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Sergiy Derevyanchenko and the Harsh Reality of Boxing

Thomas Hauser

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When Oscar De La Hoya was nearing the end of his storied ring career, he offered a stark assessment of the risks inherent in the trade he had chosen.

“I hate getting hit,” De La Hoya said. “Getting hit hurts. It damages you. When a fighter trains his body and mind to fight, there’s no room for fear. But I’m realistic enough to understand that there’s no way to know what the effect of getting hit will be ten or fifteen years from now.”

Boxers are not like ordinary people. They court danger and have a tolerance for pain that most of us think we can imagine but can’t. That harsh reality was on display when Gennady Golovkin and Sergiy Derevyanchenko met in the ring at Madison Square Garden on October 5 in a fight that will be long remembered as a showcase for the brutal artistry of boxing.

Derevyanchenko, age 33, was born in Ukraine and now lives in Brooklyn. He had roughly four hundred amateur fights in the Ukrainian amateur system which gave him a wealth of experience but also put considerable wear and tear on his body. He turned pro in 2014 and, prior to facing Golovkin, had a record of 13 wins against 1 loss with 10 knockouts. The loss came in his one outing against a world-class opponent – a 115-112, 115-112, 113-114 split-decision defeat at the hands of Danny Jacobs at Madison Square Garden last year.

Derevyanchenko is soft-spoken with a brush haircut, often impassive face, and eyes that can be hard. He understands some English but prefers to have questions translated into Russian and answer in his native language.

“I don’t like to talk about myself,” Derevyanchenko says. “I’m a private person. The attention that comes with boxing is a double-edged sword. For the money it helps me make, the attention is good. But the loss of privacy sometimes, especially when I am out with my family, it is not so good.”

Golovkin, age 37, is well known to boxing fans. Born in Kazakhstan, now living in Los Angeles, he brutalized a succession of pretty good fighters like Matthew Macklin and David Lemieux en route to becoming the best middleweight in the world. But thirty months ago, Gennady struggled to win a narrow decision on points over Danny Jacobs at Madison Square Garden. Thereafter, he’d had four fights: gimme knockouts of Vanes Martirosyan and Steve Rolls and two outings against Canelo Alvarez. The first Golovkin-Canelo fight (which most observers thought Gennady won) was declared a draw. The second ended with a credible 115-113, 115-113, 114-114 decision in Canelo’s favor, the first loss of Golovkin’s ring career.

Golovkin-Derevyanchenko crystalized how bizarre the business of boxing has become in recent years.

Last year, the IBF stripped Golovkin of its 160-pound belt for not fighting a mandatory defense against Derevyanchenko. Then Jacobs beat Derevyanchenko for the vacant IBF title but lost to Canelo Alvarez in his next outing. Thereafter, the IBF stripped Canelo for not fighting a mandatory defense against Derevyanchenko despite the fact that Sergiy’s only win after losing to Jacobs was a decision over lightly-regarded Jack Culcay. Thus, Golovkin was fighting Derevyanchenko for the same belt he was stripped of for not fighting Sergiy last year.

If that sounds strange, the money being thrown around was stranger.

Traditionally, a fighter had to win one or more big fights before getting a seven-figure purse. But DAZN, ESPN, Fox, and Showtime are locked in a bidding war that has led to huge license fees that often bear no correlation to revenue generated for a network by its fighters.

DAZN (which has a multi-fight deal with Golovkin) wanted Golovkin-Derevyanchenko as the launching pad for the final quarter of its 2019 season. The network was already locked into a deal that would pay Gennady a reported purse of $7,500,000 in cash plus $7,500,000 in stock in DAZN’s parent company to fight on October 5. DAZN then leaned on promoter Eddie Hearn to contribute significantly to Derevyanchenko’s purse to bring Sergiy into the fold.

Thus it was that Derevyanchenko (a largely unknown fighter with thirteen pro victories on his resume and who had never beaten a world-class fighter) was rewarded with a purse totalling $5,200,000 to fight Golovkin. Training expenses, manager Keith Connally’s share, taxes, and whatever PBC took (Derevyanchenko is a PBC fighter) came out of that total. Still, very few fighters in history have had a payday approaching that number. A marketable belt was at stake, but the fight wasn’t even for “the” middleweight championship of the world (a title that presently resides with Canelo).

“I like the sport,” Sergiy said when asked about boxing three days before fighting Golovkin. “I like the business. The business is crazy now.”

It certainly is. And adding to the drama, there was no rematch clause. Win or lose, Derevyanchenko would be contractually free to fight any opponent on any network after fighting Golovkin.

There was no trash-talking by either side during the build-up to the fight. The only sour note came at a sitdown with reporters just prior to the final pre-fight press conference when Golovkin was asked one question too many about a possible third fight against Alvarez.

“All these questions about Canelo,” Gennady answered. “It’s your problem, not mine.”

