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Re-Visiting Ten Fascinating Heavyweight Prospects One Year Later

Matt McGrain

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Back in the summer of 2018 we took a look at ten selected heavyweight prospects and put them under the microscope, an article you can see here.

One year later we are re-visiting the ten selected heavies to see who has done what to whom and why; who has been moved along too quickly and who not at all; who is positioned for a title shot, and when it is likely to come.

It doesn’t always make for pretty reading. Last time around we came across some fighters of walloping potential who found themselves mired in professional-loser hell and for some the year gone by has made little difference. Faceless opponents slip by unremembered and unmotivated, satisfied at a brief brush with potential greatness, apparently not unlike some of the associated promoters. But it’s not all bad news. We now have a national champion among the ten; others are following a well trodden path to a title shot via alphabet escalator. And two of the below men are even fighting each other, which is more old school than any training method or punch selection more likely to be named as such.

A quick reminder that this isn’t a “top ten”, just a fascinating ten, some more fascinating than others, most more fascinating than they were in 2018.

THE COLOSSUS: ARSLANBEK MAKHMUDOV

FROM: Russia HEIGHT: 6’5.5 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 250lbs AGE: 29 RECORD: 8-0 with 8 KOs

“It sounds ridiculous given that he has only fought three contests,” I last wrote of Arslanbek Makhmudov, a supplanted Russian boxing out of Canada, “but Arslanbek Makhmudov isn’t being moved fast enough.”

In part, this was due to his age. Makhmudov is thirty this week.

Happily, this gargantuan heavyweight has been moved along apace since last year, even finding some fighters who were able to extend him beyond the one minute mark. Emelio Zarate, the owner of the most spectacularly broken nose in the whole division, managed to take him as far as the second round in his fourth contest; Zarate had previously extended the debuting Sergey Kuzmin the six round distance.

Later, Jason Bergman, who once survived Joseph Parker for eight rounds, resumed normal service for Makhmudov opposition, flattened in a round, the left hand this time playing its part (Makhmudov is better known for his prestigious right). There are small gains on display here.

Most recently, in May of last year, Makhmudov stepped up to the ten round distance and identified his preferred ABC, fighting for something called the “World Boxing Council Continental Americas Heavyweight Title”. His opponent was a respectable one, the American Jonathan Rice, a fighter who had previously taken prospect Tony Yoka the distance over in Paris and a fighter who had never been stopped.

Makhmudov crushed him in seconds.

The Colossus has had a good year. He’s moved up in class and there has been no affect upon either his power or his person. Next year should see him ranked in the WBC top ten; the one after that will see him dueling legitimate top ten contenders.

SIX NINE: IVAN DYCHKO

FROM: Kazakhstan HEIGHT: 6’9 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 250lbs AGE: 28 RECORD: 8-0 with 8 KOs

It’s been a bad, bad year for the six foot nine inch Ivan Dychko.

“But wait a moment Matt!” I hear you cry, “Ivan has won every fight he’s been in by knockout since last June. How can that be a bad year?”

Firstly, Dychko has only been out of the garage three times in comparison to Makhmudov’s five; he’s boxed only five rounds in those three fights against opponents with a shared loss ledger numbering thirty-eight. The best of his paid victims was the fighter formerly known as Ray Austin, now aged forty-eight and with a record of 1-5 from his last six coming into his contest with Dychko.

In fairness, the Kazakhstani looked slick and hard-handed while beating up the blubbery, stumbling former contender, who was pulled with an arm injury in round three; but the sight was too sad to enjoy.

Dychko was complaining this time last year about the miserable level of his opposition, and if anything, it’s dropped off. The highlight of his year has been the miniscule level of attention he generated when bizarrely volunteering to replace Jarrell Miller against Anthony Joshua based upon their amateur rivalry.

If he was unhappy in 2018, he must be beside himself now. His Australian promotion team is failing him.

