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Beterbiev vs. Gvozdyk a Matchup of Shark vs. Piranha?

Bernard Fernandez

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To hear trainer Teddy Atlas describe it, Friday night’s light heavyweight unification matchup of IBF champion Artur Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KOs) and WBC titlist Oleksandr “The Nail” Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KOs) is like a shark taking on a piranha, and Teddy’s guy, Gvozdyk, is the piranha.

But boxing isn’t always about the predator that has the biggest, sharpest teeth, or the hardest punch. Victory in the ring can be the result of various means, one being the way a large enough shark can swallow its prey almost whole.  Another is for the piranha to take a bite here and a bite there until the same objective is achieved.

Which approach is the more effective on fight night should be determined in what the oddsmakers have made a virtual 50/50 tossup. ESPN and ESPN Deportes will televise from the Liacouras Center on the Temple University campus in North Philadelphia.

Atlas and Beterbiev’s trainer, Marc Ramsay, appear to be in agreement that Beterbiev, 34, a Russian based in Montreal for the last several years, has the kind of paralyzing power capable of taking out many opponents with a single shot. But the Big Bite strategy can be neutralized and overcome by patient nibblers who recognize that there are times when it’s better to hang back and other times when it’s preferable to dart in and quickly snack on whatever is being offered. Not so very long ago Gvozdyk, a bronze medalist for Ukraine at the 2012 London Olympics, was hesitant to exhibit the selective restraint as preached by Atlas. Now, as they approach their third bout together, Gvozdyk – hardly a pittypat puncher, if not quite on Beterbiev’s level — has made himself over into the prototypical Atlas fighter. Ramsay, however, isn’t convinced that any trainer, together with a fighter for less than a year, can orchestrate such a swift and comprehensive stylistic overhaul. What Ramsay does know is that his man is the real deal when it comes to bringing the pain.

“He’s the best that I ever saw,” Ramsay, who also has worked with former light heavyweight champions Jean Pascal and Eleider Alvarez, said when asked about Beterbiev’s penchant for exclamation-point finishes. “And the thing is that it’s not only one shot. It’s all the shots. He can hurt you from distance or in close. He has that kind of explosiveness. But he has a lot more than power to offer.”

Ramsay is less inclined to accept the notion that Gvozdyk, who is no newcomer to boxing at 32, can make anything more than cosmetic changes to an aggressive, come-forward style that has served him so well for so long. He said old, ingrained habits are not so easy to break.

“Real change – technical things, philosophical things – is a long process,” Ramsay opined. “It’s a lot of repetition in the gym. A lot of repetition.”

Atlas is a highly accomplished trainer who has worked at various times with such outstanding fighters as a young Mike Tyson, Michael Moorer, Donny Lalonde, Alexander Povetkin and Timothy Bradley Jr., was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame as a broadcaster last June. He is my-way-or-the-highway Type A personality who demands absolute adherence to his dictums from his fighters, which is one reason why he was hesitant to take on another after Bradley retired. Gvozdyk is his only fighter at this time, maybe the last he’ll ever work with, and the relationship seems solid.

“We know the basics. Everybody knows the basics,” Gvozdyk said of the way he looked at the way he prepared himself for bouts before he hooked up with Atlas. “But the small details … sometimes you think I’m too good, somebody can forgive me some mistakes. Teddy is always on top of it. He never lets you drift. He’s kind of like a dictator. A smart dictator. That is what I need at this stage of my career. I feel like I’m special right now for Teddy. Teddy is not some average trainer. He’s a legend.”

Atlas’ first fight as Gvozdyk’s chief second was no shakedown cruise through smooth waters. When “The Nail” – his last name literally translates to that in Russian – challenged then-WBC titlist Adonis “Superman” Stevenson on Dec. 1, 2018, on Stevenson’s home turf in Quebec City, he was facing another devastating puncher, maybe one with even more pop than Betierbiev, and a long-reigning champ who was making his 10th defense over  5½ years. But while Gvozdyk ended Stevenson’s career with an 11th-round knockout, he did have a couple of shaky moments. The first came when he was hammered with a flush shot in the second round and another, one he didn’t see, in the 10th. He might not be readying to face Beterbiev now if he had been caught with a follow-up shot while hurt, but he found a way to make it to the end of the round.