Golovkin was a 4-to-1 betting favorite over Derevyanchenko. He and Sergiy had each fought on even terms against Jacobs. But styles make fights. And the feeling was that, while Gennady and Sergiy had similar styles, Golovkin did everything a little bit better. He hit harder, took a better punch, was a shade faster, and so on down the line. ESPN asked eleven of its boxing reporters to predict the outcome of the fight. Ten thought that Golovkin would win by knockout. The eleventh chose Gennady by decision.

But while few insiders predicted that Derevyanchenko would win, no one was counting him out.

The question most often asked when the outcome of the fight was discussed was whether Golovkin had slipped with age. And if so, how far? Also, Derevyanchenko was in the best condition of his life, having spent six weeks in California preparing for the bout at Victor Conte’s SNAC conditioning facility.

This was Sergiy’s chance to prove that he belonged at the table with boxing’s top-echelon middleweights.

“Gennady has been a great champion but his time is coming to an end,” Derevyanchenko prophesied. “I want to be the one who makes it come to an end.”

Wearing a black Nike track suit with white trim, Derevyanchenko arrived in his dressing room at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night at 8:20 PM.

The room was roughly thirty feet long and twenty feet wide with a linoleum floor styled to look like hardwood planks. Ten folding cushioned metal-frame chairs were set against the walls. A two-seat, green imitation-leather sofa fronted a large flat-screen television mounted on the wall opposite the door. A college football game – Oregon vs. California – was underway.

Some fighters – Manny Pacquiao for one – like lots of action in their dressing room. Ricky Hatton’s dressing room was a mad cacophony of music and dancing from the moment he entered until he left for the ring.

Derevyanchenko prefers calm and no distractions. For the next two hours, he was remarkably quiet and self-contained. Except for manager Keith Connolly, no one would even look at a cell phone. From the moment Sergiy entered the room until he walked to the ring, everything was businesslike and low-key.

After leaving the room briefly for a pre-fight physical, Derevyanchenko returned, sat on a folding metal chair with his hands clasped behind his head, and stretched out his legs. Then he moved to the sofa and adopted a similar position.

A handful of people came and went – Sergiy’s wife, Iryna, Pat Connolly (Keith’s father), PBC representative Sam Watson.

Co-trainers Andre Rozier and Gary Stark, Sergiy Konchynsky (a friend of Derevyanchenko’s since childhood), and cutman Mike Bazzel were a constant presence. Unlike Jacobs-Derevyanchenko, when Rozier (who trained both men) worked Danny’s corner, Sergiy’s team was now unified.

At nine o’clock, Sergiy rose from the sofa, walked over to a shrink-wrapped package that contained 24 bottles of Aquafina, opened a bottle, and took a sip. Then he began changing into his boxing gear, folding his street clothes neatly before putting them aside.

At 9:05, referee Harvey Dock came in and gave Sergiy his pre-fight instructions: “There is no three-knockdown rule . . . If your mouthpiece comes out . . . If you score a knockdown . . .”

When Dock was done, Keith Connolly raised the issue of Golovkin hitting opponents on the back of the head and asked the referee to affirm that he would take strict action in the event of a foul. Dock promised to enforce the rules. Connally repeated his point and got the same answer the second time around.

At 9:15, Stitch Duran (Golovkin’s cutman) came in to watch Stark wrap Sergiy’s hands.

Rozier fiddled with the TV remote until the DAZN undercard appeared on the screen.

At 9:34, the wrapping was done.

Sergiy began stretching on his own.

Connolly handed him a smart phone. Al Haymon was calling to wish Sergiy well. The conversation was short, a ten-second best wishes for the fight.

Sergiy put a white towel on the floor and continued stretching. When that was done, he stood up and Stark led him through more stretching exercises.

Konchynsky approached Maggie Lange (the lead New York State Athletic Commission inspector in the room) and showed her a silver cannister labeled “Boost Oxygen.”

“Is it all right if we use this?”

“What is it?” Lange countered.

“Oxygen.”

“I don’t know,” Lange said. “Let’s go for a ruling.”

Konchynsky and the inspector left the room to consult with the powers that be.

Derevyanchenko began shadow boxing.

“It’s your night, bro,” Rozier told him.

Konchynsky and Lange returned. The powers that be had said “no” to Boost Oxygen.

Stark gloved Derevyanchenko up.

Sergiy pounded his gloves together and hit the pads with the trainer.

Mike Bazzel greased him down.

Rozier led the group in a brief prayer.

Golovkin’s image appeared on the TV monitor. If he and Sergiy weren’t about to fight each other, one could imagine them sitting side-by-side in someone’s living room watching the fight together on television. By virtue of their origins and trade, they had more in common than most people in the arena.

