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What the “F” is Paulie Malignaggi Thinking ?

Thomas Hauser

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Malignaggi

On June 22, Paulie Malignaggi and Artem Lobov will meet in a ring at the Florida State Fairgrounds Entertainment Hall in Tampa in what is being styled as a Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) grudge match. Under BKFC rules, fights are contested in a circular ring with a 22-foot diameter. Combatants can throw punches in a clinch or while grabbing the back of an opponent’s neck. No kneeing, elbowing, or kicking is allowed. The contract weight is 155 pounds.

Malignaggi is well known to boxing fans. He’s 38 years old and, when he enters the ring to face Lobov, it will have been 27 months since he saw combat. His last ring foray ended poorly when he was knocked out by Sam Eggington in eight rounds.

Lobov, age 32, is a mixed martial artist who has fought for various MMA promoters (most notably UFC) en route to a 16-15-1 record with one no contest. He has also had one fight in bare knuckle competition which he won by decision on April 6 of this year.

Lobov is friends with Conor McGregor and was a training partner with McGregor when the Irishman was preparing to fight Floyd Mayweather in 2017. During that time, Malignaggi was brought into camp to work briefly with McGregor as a sparring partner. Therein the story lies.

Malignaggi-Lobov moved onto the radar screen at a May 20 kick-off press conference in New York where Paulie was a poster boy for bad behavior. He spat on Lobov and tried to hit Artem on the head with a hand-held microphone. At various times, he called Lobov “a pussy hypocrit f—, a hypocrit pussy f—, a bitch-ass pussy f—, and a piece of s—.” Other thoughts he uttered included:

*         “My hands are like razor blades. Get a good look at this guy’s face right now because next month I’m gonna make it all look like a road map. Permanently, because these scars are not gonna go away.”

*          “You’re a piece of s— and I’m gonna treat you like the dirtbag that you are. After I beat the s— out of you, I’m gonna spit on you. I might take out my dick and piss on you. I’m gonna take out my dick after I knock your teeth out and piss in that toothless mouth of yours. You got five weeks to live, motherf—–.”

*          “Next month, I’m gonna put this guy in a f—— coma.”

The following day, for good measure, Paulie refered to Lobov and the mixed martial arts community as “your piece of s— community and your piece of s— people.”

Most of the reaction to Malignaggi’s conduct at the press conference has ranged from disappointment to condemnation. There are concerns that he’s acting in a self-destructive manner and adding to the ugliness that permeates public dialogue today. Others are worried that his actions might jeopardize his credibility as a Showtime and Sky Sports commentator.

There are two issues: (1) Paulie’s decision to fight again, and (2) his conduct in the build-up to the fight. Let’s start with his decision to fight.

On the surface, Paulie appears to have it made. He earned good money in boxing and kept a lot of it. He’s one of the best expert analysts in the business with several lucrative commentating contracts. And he retired from boxing with his faculties intact (although one might argue that his foray into bare-knuckle fighting contradicts that assumption).

Bare knuckle fighting is a huge step down in platform for a man who was at the center of the boxing world when he fought in main events at Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center, and the MGM Grand Garden Arena. So why is Paulie fighting Lobov?

One theory is that Paulie is a junkie for combat sports. That it’s not enough for him to call the action from ringside; he has to be in the ring. But after his loss to Eggington, he could no longer compete at a high level in boxing so he found a smaller pond where he’s still a big fish.

I spoke with Paulie at length this week, and he disputed that notion. He was calm and rational throughout our conversation. His primary reason for fighting, he said, is money. He doesn’t need it. But like most of us, he likes it.

“There’s a price for everything where you calculate risk-reward,” Paulie told me. “I’m making a lot of money for this fight. A lot of money. They came to me with a deal that was too good to turn down. There’s a big guarantee and, if the pay-per-view goes well, it will be one of my biggest paydays ever.”

“People say I shouldn’t be boxing anymore,” Paulie continued. “But at the end of my boxing career, my legs were the big issue. For short periods, my legs are still good. This fight is five two-minute rounds. I can go at an intense level for that. And maybe my reflexes aren’t quite as sharp as they used to be. But I don’t see me being at risk in this fight. If Lobov was a real boxer, I wouldn’t be doing this. But he isn’t. I think he’ll go wild and crazy at the start. And then, when I stuff my jab in his face a couple of times and hit him with some body shots, either he’ll just try to survive or fold completely. I look at this as a lot of money for an easy outing.”

