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The Hauser Report: Glen Sharp’s “Punching from the Shadows” (Book Review)

Thomas Hauser

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McFarland & Company publishes books about boxing on a regular basis. Some of them are solid works that contribute to the historical record of the sport. Others have the feel of vanity publishing, although McFarland doesn’t take payment from authors. On occasion, a particularly good book makes its way through the pipeline. Punching from the Shadows by Glen Sharp is a particularly good book.

Sharp has an undergraduate degree in economics and an M.A. in English. He has worked in state government for more than thirty years and is currently an analyst and editor at the California Energy Commission. Within that milieu, his most unique credential is that he boxed professionally for a year before retiring with a 1-and-2 ring record. His sojourn through the sweet science is realistically and evocatively written from the early roots of his journey to the end.

“I had major league dreams but not even minor league success and was haunted by my failure for years,” Sharp writes in the Preface to his book. “I thought telling my rise-and-fall story about a boxer that does not have much rise to it might be of help to me, too.”

Sharp grew up in a reasonably comfortable middle-class environment in a small farm town in Illinois.

“A common social confusion is that economic impoverishment is what leads people into boxing,” he notes. “But that is not the case. People are attracted to boxing or not, just as they are drawn to writing or acting or playing a musical instrument. But boxing is such difficult, painful, and dangerous work that the temptation to turn away from its call is difficult to ignore, and this is especially so when opportunities for an easier life are available elsewhere. Poverty does not force someone to begin boxing. There are billions of poor people in the world but not billions of boxers. But having some money in the bank, or even a chance to obtain cash any other way than by fighting, can lead someone to stop, which I would eventually discover for myself.”

Sharp’s introduction to boxing, his first sparring session, the Golden Gloves, and other rites of passage are well told. He recreates the sights and sounds of gym life well. He had decent physical gifts (in his imagination, he fancied himself a smaller version of Joe Frazier) and recalls, “I had been gifted with the ability to punch, especially with my left hand, in the same way other guys can throw a ball ninety-five miles an hour or more. I might not have had the best location, so to speak, or any off-speed stuff to set up my power, but I could rear back and fire.”

He also recreates an early amateur fight that saw a trainer named Alex Sherer in his corner.

“I had a difficult first round with the guy I was fighting,” Sharp recounts. “He landed lot of punches on me, including one right hand that left my nose bleeding. My nose wasn’t broken but the faucet was certainly on. As I sat on the stool in my corner after the round, Alex climbed into the ring and wiped my face with a towel. I was breathing heavily already and, with every exhalation, a fine mist of blood would float into the air between us. Alex, kneeling right in front of me, looked like he was in a state of shock. I thought he was worried about me but I was wrong. “This is a brand new shirt, goddam it,” he yelled at me, pointing at his chest while the red cloud settled on him like fog upon the ground. “This is the first day I’ve worn it.” He stood up and stepped back to look at the damage. “Jesus Christ,” he kept yelling. “A f****** brand new shirt and you’re getting blood all over it.”

Eventually, Sharp took his quest to the next level.

“A young person with decent athletic ability can be taught well enough to compete successfully at lower levels of boxing without having to discover how brave he is,” he notes. “At some point, however, as he progressively fights stiffer competition, it will become apparent how much of a stomach he has for boxing.”

Sharp had the stomach for it. At least, he thought he did. But his motivation was suspect. After graduating from college, in his words, “I began living like a lot of directionless college graduates, which is a lifestyle not much different than being in school except it’s better because you don’t have to attend classes. I worked out sporadically, getting in shape for a fight when drinking beer and having fun got boring. I stayed in decent condition, but the inconsistency of training did not allow for much in the way of skill development.”

But reality was calling.

“The world expected me to become a contributing member of society,” he recalls. “Going to school was never fun for me and could sometimes involve a lot of work, but at least it allowed me to partially avoid the responsibilities of life. It finally dawned on me to become a professional boxer. After graduating from college, I didn’t see any other option for me. Some people might laugh at the idea of a guy fighting professionally because he is too lazy or egotistical to get a job, but it doesn’t seem funny to me.”

In late-1981, Sharp decided to turn pro and took a job as a service attendant on the night shift in a gas station to pursue his ring career. Joe Risso (a restaurant owner who knew virtually nothing about the business of boxing) became his manager. Former middleweight champion Bobo Olson (who might have had trouble training a fish to swim) was hired by Risso as Glen’s trainer.

