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Avila Perspective, Chap. 72: Pound for Pound King, Matchroom in L.A. and More

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Saul “Canelo” Alvarez has slowly climbed up the ladder regarding elite status in the prizefighting arena, and now I feel confident in saying he belongs at the top of the mythical pound for pound list.

Alvarez’s win over Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev by knockout to win the WBO light heavyweight world title was a daring feat especially considering the physical dimensions of both fighters. The Russian champion had more than four inches in height advantage and a proven history of bludgeoning opponents.

Over the course of history, many shorter fighters dared move up the weight divisions to challenge the much bigger man. More often than not, they were shut down rudely, but a few come to mind that most fans don’t know about.

One of my favorite fighters to read about was Sam Langford the old “Boston Bonecrusher” who had more than 178 wins in more than 200 pro fights from 1902 to 1926. He was about the same size as Canelo and fought from 135-pound lightweight to heavyweight including a challenge against the great heavyweight champion Jack Johnson in 1906 which he lost by decision after 15 rounds.

Langford was one of the first modern style fighters and despite size disadvantages against most opponents was able to decipher and destroy with impunity. There’s one scratchy video of him knocking out Fireman Jim Flynn in Los Angeles around 1910 that showcases his impressive fighting style.

Physical disadvantages are not that easy to overcome. When Sugar Ray Leonard challenged Donny Lalonde for the WBC light heavyweight title in 1988, the height and reach advantage was much like Alvarez and Kovalev. And yes, Leonard got flak for fighting Lalonde who everybody thought was a pushover when they met at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. But when the bigger Lalonde connected and dropped the favorite Leonard with a punch in the fourth round, fans then understood the dangers of a smaller man fighting a much bigger man. And Leonard had one of the best chins in the business and later in the fight knocked out the much bigger Lalonde to win the light heavyweight world title. This came 19 months after defeating Marvin Hagler by decision. Leonard had one heck of a chin.

Canelo also has a great chin as seen in his two wars with Gennady Golovkin and defense against Daniel Jacobs.

The Mexican redhead began his pro career at age 15 as a super lightweight in 2005. Much like the great Langford did when he first entered the prize ring 103 years earlier in 1902.

Not that I’m saying Alvarez equals Langford. Not yet. Time will decide just how good Alvarez truly is. But for right now, he has my respect as the best fighter pound for pound in the prizefighting world.

Others with a solid case are Terence Crawford who possesses innate fighting instincts to go along with his acquired skills. If only he could get a fight against Errol Spence Jr., Shawn Porter or Danny Garcia to prove it.

Gennady Golovkin still seems to have fuel left in the tank after entering the ring sick and winning by decision in his fight against Sergiy Derevyanchenko.

Both Vasyl Lomachenko and Errol Spence Jr. also have a case for their dominance too. I would also suggest Mikey Garcia is far from done and could re-emerge near the top of most lists. One loss doesn’t mean the end.

As of right now, Canelo Alvarez proved he belongs at the top of the heap for defeating a real light heavyweight titlist in Kovalev who had only three losses in his career. As for the other light heavyweight titlists, well, you can’t fight them all and you can’t please all the people and fans.

Some fans are devaluing Alvarez’s victory claiming he beat a weak champion. Years ago, while I was in one of the Las Vegas gyms, I sat with Roger Mayweather and a young reporter claiming that Oscar De La Hoya was all hype and beat weak champions.

Mayweather looked at the youngster and said “you beat any champion and you’ve done something. You don’t know s*** about boxing.”

Ironically, we both talked about Langford and his influence on boxing including the Mayweather style. Mayweather knows boxing.

As far as Alvarez proving his new position at the top of the pound for pound rankings, he will be proving it each and every fight.

You can only fight them one fight at a time.

L.A. Staples Center

Newly crowned WBC lightweight titlist Devin Haney (23-0, 15 Kos) makes his first defense against Dominican fighter Alfredo Santiago (12-0, 4 KOs) on Saturday Nov. 9, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. DAZN will stream the fight card.

Haney, who turns 21 on Nov. 17, defeated Zaur Abdullaev in September to hand the Russian his first loss and capture the interim WBC lightweight title. The actual WBC lightweight title was held briefly by Vasyl Lomachenko and now given to Haney.

“I’m not just a WBC world champion that’s holding somebody else’s belt. I’m the sole champion, and I will defend the lightweight world title on November 9. I’ve been working hard and I’m extremely focused. This will be the perfect gift to myself for my 21st birthday,” said Haney.

Also, WBO super middleweight titlist BJ Saunders (28-0) makes his first appearance on American soil as he defends against Argentina’s Marcelo Coceres (28-0-1, 15 KOs) also at the Staples Center.

