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Canelo and the Boneyard

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This weekend at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez will attempt to heave his 5’8 frame from middleweight, where he reigns as the champion of the world, to the choppy waters of light-heavyweight where he is rendered a little man. His opponent is Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev, a top contender to the 175lb crown and a man in possession of a strap himself, a modern incarnation of the world champion.

As a championship leap, the most difficult for a physically mature fighter has historically been in the smallest divisions, but above lightweight the toughest may have proven to be the one Canelo has resolved to undertake this weekend. Light-heavyweight is a boneyard of capable middleweights who have jumped in the dark and suffered badly as a consequence. But history tells us that all is not lost for the Mexican; middleweight to light-heavyweight is fraught with danger but not without promise. Here we look at the 160lb champions who tried their hand, the failures, and rare successes, beginning back in 1955 at the New York Polo Grounds and Bobo Olson’s brave crack at the legendary Archie Moore.

Olson, like Canelo, ruled as the middleweight champion of the world when he stepped up and like Canelo he was targeting one of the most menacing puncher’s in the division’s history. A stiff rather than a serious puncher, Olson’s chances seemed to lie in his ability to scrap with the best middleweights the world had to offer on even terms, having succumbed just once to punches at 160lbs to the lethal fuselage wielded by the immortal Sugar Ray Robinson. Such was his plan. Moving to his left, Olson sought to round up Moore and jab him; the old champion measured Olson’s guns and found them wanting – then he trapped the smaller man (Olson was 5’10 and had a short reach) onto a gorgeous check right and tested him in a clinch. Uppercuts probed the sore spot and the awful truth was revealed – Olson couldn’t hold the Moore punch.

This is the most serious and practically difficult problem for any potential dual champion to overcome.  Physics is not the friend of the smaller man. When we say “a light-heavyweight puncher trapped in a middleweight’s body” of someone like Gennady Golovkin we talk with reason. That said, an in-extremis puncher at middleweight is only a very good one at light-heavyweight, and a severe puncher at light-heavyweight will always hit harder than him – always. This is why Olson, who had survived numerous hitters at middleweight in the 1950s, found himself literally crawling on the floor behind Moore’s best shots later that same decade. And it broke him – Olson was never the same again.

The only middleweight to dent Olson before that fateful night was the aforementioned Robinson whose crack at the 175lb crown likely remains the most famous. The retelling of the story has the one-hundred-degree heat as the villain of the tale although Robinson himself fingered God almighty as the guilty party when he recovered in the dressing room. The conditions did play a part in Robinson’s desperate collapse that night, of that there can be no doubt, but as Maxim ruefully remarked, there was no air-conditioning unit in his corner – he did not collapse from the heat; why did the superior athlete succumb while Maxim did not?

Simply put, it was the bigger man’s physicality, another practical problem to overcome in wrestling a championship away from a naturally heavier opponent. Little remarked upon that night is the exhausted referee’s involvement. Maxim was warned for roughhousing, but Robinson, unthinkably, was spoken to by the referee for holding. This is the most graceful, fluid fighter in history and in his stab at the light-heavyweight title he was warned for holding. These interventions by the third man speak of the process.

As the bigger man, Maxim wants to induce exchanges, even against the electrifying Robinson. Maxim had calculated that his punches would be the heavier even against a nominee for the best puncher in history pound-for-pound. And he was indisputably right. The heat made this a nightmare for Robinson because it made box-moving so difficult for him. Inside he had to survive a vicious buffeting and mauling from Maxim, who drained him of energy and strength even as he lost rounds. So desperate did Robinson become to stem this tide that he resorted to holding – and eventually to quitting.

The physical pressure that the bigger man can bring to bear up close cannot be underestimated. The psychological pressure the bigger man can bring to bear in making prey of a retreating opponent exacts its own toll. Strength of character is as important as strength of body and in confronting a much bigger man the failure of either is terminal whatever the scorecards say at the moment of disaster. Canelo must make these discomfitures his ally in pressing him to work rather than hold, step rather than run.

It is a dual battlefront for the Mexican. He must avoid exchanges with a powerful puncher – he must avoid the inside where a hunted fighter might traditionally rest. A man doesn’t come by the name of Krusher by playing pattycake, nor by acting the choirboy in the pocket.

There is good news in for Canelo in the form of Dick Tiger, however. Like Canelo, Tiger stood five feet eight inches; like Canelo he sported a reach of around seventy inches. Like Canelo, he, in 1966, stepped up from middleweight to take on the reigning light-heavyweight champion Jose Torres. Torres was shorter than Kovalev but his reach was longer and like the Russian he was a respected technician.