Sharp’s relationship with Olson was doomed from the start. First, Bobo was disinterested in his new charge. And second, he insisted that Sharp fight “out of a shell.” But Glen didn’t have the physical gifts to implement that style.

“Each boxer,” Sharp explains, “has a basic style of fighting which reflects his physical assets and limitations, his personality and temperament, how much punishment he is willing and able to endure, his experience, and who trained him and how. But all successful boxers develop their own particular style for the same root reason – to land punches while at the same time minimizing the number of punches the opponent lands in return. As an amateur, I had two main talents. I could punch hard and I could take a punch. I relied on that ability and accepted the consequences of my other shortcomings. I knew what I had to do to win, and I knew how I would lose if I could not impose myself on my opponent. Everything about my fights made sense to me, even when they were not going well. I needed to learn how to pace myself. How to throw decoy punches. How to set up big punches. How to counter more cleanly and strategically. How to make my counterpunching so smooth and effective that my offense and my defense were not clearly distinguishable. I needed to improve a lot. None of the teaching that I needed, however, would have conflicted with my intent to become a smart slugger. My intentions would have become more sophisticated, but not more confused.”

“But Bobo’s demands,” Sharp continues, “were alien to me both physically and psychologically. Neither my body nor my mind was designed to fight like Bobo wanted, and I knew it. With Bobo’s shell, I punched less often, less quickly, less powerfully, and less accurately. My defensive skills were reduced. I couldn’t move my head as freely or as quickly. I couldn’t follow my opponent’s punches as well as I had before. I knew what Bobo wanted was wrong for me, and so I was at war with myself. Boxing is a difficult enough sport when you are comfortable with what you are trying to do in the ring. Trying to bring someone else contentment by parroting what he or she wants is suicidal.”

Then Yaqui Lopez came into Sharp’s life.

Lopez was a world class fighter who had fallen just short in championship outings against John Conteh, Victor Galindez, and Matthew Saad Muhammad. Like Sharp, he fought as a light-heavyweight.

In March 1982 (two months before Sharp’s first pro fight), Joe Risso arranged for Glen to spar with Lopez several days a week. That meant training with Olson in Sacramento on some days and driving to Stockton to spar with Yaqui on others. Sharp’s exposition of the year that he spent as Lopez’s sparring partner is superb:

*          “This is what the first day with Yaqui felt like. I knew I was going to get the worst of it when I was in the middle of the ring, when I was at the end of his jab. I expected that. I didn’t know exactly how bad the worst of it was going to be, but I knew it was going to be kind of bad. What I didn’t expect was for it to be the same when I was inside his reach, boxing at close quarters. There was no place I could find to mount any kind of offense. There was no punch I could throw from any angle that seemed to bother Yaqui at all. In the three rounds we boxed that day, I don’t think I landed a single punch. I got pieces of him, glancing blows off the top of his head or body punches that he did not completely block, but I did not land any clean shots. Worse than that, there was no place in the ring I found to be safe. Everywhere I moved, I was at Yaqui’s mercy. He picked me apart with his jabs and rights from a distance. When I stepped closer, he would combine the right hands with left hooks. When I got on top of him, he would blast me with uppercuts along with the hooks. Yaqui was better than me in every phase of boxing. He had an absolute advantage in everything we were doing in the ring, and I had never experienced that before.”

*           “There was not much drama or art to be seen in my boxing with Yaqui. He quickly established that he was the hunter and I was the prey. Although I would occasionally challenge this hierarchy, my efforts always proved to be unsuccessful except for the briefest of moments. Until meeting Yaqui, I had something of an alpha male attitude about myself, always thinking I was the hunter in a boxing ring, and so my demotion was hurtful psychologically as well as physically. Every time I attempted to assert myself and temporarily reverse our roles, he would become even more assertive in response.”

*           “In the short-term, in the course of a fight, you can commit yourself to taking more punches than you world normally enjoy. You might make that commitment because you see it as your only chance to win. But in daily sparring, there is no competition to win a contest, and it becomes difficult to commit yourself to taking that level of punishment on a regular basis day after day. I would go home every day and stand under the shower for fifteen or twenty minutes, hoping the water pounding on my head would balance the throbbing coming from the other direction. I tried not to think about how it was going to happen all over again the next day. In the worst of the days with Yaqui, I did not feel much like someone who used his sparring with world class talent as a learning experience. I thought of myself as being more like the aging failed fighters who were just trying to make a few dollars by letting themselves be punched around.”

