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Where Will Boxing Be 10 Years from Today? A New TSS Quarterly Survey

Ted Sares

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The question for the third quarterly survey of 2019 was “Where do you see the sport/business of boxing 10 years from now?”

Thirty-six noted boxing buffs shared their thoughts. The respondents are listed alphabetically.

RUSS ANBER — trainer, elite cornerman, and owner of Rival Boxing Equipment: Around 1935, as Joe Louis was on his way to being a star, newspapers of the day and media in general, begged the question, “Can Louis save a dying sport?” Boxing is, and always has been cyclical. The success and popularity of boxing has ALWAYS depended on which fighter is carrying the sport. The success, popularity and visibility of the sport has always rested on the shoulders of its biggest stars. Seek out the greatest fighters of any era and you will find an era filled with promise and popularity. Robinson, Louis, Marciano, Ali, Leonard, Tyson are just a few examples. If 2029 blesses us with a fighter who captures the sport’s attention and imagination, we will experience another great time in boxing. If not, we will love it and wait till the next star comes along. Like we always do!

MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI — TSS writer: Boxing will be thriving in 2029 but the landscape will be much different from today. For one, the sanctioning bodies we see today won’t exist. They will finally have been pushed out of the sport after more outlandish acts and replaced by one central ratings system comprised of a panel of experts. And I think we see one dedicated boxing streaming network that broadcasts the sport 24/7, showing thousands of live events each year. The bigger fights will still find their way to traditional outlets (ESPN, etc) while the rest of the sport is covered through this one dedicated streaming outlet.

DAVID AVILA — TSS West Coast Bureau Chief: It’s one of the most pivotal and mysterious moments in boxing history right now. The introduction of streaming and the departure of HBO’s interest in the sport has opened the door to either a massive explosion of growth or an implosion that could send boxing spinning without a foundation.

BOB BENOIT — former pro boxer and now professional referee: it will be going down the drain.

STEVE CANTON — the face of boxing in South Florida: I see things about the same but becoming a little less relevant in the U.S. and more popular on a world-wide basis. As our state commissions continue to over-regulate our sport and make it more expensive and harder to promote events, we will have fewer and fewer shows. As new training techniques and procedures continue to cause boxers to become less proficient in the science of boxing, it might make for semi-exciting bouts with unskilled boxers wailing away on each other. The great teachers have or are dying off and the good athletes today are competing with athletic skills but not boxing skills.

ANTHONY CARDINALE, esq. — longtime legal advisor to many boxers: Thriving, if all title holders were mandatory challengers for other organization’s title holders in a playoff style tournament like the WSB format.

JILL DIAMOND — WBC International Secretary and chairperson and global ambassador for “WBC Cares”: Boxing is a traditional sport. It has gotten safer (and thank the WBC for this), but little else has changed. What has changed are the delivery systems and the subsequent plus and minus issues that result. My hope is that we have unified champions, more validation for the women, and greater opportunities for the boxers, based on ability rather than deal making.

CHARLIE DWYER — former fighter and professional referee: Boxing will continue for better or worse.

BERNARD FERNANDEZTSS mainstay and lifetime Member of the BWAA: With the introduction of DAZN and ESPN+, you have to wonder how much further technology — the means by which we see the fights — can go. Will there be more such ways of bringing the action to viewers? Better, to my way of thinking, of getting the various streaming systems, more standard (as of now) television outlets and promotional concerns and to find a way to play nice and put on the very best fights instead of erecting more barriers to hinder such matchups. Also, the various alphabet organizations need to curb their insatiable appetite for creating more extraneous and unnecessary awards and titles, such as the WBCs new “franchise” championship for Canelo Alvarez. You’d think they were spending money faster than U.S. politicians, which would be a pretty neat trick. Actually, the alphabet groups are more about generating money, for themselves, than spending it. They want FANS to spend it.

LEE GROVES — writer, author, and wizard of CompuBox: Streaming services will make up the vast majority of boxing telecasts, and, with the introduction of the WBC’s “Franchise Champion” belt in addition to the subordinate titles created by the other sanctioning bodies, initiate unprecedented business for those companies charged with making those belts. Hopefully, the fighters and the fights will continue to serve as the solid foundation that has, to this point, kept the sport’s chaotic administrative and political side from sinking it.

HENRY HASCUP — historian; President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame: Hopefully I am wrong but I see the BIG getting BIGGER and the SMALL getting SMALLER or even worse in 10 years. Meaning the big promoters will run out the small guys and that is terrible because boxing needs the little guy to develop the fighters that don’t have the Big backing of the Big guys!

CHUCK HASSON — noted boxing historian and co-author of Philadelphia’s Boxing Heritage: I think 10 years from now things in boxing will be pretty much like now, going through peaks and valleys like it always has with good exciting fights plus lousy promoters who focus on building their fighters and don’t worry about making good fights for the fans.

JACK HIRSCH — former President and now life time member of the BWAA: Great question and one that is hard to predict. My feeling is that with the advanced technology boxing will continue to thrive, but of course it all depends on who the major players will be.