There is more. Like Canelo, Tiger made a fight out of slipping the jab, and like Canelo, he deployed a vicious body-attack, something the Mexican is almost certain to repeat against his bigger opponent.  Tiger’s edge though was his innate toughness. Perhaps no fighter had more fight-discipline or intestinal fortitude. He was rocked by Torres right hands in the fifth, but he never erred. Canelo has shown some of this discipline in his fights with Golovkin. The fight plan is the fight plan, but the pain is the pain and Canelo will have to take his lumps against Kovalev to be successful. This, Tiger did, matching his body-attack against the Torres right and coming out, barely, with a victory. It was a performance born of grit and bought by experience and courage and remained perhaps the finest display by a middleweight at 175lbs until Bernard Hopkins came to call decades later.

For now, I must mention a problematic postscript for Canelo in the telling of Dick Tiger’s tale. For all that Torres was a capable fighter who could swat, he held no darkening power. When a true puncher came hunting, Tiger, the great Biafran, was met with disaster, knocked unconscious by the terrifying Bob Foster (as shown in the picture).

Canelo would do well to heed Tiger’s post-fight remarks after his knockout at the hands of Foster: “I do not see anything. I do not hear anything. Everything is all quiet, and it is dark. There is no pain, there is no sound. I did not know I was on the floor. Was I on the floor?”

These are dark and dangerous waters for a middleweight, even an iron-chinned one.

Does Canelo truly have an iron chin?  Does Kovalev still wield that darkening power? Could Canelo turn hunter in the manner of that other famous weight-hopping redhead, Bob Fitzsimmons? Time, as always, will tell.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel  

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Haney-Garcia Redux with the Focus on Harvey Dock

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Saturday’s skirmish between Ryan Garcia and WBC super lightweight champion Devin Haney was a messy affair, and yet a hugely entertaining fight fused with great drama. In the aftermath, Garcia and Haney were celebrated – the former for fooling all the experts and the latter for his gallant performance in a losing effort – but there were only brickbats for the third man in the ring, referee Harvey Dock.

Devin Haney was plainly ahead heading into the seventh frame when there was a sudden turnabout when Garcia put him on the canvas with his vaunted left hook. Moments later, Dock deducted a point from Garcia for a late punch coming out of a break. The deduction forced a temporary cease-fire that gave Haney a few precious seconds to regain his faculties. Before the round was over, Haney was on the deck twice more but these were ruled slips.

The deduction, which effectively negated the knockdown, struck many as too heavy-handed as Dock hadn’t previously issued a warning for this infraction. Moreover, many thought he could have taken a point away from Haney for excessive clinching. As for Haney’s second and third trips to the canvas in round seven, they struck this reporter – watching at home – as borderline, sufficient to give referee Dock the benefit of the doubt.

In a post-fight interview, Ryan Garcia faulted the referee for denying him the satisfaction of a TKO. “At the end of the day, Harvey Dock, I think he was tripping,” said Garcia. “He could have stopped that fight.”

Those that played the rounds proposition, placing their coin on the “under,” undoubtedly felt the same way.

The internet lit up with comments assailing Dock’s competence and/or his character. Some of the ponderings were whimsical, but they were swamped by the scurrilous screeching of dolts who find a conspiracy under every rock.

Stephen A. Smith, reputedly America’s highest-paid TV sports personality, was among those that felt a need to weigh-in: “This referee is absolutely terrible….Unreal! Horrible officiating,” tweeted Stephen A whose primary area of expertise is basketball.

Harvey Dock

Dock fought as an amateur and had one professional fight, winning a four-round decision over a fellow novice on a show at a non-gaming resort in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. He says that as an amateur he was merely average, but he was better than that, a New Jersey and regional amateur champion in 1993 and 1994 while a student New Jersey’s Essex County Community College where he majored in journalism.

A passionate fan of Sugar Ray Leonard, he started officiating amateur fights in 1998 and six years later, at age 32, had his first documented action at the professional level, working low-level cards in New Jersey. The top boxing referees, to a far greater extent than the top judges, had long apprenticeships, having worked their way up from the boonies and Dock is no exception.

Per boxrec, Haney vs Garcia was Harvey Dock’s 364th assignment in the pros and his forty-second world title fight. Some of those title fights were title in name only, they weren’t even main events, but, bit by bit, more lucrative offerings started coming his way.

On May 13, 2023, Dock worked his first fights in Nevada, a 4-rounder and then a 12-rounder on a card at the Cosmopolitan topped by the 140-pound title fight between Rolly Romero and Ismael Barroso. It was the first time that this reporter got to watch Dock in the flesh.

