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Avila Perspective, Chap 62: The Diamond Era of Boxing

David A. Avila

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A few weeks back, yet another newspaper sports column suggested boxing has deceased or is enduring its last rites.

It’s easy to claim the sky is falling but showing hard evidence to back a statement like this would be nice.

Where is the proof?

On the contrary, it’s very easy to prove that professional boxing or prizefighting has evolved to its greatest plateau. We are now in the “diamond era” of prizefighting, especially in the Southern California area.

With prizefighters arriving every day from all parts of the globe and women finally getting their place in the boxing ring, the sport of professional boxing has become bigger than it’s ever been.

Two simple facts point toward this massive growth: Saul “Canelo” Alvarez signed a contract worth more than $300 million and the number of boxing gyms in the Southern California area alone, exceed 100.

Both of those numbers are not exaggerated, they are under-stated.

Last year the redhead middleweight from Guadalajara, Mexico signed a five-year contract with streaming service DAZN for $365 million in October 2018. It gave him the highest contract for an athlete in the world. (That contract was later surpassed by Los Angeles Angels baseball outfielder Mike Trout who signed a 12-year contract for $426 million this past March.)

Annually, Alvarez ranks fourth behind international soccer stars Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar. But he surpasses annually American sports stars like Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Lebron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant who are ranked in the top 10 paid athletes in the world according to Forbes magazine.

So, if boxing is dead, where the heck is the sport coming up with this money?

Golden Era

Lots of old-timers suggest the best era for prizefighting was in the Depression era when fighters like Joe Louis, Max Baer, and Henry Armstrong were busting heads and luring crowds to baseball stadiums in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and, of course, Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Others point to the post-World War II period when television arrived and Gillette Razors and some beer companies sponsored regular fight series. Many boxing stars like Kid Gavilan, Rocky Marciano and Beau Jack enjoyed stardom during this period.

Still even more feel adamant that the Golden Era was when Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard rumbled in the boxing rings. The 70s and 80s were rife with televised boxing matches and also saw the advent of cable television jump into the game.

Though all of those eras were hugely popular, can they rival today in terms of the sheer number of prizefighters?

100 Gyms

At no time in the history of boxing has there ever been a period when a staggering abundance of boxing gyms existed in one area the size of Southern California. No country in the world can claim to have close to 100 gyms as seen today in the Golden State’s southern region.

Fighters arrive almost daily from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America and all parts of North America.

Name one continent and several fighters from any continent can be named or spotted training in one of the myriad of major boxing gyms scattered throughout the SoCal landscape.

Lately, the fighting island nation of Japan has been sending its prizefighters to Southern California where they come for a variety of reasons but mainly for strong sparring. No other place in the world can rival the variety of styles and abundance of fighters that can provide preparation for a big fight.

From San Diego to Santa Maria, the more than 100 boxing facilities boast dozens of prizefighters training at full speed in search of star status or million dollar paydays. Whether it’s second story former discos like the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, or backyard gyms like the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in Riverside, or garages converted to handle a boxing ring like Shane Mosley’s in Big Bear, those facilities are filled with prizefighting hopefuls.

It’s unprecedented in the history of prizefighting.

“I can’t remember any time like this,” said Freddie Roach when asked about the overwhelming number of gyms throughout Southern California or in the East Coast. “There’s easily more than 100 gyms.”

When trainer Robert Garcia, a former world champion during the 1990s was asked if in excess of 100 gyms exist in the area, he wasn’t hesitant.

“Without a doubt there’s that many,” said Garcia whose gym in Riverside harbors about three dozen prizefighters. “I can’t remember another time where there were this many gyms.”

Boxing for money has been the world’s oldest sport; probably even pre-dating horseracing. It has always been around and will always be around because fighting has always attracted interest.

If a person can’t see that plain truth, well, I invite you to come along with me to visit most of these gyms because if you tried visiting all of them, it would take months. It’s a fact: boxing has not died nor is it dying, it has grown to an incredibly monstrous size.