THE QUIET ONE: DANIEL DUBOIS

FROM: Great Britain HEIGHT: 6’5 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 239lbs AGE: 21 RECORD: 11-0 with 10 KOs

Daniel Dubois has had perhaps the finest year of any of our heavyweight prospects, going 4-0 against steadily improving opposition. He also got priceless, priceless rounds under his belt when veteran spoiler Kevin Johnson took him the ten last October and what is more he won every one of them.  Johnson, who has fought a who’s who of heavyweights, was impressed.

“His jab got the power of a right hand,” Johnsons said after their contest. “I could not get past that jab.”

In additionally rating Dubois jab superior to Vitali Klitschko, Johnson has made quite the statement.  Johnson did also express reservations, however, not least over Dubois’ explosiveness; the veteran found it lacking. This illustrates further concerns over Dubois’ paucity of handspeed. It hasn’t cost him yet but the giant Englishman is not blessed with quick mitts. Speed can be improved, especially in a young fighter, especially when it comes to knitting punches together in bunches, but this prospect’s has not improved. Sometimes I feel he looks slower.

This just hasn’t mattered so far; not when he met the onramp to the WBO title path; not when he blasted out Razvan Cojanu, a former victim of both Luis Ortiz (KO2) and Joseph Parker (UD12) in just two rounds; and he will hope not when he meets fellow UK prospect Nathan Gorman next month.

Dubois and Gorman clash on the thirteenth in London when they will become the first two men from this list of prospects to meet. The winner will become the pre-eminent name among his peers.

THE BRUTE: SERGEY KUZMIN

FROM: Russia HEIGHT: 6’3.5 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 245lbs AGE: 31 RECORD: 15-0 with 11 KOs

“Sergey Kuzmin,” I wrote last year, “is a pressure fighter with a stylistically stated preference for power-punches.  He throws with bad intentions, sometimes wildly, while tucking his head into chest and giving the impression that he would rather be smaller than bigger.”

That was probably the best summary I wrote and it remains as true now as it was then.

Kuzmin has on paper had a quiet year compared to many of the others listed here, but at 15-0 is assuming the tone of a fighter no longer a prospect. His opponents have improved accordingly.  David Price was an interesting and sensible opponent, a vulnerable giant with good name recognition in a new market for the Russian. His trip to the UK sadly ended in Price’s withdrawal with an arm injury rather than with the hoped-for knockout, but Kuzmin took it in his stride and flew back to the USA where he matched the 6’4 240lb fleet-footed LaRon Mitchell. Kuzmin hunted him down in six brutal rounds, ostensibly stopping him with an eye-watering uppercut but really stopping him with a summary attack that he sustained from beginning to end.

Then came Kuzmin’s match with Joey Dawejko in March of this year. I thought the judges had it a little too close across the board and the majority decision in favor of Kuzmin favored Dawejko in my opinion, but it is nevertheless a fact that Dawejko did give Kuzmin some problems he did not entirely overcome. Given that there are many levels between Dawejko and the best opponents Kuzmin will meet in the next two years, his team may have cause to worry; the Russian looked occasionally bereft of ideas during these ten absorbing rounds.

He nevertheless remains the most spiteful piece of work on this list.  I’ll stick my neck out and nominate him to be the third to achieve a TBRB ranking, too.

THE AMERICAN: DARMANI ROCK

FROM: USA HEIGHT: 6’5 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 240lbs AGE: 23 RECORD: 15-0 with 10 KOs

He’s from the right country, is the right age, has the right name and the right physical attributes, but still the silence around Darmani Rock remains deafening. I can’t quite decide if his promotional team is being very, very smart or very, very dumb; time, I suppose, will tell.

And Rock has plenty of it. Aged just twenty-three, moving him slowly is valid, and for all the impatience of the iPhone era, a reasonable approach to developing a fighter. That said it is a little disturbing to me that so little is said about him even when he is moved on, as he was against Pedro Rodriguez last October. Rodriguez, perhaps, is the wrong side of shot having been the discerning prospect’s opponent since 2012, but up until very recently he has been beaten only by the best. At the very least he had more name recognition than typical Rock fare.