Sergiy shadow boxed a bit more, then paced back and forth, deep in thought. He had followed these rituals many times before. But the stakes had never been this high. Glory and a possible eight-figure payday for his next fight if he won. And the very real possibility that he would be physically damaged before the night was done. This wasn’t a movie about life. It was the real thing. More than anyone else, fighters know what’s at stake every time they enter the ring.

*

Even “name” fighters have been struggling at the gate lately in the United States. Golovkin was no exception. In the days leading up to the fight, a large number of tickets had been given away by the promotion. Even so, the announced attendance of 12,577 was far short of capacity.

Golovkin had fought in the main arena at Madison Square Garden on four previous occasions and twice in MSG’s smaller Hulu Theater. He was the crowd favorite.

Both men started cautiously. Then, two minutes into round one, Derevyanchenko ducked low as Golovkin threw a right hand. The punch landed just behind the top of Sergiy’s head and put him down.

“He hit me in the back of the head,” Derevyenchenko said later. “I didn’t see the punch, but it didn’t really affect me that much. I got up and I wasn’t really hurt, so it was nothing too bad.”

But the round had been up for grabs until that point. Now it was a two-point round for Golovkin. And the next stanza brought something very bad for Sergiy. A left hook landed cleanly and opened an ugly gash on his right eyelid.

Referee Harvey Dock mistakenly ruled that the cut had been caused by an accidental head butt. And because the New York State Athletic Commission doesn’t allow for instant video review, that ruling stood although it’s unclear what information was transmitted to the fighters’ corners.

Be that as it may, Derevyanchenko was now at a distinct disadvantage. Cutman Mike Bazzel swabbed adrenaline into the cut and applied pressure after every round. But he was never able to completely stop the flow of blood. The dripping was a distraction. And as the bout progressed, Sergiy had increasing difficulty seeing Golovkin’s punches coming.

“The cut really changed the fight,” Sergiy said afterward. “I couldn’t see at times. And he was targeting the eye.”

Now Derevyanchenko was in a hole. But a fighter can’t let his mind wander to what happened the round before or several punches ago. He has to stay in the moment.

Sergiy’s response to adversity was to fight more aggressively. “When I started moving [in the first two rounds],” he explained later, “I felt like I was giving him room and I was getting hit with those shots that he threw. That’s why I started taking the fight to him and getting closer and not giving him room to maneuver.”

The strategy worked. Golovkin appeared to have the heavier hands. But Derevyanchenko began winning the war in the trenches. Several body shots hurt Gennady. He seemed to be tiring and losing his edge. One had the feeling that, if Sergiy’s eye held up and he was able to take the fight into the late rounds, an upset was possible. Golovkin had a look about him that said,  “Either I’m getting old or you’re good.”

Brutal warfare followed. Choose your metaphor. Two men walking through fire. A dogfight between pitbulls.

The crowd roared through it all.

Neither man shied away from confrontations. In round eleven, Sergiy’s left eyelid (the one that hadn’t been cut) noticeably puffed up. It round twelve, it looked like a balloon. Both men dug as deep as it was possible to dig. And then some.

Most ringside observers thought Derevyanchenko won the fight by a narrow margin. But before the decision of the judges was announced, DAZN blow-by-blow commentator Brian Kenny observed, “You come into the fight with a certain mindset. Golovkin is the favorite. You expect him to do better.”

That mindset was reflected in the judges verdict: Frank Lombardi 115-112, Eric Marlinski 115-112, Kevin Morgan 114-113 – all for Golovkin. The crowd booed when the decision was announced. They weren’t booing Gennady, who had fought as heroically as Sergiy. They were booing the decision. A draw would have been equitable. One point in favor of Golovkin was within the realm of reason. 115-112 (7 rounds to 5 for Gennady) was bad judging.

Golovkin himself seemed to acknowledge the iffy nature of the decision when he said in the ring after the fight, “I want to say thank you so much to my opponent. He’s a very tough guy. This is huge experience for me. This was a tough fight. I need to still get stronger in my camp. I need a little bit more focus. Right now, it’s bad day for me. It’s a huge day for Sergiy. Sergiy was ready. He showed me such a big heart. I told him, ‘Sergiy, this is best fight for me.'”

That thought was echoed by Johnathon Banks (Golovkin’s trainer), who later acknowledged, “I don’t remember the exact scores, but I thought the fight was a lot closer than that.”

After the fight, the skin around Derevyanchenko’s eyes was swollen to the point where each eye was almost shut. His right eyelid was purple, bulging, and sliced open. There was a huge pocket of blood beneath his left eyelid.

Neither fighter attended the post-fight press conference. Sergey Konchynsky came into Derevyanchenko’s dressing room, packed Sergiy’s civilian clothes in a gym bag, and left. Then he went with Derevyanchenko to Bellevue Hospital where they were joined by Golovkin who was brought in as a precautionary measure.

“It took forever at the hospital,” Keith Connolly recalls. “Sergiy and Gennady might have been the only patients there who weren’t handcuffed to a gurney.”