The 30-year-old southpaw Saunders hails from the United Kingdom and could be a possible foe against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. He has a difficult fighting style for just about anyone that includes speed and a very solid chin. He will be fighting Coceres, 28, an Argentine middleweight, but you can never tell with Argentine fighters. They are very tough, especially those they bring to the U.S. He is not coming to lose.

Top Rank vs Golden Boy   

Once again you have Top Rank pitting its champion Jamel Herring (20-2, 10 KOs) against a Golden Boy Promotions fighter in Lamont Roach (19-0-1, 7 KOs). Herring, the former U.S. Marine, will be defending his WBO super featherweight title on Saturday, Nov. 9, at Chukchansi Park in Fresno, Calif. ESPN+ will stream the fight live.

Herring, 34, is a grizzled veteran and as tough physically as he is mentally. His win over Japan’s Masayuki Ito this past May was sort of a surprise to many industry experts. But, again, he is a US Marine and a warrior in and out of the boxing ring.

Roach, 24, has shown mental toughness in several of his fights with an abundance of determination. He’s not a big hitter or extremely fast, but has skills and a strong will. Can he out-will the Marine?

Once again it’s Top Rank versus Golden Boy and so far whenever they pit their fighters against each other they have managed to provide dynamite fights with Jose Carlos Ramirez versus Antonio Orozco, Vasyl Lomachenko versus Jorge Linares, and just recently Shakur Stevenson versus Joet Gonzalez. All have resulted in Top Rank wins, but the tide could turn at any time. Will this be the moment?

Fights to Watch

Thurs. DAZN 2:15 a.m. Naoya Inoue (18-0) vs Nonito Donaire (40-5).

Thurs. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Alexander Flores (17-2-1) vs Mario Heredia (16-7-1).

Sat. ESPN+  3:30 p.m. Jamel Herring (20-2) vs Lamont Roach (19-0-1).

Sat. DAZN 6 p.m. Billy Joe Saunders (28-0) vs Marcelo Coceres (28-0-1); Devin Haney (23-0) vs Alfredo Santiago (12-0).

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel  

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Johnny Famechon was a Hero in Australia Where Willie Pep Had a Bad Night

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Willie Pep was good at boxing. He wasn’t so good at math. Ah, but hold the phone; we are getting ahead of ourselves. This isn’t a story about Willie Pep, but about former world featherweight champion Johnny Famechon who passed away last Thursday, Aug. 4, in Melbourne, Australia, at age 77.

Famechon was five years old when his parents left his birthplace in Paris and settled in Melbourne. He came to the fore in an era when boxing was still a mainstream sport and home-grown champions were national idols. The locals turned out in droves for the parade in Johnny’s honor when he returned to Melbourne after taking the featherweight crown from the Cuban-born Spaniard Jose Legra in a big upset at London’s Prince Albert Hall.

HeraldSun

Famechon’s Welcome Home Parade

Famechon’s first title defense came against Japan’s Fighting Harada. They met in Sydney, Australia, on July 28, 1969.

At age 26, Harada was a battle-tested veteran. He previously held world titles at flyweight and bantamweight and would be remembered as the only man to defeat the great Brazilian boxer Eder Jofre, a feat he accomplished not once, but twice.

Only two boxers in history – Bob Fitzsimmons and Henry Armstrong – had won world titles in three of the eight classic weight divisions. Harada, who entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995, was bidding to become the third.

Team Harada insisted on a neutral referee. The British promoters chose Willie Pep. A legend in the sport, Pep had previously shared a ring with another Famechon, having out-pointed Johnny’s uncle Ray Famechon in a featherweight title defense at Madison Square Garden in 1950.

Some thought that Pep would favor Fighting Harada. American referees put a higher premium on aggression than did their foreign counterparts and Harada was a little buzzsaw who rarely took a backward step. But others thought that Pep’s selection favored Famechon, an elusive counterpuncher with whom the Connecticut “Will-‘o-Wisp” could identify; their styles were similar.

Pep had been the third man in the ring for four previous title fights, three in Jamaica and one in Brazil. But this fight would be different. He would be the sole arbiter. If the fight went the full 15 rounds, Willie Pep would be the judge and jury.

During the bout, Famechon scored one knockdown, sending Harada to the canvas in round five, but Harada scored three, knocking Famechon down in rounds two, 11, and 14. The last of the three knockdowns was the harshest, but Famechon made it to the final bell.

The fight ended in a clinch. Immediately upon separating the fighters, Pep raised both of their hands, a signal that the fight was a draw.

