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Canelo’s Fate May Rest in the Hands of a Bolivian Soccer Guy

Bernard Fernandez

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Canelo’s Fate May Rest in the Hands of a Bolivian Soccer Guy

His name is Munir Somoya and, for now, he’s the least-known member of Team Canelo. But Somoya’s relative anonymity could well receive a major upgrade should Canelo Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 KOs), making the always-risky two-division jump up from middleweight to light heavyweight for Saturday night’s DAZN-streamed challenge of WBO 175-pound champion Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (34-3-1, 29 KOs), win as impressively as, say, Michael Spinks did when he dethroned Larry Holmes, or Roy Jones Jr. did when he took down the much larger John Ruiz, or Bernard Hopkins did when he schooled Antonio Tarver.

The aforementioned champions, all of whom have been or soon will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (Hopkins likely will be enshrined on June 14, 2020, and Jones is a mortal lock for the Class of 2022), successfully moved up two weight classes to win fights that history and their natural physical dimensions suggested might have represented an attempt to go a bridge too far. So, what did the Spinks Jinx, RJJ and B-Hop have in common? Their regular training regimens for those watershed matches were augmented by the addition to their corner teams of Mackie Shilstone, the now-celebrated New Orleans-based fitness expert whose methods once were deemed to be so untraditional as to be almost revolutionary. But there is no arguing with success; to a man, Spinks, Jones and Hopkins are effusive in their praise for the 69-year-old Shilstone, who KO magazine once named as one of the 50 most influential figures in boxing history.

Shilstone, who is not involved with Alvarez, also has a onetime boxing client list that includes Hall of Famer Riddick Bowe and future Hall of Famer Andre Ward (eligible for induction in 2021). Perhaps to demonstrate that he can take pounds off as sensibly as he helps to put them on, he oversaw the frequently flabby Bowe’s paring down from 272 to 235 for the first of his three confrontations with Evander Holyfield, in which the no-quite-as-large “Big Daddy” seized the WBA, IBF and WBC belts on a 15-round unanimous decision on Nov. 13, 1992.

It was Spinks’ upset of Holmes, who was attempting to match Rocky Marciano’s legendary record of 49-0, that made Shilstone something of a trailblazer in the field of nutrition and physiology, a reputation which over time he would go on to buff and polish to a sparkly sheen. But boxing represented only a small portion of Shilstone’s fitness empire. Over the past 30-plus years he has helped whip into supreme condition such other legendary athletes as tennis’ Serena Williams, football’s Peyton Manning, baseball’s Ozzie Smith and basketball’s Ralph Sampson and Manute Bol, scrawny skyscrapers who even more than any of Shilstone’s fighters needed all the help they could get in gaining weight the proper way.

“Their caloric machine is always in overdrive,” Shilstone once said of working with the 7-foot-4 Sampson and 7-7 Bol. “It’s like pumping blood up an elevator shaft.”

So what does Somoya have in common with Shilstone? Maybe nothing. And maybe quite a bit, as he is playing the role of a Shilstone equivalent for Alvarez, who is giving away four inches in height (he’s 5-8 to Kovalev’s 6-foot) and two inches in reach (Kovalev’s in 72½ inches to Canelo’s 70½). What may prove more consequential is that Kovalev has always been a light heavyweight, one who conceivably might have done what Alvarez is now attempting to do by bulking up to cruiserweight or possibly even heavyweight, as the undisputed light heavyweight titlist Spinks, with Shilstone’s assistance, did for Holmes. Alvarez, on the other hand, began his career as a junior welterweight. He was just 139 pounds for his pro debut, a fourth-round stoppage of Abraham Gonzalez on Oct. 29, 2005, although that bout took place when Canelo was just 15 years old. The precocious adolescent was in the 140s for his next 12 bouts, and 20 of his first 21 overall until he filled out to welterweight on the way up to junior middleweight and middleweight. The heaviest he has ever weighed for any professional outing was 167¼ for his third-round technical knockout of WBA “regular” super middleweight champ Rocky Fielding on Dec. 15, 2018, a massacre in which the Briton was floored four times. No one, however, is apt to equate the always-dangerous Kovalev with the out-of-his-league Fielding.