Asked if he “felt good” about Gvozdyk’s chances against Beterbiev, given his previous brush with disaster with Stevenson, Atlas said there’s always some anxiety when the guy in the other corner hits as hard as a mule kicks.

“It’s never a good experience facing a puncher,” Atlas noted. “It’s a reminder that there’s no room for mistakes. There has to be full concentration for 36 minutes. You have to fight one three-minute round at a time, not two minutes and 59 seconds, not when you’re in there with a puncher that can change everything in a moment, as Stevenson almost did in the 10th round.

“But the reason why (Gvozdyk) is a champion is that he was able to survive that. When the moment came, he behaved like a champion. I’ve no doubt that whenever that moment comes Friday night, he’ll do the same thing. It’s never comfortable to be facing a puncher, but at least we know we’ve done it and we know what it takes to get by.”

Atlas banned media members from attending any of Gvozdyk’s private training sessions in Philadelphia, the better to ensure that whatever wrinkles he was adding to a fighter that still might be considered a work in progress were not made public before fight night. But Atlas did say that there are times when a clever piranha can indeed defeat a shark. Little bites add up, until the time is right to open those smaller jaws wide and gouge out a larger chunk.

“If there’s moments to take bigger bites in this fight, we’re going to take them, at whatever time that is,” Atlas said. “If it’s early, it’s early. If it’s late, it’s late. There’s going to be moments to take bigger bites with this guy. That doesn’t mean getting sloppy or careless or greedy.

“Alex has great judgment and instincts. I know we can depend on that judgment and those instincts.”

Go, Eagles! Uh, make that Rock …

Arch-rivalries are the lifeblood of any sport. How much less interesting would baseball be without Yankees-Red Sox, Cardinals-Cubs and Dodgers-Giants to stir fans’ passions? The NBA was so much more compelling when the Lakers and Magic could go for it all, and frequently did, against the Celtics and Bird. Tennis used to be defined by Borg vs. Connors, Sampras vs. Agassi and, even now in their athletic dotage, Federer vs. Nadal.

In Philadelphia, the most despised opponent is always the Dallas Cowboys. The City of Brotherly Love is anything but when the Eagles and ’Boys hook up, as will be the case Sunday night when the Eagles and Cowboys, both 3-3 and tied for first place in the lackluster NFC East, square off in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Each team’s season might be disappointing to this point, but that hardly matters when emotions run high and civic pride is on the line. In Philly, at least, the quarterback duel of Carson Wentz vs. Dak Prescott will still be viewed as something akin to Frazier vs. Ali in helmets and shoulder pads. Eagles coach Doug Pederson fanned the standard flames higher and hotter by publicly predicting his team was “going to win that football game.”

In addition to Eagles-Cowboys, there will be another Philly vs. Dallas matchup on ice, albeit at a somewhat less acrimonious level, Saturday night when the NHL’s Flyers host the Dallas Stars at the Wells Fargo Center. Meanwhile, in a different part of town the same evening, Hard Hitting Promotions gets in on the act by staging a 10-bout card at The Met Philadelphia as part of what is being described by HHP head Manny Rivera as “Philly vs. Dallas Week.”

The eight-round main event pairs North Philly heavyweight Darmani Rock (16-0, 11 KOs) against 41-year-old Maurenzo Smith (21-11-4, 14 KOs), who actually was born and raised in Houston but is said to now fight out of Dallas. The undercard is topped by the six-round light heavyweight matchup of Glassboro, N.J.’s (hey, it’s reasonably close to Philly) Derrick Webster (28-2, 14 KOs) and Israel Duffus (19-6, 16 KOs), of Los Angeles by way of his native Panama. Duffus is a late fill-in for Francisco Castro (28-11, 23 KOs) of El Paso, Texas, which, like LA, is really nowhere near Dallas. five other Philadelphia fighters, or those in the general vicinity, are slated to appear, but none against opponents with even the thinnest ties to Dallas.

