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The Frampton Fight Is Off, but the New Main Event is a Compelling Fight

Matt Andrzejewski

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ESPN+ will broadcast a card from the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, PA this coming Saturday. Originally the card was to be headlined by former featherweight champion Carl Frampton who was matched against Emmanuel Dominguez. However, Frampton broke his left hand Monday in a freakish accident at his hotel where a concrete pillar fell onto a table where the former champion had placed his hands.

Frampton, the former featherweight champion, was the main attraction. In all likelihood, the promoters will have to refund quite a few tickets. But the show will go on with the semi-main, Jason Sosa vs. Haskell Lydell Rhodes, a 130-pound contest scheduled for 10 rounds, bumped into the main event. And this shapes up as a very entertaining fight. In fact, before learning of Frampton’s injury, I had written that the fight between Sosa (22-3-4, 15 KOs) and Rhodes (27-3-1, 13 KOs) would likely steal the show.

This is an evenly matched crossroads fight that features a contrast of styles. Sosa, who hails from nearby Camden, NJ, knows only one way to fight and that is to come forward applying constant pressure and he will do so from the opening bell. An accomplished body puncher when he gets into range, Sosa is the type of fighter that is more than willing to take a few punches just to get the opportunity to land one of his own.

While Sosa’s style tends to lead to exciting contests, it can also take a toll on a fighter. In his last fight in January, Sosa struggled mightily in winning a 10-round decision against sub-.500 journeyman Moises Delgadillo. There is a legitimate question as to just how much Sosa has left in his tank.

Rhodes is a quick athletic fighter who likes to use his legs. He is going to use the entire ring and fight from the outside carefully picking his spots to unload his punches. While he does have fast hands, he tends to not be busy enough in fights and allows himself to be outhustled. Against Sosa, Rhodes will need to be more active than we have seen in the past.

Stylistically, Rhodes could be a nightmare for Sosa. But Sosa is just so determined and will keep coming, applying the pressure all night even if he may not be the same fighter from just a few years ago. The contrast of styles along with the evenly matched skill levels should make this a very entertaining bout.

How To Make Boxing A Safer Sport, Part One

If there is something that all boxing fans can agree upon it is the need to make this a safer sport. But just how is that accomplished? What I propose is a minor rule adjustment.

Open scoring has long been a subject of debate amongst boxing fans. For the longest time, I was strongly opposed to any and all concepts of it. But my thoughts have changed ever so slightly as I now think that a modified form of open scoring if universally adopted can improve fighter safety.

Before I present my proposal, let me start with an anecdote. I will from time to time wager a few bucks on a fight. And sometimes my having a little skin in the game will alter how I view a fight. I sometimes see something in favor of the fighter that I wagered on that others are just not seeing.

Whenever this happens, I always go back and watch the fight a second time. And amazingly, I generally see something entirely different.

So where am I going with this? Well, if $25 can skew my viewpoint, I can only imagine how someone with a much larger stake in the fight — a cornerman, manager, etc — could be viewing it. No doubt their perceptions can be skewed as to what is actually occurring inside the ring.

I would like to see a modified open scoring system implemented for any bouts that are scheduled for more than eight rounds to make potentially relevant parties aware of what is actually occurring in the bout.

For example, let’s take a bout scheduled for 12 rounds. If after eight rounds a fighter needs at least one 10-8 round to get mathematically back into the fight on the scorecards, the commission informs that fighter’s corner, the referee and doctor. No scores are read but the commission is informing everyone just where that fighter stands on the scorecards. This would also be done after the ninth round if the scenario still exists.

Every fight is different and this is not saying the fight should necessarily be stopped. But the seeds are planted for everyone to start monitoring the situation much more carefully. If the fighter shows no hope of turning things around, then those involved (referee, corner, doctor and commission) may opt to end things rather than allowing the fighter to take more needless punishment.

For a 10-round fight, the commission would inform the relevant parties after rounds six and seven. For an 8-round fight, this would be done only after round six.

Please note this is a careful balancing act as to not go too far with open scoring where it alters the dynamics of a fight. This is why this would only be done after those select rounds and not after rounds 10 or 11 of a 12-round bout. We are trying to catch obvious situations of one-sided fights and inform the relevant parties of the facts of the situation.

For the record, this idea first came to me after watching the Teofimo Lopez-Diego Magdaleno fight in February. If the relevant parties had all been told just where Magdaleno had stood on the scorecards after round six, there is a good chance someone would have ended that bout before allowing Magdaleno to absorb vicious and unnecessary punishment in the following round before ultimately getting knocked out.

These are the situations that I want to see avoided going forward and such a modified open scoring system could do just that.