Derevyanchenko was stitched up and released from the hospital around 5:00 AM. Then he, Iryna, Konchynsky, and Connolly went to the Tick-Tock Diner on 34th Street where Sergiy ate blueberry pancakes before going back to his hotel to sleep.

The middleweight division has some quality fighters. Derevyanchenko can now be counted among them. The way he fought against Golovkin on Saturday night raised his profile. Big-money bouts that might be available to him in the near future include a rematch against Gennady or an even more lucrative outing against Canelo Alvarez on Cinco de Mayo weekend in 2020. Alternatively, Al Haymon might come to manager Keith Connolly with an offer for Sergiy to fight WBC 160-pound beltholder Jermall Charlo.

But for now, let’s celebrate the courage and fortitude that Sergiy Derevyanchenko and Gennady Golovkin showed in the ring while battling against one another. And remember: Fighters are damaged every time they step into the ring. Fights like this take a heavy toll on both fighters. And sometimes the winner is damaged more than the loser.

PHOTO (c): Wojtek Urbanek

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – A Dangerous Journey; Another Year Inside Boxing – is being published this autumn 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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Avila Perspective, Chap. 74: Cancio, Wilder, Santa Cruz and More

David A. Avila

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Cancio vs. Alvarado, Wilder vs. Ortiz, Santa Cruz vs. Flores and More

Casinos are getting rich and boxing fan grunts are getting slightly frustrated.

It’s the big guys versus the little guys on Saturday with heavyweights in Las Vegas and featherweights in Indio, California going head to head in separate shows.

If only I could be in two places at once.

Let’s start with the little guys as WBA super featherweight titlist Andrew Cancio (21-4-2, 16 KOs) and his jackhammer hands defends against former foe Rene Alvarado (31-8, 20 KOs) at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio. DAZN will stream the Golden Boy Promotions fight card.

They clashed once before in 2015 with the Cancio winning by technical knockout in the eighth round due to a cut from a punch suffered by Alvarado. Until the stoppage, it was fierceness at its best.

“I wanted to give him (Alvarado) another chance,” said Cancio who still has his day job breaking cement with a jackhammer. “He deserves it. Who knows if I would have won if not for the cut?”

Cancio is a cool customer.

Also on the same card will be China’s Can Xu (17-2, 3 KOs) defending the WBA featherweight title against Manny Robles III (18-0, 8 KOs), the son of trainer Manny Robles Jr. who works with IBF, WBA, WBO heavyweight champ Andy Ruiz.

Xu, who only has a couple of knockouts, can’t help from being involved in wars. He endured hell and back against Puerto Rico’s Jesus Rojas in his last U.S. appearance at the Toyota Center in Houston back in January. Now he gets Robles who has improved tremendously since his pro debut at the same venue back in 2012. It was not an impressive moment. But he’s slowly and determinedly added more skills in the last seven years. Now he’s 25 years old and has his man strength. It makes a major difference.

Another interesting return match features Rashidi Ellis (21-0, 14 KOs) against Eddie Gomez (23-3, 13 KOs) at the same venue as their first encounter. That first fight only lasted one brutal round. Can Ellis duplicate his first victory over the Bronx fighter?

Las Vegas

Speaking of rematches, WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder (41-0-1, 41 KOs) has to reload when he meets Cuban challenger Luis Ortiz (31-1, 26 KOs) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. FOX pay-per-view will televise the PBC fight card. It’s been 20 months since their first clash ended in a knockout win for Wilder.

For those unaware, Wilder has held the WBC version of the title for almost four years and that includes nine title defenses. All but one has ended by knockout and the one that got away (Tyson Fury) will be his new date should he prevail against the southpaw Ortiz.

Wilder has pure athleticism and has added more technique each time he jumps in the boxing ring. The first time I witnessed Wilder in person was at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas back in 2010. He’s improved immensely since that time. I saw him later that year at Fantasy Springs. He traded knockdowns with Harold Sconiers and actually could have lost that fight, but the referee missed a crucial knockdown. Wilder could not get up and had there been a count, he would not have survived. But sometimes you get a break and Wilder has shown he knows how to cash in.

Ortiz has more skills than the champion but lacks the athleticism and is older. Some say he is much older than Wilder. He’s made some astute changes for his career and now the Cuban heavyweight can cash out or cash in, depending on the outcome. Either way he’s going to make some heavyweight money.

Heavyweights are a different ilk. They are large, carnivorous and pack immense power. Anything can happen at any time of the fight.

Need convincing?

Look at the Andy Ruiz fight against Anthony Joshua. The Mexican heavyweight was supposed to be an easy substitute opponent and despite getting knocked down, he got up and wiped the mat with Joshua.

In this Wilder-Ortiz rematch anyone can win. Ortiz had Wilder down in their first fight but could not finish the job. Wilder finished the job when he put Ortiz down. Will we see a repeat?

