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Nonito Donaire and The Monster

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The World Boxing Super Series 118lb tournament climaxes this Thursday in Saitama, Japan as the now fully-fledged wonderkid and local hero Naoya “The Monster” Inoue meets a man who essentially used to be him in the shape of ring veteran and Filipino legend Nonito Donaire. Whatever the outcome there will be tears in the far east come the final bell.

Donaire will recognize much of what awaits him in the opposite corner as he prepares for a monumental crescendo to a storied career. He will see an athletic, powerful, fast technician who can improvise across all styles and he will see some of what he himself used to be. Donaire was once the darling of the hardcore fan, a role Inoue has since embraced with relish. Small but devastating, these men toil in relative obscurity until something pushes them over the top and into the consciousness of the wider boxing public.

For Donaire it took an incredible championship tear-up running from flyweight all the way up to super-bantamweight beginning with that astonishing five round purge of Vic Darchinyan in 2007, arguably both the knockout and the upset of the year.

Donaire has seen ten miles of bad road since then. In 2013 while rated amongst the very best fighters in the world pound-for-pound he ran into an 11-0 contender named Guillermo Rigondeaux and was cleanly out-boxed over twelve. “Rigo” was a technical genius of the Cuban school and although he would go on to display none of the heart and soul that Donaire did in capturing the imaginations of a generation of boxing fans he was so clearly Donaire’s superior that no re-match was seriously touted. The high regard in which Donaire was held also meant that the Filipino was far from finished at the highest level, however; but this could no longer be held as the truth after he was out-pointed and out-fought even more completely by Nicholas Walters, a fine fighter but one that impressed far less than Rigondeaux. Donaire was cast down from the mountain.

Name recognition, the maddening intangible so sought after by marketing professionals, intercedes with boxing in a strange way. Fighters who otherwise might not be thought of are thrown opportunities that would otherwise be beyond their sporting abilities.  Donaire never really went away and when he charmed the Irish and British in his gut-fueled 2018 stab at former pound-for-pounder Carl Frampton, Donaire found himself inside a new market, hailed for the first time by the Europeans. It seemed almost reasonable that Donaire, behind this brave and characterful loss, found himself recruited to the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament, though in truth little was expected of him.

When he drew number one seed Ryan Burnett, less still was expected of him but Donaire was firmly in the fight when Burnett slipped a disc and retired from the fight at the end of the fourth. The sentimental regard in which Donaire was held was made clear when what was essentially a bye was met with few complaints. Even when the true second favorite for tournament victory, Zolani Tete withdrew with his own injury troubles and Donaire was matched with substitute Stephon Young in the semi-final, little criticism was heard. The overwhelming attitude was one of curiosity and the former champion did not disappoint.

To be clear, Donaire did not “turn back the clock” against Young. That is possible, perhaps, as demonstrated by the likes of Bernard Hopkins, Joe Brown and Archie Moore, but that is not what happened here. Rather, Donaire showed glimmers of the fighter he once was in dispatching a limited opponent, as was expected of a seasoned veteran of no small matter. But the slashing left-hook that delivered victory and deposited Young in the strange netherworld known only by combat sportspeople and victims of automobile accidents reminded one of the fighter he used to be; for a thrilling moment it was 2009 again. As Donaire knelt beside his stricken opponent in apparent prayer, gently nudging his thigh with one gloved hand, the realization sunk in that Donaire was set to contest the final with the deadly Naoya Inoue.

It would be nice here to offer a detailed breakdown of Inoue’s wonderful skillset and to trace its evolution over recent years but sadly that isn’t possible; no opponent has extended the Japanese past the second round since 2017. He is a wrecking ball of a bantamweight and a fighter who will be keen to remind boxing fans that he, like Canelo Alvarez, has taken straps and scalps in three different weight divisions but that, unlike Alvarez, he has reigned as the best fighter in each of the divisions he has graced.

Inoue has had none of the luck that Donaire has enjoyed in the course of this tournament, but he has gone un-extended regardless. After obliterating Jamie McDonnell in a single round to grab a strap in his bantamweight debut, Inoue drew top bantamweight Juan Payano in the quarter final. Once more a first-round knockout was the result. Against McDonnell he had ended matters with an old-fashioned fuselage of shots forcing the referee’s intervention, but against Payano Inoue favored accuracy and economy, landing a laser-guided one-two straight out of the Tommy Hearns manual on how to destroy ranked opposition. It was a perfect combination thrown at a moving target who had, up until then, never been stopped.

