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Boxing’s Best P4P List Continues to Change

Ted Sares

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Crawford & Lomanchenko

 1.  Vasiliy “Hi-Tech” Lomachenko. Lightweight 13-1-0 (10 KOs): The ageless Lomachenko recently KOd a normally difficult-to-KO Anthony Crolla but injured his middle knuckle in the process. The injury may have revealed the only weakness this uniquely skilled fighter has; namely, being injury prone. That said, sooner or later he will need to fight Gervonta “Tank” Davis and/or Teofimo Lopez to cement his status as Number One. An expected win over England’s Luke Campbell in an expected title bout won’t accomplish that.

2. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Middleweight 52-1-2 (34 KOs): A grizzled, albeit unmarked veteran with an old school record but still young (28) puts him firmly in the second spot and a red hair away from number one. His two close matches with Gennady Golovkin answered many questions. Undefeated Rocky Fielding was quickly dispatched and his subsequent workmanlike decision over a huge Danny Jacobs affirmed his all-around skills, especially defensive ones. The A-Side who now calls the shots, he is fast approaching “legendary” status in Mexico and that’s some status.

3. Terence “Bud” Crawford Jr. Welterweight 35-0-0 (26 KOs): Many think he should be number one, but others think he is caught up with having no viable opposition. A match with Errol Spence would be a mega fight and would answer the lingering question as to who is better. Meanwhile, stoppage wins over a taunting Jose Benavidez, Jr and aging Amir Khan have solidified his stature.

4. Earl The Truth” Spence Jr. Welterweight 25-0-0 (21 KOs): His UD over Mikey Garcia was so dominant some thought he might have been holding back in the last two rounds. Whatever the case, his upstairs-downstairs work is something to behold and hiding behind that innocent All-American exterior is a mean streak once the bell rings. Bud Crawford should be in his destiny and then we will know, and if Spence should win, a fight with Canelo could be as BIG as big can get.

5. Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. Middleweight 38-1-1 (34 KOs): New trainer Johnathan Banks hopes to turbo charge Gennady while Father Time lurks. Little-known Canadian fighter Steve Rolls will be his next opponent and most likely his next victim, but GGG will need a bigger scalp to move up on this list. Meanwhile, Rolls says, “When I beat Golovkin, that will be life-changing money…And once I’m victorious, it’s going to be like hitting the Super Lotto.” Uh huh.

6. Oleksandr Usyk. Moving to Heavyweight 16-0-0 (11 KOs): Another outstanding Ukrainian fighter associated with Egis Klimas management and who possesses superb technical skills. Unfortunately, his first heavyweight test against former world title challenger Carlos Takam has been cancelled due to a bicep injury, but his most recent crunching KO of Tony Bellew keeps him securely on the list. “He’s a great big champion and I lost to a fine man,” Bellew said of Usyk after their fight.

7. Naoya “Monster” Inoue. Bantamweight 17-0-0 (15 KOs): This practitioner of shock-type knockouts has moved up on the list and is becoming extremely popular among global boxing fans, as he has produced highlight reel material in almost every fight. He will be “tested” by undefeated Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-0) shortly in Glasgow, Scotland, and if things go as expected, he likely will become a global road warrior showcasing his exciting stuff outside of Japan. In other words, follow the money.

8. Oleksandr “The Nail” Gvozdyk. Light heavyweight 17-0-0 (14 KOs): He did not impress in his last fight against Doudou Ngumbo but that was more the fault of Ngumbo than “The Nail,” as the native of the Democratic Republic Of The Congo proved to be a runner and ran himself into a bad leg injury. The skilled Ukrainian—almost a redundancy in boxing– is now trained by Teddy Atlas and the two seem to have a positive symbiosis going. The light heavyweight division is chockfull of Eastern European talent and as the best fight the best in exciting matchups, it will sort itself out.

9. Anthony “AJ” Joshua. Heavyweight 22-0-0 (20 KOs): Continues to be the best of the heavyweights but Tyson Fury is breathing down his neck. His last win over Alexander Povetkin was impressive but his next fight is with Andy Ruiz Jr and the risk -reward is not in AJ’s favor as he will be a prohibitive favorite. However, like Mayweather Jr, and Canelo, Joshua continues to be an “event fighter,” providing his opponents the rare opportunity to earn an early retirement payday.

10. Artur Beterbiev. Light Heavyweight 14-0 (14 KOs):This heavy-handed Russian who fights out of Canada and has a savvy team behind him has stopped each of his 14 opponents and is building toward a showdown with comebacking Sergey Kovalev who most recently avenged his shocking loss to Eleider Alvarez. Scott Christ of BLH nails it: “Beterbiev is — how should I put this? — an educated mauler with terrific close range power.”