BRUCE KIELTY — booking agent; boxing historian: Unless the television networks (and streaming services, promoters, boxers, etc.) realize that the sanctioning body system isn’t working, boxing will continue to diminish about 1 or 2 % a year. Unlike sports run by professional executives/player representatives (MLB, NFL, NBA, etc.), boxing remains in the Stone Age.

STUART KIRSCHENBAUM — Boxing Commissioner Emeritus, Michigan: For boxing to be significant as a sport and no less a business ten years from now there needs to be an influx of participants. Without a skilled work force …that being boxers…the sport will fade away and be a footnote on a Google search. In Detroit…budget cuts closed the majority of these facilities such as Kronk. Aspiring trainers have tried to open up storefronts but the reality of paying rent and keeping the utilities turned on have become a challenge and a formula for closure in most cases. The young ethnic minority has always been the feeder to the success of boxing but too many quicker paths to financial success, whether legal or not, has changed things. I sadly predict the demise of boxing as we know it now. But then again, Floyd Mayweather Jr. will be making another comeback, so who knows?

JIM LAMPLEY — linchpin of the HBO announcing team for 31 years; 2015 IBHOF inductee: Just as has been the case for the past 128 years, boxing will arrive at its 138th birthday as a perpetually troubled, under-organized, constantly under-achieving but unusually thrilling and surprising public attraction. Its unique adventure as the most entrepreneurial of all sports will not yield to intelligent unification. The overwhelming bulk of its highest quality performers will remain largely anonymous compared to their peers in more conventional sports. Its putative competitor, MMA, will by then have a demonstrably larger audience and greater day to day impact.  But once or twice a year, as has always been the case, boxing will momentarily unify a global audience for a must-see event, and occasionally those events will produce incomparable and unforgettable drama. Unique drama, because at its best, Boxing is still the best.

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                           Boxing Will Never Die Because of its Fraternity—Anonymous

ARNE LANGTSS editor-in-chief, author, historian: Two quick thoughts: (1) Boxing is resilient; if you had a quarter for every time that someone wrote that boxing was on the ropes, you would have a big mound of quarters. (2) By some measures, boxing is healthier today than it has been in quite some time. Having said that, I don’t believe that boxing will ever have the pull that it once had among the English-speaking people of North America without more ethnic diversity….and that’s something that you shouldn’t wish for as it would likely mean that the economy had gone to pieces, enfeebling all economic groups.

JIMMY LANGE — former fighter (appeared on the “Contender” series) and promoter: Nowadays fighters want to be spectacular, but with no substance. It doesn’t work like that. To be great goes WAY beyond the 36 minutes under the lights. It’s a lifestyle. I don’t see hunger these days. I see kids, men, contenders, taking a second to readjust their headphones while they are shadow boxing. The powers that be will continue with the newest way to market and the newest mediums to get eyes on the product. The product will be fine. Venues will fill, viewers will tune in, and it will be lucrative for all. However, the product will continue to be diminished. The public doesn’t care, because they don’t know the difference.

RON LIPTONNJ Boxing Hall of Fame, former fighter, retired police officer, pro referee:  Boxing will flourish 10 years from now or a hundred years from now as it always has. There are ups and downs as in all sports but the inherent lure in our blood still resonates the electric excitement of a good fight. All you need to help it are great fights with top talent facing each other. If the rival promoters and the fighters are willing to make matches that the public wants, then boxing will always flourish. Dynamic buildups of the big punchers like Tyson, rugged solid fighters like Canelo, defensive brash talent like Mayweather, and the type of boxer who will fight anyone and bring in the fans like Ali did are all it takes. You have to have a guy who loves to fight, that is the main thing I know after all my years in professional boxing. We must preserve the fight teachers who can pass on what we know and then the ground remains fertile for more abounding talent to emerge.

ADEYINKA MAKINDEU.K. barrister, author and contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Boxing: I prefer to give an idealist’s vision rather than a pessimistic one. Therefore, I see boxing gravitating towards elimination competitions which put belts at stake with the objective being the unification of divisions: a best-case scenario assuming that the sanctioning bodies will not wither away. I also foresee rigorous Olympic-style testing for PEDs and same day weigh-ins. Time to begin a crusade for logos in boxing: a rejection of the persistent chaotic state of the sport and an insistence on sanity and a correct order of organizing the sport for the benefit of its participants and the fans.

SCOOP MALINOWSKI — boxing writer, author, Mr. “Biofile”:  In America I see it becoming WWF, certain designated manufactured stars who will be protected to maximize earnings. Mayweather, Canelo and next Wilder – the first three major protected counterfeit franchises. The other side of the matrix will be the real authentic unprotected champions – Loma, GGG, Usyk, Crawford, Pacquiao. Curious to see how the two matrix sides blend – or divide.

DAVID MARTINEZ — historian, www.dmboxing.com:  It will be like wrestling was back in the day before Vince McMahon brought in the WWE – promoters governing their own fighters, champions, territories!

