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Hits and Misses from Boxing’s Historic Weekend

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Fight fans had the first week in November circled for a long time.

After all, Canelo Alvarez was attempting to become one of the very few sitting middleweight champions ever to move up and rip the title away from a light heavyweight king.

But there were tons more fights around the world, too. Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt made the sixth defense of his WBC junior lightweight title. Popular Manchester native Anthony Crolla was competing in front of his home crowd at Manchester Arena in a farewell fight. Heck, there was even a PBC on FS1 card in Maryland.

With all that on the docket, there were lots of swings at making our hits and misses list. Here are the ones that made the cut during boxing’s latest big weekend.

HIT: Canelo Alvarez’s Rare Historical Achievement

Already the reigning middleweight champion and arguably boxing’s biggest star, Alvarez did something pretty spectacular on Saturday night in Las Vegas when he toppled Sergey Kovalev to become the new WBO light heavyweight champion.

No, it wasn’t the narrative that Alvarez became the fourth Mexican to win world titles in four different weight classes, joining Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez and Jorge Arce. In fact, I’m not even sure that Alvarez really accomplished that feat beyond mere technicality. While it’s true Alvarez won legitimate world titles at 154, 160 and 175, when did any of those secondary WBA belts like the one he snatched from Rocky Fielding last year at 168, become part of these historical designations?

What was truly rare and important was that the sitting middleweight champion moved up 15 pounds to dominate such a highly regarded light heavyweight titleholder. Even more impressive was that he did it against such a well-schooled boxer and sharp puncher in Kovalev. Even greater was that he did it by walking the much larger man down to deliver such a brutal knockout in the 11th round.

MISS: DAZN’s Reactive and Disordered Scheduling Decision

DAZN delayed the start of the Alvarez-Kovalev bout until after the finish of the UFC 244 main event between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz and it brought to light a least a couple of reasons to be concerned about the company’s future.

First, it suggested that one of boxing’s biggest stars in Alvarez in one of the biggest fights of the year was less important than a battle between two UFC contenders with double-digit losses on both sides of the ledger.

Second, and perhaps most troubling, it indicated a potentially disordered focus by DAZN executives on prioritizing potential subscribers over the current customer base.

DAZN’s main goal should be delivering top quality content for subscribers. The message instead was that current customers, the ones that pony up every month so DAZN can continue to exist, aren’t nearly as important as potential subscribers who haven’t shelled anything out all year but really might consider it so long as everything is made super convenient for them.

Minimally, that seems based on a scarcity-based mindset, one that suggests there aren’t enough people for there to exist both boxing and MMA fans. Surely that model has been debunked by now.

Moreover, the decision wreaked of desperation. Exactly many more subscribers does DAZN need in order to justify that $365 million contract it gave to Alvarez last year?

Whatever the answer, delaying the start of one of the biggest events for over an hour and a half suggests the brain trust at DAZN might not be making the best decisions right now.

HIT: Miguel Berchelt’s Continued Excellence

Berchelt has quietly put together a sustained run of divisional excellence, and it looks like things might get a whole lot louder soon. Berchelt dominated and stopped former titleholder Jason Sosa in just four rounds on Saturday night in Carson, California. The Mexican displayed his usual knack for throwing huge amounts ofhard punches, and it made for some really solid action.

That’s the thing that makes Berchelt special. Not only has he looked excellent in his six title defenses at 130 pounds, but he’s won those fights with a fan-friendly and aggressive style that makes for good television.

It’s such good television, in fact, that it seems like the 27-year-old from Mexico should be a bigger deal by now. That he’s not already on just about every boxing fan’s must-watch list tells us that his promoters over at Top Rank need to start getting him bigger fights.

Hopefully, that’s about to happen. Undefeated 28-year-old former featherweight titleholder Oscar Valdez seems to be shortlisted for the next crack at Berchelt. That’s a big fight between two guys who really know how to produce quality action, and one that deserves all the bells and whistles of a regular ESPN showcase.

But if that bout falls through for some reason, there are plenty of other 130-pounders to consider, too. The list of backup plans should start with the three other titleholders (Jamel Herring, Andrew Cancio, Tevin Farmer) and go on from there. It’s high time those fights between the top junior lightweights in the world start getting made. If that happens, Berchelt will finally have a chance to prove he belongs among boxing’s biggest stars.

MISS: Evan Holyfield’s Debut Cut Short

Evan Holyfield made his professional debut on the undercard of the Alvarez-Kovalev card, and it seems like people were genuinely interested in seeing how the career of Evander Holyfield’s son would play out.

But we didn’t see very much. The junior middleweight prospect landed a number of punches on opponent Nicholas Winstead right at the opening bell and dumped his unheralded foe to the canvas within the first 10 seconds.

Winstead rose to his feet, looking clear-eyed and ready to continue. But referee Robert Hoyle waved the contest off at 0:16 seconds of the first round anyway, so the fight was over before it ever really started.

Maybe Hoyle saw that Winstead was hopelessly overmatched. That’s certainly possible, and if he stopped the fight because he feared for Winstead’s life, he should be commended for it. Moreover, it’s that was the case, the blame should fall on promoters and matchmakers for making the fight at all.