As TSS contributor Matt McGrain has noted, middleweight champions, even Hall of Fame-caliber ones, have a spotty record when diving into choppy light heavyweight waters. A highly accomplished Shilstone alumnus, Andre Ward, might be correct in opining that the 37-year-old Kovalev, a 4-1 underdog who is 0-2 against Ward, is “no longer `The Krusher,’ he’s simply Sergey Kovalev,” but even a lesser version of the hard-hitting Russian who routinely belted out opponents much larger than Canelo figures to have enough of a power advantage to pose a constant threat to detonate a bomb on the Mexican superstar’s jaw. It’s a fairly safe bet that Alvarez, upon making the 175-pound limit for the weigh-in, won’t come in much higher than that on fight night. It’s also a fairly safe bet that Kovalev could rehydrate into the mid- to high-180s, or possibly even a bit north of that, further accentuating the size difference between the two men.

All of which makes Somoya, a Bolivian whose expertise mostly had been confined to working with soccer players in his home country, a bit of a wild card given his shadowy function as a sort of Shilstone equivalent. Although Shilstone’s methods were considered unorthodox when he first made his mark in boxing with Spinks, and were viewed with some suspicion by Spinks’ old-school trainer Eddie Futch, not much about the Somoya plan has garnered media attention, even though this is Somoya’s second time around with Canelo. The first came when he was brought aboard by Alvarez for his winning May 4 middleweight defense against Daniel Jacobs, which was hardly a walk in the park for the victor.

Unlike Spinks’ preparations for his first go at Holmes, in which Shilstone’s mad-scientist experiments – he had the challenger doing interval sprints instead of long jogs, among other innovations – were a fascinating subject to reporters 34-plus years ago, Somoya is just … there. Canelo hasn’t mentioned him often, and neither has his principal trainer, Eddy Reynoso. Even Eric Gomez, president of Canelo’s promotional company, Golden Boy, seemingly has only a vague notion as to what Somoya does.

“I’ve met the guy,” Gomez said of Somoya. “He has some sort of soccer background. I think he has a strategy and a plan, like he did for Jacobs. But not all fights are the same. I just know Canelo feels comfortable with him.”

Not surprisingly, Gomez does not view his guy as being too undersized, to cite an analogy used by trainer Teddy Atlas prior to the recent light heavyweight unification showdown of Atlas’ fighter, Oleksandr Gvozdyk, and Artur Beterbiev, as a piranha going up against a shark. As things turned out, Gvozdyk, the perceived piranha, didn’t have teeth large enough to out-chomp Beterbiev’s voracious shark.

“What people don’t realize is that Canelo’s a big kid,” Gomez said. “He’s like (Mike) Tyson, a tank. He has big, strong legs, big shoulders, a big back.”

But while other members of Team Canelo aren’t revealing any of Somoya’s secrets, whatever they are, leave it to Golden Boy executive and Shilstone fan Bernard Hopkins to offer his thoughts on a fight that is of massive consequence to the boxing industry, given Alvarez’s position as the highest-paid (the Kovalev fight is the third in his 11-bout, five-year, $365 million deal with DAZN) drawing card in the sport. Beating the bigger man, and especially if done in an emphatic fashion, makes Alvarez add the designation of giant-killer to his commendable portfolio. A loss doesn’t necessarily make him severely damaged goods, but it almost certainly would result in his moving down to super middle or, more likely, a more familiar comfort zone at 160.

“Canelo’s not the tallest light heavyweight, but you don’t have to be in order to be effective at 175,” said Hopkins, who reigned for extended periods at both middleweight and light heavy, with a wide points loss to Kovalev. “When I look at Canelo I think of the `Camden Buzzsaw,’ Dwight Muhammad Qawi, who was built kind of similar, wide and stocky. Yeah, Kovalev has advantages in height and range, but there are ways for a shorter fighter to neutralize that, especially if the shorter fighter has Canelo’s talent.”

Although Gomez said it will be up to Alvarez to decide which weight class he chooses to campaign in should he defeat Kovalev, Hopkins figures the most logical course would be for this fight to be a one-and-done before Canelo slims back down to middleweight and a more appealing variety of opponents that can be easily sold to the public by DAZN.

