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Alex Garcia Might Have Gotten There Ahead of Andy Ruiz Jr.

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Alex Garcia Might Have Gotten There Ahead of Andy Ruiz Jr.

Making history by getting there first is something that can never be taken away from Andy Ruiz Jr., who became the first Mexican or Mexican-American heavyweight champion when he shocked IBF/WBA/WBO titlist Anthony Joshua of Great Britain on a seventh-round technical knockout at Madison Square Garden on June 1. Some characterized Garcia’s victory as an upset almost on a par with Buster Douglas’ conquest of the seemingly invincible Mike Tyson in Tokyo on Feb. 11, 1990.

Ruiz, who was born and still resides in Imperial, Calif., not far from the Mexican border, flew to Mexico City two days after stopping Joshua for a celebratory meeting with Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

“Me becoming the first Mexican heavyweight champion of the world, it’s a blessing,” gushed the 30-year-old Ruiz, who almost instantly became a national hero of that country, so rich in boxing history with such legendary champions (including those of Mexican descent) in lower weight classes as Julio Cesar Chavez, Salvador Sanchez, Canelo Alvarez, Ruben Olivares, Oscar De La Hoya, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Miguel Canto, Carlos Zarate, Erik Morales, Ricardo Lopez, Fernando Vargas and Mikey Garcia.

The coronation of Ruiz further reduces the memory of what another Mexican-American heavyweight contender, Alex Garcia, might have accomplished nearly a quarter-century earlier. Garcia seemingly was in line for a fat, seven-figure title shot, but blew the gig because of a greedy manager who put him into a low-paying ($15,000) stay-busy bout with dangerous journeyman Mike Dixon that turned out horribly wrong. More on that in a bit.

A lot of puzzle pieces would have to fall into place for more Mexican heavyweight history to be made, beginning with a repeat victory for Ruiz over Joshua in a contractually mandated rematch whose particulars have yet to be negotiated. If Ruiz can hang onto his bejeweled straps in the do-over, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a future defense might be arranged against another Mexican-American, longtime contender Chris Arreola, who is 0-3 in shots at the big prize but could soon find himself back in the mix. Hey, it’s boxing. Stranger things have happened.

The 38-year-old Arreola (38-5-1, 33) insists he will retire if he loses Saturday’s Fox-televised 12-round matchup with fellow power puncher Adam Kownacki (19-0, 15 KOs) at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. But if he wins, and especially if he wins inside the distance, he thinks it just might lead to a go against Ruiz, in what would be the first all-Mexican world heavyweight title bout. Kownacki, 30, also has history on his mind, holding firm to the belief that an impressive victory over Arreola might put him in position to become the first-ever Polish heavyweight champion.

“I was happy for him, for his family, because he deserves it,” Arreola said of Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs), an acquaintance of long standing whose unexpected rout of Joshua, who was floored four times, stands in stark contrast to Arreola’s failed bids for world titles against Vitali Klitschko, Bermane Stiverne and Deontay Wilder, all of which came on knockouts or stoppages. “I’ve known the kid since he was 17 years old and he’s always been hungry. He’s always worked hard. He’s always been a big boy, but he’s always been a big boy with skill.

“I was elated for him. I was elated for the Mexican fans that finally had a Mexican champion. He did it, man. And honestly, a lot of pressure came off me.”

If there are common links between Ruiz, who made Mexican boxing history, and Arreola, who for so long had wanted to, the main ones deal with their hardscrabble upbringings and apparent aversion for always showing up for fights in prime condition.

Although Ruiz’s hometown is Imperial, he frequently has made the relatively short trip (20 miles) to Mexicali, where his grandfather in the 1960s ran a gym that was something less than splendidly furbished. Not that life on the U.S. side of the border was any easier or more privileged for the large kid with the constantly famished appetite.

“Everyone had it tough there because it’s just a small town near the Mexican border,” Ruiz said in an interview with the New York Times. “Lots of drug smuggling. There’s gangs. Cartels. But luckily, boxing saved my life. It kept me disciplined, it kept me away from the streets.”

Ruiz might always have been hard on the inside, but that internal grit sometimes was difficult to detect as it always came wrapped in a flabby exterior. Particularly fond of Snickers candy bars, he waddled into the ring against Joshua at a jiggly 268 pounds, his love handles lapping over the waistband of his trunks like waves during a tropical storm’s landfall. But in boxing, as in everything else, appearances sometimes can be deceiving.