And what about Paulie’s conduct at the kick-off press conference?

As noted above, Malignaggi sparred briefly with Conor McGregor two years ago. Thereafter, McGregor claimed to have gotten the better of him and released a snippet of video footage to bolster that apparently spurious claim. As time went by, Paulie felt more and more humiliated by the situation. Lobov, who piled on in support of McGregor, is a proxy for Conor and, in Paulie’s mind, worthy of scorn in his own right.

“This is bringing out a side of me that I thought I’d left in my past,” Malignaggi told me. “It’s a response to the lies and humiliation and pain to me and my family and everything else that this guy and his piece-of-s— friend Conor McGregor caused to be dumped on me. It reminds me of why I became a fighter.”

“I grew up in a not very nice place,” Paulie elaborated. “And I’m not talking about the neighborhood. I’m talking about what my life was like and the abuse I took. I went into boxing to get away from that place and to deal with the anger that I had inside me in an acceptable way.”

“You have to put the press conference in context,” Paulie continued. “There’s a whole back story that people don’t understand. I wish I’d never gone to spar with McGregor. They treated me like s— when I was there. Then they lied and dumped s— on my reputation afterward. But I did go spar with him and you can’t undo the past. And I still have to deal with it. You should have seen the social media after I sparred with McGregor. His idiot fans calling me a faggot, a little Dago, things they wouldn’t have the courage to come up to me on the street and say to my face. And they don’t just put it on their sites. They put it all over my social media pages. I can post a photo of me at the beach and, a day later, there’s all sorts of ugly s— attached to it. I have a young niece and nephew who read this s— about me. My mother sees it. It’s been two years since I sparred with that scumbag and this s— still follows me every day.”

And the comment about putting Lobov in a coma?

“I don’t usually wish anything bad for anybody,” Paulie answered. “And I certainly don’t want to see anybody hurt in that way. Usually. But this guy has been part of causing so much pain for me and my family. And he has talked so much s— about boxing. So do I actively want to put him in a coma? No. But if it happened, I wouldn’t care.”

I’ve been around boxing long enough now to have seen a lot of promising young fighters become champions and then grow old. I’ve followed the trajectory of Paulie’s career from the beginning. I remember sitting opposite him at the Brooklyn Diner in Manhattan shortly before his 2001 pro debut against Thadeus Parker. I remember talking with him for hours in my apartment before his 2006 fight against Miguel Cotto. I’ve been in his dressing room before and after hard-fought victories and heart-breaking defeats. We’ve always been honest with each other and respect each other’s point of view when our views differ.

There was a time when the stars were properly aligned and Paulie could command seven-figure purses. His last payday at that level came in 2015 when he fought Danny Garcia at Barclays Center. One year later, fighting in the same arena against Gabriel Bracero, his purse was $150,000.

I’ve been told in confidence what Paulie has been guaranteed and the per-view upside he can earn for fighting Lobov if the promotion does well. It’s good money. But is it worth the cost? A source with knowledge of the inner workings at Showtime says that the network pays Paulie well in excess of $10,000 per telecast to serve as an expert analyst. His Showtime earnings are supplemented by his work for Sky Sports. And Paulie saved money when he was fighting. He wasn’t a profligate spender.

Years ago, Paulie told me, “I hope to get old some day, but it won’t be in the ring.”

But in the ring, Paulie is now old. He’s confident that Lobov doesn’t box well enough to find him or hit hard enough to hurt him. Don’t forget; for sixteen years, Paulie fought skilled craftsmen like Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton, Shawn Porter, and Danny Garcia. Lobov isn’t anywhere near their league as a boxer or a puncher.

But Paulie already has physical issues (such as nerve damage in his face) as a consequence of boxing that will shadow him for the rest of his life. His hands have been a problem throughout his career. Now he’ll be fighting with no handwraps and no gloves. He thinks he can slap Lobov silly, go the body, and take something off his punches to the head. But Lobov is likely to be in his face all night. Paulie wants the money. Lobov needs it. There are those who think that Paulie is walking into this fight with his hands down and his chin up in the air.