Others

There is no room for sentiment in boxing. Thus, lists can be unforgiving and that’s the case with lightweight Mikey Garcia (39-1, 30 KOs) and junior bantamweight Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (47-5-1, 41 KOs) who lost in their last fights.

Fast ascending super lightweight Regis Prograis has the right blend of talent and charisma to make a big splash, as does Teofimo Lopez.  Light heavyweight Dmitry Bivol lacks the charisma but not the talent.

Manny Pacquiao fans will demand to know why he is not on the list, but if he fights and beats Keith Thurman, he will quickly earn a spot. Tevin Farmer, Gervonta Davis, Shakur Stevenson, the Charlo twins, Demetrius Andrade, Jarrett Hurd, and Keith Thurman have Americans piqued with interest. Billy Joe Saunders can make waves but he must stay out of trouble. Talented Callum Smith and Josh Warrington have hit the scene. Thai minimum weight Wanheng Menayothin is 52-0 and it’s getting more difficult to ignore him as he continues to win and win.

Juan Francisco Estrada (39-3) has Mexican fans excited as do Daniel Roman, Miguel Berchelt, Rey Vargas, and Leo Santa Cruz.

An argument could be made for the inclusion of Pinoy slickster Donnie Nietes (42-1-5), but then an argument could be made for his exclusion.

Lists are subject to sharp criticism and attack and this one is no exception. Have at it.

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active full power lifters and Strongman competitors. He is a lifetime member of Ring 10, and Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA).

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Michael Coffie vs. Darmani Rock Smacks of Joe Joyce vs. Daniel Dubois

Arne K. Lang

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Michael-Coffie-vs-Darmani-Rock-Smacks-of-Joe-Joyce-vs-Daniel-Dubois

Although it wasn’t a world title fight, the match between Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois which took place in London on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, attracted a lot of buzz. Only one heavyweight bout in 2020 was more eagerly anticipated, that being the rematch in February between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder.

Joyce vs. Dubois was that rare pairing of two undefeated heavyweights who were roughly at the same stage of their career. Dubois was 15-0 (14 KOs) heading in; Joyce was 11-0 (10).

And that brings us to the crossroads fight on Jan. 30 at the LA Shrine Expo between Darmani Rock (17-0, 12 KOs) and Michael Coffie (11-0, 8 KOs). Unlike Joyce vs. Dubois, this is not a well-marinated showdown, but yet there are some parallels, most notably it’s a match between unbeaten heavyweights in which the victor will undoubtedly make a big jump in public esteem and the loser, more than likely, will be pushed back into the shadows.

There was a big age gap in the Joyce-Dubois fight. The 35-year-old Joyce was the older man by 12 years. Likewise, Rock vs. Coffie features a young old-timer vs. an opponent who is merely young.

Michael Coffie, 34, came to boxing late after serving eight years in the Marine Corps. He entered the New York City Golden Gloves tournament on a whim and with virtually no formal training and yet he succeeded in reaching the finals.

When Coffie (pictured)  turned pro, his manager was none other than Randy Gordon, the former chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission who has kept his hand in boxing as a journalist and radio personality, co-hosting a boxing-themed talk show on Sirius FM with Gerry Cooney. Gordon knows more than a little about heavyweights, having been involved with Bonecrusher Smith who was briefly (very briefly) the WBA world heavyweight champion.

“(Bonecrusher) was not anywhere near the fighter that Mike is,” Gordon told Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez on the occasion of Coffie’s pro debut in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. On that night, Coffie needed only 61 seconds to dismiss his opponent, ending the contest with a short right hand. The sacrificial lamb, wrote Fernandez, “went down like an anvil dropped in the ocean.”

In his most recent fight, on Nov. 7, Coffie was matched against Minnesota veteran Joey Abell, a noted spoiler. Abell would have been a good measuring rod for assessing Coffie’s progress, but unfortunately the bout was over almost before it started. Early in the second round, Abell suffered a biceps injury while throwing a punch and couldn’t continue.

The “A” side in this fight, however, isn’t Coffie but the other guy. Darmani Rock, 24, had an outstanding amateur career, winning several important tournaments including the 2014 Youth World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. Rock was upset in the finals of the 2016 Olympic Trials and then turned pro, signing with Roc Nation, the deep pockets sports management company founded by Jay-Z.

darmani

Darmani Rock on the right

Questions have been raised, however, about Rock’s dedication. He weighed 278 pounds in his last fight, 30 pounds more than in his pro debut. (Coffie’s fighting weight also hovers around 270 and he is the same approximate height – both are listed at 6’5” — but Coffie has always been big.)  Moreover, Rock has been inactive for 15 months and may have trouble shaking off the rust.