The MGM Grand should be packed with fans eager to see the result.

Santa Cruz

In another world title clash Leo Santa Cruz (36-1-1, 19 KOs) moves up a weight division and fights Miguel Flores (24-2, 12 KOs) at the MGM Grand on the pay-per-view portion on Saturday. It’s for another version of the WBA super featherweight title that Cancio is defending on the same day in California.

Yes, it’s confusing. You got a title and I got a title and everybody’s got a title.

Still, Santa Cruz is hunting for his fourth division world title. I still remember watching him for the first time in November 2007 at Morongo Casino. Bobby Pacquiao was the main event, Carlos Baldomir was a semi-main eventer and Santa Cruz wore braces for his teeth into the fight if I’m not mistaken.

Back in those days no major promoter wanted to take a chance on Santa Cruz. Though his older brothers had fought and were successful, many matchmakers were not convinced on little Leo. But he could always fight up a storm. He had a life and death struggle at Pala Casino with Robert DaLuz in 2009. After that fight he seemed to find himself and got on a tear much like a Major League Baseball player finding his stroke.

Since 2012 he’s won the bantamweight, super bantamweight, and featherweight world titles. He lost to Carl Frampton in 2016, then regained it in 2017 in the rematch. Now he fights Flores for the super featherweight title. They were supposed to fight back in February but Flores was forced to pull out with an ankle injury. Now they are finally meeting.

“I’m really glad I’m getting this second opportunity to fight Leo Santa Cruz,” said Flores. “I thought I would never get a second chance, but here I am.”

Santa Cruz has bigger plans than just securing a fourth division world title, he wants world domination at 130 pounds.

“I want to unify and fight everyone at 130,” said Santa Cruz. “Whoever they throw in front of me.”

First up is Flores. But 300 miles to the west, Cancio will be defending his version of the WBA super featherweight title too. And he’s not too happy.

“I think it’s a bunch of B.S. I got the short end of the stick once again. I’m not a big name to a lot of people like Leo Santa Cruz is. I feel like that’s why they did it,” said Cancio. “If I come out victorious Nov. 23 and if Leo comes out victorious Nov. 23, that’s a fight I definitely want to make. I feel like I’m the bigger, stronger 130-pound guy.”

That’s a fight many people would like to see made.

Friday Fights

In the sleepy town of Ontario, California, another Thompson Boxing Promotions card takes place at the Doubletree Hotel on Friday, Nov. 22.

Three interesting eight-round fights highlight the card including the newest finds by the Orange County based company in a lightweight contest. They specialize in finding talent.

Ruben Villa (10-0, 8 KOs) seeks to extend his unbeaten streak against Eduardo Lionel Rodriguez (8-1-1). The lanky Santa Monica fighter Villa emerged on top with a win over another undefeated fighter George Acosta last May. He followed that up with a quick two-round destruction over veteran Ruben Tamayo last July. Now he faces another test with Rodriguez.

Also on the Thompson card, is the return of Giovani Santillan (24-0, 14 KOs) who meets Wilfrido Buelvas (20-12) in a welterweight match. It’s been 19 months since Santillan was last in the ring and knocked out Alejandro Barboza on a televised match to retain the NABO title.

Santillan, 28, fights out of San Diego and his southpaw style allowed him to rise up the rankings in impressive fashion until his disappearance from the fight scene.

Does he still have it?

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the first bell starts around 8 p.m. For more information call (714) 935-0900.

Al Mitchell

Al Mitchell, the trainer for female super featherweight star Mikaela Mayer, will be inducted to the USA Boxing Alumni Association Hall of Fame on Friday Dec. 13, it was announced this week.

Mitchell, 76, has been an advisor for many top amateur boxers throughout the past 60 years and was the head coach for the 1996 US Olympic Team. He also advised on numerous Olympic teams that featured boxers such as Vernon Forrest and Floyd Mayweather.

“I want to thank all the coaches who worked under me and all the young fighters I’ve worked with,” said Mitchell. “I’m thankful that USA Boxing believed in me, putting 13 to 15 boxers in my program, and cream does rise to the top.”

Today, Mitchell has female fighter Mayer headed to a world title bid in 2020. The tall super featherweight will be accompanying Mitchell when he is inducted to the Hall of Fame at ceremonies held at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Al Bernstein will host the proceedings.

Others being inducted are George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Mark Breland, Ray Rodgers and Sen. John McCain.

Fights to Watch

Fri. ESPN+ 7 a.m. Jack Caterall (24-0) vs Timo Schwarzkopf (20-3)

Fri. WWW.RingTV.com

Sat. DAZN 11 a.m. Callum Smith (26-0) vs John Ryder (28-4).

Sat. WWW.DBE1.com 4 p.m. Marie Eve Dicaire (16-0) vs Ogleidis Suarez (29-3-1); Raquel Miller (9-0) vs Alma Ibarra (7-0).