How To Make Boxing A Safer Sport, Part Two

Something that we in the media and as fans can do to make this sport safer is to change out mindset on certain things. In particular, I think we need to remove the term “quit” from our vocabulary and instead applaud fighters for making the courageous decision not to go forward in a bout.

Again, let me begin with a quick anecdote. I was upset when Guillermo Rigondeaux did not come out of his corner to start round seven for his fight with Vasiliy Lomachenko in December of 2017. I voiced my displeasure on social media and various other outlets. In hindsight, I was wrong for doing so.

The first line of defense for a fighter is his corner. The second is the referee. But neither the corner nor the referee can truly know what is going on inside a fighter’s body during a fight. This is where it is on the fighter to make the courageous decision if something is not feeling right and remove himself from the fight.

In the boxing culture, a fighter making such a decision generally faces an enormous backlash. And as such, many fighters are hesitant to take this step. But we need to change that culture. If something is not right, fighters need to be encouraged to pull themselves out of a fight.

In many sports, athletes are often told that if something is not feeling right that they need to inform someone as soon as possible. For example, a major league pitcher who is feeling discomfort is in pitching arm is expected to tell his manager this even if that means having to be removed from the game. The pitcher is not quitting but making a common sense decision to keep a possible injury from getting much worse.

Boxing needs to adopt the cultures of other sports and encourage fighters to make common sense decisions when something does not feel right. This falls in part on us as members of the media as well as fans. By us doing so, a fighter may feel more comfortable in removing himself from a bad situation and that could potentially save that fighter from serious injury.

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Jeison Rosario’s Upset Crowns This Week’s Edition of HITS and MISSES

Kelsey McCarson

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Jeison Rosario’s Upset Crowns This Week’s Edition of HITS and MISSES

There’s was plenty of quality boxing action available for consumption this weekend in the U.S., particularly on Saturday evening because of the competing cards put forth by the PBC on FOX and Top Rank on ESPN crews that have become chief rivals over the last year.

But what were the biggest HITS and MISSES seen during all the action? That’s what you’re here to find out.

HIT – Jeison Rosario’s Stunning Upset for two 154-pound Titles

Nobody expected Rosario to dethrone unified junior middleweight champion Julian Williams on Saturday night at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, but the massive underdog overcame the situation anyway to vault himself to the top of the junior middleweight division. The thing that saved Rosario was his stunning power. He appeared to be out-boxed by Williams early in the fight, but that changed just as soon as it became apparent Williams was slinging only his fists while Rosario was working with sledgehammers. Now the division has become more crowded than ever at the top with all roads amazingly leading to Rosario, the little known 24-year-old from the Dominican Republic who now owns the WBA and IBF titles.

MISS – Chris Colbert’s Fail to Impress

Junior lightweight prospect Chris Colbert was given a great chance by the PBC to impress fight fans on national television on the undercard of Williams-Rosario, but the talented 23-year-old didn’t make the most of the opportunity. Sure, Colbert was taking a step up in competition by taking on former world titleholder Jezreel Corrales for a vacant interim belt, but Colbert mostly came across as a talented fighter who just doesn’t seem quite capable of putting it all together yet. Colbert won the fight, but it wasn’t interesting or noteworthy in any way. Judging by how the PBC has worked in the past, he’ll get plenty more chances to shine, but I’m not sure anyone but the people who stand to gain monetarily from the fighter’s success will be looking forward to it.

HIT –  Eleider Alvarez’s Epic KO of Michael Seals

Former light heavyweight titleholder Alvarez scored the early leader for knockout of the year against Seals in the main event at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York. The fight was fairly lackluster until the explosive ending in the seventh round. It was an important victory for Alvarez, who was coming off losing his title to Sergey Kovalev via decision last February. Alvarez is 35, so it was imperative for him to get back to action and remind people he’s still a viable contender in the 175-pound ranks. And there’s no better way to do that in boxing than by thunderous knockout.

MISS – Felix Verdejo’s Fresh Start Starts Stale

Verdejo is still only 26 years old, but after defeating Manuel Rojas in a lightweight bout at Turning Stone, the once highly regarded prospect doesn’t appear to be any closer today than he was yesterday to living up to the tremendous promise he once possessed. To be completely fair to Verdejo, it was only his first fight under new trainer Ismael Salas and the fighter still has time on his side. Still, there appears to be plenty of work to do if Verdejo is ever to become a world champion. In fact, he didn’t look all that materially different from the fighter who was knocked out in 2018.