The semi-final against Emmanuel Rodriguez was almost as perfunctory. The right-hand to the body/left-hook to the head for the first knockdown was Tysonesque and as beautiful as any two-piece I’ve seen delivered in a boxing ring; the wide left-right to the body to end matters landed within seconds of the restart, runs it close though.

Inoue does not have a style but a skillset. He does what he likes. Perhaps the ultimate realization of the marriage of boxing technique and modern sports science, he is a machine capable of rendering destruction to a degree unseen anywhere in boxing currently. Perhaps not the artist that Vasily Lomachenko is, perhaps not the one-shot brawler that Deontay Wilder is, he combines much of what is good about both and lets it roll. He will take some beating. It may be that only an opponent of excess poundage or the admirable Japanese propensity for early retirement will get it done.

This, then, is the reward Donaire receives at the end – for it will be the end win or lose – of eighteen years at the sharp end of the toughest of sports. Twelve years after he vanquished Darchinyan, nine after his destruction of Hernan Marquez, seven after he gunned down Fernando Montiel, Donaire steps into the ring with the best fighter he has ever faced.

It is the kind of opportunity faded pugilists lie in bed at night and dream of. Since the fight was made, it is possible that those dreams have taken on a darker tinge. It’s not that Donaire can’t win; anyone who has followed boxing long enough knows those are foolish words. Rather it is that if he did win it would be the biggest shock of this decade and would rank among the most impressive comebacks in ring history.

Watching one of your old favorites put himself in legitimate peril for one more shot at glory is an uncomfortable trope for the boxing fan. Once upon a time he was the danger himself, but no longer is he “the man who knocks.” Rather, he is a fragile version of a fighter who likely even in his prime would have been an underdog against a boxer as special as Inoue. Whether or not you consider this unmissable may depend upon your age and your outlook. If you’re young enough not to remember Donaire’s scintillating prime, you probably feel compelled to track down and watch Inoue, a fighter already anointed great and in the prime of his career. If you are an optimist you may expect to see the old man trouble the relatively inexperienced Japanese, perhaps even witness what seems the impossible.

Or maybe, like me, you’ll be watching between your fingers as eras collide and fighting machines from different generations swing past one-another in a dance as old as the sport itself: the former master facing off against the current embodiment of his own self.

To catch it you’ll have to be up early if you’re reading this in North America or enjoy some glorious mid-morning championship action if you’re reading in Europe.

Inoue will win; I hope Donaire steps off the canvas for what should be the final time with his dignity and health intact.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel  

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In a One-Sided Beatdown, Batyr Jukembayev TKOs Shopworn Ivan Redkach

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In a One-Sided Beatdown, Batyr Jukembayev TKOs Shopworn Ivan Redkach

The noted trainer Brian “BoMac” McIntyre had two fighters on tonight’s ProBox card in Plant City, Florida, and brought along the ace of his stable, Terence Crawford, to provide moral support.

The main event, contested at 140 pounds, had an Eastern European flavor pitting Kazakhstan’s Batyr Jukembayev against LA-based Ukrainian Ivan Redkach. Jukembayev, Crawford’s stablemate, needed no moral support as Redkach fought a survivor’s fight for as long as it lasted. A 33-year-old southpaw, the Kazkh won every second of the fight until the mismatch was halted at the 2:18 mark of round five.

It was the fifth straight win for Jukembayev (23-1, 17 KOs) whose only defeat was inflicted by Subriel Matias, the current holder of the IBF world title at 140. Redkach (24-7-1) was stopped for the fourth time including a fight with Regis Prograis where he succumbed to a phantom low blow. Now 38 years old, he should not be allowed to fight again. His showing tonight bore stark evidence that he is completely shot.

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a 10-round junior lightweight affair, Jonhatan Cardoso, a 25-year-old Brazilian, advanced to 17-1 (15) with a split decision over LA’s Adam “Bluenose” Lopez. This figured to be a fan-friendly fight and didn’t disappoint. Both fighters threw punches in bunches although Lopez’s workrate declined in the late rounds.