Sat. DAZN 4:30 p.m. Andrew Cancio (21-4-2) vs Rene Alvarado (31-8); Can XU (17-2) vs Manny Robles III (18-0)

Sat. FOX pay-per-view 6 p.m. Deontay Wilder (41-0-1) vs Luis Ortiz (31-1); Leo Santa Cruz (36-1-1) vs Miguel Flores (24-2); Luis Nery (30-0) vs Manny Rodriguez (19-1); Brandon Figueroa (20-0) vs Julio Ceja (32-4)

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Dubai Poised to Mirror Saudi Arabia in the New World Order of Boxing

Arne K. Lang

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The royal family of Saudi Arabia is committed to making their fiefdom a major player in the world of professional boxing. The grand finale of the super middleweight tournament of the 2018 World Boxing Super Series (Callum Smith vs. George Groves) was held in Saudi Arabia as was Amir Khan’s last fight against overmatched Billy Dibs. Those fights, in retrospect, were overtures to the big shebang on Dec. 7, the rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr.

Saudi Arabia’s next-door neighbor, the United Arab Emirates, is poised to join the party. Tomorrow’s show at the plush new Caesars Palace resort at Bluewaters, a man-made island overlooking Dubai, is the latest manifestation of the incursion of boxing into the Arab world.

This isn’t the first boxing show in Dubai. In 2008, former heavyweight champion Michael Moorer closed the curtain on his pro boxing career in Dubai, knocking out South Carolina no-hoper Shelby Gross in the opening round. That allowed Moorer to bookend his career with KOs in one, taking his leave on the same note on which he walked in the door. (You could probably win a few bar bets with this piece of trivia.)

When that odd event took place, there was only one registered professional boxer in all of the UAE.

That number is growing in leaps and bounds thanks to Ahmed Seddiqi, the driving force behind Dubai’s Round 10 Boxing Club. Founded in 2013, Round 10 is the first gym in Dubai built specifically for boxing.

Seddiqi (pictured on the left with his cousin and business partner Abdulla Khoory) subsequently became a regional manager for MTK Global, a powerful boxing management company with a murky past. His association with MTK Global, which is now headquartered in Dubai, gave him the resources to bring in fighters from overseas to spiff up his promotions. And the relationship between Top Rank and MTK Global gave Dubai boxing greater exposure via Top Rank’s affiliation with ESPN+.

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Seddiqi and MTK Global manufactured the inaugural boxing show at Caesars Palace Dubai this past Sept. 13. The main event pitted Pakistan’s Muhammad Waseem against Conrado Tanamor of the Philippines. The super flyweights were penciled in to fight eight rounds.

Tomorrow’s show has a larger budget reflected in a more interesting main event. England’s Jack Catterall, ranked #1 by the WBO at 140 pounds, opposes Timo Schwarzkopf, the Kosovo-born German, in a match slated for 10.

The undefeated Catterall (24-0, 13 KOs) is on a collision course with WBC/WBO 140-pound title-holder Jose Carlos Ramirez. That bout will almost assuredly take place, notwithstanding the fact that the fans would much prefer to see Ramirez, the pride of Fresno, in a unification fight with Josh Taylor and that Ramirez’s next title defense will apparently come against Viktor Postol, a bout seemingly headed to China in February.

Catterall is handled by longtime British promoter Frank Warren who currently has a very cozy relationship with Ramirez’s promoter Bob Arum, an upshot of their shared financial interest in Tyson Fury. Being ranked #1 by the WBO carries sway with Arum who is a de facto member of the WBO Board of Directors. Arum’s current title-holders (Terence Crawford, Vasyl Lomachenko, Jamel Herring, Shakur Stevenson, Emanuel Navarrette, and Ramirez) sport WBO colors.

For Dubai locals, the undercard holds more appeal than the main event. Vijender Singh and Muhammad Waseem, who returns for an encore after knocking out Conrado Tanamor in the opening round, have built-in fan bases in a country where immigrants outnumber natives by a 9/1 margin with ex-pats from India (27.5 percent) and Pakistan (12.5 percent) comprising 40 percent of the total immigrant population.

Vijender Singh, 34, is a three-time Olympian. In 2008, in the second of his three Olympic engagements, he won the bronze medal — the first Olympic medal of any kind for a boxer from India. He returned to his homeland a national hero, a man who would transcend boxing in the world’s second-most populous country, appearing in layouts in popular fashion magazines and on numerous TV shows.

Singh (11-0, 8 KOs) signed a multi-fight contract with Top Rank in November of last year. His opponent, Charles Adamu, is a 42-year-old Ghanaian with a 33-14 record.

Adamu, who went 12 rounds with Carl Froch back in 2004, has been stopped only twice but Singh, despite being relatively inactive, expects to win comfortably. “I don’t expect him to put up too much of a challenge because I have noticed he is slower than me…So I am relaxed, nothing to worry there,” he told a reporter for the Hindustan Times.

