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Looking Ahead to Canelo-Kovalev, Looking Back at Robinson-Maxim

Jeffrey Freeman

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Looking Ahead to Canelo-Kovalev, Looking Back at Robinson-Maxim

Will boxing history repeat itself again? 

In modern era prizefighting it is almost unheard of for a reigning middleweight champion to challenge a reigning light heavyweight champion for his title. It’s a fifteen pound climb on the scales; the second biggest weight gap between any of boxing’s eight original weight classes.

Undisputed middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler was wise to resist the temptation; choosing to let Michael Spinks go up 25 pounds to heavyweight rather than moving up himself to challenge the then undefeated Spinks “Jinx” for his unified light heavyweight titles.

As it turns out, Michael could handle the heavyweights. He beat Larry Holmes twice and blitzed Gerry Cooney. He might well have handed Hagler an ugly loss, maybe even one by knockout.

Bernard Hopkins moved up to light heavyweight a year after losing his middleweight titles. He won some and lost some before being knocked out of the ring, and out of boxing, by Joe Smith Jr.  James Toney went from middleweight to heavyweight but he did it slowly over two decades.

CHAMPIONSHIP POUNDS

More often than not, it is the natural middleweight champion (160) fielding challenges from welterweight (147) or junior middleweight (154) while today’s light heavyweight champions (175) sometimes see action from the super middleweights (168) who pack on seven extra pounds.

The most recent example of a middleweight champion moving up in weight to box a defending light heavyweight champion for his title is still Sugar Ray Robinson’s ill-fated challenge of Joey Maxim at Yankee Stadium in New York City on June 25, 1952. Theirs was one hell of a fight.

According to the United Press, the summer heat in the outdoor ring reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Robinson weighed-in at just 157; Maxim at 173. Robinson was better, quicker, and more skilled. Maxim was stronger and he took a much better punch than the lighter Sugar Ray.

“Time after time [Robinson] danced into the attack with his stinging combinations and slipped away from Maxim’s jab,” penned Jack Hand from ringside for the St. Petersburg Times sports page. “But the time came when he could dance no more. As the 13th ended, he collapsed wobbling against the ropes near a neutral corner and had to be dragged to his own stool.”

Robinson retired in the corner after the thirteenth round‒well ahead on points. Referee Ruby Goldstein also failed to go the distance due to desert-like temperatures and dehydration. Ruby was replaced by referee Ray Miller after an especially sweat-drenched tenth frame.

22222robinson maxim e1529974298391 620x465

The only one in the ring who could take the literal and proverbial heat was Maxim, thus he became the only fighter to stop Robinson, the greatest pound-for-pounder of all time, before going on to engage in a trilogy with Archie Moore; losing all three bouts by unanimous decision.

Robinson retired but came back three years later in 1955, actively competing until 1965.

As a middleweight.

HISTORY AWAITS…

On November 2 in Las Vegas, Nevada at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Golden Boy’s superstar “Canelo” Alvarez will challenge WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev.

The unique move by Alvarez comes after an anticipated third fight with Gennady Golovkin failed to materialize in 2019. Airing on DAZN, there is no catchweight BS and Kovalev (1-1 against Latinos named Alvarez) will be allowed to box without having a hand tied behind his back.

Whether he gets fair officiating in Vegas is another story. Canelo, like Robinson, will be attempting to make history by winning a third world title in as many weight classes but can he pull it off? Is Canelo finally biting off more than he can chew after gradually easing into middleweight and then seizing the crown last September from the long reigning Triple G?

“Historic fights have been a hallmark of this company and we are pleased to once again live up to the high expectations we’ve set for fans. The best pound-for-pound fighter is also boxing’s biggest star. I am certain he will stop Kovalev,” predicts Canelo’s promoter Oscar De La Hoya.

Oddsmakers have already installed Canelo as the betting favorite (4 to 1 on some books) just as they did in 1952 when Robinson was favored (13 to 10) to defeat the then 78-18-4 Maxim.