LARRY MERCHANT – HBO boxing commentator emeritus; 2009 IBHOF inductee: I’m 88. Where do you think I’ll be in 10 years?

ROBERT MLANDINICH — former NYPD detective, author and boxing writer: I think it will be fine if the broadcast entities make it easier for technophobes to watch the fights. Many fans have no idea how to access DAZN or ESPN+. Also, if Andy Ruiz Jr. can string together a few good wins, he will help create a new legion of fans that could last for 10 years. He is such a breath of fresh air and a guy that casual fans can relate to.

ERNEST MORALES — former fighter: Honestly, being ‘old school’ I can’t see it getting any better, in fact WORSE. The game is being held HOSTAGE, in the hands for the millionaires: promoters, streaming outfits, managers. Fighters pick and choose who they won’t/will fight. Weight clauses, titles becoming worthless and actually thrown back in the faces of the ABC orgs because “champions” refuse to fight well deserved mandatory challengers. It isn’t going to get any better in ten years, nor twenty, unless the fans take a stand, which it seems they won’t.

CHARLIE NORKUSPresident, Ring 8, Veteran Boxers Association: On the surface, boxing looks to be a vibrant sports entity today. The heavyweight division alone has produced some intriguing match-ups lately with boxing fans filling the various houses. The business side looks promising too as the newcomer on the block, DAZN, has signed some talent for their pool. But the lower tier of local boxing cards has taken a hit. New rules in New York governing insurance for fighters has caused somewhat of a drop in the local card shows, but thankfully they still exist. I would like to think that 10 years from now fight cards won’t be so cost-prohibitive as to prevent them from showcasing the young talent in this area. Boxing has always been said to be on the ropes for one reason or another over its many eras, and I am sure it would still remain the status quo. The real threat just might be the surging MMA cards taking control over the remaining boxing crowd.

RUSSELL PELTZvenerable Philadelphia boxing promoter and 2004 IBHOF inductee: There will be more fighters with belts than without belts.

             If everyone wins a belt, then no one wins. – Anonymous

FRED ROMANO — boxing historian, author and former HBO Boxing consultant: For generations they have been saying that boxing is a dying sport. However, boxing is the Rasputin of sports. I expect it to continue to thrill fans throughout the world regardless of deficiencies in governing bodies, the existence of fractured titles and an ever- changing demographic and technological landscape.

LEE SAMUELS — Top Rank publicist emeritus; 2019 IBHOF inductee: Years ago we asked Bob Arum “will there always be fighters and great fights?” and he said, “absolutely: there will always be those who want to get into the ring and box and there will always be fans who want to see the big fights.”

TED SARES — TSS writer: Absolutely the same as Lee Groves, to wit: “Streaming services will make up the vast majority of boxing telecasts, and, with the introduction of the WBC’s “Franchise Champion” belt, in addition to the subordinate titles created by the other sanctioning bodies, initiate unprecedented business for those companies charged with making those belts.”

ICEMAN JOHN SCULLY — manager, trainer, commentator, writer, historian, former boxer: In 10 years from now the sanctioning bodies will have decimated the World Championships to the extent that nobody will know who the Champions are and even people in the boxing game such as myself won’t even care anymore.

MIKE SILVER — author, writer, historian: Boxing is in a transition stage and it does not bode well for the future. The demented circus that is professional boxing today will only get worse. Technology combined with a completely unregulated sport will make for even more confusion. Boxing will actually become even more dumbed-down than it is today. In 2029 every boxer who wins his first pro bout will be awarded some kind of title belt. So figure about 500 new champions per year. What is so absurd and disheartening is that the media and the clueless fans will still accept the garbage being thrown at them, just as they do now. You can see the handwriting on the wall with the announcement that Canelo has just been named the new “Franchise” champion by the WBC, for the sole purpose that he can now fight whoever he wants and remain champion until he is ready for an assisted living facility. This kind of outlandish corruption and stupidity is breathtaking. Why are we still paying attention to this crap? But a fight is a fight, right? So what the hell. Bottom line: It can’t get better.

MICHAEL STEWART — former professional fighter and “Contender” series contestant: I think fewer young people will go into the amateurs as there will be more options for them. This will impact boxing ten years from now in a somewhat negative way.

ALAN SWYER — filmmaker, writer, and producer of the acclaimed El Boxeo: My hope is that ten years from now boxing will be even more of a worldwide sport, with the heavyweight division strong again and the Olympics assuming the importance it had when it spawned the likes of Ali, Oscar, and Sugar Ray Leonard. My fear is that it will continue to accept its position as a niche sport not even covered by most major newspapers.

GARY “DIGITAL” WILLIAMSthe voice of “Boxing on the Beltway”: Boxing ten years from now may be in a little bit of trouble. The issues that AIBA is having with the International Olympic Committee may end up having a ripple effect when it comes to harvesting new talent. Fortunately, there should be established pro talent that may lead the way.

PETER WOOD — author, writer and former fighter: This is a good question. I hope this article will be dug up and read in the year 2029 — and that I’m one of those reading it…Boxing will be revered more than ever in the future. Why? Because the more elevated and sophisticated society becomes, the more it’s need will be to counterbalance itself with its primal origin.