I would describe the fourth round stoppage for you, but I’ve never seen it. I’m not even sure that the fight was televised and if it was the internet does not appear to be carrying it, almost unheard of.

Again: very smart, or very dumb?  That is yet to be revealed, but I don’t think we can expect much movement from Rock over the next twelve months.

MY FAVORITE: FILIP HRGOVIC

FROM: Croatia HEIGHT: 6’6 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 230lbs AGE: 26 RECORD: 8-0 with 6 KOs

Technically proficient, quick of hand and thought, physically imposing and clearly in great shape, Filip Hrgovic is confirmed as having everything he needs to be a champion in the heavyweight division except the important ones: chin and stamina. These still remain unconfirmed, although his adventures in the WSB suggest he owns a sturdy mandible at the very least.

Hrgovic was scheduled to fight ten rounds with a name opponent last September and it seemed we might get to find out about his stamina, too. Amir Mansour, after all, had yet to be stopped in nearly thirty contests except by a self-inflicted injury to his tongue.

Hrgovic changed all that. With a Klitschko-like control of range and tempo, Hrgovic dominated the fight from beginning to end. Then, in a style all of his own, he closed the blinds on Mansour in just three rounds in what was a physical and technical mismatch.

Defensively we have also seen some improvement though neither in parrying or blocking, but rather in the form of generalship and so the old concern is also the new concern. Hrgovic may find himself in unnecessary firefights, something I can’t say I’m anything but delighted about except to say that it may at some time cost him.

Hrgovic followed this up with an eight round decision victory over Kevin Johnson in December and then a gorgeous one round destruction of American Gregory Corbin. Corbin had been disqualified for a single loss in his sixteen fight career but three right hands, all different, all delivered with the same withering certitude to different parts of Corbin’s anatomy, saw him exit the Hrgovic story stage left.

Hrgovic has no fight scheduled currently. My prediction is that he will be ranked in either the TBRB or Ring rankings before we speak again.

HAYMAKING: JOE JOYCE

FROM: Great Britain HEIGHT: 6’6 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 255lbs AGE: 33 RECORD: 9-0 with 9 KOs

“Joyce in many ways is the most interesting fighter on this list,” was my claim this time last year, “because he probably will not be in competition with the other men listed but rather with the current generation of heavies. I suspect Joyce will find his way into the ring with an international class opponent before he hits 10-0 and a world level fighter before he hits 15-0.  This is likely a space worth watching.”

Sure enough, Joyce is slated to meet Bryant Jennings in his tenth professional contest in London next month. In actual fact though, Joyce pre-dated my prediction by two fights, thrashing Bermane Stiverne in six rounds this past February. Those who wish, understandably, to write off Stiverne as washed up should keep in mind that his previous opponent was Deontay Wilder. Joyce is mixing it with fighters who have recently mixed with the elite, and David Haye and his promotional team are to be lauded for the speed with which they are moving a heavyweight who is in his mid-thirties.

Jennings may provide a different and stiffer test and is an even braver piece of match-making. Joyce has the same problem as Dubois: his hands are slow, and sometimes it seems they are comically so.

But he has an elite level workrate and excellent accuracy. If you can control your positioning and are defensively aware, this can go a long way to making up for physical shortcomings.

Joyce will need this and more on July thirteenth. Should he win, a fast-burning addition to the heavyweight melting pot is complete. I make Joyce a slight favorite in what is absolutely a legitimate graduation night, and given the speed with which he is being matched, I think you can expect to see him in with a legitimately ranked opponent before summer 2020.

THE PUB BOUNCER: NATHAN GORMAN

FROM: Great Britain HEIGHT: 6’3 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 250lbs AGE: 22 RECORD: 16-0 with 11 KOs

“Nathan Gorman isn’t really a pub bouncer,” I explained last year, “but because he looks a little like one, he’s been consistently overlooked as a heavyweight prospect in the UK in favor of the ripped Joe Joyce and the less tubby Daniel Dubois.  This is unfair.”