Word has it that Rock and maybe Webster will enter the ring garbed in some sort of midnight green, the better to stoke the Eagles-adoring crowd. Prudent matchmaking suggests that both local fighters (if you give Webster benefit of the doubt) will be victorious, although Rock’s weight is frequently an area of concern. The 6-foot-5, 23-year-old prospect came in at a career-high 289 pounds for his most recent bout, a second-round knockout of Raymond Ochieng on June 14, 48 pounds more than he did for his sixth pro outing three years earlier. Rock will probably be looking to quickly put away Smith, who has been stopped seven times and, at 278 pounds for his most recent ring appearance, also packs the heft of an NFL defensive lineman.

For Philadelphia fight fans hankering for a much more consequential Philly vs. Dallas showdown, it will happen sometime in 2020 if (a)  IBF/WBC welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. (26-1, 21 KOs), who lives in the Dallas suburb of DeSoto, Texas, fully recovers from injuries suffered in his recent auto accident and (b) he actually does take on two-division former titlist Danny Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs), of the Juniata Park section of Philly, as was announced after Spence’s Sept. 28 split-decision unification victory over Shawn Porter.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel  

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In Defense of Julie Lederman

Ted Sares

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Some years ago, Matt Podgorski (a former boxing official) came up with a formula for evaluating the performance of boxing judges worldwide by determining the percentage of instances his or her scores were consistent with the other two judges working the same fights. He called it the Pod Index. It was a rare effort to quasi-quantify the work of boxing judges. “Boxing and MMA judges are often evaluated based on whether or not they have had a controversial decision. This is a poor way to assign and regard professional judges,” said Podgorski in an interview with former RingTV editor Michael Rosenthal.

Matt’s Disclaimer: “We are not claiming that judges with low Pod Index scores are bad judges. The Pod Index is simply a measurement of round by round variation compared to other judges.”

Julie Lederman placed very high in Podgorski’s study. In fact, only one  veteran judge — Canada’s Benoit Roussel — had a better score.

For more information about the Pod Index, see http://theboxingtribune.com/2014/12/19/the-pod-index-a-step-in-the-right-direction/

Confirmation Bias

Some of this writer’s favorite judges, in addition to Lederman, are Steve Weisfeld, Glen Feldman, Dave Moretti, Glenn Trowbridge, Joe Pasquale, Max DeLuca, Hubert Earle, Benoit Roussel, Burt Clements, Rocky Young, Joel Scobie, Tom Shreck, Don Trella, William Lerch, Pinit Prayadsab, and Raúl Caiz, Jr. All of them have been maligned at one time or another.

Being a judge is a thankless endeavor and attention is mostly received when something controversial happens. Once a judgment is made about a bad job, that judgment influences future perceptions. This is known as “confirmation bias.”

Thus, Julie Lederman’s highly questionable scoring in the Loma-Lopez fight, though it didn’t change the result, will most certainly label her a bad judge, tarnishing her reputation despite all of the fine work she has done in the past. Moreover, it’s now fashionable to “pile on” and castigate her with a nasty Bob Arum leading the charge.

“…what kind of fight was she watching,…these judges are the craziest…I would advise any fighter I would have to ask the commission not to appoint her…” — Arum

This wasn’t the first time that Arum criticized Julie. Back in 2014, Tim Bradley and Diego Gabriel Chaves fought to a draw. Lederman scored the fight 116-112 in favor of Chaves. Arum had this to say: “She should never be allowed to work in Nevada again….Her scorecard for Chaves is an absolute disgrace …[She was appointed] because they let these [expletive] Showtime guys put a fight on the same night that we did it. They don’t have enough judges. They don’t have enough referees. They want to accommodate both parties. Why? Because they’ll do anything the [expletive] MGM asks them to do.”

“It’s easy to criticize boxing judges. But it’s not that easy to have a sound basis for the criticism. One needs to see the fight the judge saw to be in the position to rightly criticize. Critics should temper criticisms in light of the situations boxing judges are in when judging fights. And judges should likewise understand criticisms from the boxing public, however baseless these may seem.”  — Epifanio M. Almeda

Lederman, 52, is in her 24th year as a professional boxing judge. Her assignments have taken her to eight foreign countries and Puerto Rico. And she has been a fixture this year at the MGM Bubble, working 18 fights across seven shows without incident prior to this past Saturday night.