Like Ruiz, Arreola long has been viewed as a heavyweight whose potential has been blunted by a supposed lackadaisical approach to training. Several inches taller than Ruiz at 6-3, he has fought as low as 229 pounds and as high as 262¼, but he insists conditioning will not be a problem against Kownacki after three months in the gym with new trainer Joe Goossen.

More physically imposing than either Ruiz or Arreola with his robe off was Garcia, whose Mexican-American roots made him attractive as a possible title challenger in the early to mid-1990s. Garcia had a deserved reputation as a tough customer, first as a standout middle linebacker at San Fernando (Calif.) High School and later as a gang member who served five years in various state penal institutions before shifting his pro career into high gear.

There was talk of Garcia being in line for a $1 million payday to fight then-WBO champion George Foreman, but Garcia’s then-manager, a Los Angeles attorney, insisted the smart play was to hold off a while longer, at which point Garcia’s purse would have risen to $5 million. But Foreman was dethroned by Tommy Morrison, and Garcia was put in for chump change and a couple of vacant minor titles against Dixon, whose 16-30 career record is deceiving considering that he shared the ring at various times with the likes of Lennox Lewis, Ray Mercer, Bruce Seldon, Corrie Sanders, Herbie Hide, Oliver McCall, Michael Grant, Larry Donald, Jameel McCline, Kirk Johnson, Buster Mathis Jr. and Zeljko Mavrovic, among others.  Dixon floored Garcia with a left hook to the temple in the second round, and when the favorite arose it was on wobbly legs. Dixon went right at him and was whaling away when referee Joe Cortez stopped the fight.

It hardly seemed to matter that Garcia got some too-little, too-late revenge in the rematch with Dixon on May 24, 1994, winning a 10-round unanimous decision. The seven-figure window of opportunity that had been so conspicuously open not that long ago had just as conspicuously slammed shut.

Might Garcia have beaten Foreman or Morrison? Probably not. But then that’s what everyone had predicted of Douglas vs. Tyson and, later on, Ruiz vs. Joshua. Garcia might have been a movie star of sorts, cast in the role of Minoso Torres in the 1992 film Diggstown, but real boxing matches do not follow scripts. There would be no visit to the Mexican presidential palace for Garcia, who did not even get the multiple failed shots at the title that went to Arreola or the successful one that went to Ruiz.

Proving once again that boxing history is a constantly moving target.

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In a One-Sided Beatdown, Batyr Jukembayev TKOs Shopworn Ivan Redkach

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In a One-Sided Beatdown, Batyr Jukembayev TKOs Shopworn Ivan Redkach

The noted trainer Brian “BoMac” McIntyre had two fighters on tonight’s ProBox card in Plant City, Florida, and brought along the ace of his stable, Terence Crawford, to provide moral support.

The main event, contested at 140 pounds, had an Eastern European flavor pitting Kazakhstan’s Batyr Jukembayev against LA-based Ukrainian Ivan Redkach. Jukembayev, Crawford’s stablemate, needed no moral support as Redkach fought a survivor’s fight for as long as it lasted. A 33-year-old southpaw, the Kazkh won every second of the fight until the mismatch was halted at the 2:18 mark of round five.

It was the fifth straight win for Jukembayev (23-1, 17 KOs) whose only defeat was inflicted by Subriel Matias, the current holder of the IBF world title at 140. Redkach (24-7-1) was stopped for the fourth time including a fight with Regis Prograis where he succumbed to a phantom low blow. Now 38 years old, he should not be allowed to fight again. His showing tonight bore stark evidence that he is completely shot.

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a 10-round junior lightweight affair, Jonhatan Cardoso, a 25-year-old Brazilian, advanced to 17-1 (15) with a split decision over LA’s Adam “Bluenose” Lopez. This figured to be a fan-friendly fight and didn’t disappoint. Both fighters threw punches in bunches although Lopez’s workrate declined in the late rounds.