Ironically (in hindsight), the card would be remembered for the actions of a referee, in this case Tony Weeks who handled the main event. Barroso was winning the fight on all three cards when Weeks stepped in and waived it off in the ninth round after Romero cornered Barroso against the ropes and let loose a barrage of punches, none of which landed cleanly. Few “premature stoppages” were ever as garishly, nay ghoulishly, premature.

With all the brickbats raining down on Weeks, I felt a need to tamp down the noise by diverting attention away from Tony Weeks and toward Harvey Dock and took to the TSS Forum to share my thoughts. Referencing the 12-rounder, a robust junior welterweight affair between Batyr Akhmedov and Kenneth Sims Jr, I noted that Dock’s Las Vegas debut went smoothly. He glided effortlessly around the ring, making him inconspicuous, the mark of a good referee. (This post ran on May 15, two days after the fight.)

Folks at the Nevada State Athletic Commission were also paying attention. Dock was back in Las Vegas the following week to referee the lightweight title fight between Devin Haney and Vasyl Lomachenko and before the year was out, he would be tabbed to referee the biggest non-heavyweight fight of the year, the July 29 match in Las Vegas between Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr.

The Haney-Garcia fight wasn’t Harvey Dock’s best hour, I’ll concede that, but a closer look at his full body of work informs us that he is an outstanding referee.

While the Haney-Garcia bout was in progress, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman threw everyone a curve ball, tweeting on “X” that Devin Haney would keep his title if he lost the fight. Everyone, including the TV commentators, was under the impression that the title would become vacant in the event that Haney lost.

Sulaiman cited the precedent of Corrales-Castillo II.

FYI: The Corrales-Castillo rematch, originally scheduled for June 3, 2005 and aborted on the day prior when Castillo failed to make weight, finally came off on Oct. 8 of that year, notwithstanding the fact that Castillo failed to make weight once again, scaling three-and-a-half pounds above the lightweight limit. He knocked out Corrales in the fourth round with a left hook that Las Vegas Review-Journal boxing writer Kevin Iole, alluding to the movie “Blazing Saddles,” described as Mongo-esque (translation: the punch would have knocked out a horse). After initially insisting on a rubber match, which had scant chance of happening, WBC president Jose Sulaiman, Mauricio’s late father, ruled that Corrales could keep his title.

Whether or not you agree with Mauricio Sulaiman’s rationale, the timing of his announcement was certainly awkward.

Haney’s mandatory is Spanish southpaw Sandor Martin (42-3, 15 KOs), a cutie best known for his 2021 upset of Mikey Garcia. A bout between Haney and Martin has the earmarks of a dull fight.

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In a Shocker, Ryan Garcia Confounds the Experts and Upsets Devin Haney

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Its good to be crazy. Like a fox.

Ryan “KingRy” Garcia knocked down WBC super lightweight titlist Devin Haney three times to remind everyone of his fighting abilities in winning by majority decision on Saturday.

“I just knew what I could do,” Garcia said.

Fans will not forget the lanky kid from Victorville, California now.

Garcia (25-1, 20 KOs) fooled everyone in playing crazy weeks before the fight, then showed shocking power to hand Haney (30-1, 15 KOs) his first loss as a professional at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Haney’s WBC super lightweight title was not at stake for Garcia because he weighed three pounds over the limit.

After Garcia seemingly acting out of control on social media, Haney’s guard must have slipped in the first round during the first few seconds as Garcia connected with that hellish left hook and Haney, with a look of shock in his eyes, almost went down. He barely survived the first round.

“He caught me with it,” said Haney.

During the next few rounds, Haney proceeded to advance toward Garcia seemingly fully aware of the lethal left hook. He used feints and rights to score with a busier approach as Garcia seemed cocked and ready to counter with a left hook.

In the fourth round it seemed Haney was confident he had regained control of the fight, but every time he opened up with more than a two-punch combination Garcia reminded him whose hands were faster and more dangerous.

Though Garcia seldom jabbed he seemed bent on looking for the right moment to unleash his deadly left hook. And every time the Southern California fighter opened up with a combination he scored and Haney dare not exchange.

A few times Haney smiled as if signifying he escaped.

In the seventh round Haney looked to punish Garcia’s body and instead was met with a three-punch combination included a left hook to the chin and down went Haney slumped on the ground. He managed to beat the count and as soon as Garcia came within reach Haney wrapped his arms around him with a python grip. Despite the warnings by referee Harvey Dock, the fallen fighter would not release and Garcia impatiently fired a weak punch during the break. The referee deducted a point from Garcia though he could have deducted a point from Haney for not obeying his instructions to release his hold. Haney actually went down three times in the round but only one was counted by the referee.

From that point on Haney was very cautious but still looking to win by decision.