Observations:

This time around, more ex-fighters responded and, like the others, there was a good dose of cynicism in their posts. A major complaint involved too many belts for too many titles with Canelo’s new WBC “Franchise Title” receiving particular scorn.

But there was a good deal of optimism as well. David Avila’s savvy response sounded a balanced warning, to wit: “The introduction of streaming and the departure of HBO’s interest in the sport has opened the door to either a massive explosion of growth or an implosion that could send boxing spinning without a foundation.”

Now it’s your turn: Where do you see Boxing ten years from now?

Ted Sares is a member of Ring 8, a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). He is an active power lifter and Strongman competitor in the Master Class.

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The Top Ten Super Bantamweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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It has been interesting to see how transient fighters are when they inhabit the smaller divisions. Up at cruiserweight, fighters spent on average 50% of the decade in their division to earn their spot among the top ten; here at 122lbs it is nearer 30%.

This results in a list of fighters with less purchase on the list, generally. Occasionally though, even at the smaller weights, a fighter will rack up a list of serious victories in a short space of time and hit the heights – and the divisional stalwart is also not unheard of. Here, one of each of these type towers over the rest of the decadal division but the numbers ten through three kick up a lot of interesting fights, and some very interesting fighters.

In accounting for these fighters, the term “one hit wonder” is used liberally. Here I am not seeking to denigrate either the fighter or his wider opposition; it merely denotes a fighter who has one win of real significance which is often accounted for in some detail.

This is another symptom of a generation of fighters happy to put on a mere four pounds to visit the next division up for their next big test.

10 – Rico Ramos

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 16-6 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

The tenth slot was a shootout between Kiko Martinez, who did a little more at the weight, and Rico Ramos, who did a little less, but who was defeated at the poundage only by Guillermo Rigondeaux; Martinez, meanwhile, was thrashed twice by Carl Frampton and once by Scott Quigg. The Scott Quigg tilts me towards Ramos, whose purple patch of 7-1 gets him over the line.

The jewel in his super-bantamweight crown for the period January 2010 until December 2019 was his come-from-behind knockout victory over Akifumi Shimoda, one of the top contenders of 2010 and 2011. Shimoda himself has a claim to the number ten spot based primarily upon his superb victory over Ryol Li Lee, but Ramos eliminated him when they clashed in Atlantic City in July of 2011.

Ramos, an American of Puerto Rican descent, had been boxing since he was eight years old but seemingly had no answer to the Shimoda jab which was opening up other opportunities for the Japanese; Ramos, circling to his right at the beginning of the seventh, brought Shimoda onto a left hand, but it was unheeded and Shimoda continued to boss the real-estate and find a home for his bodypunches. A right hand from Rico seemed to gather his attention though and having landed yet another left Rico finally had his man rooted to the spot, and circling, he landed a left hand as beautiful as any thrown in the 122lb decade. Shimoda was up at nine but immediately took a second header to the canvas.

Ramos was chased from the division by Rigondeaux, as noted, but certainly there is no shame there.

09 – Rey Vargas

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 34-0 Ranked For: 42% of the decade

Rey Vargas has traced an old-fashioned career arc, occupying a spot at super-bantamweight since 2015 and slowly creeping his way up the ranks to inhabit the number one spot, without, really, meeting anyone to justify that ranking. Sometimes longevity is its own reward.

His highest-ranking victim was Tomoki Kameda, and it showed when they met in July of last year; Tomoki had real success early and took a handy lead out of the first third of the fight. Vargas though is a freakishly tall superbantam at near 5’11 and he has the reach to match. From the fifth on, he deployed a controlling jab birthed by a pedigree amateur career that has been augmented by some serious professional experience. The double-uppercut right hand he landed in that round set him apart; the cards may have been a little wide but clearly Vargas was the right man.

He was the right man too five months previously when he was faced with another tough assignment in Franklin Manzanilla. Manzanilla, out of Venezuela, had scored an impressive victory over Julio Ceja in just four rounds in his previous fight and set some problems for Vargas with his rushes and fouling. Vargas found himself with cuts over both brows from “accidental” head-clashes as early as the eighth and Manzanilla had two points docked for hitting on the break and pushing. But Vargas showed some of his best boxing, dominating at distance with the jab and outlanding Manzanilla with fluid combination punching when they met at mid-range.

Vargas has a little more depth than these two fights – Azat Hovhannisyan and Ronny Rios have both made waves since he beat them – but they remain his fistic cornerstones, and despite some impressive boxing this makes him borderline for inclusion. His paper record and longevity in the ratings at 122lbs has seen me favour him over one-hit wonders like Jeffrey Mathebula and Akifumi Shimoda.

08 – Isaac Dogboe

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 21-2 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Isaac Dogboe’s pressure appeared functional rather than thrilling before his big step up against Jessie Magdaleno in 2018. Magdaleno had been inactive but had also defeated no less a figure than Nonito Donaire in 2016 and was heavily favoured.