I hope Paulie has a letter of credit for his guarantee. I hope the check clears for whatever upside on the pay-per-view he might be entitled to. And by the way; if an iron-clad letter of credit isn’t in place before the fight, what does Paulie do? He should pull out. But if he does, social media (which played a role in Paulie’s decision to fight Lobov and also his meltdown at the May 20 press conference) will be unkind to him.

Society today is plagued by an ugly lack of civility. We’re living in an age when people hide behind the anonymity of social media and say things that they wouldn’t dare say face-to-face to another person. Racism, misogyny, and homophobia are extolled as virtues in some quarters.

In theory, Paulie’s hatred for McGregor and Lobov and his reference to MMA fans as a “piece of s— community” will help engender PPV buys. But it will also further antagonize MMA fans against Paulie and ensure more social media attacks. And it brings to mind the admonition of Charles Horton Cooley, who a century ago observed, “Hatred floods your mind with the idea of the one you hate. Your thoughts reflect his, and you act in his spirit. If you wish to be like your enemy, to be wholly his, hate him.”

Paulie has lamented the fact that his niece, nephew and mother have been exposed on an ongoing basis to the ugliness leveled against him on social media. But what will his niece, nephew, and mother think if they watch a video of Paulie at the May 20 press conference?

“After I beat the s— out of you, I’m gonna spit on you. I might take out my dick and piss on you. I’m gonna take out my dick after I knock your teeth out and piss in that toothless mouth of yours. You got five weeks to live, motherf—–.”

Life is about choices. On January 30, 2008, Paulie and I went to a meeting at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. Frank Macchiarola (then president of St. Francis) was there with two administrators. Paulie had won the IBF 140-pound title on a 12-round decision over Lovemore Ndou the previous June and defended it successfully against Hermann Ngoudjo twenty-five days before the meeting.

Macchiarola saw untapped potential in Paulie. He offered to enroll him free of charge in a St. Francis College program that would help him earn a high school graduation equivalency diploma. Then Paulie could work toward a college degree.

“All your life, there have been people in school who told you you’re stupid,” Macchiarola said to Paulie. “You’re not. I know enough about you to know that you’re a very smart guy. There’s nothing you can’t do in the classroom if you put your mind to it. An education will give you options in life that you might not otherwise have. And it will give you tools to make better choices.”

It was a wide-ranging conversation. At one point one of the administrators told Paulie, “You’re a pretty important person. There aren’t many world champions. At St. Francis, people will know who you are but you’ll be treated like everyone else.”

Macchiarola also talked a bit about the philosophy behind the school athletic program. “I call it bait and switch,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “Kids come here thinking they’re coming to play basketball, and then we give them an education.”

Paulie set up an appointment to take evaluation tests in English and math to determine what skills he needed to work on in preparation for his high school graduation equivalency examination. Then a tutoring program consistent with the demands that being a fighter put upon him would be implemented.

But the planning ended. Paulie decided to go in a different direction, one that he felt was better for him.

Now Paulie has another choice to make. Like a lot of people, I feel that the best place for him in combat sports in 2019 is behind a microphone.

Certain people are of unique value. Harold Lederman was like that. He created a role – the unofficial ringside judge – and made it his own. There have been dozens of “unofficial” scorers at ringside” on telecasts since then. In some instances, their scoring has been just as good as Harold’s. But none of them have become an integral part of the boxing scene. Harold was special. He had a passion for boxing. He loved the fights – not just the main events, all fights. He was accessible, not just to the powers that be but to everyday boxing fans. He was a boxing feel-good story.

Paulie has qualities that could enable him to help fill the void left by Harold’s passing. In some ways, Paulie and Harold are as different as night and day. Harold would not have threatened to knock out someone’s teeth, spit on him, and, while his victim was unconscious, urinate into his open mouth.

But Paulie, like Harold, is exceptionally knowledgeable about boxing and communicates information well. He treats four-round preliminary fighters with the same respect that he evinces for pound-for-pound contenders. He loves talking about boxing, has a unique style, and has a wellspring of good qualities in him. He could have a huge positive impact on boxing as a ringside commentator. But instead, he’s risking his health unnecessarily and becoming a poster boy for antisocial behavior. He’s justifiably angry about the ugliness that has been heaped upon him. But now he’s spewing more of the same into the public discourse. By giving vent to his anger in the way that he has, he has contributed to the ugliness. That’s a shame. Paulie can’t clean up the cesspool by himself. But he shouldn’t contribute to it.