Gorman will get to show how unfair or otherwise it is on the thirteenth of July when he meets Daniel Dubois ring center in London’s O2 Arena.  It’s a fascinating tussle not too unlike the recent Joshua-Ruiz upset; Dubois, the enormous, chiseled, money-maker has been pitted against a smaller, less svelte fighter with quicker hands.

The Dubois fight is everything to Gorman. There will be no unearned second coming should he lose, just a long and difficult slog back to where he is now followed by the real work. Gorman, for all that he could be another all-action feel-good story with all the benefits that brings, has it all on the line in a way that Dubois, perhaps, does not.

And I really think he might win. His strengths line up well with Dubois’ weaknesses. One thing is for sure though: Gorman’s status next time we check in with him will be more dramatically affected by his next fight than every other man on this list.

THE LITTLE GUY: OLEKSANDER USYK

FROM: Ukraine HEIGHT: 6’3 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 220lbs AGE: 32 RECORD: 16-0 with 12 KOs

To our great frustration, Usyk pulled out of his heavyweight debut, scheduled to take place in the United States late last month. The proposed opponent was a legitimate one, specifically Carlos Takam who had previously given Anthony Joshua one or two moments.

Truthfully though, he was perfect for Oleksander Usyk. Quick feet, quick hands, legitimate mobility and the generalship and gas tank to utilize it are going to be the antidote to many of the turgid heavyweights that swarm just outside the top ten.

More disturbing than Usyk’s injury is talk of his moving between cruiserweight and heavyweight for a period. That seems unwise. Freeing the body up to unlimited before packing it back in a cruiserweight box could be detrimental to both Usyk’s performance and his potential heavyweight ranking. Hopefully this time next year Usyk will have bid adieu to 200lbs and begun his assault upon the biggest division in earnest.

It wouldn’t surprise me if he has come into possession of some minor strap by next June.

AT THE SCHOOL OF MANNY STEWARD: VLAD SIRENKO

FROM: Ukraine HEIGHT: 6’3.5 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 243lbs AGE: 24 RECORD: 11-0 with 10 KOs

Former Manny Steward disciple James Bashir went a long way to train Vlad Sirenko; Sirenko’s steady improvements have been their dual reward.

Sirenko had a big 2018/19, moving out of South Africa where he boxed his apprenticeship and into his home of Ukraine and to Germany, where his mid-term future may lie.

In terms of opposition there has been little offered with the Congolese African champion Rocky Kaleng the probable high mark. Kaleng hadn’t been stopped since 2010 in just his fourth contest.  What’s more, he actually gave Sirenko a little fright, landing a series of stern left hooks in the opening minute as the Ukrainian looked to out-squabble his opponent in close. It was in close, too, that an overeager Sirenko landed a clunking rabbit-punch and the fight immediately drifted from Kaleng’s forty-year old legs. Sirenko ended matter with his own left hook moments later, although there was some ambiguity regarding the veracity of the stoppage; was the rabbit-punch, the menacing left hook of Sirenko or Kaleng’s age most culpable for the first round knockout victory?

There was no ambiguity where Sirenko’s knockout of Leonardo Robutti in Germany for the national belt of that country was concerned, however. The three piece combination to finish that fight would make the highlight reel of any active heavyweight.

Of all the fighters on our list though, Sirenko has the most work to do. He is too upright and Kaleng showed him vulnerable to the left-hook. There is no hiding this footage which is readily available online; look for every new opponent to land their own high left hands early. It’s the job of James Bashir to stop them.

THIS TIME NEXT YEAR

Zero losses and a raft of victories is what our heavyweight prospects have delivered over the last twelve months.  I can guarantee that the next time we check in, losses will have been suffered.  Even if Dubois and Gorman stage an unsatisfactory draw, Joyce, Usyk, Hrgovic and Kuzmin, at a minimum, will be keeping serious company going forward; I would also expect the winner of Dubois-Gorman to be matched heavy in the months after their contest.