HIT – Floyd Mayweather Wins Prestigious BWAA Award 

I honestly had some concern that Mayweather wouldn’t win the BWAA’s Fighter of the Decade award before it was announced on Friday via press release. After all, Mayweather lost the previous decade’s top honor to Manny Pacquiao in 2010, and Sports Illustrated had just named Andre Ward its Fighter of the Decade winner the week prior. It’s only one person’s opinion, of course, but I think there would have been something wrong with Mayweather not picking up the honor at least once in the last two decades. After all, he’s quite easily the generation’s best overall fighter and he’s transcended the sport to mainstream celebrity status, too. Congrats to Mayweather for winning the well-deserved honor.

Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp / TGB Promotions

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South African Trailblazer Peter Mathebula Dead at Age 67

Arne K. Lang

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Peter Mathebula wasn’t a great fighter. He suffered nine losses during his 45-bout career. He was stopped five times. But Mathebula, who died yesterday (Jan. 18) at age 67, was a historically important fighter. He was the first black South African to win a world title. He was the first South African boxer of any color to win a world title on foreign soil. His predecessors, bantamweights Vic Toweel and Arnold Taylor, won their titles in Johannesburg. Mathebula won his in Los Angeles.

Mathebula took the WBA flyweight title on a split decision from Korea’s Tae-Shik Kim on Dec. 12, 1980 at LA’s Olympic Auditorium. The fight was originally headed to Seoul but Mathebula was denied a visa.

In those days, South Korea barred tourists from South Africa as a protest against that country’s policy of apartheid. Mathebula was a victim of apartheid, but that made no difference as the ban was a blanket ban, covering all South Africans, regardless of color.

Olympic Auditorium matchmaker Don Fraser acquired the orphanded fight. Southern California had a large Korean population and Fraser thought the fight would go over big with this demographic.

The fabled Olympic Auditorium was noted for raucous SRO crowds. But not on this particular night. The crowd was overwhelmingly Korean-American, but there weren’t more than 3,000 in attendance. Kim vs. Mathebula didn’t resonate with the Olympic Auditorium regulars.

The fight was very close but most thought the decision was fair. The Korean started fast, wrote LA Times ringside reporter Mark Heisler, but Mathebula fought his way back into the fight in the middle rounds and won the 14th and 15th stanzas on his card, sufficient he thought to secure the win.

The victory made Mathebula a big star in South Africa. His purse for the fight with Tae-Shik Kim was only $7,500 (approximately $23,500 in today’s dollars) but he made up for it in endorsements. He appeared in ads for automobiles, Old Buck Gin, Bostonian shoes and a line of splashy clothes according to Joseph Lelyveld, the New York Times man on the scene.

Mathebula’s celebrityhood crossed racial lines. Newspapers that took little cognizance of goings-on in the black community showered Mathebula with a copious amount of ink. When he defended his title against Argentina’s Santos Laciar, it was front page news in white and black newspapers.

Mathebula opposed Laciar a mere 13 weeks after winning his title in Los Angeles. The match was held in Soweto’s Orlando Stadium, a facility built to house the Pirates, Soweto’s all-black soccer team. Three years earlier, South Africa had legalized interracial sporting events but few whites dared venture into Soweto which was ground zero for anti-apartheid demonstrations.

Despite the great esteem in which Mathebula was held, the fight wasn’t a sellout. A local black nationalist organization launched a campaign to boycott the fight on the grounds that the government, which paid to set up Mathebula in a fancy hotel and paid for his motorcades, was using international mixed-race sporting events as a propaganda tool, an early illustration of what has come to be called “sportswashing.”

Peter Mathebula couldn’t catch a break and that may have impacted his performance against the Argentine. It was woeful. Laciar knocked him down in the fifth and then bull-rushed him out of the ring (the ref called it a push) and the bout was stopped in the eighth with Mathebula complaining that his vision was compromised.

Before the year was out, Mathebula lost twice more. Fighting on hostile turf in Venezuela, he was stopped twice by Betulio Gonzalez, first in the 10th and then in the sixth. A three-time world title-holder, Gonzalez had a great career but he was approaching his 32nd birthday, old for a flyweight, and his best days were behind him.

In the span of less than 10 full months, Peter Mathebula went from the penthouse to the proverbial outhouse, but with the passage of time his people remembered his historic achievement in Los Angeles and pretty much forgot the slew of disappointments that quickly followed. The word “legend” suffuses reports of his death in South African papers.

Mathebula reportedly had multiple health issues and spent the last three weeks of his life in Leratong Hospital in the province of Gauteng, not far from the all-black township where he was born. May he rest in rest in peace.