With all due respect to Vasyl Lomachenko and with all promotional hyperbole aside, Canelo is arguably the top rated P4P boxer in the world today with decision victories over Gennady Golovkin, Miguel Cotto, Erislandy Lara, Austin Trout, and Danny Jacobs on his record.

His lone loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. made him a better boxer, particularly on defense. The skilled redhead is now 52-1-2 with 35 knockouts. He rolls with the punches like ‘Money May’ and by that I mean to say he shoulder-rolls and parries like no Mexican fighter I know of.

RISKY BUSINESS

“The second phase of my career is continuing as planned,” says Canelo. Whether or not that includes a third fight with GGG remains to be seen but Kovalev’s Main Events promoter Kathy Duva is happy to see Golovkin wait. “Canelo is to be praised for challenging Krusher Kovalev. Win or lose, he will make history and Sergey is extremely pleased to get the chance to test his mettle against another future Hall-of-Famer. I have a feeling that this will be one for the ages.”

Last month against Anthony Yarde, Kovalev, 36, showed that he is still very vulnerable to the body. During the eighth round of his WBO title bout in his Russian hometown of Chelyabinsk, Kovalev’s abdomen came under attack from Yarde who almost did what Andre Ward did in his rematch with Kovalev; namely buckle the big guy over and make him quit from bodyshots.

Kovalev weathered the storm and used his long stiff jab to put Yarde down and out in the 11th.

Canelo, 29, is coming off a May win against Danny Jacobs, a unanimous decision in which he proved beyond a shadow of any doubt that as the one who beat Golovkin, he is the best and most accomplished middleweight in the world‒the legitimate world champion of the division.

There’s really nothing left to prove there.

“I want to be remembered as one of the greats in boxing and that is why I continue to work hard and continue to take on these type of fights, so that I can keep on writing my own history. That is why I’ve decided to jump two weight classes. Kovalev is a dangerous puncher, and he’s a naturally bigger man but those are the kinds of challenges and risks that I like to face.”

“In order to be the best you have to beat the best,” acknowledges the 34-3-1 (29) Kovalev. “I always tried to fight the toughest opponents in my division. Canelo wanted to fight me; to step up to a higher weight and challenge for my belt. I will be ready on November 2nd,” he promises.

If he hopes to beat Canelo and redeem himself for the technical knockout losses to Ward (in 2017) and Eleider Alvarez (in 2018), Kovalev will have to be in the best shape of his ten-year career and more ready than he’s been recently to go hard for the full twelve rounds.

Poor stamina must not be an issue again. It’s time to put down the vodka and pay close attention to trainer Buddy McGirt. “He still has that fire inside to be the best,” insists Buddy.

Alvarez is a thunderous body puncher and the best counterpuncher in the game today. But it’s hard to land downstairs or counter to the head effectively when you’re being kept at a safe distance by a bigger, stronger man using his long reach and superior power to his advantage.

Kovalev pumps an outstanding jab and it’s his most important weapon for upsetting Alvarez.

While one can see Canelo working his way inside and crushing a tiring Kovalev’s body, one can also see a motivated Kovalev taking advantage of this golden opportunity to remind us all of the talented fighting machine who beat Bernard Hopkins and appeared to have done enough to deserve the judges’ decision in his first encounter with the now retired P4P star Andre Ward.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

They say that history is written by the winners but in the case of Robinson-Maxim, it appears to have been written by the loser, or at the very least by those sympathetic to him. Ask anyone about the fight today and all you’ll hear about is how Robinson wilted like a raisin in the sun.

Maxim gets little to no credit.

But according to Maxim’s manager Jack Kearns, all the hot talk was just hot air, an excuse.

“Robinson was nailed good in the belly in the tenth and again in the twelfth. And he got a left hook and a right to the head at the end of the thirteenth when he was on the ropes. If the bell hadn’t rang he’d be dead,” he said. “We had Joey lay back and let Robinson punch himself out.”