And a final thought. I can’t say that my heart will be in Paulie’s gloves on June 22 because he won’t be wearing gloves. But I’ll be rooting for him.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Protect Yourself at All Times – 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.

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The Top Ten Lightweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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The lightweight decade 2010-2019 was a disaster. Far and away the weakest list I have compiled so far; it was also far and away the most difficult to compile. Two excellent fighters, fit to grace any list, open at nine and ten but they made the tiniest handful of appearances at the poundage in the decade. Eight to four are populated by interchangeable lightweights whose ordering is confused by a 2012 robbery that has seen the “loser” of that contest edge in front of the “winner” adding to an already confused picture. The result is our seeing fighters who engender a sense of “what’s he doing there?” as high as number four.

Towering over this hot mess are the top two for the decadal division, two giants of the sport about whom it is a pleasure to write, and a clear number three.

Despite the foibles of lightweight there were also some excellent fights to run the ruler across on the way to ordering them. So, without further apologies here are the top ten lightweights for the last decade.

Ratings are by Ring between 2010 and 2012 and TBRB from 2013 to 2019.

10 – Juan Manuel Marquez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 6-2 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

I am arguably reaching in placing Juan Manuel Marquez at ten given the limited contribution he made to the lightweight decade, but it must be borne in mind that Marquez was the decade’s first legitimate, lineal lightweight champion. Lightweight gave us but three champions in the decade and certainly room can be made for all of them here.

Marquez had previously stopped the younger, fresher, purportedly stronger Juan Diaz in nine rounds in 2009 in what I rate his career’s best performance until that time but nominated to re-match him in July of 2010, probably unnecessarily. Marquez was once more brilliant, his jab never better, Diaz clearly wary of the uppercut that had hurt him so in their first fight.

Marquez mopped up his lightweight title run against Michael Katsidis in November of that same year. Marquez didn’t just beat the younger, stronger Katsidis, he became just the second man to stop the Australian, the quickest ever to do so.

This fight was also noteworthy as being veteran broadcaster Jim Lampley’s finest moment and we will give him the final word on Marquez at lightweight, and as we won’t be seeing him again in this series, Marquez generally (my italics):

“If it comes down to the question of whether you can courageously apply your technique…bet on Juan Manuel Marquez. He knows how to do that better than anyone in boxing.”

09 – Mikey Garcia

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 22-1 Ranked For: 27% of the decade

Mikey Garcia is a splendid fighter but one who seems to have spread himself a little thin divisionally speaking. He swept into lightweight, established himself as the number one contender, remained divisionally ranked until the end of 2019 but fought hardly a contest within 135lbs.

The work he did do there though, was significant, two fights enough to establish him as one of the pre-eminent lightweights of the timeframe.

Most impressive was his January 2017 knockout victory over Dejan Zlaticanin. Zlaticanin, himself coming off impressive back-to-back stoppages of Franklin Mamani and Ivan Redkach, was an undefeated strapholder; Mikey established his world class jab within seconds and lost not a minute of the eight they completed. The uppercut and hook combination for the knockout made for the best stoppage of the lightweight decade.

Robert Easter, himself a contender for the number ten spot, was a second undefeated fighter who was ranked in the top five laid low by Garcia. Easter though, offered stiffer resistance, doing well with his own jab and even winning a few rounds on the way to a lop-sided decision loss. Garcia fought an aggressive, disciplined fight against a much taller and longer opponent leaving no doubt as to the winner, dropping Easter with a gorgeous, penetrating right hand in the third.

Lightweight certainly would have benefited from more Garcia but what he gave was good enough to see him creep in at nine.

08 – Ricky Burns

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 16-6-1 Ranked For: 32% of the decade

Ricky Burns traded on heart and durability but the thrashing that the great Terence Crawford handed him in March 2014 is not one he recovered from. Dejan Zlaticanin sent him scurrying from the division in his very next fight.