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Ringside in Verona: Alvarez Capsizes Seals Plus Undercard Results

Matt Andrzejewski

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VERONA, NY — The main event of an ESPN televised card at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY between light heavyweight contenders Eleider Alvarez (25-1, 13 KO’s) and Michael Seals (24-3, 18 KO’s) started with a whimper but ended with a bang. After six-plus rounds of lackadaisical action, Alvarez scored a stunning sensational one punch knockout just before the end of the seventh round of their scheduled ten round fight.

The first three rounds saw more clinches than punches landed. Seals seemed to be looking to land one perfect punch and in doing so barely unleashed any punches. Alvarez, for his part, was not very active in these rounds but certainly moved his hands more and landed more than Seals.

In round four, Seals came out much more aggressive and had his best round of the fight. But in the fifth, Seals went back to looking for that one punch and Alvarez took back control of the action. Toward the end of the round, Alvarez staggered Seals with a right hand.

Alvarez continued to be in control of the fight in rounds six and seven by simply moving his hands more. And then towards the end of round seven, Alvarez connected with a picture perfect overhand right that sent Seals crashing to the canvas. Referee Danny Schiavone did not reach a full 10-count before waiving the fight off.

For Alvarez, this was a big bounce-back win after his loss to Sergey Kovalev in their light heavyweight title rematch last February. With the light heavyweight division flush with talent, it seems Alvarez is in prime position to get a big opportunity his next time out.

In the co-feature, lightweight contender Felix Verdejo (26-1, 16 KO’s) put on a workmanlike effort in winning a wide ten round unanimous decision against Manuel Rey Rojas (18-4, 5 KO’s). While Verdejo was in complete control of the contest from the opening bell, the performance certainly lacked sizzle and may raise even more questions on the potential of the once can’t-miss prospect.

Verdejo utilized a very patient approach throughout the night working behind the left jab. While the jab was effective, Verdejo only occasionally looked to unleash power punches behind that jab. Reyes, for his part, played mostly defense keeping a very tight guard and looking to selectively counter Verdejo’s jab.

Verdejo’s defense, which had been criticized in the past, looked better but still showed some leaks. In the fifth round, Reyes landed a sharp right hand flush on the jaw of Verdejo that seemed to momentarily get Verdejo’s attention. And in the ninth, Reyes landed a hard right that snapped Verdejo’s head back. If Reyes could punch harder, either of those two rights may have altered the course of the fight.

But aside from those brief moments from Reyes, Verdejo dictated all the action. He easily out-worked and out-landed the mostly defensive minded Reyes. In the end it is a win for Verdejo and he can proceed forward towards what he hopes will be an eventual title shot in the lightweight division.

In a bizarre heavyweight fight between two former 2004 Olympians, Devin Vargas (22-6, 9 KO’s) was awarded a disqualification victory in the eighth and final round against Victor Bisbal (23-5, 17 KO’s). Bisbal scored a knockdown in round two with a left hook but was deducted two points in round four for various infractions.  Aside from the knockdown round, Vargas seemed to out-hustle and out-land Bisbal. Ahead on all three scorecards (67-63 twice and 66 -64) entering the final round, Vargas absorbed a low blow from Bisbal. At this point, referee Michael Ortega decided to disqualify Bisbal.

Abraham Nova (18-0, 14 KO’s) scored a one-sided fourth-round TKO of tough veteran Pedro Navarette (30-25-3, 19 KO’s) in a lightweight contest that was scheduled for eight rounds. Nova scored knockdowns in rounds two, three and four before the fight was waived off.

Knockout out artist Jonathan Guzman (24-1, 23 KO’s) rose from the canvas to score a fourth-round knockout of Rodolfo Hernandez (30-10-1, 28 KO’s) in a 122-pound slugfest. The heavily favored Guzman scored two knockdowns with body shots in the opening stanza and appeared on his way to an easy win. But Hernandez flipped the script in round three with a hard right hand just before the bell sounded that put Guzman on the canvas and nearly out. The two went toe to toe in the fourth when a vicious left hook to the body from Guzman put Hernandez down and this time out for good.

In a battle of former world title challengers, Freddie Roach trained Christopher Diaz (25-2, 16 KO’s) scored a wide eight round unanimous against Adeilson Dos Santos (19-8, 15 KO’s) in a featherweight contest. Diaz dominated the fight from the opening bell and hurt Dos Santos on a few occasions but ultimately had to settle for the decision victory.

The opening fight of the night saw heavyweight prospect Jared Anderson (3-0, 3 KO’s) easily dispatch Andrew Satterfield (5-4, 3 KO’s) in the first round of their scheduled four round fight. Anderson scored two knockdowns in what was a dominant performance.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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