Who’s to say it didn’t work?

If Canelo’s plan is to wait until Kovalev gets winded and then go to work on his body like Ward and Yarde, he might be able to achieve what even the great Sugar Ray Robinson was unable to accomplish. And if Kovalev is fit and ready on fight night as promised, he has the physical tools to win; proving that a good big man almost always beats a good (even GOAT) small man.

Canelo-Kovalev is a real fight.

May the best man win.

*****

Boxing Writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts from 1973 to 1987, during the Marvelous career of Marvin Hagler. JFree then lived in Lowell, Mass during the best years of Irish Micky Ward’s illustrious career. A new member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a Bernie Award Winner in the Category of Feature Under 1500 Words, Freeman covers boxing for The Sweet Science in New England.

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Shakur Stevenson’s Star Turn Gets No Media Coverage in Atlanta

Bernard Fernandez

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Shakur Stevenson’s Star Turn Gets No Media Coverage in Atlanta

For that part of the sports world that takes notice of boxing, Shakur Stevenson announced himself as a superstar-in-the-making – well, maybe – in totally dominating and ultimately dethroning WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring Saturday night in Atlanta’s State Farm Arena. Shakur, the 24-year-old southpaw and 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Newark, N.J., seemingly hit Herring, 35, a combat-toughened but outgunned Marine Corps veteran, with everything but the proverbial kitchen sink en route to a 10th-round stoppage that wowed, among others, former junior welterweight and welterweight titlist and ESPN commentator Timothy Bradley Jr., who had chided Stevenson, a sometimes risk-adverse defensive wizard, as a “boring” fighter in his most recent bout on the Worldwide Leader, a 12-round scorecard shutout of Namibia’s Jeremia Nakathila on June 12 in Las Vegas.

After referee Mark Nelson stepped in to save the bleeding and battered Herring 1 minute, 30 seconds into round 10, Stevenson surprised Bradley by thanking him for providing the motivation he needed to ramp up his offensive output.

“Shakur tonight showed a ton of maturity,” Bradley said of the new-look, presumably more fan-friendly version of Stevenson that was on display. “The fact that he thanked me and said that I motivated him is a beautiful thing. That showed even more maturity, because that’s all that I want from these young fighters. I want them to grow.

“This is what I wanted to see from Shakur Stevenson. But I knew he had it in him, and he showed it tonight.”

Not that Bradley has completely bought into the notion of all that Stevenson could be, citing the lack of the only weapon – one-punch power – in his otherwise well-stuffed trick bag. Maybe that will come should Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs) continue to enhance his man-strength, and maybe what you see now is all that fight fans can ever expect to get. In baseball terminology, Shakur Stevenson was more or less categorized by Bradley as a high-average singles hitter with enough gap power to accumulate a fair share of doubles that can get opponents out of there on accumulated damage. Who could complain if Stevenson, whose avowed goal is to become a superstar and fixture at or near the top of everyone’s pound-for-pound lists, continues to show flashes of such stylistic predecessors as Pernell Whitaker and Floyd Mayweather Jr.?

On this night and in the fight’s host city, however, Stevenson took a worse media-coverage battering from Eddie Rosario than he had administered to Herring (23-3, 11 KOs) with his fists. Rosario, a trade-deadline acquisition of the Atlanta Braves, slugged a three-run homer to lift his new team to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at nearby Truist Park, sending the Braves into their first World Series since 1999. For now, Rosario, who went 14-for-25 with three homers in winning the NLCS Most Valuable Player Award, is the toast of the town and the focus of reams of space in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports section. But it wasn’t only Rosario who siphoned attention in the local paper away from Stevenson; the fight might have gotten a few lines in the print editions, but online it was completely ignored by the AJC, Rosario’s hot bat followed in the pecking order by stories about the NBA’s Hawks losing at Cleveland, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets dropping a high-scoring contest at Virginia and a five-star high school defensive end prospect named Mykel Williams verbally committing to the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.