Lopez, now 17-6-1, is better than his record. His first five losses came against opponents who were collectively 109-6 at the time that he fought them. The son of the late Hector Lopez, an Olympic silver medalist for Mexico and a three-time world title challenger, “Bluenose” doesn’t have a signature win, but has a signature moment. He knocked Oscar Valdez down hard in their first of two meetings, a fight he took on 1-day notice when Valdez’s original opponent was scratched after coming in 11 pounds overweight. As a pro he has limitations, but is a high-octane fighter who rarely has a bad fight.

Two of the judges favored Cardoso. Their tallies were 99-91 and 96-94. The dissenter favored Lopez 97-93. The scores were all over the map, but the right guy wn.

Also

In the TV opener, Omaha-bred junior welterweight Charles Harris Jr scored a unanimous 6-round decision over Oceanside, California’s Kyle Erwin. The judges had it 58-56 and 59-55 twice.

A protégé of “BoMac,” Harris Jr., who began his pro career in Mexico at age 16, improved to 9-1 (7). It was the second pro loss for Erwin (7-2) whose lone prior defeat was the result of a cut.

In an unrelated matter, today (May 22) was the day that Ryan Garcia’s B-sample would be opened and analyzed. So we were all led to believe.

Confoundingly, it appears that opening the urine specimen and testing the contents aren’t performed on the same day. Dan Rafael enlightened us. “Will take a few days for results but certainly possible it could stretch into early next week due to weekend and holiday,” Rafael tweeted today on his Fight Freaks Unite platform.

Why wasn’t this made known beforehand so that fight journalists could plan their day accordingly? I place the blame on the New York State Athletic Commission.

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Oleksandr Usyk from a Historical Perspective 

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Oleksandr Usyk flipped the heavyweight division onto its head this past Saturday night in the Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, travelling a long way from home to seal his greatest victory. Usyk, small by modern heavyweight standards, towers over most men at 6’3″ and 220lbs and sporting a reach that lineal champions Ezzard Charles or Joe Walcott would have killed for. Things have changed though, and in the middle rounds of his war with Tyson Fury, Usyk suddenly appeared tiny. Fury, a giant at around 6’8” and over 260lbs seems a heavyweight for this century. Usyk, a journeyman in the most ancient sense of the word, feels like a throwback to a more savage time. His greatest achievements have taken place on foreign soil. The last time he boxed at home was almost a decade ago and given the situation in Ukraine and given Usyk’s 37 years, it is unlikely he will ever box there again.

Usyk took chances in the seventh and especially the eighth to take charge of a fight that seemed to be slipping away from him. In the vertigo inducing ninth, it was he, not Fury who appeared the giant. Usyk draped the Englishman over the ropes like so much fresh meat and tenderised him to within an inch of unconsciousness, the sheer hugeness of Fury perhaps preventing a referee’s intervention on behalf of his opponent, and not for the first time. Against both Deontay Wilder (the first fight) and Otto Wallin, a more squeamish official would have stepped in and stopped the fight, and here, too, there was a case. If Usyk seems a throwback, then Fury has been refereed like one, spared stoppages likely to be inflicted upon his peers, he was allowed once again to continue boxing, as Joe Louis was against Max Schmeling, or Jack Dempsey was against Luis Pirpo. But with Fury buckled at the knees, Usyk seemed the true heavy man in the ring.

In historical terms, Usyk is not a small heavyweight. He would have dwarfed “The Galveston Giant” Jack Johnson in the ring and loomed large over “Big” George Foreman. Usyk has every attribute necessary to make an unpleasant evening for Joe Louis, but it should be noted that while his footwork and speed and technical excellence would be the source of the discomfort, his excess of height and reach are the wildcards. Usyk would seem two to three weight classes bigger than Rocky Marciano, mainly because he is, and the towering Sonny Liston would look up. Circus strongman Jess Willard and the mob-sponsored Primo Carnera would both look down on Usyk – but not by that much. Usyk would stand eye to eye with Muhammad Ali but prime-for-prime he would outweigh him by ten pounds, as he would Larry Holmes. We must skip Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield and reach all the way into the Lennox Lewis era before we find men from history that truly out-size Usyk on a consistent basis.