But it looked more like Hoyle just made a bad call in stopping a fight early that probably should have continued. Sure, it’s always better to stop a fight too early than too late. But what’s best is stopping a fight at the exact right time, and that’s not what happened in Holyfield’s debut.

HIT:  The Flair of Blair Cobbs

Is there any more compelling prospect right now than Blair “The Flair” Cobbs?

The flamboyant 29-year-old welterweight prospect has one of the most intriguing backstories in boxing. He employs an awkward but effective style in the ring, and it seems like he might be on his way to becoming one of boxing’s next big things.

To do that, though, he’ll absolutely need to become a better fighter. Cobb stopped journeyman Carlos Cervantes in six rounds on Saturday night, but it sure didn’t look easy. The positive thing to say about it was that Cobb showed resiliency in rising from a first-round knockdown to get the stoppage win.

But the issue the promoters over at Golden Boy Promotions will have on their hands going forward is that Cobb attracts a fanbase that will want to see the fighter steadily move up in competition.

He’s not ready for that quite yet.

If anything, it would be best for the fighter to take the slow and steady approach Deontay WIlder’s team employed in taking that fighter up the ranks. Nobody liked it back then, but it sure has paid off.

Still, Blair is already great at every other part of the sport that’s important. He knows how to attract fans and already seems to wield a gravitational force of personality that most boxers never come close to enjoying.

However this thing works out, many will be watching with great interest.

MISS: The Continued Existence of Farewell Fights

Anthony Crolla defeated Frank Urquiaga by majority decision in what was Crolla’s farewell fight on Saturday in Manchester. It’s certainly understandable why a fighter like Crolla would want one last bout against lesser opposition like Urquiaga. It’s a chance to soak everything in for one last time.

But I’m not sure I’ve watched many farewell fights that didn’t seem like everyone involved was just going through the motions.

Part of what makes boxing special is the passion the fighters muster. Boxing isn’t a game like basketball. It’s physical combat between two souls who have to pour themselves out completely to claim victory.

Farewell fights, such as Crolla’s decision win over Urquiaga, don’t really seem like real boxing. It’s more like a sparring session or something else that people shouldn’t have to purchase tickets to see.

Crolla enjoyed a tremendous career. He won British, Commonwealth and even a secondary world title. He was a legitimate world title challenger and even managed to fight arguably the best fighter of his generation in Vasyl Lomachenko.

But nothing that happened on Saturday in his farewell fight did anything to enhance, or even highlight, those things. In fact, it was a virtually meaningless exhibition that probably shouldn’t have happened at all.

HIT: The PBC’s Unique and Important Ability 

With all the other boxing over the weekend, it’s not out of line to suggest most boxing fans didn’t watch the PBC on FS1 card featuring junior middleweight prospect Brian Castano’s stoppage of Wale Omotoso.

Even so, it shouldn’t go unnoticed how many TV slots Al Haymon-managed fighters seem to get these days even if hardly anyone gets to see them.

It might even be frustrating to have so many different fight cards on at the same time. Gone are the days of either HBO or Showtime vying for our attention, or even the minor inconvenience of having to switch back and forth between the two networks when they had competing shows.

Today’s boxing landscape is almost too difficult to follow. There seem to be three or four major cards on every single weekend, many of them going head-to-head against each other. While that can be frustrating (and seemingly even unnecessary), it should be noted that it’s one of the better times in boxing history to be a professional prizefighter.

Of all the competing factions, the PBC seems most adept at putting all sorts of fights across many different networks, many of which often feature fighters that wouldn’t have had a chance for opportunities under the old model.

The best part of that is that it means fighters who otherwise wouldn’t have made as much money 10 years ago are able to secure greater portions for themselves and their families. If that’s not the highest good in boxing, I’m not really sure what is.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 280: Matchroom Snatches ‘Boots’ Ennis and More

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 280: Matchroom Snatches ‘Boots’ Ennis and More

It was bound to happen in professional boxing.

A British promotion company lured one of America’s top, if not the top, welterweight prizefighter in the world in Jaron “Boots” Ennis it was announced this week by Matchroom Boxing. It’s a multi-fight deal.

Ennis (31-0, 28 KOs) holds the IBF welterweight title after knocking out Venezuela’s Roiman Villa last July in Atlantic City. The Philadelphia-based fighter has long been considered one of the most talented and complete boxers in the world. And now he’s signed with Matchroom Boxing based in London.

“I’m excited for this partnership with Eddie Hearn, Matchroom and DAZN,” said Ennis. “I can’t wait to continue making my mark and becoming undisputed world champion.

It was just a matter of time before British promoters latched on to America’s best talent. Instead of pitting British fighters against American fighters, why not sign American fighters too.

Most fans in America fail to realize that boxing in the United Kingdom is a bigger more popular sport in that nation. Boxing ranks high in England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. It also ranks high in British Commonwealth countries like Australia.

Now Matchroom Boxing which streams boxing cards through DAZN will have another American star on its platform. The company previously had boxing’s biggest star, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, until his contract ran out. Signing Ennis could be the answer in finding the next big thing in boxing.