In the months before his brave decision to match Crawford, however, Burns turned in one of the more impressive runs of the lightweight decade between 2011 and the summer of 2013. It began with Michael Katsidis, the former lightweight titleholder who had been laid low by Juan Manuel Marquez one year earlier. Katsidis never recovered from the beating Marquez laid upon him, but descriptions of him as shot proved as wide of the mark as those who installed Katsidis as a favourite.  Katsidis turned in a fine pressure performance and Burns needed the combination of jab and body attack he deployed to win a much, much closer fight than the judges saw. Ricky’s remains one of the most underrated jabs of the decade at lightweight or elsewhere.

Ranked contender Moses Paulus went next and here Burns turned in perhaps his best defensive performance. A victim of the fashionable “earmuffs” approach to defence, Burns showed himself here capable of parrying and blocking as well as shutting the shop and waiting. He arguably put these two strata of his skillset – the careful offence, the dynamic defence – together just once in his career, against Kevin Mitchell, then still ranked among the world’s ten best lightweights.  Burns countered well that night and although far from difficult to hit he made himself hard to hit clean. It was probably the difference-maker as he drew Mitchell into a war he could not hope to win, dusting him off in four exciting rounds.

Finally, he stopped Jose Gonzalez in nine before going off a cliff in a fashion more familiar in speedsters than technically adept workhorses.

07 – Antonio DeMarco

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 10-7 Ranked For: 28% of the decade

Antonio DeMarco fights on and in fact has two fights planned this year. This has been to the great detriment of his paper record.

In the early part of the decade, the part which he fought at lightweight, he lost just twice, once to the doomed figure of Edwin Valero and once to Adrien Broner, both of whom beat him clean but DeMarco is in possession of a pair of wins that make Broner’s ranking above him questionable still.  Key among them is his 2011 stoppage of Jorge Linares.

On the surface, this is the type of win to rappel into the farthest reaches of this list. Linares would become one of the finest lightweights of the decade and his name carries meaning whatever the context; but it is the context of this fight that prevents DeMarco climbing much farther.

Linares had never boxed twelve rounds when he met DeMarco and despite dominating early, he was cut up badly by DeMarco’s clean punching born of consistent pressure. Suffering the attentions of a faster, more talented fighter, DeMarco did the only thing he could, stepping in the fire zone and pressing; eventually Linares began to give ground. When a lacerating straight broke his nose in the sixth, the whole fight changed and when DeMarco cut him over the right eye in the seventh, his night became desperate. Suffused with blood, Linares was compromised in the eleventh from footwork to defence to his beautiful, gliding offence; the referee, perhaps prompted in part by the blood pouring from the face of Linares, stopped the fight.

It needs to be remembered who Linares was at this point of his career. He had been stopped in a round in 2009 and would be stopped in two with facial damage in his very next fight. This was the Linares that DeMarco broke down, not the storied veteran that Vasily Lomachenko would face years later. It is an impressive win, but DeMarco needs more for the spot.

Fortunately, he has it. After taking out gatekeeper Miguel Roman in five, DeMarco was matched with John Molina in a fight billed as an exciting shootout between evenly matched and exciting fighters. DeMarco blasted him out in a round. His power-punches were booming equalisers that laid more talented fighters low.

06 – Adrien Broner

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 20-4 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

It is unpleasant to see Adrien Broner, a serial failure at the highest level and seemingly a horror of a human being ranked above the likes of Garcia and Marquez, but assessing legacy must be blind.  Broner is well into double figures for contests at lightweight and picked up the same number of ranked contenders as the two part-time decadal lightweights ranked at nine and ten – so he belongs, there is no debate to be had about that.

And, to be fair to him, his biggest win is a beauty, being his 2012 victory over Antonio DeMarco.  DeMarco may have been on the slide but marginally. He remained a cagey, balanced, firmly planted southpaw, difficult to fight and harder to beat. Broner out-waited DeMarco and countered him, took a narrow lead in the early rounds before throwing more heavy punches the later the fight went. It became a beatdown, DeMarco failing to find the timing that would counter his opponent’s speed earlier in his career.

Three months later, Broner was nearly as impressive blasting out number eight contender Gavin Rees in just five rounds. In the aftermath Rees called him the best fighter he had ever met and predicted he would go all the way to the top. That hasn’t happened – for reasons too many to cogitate here – but he did enough to rank among the ten most accomplished lightweights of the decade.