While it had to be frustrating to Stevenson and Atlanta’s fight fans for the event to be ignored by AJC, there were other deserving participants on the card who were similarly overlooked by the press in Georgia’s largest city. Not that anyone in the Internet age still pastes newspaper clippings into scrapbooks, but 19-year-old middleweight prospect Xander Zayas might be at a similar embryonic stage of development once occupied by Stevenson a couple of years ago. He deserved at least some recognition in the paper for his fourth-round stoppage of Dan Karpency, as did two other undercard fighters with celebrity familial ties: middleweight Nico Ali Walsh, grandson of the great Muhammad Ali, who scored a third-round TKO of James Westley II, and junior middleweight Evan Holyfield, son of four-time heavyweight champion and Atlanta-area resident Evander Holyfield – can it be nearly 30 years since “The Real Deal” shook off an early knockdown to stop Bert Cooper in seven rounds on Nov. 23, 1991, in Atlanta’s since-demolished Omni Coliseum? — who bombed out Charles Stanfield in two rounds.

But Atlanta is not the only metropolis that devotes fewer newspaper column inches, if any, to the sport that once made Evander Holyfield as important a local sports figure as any Falcon, Brave or Hawk. It will be up to Stevenson to break through, if he can, to a level where his every ring appearance becomes a must-see because boxing’s viability is and has always been largely tied to the popularity of its larger-than-life figures.

“I wanted a fun fight – show my skills, my boxing, my power,” Stevenson said of the modifications he and trainer/grandfather Wali Moses made from the relative dreariness of the wide points nod over Nakathila to the pulse-quickening pummeling of Herring, who apologized to the Marine Corps in general for his defeat, not that any such admission was necessary. Herring seemed to be contemplating retirement, but there has never been any occasion when he failed to conduct himself honorably inside the ropes.

The question now is, will Stevenson continue to hew to demonstrate the aggressiveness he exhibited against Herring? His comments following the Nakathila bout suggest that it might not always be so. His style is evolving, but what works better on one night might not be advisable on another.

“To be honest, I didn’t really like my performance,” Stevenson said after his paint-by-numbers dismissal of Nakathila. “I felt I could’ve performed a lot better. I was being real careful because he has power. He was real scary. I got the best defense in boxing. But I’ll be better in my next fight.”

Former super middleweight and light heavyweight champion Andre Ward, a 2021 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame who also did commentary for Herring-Stevenson, said Shakur shouldn’t feel pressured to become something he is not in order to meet anyone else’s expectations.

“I think we got to kill some of these misnomers that have been around the sport for far too long, that fighters that go about their craft a certain kind of way, hit and don’t get hit, (means) there’s something not tough about them,” Ward said. “I heard that my whole career. Floyd Mayweather heard that his whole career. Just because a skillful fighter who can think and plays chess when everybody else is playing checkers doesn’t mean he can’t get down and dirty. It only means we’re going to get down and dirty when we have to.

“Fighters who have (high) IQs and skill, keep doing what you’re doing. Some people are going to like it and others won’t. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If a good fighter has a bad night, he can still win every round. If a guy who takes two to (land) one had a bad night, it’s a pretty ugly night. He’s probably going to get knocked out or take a lot of punishment.

“I wasn’t who they wanted me to be. I just beat all those guys, all the guys they said were going to get me. I just kept winning. And winning covers a lot of problems and issues.”

A lot, for sure, not all. In addition to Whitaker, Mayweather and maybe Ward, there are elements of Stevenson’s makeup that call to mind the technical proficiency of two-time Cuban gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux, a former Top Rank fighter. Stevenson has been groomed by Top Rank for a prolonged and successful run at the elite level, but what so far has been a mutually beneficial working relationship could hinge in part to the fighter’s willingness to more regularly perform as he did against Herring than he did against Nakathila and a few other opponents that led to the perception that he was supremely talented, yes, but also a touch boring.