Fighting Harada’s handlers were outraged and demanded to see the scorecard. A policeman at ringside was empowered to give it a look-over (Australia had no boxing commission). What the policeman found was that there was indeed a discrepancy. However, it was the opposite of what Team Harada anticipated!

The fight was scored on the antiquated system whereby the winner of a round was awarded five points and the loser four points or less. In the case of an even round, both fighters got five points.

After 13 rounds, Fighting Harada had amassed 59 points on Pep’s card. He won the 14th round, giving him an aggregate total of 64 points. But when Pep added up the numbers “59” and “5” in the column where he kept the aggregate total, he came up with “65.”

Oops.

When Pep signaled that the fight was a draw, people stormed the ring from all sides. Newspaper reports said the belligerents were about evenly divided. Famechon, the Aussie, was the crowd favorite, but Fighting Harada was well-backed in the betting markets, a very big industry in Australia. Many were even angrier when Famechon was summoned back to the ring to have his hand raised.

The Famechon-Harada fight aired live on Japanese television. In Japan, there was a great outpouring of outrage. Pep had been instructed to score a round 5-4 if the round was narrow and 5-3 if there was a clear-cut winner. Despite the knockdowns, Pep scored every round 5-4 or 5-5. In the revised tally, he had Famechon winning 6-5-4 in rounds.

“Harada loses to referee” was the headline in Japan’s leading sports daily. Willie Pep made no friends in Australia either. There were shouts of “Yankee go home” as he left the ring.

Famechon and Harada met again five months later in Tokyo. One would assume that Fighting Harada proved superior and got a fair shake, winning the third title denied him in Sydney. But don’t assume.

Harada was well ahead after ten rounds but faded. On the deck in round 10, Famachon returned the favor three rounds later, knocking Harada down hard with a perfectly placed left hook. Harada was in dire straights when he came out for round 14 and Famechon put him away.

Harada never fought again and Famechon left the sport six months later after losing his crown to Vicente Saldivar. Johnny was only 25 years old, but had crammed 67 fights into a nine-year pro career and said enough is enough.

Famechon’s post-boxing life took a tragic turn in 1991 when he was hit by a car while out jogging on a Sydney highway. He spent several weeks in a coma and several years in a wheelchair but eventually recovered most of his motor skills and regained his speech to the point where he could serve as a boxing color commentator on television. In 2018, a larger-than- life statue of Famechon was unveiled at a public park in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston where he was a longtime resident.

For the record, Johnny Famechon finished his career with a record of 56-5-6 with 20 KOs. We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to his loved ones.

Arne K. Lang’s latest book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” will shortly roll off the press. The book, published by McFarland, can be pre-ordered directly from the publisher (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/clashof-the-little-giants) or via Amazon.

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Fast Results from Fort Worth Where Vergil Ortiz Jr Won His 19th Straight by KO

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In a match pushed back from March 19, Vergil Ortiz Jr moved one step closer to a mega-fight with Terence “Bud” Crawford or Errol Spence Jr or Boots Ennis with a ninth-round stoppage of England’s feather-fisted Michael McKinson. The end came 20 seconds into round nine when McKinson appeared to injure his knee as he fell to the canvas, an apparent residue of the body punch that put him on the deck late in the previous stanza. To that point, Ortiz had seemingly won every round.

It was the 19th win inside the distance in as many opportunities for Ortiz who resides in nearby Grand Prairie and was making his first start with new trainer Manny Robles. McKinson was undefeated heading in, but had scored only two knockouts while building his record to 22-0.

Ortiz, ranked #1 at welterweight by the WBA and the WBO, pulled out of the March 19 bout after being diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a muscle disorder associated with over-training.

Ortiz’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, says that Ortiz will fight the winner of Errol Spence vs Terence Crawford next assuming that the fight gets made, and if doesn’t get made, Ortiz’s next fight will be with one or the other. The WBA, which stamped tonight’s fight an eliminator, may push to have Ortiz fight their secondary title-holder, Eimantas Stanionis.

Co-Feature

Houston’s Marlen Esparza (13-1, 1 KO) successfully defended her WBA/WBC world flyweight title with a unanimous decision over plucky 4’11 ½” Venezuelan southpaw Eva Guzman who had won 14 straight coming in, albeit against soft opposition. The judges had it 98-92 and 99-91 twice.

Guzman (19-2-1) was game, but just didn’t have the physical tools to overcome Esparza whose lone defeat came at the hands of talented Seneisa Estrada.

Other Fights of Note

In a 10-round match contested at the catchweight of 150 pounds, Blair “The Flair” Cobbs rebounded from his first defeat with a career-best performance, a wide decision over former WBO 140-pound world titlist Maurice Hooker. It was the second straight loss for Hooker who returned to the ring after a 17-month hiatus and came out flat. Cobbs put him on the canvas in the opening frame with a combination and decked him twice more with straight lefts in round two.