In the first round Dogboe was dropped while pressing Magdaleno too hard and he lost the third too, to a gorgeous Magdaleno counter left. But all the while his pressure was beginning to look a little more than workmanlike. He was adept at keeping Magdaleno moving and again and again Dogboe, out of London via Ghana, would fetch his man up against the ropes and let go. Still very much in touch on the scorecards after four, Magdaleno was being aggressively outgeneralled and was steadily losing touch with the fight. His solution was to come out at the opening of the fifth and attack; Dogboe promptly dropped him with a single left hook.

Dogboe so dominated Magdelano that night that the favourite found himself in need of a knockout by the ninth. The then world’s number one super-bantamweight showed no sign he might achieve it and in fact slipped further and further from his technical best, eventually reduced to sagging on the ropes and beckoning Dogboe in. It was a sorry sight and one the referee interrupted in the eleventh after Dogboe perpetrated the second knockdown of the round over his withering opponent.

It was an impressive and rather unexpected performance, albeit against an opponent who seemed to struggle a little with rust after a year out of the sport and it set Dogboe up as the world’s number one super-bantamweight.

Dogboe never added to his 122lb legacy though; his own nemesis was lurking in the wings.

07 – Emanuel Navarrete

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 31-1 Ranked For: 26% of the decade

Like Dogboe, Emanuel Navarrete fought the usual learning fights, stepped up to take on some journeymen and was then launched right into the deep end to face off with the world’s number one super-bantam. Dogboe-Navarrete was a fascinating contest in that it pitted a Johnny-come-lately against an even more recently arrived contender. Dogboe, as the man with the pedigree opponent on his ledger, was favoured.

Navarrete, who is tall with a reach that seems planetary, allowed Dogboe inside to do his work. It felt wrong and even dangerous until Navarrete landed a triple left hook, up and down, on the inside, to win the second round. From here he controlled the fight, impressive and dominant in out-fighting the smaller pressure fighter whose nightmare had come to visit him in the ring: a fighter he could not push back but rather who was pushing him back. The ninth through twelfth were a parade, the bigger man marching down the smaller pressure fighter in what amounts to the most disheartening position a pugilist of any kind can find himself.

Unfortunately for Dogboe he had a rematch clause. Navarrete, who now knew how Dogboe moved, thought and fought, beat him mercilessly in that rematch. The fight becomes difficult to watch around the eighth; Dogboe’s corner, brave to the near last, finally pulled him as he was blasted to the canvas in the twelfth and final round.

It seemed to me that something special had emerged in that fight, but the truth is we don’t yet know. Navarrete has fallen afoul of the ABC strap he wears in defending against underqualified challengers whose selection for their “title shot” is based upon matters other than fistic. So, the jury remains out on Navarrete, who nevertheless was impressive enough in his twin maulings of Dogboe to comfortably make the list.

06 – Jessie Magdaleno

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

Here, we meet the last of the one-hit-wonders on the list but Magdaleno possesses the finest of all of them: Nonito Donaire. Donaire, it is true, had had some of the glitter removed by Guillermo Rigondeaux, but in November of 2016 he remained the top contender to the legitimate title he had once held. Then Magdaleno came calling.

What most impressed me was Donaire’s near abandonment of his left hook. It was oft repeated that he had one of the “best left hooks in the sport” and if Bernard Hopkins had established the removal of such a potent weapon much ink would have been spent on his exaltation. Magdaleno was less fashionable and has remained so, but it was a wonderful technical achievement. Moving unhurriedly, seeking for single shots, he countered beautifully throughout with the right jab and right hook of his own, taking every opportunity to strike without – shades of Hopkins again – ever over-extending himself. The result was Donaire sheathing his own hook in obedience of the rule that you don’t hook with a hooker, while Magdaleno freely threw his own; to the body, especially, he was prestigious.

Donaire went to the straight right and a fascinating tussle ensued, summed up perfectly in the ninth where Donaire hurt Magdaleno on the ropes, only for Magdaleno to charge him and dominate the remainder of the round, putting him out of sight on the cards; Donaire closed with real strength as Magdaleno’s energy waned.

But the decision clearly belonged to Magdaleno.

It was not too long after this that Magdaleno ran into Dogboe. The reasonable question would be, if Dogboe beat Magdaleno how does Magdaleno come to be ranked above him here? It’s a fair question. The mathematics, for me, says that Magdelano’s defeat of Donaire is more impressive than Dogboe’s defeat of a rusty Magdaleno; I accept that this is arguable but balk at Magdaleno as low as eight given his wonderful performance against Donaire.

05 – Toshiaki Nishioka

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 4-1 Ranked For: 19% of the decade

Toshiaki Nishioka was the number one super-bantamweight coming into the decade and remained so until he was removed by the sumptuous power-punching of Nonito Donaire (and an over-excited referee).