Lopez, now 17-6-1, is better than his record. His first five losses came against opponents who were collectively 109-6 at the time that he fought them. The son of the late Hector Lopez, an Olympic silver medalist for Mexico and a three-time world title challenger, “Bluenose” doesn’t have a signature win, but has a signature moment. He knocked Oscar Valdez down hard in their first of two meetings, a fight he took on 1-day notice when Valdez’s original opponent was scratched after coming in 11 pounds overweight. As a pro he has limitations, but is a high-octane fighter who rarely has a bad fight.

Two of the judges favored Cardoso. Their tallies were 99-91 and 96-94. The dissenter favored Lopez 97-93. The scores were all over the map, but the right guy wn.

Also

In the TV opener, Omaha-bred junior welterweight Charles Harris Jr scored a unanimous 6-round decision over Oceanside, California’s Kyle Erwin. The judges had it 58-56 and 59-55 twice.

A protégé of “BoMac,” Harris Jr., who began his pro career in Mexico at age 16, improved to 9-1 (7). It was the second pro loss for Erwin (7-2) whose lone prior defeat was the result of a cut.

In an unrelated matter, today (May 22) was the day that Ryan Garcia’s B-sample would be opened and analyzed. So we were all led to believe.

Confoundingly, it appears that opening the urine specimen and testing the contents aren’t performed on the same day. Dan Rafael enlightened us. “Will take a few days for results but certainly possible it could stretch into early next week due to weekend and holiday,” Rafael tweeted today on his Fight Freaks Unite platform.

Why wasn’t this made known beforehand so that fight journalists could plan their day accordingly? I place the blame on the New York State Athletic Commission.

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Oleksandr Usyk from a Historical Perspective 

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Oleksandr Usyk flipped the heavyweight division onto its head this past Saturday night in the Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, travelling a long way from home to seal his greatest victory. Usyk, small by modern heavyweight standards, towers over most men at 6’3″ and 220lbs and sporting a reach that lineal champions Ezzard Charles or Joe Walcott would have killed for. Things have changed though, and in the middle rounds of his war with Tyson Fury, Usyk suddenly appeared tiny. Fury, a giant at around 6’8” and over 260lbs seems a heavyweight for this century. Usyk, a journeyman in the most ancient sense of the word, feels like a throwback to a more savage time. His greatest achievements have taken place on foreign soil. The last time he boxed at home was almost a decade ago and given the situation in Ukraine and given Usyk’s 37 years, it is unlikely he will ever box there again.

Usyk took chances in the seventh and especially the eighth to take charge of a fight that seemed to be slipping away from him. In the vertigo inducing ninth, it was he, not Fury who appeared the giant. Usyk draped the Englishman over the ropes like so much fresh meat and tenderised him to within an inch of unconsciousness, the sheer hugeness of Fury perhaps preventing a referee’s intervention on behalf of his opponent, and not for the first time. Against both Deontay Wilder (the first fight) and Otto Wallin, a more squeamish official would have stepped in and stopped the fight, and here, too, there was a case. If Usyk seems a throwback, then Fury has been refereed like one, spared stoppages likely to be inflicted upon his peers, he was allowed once again to continue boxing, as Joe Louis was against Max Schmeling, or Jack Dempsey was against Luis Pirpo. But with Fury buckled at the knees, Usyk seemed the true heavy man in the ring.

In historical terms, Usyk is not a small heavyweight. He would have dwarfed “The Galveston Giant” Jack Johnson in the ring and loomed large over “Big” George Foreman. Usyk has every attribute necessary to make an unpleasant evening for Joe Louis, but it should be noted that while his footwork and speed and technical excellence would be the source of the discomfort, his excess of height and reach are the wildcards. Usyk would seem two to three weight classes bigger than Rocky Marciano, mainly because he is, and the towering Sonny Liston would look up. Circus strongman Jess Willard and the mob-sponsored Primo Carnera would both look down on Usyk – but not by that much. Usyk would stand eye to eye with Muhammad Ali but prime-for-prime he would outweigh him by ten pounds, as he would Larry Holmes. We must skip Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield and reach all the way into the Lennox Lewis era before we find men from history that truly out-size Usyk on a consistent basis.