Size, as Usyk has proven, is far from everything. Big by historical standards, he is small by modern standards. What else is now true in the wake of the seismic fistic events of Saturday night? Firstly, Usyk is unquestionably ranked the #1 heavyweight in the world. Of this, there can be no dispute. Accounting for his two wonderful defeats of another “super” heavyweight, Anthony Joshua, he is 3-0 against the rest of the top five and sitting unassailably at the head of the heavyweight table. More, and I have been surprised to see it disputed in some corners, Usyk is now almost as equally unassailably the pound-for-pound number one. The only fighter breathing the same air as Usyk right now is Naoya Inoue. Inoue has been operating at or near the highest level for longer, but the level of his opposition has not been as rarefied. Comparing the first phase opposition defeated by Naoya to the murderer’s row of cruiserweights that Usyk ran into during the Super Six series can lead to only one conclusion. Although Naoya’s busy, weight-class-bursting style has topped him out for most of the past two to three years, only one of these men has consistently been beating bigger, taller, longer opposition at the highest level, and that is Usyk. It is not a matter of opinion – he is the smallest man in my heavyweight top ten.

01 – Oleksandr Usyk

02 – Anthony Joshua

03 – Joseph Parker

04 – Tyson Fury

05 – Filip Hrgovic

06 – Zhilei Zhang

07 – Agit Kabayel

08 – Daneil Dubois

09 – Martin Bakole

10 – Joe Joyce

Usyk lives among giants now and where there is parity of height (Kabayel) he is the lighter man by 15 pounds. This is not true of Naoya, who despite his weight-hopping, still manages to run into fighters of the same height and of shorter reach. The opposition argument is narrow, but the relative size opposition is not and there is no pound-for-pound credential more significant than that of consistently out-fighting bigger men. Usyk has done so and will continue to do so for as long as he fights. There is simply no smaller man in his class.

Not since the heyday of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield has a lineal heavyweight champion consistently fought bigger men and not since Mike’s hype-infused prime has a heavyweight menaced the number one pound-for-pound spot. Usyk has not enjoyed anything like the same machine support as Mike did; indeed, he has laboured in the shadow of more prominent men until such time as he thrashed them. He is a true manifestation of pound-for-pound glory in the unlimited class. Where does this leave him in terms of all-time standing?

I am reluctant to rate active fighters for reasons that are obvious enough; Usyk could be pole-axed in three by an irate Fury in a December rematch and all this ink is for naught. But what I am willing to do is play let’s pretend and imagine Usyk as retired and consider his place in heavyweight history now.

Usyk’s raw numbers are low-grade at just 22-0 with 14 knockouts. Worse, most of this was built in the cruiserweight division and not the heavyweight division. Against men weighing in as heavyweights, Uysk is essentially 7-0, and only 3-0 against ranked opposition. On the other hand, one of these victories came against Daniel Dubois, now ranked, and the 3-0 was posted against Tyson Fury, generally held to be the best or second-best heavyweight in the world, and Anthony Joshua, ranked behind only Fury at the time of his first fight with Usyk. So, when he stepped up, he stepped up to tackle the best in the world and has become lineal as a result. It’s a hard ledger to wrestle with, but fortunately we have a career that is comparable in the shape of Gene Tunney.

Tunney, a career light-heavyweight, earned a heavyweight legacy built of essentially one man: Jack Dempsey. Past-prime and inactive, Dempsey was ripped apart by Tunney in their legendary first fight and did better in a losing effort against the genius “Fighting Marine” in a rematch, much like Joshua did against Usyk. Tunney then boxed the limited but game Tom Heeney and retired. The rest of his heavyweight career was spent beating great middleweights like Harry Greb and limited losing-streak gatekeepers like Charley Weinert and Martin Burke. One thing that must be noted is that Tunney is matching men who are smaller than Usyk’s cruiserweight opposition to his heavyweight credit. Men like Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev would have been big men in Tunney’s era, but they aren’t counted towards heavyweight legacy for the Ukrainian – either would constitute Tunney’s second-best heavyweight scalp, I think. Tunney’s wider resume does not necessarily include fighters who compare that favourably even to Dereck Chisora or Chaz Witherspoon, the men who make up Usyk’s second layer of opposition.

The point is, Tunney was made a legend for defeating a champion. Both Fury and Joshua were active, physically enormous fighters that Usyk simply unmanned with a type of genius Gene Tunney would have stood to applaud. Tunney appended to his light-heavyweight career the important part of a heavyweight career – the part where you fight and beat the champion, and it has made him a stalwart of heavyweight history. This, Usyk too has achieved, but I have been more impressed with Usyk’s summit than Tunney’s. To be direct: Usyk should rate higher at heavyweight than Tunney.

