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Canelo-Kovalev, the UFC, and the Great DAZN Flapdoodle

Arne K. Lang

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On Saturday, Nov. 2, Canelo Alvarez became a world title-holder in a fourth weight class with an 11th-round knockout of Sergey Kovalev. But the big winner that night was Dana White. The brassy, 50-year-old President and poster boy for the UFC, White has always insisted that his brand of Mixed Martial Arts would blow boxing out of the water as a spectator sport and on Saturday the live-streaming service DAZN bowed down before White and beatified his claim.

It’s old news now, but the first bell for Canelo-Kovalev came at 10:18 Pacific. That’s 1:18 in the morning for those living in the Eastern Time Zone where almost half the U.S. population resides. The late start, as we were forewarned, owed to the decision by DAZN executives that the fight would not go head-to-head with Dana White’s promotion in New York, a pay-per-view event on ESPN+ featuring a bout between Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz for something called the BMF title (the initials stand for Baddest Motherf*****).

The co-main event to Canelo-Kovalev was a 12-round contest between lightweights Ryan Garcia and Romero Duno. It was over in 98 seconds. That meant that the long wait before the main event would become even longer. It dragged on for a good hour-and-a-half.

That was a tough break for the talking heads on the DAZN telecast, none of whom are likely to win any Peabody Awards. During the lull, former NBA star Robert Horry was interviewed at length. “Next they gonna interview the janitors,” snorted someone whose tweet popped up on several web sites. (In Great Britain where Canelo-Kovalev was a PPV event on Sky Sports, they filled the void with a re-run of the Canelo-Jacobs-fight.)

I did not see the DAZN telecast because I remained in the arena where, quite unexpectedly, the Masvidal-Diaz MMA fight showed up on the big screens. Dana White explained how that came about. “So we were sitting there (at Madison Square Garden),” said White, “and MGM called and said that ‘you guys are halfway through your co-main event now. People are losing their minds here,’ or whatever. Can we show the Diaz fight at the MGM?”

Showing the MMA fight inside the Grand Garden to mollify the restless crowd was a smart call. As boxing writer Doug Fischer noted, most of the crowd got into the fight. And Masvidal-Diaz, truth be told, provided more excitement than Canelo-Kovalev, a fight with no indelible moments until Canelo closed the show with a devastating right hand. But the MGM erred by not switching away from the telecast as soon as it became obvious that the ringside physician had stopped the fight and that Masvidal had prevailed. That would have shortened the wait time by getting the three national anthems out of the way sooner. (Please, in the future can we please have an abridged version of the Russian anthem; it’s awfully long.)

It was DAZN’s doing, but the MGM Grand, although smart to show Masvidal-Diaz, has to be held complicit for stalling the fight that everyone came to see. It was a slap in the face to the paying customers who forked up anywhere from $400 to $1,700 to see the fight live. “If you are a boxing promoter and you want to turn off your fans,” said Yahoo’s Kevin Iole, “you overprice your tickets so they can’t get in to see it and then kowtow to an MMA fight on the other side of the country.”

Professional boxing as we know it, meaning gloves and a predetermined number of three-minute rounds, has been around for more than a century. A watershed event in the evolution of Queensberry boxing was the 1892 fight in New Orleans between John L. Sullivan and James J. Corbett.

The first UFC fight (UFC 1, we’re now up to 244) was held in Denver on Nov. 12, 1993, but this was really an underground event of which the media took no heed, a representation of what the late Sen. John McCain famously called human cockfighting. The rules had to be softened (UFC 1 had no weight classes) and other changes had to be made before the UFC came out of the shadows. Their watershed event was the Nov. 22, 2002 show at the MGM Grand with Tito Ortiz opposing Ken Shamrock in the headliner.

And so, what DAZN did was disrespect a sport that has been around for more than a century in favor of a Johnny-come-lately. And what’s odd about it is that Canelo Alvarez is their highest-paid performer, having signed the richest contract of any athlete under the DAZN umbrella. Canelo’s purse for the Kovalev fight was reportedly $35 million. (I have no idea what Masvidal and Diaz earned, but Diaz was paid $250,000 for his previous fight with Anthony Pettis.)

For the record, the Masvidal-Diaz fight became official on Sept. 7. The Canelo-Kovalev fight did not become official until Sept. 19. So, the UFC, one might say, had dibs on the date.

Granted, nowadays, in a saturated market for combat sports, it’s darn near impossible for a promoter to manufacture an event without a competitor coming along and planting something on the same date, but yet Golden Boy, Canelo’s promoter, was guilty of poor planning. One guesses that Oscar De La Hoya and his associates underestimated the clout of UFC after their lone venture into MMA turned out badly. Their show at the LA Forum in November of last year featuring the rubber match between geezers Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell was purportedly a big money-loser.

