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Jermall Charlo Defeats Brandon Adams in Soldout Houston Homecoming

Kelsey McCarson

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Jermall Charlo’s Houston homecoming at NRG Arena went longer than most people probably expected it would. Still, in the end, the local champ earned the hard-fought unanimous decision victory over Brandon Adams, 29, from Los Angeles, in front of a soldout crowd of 6,408.

Judges at ringside scored it 119-109, 120-109 and 120-108 for Charlo. 

No longer known as the other Charlo, Jermall put his interim—err—suddenly very full WBC world middleweight title on the line in the fight. It was the long-awaited Houston return bout for Charlo, 29, who although one minute older than his identical twin brother, Jermell, had gotten a little slower out of the professional gate than did his sibling. 

Charlo stayed behind his jab during the first round. He didn’t land it with any regularity, but his significant longer reach and greater height kept Adams from doing anything but ducking and dodging early besides the occasional looping roundhouse from long distance.

Perhaps secure in his superiority after the first three minutes, Charlo pressed more for an opening against Adams in round two. Charlo’s crosses and uppercuts were full for steam, but artful dodging by Adams kept the challenger safe from harm. 

Adams did his best to make a fight of it in round three. Charlo threw and landed more punches, but Adams made him miss more than perhaps he was accustomed to doing and even managed to corral Charlo to the ropes where his shorter body might give him an edge. But Charlo’s uppercuts and hooks were fast and vicious, so mostly Adams had just put himself in harm’s way.

Still, it was his only chance, so Adams pressed more in the next round. The action heated up because of the closer quarters, with Charlo’s more powerful and precise punches probably taking the nod. 

They traded overhand rights to start round five. Charlo had Adams dazed in the corner soon after, but the brave boulder of a man got his wits about him and made it through the stanza. 

Charlo is a sharp, powerful and ruthless puncher. A right uppercut, left hook combination put Adams in trouble in round six, but his craft earned him some respect when he dazed Charlo with a hard hook and put the Houstonian’s backs to the ropes toward the end of the round.

But Adams main problem was that whenever Charlo kept him on the end of his longer punches, which was the majority of round seven, there wasn’t much Adams could do to stop it. Sure, he’d lob the occasional hard and awkward counter, but Charlo constantly got the better of things and was always looking to land the telling blow. 

Still, the saving grace for Adams was that for all the physical advantages Charlo had, the hometown fighter wasn’t accurate enough. Credit should be given to Adams perhaps for his quick movement, but it might also be true that Charlo was pressing a bit in an effort to impress the local crowd. 

That showed itself again in the ninth round when Charlo let loose a five-punch combination that Adams deftly avoided in his corner. Adams urged Charlo to bring more pressure, but Charlo was wise to Adams’ attempt at finding a counter opportunity and moved away.

By round ten, it seemed clear the fight would go the distance. Charlo was aggressive in all the right ways, but Adams had too much craft for Charlo to land very many punches clean enough to get the stoppage. Even in round ten, when Charlo seemed to daze Adams, the stocky fighter was able to stem the tide by constantly leaning away from Charlo’s power. 

Charlo did his best to end things early in round eleven with vicious combinations to the head and body, but Adams was just too tough. By the final round, Charlo seemed mostly content to take the win on the judges’ scorecards, a virtual certainty at this point, even in the topsy turvy world of professional boxing. 

Back in 2012 when I first met Jermall, Charlo was undefeated and talented, but he didn’t have a manager or promoter yet. Where Jermell already had twice as many fights on his ledger, as well as a manager, Al Haymon, and a promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, the other Charlo had pretty much nothing going his way except that he seemed to have a place to train at Plex in Houston under the guidance of trainer Ronnie Shields and he appeared to have what it takes physically to make it in the gritty world of professional boxing. 

But something always stood out about Jermall. Maybe it was just that he seemed to be working so hard in the gym every single time I saw him. Where other local fighters I’ve covered over the years in the Houston area usually succumb to the natural apathy that comes with not having a fight coming up soon, Charlo was always in the gym working, sparring and learning as if he did.

