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Canelo Checkmates Jacobs in Another `Chess Match’ (Translation: Rather Boring)

Bernard Fernandez

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Canelo vs Jacobs

Gennady Golovkin was in the house, of course. So was Demetrius Andrade, as well as a raft of other boxing celebrities and famous non-fighters in the sellout crowd of 20,203 in Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena. The biggest of big-time boxing always packs the sport’s most prestigious venues, and Saturday night’s  middleweight unification matchup of Canelo Alvarez and Daniel “Miracle Man” Jacobs was hyped, with ample justification, as the biggest bout of 2019 to date.  Who knows? Maybe the fight – Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 KOs) retained his WBC and WBA middleweight titles, while annexing the IBF version held by Jacobs (35-3, 29 KOs) on a unanimous decision — will still merit that designation at year’s end, particularly if heavyweight kingpins Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder continue to glare and preen at one another from afar, as is likely to be the case with welterweight superstars Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr.

But for the beautiful people who paid premium prices to be there live and in person, as well as the many DAZN subscribers who no doubt wanted to believe that the action in the ring would match their inflated expectations, what was actually delivered, while technically proficient and entertaining enough when framed by that perspective, was somehow emotionally uninvolving. Perhaps that even was the case for obsessed Mexican and Mexican-American fans who might pay good money to watch their idol, Alvarez, chew bubble gum.

Boxing is indeed the sweet science, but there is a reason relatively limited but relentless and risk-taking action fighters like the late Arturo Gatti and Matthew Saad Muhammad generated electricity as if they were human versions of Hoover Dam. Ask any of the paying customers filing out of the T-Mobile Arena if they’d rather have seen an updated version of Hagler vs. Hearns or another pugilistic chess match and the overwhelming sentiment would be for what Golovkin likes to refer to as a “big drama show,” the kind frequently promised but only occasionally produced.

For a fight, particularly at an elite level, to be described as a “chess match” is code for it being, well, a tad boring. The last time chess commanded truly global attention among non-partisans was in 1972, when quirky American genius Bobby Fischer ended 24 years of Soviet domination of the world championship by defeating Russia’s Boris Spassky, 12½-8½ in a marathon contest in Reykjavik, Iceland, that stretched from July 11 through Aug. 31. Even then, however, the intensity of interest was not so much rooted in the now-deceased Fischer’s brilliant and unconventional play as in the U.S. vs. USSR aspects of a confrontation steeped with Cold War connotations.

Whenever a boxing match is described in chess terms, it’s usually time to rummage through the attics of our minds for the tortoise shell glasses, pocket protectors and bow ties that are the universal symbols of Big Bang Theory geekdom. But there was blow-by-blow announcer Brian Kenny, after the 12th round had concluded and waiting for the official decision to be announced, advising viewers that it was “a chess match early on,” and color commentator Sergio Mora adding that “when you have that much power and that much skill, it’s going to be a chess match.”

Golovkin (38-1-1, 34 KOs), who returns to action on June 8 in a stay-busy fight against Canadian mystery man Steve Rolls (19-0, 10 KOs) at Madison Square Garden, professed to be unimpressed by what he’d seen of Canelo, against whom he is 0-1-1, and Jacobs, whom he defeated on a close unanimous decision on March 18, 2017.

“Frankly, I was expecting much more,” GGG said, dismissively. “It was just like a sparring match. It was a little boring because they’re both high-level boxers. They should give more to the audience. I didn’t see any emotion. I didn’t see anything special.”

To be fair, there were some decent exchanges that never were sustained long enough to appreciably elevate spectators’ pulse rates. But it was Alvarez who moved his pawns, knights and bishops around with greater efficiency, well enough to get the nod by a 116-112 margin on judge Glenn Feldman’s scorecard, which seemed about right. Cohorts Steve Weisfeld and Dave Moretti had it closer, maybe too much so, at 115-113, suggesting a nail-biter that wasn’t borne out by the punch statistics, which showed Canelo connecting on 188 of 466, a solid 40.3 percent, and 120 of 204 power shots, an even more impressive 45.5 percent. Jacobs – who didn’t do himself any favors by too often switching back and forth between orthodox to southpaw stances, proving only that he doesn’t do it as well as, say, Terence Crawford – had corresponding figures of  131 of 649 (20.2 percent) and 89 of 309 (24.8 percent).

Did Alvarez, who is third on most knowledgeable observers’ pound-for-pound lists behind Vasiliy Lomachenko and Crawford, do enough to make the jump up to No. 1? Probably not off of this fight, but the red-haired Mexican national hero is only 28 and has a compendium of weapons, most notably superior counterpunching ability and excellent body work, and there are times when, when he gets an opponent in trouble, that he has shown good finishing instincts. And as the unified middleweight titlist who also holds a super middleweight belt (the secondary version from the WBA), his career options are numerous and attractive.

Will Canelo try to fully consolidate the 160-pound division by fighting the winner of the June 28 bout between WBO champ Andrade (27-0, 17 KOs) and Poland’s Maciej Sulecki (28-1, 11 KOs) in Andrade’s hometown of Providence, R.I.?  Mix it up for a third time with Golovkin, which probably is the highest-interest fight out there available to him, particularly since there are more than a few GGG supporters who believe he deserved to win one or both of the two previous meetings?  Or move back up to super middle, where he could begin another unification process against WBC champion Anthony Dirrell (33-1-1, 24 KOs), IBF titlist Caleb Plant (18-0, 10 KOs), WBO ruler Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez (40-0, 26 KOs) or WBA “super” super middleweight champ Callum Smith (25-0, 18 KOs)?

“I just want the biggest challenge,” Alvarez said after he’d whittled down the larger Jacobs. “That’s all I want.”

That seemingly suggested another pairing with Golovkin, which is not of paramount concern at this moment, but something that Canelo was not prepared to discount altogether. “For me, we’re done,” he said of a rivalry that has not been settled to everyone’s satisfaction. “But if the people want another fight, we’ll do it again and I’ll beat him again.

“That’s why I’m here. That what I was born for – to fight, to defend what’s mine. I’ll fight anyone.”

For Jacobs, the future is a bit murkier. Although he officially weighed in at the middleweight limit of 160 pounds, the cancer survivor from Brooklyn came in at 173.6 pounds at 8 o’clock the morning of the fight, costing him $250,000 per pound for violating a contractual clause that stipulated he could not rehydrate to more than 170 at that time. It is entirely reasonable to believe that Jacobs purposefully decided to take the nearly million-buck hit to his purse to come at the higher weight, presumably improving his chances of pulling off the upset.

“I feel like I gave enough tonight to get the victory,” Jacobs said, the standard response of nearly every fighter who loses on points and isn’t beaten to a bloody pulp. His promoter with Matchroom Sport USA, Eddie Hearn, raised the possibility that Jacobs might be better served going up to super middle. But at least Hearn didn’t go far enough to say that the decision was a miscarriage of justice.

“I thought it was a good fight, a very technical fight, cagey at times,” Hearn said. “I  thought Danny started a little bit too slow. I had him winning five rounds. But to beat Canelo, you got to do more. At times (Jacobs) looked flat. Maybe he didn’t have as much spring in his step he might have at a higher weight.”

Chess matches can be like that.

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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