The UFC isn’t my cup of tea, but I understand the appeal. It harks back to the great 1890s barber shop debate as to whether a good boxer could defeat a good wrestler. Compared to boxing, UFC has more permutations. Because there are several different types of MMA disciplines, it’s a more sophisticated blood sport. I have no doubt it is here to stay. This is no fad like indoor bicycle racing. There’s even a part of me that wishes the sport had come along sooner so that the great college wrestlers of yesteryear had a place to go after exhausting their eligibility.

And to this we should add that although UFC fights appear to the naked eye to be far more brutal than boxing, UFC competitors, by all indications, are at less risk of a traumatic head injury.

But all this is neither here nor there. The fact is that DAZN screwed up and screwed up royally. Didn’t upper management foresee that pushing Canelo-Kovalev back to such an ungodly hour would foment a great outpouring of outrage? And lest one think that the Brits were pleased that they didn’t have to get up quite so early in the morning to take in Canelo-Kovalev, that’s just not so. Like the rest of us, they were led to believe that the UFC fight wouldn’t delay the MGM fight as long as it did and they set their alarms accordingly, something akin to being sent off on a wild goose chase. Much of the venom on social media emanated from Great Britain.

If we assume that the decision to push back Canelo-Kovalev wasn’t motivated entirely by greed – giving the company extra time to sign up new subscribers – then we must conclude that DAZN concluded that boxing and MMA have overlapping constituencies; that a good many boxing fans also follow MMA and vice versa. Perhaps, but there’s no hard data and I personally have seen no evidence of this.

October was a great month for boxing with several Fight of the Year candidates. So, we’ll give DAZN a pass this time for getting the month of November off on such a messy start. But if they pull this stunt again…. Well, serious boxing fans are accustomed to getting crapped on, but even they have their limits.

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Introducing Top Prospect Raeese Aleem, the Pride of Muskegon

Arne K. Lang

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At age 29, Raeese Aleem has yet to appear in a 10-round fight, but that will almost assuredly happen this year. The undefeated (15-0, 9 KOs) super bantamweight from Muskegon, Michigan, takes another step in that direction on Friday, Feb. 14, when he opposes San Antonio’s Adam Lopez (16-3-2) at Philadelphia in a bout that will air on “ShoBox,” the long-running SHOWTIME series that’s been a springboard for 81 fighters who went on to win world titles.

Aleem earned a black belt in karate before taking up boxing and becoming a four-time Michigan Golden Gloves champion. As an amateur, he and his coach Terry Markowski did a considerable amount of traveling between meets to find good sparring. Grand Rapids, an amateur boxing hotbed, was just down the road, but Detroit and Chicago were a good three hours away and on occasion they went on an even longer excursion into Ohio.

Aleem turned pro in 2011 and had his first 10 fights on the Midwest circuit, venturing as far north as Green Bay and as far south as Cincinnati. At the time, he worked in the produce department of Meijer’s, a regional rival of Walmart. His bosses, he notes, were generous in letting him juggle his work schedule around his boxing assignments.

For a boxer with designs on winning a world title, the Midwest circuit is like a bicycle with training wheels. Aleem had to shake free of it to see how far he could go. Besides, getting fights was getting tougher and tougher. There’s a 28-month gap in his pro timeline that includes all of 2013. He had several fights fall out during this frustrating quiescence.

If you’re an aspiring film actor, you go to Hollywood. If you’re an aspiring boxing champion, you go to Las Vegas. Not a week goes by without a young fellow turning up here to test his mettle in one of the many local gyms with the hope of attracting the eye of one of the major promotional firms.

“When I came to Las Vegas,” says Aleem who has a daughter back in Michigan, “I had no family here, no friends.” He was directed to Barry’s boxing gym, run by ex-boxer Pat Barry and his wife Dawn, retired Las Vegas police officers, and started training under their son-in-law Augie Sanchez. But Sanchez, the last man to defeat Floyd Mayweather Jr (accomplished when they were amateurs), had other priorities. He is an assistant coach with Team USA which obligates him to spend a good deal of his time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Things started looking up for Aleem when he joined the Prince Ranch stable under the management of Greg Hannley. At the Prince Ranch Gym, where the head trainer is Bones Adams, he has sparred with such notables as Nonito Donaire and former WBO 122-pound champion Jessie Magdaleno.

Aleem doesn’t miss the weather in Muskegon, a lakefront city where sub-freezing temperatures are the norm in the dead of winter and snow is forecast for all of next week. But he still has one foot in his hometown, as evident by his unbroken bond with Terry Markowski. In an era when some boxers appear to change trainers as often as they change their underwear, Aleem has remained loyal to Markowski who has been in his corner for all of his pro fights and will be there again on Feb. 14.

Markowski, who teaches boxing at the Muskegon Rec Center, is a protégé of Muskegon’s most esteemed boxer, the late Kenny Lane. The epitome of a crafty southpaw, Lane, a lightweight and junior welterweight, was a three-time world title challenger during a 100-fight career that began in 1953.