So seven years later, that Jermall is now an undefeated two-division world champion with at least a credible path toward megafights against the likes of former unified middleweight king Gennady Golovkin or current lineal champ Canelo Alvarez comes to no surprise to this writer. 

Whether he’ll stay at or near the top of the divisional mountain remains to be seen, but Charlo’s steady rise from relative obscurity should not go unnoticed in the sport. 

Lubin Stops Attou at 154

Erickson Lubin, 23, from Florida, stopped French fighter Zakaria Attou in just four rounds in a junior middleweight scrap that kept Lubin in line for another world title opportunity. Lubin looked electric in the fight, something he’s appeared to be in every outing except one. 

Two years ago, Lubin looked a bit green (or maybe just super unlucky) when he was knocked out by Jermell Charlo in the first round for Charlo’s WBC junior middleweight title.

One wonders what it was like for Lubin to share the card with Jermell’s identical twin brother, Jermall. Was it hard for him to see the same face of the man who so quickly and thoroughly dispatched him of his world championship dreams with one big punch? 

If it did bother him, he certainly didn’t show it against Attou. From the very start of the fight, Lubin was landing hard punches to Attou’s head and body. The Frenchmen moved away, trying to counter, but Lubin was just too sharp for Attou to handle. 

It didn’t help Attou that he injured his right bicep in the bout. Still, even if he had the use of two good arms, this fight probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer than it did. 

Lubin punched him into just about every corner of the ring during every round of the fight. By round four, Lubin had hurt him enough to send him down to the canvas for good. At that point, the fight was mercifully halted by Attou’s corner. 

If there’s anything to criticize about Lubin, it’s that he only really looks for one punch at a time. But at least in that, Lubin is almost always standing flatfooted and throwing with tons of power. He’s fast, He’s athletic. He’s powerful. He’s probably the best fighter in the world right now who has been recently knocked out in the first round. Lubin looks legit. 

Take that one performance away, and Lubin would likely be considered a certain bet to someday win a world championship. Even with that loss, he probably should be anyway. 

Marrero Defeats Ramirez in Featherweight Bout

Claudio Marrero, 30, from the Dominican Republic defeated Eduardo Ramirez, 26, from Mexico, by unanimous decision for a secondary WBA featherweight title. 

The bout was billed as an eliminator bout in the featherweight division, meaning the winner of the fight might theoretically be on his way to facing either regular WBA titleholder Xu Can or super champion Leo Santa Cruz.

But knowing the history of the WBA’s political machinations, which sometimes resembles a sidewalk shell game, the only substantial prize absolutley on the line in the bout (besides what they were paid in money) was probably just pride, and both fighters seemed eager to earn the respect of the other. 

Ramirez was the mover in the bout. He backpedaled from the start trying to get his punches off, while Marrero came forward behind concise footwork and a good jab. 

Ramirez’s main weapon was the right hook from a southpaw stance, though he sometimes would change his footing to get better angles for punches out of an orthodox stance. Marrero ate that hook more than he probably liked, but he also slipped them often enough to employ a sharp one-two, his lead being the right-hand because he was also a southpaw. 

The fight boiled down to Marrero just possessing a slightly higher level of quality, something Ramirez just couldn’t match. He was faster, slicker and the better athlete. Both fighters left their marks on each other, but by the end of the fight it was clear Marrero was the winner. 

Judges at ringside scored the bout 116-112, 115-113 and 118-110 for Marrero, who was jubilant in victory and happy to wear the WBA gold belt around his waist no matter what we in the media think about such things. 

Flores Stops May in Five Rounds at Junior Lightweight

Junior lightweight Miguel Flores stopped Mexico’s Luis May in the fifth round of a scheduled 10-round junior lightweight scrap. 

Born in Mexico, Flores, 26, now lives in Houston and trains at the same place where 140-pound titleholder Regis Prograis does his thing, the Main Street Boxing & Muay Thai gym. Flores is trained by local stalwart Arron Navarro who is one of Main Street’s mainstay cornermen alongside local legend Bobby Benton.  