Media Coverage

Since the arrival of the 21st century, a number of changes in how people can read or watch prizefighting have emerged including boxing web sites, boxing apps, and streaming. With those different forms of coverage, boxing has seen the arrival of money-backed streaming companies like ESPN+, DAZN and UFC Fight Pass join the boxing party by investing millions of dollars.

And when you include already involved television networks like Showtime, FOX and ESPN, you can see that they are not involved for charity. That’s not how capitalism works.

It’s pretty evident that boxing is growing and those participating are growing with it.

Who would have thought a boxing writer like me could survive financially by writing stories for web sites? After 30 years writing for newspapers, these past five years have been web driven boxing sites that kept the sport at a level never seen before. Newspapers are missing the boat.

We are without a doubt in the “diamond era” of boxing.

Photo: Mikey Garcia and friends at the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy

Fights to Watch

Thurs. UFC Fight Pass 6 p.m. PT – Toka Kahn Clary (26-2) vs Irvin Gonzalez (12-1).

Fri. Facebook  5 p.m. – Ferdinand Kerobyan (11-1) vs Oscar Molina (13-2-1).

Sat. ESPN+ 1 p.m. PT – Vasyl Lomachenko (13-1) vs Luke Campbell (20-2).

Sat. FOX 5 p.m. PT – Erislandy Lara (25-3-3) vs Ramon Alvarez (28-7-3).

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel  

To comment on this story in The Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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The Canelo-Yildirim Travesty was Another Smudge on ‘Mandatory’ Title Defenses

Arne K. Lang

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Canelo Alvarez’s rout of grossly overmatched Avni Yildirim has once again cast a harsh light on the “mandatory challenger” gambit employed by the sport’s world sanctioning bodies. Canelo successfully defended his WBC 168-pound belt this past Saturday in Miami when Yildirim’s corner pulled him out after only three rounds.

During the nine minutes of actual fighting, Yildirim was credited with landing only 11 punches, none of which appeared to have been launched with bad intentions. A person posting on a rival web site likened Yildirim’s woeful performance to that of Nate Robinson’s showing against Jake Paul. Another snarky poster said that faint-hearted Adrien Broner, by comparison, had the heart of a lion. True, the 29-year-old Turk was sent in against a beast, but one yet has a right to expect more from a contest packaged as a world title fight.

Yildirim was coming off a loss. In his previous fight, he lost a split decision to Anthony Dirrell in a bout that was stopped in the 10th round by the ringside physician because of a bad cut over Dirrell’s left eye that resulted from an accidental head butt. He hadn’t won a fight in three-and-a-half years, not since out-pointing 46-year-old Lolenga Mock who predictably faded late in the 12-round fight, enabling Yildirim to win a narrow decision. Earlier in his career, he was stopped in the third round by Chris Eubank Jr in a fight that was one-sided from the get-go.

So, how exactly did Avni Yildirim build himself into position to become the mandatory opponent for the sport’s top pound-for-pound fighter? Did he “earn” this opportunity and the rich payday that came with it by submitting the winning bid in an auction? Is that a rhetorical question?

In an ESPN Q & A, the award-winning writer Mark Kriegel said that Canelo-Yildirim was payback for certain favors that were granted to Canelo by the WBC, citing the organization’s new “Franchise Champion” category and to their decision to countenance Canelo’s fight with Callum Smith for their vacant 168-pound title. But this doesn’t answer the question as to how Yildirim ascended to the role of a mandatory challenger; it merely informs us why Canelo agreed to take the fight.

This was the second great mismatch in 10 weeks involving a mandatory challenger. On Dec. 18, Gennadiy Golovkin opposed Poland’s Kamil Szeremeta in the first defense of the IBF middleweight title that he won with a hard-earned decision over Sergiy Derevyanchenko. The feather-fisted Szeremeta was undefeated (21-0, 5 KOs) but hadn’t defeated an opponent with a recognizable name.

This was a stroll in the park for GGG. Szeremeta was a glutton for punishment – he lasted into the seventh round — but at no point in the fight did he pose a threat to the 38-year-old Kazakh. Golovkin knocked him down four times before the plug was pulled.