05 – Brandon Rios

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 12-5 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Things have been messy and difficult up until this point – now that get very messy and very difficult.  Brandon Rios was awarded an official decision over Richar Abril in 2012 but he did not beat him; this was an outright robbery. Rios is not credited for that win here.

That fight is dealt with in detail in the entry below; for the moment, take my word for it and we will look at why it is reasonable for Rios to rank top five despite the Abril fight being treated here as a loss.

First and foremost is his defeat of the excellent Miguel Costa, world’s number one contender in February of 2011, lain low by a career’s best performance from Rios. Costa bossed Rios early, moving off him and tattooing him with power punches; Rios followed stoically but lost every one of the first five rounds. Focused and prepared, Rios seemed merely inconvenienced by the powerful punches of a world class competitor and there was something inevitable about what remains a dramatic collapse from Costa in the mid-rounds; in the tenth, battered and unresponsive, he was rescued by the referee as Rios clubbed him into submission with meathook shots.

Either side, Rios turned in impressive stoppage victories over ranked men Anthony Peterson and John Murray. Best-for-best, this adds up to near parity between Rios and Broner, but Rios claimed more quality names at the poundage; it edges Rios in front of his fellow American despite the Abril fight.

04 – Richar Abril

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 8-2-1 Ranked For: 44% of the decade

If you scour the internet, you might be able to find the single ringside scorecard that had Richar Abril’s 2012 fight with Brandon Rios a draw; every other scorecard by ringsiders had the fight for Abril, some of them by margins as wide as 120-108.

Every ringsider, that is, outside of two of the officials paid to score the fights.

What we can only hope was the abject stupidity of Glenn Trowbridge and the infamous Adalaide Byrd (both still judging fights today folks) cost Abril the win that night but here, I am taking the rare step of ignoring the official decision, something I have only done on one other occasion in the course of this series. Almost all ringsiders agree, and the film demonstrably shows, this was an Abril win.

It was not an exciting fight, partly due to its one-sidedness. Abril shelled up in close and Rios, who failed to make weight, threw cuffing shots apparently incapable of penetrating. In the second half of the fight, Abril closed with great awareness, carefully to consistently outland Rios in every round, defensively sound, offensively alive to opportunity.

Either side of his defeat of Rios, Abril defeated the same man who defined Brandon’s lightweight run, Miguel Acosta, and contender Sharif Bogere in a filthy, badly refereed contest. In essence, his legacy at the weight echoes that of Rios almost exactly, with one exception: he beat Rios.

Abril is not an inspiring figure. He boxed in a dry, careful fashion that did not endear him to fans but he excelled at controlling his opponents and there is no way to rank him below Rios given how dominant he was over him in their fight. That puts him in the top four.

03 – Jorge Linares

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 20-4 Ranked For: 35% of the decade

Jorge Linares was “one for the most fantastic boxers I have ever saw in my life” according to the great Emanuel Steward and you can see what he means. Linares is as beautifully balanced, as well co-ordinated as any lightweight seen this decade, outside of the top two. Lithe, quick-handed, and a fine selector of punches, he began the decade anointed by the then pre-eminent Freddie Roach, spending his spare time sparring with the legendary Manny Pacquiao.

Then it went wildly wrong. Linares had his faced ripped apart by the punches of Antonio DeMarco in 2011 and then Sergio Thompson in 2012. It was a long way from these losses back to the top but Linares made it, in the main by travelling to the UK and battering her best lightweights. His winning streak ran to thirteen fights.

Key among them was his 2015 victory over Kevin Mitchell. Mitchell, who had restored himself from both personal and professional strife with a quite remarkable performance against Daniel Estrada, was once again ranked among the world’s top ten. Linares has struggled when hurt throughout his career, but when dropped by Mitchell in the fifth, Linares, who had been struggling a little in the third and fourth, remained concentrated. He didn’t enjoy the rest of that fifth round, but he escaped it and instead of crumbling he crumbled Mitchell, cutting him up and stepping in to take over in the eighth then patiently closing the blinds in the tenth.