Flores is now on a two-fight winning streak after suffering consecutive stoppage losses in 2017 to Dat Nguyen and Chis Avalos, just around the time his handlers were talking about their fighter maybe getting a world title opportunity. 

But Flores seems to be back on track. He kept his 35-year-old opponent at the end of his longer and snappier punches right from the opening bell, hurting him on occasion but not quite able to put him away until May’s corner threw in the towel at 1:33 of the fifth round. 

Despite the unexpected losses two years ago, Flores has continued to work and improve, perhaps because he doesn’t just fight for himself, but also for his late brother and role model, Benjamin, who tragically died from injuries suffered inside a ring three months prior to Flores making his own professional debut back in 2009.

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3 Punch Combo: Scoping Out Teofimo vs Nakatani, Ajagba vs Demirezen and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — Boxing on ESPN+ returns this Friday with a card from the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, MD headlined by the fast-rising lightweight sensation Teofimo Lopez (13-0, 11 KO’s). Lopez will be facing the undefeated Masayoshi Nakatani (18-0, 12 KO’s) of Japan in a final IBF eliminator to become the mandatory challenger for champion Richard Commey (29-2, 26 KO’s). While Lopez is a known commodity to most boxing fans, the same cannot be said of Nakatani. So just who is this unheralded fighter from Japan and does he pose any threat to Lopez?

Nakatani, 30, turned pro in 2011 after an amateur career that by most accounts consisted of somewhere between 50 and 60 bouts. As a pro, he has never fought more than three times a year and never outside of Japan, but by managing to stay undefeated he has crept into the Top 15 rankings of three of the four major sanctioning bodies in the lightweight division.

Looking closer Nakatani’s resume, the overall level of his competition is highly questionable.  Probably his best win was in his eighth pro fight when he won a 12-round unanimous decision against Ricky Sismundo. Sismundo has sprung some surprises in the past and as a matter of fact gave undefeated rising contender Maxim Dadashev a scare earlier this year, but this is the same Ricky Sismundo who was defeated by Ruslan Madiyev last week in California, bringing his record to 35-14-3.

Other than Sismundo, the names on Nakatani’s resume are hardly recognizable.

Nakatani, an orthodox fighter, is tall for the lightweight division standing nearly six feet in height. As such, he likes to work behind the left jab. However, that jab is not very sharp or powerful, but used as more of a range finder and to set up his right hand. Sometimes he will follow the right with a left hook but his primary offense is the left jab followed by the right.

Nakatani is not that athletic or quick inside the ring. His hand speed is below average for the division. He is also not a powerful or heavy handed puncher. The knockouts are more from his level of competition than anything else.

Here are a few other notes on Nakatani based on my observations: He does not like to fight on the inside and will initiate clinches when his opponent closes the distance. And he has a habit of trying to avoid punches with his legs, often times pulling straight back with his hands down. He has gotten clipped quite a few times but fortunately for him those fighters that have done so have not possessed big punching power.

I actually do think Nakatani is the strongest opponent for Lopez to date. That being said, however, I do not think he will give Lopez much trouble. Teofimo may get frustrated some by Nakatani’s constant clinching on the inside, and he may get hit with a few range finding jabs, but expect another Lopez knockout here sometime in the first half of the fight.

Under The Radar Fight

The attention of the boxing world this week is going to be focused on the big welterweight pay-per-view title fight between Manny Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KO’s) and Keith Thurman (29-0, 22 KO’s). Also on the show is an intriguing heavyweight fight that is falling deep under the radar between a pair of 2016 Olympians in Efe Ajagba (10-0, 9 KO’s) and Ali Eren Demirezen (11-0, 10 KO’s).

Ajagba, 25, represented his native country of Nigeria in the Super Heavyweight division of the 2016 Olympics where he lost to Ivan Dychko in the quarterfinals. Since turning pro, he has really turned heads, building a reputation as a fearsome puncher.