*           “As physically demanding as boxing with Yaqui was, the most difficult part was emotional as I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. You develop a unique perspective on life when you rise at six in the morning to run a few miles and one of your first waking thoughts is that, later in the day, you are going to get beat up. Every day during the hour drive to Stockton, my stomach would tighten as I went over what would take place once I got there, knowing there was nothing I could do or change to stop what was going to happen, knowing the next day was going to be the same. I could not ask for relief, either. Yaqui was not taking cheap shots at me, he was only doing his job, and I was the one who had put myself in the position of being his sparring partner. You cannot ask another man to lighten up on you. You can wish for pity. You can hope the guy kicking your butt begins to feel sorry for you, or at least his cornermen do and tell their guy to ease up a bit. You can even think about developing a religious life with the hope God might have mercy on your soul. But you cannot ask the guy you are boxing with to lighten up on you.”

Sharp’s first professional fight was contested in Stockton on May 5, 1982. The opponent was an 0-and-1 novice named Lamont Santanas.

“Besides boxing differently depending upon whether I was training in Stockton or Sacramento,” Sharp writes, “I had two completely different training routines. I had Bobo’s routine when he was in the gym, and I trained like Yaqui when I was with him and Bobo was not around. Not only were there differences in personalities and struggles for power, I was being taught two entirely different ways to fight. Every morning upon waking, I would remind myself what kind of fighter I was supposed to be that day.”

Against Santanas, Sharp won a four-round decision but recalls, “I only won this fight because I regressed to my amateur style. Three months of training with Bobo, and I fought better by ignoring most of what he had taught me. I knew my amateur approach was not the ticket to long-term success, but Bobo was not taking me where I needed to go, either.”

Eight weeks later, Sharp was in the ring again. His original opponent fell out. Glen was then required to weaken himself by dropping down to 165 pounds to face a 6-and-12 journeyman named Michael Hutchinson (the only opponent that Risso could get on short notice). Making matters worse, Hutchinson blew off the weight and came in at 174 pounds.

“This describes my relationship with Joe pretty well,” Sharp writes. “He was a good decent person in most every way. He didn’t know anything about boxing, though, and was even less aware of how little he knew. Joe wanted to be a deal maker. He thought having a manager’s license made him a player in the world of boxing. What having a manager’s license means in reality, though, is that the manager could afford the thirty dollars application fee for a license. It was his job to have said that his fighter who had barely eaten for the past week so he could lose an extra eight pounds was not going into the ring with someone who hadn’t starved himself at all. The manager makes his money because he is supposed to protect his fighters from the promoters and matchmakers and other managers who have other priorities and interests. But that’s not what Joe did.”

Meanwhile, shortly before the bout, Olson called and told Glen that he had hurt his back and would be unable to work his corner for the fight.

“Bobo told me to box the way he had taught me,” Sharp recalls. “I thanked him and hung up the phone. It was the last time we would speak.”

Yaqui Lopez was in Sharp’s corner for the fight against Hutchinson. Glen picks up the narrative after the first round.

“The next thing I remember, I am sitting on the stool in my corner as the bell rings. Thinking the next round had just begun, I stood and took a step toward the center of the ring, but Yaqui grabs my arm and tells me the fight is over.

“Who won?” Sharp asked.

Looking back on that moment, Glen observes, “A good general rule in boxing is that, if you have to ask who won the fight you were just in, the answer is probably the other guy. Hutchinson had dropped me with a right hand and, when I rose, he hit me with about a dozen more punches before the referee stopped the fight. This all happened in the first round, and I have no memory of it.”

Thereafter, insult was added to injury.

“The morning after the fight,” Sharp recounts, “I called one of the doctors employed by the California Athletic Commission as ringside physicians during fights and explained my nose had been broken in Stockton the night before. He asked about the swelling, and I told him it was substantial. He said I should make an appointment for the next week when the swelling had subsided, and I did. When I saw [him] a week later, I had no bruising or swelling, and the only evidence that my nose had been broken was that it was crooked and made noises when I inhaled. The doctor said the bone was already healing and that he could no longer treat me for a broken nose. ‘You should have come here last week,’ he said, ‘before the bone began to set.’”

On November 27, 1982, Sharp entered the ring for the third and final time as a professional boxer. The opponent, Joe Dale Lewis, was making his pro debut and would finish his career with 2 wins, 9 losses, and 7 KOs by. Glen was stopped on cuts in the third round.