How you feel about his overall standing here will depend upon how you feel about Rafael Marquez and his standing in October of 2011. Having lost three of his last six, including two of those wars with Israel Vazquez, Rafael was ostensibly on the slide, but the fight itself shows a fighter that, while no longer at his withering best, remained stoic and technically brilliant, very much a fighter that had to be mastered.

This, Nishioka did. To this day he maintains that Rafael is his most skilled opponent and he boxed with great care to control him, refusing to contest the inside and avoiding any over-commitment with the jab. Meanwhile he drilled Marquez with his trailing left, a wonderful punch that he throws with as much variety as anyone this century. Flying it quickly to the body was his stock in trade in the early going but he began to risk a wilder, wider, harder punch when he realised how wary Rafael had become. Rafael had success, not least in the second half of the eighth round where it seemed he might actually assume control of the fight, but Nishioka out-fought and out-worked the former lineal champion in the tenth and eleventh to put the decision to bed. It was a deeply impressive performance that cemented his status as the first number one super-bantam of the decade.

Nishioka’s other wins do little other than demonstrate his superiority over the field, especially his October 2010 contest with Rendall Munroe. Munroe brought guts but little else as the fight turned into something of a parade down the stretch; still, re-watching it was worth it for the feinted straight and uppercut through the middle that Nishioka used to tilt Munroe’s head back in the third.

Placing him at number five is a borderline call, but Nishioka was a clearer number one than anyone running eight through six. I am happy that should see him placed above, rather than below, the one-hit wonders.

04 – Leo Santa Cruz

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 24-1-1 Ranked For: 27% of the decade

Leo Santa Cruz departed 122lbs in 2015 with his undefeated record intact having made his impact on the first half of the super-bantamweight decade. His meaningful arrival at the poundage, the equivalent of a Mack truck pulling up inside a jewellery store, came in August of 2013 against Victor Terrazas. Terrazas, a tough, dangerous fighter was unsupported by the type of chin that would have made him genuinely world class. Nevertheless, the world’s number two contender was a serious proposition for Santa Cruz, and was coming off a nerveless, brutal battle with Cristian Mijares which he won by the narrowest of margins.

Terrazas started aggressively as Santa Cruz brought pressure, all high guard and work-rate. But, as we saw while looking at featherweight, Santa Cruz is much more than that. His punch selection is excellent, his sense for the backfoot superb for a front-foot fighter, his jab is thudding and accurate but he can box squarely enough – weight generally over his back leg, when he does so – to lead with the right without courting disaster. Terrazas was complimented during fight commentary for “making this an inside fight” – but an inside fight suits Santa Cruz just fine. He has reach and the technique to use it but is comfortable trying to land punches behind the elbows.

The two fought on even terms until they didn’t, when towards the end of the second Santa Cruz, tougher and better, opened up while the two stood head to head at the ropes. Terrazas emerged wounded and in the third, emerged giving ground. Dropped twice, he seemed broken in part by the psychological pressure, although it was the consistent, severe punching that did the damage.

Santa Cruz’s number two win was over Mijares, undoubtedly damaged goods, but still ranked. Santa Cruz couldn’t stop him, but what he did was in many ways worse: in a fight as different as that with Terrazas as could be imagined, he thrashed Mijares and rendered him a fistic irrelevance.

Santa Cruz was a very dangerous super-bantamweight.

03 – Carl Frampton

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 24-2 Ranked For: 35% of the decade

Carl Frampton slotted in right behind Santa Cruz at featherweight, but here he nips in just ahead of his great rival. A clash at 122lbs would have been helpful though – there is very little to separate them.

What does separate them is the additional work Frampton did at the very top of the division. He met no fewer than three top five contenders during his time fighting as Guillermo Rigondeaux’s understudy – the Cuban was champion throughout Frampton’s stay at the poundage – and soundly defeated all of them.

First up was Kiko Martinez, who Frampton had already defeated in a European title tussle but met again in 2014. Frampton, who probably entered his peak that night, couldn’t put the more experienced Martinez away as he had in their first fight but he did dominate almost completely with a healthy mix of jabs and bodyshots. Chris Avalos, who failed miserably when he moved up to featherweight but was a serious super-bantamweight, visited Frampton’s Belfast stronghold in 2015.  This was Frampton’s finest performance at the weight, his right hand excellent, despite the scruffy squabbling in the second his dominance near-complete.

Frampton’s final fight at 122lbs showed the toll weight-making was taking upon him. He was dominant over the first six against a reticent Scott Quigg, even breaking his jaw in the fourth, but the Englishman came on in the second half of the fight which was, in the end, very close.

Santa Cruz was more impressive in the victories he did have at 122lbs but it was Frampton, in the end, who scored the more numerous and more impressive victories.

02 – Nonito Donaire

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 18-5 Ranked For: 25% of the decade

The decade 2010-2019 produced two legitimate super-bantamweight champions and it is fitting that these two lead the pack. Nor is it close – there is so much clear blue water between Nonito Donaire at #2 and Carl Frampton at #3 that they may as well be on different lists.