This, of course, does not excuse Julie’s scoring on Saturday (119-109 for Teofimo Lopez), but it needs to be kept in mind that she has been ranked high over the years and does not have in her past work a pattern of poor judging such as seemed to exist, for example, in Texas and which drew the ire of Paulie Malignaggi.

When she first hit the scene, cries of nepotism and politics accompanied her, but those complaints quickly evaporated. Whether she can bounce back from this controversy remains to be seen. This writer hopes she can.

Photo: Julie Lederman and her father are flanked by Henry Hascup, President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and Aaron Davis, former President of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board

Ted Sares can be reached on Facebook or at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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“—C’mon!” (from the pen of Springs Toledo)

Springs Toledo

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-C'mon

“—C’mon!” said Teofimo Lopez with two seconds left in the 12th round. It was a Brooklyn thing to say on a Brooklyn-type Saturday night, and Lopez timed it well. He’d just crashed two hooks at either side of Vasiliy Lomachenko’s head and ended their saga as it began—with sharp words.

“My son will destroy Lomachenko,” Lopez’s father told EsNews in August 2017. Three months later Lopez was in the gym mimicking his style. “Same side always,” he said as he tapped the bag and dipped to his right. “Nuthin’ different.” “Lomachenko is a diva,” he said last week. “I don’t like him … I’m the type of person, I say something I mean it. If you have a problem with it, come see me.” Lomachenko came to see him all right, and both brought their fathers as if the whole thing was a schoolyard scrap.

Lomachenko’s father is a silent sage. His modern training techniques are part of the “performance revolution” that has transformed every sport, including the sport that’s barely a sport, and not necessarily for the better. Papa Chenko’s futurama theories seem at once scientific and idiosyncratic. Pundits who never heard of Freddie Brown think they’re next-level stuff. There’s Lomachenko holding his breath under water to build lung strength; there he is touching that board with blinking lights to improve hand-eye coordination. When Lomachenko was 9, his father went so far as to enroll him in a Ukrainian folk dance school to expose him to hobak, hutsulka, and the kolomiyka, and you can see it in all the hopping and side-stepping he does around the ring at 32.

Papa Lopez is anything but silent, though he too is a sage—a naysaying sage with street instincts picked up during a few round trips through hell. He takes no one’s word for anything and if he takes a break from a tirade and asks a question, it has about as much tact as a shiv. When Lomachenko is holding his breath in the pool is someone else there too, denting his rib cage with hooks? Those lights blinking on the screen, do they feint? And dancing school? Dancing school? Brooklyn itself rolls its collective eyes.

Papa Lopez laughs without mirth at the consensus opinion, at the so-called experts. But he couldn’t laugh off the indisputable fact that Lomachenko has been knocking off a parade of world-class fighters. So he plopped down in front of YouTube to see for himself what was happening.

And what did he see?

He saw that the so-called Matrix style is a series of tricks; that Lomachenko is pulling fast ones on the gullible in the opposite corner and in press row. He saw opponents cooperating with him as he gauged their strengths and weaknesses in the first round or two and measured the distance between his glove and their chin. He saw them mesmerized by nothing-shots—“pitty pats,” he called them, “patty-cakes,” and wondered if it would have been easier or harder, given the language barrier, if Lomachenko just came out and asked them to throw something so he can find the best route around it to sock them in the chops.

Papa Lopez also saw that Lomachenko is preoccupied with not getting hurt; that he habitually slips, dips, and veers off to his right against the conventional stance. Teofimo, 23, saw the same thing. They both know why he prefers that direction: it’s the safest route.

His offense, which has two prongs and lots of frills, doesn’t contradict his preoccupation. Lomachenko wants to draw out his opponents to counter them. He stands a half-step off the perimeter where they can’t quite reach him and he can’t reach them. Then he baits them. If they take the bait, he hops in with a jab and then hops back out of reach. He’s making calculations, looking for patterns, and once he finds them he exploits them with minimal risk to himself because, like Floyd Mayweather, he already has a pretty good idea of what they’re going to throw. When is he most aggressive? When his opponent is least aggressive—out of position or covering up. He isn’t comfortable with uncalculated risks. Like Floyd, he wants control; and that only happens with an opponent’s cooperation.

