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 Holly Holm’s Last Hurrah?

Ted Sares

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There are rumors that a fight between unified world lightweight champion Katie Taylor and former boxer Holly Holm might be in the works.

As Cillian Cunningham, the MMA writer for Pundit Arena, points out, “The Preacher’s Daughter” [Holm] holds an extensive and decorated history in the sport of boxing…. With a (33-2-3) record and eighteen successful title-defenses across three different weight-classes, boxing website BoxRec rates her as the ninth-greatest female boxer of all-time.”

Despite fighting only three of her 38 professional fights outside of her home state of New Mexico, Holly was The Ring magazine’s Female Fighter of the Year in 2005 and 2006.

That was then.

Now she is 37 and, at least in the sport of MMA, she is nearing the twilight of her illustrious, albeit grueling two-sport career. In recent years, she has had cage wars with Meisha Tate and “Cyborg,” and most recently suffered a savage loss at the hands of Amanda “Lioness” Nunes, done in by a vicious head kick in the opening round. This quick dispatching took place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, July 6, 2019.

Calling it a “nightmare” loss, this is how Holly reacted: “I always say I get to live the life of a dream. I never actually dreamed of getting kicked in the face, that’s never part of my dream…That’s like the nightmare part, living a little nightmare, wake up every morning like, ‘Yup, that’s real, that just happened.’ But I just want you guys to know I’m feeling good and I know one thing: I’m still pushing forward. A lot of heartbreak right now, but I’m doing fine. I just want you guys to know I appreciate the love and support. And if you would like to have free lip filler, just get kicked in the face.”

As someone pointed out, Holly has pretty much used up the massive capital she gained by beating heavily favored and hugely touted Ronda Rousey in 2015. Rousey, by contrast, has shrewdly converted her career into a number of profitable ventures including different forms of pro wrestling, acting, and writing. Holm, not so much so.

Holly, who is 2-5 in her last seven Octagon appearances and 0-4 in her last four title shots, has begun to show the effects of her wars as she now has the features of someone who has weathered too many hard knocks.

images 1

Getting another title shot is going to be daunting. Maybe it is time for Holm to return to boxing and maybe a fight with Katie Taylor makes sense, but she hasn’t appeared in the squared circle since 2103 when she beat Mary McGee.

Over the years as a boxer, she fought and beat the stiffest opposition imaginable, beating the likes of Chevelle Hallback, Diana Prazak, Mary Jo Sanders, Belinda Laracuente, Ann Saccurato, Jane Couch, Mia St John, and Christy Martin.

However, in 2011, she suffered one of the most brutal knockouts in female boxing history at the hands of Anne Sophie Mathis (25-1). After testing each other early with heavy stuff, things heated up and then the savagery began in the sixth round when referee Rocky Burke wrongly called a clear and hard knockdown of Holm a slip. A then semi-helpless Holm received a nonstop onslaught from the rugged Frenchwoman and was saved by the bell. She was on “Queer Street” as she wobbled back to her corner on legs of jello as the crowd shouted “Holly, Holly.” Inexplicably, she was sent out for the seventh round where she took incredible punishment and ended up like a semiconscious rag doll with only the ropes to keep her up.

The referee then untangled Holm from the ropes and unbelievably allowed the eager Mathis to render a molar rattling KO that left Holly unconscious. It was terrible to witness. In fact, this writer had that same helpless feeling he had when a seemingly paralyzed referee allowed Roberto Duran to pummel Davey Moore at will years ago. (As for the final blow, it was reminiscent of James “The Heat” Kinchen’s free shot KO bomb against Alex Ramos in 1984.)

This was Holly’s first loss since 2004, a span of 24 fights. In that one, her corner threw in the towel due to cuts. They should have thrown in the towel in this one as well.

“What part of white towel didn’t they get?”—Anonymous

The two fought again on June 15, 2012, for Mathis’s various welterweight titles. Bearing witness to her greatness, Holm won a unanimous decision, avenging her KO loss. The fact that the first fight was not career-altering for Holly remains a testament to her grit.

Back to Taylor

Katie Taylor (14-0) is coming off a thin and controversial MD win against Belgium’s Delfine Persoon in June in which she became only the third female boxer in history (following Cecilia Braekhus and Claressa Shields) to hold all four major title belts. Since then, she has been weighing her options and now a fight with Holm has become one of them. If it materializes, the Irish fighter and former Olympian will be a big favorite to get a premier notch on her belt. Conversely, should Holly pull off a win, she could retire on a tremendous up-note and restore whatever luster she lost during her recent missteps in mixed martial arts.