Ajagba is a big imposing heavyweight. He stands 6’5” tall and possesses a massive 85-inch reach. Best described as an aggressive boxer puncher, he will press the action, often times behind a very stiff and powerful left jab from the orthodox stance. Very athletic for a man his size, he possesses above average hand speed for the heavyweight division. His best trait is his power; he possesses legitimate one punch knockout power in both fists. The natural tools are all there for Ajagba to potentially one day be a dominant force in the division.

But there are things Ajagba needs to work on, namely his defense. Right now, he lacks any sort of head movement and often poses in front of his opponents after punching them to admire his work. He hasn’t paid yet for his lack of attention to defense but that may change as his competition rises.

Demirezen, 29, represented Turkey in the Super Heavyweight division of the 2016 Olympics where he lost to Filip Hrgovic in his opening fight. Since turning pro he hasn’t had much fanfare, but has amassed quite an impressive early pro record while fighting mostly in Germany.

Though he may not have the imposing physique of Ajagba, Demirezen possesses some solid skills as well as some surprising athleticism. As a matter of fact, I’d go so far as to call him a poor man’s version of Andy Ruiz Jr.

Demirezen will look to apply pressure behind the left jab and work combinations with his quick hands behind that jab. He does not really possess one-punch power but is heavy handed and his punches can take a cumulative effect on his opponents. His best punch is a quick left hook to the body that he often lands with precision.

If physiques won a boxing match, this would be no contest. But as we saw with Joshua-Ruiz, physiques don’t always win. Ajagba will be favored and rightfully so, but Demirezen can fight. This is an interesting fight between two undefeated heavyweight prospects who were recent Olympians and one that I am very much looking forward to on Saturday.

Prospect Watch – Luis Arcon

 There is a lot that gets me excited about the future of the sport. Not only is the sport being broadcast like it never has before but we have many good prospects who are beaming with talent. So many good prospects, as a matter of fact, that some very talented young fighters are falling a bit under the radar. One such fighter is junior welterweight Luis Arcon who moved to 8-0 with 8 knockouts this past Friday with a third-round knockout of Mario Lozano.

Like many of today’s top prospects, Arcon has a strong amateur pedigree. His amateur background includes representing his native country of Venezuela in the 2016 Olympics.

Arcon, 27, turned pro in March of 2018 in Mexico. So far he has breezed through his competition though it must be noted that he hasn’t faced the toughest of challenges. But he has looked very good so far in his early pro career and has been flashing some incredible talent.

Fighting from the orthodox stance, Arcon likes to work behind a well-timed and very powerful left jab. His footwork is excellent and he often positions himself at the right angles to land combinations behind that jab. He possesses very fast hands and can often fire off a volley of power shots before his opponent can react.

And then there is the power. Perhaps this is what stands out most when watching Arcon on video. Granted, as noted earlier, the competition has not been the stiffest, but he has displayed devastating knockout power in both fists. His best punch is the left hook to the body which often has a paralyzing effect on his opposition.

With his amateur background, Arcon is ready to take the next step in his career. His game is polished and he possesses massive power in both of his hands. He belongs on all top prospect lists and has a bright future in this sport.

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R.I.P. Pernell ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker, One of the All-Time Greats

Arne K. Lang

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Tributes are pouring in for Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker who was killed last night (Sunday, July14) after being struck by a car while walking across a busy intersection in Virginia Beach, Virginia. An Olympic gold medalist who won six world titles in four weight classes,  Whitaker was a defensive wizard. At his peak he was considered the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. In 2002, The Ring magazine named him the 10th best boxer of the last 80 years.

Whitaker, who turned 55 in January, turned pro in 1984 at Madison Square Garden on a show that included five of his U.S. Olympic teammates – Evander Holyfield, Mark Breland, Meldrick Taylor, Tyrell Biggs, and Virgil Hill.

As a pro, Whitaker was managed by Main Events, a Duva family company, and did most of his training in Philadelphia under the watchful eye of George Benton. In his 17th pro fight, Pernell ventured to Paris to challenge WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Ramirez who was 100-6 going in. Whitaker came up short on the scorecards, losing a split decision.