Though Garcia kept using a shoulder-roll defense that left his body exposed, he would retaliate with three and four punch combinations that usually Haney could defend against other fighters.. But Garcia’s blazing combinations were too fast to defend.

In the 10th round Haney looked to attack and was countered by Garcia’s right and a blinding left hook to the chin and another two blows that sent the former undisputed lightweight champion to the floor again.

It didn’t look good for Haney to survive.

Garcia walked into the 11th round still composed and never out-of-control He dared Haney to exchange and when within striking distance Garcia unleashed another lightning combination and down went Haney again with a defeated look.

Both fighters had fought each other as amateurs six times so there were no surprises between them. But Garcia’s power and speed were superior and that was the difference in a professional fight.

In the final round both were cautious with Garcia’s combination punching proving too dangerous for Haney to open up. Garcia celebrated early as the round ended confident of victory.

After 12 rounds Garcia was seen the victor by majority decision 112-112, 114-110, 115-109.

“You really thought I was crazy,” Garcia told the interviewer and the crowd. “You guys hated on me.”

Other Bouts

Arnold Barboza (30-0) won a curious split decision victory over United Kingdom’s Sean McComb (18-2) in a 10-round super lightweight fight. McComb’s long reach and busy southpaw style gave Barboza trouble. But he managed to win the fight though the crowd was not pleased.

Bektemir Melikuziev (14-1, 10 KOs) defeated France’s Pierre Dibombe (22-1-1) by technical decision after eight rounds due to a cut on his eye from an accidental head butt. It was a very competitive super middleweight fight.

Costa Rica’s David Jimenez (16-1, 11 KOs) outworked John “Scrappy Ramirez (13-1, 9 KOs) in a 12-round scrap to upset the Los Angeles based fighter. After a few close rounds Jimenez simply bullied his way inside and forced Ramirez against the ropes and unloaded his guns.

After 12 rounds two judges saw it 117-111 and 116-114 all for Jimenez.

“I’m a hard-working man from Cartago I come from nothing,” said Jimenez. “My corner told me I had to work inside.”

Charles Conwell (19-0, 14 KOs) stepped on the gas early with vicious body shots and uppercuts and blasted through the resilient Nathaniel Gallimore (22-8-1, 17 KOs) for several rounds. After a brutal fifth and sixth round the referee halted the one-side beating in favor of Conwell who was fighting for the first time under the Golden Boy banner.

Another winner was Sergiy Derevyanchenko (15-5) by decision over Vaughn Alexander (18-11-1) in a super middleweight match.

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Haney and Garcia: Bipolar Opposites

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Haney and Garcia: Bipolar Opposites

One young man flew halfway around the world to take on a world champion in his own living room; not once, but twice. The other young man quit prior to one fight, and then again during another one.

The first guy mentioned is an obedient son of an ultra-streetwise father.  The type of parent where, if he doesn’t know the answer (and more times than not he most likely does), he will know where to find it. The second guy doesn’t appear to have that quality guidance scenario going on for him, which is probably for the best, because he believes he has all the answers.

The first guy is on record as saying he wants to go down in boxing history as an all-time great.  The other guy?  He decided not to continue in a fight while he was still sporting an undefeated record.  You may think to yourself if there was ever a time to soldier through, right?

Then yesterday, that same guy missed making weight by 3.2 pounds, and seemed to be more than fine with it, to the point where he actually appeared to be quite pleased with himself.

If you haven’t heard, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia are going to share a boxing ring in a twelve round go for God knows what will be at stake by the time they actually punch off.  The fact that no one from Garcia’s team has stepped in and rescued him from these unfolding events, his own personal well-being, and/or not to mention Devin Haney is, well, troubling in and of itself.

Back in the amateur days, the record shows they split six fights.  They were boys back then, so it means zero.  If anything, you’d want to be the older of the two, and Ryan had over a three-month age advantage.  If you’ve only been on the planet for a total of 120 months or so, every extra month could be a big enough difference in strength and development. Now as world class professionals in their prime?  That’s different.  Younger is always better.  Devin is that guy.

Haney and Garcia fought six times for free but will fight only once as professionals.  Then one of them will continue with their march for historic greatness, while the other will head back to Kamp Krazy, where he’s the current Mayor.

It’s never smart to lay 8-1, 9-1 in boxing.  And if you see taking Garcia as a value bet with +500 to +600 and beyond, you don’t understand value and you evidently don’t like money.

There is, however, a wagering opportunity here.

Total Rounds:  Fight doesn’t go 10.5 rounds.

Take anything over +125.  It’s worth a unit on a scale of 5.  Logically, there are a lot of ways to cash this ticket: legitimate victory, meltdown, catching lightning in a bottle, etc.  Or simply the exiting stage left of a guy who may be already plotting his next career move.

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