Dychko, Rock and Sirenko will likely continue to tread water, in the case of Dychko, itching for a shot at Anthony Joshua, seemingly very much against his will; meanwhile Makhmudov holds perhaps the most interesting hand of all. He’s ready, he’s been creeping forward at a more measured pace, but whether or not he will move up in class and out of his Canadian stronghold is unclear.

This time next year, we’ll break it down again and see what has transpired.

Photo left to right: Daniel Dubois, promoter Frank Warren, Joe Joyce, Nathan Gorman

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In Defense of Julie Lederman

Ted Sares

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Some years ago, Matt Podgorski (a former boxing official) came up with a formula for evaluating the performance of boxing judges worldwide by determining the percentage of instances his or her scores were consistent with the other two judges working the same fights. He called it the Pod Index. It was a rare effort to quasi-quantify the work of boxing judges. “Boxing and MMA judges are often evaluated based on whether or not they have had a controversial decision. This is a poor way to assign and regard professional judges,” said Podgorski in an interview with former RingTV editor Michael Rosenthal.

Matt’s Disclaimer: “We are not claiming that judges with low Pod Index scores are bad judges. The Pod Index is simply a measurement of round by round variation compared to other judges.”

Julie Lederman placed very high in Podgorski’s study. In fact, only one  veteran judge — Canada’s Benoit Roussel — had a better score.

For more information about the Pod Index, see http://theboxingtribune.com/2014/12/19/the-pod-index-a-step-in-the-right-direction/

Confirmation Bias

Some of this writer’s favorite judges, in addition to Lederman, are Steve Weisfeld, Glen Feldman, Dave Moretti, Glenn Trowbridge, Joe Pasquale, Max DeLuca, Hubert Earle, Benoit Roussel, Burt Clements, Rocky Young, Joel Scobie, Tom Shreck, Don Trella, William Lerch, Pinit Prayadsab, and Raúl Caiz, Jr. All of them have been maligned at one time or another.

Being a judge is a thankless endeavor and attention is mostly received when something controversial happens. Once a judgment is made about a bad job, that judgment influences future perceptions. This is known as “confirmation bias.”

Thus, Julie Lederman’s highly questionable scoring in the Loma-Lopez fight, though it didn’t change the result, will most certainly label her a bad judge, tarnishing her reputation despite all of the fine work she has done in the past. Moreover, it’s now fashionable to “pile on” and castigate her with a nasty Bob Arum leading the charge.

“…what kind of fight was she watching,…these judges are the craziest…I would advise any fighter I would have to ask the commission not to appoint her…” — Arum

This wasn’t the first time that Arum criticized Julie. Back in 2014, Tim Bradley and Diego Gabriel Chaves fought to a draw. Lederman scored the fight 116-112 in favor of Chaves. Arum had this to say: “She should never be allowed to work in Nevada again….Her scorecard for Chaves is an absolute disgrace …[She was appointed] because they let these [expletive] Showtime guys put a fight on the same night that we did it. They don’t have enough judges. They don’t have enough referees. They want to accommodate both parties. Why? Because they’ll do anything the [expletive] MGM asks them to do.”

“It’s easy to criticize boxing judges. But it’s not that easy to have a sound basis for the criticism. One needs to see the fight the judge saw to be in the position to rightly criticize. Critics should temper criticisms in light of the situations boxing judges are in when judging fights. And judges should likewise understand criticisms from the boxing public, however baseless these may seem.”  — Epifanio M. Almeda

Lederman, 52, is in her 24th year as a professional boxing judge. Her assignments have taken her to eight foreign countries and Puerto Rico. And she has been a fixture this year at the MGM Bubble, working 18 fights across seven shows without incident prior to this past Saturday night.

This, of course, does not excuse Julie’s scoring on Saturday (119-109 for Teofimo Lopez), but it needs to be kept in mind that she has been ranked high over the years and does not have in her past work a pattern of poor judging such as seemed to exist, for example, in Texas and which drew the ire of Paulie Malignaggi.

When she first hit the scene, cries of nepotism and politics accompanied her, but those complaints quickly evaporated. Whether she can bounce back from this controversy remains to be seen. This writer hopes she can.