Darmani Rock hails from Philadelphia; Michael Coffie from Brooklyn, more fodder for the tub-thumpers. Philadelphia was the stomping grounds of Smokin’ Joe Frazier. The City of Brotherly Love has arguably produced more good prizefighters per capita than any city in the country. Brooklyn spawned Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, and Shannon Briggs, all of whom bubbled out of gritty Brownsville which also happens to be the neighborhood where Michael Coffie spent much of his youth until he was spirited away to a less threatening environment by foster parents.

I don’t want to get carried away with the Joyce-Dubois analogy. Joe Joyce had a stronger amateur pedigree than Darmani Rock. Daniel Dubois had a spectacular run leading up to his match with Joyce including a one-sided triumph over well-regarded Nathan Gorman. Moreover, neither Joyce nor Dubois had ever fought an opponent with a losing record. The same can’t be said of Coffie and Rock who have built their records on the backs of the usual suspects. Darmani Rock’s last two opponents were both 42 years old.

Moreover, Coffie vs. Rock isn’t the main attraction on the PBC card. Top billing goes to Caleb Plant’s 168-pound title defense against Caleb Truax.

As we recall, the Joyce-Dubois fight produced a major upset. Dubois was understood to be faster on his feet and more heavy-handed – considered more likely to turn the tide with a single punch – but youth was not served on that night at the historic Church House in Westminster. Joyce methodically peppered Dubois with his jab which caused a big lump to develop over Dubois’s left eye. The eye eventually shut completely and the fight ended in the 10th round with Dubois taking a knee and allowing himself to be counted out. Joyce’s victory elevated him to #2 in the WBO rankings, a notch below Oleksandr Usyk who is potentially his next opponent.

One doesn’t know what will transpire when Coffie fights Rock, but as Michael Buffer would say, “someone’s ‘O’ will have to go.” Fights of this nature are inherently intriguing and that goes double when the combatants are heavyweights.

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“One Night in Miami”: Film Review by Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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On February 25, 1964, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. defeated Charles “Sonny” Liston in Miami Beach over the course of six remarkable rounds to claim the heavyweight championship of the world. Late that night, the new champion found himself in a room at Hampton House (a black hotel in segregated Miami) with Malcolm X, several other followers of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, and football great Jim Brown. Soul singer Sam Cooke (a friend of Clay’s) had been at the fight, but there’s no historical record of his being in the hotel room with the others at that time.

One Night in Miami is built around imagining what transpired in that room amongst Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. Directed by Regina King from a screenplay by Kemp Powers, it’s available on Amazon Prime.

The film fits into the genre known as historical fiction. Dramatic license was taken. Viewers should understand that, at times, it’s allegorical rather than an accurate factual recounting. The larger question is whether the film is impressionistically honest. The answer is “yes.”

One Night in Miami begins with the 1963 fight between Clay and Henry Cooper in London. It then segues to Cooke being treated rudely by an all-white audience at the Copacabana, followed by Jim Brown (the greatest running back in National Football League history) being reminded by a patronizing southern gentleman that he’s just a “n—–.” Next, we see Malcolm as the Nation of Islam’s most charismatic spokesman, after which the scene shifts to Liston-Clay I.

Thirty-four minutes into the film, the drama moves to Hampton House.

Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke were prominent in different ways. Each was young, black, and famous. But Malcolm was a social and religious figure of considerable intellect while the other three were known as entertainers.

The dialogue between the four men is light at first and then turns serious.

Malcolm is played by Kingsley Ben-Adir. On what should have been one of the greatest nights of his life, his world is slipping away. His deadly rupture with Elijah Muhammad is almost complete. Soon, Clay will abandon him. Ben-Adir comes across as a bit weaker and more tentative than one might expect, although Malcolm’s intellect is evident in his performance.

It’s hard to imagine anyone playing Cassius Clay well except the young Muhammad Ali. But Eli Goree bears a resemblance to Clay and is pretty good in the role.

Jim Brown was an intimidating physical presence. Aldis Hodge lacks this physicality but his performance is solid.

Leslie Odom Jr, who plays Sam Cooke, has star quality. He’s the only one of the four major actors who has the charisma and presence of the man he’s portraying. But as a result, Cooke has a stronger on-screen persona than Malcolm. That’s a problem as tensions between the two men boil over.

Toward the end of the film, Malcolm reveals that he intends to leave the Nation of Islam because of differences with Elijah Muhammad and will found a new organization.

“Who’s gonna be in this new organization?” Clay asks.