Donaire stepped up to 122lbs in 2012 and immediately tackled a divisional strapholder, the number eight contender, Wilfredo Vazquez; after taking a decision form him over the twelve, it was Jeffrey Mathebula, the number six contender who towered over Donaire but nevertheless gave up a similar decision. This second fight is crucial because against both he and Vazquez it is possible to see Donaire over-reaching, under-boxing, pushing far too hard for the knockout which he openly demanded of himself in the press. In the tenth round of his fight with Mathebula, Donaire was so completely out-boxed that in the eleventh and twelfth he limited himself to his more direct sphere of influence and in doing so dominated Mathebula completely, cracking one of his teeth in the process. You could almost hear the penny drop.

I consider that Donaire found himself at 122lbs that night and the result was Donaire’s 118lb form suddenly materialising in the super-bantamweight division. His next fight was against no less a figure than Toshiaki Nishioka, the most accomplished fighter in the division, a meeting between the two best super-bantams in the world and so the beginning of a new lineage at the weight. Donaire was the absolute pinnacle of cool as far as his inherent aggression would allow; he won every round and devastated Nishioka in the ninth round of a non-competitive rout propelled by his right hand rather than left hook. When he butchered Jorge Arce two months later, in December of 2012, he had completed the single best unbroken run of the decade at 122lbs and one of the better runs at any weight.

This being boxing, the end of that run was just around the corner.

01 – Guillermo Rigondeaux

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 15-1 Ranked For: 92% of the decade

Donaire met with Cuban amateur legend Guillermo Rigondeaux in April of 2013 in a huge fight between the two best super-bantamweights in the world. It was also as one-sided as any top tier match of the decade as Rigondeaux, in absolute control for ten of the twelve rounds, picked Donaire’s wings off in a study of lethal economy.

Rigondeaux breaks rhythm. A combination of feints, very astute defensive dips and slips and single power-punches make establishment of offense against him agonising. Donaire, a fluid fighter who counter-pressures his opponents to the canvas, was particularly afflicted by the Rigondeaux malaise.  Rigondeaux threw infrequently; still he out-landed Donaire in every round but one.

The Cuban spent the years in which Donaire was tying together his superb 122lb run emerging from the pack and was just 6-0 when he tangled with number five contender Ricardo Cordoba. Rigondeaux dominated with ease until Cordoba snapped his head back with a jab, flashing him.  Rigondeaux responded in away entirely unacceptable to the American fight fraternity: he ran away.

Rigondeaux took a split decision and learned his final lesson: professional fighting in America calls for more fighting than amateur boxing does anywhere. Rico Ramos, then still unbeaten at 20-0, was the man to bear the brunt of this newly learned lesson as he was blasted to the canvas in the first round and tormented through the sixth when a body punch – and the better part of valour – kept him on the canvas.

So Rigondeaux was primed when he stepped into the ring with Donaire, for all that he was professionally inexperienced. Donaire was made to understand it and the litany of excuses he laid out after the fight – his shoulder was bad, he didn’t study his opponent, his was distracted by his wife’s pregnancy – could not disguise his out-and-out inferiority to Rigondeaux.

The argument as to who would be the decadal number one at 122lbs ended there, but there is more to recommend Rigondeaux as one of the longest serving lineal champions in boxing. In a division that sees fleeting commitment, even by its most prominent fighters, Rigondeaux’s devotion to super-bantamweight has been unusual.

He never became the superstar his management wanted to make him – too technical, too careful, too defensive – but there is no questioning his status as the best of the decade.

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Remembering “Doin’ Damage”

Ted Sares

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Remembering-Doin'-Damage

On June 3, 1997, Darroll “Doin’ Damage” Wilson met Courage “No Limit” Tshabalala at Philadelphia’s legendary Blue Horizon where no seat was a bad seat. The fight was a true Philly Classic, one of the most exciting fights of the year. The result was a surprise, but not as surprising as the upset that Darroll Wilson pulled off in March of the previous year when he fought the much bigger Shannon Briggs at the Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Wilson vs. Briggs

Brooklynite Shannon Briggs (25-0) had achieved a reputation for being a guy who ended his fights early, as in first-round KO’s, but on this occasion, things kind of reversed themselves, as the gutsy Wilson (15-0-2 going in) survived a furious first round and then used his superior skills to shockingly take out “The Cannon” with a sharp left hook two rounds later.

Wilson, who lived close to Atlantic City in Mays Landing, N.J., had done considerable damage to his opponents until he met David Tua (24-0) in Miami and was KOd in the last second of an otherwise even first round by the streaking “Tuaman.” But losing to the short but super-powerful Tua was no disgrace. In fact, for Darroll, the best was yet to come.

 After beating limited Ron McCarthy, Darroll met the highly-touted Tshabalala (20-1). “Courage” had previously been shocked by Brian “Bam Bam” Scott (21-3) in the late Scott’s career definer in 1996, shattering the myth of the South African’s extraordinary power and alleged 72-1 amateur record (with 71 knockouts). Scott won using a fast and sharp combo, stopping him in the second round. Most of the 270-pound native of Kansas’s opponents had losing records which further amplified the shock factor– though Courage’s level of opposition was equally suspect.