Stanley Crouch, the late cultural critic and Brooklynite who was at least as contentious as Papa Lopez, understood the set-up. “What a boxer ideally wants to do is turn the opponent into an assistant in his own ass-whipping,” he said. “That’s really what you want the other guy to do—to assist you in whipping his ass.”

Lomachenko built a reputation on willing assistants.

And defeating him was easier than anyone anticipated. The fighter of the future bowed to all-American unruliness and old-fashioned fundamentals.

Old School’s comeback Saturday night was long, long overdue. Lopez used his strength and length to draw an invisible border with a warning that said “this far and no farther.” Then he enforced it. Instead of letting Lomachenko freely angle around him like he’s some stiff at the prom, he angled with him and threw punches. When Lomachenko slipped and sallied past his invisible border, he adjusted his distance and sent the dogs out. He stopped his momentum. He never let him take control. He never cooperated.

By the 8th round, Lomachenko realized that he had no chance to win unless he let go of his preoccupation with defense. He had to “sell out,” as Andre Ward said, by getting closer and sallying in when it wasn’t safe. Lomachenko won the 8th round—the first of only three that two judges scored his way—but it didn’t matter. His mouth had dropped open as if he was getting ready to admit futurama’s failure. “I heard him huffing and puffing and I knew I had him,” said Lopez.

The 12th round reminds us that Old School remains the gold standard in the sport that’s barely a sport. When Papa Lopez had a nervous moment in the corner and urged caution, Lopez refused. “I’m a fighter, I can’t give him that,” he said, as if to remind us that Old School is more than dust, that it’s a disposition.

Teofimo Lopez now stands in a succession of lightweight kings whose dispositions were the impetus behind achievements that make this succession very possibly the most majestic of them all: Joe Gans. Benny Leonard. Tony Canzoneri. Barney Ross. Henry Armstrong. Ike Williams. Carlos Ortiz. Roberto Duran. Julio Cesar Chavez. Pernell Whitaker.

Floyd Mayweather is in that succession too, but the business model that guided his career was rebuked Saturday night. Lopez pointed to the past, polished it up, and declared its superiority. “We’re bringing back what the Old School was. You fight the best and push on it. I’m not here to pick and choose who I want to fight because I want to defend my title and keep that 0,” he said and shook his head. “No. Nah!”

The lightweight king now beckons chief rivals Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, and Gervonta Davis to disavow the business model and take up the red flag. He looks north to Josh Taylor and Jose Carlos Ramirez’s battle for the jr. welterweight crown and beckons either of them—or both.

 “—C’mon!”

 

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Kelsey McCarson’s HITS and MISSES: Takeover Edition

Kelsey McCarson

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Boxing is back!

Okay, boxing had technically been back for a few months now. But didn’t it seem to be more fully back to normal with the weekend’s lightweight unification battle between Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko on ESPN?

Make that double the case now that another edition of HITS and MISSES follows the latest big weekend in boxing, the first installment since the global pandemic began. 

HIT: Teofimo Lopez’s Undisputed Takeover

It’s one thing to parade something like “Takeover” around as your nickname while promising to be the next great fighter in the sport. It’s quite another to actually pull that takeover off, and do it at the tender age of 23 against a three-division world champion that’s a massive betting favorite. 

But that’s what Lopez did on Saturday night in Las Vegas, and he accomplished it in a way that almost nobody expected. 

Lopez dominated Lomachenko from the start of the fight. He outboxed the clever southpaw savant in a way few people dreamed possible and took home the unanimous decision win. Even among the few who thought the young lion might somehow usurp the old guard, most of that crew thought it would probably be one big punch that sent Loma down for the count.

By the end of the night, Lopez had solidified his status as boxing’s newest superstar. He also became the first undisputed lightweight champion since Pernell Whitaker. 

But even if the whole WBC Franchise fiasco leaves you in a place that questions that specific designation, Lopez used his post-fight celebration time to call the other WBC belt holder Devin Haney about a possible future showdown. 

So, Lopez is the undisputed best thing to happen to boxing in a long time. 