“The great thing about the middleweight division is that it’s loaded, maybe more than it’s been in the last 10 or 15 years,” Hopkins said. “Even if Canelo wins on Nov. 2, what’s his choice going to be? I don’t think 175 is that deep. I mean, Beterbiev is impressive and dangerous, but who really knows him? I see light heavyweight as a stopover for Canelo.

“I want Canelo to be undisputed (champion at middleweight). He can grab that IBF title that got stripped from him (and is now held by familiar foe Gennadiy Golovkin, against whom Alvarez is 1-0-1). There’s Demetrius Andrade (the WBO middleweight ruler), and the Charlo twins (Jermall holds a version of the WBC middleweight crown and Jermell is the WBC’s No. 1 contender at junior middleweight).

“Ultimately, Canelo’s body is going to tell him what to do to some extent, but you have to look at what matches are out there for him as well. I don’t think there’s as many big names at super middle, which is why he jumped over 168 and went straight to 175. DAZN is paying him a lot of money, so those people are going to want him to take the biggest fights at whichever weight he chooses to fight at because the fans are going to demand that.”

All of which begs one question, and maybe two. Will a victory over Kovalev suddenly make Munir Somoya a hot property, as Spinks’ upset of Holmes did for Shilstone? And would Somoya still have a place with Canelo if, should he elect to go back down to middleweight, he has to sensibly take off the weight he put on for Kovalev?

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The Hauser Report: Garcia-Redkach and More

Thomas Hauser

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Boxing made its debut at Barclays Center on October 20, 2012, with a fight card headlined by four world title bouts. Danny Garcia, Erik Morales, Paulie Malignaggi, Peter Quillin, Devon Alexander, Danny Jacobs, and Luis Collazo were in the ring that night. The franchise grew nicely. Fans who went to Barclays saw good featured fights with solid undercard bouts. But as of late, the arena’s fistic offerings have faded.

Barclays cast its lot with Premier Boxing Champions. And PBC has moved its prime content to greener pastures (green being the color of money). There were five fight cards at Barclays Center in 2019. Each one struggled to sell tickets.

January 25 marked the thirty-ninth fight card at Barclays. The arena was half empty. The announced attendance was 8,217 but that included a lot of freebies. There were six fights on the card. As expected, fighters coming out of the blue corner won all of them. That’s what happens when 6-0 squares off against 2-10-1.

Three of the fights were televised by Showtime Championship Boxing, which has also been diminished as a consequence of a multi-year output deal with PBC.

In the first of these bouts, Stephen Fulton (17-0, 8 KOs) and Ukrainian-born Arnold Khegai (16-0, 10 KOs) met in a junior-featherweight bout. Each had fought the usual suspects en route to their confrontation. There was a lot of holding and rabbit-punching which referee Steve Willis ignored. Eventually, Fulton pulled away for a unanimous-decision triumph.

Next up, Jarrett Hurd (23-1, 16 KOs) took on Francisco Santana (25-7, 12 KOs).

Hurd is a big junior-middleweight who held the WBA and IBF 154-pound titles until losing to Julian Williams last year. Santana is a career welterweight who had lost three of his most recent four fights and had won only three times in the last five years.

Hurd was expected to walk through Santana. But he was strangely passive for much of the fight, which led to the strange spectacle of Santana (the noticeably smaller, lighter-punching man) walking Jarrett down for long stretches of time. Francisco is a one-dimensional fighter and was there to be hit. When Jarrett let his hands go, he hit him. But he fought like a man who didn’t want to fight and didn’t let his hands go often enough.

By round seven, the boos and jeers were raining down. Hurd won a unanimous decision but looked mediocre. That’s the most honest way to put it. One wonder what tricks losing to Julian Williams last year played with his mind.

Also, it should be noted that, when the winning fighter thanks God in a post-fight interview and the crowd (which supported Jarrett at the start of the bout) boos at the mention of The Almighty, there’s a problem.

“The crowd didn’t love it,” Hurd acknowledged afterward. “But you gotta understand; I got the unanimous decision and I did what I wanted to do.”

The main event matched Danny Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) against Ivan Redkach (23-4-1, 18 KOs).