In theory, the “mandatory challenger” ruling forestalls the very abuses with which it has become identified. It prevents a champion from fighting a series of hapless opponents while a more worthy challenger is left out in the cold. One could say that it stands as an example of the law of unforeseen consequences, save that it would be naïve to think that the heads of the sanctioning bodies didn’t foresee this versatility and venally embrace it.

Historians will likely lump Avni Yildirim with such fighters of the past as Patrick Charpentier and Morrade Hakker who were accorded mandatory contender status by the WBC so that they could be fodder for a title-holder in a stay-busy fight. Charpentier was rucked into retirement by Oscar De La Hoya who dismissed the overmatched Frenchman in three one-sided rounds at El Paso in 1998. Hakker was thrown in against Bernard Hopkins at Philadelphia in 2003. He brought his bicycle with him, so to speak, and thus lasted into the eighth.

In common with Yildirim and a slew of other mandatory challengers (Vaughn Bean comes quickly to mind), Charpentier and Hakker had misleading records. Steve Kim, in an article for this publication, said that Hakker’s record was more inflated than the Goodyear blimp.

A mandatory title defense isn’t always a rip-off. One wonders where Tyson Fury would be career-wise today if the WBO hadn’t established the Gypsy King as the mandatory challenger to Wladimir Klitschko, setting the wheels in motion for a changing of the guard. That worked out well for the good of the sport as Fury, after some disconcerting speed bumps, would prove to be a breath of fresh air.

But a mandatory title defense between evenly-matched opponents remains a rarity and there’s no end in sight to the charade.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Canelo Pummels Yildirin Into Submission in Three One-Sided Frames

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez dismissed Avni Yildirim like a bothersome fly to retain the WBA and WBC super middleweight titles by technical knockout in a mandatory fight on Saturday.

Challenge completed.

After less than three months from his last victory, Canelo (55-1-2, 37 KOs) returned to the boxing ring and battered Turkey’s Yildirim (21-3, 12 KOs) to submission at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. Callum Smith or Yildirim please take your seat.

It was just 70 days ago that Alvarez took the WBA title away from England’s Smith but the Mexican redhead was eager to return to the ring and dominated Yildirim like the former sparring partner he was.

It was hardly a contest.

Yildirim spent most of 2020 working with Southern California’s famed trainer Joel Diaz, but there is only so much a teacher can teach. Regardless of the expertise given to the Turkish fighter the trainer can’t jump in the boxing ring. Despite repeated admonishments by Diaz, his fighter just could not pull the trigger.

“It doesn’t matter who trains him I just do my work and listen to my corner,” said Alvarez “I feel very strong at this weight.”

Alvarez pummeled Yildirim like a punching bag early and often during the first two rounds. Left and right uppercuts pierced through Yildirim’s guard and body shots pummeled the body. Return fire was seldom exchanged.

After two rounds of sustaining punishment to the head and body, Yildirim attempted to fire back. He paid for his gamble with a counter right fired through the guard by Canelo and down went the challenger.

Though Yildirim survived the third-round knockdown, as he returned to the corner his trainer Diaz warned that another round like the third would force a stoppage. Diaz decided after further inspection to end the fight then and there at the end of the third round.

“I said I would get the knockout and I got the knockout,” said Alvarez.

The win sets up a showdown with England’s Billy Joe Saunders who holds the WBO super middleweight world title.

“This year it’s going to be very special against BJ Saunders,” said Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn who is planning their encounter for May 8. “It’s going to be one of the biggest fights of the year.”

Canelo said he is eager for the pending encounter.

“He’s a difficult fighter. He has the WBO title and we need to go for him,” said Alvarez.

Alvarez said his plans are to continue making history as a Latino fighter winning undisputed world titles in the super middleweight division.

“In Latin America it hasn’t been done,” Alvarez said. “I want to make history.”

Other Bouts

McWilliams Arroyo walked through Abraham Rodriguez’s punches and won by technical knockout in the fifth round to win the interim WBC flyweight title.