This ranked among the worst decisions in boxing history. Whitaker’s chief second Lou Duva accused WBC president Jose Sulaiman of fixing the fight so as not to spoil an all-Mexico showdown between Ramirez and Julio Cesar Chavez.

Two fights later, Whitaker won his first title, taking the IBF lightweight belt from Greg Haugen. Pernell won all 12 rounds on two of the cards. He added the WBC belt in a rematch with Jose Luis Ramirez, winning a wide decision, and added the WBA belt with a first-round stoppage of Puerto Rico’s Juan Nazario in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

Between his first fight with Ramirez and his April 4, 1997 encounter with Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas, Whitaker was undefeated, a span of almost 10 years consisting of 26 fights. During this run he won world titles at 140 and 154 pounds before dropping back to welterweight for four successful title defenses.

There was one “blemish” late in this 26-fight run, a draw at the San Antonio Alamodome with Julio Cesar Chavez. This was also controversial. The post-fight report by William Nack was the cover story in Sports Illustrated. The headline was “Robbed!”

Sweet Pea lost a unanimous decision to De La Hoya that most ringsiders thought was a lot closer than what was reflected by the scorecards (DLH won by margins of 4, 6, and 6 points). A poll of 26 ringside reporters by the Las Vegas Review Journal revealed that 14 scored it for Whitaker with one having it a draw.

Six months after his bout with De La Hoya, Whitaker opposed Andrey Pestryaev at Foxwood’s Resort in Connecticut. He won a unanimous decision but wasn’t himself. A post-fight urine test revealed the presence of cocaine. That dictated a six-month suspension during which he failed a random drug test. He wouldn’t step back into the ring until Feb. 20, 1999, when he opposed IBF welterweight champion Felix Trinidad at Madison Square Garden.

This would the first fight in Whitaker’s remarkable career that he lost without controversy. Trinidad broke Pernell’s jaw during the bout and retained his title with a clear-cut unanimous decision.

Whitaker retired, but launched a comeback 26 months later with a fight in Lake Tahoe against Mexican journeyman Carlos Bojorquez. In this fight, Whitaker suffered a fractured clavicle in the second round. He soldiered on, but 27 seconds into the fourth, seeing that Whitaker was a one-armed fighter in considerable pain, referee Joe Cortez pulled the plug. This would be the final fight of his career. He left with a record of 40-4-1 and 1 “NC” (the Pestryaev contest).

Less than 48 hours later, back home in Norfolk, Virginia, Whitaker was rushed to the hospital with an apparent overdose. His girlfriend called 911 after finding him having a seizure on the floor of the bathroom, his body covered in sweat.

Sweet Pea, who worked as a boxing and personal trainer in retirement, appeared to have it all together back in June of 2007 when he was formally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. His emotional speech was the highlight of the induction ceremony. But in 2014 he was back in the news again when he was forced to evict his 73-year-old mother from the home she had occupied for 30 years. He said that he could no longer afford to maintain the home which he had always kept in his name. The United Press wire story said that Whitaker had squandered millions on drugs and legal expenses.

The man that struck Whitaker with his vehicle remained on the scene. Preliminary reports indicate that the driver was not impaired in any way. We here at The Sweet Science extend our condolences to Whitaker’s family and loved ones.

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The Battle of Wits Between Roach and Birmingham May Decide PacMan vs. Thurman

Bernard Fernandez

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The Battle of Wits Between Roach and Birmingham May Decide PacMan vs. Thurman

It is the boxers who are the center of attention, of course, and that is how it always has been and always should be. But there are a select few high-visibility bouts in which the lead trainers play a more significant role than usual, so much so that their prefight and in-fight strategizing could make the difference between victory and defeat for their guy.

Although it isn’t an undercard attraction in its own right, a mental scrap worth monitoring pits Freddie Roach, Manny Pacquiao’s longtime strategist and a seven-time winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America Eddie Futch Award as Trainer of the Year, against Dan Birmingham, a two-time BWAA Futch winner whose status as one of the elite trainers has dimmed somewhat over the past decade and a half. But the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Birmingham’s reputation could be buffed and polished to its former sheen should Keith “One Time” Thurman win as spectacularly as he has vowed to do on July 20.