Garcia had a nice run early in his career, winning belts at 140 and 147 pounds. But later, he came out on the losing end of decisions against Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter. Other than that, he has gone in soft for the past five years.

Redkach is a junior-welterweight who had won 5 of 10 fights during the same five-year time frame.

There was the usual pre-fight nonsense with Garcia telling reporters, “We picked Redkach because he’s dangerous and we knew he’d be tough.” But in truth, Redkach had been whitewashed by Tevin Farmer at 135 pounds and was knocked out at the same weight by John Molina Jr (who never won again).

Garcia, like Hurd, was a 30-to-1 betting favorite.

Redkach fought a safety-first fight. Also, safety second and third. There wasn’t one second when it looked as though he had a realistic chance of winning the fight or fought like he did.

One of the few proactive things that Ivan did do was stick out his tongue from time to time when Garcia hit him. Then, at the end of round eight, he bit Danny on the shoulder while they were in a clinch. At that point, one might have expected referee Benjy Esteves to disqualify Redkach. But Esteves seemed to not notice.

Rather than go for the kill after the bite, Garcia eased up and cruised to a unanimous decision. Meanwhile, by round eleven, the crowd was streaming for the exits. Most of the fans were gone by the time the decision was announced.

Garcia and Hurd had set-up showcase fights scheduled for them. And neither man delivered the way he should have.

Meanwhile, a final thought . . . Sunday, January 26, would have been Harold Lederman’s eightieth birthday.

Harold was the quintessential boxing fan and loved the sport more than anyone I’ve known. He never missed a fight at Barclays Center unless his health prevented him from coming or he was on the road for HBO. He died eight months ago.

As Saturday night’s fight card unfolded, I imagined Harold sitting beside me. He would have had a kind word for everyone who came over to say hello and loved every minute of it. Harold Lederman at the fights was a happy man.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book — A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing — was published 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. On June 14, 2020, he will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Fast Results from Brooklyn: No Surprises as Garcia and Hurd Win Lopsidedly

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight, Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia made his eighth appearance at Barclays Center. Garcia’s 2017 fight with Keith Thurman drew 16,533, the attendance high for a boxing show at the arena. A far smaller crowd was in attendance tonight to see Garcia take on Ivan Redkach in a non-title fight slated for 12 rounds.

Redkach, a 33-year-old LA-based Ukrainian, is a southpaw. That’s no coincidence. Garcia hopes to land big-money fights with Errol Spence and/or Manny Pacquiao, both southpaws.

Redkach (23-4-1 coming in) turned his career around in his last fight with a career-best performance, a sixth-round stoppage of former two-division title-holder Devon Alexander, a 15-year pro who hadn’t previously been stopped. But there was a class difference between he and Danny Garcia, a former WBA and WBC 140-pound world title-holder and former WBC 147-pound champion.

Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) was simply sharper. His workrate slowed late in the fight, allowing the game Redkach to steal a few rounds, but at the final gun he was relatively unmarked whereas Redkach was conspicuously bruised. The scores were 118-110 and 117-111 twice. The crowd booed at intervals, understandable as they were subject to a drab 6-fight card that was even less interesting than it was on paper.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Jarrett Hurd, making his first start since losing his WBA/IBF super welterweight title to Julian Williams last May, went on cruise control from the opening bell and jabbed his way to a lopsided 10-round decision over Francisco Santana. Hurd, who improved to 24-1, finally let loose late in the 10th frame, putting Santana (25-8-1) on the canvas with a succession of left hooks, but by then many in the crowd had probably nodded off.

This was Hurd’s first fight with new trainer Kay Koroma who has drawn raves for his work with America’s elite amateurs. The scores were 97-92 and 99-90 twice. SoCal’s Santana has now lost five of his last eight.

The opening bout on the main TV portion of the card was a 12-round super bantamweight contest between Philadelphia’s Stephen Fulton and fellow unbeaten Arnold Khegai who currently trains in Philadelphia.

Fulton (18-0, 8 KOs) simply had too much class for Khegai (16-1-1), a Ukrainian of Korean heritage. Although Khegai frequently backed Fulton into the ropes, the Philadelphian had an air-tight defense and connected with many more punches. The fight went the full 12 with Fulton prevailing by scores of 116-112 and 117-111 twice.