“I think lots of people will follow me over,” Malcolm answers. “Especially if you come with me.”

Clay, of course, didn’t follow Malcolm. He sided with Elijah Muhammad. One year later, he and Jim Brown were the only participants from the hotel room gathering as portrayed in the film who were still alive. Sam Cooke was shot to death in a California motel on December 11, 1964. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.

One Night in Miami cautions us that our icons are flesh and blood human beings with strengths and flaws. In its best moments, the film is a powerful reminder that the issues of self-respect, black empowerment, and racial equality are timeless.

Pictured left to right: Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X) Leslie Odom Jr (Sam Cooke) Eli Goree (Cassius Clay)

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Crossover star Holly Holm Adds New Dimensions to Claressa Shields

Kelsey McCarson

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Crossover-Star-Holly-Holm-Adds-New-Dimensions-to-Claressa-Shields

She laughs about it now, but back then it wasn’t all that funny.

Boxing champion Holly Holm was competing in her first professional MMA fight, and all her years of training inside the ropes as a world champion boxer had just taken over her entire body.

Holm had kicked her opponent down to the ground, so she did what any well-schooled boxer would do. She pivoted away from her fallen prey and headed over to the neutral corner.

All of that was wrong.

“What are you doing?” her coach yelled from cageside. “Finish her!”

It was Holm’s first big mistake in moving over from boxing to MMA, but she was lucky that night. It turned out that Holm’s opponent was finished whether she had run over there or not, so it was a lesson she could learn without much consequence.

But the instruction of that moment stands true today, so it’s just one of the many things Holm has shared with 25-year-old boxing champion Claressa Shields as the two-time Olympic gold medalist attempts to follow in her footsteps.

“I was thinking yeah, that will definitely happen to me!” Shields said.

After Shields signed a three-year promotional deal in December with the Professional Fighters League (PFL), the first thing Shields needed to do was look for the right gym.

Shields found that place at Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the most famous MMA gyms in the country, and the one most recognized among the masses as the home gym of former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holm and pound-for-pound king Jon Jones.

Holm remains the only fighter (male or female) to have won legit world championships in both boxing and MMA, and Shields said Holm welcomed her to Jackson Wink with open arms.

“She’s been super great and very nice to me. We both come from the same background…and she actually turned out to be a world champion [in MMA], actually turned out to be really good,” Shields said.

But Holm’s funny story about her first MMA fight is something that points to just how large a hill Shields has decided to climb.

Whereas pop culture has just recently started to realize the power of habits through the work of writers such as Charles Duhigg and James Clear, it’s something professional fighters have known for a long time now.

“Oh, you’re going to have a habit of this because you used to box.”

That’s something Holm tells Shields almost every time they work together, and there are just so many examples.

In fact, just watching the 25-year-old boxing champion trying to learn to do all these new things in a different way is exhausting.

That Shields practically lives inside the gym for weeks at a time so she can train four or five times a day for all the kinds of things she never had to worry about before as a professional boxer is a testament to her seriousness and her courage.

But perhaps the most amazing part of the entire story is that Shields still plans on boxing.

While Holm won world championships in both sports, she achieved those things separately. Meanwhile, Shields said she wants to do the same thing Holm did but at the same time.

So, while I’m standing there with her inside an MMA cage in New Mexico, Shields is plotting fights in both sports. On one hand, she’s talking to me about a title unification bout in boxing against Marie-Eve Dicaire. On the other, she’s talking about future superfights in MMA against the likes of UFC champ Amanda Nunes.

“I’m trying to separate the two,” Shields said specifically about her training that day but she might as well have been talking about her whole life right about now.

It’s arguably the most amazing storyline right now in combat sports.

Shields started boxing when she was just 11 years old. She earned her first gold medal at the Olympics at 17 and her second four years later.

Today, Shields is a three-division world champion, and she says she’s not nearly finished adding to her growing number of boxing belts.

But all those years and all those successes have built so many habits. Ducking and slipping is great for boxing, but both become considerable detriments to defense when you suddenly have to worry about things like knees and kicks.

And what about wrestling and jiu-jitsu?

But all that stuff together is exactly what makes Shields’ epic decision to dare to be great at both sports at the same time so amazing in the first place.

Look, Shields might never accomplish the same amazing feat Holm did when she shocked Ronda Rousey in 2015 for the UFC women’s bantamweight championship.

But she’s aiming to eclipse that incredible mark anyway, and with Holm and many others offering Shields ideas about what she needs to think about as she climbs up the steepest hill she can find, she’ll definitely have her best chance at doing it.

Kelsey McCarson covers combat sports for Bleacher Report and Heavy.

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