Things got somewhat dicey for Cobbs in round five when he suffered a bad gash on his forehead from an accidental head butt, but Hooker, who had stablemate Bud Crawford in his corner, hesitated to let his hands go and couldn’t reverse the tide. The judges had it 96-91 and 97-90 twice for the flamboyant Cobbs who improved to 16-1-1 (10). Hooker, a consensus 5/2 favorite, lost for the third time in his last five starts and slumped to 27-3-3.

In the opener to the main portion of the DAZN card, Uzbekistan’s Bektimir Melikuziev (10-1, 8 KOs), a super middleweight growing into a light heavyweight, dominated and stopped overmatched Sladan Janjanin. Melikuziev put Janjanin down with a body punch in the opening minute of the fight and scored two more knockdowns before the bout was halted at the 2:18 mark of round three.

This was Melikuziev’s third fight back after his shocking one-punch annihilation by Gabriel Rosado. Janjanin, a well-traveled Bosnian who fought three weeks ago in Massachusetts, declined to 32-12 and was stopped for the eighth time.

Also

Chicago welterweight Alex Martin (18-4, 6 KOs) overcame a first-round knockdown to win a unanimous decision over 38-year-old Philadelphia journeyman Henry Lundy. The judges had it an unexpectedly wide 98-91, 97-92, 97-92.

Martin was coming off a points loss to McKinson and this bout was his reward for taking that fight on short notice. Lundy (31-11-1) has lost five of his last seven.

Floyd “Austin Kid” Schofield, a lightweight who appears to have a big upside, advanced to 11-0 (9 KOs) at the expense of Mexican trial horse Rodrigo Guerrero whose corner wisely pulled him out after five one-sided rounds. It was the ninth straight loss for Guerrero (26-15).

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Conlan Wins His Belfast Homecoming; Breezes Past Lackadaisical Marriaga

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“The Return of the Mick” was the label attached to tonight’s show at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The reference was to local fan favorite Michael “Mick” Conlan who returned to his hometown in hopes of jump-starting his career after suffering his first pro loss in a brutal encounter with Leigh Wood.

In that bout, a strong “Fight of the Year contender, Conlan was narrowly ahead on all three cards heading into the 12th and final round when the roof fell in. Wood, who was making the first defense of his WBA world featherweight title on his home turf in Nottingham, knocked the favored Conlan unconscious and clear out of the ring.

This was the sort of fight that can shorten a man’s career. Hence the intrigue in Conlan’s homecoming fight tonight against Miguel Marriaga. On paper, the Colombian, a three-time world title challenger, was a stern test considering the circumstances.

To the contrary, Marriaga had no fire in his belly until the final round when he hit Conlan with a shot that buckled his knees. But, by then Conlan was so far ahead without overly exerting himself that there was virtually no chance of another meltdown.

While Conlan won lopsidedly, the scores – 99-89 and 99-88 twice – were somewhat misleading. True, “Mick” had Marriaga on the deck in rounds 7, 8, and 9, but the punches that put him there did not look particularly hard.

Conlan, 30, improved to 17-1 (8). Marriaga, 35, declined to 30-6.

After the fight, Conlan expressed the hope that Leigh Wood would give him a rematch.

Other Bouts of Note

In an entertaining 10-round welterweight scrap that could have gone either way, Belfast’s Tyrone McKenna (23-3-1, 6 KOs) rebounded from his defeat in Dubai to Regis Prograis (TKO by 6) with a hard-fought unanimous decision over 33-year-old Welshman Chris Jenkins (23-6-3). The judges favored the local fighter by scores of 97-94 and 96-95 twice.

Jenkins, a former British and Commonwealth title-holder, had the best of the early going, working the body effectively while frequently finding a home for his uppercut, but he could not sustain his advantage.

Thirty-four-year-old Belfast super middleweight Padraig McCrory who got a late start in boxing, scored the most important win of his career with a fifth-round stoppage of Marco Antonio Periban, a former world title challenger. McCrory had Periban on the deck three times – once in the second and twice in the fifth – before the bout was halted at the 2:14 mark of round five.

It was the fourth straight win inside the distance for McCrory who improved to 14-0 (8 KOs). Mexico’s Periban, who returned to the sport in April after missing all of 2020 and 2021, fell to 26-6-1.

Highly-touted welterweight Paddy Donovan improved to 9-0 (6) with an 8-round unanimous decision over Yorkshireman Tom Hall (10-3). The referee scored every round for Donovan, an Irish Traveler trained by Tyson Fury’s bosom buddy Andy Lee, the former world middleweight title-holder.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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