If the WBO has its way, Fulton will proceed to a fight with Emanuel Navarrete, but don’t hold your breath as Navarrete is promoted by Bob Arum who undoubtedly wants to extract more mileage from him before letting him risk his belt against a crafty fighter like Stephen Fulton.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Sacramento Honors Diego ‘Chico’ Corrales

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight (Saturday, Jan. 25) former two-division world boxing champion Diego “Chico” Corrales will be posthumously inducted into the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame at the organization’s eighth annual induction ceremony at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort.

Corrales, who grew up in Sacramento, the son of a Columbian father and a Mexican mother, turned pro at age 18 and went on to compile a record of 40-5 (33 KOs). He won his first title in 1999 with a seventh-round stoppage of previously undefeated Robert Garcia. Now recognized as one of boxing’s top trainers, Garcia was making the fourth defense of his IBF 130-pound title.

Five years later, Corrales won the WBO world lightweight title with a 10th-round stoppage of Brazil’s previously undefeated Acelino Freitas. That set up a unification fight with the WBC belt-holder Jose Luis Castillo.

Corrales and Castillo met on May 7, 2005, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. To say they put on a great fight would be an understatement. The boxing writers in attendance will tell you that this was the greatest fight of all time. It was named Fight of the Decade by The Ring magazine.

The final round, the 10th, was unbelievable. Heading into the round, Corrales was ahead on two of the three scorecards, but his left eye was swollen nearly shut and during the round he was knocked down twice. No one would have faulted referee Tony Weeks for stopping the fight after the second knockdown. But, somehow, Corrales was able to rally, pulling the fight out of the fire with a barrage of punches that had Castillo out on his feet when Weeks waived it off.

Two years to the very day of this iconic fight, Diego “Chico” Corrales died in a motorcycle accident in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas when he rear-ended a car while traveling at a high rate of speed. He was 29 years old.

Corrales was a thrill-seeker. In a 2006 profile, Las Vegas Review-Journal boxing writer Kevin Iole enumerated these among Castillo’s hobbies: jumping out of planes from 14,000 feet, bungee jumping from 400 feet, snowboarding in treacherous terrain and scuba diving amid a school of sharks. “He lived his life the same way he fought,” said his promoter Gary Shaw, “with reckless abandon.”

It might seem odd that it took so long for Corrales to be recognized by the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame, but there was a period when Corrales’s name was mud in his hometown and perhaps the organization’s founder, Las Vegas sports radio personality T.C. Martin, a Sacramento native, thought it appropriate to let old wounds heal.

In 2001, shortly after suffering his first pro loss at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, Corrales pled guilty to felony domestic violence in the beating of his first wife and would serve 14 months in prison. “The whole family has worn a black eye for it,” Diego’s brother Esteban Corrales told Sacramento Bee reporter Marcos Bretan.

For all his recklessness, the incident didn’t jibe with his persona. In the company of Las Vegas sportswriters, the soft-spoken and well-spoken Corrales came across as polite and humble.

Corrales, one of five inductees in the 2020 class, joins three other boxers already installed in the Sacramento Hall: Pete Ranzany, Loreto Garza, and Tony “Tiger” Lopez.

Ranzany, a welterweight, fought four former or future world champions and was a fixture in Sacramento rings in the late 1970’s. Garza wrested the WBA super lightweight title from Argentina’s Juan Martin Coggi in France and successfully defended the belt here in Sacramento with a one-sided conquest of Vinny Pazienza. Lopez, Sacramento’s most popular fighter ever, made the turnstiles hum at the city’s largest arena where he fought eight of his 14 world title fights beginning with his 1988 humdinger with defending IBF 130-pound champion Rocky Lockridge.

Among the speakers at tonight’s confab will be Kenny Adams. Perhaps best known as the head trainer for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team that won eight medals in Seoul, Adams currently trains Nonito Donaire. He was with Diego Corrales for 24 fights, during which Corrales was 23-1, avenging the lone defeat by Joel Casamayor. Festivities start at 7 pm.

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