Despite a change of opponents within the last week Arroyo (21-4, 15 KOs) was able to adapt to last-minute opponent Rodriguez (27-3, 13 KOs) and work the body and head until the Mexican fighter’s corner tossed in the white towel to end the fight at 1:41 of the fifth round.

A battle of heavyweights between China’s Zhilei Zhang (22-0-1, 17 KOs) and America’s Jerry Forrest (26-4-1) ended in a majority draw after 10 rounds. Despite three early knockdowns scored by Zhang, the momentum changed after Forrest attacked the body inside. The scores were 95-93 Forrest and 93-93 twice for a majority draw.

In a super middleweight fight between two extremely tall prospects Diego Pacheco (11-0, 8 KOs) won by unanimous decision over Rodolfo Gomez Jr. after eight rounds. No knockdowns were scored between the two fighters who each towered at 6-feet 4-inches.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Results from Auckland: Parker UD 12 Fa; Ahio KO 7 Long

Arne K. Lang

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New Zealand heavyweights Joseph Parker and Junior Fa met four times as amateurs and each man won twice. On Saturday night in Auckland, they met for the first time as professionals and the heavily favored Parker broke the deadlock with a 12-round unanimous decision.

The bout beat the clock, in a fashion. During the match the crowd at the waterfront arena, estimated at 8,500, was informed that Auckland was reverting to Phase Three effective at 6:00 in the morning, following the discovery of a new Covid-19 infection. That meant, among other things, that public gatherings would be restricted to 10 people and schools would be open only to the children of essential workers.

The fight was a rather drab affair in which both men had trouble landing clean punches, perhaps owing partly to ring rust. Parker (28-2, 21 KOs) was making his first start in 12 months; Fa (19-1, 10 KOs) had been inactive since November of 2019.

Parker, the former world title challenger who went the distance with Anthony Joshua, had the upper hand in the early rounds and opened a small cut over Fa’s left eye in the seventh round, perhaps the result of an errant elbow. The cut became larger and bled profusely as the bout continued but it was never in danger of being stopped.

Parker had a worried look on his face as he awaited the reading of the scores, but he had nothing to fear. The judges had it 115-113, 117-111, and a head-scratching 119-109.

After the fight, Parker said, “It was a lot closer than we expected.”

Ahio vs. Long

The undercard was rubbish, but the Ahio-Long fight warrants a mention. A stablemate of Junior Fa, Hemi Ahio improved to 17-0 (12) with a wicked seventh-round knockout of Julius Long who was thoroughly gassed when Ahio caught him against the ropes and landed his haymaker. They had previously met in a 6-round affair that went the distance.

If the name Julius Long sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because he’s been around since 2001. Listed at seven-foot-one but likely an inch or two shorter, the boxer nicknamed the Towering Inferno came to New Zealand in 2013 to serve as a sparring partner for David Tua and never left.

Nearly 15 full years have elapsed since Long was whacked out in the opening round by Samuel Peter on a Duva Promotions card at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino.

George Kimball was ringside for TSS and described the scene: “The overmatched Long had already been down once when Peter smashed him with a left-right combination…(Long) hit the ropes with such force that he shot back off them like he was bouncing from a trampoline. Unfortunately for Long, the slingshot effect propelled him straight into the path of the right hand Peter had dispatched toward his head, effectively doubling the force of the blow. Long went down as if he had been whacked with a sledgehammer and lay motionless on the canvas. Referee Arthur Mercante Jr waved it off without a count, but he could have counted to 100.”

Long is now 43 years old. Since his crushing defeat by Samuel Peter, he is 4-17-1 and counting his defeat last night has been stopped seven more times. For his rematch with Akio, he weighed in at 326 ¾ pounds, more than 100 pounds more than his opponent.

In his adopted home, Julius Long, who grew up in Detroit, is a qualified chef, an occupation that requires an apprenticeship and many hours of training. He supplements his income moonlighting as a freelance prizefighter. By all accounts, he’s a very likeable man, but someone needs to take away his boxing gloves and burn them.

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