The relationship between Raeese Aleem and Terry Markowski dates back to 2003 when Aleem resided in the nearby village of Ravenna, where Aleem’s father, the patriarch of a large blended family, planted Raeese and his siblings to get them away from the temptations of Muskegon which has several blighted areas. “It was a culture shock for me when I started going to school in Ravenna,” says Aleem, looking back, as none of his schoolmates looked like him.

This will be Aleem’s fifth fight in Pennsylvania where he has made four of his last five starts. The connecting thread is Reading, Pennsylvania gym operator-turned-promoter Marshall Kauffman who has been credited with keeping boxing vibrant in the Keystone State.

This being Aleem’s national television debut, it’s important that he make a good showing. His Las Vegas trainer Bones Adams, a former world champion in Aleem’s weight division, expects nothing less. “I’m confident he will be a world champion someday,” says Adams.

Photo credit: Mario Serrano / Prince Ranch Boxing

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A Bouquet for Danny Garcia in This Week’s Edition of HITS and MISSES

Kelsey McCarson

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Two-division champion Danny Garcia had the spotlight all to himself over the weekend in a stay-busy fight against Ivan Redkach on Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It was the main event of a Showtime Championship Boxing tripleheader that had the odd privilege these days of not being counterprogrammed by a Top Rank show on ESPN or any other kind of boxing card on DAZN.

So Garcia, 31, from Philadelphia, had the chance to remind people how excellent a fighter he is in full force, which would help him greatly in his effort to secure an unlikely bout against WBA champ Manny Pacquiao or remain first in line to face WBC and IBF champ Errol Spence whenever the Texan recovers from the injuries he sustained in a car accident in October.

But did Garcia pull it off? Here’s the latest edition of HITS and MISSES.

HIT – Danny Garcia’s Pristine and Precise Technique 

The best parts about Garcia were on full display against Redkach. That was made easier by Redkach’s lack of anything that might have given Garcia any real problems, but nonetheless Garcia was able to show the lovely footwork and balanced countering ability that made him so formidable at junior welterweight. There’s just something special about seeing Garcia fight. The economy of his movement inside a boxing ring is something that is just plain different than just about any other world-class fighter in the world today. In a fight that most people probably would have preferred he just skipped, and one that didn’t turn out to be any different than everyone expected, at least Garcia’s beautiful boxing was on display.

MISS – Showtime Sparring Sessions

In addition to Garcia-Redkach, Showtime rounded out its tripleheader with undefeated junior featherweight Stephen Fulton taking on former Muay Thai fighter Arnold Khegai and former unified junior middleweight champion Jarrett Hurd taking on career welterweight Francisco Santana. While Fulton’s fight against Khegai seemed like a legitimate prizefight, there was something about the other two bouts that screamed sparring sessions. That was especially the case for Hurd’s bout. Not only was Hurd in there with a middling welterweight, but he also used the rounds of the fight to work on vastly different boxing techniques than what made him so popular in the first place. Showtime might not have the pull they once had with the people over at the PBC offices, but they for sure need to get more involved in vetting matchups if they hope to remain afloat within the competitive boxing landscape of today.

HIT – Stephon Fulton’s Title Chances at 122 Pounds

Fulton is a very solid boxer who digs to the body and has a fast, clean jab. Khegai was the perfect kind of opponent for the 25-year-old. He was very game and never stopped trying to win. Additionally, his background in Muay Thai offered some different looks to Fulton that should help him on his way toward world title contention. In the end, Fulton outworked Khegai to hand the tough 27-year-old the first loss of his career. Now let’s hope Fulton is off to bigger and better things such as challenging for a world title. He’s ready right now.

MISS – Andy Ruiz’s Continued Soap Opera

The best thing former unified champion Andy Ruiz could have done after blowing the rematch against Anthony Joshua in December is getting right back to work in the gym. What better way to show trainer Manny Robles that he was taking responsibility for his actions than to get right back to work with the same team he had just let down so badly? Instead, Ruiz fired Robles and is considering other trainers. That would make more sense if there had been some sort of tactical error in the fight. But Ruiz already admitted he simply didn’t train for arguably the biggest fight of his life, and that’s not anyone’s fault but his own.

HIT – Former Middleweight Titleholder Andy Lee’s Second Act

It appears former WBO middleweight champion Andy Lee found his second act in life as a trainer, which makes a ton of sense if you followed Lee’s career under the tutelage of the late Emanuel Steward. Lee, 39, left Ireland after his amateur days to live with Steward in Detroit and train at Kronk. The two had a very close personal relationship and that experience ultimately helped Lee win the world title in 2014 two years after Steward’s passing. Now, Lee is passing on what he knows in the same way Steward did with him to other fighters. He trains and manages Irish upstart Paddy Donovan, is guiding Jason Quigley back to contention and even helped orchestrate distant cousin Tyson Fury bringing on Javan “SugarHill” Steward for the heavyweight’s upcoming rematch against Deontay Wilder.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott

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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 wonders 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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