The matchup of Pacquiao vs. Thurman might turn out to be just such a fight in which a spotlight, for better or worse, is shone upon the handiwork of the trainers. Those in attendance in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena won’t able to hear their spoken instructions between rounds, but subscribers to the PBC on Fox Sports Pay Per View telecast should pay close attention to what takes place in those vital one-minute interludes when all the preparation that went before is either working as planned, or is undergoing a hurried rewrite on the fly. Seemingly unlikely victories have been procured, more often than casual observers of the sweet science might realize, because the chief second offers just the right bit of tactical advice or just the right inspirational message at precisely the right moment.

The prevailing story lines before the first punch that counts is thrown have been fairly standard stuff: Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs), the living legend and only world champion in eight separate weight classes, attempting to extend the outer limits of his prime at the improbable age of 40, and Thurman (29-0, 22 KOs), the WBA welterweight champion and 10 years Pacquiao’s junior, out to demonstrate that injuries and two-plus years of near-total inactivity haven’t done to him what the natural laws of diminishing returns might or might not have done to the Fab Filipino.

If there were sports books odds dealing with the corner battle involving Roach and Birmingham, Roach, a disciple of the late, great Eddie Futch who has had Pacquiao’s ear for their 16 years together, with the exception of a one-bout absence, almost certainly would be as much a favorite as Mike Tyson was over Buster Douglas or Anthony Joshua over Andy Ruiz Jr. Roach, 59, doesn’t need to make a case for his future induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame as he already has been enshrined, in 2012. Should Pacquiao demonstrate that he is still an elite fighter of the here and now instead of a cherished but faded icon of the past, Roach could take a step toward an almost-unimaginable eighth Futch Award.

And Birmingham?

Like Roach, a former lightweight who posted a 40-13 record with 15 knockouts in a professional career that spanned from 1978 to ’86, Birmingham is a life-long devotee to a sport that got under his skin at an early age and took permanent root. Unlike Roach, who at one point was 25-2 and world-rated under the tutelage of the sainted Futch, Birmingham, 68, never even sipped the proverbial cup of coffee as a pro. He began boxing at 15, weighing all of 112 pounds, in his gritty hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, until he decided that sun and surf were preferable to soot and rust, necessitating a relocation to more pleasant environs along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

There are other differences between Roach and Birmingham, both subtle and stark. As a devotee to Futch, Roach was always in relatively close proximity to the old master’s retinue of stars and hot prospects, laying the groundwork for Roach to begin his own career as a trainer, if not exactly at the top, then at least a ways removed from the bottom. Birmingham, whose other passion besides boxing is rock ’n’ roll – he describes himself as a “guitar-playing 1960s hippie who was at Woodstock” – also had a mentor in Ben Getty, Thurman’s original coach, who took the Ohio transplant on as an assistant trainer to Thurman, then a youthful prodigy.

And while Roach has long since established his bona fides apart from Futch, who was 90 when he passed away on Oct. 10, 2001, to some it might appear that Birmingham is still playing the role of understudy to Getty, who was 63 when he died unexpectedly in 2009.

Thurman was a seven-year-old kid with no discernible purpose in life when he came into contact with Getty, a former serviceman whose post-military life had been unceremoniously reduced to that of a janitor at a Clearwater elementary school. It was Getty who brought Thurman to his after-school YMCA boxing program, where he learned – and loved – to shadowbox, jump rope and spar. It was like the boxing version of Luke Skywalker mastering nuances of The Force under Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda.

“Ben Getty was a very special man,” Thurman said in 2015.  “He was the one who taught me to go for the KO. He used to say this line that pissed me off a lot. I don’t know if he said it to piss me off, or if he just said it because he never wanted me to forget. But he used to say, `You are nothing without your power.’ It took me a long time to understand what that really meant.

“To me at first it was real basic. I took it as telling me I can’t box. Maybe to a degree he did mean that, but throughout the years as I reflect, I think he just never wanted me to forget how important my power is, and how my power has the ability to change the outcome of a fight.”