“My head was hanging in the air like a pinata,” Sharp writes. “Lewis must have thought it was his birthday. I could not figure out how he was hitting me so easily. I have replayed this fight in my mind thousands of times. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion over and over again. I could see the punches coming, but I could not get out of the way. I knew I was confused by what was happening, but I could not understand why what was happening was happening the way it was. It’s called freezing. I stood in front of Lewis like a deer caught in headlights. I have not been shy about expressing how disappointed I was with those around me [with regard to the weight issue] when I lost my fight with Mike Hutchinson. But this loss rests squarely on my shoulders. This was all mine.”

After the loss to Lewis, any thoughts that Sharp had of becoming a world-class fighter were in the past.

“I was a 1–2 fighter who had lost two fights in a row,” he acknowledges. “And those two losses did not happen by accident. I still thought I could probably become a decent fighter, but the world is full of decent fighters. It is one thing to be a utility infielder on a major league baseball team. But it is something completely different to be a utility boxer, to be a club fighter. I had lost hope that I could become a really good fighter, good enough to make the kind of money that validated the decision to box in the first place. If I was going to end up sitting at a desk anyway, why would I want to spend the next ten years just making ends meet – getting beat, getting hurt, wearing my body and my mind out – to eventually need the same sort of job I had been desperately trying to avoid, only to be ten years behind in that race.”

So Sharp retired. But something was eating away at his soul. In his words, “When Marlon Brando’s character, Terry Malloy, said to his brother in On the Waterfront, ‘I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody,’ he is talking about being someone to himself. When he said he could have had class, he meant he could have had self-respect. He could have been proud of the character he played in his own story if he had only allowed himself to play that role. That is what he most wanted in life.”

Sharp wasn’t proud of himself. To the contrary, the more time passed, the more he became ashamed of how he had approached boxing.

“The idea of a professional boxer being someone who makes money from fighting is true only in the most literal sense,” he writes. “One is a professional more as a function of attitude than a matter of compensation. My aim was to be a successful professional boxer so I didn’t have to get a job, which means I was destined to fail. My attraction to boxing was legitimate, but the relationship I developed with it was not. Boxing is a skill sport more than it is an athletic contest, and I was athletic enough to have become skilled enough. But I had not done the work necessary. Then I ran away from it when the work became too demanding. It is not easy to see yourself being less honorable than you thought you were.”

In 1987, Sharp started thinking about a comeback.

“I began training again,” he writes, “to finally make the commitment that I had failed to do when younger and had led to the failure. I hoped it was not too late. I wanted the story of my life in boxing to be an honorable one, even if unsuccessful. It was an attempt to atone for squandering a gift I had taken for granted when young and not realized how much I loved.”

Sharp trained for close to three years. Then reason prevailed in the form of advice from boxing minds wiser than his own. He never fought again.

Punching from the Shadows deserves a wide audience. Sharp brings a lot to the table. Unlike most writers, he has been in the ring. His journey through boxing was standard in some ways but unusual in others. And he writes well. Things that the reader thinks will happen don’t. And things that the reader is sure will never happen do. There’s a self-revelatory examination of Sharp’s personal relationships – particularly with his father and some of the women he dated – but not so much that it becomes cumbersome.

There are short axiomatic observations:

*         “Very little in life is as truthful as a fight.”

*         “Two contests are going on in a boxing ring, the boxer with his opponent and the boxer with himself.”

*         “The fight itself is often fun. Waiting for the fun to begin is not.”

*         “Getting concussions is probably not the best way to learn how to box.”

At times, the book is an intelligent exploration of the psychology of boxing.

“For the boxer,” Sharp explains, “two primal and perfectly natural responses – either fighting or taking flight – must find a way to live with each other. Being brave is not a matter of mindlessly throwing caution to the wind. Strength of character is required to hold both heroic intent and the desire to be safe in balanced tension with one another. A tremendous amount of work is required to strengthen oneself to hold that tension, to remain mindful, which is a state of awareness that strives to perform courageously but not unintelligently so.”

In other places, Punching from the Shadows is an engaging primer on boxing fundamentals.

Sharp offers an exceptionally good explanation of Joe Frazier’s fighting style and Frazier’s strengths and weakness as a fighter. Other insights include:

*         “All good fighters learn to regulate their breathing, inhaling and exhaling rhythmically, a pattern upon which everything else is based. Every punch, every feint, every defensive move, every step forward or backward or sideways is coordinated with breathing. This reminds me of the schoolyard maxim that, if you ever get into a fight with someone who breathes through his nose, you should probably turn around and run because that guy knows what he is doing.”