In common with Singh, Muhammad Waseem (9-1, 7 KOs) is the most well-known boxer in a country where cricket is the national sport. The Quetta, Pakistan, native, 32, previously fought for the IBF world flyweight title, losing a close but unanimous decision to South Africa’s Moruti Mthalene in Kuala Lumpur.

Waseem has something in common with headliner Jack Catterall. Both spent an extensive amount of time in Las Vegas at the Mayweather Gym. Catterall helped Floyd Mayweather Jr prepare for his bout with Manny Pacquiao. For a time, Muhammed Waseem’s head trainer was Jeff Mayweather.

Waseem had a wealth of international amateur experience, but has answered the bell for only 61 rounds as a pro. By contrast, his Mexican opponent, former WBC light flyweight champion Ganigan Lopez (36-10, 19 KOs), has answered the bell for 311 rounds. It’s an interesting match, notwithstanding the fact that Ganigan, 38, was knocked out just six weeks ago by a journeyman in Mexico City.

In common with the first boxing show at Caesars Palace Dubai, tomorrow’s event is called the Rotunda Rumble. The Rotunda is the free-standing entertainment venue at the resort, a structure, says management, inspired by the Roman Pantheon although for most folks the referent would be an Eskimo’s igloo. Nearby on the island, accessible to the mainland by a causeway, sits the world’s largest ferris wheel.

rotunda

Can boxing at Caesars Palace Dubai ever match the heyday of boxing at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas? That’s very doubtful. In Las Vegas, the early Caesars Palace shows in the indoor tennis pavilion were designed to showcase the property. The fights were televised on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Management expected an increase in casino activity, but were surprised at the extent of the increase. Boxing, they quickly learned, was a magnet for high rollers, the impetus for raising the bar, begetting the outdoor extravaganzas.

Caesars Palace Dubai is a non-gaming hotel. There is no legal gambling in the Arab world. Moreover, the crowds at the fights in Dubai will never resemble the crowds at the big fights in Las Vegas where a secondary diversion is ogling the scantily-clad young women who arrive on the arms of their benefactors. Dubai is a country where an unmarried couple can be arrested for sharing a hotel room.

But let’s not sell Dubai short. You won’t find a pari-mutuel window at Dubai’s swanky Meydan Racecourse, but since 1996 the facility has been home to the world’s richest thoroughbred horse race. So, if the nation’s rulers become enamored of boxing, it’s a fair guess they will parrot neighboring Saudi Arabia and go all in.

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The Official TSS Wilder-Ortiz 2 Prediction Page

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Deontay Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs) and Luis Ortiz (31-1, 26 KOs) renew acquaintances on Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. They first met on March 3 of last year at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Wilder won by TKO in the 10th round but was himself nearly stopped in the seventh when Ortiz hammered him from pillar to post.

In our survey of TSS writers prior to their first meeting, Wilder was the consensus choice with several of the respondents correctly picking the exact round in which Ortiz succumbed. But Ortiz had his supporters. Those that favored the big Cuban southpaw pointed out that he was more technically sound — unlike Wilder he didn’t loop his punches – and that the Bronze Bomber hadn’t yet been tested by a foe as formidable as Luis Ortiz.

Heading into their first confrontation, there was a sentiment that the fight wasn’t on the level. Why would the Bronze Bomber take such a big risk when a unification fight with Anthony Joshua was percolating, a fight that figured to be the richest heavyweight fight in history provided that both remained undefeated? Those that bought into this theory expected the Wilder-Ortiz fight to end in an unsatisfactory manner, a routine occurrence when there is a gentlemen’s agreement.

There are none of those insinuations attending the rematch, but yet Ortiz money is very scarce.

In our surveys, it’s been our custom to list the panelists alphabetically. This time we are flipping the switch and listing them in reverse alphabetical order. The graphic is by Colorado comic book cover artist ROB AYALA whose specialty is combat sports. Check out more of his acclaimed drawings at his web site fight posium. Here’s the link.

PREDICTIONS

Another anything can happen type matchup in a strong boxing season. There’s an equal chance the bout is either as wild as Foreman-Lyle or as lackluster as Tyson-Bonecrusher. I’m thinking Wilder by overwhelming TKO, the question is whether that happens in the first or second half of the fight. – PHIL WOOLEVER

*

This time Ortiz may be too slow, too fat, and too old to do what he did last time, but his ring smarts and vicious uppercuts still make him very dangerous. Wilder, meanwhile, knows that he can do major damage to the Cuban, so mentally he has that edge going in. I see a short period of feeling out and then the boom and attendant KO will be lowered on Ortiz either via a straight right or a windmill shot. Kong will then amble off into the sunset with that juicy early retirement check and a reputation—like Chuvalo, Quarry, and Shavers– for having been one of the best fighters to have never won a world championship. – TED SARES