Size, as Usyk has proven, is far from everything. Big by historical standards, he is small by modern standards. What else is now true in the wake of the seismic fistic events of Saturday night? Firstly, Usyk is unquestionably ranked the #1 heavyweight in the world. Of this, there can be no dispute. Accounting for his two wonderful defeats of another “super” heavyweight, Anthony Joshua, he is 3-0 against the rest of the top five and sitting unassailably at the head of the heavyweight table. More, and I have been surprised to see it disputed in some corners, Usyk is now almost as equally unassailably the pound-for-pound number one. The only fighter breathing the same air as Usyk right now is Naoya Inoue. Inoue has been operating at or near the highest level for longer, but the level of his opposition has not been as rarefied. Comparing the first phase opposition defeated by Naoya to the murderer’s row of cruiserweights that Usyk ran into during the Super Six series can lead to only one conclusion. Although Naoya’s busy, weight-class-bursting style has topped him out for most of the past two to three years, only one of these men has consistently been beating bigger, taller, longer opposition at the highest level, and that is Usyk. It is not a matter of opinion – he is the smallest man in my heavyweight top ten.

01 – Oleksandr Usyk

02 – Anthony Joshua

03 – Joseph Parker

04 – Tyson Fury

05 – Filip Hrgovic

06 – Zhilei Zhang

07 – Agit Kabayel

08 – Daneil Dubois

09 – Martin Bakole

10 – Joe Joyce

Usyk lives among giants now and where there is parity of height (Kabayel) he is the lighter man by 15 pounds. This is not true of Naoya, who despite his weight-hopping, still manages to run into fighters of the same height and of shorter reach. The opposition argument is narrow, but the relative size opposition is not and there is no pound-for-pound credential more significant than that of consistently out-fighting bigger men. Usyk has done so and will continue to do so for as long as he fights. There is simply no smaller man in his class.

Not since the heyday of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield has a lineal heavyweight champion consistently fought bigger men and not since Mike’s hype-infused prime has a heavyweight menaced the number one pound-for-pound spot. Usyk has not enjoyed anything like the same machine support as Mike did; indeed, he has laboured in the shadow of more prominent men until such time as he thrashed them. He is a true manifestation of pound-for-pound glory in the unlimited class. Where does this leave him in terms of all-time standing?

I am reluctant to rate active fighters for reasons that are obvious enough; Usyk could be pole-axed in three by an irate Fury in a December rematch and all this ink is for naught. But what I am willing to do is play let’s pretend and imagine Usyk as retired and consider his place in heavyweight history now.

Usyk’s raw numbers are low-grade at just 22-0 with 14 knockouts. Worse, most of this was built in the cruiserweight division and not the heavyweight division. Against men weighing in as heavyweights, Uysk is essentially 7-0, and only 3-0 against ranked opposition. On the other hand, one of these victories came against Daniel Dubois, now ranked, and the 3-0 was posted against Tyson Fury, generally held to be the best or second-best heavyweight in the world, and Anthony Joshua, ranked behind only Fury at the time of his first fight with Usyk. So, when he stepped up, he stepped up to tackle the best in the world and has become lineal as a result. It’s a hard ledger to wrestle with, but fortunately we have a career that is comparable in the shape of Gene Tunney.

Tunney, a career light-heavyweight, earned a heavyweight legacy built of essentially one man: Jack Dempsey. Past-prime and inactive, Dempsey was ripped apart by Tunney in their legendary first fight and did better in a losing effort against the genius “Fighting Marine” in a rematch, much like Joshua did against Usyk. Tunney then boxed the limited but game Tom Heeney and retired. The rest of his heavyweight career was spent beating great middleweights like Harry Greb and limited losing-streak gatekeepers like Charley Weinert and Martin Burke. One thing that must be noted is that Tunney is matching men who are smaller than Usyk’s cruiserweight opposition to his heavyweight credit. Men like Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev would have been big men in Tunney’s era, but they aren’t counted towards heavyweight legacy for the Ukrainian – either would constitute Tunney’s second-best heavyweight scalp, I think. Tunney’s wider resume does not necessarily include fighters who compare that favourably even to Dereck Chisora or Chaz Witherspoon, the men who make up Usyk’s second layer of opposition.

The point is, Tunney was made a legend for defeating a champion. Both Fury and Joshua were active, physically enormous fighters that Usyk simply unmanned with a type of genius Gene Tunney would have stood to applaud. Tunney appended to his light-heavyweight career the important part of a heavyweight career – the part where you fight and beat the champion, and it has made him a stalwart of heavyweight history. This, Usyk too has achieved, but I have been more impressed with Usyk’s summit than Tunney’s. To be direct: Usyk should rate higher at heavyweight than Tunney.