*         “The face is rubbed with Vaseline primarily so that, when it is hit with a punch, the leather gloves will slide off the skin more easily than otherwise would happen, reducing the chances of the facial skin being cut by a punch. The body is rubbed with Vaseline to make sure the opponent’s gloves are in contact with grease as often as possible. Every time boxers are close together or punching to the body or in a clinch, the gloves are rubbing against Vaseline, becoming coated with grease.”

*         “Although hitting the speed bag can look impressive, I don’t know that it provides much benefit. The idea is that it increases your hand-eye coordination. But once you learn what you are doing and get a feel for the rhythm of the specific bag you are hitting, you can do it with your eyes closed. I would think that developing hand-eye coordination requires the eyes to at least be open. But I could be wrong because a guy with a 1–2 record obviously has a lot to learn about boxing.”

In the preface to Punching from the Shadows, Sharp writes, “I hope that you find me to be a pretty good storyteller, because I sure wasn’t much of a fighter.”

Sharp is better than a pretty good storyteller. He’s first-rate.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing  – will be published next month by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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The Top Ten Lightweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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The lightweight decade 2010-2019 was a disaster. Far and away the weakest list I have compiled so far; it was also far and away the most difficult to compile. Two excellent fighters, fit to grace any list, open at nine and ten but they made the tiniest handful of appearances at the poundage in the decade. Eight to four are populated by interchangeable lightweights whose ordering is confused by a 2012 robbery that has seen the “loser” of that contest edge in front of the “winner” adding to an already confused picture. The result is our seeing fighters who engender a sense of “what’s he doing there?” as high as number four.

Towering over this hot mess are the top two for the decadal division, two giants of the sport about whom it is a pleasure to write, and a clear number three.

Despite the foibles of lightweight there were also some excellent fights to run the ruler across on the way to ordering them. So, without further apologies here are the top ten lightweights for the last decade.

Ratings are by Ring between 2010 and 2012 and TBRB from 2013 to 2019.

10 – Juan Manuel Marquez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 6-2 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

I am arguably reaching in placing Juan Manuel Marquez at ten given the limited contribution he made to the lightweight decade, but it must be borne in mind that Marquez was the decade’s first legitimate, lineal lightweight champion. Lightweight gave us but three champions in the decade and certainly room can be made for all of them here.

Marquez had previously stopped the younger, fresher, purportedly stronger Juan Diaz in nine rounds in 2009 in what I rate his career’s best performance until that time but nominated to re-match him in July of 2010, probably unnecessarily. Marquez was once more brilliant, his jab never better, Diaz clearly wary of the uppercut that had hurt him so in their first fight.

Marquez mopped up his lightweight title run against Michael Katsidis in November of that same year. Marquez didn’t just beat the younger, stronger Katsidis, he became just the second man to stop the Australian, the quickest ever to do so.

This fight was also noteworthy as being veteran broadcaster Jim Lampley’s finest moment and we will give him the final word on Marquez at lightweight, and as we won’t be seeing him again in this series, Marquez generally (my italics):

“If it comes down to the question of whether you can courageously apply your technique…bet on Juan Manuel Marquez. He knows how to do that better than anyone in boxing.”

09 – Mikey Garcia

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 22-1 Ranked For: 27% of the decade

Mikey Garcia is a splendid fighter but one who seems to have spread himself a little thin divisionally speaking. He swept into lightweight, established himself as the number one contender, remained divisionally ranked until the end of 2019 but fought hardly a contest within 135lbs.

The work he did do there though, was significant, two fights enough to establish him as one of the pre-eminent lightweights of the timeframe.

Most impressive was his January 2017 knockout victory over Dejan Zlaticanin. Zlaticanin, himself coming off impressive back-to-back stoppages of Franklin Mamani and Ivan Redkach, was an undefeated strapholder; Mikey established his world class jab within seconds and lost not a minute of the eight they completed. The uppercut and hook combination for the knockout made for the best stoppage of the lightweight decade.

Robert Easter, himself a contender for the number ten spot, was a second undefeated fighter who was ranked in the top five laid low by Garcia. Easter though, offered stiffer resistance, doing well with his own jab and even winning a few rounds on the way to a lop-sided decision loss. Garcia fought an aggressive, disciplined fight against a much taller and longer opponent leaving no doubt as to the winner, dropping Easter with a gorgeous, penetrating right hand in the third.