Getty’s sudden death left a still-developing Thurman at a career crossroads. Shelly Finkel, manager of or adviser to some of boxing’s greatest champions and biggest draws, recommended that Thurman turn himself over to Roach, whose Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles had become a preferred destination for fighters such as himself, brimming with potential yet to be maximized. Thurman politely declined, choosing instead to remain on home turf and with Getty’s right-hand man, Birmingham, who might have been better known at that time than Getty thanks to those two Futch Awards. Thurman continues to publicly revere Getty, wearing trunks with “Ben” stitched across the waistband. You might think that Birmingham takes at least some umbrage to that, but he insists it isn’t so.

“It hasn’t been uncomfortable at all,” Birmingham said of his station as a sort of ersatz Getty, as far as Thurman is concerned. “Ben Getty and I were very close friends. I gave him the keys to my gym so he and Keith could come and go as they pleased. When Ben passed away, just a couple of days later Keith came to me and asked, `Would you take over?’ I said, `Absolutely.’

“Keith’s history with Ben makes my job a lot easier. I don’t have to teach him any basics, that’s for sure. We just analyze the opponent, see what we need to do on fight night to win, and I train him that way. Pacquiao is a diverse fighter. He’s got quick hands, quick feet and he’s a good boxer. He’s fairly unpredictable.”

Not so Thurman, who apparently is holding firm to Getty’s sacred mandate that punching power must remain his No. 1 priority. He has predicted that Pacquiao will go down inside of six rounds, which might be easier said than done even against a Manny who no longer is at peak form.

Make no mistake, though, Birmingham should not be considered a Getty clone that has slavishly adhered to every verse from the Gospel of Ben. In 2004 and 2005, the years he won his Futch Awards, Birmingham was boxing’s tastiest flavor of the moment. His charge Ronald “Winky” Wright, who was inducted into the IBHOF in 2018, outpointed Shane Mosley in a super welterweight unification showdown on March 13, 2004, and followed that up with another points nod over Mosley the same year. In 2005, Wright turned in a career-best performance, utterly dominating Felix Trinidad en route to a one-sided decision, to which he added another UD12 over veteran Sam Soliman.

While Birmingham primarily was recognized for his work with Wright, he augmented his rising profile by taking a lesser talent, 2000 U.S. Olympian, Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy, to the IBF super middleweight title in 2004. Lacy won four times in those two years, three coming inside the distance.

It should be noted that Wright, a clever southpaw who was never known for his ability to get opponents out of there with one shot or even a semi-fusillade of them, was far different stylistically than is Thurman. It therefore seems reasonable to assume that this updated version of Dan Birmingham is no more an exact duplicate of Ben Getty than Freddie Roach is of Eddie Futch.

There are different methods by which a trainer gets his fighter to rise to the occasion when the stage is most brightly lit. Angelo Dundee, Lou Duva and Richie Giachetti, all regrettably gone, embodied the motivational techniques favored by excitable men of Italian heritage. Who can forget Dundee, in maybe the signature moment of his remarkable career, forcefully telling Sugar Ray Leonard, “You’re blowing it, son!”  after the 12th round of his epic welterweight unification matchup with Thomas Hearns on Sept. 16, 1981. An energized Leonard, his eyes swollen and behind on the scorecards, responded by flooring the Hit Man in the 13th round and stopping him in the 14th.

Futch and George Benton, also regrettably gone, were more professorial in their demeanor, rarely raising their voices and disinclined to resort to rah-rah stuff. If Thurman, who has a Nepalese wife and has walked the Himalayas in a quest to find some measure of inner serenity, were to seek out some ancient and wise soothsayer he could do worse than to come across some Tibetan version of a Futch or Benton.

So pay keen attention to the 60-second breaks between rounds when Roach – who, it should be noted, is listed as Pacquiao’s co-trainer, in addition to Manny’s friend and associate Buboy Fernandez – and Birmingham dispense their abbreviated instructions. Whoever wins those small battles of the brain might determine who wins the larger conflict inside the ropes.

Photo credit: Andy Samuelson / Premier Boxing Champions

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