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

David A. Avila

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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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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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