Wilson vs Tshabalala (June 1997)

After Ed Darian Derian announced the fighters, the bell rang and Courage quickly decked Wilson with a power jab and then dictated matters for the rest of the round as he went on the stalk. The second round was uneventful until the last 15 seconds when Tshabalala opened up with a number of power shots. Wilson answered, but his answer came after the bell for which he received a firm warning.

Late in the third round, Wilson was hit clean by a perfect Courage right cross. He went down hard, got up, and then fell back down on Queer Street. Just as Referee Rudy Battle was about to signal the end of the fight, the round ended and Wilson was allowed to continue. Lou Duva, Courage’s manager, protested the call in his usual hyper/hysterical fashion but to no avail. Lou’s signature protests had acquired the feel of the little boy who cried wolf too often and this one was no exception.

Tshabalala came out fast in the next round trying to put away a still stunned Wilson, but the muscular Darroll did what he did against Briggs and, weathering the fierce storm, began to connect with his own shots. Both men went at it full-tilt boogie until the South African, exposing a stamina issue, finally went down, spit out his mouthpiece, and was counted out. He had nothing left. The Blue Horizon went bonkers.

Tshabalala had now participated in one of the upsets of the year and one of the most exciting fights of the year. Though a loser in both, he was nevertheless on everybody’s radar.

Bert Cooper (September 2002)

Darroll would go on to win some and lose some but against the very best opposition including David Izon, Frankie Swindell, Mike Rouse, Tim Witherspoon, Ray Mercer, and Oliver McCall. He ended his career in 2006 with a 27-10-2 slate and– before he took three years off–he scored another big win by stopping Bert Cooper (36-21) at the Blue Horizon in 2002. After this loss, Bert himself would take an eight-year hiatus from boxing, but for all practical purposes, he was done. (Cooper was a tragic figure with a deceptive record—a quintessentially sad boxing story– and the ups and downs of his life beg for a telling.)

As for Darroll Wilson, he always gave his best and on at least three occasions, he did some remarkable damage.

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

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Leo Upends Williams as Boxing Returns to ‘Showtime’

Arne K. Lang

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Leo-Upends-Williams-as-Boxing-Returns-to-Showtime

Showtime Boxing kicked off their late summer/fall season tonight with a three-fight card behind closed doors at the Mohegan Sun Casino Resort in Uncasville, CT. Tonight’s show is the first of nine live boxing events that the cable TV giant announced on July 22. The season will run through Dec. 12 with the concluding match a WBC bantamweight title bout between defending title-holder Nordine Oubaali and ageless showstopper Nonito Donaire.

Unfortunately for Showtime, there was a COVID-19 complication right out of the box. Philadelphia bantamweight Stephen Fulton, who would have been the “A” side in tonight’s main event, tested positive on Wednesday, forcing some shuffling. Tramaine Williams was bumped up from the co-feature to challenge Angelo Leo for the WBO world super bantamweight title vacated by Emanuel Navarette.

Angelo Leo hadn’t prepared for a southpaw and it took him a bit find his groove, but he found it and won a fairly lopsided decision over a previously undefeated opponent who was fighting in his home state. The scores were 117-111 and 118-110 twice.

Leo, 26, worked the body well and had more fuel in his tank as the bout progressed into the late rounds. In winning, Leo became the first world title-holder from Albuquerque since Johnny Tapia. Promoted by Floyd Mayweather’s “Money Team”, he advanced his record to 20-0. It was the first pro loss for New Haven’s Williams who fell to 19-1.

It figures that Leo will make his first defense against Stephen Fulton.

Other Bouts

In another 122-pound match that was also penciled in for 12 rounds, Ra’eese Aleem thoroughly outclassed late sub Marcus Bates en route to a 10th round stoppage. This was their second meeting and Bates, who entered the contest 11-1-1, was looking to avenge his lone defeat. In their initial go in Philadelphia in April of 2018, Aleem won comfortably on the scorecards. Bates recently explained that loss away by saying that he believed that someone tampered with his water bottle, giving Aleem an advantage.

Aleem, 30, steadily broke Bates down. The referee halted the one-sided match when Bates, who appeared to have sprained his right wrist, turned his back on Aleem after absorbing a hard left hook. Aleem, the pride of Muskegon, Michigan, improved to 17-0 with his 12th knockout.

In the opener, a light heavyweight match slated for 10 rounds, Houston’s Joseph George (11-0, 7 KOs) landed a bombshell of a left uppercut in the ninth frame to put away Marcos Escudero (10-2) who was well ahead on the scorecards when lightning struck.

This was a rematch. When they fought last November on ShoBox, Escudero outworked George, but George landed the crisper punches and prevailed on a split decision. Escudero, who is from Argentina but had his early pro fights in Florida, outworked George again (George likes to fight with his back against the ropes, a strategy he needs to reconsider) but as they say, it only takes one punch in this business, and Joseph George, who is managed by NFL all-pro tackle Trent Williams, brought the howitzer.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / Showtime

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