Lightweight certainly would have benefited from more Garcia but what he gave was good enough to see him creep in at nine.

08 – Ricky Burns

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 16-6-1 Ranked For: 32% of the decade

Ricky Burns traded on heart and durability but the thrashing that the great Terence Crawford handed him in March 2014 is not one he recovered from. Dejan Zlaticanin sent him scurrying from the division in his very next fight.

In the months before his brave decision to match Crawford, however, Burns turned in one of the more impressive runs of the lightweight decade between 2011 and the summer of 2013. It began with Michael Katsidis, the former lightweight titleholder who had been laid low by Juan Manuel Marquez one year earlier. Katsidis never recovered from the beating Marquez laid upon him, but descriptions of him as shot proved as wide of the mark as those who installed Katsidis as a favourite.  Katsidis turned in a fine pressure performance and Burns needed the combination of jab and body attack he deployed to win a much, much closer fight than the judges saw. Ricky’s remains one of the most underrated jabs of the decade at lightweight or elsewhere.

Ranked contender Moses Paulus went next and here Burns turned in perhaps his best defensive performance. A victim of the fashionable “earmuffs” approach to defence, Burns showed himself here capable of parrying and blocking as well as shutting the shop and waiting. He arguably put these two strata of his skillset – the careful offence, the dynamic defence – together just once in his career, against Kevin Mitchell, then still ranked among the world’s ten best lightweights.  Burns countered well that night and although far from difficult to hit he made himself hard to hit clean. It was probably the difference-maker as he drew Mitchell into a war he could not hope to win, dusting him off in four exciting rounds.

Finally, he stopped Jose Gonzalez in nine before going off a cliff in a fashion more familiar in speedsters than technically adept workhorses.

07 – Antonio DeMarco

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 10-7 Ranked For: 28% of the decade

Antonio DeMarco fights on and in fact has two fights planned this year. This has been to the great detriment of his paper record.

In the early part of the decade, the part which he fought at lightweight, he lost just twice, once to the doomed figure of Edwin Valero and once to Adrien Broner, both of whom beat him clean but DeMarco is in possession of a pair of wins that make Broner’s ranking above him questionable still.  Key among them is his 2011 stoppage of Jorge Linares.

On the surface, this is the type of win to rappel into the farthest reaches of this list. Linares would become one of the finest lightweights of the decade and his name carries meaning whatever the context; but it is the context of this fight that prevents DeMarco climbing much farther.

Linares had never boxed twelve rounds when he met DeMarco and despite dominating early, he was cut up badly by DeMarco’s clean punching born of consistent pressure. Suffering the attentions of a faster, more talented fighter, DeMarco did the only thing he could, stepping in the fire zone and pressing; eventually Linares began to give ground. When a lacerating straight broke his nose in the sixth, the whole fight changed and when DeMarco cut him over the right eye in the seventh, his night became desperate. Suffused with blood, Linares was compromised in the eleventh from footwork to defence to his beautiful, gliding offence; the referee, perhaps prompted in part by the blood pouring from the face of Linares, stopped the fight.

It needs to be remembered who Linares was at this point of his career. He had been stopped in a round in 2009 and would be stopped in two with facial damage in his very next fight. This was the Linares that DeMarco broke down, not the storied veteran that Vasily Lomachenko would face years later. It is an impressive win, but DeMarco needs more for the spot.

Fortunately, he has it. After taking out gatekeeper Miguel Roman in five, DeMarco was matched with John Molina in a fight billed as an exciting shootout between evenly matched and exciting fighters. DeMarco blasted him out in a round. His power-punches were booming equalisers that laid more talented fighters low.

06 – Adrien Broner

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 20-4 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

It is unpleasant to see Adrien Broner, a serial failure at the highest level and seemingly a horror of a human being ranked above the likes of Garcia and Marquez, but assessing legacy must be blind.  Broner is well into double figures for contests at lightweight and picked up the same number of ranked contenders as the two part-time decadal lightweights ranked at nine and ten – so he belongs, there is no debate to be had about that.

And, to be fair to him, his biggest win is a beauty, being his 2012 victory over Antonio DeMarco.  DeMarco may have been on the slide but marginally. He remained a cagey, balanced, firmly planted southpaw, difficult to fight and harder to beat. Broner out-waited DeMarco and countered him, took a narrow lead in the early rounds before throwing more heavy punches the later the fight went. It became a beatdown, DeMarco failing to find the timing that would counter his opponent’s speed earlier in his career.