It was a fine turning of the corner by a fighter who would go on to deliver on some of his seemingly limitless potential, firstly against an inspired Anthony Crolla, once more in the UK, who he beat close then, re-matched and dropped on the way to a wide decision victory. Finally, Linares, a road-warrior if ever there was one, invited Luke Campbell over to the USA and squeaked past him in a brilliant strategic joust.

Linares was a real enigma. Skin so thin it might as well be used to pack the meat that constitutes his face, he has literally fallen apart in the ring; soft of chin, he has been blown out. The fighter that Manny Steward saw all those years before probably never emerged, but he still appears special enough to edge out Abril.

Take note though, he is not a “natural” divisional decadal number three and there is real distance between Linares and the fighter that ranks number two.

02 – Terence Crawford

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 26-0 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Terence Crawford is a genius in the ring, and we watched the emergence of that genius at lightweight. 2014 was the year and almost all the meaningful damage that the Nebraskan did to the 135lb division was done in that year.

I was glued to his March dissection of Scotsman Ricky Burns and it was painful to watch my countryman dismantled so completely, Burns complaining about Crawford’s control of distance and angles in a gracious post-fight interview. In truth, Burns had boxed beautifully to make so many of the rounds in what was a clear, wide victory for Crawford so close, but we did not know then what we know now: Crawford is one of the best fighters in the world.

At the end of 2014 when he welcomed number two contender Ray Beltran to his native Omaha, this was clear. Beltran had outfought and arguably been robbed of a victory over Ricky Burns when he visited Scotland for what was a hotly disputed draw but there were multiple classes between he and Crawford when they met that November. Crawford did mostly what he liked, and what he liked, from round two, was to box as a southpaw, jabbing with impunity, bringing Beltran forwards onto punches and in doing so shutting his opponent’s offence down almost completely. In the final round Beltran, who had not won a single round on my scorecard, threw around twenty punches, even though his only route to victory was by knockout.

In between his wide defeats of Burns and Beltran, he dispatched Yuriokis Gamboa in the ninth.  These were three technical mis-matches in one year against quality opposition after which he departed for 140lbs.

This is enough to make him a clear number two, but in all honesty were his numbers and opposition not enough to get him over that line, it would still be difficult to see him lower. Crawford was imperious.

01 – Vasily Lomachenko

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 14-1 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Ranked for almost an identical number of weeks throughout the 2010s, Vasily Lomachenko was also given, like Terrence Crawford, to taking a close look at his opposition in the opening round.

Another thing these two have in common is that their visitations to 135lbs were relatively brief. We will meet no other divisional decadal number one with so few fights at the poundage – having only met legitimately ranked men at the poundage however, Lomachenko has done enough to clearly seal up the number one spot. He has but one peer and has clearly edged that peer out.

Gatecrashing the division meeting none other than Jorge Linares helped. This had the appearance of rash, even careless matchmaking, a duel, essentially, to determine the finest lightweight of the decade. It appeared careless matchmaking, certainly, when Lomachenko was dropped in the sixth walking carelessly onto a straight punch that clearly hurt him.

But Lomachenko isn’t like other fighters. He had learned over the course of a monumental amateur career that he had the innate toughness to support his genius; Lomachenko re-took his feet and blasted Linares out in the tenth.

He certainly hasn’t looked back. Jose Pedraza, the world’s number three lightweight at that time, made it through a nightmarish eleventh to take Lomachenko the distance in 2018 but it was a wide, hurtful loss for the brave, world class Puerto Rican. Anthony Crolla went next and was stopped in just four rounds, his first stoppage loss since 2012. Luke Campbell, ranked number seven just as Crolla had been, seemed to be having a better evening but he won just two rounds and was on the receiving end of some savage combinations in making it to the final bell.

Lomachenko learns his man’s range then abuses it, hovering just within or just outside it, using his quick reflexes and beautiful, consistent slipping to keep him safe while he deploys what has become one of the best body-attacks in the sport. Predicting him is impossible, which forces fighters to try to take the play away from him, which leaves them open for the widest variety of counters in boxing this century.

It is mildly frustrating then that he and Crawford never met in the ring. Had it happened, that ring would have contained as much skill as any since Roberto Duran defeated Ray Leonard.

The other lists:

Heavyweight

Cruiserweight

Light-Heavyweight

Super-Middleweight

Middleweight

Light-Middleweight

Welterweight

Light-Welterweight

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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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