*

Luis Ortiz may have whipped himself into a career best shape for this fight and understandably so, given what is at stake. But at 40, one wonders if he has the reflexes and the legs to keep up with Deontay Wilder for 12 rounds, assuming the bout even goes that far. In his last bout against the lowly Christian Hammer, Ortiz looked every bit his age, sluggish and noticeably fatigued. Hammer employed his awkward, impish style to throw Ortiz off his game and, most tellingly, was able to land the straight right with surprising frequency. That is not a reassuring sign for Ortiz. Deontay Wilder is no one’s idea of a textbook fighter, but that is also what makes him dangerous. As ungainly and coarse as his approach may be, Wilder is able to unload that right hand cannon without the slightest hitch. Ortiz may see it coming, but his legs won’t likely let him move out of the way in time. As competitive as the first fight was, something tells me Ortiz already missed his window of opportunity. Wilder TKO 7 – SEAN NAM

*

Heavyweight punchers are fascinating in re-matches. Think of Joe Louis against Billy Conn, Arturo Godoy or Bob Pastor. Think of Rocky Marciano against Joe Walcott. In all of these examples, we have a puncher who was stretched in a first contest who won by savage knockout in the return. When punchers learn how boxers move the blinds are often closed on the boxer in the rematch. There are, of course, opposed examples – Jack Dempsey against Gene Tunney is perhaps the classic. Wilder-Ortiz is of course not a reasonable foil for these contests because Ortiz is no box-mover. But the result here should tell a tale. Will Wilder prove that his devastating rematch knockout of Bermane Stiverne was no isolated incident? Is he a fighter who can apply maximum gains from a first fight? There is intrigue here in decoding the possibilities for a rematch with Tyson Fury in February. Wilder will win; if he can turn the trick quickly we’ll know a good deal more about him, I think. And that’s my pick: I’ll go for Deontay in the second round. – MATT McGRAIN

*

I like Wilder by stoppage somewhere around the sixth round. Ortiz is dangerous but only if he’s able to turn back the clock a bit and keep Wilder guessing as much as he did during their first fight last year. The main problem Ortiz is facing in the return fight is that Wilder seems to have gotten better since then while Ortiz looks like he’s regressed a bit. Those are some pretty big obstacles to overcome, especially when you consider that as solidly as Ortiz performed in their last meeting, he still got knocked down three times overall and stopped in the tenth round. – KELSEY McCARSON

*

One of the hallmarks of a great champion is that he is lethal in rematches. Joe Louis (Max Schmeling, Arturo Godoy, Buddy Baer, Billy Conn, Jersey Joe Walcott) is the classic example. Deontay Wilder has fought only one man twice, namely Bermane Stiverne who ended Wilder’s 32-fight knockout streak in the first meeting and was annihilated in the sequel. No, I’m certainly not suggesting that Wilder is in the same league with Joe Louis. The Bronze Bomber is rough around the edges and has no inside game, but I want no part of the 40-something Cuban who is likely to fade again if this fight goes beyond the eighth round. Wilder by KO. – ARNE LANG

*

Wilder by knockout. Deontay is better than he was before and Ortiz is older. – THOMAS HAUSER

*

Deontay Wilder will improve upon his performance in the first fight against Luis Ortiz by scoring an early knockout. I don’t suspect this rematch will be competitive. Ortiz gave Wilder his best the first time they fought and it wasn’t even close enough to being good enough and he got knocked out. It happens again, sooner this time, within three rounds. – JEFFREY FREEMAN

*

The Year of the Upset is drawing near an end, and the temptation is to keep leaning toward another shocker, or at least a semi-shocker. But at some point, reason must prevail, right? Andy Ruiz Jr. spoiled all that anticipation for a matchup of undefeated champions Wilder and Joshua, but are we now to expect a less-anticipated showdown of Ruiz and Ortiz? Another spoiler of an outcome that throws Wilder-Fury II out the window? “King Kong” is still formidable, but he’s got a lot of miles on his tires and has been knocked out by Wilder before. Make it twice. Wilder by KO around, say, the seventh round. – BERNARD FERNANDEZ

*

The first time Deontay Wilder faced Luis Ortiz in March 2018, Wilder prevailed via technical knockout in the 10th round. In the second go-around, Wilder will once again retain his World Boxing Council heavyweight title bcause of his superior punching power and relentless, piston-like jab. Ortiz is in tip-top shape, but will be stopped in the 11th round. – RICK ASSAD

*

Remember the first four rounds of Wilder-Ortiz I? They were tactical with very few punches being thrown by either man. Of course, the action did pick up but both men also now know they can be hurt by the other. As such, I see both being cautious throughout the contest and a very tactical listless twelve round fight with not much separating the two. With so many close, hard to score rounds, I ultimately see a split draw. – MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI

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