Prior to Rigondeaux’s release by Top Rank, company founder Bob Arum complained that his style leaned more to Masterpiece Theater than Rocky, which made Rigo a poor box-office and television attraction. Arum even said that when he brought the Cuban’s name up to HBO executives, “they throw up.”

There are many ways to win a prizefight, and now Shakur Stevenson has shown that he can win with chamber music or semi-heavy metal playing in the background. How far he advances in his march toward the truly elite status he is convinced is his destiny may be determined by the method he chooses to employ should a much-discussed showdown with Mexican blaster Oscar Valdez (30-0, 23 KOs) take place in 2022. The hard truth is that a lot of fight fans not only like, but require splashes of blood-and-guts mixed in with their favorite sport’s artistic side.

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Fast Results from Atlanta Where Shakur Stevenson Turned in a Masterful Performance

Arne K. Lang

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Former world featherweight title-holder Shakur Stevenson turned in his career-best performance tonight at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta while wresting the WBO 130-pound world title from the shoulders of Jamel Herring via a 10th-round TKO. At age 24, Stevenson was the younger man by 11 years and it was a case of youth being served.

As a pro, Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs) has lost precious few rounds. The rap against him was that he is content to outclass an opponent, providing few fireworks. In this vein, the assumption was that tonight’s bout would be a tactical (i.e., tame) affair. But while there were no knockdowns and Shakur fought a measured fight, there was more snap in his punches than had been the norm and he finished the bout on a high note.

Early into the fight, Herring’s left eye began to swell. In round nine, Stevenson opened a nasty cut over Herring’s other eye. In round ten, with the cut bleeding profusely, Stevenson revved up his attack, forcing referee Mark Nelson to waive it off. The official time was 1:30.

After the fight, Stevenson called out his WBC counterpart Oscar Valdez. Herring, an ex-Marine and former U.S. Olympic team captain, falls to 23-3.

Other Bouts

Fast-rising 19-year-old middleweight Xander Zayas shellacked intrepid Dan Karpency whose father and chief cornerman pulled him out after four rounds. A future star, born in Puerto Rico, Zayas is now 11-0 (8). One of the three fighting brothers, Karpency (9-4-1) will return to his day job as a registered nurse at a maximum-security prison in Western Pennsylvania. He hadn’t previously been stopped

In the first bout airing on ESPN’s flagship station, middleweight Nico Ali Walsh, the 21-year-old grandson of Muhammad Ali, scored a third-round stoppage of scrappy but out-gunned James Westley II, a 36-year-old from Toledo, Ohio. Walsh (2-0, 2 KOs) knocked Westley down with a straight right hand in the waning seconds of round two and knocked him to his knees with another short right hand early in the next stanza. Westley wasn’t badly hurt, but his corner saw fit to throw in the towel.

Junior middleweight Evan Holyfield, one of 11 children fathered by the great Evander Holyfield, knocked Charles Stanford flat on his back with a harsh left-right combination in round two, advancing his record to 8-0 (6). The official time was 0:30. Stanford, a 35-year-old Cincinnati man with an MMA background, was 6-3 heading in.

Middleweight Troy Isley, a 23-year-old U.S. Olympian from Alexandria, VA, improved to 3-0 (2) with a first-round stoppage of 37-year-old Nicholi Navarro (2-2), a former Army Ranger from Denver. Isley rocked his overmatched opponent several times before putting him on the canvas with a combination, forcing the ref to intervene. The official time was 2:48.

In an upset, Erik Palmer saddled Atlanta’s Roddricus Livsey with his first defeat, winning a split decision. Palmer, from the Karpency family stable, was 12-14-5 heading in, versus 8-0-1 for Livsey. The scores were 58-56 twice and a curious 59-55 for the hometown fighter.