MISS: Vasiliy Lomachenko’s Slow Start

I like to think Lomachenko is still somewhere out there right now feinting and shuffling his feet around like a dancer. Seriously, though, what was Lomachenko doing for most of Saturday night? He certainly wasn’t attempting to win the fight. 

Much was made by the ESPN announcers about how Lomachenko would start slow in fights because he liked to download his opponents’ movements before settling on his attacks. But Lomachenko didn’t seem all that interested in attacking Lopez until somewhere around the eighth-round. By that time, the 32-year-old was way too far down on the scorecards for anything to matter all that much.

Sure, the last third of the fight was fun to watch. Lomachenko did end up having his moments including a strong 11th round, but it would have been a better fight if Lomachenko had started sooner. 

Instead, the fighter ESPN has long argued deserved to be ranked above everyone else regardless of weight class dispassionately saw his titles ripped away from him with relative ease. 

HIT: Edgar Berlanga’s KO Streak

Last year, I noted that Berlanga’s incredible streak was probably a case of matchmaking gone awry and that Berlanga would likely suffer later in his career because he wasn’t getting any rounds under his belt that mattered. 

My reasoning? Even terrifying power punchers like Deontay Wilder and Gennadiy Golovkin didn’t dispatch their early opponents in such decisively one-sided ways. 

Maybe it was just the lack of boxing around due to the global pandemic, but now I’ve flipped on Berlanga’s knockout streak. The 23-year-old scored his 15th first-round stoppage in a row against Lanell Bellows on Saturday’s Top Rank on ESPN card. 

It’s become one of the most interesting and noteworthy streaks in the sport, and this time Berlanga stopped an opponent who had never suffered that fate before in any round, much less the first. 

Berlanga’s 15 KOs in 15 fights is good television. 

MISS: Boxing Judge’s Viral ‘Social Dilemma’

Lewis Ritson was awarded a split-decision victory over former lightweight titleholder Miguel Vazquez on Saturday in England in a junior welterweight bout dubbed by the Sporting News as the “worst decision of 2020.”

According to CompuBox, Ritson’s “constant forward movement and snappier punches” earned him the nod on two of the judges’ scorecards even though Vazquez had out-landed him in all the important punch stat categories (193-141 overall, 80-75 jabs, 113-66 power).

But the biggest controversy was the viral picture of judge Terry O’Connor apparently looking at his phone during the fight that he scored 117-111 for Ritson. 

That didn’t sit well with anyone who believes judges should be watching the fights they’re tasked with scoring.

But in the wake of Netflix’s documentary film “The Social Dilemma,” that shows just how ingenious today’s artificial intelligence is at boosting user engagement so companies can sell advertising time to the unwitting people on the other end who don’t know why they can’t put their phones down. Maybe O’Connor and others should be mandated to place their phones in a place they can’t be accessed during fights. 

That would keep the social media outrage that’s going on right now over the few seconds O’Connor spent looking away from the action and point it more toward what appears to be boxing’s bigger problem: phones or no phones, too many boxing judges don’t know how to score fights. 

HIT: The Wonder of Complementary Programming 

Boxing counterprograms itself so much these days through the different promotional companies and networks out there that it’s nice to enjoy at least one day in recent history where a big fight happened and there weren’t any other big fights attempting to grab our attention. 

Not only did that happen, but ESPN wisely chose not to split programming between it’s MMA and boxing audiences on Saturday. 

ESPN is the home to Top Rank on ESPN boxing as well as the world’s leading MMA promotional company, UFC.

Like Top Rank, the UFC had a massive fight card on its schedule on Saturday, and the boxing/UFC audiences are fractured enough that both cards could have somewhat reasonably ran against each other. 

Instead, the UFC’s Fight Night card in Abu Dhabi ran early in the evening, and it meant UFC fans who might be somewhat interested in the big fight in boxing could be funneled to the main card featuring Lopez vs. Lomachenko. 

That’s great for both sports, the promoters and ESPN, too. Top Rank’s Bob Arum and UFC’s Dana White might hate each other for personal and political reasons, but the rising tide of complementary programming on ESPN will ultimately have all ships rising. 

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

 

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