What that means is that the top twenty at heavyweight is the minimum Usyk can expect from history’s eye should he retire undefeated. In such a case, I would place Usyk in this sort of company:

18 – Ezzard Charles

19 – Oleksandr Usyk

20 – Jersey Joe Walcott

21 – James J Corbett

22 – Peter Jackson

23 – Ken Norton

24 – Max Schmeling

25 – Vitali Klitschko

26 – Riddick Bowe

27 – Gene Tunney

Also illustrative of a point is Tunney’s career pre-heavyweight. Tunney, every bit as brilliant as Usyk in the ring (although notably smaller, and successful against notably smaller opposition), laced up his gloves on close to ninety occasions and his level of competition dwarfs that of Usyk. That is no indictment. All it really means is that Usyk isn’t among the thirty greatest fighters ever to have drawn breath, like Tunney is. He can join an enormous and star-studded cast that includes Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins and Carlos Monzon in that. I do think, though, that Oleksandr Usyk’s career, were it to end tomorrow, could be readily compared to that of Evander Holyfield and that means that an unbeaten Usyk, lineal cruiserweight and heavyweight champion of the world, current pound-for-pound king, is within spitting distance of a list that captures the fifty greatest fighters in history.

56 – Ruben Olivares

57 – Wilfredo Gomez

58 – Vicente Saldivar

59 – Oleksandr Usyk

60 – Evander Holyfield

61 – Ted Kid Lewis

62 – Lou Ambers

63 – Rocky Marciano

64 – Abe Attell

65 – Manuel Ortiz

A retired Naoya Inoue would join him in the top seventy, I think, and a retired Bud Crawford the top ninety.

Boxing is dead, haven’t you heard?

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Another Victory for Ukraine as Berinchyk Upsets Navarrete in San Diego

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Whether it was inspiration or perspiration, Ukraine’s Denys Berinchyk motored past Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete by split decision to become the WBO lightweight world titlist on Saturday.

Just hours after his fellow countryman Oleksandr Usyk became undisputed heavyweight world champion, Berinchyk joined the club.

“This is a great night for all people of Ukraine,” Berinchyk said.

The undefeated Ukrainian Berinchyk (19-0, 9 KOs) gutted out a win over Navarrete (38-2-1, 31 KOs) who was attempting to join Mexico’s four-division world champion club in San Diego. The lanky fighter known as “Vaquero” fell a little short.

Through all 12 rounds neither fighter was able to dominate and neither was able to score a knockdown. Just when it seemed one fighter gathered enough momentum, the other fighter would rally.

A butt caused a slight cut on Navarrete in the 10th round. That seemed to ignite anger from the Mexican fighter and he powered through the Ukrainian fighter the next two rounds.

In the final round Berinchyk bore down and slugged it out with the Mexican fighter as both relied on their weapons of choice. For most of the night Navarrete scored with long-range uppercuts and Berinchyk scored with overhand rights.

After 12 rounds two judges scored it 115-113, 116-112 for Berinchyk and one 116-112 for Navarrete. Ukraine gained its third world titlist in one a week. Berinchyk joins Usyk and Vasyl Lomachenko as world titlists.

“He’s a very tough guy,” said Berinchyk of Navarrete.

Welterweights

A battle between undefeated welterweights saw Brian Norman (26-0, 20 KOs) knock out Giovany Santillan (32-1, 17 KOs) in the 10th round to become the interim WBO titlist.

For nine rounds both welterweights engaged in brutal inside warfare as each tried to beat the sense out of each other.

Norman worked the body early as Santillan targeted the head. Neither fought more than two inches from each other.

The younger Norman, 23, connected with a right cross during an exchange that wobbled Santillan in the eighth round. From that point on the Georgia fighter began setting up for his power shots. Finally, in the 10th round, uppercuts dropped Santillan twice. In the second knockdown Santillan went down hard as referee Ray Corona stopped the fight immediately at 1:33 of the 10th round.

Other Bouts

Heavyweight Richard Torrez (10-0, 10 KOs) knocked out Brandon Moore (14-1) in the fifth round for a regional title.

Lightweight Alan Garcia (10-0) defeated Wilfredo Flores (10-3-1) by decision after eight.

Photo credit: German Villasenor

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