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BJ Saunders Pursues Another World Title on Saturday if He Doesn’t Implode First

Arne K. Lang

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Dominic Breazeale, who challenges WBC world heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder on Saturday, has adopted the nickname “Trouble.” The moniker would be a better fit for former WBO world middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders who returns to the ring earlier that day with Shefat Isufi in the opposite corner. Trouble has blistered Saunders since his amateur days.

There’s no question that Billy Joe is a highly skilled practitioner of the so-called manly art. He represented Great Britain in the Beijing Olympics at the tender age of 18. He won European, British, and British Commonwealth titles before winning the WBO version of the world middleweight title. In his last significant bout, he gave the redoubtable David Lemieux a boxing lesson on Lemieux’s turf in Quebec. His record as a pro is unblemished (27-0, 13 KOs). But incidents outside the ring have cost him his belt and branded him a boorish lout.

After losing his second round matchup in the Beijing Olympics, Saunders was sent home when a video surfaced of him behaving lewdly with a Frenchwoman at his hotel in France where the British team was domiciled in preparation for the games. More recently, Saunders was shown harassing a 37-year-old female crack cocaine addict in a video leaked to a British tabloid.

The incident unfolded in September of last year. Saunders, sitting behind the wheel of his Rolls Royce, offers the woman $150 worth of cocaine if she will assault a passerby and perform a sex act on one of his companions. She responds by slapping a stranger, whereupon Saunders speeds away.

This was all in jest and Saunders would later apologize for what he termed “harmless banter.” But the British Boxing Board of Control wasn’t amused. Calling the incident disgusting, they hit Saunders with a $100,000 fine for “bringing the sport into disrepute.”

Saunders, the great-grandson of a famous bare knuckle fighter, is a member of the Irish Traveler community. He is believed to be a distant relative of Tyson Fury with whom he now trains. They recently purchased matching red Ferraris.

Irish Travelers tend to grow up fast. The boys invariably leave school early and enter the workforce at a tender age, usually in some form of construction work such as paving streets. The girls tend to marry young and begin childbearing while still in their teens.

Saunders, 29, appears to be fast-tracking his 10-year-old son Stevie into adulthood. The boy was recently filmed driving his father’s new Ferrari around a car park (i.e. a Travelers compound). Proud Papa uploaded the film to his son’s Instagram page.

This wasn’t the first time that young Stevie made the news. In September of 2017, at the weigh-in in London for Saunders’ bout with Willie Monroe Jr, the kid went and kicked Monroe in the balls. Most of those in attendance, although certainly not Monroe, found this quite amusing.

Since dethroning middleweight titlist Andy Lee, a fellow Traveler, Billy Joe has been relatively inactive. His bout on Saturday will be only his fifth in the last 42 months.

Some of this inactivity can be blamed on bad luck. Title defenses against Ukraine’s Max Bursak and countryman Martin Murray were put on the backburner and eventually cancelled when he suffered injuries in training. But he has only himself to blame for his lost fight with Demetrius Andrade.

Saunders vs. Andrade was all set for Oct. 20 of last year in Boston. But when a random VADA test turned up a banned stimulant, the Massachusetts Athletic Commission refused to grant Saunders a license, killing the match. He, in turn, vacated his title, a proactive move as the WBO was expected to strip him of it.

Andrade subsequently won the belt. His forthcoming match with Maciej Sulecki in June will be his second title defense. As for Saunders, his only action since vacating the title was a stay-busy fight in December that was buried on the undercard of the Frampton-Warrington show in Manchester. Saunders weighed in at a flabby 178 pounds but his opponent, a 41-year-old Namibian, graciously surrendered after four rounds.

The WBO then resurrected the Saunders-Andrade fight, deeming Saunders the mandatory challenger. But Billy Joe would have none of it. Instead he made it known that he would henceforth campaign as a super middleweight and his promoter Frank Warren then went out and matched him with little known Shefat Isufi, a Munich-based Syrian, potting the fight at a soccer stadium in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, near Saunders boyhood home.

The WBO anointed Saunders-Isufi an interim world title fight which meant that the winner would go on to meet the organization’s 168-pound title holder, Gilberto Ramirez. But then Ramirez vacated the belt to compete as a light heavyweight and, presto, the WBO dropped the interim tag to rake in a higher sanctioning fee.

Has Shefat Isufi (27-3-2) earned the right to fight for a world title? That’s a rhetorical question, of course, and needless to say, with so many alphabet straps up for grabs, rhetorical questions of this nature get asked a lot.

Assuming that he doesn’t do something stupid that torpedoes the match, Billy Joe Saunders will win this fight. The only question is which Billy Joe will show up, the Billy Joe that looked like a common journeyman in his dull title defense against Artur Akavov or the Billy Joe that looked almost Lomachenko-like against David Lemieux?

From a financial standpoint, moving up to the 168-pound weight class looks like a smart move. The top dogs in the middleweight division – Canelo, GGG, and Daniel Jacobs – appear to be heading there so Saunders is ahead of the curve. But it would be premature to analyze those potential matchups. With Billy Joe Saunders, one never knows what tomorrow will hold.

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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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