What that means is that the top twenty at heavyweight is the minimum Usyk can expect from history’s eye should he retire undefeated. In such a case, I would place Usyk in this sort of company:

18 – Ezzard Charles

19 – Oleksandr Usyk

20 – Jersey Joe Walcott

21 – James J Corbett

22 – Peter Jackson

23 – Ken Norton

24 – Max Schmeling

25 – Vitali Klitschko

26 – Riddick Bowe

27 – Gene Tunney

Also illustrative of a point is Tunney’s career pre-heavyweight. Tunney, every bit as brilliant as Usyk in the ring (although notably smaller, and successful against notably smaller opposition), laced up his gloves on close to ninety occasions and his level of competition dwarfs that of Usyk. That is no indictment. All it really means is that Usyk isn’t among the thirty greatest fighters ever to have drawn breath, like Tunney is. He can join an enormous and star-studded cast that includes Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins and Carlos Monzon in that. I do think, though, that Oleksandr Usyk’s career, were it to end tomorrow, could be readily compared to that of Evander Holyfield and that means that an unbeaten Usyk, lineal cruiserweight and heavyweight champion of the world, current pound-for-pound king, is within spitting distance of a list that captures the fifty greatest fighters in history.

56 – Ruben Olivares

57 – Wilfredo Gomez

58 – Vicente Saldivar

59 – Oleksandr Usyk

60 – Evander Holyfield

61 – Ted Kid Lewis

62 – Lou Ambers

63 – Rocky Marciano

64 – Abe Attell

65 – Manuel Ortiz

A retired Naoya Inoue would join him in the top seventy, I think, and a retired Bud Crawford the top ninety.

Boxing is dead, haven’t you heard?

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Another Victory for Ukraine as Berinchyk Upsets Navarrete in San Diego

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Whether it was inspiration or perspiration, Ukraine’s Denys Berinchyk motored past Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete by split decision to become the WBO lightweight world titlist on Saturday.

Just hours after his fellow countryman Oleksandr Usyk became undisputed heavyweight world champion, Berinchyk joined the club.

“This is a great night for all people of Ukraine,” Berinchyk said.

The undefeated Ukrainian Berinchyk (19-0, 9 KOs) gutted out a win over Navarrete (38-2-1, 31 KOs) who was attempting to join Mexico’s four-division world champion club in San Diego. The lanky fighter known as “Vaquero” fell a little short.

Through all 12 rounds neither fighter was able to dominate and neither was able to score a knockdown. Just when it seemed one fighter gathered enough momentum, the other fighter would rally.

A butt caused a slight cut on Navarrete in the 10th round. That seemed to ignite anger from the Mexican fighter and he powered through the Ukrainian fighter the next two rounds.

In the final round Berinchyk bore down and slugged it out with the Mexican fighter as both relied on their weapons of choice. For most of the night Navarrete scored with long-range uppercuts and Berinchyk scored with overhand rights.

After 12 rounds two judges scored it 115-113, 116-112 for Berinchyk and one 116-112 for Navarrete. Ukraine gained its third world titlist in one a week. Berinchyk joins Usyk and Vasyl Lomachenko as world titlists.

“He’s a very tough guy,” said Berinchyk of Navarrete.

Welterweights

A battle between undefeated welterweights saw Brian Norman (26-0, 20 KOs) knock out Giovany Santillan (32-1, 17 KOs) in the 10th round to become the interim WBO titlist.

For nine rounds both welterweights engaged in brutal inside warfare as each tried to beat the sense out of each other.

Norman worked the body early as Santillan targeted the head. Neither fought more than two inches from each other.

The younger Norman, 23, connected with a right cross during an exchange that wobbled Santillan in the eighth round. From that point on the Georgia fighter began setting up for his power shots. Finally, in the 10th round, uppercuts dropped Santillan twice. In the second knockdown Santillan went down hard as referee Ray Corona stopped the fight immediately at 1:33 of the 10th round.

Other Bouts

Heavyweight Richard Torrez (10-0, 10 KOs) knocked out Brandon Moore (14-1) in the fifth round for a regional title.

Lightweight Alan Garcia (10-0) defeated Wilfredo Flores (10-3-1) by decision after eight.

Photo credit: German Villasenor

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