight against Leon Bostic (winning an eight-round majority decision on Jan. 8, 1994, in Catskill, N.Y.). I remember that fight vividly. I was walking back to the dressing room when Al Gavin (a veteran cutman) made a sign with his hands as if to say, ‘That kid’s got ‘em (cojones) this big.’ That was the kind of throw-down war that Arturo came to be known for, but his coming-out party was definitely the Wilson Rodriguez fight.”

It is curious then that Gatti-Rodriguez has become, if not exactly forgotten, a somewhat lesser entry in Gatti’s thick file of unforgettable trials by combat. Ask fight fans what they most remember about Gatti – who was just 37 when he died under mysterious circumstances in Brazil on July 11, 2009 — and they’re apt to cite his three bouts with Micky Ward, two of which were won by Gatti. Although Gatti was a participant in three Fights of the Year as selected by The Ring magazine (1997, KO5 of Gabriel Ruelas; 1998, L, SD10 to Ivan Robinson and 2002, L, MD10 to Micky Ward), his demolition derby with Rodriguez was aced out for 1996 Fight of the Year, understandably given its more consequential nature, by Evander Holyfield’s 11th round stoppage of Mike Tyson.

“I think it’s fair to say the trilogy with Micky Ward is the defining memory of Gatti in the ring,” said Larry Merchant, the longtime color commentator for HBO boxing telecasts who was at ringside for Gatti-Rodriguez. “At the time Gatti fought Rodriguez we knew he was an exciting brawler, but given the circumstances – it was just the second Boxing After Dark show – and the theatrical drama of that fight, it’s a part of his legacy, although maybe not as much as his fights with Ward.”

It’s also fair to say that Gatti was not exactly an unknown commodity when he squared off against Rodriguez. Even before he wrested the IBF 130-pound title from Tracy Harris Patterson on a 12-round unanimous decision on Dec. 15, 1995, the ruggedly handsome, tri-lingual Gatti had been identified as a potential superstar with the kind of crossover appeal that would find favor with fringe and even non-boxing fans. Integrated Sports International, a sports management company that represented, among others, Oscar De La Hoya, the NBA’s Hakeem Olajuwon and NFL’s Steve Young and Drew Bledsoe, envisioned Gatti as a key addition to its lineup of athletes who could also serve as commercial spokesmen.

DiBella’s first Boxing After Dark telecast, the main event of which had been WBO super bantamweight champion Marco Antonio Barrera’s 12th-round stoppage of Kennedy McKinney, had been an aesthetic and ratings smash, with Barrera going down once and McKinney four times. Hoping to build on that momentum, DiBella wanted to pair Gatti with Wilfredo Vazquez, a former WBA super bantamweight and featherweight champion who had more name recognition than Rodriguez, a 30-year-old native of the Dominican Republic based in Spain who was the IBF’s No. 2-ranked junior lightweight but had never fought in the United States. Lynch lobbied for Rodriguez, whom he incorrectly believed would pose a somewhat easier test for Gatti after he had gone 12 grueling rounds with Patterson only three months earlier.

“I wanted Vazquez because he was the bigger name,” DiBella reasoned. “I had no problem with Rodriguez. I thought it was a good fight. But I was trying to build a series. We did incredibly well with the ratings for Barrera-McKinney and I wanted to make sure we had a follow-up show that was attractive, so we doubled down with Junior Jones-Orlando Canizales as the lead-in. We had three of the best lower weight-class fighters in the world, and two of them were fighting each other.”

Jones and Canizales held up their end with Jones, a Brooklyn native, winning a minor super bantamweight title on a unanimous, 12-round decision to the delight of the announced attendance of 3,698 (about 800 below capacity) in the Theater at Madison Square Garden. It might have been a tough act to follow, considering that one well-regarded boxing writer had labeled Gatti-Rodriguez as a “gimme” for Gatti, who went in with a 24-1 record and 20 KOs, including 14 in the first round.

Some gimme. Tagged with laser-like accuracy by Rodriguez’s stiff jabs and overhand rights, Gatti returned to his corner after the first round with a puffy left eye and a mouse beginning to form under his right. It got worse for him in the second round, when he was floored with a three-punch combination. He was up at the count of three and, as was his custom, fought back gamely, refusing to clinch, but the condition of both of his eyes was rapidly deteriorating.

Fortunately for Gatti, one of the best cutmen in the business, Joe Souza, had just joined his support crew and was proving to be a valuable addition as he feverishly worked his magic. Souza’s handiwork was evident when the ring physician examined Gatti after both the third and fourth rounds, with Gatti five times correctly answering how many fingers the doctor was holding up. But Gatti knew, as did trainer Hector Roca, that his field of vision would soon be too impaired for him to be allowed to fight on.

In typical Gatti fashion, each time he appeared to inch close to a loss by stoppage, he would launch a counterattack that bought him precious seconds. Despite being docked a penalty point by referee Wayne Kelly in the fifth round for repeated low blows, Gatti ripped a left hook to the liver that put Rodriguez down for a six count in the fifth round. It was a harbinger of what was to follow in the sixth, when, with Rodriguez’s right hand held low to protect his injured side, Gatti went upstairs with another hook that landed flush on the jaw, the challenger collapsing onto his back where he was counted out at the 2:16 mark. He would remain prone, unable to rise, for over a minute.

“We’ve been billing Arturo Gatti as one of the most exciting fighters in the world,” said his promoter, Dino Duva. “I just wish he wouldn’t make it this exciting.”

Kelly was asked how close he had come to awarding a TKO victory to Rodriguez, who was ahead by three points on two of the official scorecards and was behind by one point on the other. “I was close to stopping it in the third,” he said. “But I’ve worked with Gatti before and know he’s very resilient.”

Gatti, of course, went on to become the franchise fighter in Atlantic City, so much so that Lynch observed that “People planned their vacations around going there for the full weekend when Arturo fought there. His fights were that kind of must-see event.

“I pulled up to Bally’s one time and the bell kid came out to get all our stuff. He saw the corner jackets and the robe that were in my car and he asked, `You’re with Team Gatti?’ I said yeah. He goes, `We love it when Gatti comes to town. Everybody makes money.’ And it was true. The taxi drivers made money, there were more restaurant reservations made. His following in Atlantic City just grew and grew. He had a cult following like you’d see anywhere the Grateful Dead played.”

Rodriguez wasn’t so fortunate. He did not get a rematch with Gatti and had only one more meaningful fight, a unanimous decision loss to Angel Manfredy, before retiring in 1999 with a 48-11-3 record and 37 KOs. Perhaps Gatti-Rodriguez has lost some of its original luster because Rodriguez did not rise in prominence as did Ward, whose three-bout passion play with Gatti has made him a more or less equal partner for posterity’s sake.

Gatti was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2013, an honor more than a few pundits believe is undeserved because he never quite made it to the top tier of superstardom that owes in equal parts to popularity and success inside the ropes. DiBella would argue that Gatti did deserve enshrinement for the excitement he so frequently generated, even if his skills never approached those of De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr., both of whom defeated him with relative ease.

“Gatti was never a pound-for-pound guy,” DiBella acknowledged. “If you were a warrior and had a good night, you could rumble with Gatti. But he was an incredible fighter, and you can’t rewrite him into Floyd Mayweather. He was just a blood-and-guts warrior. Gatti wasn’t really happy if he didn’t get into a war.”

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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Pernell Whitaker, Short List All Time Great

Bernard Fernandez




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




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




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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