Three months later, Broner was nearly as impressive blasting out number eight contender Gavin Rees in just five rounds. In the aftermath Rees called him the best fighter he had ever met and predicted he would go all the way to the top. That hasn’t happened – for reasons too many to cogitate here – but he did enough to rank among the ten most accomplished lightweights of the decade.

05 – Brandon Rios

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 12-5 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Things have been messy and difficult up until this point – now that get very messy and very difficult.  Brandon Rios was awarded an official decision over Richar Abril in 2012 but he did not beat him; this was an outright robbery. Rios is not credited for that win here.

That fight is dealt with in detail in the entry below; for the moment, take my word for it and we will look at why it is reasonable for Rios to rank top five despite the Abril fight being treated here as a loss.

First and foremost is his defeat of the excellent Miguel Costa, world’s number one contender in February of 2011, lain low by a career’s best performance from Rios. Costa bossed Rios early, moving off him and tattooing him with power punches; Rios followed stoically but lost every one of the first five rounds. Focused and prepared, Rios seemed merely inconvenienced by the powerful punches of a world class competitor and there was something inevitable about what remains a dramatic collapse from Costa in the mid-rounds; in the tenth, battered and unresponsive, he was rescued by the referee as Rios clubbed him into submission with meathook shots.

Either side, Rios turned in impressive stoppage victories over ranked men Anthony Peterson and John Murray. Best-for-best, this adds up to near parity between Rios and Broner, but Rios claimed more quality names at the poundage; it edges Rios in front of his fellow American despite the Abril fight.

04 – Richar Abril

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 8-2-1 Ranked For: 44% of the decade

If you scour the internet, you might be able to find the single ringside scorecard that had Richar Abril’s 2012 fight with Brandon Rios a draw; every other scorecard by ringsiders had the fight for Abril, some of them by margins as wide as 120-108.

Every ringsider, that is, outside of two of the officials paid to score the fights.

What we can only hope was the abject stupidity of Glenn Trowbridge and the infamous Adalaide Byrd (both still judging fights today folks) cost Abril the win that night but here, I am taking the rare step of ignoring the official decision, something I have only done on one other occasion in the course of this series. Almost all ringsiders agree, and the film demonstrably shows, this was an Abril win.

It was not an exciting fight, partly due to its one-sidedness. Abril shelled up in close and Rios, who failed to make weight, threw cuffing shots apparently incapable of penetrating. In the second half of the fight, Abril closed with great awareness, carefully to consistently outland Rios in every round, defensively sound, offensively alive to opportunity.

Either side of his defeat of Rios, Abril defeated the same man who defined Brandon’s lightweight run, Miguel Acosta, and contender Sharif Bogere in a filthy, badly refereed contest. In essence, his legacy at the weight echoes that of Rios almost exactly, with one exception: he beat Rios.

Abril is not an inspiring figure. He boxed in a dry, careful fashion that did not endear him to fans but he excelled at controlling his opponents and there is no way to rank him below Rios given how dominant he was over him in their fight. That puts him in the top four.

03 – Jorge Linares

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 20-4 Ranked For: 35% of the decade

Jorge Linares was “one for the most fantastic boxers I have ever saw in my life” according to the great Emanuel Steward and you can see what he means. Linares is as beautifully balanced, as well co-ordinated as any lightweight seen this decade, outside of the top two. Lithe, quick-handed, and a fine selector of punches, he began the decade anointed by the then pre-eminent Freddie Roach, spending his spare time sparring with the legendary Manny Pacquiao.

Then it went wildly wrong. Linares had his faced ripped apart by the punches of Antonio DeMarco in 2011 and then Sergio Thompson in 2012. It was a long way from these losses back to the top but Linares made it, in the main by travelling to the UK and battering her best lightweights. His winning streak ran to thirteen fights.

Key among them was his 2015 victory over Kevin Mitchell. Mitchell, who had restored himself from both personal and professional strife with a quite remarkable performance against Daniel Estrada, was once again ranked among the world’s top ten. Linares has struggled when hurt throughout his career, but when dropped by Mitchell in the fifth, Linares, who had been struggling a little in the third and fourth, remained concentrated. He didn’t enjoy the rest of that fifth round, but he escaped it and instead of crumbling he crumbled Mitchell, cutting him up and stepping in to take over in the eighth then patiently closing the blinds in the tenth.