Photo: Julie Lederman and her father are flanked by Henry Hascup, President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and Aaron Davis, former President of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board

Ted Sares can be reached on Facebook or at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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“—C’mon!” (from the pen of Springs Toledo)

Springs Toledo

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-C'mon

“—C’mon!” said Teofimo Lopez with two seconds left in the 12th round. It was a Brooklyn thing to say on a Brooklyn-type Saturday night, and Lopez timed it well. He’d just crashed two hooks at either side of Vasiliy Lomachenko’s head and ended their saga as it began—with sharp words.

“My son will destroy Lomachenko,” Lopez’s father told EsNews in August 2017. Three months later Lopez was in the gym mimicking his style. “Same side always,” he said as he tapped the bag and dipped to his right. “Nuthin’ different.” “Lomachenko is a diva,” he said last week. “I don’t like him … I’m the type of person, I say something I mean it. If you have a problem with it, come see me.” Lomachenko came to see him all right, and both brought their fathers as if the whole thing was a schoolyard scrap.

Lomachenko’s father is a silent sage. His modern training techniques are part of the “performance revolution” that has transformed every sport, including the sport that’s barely a sport, and not necessarily for the better. Papa Chenko’s futurama theories seem at once scientific and idiosyncratic. Pundits who never heard of Freddie Brown think they’re next-level stuff. There’s Lomachenko holding his breath under water to build lung strength; there he is touching that board with blinking lights to improve hand-eye coordination. When Lomachenko was 9, his father went so far as to enroll him in a Ukrainian folk dance school to expose him to hobak, hutsulka, and the kolomiyka, and you can see it in all the hopping and side-stepping he does around the ring at 32.

Papa Lopez is anything but silent, though he too is a sage—a naysaying sage with street instincts picked up during a few round trips through hell. He takes no one’s word for anything and if he takes a break from a tirade and asks a question, it has about as much tact as a shiv. When Lomachenko is holding his breath in the pool is someone else there too, denting his rib cage with hooks? Those lights blinking on the screen, do they feint? And dancing school? Dancing school? Brooklyn itself rolls its collective eyes.

Papa Lopez laughs without mirth at the consensus opinion, at the so-called experts. But he couldn’t laugh off the indisputable fact that Lomachenko has been knocking off a parade of world-class fighters. So he plopped down in front of YouTube to see for himself what was happening.

And what did he see?

He saw that the so-called Matrix style is a series of tricks; that Lomachenko is pulling fast ones on the gullible in the opposite corner and in press row. He saw opponents cooperating with him as he gauged their strengths and weaknesses in the first round or two and measured the distance between his glove and their chin. He saw them mesmerized by nothing-shots—“pitty pats,” he called them, “patty-cakes,” and wondered if it would have been easier or harder, given the language barrier, if Lomachenko just came out and asked them to throw something so he can find the best route around it to sock them in the chops.

Papa Lopez also saw that Lomachenko is preoccupied with not getting hurt; that he habitually slips, dips, and veers off to his right against the conventional stance. Teofimo, 23, saw the same thing. They both know why he prefers that direction: it’s the safest route.

His offense, which has two prongs and lots of frills, doesn’t contradict his preoccupation. Lomachenko wants to draw out his opponents to counter them. He stands a half-step off the perimeter where they can’t quite reach him and he can’t reach them. Then he baits them. If they take the bait, he hops in with a jab and then hops back out of reach. He’s making calculations, looking for patterns, and once he finds them he exploits them with minimal risk to himself because, like Floyd Mayweather, he already has a pretty good idea of what they’re going to throw. When is he most aggressive? When his opponent is least aggressive—out of position or covering up. He isn’t comfortable with uncalculated risks. Like Floyd, he wants control; and that only happens with an opponent’s cooperation.

Stanley Crouch, the late cultural critic and Brooklynite who was at least as contentious as Papa Lopez, understood the set-up. “What a boxer ideally wants to do is turn the opponent into an assistant in his own ass-whipping,” he said. “That’s really what you want the other guy to do—to assist you in whipping his ass.”