Holly vows to stay around and maybe boxing will become the allure. The key question: Does she have anything left in a boxing ring given that her last fight was in 2013?

We know the answer for the always fit and ready Taylor who says, “…I think for the first time in the history of women’s sport people are actually seeing the best of women’s boxing, seeing the best of women’s football and that’s why we are in the position we are in. To be actually living in the middle of all this now is actually incredible. It’s very, very exciting.”

Nostalgia says Holm. Reality says otherwise.

 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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“—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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 Teofimo Takes Over: Upsets Lomachenko

Arne K. Lang

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Teofimo Takes Over: Upsets Lomachenko

Four belts were at stake tonight when Vasiliy Lomachenko locked horns with Teofimo Lopez at the MGM Grand Bubble. There were two stand-alone belts (IBF and WBO), one fractured belt (WBA), and one belt of little provenance contrived especially for this fight. But this was a fight that didn’t need any alphabet baubles to legitimate it. In the history of the 135-pound division, few matchups have been as compelling.

Heading in, Lomachenko had faced eight former or current world title-holders and had won 13 straight. Lopez, nine years younger at age 23, was undefeated (now 16-0) but few thought that he was ready for the likes of the Ukrainian marvel who many considered the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. But the Brooklyn-born Lopez, who represented Honduras in the 2016 Olympics, started fast and finished with a flourish to win a unanimous decision.

The judges had it 116-112, 117-111, and 119-109, the latter score turned in by Julie Lederman whose tally struck the TV commentators as way too wide. Lomachenko started slow, arguably losing the first six rounds, and when he finally let his hands go more freely he was playing catch-up with too big a deficit to overcome.

Co-Feature

Los Angeles junior welterweight Arnold Barboza Jr., a consensus 13/5 favorite, maintained his unblemished record with a unanimous decision over former world title challenger Alex Saucedo who suffered his second loss in 32 fights. Saucedo scored the bout’s lone knockdown with a straight left hand in round seven (it was initially ruled a slip, but overruled by replay judge Joe Cortez), but Barboza, now 25-0, had the faster hands and routinely beat Saucedo to the punch to win by scores of 96-93, 97-92, 97-92.

Berlanga

Edgar Berlanga, the 23-year-old Brooklyn-based Puerto Rican, continued his spectacular start to his pro career with another first-round knockout, his 15th in as many opportunities. The victim was 34-year-old Lanell Bellows (20-6-3), a Mayweather Gym product who hadn’t previously been stopped.

A super middleweight, Berlanga, the 2019 TSS Prospect of the Year, hurt Bellows with a sweeping left hook and opened a gash over Bellows left eye with an overhand right before referee Robert Hoyle interceded. The official time was 1:19.

Other Bouts

In a bout contested at the catch-weight of 142 pounds, 22-year-old Bronx southpaw Josue Vargas, whose lone setback was by disqualification, improved to 18-1 with a unanimous decision over San Antonio’s Kendo Castaneda (17-3). The judges had it 100-89, 99-90, and 98-91.

Vargas, who was Teofimo’s chief sparring partner, scored a flash knockdown in round two with a straight left hand. Castaneda, who acquitted himself well in defeat in a Bubble bout with Jose Zepeda that he took on 7-days notice, is an honest workman hampered by a lack of punching power.

Featherweight Jose Enrique Vivas (20-1, 11 KOs) wasted no time dismissing John Vincent Moralde (23-4), whacking out the Filipino at the 1:16 mark of the opening round. The Mexico-born Californian, Vivas sent Moralde to the canvas in the opening minute with a cuffing left hook and then went for the kill, felling Moralde for the count with a vicious body punch.

In a 6-round welterweight contest, Houston’s Quinton Randall advanced to 7-0 (2) with a unanimous decision over Jon Carlos Rivera who was 4-0 with 4 KOs (and 1 ND) coming in. The scores were 59-55 and 58-56 twice.

Rivera, from Philadelphia via Vieques, Puerto Rico, was the aggressor, but the 30-year-old Randall, who is backed by a strong team, had height and reach advantages that Rivera couldn’t overcome.

In the TV lid-lifter, 17-year old welterweight Jahi Tucker improved to 2-0 with a unanimous decision over Charles Garner (1-1). All three judges gave Tucker all four rounds, but Garner wasn’t fazed by Tucker’s amateur pedigree – the Deer Park, Long Island teenager, was ranked #1 at 138 pounds while still a sophomore in high school – and acquitted himself very well in defeat.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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