“I’ve watched this young man for many years, and I always believed he would become a pound-for-pound great, and I have no doubt he is already the greatest fighter in the division,” said promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing. “To win the race to sign Jaron is a massive coup for Matchroom Boxing and DAZN.”

Matchroom already has Conor Benn and the addition of Ennis gives the British promotion company two of the best welterweights in the division.

The signing of an American star like Ennis in some ways represents the international competition for sports talent whether its soccer, boxing or baseball as what we saw in the signing of Japan’s two biggest baseball stars by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Streaming has replaced television and the ability to watch fights live from any spot in the world has changed how we watch boxing and other sports.

A massive struggle by streaming giants has commenced and DAZN along with ESPN and Prime Video have joined the battle.

Manchester Card on Saturday

Two female world title fights lead the charge this weekend for Matchroom Boxing along with a men’s super featherweight clash between two former EBU titlists Jordan Gill and Zelfa Barrett.

IBF super bantamweight titlist Ellie Scotney (8-0) meets France’s Segolene Lefebvre (18-0) the WBO super bantamweight titlist in a unification match on Saturday April 13, at Manchester Arena in Manchester, England. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card.

Also, Rhiannon Dixon (9-0) meets Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-1) for the vacant WBO lightweight title.

R.I.P.

Promoter Gary Shaw passed away this week according to several sources including WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman.

I first met Shaw when he was COO of Main Events in the late 1990s after Dan Duva passed away. At the time Ferocious Fernando Vargas was a rising star and the promotion company was a major player in the boxing scene. They also had Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker, and Arturo Gatti on their roster.

Later, he moved on to form his own company and with fighters such as Rafael Marquez, Diego Corrales and others he staged many fights on Showtime. If I recall correctly, Shaw was connected with the Diego Corrales vs Jose Luis Castillo battles and the Israel Vazquez vs Rafael Marquez wars.

The fights between those warriors are considered the best for that period in the early 2000s.

Another sports figure, OJ Simpson passed away too.

I mention OJ because I often came across the USC Trojan football running back who lit up the gridiron during the 1960s and 70s.

As a college student I lived a few blocks from Simpson in the Brentwood area and often saw him with his family. Once while in New York City visiting a friend I ran into him again at La Guardia Airport.

Simpson was accused and acquitted of murdering his wife and her friend in 1994.

Fights to Watch

Sat. DAZN 9 a.m. Ellie Scotney (8-0) vs Segolene Lefebvre (18-0)).

Sat. ESPN 7 p.m. Jared Anderson (16-0) vs Ryad Merhy (32-2); Efe Ajagba (19-1) vs Guido Vianello (12-1-1).

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Resurgent Angelo Leo Turns Away Eduardo Baez on a Wednesday Night in Florida

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Resurgent Angelo Leo Turns Away Eduardo Baez on a Wednesday Night in Florida

The latest in the series of bi-monthly Wednesday Night Fights played out tonight at the ProBox TV Events Center (formerly Whitesands) in the Tampa Bay area community of Plant City, Florida.

In the main event, featherweight Angelo Leo improved to 24-1 (11) with a unanimous 10-round decision over stubborn but outclassed Eduardo Baez (23-6-2). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Leo, from Las Vegas by way of Albuquerque, was formerly a key member of Floyd Mayweather Jr’s “Money Team.” He briefly held a version of the world super bantamweight title, a diadem he lost to Stephen Fulton in his first title defense. Baez, a former world title challenger, never stopped trying, but Leo was stronger and sharper while scoring his third straight win at this venue following stoppages of Nicolas Polanco and Mike Plania.

Leo has his sights set on IBF world featherweight title-holder Luis “Venado” Lopez.

Co-Main

In a well-matched, 8-round super featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Jaycob Bradley Gomez (10-0-1) kept his unbeaten record intact with a hard-fought majority decision over scrappy Jose Arellano (11-2). The scores were 76-76 and 77-75 twice.

Gomez, whose father was a former cornerman for Miguel Cotto, was making his sixth appearance at this venue. Arellano, a Mexico-born Coloradoan, fought most of the fight with a deep cut over his right eye. Without that impediment, he just might have sprung the upset.

Other Bouts

In another super featherweight match, also slated for “8,” Puerto Rico-born Dominic Valle, a local product, improved to 9-0 (7 KOs) with a second-round stoppage of Mexico’s Angel Vazquez Lupercio (12-2). Valle hurt Lupercio with a body punch and then backed him into the ropes and unleashed a barrage of punches, leading referee Alica Collins to waive it off. The official time was 2:27 of round two.

A third-generation prizefighter who has a side gig as a model, the 23-year-old Valle is managed by the influential David McWater who also handles Valle’s brother Marques, a junior middleweight who fights here in two weeks.

Yoel Angeloni, a 20-year-old welterweight, stamped himself a fighter to watch with a 74-second blowout of obscure 42-year-old Michael Williams. The son of an Italian father and a Cuban mother, raised in Italy, Angeloni was purportedly 140-2 as an amateur (9-2 per boxrec).

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