Lomachenko built a reputation on willing assistants.

And defeating him was easier than anyone anticipated. The fighter of the future bowed to all-American unruliness and old-fashioned fundamentals.

Old School’s comeback Saturday night was long, long overdue. Lopez used his strength and length to draw an invisible border with a warning that said “this far and no farther.” Then he enforced it. Instead of letting Lomachenko freely angle around him like he’s some stiff at the prom, he angled with him and threw punches. When Lomachenko slipped and sallied past his invisible border, he adjusted his distance and sent the dogs out. He stopped his momentum. He never let him take control. He never cooperated.

By the 8th round, Lomachenko realized that he had no chance to win unless he let go of his preoccupation with defense. He had to “sell out,” as Andre Ward said, by getting closer and sallying in when it wasn’t safe. Lomachenko won the 8th round—the first of only three that two judges scored his way—but it didn’t matter. His mouth had dropped open as if he was getting ready to admit futurama’s failure. “I heard him huffing and puffing and I knew I had him,” said Lopez.

The 12th round reminds us that Old School remains the gold standard in the sport that’s barely a sport. When Papa Lopez had a nervous moment in the corner and urged caution, Lopez refused. “I’m a fighter, I can’t give him that,” he said, as if to remind us that Old School is more than dust, that it’s a disposition.

Teofimo Lopez now stands in a succession of lightweight kings whose dispositions were the impetus behind achievements that make this succession very possibly the most majestic of them all: Joe Gans. Benny Leonard. Tony Canzoneri. Barney Ross. Henry Armstrong. Ike Williams. Carlos Ortiz. Roberto Duran. Julio Cesar Chavez. Pernell Whitaker.

Floyd Mayweather is in that succession too, but the business model that guided his career was rebuked Saturday night. Lopez pointed to the past, polished it up, and declared its superiority. “We’re bringing back what the Old School was. You fight the best and push on it. I’m not here to pick and choose who I want to fight because I want to defend my title and keep that 0,” he said and shook his head. “No. Nah!”

The lightweight king now beckons chief rivals Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, and Gervonta Davis to disavow the business model and take up the red flag. He looks north to Josh Taylor and Jose Carlos Ramirez’s battle for the jr. welterweight crown and beckons either of them—or both.

 “—C’mon!”

 

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Kelsey McCarson’s HITS and MISSES: Takeover Edition

Kelsey McCarson

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Boxing is back!

Okay, boxing had technically been back for a few months now. But didn’t it seem to be more fully back to normal with the weekend’s lightweight unification battle between Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko on ESPN?

Make that double the case now that another edition of HITS and MISSES follows the latest big weekend in boxing, the first installment since the global pandemic began. 

HIT: Teofimo Lopez’s Undisputed Takeover

It’s one thing to parade something like “Takeover” around as your nickname while promising to be the next great fighter in the sport. It’s quite another to actually pull that takeover off, and do it at the tender age of 23 against a three-division world champion that’s a massive betting favorite. 

But that’s what Lopez did on Saturday night in Las Vegas, and he accomplished it in a way that almost nobody expected. 

Lopez dominated Lomachenko from the start of the fight. He outboxed the clever southpaw savant in a way few people dreamed possible and took home the unanimous decision win. Even among the few who thought the young lion might somehow usurp the old guard, most of that crew thought it would probably be one big punch that sent Loma down for the count.

By the end of the night, Lopez had solidified his status as boxing’s newest superstar. He also became the first undisputed lightweight champion since Pernell Whitaker. 

But even if the whole WBC Franchise fiasco leaves you in a place that questions that specific designation, Lopez used his post-fight celebration time to call the other WBC belt holder Devin Haney about a possible future showdown. 

So, Lopez is the undisputed best thing to happen to boxing in a long time. 

MISS: Vasiliy Lomachenko’s Slow Start

I like to think Lomachenko is still somewhere out there right now feinting and shuffling his feet around like a dancer. Seriously, though, what was Lomachenko doing for most of Saturday night? He certainly wasn’t attempting to win the fight. 