Haven Brady Jr, a 19-year-old featherweight from Albany, Georgia, improved to 4-0 (3) with a 4-round unanimous decision over Corpus Christi’s Roberto Negrete (3-1).  The scores favoring Brady were 40-36 across the board, but Negrete was no slouch.

Chicago welterweight Antoine Cobb made an impressive pro debut with a brutal one-punch knockout of Jerrion Campbell (2-2). It was all over in 58 seconds. Cobb, 25, is a protégé of former light heavyweight champion Montell Griffin.

In the opening bout on the card, 21-year-old Brooklyn lightweight Harley Maderos, a 2021 USA national champion, improved to 2-0 (1) with a 4-round unanimous decision over Deljerro Revello (0-2). Maderos scored a knockdown in the opening frame and won all four rounds on all four cards but wasn’t particularly impressive.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty images.

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Results from Tampa: Harold Calderon Survives Bite to Remain Undefeated

David A. Avila

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Undefeated welterweight Harold Calderon remained unbeaten despite strange tactics by late replacement Luis Florez that forced a premature end of the fight due to a disqualification on Saturday.

Calderon (26-0, 17 KOs) endured a change of opponents, and then outrageous tactics by Colombia’s Florez (25-22) including biting that ended the fight at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida.

“That m..f…just bit me,” said Calderon, a southpaw from Miami. “I’m sweet. I’m like sugar.”

For the first three rounds Florez seemed eager to trade blows with Calderon and chided the Florida fighter to attack. But once the lefty welterweight attacked the body, the Colombian fighter suddenly seemed not as eager.

Calderon took the fight inside and battered Florez on the inside. During one attack Florez motioned he was hit behind the head. That’s when the dirty tactics began including a bite on Calderon. After Calderon retaliated with a body shot, Florez took a knee and complained. The referee stopped the fight. It was later revealed that the referee disqualified Florez for biting.

Calderon said he’s anxious to fight any of the top 15 contenders if given an opportunity.

“I need somebody in the top 15,” he said.

Uzbekistan’s Otabek Kholmatov (4-0, 4 KOs) knocked out Colombia’s Juan Medina (12-9, 11 KOs) in the second round of their super bantamweight clash. Kholmatov, a southpaw, scored two knock downs in the first round. The tall Uzbeki fighter blew out Medina with more body blows to end the fight at 1:51 of the second round.

“I’ll be the champ,” Kholmatov said.

A super lightweight match saw Clarence Booth (21-4, 12 KOs) take time to figure out the awkward style of Alejandro Munera (6-4-4) and win by knockout at the seventh round.

Bantamweight contender Rosalinda Rodriguez (13-0, 3 KOs) fought last-minute replacement Elizabeth Tuani (1-4) and won by stoppage at 1:16 of the second round in a fight fought above 126 pounds. There was confusion because Tuani did not look hurt nor in danger of going down when the fight was stopped. Even Rodriguez looked perplexed.

“I was confused,” said Rodriguez. “She was putting up a fight.”

Other Bouts

Jean Guerra Vargas (6-0) survived a knockdown against Rueben Morales (0-2) to win a split decision. It seemed Vargas got lucky with the scoring. Morales was the dominant fighter for the first two rounds and lost gas. He was a last-day replacement.

Poland’s Adrian “Pretty Boy” Pinheiro (4-0, 4 KOs) knocked out Milton Nunez with a focused body attack in the first two rounds and scored two knockdowns with body shots. A couple of body sapping shots floored Nunez at 1:05 of the second round for the knockout in the heavyweight fight.

Bryan Lopez (3-0) knocked down wild swinging William Fauth (0-7) twice before scoring a knockout win at 1:56 of the second round of a super lightweight fight.

Hungarian heavyweight Istvan Bernath (8-0, 6 KOs) knocked out Mexico’s Guillermo Del Rio (3-4-1) with an overhand right at 2:30 of the first round.

A welterweight fight saw Bobby Henry start slowly and then floor Bryant Costello in the second round to turn things around and win by decision after four rounds.

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