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Hits and Misses from Boxing’s Historic Weekend

Kelsey McCarson

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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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Teddy Atlas, Keeper of His Late Father’s Flame, Called to a Higher Mission

Bernard Fernandez

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STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – What people see, and hear, is not always what they get or expect. That is especially true of Theodore A. Atlas Jr., whom the world at large, and particularly the boxing world, knows as a first-rate trainer of fighters and an astute, opinionated longtime analyst of the sport for ESPN and for four Olympics televised by NBC.

For most individuals who have fully devoted themselves, or nearly so, to the sweet science, there can be no greater point of pride than to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, which Teddy Atlas was on June 11 of this year in the Observer category. But for a very select few individuals even that signal achievement must yield precedence to a higher mission and purpose which more clearly defines who and what they are as human beings.

So, for those whose sensory perceptions of this special man are limited to his commendable corner work and heavy Staten Island accent, be advised that, as much as he loves boxing, the greater measure of who he is was on display here Thursday night at the Hilton Garden Inn. At the 23rd annual Teddy Dinner, the founder, chairman and driving force behind the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation was again at his persuasive best, urging diners to again open their hearts and minds to those less fortunate. The dais again was filled with like-minded celebrities who gladly lend their time and prestige to such a worthy ongoing project.

Recently retired ESPN broadcaster Bob Ley, who received an award named after the late journalist Jack Newfield, was making his first appearance at the event and he was visibly moved by tales of pain eased, wrongs righted and hope restored.

“I had heard this much about this dinner, and it was totally undersold to me,” Ley said. “This is an experience. These incredible stories, anecdotes, human tales, (are about) making a difference. Teddy Atlas, the man, he makes a difference. Jack Newfield made a difference. He was driven by his principles. To be here tonight, in this company, and to accept an award in Jack Newfield’s name, is to me a great honor.”

To have a better understanding of the charitable principles which have arguably made Teddy Atlas Staten Island’s most prominent citizen and resident angel of mercy, it is required to know the history of his late father, Dr. Theodore A. Atlas, a physician who over decades unselfishly became a local legend. Dr. Atlas dispensed his time, more than a little of his own money and especially his genuine concern for his patients, especially the poor, and even more especially the children of the poor. His level of compassion must have seemed bottomless to those residents of this comparatively unglamorous borough of New York City who seldom are served much when life’s better things are handed out.

Dr. Atlas waded through snow drifts and climbed through windows to deliver babies during winter’s worst storms; he went into the projects to provide needed medical services while other doctors refused to go there, and on Wednesdays he used blankets and pillows to make makeshift beds in his office and performed tonsillectomies on patients who could not afford to pay for surgery. He founded two hospitals whose first function was not to ascertain how much and how soon their patients will be able to pay for the services they received. He served his community for 55 years until his death, at 88, in 1994, leaving a void so wide it must have seemed impossible to even consider the possibility it could ever be bridged.

But Teddy Atlas, his father’s son and namesake, was determined that the legacy of the dad he held in such towering esteem not fall into disrepair. He established the Dr. Atlas Foundation in 1997, whose modest early successes have, if anything, matched or even exceeded those of the original Theodore A. Atlas, in no small part because of the platform that boxing has afforded him.

Like his father, Teddy, well-known for his work in boxing, would prefer not to take credit for all the good deeds made possible by the Dr. Atlas Foundation. But that credit comes nonetheless from the recipients of those good deeds, who understand that Teddy, although assisted by so many devoted friends and supporters drawn to the cause, is no mere figurehead. As has been the case with the many accomplished fighters with whom he has worked, such champions as Michael Moorer (who was in attendance), Wilfred Benitez, Simon Brown, Joey Gamache, Donny Lalonde, Barry McGuigan, Tracy Harris Patterson, Timothy Bradley and recently dethroned WBC light heavyweight titlist Oleksandr Gvozdyk (also in attendance), Teddy is a hands-on, all-in, heart on his sleeve kind of guy when it comes to his interaction with those who come to the Foundation seeking assistance.

So diners learned of the two severely impaired children who found reasons to smile after they received motorized wheelchairs furnished by the Foundation; the single mother of four, one autistic, who feared she would be forced to live in a city shelter because she had fallen behind in her rent, until the Foundation stepped in; and another mom, with a son inflicted with muscular dystrophy, whom Teddy said was his “hero.”

“Her husband, obviously not a hero, took off” after his son’s disability was diagnosed,” Teddy said. “She was no longer able to bathe him properly in her small apartment bathroom. She needed a handicap setup put in. She was also sick, and she was living on her Social Security disability check.” Yep, the Foundation provided her with what she needed to get by.

You think there’s pressure to win a fight which seems lost in the prize ring? To sink a couple of free throws when there’s only a second or two on the clock and you’re down a point? To make that 15-foot putt with the green jacket that goes to the Masters champion on the line, and a national TV audience watching? Well, yeah. But pressure comes in many forms for many people, and in many ways.

“We all feel it, and we all are impacted by it, and we all react differently to it,” Teddy said. Of the aforementioned cases mentioned in this story, and others, the pressures can be enormous. But they can be alleviated by the people like Teddy Atlas, his cadre of Foundation workers and the hundreds of diners who attend his dinner not only for a good meal but for the opportunity to also do what they can to bring a little light into the darkness of despair.

“These pressures can also be a privilege, our privilege, our gift, that we are lucky enough and blessed enough to be able to make a difference in people’s lives, to sometimes awaken them from their individual nightmares so they can have hope to feel loved and care off,” he continued.

For all his excitability on-camera, Teddy’s multifaceted nature includes the gentle soul of a poet. While he was in Philadelphia for two months, preparing Gvozdyk for a sure-to-be-difficult Oct. 18 unification showdown with IBF champ Artur Beterbiev, a bout won by Beterbiev on a 10th-round stoppage, Teddy wrote a quite literary message to his guy, which he intended to be relevant regardless of the outcome. But the message conveyed really applies to everyone, as he told his audience.

“There is a darkness that one works into, knowing there is risk and uncertainty waiting for them,” it begins. “But there is also a certain light that can be found through the dark, an understanding that comes from having gone to the inner caves of one’s self and discovering what is there. That journey can create a path, that can lead to new and greater places that would not have been possible before.

“The courage it took to walk into this place allows you to now leave with a lantern of knowledge and awareness that will forever provide a beacon of light, wherever you go. You will be a champion. Again.”

For those interested in contributing to the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, donations can be sent to 543 Cary Avenue, Staten Island, N.Y. 10310.

Photo credit: Jason Paderon

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 74: Cancio, Wilder, Santa Cruz and More

David A. Avila

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

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

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

If only I could be in two places at once.

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

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

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

Cancio is a cool customer.

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

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

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

Las Vegas

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

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

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

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

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

Need convincing?

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

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

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

Santa Cruz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Fights

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

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

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

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

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

Does he still have it?

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

Al Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

Fights to Watch

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

Fri. WWW.RingTV.com

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

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

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

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

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

Arne K. Lang

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

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

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

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

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

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

arab 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rotunda

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

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

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

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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