Much was made by the ESPN announcers about how Lomachenko would start slow in fights because he liked to download his opponents’ movements before settling on his attacks. But Lomachenko didn’t seem all that interested in attacking Lopez until somewhere around the eighth-round. By that time, the 32-year-old was way too far down on the scorecards for anything to matter all that much.

Sure, the last third of the fight was fun to watch. Lomachenko did end up having his moments including a strong 11th round, but it would have been a better fight if Lomachenko had started sooner. 

Instead, the fighter ESPN has long argued deserved to be ranked above everyone else regardless of weight class dispassionately saw his titles ripped away from him with relative ease. 

HIT: Edgar Berlanga’s KO Streak

Last year, I noted that Berlanga’s incredible streak was probably a case of matchmaking gone awry and that Berlanga would likely suffer later in his career because he wasn’t getting any rounds under his belt that mattered. 

My reasoning? Even terrifying power punchers like Deontay Wilder and Gennadiy Golovkin didn’t dispatch their early opponents in such decisively one-sided ways. 

Maybe it was just the lack of boxing around due to the global pandemic, but now I’ve flipped on Berlanga’s knockout streak. The 23-year-old scored his 15th first-round stoppage in a row against Lanell Bellows on Saturday’s Top Rank on ESPN card. 

It’s become one of the most interesting and noteworthy streaks in the sport, and this time Berlanga stopped an opponent who had never suffered that fate before in any round, much less the first. 

Berlanga’s 15 KOs in 15 fights is good television. 

MISS: Boxing Judge’s Viral ‘Social Dilemma’

Lewis Ritson was awarded a split-decision victory over former lightweight titleholder Miguel Vazquez on Saturday in England in a junior welterweight bout dubbed by the Sporting News as the “worst decision of 2020.”

According to CompuBox, Ritson’s “constant forward movement and snappier punches” earned him the nod on two of the judges’ scorecards even though Vazquez had out-landed him in all the important punch stat categories (193-141 overall, 80-75 jabs, 113-66 power).

But the biggest controversy was the viral picture of judge Terry O’Connor apparently looking at his phone during the fight that he scored 117-111 for Ritson. 

That didn’t sit well with anyone who believes judges should be watching the fights they’re tasked with scoring.

But in the wake of Netflix’s documentary film “The Social Dilemma,” that shows just how ingenious today’s artificial intelligence is at boosting user engagement so companies can sell advertising time to the unwitting people on the other end who don’t know why they can’t put their phones down. Maybe O’Connor and others should be mandated to place their phones in a place they can’t be accessed during fights. 

That would keep the social media outrage that’s going on right now over the few seconds O’Connor spent looking away from the action and point it more toward what appears to be boxing’s bigger problem: phones or no phones, too many boxing judges don’t know how to score fights. 

HIT: The Wonder of Complementary Programming 

Boxing counterprograms itself so much these days through the different promotional companies and networks out there that it’s nice to enjoy at least one day in recent history where a big fight happened and there weren’t any other big fights attempting to grab our attention. 

Not only did that happen, but ESPN wisely chose not to split programming between it’s MMA and boxing audiences on Saturday. 

ESPN is the home to Top Rank on ESPN boxing as well as the world’s leading MMA promotional company, UFC.

Like Top Rank, the UFC had a massive fight card on its schedule on Saturday, and the boxing/UFC audiences are fractured enough that both cards could have somewhat reasonably ran against each other. 

Instead, the UFC’s Fight Night card in Abu Dhabi ran early in the evening, and it meant UFC fans who might be somewhat interested in the big fight in boxing could be funneled to the main card featuring Lopez vs. Lomachenko. 

That’s great for both sports, the promoters and ESPN, too. Top Rank’s Bob Arum and UFC’s Dana White might hate each other for personal and political reasons, but the rising tide of complementary programming on ESPN will ultimately have all ships rising. 

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

 

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