It was a fine turning of the corner by a fighter who would go on to deliver on some of his seemingly limitless potential, firstly against an inspired Anthony Crolla, once more in the UK, who he beat close then, re-matched and dropped on the way to a wide decision victory. Finally, Linares, a road-warrior if ever there was one, invited Luke Campbell over to the USA and squeaked past him in a brilliant strategic joust.

Linares was a real enigma. Skin so thin it might as well be used to pack the meat that constitutes his face, he has literally fallen apart in the ring; soft of chin, he has been blown out. The fighter that Manny Steward saw all those years before probably never emerged, but he still appears special enough to edge out Abril.

Take note though, he is not a “natural” divisional decadal number three and there is real distance between Linares and the fighter that ranks number two.

02 – Terence Crawford

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 26-0 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Terence Crawford is a genius in the ring, and we watched the emergence of that genius at lightweight. 2014 was the year and almost all the meaningful damage that the Nebraskan did to the 135lb division was done in that year.

I was glued to his March dissection of Scotsman Ricky Burns and it was painful to watch my countryman dismantled so completely, Burns complaining about Crawford’s control of distance and angles in a gracious post-fight interview. In truth, Burns had boxed beautifully to make so many of the rounds in what was a clear, wide victory for Crawford so close, but we did not know then what we know now: Crawford is one of the best fighters in the world.

At the end of 2014 when he welcomed number two contender Ray Beltran to his native Omaha, this was clear. Beltran had outfought and arguably been robbed of a victory over Ricky Burns when he visited Scotland for what was a hotly disputed draw but there were multiple classes between he and Crawford when they met that November. Crawford did mostly what he liked, and what he liked, from round two, was to box as a southpaw, jabbing with impunity, bringing Beltran forwards onto punches and in doing so shutting his opponent’s offence down almost completely. In the final round Beltran, who had not won a single round on my scorecard, threw around twenty punches, even though his only route to victory was by knockout.

In between his wide defeats of Burns and Beltran, he dispatched Yuriokis Gamboa in the ninth.  These were three technical mis-matches in one year against quality opposition after which he departed for 140lbs.

This is enough to make him a clear number two, but in all honesty were his numbers and opposition not enough to get him over that line, it would still be difficult to see him lower. Crawford was imperious.

01 – Vasily Lomachenko

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 14-1 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Ranked for almost an identical number of weeks throughout the 2010s, Vasily Lomachenko was also given, like Terrence Crawford, to taking a close look at his opposition in the opening round.

Another thing these two have in common is that their visitations to 135lbs were relatively brief. We will meet no other divisional decadal number one with so few fights at the poundage – having only met legitimately ranked men at the poundage however, Lomachenko has done enough to clearly seal up the number one spot. He has but one peer and has clearly edged that peer out.

Gatecrashing the division meeting none other than Jorge Linares helped. This had the appearance of rash, even careless matchmaking, a duel, essentially, to determine the finest lightweight of the decade. It appeared careless matchmaking, certainly, when Lomachenko was dropped in the sixth walking carelessly onto a straight punch that clearly hurt him.

But Lomachenko isn’t like other fighters. He had learned over the course of a monumental amateur career that he had the innate toughness to support his genius; Lomachenko re-took his feet and blasted Linares out in the tenth.

He certainly hasn’t looked back. Jose Pedraza, the world’s number three lightweight at that time, made it through a nightmarish eleventh to take Lomachenko the distance in 2018 but it was a wide, hurtful loss for the brave, world class Puerto Rican. Anthony Crolla went next and was stopped in just four rounds, his first stoppage loss since 2012. Luke Campbell, ranked number seven just as Crolla had been, seemed to be having a better evening but he won just two rounds and was on the receiving end of some savage combinations in making it to the final bell.

Lomachenko learns his man’s range then abuses it, hovering just within or just outside it, using his quick reflexes and beautiful, consistent slipping to keep him safe while he deploys what has become one of the best body-attacks in the sport. Predicting him is impossible, which forces fighters to try to take the play away from him, which leaves them open for the widest variety of counters in boxing this century.

It is mildly frustrating then that he and Crawford never met in the ring. Had it happened, that ring would have contained as much skill as any since Roberto Duran defeated Ray Leonard.

The other lists:

Heavyweight

Cruiserweight

Light-Heavyweight

Super-Middleweight

Middleweight

Light-Middleweight

Welterweight

Light-Welterweight

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing-Odds-and-Ends-Big-Baby-Miller-Roberto Duran-and-More

Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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